PepsiCo Buys Israel’s SodaStream for $3.2 Billion

Beverage giant PepsiCo on Monday purchased Israel’s fizzy drink maker SodaStream for $3.2 billion, a boon for a company that has enjoyed a resurgence after being targeted by anti-Israel boycotters in the past.

PepsiCo said it was acquiring all SodaStream’s outstanding shares at $144 per share, a 32 percent premium to the 30-day volume weighted average price.

 

Earlier this month, SodaStream reported its strongest results in company history, a 31 percent year-over-year jump in revenues to $172 million, an 89 percent leap in operating profit to $32 million and an 82 percent climb by net profit to $26 million.

 

PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi called the companies “an inspired match” since both companies aim to reduce waste and limit their environmental footprint.

 

“Together, we can advance our shared vision of a healthier, more-sustainable planet,” she said.

 

SodaStream produces machines that allow people to make fizzy drinks in their own homes and has positioned itself as a provider of a healthy product in contrast to traditional sugary, carbonated drinks. SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum said the move with PepsiCo marked a “validation of our mission to bring healthy, convenient and environmentally friendly beverage solutions to consumers around the world.”

 

Three years ago, SodaStream shut down its West Bank factory amid international boycott calls and opened a sprawling new factory deep in Israel’s Negev Desert instead. Actress Scarlett Johansson was previously a brand ambassador for the company. She parted ways with the international charity Oxfam because of a dispute over her work with SodaStream.

 

Monday’s sale looks to inject another big tax payout to Israel following previous the sales of Israeli companies such as the mobile navigation app Waze, which was acquired by Google for about $1 billion, and Mobileye, which produces technology for self-driving cars and was gobbled up by Intel last year for $15 billion.

 

 

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Conoco Says Venezuela Will Pay $2 Billion Arbitration Award

U.S. oil giant ConocoPhillips says it has reached an agreement with Venezuela’s state-owned oil company to recover nearly $2 billion it was awarded as part of a decade-old expropriation dispute.

Monday’s statement from Houston-based Conoco says that PDVSA has agreed to recognize the judgement by an international arbitration panel and will make the first $500 million payment within 90 days and the rest over a period of some four years.

In exchange, Conoco will suspend legal actions to seize PDVSA’s facilities in the Dutch Antilles that had threatened to disrupt Venezuela’s already-depressed oil exports at a time of widespread shortages and hyperinflation.

PDVSA hasn’t commented comment.

The award is equivalent to more than 20 percent of cast-strapped Venezuela*s foreign currency reserves.

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Amid Fiscal Woes, Malaysia PM Calls for China’s Understanding

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says he hopes China will understand his country’s “internal fiscal problems” as he seeks to renegotiate billions of dollars worth of Beijing-funded projects.

Mahathir spoke Monday in Beijing during a joint news conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Before traveling to China last week, Mahathir suspended three major infrastructure projects that are funded with Chinese loans worth more than $20 billion, including an ambitious rail line and two energy pipelines. The prime minister said he halted the projects due to Malaysia’s massive national debt, which has ballooned to $250 billion.

The projects were initiated under Mahathir’s predecessor, Najib Razak, who has been charged with several counts of corruption in the embezzlement scandal involving the state-owned 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.

The scandal led to a stunning electoral loss in May of Najib’s National Front coalition, which had ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since gaining independence in 1957 – 22 of those years under 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who led the coalition that ousted Najib and the National Front.

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Euro Fund: Greece Has Officially Exited Bailout Program

“For the first time since early 2010, Greece can stand on its own feet,” the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) rescue fund said as Athens exited its final, three-year international bailout program on Monday.

The ESM allocated about $71 billion over the past three years, after an agreement was reached in August 2015 to help the country cope with fallout from an ongoing debt crisis.

“Today we can safely conclude the ESM program with no more follow-up rescue programs,” Mario Centeno, the chairman of the ESM’s board of governors, said in a statement. “This was possible thanks to the extraordinary effort of the Greek people, the good cooperation with the current Greek government and the support of European partners through loans and debt relief.”

In 2010, Greece was declared at risk of default after struggling with massive debt, loss of investment and huge unemployment. Overall, nearly $300 billion in emergency loans were provided in three consecutive bailout packages from a European Union bailout fund and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In exchange, Athens was required to put in place severe austerity-based measures and reforms.

The completion of the loan program is a major accomplishment for Greece, but the country still faces an uphill battle to regain its economic stability.

 

The office of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras described the final bailout loan last week as the “last act in the drama. Now a new page of progress, justice and growth can be turned.”

“Greece has managed to stand on her feet again,” his office said.

 

Economic growth in Greece is slowly growing again, tourism is up nearly 17 percent in Athens this year, and once-record levels of joblessness are finally receding.

 

However, the country still faces massive challenges, including weak banks, the highest debt load in the European Union at 180 percent of GDP, and the loss of about a half-million mostly younger Greeks to Europe’s wealthier neighbors. Greece will also need to continue to repay its international loans until 2060.

The country’s three international bailouts took Europe to the brink of crisis.

 

The financial troubles exposed dangers in the European Union’s common currency and threatened to break the bloc apart. The large debt that remains in Greece and an even larger debt in Italy continue to be a financial danger to the EU.

The bailouts also led to regular and sometimes violent demonstrations in Athens by citizens angry at the government’s budget measures required by international lenders in return for the bailouts.

 

While Greece has begun to make economic progress, economics say the bulk of the austerity measures will likely need to remain in place for many years for the country to tackle its massive debt.

Some international economists have called for part of Greece’s loans to be written off in order for Greece to keep its ballooning debt payments in check. However, any kind of loan forgiveness would be a tough sell in Germany where the initially bailouts were unpopular.

The austerity measures included massive tax hikes as high as 70 percent of earned income and pension cuts that pushed nearly half of Greece’s elderly population below the poverty line.

Pensioner Yorgos Vagelakos, 81, told Reuters that five years ago he would go to his local market with 20 euros in his pocket, while today, he has just 2 euros. He says for him, the bailout will never end.

“It’s very often that just like today, I struggle, because I see all the produce on display at the market and I want to buy things, but when I don’t have even a cent in my pocket, I get really sad,” Vagelakos said.

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Maduro Unveils New Banknote, Other Economic Reforms

Uncertainty reigned in Venezuela Saturday after President Nicolas Maduro unveiled a major economic reform plan aimed at halting the spiraling hyperinflation that has thrown the oil-rich, cash-poor South American country into chaos.

Ahead of a major currency overhaul Monday, when Caracas will start issuing new banknotes after slashing five zeroes off the crippled bolivar, Maduro detailed other measures he hopes will pull Venezuela out of crisis.

Those measures include a massive minimum wage hike, the fifth so far this year.

But analysts say the radical overhaul could only serve to make matters worse.

“There will be a lot of confusion in the next few days, for consumers and the private sector,” said the director of the Ecoanalitica consultancy, Asdrubal Oliveros. “It’s a chaotic scenario.”

​‘Pure lie’

The embattled Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, said the country needed to show “fiscal discipline” and stop the excessive money printing that has been regular practice in recent years.

The new currency, the sovereign bolivar — to distinguish from the current, and ironically named, strong bolivar — will be anchored to the country’s widely discredited cryptocurrency, the petro.

Each petro will be worth about $60, based on the price of a barrel of Venezuela’s oil. In the new currency, that will be 3,600 sovereign bolivars, signaling a massive devaluation.

In turn, the minimum wage will be fixed at half a petro (1,800 sovereign bolivars), starting Monday. That is about $28, more than 34 times the previous level of less than a dollar at the prevailing black market rate.

Maduro also said the country would have one fluctuating official exchange rate, also anchored to the petro, without saying what the starting level would be.

As it stands, the monthly minimum wage, devastated by inflation and the aggressive devaluation of the bolivar, is still not enough to buy a kilo of meat.

In the capital Caracas, residents were skeptical about the new measures.

“Everything will stay the same, prices will continue to rise,” 39-year-old Bruno Choy, who runs a street food stand, told AFP.

Angel Arias, a 67-year-old retiree, dubbed the new currency a “pure lie!”

1 million percent inflation

The International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will hit a staggering 1 million percent this year in Venezuela, now in a fourth year of recession, hamstrung by shortages of basic goods and crippled by paralyzed public services.

Maduro blames the country’s financial woes on opposition plots and American sanctions, but admits that the government will “learn as we go along” when it comes to the currency redenomination.

His government pushed back Saturday against criticism of the economic reform plan.

“Don’t pay attention to naysayers,” Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said. “With oil income, with taxes and income from gasoline price hikes … we’ll be able to fund our program.”

Electronic transactions are set to be suspended from Sunday to facilitate the introduction of the new notes.

Economy in turmoil

Oil production accounts for 96 percent of Venezuela’s revenue, but that has slumped to a 30-year low of 1.4 million barrels a day, compared to its record high of 3.2 million 10 years ago.

The fiscal deficit is almost 20 percent of GDP while Venezuela struggles with an external debt of $150 billion.

Venezuela launched the petro in a bid for liquidity to try to circumvent US sanctions that have all but stamped out international financing.

But there’s a good reason the redenomination hasn’t generated renewed hope or investor confidence: Venezuela has done this before.

Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez stripped three zeroes off the bolivar in 2008, but that failed to prevent hyperinflation.

Also, Cryptocurrency rating site ICOindex.com has branded the petro a scam, and the U.S. has banned its nationals from trading in it.

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Kabul IT Company Designs Buber, the City’s Own Online Taxi App

People in big cities around the world typically enjoy a wide range of public transportation options. Those who own smartphones also have the choice of using some of the increasingly popular ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. And now, Kabul residents in Afghanistan can, too. VOA’s Haseeb Maudoodi takes a look at Kabul’s newest online taxi service called Buber, which means ‘take me’ in Dari. Bezhan Hamdard narrates.

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Dragonfly, Privacy Issues Keep Google in the Headlines

Google has been in the headlines recently, and the news was not good. The technology company left the Chinese market eight years ago to protest Beijing’s censorship, but now appears ready to return with a new search engine. But the project is shrouded in secrecy, even as Google’s employees demand transparency. Meanwhile, the company tries to defend itself against accusations it has been invading user’s privacy, despite claiming it doesn’t. Faiza Elmasry has the story. Faith Lapidus narrates.

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