World business briefs

  • Updated: December 3, 2012 - 8:21 PM
Global business

McGraw-Hill sold its educational-textbook division to a private-equity firm for $2.5 billion. The firm plans to focus on providing data to financial companies -- it owns Standard & Poor's. The textbook industry is changing rapidly because of cuts to education budgets and the revolution in digital publishing on tablets.

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed a complaint against Intrade, the world's biggest online predictions market, which is based in Ireland. The CFTC bans commodity-options trading that takes place away from exchanges. Intrade's customers in effect engage in such trades when betting on the price of, say, gold. The site was popular among those betting on the American presidential race, but Intrade says that it has no option but to stop taking bets from Americans.

The appointment of Mark Carney as the 120th governor of the Bank of England was widely praised. Carney, who currently heads Canada's central bank, will start work in July when Sir Mervyn King retires. Carney will be the first foreign governor of Britain's central bank, which will see its powers grow in the summer. As well as overseeing monetary policy, he will have to regulate British banks. Carney had rebuffed earlier overtures, but George Osborne, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, finally persuaded him to take the job.

European Union regulators approved Spain's plans to restructure its troubled banks, allowing them to get bailout funds. One of the lenders, Banco de Valencia, is being sold off for a token $1.30.

The Shanghai stock market index hit its lowest point since January 2009. It has fallen by 10 percent so far this year, even as the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong, where many Chinese shares are traded, has surged by 18 percent. Despite signs that China's economy is improving, its investors remain nervous about whether the country's new leaders are serious about economic reform.

Conoco Phillips sold its 8.4 percent stake in the Kashagan oil field in Kazakhstan to ONGC, an oil-and-gas company owned by the Indian government. The deal, worth $5 billion, is ONGC's biggest-ever foreign acquisition and gives it access to Kashagan's vast reserves. After many delays and much bickering between Western energy companies and the Kazakh government, the Kashagan field is due to start producing oil in 2013.

 

ConAgra, a maker of packaged food that supermarkets sell under their own brand labels, agreed to pay $5 billion for rival Ralcorp. During the recession consumers acquired a taste for inexpensive supermarket-branded food. Though that has waned a bit, retailers reap much higher profit margins from selling their own foods rather than brand-name products made by big conglomerates.

The founder of Autonomy fought back against Hewlett-Packard's allegations of accounting irregularities at his former company, which H.P. bought last year. Mike Lynch, who was shuffled out of Autonomy after the acquisition, wrote an open letter challenging H.P.'s board to clarify exactly what the alleged irregularities were and why they went unnoticed during the takeover. Meanwhile, some H.P. shareholders sued the company for misleading them about the Autonomy deal.

 

Political economy

After several attempts, the eurozone's finance ministers agreed to reschedule part of Greece's debt, to disburse a long-delayed flow of aid worth $44 billion and to find other ways to alleviate the country's financial burden. Taken together, these measures should cut Greece's debt by as much as 20 percentage points of GDP by 2020.

President Francois Hollande of France threatened to nationalize a factory owned by Arcelor Mittal in a dispute. The argument grew heated, with one minister saying that the multinational steelmaker was no longer welcome in France. The dust settled last Friday when Arcelor Mittal agreed not to lay off any workers at the plant and invest $234 million in its modernization.

A fire in a clothing factory in Bangladesh killed more than 100 people. Police arrested three supervisors whom they accused of stopping workers from leaving the building and padlocking exits. Thousands of garment workers staged protests demanding higher safety standards.

An American audit of a failed Afghan bank found that much of its money had been channeled into loans to fake companies and foreign accounts held by the country's elite. The scandal surrounding Kabul Bank, which was bailed out by foreign lenders, adds to doubts about the strength of Afghanistan's institutions.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela flew to Cuba for further medical treatment. He has had three operations for cancer, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. Chavez insists that he has been cured, but has made few public appearances since winning a new six-year term in October.

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