© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An Israeli flag flutters outside the Bank of Israel building in Jerusalem August 7, 2013. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
By Steven Scheer
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel’s central bank is pushing forward with plans to issue a digital shekel, citing the need to improve the country’s payment systems, but on Tuesday remained noncommittal on whether one would be launched.
The Bank of Israel in November 2021 stepped up its research and preparation for the possible issuance of a digital shekel to create a more efficient payments system after first considering issuing a central bank digital currency (CBDC) in late 2017.
“Whether or not we will issue a digital shekel is still an open question, as it is in most if not all other advanced economies,” Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron said at a conference on digital currencies.
“Either way, we remain committed to be at the frontier, and more than that, to support the effort of pushing the frontier, in our CBDC explorations, as well as in our efforts to modernize and advance our payment systems … and the financial system in general,” Yaron said.
Israel’s central bank has been experimenting with a digital shekel with its Hong Kong counterpart and the Bank for International Settlements. It said the so-called Sela project has proven the feasibility of a retail CBDC and “combines accessibility, competition and preventative cyber security, while retaining key advantages of physical cash.”
Yaron said that given a rapid digitalisation of the economy, working on a CBDC makes sense and noted that Israel has closed the gap with other countries, while stressing that if Israel opts for one, “it will provide at least as much privacy as digital means of payments” and maybe even a higher level.
Deputy Governor Andrew Abir said that for Israel, issuing a digital shekel would provide more competition in a financial system dominated by a few large banks and institutions.
“The CBDC can offer a level playing field on which new entrants can offer financial products,” he said.
Abir said a steep rise in interest rates in the past year demonstrated this need since commercial banks did not fully pass rate increases to the balances of their customers, while on their loans the transmission was full and immediate.
“And there has been an understandable backlash by the public,” Abir said, adding that a digital currency could benefit consumers.
“I believe central banks should return to examine the possibility (of) remunerated CBDCs – that is, for the central bank to pay interest CBDC directly to the end users who hold it, and enjoy the security provided by the central bank. This is a complicated topic with many implications, and we will need to consider them as the project progresses,” Abir said.
Fed’s Powell: Economy still working through the impact of the pandemic
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell holds a press conference in Washington, U.S, September 20, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo
By Howard Schneider
YORK, Pa. (Reuters) – The U.S. economy is still dealing with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said during a meeting with community and business leaders in York, Pennsylvania.
“We are still coming through the other side of the pandemic,” Powell said, noting labor shortages in healthcare, ongoing difficulties with access to child care, and other issues heightened by the health crisis. He did not comment on current monetary policy or the economic outlook in brief opening remarks.
Credit Suisse, Mozambique secure out-of-court ‘tuna bond’ settlement
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The logo of Credit Suisse is seen outside its office building in Hong Kong, China, August 8, 2023. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
By Noele Illien and Kirstin Ridley
ZURICH (Reuters) -Credit Suisse has reached an 11th-hour out-of-court settlement with Mozambique over the decade-old $1.5 billion-plus “tuna bond” scandal, the Swiss bank’s new owner UBS said on Sunday, drawing a line under a damaging dispute it inherited.
“The parties have mutually released each other from any liabilities and claims relating to the transactions,” UBS said in a statement. “The parties are pleased to have resolved this long-running dispute,” it added without giving further details.
Under the deal, struck one day before a three-month London civil trial was due to start, UBS will forgive part of a loan that Credit Suisse made to Mozambique in 2013, representing less than $100 million, said one source familiar with the situation, who declined to be named because the terms are not public.
In Maputo, the Mozambican Attorney General’s Office and Ministry of Economy and Finance said they were calling a joint news conference for Monday morning.
The tuna bond case dates back to deals between state-owned Mozambican companies and shipbuilder Privinvest – funded in part by loans and bonds from Credit Suisse and backed by undisclosed Mozambican government guarantees in 2013 and 2014 – ostensibly to develop the fishing industry and for maritime security.
But hundreds of millions of dollars went missing and, when the government debt came to light in 2016, donors such as the International Monetary Fund temporarily halted support, triggering a currency collapse, defaults and financial turmoil.
The settlement included most of the creditors involved in funding a 2013 loan to ProIndicus, a state-owned Mozambican company, UBS said.
DRAWING A LINE
UBS, which took over scandal-scarred Credit Suisse amid turmoil in the global banking sector earlier this year, has pledged to resolve Credit Suisse’s legacy legal disputes.
Since completing the mega merger on June 12, it has paid $388 million to U.S. and British regulators over dealings with collapsed private investment firm Archegos Capital Management and settled a dispute with a finance blog.
The latest settlement leaves French shipping mogul Iskandar Safa and his Privinvest group among key remaining defendants in a High Court battle over the funding and maritime deals that have already triggered U.S. and Mozambican criminal proceedings.
Mozambique has alleged it was the victim of a conspiracy and that Privinvest paid bribes to corrupt Mozambican officials and Credit Suisse bankers, exposing the country to a potential liability of at least $2 billion.
Privinvest has alleged it delivered on all of its obligations under the contracts and that any payments it made were either investments, consultancy payments, legitimate remuneration or legitimate political campaign contributions.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In another twist to the complex case, Privinvest on Friday secured permission to appeal against a London High Court decision to grant Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi immunity from the proceedings. Privinvest has argued that if it is found liable, Nyusi should contribute to any damages.
Officials in the Maputo government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Court of Appeal Judge Elizabeth Laing said it was now up to the trial judge to grant any applications for adjournment, a decision seen by Reuters over the weekend showed.
In 2021, Credit Suisse agreed to pay about $475 million to British and U.S. authorities to resolve bribery and fraud charges and has pledged to forgive $200 million of debt owed by Mozambique.
It has alleged three former bankers, who arranged the bonds and have pleaded guilty in the United States to handling kickbacks, hid their misconduct from the bank.
US Congress averts government shutdown, passing stopgap bill
© Reuters. U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks with reporters after a House Republican conference meeting following a series of failed votes on spending packages at the U.S. Capitol ahead of a looming government shutdown in Washington, U.S. September 29,
By David Morgan, Moira Warburton and Makini Brice
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Congress passed a stopgap funding bill late on Saturday with overwhelming Democratic support after Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy backed down from an earlier demand by his party’s hardliners for a partisan bill.
The Democratic-majority Senate voted 88-9 to pass the measure to avoid the federal government’s fourth partial shutdown in a decade, sending the bill to President Joe Biden, who signed it into law before the 12:01 a.m. ET (0401 GMT) deadline.
McCarthy abandoned party hardliners’ insistence that any bill pass the House with only Republican votes, a change that could cause one of his far-right members to try to oust him from his leadership role.
The House voted 335-91 to fund the government through Nov. 17, with more Democrats than Republicans supporting it.
That move marked a profound shift from earlier in the week, when a shutdown looked all but inevitable. A shutdown would mean that most of the government’s 4 million employees would not get paid – whether they were working or not – and also would shutter a range of federal services, from National Parks to financial regulators.
Federal agencies had already drawn up detailed plans that spell out what services would continue, such as airport screening and border patrols, and what must shut down, including scientific research and nutrition aid to 7 million poor mothers.
“The American people can breathe a sigh of relief: there will be no government shutdown tonight,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote. “Democrats have said from the start that the only solution for avoiding a shutdown is bipartisanship, and we are glad Speaker McCarthy has finally heeded our message.”
DEMOCRATS CALL IT A WIN
Some 209 Democrats supported the bill, far more than the 126 Republicans who did so, and Democrats described the result as a win.
“Extreme MAGA Republicans have lost, the American people have won,” top House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries told reporters ahead of the vote, referring to the “Make America Great Again” slogan used by former President Donald Trump and many hardline Republicans.
Democratic Representative Don Beyer said: “I am relieved that Speaker McCarthy folded and finally allowed a bipartisan vote at the 11th hour on legislation to stop Republicans’ rush to a disastrous shutdown.”
McCarthy’s shift won the support of top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, who had backed a similar measure that was moving through the Senate with broad bipartisan support, even though the House version dropped aid for Ukraine.
Democratic Senator Michael Bennett held the bill up for several hours trying to negotiate a deal for further Ukraine aid.
“While I would have preferred to pass a bill now with additional assistance for Ukraine, which has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, it is easier to help Ukraine with the government open than if it were closed,” Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen said in a statement.
McCarthy dismissed concerns that hardline Republicans could try to oust him as leader.
“I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try,” McCarthy told reporters. “And you know what? If I have to risk my job for standing up for the American public, I will do that.”
He said that House Republicans would push ahead with plans to pass more funding bills that would cut spending and include other conservative priorities, such as tighter border controls.
The standoff comes just months after Congress brought the federal government to the brink of defaulting on its $31.4 trillion debt. The drama has raised worries on Wall Street, where the Moody’s (NYSE:) ratings agency has warned it could damage U.S. creditworthiness.
Congress typically passes stopgap spending bills to buy more time to negotiate the detailed legislation that sets funding for federal programs.
This year, a group of Republicans has blocked action in the House as they have pressed to tighten immigration and cut spending below levels agreed to in the debt-ceiling standoff in the spring.
The McCarthy-Biden deal that avoided default set a limit of $1.59 trillion in discretionary spending in fiscal 2024. House Republicans are demanding a further $120 billion in cuts.
The funding fight focuses on a relatively small slice of the $6.4 trillion U.S. budget for this fiscal year. Lawmakers are not considering cuts to popular benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
“We should never have been in this position in the first place. Just a few months ago, Speaker McCarthy and I reached a budget agreement to avoid precisely this type of manufactured crisis,” Biden said in a statement after the vote. “House Republicans tried to walk away from that deal by demanding drastic cuts that would have been devastating for millions of Americans. They failed.”
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