Quest Means Business
March 26, 2010
Posted: 1342 GMT

News International announced plans to charge for access to The Times and The Sunday Times Web sites starting in June.

Will the EU's crisis fund ensure financial stability across Europe?

The publisher said both British newspapers will launch new Web sites in early May and offer a free trial period to registered customers.

Starting in June, each site will charge £1 ($1.48) for a day's access or £2 ($2.96) for a week's subscription, News International said.

The newspapers are currently available free on a combined site,, but they will have separate sites starting in May. Subscribers will have access to both sites, News International said.

The only other major British newspaper currently charging for online content is the Financial Times, which charges a basic rate of £3.29 ($4.90) a week for a year-long subscription. Users can view up to 10 online articles for free each month, but they must register.

We want to know what you think.

Would you pay to read your news on the web?

Filed under: Business •Quest Means Business

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March 25, 2010
Posted: 1209 GMT

Another round of strikes by British Airways will go ahead this weekend as passengers brace for more flight cancellations and delays.

Will you be affected by a strike?

Will you be affected by a strike?

The planned four-day walkout which begins on March 27 follows the one last weekend by crews dissatisfied with pay, benefits and staffing levels.

iReport: Are you worried?

BA will be able to run a full operation from London's Gatwick Airport and London City Airport this weekend because so many cabin crew members will be working as normal, the airline said in a statement late Tuesday.

At London's Heathrow Airport, BA will be able to run up to 55 percent of its short-haul flights and up to 70 percent of its long-haul flights, the airline said.

Passengers booked on flights that have been canceled by the strike will be offered seats on flights with BA or other airlines, or will be offered a full refund, the airline said.

Some union members walked off the job last weekend disrupting dozens of flights across the UK and around the world.

We want to know what you think.

Are you planning on flying with BA this weekend? Are you going to be disrupted by the strike?

Please leave your comments below and let us know where you're writing from and we may be in touch.

Filed under: Business •Quest Means Business

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March 24, 2010
Posted: 1244 GMT

The trial of four Rio Tinto employees charged with bribery and stealing commercial secrets ended in Shanghai Wednesday, but it was unclear when a verdict would be reached.

The bribery trial took place in this Shanghai courtroom.

The bribery trial took place in this Shanghai courtroom.

Charged in the case are Stern Hu, an Australian citizen of Chinese origin who was the general manager of Rio Tinto's Shanghai office. Hu has been in detention for nine months, along with Rio Tinto's three Chinese employees - Liu Caikui, Ge Minqiang and Wang Yong. They are accused of taking bribes and stealing commercial secrets.

Rio Tinto, a British-Australian company, is one of the largest mining companies in the world. The case has raised fears of a government crackdown on foreign companies doing business in China.

The three-day trial was closed to foreign news organizations, hindering independent confirmation of developments. At the end of the first day of the trial on Monday, Zhai Jian - the lawyer for another defendant - said his client acknowledged receiving money, but said it was a gift or a loan - not a bribe.

In another case, the U.S. Justice Department charged Daimler with widespread violation of bribery laws over the course of a decade.

According to the documents, Daimler paid bribes to foreign officials in at least 22 countries between 1998 and 2008.

The documents described how the company tried to lure officials with everything from cash to job opportunities.

We'd like to know what you think.

When is a gift considered a bribe? Is bribery a natural part of doing business? What should happen to officials charged with bribery?

Filed under: Business •Quest Means Business

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March 23, 2010
Posted: 1719 GMT

Ever get the feeling that something is about to happen, but you just don’t know what, or when, or how serious it will be? The last week has given me that feeling of unease in the financial world but I am not entirely sure why.

There were lots of little things that we could get excited about. For instance, the Obama health care package getting closer to a vote in the US congress; the Greek Government flirting with going to the IMF; the UK Treasury borrowing less than it forecast… But there was actually very little to get your teeth into and say “now we have direction”.

So, it is not surprising that the markets on both sides of the Atlantic didn’t do much at all. A look at the daily movements tells the tale. The Eurostoxx 50 closed the week just 0.01% lower. While the Dow Jones in New York gained on four of the five days last week, but barely budged more than 1% over the total week.

This was hardly exciting stuff.

However, if you looked beneath the surface there were indeed matters worthy of note. For instance, the warning by the rating agencies, including Moody’s that the AAA rating on US government debt was at risk because of the high government deficit.

At first blush this is huge. Absolutely monumental. The very thought that the US could lose its gold-plated top notch rating is just about unthinkable.

US treasury bonds are the backbone of the financial system. Any change in the debt rating would not only push up the cost of servicing the debt to the federal government, it would hit the dollar, and of course the value of those investments.

According to the US Treasury, China alone, holds $890 billion dollars worth of bonds. No wonder Beijing has been getting antsy about its investments.

Initially there was a lot of scepticism about these warnings. The US dollar is still the world’s principle reserve currency, with more than 62% of all reserves held in dollars, so there will always be buyers for US debt.

Then there are the agencies themselves. These are the very groups who continued to award investment grade ratings to the sub prime and collateralised debt that exploded during the crises. The agencies’ failure to issue warnings of dangers ahead, means their reputation has been sullied to say the very least.

With those caveats in mind, however, we shouldn’t allow our distaste of the messenger to destroy the message.

At 10%, the US is running a deficit which is unsustainable in the long term. Even though the President has forecast that the deficit will be reduced to 4% by 2013, there are so many optimistic assumptions, forecasts and simple unknowns that it is easy to obfuscate the true picture, and therefore the balance is probably on the downside.

This is really what the warnings from the agencies were about: a call that they should not temporize on cutting the deficit. . Begin now before it is too late and avoid trouble later. Alas, the warnings have been lost – the popular belief that the rating would ever be cut. And so the good ship ‘Borrowing’ sails majestically forward.

A boring week ? Not a bit of it. We may look back on last week as the start of something big.

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Posted: 1418 GMT

The UK government has announced that the country will spend nearly $60 million on the creation of a new space agency that it says will help fulfill its ambitions in outer space.

Should we bother exploring space?

The agency will be a hub for the country's space activity and scientists will study data generated by earth observation satellites and analyze information to understand the effects of climate change.

The agency will also focus on advising on the security and resilience of space systems around the world.

The space industry supports nearly 70,000 jobs in the UK and contributes nearly $9 billion to the economy.

The move by the UK government to commit millions of dollars to the space industry is in stark contrast to a recent decision by U.S. President Barack Obama to scrap it's lunar program.

NASA's Constellation program had sought to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020.

Constellation also intended to study the idea of establishing a moon colony. The program was set to follow the U.S. space agency's shuttle missions, which are due to end in September.

Instead of building new spacecraft of its own, NASA is planning to invest in space technology research and spend $6 billion to pay private space groups to develop and build new rockets to take astronauts into orbit.

The plan leaves many open questions about the future of U.S. space travel, including if and when NASA will ever build rockets of its own again, when astronauts will return to space and in what kind of spacecraft.

We want to know what you think.

Do you think it's worth spending billions of dollars in space exploration? Should we bother going back to the moon?

Filed under: Business •Quest Means Business

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March 19, 2010
Posted: 1301 GMT

British Airways and the union representing its cabin crew were back at the bargaining table Friday trying to head off a series of two consecutive weekend strikes.

Should BA strip staff of travel perks if they strike?

The two sides met late into the night Thursday, longer than expected.

BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh said little as he left the talks in central London late Thursday. Asked whether he was still hopeful of a resolution, Walsh told CNN's Jim Boulden, "Well, I can tell you this - we'll be flying on Saturday."

The Unite union has decided to strike for three days beginning at midnight Friday, and for four more days beginning March 27. Unite represents 95 percent of BA's 15,000 cabin crew members, but not all of them plan to strike.

The airline has also threatened to cut the travel perks of staff if they decide to take part in a strike.

In January, BA said that any staff member who took part in a strike would no longer receive discounted or free travel on the airline.

The move could be seen as a game changer for staff thinking about striking as many cabin crew members rely on free travel to commute from Europe to the airline's Heathrow base.

We want to know what you think.

Should staff who strike lose their travel perks? Do you think it will persuade members of the airline not to strike?

Filed under: Business •Quest Means Business

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Posted: 936 GMT
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Posted: 936 GMT
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March 17, 2010
Posted: 1150 GMT

When Fernando Alonso won the weekend’s Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, it started the battle for the 2010 Formula One Championship. It is a battle that will take 12 teams to 19 cities around the world.

Bahrain held the first race for the 2010 Formula One Championship.

Bahrain held the first race for the 2010 Formula One Championship.

While the British Grand Prix at Silverstone might have more history and the Monaco race in Monte Carlo is more glamorous, few of this year’s locations say as much about their destination as Bahrain.

Everything about the race and its track told me something about the country and its current transition to change, with all the controversy that goes with it.

The changes to the circuit have been introduced to make the race more versatile with some changes to the landscaping give the event a feeling of being in the desert.

Translating this to the country and you find a nation being pushed into the 21st Century by its Rulers, His Majesty King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa and his son, the Crown Prince.

They have already introduced a limited form of consultative democracy and Prince Salman, the Crown Prince is pushing hard for the private sector to take more of a role in the economy.

“We have to,” the Crown Prince told me. “We are moving into a far more diversified economy that is dependant on the private sector. We have to build an economy built on productivity.”

This is a refreshingly blunt acknowledgement that while “the oil and gas won’t run out in the next ten years,” there is not much time before the country has to face this problem.

Visits here involve discussions about what the new economy should look like. There is of course a focus on tourism – currently made up of four million Saudi visitors who come to enjoy themselves in a more liberal environment. There is also the financial service sector. The country has made slow but steady headway in this area especially since Dubai’s financial crisis.

In the transition to the post-oil economy “we’re not going to just target ‘willy-nilly’ anything and everything that comes our way,” the Crown Prince noted. “We don’t have the luxury of going for the whole ‘shebang’ so to speak. We can’t be the masters of everything.”

The ultimate acceptance of this new role, means this small country will end up supporting richer nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. They have expertise to consult and advise neighbours on running their oil and gas industries.

Through the banks they will also take care of billions of dollars in revenues others produce. Bahrain is destined to become a service economy, more akin to a smaller European nation living off the industries of larger regional partners

For Bahrain, there is always the worry that some bigger or richer nation will steal its thunder. Gulf Air lost out to larger regional competitors. The financial industry ceded ground to Dubai in the good days.

Now, seven years since Bahrain established itself as the first Gulf nation to host a Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi has entered the fray, building the billion dollar Yas Marina Circuit. The first Grand Prix last year was triumph of organisation and spectacle, proving what money can truly buy.

So the 2010 Formula One season starts the racing in Bahrain and ends in Abu Dhabi.

While at the moment Bahrainis are relaxed about their rival’s participation, they must surely wonder, whether being first will ensure they will remain in the race. While Bahrain finds its way in the new world, they don’t need to lose what they have from the old.

Filed under: Business •Quest Means Business

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Posted: 1133 GMT

Chinese state media launched a fresh volley of articles attacking the "politicization" of Google after media reports suggest the Internet giant may soon officially pull out of China.

Should Google leave China?

A Saturday editorial in China Daily, state media's English-language newspaper, headlined "China Doesn't Need a Politicized Google," began: "Google's actions show that the world's biggest search engine company has abandoned its business principles and instead shows the world a face that is totally politicized."

Google threatened on January 13 to quit obeying China's censorship laws and possibly leave operations in China altogether after a December hacker attack that emanated from China. China has the world's largest Internet users, with nearly 400 million people online - more than the population of the United States.

The fracas has reverberated from Washington to Beijing, and was prominently mentioned in a policy statement by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on Internet freedom.

We want to know what you think.

Should Google leave China? Why should it leave? Why should it stay?

Filed under: Business •Quest Means Business

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Posted: 927 GMT
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March 16, 2010
Posted: 1126 GMT
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