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Euro volatility jumps as Russia orders troops to Ukraine regions - REUTERS

FEBRUARY 22, 2022

By Joice Alves


LONDON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - The euro one-month volatility level jumped on Tuesday to its highest in 15 months, as the single currency was hit by rising risk aversion amid a gas price surge and escalation of tensions in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops to two breakaway regions in Ukraine, sending the euro one-month volatility to its highest level since November 2020, as the West vowed sanctions in response to Putin's troops in Ukraine. read more

The euro edged 0.2% higher versus the dollar to $1.1331 by 0910 GMT, after touching an eight-day low.

"The surge in European gas prices and the rise in concerns over Russian supplies to the region poses a risk to growth in Europe and therefore has the potential to significantly impact the timing of ECB (European Central Bank) policy tightening going forward, which is a EUR negative factor," said Jane Foley, head of FX strategy, at Rabobank in London.

As Putin's move accelerated a crisis the West fears could unleash a major war, the Russian rouble climbed back above 80 to the dollar to its highest level since November 2020. Ukraine's hryvnia currency fell 1% to a seven-year low. read more

In the meantime, safe-haven currencies were in demand. The yen hit a near three-week high and the Swiss franc versus the dollar remained near a one-month high reached on Monday. read more

The yen edged about 0.1% higher 114.8 after briefly touching 114.50 to the dollar, while the Swiss franc slipped 0.4% versus the euro at 1.039, after hitting one-month high of 1.0339 versus the single currency.

The euro drifting back below 1.04 versus the Swiss franc confirmed market concerns that any escalation of the Ukraine crisis would weigh on the euro zone, analysts said.

"Although there is already a lot of bad news baked into the price, tensions in Ukraine have the capacity to push EUR/CHF back to the recent 1.03 low," said Rabobank's Foley.

Another safe haven, the U.S. dollar , edged 0.1% lower at 96.013 against a basket of currencies including the euro, as investors await further developments in the crisis.

The U.S. and its European allies are poised to announce sanctions against Russia on Tuesday. read more

Cryptocurrencies were also under pressure, with bitcoin dropping to an almost three-week low of $36,370.

Reporting by Joice Alves Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

Italy rescues hundreds of migrants at sea, one found dead - REUTERS

FEBRUARY 22, 2022

ROME, Feb 22 (Reuters) - The Italian coastguard rescued 573 migrants at sea who were trying to reach Europe aboard two fishing boats in distress in bad weather, a statement said on Tuesday. One body was found.

The rescue operation took place off the southern Italian coast. Three coastguard units transferred the migrants to another vessel, which will bring them ashore at the port of Augusta in Sicily.

The migrants told the coastguard the body found was that of a migrant who had died several days earlier, the statement said.

The group of rescued migrants included 59 minors, many of them unaccompanied.

Italy has seen an increase in boat migrants in recent months with the government struggling to secure an agreement with European Union partners over how to deal with the influx.

Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Nick Macfie

Royal Air Maroc to launch new Casablanca-Tel Aviv route - news agency - REUTERS

FEBRUARY 23, 2022

Feb 21 (Reuters) - Morocco's Royal Air Maroc plans to launch a new Casablanca-Tel Aviv route on March 13, Moroccan state news agency MAP reported on Monday.

The announcement came as Israeli Economy Minister Orna Barbivai paid an official visit to Morocco as the two countries look to broaden cooperation since they normalised ties in 2020.

Declare State Of Emergency On Federal Roads, Senate Tells FG - CHANNELS TV

FEBRUARY 23, 2022

The Senate has called on the Federal Government to declare a State of Emergency on the nation’s federal roads.

The upper chamber is also asking the Federal Government to immediately make good its indebtedness to Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to enable it to carry out its primary responsibility of rehabilitating federal roads, especially in the face of the astronomical increase in airfares.

The resolutions were reached on Tuesday during the plenary session following a point of order raised by Senator Gershom Bassey.

In the point of order, Senator Bassey drew the attention of the Senate to the increase in airfare and the implication for Nigerian roads.

He said local airfares in Nigeria have risen by 63 per cent in response to a spike in the price of aviation fuel and the attendant cost of operation.

He expressed worry that the prices would increase the pressure on the neglected and dilapidated Nigerian roads and further worsen their state.

The lawmaker also noted that FERMA had a budgetary approval of just 20 percent of the funds the agency requires for the rehabilitation of about 35,000km of federal roads in 2022.

However, Senator Bassey observed that the sum of about N850 Billion naira has been accrued to FERMA by virtue of the 5 percent surcharge on the pump price of petrol, diesel, and international vehicle transit charges still being owed to FERMA by the Federal Government.

Medical treatment abroad costs Nigeria $11b - THE NICHE

FEBRUARY 23, 2022

Medical treatment overseas continues despite Buhari’s promise to end it

By Jeph Ajobaju, Chief Copy Editor

Nigerians spent $11.01 billion on medical treatment overseas in 10 years, according to Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) data on balance of payments, a capital flight that depletes foreign reserves and weakens the naira.

Nigerians spent $11.01 billion on health expenses abroad between 2011 and the first quarter of 2021 (Q1 2021). The highest amount was in 2019 ($2.56 billion) and the least in 2016 ($17 million).

It highlights how the health sector bleeds from multiple problems, one of which is underfunding, which averaged 4.72 per cent of budget allocation in the 10 years to 2011.

Inadequate funding leads to poor pay for healthcare personnel, a point driven home yearly by the exodus of medical doctors to foreign countries.

Nigerian doctors number 9,189 in the United Kingdom, with 805 of them licensed by the British General Medical Council (BGMC) between July and 25 December 2021.

Since 2018, others have migrated East to Saudi Arabia where Nigerian doctors are highly priced.

After years of agitation, the monthly hazard allowance of doctors working in public hospitals in Nigeria was in December 2021 raised from N5,000 to between N32,000 and N40,000. Other health workers get between N15,000 and N34,000.

To put that in perspective, however, Senators receive N1.24 million monthly just to buy newspapers.

FG begins probe of airlines over alleged collusion to fix airfares - PUNCH

FEBRUARY 23, 2022

BY  Taiwo Ojoye

The Federal Government has commenced investigations into the alleged collusion by domestic airlines to fix airfares on all domestic routes.

Price-fixing is a practice whereby rival companies come to an illicit agreement not to sell goods or services below a certain price.

It was gathered on Tuesday that efforts were currently ongoing to unravel reasons for the sudden hike in airfares by all domestic carriers, as the airlines, aside from  Green Africa Airways, raised the airfare for a one-hour flight in economy class to as high as N50,000.

This indicated a jump of over 60 per cent, considering the fact that airfares for such tickets were between N26,000 and N30,000 few weeks ago.

An email sighted on Tuesday, which was allegedly sent by a domestic carrier to its travel agents, stated that all airlines had effected same increase in airfares.

Industry observers argued that the email and other indications suggested that the airfare hike was an unanimous decision by domestic carriers to engage in price-fixing.

The email read in part, “This is to update you that effective today, February 18, 2022, the airline’s ticket fares have been reviewed with the least fare at N50.000 only across all our routes.

“This has become necessary in view of the current hike in prices of aviation related materials, services, and exchange rate.

“It is worth noting that all other airlines have also effected same fare increase. We crave your understanding and support to sell our stated fares.”

Reacting to the development, the Executive Vice-Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Babatunde Irukera, said the FCCPC was aware of the latest concern in the aviation sector.

He told our correspondent that the commission had commenced investigations into the issues raised by both passengers and other concerned observers in the aviation sector.

He said, “We’ve been engaging the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority on that. Firstly, it is against the law for competitors to coordinate and come together to discuss or agree on price. That is forming a cartel.

“But an announcement in itself will not be sufficient evidence of the cartel. You need to investigate and discover if there is such cartel. Now the articles we’ve read seem to suggest that they agreed as an airline association. But we haven’t seen an evidence of that.

“And because cartel is criminal and will involve monetary penalties, it requires evidence to clear every doubt. So we need to find the evidence if that’s what happened, for instance, one airline has said to us, ‘no, we were never part of any announcement’.”

Irukera added, “They said others increased airfares and they saw an opportunity to increase their own, which was part of market forces. So it is now for us to gather the evidence to narrow it down to a violation of law, to at least show that it was a coordinated conduct.”

The agency’s boss stated that the commission would issue a public statement on the development soon, adding that the FCCPC was currently “gathering evidence to see at what point in their systems did the airlines changed their fares.”

Irukera said, “This is to see if there was any coordination or if was a response to what another airline did or not. So the short answer to this is that any coordinated conduct or agreement with respect to price among competitors is a violation of law and the FCCPC strongly rejects that and will pursue it.

“However, in this case we are gathering information at this point to find the evidence or the lack thereof.”

Asked to react to the alleged email of a carrier to its agents, Irukera replied, “This is similar to what we have seen in other places. It actually doesn’t provide evidence of a conspiracy.

“However that all airlines seem to have adopted N50,000 is curious and evidence requiring further interrogation which is what we are doing.”

Findings on Tuesday showed that airlines had implemented the hike, as Air Peace and Ibom Air’s one-way flights for February 23, 2022 from Abuja to Lagos, for instance, were all marked N50,000, in contrast to rates within N26,000 to N35,000 some weeks ago.

It was observed that domestic carriers including Air Peace, Arik Air, AZMAN Air and United Nigeria Airways had all fixed their minimum economy class tickets for a one-hour flight at N50,000.

Others that fixed the same minimum rate for economy class tickets on an hour flight include Max Air, Aero Contractors and DANA Air.

It was, however, observed that only Green Africa Airways had a rate below N50,000 for an economy class ticket for same duration. Green Africa Airways is said to be operating the model of a budget carrier, hence, its decision to keep its fares relatively lower.

The local airlines had recently stated the fluctuations in exchange rate, hike in aviation fuel price, which increased from N190/litre to N400/litre between 2021 and 2022, would cause an increase in airfares.

The airlines had also decried the difficulty they faced when trying to access foreign exchange at the official window, hence many domestic carriers had resorted to sourcing the United States dollars at the parallel market at rates above N550/$.

When contacted on whether the NCAA would intervene in the current hike in airfares, the spokesperson of the authority, Sam Adurogboye, replied, “Airfares have been deregulated and as such is governed by market forces and not by the NCAA.”

Hong Kong Raises Property Tax for Owners of Expensive Homes - BLOOMBERG

FEBRUARY 23, 2022

by  Shawna KwanBloomberg News

The coastline is seen from a house developed by National Electronics Holdings Ltd. and Baring Private Equity Asia Real Estate in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. The cluster of homes nestled on a piece of land overlooking the South China Sea is the first property project National Managing Director Loewe Lee has overseen from start to finish. Five of the seven houses have been painstakingly fitted out with everything a modern multimillionaire could want. All a buyer need do is bring a suitcase, and $75 million (for one dwelling, that is).

The coastline is seen from a house developed by National Electronics Holdings Ltd. and Baring Private Equity Asia Real Estate in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. The cluster of homes nestled on a piece of land overlooking the South China Sea is the first property project National Managing Director Loewe Lee has overseen from start to finish. Five of the seven houses have been painstakingly fitted out with everything a modern multimillionaire could want. All a buyer need do is bring a suitcase, and $75 million (for one dwelling, that is). , Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s government unveiled plans to raise property taxes for luxury homes in a move set to affect wealthy owners and landlords of multiple properties. 

Financial secretary Paul Chan proposed charging a progressively higher tax rate for the most expensive homes in the city in his budget on Wednesday. That would replace a standard tax of 5% on a property’s annual rental value.

About 42,000 homes, or 2% of the total number of private domestic properties, will be affected by the plan. The change is expected to bring about HK$760 million ($97.4 million) in government revenue each year, when it comes into effect as early as 2024.

While the property tax will apply to all homeowners, the change may mostly affect major landlords with luxury homes for leasing, said Patrick Wong, a real estate analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. The government’s plan to raise property tax comes after a similar announcement from Singapore last week to bring in about S$380 million ($283 million) tax revenue every year.

At the same time, Hong Kong’s government plans to make home ownership easier by allowing first-time buyers to acquire more expensive properties with a 10% down payment. Under the new policy, Hong Kong Mortgage Corp. will insure mortgages on homes valued at up to HK$10 million, up from HK$8 million at present. 

The policy will trigger an immediate boost to transaction volume, according to Hannah Jeong, head of valuation and advisory services at Colliers International Group Inc.’s Hong Kong office. 

“However, we don’t think it will necessarily push prices up significantly and the pricing will remain flat this year because buyers are being cautious on spending due to the current Covid situation and a less positive economic forecast,” she said. 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

Heathrow records lowest passenger numbers in 50 years - YAHOO FINANCE

FEBRUARY 23, 2022

Heathrow has said 2021 was the worst in its history as passenger numbers plunged amid COVID restrictions to 19.4 million, the lowest since 1972.

In the year ended 31 December, the UK’s biggest airport reported pre-tax losses of £3.8bn because of lower passenger numbers and higher fixed costs. This is despite its efforts to achieve £870m in costs savings over the last two years.

Passenger numbers are currently 23% behind forecast but the London hub expects a strong summer for outbound tourism.

Heathrow airport predicts a recovery after its worst year in half-a-century. Chart: Heathrow
Heathrow airport predicts a recovery after its worst year in half-a-century. Chart: Heathrow

Heathrow said it expected to meet its target of 45.5 million passengers this year.

Read more: Heathrow loses 1.3 million passengers to Omicron fears

"Demand is now starting to recover and we are working closely with airlines to scale-up our operations and reopen Terminal 4 for the summer travel peak," said chief executive John Holland-Kaye.

The airport did not pay any dividends in 2021 and is not forecasting it will do this year. Heathrow has nonetheless insisted its balance sheet is strong with £4bn cash to support its recovery.

The airport says inbound tourism and business travel “remain key challenges”. Travel is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until all restrictions have been removed and passengers are confident checks will not return.

"63% of our markets retain some form of travel restriction or testing requirements, and government responses to Omicron show how uncertain broader travel demand remains," said Heathrow.

The UK’s changing travel rules system, and the additional Omicron restrictions imposed late last year, meant Heathrow was the only European hub to see a reduction in traffic.

“While 2021 was the worst year in Heathrow’s history, I am very proud of the way that colleagues focussed on passengers, and we were able to maintain our position as one of the top 10 airports in the world for service,” commented Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye.

London to Scrap Face Mask Rule on Tube, Buses From Thursday - BLOOMBERG

FEBRUARY 23, 2022

(Bloomberg) --

People in London will no longer be required to wear face coverings on public transport from Thursday, the same day all coronavirus-related laws will be lifted in England.

The move comes amid declining case rates in the capital, although Transport for London will strongly recommend people still wear a mask on its services. While the rules were already frequently ignored, the transport authority acted after Boris Johnson’s government this week said it would lift national Covid mandates.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan is seeking a long-term funding plan for TfL with assistance from the U.K. government after the coronavirus pandemic decimated ridership and with it, the agency’s finances. The latest emergency aid measure expires on Friday, and the system has just raised fares the most in a decade. 

Last week, the London underground operated at about 60% of pre-pandemic weekday levels, while bus services reached three-quarters of what they were previously.

Boris Johnson Seeks to Turn Page on Virus Despite Warnings (1)

Airline Operators Deny Fixing Base Fare, Lament Loss of N44bn to Bird Strike, Flight Cancellations - THISDAY

FEBRUARY 24, 2022

•Record low passenger throughput over high fares

BY  Chinedu Eze

The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has denied fixing base fare for economy flight tickets at N50, 000 as travellers insisted that the sudden increase in fares suggested collusion by the association.

The operators also complained that in 2021, they lost $60 million (N24 billon) to bird strike alone. The amount was used to replace their aircraft engines destroyed by bird strike.

In addition, they said cancelled flights due to lack of lack of night landing facilities at some airports, known as sunset airports, cost them over N20 billion in 2021.

However, indications showed that air travellers have started shunning the airports as airlines have been recording low passenger traffic due to high fares.

Speaking during a media conference, in Lagos, yesterday, the Vice President of AON and Chairman/CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema said the N50, 000 ticket price had always been in the airlines’ systems in the last five years, adding that airlines only adjust ticket cost based on their operational costs.

Onyema said what the airlines did was to work out unit cost per seat, which he said determined their basic ticket price.

Onyema who was representing the President of AON, pointed out that cost of aviation fuel was increased by over 200 per cent, with over 100 per cent depreciation in exchange rate in the last two years, while ground handling companies had increased their rates by over 300 per cent, yet cost of air ticket remained below $100.

“People have asked us how we maintain our planes with the fares we charge. In as much as we are rendering services, our business must be sustained. The repair of just one aircraft engine can take everything an airline makes in one month. Airline business is not a profitable business,” Onyema added.

He said that no airline loves to delay flights but factors beyond the airlines’ control cause flight delays.

Some of the causes of flight delays he mentioned included bird strikes, airport apron congestion, lack of space for check-in of passengers, poor airport infrastructure, air traffic flow control, bad weather and unruly behavior of passengers.

Onyema said that bird strike incidents in Nigeria was on the increase despite efforts by the Federal Airports of Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to stem it, thus forcing airlines to ground aircraft that should be operating and losing huge revenue.

He, therefore, called on the concerned authorities to provide airport equipment to help reduce bird strikes in Nigeria.

The AON said it strongly objected to the multiple designation granted foreign carriers such as Qatar Airways and Ethiopian Airlines by the federal government.

“Designating foreign airlines to multiple airports in Nigeria impede growth of domestic airlines and the aviation sector. All foreign airlines put together do not provide 10 per cent of jobs provided by the smallest airline in Nigeria.

“Multiple designation granted foreign airlines would lead to job losses and domestic airlines closing shops,” Onyema added.

Meanwhile, THISDAY investigations have confirmed low turnout of passengers at the airports since Monday, following the hike in airfares to N50, 000.

This meant that one way tickets would cost over N50, 000 and might increase to N80, 000 to N90, 000 per ticket.

This was confirmed by some protocol personnel who spoke to THISDAY at the domestic wing of the Lagos airport.

They revealed that the increase in fares have reduced passenger traffic at the airport.

“You have to know that the minimum ticket you can buy now is N50, 000. In the last two days I have sold tickets as high as N85, 000; some N75, 000 and some N70, 000. But the traffic is dropping fast. I am sure that if passenger traffic continues to drop, airlines will be forced to bring down their fares,” the source who pleased to remain anonymous said.

THISDAY spoke to a passenger who travelled from Abuja to Lagos, yesterday, who disclosed that many of the seats in the aircraft that brought him to Lagos were empty.

“I was surprised at that time of the day, first flight from Abuja there was so many empty seats. The airlines have to understand that there is no money in this country. It is the middle class that flies. If they shun air travel the money bags cannot sustain their operations,” he said.

A spokesman of one of the major airlines confirmed

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