Uber faces lawsuit over rape investigation

An Uber carImage copyrightSPENCER PLATT/GETTY

The woman raped by an Uber driver in India is suing the company for invading her privacy, after reports that the firm obtained her medical records.

The lawsuit comes as the ride-hailing company is trying to renovate its reputation amid a series of scandals.

Uber chief Travis Kalanick said on Tuesday he would take leave from the firm.

Other top executives have also left. Uber has pledged other changes.

In December 2014, a 26-year-old Delhi woman, identified as Texas resident Jane Doe, was raped by Uber driver Shiv Kumar Yadav. Yadav was sentenced to life in prison.

The lawsuit says Uber investigated the complaint, obtaining her medical records and speculated that she made up the claims to hurt the firm’s business.

The complaint names Mr Kalanick, and executives Emil Michael and Eric Alexander.

Mr Alexander left the company last week after US reporters asked questions about the incident.

An Uber spokesperson said: “No one should have to go through a horrific experience like this, and we’re truly sorry that she’s had to relive it over the last few weeks.”

US key interest rate highest since 2008

Janet YellenImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The US Federal Reserve has said it would raise its key interest rate by 0.25%, the second rise this year.

The central bank voted to raise its key rate target to a range of 1% to 1.25%.

That’s the highest level since 2008, when policymakers cut rates to encourage borrowing and spending after the financial crisis.

The bank also said it would begin cutting its bond holdings and other securities this year.

It cited continued US economic growth and job market strength as reasons for raising its benchmark interest rate.

“Our decision … reflects the progress the economy has made and is expected to make,” said Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.

Mixed data

The rise was widely anticipated after a low unemployment rate, but other economic indicators, including inflation, have been weaker.

Data on Wednesday showed US consumer prices unexpectedly fell in May and retail sales recorded their biggest drop in 16 months.

This has raised questions about the bank’s future course.

US stock markets the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq edged down at the close.

But the rate increase was already priced into most stocks.


Analysis: BBC economics correspondent Andrew Walker

Should the Fed have done it? The case against is inflation.

The Fed’s statement noted that price rises have slowed recently.

Inflation is below the target of 2%. But then Fed Chair Janet Yellen thinks a large part of that is down to falls in specific prices.

She mentioned cell-phone plans and prescription drug prices. Over time their impact will drop out, and she and the committee expect inflation to get to the target in time.

The rate rise continues the Fed’s slow return to normality after the financial crisis. The journey is not over.

The Fed’s policy makers think about 3% is the new normal.

There’s also the legacy of quantitative easing and the $4.2trn portfolio of financial assets.

Really normal will mean running that down – though perhaps not to pre-crisis levels.

It will take a long time and it hasn’t begun yet, but the Fed does expect to make a start later this year.


Bond buying

Federal Reserve policymakers have been grappling with when and how to alter the policies put in place after the 2008 financial crisis to boost economic activity.

At the time, they slashed interest rates and bought up US treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to keep rates low.

The Fed has a $4.2trn portfolio of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, most of which were purchased in the wake of the financial crisis and recession.

In 2014 the bank stopped its bond purchase program, known as quantitative easing, but it has continued to reinvest the assets on its books.

On Wednesday, policymakers said they aim to reduce that balance sheet, by reinvesting payments from those securities only above certain caps, totalling $10bn.

The cap would escalate in three month intervals. It would start implementing those policies this year, assuming economic growth continues.

Ms Yellen said she’s not sure how far the committee will want to reduce the holdings over the long run, but she said they would be levels “appreciably below” those seen in recent years though larger than before the financial crisis.

Rate hikes

The Fed raised interest rates for the first time since the crisis in December 2015.

Policymakers acted in December 2016 and again in March.

Wednesday’s decision was made with an 8-1 vote, with Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, dissenting. Mr Kashkari also voted against the March rise.

Interest rates remain low by historic standards. The board expects to raise rates at least three times this year.

The moves depend on the strength of the economy, which has been mixed.

On Wednesday, the US Labor Department reported that prices for goods excluding food and energy increased by 1.7% from May 2016, slowing steadily from earlier in the year.

That fell short of the Federal Reserve’s target of 2%.

Ms Yellen said the bank is aware of the shortfall and it was “essential” to move back to the target.

But she said this year’s data may be skewed by one-off factors, such as lower prices on cell phone plans.

“It’s important not to overreact to a few readings,” Ms Yellen said. “Data on inflation can be noisy.”

Consumers

For US consumers, interest rate increases tend to lead to increased borrowing costs.

Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com, said the cumulative effect of recent rate increases on consumers is “mounting”.

“The combination of rising debt burdens and rising interest rates is straining some households, with delinquencies picking up from recent lows,” he said.

In broader terms, the economic impact includes a stronger dollar and higher bank profits.

Visitor numbers at Merlin sites down after terror attacks

London eyeImage copyrightAFP

Visitors have stayed away from major tourist attractions in the wake of recent terror attacks, according to the London Eye and Madame Tussauds owner.

Merlin Entertainments, which also runs the Legoland theme park, also warned that numbers could continue to fall.

Bosses said before the attacks foreign tourists had been flocking to the UK to take advantage of the weak pound.

The company’s London Eye sits just next to Westminster Bridge – where the March attack took place.

Merlin said in a statement: “in the immediate aftermath of the Westminster attack on 22 March… the incident did result in a softer domestic, day-trip market.

“However, the subsequent attacks in Manchester and London over the past month have resulted in a further deterioration in domestic demand and, given the typical lag between holiday bookings and visitation, we are also cautious on trends in foreign visitation over the coming months”.

Impact

In the aftermath of a terror attack, major attractions tend to not feel the impact for a few weeks or months because most foreign visitors tend to buy their tickets for Merlin sites such as Alton Towers or The London Dungeons, in advance.

Chief executive Nick Varney added: “The impact of recent terror attacks on our London attractions is unclear at this stage.

“What is clear however is that London has bounced back before, and will do again.

“London is very much open for business, welcoming visitors from the UK and from around the world to this exciting and vibrant city.”

Investors heeded Merlin’s warning, sending shares falling 2.8% to 489p.

Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital, said: “Merlin had already warned in March when it released its 2016 full-year preliminary results that the threat of terror attacks had hit its UK business, citing events in Paris and Brussels as having an impact.

“This was before the Westminster attack on March 22nd, meaning the impact on the UK business is likely to be significantly greater in 2017 than it was last year.”

Merlin has seen visitors shun its attractions after major incidents before.

In 2015, the company saw a significant drop in visitors to its Alton Towers theme park after several thrill seekers were badly injured on one of the rides.

Bosses will face tough questions from shareholders on Tuesday at the company’s annual general meeting at Legoland, where they will also be told about the opening of Legoland Japan and new sites across the US.

Trump pulls trigger on Nafta negotiations

Donald TrumpImage copyrightDREW ANGERER/GETTY
Image captionNAFTA was a centrepiece of Donald Trump’s campaign

The US plans to start talks with Mexico and Canada over Nafta “as soon as practicable”, the Trump administration said on Thursday.

The letter to congressional leaders provided formal notice of the administration’s intent to move forward with a campaign pledge to redo the 1990s trade deal.

Mr Trump earlier threatened to end the agreement, calling it a job “killer”.

Thursday’s letter said the deal needs “modernisation”.

Canada and Mexico are America’s second and third largest trade partners after China.

US trade with the two countries has more than tripled since Nafta went into effect in 1994, with more than $1tr goods and services exchanged each year.

But tension has been mounting under Mr Trump, who made tough-on-trade talk a hallmark of his campaign.

In January, he withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership.

He has also slapped tariffs on Canadian lumber and took to Twitter to talk about Canadian pricing of dairy products.

And on Thursday, the Commerce Department said it would investigate claims by Boeing that its Canadian aerospace rival Bombardier is unfairly subsidised by taxpayers and has been selling planes below cost in the US.

 

The Nafta letter from US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who was sworn in this week, triggers a 90-day period, meaning talks would begin in August at the earliest.

It raised a range of issues, including digital trade and environmental practices, but offered little detail.

In recent months, Canadian federal ministers have been travelling frequently to the US to lobby America lawmakers whose states have strong trade ties with Canada on the importance of the cross-border economic relationship.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has also been in close contact with her Mexican counterparts on the Nafta file and will be in Mexico next week.

Ms Freeland said in a statement on Thursday that Canada remains “steadfastly committed to free trade in the North American region.”

“We are at an important juncture that offers us an opportunity to determine how we can best align Nafta to new realities – and integrate progressive, free and fair approaches to trade and investment,” she said.

Mexico also said it expects a “constructive” negotiation.

Mr Trump faces a political crisis in Washington related to an investigation of ties to Russia.

But the trade measures return him to one of his successful campaign themes, which struck a chord among some voters, who have seen US companies turn to cheaper, overseas workers for jobs once done at home.

 

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement the goal of new Nafta talks is to find a “solution that is both fair and beneficial for all parties”.

“Since the signing of Nafta, we have seen our manufacturing industry decimated, factories shuttered, and countless workers left jobless.,” he said. “President Trump is going to change that.”

Mr Trump’s protectionist stance breaks with Republican tradition, sounding closer to concerns voiced by labour unions and left-wing politicians like Bernie Sanders.

But Democrats were quick to say the letter was short on substance.

“The President’s vague Nafta letter is a stark contrast with the aggressive promises he made to hard-working families during the campaign,” California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who leads the party in the House, said in a statement.

“For all his rhetoric, President Trump looks to be sorely disappointing American workers on trade.”

Ford ‘set to shed 10% of workforce’

Ford car and US flagImage copyrightREUTERS

Ford is planning to cut around 10% of its global workforce in an attempt to boost profits, according to reports.

Chief executive officer Mark Fields also wants to arrest the slide in the US car company’s share price.

The cuts, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, are part of a plan to save $3bn (£2.3bn) during 2017.

Ford refused to confirm or deny the story, but said in a statement that it was focused on its plans to “drive profitable growth”.

It added: “Reducing costs and becoming as lean and efficient as possible also remain part of that work. We have not announced any new people efficiency actions, nor do we comment on speculation.”

Ford employs around 200,000 people, with half of them in North America.

Leaked document

In March, the carmaker announced that it would spend $1.2bn (£927m) to upgrade three plants in Michigan in the US and create 130 new jobs.

At the start of the year it cancelled plans to build a new factory in Mexico after pressure from President Trump, who had also criticised General Motors’ plans to produce cars there.

The company’s share price has fallen by nearly 40% since Mr Fields took up his role in the middle of 2014.

Earlier this year, a leaked document seen by BBC Wales revealed that Ford was projecting a reduction of 1,160 workers at its plant in Bridgend by 2021 if no new projects came into the site.

Uber must return confidential files to Waymo, orders US judge

The dispute is over Lidar, the technology that allows the car to "see" what is around itImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe dispute is over Lidar, the technology that allows the car to “see” what is around it

Uber has been told to return thousands of “pilfered” files to Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving car division.

The San Francisco judge also banned a top Uber engineer from involvement in certain work for the ride-hailing firm’s autonomous driving project.

Waymo has sued Uber over claims that a former employee stole trade secrets that were later used by its rival.

Although a blow to Uber, the ruling stopped short of ordering a shutdown of the firm’s self-driving unit.

District Judge William Alsup’s ruling, which was unsealed on Monday, said Waymo “has shown compelling evidence that its former star engineer” Anthony Levandowski “pilfered” thousands of documents from the company.

“The bottom line is the evidence indicates that Uber hired Levandowski even though it knew or should have known that he possessed over 14,000 confidential Waymo files likely containing Waymo’s intellectual property,” Alsup wrote.

Uber must return the documents either to Waymo or the court by the end of this month.

The judge also ordered Uber to keep Mr Levandowski away from work involving Lidar, a key sensor technology in self-driving cars that is the crux of the current litigation.

 

Waymo spokesman Johnny Luu welcomed the ruling, saying: “Competition should be fuelled by innovation in the labs and on the roads, not through unlawful actions.”

However, the judge added that “few” of Waymo’s alleged trade secrets have been traced to Uber’s self-driving car technology. Not all of Waymo’s 121 asserted trade secrets qualify as trade secrets, he added.

Crucially for Uber, the ruling did not shut down its self-driving car project. Uber is betting that its ride services network will eventually rely on self-driving cars.

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling that Uber can continue building and utilizing all of its self-driving technology, including our innovation around Lidar,” Uber spokeswoman Chelsea Kohler said.

On Monday Waymo signed a deal with Lyft, Uber’s main US competitor, to test its self-driving technology.

Oil price tumbles to five-month low

Oil pumpjackImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The oil price has fallen to a five-month low as investor concerns re-surface about a worldwide glut.

Brent crude dropped by more than $2 on Thursday to below $49 a barrel, hitting its lowest level since oil cartel Opec struck a landmark deal to cut output on 30 November.

Analysts said investors were worried that oil nations would fail to ease supply fears at a meeting later in May.

They also pointed to higher-than-expected US oil production.

Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, dropped 4.8% to $48.38 a barrel in London on Thursday. West Texas crude lost 4.9% to $45.48.

‘Jittery’

Opec’s deal in November, and subsequent supply cuts agreed by other oil producing countries, helped to boost prices earlier this year, said David Hunter, an energy industry analyst with Schneider Electric.

But the market is getting a bit “jittery” as countries decide whether to extend those cuts, he said.

Opec and other oil nations are meeting on 25 May where they will discuss the success of the six-month cutback and whether it should be deepened.

Russia, one of the non-Opec countries to sign up to the cuts, gave mixed signals on Thursday about whether it would continue.

“While the cartel is expected to extend a self-imposed production cap by another six months, it will be a challenge to convince several non-Opec members to follow suit,” said Abhishek Kumar, senior energy analyst at Interfax Energy’s Global Gas Analytics.

“Persistent growth in US oil production … will also make extensions of the Opec cap beyond 2017 unlikely.”

‘Losing faith’

Data released on Tuesday indicated US crude stocks fell 930,000 barrels last week. Analysts had been expecting a drop of 2.3 million barrels.

The US data and some investors “losing faith with Opec” are not helping the oil price, said Abhishek Deshpande, an oil analyst at Natixis.

The fall in crude prices hit global energy and commodity stocks.

US oil giants Chevron and Exxon Mobil were two of the biggest fallers on Wall Street, dropping 2% and 1.3% respectively.

In London, Shell’s shares wiped out most of their earlier gains as the oil price tumbled.

The UK oil firm had started the day 3% higher after reporting better-than-expected profits, but finished trading with gains of only 0.5%.