The Next Silicon Valley? Head to France  

France is known worldwide for its wine, food and culture, but under its new president, the French are aiming to be the new global hub for tech startups.

President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants to build a version of Silicon Valley in France. His administration has launched pro-business initiatives that are loosening government restrictions and encouraging entrepreneurs to launch their startups in the country.

“The tradition has been in Europe and in France to invest in big, traditional companies and not specifically [in] tech startups. So we will dedicate a €10 billion fund to the investment in tech startups in France,” said Mounir Mahjoubi, France’s Secretary of State for Digital Affairs.

Both public and private investments will factor into Macron’s vision of France as a “country of unicorns” — the term popularly used for tech startups valued at $1 billion or more, said Mahjoubi, who recently was in New York City for “La French Touch” conference, where he discussed France’s strategy for attracting the tech world’s best and brightest.

In the French tech world, all eyes are on the privately financed Station F, which is set to open this summer in Paris. Billed as the world’s biggest startup campus, the 34,000-square-meter space already has major tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Ubisoft signed on. The companies will develop their products, as well as host and mentor startup founders in incubator programs. One thousand individual startups are expected to set up shop at Station F.

Seeking global appeal

Silicon Valley has attracted tech talent from all over the world. Now France hopes to do the same for those beyond its borders. Initiatives like the “French Tech Ticket” and more recent “French Tech Visa” are designed to bring startup founders, employees and investors to the country through a combination of mentorships, grants and subsidized work spaces. The French Tech Visa fast-tracks a process for participants to obtain a renewable, four-year residence permit.

Not to be left out are the locals in France’s poorer, outer suburbs, the banlieue. The new administration is aiming for social diversity through inclusion initiatives that foster entrepreneurship, said Mahjoubi.

“We decided to create hubs in the private area[s] of France,” said Mahjoubi. “There might be entrepreneurs over there that believe that it’s not for them, because they couldn’t afford to not having a salary for a year of entrepreneurship … we created the condition so they could receive money from the state, to have a salary during these 12 months [to] push their project to the highest level they can.”

Unemployment at 9.5 percent

The encouragement of entrepreneurship is a novel sentiment in a country where traditional attitudes and strict labor laws have long dominated work culture. With a national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, venturing out on one’s own to start a business can seem too risky.

But with the success of French unicorns like ride-sharing service BlaBlaCar and network provider Sigfox, attitudes appear to be shifting; 68 percent of French people aged 18 to 25 aspire to run their own business one day, according to a 2015 Ernst & Young survey.

“I think the ecosystem, the government, have done a very good job to do some marketing about entrepreneurship and I think it’s very important because when we compare our situation to the U.S., in the U.S. there is a lot of storytelling, everyone is super enthusiast[ic] and it brings a momentum that is super beneficial,” said François Wyss, co-founder of French startup DataBerries.

Funding available

Wyss and his co-founders recently secured $16 million in their first round of funding for his digital marketing startup.

“There is a lot of funding now in France, so it’s great. We have the chance to have world-class engineers, which are far cheaper than in the U.S. So a lot of companies are developing their core product and R&D in France before exporting it overseas,” said Wyss.

“French tech is all about having roots in France and having a vision for the world,” said Mahjoubi. “The French tech startup scene is an international startup scene.”

Long-awaited ‘Jumanji’ Sequel Puts New Twist on Magical Board Game

In the verdant rainforests of Hawaii, Jack Black, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan simulated dodging rampaging rhinos and hungry hippos as they filmed the long-anticipated sequel to the Robin Williams 1995 adventure film Jumanji.

The first trailer for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, released Thursday, shows how four high school teenagers are transported into a Jumanji video game as adult avatars and find themselves pursued by jungle creatures and motorcycle assailants, jumping into waterfalls and encountering perilous caves.

The first Jumanji told the story of a boy trapped in the magical board game for 26 years. He is released as a grown man (Williams) when two children discover the game.

As they start playing again, stampeding elephants and wild creatures escape from the Jumanji jungle into the real world, causing havoc in a small town.

In the sequel, due out in theaters on Dec. 20, viewers are meant to get a sense of being pulled back into the alternative world of the board game jungle.

“This has the original energy and magic of the classic that everyone saw 20 years ago but, this time, I like to tell people it’s in the game,” Black told Reuters in interviews from the Hawaii set of the film.

“I’d say that our movie is on a grander scale because it’s a whole universe of Jumanji,” he added.

To kick off the sequel, four high school teenagers forced to clean out their school’s basement while in detention come across an old Jumanji video game. They soon wind up being transported into the game, as the adult video game avatars that they pick.

A nerdy teen becomes the muscle-bound Johnson, a blonde cheerleader transforms into the bespectacled Black, an introverted girl becomes a skimpily-clad Gillan, while a buff football player transforms into the diminutive Hart.

Johnson said the sequel pays homage to Williams, who committed suicide in 2014.

“In terms of Robin and our story, it’s done with so much love and respect that I think we’re putting ourselves in a really good position, and I think fans will love it,” he said.

Former Texas Senator Nominated as NATO Ambassador

President Donald Trump says he has nominated Kay Bailey Hutchison, a former Republican senator from Texas, to be the U.S. ambassador to NATO.

Trump has had a rocky relationship with the 28-nation military alliance. As a candidate, he called NATO “obsolete.”

The president has criticized several members of the post-World War II organization for not spending adequately on defense. At a May meeting in Brussels with NATO members, Trump complained that his allies had shortchanged “the people and taxpayers of the United States,” creating additional strains for the organization.

Hutchison, who is 73, won a runoff special election to fill a vacant Senate seat in 1993 and served three full terms.

 

Turkish Envoy to Greek Cypriots: Hope for Removal of Troops ‘a Dream’

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has told Greek Cypriots to stop dreaming that 35,000 Turkish forces will leave the divided island.

“This is their dream. They should wake up from this dream and they should abandon this dream,” he said Thursday at U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

Cavusoglu said the current round of talks should be the last attempt to resolve the decades-old dispute over Cyprus.

“We cannot continue negotiating forever,” the Turkish diplomat said.

His Greek counterpart, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, said the Turkish side has been repeating the same positions over and over.

The Greek Cypriots’ demand that Turkish forces go home is one of the major roadblocks to a deal to reunify the Mediterranean island after 43 years.

Turkish troops invaded Cyprus in July 1974, after a coup in Nicosia that was aimed at unifying the island with Greece. Cyprus has been divided since then between separate administrations — Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the north — kept apart by U.N. peacekeepers.

Only Turkey recognizes the north, while the Greek south enjoys international recognition and European Union benefits.

Turkish Cypriots want Ankara’s troops to stay on for their security; Greek officials in Nicosia say the continuing presence of the Turkish army is a threat to stability.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres plans to join the talks in Switzerland on Friday in the hope of moving the negotiations forward.

Spider-Man Swings Into Marvel Universe for Latest Film

Fans were crawling up the walls with excitement as the stars of Spider-Man: Homecoming swung into the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe series of films, which have dominated the global box office for years.

British actor Tom Holland, who plays the web-slinging hero, showed up at Wednesday’s premiere accompanied by an actor in full Spider-Man costume who was lying on the hood of a car and performing back flips for the crowd.

“I think for me I’ve realized the responsibility of being a role model for young kids everywhere,” Holland told reporters, adding that the character’s motto that “with great power comes great responsibility” resonated with him.

The film is the first time that Spider-Man, one of Disney-owned Marvel’s most popular characters, is the lead in a film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, championed the cause of getting Spider-Man into the Disney-run sphere.

“Now we have the first time Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe where he belongs,” he stated at the premiere, adding, “I sort of am still pinching myself. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe we’re premiering the movie tonight and I can’t wait for people to see it.”

The film sees Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr., another staple of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who has been featured in several of the series’ films, taking a co-starring role alongside Holland.

The film is to be released in European cinemas on July 5 and in U.S. theaters on July 7.

США запровадили санкції проти двох компаній і двох громадян Китаю

США запровадили санкції проти китайської компанії, банку і двох громадян КНР через їхні зв’язки з військовими програмами Північної Кореї.

У повідомленні Міністерства фінансів США зазначається, що банк «Даньдон», який працює на території КНДР, причетний до відмивання грошей для Пхеньяна, а судноплавна компанія Dalian пов’язана з північнокорейськими програмами виробництва зброї масового враження.

Міністр фінансів США Стівен Мнучин зазначив, що санкції не спрямовані проти уряду Китаю, а спричинені необхідністю посилити тиск на Північну Корею, щоб змусити її відмовитися від ядерної і ракетної програм.

2 червня Китай, найближчий союзник Північної Кореї, заблокував запровадження Радою безпеки ООН нових жорстких санкцій проти Північної Кореї, які пропонували США. Проте Рада безпеки одностайно схвалила внесення до санкційного списку понад десяти осіб і чотирьох організацій, пов’язаних із ядерними і ракетними програмами Північної Кореї.

Організація Об’єднаних Націй заборонила ядерну програму і ракетні випробування, однак Пхеньян заявив, що вони необхідні для протидії агресії США. Від початку року КНДР провела два ядерні випробування і десятки пробних запусків ракет.

Президент США Дональд Трамп у травні назвав Північну Корею «великою проблемою», яку він пообіцяв вирішити.

Полторак: щодо російського контрактника Агеєва ведеться слідство

Міністр оборони України Степан Полторак заявляє, що питання про обмін захопленого українськими військовими на Донбасу російського військового Віктора Агеєва вирішуватиметься після завершення слідчого процесу.

За словами Полторака, те, що Агеєв служить у російській армії «підтверджено документами, знайденими при ньому».

«Я не розумію, чому Росія спростовує приналежність захопленого до російських збройних сил», – сказав Полторак, слова якого цитує РБК, 29 червня після зустрічі з міністрами НАТО.

Раніше речник президента Росії Дмитро Пєсков заявив, що Москва у випадку з Віктором Агеєвим вживатиме «заходів захисту, як це робить щодо всіх своїх громадян».

Раніше у четвер російська «Новая газета» опублікувала звернення матері Агеєва з проханням допомогти у звільненні її сина. Депутат Законодавчих зборів Санкт-Петербурга Борис Вишневський попросив міністра оборони Росії Сергія Шойгу перевірити інформацію щодо Віктора Агеєва.

Раніше Міноборони Росії спростувало повідомлення, що Віктор Агеєв є російським військовослужбовцем-контрактником, заявивши, що він звільнився у запас у травні 2016 року, пройшовши строкову службу.

Про те, що російський військовий Віктор Агеєв потрапив у полон під Луганськом, повідомила 27 червня російська служба BBC.

За даними української сторони, на Донбасі воюють щонайменше п’ять тисяч кадрових російських військових.

Кремль офіційно відкидає участь російської сторони у конфлікті на Донбасі.

У передмісті Парижа чоловік намагався в’їхати у юрбу перед мечеттю

У передмісті Парижа 29 червня арештували чоловіка, який намагався в’їхати автом у юрбу людей перед мечеттю.

Поліція повідомляє, що ніхто не постраждав під час інциденту, оскільки машина не змогла виїхати через огороджувальні бар’єри. Мотиви нападника наразі невідомі, зазначають правоохоронці.

Між тим, за повідомленням газети Le Parisien, чоловік заявив, що хоче помститися за напади, пов’язані з угрупованням «Ісламська держава», у результаті яких упродовж минулих років у Парижі загинули багато людей.

У ніч на 19 червня біля мечеті в районі Фінсбері-парку, на вулиці Севен-Сістерз у Лондоні, фургон наїхав на пішоходів, коли віряни поверталися з нічної молитви у священний для мусульман місяць Рамадан. За останніми даними, одна людина загинула, десятеро були поранені. Поліція після інциденту затримала 48-річного чоловіка, його психічне здоров’я досліджують лікарі.

From Bars to Baseball Parks: Lady Gaga Readies Live Shows

Whether it’s at a bar or baseball park, Lady Gaga says she’s going to give every performance her all.

The singer will launch a summer tour with stops at arenas and stadiums across the globe, and she’s also returning to the Dive Bar Tour with Bud Light to perform a show in Las Vegas on July 13.

She called the first bar crawl, completed last fall around the release of “Joanne,” a deep experience.

“For what it’s worth, when I got up there, I totally forgot where we were and I just went into performance mode,” she said in a phone interview. “For me, no matter how small a venue is, you don’t perform it differently than you perform at a big venue, that’s not fair to the fans.”

Last year’s tour included a stop at The Bitter End, the New York City bar where Gaga performed before her pop star days. The new Dive Bar Tour will also include shows in Los Angeles (July 26) and New Orleans (August 30), to be headlined by other artists, who will be announced soon.

Gaga, 31, will launch a world tour on Aug. 1 in Vancouver, British Columbia. It includes stops at baseball parks like Citi Field in New York, AT&T Park in San Francisco, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston.

Now that she’s wrapped filming “A Star is Born” with Bradley Cooper — an experience she called “life changing,” “wonderful” and “inspiring” — she’s focusing on the massive tour.

“This one will be a little bit different,” she said. “I also like to change things up. “I have some other ideas about how I’d like to perform some of my fans’ classics.”

Part of switching it up comes from the sound of “Joanne,” which includes rock, country and slower songs compared with Gaga’s past electro-flavored dance hits.

“The album is extremely healing and reflective for me. I wrote about things that I’ve never written about before that are extremely deep and personal, and dare I say, things that haunted me, that were poisoning me, that were toxic to me, and I had to get them out. And it was very revealing in that way,” she said.

“The cover of the album is very indicative of that — me putting a hat on that I’ve never worn before and just not sure where I’m going at all — but knowing I got to get out of where I am.”

At the Coachella festival in April, where Gaga headlined, she released “The Cure,” an upbeat song about healing. She said she wrote the song after performing at the Super Bowl halftime show.

She added that she’s writing new music and said she could drop another song unrelated to an album.

“You know, I wouldn’t say that it’s out of the question,” she said.

Silent City of Rocks Towers Over Idaho

The state of Idaho is famous for its potatoes. But it’s also known as a haven for rock-climbers, who come from all over the world to the City of Rocks National Reserve.

Granite City

Granite spires, ranging from 10 to almost 200 meters high, tower over a vast expanse of rock formations of various shapes and sizes. They jut from the ground — seemingly out of nowhere — creating a stark, yet beautiful vista.

The rocks were once buried underneath the ground, but erosion over millions of years exposed them… creating the surreal landscape.

National parks traveler Mikah Meyer explained, “It’s difficult to capture on film, but all these rocks, when you move even just 10 feet in one direction, completely change their shape based on whatever angle you’re looking at them from.”

Nature’s sculptures

Mikah especially liked seeing the smaller rocks, which he called “carve outs from larger boulders,” framed by the snow-capped mountains behind them, off in the distance.

“It really shows the diversity of rock types and views that you can have here at City of Rocks,” he said.

Mikah enjoyed a scenic hike to one of the reserve’s most popular sites, Window Arch, which he described as “the most interesting rock formation I’ve seen here at City of Rocks.”

Window Arch is a great example of weathered granite; a result of the powerful forces of nature, which create beautiful, graceful forms.

History rocks!

The ancient landscape also has a colorful, more recent history.  In the 1840s and ‘50s, American settlers traveled through the City of Rocks as they headed west with their wagons. In 1852 alone, some 52,000 people passed through the towering boulders on their way to the California goldfields. Those wagon routes were largely abandoned when the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869.

Mikah says the scenic landscape at the reserve has something for everyone.

“If your hope is to see amazing vistas and interesting views, definitely stick to the main road and areas of wide-open grassy spaces. If your goal is to climb and climb in seclusion, get onto the trails where you’ll find many rocks that allow you to have it all to yourself.”

Mikah, who’s on a mission to visit all 417 units within the National Park Service, invites you to learn more about his travels across America by visiting him on his website, Facebook and Instagram.

Taiwan Activist Urges Crackdown Against Floating Sweatshops

Three videos from a mobile phone that described the beatings of an Indonesian crewman aboard a Taiwan-flagged vessel led Allison Lee to find her role as an advocate for those afflicted: migrant fishermen.  

Lee, the co-founder of the Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union, was recognized by the United States for safeguarding the rights of foreign fishermen working in Taiwan.  

 

In accepting her award in Washington on Tuesday, she made one appeal: to end slavery on the open sea.

To know the path from ocean to consumers’ dinner plates is to know the story of floating sweatshops, Lee told VOA on Tuesday.  

“Migrant fishermen are vulnerable to exploitation,” she said.

State Department award

Flanked by President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, Lee was one of the eight men and women to receive “Hero Acting to End Modern Slavery Award” at the State Department, where the 2017 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report was released.

Lee is the first Taiwan citizen to receive the honor.  

Migrant workers aboard Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels that operate in international waters are not covered by the so-called Labor Standards Act, the laws governing employer and employee rights. Therefore, they do not benefit from Taiwan’s minimum-wage regulations regarding overtime pay, Lee said.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen reaffirmed her government’s pledge to battle against human trafficking.

“Taiwan is committed to working with all stakeholders to fight human trafficking,” Tsai tweeted.  

For eight consecutive years, Taiwan has been ranked in the “Tier 1” category, the best ranking in the human-trafficking report.

While acknowledging Taiwan’s “serious and sustained efforts,” Washington urged Taipei to increase efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers under the anti-trafficking law.

‘Vigorously investigate’ infractions

The State Department also urged Taiwan to “vigorously investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute the owners of Taiwan-owned or -flagged fishing vessels that allegedly commit abuse and labor trafficking on board long-haul fishing vessels.”

The TIP Report is a symbol of the U.S. moral and legal obligation to combat tragic human rights abuses and as well as to advance human dignity around the world, said Susan Coppedge, the U.S. Ambassador-at-large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

“Tier 1 countries meet the minimum standards to combat trafficking, but that’s just the minimum. They don’t rest on their laurels, so to speak,” Coppedge told VOA on Tuesday.

“They need to continue their efforts to combat trafficking, and one of the areas where Taiwan can make additional progress is in labor trafficking,” she added.

On January 15, 2017, the Act for Distant Water Fisheries took effect in Taiwan amid growing pressure on Taiwan’s seafood industry to crack down on modern-day slavery and abuses for migrants working on the island’s fishing vessels.

Lee told reporters that being a Christian gave her strength to withstand the pressure from government officials and the industry.

Creator of Paddington Bear, Michael Bond, Dies at 91

The writer who created the beloved children’s character Paddington Bear has died.

Michael Bond was 91. His publisher said he died Tuesday after a brief illness.

There are few children who do not recognize and love Paddington and his trademark rain hat and coat and suitcase.

Bond created Paddington in 1956 after spotting a teddy bear sitting alone in a London shop.

In his first adventure, “A Bear Called Paddington,” the character was described as a stowaway from “darkest Peru” who showed up at London’s Paddington train station wearing a sign saying “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”

Since his debut, Paddington has sold more than 35 million books in 40 languages, starred in movies and on television.

Shooting on a new Paddington film wrapped up this week.

Bond once said children are drawn to Paddington because of his “vulnerability.”

Italy Threatens to Block Ships Carrying Migrants

Italian officials say their government has told the European Commission in Brussels it is considering stopping ships that are not Italian-registered from disembarking at its ports migrants who were rescued while trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya.

The dramatic move comes after nearly 11,000 asylum-seekers and economic migrants, mainly from African nations, arrived on Italian shores in a four-day period from war-wracked Libya. In a letter to the commission, Italy’s ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, said the situation has become “unsustainable.”

In a meeting Wednesday, Massari informed Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU’s commissioner for migration, that his government is now considering denying landing rights to any ships that aren’t flying the Italian flag or are not part of the EU interdiction and rescue mission in the Mediterranean.

Libya as migrants’ gateway to Europe

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has accused fellow EU nations of “looking the other way,” and not doing enough to assist Italy with the surge in migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Libya has become the main gateway to Europe for migrants and refugees from across sub-Saharan Africa, and also from the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Syria and Bangladesh.

Many are fleeing war and persecution, but most who are using Libya are seeking to escape poverty. Italy has become the main point of arrival for all of those rescued off the coast of Libya. Stranded refugees often are picked up by boats operated or funded by private charities and non-government organizations.

An intense debate has erupted in Italy about whether ships operated by mainly international NGOs have effectively been in league with the people-smugglers, and thus inadvertently enabling the trade to continue

Nearly 11,000 arrivals in four days

There has been a dramatic rise, partly thanks to good weather, in the number of migrants attempting the short but perilous Mediterranean crossing. In the four-day period through Tuesday (June 24-27), 8,863 migrants landed in Italy, including more than 5,000 on Monday alone, according to the International Office for Migration. Another 2,000 landed on Tuesday.

In the first five months of this year, 60,228 migrants arrived in Italy by boat. The IOM reported that 1,562 died at sea. At the current rate, and with months of good sailing weather ahead, the number of migrants is on track to exceed the 200,000 who landed in Italy in 2016.

Around 15 percent of those arriving this year are Nigerian. Twelve percent are Bangladeshi; Guineans account for 10 percent and nine percent are Ivorians.

 

Other EU nations have closed their borders to migrants, hoping to block them from moving north. Poland and Hungary have refused to host some asylum seekers to help ease the burden on Italy and Greece, another front line country. Greece has seen a huge decline in asylum-seeking numbers since the EU concluded a deal with Turkey to curb refugees and migrants using Turkish territory to head to Europe.

The surge in migrants this week prompted Italy’s interior minister, Marco Minniti, to cancel a trip to Washington to address the growing humanitarian crisis, which is quickly morphing into a political one for the country’s left-leaning coalition government. In municipal elections this month the coalition lost ground to center-right parties such as Matteo Salvini’s Northern League, which has called for a “stop to the invasion.”

Domestic opposition growing

Italy’s right-wing Forza Italia party has campaigned for the denial of landing rights to ships carrying migrants. And even the maverick radical Five Star Movement is moving to a more anti-immigrant position, calling for a halt to any new migrants being lodged in Rome.

Italy is now asking for the European Commission to change EU asylum procedures and allow Italy to stop new migrant landings or reduce them dramatically. But it is not clear whether a denial of landing rights would comply with international seafaring law or commitments Italy made when it signed the 1951 Refugee Convention.

After meeting Ambassador Massari on Wednesday, EU migration commissioner Avramopoulos praised Italy’s exemplary behavior to date and agreed: “Italy is right that the situation is untenable.” 

Other EU member states must “step up” and contribute financial support to Italy, Avramopoulos said, along with aid to African nations like Libya to try to reduce the numbers of people leaving for Europe.

“Now is the moment to deliver, and we will hold them to this,” the commissioner said.

Avramopoulos made almost exactly the same remarks in February, and similar promises have been made by other EU officials. The bloc’s 28 national leaders also agreed last week that “front line” countries Italy and Greece should receive more help with the arrivals.

Last month, the interior ministers of Germany and Italy urged the European Union to set up a border mission along Libya’s frontier with Niger in a bid to stop mainly African migrants from reaching Europe. In the past, the EU has tried to curb the migrant flow by working with various authorities in Libya, which is divided between rival governments and their militia backers, but to little avail.

In a sign of the deepening chaos in the north African country, a five-vehicle United Nations convoy was ambushed Wednesday 30 kilometers from the Libyan capital Tripoli. Several U.N. employees were held for a while, then released. Local media reported the ambush was staged in an attempt to gain the release of three drug-runners arrested by a vigilante force in Tripoli.

Fed Approves Dividend, Buyback Plans of All 34 Biggest Banks

The Federal Reserve has given the green light to all 34 of the biggest banks in the U.S. to raise their dividends and buy back shares, judging their financial foundations sturdy enough to withstand a major economic downturn.

It was the first time in seven years of annual “stress tests” that every bank assessed by the Fed won approval for its capital plans. All have at least $50 billion in assets.

The Fed on Wednesday announced the results of the second round of its annual stress tests. Those allowed to raise dividends or repurchase shares include the four biggest U.S. banks — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo.

Capital One’s plan only got conditional approval and it has six months to revise it. But the bank was still allowed to return profits to shareholders.

After the results were made public, the banks quickly jumped in with announcements of dividend boosts and share buyback plans. They included a doubling of Citigroup’s dividend, a 60 percent dividend increase by Bank of America and a 12 percent hike for JPMorgan.

Capital One, because of its conditional status, opted to keep its dividend at its current level but is planning a share repurchase.

The second part of the seventh yearly checkup tested the banks to determine if their current plans for paying out capital to shareholders would still allow them to keep lending if hit by another financial crisis and severe recession.

Results show strength

With the 34 banks holding more than three-quarters of total assets of all U.S. financial companies, the results showed strength in an industry that nearly toppled the financial system — and has recovered handily nearly nine years on from the 2008-09 crisis. Banks large and small across the U.S. received hundreds of billions in taxpayer funds to prop them up during the financial meltdown.

Now the banks have a total of about $1.2 trillion in capital reserves as of the fourth quarter of last year, an increase of $750 billion over the beginning of 2009, in the depths of the crisis, according to the Fed. They are expected to pay out to shareholders nearly 100 percent of their net revenue over the next four quarters, compared with 65 percent in the same period last year.

“They can now more freely pay out dividends and buy back stock without worrying whether they are resilient in a financial crisis,” said David Wright, a managing director at Deloitte who formerly worked on bank supervision at the Fed.

The results may not be an explicit seal of approval for the banks by the Fed, but that’s the conclusion that can be drawn, Wright said.

“I don’t think they [the Fed] are quite ready to declare victory, though,” he added. “Some of the smaller firms still struggled to identify risks and there is more work to be done. But I think we are at, or close to, the summit.”

Fed Gov. Jerome Powell said in a statement the Fed’s assessment of banks’ capital plans in light of their reserves “has motivated all of the largest banks to achieve healthy capital levels, and most to substantially improve their capital planning processes.”

The financial industry has seized on the strong showing to buttress its assertion that regulations it sees as excessive should be rolled back. After the crisis that plunged the U.S. into the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression of the 1930s, banking industry profits have been steadily rising and banks have been lending more freely. The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have taken major steps this year toward easing the financial rules that came in under the Dodd-Frank law enacted by Democrats and President Barack Obama in response to the crisis.  

Worst-case scenario

Wednesday’s announcement on the second round of the tests followed last week’s initial results. There, the regulators determined that the 34 big banks are adequately fortified with capital buffers to withstand a severe U.S. and global recession and continue lending.

The Fed’s most extreme hypothetical scenario in this year’s tests envisions the U.S. economy falling into a deep recession causing the stock market to plunge about 40 percent. Under that scenario, unemployment — now at a 16-year low of 4.3 percent — climbs to at least 10 percent, while home prices drop 25 percent and commercial real estate prices tumble 30 percent.

The Fed said the 34 big banks would sustain $383 billion in loan losses under the most dire scenario. That’s down from $526 billion in losses for 33 banks last year. Even with $383 billion in losses, all the banks would still together hold a high-quality capital ratio of 9.2 percent, far above the 4.5 percent minimum and showing improvement from last year’s 8.4 percent. Capital ratios are an industry measure of how strong a cushion a bank holds against unexpected losses.

The dividend increases and share buyback plans are important to ordinary investors, and to banks. The banks know that their investors suffered big losses in the crisis, and they are eager to reward them. Some shareholders, especially retirees, rely on dividends for a portion of their income. For the banks, raising dividends can drive up their share prices and make their stock more valuable to investors.

But raising dividends is costly, and regulators don’t want banks to run down their capital reserves, making them vulnerable in another recession. Buybacks also are aimed at helping shareholders. By reducing the number of a company’s outstanding shares, earnings per share can increase.

CIT was added this year to the banks tested by the Fed. They are: Ally Financial, American Express, BancWest, Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, BB&T, BBVA Compass, BMO Financial, Capital One, Citigroup, Citizens Financial, Comerica, Deutsche Bank, Discover, Fifth Third, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Huntington Bancshares, JPMorgan, KeyCorp, M&T, Morgan Stanley, MUFG Americas Holdings, Northern Trust, PNC, Regions Financial, Santander Holdings, State Street, SunTrust, TD Group, U.S. Bancorp, Wells Fargo and Zions Bancorp.

America’s Cup Foiling Technology Set to Fly Beyond Racing Boats

From water taxis that “fly” on hydrofoils to aircraft wings and cutting-edge car steering wheels, the America’s Cup has produced technology with potential far beyond its “foiling” catamarans.

With their focus on carbon fiber and aerodynamics, the teams that fought for the America’s Cup attracted partners including planemaker Airbus and automotive groups BMW and Land Rover who were keen to learn from them.

One area where this is likely to have an impact is in harnessing “foiling” technology, where the America’s Cup boats “fly” above the water on foils, cutting water resistance.

“Foiling in small electric boats will most likely appear on rivers in major cities. We are just at the beginning of the foiling adventure,” Pierre Marie Belleau, head of Airbus Business Development, who managed its partnership with Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA, told Reuters.

The space-age catamarans used in the 35th America’s Cup, which ended in victory for Emirates Team New Zealand this week, can sail at maximum speeds of 50 knots (92.6 kilometers per hour) and have more in common with flying than sailing.

For Jaguar Land Rover, which sponsored British sailor Ben Ainslie’s attempt to win the cup, the relationship is a strategic one with a focus on technology and innovation.

“We don’t just get our logo onto a sail,” Mark Cameron, the company’s Experiential Marketing Director, said by telephone, adding that the carmaker would be providing more designers to help Land Rover BAR with technology for their next campaign.

Land Rover produced a special steering wheel for Ainslie to use in the America’s Cup, with in-built gear shift paddles that allowed him to adjust the catamaran’s “flight” levels.

The relationship is similar between BMW and Oracle Team USA, with the German automaker focused on areas including the electronics in the wheel used by skipper Jimmy Spithill, the development of carbon fiber used to make the boat and its components, and the aerodynamic testing.

“We like to think of ourselves more as a partner than a sponsor. We have a very strong carbon fiber relationship,” Ian Robertson, who is the BMW management board member responsible for sales and brand, told Reuters between races.

“This is a dynamic sport that is developing fast. … It’s moving quickly just like the car industry is moving quickly. It’s all changing,” Robertson said.

Plane sailing?

The America’s Cup catamarans use similar aerodynamics and load calculations to power their wings as commercial aircraft, which has led some skippers such as Spithill to become pilots.

Airbus is now considering applying the design and method of Oracle’s foils to the tips of aircraft, Belleau said, adding that this would need a two- to four-year certification process and require it to change its production method.

Airbus has also created a new generation of Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) microchips that were originally developed for the wings of its test aircraft and then adapted on board the Oracle boat to measure the wind speed and direction at all points on its almost 25-meter-high wing sail.

The sensors make it easier to tell if the wing sails are set efficiently, as wind speed and direction can vary from the top to bottom of the 25-meter wing of the America’s Cup boats — technology that could become standard in the marine leisure industry to replace less reliable wind instruments.

“I would be very surprised if this MEMS technology does not become standard in order to replace the classic anemometer,” Belleau said.

The Airbus A350-1000, one of Airbus’ twin-aisle, wide-body jetliners, is also flying every day using new instrumentation developed through the partnership.

Oracle used Airbus’ 3D printing and manufacturing process to produce stronger and lighter parts that Airbus has started to use on aircraft to replace titanium and aluminum.

“In 10 years from now … this technology will spread and will be on all the sailing boats in the market,” Belleau said. “In addition to the sporting competition, there is still this technological competition. … The story is not finished.”

Pope Tells New Cardinals: Be Humble, Help Poor, Fight Injustice

Pope Francis elevated five senior clerics from outside Italy and the Vatican to the top rank of cardinal on Wednesday, urging them to be humble and not forget refugees and victims of war, terrorism and injustice.

Appointing new cardinals is one of the most significant powers of the papacy, allowing a pontiff to put his stamp on the future of the 1.2 billion-member Church.

Cardinals are the pope’s closest advisers in the Vatican and around the world and those under 80 years old are known as “cardinal-electors” because they can choose his successor.

Humble servants

The new cardinals come from Mali, Spain, Sweden, Laos and El Salvador and all five are under 80 years old. All of those countries, except for Spain, are getting their first cardinal.

With their elevation at a ceremony, known as a consistory, in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis has now named nearly 50 cardinal-electors of a total 121.

During the ceremony where the new cardinals received their red hat, known as a “biretta,” the pope said they were called to be humble servants of others and not “princes of the Church.”

They had to “look at reality” and care for “the innocent who suffer and die as victims of war and terrorism.”

Swiss bank account

They should combat “the forms of enslavement that continue to violate human dignity even in the age of human rights; the refugee camps which at times seem more like a hell than a purgatory; the systematic discarding of all that is no longer useful, people included.”

The new cardinals are Archbishop Jean Zerbo, 73, from Mali, Archbishop Juan Jose Omella, 71, from Spain, Bishop Anders Arborelius, 67, from Stockholm, Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, 73, from Laos, and Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, 74, from San Salvador.

The Church in Mali has denied recent French media reports about alleged irregularities concerning a bank account reportedly held by the Mali Church in Switzerland. A statement this month denied that it was involved in embezzlement but did not comment directly on the Swiss bank account.

The fact that none of the five are Italian and none hold Vatican positions underscores Francis’ conviction that the Church must be a global institution that should become increasingly less Italian and Europe-centric.

It was Francis’ fourth consistory since his election in 2013 and he has used each of them to show support for the Church in countries where Catholics are in a minority, in this case Sweden, Mali and Laos.

Chavez, the new cardinal from El Salvador, was a close associate of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated by a right-wing death squad in 1980. Francis is keen to see Romero made a saint during his pontificate.

Boost of morale in Sweden

The naming of Arborelius, the Swede, was significant because Sweden is where the Lutheran World Federation was founded in 1947 and because this year marks the 500th anniversary of protestant Martin Luther’s Reformation. Francis, who visited Sweden last year, is keen to further Catholic dialogue with Protestant churches.

Sweden is also one of the world’s most secular countries and the naming of a cardinal there will boost the morale of the tiny Catholic population.

After the ceremony in the basilica, the five new cardinals went to pay their respects to 90-year-old former Pope Benedict, who resigned in 2013 and is living on the grounds of the Vatican.

 

Red-hot Iceland Keeps Some Investors Out in the Cold

Iceland spent nearly a decade trying to keep foreign money in the country after a financial collapse, now it is trying to keep some of it out.

The economy is booming again and hedge funds and other foreign investors want exposure to a surging tourism sector, banks, property, infrastructure and the soaring krona currency.

Most capital controls from the 2008 banking crisis were lifted in March, allowing money to flow in and out of the country more freely.

But with over 20 financial crises since 1875 and warnings from economists about the risk of overheating again, the government is being cautious.

It has left in place restrictions making it prohibitively expensive to buy government bonds which offer returns of 4.5 percent, the highest of any developed economy.

On Monday, the central bank took another step to try and break the cycle of boom and bust on the isolated North Atlantic island, clamping down on derivatives and other avenues it was worried were being used to bet on the krona.

“There are a bunch of people I know who would love to put money into Iceland but they simply can’t because of restrictions on the inflows,” said Mark Dowding, who runs a hedge fund at BlueBay Asset Management and bought into the Icelandic government bond market in 2015, before the central bank rules were introduced.

The government is preparing other steps to make Iceland less attractive — a contrast to other economies recovering from crisis which have welcomed inflows of money.

The government is preparing to raise taxes for the tourism industry which has been growing at 20 to 25 percent a year as foreigners flock to its volcanoes, glaciers and geysers. It is also considering a currency peg for the krona.

Opportunities

Iceland offers other exciting investment opportunities.

Growth of more than 6 percent is forecast this year and the krona is up 20 percent versus both the dollar and euro over the last 12 months.

The central bank has cut interest rates four times in the last year and analysts say it would need to cut further if it wants to slow the rise of the currency. That could further stimulate the economy.

“Once every decade or two, I come across a market overseas which is most attractive and is worth considering,” said Gervais Williams, a portfolio manager at London-based Miton Group. “That last happened in 1995 in Ireland, and Iceland is the market I now like.”

Cumulative net capital inflows have gone from almost nothing to 150 billion crown ($1.45 billion) in two years.

New cars sales are at the highest in 10 years, Marriott will open Iceland’s first five-star hotel next year. Data center firms are also moving in as the climate and cheap geothermal energy cut the costs of cooling huge server stacks.

A potential float of Arion Bank, the domestic arm that emerged from the collapsed Kaupthing bank, meanwhile is expected to lead to a surge of new foreign money into the stock market which currently lists just 17 firms.

Several hedge funds — Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, Taconic Capital Advisors and Attestor Capital — bought stakes in Arion privately, after the bulk of capital controls were lifted earlier in the year.

On the back of the shifts, London and Iceland-based fund firm GAMMA Capital Management launched its first two funds — including one hedge fund — for foreign investors in November last year after requests from abroad.

“We have been getting a lot of interest … but investing in Iceland brings a lot of hurdles, so we created a simple conduit,” said Hafsteinn Hauksson, economist at GAMMA. Both funds have more than doubled in size this year, he said.

Red hot

Nevertheless, there are concerns that Iceland could overheat again.

The International Monetary Fund said in a report last week that there was a need for “vigilance with regards to credit growth and the real estate sector, labour market tightening and wage increases.”

It called for capital inflows to be managed carefully.

Iceland has a history of spectacular booms and bust.

The head of Iceland’s central bank regularly describes its 2007-2008 banking bust — when the top-three banks, Kaupthing, Glitnir and Landsbanki collapsed under heavy debts — as “the third-biggest bankruptcy in the history of mankind.”

A 2015 report by Bank of Iceland economists noted that this was not Iceland’s first financial crisis.

“In fact, over a period spanning almost one and a half century [1875-2013], we identify over twenty instances of financial crises of different types,” it said. “Recognizing that crises tend to come in clusters, we identify six serious multiple financial crisis episodes occurring every fifteen years on average.”

The report said the crises typically involved a sudden collapse in the currency and capital inflows.

Glacier bonds

Wary of its history and nervous that the end of capital controls would bring a wave of foreign money, the central bank brought in a rule in May 2016 forcing buyers of its bonds to park additional money in a low interest account.

That costly “special reserve ratio” arrangement has meant foreign investment in Icelandic debt has dropped close to zero.

Along with repeated interest rate cuts, it has taken some of the steam out of the crown over the last month.

“In the current domestic and global circumstances, the risk of excessive and volatile carry-trade type capital inflows was becoming significant,” a central bank spokesman said of why the measure was brought in.

Monday’s decision to scale back some exemptions aimed to make it harder for foreign investors to bet on the krona.

Those exemptions had made it possible to conduct carry trades by issuing krona-denominated bonds — nicknamed Glacier bonds — and entering derivatives contracts with domestic banks.

“Experience has shown that capital inflows in connection with foreign issuance of krona-denominated bonds [Glacier bonds] could weaken monetary policy,” the central bank said.

Iceland also still has controls in place that prevent proceeds from the sale of pre-crisis bonds leaving the country unless the investor signs up to the terms of the central bank’s buyback arrangement, which offer a punitive exchange rate.

Top 5 Songs for Week Ending July 1

We’re lighting up the five most popular songs in the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart, for the week ending July 1, 2017.

To paraphrase a famous lyric from The Who: “meet the new chart, same as the old chart.” Well, with one small exception.

Number 5: Kendrick Lamar “Humble”

Kendrick Lamar spends another week in fifth place with his former title-holder “Humble.”

On June 25, Kendrick took home the Best Male Hip-Hop Artist prize at the BET Awards in Los Angeles. He prevailed over Big Sean, Chance The Rapper, Drake, Future, and J Cole. Kendrick also joined Future onstage to perform the remix of “Mask Off.”

Number 4: Ed Sheeran “Shape of You”

Another week, another fourth-place showing for Ed Sheeran with “Shape Of You.” 

Ed headlined England’s Glastonbury Festival on its iconic Pyramid Stage on June 25. Some fans threw shade at Ed for not performing live, but the explanation was simple: from the beginning of his career, Ed has used tape loops, building instrumentation to accompany himself. The practice dates from his days busking on street corners.

Number 3: Bruno Mars “That’s What I Like”

Way back when, you could find Bruno Mars performing at resorts in Hawaii.

One of six children, Bruno was born into a musical family. From the age of three, he performed in his family’s band, The Love Notes, entertaining tourists in his native Hawaii. Bruno specialized in impersonating Elvis Presley, and even has a cameo appearance in the 1992 Nick Cage comedy “Honeymoon In Vegas.” He also sang at the 1990 Aloha Bowl football game.

Number 2: DJ Khaled Featuring Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance The Rapper and Lil Wayne “I’m The One”

DJ Khaled climbs a slot to second place with “I’m The One” featuring Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance The Rapper, and Lil Wayne. All but Justin took the stage with Khaled on June 25 at the BET Awards. On June 23, Khaled dropped his 10th studio album Grateful. If it tops the chart it would be his second album champ, following last year’s Major Key.

Number 1: Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber “Despacito”

Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber hold the Hot 100 title for a sixth week with “Despacito.” It’s now been 12 weeks since a female artist occupied the Top Five: Taylor Swift and Zayn left the list in mid-April. That’s the longest female Countdown drought since 1972, when women were absent from the Top Five for 13 weeks.

Will the streak end next week? Join us in seven days and we’ll find out!