Bad debts hit Eurozone banks; Ralph Lauren to cut 1,000 jobs; Why German trains don’t run on time anymore

1 Bad debts hit Eurozone banks (Andrew Walker on BBC) Investment in the eurozone
remains far below pre-crisis levels, partly due to problems in the banks, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has said. Bad debts at the banks are making them less willing to lend.

The OECD says many legacies of the area’s financial crisis are unresolved and major new problems have emerged. Europe has, however, made “important progress” to recover from a double dip recession.

The eurozone’s economy has now been growing without interruption for three years. But it has not been strong growth, and it has been supported by what are called the unconventional policies of the European Central Bank – extremely low, even negative interest rates and quantitative easing.

In its regular health check on the eurozone economy, the OECD notes that investment is far below 2007 levels, unlike the US. The reasons include weak demand – businesses will always be reluctant to invest if they are concerned that they may struggle to sell the goods and services they produce with the new investment.

But there are also some financial factors holding back investment. In some countries businesses are still burdened with high levels of debt. The banks are struggling with high levels of “non-performing loans” – where borrowers are behind with their repayments. That tends to makes the banks more wary of new lending.

2 Ralph Lauren to cut 1,000 jobs (Gulf News) Ralph Lauren is cutting about 1,000 jobs and closing 50 stores as part of a sweeping plan to lower costs and revive sales growth at the luxury fashion brand. The cuts represent about 8% of its workforce and forms part of a cost-cutting drive. The US fashion brand is also plans to close more than 50 stores and simplify its management structure.

Ralph Lauren said the measures should save between $180m and $220m a year. Last year Ralph Lauren, who founded the company, stepped down as chief executive and was replaced by Stefan Larsson. The cuts are the first major move for the new boss, who is credited with turning around the fortunes of Gap’s low-end brand Old Navy.

The new savings will come on top of $125m of cuts made by Ralph Lauren last year. It expected to incur $400m in restructuring charges this year as well as $150m of costs relating to stock reduction. The luxury sector has been hit by declining sales in recent months. On Monday Burberry revealed that chief executive Christopher Bailey had taken a 75% pay cut following a slump in sales.

3 Why German trains don’t run on time anymore (Kate Connolly in The Guardian) What happened to the famed German traits of efficiency, accuracy and punctuality? The number 174,630,000 was used to rub further salt into the wound this week. That’s the number of minutes German passenger and goods trains have been losing every day over the past year, with train delays said to have risen by almost a third since 2009.

The reason is an extensive wave of very overdue repairs and modernisation taking place across the 33,000km (20,500 mile) rail network, from replacing ageing tracks and 19th-century signalling stations to repairing crumbling bridges and platforms, some of which are so old they are said to be close to collapse.

Commuters are now suffering from the presence of about 850 construction sites around the country, which often cause heavy traffic jams. Speed restrictions have been introduced on many rail and road routes, owing to their dilapidated state and increased traffic density. Even the trains that are running on time are often much slower than those of other European countries, only reaching top speeds of around 300kph (190mph) on a small proportion of routes.

The creaking rail system is just one part of what is wrong with Germany’s infrastructure, which economists have warned is now in such a shoddy state, due to years of underfunding, that it is starting to have a serious impact on Germany’s GDP. One state premier even suggested introducing a pothole tax to make up for the lack of funding.

While much has been invested in the eastern part of the country since the collapse of communism, large parts of the west, especially the already troubled former industrial heartland around the Rhine and the Ruhr, have hardly seen any proper public spending since the 1970s and 80s.

If there is any comfort to be drawn, it might be this: those who find themselves on a delayed German train will find that the conductor is likely to go into great detail about the cause of the delay, and what the alternative travel options are. And, of course, there’s always the autobahn. As long as it’s not full of potholes.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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