Parliament passes tax hikes
Lawmakers have narrowly approved tax increases for the wealthy that the government says will help it meet its pledge to deliver a budget surplus next year. The legislation will limit the availability of a tax rebate on health insurance premiums to lower and middle-income earners. It is expected to cost wealthy earners a total of A$2.4 billion (US$2.6 billion) over three years. The bill scraped through the House of Representatives yesterday by 71 votes to 70, but it is assured passage through the Senate with the guaranteed support of the government and Green Party senators. The government has promised to deliver a surplus of A$1.5 billion in the fiscal year beginning July 1 this year, despite the European debt crisis slashing revenues.
China to buy more EU debt
Beijing has confidence in the euro and will keep buying the debt of European governments, People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan (周小川) said yesterday. The central bank chief’s comments came during a visit to Beijing by EU leaders for a Chinese-European summit. Appearing with EU leaders at a university, Zhou said Beijing had confidence in the eurozone and supported European efforts to end the continent’s financial troubles. China’s top economic official, Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), on Tuesday said his government was willing to play a bigger role in Europe’s recovery, but he made no financial commitment.
S Korea jobless rate rises
South Korea’s unemployment rate last month rose from a month earlier amid growing global economic uncertainty, official figures showed yesterday. Statistics Korea said the rate was 3.5 percent last month, compared with 3 percent in December. However, the economy gained 536,000 jobs last month compared with a year earlier. Last month, South Korea posted its first trade deficit in two years, as falling overseas demand hit exports.
BNP profit falls on debt
France’s biggest bank, BNP Paribas, yesterday said its net profit last year tumbled 22 percent to 6.05 billion euros (US$7.97 billion) after it set aside 3.2 billion euros to cover its exposure to debt-stricken Greece. BNP said its performance was also affected by financial market volatility toward the end of the year, driven by concerns the eurozone debt crisis could lead to a recession. The lender said it would pay shareholders a dividend of 1.20 euros per share, unlike its peers Societe Generale and Credit Agricole, which decided against any payout. The bank said it was still able to meet the new capital requirement of 9 percent set by regulators in the fallout from the global financial crisis, putting its level at 9.2 percent.
Berkshire adjusts portfolio
Warren Buffett’s company boosted its already sizeable stake in Wells Fargo & Co last year, while selling shares of Johnson & Johnson and Kraft Foods. Berkshire Hathaway Inc revealed a number of adjustments in its US$66.2 billion stock portfolio in documents it filed on Tuesday with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. By the end of last year, Berkshire added new investments in Liberty Media Corp and kidney dialysis firm DaVita Inc, while selling a small stake in Exxon Mobile. It increased investments in CVS Caremark, DirectTV, General Dynamics Corp, Intel and Visa. Berkshire officials did not immediately respond to a message on Tuesday.