There is a savings crisis and many Americans don’t know how to fix it. Here’s how

Browning created the series on tax tips and side hustles back in June of 2017 and releases an episode a week. Around 1,500 people currently listen in, he said, often while they’re driving to work or cleaning up the house.

“Talking about money gets kind of intimidating and pushes people away,” Browning said. “I try not to use a lot of jargon.

“People tell me they appreciate that it’s easy to understand.”

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As personal finance advice proliferates, it also grows harder for people to pick out what’s actually good for them, said Hensley, the president of the National Endowment for Financial Education.

“There’s a lot of money to be made off of someone’s decision,” Hensley said. “Getting high-quality, vetted information is a challenge.”

TO THAT POINT, companies are moving beyond education, and streamlining the financial decision making process for their employees.

Nearly 75 percent of businesses today that offer a 401(k) plan already automatically enroll their workers. Research shows that few people opt out.

Up until recently, if an employee did drop out, that would be the end of their workplace retirement savings unless they signed up again. But now, some companies are auto-enrolling their workers once a year. (Nearly 10 percent of Prudential’s retirement clients do so today).

Prudential also now offers a way for workers to build up an emergency savings account at their jobs. The savings is an after-tax contribution that allows employees to automatically put money away in low-cost investments such as money market or so-called stable value funds.

“Education is important because people need to understand the context of their financial decisions,” said Vishal Jain, the head of financial wellness strategy and development for Prudential. “At the same time, its important to guide people to action.”

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The Walking Dead finale recap: A flicker of hope predicts big things ahead

The storm is here. The Kingdom is barren as snow begins to fall on the once thriving settlement. The fair is over, but the promised trade didn’t bring what many hoped. Their pipes still burst, the rot still spread, and this home, this beacon for so many who sought shelter from the cold apocalyptic wasteland, became untenable. So now, the King and Queen, still carrying the grief of losing their son, must now carry their people to Hilltop as a harsh blizzard descends upon them and the Whisperers still lurk in their periphery. But, once the storm passes and their friends on the hill open up their gates, it all seems like a blip on the timeline. We’re left with both hope and a promise of much bigger things to come.

In the final moments before the credits roll, that radio Eugene, Rosita, and Gabriel have been tinkering with since the time jump, their initial mission that first put everyone on the warpath with the Whisperers, finally fulfilled its purpose. When the blizzard came, the power went out and the radio went silent. When the weather clears, Ezekiel, at Hilltop, speaks with Judith at Alexandria over the comms. They sign off and as the King leaves his seat for a moment, a voice emerges through the static. It’s garbled, nearly undecipherable, but the voice can be heard asking, “Is anybody out there?”

It’s a moment loosely lifted from the comics in which Eugene is the one on the line instead of Ezekiel. Rosita and Gabriel have also dealt with their love triangle situation with Siddiq as they worked on setting up the radio channels as another deviation from the source material. But, the voice on the other line sounds female which alludes to the comics, which sees Eugene making contact with a woman named Stephanie.

Stephanie, for those who don’t mind delving into potential spoilers from the page, is a member of the Commonwealth, part of a vast network of communities based in Ohio for which the producers of The Walking Dead have already been laying the groundwork. (The name was etched into one of the wooden signs at the bridge construction site.) As a refresher, the Commonwealth is an advanced civilization comprised of approximately 50,000 survivors. They retain advanced equipment and weaponry, as well as a class system that yields things like cafes, tailors, butchers, and… record players? A prevalent theory is that Georgie, the music-loving stranger who arrived at Hilltop’s doorstep, is a member of the Commonwealth. That would mean the radio connection could lead to a reunion with Maggie, who stepped down as leader of Hilltop to live with Georgie. Per current events on the AMC series, Michonne, Gabriel, and the others still haven’t had any contact from their friend. We also still don’t know what happened to Rick after Anne left with him in a helicopter to go off and star in some Walking Dead movies. When Eugene was first seen working on the radio, some theorized this could lead to a reconnection with Rick on the show. Per usual, the one thing we do know is that the world of The Walking Dead continues to expand.

The radio, which can bring more people into the fold, ties in with the episode’s theme of connectivity. As Michonne says earlier to Ezekiel at The Sanctuary, where the group redirects after the storm becomes too volatile, Alpha was able to walk amongst them at the fair because they didn’t know each other. She refuses to let that happen again, but it’s not without a transition period.

Lydia still feels like an outcast. People project onto her after Alpha’s beheadings. Alden’s rage over the death of Enid flares on the road to Hilltop and Carol can’t help but see her son when she looks at Lydia. Carol finds Lydia off in the woods alone about to take her own life by feeding herself to a frozen walker. The cold only exacerbates the tension as they are all forced to remain close together to stay warm, causing further friction between Daryl and Ezekiel as the King wants the arrow-slinger gone so he and Carol can focus on their relationship.

The same goes for the Alexandrians. They are forced to bring Negan out of the jail cell so he doesn’t freeze to death, placing him in close corners with Gabriel, Rosita, Eugene, Saddiq, and Judith. When their fireplace threatens to burn them all alive, due to the toxic buildup that’s been allowed to fester in the chimney, they move to the next home with a working hearth, trudging blindly through the white-out in a single file line, everyone clutching a single piece of rope. Judith, however, has lost track of Dog. When she hears a bark in the distance, she lets go of the rope and heads into the storm. Negan follows suit. Though injured by the debris swirling about, he finds both Judith and Dog and leads them back to the warmth of Aaron’s house.

Michonne and Ezekiel’s group face their own complications. The Sanctuary doesn’t have many supplies and if they don’t move the Kingdom’s people to the next way station, they will all die. With Rick’s bridge still demolished, their only course is to cut through Alpha’s territory and walk across the frozen river. They find themselves on metaphorical thin ice: if a single Whisperer spots them and informs the leader, they risk war with Alpha and larger casualties. What they find instead is walkers, some flash frozen by the subzero temperature.

What the group doesn’t acknowledge, however, is their footprint. Before crossing over Alpha’s border, an aerial shot highlights the footprints in the snow left behind by a herd of walkers. Later, as Michonne cuts her way through the dead, she leaves footprints in the snow, as well as decapitated walkers in her wake, both of which could easily tip off Alpha. When they reach the river, they leave a bloody scene as walkers rise out of the snow. They are harder to kill as the ice forming on their decaying flesh forms an armored layer, but they too fall as the group makes their way across the frozen water. Aaron warns if they move too fast or if too many cross the water at the same time, they risk falling through the ice. But they don’t.

Everyone makes it through Alpha’s territory with zero casualties, Carol makes peace with Lydia, and the group reaches Hilltop. But things are different now. Taking Ezekiel’s ring off her finger, Carol decides to go with Michonne, Daryl, Aaron, and Lydia back to Alexandria and there’s a glimpse of what their lives could look like. Judith and RJ get into a snowball fight with the group, and Michonne goes to thank Negan for saving her daughter from the cold. They survived the cold by sticking together, and their best chance of surviving the Whisperers is to do the same.

Alpha, who remains absent for most of the hour, reemerges once the cold winds have died down. “I’ll need to be stronger for what comes next,” she says. And she’ll do that the same way she tried for her daughter. She peels the leaves from a vine and hands it to Beta, who whips it repeatedly across her arms, leaving behind the same lash marks Daryl once found on Lydia. As the strikes continue, Alpha may wince, she may strain, but she remains quiet, pensive, determined.

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How Much Is A.J. Green Worth in Today’s NFL?

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 28:  A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals takes the field for the game against the Tampa Bay Bucccaneers at Paul Brown Stadium on October 28, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals defeated the Buccaneers 37-34.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

John Grieshop/Getty Images

It’s a good time to be an elite wide receiver in the National Football League.

Last August, Odell Beckham Jr. inked a five-year, $90 million extension with the New York Giants that included almost $41 million guaranteed at signing. After a trade sent him from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Oakland Raiders, Antonio Brown received a three-year, $50.1 million extension with just over $30 million in guarantees. Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reported the Atlanta Falcons are in talks with Julio Jones on an extension worth $20 million per season.

Another high-end pass-catcher is entering a contract year—a receiver who, at his best, is on par with the likes of Beckham, Brown and Jones. But after two injury-marred seasons in the past three years, it’s fair to wonder just how much A.J. Green is worth and whether the Cincinnati Bengals are willing to pay it.

As Fletcher Page reported for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Bengals owner Mike Brown said his organization is more than willing to give Green, the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft, a third contract with the team—provided the price is right:

“Oh, I think he’s a proven commodity, isn’t he? The price range for him will be something we can figure out, will come together.

“It’s true with anyone, if they suddenly get an injury that it reduces them. Well that changes the equation, but I never plan on that happening. I like to think that won’t happen. If A.J. is healthy, he’s as good a receiver as anybody in the league.”

Therein lies the rub.

Frank Victores/Associated Press

Brown is absolutely right.

When healthy, Green is as good a receiver as you’ll find throughout the NFL. In eight seasons, he’s topped 1,000 yards six times, including his first five years in the league. He’s hit or surpassed the 10-touchdown mark three times. Seven of his seasons have ended with a trip to the Pro Bowl, and he was named a second-team All-Pro in 2012 and 2013.

Green’s 80.2 career receiving yards per game do rank last among the four receivers already mentioned in this article.

But to be fair, Brown played with a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, Jones caught passes from an NFL MVP in Matt Ryan and Beckham reeled in throws from a two-time Super Bowl MVP in Eli Manning. Green has spent his career with a good but hardly great signal-caller in Andy Dalton.

However, he more than holds his own when looking at career yards per reception:

  1. Julio Jones: 15.4
  2. A.J. Green: 14.8
  3. Odell Beckham Jr.: 14.0
  4. Antonio Brown: 13.4

Green, Beckham and Jones are the only three active players averaging at least 14 yards per reception and 80 receiving yards per game, which might make Cincinnati feel better about a decision to pay him. The Bengals receiver also made it clear, per the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Dehner, that he’d prefer to remain in the Queen City for the remainder of his career:

“My goal when I got drafted was to always stay in one place the whole time. No matter what the situation was. I want to win, I want to bring something to this city. I don’t want to be like, ‘Oh, A.J. left because he wasn’t winning.’ It’s not about football, that’s just who I am to stay loyal to whoever gave me an opportunity.”

So we have an elite player who wants to stay with his team. No problem, right?

Actually, a large one might exist.

The “when healthy” caveat around which we’ve danced has become a significant one in recent seasons. In 2016, a hamstring tear limited him to just 10 appearances. Last year, he lost almost half the season to torn ligaments in his toe.

Frank Victores/Associated Press

That’s quite the potential bump in the road for a player who turns 31 this summer. In fact, he’s three weeks to the day older than Brown. Jones is a bit younger; he won’t celebrate his 31st birthday until the day after Super Bowl LIV.

Still, given the similarities in age and production, Brown’s recent contract (three years, $51 million) and the reported upcoming deal for Jones (potentially five years, $100 million, per Freeman) offer an idea of the two directions the Bengals could go.

The first is the Brown route: a short-term deal with an average annual value around $18 million. (That’s slightly more than the new Raiders wideout received because these contracts feature constant games of one-upmanship.)

The trade-off would be guaranteeing a larger percentage of the overall contract. In Brown’s case, per Spotrac, the guarantee comprised 60 percent of the deal’s total value. Given that Green has been a model player throughout his career and not the problem child Brown has been of late, that percentage would all but certainly be substantially higher.

But those injuries that have plagued Green would force the Bengals to assume risk. If they continue to be problematic, Cincinnati could be on the hook with millions of dollars in wasted cap space. 

That leads to the Jones road, which would see the Georgia product earn a whopper of a deal. Perhaps he could even join Larry Fitzgerald and a hypothetical Jones—remember, that contract isn’t yet signed—in the $100 million club

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The upside is that an out could be worked into the pact—an insurance policy of sorts that could be exercised should injuries continue to plague Green.

We know with near certainty that something will get worked out between the Bengals and their star receiver. The team has a history of locking up its own, whether it’s Carlos Dunlap or Geno Atkins. A pretty strong argument can be made that Green is the best pick Brown has made since taking over as team owner in 1991.

We also know that whether it’s a short-term deal with a hefty percentage guaranteed or a long-term deal with a built-in escape hatch, Green’s extension will be massive. The floor is around $17 million annually. The ceiling rises over $20 million.

Most importantly, we know Green is worth it…so long as he stays healthy.

     

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Americans are more confident about saving for retirement, CNBC survey finds. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worried

The 2019 contribution limit for 401(k) plans and similar workplace retirement plans is $19,000 and for individual retirement accounts — whether traditional or Roth — it’s $6,000. People age 50 and older allowed to make so-called catch-up contributions of $6,000 for 401(k) plans and $1,000 for IRAs.

Also, part of having confidence in the savings aspect of your retirement plan is knowing how a stock market drop would impact your portfolio and how you’d react. That means examining your risk tolerance, which generally refers to both how well you can stomach volatility in the stock market and how long until you need the money.

Younger savers — those who won’t need the money for decades — generally can be more aggressively invested in stocks and not worry about volatile times or extended down markets.

“Historically the stock market is the best place to be,” Iammarino said. “You just have to be able to stay invested through the downturns.”

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For older savers with retirement on the horizon, you might need to adjust your asset allocation — your mix of stocks, bonds and cash — to reflect that looming milestone.

While no one can predict with certainty when the economy or stock market will sour or to what degree, the safe assumption is that when it happens, you’re more likely to react emotionally to a drop in your portfolio’s value if you haven’t anticipated it ahead of time.

“We call it the ‘freak-out risk,’” Iammarino said. “If you don’t have a plan in place, you risk going to cash at the wrong time — the bottom of the market — and then reinvesting at the top of the market.”

The bottom line is that if you prioritize retirement savings and create a plan that matches your goals and vision for you golden years, you’re more likely to have peace of mind.

“When people have a plan that accounts for whether things go well or bad, they have a better chance of succeeding,” Iammarino said.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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McConnell stiff-arms the Pelosi agenda

Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell

Democrats — particularly the 60-plus freshmen — are encountering a new reality: It doesn’t matter what they do as long as Republicans control both the Senate and the White House. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Democrats are eager to boast about all they’re doing with their new majority. The only problem? Most of it’s headed for Mitch McConnell’s dustbin.

From a sweeping health care package to ambitious proposals on gun safety, climate change and voting reforms, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her sprawling class of freshmen are quickly following through on the campaign promises that won them the House. But after they pass their proposals, that’s as far as they’ll go — a frustrating dynamic that lawmakers begrudgingly acknowledge.

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“I’m not sure that anything we do is going to reach the floor of the Senate,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). “That’s the reality.”

McConnell (R-Ky.), faced with his own reelection and defending a tough GOP map in 2020, has no incentive to work with House Democrats on their domestic agenda.

A Senate blockade will deny Democrats tangible wins to tout on the campaign trail, while keeping vulnerable Senate GOP incumbents from having to take difficult votes. Republicans are also intent on shielding President Donald Trump from potentially awkward veto fights on legislation that polls well.

As Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) put it: “We are the firewall.”

“Most of that stuff is really easy for Republicans in the Senate to message against,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “We think a lot of the ideas over there are crazy. I don’t see many of our folks who have much problem messaging against most of what their agenda’s going to consist of.”

Gridlock in divided government is a longstanding Washington tradition, with the fast-moving House frequently stymied by the Senate. It’s not all bad for Democrats, who can help lay the groundwork for Democrats’ 2020 agenda and show voters what the party can do if it sweeps to power in the next election.

But it’s the latest reality check for House Democrats, who came to power in the middle of the longest government shutdown in history and saw their agenda frozen until after a weeks-long deadlock over Trump’s border wall was resolved

When Pelosi and her deputies were finally able to turn to their big-ticket items, including passing a guns background checks bill and a sprawling anti-corruption package, they were overshadowed by caucus infighting and procedural stumbles.

Now Democrats — particularly the 60-plus freshmen — are encountering a new reality: It doesn’t matter what they do as long as Republicans control both the Senate and the White House.

“Right now we are not doing anything, House and the Senate combined,” said freshman Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.). “I am frustrated that Mitch McConnell is a coward. Unwilling, unable to put legislation on the floor.”

Senate Democrats know this dynamic all too well, having seen McConnell stifle President Barack Obama’s agenda, not to mention his Supreme Court nominee in 2016.

“He’s going to give it the Merrick Garland treatment,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) of House Democrats’ agenda.

McConnell isn’t entirely unwilling to put liberal proposals on the floor, at least when he senses a political benefit. With the Democrats’ divided over the “Green New Deal,” McConnell put the measure up for a vote last week only to see 43 Democrats vote “present” — an awkward result for a blueprint endorsed by many Senate Democrats running for president.

Senate Republicans could also push for votes on “Medicare for All” or keeping the Supreme Court at nine justices to try and divide Democrats. Democrats say privately that the “present” voting strategy is now viewed as the best way to deal with “gotcha” votes from McConnell.

But when it comes to the sweeping ethics and election reforms of HR 1 or other major progressive proposals, Democrats’ have little hope of getting Senate Republicans even on the record. That leaves relatively small-bore legislation as perhaps the only potential option for success in divided government, but there hasn’t been much focus on infrastructure improvements or other bipartisan ideas in either chamber.

Pelosi aides argue public pressure could force McConnell to act on bills passed by the House.

“Public support for the For The People agenda was critical to our victory in November and it will be key to removing any obstacle in our way, including a Republican Senate,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.

Some House Democrats’ frustration is focused not on McConnell but within their own caucus.

“It’s time to move off the talking points and onto legislating,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), a moderate Democrat who hasn’t been shy about criticizing his party’s leadership. “I haven’t heard about anything that deals with the economy or some of the other issues.”

Schrader noted he and other members of the center-left Blue Dog Coalition sent a letter to Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in January urging them to prioritize passing a transportation bill.

“I assume this is just playing to the left wing of our base and that we’ll move onto the infrastructure, prescription drugs,” Schrader added of the current agenda.

Other moderates are also hopeful leadership will soon move past what they see as pie-in-the-sky messaging bills.

“I wouldn’t call it frustration. I would call it anticipation,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.). “I’m very hopeful that on both transportation and infrastructure, and on health care costs, we might be moving into that phase.”

House Democrats have held multiple hearings on infrastructure and prescription drugs, a precursor, aides argue, to bringing legislation to the floor later this year.

Pelosi’s staff is in the early stages of talks with the White House and senior Senate Republicans on a potential prescription drug package. But even infrastructure — an idea that at its broadest unites Democrats, Republicans and Trump — comes with its own hurdles.

House Democrats are expected to pivot to their infrastructure package in late spring or early summer. But, as in past years, finding a long-term solution for highway and other transit investments will be difficult. Lawmakers have resisted raising the gas tax for 25 years.

In the meantime, House Democrats are about to see a repeat dynamic from eight years ago, when emboldened Republicans took the House majority and sent then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dozens of conservative bills. Reid let virtually all of them languish.

“When you’re in the House you’re consumed” with your agenda, said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a former House member. Then “you look at the papers … and you go: no one’s talking about what we’re working on. Because everyone knows it’s not going anywhere.”

Perhaps the best result for Democrats would be that inaction on their legislation puts pressure on GOP Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine or Martha McSally of Arizona to break with McConnell and demand votes on campaign finance reform or environmental bills. While a longshot, that would at least make the point that even if Democrats beat Trump they need to capture the Senate as well.

“If all they do under McConnell’s leadership is block everything, in a presidential turnout year, I think they really risk losing some of their seats like Maine, like Colorado, like Arizona,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “If they want to keep control of the U.S. Senate, they better deliver something.”

Andrew Desiderio and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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Pakistan hikes fuel prices amid spiraling inflation

Islambad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s government has hiked fuel prices by up to 6.45 percent, as the country continues to face widening fiscal and current account deficits amid spiralling inflation.

On Monday, countrywide fuel prices increased to Rs98.89 ($0.70) per litre, with diesel prices at Rs117.43 ($0.83), a government notification said, hitting nine-month highs.

Pakistan subsidises the price of most fuels in the country, but has been cutting those payments in recent months as the newly elected Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government struggles to contain ballooning government expenditure amid an overall economic slowdown.

In the past six months, the country has received at least $8 billion in grants and loans from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and key strategic and economic partner China, with whom Pakistan is embarking on the $56bn China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

The influxes have helped stave off a looming foreign reserve crisis, with central bank reserves back up to $8.56bn, or just over two months of imports, according to a central bank statement released on Thursday.

Last week, the International Monetary Fund’s Pakistan mission chief Ernesto Ramirez Rigo held two days of meetings with Pakistani Finance Minister Asad Umar, central bank officials and others ahead of an expected IMF bailout.

The bailout, which both Pakistani PM Imran Khan and IMF chief Christine Lagarde alluded to after a meeting in February, would be Pakistan’s 13th IMF programme since 1980. 

Spiraling inflation

The fuel price hike comes amid spiralling consumer inflation in the South Asian country, with consumer price inflation (CPI) hitting 8.21 percent last month, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the highest level since June 2014.

The inflation numbers have been mainly driven by the increasing prices of fuel and food, according to a PBS statement.

Pakistan battles to control inflation

On Friday, Pakistan’s central bank increased the country’s interest rates by 50 basis points to 10.75 percent, saying that the economy was under considerable strain.

“The current account deficit remains high, fiscal consolidation is slower than anticipated and core inflation continues to rise,” said a statement accompanying the announcement.

As a result, the central bank has pared back its expected annual GDP growth rate projection from around 6 percent to 3.5 percent.

“The increase in petrol prices tends to raise inflationary expectations,” said Saad Ali, head of research at Karachi-based Inter Market Securities. “Almost all sectors are affected by it, because in Pakistan most goods are still being transported through trucks, and therefore through diesel.”

Ali said the central bank was currently attempting to control an increasing import bill by raising the cost of borrowing and through currency depreciation. The Pakistani rupee has lost roughly 23 percent of its value against the US dollar in the last year.

“The initial problem that we had was the current account deficit and the foreign exchange depletion,” said Ali.

“The current account deficit was widening because of consumer demand – industries were importing, consumers were demanding more imported consumer items – so to curtail that the government and central bank had to first devalue the currency and increase interest rates.”

Ali said the measures taken thus far had managed to bring the current account deficit to a more manageable number, but that rising inflation continued to pose a significant threat.

“All of this is a reflection of the government and central bank trying to curtail demand,” he said. “There will be less growth, but lower GDP growth will be a sign that they have succeeded.”

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

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Don’t blame China for unraveling US-Europe relations

People with short memory and idiosyncratic agenda take Italy’s regal welcome to Xi during his visit Mar 21-23, and Rome’s acceptance to participate in China’s Belt and Road project, as a seminal event marking an irreparable breach of transatlantic union and solidarity.

That is mean nonsense. Similar breaches are legion.

What should one say, for example, of the beaming Chinese Premier Li Keqiang standing next to Chancellor Angela Merkel in May 2013 to celebrate a China-Germany “dream team,” as he was getting the technology for intelligent manufacturing to replace his smokestack factories?

That was nearly six years before Italy took up the promises of future business deals with China.

During that time, Germany kept selling to China its top technologies and companies, including one of its leading suppliers of robotics and system manufacturing. In the process, German exports to China over the last five years came to a total of 380.9 billion euro.

And well before China began talking to Italy about using the port of Trieste, Greece sold in April 2016 a controlling 67 percent stake to China in the port of Piraeus.

China’s cooperation with Central and East European countries — the 16+1 format — has been expanding rapidly since 2012 in areas of large infrastructure projects and investments in industrial machinery, chemical industries, energy and telecoms. The East Europeans have in large part embraced those new development opportunities because they found no takers among their EU partners.

All those examples are just fragments of a vast China-EU trade. According to the China Railway Corporation, freight trains, running along the Belt and Road itineraries, are now connecting 59 cities in China to 49 cities in 15 European countries. Last year, 6,363 freight train trips were made between China and Europe, a 73 percent increase from 2017.

In view of all that, how fair and reasonable is it to accuse Italy of breaking the EU ranks on China trade?

And it is equally wrong to blame China of driving a wedge among the EU countries. China is just diligently and smartly pursuing its business interests. Last year, China was the EU’s second-largest (after the U.S.) trade partner, with a surplus of 184 billion euro on a bilateral goods trade of 603.9 billion euro.

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