For many people in government and the auto industry, the main concern is whether there will be enough lithium to meet soaring demand for electric vehicles.

The Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed in August, has raised the stakes for the auto industry. To qualify for several incentives and subsidies in the law, which go to car buyers and automakers and are worth a total of $10,000 or more per electric vehicle, battery makers must use raw materials from North America or a country with which the United States has a trade agreement.

rising fast.

California and other states move to ban internal combustion engines. “It’s going to take everything we can do and our competitors can do over the next five years to keep up,” Mr. Norris said.

One of the first things that Sayona had to do when it took over the La Corne mine was pump out water that had filled the pit, exposing terraced walls of dark and pale stone from previous excavations. Lighter rock contains lithium.

After being blasted loose and crushed, the rock is processed in several stages to remove waste material. A short drive from the mine, inside a large building with walls of corrugated blue metal, a laser scanner uses jets of compressed air to separate light-colored lithium ore. The ore is then refined in vats filled with detergent and water, where the lithium floats to the surface and is skimmed away.

The end product looks like fine white sand but it is still only about 6 percent lithium. The rest includes aluminum, silicon and other substances. The material is sent to refineries, most of them in China, to be further purified.

Yves Desrosiers, an engineer and a senior adviser at Sayona, began working at the La Corne mine in 2012. During a tour, he expressed satisfaction at what he said were improvements made by Sayona and Piedmont. Those include better control of dust, and a plan to restore the site once the lithium runs out in a few decades.

“The productivity will be a lot better because we are correcting everything,” Mr. Desrosiers said. In a few years, the company plans to upgrade the facility to produce lithium carbonate, which contains a much higher concentration of lithium than the raw metal extracted from the ground.

The operation will get its electricity from Quebec’s abundant hydropower plants, and will use only recycled water in the separation process, Mr. Desrosiers said. Still, environmental activists are watching the project warily.

Mining is a pillar of the Quebec economy, and the area around La Corne is populated with people whose livelihoods depend on extraction of iron, nickel, copper, zinc and other metals. There is an active gold mine near the largest city in the area, Val-d’Or, or Valley of Gold.

Mining “is our life,” said Sébastien D’Astous, a metallurgist turned politician who is the mayor of Amos, a small city north of La Corne. “Everybody knows, or has in the near family, people who work in mining or for contractors.”

Most people support the lithium mine, but a significant minority oppose it, Mr. D’Astous said. Opponents fear that another lithium mine being developed by Sayona in nearby La Motte, Quebec, could contaminate an underground river.

Rodrigue Turgeon, a local lawyer and program co-leader for MiningWatch Canada, a watchdog group, has pushed to make sure the Sayona mines undergo rigorous environmental reviews. Long Point First Nation, an Indigenous group that says the mines are on its ancestral territory, wants to conduct its own environmental impact study.

Sébastien Lemire, who represents the region around La Corne in the Canadian Parliament, said he wanted to make sure that the wealth created by lithium mining flowed to the people of Quebec rather than to outside investors.

Mr. Lemire praised activists for being “vigilant” about environmental standards, but he favors the mine and drives an electric car, a Chevrolet Bolt.

“If we don’t do it,” he said at a cafe in La Corne, “we’re missing the opportunity of the electrification of transport.”

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Mass Grave Site With 440 Bodies Found in Izium, Ukraine Says

Credit…Antranik Tavitian/The Republic/USA Today Network

WASHINGTON — President Biden will meet with the families of Brittney Griner and Paul N. Whelan at the White House on Friday, making good on a longstanding request from the relatives of the two Americans being held prisoner in Russia.

But the president does not have good news to deliver about the prisoner exchange that the administration offered Russia this summer, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said on Thursday.

“While I would love to say that the purpose of this meeting is to inform the families that the Russians have accepted our offer, and we are bringing their loved ones home, that is not what we’re seeing in these negotiations at this time,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said.

“The president wanted to make sure that their families understood that they were front of mind,” she added, “and that his team was working tirelessly every day to get Brittney and Paul home safely.”

Ms. Griner, a W.N.B.A. star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was detained in Russia in February after the Russian authorities found vape cartridges with 0.7 grams of cannabis oil in her luggage when she arrived in the country to play basketball. She was convicted last month of trying to smuggle narcotics into Russia and sentenced to nine years in a penal colony. Mr. Whelan, a former Marine and corporate security executive, was arrested in 2018 and convicted in 2020 on spying charges and later sentenced to 16 years in prison.

The fates of both Americans have been complicated by the deteriorating diplomatic relationship between the United States and Russia over President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Biden has condemned Mr. Putin’s actions in Ukraine, and the United States has joined with other nations to impose severe sanctions on the country.

Despite that, Mr. Biden’s administration offered this summer to free Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer sentenced to 25 years by a court in New York in 2012, in exchange for the release of Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan.

Russian officials have confirmed that diplomatic discussions are taking place, but White House officials have been frustrated by the lack of a response to the offer.

“The Russians should accept the offer that’s at the table, and we will encourage them to do that,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said on Thursday.

In the meantime, the families of Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan have been increasing public pressure on Mr. Biden to ensure that his administration does not let up.

Early in the summer, relatives of both prisoners expressed frustration that they had not heard directly from Mr. Biden. Cherelle Griner, Ms. Griner’s wife, said on CBS in early July that the administration was “not doing anything” and that she wanted to hear from Mr. Biden directly. Two days later, Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Cherelle Griner.

That prompted Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Mr. Whelan, to publicly question why she had not received a similar call. In a call soon after, Mr. Biden assured Ms. Whelan that the administration was working to free both of the prisoners.

Since then, there has been continued pressure for Mr. Biden to meet with the families face to face. Ms. Jean-Pierre said on Thursday that the meeting was scheduled for Friday because one of the family members was already going to be in the area and that the president wanted to meet with both families on the same day.

It is not clear whether the president will meet with the families together or separately.

The possibility of reaching a prisoner-exchange deal with Russia comes several months after the United States freed a convicted Russian drug smuggler in exchange for Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who had been detained in a Russian prison for three years. White House officials said their Russian counterparts indicated at the time that another trade, for Mr. Bout, could be possible.

Mr. Bout is known as the “Merchant of Death” for his activities as an arms dealer. He is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for selling arms to undercover U.S. agents, telling them he did not object to the use of the weapons to kill Americans.

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Disgraced Prince Andrew, back in the spotlight but still out in the cold

Britain’s Prince Andrew and Prince Edward march during a procession where the coffin of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is transported from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament for her lying in state, in London, Britain, September 14, 2022. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

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  • Presence at funeral events a reminder of his fall
  • Barred from wearing uniform, heckled in Edinburgh
  • Still eighth in the line of succession to throne

LONDON, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Amid the displays of emotion and deference since the death of Queen Elizabeth, the presence of one figure has added a discordant note to the solemn rituals leading up to her funeral – that of her disgraced son Prince Andrew.

Reputedly the queen’s favourite son, Andrew was stripped of most of his titles and removed from royal duties due to a scandal over his friendship with U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender, and a related sex assault allegation.

He has not been charged with any criminal offence and has denied any wrongdoing.

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After a period where he has been out of the public eye, the sight of Andrew, 62, in the global spotlight following his mother’s death has served as a reminder of his fall from grace.

A Royal Navy veteran of the Falklands War, he has not been allowed to wear a military uniform during two solemn processions, one in Edinburgh and one in London, when he and his three siblings walked behind the queen’s coffin.

King Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Edward wore full dress uniforms while Andrew was in a morning suit, drawing attention to his peculiar status. He will be allowed to wear uniform as a special mark of respect for the queen during a final vigil the siblings will hold as her body lies in state.

In Edinburgh on Monday, one heckler shouted out: “Andrew, you’re a sick old man”.

The man was bundled away and has been charged with a breach of the peace. But if that was a rare instance of loud public protest, the sentiment seems to be more widely shared.

“There’s no place for Andrew in the future of the family or country, but I think the queen did right to sideline him. He’s brought shame, but I think his family knows what the British people think of him,” said Mary Burke, a 47-year-old from the south coast town of Brighton, as she waited in the long line to view the queen’s coffin in London’s Westminster Hall.

Andrew has not taken part in events at which royals have greeted members of the public, other than a brief appearance outside Balmoral Castle two days after the queen’s death.

Eyebrows have been raised over his continued position as a Counsellor of State, a formal position.

“If this isn’t changed, the monarchy is going to lose many who currently might support them,” wrote Sheila Le Mottee in a comment on an article in the pro-independence Scottish newspaper The National.

“The only reason he is tolerated just now is because he is a son who has just lost his mother.”

PLAYBOY PRINCE TO PARIAH

Once upon a time, Andrew was a popular figure.

Tabloids nicknamed him the “Playboy Prince” as they cheerfully reported on his love life, and he won respect for his service as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands.

His marriage in 1986 to Sarah Ferguson was seen at the time as bringing a breath of fresh air to a stuffy institution.

It all went wrong gradually and then suddenly.

As a roving trade ambassador, he gained the nickname “Air Miles Andy” for his frequent travels, which often involved rounds of golf. His marriage ended in divorce in 1996. The media criticised him for what was described as high-handed behaviour and an overly lavish lifestyle.

But it was the Epstein affair that brought true ignominy upon Andrew.

He stayed at Epstein’s various homes and one video from 2010 showed him inside Epstein’s New York townhouse, waving to a woman from the door. Epstein had been jailed in 2008 for child sex offences.

A photograph circulated picturing him with his arm around a young woman named Virginia Roberts – who accused Epstein of grooming her as a “sex slave”. Also in the picture is socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who in June this year was sentenced by a U.S. court to 20 years imprisonment for child sex trafficking.

Roberts, now called Virginia Giuffre, said as a teenager she had been forced to have sex with Andrew in London, New York and on a private Caribbean island between 1999 and 2002.

In an effort to clear the air, Andrew sat down for an interview with the BBC in November 2019.

He said he did not regret his friendship with Epstein, denied having sex with Roberts and said he had no recollection of even meeting her.

But his justifications, for example saying that her account of dancing with him in a nightclub where he sweated profusely could not be true because he was unable to sweat following an overdose of adrenalin during the Falklands War, were widely ridiculed.

Giuffre eventually sued Andrew alleging he sexually assaulted her when she was aged 17. In March this year, he settled the suit without admitting any liability. The settlement included an undisclosed payment.

Andrew remains eighth in the order of succession to the throne, and British media have speculated that he may still hold the hope of making a full return to public life.

But royal observers think that is highly unlikely, not least as Charles has already spoken of having a slimmed-down monarchy with fewer working royals.

Andrew has, however, assumed one new role. A spokesperson said he would take over care of his late mother’s two corgi dogs.

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Additional reporting by Humza Jilani; Editing by Estelle Shirbon and Andrew Heavens

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Analysis: Industrial users flee LME nickel, deepening market fissures

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Traders work on the floor of the London Metal Exchange, in London, Britain September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

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  • Nickel deliverable against LME contract only 21% of market
  • Nickel pig iron 50% of global market

LONDON, Sept 14 (Reuters) – The London Metal Exchange faces a struggle to regain its dominant position in global nickel trading as volumes slide and participants flee an increasingly volatile market in the wake of trade mayhem earlier this year.

Nickel volumes on the world’s oldest and largest venue for trading metals collapsed after the LME suspended its contract for a week and cancelled all trades on March 8, when prices doubled in a few hours to a record above $100,000 a tonne.

LME data shows many participants have abandoned the nickel market, a trend several traders say looks set to continue leading to even lower volumes and more volatility as more people opt to negotiate prices directly.

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Average daily volumes of nickel traded on the LME plunged 50% last month to 203,856 tonnes from the same period last year. This follows drops of 28%, 35%, 25% and 42% in April, May, June and July respectively.

“Volumes may well be down because there is still a certain lack of trust in the LME after the debacle in March,” said Wood Mackenzie analyst Andrew Mitchell. “LME nickel does not represent the bulk of the market.”

The nickel that can be delivered against the LME’s contract will this year amount to only 650,000 tonnes or around 21% of global production compared with 50% in 2012, Macquarie analyst Jim Lennon said.

The exchange says it is working on potential improvements.

“The LME is actively engaging with nickel market users to consider…potential enhancements to its nickel contract and additional measures to address the growing market in nickel and its different forms,” the exchange told Reuters in response to a request for comment. “We look forward to sharing plans in due course.”

LME nickel volumes

VOLATILITY DOOM LOOP

Several traders believe the LME’s nickel contract will never recover as the low liquidity has created a vicious circle of falling volumes and extreme price volatility.

They say trying to trade even 10-20 lots or 60-120 tonnes of nickel is tough without moving the price, compared with 200-250 lots or 1,200-1,500 tonnes prior to March.

Volatility and rising supplies of Indonesian nickel pig iron (NPI) used to make stainless steel are spurring the shift away from the LME contract. NPI is a low grade cheaper alternative to pure nickel metal.

NPI, which can’t be delivered against the LME’s contract, is expected to account for more than 50% of global supplies this year at 3.1 million tonnes from 12% in 2010, Mitchell said.

“There is an oversupply of nickel pig iron,” said Lennon. “NPI is priced at around $16,500.”

LME nickel is around $24,500 a tonne.

NPI is not traded on the Shanghai Futures Exchange either. ShFE offers a nickel metal contract that is highly correlated with the benchmark LME nickel contract.

“The LME contract is imperfect in the context of how the market has evolved. There are different pockets and the LME contract caters for just one of those pockets,” said Michael Widmer, an analyst at Bank of America.

Nickel sulphate, used to make the cathode component of electric vehicle batteries is another product. Sulphate can be made from nickel briquettes stored in LME registered warehouses , .

But LME nickel stocks are depleted and sulphate is now being made from nickel matte, a product that can be made from nickel pig iron (NPI), and another intermediate product known as mixed hydroxide precipitate (MHP) produced in Indonesia.

Rival exchange CME Group is looking into launching a nickel sulphate contract, according to sources. It declined to comment on how its plans were progressing.

Stainless steel mills, many in China, consume about two-thirds of global nickel supplies. Electric vehicle batteries are expected to take a larger share as sales surge due to the energy transition; around 30% by 2030 compared with 15% last year.

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Reporting by Pratima Desai; editing by Veronica Brown and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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PGT Innovations celebrates National Truck Driver Appreciation Week with gifts and fanfare across its family of brands

NORTH VENICE, Fla.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–PGT Innovations (NYSE: PGTI), a national leader in the premium window and door category, is commemorating National Truck Driver Appreciation Week with five days full of gifts and fanfare for team members across its family of brands.

The annual holiday is September 11 through September 17 this year and celebrates the hard work and commitment of the 3.6 million truck drivers across the country who deliver the goods and resources that keep our nation moving forward, as well as keep our highways safe.

PGT Innovations is proud to have 158 Class A CDL truck drivers who deliver products from its family of brands to businesses and construction sites across the country. Since the start of 2022, the company’s team of dedicated drivers have covered over 3.5 million miles.

To show their appreciation, PGT Innovations will be thanking their drivers with goodie bags, coffee, and donuts on Monday; with snacks, drinks, a certificate of appreciation, and an on-site breakfast on Tuesday; with breakfast sandwiches and a PGT Innovations branded truck driver appreciation t-shirt on Wednesday; with $50 gas gift cards, snacks, and drinks on Thursday; and with two movie tickets, a coupon for free popcorn and a drink, and the driver’s car washed by area high school students on Friday.

The festivities will take place at the main manufacturing facilities for CGI Windows & Doors®, PGT® Custom Windows + Doors, Western Window Systems, Anlin Windows & Doors, Eco Window Systems®, and NewSouth Window Solutions, located in Hialeah, FL; Venice, FL; Phoenix, AZ; Clovis, CA; Medley, FL; and Tampa, FL, respectively.

“I can’t express enough how much I truly appreciate each and every one of our drivers and the culture of care they act with every day,” said PGT Innovations President and CEO Jeff Jackson. “PGT Innovations wouldn’t be where we are today without these hard-working team members who share an unwavering dedication to always driving our company forward. Our drivers have a commitment to excellence, as well as pride in their trade, and I am thankful to have these individuals as part of our PGTI family.”

PGT Innovation’s drivers are also stewards of their community – for decades, stepping forward and volunteering to travel through hurricane-ravaged areas to deliver essential, disaster-relief items to communities that have been devastated by storms. And within the past few years, they have embraced the opportunity to undergo Highway Heroes training, which taught them how to spot the signs of human trafficking across motorways and report it.

Earlier this year, PGT Innovations was recognized for its efforts to end human trafficking by the Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody by being named a founding member of the 100 Percent Club. This statewide initiative invites business owners to commit to training 100 percent of their workforce to spot instances of human trafficking through the Highway Heroes training. To date, every single PGTI driver has completed the training and is an official Highway Hero, and the company has now expanded the anti-human trafficking training to field service and sales teams.

Last year, PGT Innovations also addressed the national shortage of CDL drivers by collaborating with FleetForce Truck Driving School to offer its own in-house driver certification training course for its existing team members. Instructors from FleetForce lead the course by guiding a group of team members through a full week of classroom learning at PGT Innovations’ Venice campus, followed by three weeks of driving instruction in a controlled parking lot.

About PGT Innovations, Inc.

PGT Innovations manufactures and supplies premium windows and doors. Its highly engineered and technically advanced products can withstand some of the toughest weather conditions on Earth and are revolutionizing the way people live by unifying indoor and outdoor living spaces.

PGT Innovations creates value through deep customer relationships, understanding the unstated needs of the markets it serves, and a drive to develop category-defining products. PGT Innovations is also the nation’s largest manufacturer of impact-resistant windows and doors and holds the leadership position in its primary market.

The PGT Innovations’ family of brands include CGI®, PGT® Custom Windows and Doors, WinDoor®, Western Window Systems, Anlin Windows & Doors, Eze-Breeze®, NewSouth Window Solutions, and a 75 percent ownership stake in Eco Window Systems®. The company’s brands, in their respective markets, are a preferred choice of architects, builders, and homeowners throughout North America and the Caribbean. Their high-quality products are available in custom and standard sizes with massive dimensions that allow for unlimited design possibilities in residential, multi-family, and commercial projects. For additional information, visit www.pgtinnovations.com.

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Shock Waves Hit the Global Economy, Posing Grave Risk to Europe

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the continuing effects of the pandemic have hobbled countries around the globe, but the relentless series of crises has hit Europe the hardest, causing the steepest jump in energy prices, some of the highest inflation rates and the biggest risk of recession.

The fallout from the war is menacing the continent with what some fear could become its most challenging economic and financial crisis in decades.

While growth is slowing worldwide, “in Europe it’s altogether more serious because it’s driven by a more fundamental deterioration,” said Neil Shearing, group chief economist at Capital Economics. Real incomes and living standards are falling, he added. “Europe and Britain are just worse off.”

eightfold increase in natural gas prices since the war began presents a historic threat to Europe’s industrial might, living standards, and social peace and cohesion. Plans for factory closings, rolling blackouts and rationing are being drawn up in case of severe shortages this winter.

China, a powerful engine of global growth and a major market for European exports like cars, machinery and food, is facing its own set of problems. Beijing’s policy of continuing to freeze all activity during Covid-19 outbreaks has repeatedly paralyzed large swaths of the economy and added to worldwide supply chain disruptions. In the last few weeks alone, dozens of cities and more than 300 million people have been under full or partial lockdowns. Extreme heat and drought have hamstrung hydropower generation, forcing additional factory closings and rolling blackouts.

refusing to pay their mortgages because they have lost confidence that developers will ever deliver their unfinished housing units. Trade with the rest of the world took a hit in August, and overall economic growth, although likely to outrun rates in the United States and Europe, looks as if it will slip to its slowest pace in a decade this year. The prospect has prompted China’s central bank to cut interest rates in hopes of stimulating the economy.

“The global economy is undoubtedly slowing,” said Gregory Daco, chief economist at the global consulting firm EY- Parthenon, but it’s “happening at different speeds.”

In other parts of the world, countries that are able to supply vital materials and goods — particularly energy producers in the Middle East and North Africa — are seeing windfall gains.

And India and Indonesia are growing at unexpectedly fast paces as domestic demand increases and multinational companies look to vary their supply chains. Vietnam, too, is benefiting as manufacturers switch operations to its shores.

head-spinning energy bills this winter ratcheted up this week after Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy company, declared it would not resume the flow of natural gas through its Nord Stream 1 pipeline until Europe lifted Ukraine-related sanctions.

Daily average electricity prices in Western Europe have reached record levels, according to Rystad Energy, surging past 600 euros ($599) per megawatt-hour in Germany and €700 in France, with peak-hour rates as high as €1,500.

In the Czech Republic, roughly 70,000 angry protesters, many with links to far-right groups, gathered in Wenceslas Square in Prague this past weekend to demonstrate against soaring energy bills.

The German, French and Finnish governments have already stepped in to save domestic power companies from bankruptcy. Even so, Uniper, which is based in Germany and one of Europe’s largest natural gas buyers and suppliers, said last week that it was losing more than €100 million a day because of the rise in prices.

International Monetary Fund this week to issue a proposal to reform the European Union’s framework for government public spending and deficits.

caps blunt the incentive to reduce energy consumption — the chief goal in a world of shortages.

Central banks in the West are expected to keep raising interest rates to make borrowing more expensive and force down inflation. On Thursday, the European Central Bank raised interest rates by three-quarters of a point, matching its biggest increase ever. The U.S. Federal Reserve is likely to do the same when it meets this month. The Bank of England has taken a similar position.

The worry is that the vigorous push to bring down prices will plunge economies into recessions. Higher interest rates alone won’t bring down the price of oil and gas — except by crashing economies so much that demand is severely reduced. Many analysts are already predicting a recession in Germany, Italy and the rest of the eurozone before the end of the year. For poor and emerging countries, higher interest rates mean more debt and less money to spend on the most vulnerable.

“I think we’re living through the biggest development disaster in history, with more people being pushed more quickly into dire poverty than has every happened before,” said Mr. Goldin, the Oxford professor. “It’s a particularly perilous time for the world economy.”

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The Supply Chain Broke. Robots Are Supposed to Help Fix It.

The people running companies that deliver all manner of products gathered in Philadelphia last week to sift through the lessons of the mayhem besieging the global supply chain. At the center of many proposed solutions: robots and other forms of automation.

On the showroom floor, robot manufacturers demonstrated their latest models, offering them as efficiency-enhancing augments to warehouse workers. Driverless trucks and drones commanded display space, advertising an unfolding era in which machinery will occupy a central place in bringing products to our homes.

The companies depicted their technology as a way to save money on workers and optimize scheduling, while breaking down resistance to a future centered on evolving forms of automation.

persistent economic shocks have intensified traditional conflicts between employers and employees around the globe. Higher prices for energy, food and other goods — in part the result of enduring supply chain tangles — have prompted workers to demand higher wages, along with the right to continue working from home. Employers cite elevated costs for parts, raw materials and transportation in holding the line on pay, yielding a wave of strikes in countries like Britain.

The stakes are especially high for companies engaged in transporting goods. Their executives contend that the Great Supply Chain Disruption is largely the result of labor shortages. Ports are overwhelmed and retail shelves are short of goods because the supply chain has run out of people willing to drive trucks and move goods through warehouses, the argument goes.

Some labor experts challenge such claims, while reframing worker shortages as an unwillingness by employers to pay enough to attract the needed numbers of people.

“This shortage narrative is industry-lobbying rhetoric,” said Steve Viscelli, an economic sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream.” “There is no shortage of truck drivers. These are just really bad jobs.”

A day spent wandering the Home Delivery World trade show inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center revealed how supply chain companies are pursuing automation and flexible staffing as antidotes to rising wages. They are eager to embrace robots as an alternative to human workers. Robots never get sick, not even in a pandemic. They never stay home to attend to their children.

A large truck painted purple and white occupied a prime position on the showroom floor. It was a driverless delivery vehicle produced by Gatik, a Silicon Valley company that is running 30 of them between distribution centers and Walmart stores in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Here was the fix to the difficulties of trucking firms in attracting and retaining drivers, said Richard Steiner, Gatik’s head of policy and communications.

“It’s not quite as appealing a profession as it once was,” he said. “We’re able to offer a solution to that trouble.”

Nearby, an Israeli start-up company, SafeMode, touted a means to limit the notoriously high turnover plaguing the trucking industry. The company has developed an app that monitors the actions of drivers — their speed, the abruptness of their braking, their fuel efficiency — while rewarding those who perform better than their peers.

The company’s founder and chief executive, Ido Levy, displayed data captured the previous day from a driver in Houston. The driver’s steady hand at the wheel had earned him an extra $8 — a cash bonus on top of the $250 he typically earns in a day.

“We really convey a success feeling every day,” Mr. Levy, 31, said. “That really encourages retention. We’re trying to make them feel that they are part of something.”

Mr. Levy conceived of the company with a professor at the M.I.T. Media Lab who tapped research on behavioral psychology and gamification (using elements of game playing to encourage participation).

So far, the SafeMode system has yielded savings of 4 percent on fuel while increasing retention by one-quarter, Mr. Levy said.

Another company, V-Track, based in Charlotte, N.C., employs a technology that is similar to SafeMode’s, also in an effort to dissuade truck drivers from switching jobs. The company places cameras in truck cabs to monitor drivers, alerting them when they are looking at their phones, driving too fast or not wearing their seatbelt.

Jim Becker, the company’s product manager, said many drivers hade come to value the cameras as a means of protecting themselves against unwarranted accusations of malfeasance.

But what is the impact on retention if drivers chafe at being surveilled?

“Frustrations about increased surveillance, especially around in-cab cameras,” are a significant source of driver lament, said Max Farrell, co-founder and chief executive of WorkHound, which gathers real-time feedback.

Several companies on the show floor catered to trucking companies facing difficulties in hiring people to staff their dispatch centers. Their solution was moving such functions to countries where wages are lower.

Lean Solutions, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., sets up call centers in Colombia and Guatemala — a response to “the labor challenge in the U.S.,” said Hunter Bell, a company sales agent.

A Kentucky start-up, NS Talent Solutions, establishes dispatch operations in Mexico, at a saving of up to 40 percent compared with the United States.

“The pandemic has helped,” said Michael Bartlett, director of sales. “The world is now comfortable with remote staffing.”

Scores of businesses promoted services that recruit and vet part-time and temporary workers, offering a way for companies to ramp up as needed without having to commit to full-time employees.

Pruuvn, a start-up in Atlanta, sells a service that allows companies to eliminate employees who recruit and conduct background checks.

“It allows you to get rid of or replace multiple individuals,” the company’s chief executive, Bryan Hobbs, said during a presentation.

Another staffing firm, Veryable of Dallas, offered a platform to pair workers such as retirees and students seeking part-time, temporary stints with supply chain companies.

Jonathan Katz, the company’s regional partnerships manager for the Southeast, described temporary staffing as the way for smaller warehouses and distribution operations that lack the money to install robots to enhance their ability to adjust to swings in demand.

A drone company, Zipline, showed video of its equipment taking off behind a Walmart in Pea Ridge, Ark., dropping items like mayonnaise and even a birthday cake into the backyards of customers’ homes. Another company, DroneUp, trumpeted plans to set up similar services at 30 Walmart stores in Arkansas, Texas and Florida by the end of the year.

But the largest companies are the most focused on deploying robots.

Locus, the manufacturer, has already outfitted 200 warehouses globally with its robots, recently expanding into Europe and Australia.

Locus says its machines are meant not to replace workers but to complement them — a way to squeeze more productivity out of the same warehouse by relieving the humans of the need to push the carts.

But the company also presents its robots as the solution to worker shortages. Unlike workers, robots can be easily scaled up and cut back, eliminating the need to hire and train temporary employees, Melissa Valentine, director of retail global accounts at Locus, said during a panel discussion.

Locus even rents out its robots, allowing customers to add them and eliminate them as needed. Locus handles the maintenance.

Robots can “solve labor issues,” said Nathan Ray, director of distribution center operations at Albertsons, the grocery chain, who previously held executive roles at Amazon and Target. “You can find a solution that’s right for your budget. There’s just so many options out there.”

As Mr. Ray acknowledged, a key impediment to the more rapid deployment of automation is fear among workers that robots are a threat to their jobs. Once they realize that the robots are there not to replace them but merely to relieve them of physically taxing jobs like pushing carts, “it gets really fun,” Mr. Ray said. “They realize it’s kind of cool.”

Workers even give robots cute nicknames, he added.

But another panelist, Bruce Dzinski, director of transportation at Party City, a chain of party supply stores, presented robots as an alternative to higher pay.

“You couldn’t get labor, so you raised your wages to try to get people,” he said. “And then everybody else raised wages.”

Robots never demand a raise.

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Sweden, Finland step in to avert Lehman-like situation for power companies

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Swedish Finance Minister Mikael Damberg attends a press conference to propose relief for households affected by high electricity prices, in Rosenbad, Stockholm, Sweden January 12, 2022. Johan Jeppsson /TT News Agency/via REUTERS/File Photo

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  • Sweden, Finland offer $33 bln in credit guarantees
  • Soaring power prices led to spike in collateral need
  • Power firms risked “technical bankruptcy”, Sweden says
  • Fortum welcomes proposal, says talks ongoing

STOCKHOLM/HELSINKI, Sept 4 (Reuters) – Finland and Sweden on Sunday announced plans to offer billions of dollars in liquidity guarantees to power companies in their countries after Russia’s Gazprom (GAZP.MM) shut the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, deepening Europe’s energy crisis.

Finland is aiming to offer 10 billion euros ($9.95 billion) and Sweden plans to offer 250 billion Swedish crowns ($23.2 billion) in liquidity guarantees.

“This has had the ingredients for a kind of a Lehman Brothers of energy industry,” Finnish Economic Affairs Minister Mika Lintila said on Sunday.

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When Lehman Brothers, the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank at the time, filed for bankruptcy in September 2008 with more than $600 billion in debt, it triggered the worst parts of the U.S. financial crisis.

“The government’s programme is a last-resort financing option for companies that would otherwise be threatened with insolvency,” Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin told a news conference.

State-controlled Finnish power company Fortum (FORTUM.HE), which last week had urged Nordic regulators to take immediate action to avert defaults even among smaller players, praised the proposals made by Helsinki and Stockholm.

“We appreciate Finnish and Swedish governments taking swift action to stabilise the Nordic derivatives market and support Nordic energy companies in time of crisis,” the company tweeted.

“It’s crucial to keep companies operational. Our discussions with the Finnish government are ongoing,” it said.

The guarantees aim to prevent ballooning collateral requirements from toppling energy companies that trade electricity on the Nasdaq Commodities exchange, an event that could in turn spread to the financial industry, the governments said.

Lower gas flows from Russia both before and after its February invasion of Ukraine have pushed up European prices and driven up electricity costs.

The rapid rise in electricity prices has resulted in paper losses on electricity futures contracts of power companies, forcing them to find funds to post additional collateral with the exchanges.

The collateral requirement on Nasdaq clearing recently hit 180 billion Swedish crowns, up from around 25 billion in normal times due to the surge in power prices, which have risen some 1,100%, Sweden’s debt office said on Saturday.

The government feared that the Nord Stream 1 shutdown would lead to a further surge.

Finland’s Marin said there needed to be measures at the European Union level to stabilize the functioning of both the derivatives market and the energy market as a whole.

Nasdaq clearing is a Swedish company supervised by Swedish authorities, which is the main reason Sweden was the first country to step in to tackle the potential crisis.

Swedish Finance Minister Mikael Damberg said on Sunday that the guarantees would last until March next year in Sweden and would also cover all Nordic and Baltic nations for the next two weeks only.

Without government guarantees, electricity producers could have ended up in “technical bankruptcy” on Monday, Damberg said.

($1 = 10.7633 Swedish crowns)

($1 = 1.0049 euros)

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Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm and Essi Lehto in Helsinki
Editing by Terje Solsvik, Hugh Lawson and Frances Kerry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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High Seas Deception: How Shady Ships Use GPS to Evade International Law

The scrappy oil tanker waited to load fuel at a dilapidated jetty projecting from a giant Venezuelan refinery on a December morning. A string of abandoned ships listed in the surrounding turquoise Caribbean waters, a testament to the country’s decay after years of economic hardships and U.S. sanctions.

Yet, on computer screens, the ship — called Reliable — appeared nearly 300 nautical miles away, drifting innocuously off the coast of St. Lucia in the Caribbean. According to Reliable’s satellite location transmissions, the ship had not been to Venezuela in at least a decade.

Shipping data researchers have identified hundreds of cases like Reliable, where a ship has transmitted fake location coordinates in order to carry out murky and even illegal business operations and circumvent international laws and sanctions.

maritime resolution signed by nearly 200 nations in 2015, all large ships must carry and operate satellite transponders, known as automatic identification systems, or AIS, which transmit a ship’s identification and navigational positional data. The resolution’s signatories, which include practically all seafaring nations, are obligated under the U.N. rules to enforce these guidelines within their jurisdictions.

sophisticated examples of AIS manipulation, officials said, and the country goes to great lengths to conceal the illegal activities of its large fishing industry.

Windward is one of the main companies that provide shipping industry data to international organizations, governments and financial institutions — including the United Nations, U.S. government agencies and banks like HSBC, Société Générale and Danske Bank. At least one client, the U.N. Security Council body that monitors North Korea’s sanctions compliance, has used Windward’s data to identify ships that breach international laws.

reported an increase in cases of AIS manipulation and jamming in the Black Sea, coinciding with U.S. and Ukrainian claims that Russia was trying to hide its oil exports and smuggle stolen Ukrainian grain.

many of the same ships have recently started trading Venezuelan oil that is under U.S. sanctions.

The spread of AIS manipulation by E.U.-registered vessels shows how advances in technology allow some shipowners to earn windfall profits from commodities under sanction while benefiting from European financial services and legal safeguards.

Cyprus’s deputy shipping minister, Vassilios Demetriades, said illegal manipulation of on-ship equipment is punishable by fines or criminal penalties under the island’s laws. But he has downplayed the problem, saying AIS’s “value and trustworthiness as a location device is rather limited.”

According to Cyprus’s corporate documents, Reliable belongs to a company owned by Christos Georgantzoglou, 81, a Greek businessman. The ship crossed the Atlantic for the first time shortly after Mr. Georgantzoglou’s company bought it last year, and has transmitted locations around eastern Caribbean Islands since, according to Windward’s analysis.

But Venezuela’s state oil company records reviewed by The New York Times show that Reliable was working for the Venezuelan government in the country during that time.

Mr. Georgantzoglou and his company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Their Venezuelan dealings appear to contradict a promise made by Greece’s powerful shipowners association in 2020 to stop transporting the country’s oil. The association did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Reliable is still moving fuel around Venezuelan ports or loading crude onto Asia-bound ships in open waters to hide its origin, according to two Venezuelan oil businessmen, who asked not to be named for security reasons. It still broadcasts coordinates of a ship adrift in the Caribbean Sea.

Adriana Loureiro Fernandez and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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