By Kevin Krolicki Suddenly Taro Kono doesn’t look like quite the lonely maverick in Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party. Kono, a member of the lower house of parliament, has been an unrelenting critic of Japan’s pursuit of nuclear power since he was first elected in 1996. That made him an odd fit with the LDP, which ruled Japan almost continuously from the mid-1950s to 2009 and put nuclear power at the center of Japan’s energy policy. “For the past 15 years, it has felt like Taro Kono against the LDP,” he told the Reuters Rebuilding Japan Summit. But since the Fukushima Daiichi accident triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Kono’s call to scrap nuclear in favour of renewable energy and conservation has moved from the fringe to something closer to the mainstream of political opinion. About 50 lawmakers attended a recent study group he sponsored on energy policy, out of 722, and Kono sees a prospect for a kind of “green alliance” between sympathetic LDP lawmakers and some in the Democratic Party of Japan. Kono sees that stopping short of a full-scale political realignment, but hopes it shows momentum for his tough-love approach to restructuring Tokyo Electric, the embattled utility that owns the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant. Kono wants to see Japan commit to phasing out nuclear power by shutting down reactors when they reach 40 years of service. He would allow existing nuclear plants to restart by next summer provided they pass tough “stress tests” on safety and shift to natural gas as a bridge to renewables like solar thermal technology. He also wants to see Tokyo Electric put through a government-run bankruptcy process to cover the costs of cleaning up the Fukushima accident and paying compensation to the more than 80,000 residents forced to evacuate and the businesses, including farms and fisheries that have been shut down. He would also have Tokyo Electric scrap its Fukushima Daini nuclear complex. Tokyo Electric is Japan’s largest corporate bond issuer, and many analysts have suggested that a default would have a disruptive ripple effect for other borrowers. The majority of the LDP is not ready to back that approach, he said. But Kono said he sees a bigger risk with the current government plan for Tokyo Electric, which would provide government support but leave the utility on the hook for years of compensation payments. “If we push ahead with that kind of an odd plan, that will have future effects on the markets as well,” he said. Photo credit:
* Providers will try to pass costs on to RIM-analysts* RIM, some users say service recoveringBy Kate Holton and Tarmo VirkiOct 13 (Reuters) - BlackBerry maker Research In Motion faced the prospect of a compensation bill from network providers on Thursday as it wrestled for a fourth day to get the world’s dominant mobile email service working properly.RIM said services were starting to improve in all affected regions, reducing disruption for the millions of users hit by delays and outages this week.But significant damage may have been done to a business that had its share of troubles already, and a hefty bill to compensate customers could well land at RIM’s door.Spanish group Telefonica said on its website it would compensate customers, in line with Spanish law, and Britain’s Vodafone is looking at the issue too.”We are reviewing our options in terms of compensation,” said a Vodafone spokesman. He would not be drawn on whether such costs might be passed on to RIM, but analysts said there was little doubt the British group and other operators would try.”In the past there have been outages but they have been limited to an hour here and an hour there and the operators have been tempted to let that go,” said Will Draper, analyst at Espirito Santo.”They have not been happy about it but it is not the kind of thing you go to court over. But this is completely different. This is a three-day outage. This is 10 percent of your working month, so I am pretty sure there will be compensation claims and I am pretty sure they will try and pass it on to RIM, but my feeling is it will be very difficult to make it stick.”The Spanish Consumer Association FACUA estimated clients would receive 0.23-1.90 euros ($0.31-$2.62) for each 24 hours of service interruption. At such a rate, one full day’s compensation to all 70 million BlackBerry users worldwide could cost the telecoms industry as much as 133 million euros ($183 million).RIM is unique among handset makers in that it compresses and encrypts data before pushing it to BlackBerry devices via carrier networks. Apple and other rivals rely on the carrier networks to handle all routing and delivery of content.But other providers are hitting it with smarter handsets and many with free offerings. Overnight, Apple started rolling out new version of its iOS software, which includes BlackBerry Messenger (BBM)-like iMessage service.”Clearly there are issues. And clearly this has come at a bad time - just as Apple are launching their rival service to BBM,” said a person at the major European retailer which sells Blackberry products.SERVICES RECOVERRIM said there had been a significant improvement for services and some users said services had started to work again, although there were still some delays.RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said in a video posted on BlackBerry’s Youtube channel it was too early to call the problem solved and he could not estimate time for full recovery.”We are seeing steady improvements,” Lazaridis said. “We expect to see continued progress, possibly some instability as the system comes back to normal service levels everywhere.”Singapore employees of global news and data provider Thomson Reuters were still having problems on Thursday but colleagues in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Beijing, Tokyo, Jakarta and Bangkok said BlackBerry service was normal.The outages — and RIM’s sluggish communications with its customers — have fanned rising dissatisfaction Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, RIM’s other CEO.Critics have called for a shake-up, saying the top managers have let the company fall too far behind Apple and other rivals in a rapidly changing market.RIM shares have tumbled more than 50 percent this year on a series of profit warnings and product missteps — a sharp reversal of fortune for a company that once dominated its market.SILVER LINING?Anecdotal evidence suggested some users of the device are jumping ship.”We have lost clients. Two clients changed their BlackBerrys for an iPhone yesterday here in our boutique,” said a salesman in an SFR boutique in central Paris. “They are not very satisfied.”But there are those with a BlackBerry in their pocket who sometimes half wish it wasn’t there. “It’s been a God-send,” one user joked in an email to colleagues. “Let’s hope the bloody things never work again.”
By Gus TrompizPARIS, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Global miner BHP Billiton has not had any iron ore shipment to China cancelled or renegotiated in the last few weeks, the company’s Chief Executive Ferrous and Coal said on Thursday.Concern had risen in markets that Chinese steel mills were seeking to postpone shipments or renegotiate fourth-quarter iron ore contracts as spot prices fell to their lowest since November 2010, traders said.”We haven’t had any shipment to China cancelled or renegotiated,” Marcus Randolph told reporters during the annual World Steel Association conference,BHP Billiton was selling the “overwhelming majority” of its iron ore using a monthly pricing mechanism, Randolph said, declining to supply a figure.An even higher percentage of coking coal is sold on monthly pricing formulas, he added.As more iron ore mining projects will come on stream in the next few years the current supply tightness will ease.The coking coal market, on the other hand, will become even tighter, according to BHP Billiton.”Watch coking coal markets because there are not enough projects to actually supply what the market is going to require in the next decade,” Randoph said.BHP Billiton expects total iron ore demand growth to slow to 4 percent in the 2010-2020 period, from 6 percent the previous decade. Seaborne iron ore demand growth will also slow to 5 percent in 2010-2020, down from 8 percent in 2000-2010.”We’re expecting to see slower growth in iron ore as Chinese growth starts to tail off,” Randoph said.”We have relatively more bearish forecasts for iron ore’s future than we have for coking coal, despite the fact that the last decade has been a wonderful decade to be an iron ore producer.”Global coking coal demand will grow by 3 percent in 2010-2020 from a 6 percent growth in 2000-2010 while seaborne coking coal demand will rise by 5 percent in 2010-2020, compared with a growth of 3 percent the previous decade, Randolph said.The compound average annual supply growth will be at 12 percent for iron ore and 4 percent for coking coal in 2010-2020, he added.
* Shortfall in computer, math and science training* Siemens has more than 3,000 jobs open* Study sees a shortage of up 1.5 mln workers in 2020By Lucia MutikaniWASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - U.S. manufacturers are failing to fill thousands of vacant jobs, surprising when 14 million people are searching for work.Technology giant Siemens Corp., the U.S. arm of Germany’s Siemens AG , has over 3,000 jobs open all over the country. More than half require science, technology, engineering and math-related skills.Other companies report job vacancies that range from six to 200, with some positions open for at least nine months.Manufacturing is hurt by a dearth of skilled workers.”What we have been saying for quite a while is that even though there is a high unemployment rate, it’s very difficult to find skilled people,” said Jeff Owens, president of ATS, a manufacturing consulting services company.A survey by ManpowerGroup found that a record 52 percent of U.S. employers have difficulty filling critical positions within their organizations — up from 14 percent in 2010.Owens said his company, which counts manufacturing behemoths Caterpillar and Motorola among its clients, has at any given time about 200 open positions .”We are pro-actively working to fill them. It can take 90 to a hundred days, probably, to fill them,” he told Reuters. “We are creating jobs. We just don’t necessarily have the right people to fill them.”On average, companies usually take seven weeks to fill job openings.MISMATCH OF SKILLS AND JOBSMost of the jobs hard to fill are for skilled trades, Internet technology, engineers, sales representatives and machine operators.Yet American colleges are producing fewer math and science graduates as students favor social sciences, whose workload is perceived to be manageable, leading to a skills mismatch.Math, engineering, technology and computer science students accounted for about 11.1 percent of college graduates in 1980, according to government data. That share dropped to about 8.9 percent in 2009.An aging population of skilled workers is adding to the problem. As the baby boomers retire, there are fewer skilled workers available to replace them.”Many of the younger kids that are coming out of college have been discouraged to go into manufacturing,” said Dennis Bray, president and CEO of Contour Precision Group.”A lot of the college graduates have chosen a curriculum and degree that does not give them the necessary science and math skills to be of immediate benefit to companies such as ours.”Contour Precision, based in Clover, South Carolina, does contract work for the energy and aerospace industries. It is currently looking for six technicians. It has had positions open since last year.Unemployment in manufacturing is at 8.4 percent, below the overall rate of 9.1 percent. According to the Labor Department’s latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, there were 240,000 open jobs in manufacturing in August up 38.7 percent from a year ago.The problem is sufficiently serious that businesses are pushing Congress to address the issue of visas and help them hire more high-skilled foreigners.STRUCTURAL UNEMPLOYMENT?These companies’ inability to fill open jobs suggests that part of the unemployment problem confronting the nation could be more of a structural nature rather than a downturn in the business cycle.Two years after the end of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, about 14 million Americans are still unemployed.In September, nearly 45 percent of them had been out of work for six months or more. The longer people are out of the workforce, the more dated their skills become, making it even harder to reintegrate them into the labor market.The types of jobs available are also changing.Medium-skilled repetitive tasks that can be computerized continue to disappear. First, it was from from the factory floor, but it also affects the back office, where processing and support jobs are declining.The strongest job growth is concentrated in healthcare and the scientific, technical and computer fields, which usually require at least a post-secondary education.”The old jobs are not coming back. We need to invest in education and training to get people prepared to fill these high-skilled, high-wage jobs of the future,” said Eric Spiegel, president and CEO of Siemens Corp.Siemens is recruiting in states where unemployment is high. Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, New Jersey, California, Illinois, Georgia and New York have jobless rates that range from 8 percent to 12.1 percent.According to the Conference Board, workers with computer and math or science skills have a far better chance of getting a job, with one worker applying for every three of these types of jobs advertised. In contrast, there are roughly three people for every advertised job in sales.PLENTY OF WELL-PAYING JOBSFew of the thousands of jobs open in the manufacturing sector are low-wage positions.Workers at the very low levels can earn as much as $30 an hour, with annual salaries for engineers ranging from $75,000 to $100,000. At Siemens, the average potential salary offered for its open positions is $89,000 a year.Manufacturing lost its appeal during the 1990s when companies started moving production to Asian countries like China, in search of cheap labor. But rising wages in China are forcing some companies to bring production back home.Although manufacturing accounts for about 12 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and about 10 percent of total non-farm employment, it has been the main pillar of support for the economy and one of the highest-paying sectors.The shortage of skilled workers is also compounded by the depressed housing market, which is making it tough for Americans to relocate to where the jobs are.The housing market crash has left many people with home loans owing financial institutions more than what their houses are worth, making it difficult for them to sell.BRING IN THE ARMYIn hopes of addressing the skills gap, companies such as Siemens and ATS are turning to the military, targeting veterans. Siemens is embarking on apprenticeship programs, while ATS is running training programs for young people.”We have found that veterans have extensive technical training and experience that they gain through military service, and these skills are extremely valuable to us and match up well with many of our over 3,000 open positions,” Spiegel said.Siemens has hired 450 military veterans so far this year.Others are teaming up with professional bodies like the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), which has developed online courses to support its members.”We are not filling the pipeline with enough candidates for these positions. This problem has been ongoing for the last three or four years,” said Mark Tomlinson, CEO of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.But the long-term solution lies in revamping the nation’s education system to meet the current challenges and invest more in vocational training, industry leaders say.”Often people say we do have vocational training, but it’s geared towards yesterday’s technology and yesterday’s job opportunities,” said ATS’s Owens. “I am not sure the educators are on the mark with what exactly needs to be taught for today’s environment.”
* Calls for banks to be recapitalised soon* Rejects ECB involvement in EFSF leverage, says up to govtsBy Sakari SuoninenFRANKFURT, Oct 11 (Reuters) - The euro zone sovereign debt crisis has become systemic and risks to the economy are increasing rapidly with Europe’s banks in the danger zone, European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) Chairman Jean-Claude Trichet said on Tuesday.Trichet, who heads the European Central Bank as well as the continent’s super-watchdog on financial stability, said the euro zone’s EFSF bailout fund should be made as flexible as possible, but without involving the ECB in leveraging it.”Over the past three weeks, the situation has continued to be very demanding. The crisis is systemic and must be tackled decisively,” Trichet told the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs.”The high interconnectedness in the EU financial system has led to a rapidly rising risk of significant contagion. It threatens financial stability in the EU as a whole and adversely impacts the real economy in Europe and beyond.”Trichet called for governments and European authorities to act together to solve the crisis, adding that delay would be disastrous.”It is a matter of urgency that all authorities act in unison, with total commitment to safeguarding financial stability,” he said.The ESRB is designed to take a bird’s eye view of Europe’s financial system and flag up any emerging problems for relevant authorities to act on.It has no formal teeth, although if it is not satisfied with authorities’ reactions, it has the option of going public with its fears.RECAPITALISING BANKSTrichet called for a clear decision on recapitalising banks, saying there was no time to lose.Commercial banks have become increasingly wary of lending to each other, more often turning to the ECB for funding and deposits.Overnight deposits at the 17-country bloc’s central bank shot up to 269 billion euros on Tuesday, the highest since June 2010, indicating eroding trust between banks.The leaders of Germany and France gave investors hope on Sunday night by promising a plan soon to recapitalise Europe’s banks.However, investors remain cautious due to the lack of detail about the plan, and the risk that a solution may be derailed by an event such as political deadlock in Slovakia, the one euro country that has yet to approve the EFSF expansion.”The banking sector in Europe needs recapitalisation, that is part of our message,” Trichet said.”Decisions have to be taken and taken very rapidly, I expect this decision to be taken as rapidly as possible.”Turning to the role of the European bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), he said it could play an important role.”Supervisors must coordinate efforts to strengthen bank capital, including having recourse to backstop facilities, and also taking into account the need for a transparent and consistent valuation of sovereign exposures,” he said.”The possibility for the EFSF to lend to governments in order to recapitalise banks — including, if necessary, in non-programme countries — could be of benefit here,” he said.But while calling for the fund to be “as flexible as possible”, he rejected using the ECB to leverage it, adding that governments had all the means necessary to leverage it without involving the central bank.