07/22/2014 (9:00 pm)

Gaza rocket lands near Israeli airport; Israeli soldier reported missing

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JERUSALEM—A Hamas rocket exploded Tuesday near Israel’s main airport, prompting a ban on many international flights, including Air Canada’s, amid worries stoked by the recent downing of a Malaysia Airlines airliner over Ukraine.

Palestinian militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets toward Israel since fighting began on July 8, but most have fallen harmlessly into open areas or were shot out of the sky by the “Iron Dome” defence system.

• Gaza’s Shifa Hospital improvises amid unending conflict

Nonetheless, international aviation authorities reacted swiftly. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration prohibited American airlines from flying to Tel Aviv for 24 hours “due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza.”

Later, the European Aviation Safety Agency issued an advisory saying it “strongly recommends” airlines avoid the airport. Lufthansa, Air France, Alitalia, KLM, easyJet, Turkish Airlines and Aegean Airlines were among those that acted.

Air Canada also quickly followed suit, cancelling Flight 84, its daily route from Toronto to Tel Aviv.

Israel, however, insisted that Ben-Gurion Airport, on the southeastern outskirts of Tel Aviv, was safe and there was no reason to “hand terror a prize” by halting flights.

The rare flight ban came as Israelis grappled with news that one of their soldiers went missing during an attack in the Gaza Strip on the weekend, raising the possibility he was abducted — a scenario that could complicate intense diplomatic efforts to end the two-week conflict.

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Tuesday’s rocket attack was the closest to the airport so far, said a police spokeswoman, and largely destroyed a house, slightly injuring one Israeli in a nearby suburb.

Celebrations ring out across Gaza after Hamas claims to have captured an Israeli soldier. (July 20, 2014)

“We will continue to evaluate the situation and provide updates as needed,” Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur told the Star’s Vanessa Lu in an email.

Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called on the U.S. aviation authority to reconsider, saying Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system provided cover for civil aviation. “Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize,” his office said in a statement.

International airlines and passengers have grown more anxious about safety since last week, when a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

While Hamas rockets aren’t guided missiles, they still could cause massive damage to an aircraft if they got close. For instance, unguided mortar fire in Tripoli from a militia battling to control its international airport destroyed an Airbus A330 on the ground over the weekend.

The Tel Aviv airport is Israel’s main gateway to the world and Hamas militants have said they hoped to target it to disrupt life in Israel.

Israel’s military offensive in Gaza goes into its third week as the U.S steps up efforts to help bring about a ceasefire. Paul Chapman reports

Another Hamas objective was to abduct an Israeli soldier, and Israeli fears over such an occurrence were revived Tuesday when the military announced a soldier was missing in fighting with Hamas militants in Gaza cash advance loans.

The military said Sgt. Oron Shaul was among seven soldiers in a vehicle hit by an anti-tank missile on the weekend. The other six have been confirmed as dead, but no remains have been identified as Shaul’s. Hamas claims to have abducted him and has flaunted his name and military ID number to try to back that claim.

Israeli military officials say Shaul is almost certainly dead, but it would be a nightmare scenario for the Jewish state if even his remains were in the hands of Hamas.

Past abductions of Israeli soldiers have turned into painful drawn-out affairs and Israel has paid a heavy price in lopsided prisoner swaps to retrieve captured soldiers or remains held by its enemies.

The prolonged saga of Gilad Schalit, a soldier captured by Hamas-allied militants in 2006 and held for more than five years before he was swapped for more than 1,000 Palestinians prisoners, still weighs heavily in Israel.

“We understand the terror organization is looking for some leverage and as cynical as it sounds, one type of leverage is bargaining over parts of bodies,” said Lior Lotan, a reserve Israeli colonel and former head of its PoW and MIA department.

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Tsafrir Abayov / AP

Israeli airstrikes pummeled targets in the Gaza Strip Tuesday as the UN chief and the U.S. secretary of state began an intensive effort to end fighting.

Israeli airstrikes continued to pummel Gaza tunnels, rocket launchers and militants on the 15th day of the war Tuesday as diplomatic efforts intensified to end fighting that has killed at least 630 Palestinians and 29 Israelis — 27 soldiers and two civilians.

Israel says its troops have killed hundreds of Hamas gunmen, while Gaza officials say the vast majority have been civilians, many of them children. Israel says it is trying hard to avoid civilian casualties and blames Hamas for using civilians as “human shields.”

The Israeli military said that after a firefight with Palestinian militants on Tuesday, troops saw some Palestinian gunmen flee the scene in an ambulance.

The military said soldiers “did not target the ambulance in light of the possibility uninvolved civilians were in it.”

Egypt, Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional ceasefire, to be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007. But Hamas has rejected repeated Egyptian truce proposals.

Both UN chief Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry were in the region to make the highest-level push yet to end the deadly conflict.

Kerry met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and other senior officials in Cairo. He stopped short of advocating a new round of peace talks but left the door open for broad negotiations between Israel and Palestinian officials once a ceasefire is in place.

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07/14/2014 (4:16 pm)

Olivia Chow calls for handgun ban, John Tory says

Filed under: Lenders, legal |

Mayoral candidate Olivia Chow reiterated her support for a federal ban on handguns on Monday. Rival John Tory called the proposal an “empty gesture.”

Chow, who endorsed a handgun ban during an April chat on thestar.com, officially added the idea to her platform in an announcement at Ephraim’s Place, the North York community centre named for Ephraim Brown, the 11-year-old who was shot dead in 2007.

“There’s no reason why anyone needs a handgun in a big city like ours,” she said.

Former mayor David Miller and former premier Dalton McGuinty both called on the federal government to implement a ban. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has rejected their pleas, noting that handguns are already restricted by law to target shooters, collectors, and people who need them for their jobs or for the “protection of life.”

Tory said a ban would not be effective.

“Handguns are already strictly regulated by the federal government,” he said in a statement. “What Ms. Chow doesn’t seem to understand is that criminals and gang members don’t obey the law. Calling for such a ban isn’t leadership. It’s an empty gesture.”

Tory said he would work with the federal and provincial governments on a “coordinated approach that gets real results and keeps illegal guns off our streets.” He did not offer specifics.

Council passed a bylaw under Miller that restricted the manufacturing of guns in the city and forced shooting ranges on city property to close. Chow did not issue any proposals for new municipal action.

She used the appearance near Jane St. and Sheppard Ave. W. to contrast herself with incumbent Rob Ford, who has had relationships during his mayoralty with people accused of gun trafficking. Ford has opposed gun control proposals — though he has tabled a kind of people-control proposal, calling for gun criminals themselves to be banished from the city.

Chow spoke of the value of after-school programs and the youth outreach workers Ford’s 2012 budget sought to cut. She also called for the expansion of partnership programs in which the police are paired with community workers and organizations. And said she would work with other mayors to lobby the federal government to do more to stop the flow of illegal guns from the U.S.

“We need better gun control,” Chow said, flanked by children from the Ephraim’s Place summer camp. “We have a mayor that for the last four years justified the use of guns. He opposed the long-gun registry. What I want to do is work with big-city mayors to tighten control so there’s no illegal guns coming from the States. And we need a ban on handguns.”

Candidate David Soknacki said in April that he has seen no evidence that handgun bans are effective. He pointed to violence-plagued Chicago, which had a municipal ban on the possession and sale of handguns for 28 years.

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07/03/2014 (11:57 am)

Bull run continues for most mutual funds in 2Q

Filed under: News, legal |

NEW YORK (AP) — Go ahead and open the latest quarterly statements from your mutual funds when they arrive. It’ll likely be painless, just like it was a quarter ago. And the quarter before that. And the quarter before that.

Nearly all types of mutual funds made money last quarter, powered by continued gains in stock and bond markets around the world. Everything from plain-vanilla bond funds to broad stock index funds to potentially risky emerging-market stock funds rose from April through June. Of the 105 fund categories that Morningstar tracks, 99 posted gains in the second quarter. And the handful that lost money are generally niche funds that rarely play more than a supporting role in an investor’s portfolio.

That means making money was easy last quarter for most mutual fund investors: All they had to do was make sure not to sell. It’s been largely the same trend for years, with only a few hiccups since the stock market bottomed in March 2009 following the financial crisis. Last quarter was the sixth straight quarter of gains for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, the benchmark for many stock mutual funds.

A look at some of the trends that drove performance:

— EMERGING-MARKET FUNDS HAD A RESURGENCE.

Worries were so strong last year about some developing economies that Wall Street came up with another catch phrase for them: the Fragile Five. Investors fretted that Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa would struggle in particular as the Federal Reserve began easing on the accelerator of economic stimulus. Emerging-market stock funds lost 0.1 percent in 2013, which doesn’t sound terrible but was way below the 32.4 percent return of the S&P 500.

But emerging-market stock funds have rebounded and returned 6.6 percent last quarter. That beat the 5.2 percent return of the S&P 500. A surge in Indian stocks led the way. Investors are hopeful the country’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, can drive through reforms that will invigorate its economy. Indian stock mutual funds returned an average of 17.3 percent last quarter.

Funds that invest in bonds from emerging markets similarly got back up off the canvas after a tough 2013. They returned an average 4.4 percent last quarter, the second-best performance of the 32 bond fund categories that Morningstar tracks. They lost an average of 7.3 percent last year.

— WERE REPORTS OF THE DEATH OF BOND FUNDS WRONG OR EARLY?

In January, much of Wall Street was forecasting that bond mutual funds were due to decline. The bond market was coming off its first losing year since 1999, and most analysts expected interest rates to rise. When interest rates rise, prices for existing bonds fall because their yields suddenly become less attractive.

But interest rates instead dropped, and all 32 categories of bond funds that Morningstar tracks made money in the second quarter.

The biggest gains came from funds that invest in long-term Treasurys and other government bonds unsecured personal loans. Long-term bonds get the biggest boost from drops in interest rates because their yields are locked in for a longer time period, just as they feel the most pain when rates climb.

Even though the market went against their expectations in the first half of the year, most bond fund managers still expect rates to eventually rise. A strengthening economy will push up rates, the thinking goes.

— VALUE STOCK FUNDS LED THE WAY.

The S&P 500 index has set a record high more than 20 times this year, which has made some investors nervous because stock prices are rising faster than corporate profits.

That’s enhanced the allure of value stocks, ones that are selling at lower prices relative to their earnings than the rest of the market. Value stocks also tend to have higher dividend yields.

In the second quarter, value stock funds of all sizes beat their growth counterparts. The disparity was starkest among funds that focus on the stocks of medium or small-sized companies. Small-cap value stock funds returned 2.9 percent, for example, versus 0.6 percent for small-cap growth funds.

Investor interest is also clearly split: They put $972 million into small-cap value stock funds through the first five months of the year while pulling $2.4 billion out of small-cap growth funds.

— SMALLER-COMPANY STOCKS LAGGED.

Smaller company stocks had smaller gains during the second quarter than big company stocks, a break from prior years. Funds that invest in a mix of small-cap growth and value stocks returned 2.3 percent, for example. Their large-cap corollaries returned double that, 4.6 percent.

Many fund managers have been saying they expect large-cap stocks to begin leading the market. That’s because small-cap stocks became relatively expensive after years of outperforming the market. Stocks in the small-cap S&P 600 index trade at 19 times their expected earnings per share over the next 12 months, for example. Stocks in the large-cap S&P 500 index have a lower price-to-expected earnings ratio of 16.

— MUNICIPAL BOND FUNDS CONTINUED THEIR REBOUND.

Investors last year wanted nothing to do with bonds issued by local governments, even if their income is free from federal income taxes. First, worries about rising rates hurt them. Second, concerns about the financial health of Detroit, Puerto Rico and other issuers spooked the market. Investors yanked money out of municipal bond funds for 10 straight months from March through December, which forced some managers to sell bonds to raise cash.

But municipal bond funds rebounded this year as interest rates fell and default rates remained low. The largest category of municipal bonds by assets, intermediate-term national funds, returned an average of 2.1 percent in the second quarter.

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07/01/2014 (6:57 pm)

Hong Kong Defends Currency Peg for First Time Since 2012 - Bloomberg

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Hong Kong

06/26/2014 (8:01 pm)

Japan Prices Rise Most Since

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Japan

06/25/2014 (5:05 am)

Brent crude falls as Iraq output fears ease

Filed under: economics, technology |

The price of global crude oil fell Wednesday, retreating from record highs after OPEC assured that Iraq’s production remained normal despite violence while U.S. crude rose after a report said export controls would be loosened.

Benchmark U.S. crude for August delivery rose 28 cents to $106.28 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract dropped 14 cents to settle at $106.03 on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, dropped 65 cents to $113.80 a barrel in London.

U.S. benchmark crude futures rose after The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. government was loosening a longstanding ban by letting two companies sell American oil internationally. The newspaper said the Obama administration would allow foreign buyers to purchase a type of ultralight oil known as condensate, which can be turned into gasoline, jet fuel and diesel business card.

International crude fell further from a nine-month high reached earlier this week after the head of OPEC , the group of major oil exporters, said that Iraq’s production was normal, with 95 percent of capacity in the south unaffected by the violence, which has been concentrated in the country’s north.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to $3.08 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 0.8 cent to $4.53 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil fell 1.1 cent to $3.04 a gallon.

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05/01/2014 (8:09 am)

New airport in Qatar receives first flights

Filed under: Europe, technology |

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A vast new airport in the Qatari capital opened for business following years of delays Wednesday as the natural-gas rich Gulf nation works to transform itself into a major aviation hub and prepares to host one of sporting’s biggest events.

A ceremonial Qatar Airways flight landed and was welcomed by aviation’s traditional salute of fire engines spraying water overhead to mark the official opening of Hamad International Airport, which shares its name with the Qatari emir who abdicated in favor of his son last year.

It is part of a multibillion-dollar building boom that is transforming the skyline of the Qatari capital, Doha, as it prepares to host soccer’s World Cup in 2022.

Abdul Aziz Mohammad al-Noaimi, who chairs the airport steering committee, hailed the new complex as “a source of pride and joy” for all Qataris. He said it can accommodate 30 million passengers annually for now, with plans for further expansion slated over the next several years car warranty company.

“It will deliver a memorable experience to all passengers that will travel through its gates, an experience that reflects Qatar’s status and importance on the world travel and tourism map,” he said.

Like the nearby United Arab Emirates, Qatar has invested heavily in its aviation sector in recent years. It has emerged as a major transit center for flights from around the world, competing at times uncomfortably with traditional European and Asian hubs for lucrative long-haul travelers’ dollars.

The new airport is only partially operational for now, with ten mainly discount and South Asian airlines operating flights during an initial low-key opening period.

Flag carrier Qatar Airways, its main Gulf rivals Emirates and Etihad Airways, and other international carriers such as Lufthansa and United Airlines are expected to move to the new airport once it’s fully operational on May 27.

Built largely on a patch of land reclaimed from the Persian Gulf alongside the existing Doha airport, the new facility cost at least $15 billion to build. It was initially scheduled for completion in 2009, some five years after construction began.

Its 600,000 square meter (6.5 million square feet) passenger terminal complex is the largest building in the Qatari capital.

A commercial flight operated by Mideast budget carrier FlyDubai was the first to arrive after the Qatari VIPs, landing shortly before noon local time.

Like the airport itself, it was running behind schedule.

Hamad International — originally known as New Doha International Airport — has been dogged by a series of delays stretching back years, including the last-minute cancellation of what would have been its inaugural flight in April 2013.

The new airport has 33 gates where planes pull up directly to the terminal, with nearly twice that many planned for the future vehicle car warranty.

That is an improvement on the overcrowded existing airport, where passengers still have to be shuttled on buses and climb stairs to board aircraft in brutally hot and muggy summertime heat.

Promised perks at the new complex include more than two dozen art installations, a transit hotel, a swimming pool, a luxury spa and even squash courts. In a nod to the country’s conservative Islamic values, the airport complex includes a prominent mosque just outside the main terminal that can hold 500 worshippers.

The old Doha airport will continue to be used for helicopter flights, military operations and a general aviation collage.

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04/29/2014 (6:13 am)

Asia shares fall on worries over Ukraine crisis

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TOKYO (AP) — Shares fell Monday in Asia as investors remained wary of mounting violence in Ukraine, while awaiting a raft of financial indicators due later in the week.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index fell 1.2 percent to 14,257.37, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was 0.4 percent lower at22,142.16.

Shares in New Zealand, Taiwan, China, India and Singapore also fell, though South Korea’s Kospi added 0.2 percent to 1,975.68 and Australia’s S&P ASX 200 gained 0.1 percent to 5,534.30.

The U.S. was preparing to levy fresh sanctions against Russia for Moscow’s failure to uphold terms of an agreement with the U.S., the European Union and Ukraine that calls for Moscow to withdraw Russian forces from the border with Ukraine and encourage pro-Russian separatists to turn over buildings they’re occupying in eastern Ukraine cheap insurance.

Meanwhile, pro-Russian militants turned to kidnapping, taking dozens hostage, including journalists, pro-Ukraine activists and European military observers.

“The Ukrainian tensions are once again mounting and the word coming from Capitol Hill and also Europe is that sanctions on Russian officials will be harder, more direct and onerous on President Putin’s inner circle; this will disrupt normal trading conditions,” Melbourne, Australia-based, IG market strategic Evan Lucas said in a trading note.

The geopolitical tensions mean “Asia is starting the week on the back foot,” he said. Adding to those uncertainties are a slew of end-of-month data due this week from Japan, the U.S. and China.

Worried investors have been shifting from riskier assets into traditional havens like bonds, gold and mainstay equities like utilities, sapping markets of their earlier upward momentum. U.S. shares fell sharply Friday, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 0.9 percent at 16,361.46 and the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 off 0.8 percent at 1,863.40.

European shares also fell Friday, as the FTSE dropped 0.3 percent to 6,685.69 and Germany’s DAX lost 1 life insurance for retirement.5 percent to 9,401.55. France’s CAC shed 0.8 percent to 4,443.63.

In other markets, the euro was trading at $1.3823, compared with Friday’s close of $1.3834. The Japanese yen was almost unchanged at 102.07 to the dollar, compared with 102.15 late Friday.

Oil gained 47 cents to $101.07 electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange amid concern about the tensions in Ukraine and the potential impact of additional sanctions on Russia’s energy exports.

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04/18/2014 (7:48 am)

U.S. set for sanctions on Russia, aid for Ukraine

Filed under: Loans, legal |

WASHINGTON • The administration of President Barack Obama is preparing to ratchet up sanctions on Russia and boost assistance for the Ukrainian military in the coming days, U.S. officials said Wednesday, as Ukraine struggles to contain a pro-Russian uprising in its eastern cities.

Officials said they had no plans to levy new sanctions ahead of today’s talks in Geneva among the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and the European Union. But with low expectations for a breakthrough in those meetings, officials already have prepared targets for sanctions that include wealthy individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the entities they run.

The administration also was working on a package of nonlethal assistance for Ukraine’s military. The assistance, which was expected to be finalized this week, could include medical supplies and clothing for Ukraine’s military but was expected to stop short of providing body armor and other military-style equipment.

Ukraine has asked for military assistance from the U.S., a request that was believed to include lethal aid such as weapons and ammunition. But U.S. officials said they were not actively considering supplying Ukraine with lethal assistance, a step they said could be viewed as an escalatory act by the U judicial records.S. in the midst of an already tense situation.

“We don’t want to see more escalation. What we want is de-escalation,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday. “At the same time we’re constantly reviewing Ukrainian request for assistance and determining what’s most appropriate to provide.”

Administration critics have been pressing Obama to arm the Ukrainian military to bolster its efforts to reassert control of its eastern region from pro-Russian insurgents who have seized numerous government facilities.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said over the weekend that the least the U.S. could do was “give them some light weapons with which to defend themselves.”

U.S. assistance to Ukraine’s military has been limited to about 300,000 ready-to-eat meals, which were shipped in late March. The U.S. also has authorized a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine’s fledgling government.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva on Wednesday for the meetings with Russia, Ukraine and the EU. A U.S. official said Ukrainian diplomats planned to brief Russia’s foreign minister about efforts to decentralize power in Ukraine and protect Russian-speaking minorities such as the ones living in eastern Ukraine.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the U.S. response to Russia’s actions by name.

Ukraine’s military launched its first actions against the pro-Russian forces on Tuesday. But just a day later the central government’s hopes of re-establishing control of the restive east were dampened when the insurgents commandeered six Ukrainian armored vehicles along with their crews and hoisted Russian flags over them.

The Ukrainian soldiers staffing the vehicles offered no armed resistance, and masked pro-Russian militias in combat fatigues sat on top as they drove into the eastern city of Slovyansk, a hotbed of unrest against Ukraine’s interim government.

The West is also watching the 40,000 Russian troops massed on its border with Ukraine. U.S. officials say they believe Putin has put the troops there to give him the option to invade background search.

The sanctions that could be levied in the aftermath of the Geneva meeting were expected to focus on Putin’s close associates, including oligarchs who control much of Russia’s wealth, as well as businesses and other entities they control. It was unclear whether those sanctions would change Putin’s strategy given that the U.S. and the Europeans have already launched targeted sanctions on people in Putin’s inner circle.

The U.S. was also seeking to take more public steps to show its support for Ukraine’s central government ahead of elections on May 25. Vice President Joe Biden will visit the capital of Kiev next week. And CIA Director John Brennan met with officials there over the weekend, a secret trip that was quickly revealed by Russian media who cast the visit as evidence that the U.S. was behind Ukraine’s decision to take action against the pro-Russian forces in the east.

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04/14/2014 (11:40 am)

Pilgrimage

Filed under: money, technology |

The hajj pilgrimage draws millions of Muslims each year, sometimes overwhelming host Saudi Arabia. Toronto architectural firm, Moriyama and Teshima, and engineering company MMM Group are helping make the holy journey better - a $227-billion, 30-year project.

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