UK economy shrinking ‘fastest since 2009’; Amazon to enter student loan business; Pokemon Go, from prank to phenomenon

1 UK economy shrinking ‘fastest since 2009’ (Larry Elliott & Nick Fletcher in The Guardian) The Bank of England and the Treasury are under increasing pressure to prevent Britain from sliding into recession after a wide-ranging health check of the economy completed since the referendum showed the sharpest downturn in activity since the peak of the financial crisis seven years ago,

Service industries ranging from banks to restaurants, hedge funds, bars, gyms and hairdressers were all affected by what was described as a “dramatic deterioration” in business confidence that suggests the economy is on course to shrink by 0.4% in the third quarter unless conditions improve.

The City now expects the Bank to deliver a package of immediate support – including a cut in interest rates and a resumption of its quantitative easing programme – when its monetary policy committee meets early next month.

Philip Hammond, the new chancellor, admitted that confidence had been dented by the surprise of Brexit vote and dropped a broad hint that he was contemplating spending increases and tax cuts for his autumn statement.

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who said this week that £500bn of infrastructure investment was needed to combat the economic slowdown, said the chancellor’s comments meant “Britain is on hold until Philip Hammond makes up his mind.”

2 Amazon to enter student loan business (BBC) E-commerce giant Amazon has entered the student loan business, teaming up with US bank Wells Fargo to offer lower interest rates to subscribers of its “Prime Student” services.

For an annual fee “Prime Student” gives subscribers discounts, free delivery and access to Amazon’s video streaming. Wells Fargo is one of the largest providers of student loans in the US. The deal should help the bank promote products and Amazon attract students.

“Prime Student” subscribers will be eligible for a 0.5% discount on Wells Fargo student loans. Amazon charges $49 a year in the US or £39 in the UK for its “Prime Student” service. The fees are about half of a regular Amazon “Prime” membership.

In the US the student loan business is a billion dollar industry and Americans are believed to hold over $1 trillion in university-related debt. Tackling the student debt crisis has been a central issue in the US election. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders presented plans to cut that debt and lower the cost of higher education.

Wells Fargo is one of the largest private lenders of student loans in the US. It had $12.2bn in outstanding student loans in 2015.However, the US federal government remains the largest provider of student loans.

3 Pokemon Go, from prank to phenomenon (San Francisco Chronicle) Google unwittingly planted the seed for “Pokemon Go” two years ago in one of the many April Fools’ Day jokes the internet company is famous for.

In a mischievous 2014 post, Google announced a new training tool, created in conjunction with Pokemon and Nintendo, for hunting Pokemon using Google Maps. Its goal, the company said, was to hire the world’s best Pokemon Master — because it valued technically savvy risk takers who can “navigate through tall grass to capture wild creatures.”

The enthusiastic reaction to Google’s fake “Pokemon Challenge” video resonated within Niantic Labs, a little-known startup that had been incubating within the company — particularly with its founder John Hanke.

With the goal of building mobile apps and games that encouraged “adventures on foot with others,” Hanke named Niantic after a grounded whaling vessel grounded during the San Francisco Gold Rush of 1849 and converted to a storage building. The remains of the original ship were later found buried near a current San Francisco landmark, the Transamerica Pyramid.

Hanke was ready to found his own independent startup until Google co-founder Larry Page persuaded him he could keep Niantic within the internet’s most powerful company. Nintendo, meanwhile, had fallen on hard times. Just one month after Google’s Pokemon video, the Japanese video-game maker reported its third yearly operating loss in a row as its lackluster Wii U console cratered.

“Pokemon Go” offered a potential way out of its hole. Nintendo still owns the trademark to all the characters and retains a 32 percent stake in Pokemon Co. Similar-sized stakes are held by Game Freak, a company created by Pokemon creator Tajiri, and Creatures Inc., launched by Ishihara.

The final piece in the “Pokemon Go” puzzle fell into place last August, when Google reorganized itself as a holding company called Alphabet that would in turn own a collection of independent subsidiaries — from large ones like Google itself to tiny ones like Niantic.

Niantic laid out its plans for “Pokemon Go” last September, and the following month Google, Nintendo and Pokemon agreed to invest $20 million, with a promise to put up another $10 million if an undisclosed set of goals were met. Pokemon Co. says the additional investment hasn’t been made yet, even though it looks Niantic is hitting all its targets with the precision of a Pokemon Master.

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IMF cuts Eurozone growth forecast; US divided by race; More uncertainty as Tata UK sale on hold

1 IMF cuts Eurozone growth forecast (Khaleej Times) The International Monetary Fund cut its eurozone growth outlook for the next two years over uncertainties sparked by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, and warned that the conditions could worsen if confusion continues to reign in financial markets.

In its annual policy review of the 19-country euro currency bloc, the IMF said it now expects 2016 growth of 1.6 per cent, down from the previous forecast of 1.7 per cent, while the 2017 growth forecast will drop to 1.4 per cent from 1.7 per cent previously.

In its annual policy review, the IMF said a further global growth slowdown could derail the euro area’s domestic demand-led recovery, and further Brexit spillovers, the refugee surge, increased security concerns and banking weakness all could take their toll on growth.

But IMF European Department deputy director Mahmood Pradhan said that if the separation negotiations drag out between the EU and the UK and continue to cause risk reductions in financial markets, euro area growth would slow further.—it-can-get-even-worse

2 US divided by race (Jon Swaine & Tom Dart in The Guardian) The assassination of five police officers by a black army veteran in Dallas who told authorities he “wanted to kill white people” threatens to snap tense relations between law enforcement and African Americans that have now been at breaking point for almost two years.

Barack Obama will abandon a European tour and travel to Dallas early next week. The president will return to lead a nation grappling with a racial divide wider than it has been for at least a generation, and struggling with the frequent boiling over of unrest that has been simmering since the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, in the summer of 2014.

Dallas police chief, David Brown, said the 25-year-old gunman, Micah Xavier Johnson, said he was “upset about the recent police shootings”, “upset about Black Lives Matter”, and “upset at white people”. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, declared that “racial tensions have gotten worse, not better” under Obama’s leadership.

A Pew poll last month found 84% of black Americans believe police treat blacks unfairly, compared with 50% of white respondents. While more than two-thirds of African Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement, a minority of white people – and just 20% of Republicans – feel the same way.

3 More uncertainty as Tata UK sale on hold (BBC) The sale of Tata Steel’s UK business is on hold as the company considers a European tie-up, creating further uncertainty for British steelworkers In Mumbai, Tata said it had started talks with “strategic players in the steel industry”.

They include the German company Thyssenkrupp. Tata said the uncertainty created by Brexit was a factor in its deliberations. The company declared its intention to sell all or part of its UK business in March. It employs more than 4,000 workers at its plant in Port Talbot in Wales and over 2,000 more at its speciality businesses in Hartlepool, Rotherham and Stocksbridge.

A shortlist of seven potential buyers was drawn up in May, but one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the sale of the UK business has been the legacy of the British steel pension fund which Tata inherited when it bought the business in 2007. It has 130,000 members and a deficit of £700m.

The government has been trying to break the impasse by launching a consultation on drawing up special legislation to lower pension benefits for many of the pension fund’s members. European steelmakers have been struggling to compete with cheaper imports of steel from China and a fall in steel prices on the world market.

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UK property fund turmoil continues; Australia’s AAA rating in danger; How Chinese trawlers empty Guinea’s oceans

1 UK property fund turmoil continues (Jill Treanor & Hilary Osborne in The Guardian) Shopping centres, office blocks and warehouses worth up to £5bn could be put up for sale as the turmoil in the UK commercial property sector prompted by the Brexit vote forces fund managers to revalue their portfolios or temporarily prevent investors withdrawing their savings.

With the pound under pressure on the foreign exchange markets, fund managers Legal & General, Foreign & Colonial and Dutch-owned Kames cut the value of their property funds. L&G cut the value of its £2.3bn fund by 10% – following a 5% cut last week – while F&C and Kanes both cut by 5%.

Aberdeen Fund Management announced on Wednesday it was halting trading in its property fund for 24 hours and devaluing it by 17% – thought to be the biggest adjustment ever made by a property fund . Aberdeen has since extended the trading ban until Monday.

Others have suspended dealings for longer, starting with Standard Life’s decision to halt trading in its £2.9bn commercial property fund, leading to a cascade effect with Aviva, Prudential’s M&G, Henderson, Columbia Threadneedle and Canada Life following suit – taking the total value of property funds suspended to £18bn.

One of the factors weighing on sentiment is uncertainty about the role of London as a financial centre outside the EU. George Osborne, the chancellor, met the heads of major international banks including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to discuss ways to keep the City as a major trading centre.

The turmoil has coincided with pressure on the pound, which has been trading at 31-year lows. Yields on UK government bonds – known as gilts – which have halved to 0.7% since the referendum are also being watched as investors seek safe havens and brace for a cut to interest rates.

2 Australia’s AAA rating in danger (Khaleej Times) Standard & Poor’s has warned of a downgrade to Australia’s coveted triple-A credit rating within two years, saying the knife-edge July 2 election may have weakened the government’s ability to tackle its budget deficits.

It cut its outlook to negative from stable and said there is a one-in-three chance of a ratings downgrade should the government fail to materially improve its balance sheet. “We will continue to monitor, over the next six to 12 months, the success or otherwise of the new government’s ability to pass revenue and expenditure measures through both houses of parliament,” S&P said.

Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital, said the negative credit watch should come as no surprise. “Australia has now seen years of slippage in returning the budget to surplus and the messy election outcome threatens more slippage whichever way it goes,” he said.

S&P last downgraded Australia’s credit ratings in October 1989. In May 1999, the agency upgraded the rating to AA+ and in February 2003, it restored the nation’s top notch AAA rating where it has stayed since. On the positive side, S&P said it considered Australia’s banking system to be one of the strongest globally and described the country as a “wealthy, diversified and resilient economy”.

3 How Chinese trawlers empty Guniea’s oceans (Tamasin Ford on BBC) Chinese fishing vessels operate illegally off the coast of Guinea, depleting its fish population and destroying marine life. Despite the economic and social consequences of illegal fishing, the Guinean government has failed to police its waters because it doesn’t have money to operate surveillance equipment.

The UN estimates that illegal fishing strips the global economy of more than $23bn every year. And the waters off West Africa have the highest levels of illegal catch in the world, according to the UK-based non-profit organisation, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF). More than a third of all fish caught in the region is illegal, unreported or unregulated, it says.

“These illegal pirate fishing operators are in effect stealing from some of the poorest people on our planet to provide short-term profit to wealthy fishing operators,” says EJF head Steve Trent.

He says a mixture of poor governance, limited resources and corruption create a situation ripe for exploitation. And Guinea is one of the worst examples. It’s the only country in Africa banned from exporting fish to Europe; the world’s biggest market.

Illegal fishing in Guinea got even worse as the country was battling the deadly Ebola virus, according to a Greenpeace investigation. “During the Ebola outbreak, the country focused all their resources and capacity to deal with Ebola,” says Ahmed Diame, the Africa Oceans campaigner at Greenpeace. During a month-long mission at the end of 2014 while Ebola was ravaging the country, a Greenpeace ship spotted an illegal Chinese trawler once every two days.

Most of the Chinese vessels are known as bottom trawlers; banned in some parts of the world because they are so destructive. They scrape up everything from the bottom of the ocean, ripping up coral and oyster beds, taking with them everything in their path. “Up to 90% of the catch can be thrown back into the sea often already dead,” according to Greenpeace.

Greenpeace also started another investigation in January this year across Cape Verde, Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and Senegal. It will take three years, but the organisation hopes it will get a more detailed analysis of the situation.

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Rebound in global IPO market; Decriminalizing all drugs; Explaining the job gap

1 Rebound in global IPO market (Ann Williams in Straits Times) Several factors are creating a stop-start market for initial public offerings (IPOs) across the globe this year, according to a report by EY.

After the weakest first quarter since 2009, the IPO market swung back to life in the April-June quarter with a 120 per cent jump in capital raised to $29.6 billion via 246 deals – up 29 per cent on the number of deals in the first three months of the year.

Still, IPO activity at the mid-year point remains significantly below that of the same period last year, EY noted in its quarterly Global IPO Trends report. At 437 deals, IPO volumes are 38 per cent lower and at $43 billion, total capital raised is almost two-thirds that of the first half of last year.

In the second quarter of this year, the Asia-Pacific was up 20 per cent in terms of capital raised, EMEIA (Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa) was up 187 per cent and the US was up 755 per cent, with the UK and Greater China the only major IPO markets to buck this trend. The most significant gains were made by Australia and New Zealand, which saw proceeds increase by 820 per cent.

However, the drag from an exceptionally slow first quarter meant that for the first six months of this year, even the buoyant Australian and New Zealand markets were down close to a third on the same period last year in terms of capital raised, with EMEIA down 50 per cent, the Middle East down 55 per cent, the Asia-Pacific down 65 per cent and the US down 66 per cent.

2 Decriminalizing all drugs (Maia Szalavtz in The Guardian) We can either criminalize drug possession or fight stigma: we can’t do both at once any more than one runner can sprint in opposite directions at the same time. The whole point of criminalizing drug use is to stigmatize drug users.

To argue that “addiction is a disease” while criminalizing possession of the drug involved in the addiction is, then, to make an impossible case. No actual disease is seen this way. Add to this the fact that the treatment given to people with addiction – unlike treatment for any other disorder, mental or physical – is also heavily moralistic, typically involving prayer, confession and restitution and frequently including deliberate humiliation of a type that is not seen anywhere else in medicine.

Consider, too, the issue of “drug courts” in which the defendant’s medical treatment for addiction is determined by prosecutors and a judge, not by doctors. Importantly, in courts that deal with mentally ill defendants, there is no similar meddling.

Because it is not a crime to be mentally ill, judges recognize that the expertise needed to cope with the issue is medical, not moral, and they defer to psychiatrists about what treatment and medications are best.

The methods advocates have suggested, however, are far too weak. Yes, as Massachusetts’ State without Stigma suggests, we can make some progress by doing things like eliminating demeaning language. People with addiction shouldn’t be called “addicts” in the same way that people with schizophrenia shouldn’t be called “schizophrenics”; person-first language recognizes our common humanity.

If we really want to treat addiction like the medical problem it so clearly is, we can’t use the criminal justice system to arrest people for showing symptoms of it. If you want to fight stigma, you’ve got to first fight criminalization and reform the coercive and demeaning addiction treatment system that has been warped by it.

3 Explaining the job gap (Kim Thompson in San Francisco Chronicle) Life happens and whether we like it or not, we are all faced with unexpected family or health challenges that can take us out of the workplace for a length of time. How you explain job gaps sets the tone for how employers perceive whether your skills are out of date and wondering how you could contribute to their business.

Most job candidates dread questions regarding times of unemployment for fear that employers might hold this against them in the interview. Truth is most interviewers can identify with real life issues and, in some cases, taking time away from work can demonstrate good judgment and a sense of responsibility. There are just some things beyond your control that has nothing to do with your skill set or experience.

When you are defensive or anxious about the job gap, chances are high you will send the same message to the interviewer. There are many ways to answer job gap questions, but the best way to do it is through honesty and a sincere spirit. A job gap will require an answer to help address any concerns of commitment with a potential employer.

Just to say you took time out for personal reasons, might not be enough because it’s too broad of an answer and leaves room for the interviewer to guess. A brief explanation of the reason why you took time off should be sufficient if you demonstrate how you kept your skills updated.

Volunteering can be an excellent way to keep your skills current as well as attending training programs and networking. You can take the barrier away from a job gap by focusing on your skills rather than feeling awkward about the time away.

The job gap explanation

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Meltdown for world’s biggest shipbroker; UK business pessimism ‘doubles after Brexit’; Kuwait plans $10bn bond to cover deficit

1 Meltdown for world’s biggest shipbroker (Sean Farrell in The Guardian) Shares in Clarkson, the world’s biggest shipbroker, lost a fifth of their value after it warned that weak global trade would cause a large fall in annual profit.

In an unscheduled trading update, Clarkson said the rates it could charge for shipping freight fell sharply in the first half of the year because of global economic uncertainty and a fall-off in trade. The statement did not mention the UK’s vote to leave the EU.

The Baltic dry index, which measures shipping rates, has dropped in recent months and came close to record lows in the first quarter of the year, Clarkson said. The group warned at its annual general meeting last month that trading was difficult and it has deteriorated further since.

The company’s main activity is arranging for businesses to charter ships to transport their goods. It also helps shipping companies raise finance and provides research and support services such as logistics and equipment.

Broking transactions have increased but freight rates and the value of ships have fallen, reducing activity in Clarkson’s financial division. The company said its business was resilient with a strong pipeline of financial business and a strong balance sheet.

Clarkson shares fell as much as 23% and were down 18% at £18.13 in late morning trading. The shares have fallen by more than a third in the past year as concerns have mounted about the prospects for world trade amid a slowdown in China, the world’s biggest consumer of raw materials transported by ship.

2 UK business pessimism ‘doubles after Brexit’ (Helen Thomas on BBC) UK business confidence has fallen sharply in the aftermath of the vote to leave the EU, research suggests. The share of businesses that reported feeling pessimistic about the UK economy doubled in the week after the Brexit vote.

The figure jumped from 25% the week before the referendum to 49%, according to YouGov and the Centre for Economics and Business Research. Falling confidence can lead companies to pull back on investment and hiring.

The figures suggest that businesses have become more cautious in their outlook for sales and exports, as well as rethinking their investment plans. Business expectations for UK sales, exports and investment all dropped, according to the research.

The slump in business confidence comes after research last week showed a marked deterioration in consumer sentiment about the economy. YouGov/CEBR said that consumer confidence had fallen back to its lowest level since May 2013.

3 Kuwait plans $10bn bond to cover deficit (Khaleej Times) Kuwait plans to issue up to KD3 billion ($10 billion) in US dollar-denominated bonds and sukuk in international markets to help plug its budget deficit for the current 2016-17 fiscal year, the finance minister said.

It will also borrow up to KD2 billion in debt from the domestic market in conventional and Islamic instruments, said Anas Al Saleh, who is also deputy prime minister and acting oil minister.

Like other Gulf Arab states, Kuwait is turning to debt capital markets to raise money as oil prices remain at below half the levels they were at two years ago. Qatar in May sold $9 billion of eurobonds, while Saudi Arabia is talking to banks about a debut international bond issue.

The remainder of Kuwait’s expected KD9.5 billion budget deficit for the current fiscal year, which began on April 1, will be covered by drawing down funds from the general reserve, Al Saleh said. The forecast deficit was after a deduction for the Future Generation Fund, a nest egg for when oil supplies diminish.

The ministry of finance was preparing a public debt strategy for the coming five years to cover the government’s financing needs. The strategy included setting up a special unit to manage public debt within the ministry. It would work in cooperation with Kuwait Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund, and the central bank.

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Saudi GDP growth slows; Yen’s surge may wipe out three years of stimulus; Anarchic global politics

1 Saudi GDP growth slows (Khaleej Times) Saudi Arabia’s economy expanded at its slowest rate in three years during the first quarter of 2016 as low oil prices forced the government to cut spending and raise costs for industry, official data showed.

Some analysts said the data pointed to a risk of growth in the world’s top oil exporter slowing to near zero this year, which would be its worst performance since the global financial crisis of 2009.

Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, grew 1.5 per cent from a year earlier between January and March, down from a revised growth rate of 1.8 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2015, the state statistics office said. It was the slowest growth since 0.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2013.

The oil sector expanded 5.1 per cent in the first quarter of this year as the world’s biggest oil exporter increased its production of crude and exported more refined products. But the non-oil sector shrank 0.7 per cent, its worst performance in at least five years.

If the economy slows excessively, the government still has the option of spending more to stimulate growth; the central bank holds $573 billion of net foreign assets, and Riyadh has begun borrowing abroad this year to finance some expenditure.

But if it eases up on its austerity programme too much it may increase pressure on the Saudi riyal’s peg against the US dollar, fuelling concern among some foreign investors about the long-term sustainability of its economy.

2 Yen’s surge may wipe out three years of stimulus (Straits Times) A dash for the relative safety of Japanese assets by domestic and foreign investors alike spurred the yen to a 17 per cent gain in 2016, its best first half of a year since 1995. The currency strengthened as far as 99.02 per US dollar last month for the first time since 2013, leaving it as the year’s second best-performing major currency.

That’s a concern for Japan’s policy makers because it threatens to wipe out the effects of more than three years of central-bank stimulus, which a year ago sent the currency to its weakest level since 2002. Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda remains on the wrong side of his 2 percent inflation goal as a key measure of consumer prices fell for a third month in May.

Fragile global growth and a Federal Reserve that’s now seems unlikely to raise rates until 2018 are also supporting Japan’s currency. While speculation has mounted that the BOJ will expand stimulus at its policy meeting this month, analysts see limited scope for this to push down the yen. The adoption of a negative deposit rate this year failed to curb its gains – and may have contributed to its strength.

3 Anarchic global politics (Andrew Wainer in The Guardian) According to the realist school of political science, the global political system is essentially anarchic; there is no ultimate global legal authority. “Realists” see a world governed by the law of the jungle.

We have the United Nations, but it has limited enforcement power. The US sometimes assumes the role of global cop, but enforces global norms selectively. For those who grew up in the western middle-class, the world can seem a well-ordered environment where the rule-of-law prevails. But revelations from the Panama Papers pulled back the curtain on what can be a lawless international tax system, and one in which some western elites are deeply implicated.

The lack of a cohesive, comprehensive international tax system is an excellent example of the essential lawlessness of the global system. And illegality is only part of the problem. As President Obama said recently: “The problem is that a lot of this stuff is legal, not illegal.” The lack of a coherent global tax infrastructure allows some global elites to avoid paying taxes, without breaking the law. When there are Panama, Luxembourg, and Nevada-size holes in international tax law, there’s no need to act criminally.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) state that Mossack Fonseca, the Panama-based firm at the center of the scandal, is hardly scorned by respectable society. ICIJ points out that “more than 500 banks, their subsidiaries and branches have worked with Mossack Fonseca since the 1970s to help clients manage offshore companies. UBS set up more than 1,100 offshore companies through Mossack Fonseca. HSBC and its affiliates created more than 2,300.”

While most of us get on with the dull but necessary job of filling out forms or visiting accountants during tax season, prime ministers, princes, and presidents in rich and poor nations fortify their off-shore companies and shift money to their preferred tax haven.

The good news is that, in spite of the volatile international context, ideas and campaigns on this subject are beginning to converge at last. Save the Children is part of this convergence committed to addressing IFFs. The recently launched Every Last Child campaign includes fair finance as a central component in reaching the world’s excluded and vulnerable children.

For its part, Save the Children is committed to making finance fairer so that the world’s vulnerable children are able to survive, thrive, and enjoy secure lives. The Panama Papers revealed that the weakness of the global tax infrastructure, but the outrage it sparked could lead global tax policy to be less like the “Wild West” and more like tax season.

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US auto sales improve; Berlin school turns teaching upside down; Nobel laureate, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel passes away

1 US auto sales improve (Gulf News) US factory activity expanded at a healthy pace in June as new orders, output and exports rose, new industry data showed, providing another sign that US economic growth was regaining its footing after weakness early this year.

Automakers reported higher June sales amid strong demand for pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles, but on an annualised basis, the June industry selling rate came in at 16.66 million units, well below May’s sales pace of 17.45 million.

Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler reported June sales gains of 6.4 per cent and 6.5 per cent, but General Motors, Toyota Motor Corp and Volkswagen all sold fewer vehicles. Some analysts say that industry sales may have peaked in 2015 at 17.45 million units, but GM chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem still held out hope for another record year.

“Positive economic indicators like historically low interest rates, stable fuel prices, rising wages and near-full employment provide the environment for strong auto sales to continue in the second half of the year,” Mohatarem said in a statement.

2 Berlin school turns teaching upside down (Philip Oltermann in The Guardian) Anton Oberländer is a persuasive speaker. Last year, when he and a group of friends were short of cash for a camping trip to Cornwall, he managed to talk Germany’s national rail operator into handing them some free tickets. So impressed was the management with his chutzpah that they invited him back to give a motivational speech to 200 of their employees.

Anton, it should be pointed out, is 14 years old. The Berlin teenager’s self-confidence is largely the product of a unique educational institution that has turned the conventions of traditional teaching radically upside down. At Oberländer’s school, there are no grades until students turn 15, no timetables and no lecture-style instructions. The pupils decide which subjects they want to study for each lesson and when they want to take an exam.

The school’s syllabus reads like any helicopter parent’s nightmare. Set subjects are limited to math, German, English and social studies, supplemented by more abstract courses such as “responsibility” and “challenge”. For challenge, students aged 12 to 14 are given €150 (£115) and sent on an adventure that they have to plan entirely by themselves. Some go kayaking; others work on a farm. Anton went trekking along England’s south coast.

The philosophy behind these innovations is simple: as the requirements of the labour market are changing, and smartphones and the internet are transforming the ways in which young people process information, the school’s headteacher, Margret Rasfeld, argues, the most important skill a school can pass down to its students is the ability to motivate themselves.

The Evangelical School Berlin Centre (ESBC) is trying to do nothing less than “reinvent what a school is”, she says. “The mission of a progressive school should be to prepare young people to cope with change, or better still, to make them look forward to change. In the 21st century, schools should see it as their job to develop strong personalities.”

Oberländer, who had never been away from home for three weeks until he embarked on his challenge in Cornwall, said he learned more English on his trip than he had in several years of learning the language at school. Germany’s federalised education structure, in which each of the 16 states plans its own education system, has traditionally allowed “free learning” models to flourish.

3 Nobel winner, holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel no more (San Francisco Chronicle) Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, the Romanian-born Holocaust survivor whose classic “Night” became a landmark testament to the Nazis’ crimes and launched Wiesel’s long career as one of the world’s foremost witnesses and humanitarians, has died at age 87.

The short, sad-eyed Wiesel, his face an ongoing reminder of one man’s endurance of a shattering past, summed up his mission in 1986 when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize: “Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Wiesel’s wife, Marion, described her husband as “a fighter”. “He fought for the memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and he fought for Israel,” she said. “He waged countless battles for innocent victims regardless of ethnicity or creed.”

“‘Night’ is the most devastating account of the Holocaust that I have ever read,” wrote Ruth Franklin, a literary critic and author of “A Thousand Darknesses,” a study of Holocaust literature that was published in 2010.

“There are no epiphanies in ‘Night. There is no extraneous detail, no analysis, no speculation. There is only a story: Eliezer’s account of what happened, spoken in his voice.” In one especially haunting passage, Wiesel sums up his feelings upon arrival in Auschwitz:

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. … Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”

His more than 40 books overall of fiction and nonfiction, emerged from the helplessness of a teenager deported from Hungary, which had annexed his native Romanian town of Sighet, to Auschwitz. Tattooed with the number A-7713, he was freed in 1945 — but only after his mother, father and one sister had all died in Nazi camps. Two other sisters survived.

Wiesel became a US citizen in 1963. Six years later, he married Marion Rose, a fellow Holocaust survivor who translated some of his books into English. They had a son, Shlomo.

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