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World briefs

  • Wire services
  • February 25, 2013 - 9:21 PM

Global business

Gold prices hit six-month lows last week. One explanation as to why the shine has come off the precious metal is that stock markets have been more stable than at the height of the eurozone crisis, so investors are less tempted by gold as a haven.

Yet another big mining firm changed its chief executive. BHP Billiton announced that Marius Kloppers will step down in May and be replaced by Andrew Mackenzie, who heads BHP’s nonferrous-metals division. Mining companies are retrenching after years of ambitious projects. BHP’s half-year net profit fell by 58 percent.

The FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission began separate investigations into possible insider trading. The investigation follows the Feb. 14 announcement by Heinz that it is being bought for $28 billion by a consortium led by Warren Buffett and a private equity firm. It is the largest-ever acquisition of a firm that makes food and nothing else.

Nestlé withdrew some beef-pasta dishes from the shelves of shops in France, Italy and Spain after finding traces of horse DNA in them. The Swiss food giant is among the companies to be hit by the horse meat scandal that is galloping across Europe, raising questions about the integrity of meat-supply chains.

Office Depot and Office Max agreed to merge. The two retailers are smaller rivals to Staples. All have seen challenges arise to their business, not only from Amazon but also from the spread of hand-held devices that contain calendars, diaries, notebooks and so on. Rumors persist that Staples is considering going private in a buyout.

Sony unveiled the PlayStation 4, beating Microsoft in launching a product that heralds the next generation of game consoles. Sony’s device connects better with smartphones and tablets than did its predecessor.

The New York Times Co. put the Boston Globe up for sale again. It tried to sell the newspaper in 2009, but withdrew the offer after unions agreed to a cost-cutting strategy. The Times Co. is focusing on turning the New York Times into a global news hub.

Twelve more billionaires signed the “Giving Pledge.” The pledge was started in 2010 by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to persuade rich people to give at least half their money to charity before they die. The 12 include the pledge’s first non-Americans, among them Sir Richard Branson, Mo Ibrahim, Victor Pinchuk, Vladimir Potanin and David Sainsbury.

Political economy

The European Parliament’s environment committee decided to postpone an auction of 900 million permits to emit carbon dioxide. The permits were to have been sold via the emissions-trading system, a cornerstone of European climate-change policy. Weak demand has led to a glut of permits, the price of which has fallen from $27 a ton in 2011 to a quarter of that, thus dampening the incentive for firms to curb emissions. By cutting the supply of new permits, the European Union aims to pep up the price.

China’s defense ministry rejected a report linking it to the hacking of American companies. The report — published by Mandiant, an American cybersecurity firm — found that a group of hackers linked to the Chinese army is probably one of the world’s “most prolific cyber-espionage groups.” The defense ministry retorted that the study lacks “technical proof.”

Japan’s monthly trade deficit hit a record in January as its currency weakened. However, exports rose for the first time in eight months, as the weak yen made Japanese goods more affordable to foreign buyers.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah swore in 30 women to the kingdom’s previously all-male, 150-member Shura Council, the country’s senior advisory body. Conservative clerics criticized the move.

© 2014 Star Tribune