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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to for 100% free stock alerts Chase Bank has moved to limit cash withdrawals while banning business customers from sending...

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Richemont chairman Johann Rupert to take 'grey gap... Billionaire 62-year-old to take 12 months off from Cartier and Montblanc luxury goods groupRichemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert is to take a year off from September, leaving management of the...

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Cambodia: aftermath of fatal shoe factory collapse... Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday

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Spate of recent shock departures by 50-something CEOs While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted upOn approaching his 60th birthday...

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UK Uncut loses legal challenge over Goldman Sachs tax... While judge agreed the deal was 'not a glorious episode in the history of the Revenue', he ruled it was not unlawfulCampaign group UK Uncut Legal Action has lost its high court challenge over the legality...

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India gets low-cost smartphone boost

Category : Business, World News

The market for low-cost smartphones in India

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Fund manager: Now’s the time to buy bonds

Category : Business, Stocks

Fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach says yields may be painfully low now, but they may go even lower so investors should get in now.

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Waiting for the bond bubble to pop

Category : Business, Stocks

There’s been a lending bonanza, yet investors see dangers in low priced junk bonds.

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Textile workers’ deaths ‘avoidable’

Category : Business, World News

The low pay of Bangladeshis making clothes for the West

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Homebuyers turn to five-year fixed-rate mortgages

Category : Business

The number of five-year fixes has increased 73% in the past year as two-year deals lose popularity with mortgage borrowers

Would you fix your mortgage for five years, seven or even 10? A few years ago the vast majority of people would have said no, opting instead for a cheaper, shorter-term two-year deal. But the tide has turned and increasing numbers of borrowers want the certainty of a longer-term commitment, say brokers – and lenders are offering more, and better, deals.

Tomorrow HSBC is launching the lowest ever five-year fixed rate at 2.49% for those with a 40% deposit or the equivalent equity (be warned; the fee is a whopping £2,000).

This is the first time a five-year fix has dropped below 2.5% – but it’s not just HSBC getting in on the act. In the last year, the number of five-year fixed-rate deals has increased by 73%, says data provider Moneyfacts. By comparison, the traditionally popular two-year fixes have only increased by 33%.

Sylvia Waycot, editor at said: “Five-year fixed-rate mortgages have traditionally been a bit too expensive to be the first choice for most of us. However, thanks to lenders enjoying cheap loans from the government this is changing.”

The government announced last week that it is extending its Funding for Lending scheme, which has been widely credited with bringing mortgage rates down for borrowers.

Experts believe rates on all mortgage terms could become more competitive in the year ahead. So, with all these cheap deals around, should you look to fix at all and if so, for how long?

Consider the base rate

Borrowers deciding whether to fix will undoubtedly want to take into account the widespread speculation that interest rates are unlikely to rise any time soon. “Our view is that we won’t see a rise in the 0.5% base rate until 2016,” says Rob Harbron, economist from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). “Expectations for continued low rates are a result of our outlook for the economy – weak growth conditions are expected to remain the ‘new normal’ for the next few years.”

Economist Ian Kernohan from Royal London Asset Management adds that as the UK is still in post-crisis recovery mode, this means disappointing growth and low interest rates for at least a few years. “We have pencilled in the first rate rise for late 2015 at the very earliest,” he says.

Martin Ellis, housing economist at the Halifax, adds that as interest rates look set to remain at the same level for the rest of the year, this offers a compelling reason for some borrowers to stay on tracker rates.

“However, a fix provides absolute certainty about the cost of monthly repayments,” he says.

Robin Barter, 44, and his wife, Tracey, 46, are among those who have just remortgaged on to a five-year fix for the first time. The couple live in a four-bedroom house in Oxfordshire with their three children: Scott, nine, Luke, seven, and Hugh, four.

Prior to remortgaging, the Barters had held tracker mortgages with Halifax for 14 years but have now switched to NatWest. “Initially, I thought we’d go for another tracker, as I’m familiar with this kind of deal,” says Robin, an account director. “But when we contacted broker London & Country, they came back with the same conclusion that I was starting to reach, that in the current economic climate we’d be better on a fix.

“Given that the base rate is only going to go up at some point, we decided to go for a five-year fix with NatWest.”

This was priced at 2.99% and came with a £995 fee; the deal also offered both free valuation and legal work. “Locking into a low five-year fix now gives us peace of mind that our payments are protected for longer,” says Robin.

“It also means we won’t have to pay fees to remortgage again in a few years, as we would with a shorter deal.”

Beware sky-high fees

For some borrowers, choosing a rock-bottom mortgage rate may be a false economy, according to Andrew Montlake from broker Coreco.

“Having to remortgage and pay high arrangement fees every two years may not be the best way to go,” he says.

“For example, while borrowers may like the sound of HSBC’s two-year fix at 1.89%, at up to 60% loan-to-value (LTV), the fee of £1,999 adds roughly 0.5% to the rate spread over the two years. As a result, Norwich & Peterborough’s fix with a slightly higher rate of 1.99% at up to 60% LTV and a fee of £995 could be a better option over two years.” The key is to factor in the product fee as well as the headline rate. “This will determine whether you are better off paying a higher fee and taking the very lowest rate, or opting for a slightly higher rate with a lower arrangement fee,” says Montlake.

Is two years long enough?

With little expectation of the base rate climbing in the near term, brokers say borrowers are increasingly turning to deals that protect their payments for longer than two years.

After the new HSBC five-year fix, the lowest on rate alone is Yorkshire building society at 2.59% at 60% LTV. Again, this comes with a £1,475 fee. Norwich & Peterborough building society has a five-year fix at 2.74% at 60% LTV with a much lower fee of

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Ed Miliband lays down living wage challenge

Category : Business

As election looms, Labour promises tax breaks for firms that offer living wage

Labour would offer tax breaks to persuade the private sector to pay a living wage as a way to boost productivity and cut welfare bills, Ed Miliband will propose on Saturday.

The Labour leader suggests that firms could be offered either tax reliefs on training or capital investment, or lower business rates, in return for paying the living wage.

Speaking to the Guardian on a campaign tour in advance of Thursday’s local elections, the Labour leader said: “Living wage zones would work for everyone – the people who get decent pay, the employers who get a more committed workforce and the government that saves money on credits.” He said the proposal was a labour market reform that tackled in-work poverty and lifted productivity without boosting the welfare bill.

Dismissing the language of “scroungers and skivers” used by some on the right, he said he wanted “responsibility for everyone to look for work and … compassion for those that cannot find work”.

He added: “I am not going to try to divide the country on welfare.”

The independent thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that for every pound spent paying the living wage, the Treasury saves 50p through not needing to pay tax credits and benefits.

The shadow Treasury team is now looking at the level of incentives needed to get employers to take up the scheme, and whether living wage zones could be established in industry sectors or geographical areas where a critical mass of employers are prepared to pay the living wage.

The measures are being considered as part of the Labour policy review, which is looking at a range of welfare reforms ranging from a compulsory jobs guarantee for the long-term unemployed, to restoring the contributory principle in some areas and switching housing benefit spending to house building.

Miliband said: “We are not going to be able to tackle the problem of in-work poverty through the tax credit system alone. It is a about changing the way the labour market works, using the power of government, making work pay and doing it in a way that gives the private sector real incentives. We have had enterprise zones. We can have living wage zones.”

He said: “Twelve councils are now living wage employers and there are a 17 further in the pipeline. These councils are not only paying their staff the living wage, but also requiring the same of their contractors. We want to extend this progress.”

The living wage is currently set at £7.45 per hour outside London and £8.55 in the capital. There are 200 employers accredited with the living wage campaign. The statutory minimum wage is £6.19.

The Resolution Foundation thinktank has calculated that if all those currently on the minimum wage received the living wage there would be a £2.2bn net saving to the public sector including higher income tax and national insurance receipts.

Miliband said he wanted to see local councils mandated to approach larger private sector employers to help create living wage zones.

He said: “It would be in central government’s interest to get private sector employers over the hump to pay the living wage, so local councils could offer temporary rate subsidies or extra cash for training.

“The money would come from savings to the Treasury through lower tax credit payouts. It’s an incredibly exciting idea since it is a way of persuading private sector there is a real incentive to pay the living wage.

“Employers might say at present this is just a cost to us but if we can show how they will benefit then that attitude changes. There is also increasing evidence that living wage employees are more productive and committed.”

He added: “The whole living wage idea has come up from the grassroots. It has not come from the thinktanks. It is an example of the kind of politics that I want.”

The idea is partly inspired by Arnie Graff the Baltimore-based community activist now working for the Labour party.

His aides said: “Low and stagnating pay is fast becoming a national crisis. In-work poverty has risen by 20% in the last decade and now stands at 6.1 million living in low-income households. Average wages have fallen since 2008, and the number of low wage, low skill jobs is expected to grow.” Miliband, under renewed pressure over lack of policy specifics, has recently been buffeted by the aftermath of Lady Thatcher’s death, unsolicited advice from Tony Blair and warnings from his biggest union backer that he will be consigned to the dustbin of history if he continues to take advice from Blairites such as the shadow defence Jim Murphy.

The Labour leader insisted he is energised by campaigning – making speeches in market squares on a pallet, not he insists a soapbox, the oratorical weapon of John Major. He said: “My biggest enemy is the people that say you politicians are all the same and governments cannot do things.”

On Friday, he was forced in Chesterfield market square by a passing pensioner to make a public vow that if elected he will speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing the truth. Miliband said there is a terrible wall of cynicism out there, adding that Angela Eagle, the shadow leader of the House has just started a public inquiry into political disengagement.

He also insisted he was not on the wrong side of the welfare argument. He said: “I am incredibly confident of our position on welfare. We are in the right place. For the 230,000 young people aged under 25 unemployed for more than a year, or older people unemployed for more than two years, we guarantee you a job at the minimum wage, but you have to take the offer. It’s a clear message that you have got a responsibility to work.

“At the same time I am not going to join George Osborne in saying anyone out of work is a skiver and a scrounger. Personally, I don’t even think it works for them [the Tories]. I don’t think my party is divided over this.

“I want responsibility for everyone to look for work and I want compassion for those that cannot find work. I am not going to try to divide the country on welfare.”

He said he supported benefit caps set regionally since housing benefit, a large part of welfare income, has to reflect regional housing costs. “If the government is so confident about the national cap, why are they not implementing it across the country, instead of some regions?

“The fact is that for all their heavy rhetoric we will be spending more on welfare at the end of this parliament in real terms than at the beginning,” he said.

Asked if he recognised himself as the most leftwing leader of Labour since Michael Foot he said: “I am firmly in the political centre ground, and I am addressing issues that go back decades. For the Brown and Blair generation, it looked like the Thatcher settlement had worked for most people. So Blair for totally understandable reasons was largely not about challenging the social settlement.

“For this generation looking back it becomes blindingly obvious that the Thatcher economic settlement did not work. We have an insecure labour market, wages falling and an economy only working for those at the top.

“We are about creating a different kind of economy for the future. Cameron is almost the business as usual candidate. That is why I think the ball is at our feet and it is our election to win.”

Apple panic: Down 6%, falls below $400

Category : Business

Shares of Apple hit a new 52-week low after a key chip supplier warned of soft sales. But with earnings next week, has Apple finally bottomed?

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Bruce Power: Unit 4 Returns to Service

Category : Stocks

TIVERTON, ONTARIO–(Marketwired – April 13, 2013) - Today, for the first time in two decades, all four units at Bruce A supplied clean, low-cost electricity to the people of Ontario, with the return to service of Unit 4.

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Work doesn’t pay for multi-part-time employees

Category : Business

On paper the number of people in work has risen. But many of these jobs are part time, poorly paid and insecure

They’re the forgotten victims of Britain’s long recession. The individuals and families who have lost well-paid work, but figure only briefly in the unemployment figures as they patch together poorly paid part-time work while struggling to cope with a collapse in their living standards.

Sophie Gaskin worked for 13 years as a forensic scientist then, as a trainer, she taught government agencies and police forces how to gather valuable evidence. She was made redundant in October 2010, shortly before the government closed the Forensic Science Service after it ran up losses of £2m a month – a decision later condemned by the House of Commons science and technology committee for the impact it may have on the criminal justice system.

But for Sophie, it has been personally devastating. After specialising in a niche area, she has found it impossible to find work elsewhere using her scientific skills.

Her savings were initially too high to qualify for welfare benefits. “I couldn’t claim until I was down to the minimum £5,000. Then it took six months to get any money, by which time I was down to my last few pounds,” she says. She has, though, qualified for housing benefit on the flat she rents in Surrey.

This single, fortysomething, has only been able to find part-time admin work paying £8 an hour, and is desperately struggling to make ends meet. “There’s no possibility of going full time and, even if I could, I’d lose my housing benefit. On such a low wage I wouldn’t be able to pay the rent,” she says.

Gaskin has been helped by her union, Prospect, which has provided training and advice, as well as four days of paid work as a trainer.

However, that income resulted in the loss of jobseeker’s allowance.

She goes to the supermarket in the evenings, looking for sell-by date reductions. “I buy value brands and shop late to pick up cut-price food. I get fruit and vegetables from my mother and bake my own bread,” she says.

She’s resilient but is clearly saddened by the loss of her job: “I am upset that forensic evidence is being overlooked. That could lead to miscarriages of justice.”

Low-paid part-time work and self-employment have mushroomed in Britain since 2007 as laid-off workers battle to maintain their living standards. Many economists have been puzzled at the lower-than-expected levels of unemployment, given the scale of the fall in GDP since 2008.

The jobless total jumped from 1.6m in early 2008 to a peak of 2.7m in 2011, but has since dropped to 2.5m. Meanwhile, those in work has risen to a record high of 29.73m, a result of population growth and what the government hails as a dramatic increase in private-sector employment.

But the majority of the newly-created jobs are in the service sector, many part-time, poorly paid and insecure. Even for these, critics say, there is competition from an army of underemployed workers seeking longer hours. A recent poll conducted by IPSOS Mori found that 40% of people in work (and 65% of 18 to 24-year-olds) said they would take on more hours if they could.

A report from the Resolution Foundation on the “squeezed middle” found that low-to-middle-income workers account for 70% of the overall growth in self-employment. Increasing food inflation means families within this group have to pay a £280 cost of living “premium” as they spend a greater share of their budget on essentials (which have risen faster than other goods) compared with higher-income households.

Lower income households are also bearing the brunt of unavoidable increases in the cost of food and utilities, such as gas, electricity and water.

Andrea Kennedy, 48, a divorced mother of two in Liverpool, is typical of those surviving on casual contracts with no job security and sometimes weeks or even months without work.

Until two-and-a-half years ago she was just about managing to cope taking short-term, six-month and 12-month contracts as a full-time administrator. “It was financially hard work, as I was often out of work for up to a month between contracts,” she says.

After yet another contract ended prematurely, she has turned to cleaning to earn a full-time income. “Until recently I’ve been doing three or four part-time cleaning jobs on the minimum wage of £6.19 an hour in order to make ends meet. However, eight weeks ago my hours were cut as one company lost a contract. Now I only have 21 hours.”

Although she owns her two-bed house, she made the mistake of taking out a £15,000 secured loan on her home in 2006 and is still struggling to pay the debt, which has grown to £24,000. “My mortgage is £251 a month and £223 on the loan. At best, I’m only earning £775 a month and, because my working hours fluctuate, I can’t claim tax credits when they drop below 30 hours a week.”

She admits her standard of living has been hit hard. “I’ve had to sell my car, cut back on food and can’t afford a computer or phone. There are no nights out and a cup of coffee is the only treat I can afford.”

She is now considering moving out of Liverpool and gets by with the help of friends and Citizens Advice.

The Trussell Trust, a charity that operates food banks in the UK, says it is not just the homeless, or those living entirely on benefits, who are using its services, but also the working poor, whose incomes have plummeted.

“We’re opening three new foodbanks every week to try and help local communities meet the growing need for emergency food,” says its executive chairman Chris Mould. “People are often surprised that less than 5% of foodbank clients are homeless but many of the 300,000 people we’re helping are low-income working families.”

Moreover, many workers are also getting into debt. National Debtline is a free national telephone helpline for people with debt problems in England, Scotland and Wales. Its spokesperson, Paul Crayston, says: “Almost half of the 234,000 calls in 2012 were from people in employment.”

But there are some who, having gone through the trauma of losing their job and taking a cut from a relatively high income, are now happier.

Maisie Collin, 36, lives in London with her 18-month-old son and her fiancé. Before the recession she worked on a freelance basis in the youth and family care sector, with an income of around £55,000.

After the downturn she took a job as a director of a charity, earning £40,000. In 2011 it was dissolved and she was made redundant while pregnant.

Maisie was unemployed for 18 months, not claiming benefits. She re-mortgaged her flat and used the money to retrain as an Ofsted-registered childcare provider and turn her flat into a nursery. She now runs a daycare centre from home part time, paying two apprentices from a local college to help. She also does part-time life coaching and massage therapy, as well as voluntary work with young people and families. She estimates her new income at between £33,000 and £35,000.

“I’ve got no security, and I have to work really hard. But I love the variety. My lifestyle had to change: everything stopped – I’d eat out quite a lot before, but we couldn’t do that, so I ate differently. I reduced going out.

“It can really affect everything, from your lifestyle to your friendships and relationships with your family. I had to create my own work, and I do earn a lot less than I used to and have a child to support, but I am happier now.”

PC business slumps for fourth quarter in a row

Category : Business

Analyst says Microsoft’s Windows 8 launch has ‘slowed the market’, as slide in shipments points to dramatic shift

The PC market has hit a wall – and now is sliding down it. Shipments shrank for the fourth successive quarter between January and March, dropping by at least 11% according to the research companies Gartner and IDC, which released figures late on Wednesday.

The fall is also the largest-ever contraction since IDC began to keep records in 1994, the company said. Gartner said it points to a dramatic shift in the computing market that will see the number of consumer PCs in use dwindle over time.

The drop will put extra pressure on Microsoft’s chief Steve Ballmer, whose new Windows 8 software released in October is blamed by IDC for the slump in sales: “the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market,” said Bob O’Donnell, IDC program vice-president, clients and displays.

Shipments were 79.2m by Gartner’s figures, down 11% year on year, and just 76.3m according to IDC, down 13.9%. The companies use slightly different measurement methods to count shipments. That compares with a high of about 96m in the third and fourth quarters of 2011 – since when sales have begun to slump.

At IDC, research director David Daoud said: “the magnitude of the contraction is both surprising and worrisome. The industry is going through a critical crossroads, and strategic choices will have to be made as to how to compete with the proliferation of alternative devices and remain relevant to the consumer.”

The death of the netbook at the end of 2012 has cut out a substantial chunk of low-end PC sales, said IDC, leaving a price gap that tablets and smartphones have absorbed.

HP and Dell, two of the world’s five biggest PC vendors, will also come under pressure as neither has a clear strategy in the tablet or smartphone market, to which consumers are shifting their business. Dell’s founder Michael Dell is seeking to take the business private in order to retool it to cope with precisely this challenge.

Microsoft has been struggling to adapt to the new computing landscape since Apple upended the low-end market with the release of its iPad tablet in April 2010. Windows 8, with its touch-friendly “tiles”, is intended to be well positioned for touchscreen devices – but consumers have apparently found the combination of that interface and the normal Windows 7-style “desktop” confusing.

Nor are people willing to buy more expensive touchscreen laptops or tablets with detachable keyboards in large numbers. “The PC industry is struggling to identify innovations that differentiate PCs from other products and inspire consumers to buy, and instead is meeting significant resistance to changes perceived as cumbersome or costly,” IDC said.

The figures from the two companies do not appear to include Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet, launched last year, though they will include its Intel-based Surface Pro, which runs a full version of Windows.

According to IDC, the PC market previously shrank in five successive quarters between the second quarter of 2001 and 2002 – but the falls then were never above 10%, and in four quarters were less than 5%.

In contrast, the latest dip has seen three quarters where the shrinkage is 8% or more year on year, and it seems to be accelerating.

The cause of the slump is that consumers – who historically make up roughly half of all PC purchases – are shifting their spending away to other devices such as tablets and smartphones, said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner, who offered the warning that “even emerging markets, where PC penetration is low, are not expected to be a strong growth area for PC vendors”.

However, Apple, whose main buyers are consumers, appears to have grown faster than the Windows PC market, according to IDC, Gartner and US data from NPD. Although IDC reckoned that its US sales shrank by 7% due to competition from iPads, that would still be growth compared with the overall market there, which it said shrank by 12.7%. Gartner, by contrast, said Apple’s sales grew by 7% in a US market that shrank 9.6%. NPD, which monitors retail sales, says Apple’s sales grew by 14% year on year.

Businesses, meanwhile, seem to be buying at the same rate as before, and even expanding purchases, said Kitagawa: “the professional PC market, which accounts for about half of overall PC shipments, has seen growth, driven by continuing PC refreshes. Despite the fact that some regions already passed the peak of PC refresh, overall professional PC demand continued to grow.”