March 29, 2020

Greeks Stage General Strike Against Austerity

The Greek protest came as workers in Asia, including Bangladeshis infuriated by the lethal collapse of a garment factory, demonstrated in cities including the capitals of Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines. In Istanbul, riot police officers sprayed throngs of people with water and tear gas as they gathered for a rally, defying an official ban.

Labor unions in Spain called for rallies in more than 80 cities, news reports said, while protests were also scheduled in Portugal. In France, the bitterly divided labor movement called for hundreds of demonstrations across the country, with rival union confederations holding separate marches.

But, initial reports said, most protests went off quietly, including those in Athens.

On the streets of Paris, the far-right National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, held its annual May 1 march through the city center, seeking to draw support from disaffected voters at a time when French growth has faltered, unemployment is at record levels and the Socialist government is caught between demands from the right for greater cuts in public spending and complaints from the left that it is not socialist enough.

Ms. Le Pen’s supporters waved French red, white and blue flags outside the Palais Garnier opera house in central Paris. She said the country was “sinking in an absurd policy of endless austerity.”

Inveighing against the influence of big business, the European Union in general and Germany in particular, she ascribed French woes to “always saying yes to Brussels; to Berlin, of course; and in all circumstances to the magnates of high finance.” The crowd seemed smaller than it was a year ago, when the country was seized with election fever. Since then, however, many Europeans have sensed a deepening malaise with no prospect of a rapid return to a sense of well-being.

Such are Europe’s woes that the newly elected Pope Francis urged business and political leaders on Wednesday to do more to create jobs.

“And here I think of the difficulties that, in various countries, today afflict the world of work and businesses,” he told tens of thousands of people gathered for his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

“I think of how many, and not just young people, are unemployed, many times due to a purely economic conception of society, which seeks selfish profit, beyond the parameters of social justice,” the pope said. “I wish to extend an invitation to solidarity to everyone, and I would like to encourage those in public office to make every effort to give new impetus to employment.”

The nationwide walkout in Greece was called by the country’s two main labor unions, which represent two and a half million workers and have led resistance to three years of economic reforms that have cut salaries and pensions while increasing taxes.

With public anger giving way to resignation after a seemingly inexorable cycle of belt tightening in exchange for foreign rescue loans, the unions called for mass participation in the strike to protest “a catastrophic austerity drive” that has driven unemployment above 27 percent — the highest rate in the European Union — and to slightly less than 60 percent among those younger than 25.

The unions’ appeal failed to draw a large crowd, however, with about 10,000 Greeks taking to the streets of the capital, according to police estimates, for a demonstration that was both peaceful and one of the smallest in recent months. “There were no problems,” a police spokesman said as roads reopened to traffic and municipal garbage trucks swept discarded protest leaflets and coffee cups.

Although the strike brought much of Greek daily life to a halt on Wednesday, public transit services were running on a limited basis to allow Greeks to join rallies. In Athens, as in other major cities, police units were out in force to guard against violence that has marred demonstrations near the Parliament building in the past.

Ferries remained in ports and trains in depots, but flights operated normally because air traffic controllers did not join the strike.

The strike came just a few days after officials in the euro zone approved the release of 2.8 billion euros, or $3.7 billion, in rescue financing for Greece after Parliament ratified a new raft of economic reforms, including a politically contentious decision to lay off 15,000 civil servants by the end of next year.

The financing had been due in March but was delayed after talks between the government and officials of Greece’s troika of foreign lenders — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — broke down over the troika’s demands for the civil service cuts.

The country’s governing coalition, which has come under strain as it pushes its painful austerity agenda, must now enforce agreed-upon reforms, laying off 2,000 civil servants by the end of June and pushing forward a stalled project to privatize state assets. It faces strong opposition by its main political rival, the leftist party Syriza, which wants Greece to renege on its loan agreement with the troika and is neck and neck in opinion polls with the conservative New Democracy, the head of the shaky three-party coalition.

The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have extended to Greece two foreign bailouts worth $317 billion over the past three years, meting out the aid in installments in exchange for austerity measures and reforms.

Niki Kitsantonis reported from Athens, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting from Rome.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 1, 2013

An earlier version of this article overstated the effect of the worker strike in Greece. Schools were already closed for the Greek Orthodox Easter break; they did not close because of the strike.

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Rule to Allow Regulators Detailed Look at Big Hedge Funds

WASHINGTON — Large hedge funds, the very private investment outfits that borrow money to magnify their big financial bets, will be required for the first time to report detailed information on their investments and borrowings under a rule adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday.

But hedge funds and their advocates, after intense lobbying, won several important concessions from the commission’s earlier proposal. The changes call for only the largest funds to report the most detailed information, eliminate any penalty of perjury for misleading reports and delay for six months the initial reports for all but the largest funds.

The data gathered from the new reporting will not be public; only regulators will have access to it.

The filings will come two months after the close of a quarter, instead of the originally proposed 15 days after a quarter’s end. The most detailed information will be required of funds with more than $1.5 billion in assets, rather than $1 billion as originally proposed. Hedge funds will not have to report on individual holdings in their portfolio, as originally contemplated. Instead they will have to report only on aggregate holdings in different types of assets, by the geographic location of their investments and describe how active the fund is in trading its portfolio. Small hedge funds, with less than $150 million in assets, will not have to report any detailed information on their holdings.

The required reporting, which grows out of the financial crisis three years ago, is meant to allow financial regulators to monitor the risks that the funds may pose to the nation’s overall financial system, something that officials at the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department and the S.E.C. did not have during the crisis.

For now, even the details of what the S.E.C. approved on Wednesday will be confidential. Because the new rules are a joint release with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the S.E.C. won’t make public the form that it approved in a public meeting until after the C.F.T.C. approves it. The commodity commission is expected to vote “within the next week,” the S.E.C. said. The commission could approve the rule in private. A C.F.T.C. spokesman declined to comment.

The data will be visible only to regulators including the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a panel of the top federal financial regulators led by the Treasury secretary, which was created by the Dodd-Frank regulations.

The data collection “follows the lessons learned during the financial crisis — lessons about the importance of monitoring and reducing the possibility that a sudden shock or failure of a financial institution will cascade through the entire financial system,” Mary L. Schapiro, the S.E.C. chairwoman said.

The commission, which now has four sitting members, voted unanimously to approve the rule.

Regulators passed a separate set of requirements this year for hedge funds to provide some information that would be made public. Those regulations required limited disclosures, however, detailing only general information about a fund’s size, its largest investors and the fund’s “gatekeepers,” including its auditors, the brokerage firms that help to execute its trades and the marketers that service the fund.

An S.E.C. official said that the commission might aggregate and publish some data on the size and scope of the hedge fund industry based on the confidential information, but it would not identify individual funds or advisers.

While anonymous information has some benefits, analysts will not have a chance to call attention to specific parts of the industry or individual firms that pose potential risks to themselves, their counterparties or segments of the entire industry.

Still, the new data could highlight industry-wide problems like an over-concentration in one type of investment. Had this data been more widely available before the financial crisis, regulators might have seen the risks posed by a concentration of mortgage-backed securities investments and related instruments that led to the 2008 crisis.

Under the new rules, all hedge funds with more than $500 million or more in assets must disclose how leveraged their investments are — that is, the degree to which the size of the investments are enhanced using borrowed money. It would also look at how liquid, or quickly sold and converted into cash, they are.

Smaller hedge funds, with $150 million to $500 million in assets, will report their general fund strategy, what firms handle their trading and clearing operations, and their counterparty risk — that is, what financial firm is on the other side of complicated bets like derivatives and which could stand to lose if the fund was unable to honor its obligations.

Azam Ahmed contributed reporting from New York.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 26, 2011

An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly when large hedge funds would be required to report information on their holdings. The information is due quarterly, not annually, and within 60 days of the end of the quarter, not 120 days of the end of a fiscal year.

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