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Global Business Trends January 2015

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'OPEC won't Cut Output Even if Price Falls to USD 20'
Saudi Arabia's oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, has said oil producers' cartel Opec will not cut production even if the price falls to USD 20 a barrel. His comments reinforce Opec's recent policy change away from restricting output as prices fall. In November, the global oil cartel said it would keep its target output at 30 million barrels per day. The Brent crude oil price has fallen by more than 46 per cent since its USD 116 June peak.
 
Speaking to the Middle East Economic Survey, Mr al-Naimi said: "As a policy for Opec - and I convinced Opec of this, even Mr al-Badri (Opec secretary general) is now convinced - it is not in the interest of Opec producers to cut their production, whatever the price is. "Whether it goes down to USD 20, USD 40, USD 50, USD 60, it is irrelevant," he said. The world might not see the oil price back at USD 100 a barrel again, he added.
 
While alternative sources of crude oil, such as shale and tar sands, have caused a big increase in supply, some analysts argue that the oil price collapse is more to do with falling demand due to a slowing global economy.
 
French jobless Total at New Record High
The number of people seeking work in France has risen to a record high, official figures show. The jobless total rose by 27,400 in November to 3,488,300 - the highest level yet seen.That means the number looking for a job has risen by 5.8 per cent in the past year. The claimant count rose in November for the third month in a row, and official government estimates suggest the economy will have grown by just 0.4 per cent this past year.
 
The jobless figures count the number of people claiming benefits and looking for work with the National Agency for Unemployment. The alternative international measure of unemployment, devised by the International Labour Organisation and based on a regular survey, says that unemployment in France rose to 2.84 million in the third quarter of the year, giving an unemployment rate of 9.9 per cent. President Francois Hollande, elected in 2012, made the creation of more jobs a key feature of his election campaign. He recently stated that if he failed in this aim, he would not stand again in the 2017 presidential elections. 
 
China Inflation Eases to Five-Year Low
Consumer prices in China eased to a five-year low in November, suggesting continued weakness in the Asian economic giant. The inflation rate fell to 1.4 per cent in November from 1.6 per cent in October, which is the lowest since November 2009. The reading was also below market expectations of a 1.6 per cent rise. Producer prices also fell more than forecast, down 2.7 per cent from a year ago - marking a 33rd consecutive monthly decline. Economists had predicted a fall of 2.4 per cent after a drop of 2.2 per cent in the previous month as a cooling property market led to slowing demand for industrial goods.
 
The figures are the latest in a string of government data that showed a deeper-than-expected slowdown in the Chinese economy. Last month, the country's central bank unexpectedly cut interest rates for the first time in more than two years to spur activity.
 
Obama Signs USD 1.1 trillion Spending Bill into Law
With little fanfare to mark a rare bipartisan achievement, President Barack Obama on Tuesday, December 16, signed a massive, USD 1.1 trillion spending bill that keeps the government operating over the next nine months. The legislation was a compromise that angered liberals and conservatives alike but avoided a government shutdown and put off partisan clashes over immigration to next year. It was one of the last acts of Congress under the current Republican House and Democratic-controlled Senate. In January, the new Congress will return with Republicans in charge of both chambers. The measure retains cuts negotiated in previous budget battles and rolls back some banking regulations. But it also retains spending for Obama's health care law and pays for the administration's fight against Ebola.
 
The Department of Homeland Security, however, will only receive its money through February 27, a condition demanded by Republican leaders to appease critics of Obama's immigration measures. The department oversees the nation's immigration enforcement. The agreement, negotiated mainly by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and House and Senate Republican leaders, was the result of a determined effort by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to avoid a government shutdown like the partial one in 2013 that damaged the GOP's standing with the public.
 
Alibaba Founder Jack Ma Becomes Asia's Richest Person
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of China's Alibaba Group, has become the richest person in Asia. The 50-year-old founder of China's biggest e-commerce company surpassed Hong Kong property tycoon Li Ka Shing, who used to hold the top spot, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He has a USD 28.6 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg ranking. Li has a net worth of USD 28.3 billion.
 
Ma has added USD 25 billion to his fortune this year riding a 54 per cent surge in the company's shares since its September initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. At that scale, Alibaba is on the verge of becoming one of the 10 most valuable companies in the world. Alibaba, whose online marketplaces - Taobao and Tmall - had 307 million active buyers in China as of September, saw revenue rise to 16.8 billion Yuan between July and September, according to Bloomberg.
 
Xiaomi Most Valuable Tech Start-Up
Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has become the world's most valuable technology start-up just four years after it was founded. The firm raised USD 1.1 billion in its latest round of funding, giving it a valuation of USD 45 billion, which surpassed the USD 40 billion value of taxi booking app Uber. It has quickly risen to the ranks of the world's biggest smartphone makers, behind Samsung and Apple in sales. The company is also set to unveil a new flagship device in January. Xiaomi's investors include private equity funds All-Stars Investment, DST Global, Hopu Investment Management, Yunfeng Capital, and Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, said co-founder and president Bin Lin in a Facebook post. "This is an affirmation of Xiaomi's stellar results in four years, and heralds a new phase for the company," Bin said.
 
Xiaomi's strategy of producing cheap smartphones has catapulted its growth to overtake giant Samsung last year in sales in the world's second largest economy China. The company's worth is now more than quadruple the USD 10 billion valuation it received during its last financing round last year. Its skyrocketing valuation comes despite the intellectual property challenges it faced earlier this month in India, where sales were temporarily halted after Swedish firm Ericsson filed a patent complaint. The Beijing-based company has set a target of selling 60 million smartphones this year, up from less than 20 million in 2013.
 
Putin Acts to Halt Rising Vodka Cost
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to curb rising vodka prices. Putin, who has been hit by increasing economic woes, said that high prices encouraged the consumption of illegal and possibly unsafe alcohol. Russia's currency, the rouble, has lost value recently due to falling oil prices and Western sanctions. The country's former finance minister warned that Russia would enter recession next year.
 
Putin, who promotes a healthy lifestyle, asked "relevant agencies" to think about what he said, adding that the government should fight against the illegal trafficking of alcohol. According to a leading university study last year, 25 per cent of Russian men die before reaching their mid-50s. Alcohol was found to be a contributing factor in some of these early deaths. Since last year, the government-regulated minimum price of half a litre (17 oz) of vodka has increased by around 30 per cent to 220 roubles (USD4.10). It is not just vodka that has seen a price rise. Annual inflation in Russia currently stands at 9.4 per cent.
 

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