United sees around US$15-20 million daily cash burn in fourth quarter if demand bounces

United Airlines expects its daily cash burn rate to slow to between US$15 million and US$20 million in the fourth quarter, depending on the pace of a recovery in demand, executives said on a conference call on Wednesday.

A United Airlines passenger jet takes off with New York City as a backdrop
FILE PHOTO: A United Airlines passenger jet takes off with New York City as a backdrop, at Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, U.S. December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

CHICAGO: United Airlines expects its daily cash burn rate to slow to between US$15 million and US$20 million in the fourth quarter, depending on the pace of a recovery in demand, executives said on a conference call on Wednesday.

Halting the cash burn, which averaged US$40 million in the second quarter, will happen once United reaches a point in which sharp falls in demand and flight capacity have slowed to a roughly 50per cent decline.

“The second quarter of 2020 was historic for the airline industry for all the wrong reasons. At the beginning of April, we saw the sharpest, deepest drop in demand in history, far worse than 9/11 or the Great Recession,” Chief Executive Scott Kirby told investors.

Chicago-based United flew only a fraction of its normal capacity in the second quarter and expects to fly about 35per cent of its normal summer schedule in the third quarter as the coronavirus pandemic continues to thrash travel demand.

Near the end of the second quarter, Kirby said that “just as optimism about a recovery was beginning to build, we watched demand fade once again as COVID-19 spiked.”

Cases have surged in many parts of the country, prompting fresh quarantine orders in some states and forcing some states to scale back reopening plans.

In its earnings report on Tuesday, United warned that travel demand will remain suppressed until there is a widely accepted treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, which plunged the carrier to a deep quarterly loss.

United Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella said on Wednesday he does expect demand to recover slightly when new cases start to fall, quarantines are lifted and borders are reopened, but airline executives do not expect a return to pre-pandemic levels for some years.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and Sanjana Shivdas; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Afghan girl who killed Taliban gunmen ‘ready to fight again’

GHAZNI: An Afghan girl who shot dead two Taliban fighters after they gunned down her parents said on Wednesday (Jul 22) she was ready to confront any other insurgents who might try to attack her.

Qamar Gul, 15, killed the militants when they stormed her home last week in a village in the Taywara district of the central province of Ghor.

“I no longer fear them and I’m ready to fight them again,” Gul told AFP by telephone from a relative’s home.

It was about midnight when the Taliban arrived, Gul said, recounting the events of that night.

She was asleep in her room with her 12-year-old brother when she heard the sound of men pushing at the door of their home.

“My mother ran to stop them but by then they had already broken the door,” Gul said.

“They took my father and mother outside and shot them several times. I was terrified”.

But moments later, “anger took over”, she said.

“I picked up the gun we had at home, went to the door and shot them”.

Gul said her brother helped when one of the insurgents, who appeared to be the group’s leader, tried to return fire.

“My brother took the gun from me and hit (shot) him. The fighter ran away injured, only to return later,” Gul said.

By then, several villagers and pro-government militiamen had arrived at the house. The Taliban eventually fled following a lengthy firefight.

‘PROUD’

Officials said the Taliban had come to kill Gul’s father, who was the village chief, because he supported the government.

The insurgents regularly kill villagers they suspect of being informers for the government or security forces.

Taywara district, where Gul’s village is located, is a remote area with sporadic communication and the scene of near-daily clashes between government forces and the Taliban.

Gul said her father had taught her how to shoot an AK-47 assault rifle.

“I am proud I killed my parents’ murderers,” she said.

“I killed them because they killed my parents, and also because I knew they would come for me and my little brother.”

Gul regrets she was unable to say goodbye to her mother and father.

“After I killed the two Taliban, I went to talk to my parents, but they were not breathing,” she said.

“I feel sad, I could not talk to them one last time.”

Afghans have flooded social media to praise Gul, and a photo of her wearing a headscarf and holding an AK-47 has been shared widely.

Hundreds of people have called on the government to protect Gul and her family.

“I demand that the president help transfer her to a safe place as her and her family’s security is at risk,” prominent women’s rights activist and former lawmaker Fawzia Koofi wrote on Facebook.

President Ashraf Ghani also praised Gul for “defending her family against a ruthless enemy”, his spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP.

A Taliban spokesman has confirmed an operation took place in the area of the attack, but denied any of the group’s fighters had been killed by a woman.

Exclusive: French limits on Huawei 5G equipment amount to de facto ban by 2028

French authorities have told telecoms operators planning to buy Huawei 5G equipment that they won’t be able to renew licences for the gear once they expire, effectively phasing the Chinese firm out of mobile networks, three sources close to the matter said.

Huawei logo at Huawei Technologies France in Boulogne-Billancourt
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a Huawei logo at Huawei Technologies France headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris, France, July 15, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

PARIS: French authorities have told telecoms operators planning to buy Huawei 5G equipment that they won’t be able to renew licences for the gear once they expire, effectively phasing the Chinese firm out of mobile networks, three sources close to the matter said.

Like other countries in Europe, France is laying the ground for its next-generation 5G mobile market in the middle of a growing geopolitical storm between two global superpowers.

The United States say the company’s equipment could be used by the Chinese government for espionage – a charge denied by Huawei and Beijing – and has pressed its allies to ban it.

France’s cybersecurity agency ANSSI said this month it would allow operators to use equipment, including Huawei’s, under licences of three to eight years. But it added it was urging telcos not currently using the Chinese company’s gear to avoid switching to it.

Operators must each apply for dozens of licences for equipment to cover different parts of the country.

The sources said ANSSI had informed operators of most licence decisions for large cities. They said the bulk of authorisations for Huawei gear were for three or five years, while most of those for equipment from European rivals Ericsson or Nokia received eight-year licences.

ANSSI’s decisions have not been made public, either by the agency or by the companies.

The sources added that operators had also been told by French authorities during informal conversations in recent months, not stated formally in documents, that licences granted for Huawei equipment would not be renewed thereafter.

ANSSI declined to comment.

A spokesman for the prime minister’s office, which oversees the permissions on 5G equipment, said ANSSI was working with operators within the legal framework, adding that any authorisation granted at present did not impinge on whether these would later be renewed or interrupted.

Huawei declined to comment.

Such restrictions, though, would amount to a de facto phase-out of Huawei within France’s 5G networks by 2028, given the short time-frame of the licenses, according to the sources, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

French operators might still manage to get an eight-year authorisation for Huawei equipment in some cases, and could yet decide to use its gear for that time period, the sources said. But even this meant eventually dismantling it, they added.

One of the sources said it would be difficult for a telecom operator to take the risk of investing in Huawei gear, given new mobile technology like 5G takes at least eight years to yield a return on investment. “Granting three years amounts to a flat refusal,” the person added.

‘SIMILAR TO BRITAIN’

An effective ban would be particularly troublesome for Bouygues Telecom and Altice Europe’s SFR , the two French telecom operators that already use Huawei’s equipment in their current mobile network.

The new authorisations for 5G network equipment are linked to existing 4G gear – meaning that if an operator opts for a different supplier for 5G, it would also have to replace its existing 4G infrastructure.

The companies have already said several times this year that such a scenario, in which they may be compelled to replace part of their grid at great cost, would lead them to asking for compensation from the state.

Bouygues and Altice declined to comment on whether they had applied for Huawei licences or any licence decisions or whether they had held informal conversations with ANSSI. They also declined to comment on whether they would now drop any purchase plans for Huawei equipment.

France’s two other major operators, leader Orange and Iliad , mainly rely on Nokia, Ericsson or both for their mobile networks.

Iliad and Orange declined to comment.

In Britain, where major telecoms groups are heavily reliant on Huawei technology, the government has ordered the Chinese company’s equipment to be purged from the 5G network by 2027.

“France’s position is similar to that of Britain, but the government’s communication is different,” one of the sources said. “Huawei can’t do much about it.”

(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Gwénaëlle Barzic; Editing by Pravin Char)

US existing home sales post record increase in June

U.S. home sales increased by the most on record in June, boosted by historically low mortgage rates, but the outlook for the housing market is being clouded by low inventory and high unemployment amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

An existing home for sale is seen in Silver Spring Maryland
FILE PHOTO: An existing home for sale is seen in Silver Spring, Maryland February 21, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

WASHINGTON: U.S. home sales increased by the most on record in June, boosted by historically low mortgage rates, but the outlook for the housing market is being clouded by low inventory and high unemployment amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Association of Realtors said on Wednesday existing home sales jumped 20.7per cent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.72 million units last month. That the biggest gain since 1968 when the NAR started tracking the series.

Data for May was unrevised at a 3.91 million unit pace, the lowest level since October 2010.

June’s increase ended three straight months of decreases, though home resales remained below their pre-pandemic level. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast sales rebounding 24.5per cent to a rate of 4.78 million units in June.

Existing home sales, which make up about 85per cent of U.S. home sales, fell 11.3per cent on a year-on-year basis in June.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is at an average of 2.98per cent, the lowest since 1971, according to data from mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac. Data last week showed homebuilding increased in June by the most in nearly four years.

The country is struggling with a resurgence in new coronavirus infections, prompting some authorities in the hard hit populous South and West regions to either shut down businesses again or pause reopenings, threatening the economy’s recovery from the COVID-19 downturn.

The economy slipped into recession in February. A staggering 32 million Americans are collecting unemployment checks.

Home sales rose in all four regions in June. There were 1.57 million previously owned homes on the market in June, down 18.2per cent from a year ago. The median existing house price increased 3.5per centfrom a year ago to a record US$295,300 in June.

At June’s sales pace, it would take 4.0 months to exhaust the current inventory, down from 4.3 months a year ago. A six-to-seven-month supply is viewed as a healthy balance between supply and demand.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

UK details path to citizenship for Hong Kong applicants

LONDON: Britain’s route to citizenship for almost three million people in Hong Kong will open in January 2021, and applicants will not need a job to come to the country, interior minister Priti Patel said on Wednesday (Jul 22).

“We are planning to open the Hong Kong BN(O) (British National Overseas) Visa for applications from January 2021,” Patel said in a written statement to parliament.

“There will be no skills tests or minimum income requirements, economic needs tests or caps on numbers. I am giving BN(O) citizens the opportunity to acquire full British citizenship.

“They do not need to have a job before coming to the UK – they can look for work once here. They may bring their immediate dependants, including non-BN(O) citizens.”

READ: China says Britain going down ‘wrong path’ over Hong Kong

Britain suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong on Monday, despite Chinese warnings that it was making a grave foreign policy error and risked reprisals. 

Diplomatic ties between London and Beijing have been frayed by the security law, which Western powers see as an erosion on civil liberties and human rights in the financial hub.

China threatened unspecified counter-measures after Britain relaxed immigration rules for Hong Kongers with British overseas passports, and the potential of citizenship.

READ: China says it will respond resolutely if UK sanctions officials

Adding to the tensions have been British criticisms about China’s treatment of the Uighur ethnic minority group, and the blocking of telecoms giant Huawei from its 5G networks.

Beijing has accused London of being a puppet to US foreign policy over Huawei, after Washington slapped sanctions on the Chinese firm’s access to US chips vital to its 5G networks.

The United States believes the private firm is a front for the Chinese state, and that the use of its technology could imperil intelligence sharing, charges that the company denies.

China’s Houston consulate closed to ‘protect American intellectual property’: US State Department

COPENHAGEN: The US State Department said on Wednesday (Jul 22) that the closing of China’s consulate in Houston was to protect Americans’ intellectual property and private information, a move that has further strained the already tense relations between the world powers.

Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that under the Vienna Convention, states “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of the receiving country.

The comments came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Copenhagen.

Ortagus said the US would not tolerate Chinese violations of their “sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC’s unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior.”

“We have directed the closure of PRC Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information,” she said, without giving any more details.

China announced earlier on Wednesday that the country had been ordered to close the Houston consulate, which was opened in 1979 – the first in the year the US and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations, according to its website.

“China urges the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decision, or China will definitely take a proper and necessary response,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

The move comes as the world’s two biggest economies have crossed swords on a growing number of fronts, from trade to Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its policies in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea.

China says French claims on Uighur rights are ‘lies’

BEIJING: French claims about the imprisonment of ethnic and religious minorities in China’s Xinjiang region were unacceptable, Beijing said Wednesday (Jul 22), criticising the accusations as “false”.

China’s response came a day after Paris demanded it let independent human rights observers visit the northwestern region, where rights groups and experts estimate over one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities have been rounded up into a network of internment camps.

France’s foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves le Drian said China’s actions were “unacceptable” and said they “condemn them firmly”.

Beijing has defended its strategy in Xinjiang as necessary to avoid extremism.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular press briefing on Wednesday that “China has repeatedly responded to and clarified false reports and accusations on Xinjiang-related issues”.

He added that Xinjiang issues were not about human rights, religion or ethnicity but about “countering violent terrorism and separatism”.

“About so-called lies that Xinjiang restricts religious freedom and suppresses Muslims… the truth is that recently, some politicians and media in the US and the west have stigmatised Xinjiang’s lawful fight against terrorism and extremism,” Wang said.

“We firmly oppose the politicisation of religious issues and the use of religious issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” he added.

Asked if the training programmes he referred to were still ongoing in Xinjiang, Wang said that those in the centres had “completed their courses” – in line with officials’ announcement late last year.

The latest exchange comes as tensions have been rising between the West and China on multiple fronts, including over a new draconian security law in Hong Kong and mounting opposition to the use of products made by Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

More than 140,000 employers to receive S$4 billion in Jobs Support Scheme payouts from Jul 29

SINGAPORE: More than S$4 billion in Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) payouts will be disbursed to employers from Jul 29.

More than 140,000 employers, with 1.9 million local employees, will receive the payouts to help retain their workers, the Ministry of Finance said on Sunday (Jul 19).

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said with this July disbursement, more than S$15 billion would have been paid to employers to support wage costs for local employees.

“I urge all employers to do your utmost to retain your staff, and to take the opportunity to transform your operations and upskill your employees during this period,” he said in a Facebook post on Sunday.

Employers who have made mandatory Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions for their local employees will be qualified to receive the JSS payouts.

READ: Singapore’s economic situation remains dire, with recovery likely to be ‘slow and uneven’: MAS

For the payment in July, employers will receive up to 75 per cent support for the first S$4,600 of wages paid to local employees in February and March this year.

Employers in the aviation and tourism sectors will receive 75 per cent support, while those in the food services, retail, arts and entertainment, land transport, as well as marine and offshore sectors will receive 50 per cent support.

Employers in all other sectors will receive 25 per cent support.

Employers will also receive 75 per cent support for wages paid in April 2020, during the “circuit breaker” period.

“Part of this wage support was disbursed as an advance in the previous payout in April to provide immediate cash flow support. As the amount disbursed was calculated based on October 2019 wages, necessary adjustments will be made in the upcoming payment in July, in accordance with actual wages paid in April 2020,” said MOF.

Eligible employers will be notified by post of their payout amount. They can also log in to myTax Portal to view the electronic copy of their letter.

Employers with PayNow Corporate or GIRO arrangements with Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) can expect to receive the JSS payouts earlier from Jul 29, while other employers will receive their cheques from Aug 4.

MOF encouraged employers to sign up for PayNow Corporate by Jul 24 to receive their payouts more easily.

“Employers are to ensure that mandatory CPF contributions made for their employees are accurate, so that they receive the right amounts of JSS payout,” the ministry added.

There are severe penalties for any attempt to abuse the JSS. Other than having their JSS payouts denied, those found guilty may face up to 10 years’ jail and a fine.

READ: COVID-19: 32 companies return Jobs Support Scheme wage subsidies worth S$35 million

Businesses or individuals who wish to report any malpractices or potential abuses of the JSS may do so via email to jssreport@iras.gov.sg or online

As part of the checks for JSS eligibility, a very small number of employers will receive letters from IRAS asking them to verify a self-review of their CPF contributions and to provide declarations or documents to substantiate their eligibility for JSS payouts.

“Their July 2020 payouts will be withheld for the time-being, pending the self-review and verifications by IRAS. Once the information is in order, they will receive the payout promptly,” said MOF.

First announced by Mr Heng in February’s Budget, the JSS is a wage subsidy programme to help companies retain and pay their workers as businesses take a hit from the impact of COVID-19. 

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Japan plans to invite TSMC to build joint chip plant: Yomiuri

TOKYO: Japan is aiming to invite Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd or other global chipmakers to build an advanced chip manufacturing plant jointly with domestic chip equipment suppliers, the Yomiuri daily reported on Sunday.

The Japanese government hopes to tap the expertise of global chipmakers to rejuvenate the lagging domestic chip industry as advanced chip technologies have become a focal point in national security issues, Yomiuri said.

The government is planning to offer a total of several hundred billion yen, or equivalent to several billion dollars, over multiple years to overseas chipmakers who join the project, the daily said, without citing sources.

The report gave no timeline for the project.

A TSMC spokesperson denied there was any such plan at the moment when contacted by Reuters but said the company would not rule anything out in the future. The Japanese industry ministry did not answer calls.

TSMC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker, in May unveiled plans for a US$12 billion plant in the United State in an apparent win for the Trump administration’s efforts to wrestle global technology supply chains back from China.

(Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Elaine Hardcastle)

Myanmar holds muted Martyrs’ Day tribute to fallen independence heroes

YANGON: Myanmar’s public marked one of the Southeast Asian nation’s darkest moments on Sunday (Jul 19) with tributes to slain independence heroes, though the annual Martyrs’ Day gatherings were muted by the coronavirus pandemic due to social distancing measures.

Flanked by senior government and military officials, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi laid a wreath at a mausoleum dedicated to Aung San, her father and the country’s independence hero, who was assassinated alongside members of his cabinet on Jul 19, 1947.

Crowds also laid flowers beside statues of Aung San, who remains a potent political force in the country, with his image used by his daughter and some of her rivals to garner support among a public that continues to revere him.

Myanmar's President Win Myint attends during the Martyrs' Day ceremony in Yangon
Myanmar’s President Win Myint attend during the Martyrs’ Day ceremony in Yangon on Jul 19, 2020. (Ye Aung Thu/Pool via REUTERS)

The former ruling military government for years curtailed use of his image for fear it would help the democracy movement that emerged in 1988 led by Suu Kyi.

In the commercial capital of Yangon on Sunday, crowds queued to approach a statue of Aung San clutching portraits of the independence leader and his daughter, waiting on markers painted in the road to encourage people to keep a distance.

“The Martyrs’ Day was once extinct, during the political crisis,” said Yin Yin Phyo Thu, as she laid flowers.

“We young people are responsible for preserving the image of Martyrs’ Day not to fade away during COVID-19,” she said.

Myanmar's Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing salutes during the Martyrs' Day ceremony in Yangon o
Myanmar’s Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing salutes during the Martyrs’ Day ceremony in Yangon on Jul 19, 2020. (Ye Aung Thu/Pool via REUTERS)

Myanmar has reported 340 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The country goes to the polls again in November in a vote that will serve as a test of the fledgling democracy.

“We came here to pay respects and also to get ourselves politically motivated in 2020, the election year,” said Kyaw Swar, a university student.