Insurance giant Allianz will pay $6 billion in restitution and fines over a multi-billion fraudulent scheme that hit American teachers, clergy and other investors, US regulators announced Tuesday.
Allianz Global Investors US, a US unit of the German financial firm, admitted to violating US securities laws with its “Structured Alpha” scheme which dates to at least January 2016 and was exposed with the stock market downturn in March 2020, said the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Allianz Global, as well as two of three portfolio managers named in the complaint, also agreed to plead guilty in a parallel criminal case, the SEC said.
The agency said Allianz and the three portfolio managers doctored key financial figures to make losses look smaller than they were.
But when Covid-19 struck the United States in March 2020, the pandemic-induced market crash showed Allianz had misled investors about risk, and “the fund suffered catastrophic losses and investors lost billions,” the SEC said.
Allianz Global agreed to pay about $1 billion in penalties and disgorgement, while the company and its German parent will pay over $5 billion in restitution to victims, the statement said.
“The victims of this misconduct include teachers, clergy, bus drivers, and engineers, whose pensions are invested in institutional funds to support their retirement,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler, who lamented “a recent string of cases in which derivatives and complex products have harmed investors across market sectors.”
Two of the three Allianz Global officials named in the case, co-lead portfolio manager Trevor Taylor and portfolio manager Stephen Bond-Nelson, have agreed to plead guilty in the case. The government is also charging lead portfolio manager Gregoire Tournant.
RIP Internet Explorer: South Korean engineer’s browser ‘grave’ goes viral
A South Korean engineer who built a grave for Internet Explorer — photos of which quickly went viral — told AFP Friday that the now-defunct web browser had made his life a misery.
South Korea, which has some of the world’s fastest average internet speeds, remained bizarrely wedded to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which was retired by the company earlier this week after 27 years.
In honour of the browser’s “death”, a gravestone marked with its signature “e” logo was set up on the rooftop of a cafe in South Korea’s southern city of Gyeongju by engineer Kiyoung Jung, 38.
“He was a good tool to use to download other browsers,” the gravestone’s inscription reads.
Images of Jung’s joke tombstone quickly spread online, with users of social media site Reddit upvoting it tens of thousands of times.
Once dominant globally, Internet Explorer was widely reviled in recent years due to its slowness and glitches.
But in South Korea, it was mandatory for online banking and shopping until about 2014, as all such online activities required sites to use ActiveX — a plugin created by Microsoft.
It remained the default browser for many Seoul government sites until very recently, local reports said.
The websites of the Korea Water Resources Corporation and the Korea Expressway Corporation only functioned properly in IE until at least June 10, according to a report by the Maeil Economic Daily.
– ‘Suffering’ for IE –
As a software engineer and web developer, Jung told AFP he constantly “suffered” at work because of compatibility issues involving the now-defunct browser.
“In South Korea, when you are doing web development work, the expectation was always that it should look good in Internet Explorer, rather than Chrome,” he said.
Websites that look good in other browsers, such as Safari or Chrome, can look very wrong in IE, which often forced him to spend many extra hours working to ensure compatibility.
Jung said that he was “overjoyed” by IE’s retirement.
But he also said he felt genuinely nostalgic and emotional about the browser’s demise, as he remembers its heyday — one of the reasons he was inspired to erect the grave stone.
He quoted Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki: “People are often relieved that machines don’t have souls, but we as human beings actually give our hearts to them,” Jung told AFP, explaining his feelings for IE.
He said he was pleased by the response to his joke grave and that he and his brother — who owns the cafe — plan to leave the monument on the rooftop in Gyeongju indefinitely.
“It’s been very exciting to make others laugh,” he said.
Problems soar for airlines despite pandemic recovery
Desperate to put the coronavirus pandemic behind them, airlines will hold talks on Sunday ahead of a potential summer of chaos with shortages and strikes that could threaten their recovery.
While trade is roaring back to life, representatives from the aviation sector meeting for three days in Qatar have a packed agenda with multiple geopolitical crises including the war in Ukraine and the environment.
Cracks are already showing in the sector’s recovery, though industry figures are optimistic about the future despite the issues.
In the past few weeks, delays and cancellations caused by a lack of staff at airports and strikes for better pay have wreaked havoc upon travellers.
The problems originate with the pandemic when airlines and airports laid off thousands of workers during its worst-ever crisis.
Now, they are scrambling for workers.
Passenger numbers dropped by 60 percent in 2020, and in 2021 it was still down 50 percent. Airlines lost nearly $200 billion over two years.
While some firms in the sector went bankrupt, others — backed often by states — have emerged from the pandemic with profits intact.
European airlines are excited about the prospect for a “beautiful summer”, with some data showing booking rates higher than in 2019. In the United States, the domestic market has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels.
“Airlines are generating cash again, which is a real positive,” said Willie Walsh, head of the International Air Transport Association, during a visit to Paris earlier this month.
The sector’s morale was buoyant after “a very long and barren two years”, he told reporters.
– ‘Not up to speed’ –
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 290 airlines accounting for 83 percent of global air traffic, will host its annual general meeting in Doha instead of Shanghai after record-high Covid case counts forced it to relocate the forum.
There will be cause for celebration during the event.
In terms of Revenue Passenger Kilometres (RPKs), a measure of total distance flown by paying passengers, activity in April reached 62.8 percent compared with the same month in 2019.
That was the best figure since March 2020.
Domestic routes, meanwhile, hit 74.2 percent in April, better than international markets which reached 56.6 percent compared with the same period in 2019.
After the Easter holidays fiasco at European airports, Walsh admitted “the system is not up to speed”, but vowed the issues would be addressed.
He was hopeful despite the war in Ukraine and its wider impacts, surging inflation and record prices for jet fuel.
Fuel makes up 25 to 30 percent of companies’ spending, and given the still-fragile state of airlines’ balance sheets, higher costs will be passed on to customers to preserve their profits.
But the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine are already being felt.
European flights to Asia are constrained by long diverted routes to avoid Russian airspace after having slapped heavy sanctions on Moscow.
– Costly decarbonisation –
With inflation eroding people’s purchasing power, higher costs could weaken demand at a time when companies need to make serious investments to cut their carbon dioxide emissions.
The IATA pledged last October to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The issue will be raised at a general assembly meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization in the autumn, but a deal between countries is far from certain.
The IATA, which expects 10 billion air passengers annually by the middle of the century compared with 4.5 billion in 2019, refuses to consider any restrictions on growth in order to contain the effects of climate change.
Commercial air travel, often the target of environmental activists, is responsible for between 2.5 and 3 percent of global emissions.
Between “cleaner” planes and sustainable fuel, investment worth $1.5 trillion over 30 years is needed to improve the sector’s environmental impact. The costs will be most likely handed down to the customer, again.
Bank of Japan keeps easing policy despite US, Europe rate hikes
The Bank of Japan on Friday stuck to its long-held monetary easing policy even as other central banks around the world hike interest rates to tame inflation.
But it said it would “pay due attention” to foreign exchange markets, a rare comment that comes after the yen hit a 24-year low against the dollar.
In a statement following a two-day policy meeting, the BoJ kept in place its rate of minus 0.1 percent — part of a decade-old action plan aimed at boosting the world’s third-largest economy — bucking pressure to address the impact of a weaker yen.
Its decision runs counter to a global tightening trend to tackle sky-high fuel and food prices linked to the war in Ukraine and supply chain snarls.
Global interest rate hikes have been led by the US Federal Reserve, which this week announced its most aggressive increase in nearly 30 years, and signalled more ahead in a battle to drive down inflation.
The European Central Bank also plans to start a series of rate increases next month, while the Bank of England announced a fifth straight increase on Thursday and Switzerland surprised markets with its own increase, the first since 2007.
The widening chasm between Japanese and US monetary policy has pushed the yen to its lowest level against the dollar since 1998, a cause for increasing concern that even the central bank made reference to.
“It is necessary to pay due attention to developments in financial and foreign exchange markets and their impact on Japan’s economic activity and prices,” the BoJ said, in an unusual reference to forex movements.
After the announcement, one dollar bought 134.23 yen, up from 133.41 yen earlier in the day.
Inflation has been rising for months in the United States and elsewhere as buoyant demand for homes, cars and other goods clashes with supply chain snarls in parts of the world where Covid-19 has been, or remains, a challenge.
The problem got dramatically worse after Russia invaded Ukraine in February and Western nations imposed steep sanctions on Moscow, sending food and fuel prices up at a blistering rate.
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