VulcanForms was founded in 2015 by Dr. Hart and one of his graduate students, Martin Feldmann. They pursued a fresh approach for 3-D printing that uses an array of many more laser beams than existing systems. It would require innovations in laser optics, sensors and software to choreograph the intricate dance of laser beams.

By 2017, they had made enough progress to think they could build a machine, but would need money to do it. The pair, joined by Anupam Ghildyal, a serial start-up veteran who had become part of the VulcanForms team, went to Silicon Valley. They secured a seed round of $2 million from Eclipse Ventures.

The VulcanForms technology, recalled Greg Reichow, a partner at Eclipse, was trying to address the three shortcomings of 3-D printing: too slow, too expensive and too ridden with defects.

Arwood Machine this year.

Arwood is a modern machine shop that mostly does work for the Pentagon, making parts for fighter jets, underwater drones and missiles. Under VulcanForms, the plan over the next few years is for Arwood to triple its investment and work force, currently 90 people.

VulcanForms, a private company, does not disclose its revenue. But it said sales were climbing rapidly, while orders were rising tenfold quarter by quarter.

Cerebras, which makes specialized semiconductor systems for artificial intelligence applications. Cerebras sought out VulcanForms last year for help making a complex part for water-cooling its powerful computer processors.

The semiconductor company sent VulcanForms a computer-design drawing of the concept, an intricate web of tiny titanium tubes. Within 48 hours VulcanForms had come back with a part, recalled Andrew Feldman, chief executive of Cerebras. Engineers for both companies worked on further refinements, and the cooling system is now in use.

Accelerating the pace of experimentation and innovation is one promise of additive manufacturing. But modern 3-D printing, Mr. Feldman said, also allows engineers to make new, complex designs that improve performance. “We couldn’t have made that water-cooling part any other way,” Mr. Feldman said.

“Additive manufacturing lets us rethink how we build things,” he said. “That’s where we are now, and that’s a big change.”

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Gas Prices Around the World Threaten Livelihoods and Stability

“NO ES SUFICIENTE” — It’s not enough. That was the message protest leaders in Ecuador delivered to the country’s president this past week after he said he would lower the price of both regular gas and diesel by 10 cents in response to riotous demonstrations over soaring fuel and food prices.

The fury and fear over energy prices that have exploded in Ecuador are playing out the world over. In the United States, average gasoline prices, which have jumped to $5 per gallon, are burdening consumers and forcing an excruciating political calculus on President Biden ahead of the midterm congressional elections this fall.

But in many places, the leap in fuel costs has been much more dramatic, and the ensuing misery much more acute.

Britain, it costs $125 to fill the tank of an average family-size car. Hungary is prohibiting motorists from buying more than 50 liters of gas a day at most service stations. Last Tuesday, police in Ghana fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators protesting against the economic hardship caused by gas price increases, inflation and a new tax on electronic payments.

largest exporter of oil and gas to global markets, and the retaliatory sanctions that followed have caused gas and oil prices to gallop with an astounding ferocity. The unfolding calamity comes on top of two years of upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, off-and-on shutdowns and supply chain snarls.

World Bank revised its economic forecast last month, estimating that global growth will slow even more than expected, to 2.9 percent this year, roughly half of what it was in 2021. The bank’s president, David Malpass, warned that “for many countries, recession will be hard to avoid.”

ratcheting down gas deliveries to several European countries.

Across the continent, countries are preparing blueprints for emergency rationing that involve caps on sales, reduced speed limits and lowered thermostats.

As is usually the case with crises, the poorest and most vulnerable will feel the harshest effects. The International Energy Agency warned last month that higher energy prices have meant an additional 90 million people in Asia and Africa do not have access to electricity.

Expensive energy radiates pain, contributing to high food prices, lowering standards of living and exposing millions to hunger. Steeper transportation costs increase the price of every item that is trucked, shipped or flown — whether it’s a shoe, cellphone, soccer ball or prescription drug.

“The simultaneous rise in energy and food prices is a double punch in the gut for the poor in practically every country,” said Eswar Prasad, an economist at Cornell University, “and could have devastating consequences in some corners of the world if it persists for an extended period.”

Group of 7 this past week discussed a price cap on exported Russian oil, a move that is intended to ease the burden of painful inflation on consumers and reduce the export revenue that President Vladimir V. Putin is using to wage war.

Price increases are everywhere. In Laos, gas is now more than $7 per gallon, according to GlobalPetrolPrices.com; in New Zealand, it’s more than $8; in Denmark, it’s more than $9; and in Hong Kong, it’s more than $10 for every gallon.

Leaders of three French energy companies have called for an “immediate, collective and massive” effort to reduce the country’s energy consumption, saying that the combination of shortages and spiking prices could threaten “social cohesion” next winter.

increased coal production to avoid power outages during a blistering heat wave in the northern and central parts of the country and a subsequent rise in demand for air conditioning.

Germany, coal plants that were slated for retirement are being refired to divert gas into storage supplies for the winter.

There is little relief in sight. “We will still see high and volatile energy prices in the years to come,” said Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency.

At this point, the only scenario in which fuel prices go down, Mr. Birol said, is a worldwide recession.

Reporting was contributed by José María León Cabrera from Ecuador, Lynsey Chutel from South Africa, Ben Ezeamalu from Nigeria, Jason Gutierrez from the Philippines, Oscar Lopez from Mexico and Ruth Maclean from Senegal.

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Netflix Says It’s Business as Usual. Is That Good Enough?

While being honored at the Banff Film Festival in Canada in early June, Bela Bajaria, Netflix’s head of global television, surprised some with what she didn’t say. Despite the recent turmoil at the streaming giant — including a loss of subscribers, hundreds of job cuts and a precipitous stock drop — she said Netflix was charging ahead, with no significant plans to change its programming efforts.

“For me, looking at it, the business works,” Ms. Bajaria said from the stage. “We are not doing some radical shift in our business. We’re not merging. We’re not having a big transitional phase.”

Two weeks later, after Netflix had laid off another 300 people, Reed Hastings, the company’s co-chief executive, doubled down on Ms. Bajaria’s message, reassuring the remaining employees that the future would, in fact, be bright and that in the next 18 months the company would hire 1,500 people.

“Spiderhead” and the series “God’s Favorite Idiot” have been critically derided.) A producer who works with Netflix said the word “quality” was being bandied about much more often in development meetings.

Emily Feingold, a Netflix spokeswoman, disputed the idea that focusing on a show’s quality was somehow a change in strategy, referring to such disparate content as “Squid Game,” the reality television show “Too Hot to Handle,” and movies like “Red Notice” and “The Adam Project.”

“Consumers have very different, diverse tastes,” Ms. Feingold said. “It’s why we invest in such a broad range of stories, always aspiring to make the best version of that title irrespective of the genre. Variety and quality are key to our ongoing success.”

The producer Todd Black said that the process for getting a project into development at Netflix had slowed down but that otherwise it was business as usual.

“They are looking at everything, which I get,” said Mr. Black, who last worked with Netflix when he produced “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in 2020. “They are trying to course correct. We have to be patient and let them do that. But they are open for business. They are buying things.”

Indeed, the company still intends to spend some $17 billion on content this year. It paid $50 million last month for a thriller starring Emily Blunt and directed by David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”). And it plans to make “The Electric State,” a $200 million film directed by Joe and Anthony Russo (“Avengers: Endgame” and “The Gray Man”) and starring Millie Bobby Brown and Chris Pratt, after Universal Pictures balked at the price tag. The company also just announced a development deal for a television adaptation of “East of Eden” starring Florence Pugh.

On Tuesday, Whip Media, a research firm, said Netflix had fallen from second to fourth place in the firm’s annual streaming customer satisfaction survey, behind HBO Max, Disney+ and Hulu.

The most significant change coming for Netflix is its advertising tier, which, as it has told employees, it wants to roll out by the end of the year. Netflix’s foray into advertising stoked excitement among media buyers at the industry’s annual conference in Cannes last week.

“It was pretty intense,” said Dave Morgan, who is the chief executive of Simulmedia, a company that works with advertisers, and who attended the conference. “It was one of the top two or three issues everyone was talking about.”

Mr. Hastings said Netflix would work with an outside company to help get its nascent advertising business underway. The Wall Street Journal reported that Google and Comcast were the front-runners to be that partner. Still, advertising executives believe that building out the business at Netflix could take time, and that the company might be able to introduce the new tier only in a handful of international markets by the end of the year.

It could take even longer for advertising to become a significant revenue stream for the company.

“You have a lot of media companies duking it out, and it’ll take quite a while to compete with those companies,” Mr. Morgan said. “I could imagine it will take three or four years to even be a top 10 video ad company.”

In an analyst report this month, Wells Fargo threw cold water on the notion that subscriber growth for an ad-supported tier would be quick. Wells Fargo analysts cautioned that the ad model would offer “modest” financial gains in the next two years because of a natural cannibalization from the higher-paying subscriber base. They predicted that by the end of 2025 nearly a third of the subscriber base would pay for the cheaper ad-supported model, roughly 100 million users.

Bank of America went further last week. “Ad-tiering could serve as a way for consumers across all income brackets to extend their streaming budget by trading down to subscribe to an additional service, benefiting Netflix’s competitors much more than Netflix itself,” it said in an analyst letter.

Netflix has also reached out to the studios that it buys TV shows and movies from in recent weeks, seeking permission to show advertising on licensed content. In negotiations with Paramount Global, Netflix has mentioned paying money on top of its existing licensing fee rather than cutting the company in on revenue from future ad sales, said a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss active talks.

This mirrors the approach Netflix took with studios when it introduced its “download for you” feature, which allowed users to save movies and TV shows to their devices to watch offline. When Netflix added that feature, executives at the streaming service agreed to pay studios a fee in addition to their licensing agreement.

In the end, though, Netflix’s success will most likely come down to how well it spends its $17 billion content budget.

“Netflix, dollar for dollar, needs to do better, and that falls on Ted Sarandos and his whole team,” Mr. Greenfield said, referring to the company’s co-chief executive. “They haven’t done a good enough job. Yet, they are still, by far, the leader.”

Benjamin Mullin contributed reporting.

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Stake – Cash Back and Banking Services for Renters –  Raises $12 Million in Series A Funding

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Stake, which provides Cash Back and banking services to renters, announced today the completion of its $12 million Series A financing round. With Stake, renters earn Cash Back when they take positive actions, like signing a lease and paying rent. Owners save money with every renter action.

The round was led by RET Ventures, which selected Stake as one of the first investments for the new RET Ventures ESG Fund (the “Housing Impact Fund”). Participation also included: Enterprise Community Partners, which, since 1982, has helped create or preserve 873,000 homes; Hometeam Ventures; Operator Stack; and Second Century Ventures, the investment arm of the National Association of Realtors. Existing investors Shadow Ventures and Olive Tree Ventures also participated in the round.

Today more than 44 million American households pay rent every month, and from 1985 to 2020, median rent prices increased by nearly 150% despite income growing just 35%. Leveraging behavioral science, Stake was founded in 2018 to empower renters by providing them with Cash Back on their rent as well as no-fee banking services to build savings. Stake also mitigates pain points for building owners, increasing lease-ups, reducing economic vacancy, improving maintenance, and increasing ancillary revenue.

Using Stake, property managers receive a 130% return on every dollar spent. Renters earn an average of 4% Cash Back on their rent each month. Across the $385 million in annual leases connected to the platform, 65% of renters have more money in their Stake account than any other banking account. In the past year, the number of residences that offer Cash Back with Stake has grown by 10x.

“Renters don’t need more debt or loans,” noted Rowland Hobbs, Co-Founder and CEO of Stake. “What renters need is money to help with everyday essentials and to establish long-term savings. With Stake, we have reimagined the classic ‘rainy day fund’ for renters to build the sort of wealth traditionally associated with home ownership. Now, their largest expense is also their largest source of savings.”

The new funding round will enable Stake to continue building out its financial infrastructure and suite of solutions that address difficult issues for renters and property owners alike.

“Stake’s approach to housing affordability is perfectly aligned with the mission of our ESG-centric fund,” said John Helm, partner at RET Ventures, who will join Stake’s board. “While a slew of platforms offer renters innovative payment options, they are all credit or debt-based. They ultimately encourage dangerous behaviors as part of their proposed solution. Stake flips the script on this model by offering a risk-free, renter-centric, efficient, and easy-to-use pathway toward building wealth.”

“Unlike homeowners, renters rarely reap financial benefits from paying for their homes – and families who rent tell us they could use a little extra cash each month. This is why Stake’s goal of empowering more economically resilient renters through cash back and no-fee banking services resonated with us,” said Enterprise Community Partners President and CEO Priscilla Almodovar. “It’s not just a good deal for renters. It makes sense for landlords, too, who are more likely to retain residents, which in turn strengthens communities.”

About Stake

Stake is building the financial infrastructure for the next generation of rentals. Stake aligns incentives between renters, operators, owners, and investors, so everyone earns the Return on Rent™ they deserve. Stake’s revenue management tools outperform, returning 130% on every dollar spent. These savings return millions of dollars to renters each year in the Stake app. Thousands of renters use Stake to earn Cash Back, grow their savings, and access free and equitable banking services. Headquartered in New York City and Seattle, Stake is on a mission to empower wealthier, happier, and more resilient renters. For more information, please visit https://www.stake.rent/

About RET Ventures

A leading real estate technology investment firm, RET Ventures is the first industry-backed, early-stage venture fund strategically focused on building cutting-edge “rent tech” — technology for multifamily and single-family rental real estate. RET invests out of core venture funds and a Housing Impact Fund, backing companies that address a range of pain points for real estate operators. Through its deep expertise and connections, RET provides solutions to issues ranging from housing affordability and sustainability to risk management and operational efficiency. The firm’s Strategic Investors include some of the largest REITs and private real estate owner-operators and managers, who control approximately 2.4 million rental units worth $600 billion. For more information, please visit www.ret.vc

About Enterprise Community Partners

Enterprise is a national nonprofit that exists to make a good home possible for the millions of families without one. We support community development organizations on the ground, aggregate and invest capital for impact, advance housing policy at every level of government, and build and manage communities ourselves. Since 1982, we have invested $54 billion and created 873,000 homes across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico – all to make home and community places of pride, power and belonging. Join us at enterprisecommunity.org.

*Stake is a financial technology company and is not a bank. Banking services provided by Blue Ridge Bank N.A; Member FDIC. The Stake Visa® Debit Card is issued by Blue Ridge Bank N.A. pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.

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Payment Data Could Become Evidence of Abortion, Now Illegal in Some States

Digital payments are the default for millions of women of childbearing age. So what will their credit and debit card issuers and financial app providers do when prosecutors seek their transaction data during abortion investigations?

It’s a hypothetical question that’s almost certainly an inevitable one in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade last week. Now that abortion is illegal in several states, criminal investigators will soon begin their hunt for evidence to prosecute those they say violated the law.

Medical records are likely to be the most definitive proof of what now is a crime, but officials who cannot get those may look for evidence elsewhere. The payment trail is likely to be a high priority.

HIPAA — which governs the privacy of a patient’s health records — permits medical and billing records to be released in response to a warrant or subpoena.

“There is a very broad exception to the HIPAA protections for law enforcement,” said Marcy Wilder, a partner and co-head of the global privacy and cybersecurity practice at Hogan Lovells, a law firm. But Ms. Wilder added that the information shared with law enforcement officials could not be overly broad or unrelated to the request. “That is why it matters how companies and health plans are interpreting this.”

Card issuers and networks like Visa and Mastercard generally do not have itemized lists of everything that people pay for when they shop for prescription drugs or other medications online, or when they purchase services at health care providers. But evidence of patronage of, say, a pharmacy that sells only abortion pills could give someone away.

a new state law authorizes residents to file lawsuits against anyone who helped facilitate an abortion.

“With the ruling only coming down late last week, it’s premature to understand the full impact at the state level,” Brad Russell, a USAA spokesman, said via email. “However, USAA will always comply with all applicable laws.”

American Airlines Credit Union, Bank of America, Capital One, Discover, Goldman Sachs, Prosperity Bank USA, Navy Federal Credit Union, US Bank, University of Wisconsin Credit Union, Wells Fargo and Western Union did not return at least two messages seeking comment.

American Express, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo have all announced their intentions to reimburse employees for expenses if they travel to other states for abortions. So far, none have commented about how they would respond to a subpoena seeking the transaction records of the very employees who would be eligible for employer reimbursement.

Amie Stepanovich, vice president of U.S. policy at the Future of Privacy Forum, a nonprofit focused on data privacy and protection, said warrants and subpoenas can be accompanied by gag orders, which can prevent companies from even alerting their customers that they’re being investigated.

“They can choose to battle the use of gag orders in court,” she said. “Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t.”

In other instances, prosecutors may not say exactly what they’re investigating when they ask for transaction records. In that case, it’s up to the financial institution to request more information or try to figure it out on its own.

Paying for abortion services with cash is one possible way to avoid detection, even if it isn’t possible for people ordering pills online. Many abortion funds pay on behalf of people who need financial help.

But cash and electronic transfers of money are not entirely foolproof.

“Even if you are paying with cash, the amount of residual information that can be used to reveal health status and pregnancy status is fairly significant,” said Ms. Stepanovich, referring to potential bread crumbs such as the use of a retailer’s loyalty program or location tracking on a mobile phone when making a cash purchase.

In some cases, users may inadvertently give up sensitive information themselves through apps that track and share their financial behavior.

“The purchase of a pregnancy test on an app where financial history is public is probably the biggest red flag,” Ms. Stepanovich said.

Other advocates mentioned the possibility of using prepaid cards in fixed amounts, like the kinds that people can buy off a rack in a drugstore. Cryptocurrency, they added, usually does leave enough of a trail that achieving anonymity is challenging.

One thing that every expert emphasized is the lack of certainty. But there is an emerging gut feeling that corporations will be in the spotlight at least as much as judges.

“Now, these payment companies are going to be front and center in the fight,” Ms. Caraballo said.

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Retail Workers Increasingly Fear for Their Safety

Assaults at stores have been increasing at a faster pace than the national average. Some workers are tired of fearing for their safety.


There was the customer who stomped on the face of a private security guard. Then the one who lit herself on fire inside a store. The person who drank gasoline and the one who brandished an ax. An intoxicated shopper who pelted a worker with soup cans. A shoplifter who punched a night manager twice in the head and then shot him in the chest.

And there was the shooting that killed 10 people, including three workers, at the King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, Colo., in March 2021. Another shooting left 10 more people dead at a Buffalo grocery store last month.

In her 37 years in the grocery industry, said Kim Cordova, a union president in Colorado, she had never experienced the level of violence that her members face today.

F.B.I. said, more than half the so-called active shooter attacks — in which an individual with a gun is killing or trying to kill people in a busy area — occurred in places of commerce, including stores.

“Violence in and around retail settings is definitely increasing, and it is a concern,” said Jason Straczewski, a vice president of government relations and political affairs at the National Retail Federation.

Tracking retail theft is more difficult because many prosecutors and retailers rarely press charges. Still, some politicians have seized on viral videos of brazen shoplifting to portray left-leaning city leaders as soft on crime. Others have accused the industry of grossly exaggerating losses and warned that the thefts were being used as a pretext to roll back criminal justice reforms.

“These crimes deserve to be taken seriously, but they are also being weaponized ahead of the midterm elections,” said Jonathan Simon, a professor of criminal justice at the University of California, Berkeley, Law School.

While the political debate swirls about the extent of the crime and its causes, many of the people staffing the stores say retailers have been too permissive of crime, particularly theft. Some employees want more armed security guards who can take an active role in stopping theft, and they want more stores to permanently bar rowdy or violent customers, just as airlines have been taking a hard line with unruly passengers.

Kroger, which owns Fred Meyer, did not respond to requests for comment.

Some unions are demanding that retailers make official accommodations for employees who experience anxiety working with the public by finding them store roles where they don’t regularly interact with customers.

it was revealed that the retailers were hounding falsely accused customers.

The industry says it is putting much of its focus on stopping organized rings of thieves who resell stolen items online or on the street. They point to big cases like the recent indictment of dozens of people who are accused of stealing millions of dollars in merchandise from stores like Sephora, Bloomingdale’s and CVS.

But it’s not clear how much of the crime is organized. Matthew Fernandez, 49, who works at a King Soopers in Broomfield, Colo., said he was stunned when he watched a thief walk out with a cart full of makeup, laundry detergent and meat and drive off in a Mercedes-Benz S.U.V.

“The ones you think are going to steal are not the ones doing it,” he said. “From high class to low class, they are all doing it.”

Ms. Barry often gives money to the homeless people who come into her store, so they can buy food. She also knows the financial pressures on people with lower incomes as the cost of living soars.

When people steal, she said, the company can write off the loss. But those losses mean less money for workers.

“That is part of my raise and benefits that is walking out the door,” she said. “That is money we deserve.”

Ella Koeze contributed reporting.

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West Seeks a More Effective Way to Tighten Sanctions on Russia

Credit…Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Russia missed a deadline for making bond payments on Sunday, a move signaling its first default on international debt in more than a century, after Western sanctions thwarted the government’s efforts to pay foreign investors. The lapse adds to efforts to seal Moscow off from global capital markets for years.

About $100 million in dollar- and euro-denominated interest payments failed to reach investors within a 30-day grace period after a missed May 27 deadline. The grace period expired Sunday night.

A formal declaration of default would need to come from bondholders because ratings agencies, which normally declare when borrowers have defaulted, have been barred by sanctions from reporting on Russia. The Credit Derivatives Determinations Committee, a panel of investors that rules on whether to pay out securities linked to defaults, hasn’t been asked to make a decision on these bond payments yet.

But it appeared that the payments had not reached bondholders’ accounts as of Sunday night, as required by the bonds’ contracts. On Monday, Russia’s finance ministry said that it had made the payments in May and that they had been transferred to Euroclear, a Brussels-based clearinghouse, but subsequently blocked from reaching bondholders.

Russia is rejecting the default declaration, on the grounds that it has made efforts to pay. Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, told reporters on Monday that the statements about default were “absolutely illegal.”

“The fact that Euroclear withheld this money, did not transfer it to the recipients, it is not our problem,” Mr. Peskov said. “In other words, there are no grounds to call this situation a default.”

The finance ministry added that the actions of foreign financial institutions were beyond its control and that “it seems advisable for investors to contact the relevant financial institutions directly” over the payments.

Euroclear declined to comment.

“We can expect Russia to stick to its alternative narrative: The default isn’t a default, we tried and it isn’t our fault,” said Tim Samples, a legal studies professor at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business and an expert on sovereign debt, adding that Russia also hasn’t submitted to jurisdiction in foreign courts. Still, “that has to be a bit humiliating, even for a country that can survive and maintain a war on its hydrocarbon revenues,” he said.

The risk of default emerged in late February after Russia invaded Ukraine and sanctions were imposed to sever the country from international financial markets. In late May, Russia tried to navigate tightening sanctions that cut off its access to American banks and bondholders by sending the payments to a Moscow-based institution. But ultimately, the funds didn’t make it all the way to bondholders’ accounts because of far-reaching American and European sanctions.

News of Monday’s apparent default showed “just how strong” international sanctions against Russia have been, a senior U.S. administration official said in a background briefing for reporters at the Group of 7 summit in Germany, highlighting the “dramatic” effect on Russia’s economy.

This default is unusual because it’s a result of economic sanctions blocking transactions, not because the Russian government has run out of money. Moscow’s finances remain resilient after months of war, with nearly $600 billion in foreign currency and gold reserves, though about half of that is frozen overseas. And Russia continues to receive a steady influx of cash from sales of oil and gas. Still, a default would be a stain on the country’s reputation that will linger in investors’ memories and probably push up its borrowing costs if it is able to tap international capital markets.

Unlike other major defaults in recent history, such as in Greece and Argentina, this default is expected to have a relatively small impact on international markets and Russia’s budget. For one thing, Russia has already lost access to international investors, traditionally the worst consequence of default.

“The only clear negative outcome of the default is that the external market will be effectively closed for the ministry of finance,” said Sofya Donets, an economist at Renaissance Capital in Moscow. “But it’s already closed.”

The head of Russia’s central bank, Elvira Nabiullina, said this month that there wouldn’t be any immediate consequences of a default because there had already been an outflow of investors and a drop in the value of Russia’s assets. The central bank is more concerned about inflation, most recently at about 17 percent, and supporting the economy through a “large-scale structural transformation” after an exodus of foreign companies and imports.

The Western sanctions alone are expected to block Russia from large parts of international capital markets for a long time. Regardless, Russia has been reluctant to give up its reputation as a reliable borrower, which was hard won after its economic collapse in 1998, when the government defaulted on ruble-denominated bonds amid a currency crisis.

Last month, Russia insisted that it had fulfilled its debt obligations by sending funds to its payment agent in Moscow, the National Settlement Depository. Since then, the depository has fallen under European sanctions, further restricting Russia’s ability to pay bondholders. The finance minister, Anton Siluanov, has accused the West of artificially manufacturing a default and has threatened legal action against U.S. authorities.

This is Russia’s first major default on foreign debt since 1918, soon after the Bolshevik Revolution.

On Wednesday, President Vladimir V. Putin signed a decree saying that future payments to holders of debt denominated in dollars or euros would be made through Russian financial institutions and that the obligations would be considered met if paid in rubles and converted. Most of the bond contracts don’t allow for payment in rubles.

Over the following two days, nearly $400 million in dollar-denominated debt payments were due from bonds that had 30-day and 15-day grace periods. The finance ministry said it had sent the payments, in rubles, using the new procedure laid out by the presidential decree. But it remains unclear how foreign investors will gain access to the funds.

Overseas investors held about half of Russia’s $40 billion in outstanding foreign-currency debt at the end of last year. As the risk of default grew this year, PIMCO, the investment management firm, saw the value of its Russian bond holdings decline by more than $1 billion, and pension funds and mutual funds with exposure to emerging market debt have also experienced declines.

But exposure to Russian assets is limited in the United States and Europe because sanctions imposed since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 have discouraged investors who didn’t want the geopolitical risk.

By international standards, Russia doesn’t have that much debt. Its public debt was only about 17 percent of gross domestic product last year, according to the International Monetary Fund, one of just a handful of countries with debt ratios under 25 percent. The United States, whose assets are in demand among global investors and deemed low risk, has a debt ratio of 125 percent of G.D.P.

Russia’s low debt levels are partly a result of “this new geopolitical era” since the annexation of Crimea, Ms. Donets said. “But it’s also a product of the default of 1998,” she added, when “the ministry of finance was burned badly.” Since then, the ministry has not been that active in issuing new foreign-currency debt, she said.

Russia hasn’t relied on borrowing from international investors for its budget. The finance ministry hasn’t issued dollar-denominated debt since 2019, when U.S. sanctions barred American banks from buying the debt directly. It last issued euro-denominated debt in May 2021.

Instead, Russia has depended on its oil and gas exports, and those dollar revenues that went into reserves and grew the national wealth fund.

“Why would you borrow and pay additional rates when you are a country that is accumulating oil funds, accumulating in hard currency, a country which has $600 billion in reserves?” Ms. Donets said.

The war hasn’t changed that calculation. Russia’s current account surplus, a broad measure of trade and investment, has soared as revenues from energy exports jumped, capital controls stopped investments fleeing and sanctions slashed imports. It has helped push the ruble to its highest level in seven years.

If Russia does issue more debt, it will lean on local banks and residents in the short term to buy ruble-denominated bonds.

Russia “will have no access to the capital markets until the war stops and the sanctions are lifted,” said Richard Portes, an economics professor at the London School of Business.

The long-term consequences of a default are unclear because of the unusual nature of the financial breach. But it’s possible to envision a future where Russia is able to sell debt on international markets again, analysts say, if the war ends and Russia’s geopolitical ambitions change. Without Mr. Putin and with hundreds of billions of dollars in international reserves unfrozen, it could return to markets.

“Capital market access can be restored very quickly,” Mr. Portes said. “Once Russia is back in good political graces and sanctions are lifted.”

“If it’s not a political pariah, it won’t be an economic pariah,” he added.

Reporting was contributed by Ivan Nechepurenko, Andrés R. Martínez, Jim Tankersley and Alan Rappeport.

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Russia slides towards default as payment deadline expires

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The clock on Spasskaya tower showing the time at noon, is pictured next to Moscow?s Kremlin, and St. Basil?s Cathedral, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

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  • Grace period runs out on $100 mln interest payment due May 27
  • Some Taiwanese bondholders did not received payment on Monday – sources
  • Russia says it has funds to pay, sanctions are to blame
  • Lapsed U.S. waiver, EU sanctions on NSD scupper Russia payments
  • CDS committee already declared ‘credit event’ occurred

LONDON, June 27 (Reuters) – Russia looked set for its first sovereign default in decades as some bondholders said they had not received overdue interest on Monday following the expiry of a key payment deadline a day earlier.

Russia has struggled to keep up payments on $40 billion of outstanding bonds since its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, as sweeping sanctions have effectively cut the country off from the global financial system and rendered its assets untouchable to many investors.

The Kremlin has repeatedly said there are no grounds for Russia to default but it is unable to send money to bondholders because of sanctions, accusing the West of trying to drive it into an artificial default.

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Russia’s efforts to avoid what would be its first major default on international bonds since the Bolshevik revolution more than a century ago hit a insurmountable roadblock in late May when the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) effectively blocked Moscow from making payments.

“Since March we thought that a Russian default is probably inevitable, and the question was just when,” Dennis Hranitzky, head of sovereign litigation at law firm Quinn Emanuel, told Reuters. “OFAC has intervened to answer that question for us, and the default is now upon us.”

While a formal default would be largely symbolic given Russia cannot borrow internationally at the moment and doesn’t need to thanks to plentiful oil and gas export revenues, the stigma would probably raise its borrowing costs in future.

The payments in question are $100 million in interest on two bonds, one denominated in U.S. dollars and another in euros , Russia was due to pay on May 27. The payments had a grace period of 30 days, which expired on Sunday.

Russia’s finance ministry said it made the payments to its onshore National Settlement Depository (NSD) in euros and dollars, adding it has fulfilled obligations.

Some Taiwanese holders of the bonds had not received payments on Monday, sources told Reuters. read more

For many bondholders, not receiving the money owed in time into their accounts constitutes a default.

With no exact deadline specified in the prospectus, lawyers say Russia might have until the end of the following business day to pay the bondholders.

SMALL PRINT

The legal situation surrounding the bonds looks complex.

Russia’s bonds have been issued with an unusual variety of terms, and an increasing level of ambiguities for those sold more recently, when Moscow was already facing sanctions over its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and a poisoning incident in Britain in 2018.

Rodrigo Olivares-Caminal, chair in banking and finance law at Queen Mary University in London, said clarity was needed on what constituted a discharge for Russia on its obligation, or the difference between receiving and recovering payments.

“All these issues are subject to interpretation by a court of law, but Russia has not waived any of its sovereign immunity and has not submitted to the jurisdiction of any court in any of the two prospectuses,” Olivares-Caminal told Reuters.

In some ways, Russia is in default already.

A committee on derivatives has ruled a “credit event” had occurred on some of its securities, which triggered a payout on some of Russia’s credit default swaps – instruments used by investors to insure exposure to debt against default. This was triggered by Russia failing to make a $1.9 million payment in accrued interest on a payment that had been due in early April. read more

Until the Ukraine invasion, a sovereign default had seemed unthinkable, with Russia being rated investment grade up to shortly before that point. A default would also be unusual as Moscow has the funds to service its debt.

The OFAC had issued a temporary waiver, known as a general licence 9A, in early March to allow Moscow to keep paying investors. It let it expire on May 25 as Washington tightened sanctions on Russia, effectively cutting off payments to U.S. investors and entities.

The lapsed OFAC licence is not the only obstacle Russia faces as in early June the European Union imposed sanctions on the NSD, Russia’s appointed agent for its Eurobonds. read more

Moscow has scrambled in recent days to find ways of dealing with upcoming payments and avoid a default.

President Vladimir Putin signed a decree last Wednesday to launch temporary procedures and give the government 10 days to choose banks to handle payments under a new scheme, suggesting Russia will consider its debt obligations fulfilled when it pays bondholders in roubles.

“Russia saying it’s complying with obligations under the terms of the bond is not the whole story,” Zia Ullah, partner and head of corporate crime and investigations at law firm Eversheds Sutherland told Reuters.

“If you as an investor are not satisfied, for instance, if you know the money is stuck in an escrow account, which effectively would be the practical impact of what Russia is saying, the answer would be, until you discharge the obligation, you have not satisfied the conditions of the bond.”

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Reporting by Karin Strohecker; Additional reporting by Emily Chan in Taipeh and Sujata Rao in London; Editing by David Holmes, Emelia Sithole-Matarise & Simon Cameron-Moore

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Banking body urges decisive wave of global rate hikes to stem inflation

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Plastic letters arranged to read “Inflation” are placed on U.S. Dollar banknote in this illustration taken, June 12, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

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LONDON, June 26 (Reuters) – The world’s central bank umbrella body, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), has called for interest rates to be raised “quickly and decisively” to prevent the surge in inflation turning into something even more problematic.

The Swiss-based BIS has held its annual meeting in recent days, where top central bankers met to discuss their current difficulties and one of the most turbulent starts to a year ever for global financial markets.

Surging energy and food prices mean inflation in many places is now its hottest in decades. But the usual remedy of ramping up interest rates is raising the spectre of recession, and even of the dreaded 1970s-style “stagflation”, where rising prices are coupled with low or negative economic growth.

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“The key for central banks is to act quickly and decisively before inflation becomes entrenched,” Agustín Carstens, BIS general manager, said as part of the body’s post-meeting annual report published on Sunday.

Carstens, former head of Mexico’s central bank, said the emphasis was to act in “quarters to come”. The BIS thinks an economic soft landing – where rates rise without triggering recessions – is still possible, but accepts it is a difficult situation.

“A lot of it will depend on precisely on how permanent these (inflationary) shocks are,” Carstens said, adding that the response of financial markets would also be crucial.

“If this tightening generates massive losses, generates massive asset corrections, and that contaminates consumption, investment and employment – of course, that is a more difficult scenario.”

World markets are already suffering one of the biggest sell-offs in recent memory as heavyweight central banks like the U.S. Federal Reserve – and from next month the ECB – move away from record low rates and almost 15 years of back-to-back stimulus measures.

Global stocks (.MIWD00000PUS) are down 20% since January and some analysts calculate that U.S. Treasury bonds, the benchmark of world borrowing markets, could be having their biggest losing first half of a year since 1788.

CREDIBILITY

Carstens said the BIS’s own recent warnings about frothy asset prices meant the current correction was “not necessarily a complete surprise”. That there hadn’t been “major market disruptions” so far was also reassuring, he added.

Part of the BIS report published already last week said that the recent implosions in the cryptocurrency markets were an indication that long-warned-about dangers of decentralised digital money were now materialising.

Those collapses aren’t expected to cause a systemic crisis in the way that bad loans triggered the global financial crash. But Carstens stressed losses would be sizeable and that the opaque nature of the crypto universe fed uncertainty.

Returning to the macro economic picture, he added that the BIS didn’t currently expect a period of widespread stagflation to take hold.

He also said that though many global central banks and the BIS itself had significantly underestimated how quick global inflation has spiralled over the last six to 12 months, they weren’t about to lose hard-earned credibility overnight.

“Yes, you can argue a little bit here about an error of timing of certain actions and the responses of the central banks. But by and large, I think that the central banks have responded forcefully in a very agile fashion,” Carstens said.

“My sense is that central banks will prevail at the end of the day, and that would be good for their credibility.”

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Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by David Holmes

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How China Is Policing the Future

The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored.

Now, even their future is under surveillance.

The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen. They target potential troublemakers in the eyes of the Chinese government — not only those with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities, migrant workers and those with a history of mental illness.

They can warn the police if a victim of a fraud tries to travel to Beijing to petition the government for payment or a drug user makes too many calls to the same number. They can signal officers each time a person with a history of mental illness gets near a school.

automating systemic discrimination and political repression.

to quell ethnic unrest in the western region of Xinjiang and enforce some of the world’s most severe coronavirus lockdowns. The space for dissent, always limited, is rapidly disappearing.

“Big data should be used as an engine to power the innovative development of public security work and a new growth point for nurturing combat capabilities,” Mr. Xi said in 2019 at a national public security work meeting.

ChinaFile, an online magazine published by the Asia Society, which has systematically gathered years of records on government websites. Another set, describing software bought by the authorities in the port city of Tianjin to stop petitioners from going to neighboring Beijing, was provided by IPVM, a surveillance industry publication.

China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment faxed to its headquarters in Beijing and six local departments across the country.

The new approach to surveillance is partly based on data-driven policing software from the United States and Europe, technology that rights groups say has encoded racism into decisions like which neighborhoods are most heavily policed and which prisoners get parole. China takes it to the extreme, tapping nationwide reservoirs of data that allow the police to operate with opacity and impunity.

Megvii, an artificial intelligence start-up, told Chinese state media that the surveillance system could give the police a search engine for crime, analyzing huge amounts of video footage to intuit patterns and warn the authorities about suspicious behavior. He explained that if cameras detected a person spending too much time at a train station, the system could flag a possible pickpocket.

Hikvision, that aims to predict protests. The system collects data on legions of Chinese petitioners, a general term in China that describes people who try to file complaints about local officials with higher authorities.

It then scores petitioners on the likelihood that they will travel to Beijing. In the future, the data will be used to train machine-learning models, according to a procurement document.

Local officials want to prevent such trips to avoid political embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing. And the central government doesn’t want groups of disgruntled citizens gathering in the capital.

A Hikvision representative declined to comment on the system.

Under Mr. Xi, official efforts to control petitioners have grown increasingly invasive. Zekun Wang, a 32-year-old member of a group that for years sought redress over a real estate fraud, said the authorities in 2017 had intercepted fellow petitioners in Shanghai before they could even buy tickets to Beijing. He suspected that the authorities were watching their communications on the social media app WeChat.

The Hikvision system in Tianjin, which is run in cooperation with the police in nearby Beijing and Hebei Province, is more sophisticated.

The platform analyzes individuals’ likelihood to petition based on their social and family relationships, past trips and personal situations, according to the procurement document. It helps the police create a profile of each, with fields for officers to describe the temperament of the protester, including “paranoid,” “meticulous” and “short tempered.”

Many people who petition do so over government mishandling of a tragic accident or neglect in the case — all of which goes into the algorithm. “Increase a person’s early-warning risk level if they have low social status or went through a major tragedy,” reads the procurement document.

When the police in Zhouning, a rural county in Fujian Province, bought a new set of 439 cameras in 2018, they listed coordinates where each would go. Some hung above intersections and others near schools, according to a procurement document.

Nine were installed outside the homes of people with something in common: mental illness.

While some software tries to use data to uncover new threats, a more common type is based on the preconceived notions of the police. In over a hundred procurement documents reviewed by The Times, the surveillance targeted blacklists of “key persons.”

These people, according to some of the procurement documents, included those with mental illness, convicted criminals, fugitives, drug users, petitioners, suspected terrorists, political agitators and threats to social stability. Other systems targeted migrant workers, idle youths (teenagers without school or a job), ethnic minorities, foreigners and those infected with H.I.V.

The authorities decide who goes on the lists, and there is often no process to notify people when they do. Once individuals are in a database, they are rarely removed, said experts, who worried that the new technologies reinforce disparities within China, imposing surveillance on the least fortunate parts of its population.

In many cases the software goes further than simply targeting a population, allowing the authorities to set up digital tripwires that indicate a possible threat. In one Megvii presentation detailing a rival product by Yitu, the system’s interface allowed the police to devise their own early warnings.

With a simple fill-in-the-blank menu, the police can base alarms on specific parameters, including where a blacklisted person appears, when the person moves around, whether he or she meets with other blacklisted people and the frequency of certain activities. The police could set the system to send a warning each time two people with a history of drug use check into the same hotel or when four people with a history of protest enter the same park.

Yitu did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

In 2020 in the city of Nanning, the police bought software that could look for “more than three key people checking into the same or nearby hotels” and “a drug user calling a new out-of-town number frequently,” according to a bidding document. In Yangshuo, a tourist town famous for its otherworldly karst mountains, the authorities bought a system to alert them if a foreigner without a work permit spent too much time hanging around foreign-language schools or bars, an apparent effort to catch people overstaying their visas or working illegally.

In Shanghai, one party-run publication described how the authorities used software to identify those who exceeded normal water and electricity use. The system would send a “digital whistle” to the police when it found suspicious consumption patterns.

The tactic was likely designed to detect migrant workers, who often live together in close quarters to save money. In some places, the police consider them an elusive, and often impoverished, group who can bring crime into communities.

The automated alerts don’t result in the same level of police response. Often, the police give priority to warnings that point to political problems, like protests or other threats to social stability, said Suzanne E. Scoggins, a professor at Clark University who studies China’s policing.

At times, the police have stated outright the need to profile people. “Through the application of big data, we paint a picture of people and give them labels with different attributes,” Li Wei, a researcher at China’s national police university, said in a 2016 speech. “For those who receive one or more types of labels, we infer their identities and behavior, and then carry out targeted pre-emptive security measures.”

Mr. Zhang first started petitioning the government for compensation over the torture of his family during the Cultural Revolution. He has since petitioned over what he says is police targeting of his family.

As China has built out its techno-authoritarian tools, he has had to use spy movie tactics to circumvent surveillance that, he said, has become “high tech and Nazified.”

When he traveled to Beijing in January from his village in Shandong Province, he turned off his phone and paid for transportation in cash to minimize his digital footprint. He bought train tickets to the wrong destination to foil police tracking. He hired private drivers to get around checkpoints where his identification card would set off an alarm.

The system in Tianjin has a special feature for people like him who have “a certain awareness of anti-reconnaissance” and regularly change vehicles to evade detection, according to the police procurement document.

Whether or not he triggered the system, Mr. Zhang has noticed a change. Whenever he turns off his phone, he said, officers show up at his house to check that he hasn’t left on a new trip to Beijing.

Credit…Zhang Yuqiao

Even if police systems cannot accurately predict behavior, the authorities may consider them successful because of the threat, said Noam Yuchtman, an economics professor at the London School of Economics who has studied the impact of surveillance in China.

“In a context where there isn’t real political accountability,” having a surveillance system that frequently sends police officers “can work pretty well” at discouraging unrest, he said.

Once the metrics are set and the warnings are triggered, police officers have little flexibility, centralizing control. They are evaluated for their responsiveness to automated alarms and effectiveness at preventing protests, according to experts and public police reports.

The technology has encoded power imbalances. Some bidding documents refer to a “red list” of people whom the surveillance system must ignore.

One national procurement document said the function was for “people who need privacy protection or V.I.P. protection.” Another, from Guangdong Province, got more specific, stipulating that the red list was for government officials.

Mr. Zhang expressed frustration at the ways technology had cut off those in political power from regular people.

“The authorities do not seriously solve problems but do whatever it takes to silence the people who raise the problems,” he said. “This is a big step backward for society.”

Mr. Zhang said that he still believed in the power of technology to do good, but that in the wrong hands it could be a “scourge and a shackle.”

“In the past if you left your home and took to the countryside, all roads led to Beijing,” he said. “Now, the entire country is a net.”

Isabelle Qian and Aaron Krolik contributed research and reporting. Production by Agnes Chang and Alexander Cardia.

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