|Gold hits record
highs, oil drops amid inflation fears
– Gold prices hit record highs close to $1,500 this week
while oil and base metals fell on expectations that rising
global inflation risks will lead to higher interest rates
and slower growth.
Gold reached record highs at the start of the week and
continued higher from there to finish with an all-time peak
of $1,486.07 an ounce.
Investors piled into the safe-haven precious metal amid
spikes to global inflation and fresh eurozone debt worries.
“Gold hit yet another record high and silver charged to
another 31-year high as inflation concerns and some fresh
safe-haven investment demand pushed the precious metals
still higher,” said Ian O’Sullivan, analyst at Spread Co
“The ongoing simmering European sovereign debt concerns and
inflationary price pressures coming from China and the US
continue to drive investors to buy the precious metals as an
Record-breaking gold will likely soar past $1,600 per for
the first time later this year, driven by fears over high
inflation, consultancy GFMS forecast.
Gold is a traditional safe-haven store of value in troubled
The metal hit its latest highs after China said inflation
jumped to a 32-month high, suggesting Beijing’s efforts to
rein in soaring costs are still falling short.
China’s consumer price index rose 5.4 percent year-on-year
in March – the fastest pace since July 2008 and well above
the government’s 2011 target of four percent – and 5.0
percent in the first quarter.
The US consumer price index rose by 0.5 percent in March,
while India’s inflation rate unexpectedly accelerated while
eurozone price rises ran at 2.7 percent last month, way
above a 2.0 percent target.
Elsewhere, Moody’s cut its credit ratings on Ireland by two
notches to just above junk status, citing an “expected
decline” in government finances that is set to hamper
recovery of the indebted eurozone nation.
Meanwhile, oil prices slipped of 30-month highs, weighed
down by a sharp inflation rise in China, the world’s largest
consumer of energy, and predictions of weaker demand.
The market also waited on weekend presidential vote in oil
“The news from China is having a dampening effect on oil
prices because the market is expecting the Chinese
Government to raise (interest) rates,” following the
inflation data, said Thina Saltvedt, analyst at Nordea Bank
Oil prices slumped after the International Energy Agency
warned that recent high prices had started to hurt global
demand for energy.
“Investor focus has finally shifted from the supply side to
concerns over potential damage to demand, as highlighted by
the IEA monthly report,” VTB Capital analyst Andrey
Kryuchenkov told AFP.
The Paris-based IEA warned that “there are real risks that a
sustained $100 dollars a barrel-plus price environment will
prove incompatible with the currently expected pace of
Traders are particularly concerned that rocketing prices
could undermine the delicate recovery in the United States,
the world’s biggest economy and the largest oil consuming
Soaring oil prices have sparked fears of a return to the
record levels above $147 seen in 2008.
The International Monetary Fund, meanwhile, warned this week
that high oil prices were a key risk to solid global
Crude futures enjoyed a brief mid-week rebound as data
showed stockpiles of motor fuel slumped ten times more than
expected in the United States.
The US Department of Energy said that inventories of
gasoline, or petrol, tumbled 7.0 million barrels last week.
Analysts had forecast a much smaller drop of 700,000
The oil market was also looking ahead to weekend elections
in Nigeria, a key exporter of crude but which is regularly
hit by supply disruptions owing to unrest between rebels and
the African nation’s government.
“Any political unrest created from the polls in Nigeria
could further increase the geopolitical risk and may retrace
recent losses in the price of oil,” said Nick Campbell, an
analyst at energy consultants Inenco.
The oil-producing Niger Delta region, hit by years of
violence, has seen relative calm following a 2009 amnesty
deal but the situation remains fragile and many have warned
of a likely eventual return to unrest.
|Top G20 economies face
scrutiny over imbalances
WASHINGTON (AFP) –
Seven of the world’s leading economies including China and
the United States face deep scrutiny over fiscal and
financial imbalances as the G20 group announced a new
framework for assessing potential risks to the global
A Group of 20 delegation member told AFP the seven “included
the G5” – the United States, France, Britain, Japan and
Germany – and “two big emerging countries,” suggesting China
The move would boost fraternal scrutiny in the elite G20
club, underscoring the growing worry over how structural
problems in one large economy can spill across the world and
pull others down – as became apparent in the 2008-2009
The move fell short of the “name and shame” approach some
observers expected, with members apparently uncomfortable
with having any official public list of those found
substandard by the new G20 guidelines.
French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who presided over
the G20 meeting would only confirm that France was one of
the seven countries. But the appearance of China, the United
States, Japan and Germany was expected prior to Friday’s
Finance officials called the meeting a solid step ahead for
policing the globe’s increasingly integrated economy, when
policies by the biggest players have long been decided at
the national level.
US Treasury Under Secretary Lael Brainard said there were
already signs of how peer pressure was being taken, citing
US President Barack Obama’s speech outlining an ambitious
plan to cut the massive US budget deficit, and internal
discussions the Chinese are having on their side of the
problem – their massive trade surplus.
“The reality is that we are in a world of sovereign states,
we have national parliaments and congresses to answer to,
and each country has a complicated policy process to
undertake,” she said.
“You have to recognise how far this conversation has come.”
After discussions launched late last year, the G20 decided a
framework for assessing the most risky economies in a “very
mechanical and very objective” manner, Lagarde said.
The G20 represents 85 percent of the global economy, and
comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the United
States, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Argentina,
Australia, Brazil, China, South Korea, India, Indonesia,
Mexico, Russia, Turkey and the European Union.
|Chernobyl survivor still backs nuclear
SINGAPORE (AFP) –
It happened a quarter of a century ago but Sergei Belyakov
still remembers vividly how much he suffered from high
radiation exposure after the Chernobyl nuclear plant
“I was extremely weak, my motion senses were altered and I
had difficulty breathing normally,” said the Ukrainian-born
scientist, part of a Soviet clean-up crew assigned to tackle
the world’s worst nuclear plant disaster.
Belyakov could not even muster the strength to play his
favourite sport, basketball, for more than a year after
Chernobyl and says he still suffers from the lingering
effects of exposure during a 40-day stint at the stricken
But as the world prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of
the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl incident against the backdrop
of an ongoing emergency at the Fukushima nuclear plant in
Japan, Belyakov still believes in nuclear energy.
“Despite the fact that I was deeply affected personally, I
still truly believe that this is the only choice for us,” he
“We don’t have any other choices because we are going to run
out eventually of oil, we are going to run out of coal,” he
A coin-sized patch of skin on his neck which was exposed to
the air in Chernobyl has lost pigmentation, but Belyakov
prefers not to talk in detail about his current health
“It’s just too private. I can tell you this, I am seemingly
physically OK but I am not,” said the 55-year-old
naturalised American citizen now working in Singapore for
AMRI, a US chemical research firm.
Japan has upgraded the Fukushima nuclear emergency to a
maximum seven on an international scale of atomic crises,
the first time the highest ranking has been invoked since
the Chernobyl disaster.
It has been struggling to bring the emergency under control
since the March 11 quake-tsunami disasters crippled the
Fukushima plant’s cooling system.
The quake and tsunami killed 13,500 people and left 14,500
The way Belyakov sees it, the Chernobyl and Fukushima
accidents were largely the result of human shortcomings and
not problems with the technology itself.
He said France, proportionately the world’s biggest user of
nuclear power with 75 percent of its energy needs met by
atomic plants, was an example of how tight regulations can
be effective in ensuring safety at such facilities.
“In Chernobyl, it was a human mistake and it was a design
flaw, and Fukushima had its own unfortunate chain of events
plus human factors once again,” said Belyakov.
Japan’s nuclear crisis has opened a floodgate of memories
for Belyakov, who took up American citizenship after he
emigrated to the United States in 1992.
He was 30 and teaching chemistry at a university in what was
part of the then Soviet Union when he volunteered to join
thousands of other people to help clean up the Chernobyl
Belyakov wrote a memoir titled “The Liquidator” in Russian
based on his experience, an effort that has helped him
overcome the psychological scars of his Chernobyl
“That’s what psychologists recommend, if you need to get rid
of it, you need to draw or write about it,” he said.
Alternatives such has hydroelectric dams, solar panels and
wind turbines pale in comparison with the efficiency of
nuclear energy as a substitute for the fossil fuels blamed
for climate change, according to Belyakov.
He was not surprised by the upgrading of the Fukushima
“Looking at the pictures from the first day of the accident,
you see the plumes of smoke coming out and you know it’s
serious damage to the plant,” he said.
“Already, I know it’s not going to take weeks or months,
it’s going to take years to clean up.”
|Run-up to Britain’s royal wedding
LONDON (AFP) – A round-up of brief stories about the
marriage of Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton on
Kate Middleton and her family will spend the night before
the wedding in a five-star London hotel, St James’s Palace
The family have chosen to stay at the Goring Hotel, not far
from Buckingham Palace.
The Edwardian hotel’s chief executive Jeremy Goring said:
“We are delighted that we are able to play a small part in
what’s going to be a wonderful day of celebration around
“When a guest walks through the door here they feel
instantly relaxed and as if they belong.”
Kate would spend her last night as a single woman in the
hotel’s luxurious royal suite costing £5,000 ($8,150/5,650
St James’s Palace, Prince William’s office, released details
of the wedding day timings, which show the event has been
planned with military precision.
The 1,900 guests start arriving at Westminster Abbey from
8:15am (0715 GMT), before prime ministers, diplomats, and
other distinguished guests.
William and his best man, his brother Prince Harry, arrive
next before foreign royals and the Middletons, then the
British royals in ascending order of importance.
Finally, the bridal party arrives before Middleton and her
father Michael leave the Goring Hotel at 10:51am (0951 GMT).
Well-wishers will be able to hear the service relayed along
the procession route.
The service starts at 11:00am (1000 GMT) and the newlywed
couple will leave at 12:15pm (1115 GMT) before Queen
Elizabeth II and then the rest of the royals and other
guests making up the 600 going to Buckingham Palace.
Pop star George Michael has recorded a song as a wedding
gift to the couple, he revealed on his Twitter account.
The cover song, which will be free to download, took two
days to record.
“It’s going to break your heart!”, the former Wham! singer
“I want Will and Kate to know that this a genuine gift, not
a promo exercise.”
Michael, who was not invited to the wedding, said he was not
“angling” for an invitation, adding the couple should be
“surrounded by people they love, not dodgy ex-con pop
Two horses named William and Catherine are to take part in
the celebrations, being ridden by Household Cavalry
Catherine is said to be gentle and affectionate but can be
strong-willed when she wants to be.
William is tall and described by his rider Captain James
Hulme as having a good temperament and when in public knows
what is expected of him.
“He holds his head very well, his carriage is very good and
he’s comfortable at the trot,” Hulme said.
|David Cameron’s immigration speech
Designed to emphasise coalition differences
By Alan Travis
Perhaps the most significant fact about David Cameron’s
speech on immigration is that it comes only hours after
Whitehall went into its traditional pre-election period of “purdah.”
With the local and devolved elections only weeks away, the
speech contains no new policy developments or ideas on
immigration, but that is not its purpose. Instead, it
concentrates on advertising the existing state of coalition
policy on immigration – or, rather, Conservative intentions
For it is not so much a speech by a prime minister as one by
a party leader in a coalition government which, going into
an election campaign, is desperate to emphasise his
political differences with his coalition partner, Nick
As far as the Conservatives are concerned, there is no
better issue than the populist and emotional issue of
immigration to emphasise the difference with the Lib Dems,
as they found during the general election leadership
The Tories favour a cap to reduce net migration below
100,000, while the Lib Dems want to see an earned “amnesty”
for illegal migrants who have already been here a decade. It
would not be a surprise if Cameron made it a feature at the
start of the local election campaigns every May between now
and the general election in 2015.
So does what he says about immigration actually stack up?
• The “invasion” thesis: he says Britain went through the
largest influx of people in its history between 1997 and
2009, with two million more coming to live in the UK than
left to live abroad.
Cameron is trying to portray this as Labour presiding over a
period of mass immigration. But if he looked a little
further back in the long-term migration figures, he would
see that the turning point was 1991, not 1997.
The period from 1991 – when John Major was in No 10 – to
1997 saw total net migration of 2.5 million. Looking further
back, you would see that the 1970s and 1980s were decades
when more people left Britain than came here.
The raw figures for 1997 to 2008 are even scarier, with six
million migrants coming to live and work in Britain and four
million going to live abroad.
Economists argue that migration ebbs and flows with the
economic cycle and, as wars come and go, will remain a
constant feature of British life that needs to be managed.
The sharp rise in immigration to Britain in the early 1990s
followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the break-up of
Yugoslavia. More than 25% of the surge in migration since
2004 was accounted for by the integration of former
communist countries in eastern Europe into the EU. Others
say it is the inevitable consequence of globalisation.
Much of the new migration is short-term movement of seasonal
workers, and could be regarded as increased labour mobility
across Europe. Most people go back home after a year or two
rather than settle.
• Migration has placed some communities under real pressure,
creating a kind of “discomfort and disjointedness” in some
It has been recognised that some areas, such as
Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, have been put under
pressure by rapid population growth. But a £70m migration
impacts fund, set up by Labour to ease the burden on
schools, hospitals, councils and the Police, has been axed.
The government has also dropped the annual citizenship
survey, which measures community cohesion, integration and
the rise of extremism.
• The immigration cap is already working: the need to find
an accommodation with the Liberal Democrats means the
government has been far less tough in placing annual limits
on skilled work permits and overseas student numbers than
was previously envisaged.
Home Office figures show that the much-trumpeted cap on
skilled foreign workers will only cut net migration –
currently running at 214,000 a year – by 17,000 in its first
year of operation.
Net migration is then actually forecast to rise in years two
and three. Cameron says the curb on overseas students will
reduce their numbers by 80,000 a year, but the Home Office
has not yet published the evidence on which the figure is
The pledge to get net migration down below 100,000 by the
next general election is, significantly, not in the
coalition agreement, but is a Conservative promise.
After trying to get the numbers down through the work and
student routes, ministers are now turning to those coming on
family visas. Human rights legislation on the right to
family life means there is little room for manoeuvre in this
Unless immigration falls sharply for other reasons outside
the control of the government, the pledge is looking
unlikely to be met.
|BRICS nations against use of force in
SANYA, China (AFP) – Leaders of five of
the world’s major emerging powers said the use of force in
Libya and the Arab world should be avoided, at a summit
intended to showcase their growing global clout.
The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa
also warned in a joint statement that volatile commodity
prices could slow the global economic recovery and that huge
capital flows could hurt the developing world.
Chinese President Hu Jintao chaired the wide-ranging morning
talks in the southern China resort city Sanya with South
Africa’s Jacob Zuma, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Russia’s
Dmitry Medvedev, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The leaders were seeking to present a united front as they
push for their countries to have a bigger say on the world
stage, particularly within the United Nations, the
International Monetary Fund and other global institutions.
The five nations – which together represent more than 40
percent of the world’s population – said their unusual joint
presence on the UN Security Council in 2011 offered an
opportunity to work together on Libya.
“We are of the view that all the parties should resolve
their differences through peaceful means and dialogue in
which the UN and regional organisations should as
appropriate play their role,” the leaders said in the
“We share the principle that the use of force should be
avoided. We maintain that the independence, sovereignty,
unity and territorial integrity of each nation should be
South Africa was the only BRICS nation to approve a UN
Security Council resolution establishing a no-fly zone over
Libya and authorising “all necessary measures” to protect
civilians, opening the door to coalition air strikes.
The other four countries have expressed concern that the
NATO-led campaign – which aims to thwart Moamer Kadhafi’s
assault on rebels seeking to end his 41-year rule – is
causing civilian casualties.
The statement, however, did not specifically single out the