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Dollar rises vs emerging market currencies, Aussie on China woes

Posted in Articles by dionrabouin on October 24, 2015

Investors on Wednesday clamored for the safety of the U.S. dollar against emerging market currencies and commodity-linked units such as the Australian dollar following a slide in the Chinese stock market.

China grabbed investor attention after the Shanghai Composite stock index closed more than 3 percent lower, slumping toward the close in a resumption of recent volatile patterns. Other emerging market stocks and their currencies were also shaky after recent data on the region hinted at a gloomy growth outlook.

The yen, meanwhile, hit a more than one week low against the greenback after Japanese trade data raised concerns about another recession in the world’s third-largest economy. That helped the dollar rise to 120 yen at multiple points during the day and was last up 0.1 percent at 119.94.

The dollar also advanced against the Australian dollar, often seen as a proxy for Chinese investments because of Australia’s pronounced trade links with China. The Aussie dollar fell 0.5 percent to US$0.7214.

The dollar’s relative strength was notable, but “it is the story about commodity currencies that is much more important,” said Kathy Lien, managing director of BK Asset Management in New York.

The U.S. dollar rose sharply against the Canadian dollar, gaining 1.1 percent on the day to C$1.3125. The greenback hit its highest in two weeks against the Canadian currency after the Bank of Canada held interest rates steady, but lowered growth forecasts for 2016 and 2017.

The announcement from Canada’s central bank was “weighing heavily on the loonie,” Lien said, and “in New Zealand, dairy prices fell, hurting the New Zealand dollar. And generally speaking commodity prices are lower across the board.”

Commodities led by oil took a pounding on Wednesday, with while U.S. crude prices hitting $44.86, their lowest levels since Oct. 2.

Against the South African rand, the dollar gained 1.7 percent at 13.5089. It was also 0.9 percent higher versus the Brazilian real at 3.9410 reais, edging closer to a 4-to-1 currency exchange rate with Latin America’s biggest economy.

There was little change for the dollar, however, against the euro, as the currency pair continued their holding pattern in anticipation of Thursday’s European Central Bank monetary policy meeting. Investors expect the ECB to keep interest rates steady and hold any announcement of further policy easing given Tuesday’s solid batch of euro zone data.

The euro was last flat on the day at $1.1340. (Reporting by Dion Rabouin; Additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by James Dalgleish and Diane Craft)


Euro hits two-month low vs dollar as ECB weighs

Posted in Articles by dionrabouin on October 24, 2015

The euro on Friday continued its downward trend against the dollar following European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi’s comments a day earlier that signaled further monetary easing could be on deck for the euro zone.

Europe’s common currency checked in below $1.10, hitting a low against the dollar not seen since early August, and was down 3.05 percent versus the greenback for the week. It was the euro’s worst weekly fall since May.

The euro also fell to a one-month low against the yen, down 1.4 percent for the week, its largest weekly percentage fall in six weeks.

ECB President Draghi on Thursday said the bank could accelerate its bond purchases, extend its asset-buying program, and further cut its deposit rate, currently at -0.2 percent.

“Draghi not only delivered, but he exceeded many dovish expectations,” said Omer Esiner, chief market analyst at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in Washington. “The risk of more monetary stimulus in the euro zone is broadly negative for the euro.”

China’s surprise announcement that it would cut interest rates for the fourth time this year spurred equity market surges around the globe, but traders retreated from China-linked currencies like the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollar that typically trend up on stock market rallies.

The loonie and kiwi both fell against the dollar after gaining in early trading. The Aussie tempered early gains, up 0.11 percent to $0.7210, after rising nearly 1 percent to a session high of $0.7296.

“There’s a possibility that market participants look at (China’s rate cut) as less a positive sign and more a sign that growth is weakening more than is currently expected,” said Brian Daingerfield, currency strategist for RBS Securities in Stamford, Connecticut. “There may be some (sense of) good news is bad news where markets look at the easing in China not as a good sign, but as a sign that growth today may be weaker than we currently see.”

The muted gains in China-linked currencies also reflected the U.S. dollar’s strength through the day. The greenback was up 0.6 percent versus the yen at 121.40 yen. It was up 0.8 percent against a currency basket at 97.172, boosted by continuing gains against the euro. (Reporting by Dion Rabouin; Additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by James Dalgleish and Meredith Mazzilli)


For Some Military Families, President Obama’s Decision To Keep Troops In Afghanistan Is ‘Another Knife’ In The Heart

Posted in Articles, Features by dionrabouin on October 24, 2015
US army tombstones
Lesleigh Coyer, 25, of Saginaw, Michigan, lies down in front of the grave of her brother, Ryan Coyer, at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia March 11, 2013. Ryan Coyer served with the U.S. Army in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama’s pledge Thursday to keep American troops in Afghanistan through 2016 was the last thing Mary Hladky wanted to hear. “It’s what we were dreading,” said the mother of three, whose son Ryan is in the National Guard after serving in the Army from 2009 to 2013 and in Afghanistan during the surge in 2011. He was based at Fort Drum outside Watertown, New York, home to the 10th Mountain Division, which was among the units most recently deployed to Afghanistan.

During the past few years, Hladky has met with White House representatives, members of Congress and anybody else who will listen, hoping to convince them to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan and the Middle East. She said announcements such as the one Obama made last week no longer surprise her, but they are still very upsetting.

“I do think I retain hope somewhere inside of me [that the war will end] because I think I have to,” Hladky said. “But it’s just terrible what we’re doing to our men and women who serve. It’s really sad — very, very sad.”

In May 2014, Obama said it was “time to turn the page on a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” saying he would withdraw the last American troops from the former country by 2016. Thursday, the president reversed course, saying the U.S. would keep at least 9,800 troops in the Central Asian nation through most of 2016, with at least 5,500 of them there at the end of next year.

“While America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures,” said Obama, who was joined by Vice President Joe Biden and top military leaders when he made the announcement in Washington. “I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again.”

Hladky doesn’t see it that way.

“What it’s actually doing is helping [the Islamic State group],” she said. “Everything we do just helps them and it hurts us. We’re not making progress, so why do we do the same thing? To us, it’s very, very frustrating.”

After her son’s deployment, Hladky joined a group called Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), which has for years urged lawmakers to bring U.S. troops back from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The group asserts that it is not politically minded and works only to give concerned parents a channel to speak with decision-makers and other politicians who may be able to bring their children home.

MFSO National Coordinator Pat Alviso, a mother who noted her son has served five tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, said the toughest part of the ongoing conflict for parents is that they can never feel certain about the safety of their sons or daughters.

“We’re always scared,” Alviso said. “To parents like me, [the troops] are being shot at 24/7. They’re constantly under [attack] in our heads, because we don’t know. As soon as we hear on the news, this area is being hit or we hear from other people that an area has been hit or attacked, you’re waiting because they don’t notify you by email how many Americans have been killed or whether your child is in danger.”

Accordingly, she said, “You’ve got to wait for somebody to knock on your door with the worst news ever.”

US troops Afghanistan On the final day of a monthlong anti-Taliban operation by the Afghan National Army in various parts of eastern Nangarhar province, U.S. soldiers participate in a NATO patrol at an ANA base in the Khogyani district Aug. 30, 2015.  Getty Images/AFP/Noorullah Shirzada

But not all military families are opposed to the president’s decision to keep troops in Afghanistan. With the United Nations asserting that the Taliban is now spread throughout more parts of the country than at any point since 2001, Michael McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace, said he knows a number of active-duty troops and veterans — as well as their families and friends — who want to be sure the U.S. doesn’t leave Afghanistan and let everything they’ve worked for over the past 14 years be undone.

Last month, the Taliban scored its biggest victory of the war, seizing the northern city of Kunduz and holding it for more than two weeks.

“Some see what’s happening in Afghanistan as the work that they did being wasted, and some feel that we need to go back and finish the job,” McPhearson said of military-service members with whom he’s spoken. “There are some that come from the same perspective as Veterans for Peace, that we really need to leave and let Afghans administer their own nation. But for both groups, going back is a burden, even the ones that want to finish the job — it’s not like they’re looking forward to going back.”

In his speech Thursday, Obama noted the dangers of leaving Afghanistan early, saying, “In key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile, and in some places, there is risk of deterioration.” Even in 2017, he said, American forces will remain on several bases in Afghanistan to “give us the presence and the reach our forces require to achieve their mission.”

Obama 1 U.S. President Barack Obama has vetoed the 2016 defense budget. Pictured: The president announced plans to slow the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in Washington, D.C., Oct. 15, 2015.  Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

That stance was praised by many in Congress as well as by former high-ranking U.S. military personnel. Melissa Dalton, a former Pentagon official who served as a senior adviser for force planning, praised the decision to delay the troop drawdown in an interview with CNN, saying the continued U.S. presence would help fortify training efforts for Afghan soldiers.

“In part, it’s the actual day-to-day interactions [between U.S. advisers and Afghan troops] that matter,” Dalton said, adding that the presence of U.S. troops would provide political and psychological benefits to Afghanistan, demonstrating that the U.S. is “not walking away” from a situation that remains “very rocky terrain and uncertain.”

However, Dalton did acknowledge that there was a “distinct possibility” the reality on the ground in Afghanistan will not be much different in another year or two and that the U.S. could choose to keep its troops in the country once again.

Although Obama said last week he opposes the idea of what he called “endless war,” it appears the decision to conclude what is now a 14-year-old conflict in Afghanistan will no longer be his to make, given the end of his term in office in January 2017. Meanwhile, his move has resulted in a “tremendous amount of anger and betrayal” being felt among many military families, MFSO’s Alviso said.

Thursday was “not another day to us,” she said. “It’s another knife, I guess, being twisted. It still hits us hard. Every time.”

Boko Haram Defeated In Nigeria’s Northeast? Military Reopens Schools In Borno State, Frees Captives

Posted in Articles by dionrabouin on October 24, 2015

bring back our girls 500

In the latest sign that Islamist terror group Boko Haram may be permanently losing its grip on Nigeria, a military official in the country Sunday told the Associated Press that public schools in the state of Borno were reopening. Borno, located in the country’s northeast, had long been a Boko Haram stronghold where the group terrorized and killed thousands of civilians over the course of its insurgency. The military said it had pushed the extremists from many cities and towns in the region.

Fearing for the safety of students, schools have been closed for more than two years in some parts of the state. Boko Haram made international news in April 2014 when it kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno. Boko Haram, which has been translated by some to mean “Western education is sinful,” has targeted women and children, and has often used girls as young as 10 years old to carry out attacks at local markets and public gatherings.

A school in the city of Gwoza, which had been the headquarters of the group’s Islamic Caliphate, was reopened Saturday by Nigeria’s military, military spokesman Col. Sani Kukasheka Usman told the AP. He said troops continued to recapture territory from the insurgents. Unicef, the U.N. children’s agency, reported that at least 1.4 million children have been displaced by Boko Haram’s uprising.

GettyImages-485410730 A man carries his child on his shoulder during a rally in Abuja to mark 500 days since the abductions of Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram militants, Aug. 27, 2015.  AFP/Getty Images

Borno and Nigeria’s northeast have been the target of a three-month multinational offensive led by the African Union that has largely driven Boko Haram out of the region. In addition to killing more than 15,000 people and driving millions from their homes, the group’s militants have destroyed infrastructure that may cost more than $1 billion to rebuild, Borno Gov. Kashim Shettima said, according to Bloomberg.

“Hospitals, bridges, roads that they mined will require about 79 billion naira [$397 million]” to rebuild, Shettima, 49, said in an interview at his office in the state capital of Maiduguri. “If you are to quantify the homes, the figure may reach even three times the figure I quoted.”

The conflict has displaced 1.6 million people in Borno state, or 27 percent of the population, and about 121,000 live in camps in Maiduguri, according to the National Emergency Management Agency.

In addition to reopening the schools, the military said it rescued 62 people from around Gwoza Saturday and some 77 men, women and children from the town of Bama, most of them “haggard, dejected and obviously malnourished,” Usman told Agence France-Presse.

“The fight against the terrorists in the northeast is gaining successful momentum, with most of the camps falling to the federal might,” he said in a statement.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau dismissed the talk of success as “lies,” AFP reported Sunday. Shekau reportedly released a 25-minute recording in Hausa and Arabic on social media that disputed the claims. “[The military] lied that they have confiscated our arms, that we have been chased out of our territories, that we are in disarray.

“We are alive, I am alive, this is my voice, more audible than it was before. This is Shekau.”

He continued in the recording: “Buhari is a liar and has deceived you. The army spokesman is also lying. He and his foot soldiers always run helter-skelter whenever we come face to face with them.

Obama Immigration Executive Action Leaves Majority With No New Options

Posted in Articles, Uncategorized by dionrabouin on October 24, 2015

immigrantsRosa Reyes Ventura doesn’t speak English that well. She can trade salutations and small talk about the weather, but beyond that she just smiles and shakes her head. But she wants to learn. She wants to learn so that she can stay in the United States and bring her children to live with her. Her three boys still live in El Salvador, a country she left three years ago to escape a man she says abused her and her kids.

President Obama announced a major overhaul of U.S. immigration policy in a prime-time address Thursday night, but Reyes is one of about 7 million undocumented immigrants whose status was unchanged by the president’s executive action. Because her children were not born in the U.S. and are not eligible for inclusion under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, her condition persists.

Obama extended temporary relief from deportation to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the U.S. for more than five years. The executive action also expanded eligibility for DACA to people under 16 years old, and included relief for parents of permanent residents who have been in the country since the beginning of 2010 as well as spouses and children of permanent residents.

Reyes has lived in the U.S. for three years and wants to stay permanently, but she remains among the millions of American immigrants who face an unclear future and an uncertain present.

“What I want is to bring my kids here,” Reyes said. “When I came to this country…they wanted me to return to my country, but I was afraid to return. And I’m still afraid that they’ll come for me and deport me. I suffered from domestic abuse [in El Salvador], and now the situation is that I have my kids there and they’re alone.”

She is seeking to be granted asylum in the U.S. and was in New York City’s Immigration Court on Friday hoping for a break in her case.

“I don’t know what reason they would have to deport me,” Reyes said. “I don’t have any problems here. I work for my kids, without problems, without crime. All I know is work, nothing else here.”

Nearly 5 million people will be granted reprieve from the specter of deportation under the new immigration framework. They won’t be able to file an application for six months, but those who qualify for deferred action will no longer be targets of deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Both agencies have been instructed to “immediately begin identifying persons in their custody” who meet the criteria as well as to consider the new criteria for “all individuals encountered.”

That still leaves a majority of the estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security, with no new options. For Jimmy Johnson, an attorney who recently began focusing on immigration cases, the new measures are a step in the right direction. Still, he says that for most of his clients, “nothing has changed.”

“It’s going to help certain people, but not all people. There are still orders on the pipeline,” Johnson said.  “And what I mean by that is there are still people calling me and saying, ‘They’re going to deport me.’”

Johnson says that for many of his clients, the biggest obstacle is that they don’t have kids. For other undocumented immigrants, it has been difficult to understand just what the changes mean and whether they will be included in new deferred action protections.

Attorney Susana Abarca, who has represented about 150 clients with immigration issues over the past year, said her phone started ringing early Thursday afternoon — hours before the official announcement — with calls from people wanting to know what the president’s actions meant for them.

“Before [President Obama] even started talking, I got at least five calls,” Abarca said. “I left my office early to hear the speech, so as soon as I get to the office, [I know] I’m gonna get more than that.”

Despite her own uncertainty, Reyes said that she’s happy “for all the other moms” who will get to stay with their American-born children, even if that stay is temporary.

“I’ve been here for three years. I’m planning to be here forever, I want to stay here,” she said. “But for now I have to wait, because it’s the judge’s decision. We’ll see what she says.”