U.S. warns of heightened risks associated with business in Myanmar

Demonstrators protest against the military coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 6, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

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WASHINGTON, Jan 26 (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday issued a business advisory for Myanmar, warning of heightened risks associated with doing business in the country especially when the military is involved, nearly a year after a the army took power in a coup.

The advisory warned that businesses should be wary of illicit finance risks as well as reputational and legal risks of doing business and utlizing supply chains under Myanmar military control.

“The coup and subsequent abuses committed by the military have fundamentally changed the direction of the economic and business environment in Burma,” the advisory said.

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Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup on Feb. 1 last year, after complaining of fraud in a November 2020 general election won by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. Election monitoring groups found no evidence of mass fraud. read more

The junta has been fighting on multiple fronts since seizing power, cracking down with deadly force on protests while intensifying operations against ethnic minority armies and newly formed militias allied with the ousted government.

“The return of military rule in Burma brings with it high levels of public corruption and a deficient anti-money laundering regime,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement.

The advisory cited state-owned enterprises, gems and precious metals, real estate and construction projects and arms, military equipment and related activity as entities and sectors of greatest concern in the country, adding that they have been identified as providing economic resources for the junta.

The advisory said state-owned enterprises, including Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise and Myanma Timber Enterprise, played a large role in the country’s economy and generate about half of the junta’s revenue.

The advisory comes after oil majors TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) and Chevron Corp (CVX.N), partners in a major gas project in Myanmar, said last week they were withdrawing from the country, citing the worsening humanitarian situation following the coup. read more

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Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Chris Gallagher; Editing by Alex Richardson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Why You Might Not Be Returning to the Office Until Next Year

Postponing gives the workers who are responding to new requirements sufficient time to become fully vaccinated. And it gives companies more time to set up the logistics that accompany vaccination mandates, such as processes for tracking vaccination status and, soon, who has received a booster.

“Within a company, a C.E.O. can say: ‘Our company, our culture, our business. We need to be together, we need to be in the office, this is the date,’” said Mary Kay O’Neill, a senior health consultant at Mercer Consulting Group. “And then our friends in H.R. are like, ‘How are we going to do that?’”

For some organizations, negotiations with unions are also a factor. A spokeswoman for NPR, which has not set a date for returning to the office, said the public radio network was working “with key stakeholders, including our unions, to evaluate the best approaches to keeping our staff safe and maintaining our operations.”

With new logistics around vaccine mandates, continued uncertainty around variants, and increasingly vocal employee demands, some companies, including The New York Times and American Airlines, have opted out of setting return dates.

The agility of technology companies, alongside industries like consulting and media, is in many ways unique. CVS Health is still eyeing a fall return, albeit with a degree of flexibility worked in. And many employees never went home at all — with a good portion of workers at companies like General Motors, Ford Motor and Chevron having worked on-site throughout most of the pandemic.

Many companies that did send employees home remain eager to bring them back. The longer workers stay out of the office, the harder it may be to cajole their return. And real estate costs are difficult to justify if offices are left empty.

In finance, which traditionally puts a priority on in-person apprenticeship and hustling, the prominent firms have made being in the office a recruiting tool. Goldman Sachs brought back its employees in June and JPMorgan Chase in July. The rise of the Delta variant didn’t slow those plans down, but it did seemingly expedite measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Goldman said last month that it would require anyone who entered its U.S. offices, including clients, to be fully vaccinated.

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Can Companies Make Employees Get Vaccinated?

Environmental, social and governance issues are increasingly important for companies, and a decision in one of the three aspects of so-called E.S.G. often has implications for the others. The more that board members can see these connections, the more likely they’ll act in society’s interest, argues the economist and author Dambisa Moyo, who also sits on the boards of 3M and Chevron. The same goes for stakeholders who want companies to be better citizens.

Moyo spoke with DealBook about her new book, “How Boards Work: And How They Can Work Better in a Chaotic World.” The interview had been edited and condensed for clarity.

DealBook: What do people misunderstand about how boards work?

Moyo: People’s perception is quite facile but it’s important to understand the array of issues and what levers they actually have, the complexity and range of decisions board members face and their limits. In my time on boards in different industries and countries, I’ve seen almost every crisis except bankruptcy, along with the rise of the E.S.G. agenda.

What’s the most important attribute in a board member?

Good judgment. You can’t be dogmatic. You have to be flexible and pragmatic.

How is running a company different today than before?

Corporations have always been part of the communities and societies they operated in. But in areas where the government was leading before, for a whole host of reasons, companies have been stepping up, for example with E.S.G. issues.

What’s the story with E.S.G.?

People often don’t realize how the different goals interact or create second-order problems. For example, when students at Oxford University constantly encourage the endowment to defund energy companies, they don’t think about the 1.5 billion people in the world who still don’t have access to power, and how that influences diversity and inclusion. They see no connection. But the kids from energy-poor countries are not going to make it to Oxford that way.

Is it all too complex?

I’m very optimistic we can get there. We need to be less hasty and more innovative. I do think we need to create some kind of framework that supports society and has teeth. And, most importantly, that’s sustainable.

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Exxon Mobil and Chevron Report Quarterly Profit After String of Losses

Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the two biggest oil companies in the United States, on Friday reported their first quarterly profits after several quarters of losses, signaling that the energy industry is rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic.

Oil prices have climbed in recent months and are now roughly where they were before the pandemic’s full force was felt. As a result, Exxon reported a $2.7 billion profit in the first three months of the year, compared with a loss of $610 million in the same period a year ago. Chevron said its profit was $1.4 billion, down from $3.6 billion a year earlier. Chevron this week raised its dividend by nearly 4 percent.

The American oil benchmark price, now around $64 a barrel, has tripled since last April. Natural gas prices have also strengthened during the recovery.

“The strong first quarter results reflect the benefits of higher commodity prices and our focus on structural cost reductions,” Darren Woods, Exxon’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Only six months ago, many analysts warned that Exxon would have to cut its dividend, but now the shareholder payout appears safe because of rising production and higher chemical prices. Exxon this month reported yet another in a string of big oil discoveries off the coast of Guyana, one of its most important growth areas.

At Chevron, sales and other revenue in the quarter increased to $31 billion, $1 billion more than the year-ago quarter.

“Earnings strengthened primarily due to higher oil prices as the economy recovers,” said Mike Wirth, Chevron’s chief executive.

Both companies suffered losses from the severe Texas freeze in February. Exxon reported that lost sales and repairs cost the company nearly $600 million. Chevron said its results were weakened by $300 million in lost oil and refining production and repairs.

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Why Investing in Fossil Fuels Is So Tricky

As concerns about climate change push the world economy toward a lower-carbon future, investing in oil may seem a risky bet. For the long term, that may be true.

Yet for the moment, at least, oil and gas prices appear likely to continue to rise as the economy recovers from the pandemic-driven shutdown of millions of businesses, big and small.

These countervailing trends — increasing demand now and falling demand at some point, perhaps in the not-too-distant future — create a dilemma for investors.

The good news is that an array of traditional mutual funds and exchange-traded funds are available to help them navigate these uncertain waters. Some funds focus on slices of the industry, such as extracting crude oil and gas from the ground or delivering refined products to consumers. Others focus on so-called integrated companies that do it all. Some spice their holdings with some exposure to wind, solar or other alternative energy sources.

International Energy Agency forecast that oil consumption was not likely to return to prepandemic levels in developed economies.

“World oil markets are rebalancing after the Covid-19 crisis spurred an unprecedented collapse in demand in 2020, but they may never return to ‘normal,’” the I.E.A. said in its “Oil 2021” report. “Rapid changes in behavior from the pandemic and a stronger drive by governments toward a low-carbon future have caused a dramatic downward shift in expectations for oil demand over the next six years.”

alternative energy funds. Many enable investors to zero in on discrete segments of the industry.

The biggest holdings of the Invesco WilderHill Clean Energy E.T.F. are producers of raw materials for solar cells and rechargeable batteries or builders and operators of large-scale solar projects. The $2.9 billion fund yields 0.49 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.7 percent.

The First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index Fund focuses on applied green technology. Its biggest holdings are Tesla, the American maker of electric automobiles; NIO, a Chinese rival in that field; and Plug Power, which makes hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles. Also a $2.9 billion fund, it yields 0.24 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.6 percent.

The First Trust Global Wind Energy E.T.F., as its name suggests, targets wind turbine manufacturers and servicers, led by the Spanish-German joint venture Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy and Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark, as well as operators such as Northland Power of Canada. This $423 million fund yields 0.92 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.61 percent.


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Biden Tax Plan Charts New Path to Economic Growth

President Biden’s ambitious plan to increase corporate taxes does more than just reverse much of the overhaul pushed through by his predecessor. It also offers a profoundly different vision of how to make the United States more competitive and how to foot the bill.

When President Donald J. Trump and a Republican Congress rewrote the tax code in 2017, most of the benefits went to the wealthiest Americans, with lower rates on businesses and on profits from investments. The guiding principle, proponents argued, was that cutting taxes on corporations and investors would encourage businesses to expand, creating more jobs and generating more wealth for everyone.

By contrast, the animating idea behind the tax plan put forward by the Biden administration on Wednesday is that the best way to increase America’s competitiveness and foster economic growth is to raise corporate taxes to finance huge investments in transportation, broadband, utilities and more.

The Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers all welcomed the idea of pumping money into repairing and building the nation’s infrastructure, but recoiled at raising corporate taxes to do so.

said in a statement.

The biggest and most eye-catching proposal is to trim the sizable reduction in the corporate tax rate enacted under Mr. Trump. In 2017, Republicans shrank the rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. Mr. Biden wants to nudge the rate part of the way back — to 28 percent.

The increase will “ensure that corporations pay their fair share of taxes,” and fund critical investments “to maintain the competitiveness of the United States and grow the economy,” the White House stated in outlining the plan.

The other provisions are primarily intended to ensure that multinational corporations cannot avoid taxes on profits generated overseas. The hope is that this will reduce the temptation to set up operations or offices in foreign tax havens.

Wall Street has been wary of possible tax increases since the presidential election and has hoped that gridlock in Washington would moderate Mr. Biden’s agenda. On Wednesday, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase said the bank’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, believed that “the corporate tax rate for companies in the U.S. has to be competitive globally, which it is now.”

Supporters countered that the changes would do much more to promote growth and go a long way in curbing excesses of the 2017 tax legislation. Democrats have argued that the low-tax approach has failed to deliver broad economic gains, with only those at the very top benefiting. Targeted government spending on workers, students and infrastructure, they argue, would offer much more bang for the buck. What’s more, businesses base their decisions on a range of factors besides tax rates.

Even economists favoring low rates on business acknowledge that the 2017 tax cuts did not produce much of an increase in investment. Gross domestic product grew at a rate of 2.4 percent in the two years leading up to the law and 2.4 percent in the two years after it passed.

“There’s essentially no evidence that the tax change boosted investment,” said William Gale, co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. He argued that investment went up in 2018 only because oil prices rose. And while the tax law favored investments in equipment and structures, it turned out that the biggest investments were not in those areas but in intellectual capital.

11.3 percent on their 2018 income.

pass through income to their owners or shareholders. (They pay taxes at the ordinary rate on their individual returns.)

The Biden administration has indicated that tax increases for the wealthy will help fund the second phase of the infrastructure plan, which is expected to be announced next month and will focus on priorities like education, health care and paid leave.

Gillian Friedman and Lauren Hirsch contributed reporting.

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