Monday, September 29, 2008

Venezuela, Russia to join together on oil

Venezuela and Russia plan to create a giant oil consortium to invest in joint ventures, as Moscow plans to challenge the dominance of Opec in influencing world energy markets.

"They've offered us the chance to create an oil consortium...the largest in the world,” Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez said in Moscow.

He said the consortium would include state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PdVSA) and Russia's Lukoil, TNK, Rosneft and Gazprom.

Russian energy minister Sergei Shmatko said the country was seeking to increase influence over world oil markets and become a rival to the Opec cartel.

“Russia needs to take an active position on influencing the current market price of oil. There needs to be a Russian factor,” he added.

“We keep talking about Opec...but we believe that we occupy such a high place in the world's oil community that Russia should emerge as an active factor.”

Russia, supplying 12% of world crude, is vying with Saudi Arabia as the global top producer. Venezuela is fifth-largest producer of the 13 members of Opec.

The increasingly close military and economic relationship between Russia and the maverick Chavez is causing alarm in Europe and Washington.

President Vladimir Putin has made improving relations with Venezuela “a priority”.

A Russian naval squadron is sailing to Venezuela, and two Russian bombers this month carried out air patrols over the Caribbean.

Venezuela said the oil joint venture would initially develop projects in Venezuela, before expanding to other Latin American countries.
Chavez has proposed setting up a new bank – the PdVSA Bank – to raise capital to finance the projects.

He arrived in Moscow from Beijing, where he said oil exports to China could soar to a million barrels a day by 2012 from 330,000 now.

The two countries also plan to build four oil tankers and to construct three oil refineries in China capable of processing Venezuela's heavy, sulphur-laden crude.

“While the world enters an energy crisis, we are investing,” Chavez said.

Venezuela regards energy-hungry China as a key part of its strategy of diversifying oil sales away from the US, which still buys about half of Venezuela's oil despite political tensions.

Other plans for co-operation with China call for building a refinery in Venezuela and launching an oil-development project in the Orinoco River belt.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thank God it's Friday

The stock market staged a spectacular "freaky Friday" comeback today to end the most tumultuous week in the City for 80 years.

Shares gained more than £92 billion in value as the "rocket-fuelled" recovery propelled the FTSE-100 to its biggest one-day rise. By lunchtime, the blue chip index was up 389.3 points at 5269.3, a surge of eight per cent, breaking the previous 7.9 per cent record dating back to October 1987 in the aftermath of Black Monday.

HSBC abandons £3.3 billion chase for Korea bank stake

HSBC, which has been linked to a range of deals to pick up distressed US banks, has today found itself with even deeper pockets after today walking away from it its long-running $6 billion (£3.29 billion) pursuit of Korea Exchange Bank.

More details available at below link :

Friday, September 19, 2008

Indian shoppers increase spending

INDIAN shoppers will spend close to $500 billion on consumer goods and services in 2010, up from $360 billion last year, according to a bullish outlook released on Thursday by India¿s fast-growing retail industry.

Despite the global market turmoil, retailers expect 300 million aspirational middle-class Indians will lead the cash-register assault, their confidence buoyed by likely wage rises of 15 percent a year over the next few years and an economy growing at around 8 per cent.

Total annual retail spending in India should hit 18.1 trillion rupees ($490 billion) by 2010, according to the India Retail Report 2009, which was released in Mumbai for the industry’s peak event, the India Retail Forum.

The report produced by New Delhi-based research group Images F&R Research, envisages that modern organised retailing is likely to have a 13 percent share ($62 billion) of the total spend, as Indian middle class shoppers increasingly turn to air conditioned malls, mini-marts, supermarkets and "big-box" outlets.

The shopping needs of India’s 1.2 billion people traditionally have been served by a combination of 12 million "mom-and-pop" corner stores, wet markets, bazaars and weekly or monthly rural fairs, plus a relative handful of department stores. It is only in the last decade that modern organised retail has begun to make an impact, with the opening of supermarket chains and shopping malls in India’s key cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

As recently as two years ago, modern retail’s share of the total consumer spending pie was only 3 to 4 per cent. According to the new report, modern retail grew at more than 40 per cent in 2007 and now has a share of 5.9 per cent.

But with the rapid growth has come a storm of protest from small traders’ associations, market middlemen and political groups opposed to large Indian business groups such as Reliance, Birla and Bharti entering the retail sector. The protesters argue that the big modern retailers will destroy the livelihoods of millions of street vendors, small traders and corner-store (or "kirana") operators.

In some states, Reliance Industries – which is controlled by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani -- has closed or scaled back its retail stores in the face of sometimes violent protests.

A government-initiated report released by the ICRIER think tank in May found that while there would be some initial loss of revenue for the kirana stores from competing modern retailers, the small corner stores would survive for many years to come and would often fo rm mutually beneficial relationships with organised retailers.

Activist groups such as India FDI Watch also oppose investments by overseas retailers, arguing that allowing in US giant Wal-Mart -- which has set up a wholesale cash-and-carry venture with the Bharti Group -- will spark a "race to the bottom" in terms of workers’ rights and conditions. For now, foreign entrants to India’s retail sector are limited to franchises, wholesaling and certain single-brand outlets.

According to the India Retail Report 2009, fears of job losses in the sector are groundless. "Modernising retail will see some 15 million people engaged in retail and retail support activities by 2010 – including front-end retail operations, supply chain management, logistics, process and infrastructure development and supplies," it says.

A much more pressing problem than fear of foreign investment is fixing India’s abysmal supply chain, particularly for refrigerated foodstuffs. As much as 40 per cent of the dairy, fruit and vegetables produced in India is lost or spoilt because of poor storage, handling, distribution and transport.

Commerce Minister Kamal Nath told the India Retail Forum this week that that the supply chain problem was India’s greatest agricultural challenge. Better handling techniques and infrastructure to reduce this wastage would deliver a substantial benefit to the retail industry, to farmers, and to the rural sector in general, he said.

Reflecting the needs of the hundreds of millions of Indians who survive on less than $2 a day, the 2009 report found spending on food and groceries is the dominant category, accounting for almost 60 per cent of the total retail outlay of $360 billion. Clothing and accessories ranks second with a 10 per cent share share, followed by out-of-home food services with a 5.4 per cent market share. The report says this last category "largely reflects the massive employment opportunities to youngsters in the services sector and accompanying changes in consumer lifestyles."

The organised retail sector offers a different picture, with spending on clothing and fashion accessories the largest category at 38.1 per cent. This is followed by food and groceries 11.5 per cent, footwear 9.9 per cent and consumer durables 9.1 per cent.

Shoes and timepieces are the most organised of all retail categories, with more than 48 per cent of the money spent on these items going to the modern retail sector. They are followed by clothing and fashion accessories, where the modern retail sector controls 22.7 per cent of the market.

With incomes rising, the modern sector can expect even higher figures over the next few years. According to the 2009 report, 70 million Indians already earn more than $24,500 a year, and that number will likely rise to 140 million by 2011.

At the same time as incomes are rising, tastes and spending habits are changing in line with an Indian demographic profile that becomes ever younger. Already, 55 per cent of the population is under 25; by 2015, more than half the population will be 22 or younger, and will only have ever known an economically liberalised India.

This is why industry experts such as Arvind Singhal, chairman of Indian retail consulting firm Technopak, believe modern retail is well on its way to being the key driver of the Indian economy over the next decade. In their view, despite high real estate prices, hyper-competition, a difficult political environment and shortcomings in supply chain logistics and management skills, India’s consumer demand is simply unstoppable.

See India, then get a hip replacement

Timmi Ryerson, a San Diego stock market analyst, says her left hip actually works again, thanks to an orthopedic specialist in India.

Stacie Mason, a civil rights worker from West Virginia, couldn’t fully appreciate her 170-pound weight loss until a plastic surgeon in Panama removed 20 inches of excess skin from her stomach and back.

And Ford Davies, a firefighter from Roseville, Calif., sports a realigned jaw and a mouthful of straight, strong teeth courtesy of a dentist in Mexico.

What's new about these procedures is not the exotic locales the three chose, but the way they paid for their far-flung surgeries.

While at least 150,000 Americans travel abroad for medical care every year, according to the American Medical Association, Ryerson, Mason and Davies represent a small but growing category of medical tourist: patients whose insurance companies have agreed to foot at least part of the bill.

“I think that’s the solution to our health care crisis," said Davies, 53, whose company plan, Delta Dental, maxed out his dental benefit, about $2,500, toward the $30,000 he spent to repair damage caused by years of grinding his teeth, a procedure that would have cost an estimated $80,000 in the United States.

Increasingly, some of the nation’s larger employers and leading health insurers agree.

Once the province of the poor and uninsured, medical tourism is gaining attention of industry giants such as CIGNA, Aetna and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, who say they either have begun or are considering pilot programs that provide limited coverage for foreign care. One Montana firm, Employee Benefit Management Services Inc., recently began offering medial tourism plans to its 120 self-insured clients in the Northwest.

“That’s probably the big news in terms of all types of medical offshoring,” said Dr. Arnold Milstein, chief physician for Mercer Health & Benefits, an international health care consulting agency, and medical director for Pacific Business Group on Health, which represents 50 large regional employers.

“You’re beginning to see the point now that it’s changing from a market primarily of individuals without coverage or insurance to a circumstance in which this is going to be adopted by U.S. health insurance plans to extend to a much larger U.S. population.”

Lured by low-price luxury
It’s a trend applauded by insurers and patients lured by offshore prices that are a fraction of U.S. costs and care that advocates claim rivals luxury health spas.

But it also has sparked concerns among the nation’s doctors and wary insurance providers who worry about guaranteeing safety, quality and continued access to care when procedures are performed in foreign lands.

“It’s unclear at this time whether the risks outweigh the benefits,” said Dr. J. James Rohack, a board member of the American Medical Association, which recently issued first-ever guidelines for medical tourism.

Medical care outside the U.S. must remain an option, not a requirement, the doctors said. And incentives for offshore care should not be allowed to limit appropriate diagnosis, treatment or referral.

Patients should be referred only to institutions approved by the international arm of the Joint Commission, a key U.S. accreditation agency, or the International Society for Quality in Health Care, and they should have wide access to information about doctors' credentials and outcomes, the guidelines said.

It's important to plan ahead for follow-up care back home, the doctors warned. And patients should be advised about the risks of combining surgery with long flights and vacation activities.

"The concern is, you incentize patients to go someplace cheaper, they won't know all the risks," said Dr. Paul Sherman, a pediatrician and a medical director for Group Health Cooperative in Seattle.

Perks include air fare, lodging — for two
Insurers acknowledge they're considering a range of rewards aimed at motivating patients to choose foreign care.

"Basically, if you're going to present an option to an employee to get on a plane for five to eight hours, there will be a need to consider some sort of incentive," said Jackie Aube, vice president of product management for CIGNA.

Some plans may waive co-payments or reimburse patients for choosing less-expensive services. EBMS, the Montana firm, said that in addition to covering all medical costs, some plans will pay for air fare, lodging and other travel expenses for the patient — and a companion.

"The idea is if they choose to go offshore, the companion gets a little vacation," said Rick Larson, chief executive of EBMS.

Both proponents and critics acknowledge, however, that offering coverage could spark a medical tourism boom.

A May report by McKinsey & Co., a global consulting firm, estimated that if insurers began covering foreign medical care, between 500,000 and 700,000 Americans might head abroad for surgery each year.

Savings may top $20 billion a year
Savings for procedures performed on those patients could top $20 billion a year, the analysts said, providing a glimpse of the primary motive behind the burgeoning trend.

Countries such as India, Thailand, Singapore, Costa Rica and Korea offer medical procedures at a fraction of the cost of U.S. providers. A $130,000 heart-bypass surgery in U.S. may cost only $34,000 in Korea or as little as $6,650 in India, according to the newly formed Medical Tourism Association of West Palm Beach, Fla. A $20,000 hysterectomy in the U.S. might cost only $4,000 in Costa Rica — and it comes with a trip to Costa Rica.

No question, financial savings are at the heart of the interest, said Aube, of CIGNA, who noted that several large employers are considering offering coverage, but have not yet decided. But they're also motivated by the chance to provide more choice for consumers, she added.

That’s true, too, for Aetna, which has entered the market slowly, with a single employer, Hannaford Brothers, a Maine grocery store chain that has begun offering foreign coverage for hip and knee surgeries for its 27,000 employees. (So far, no one has taken them up on it, a spokesman said.)

And it’s behind the formation of Companion Global HealthCare Inc., a program of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of South Carolina, which provides overseas care as part of a package of health insurance plans. David Boucher, Companion’s assistant vice president of health care services, said he expects medical tourism to be a standard offering by 2015.

“I think the initial incentive will be for patients to avoid out-of-pocket costs and for employers to begin lowering their medical benefit costs a bit,” Boucher said. “But I am confident that what we will see is a steady stream of patients returning to the U.S. as true disciples of this opportunity.”

Top-notch care, a fraction of the cost
That’s certainly been the case for Mason, 43, whose $20,000 body lift in Panama last July included about $7,500 for surgery to remove a large flap of skin from her abdomen, a procedure called a panniculectomy. Because the excess flesh led to potentially dangerous skin infections, the surgery was deemed a medically necessary procedure, one that could be covered by her federal Blue Cross health insurance plan.

Mason paid the bill herself for the rest of the surgery, including breast augmentation and thigh lifts. Because her surgeries would have totaled $50,000 to $75,000 back home, she contracted with Planet Hospital, a California-based medical tourism service, to research the alternatives abroad.

“It’s outrageous here, the cost of medical care,” Mason said. Additionally, many U.S. doctors seem to have forgotten that they’re providing a service, added Mason, who described one plastic surgeon she interviewed as “an egotistical ass.”

Not so with Dr. Louis Picard-Ami, a Florida-certified plastic surgeon who also practices in Panama. After checking out his credentials and the hospital’s safety record, Mason decided to go ahead with the surgery.

Not only was Picard-Ami technically proficient, he was kind and the amenities were luxurious, said Mason. Her hospital room was as lavish as any elegant hotel suite and her care included round-the-clock services of a private nurse.

“I just think that others need to be aware that they are able to have a safe procedure done out of the country for a price at a third the cost,” she said.

Ryerson, 61, said her private Blue Cross plan paid 80 percent of a $7,000 hip resurfacing surgery in Chennai, India, that would have been about $55,000 in the U.S. — if she could get it at all.

In 2006, the hip resurfacing device necessary for her surgery had just been approved for U.S. use by the federal Food and Drug Administration and not many domestic doctors had experience with it. Dr. Vijay Bose, her U.K.-certified surgeon in India, had performed the surgery more than 1,100 times.

“Doctors here didn’t know what they didn’t know and I didn’t want to be a guinea pig," she said.

While she was there, Ryerson also had cosmetic surgery and dental work done at her own expense.

‘I'm not going to Tijuana to get my teeth done’
Davies, the California firefighter, wasn’t sure he’d go ahead with extensive dental work until he met the dentist, Jorge Quintanilla, and toured the modern Mexican clinic where the procedures were performed.

“At first I thought, I’m not going to Tijuana to get my teeth done,” said Davies, a former paramedic who quizzed the staff about where they got their water, how they cleaned their instruments and what sterile procedures they followed.

The dental staff was well-trained and compassionate, he said. And the assistants anticipated every need, from picking him up at the airport and filling painkiller prescriptions to driving him back over the U.S. border.

"They gave me what I wanted," he said.

Individual anecdotes are one thing, but critics of medical tourism said they worry about encouraging large numbers of Americans to seek care abroad. One of the reasons foreign care is so cheap is because of limited recourse for medical malpractice claims, for instance.

“It sounds great, two weeks’ safari and my hip for half the price,” said Sherman, of Group Health. “But what happens if something goes wrong? You are up a creek.”

The Joint Commission International certifies about 170 hospitals and medical centers worldwide. And many of the doctors who practice in hospitals frequented by medical tourists have been trained and certified in the United States.

Call for caution
Still, patients and insurers should remain cautious, especially in the early days of the burgeoning trend, noted Milstein.

“Without a doubt, just like for American surgeries, there will emerge as volume increases some horror stories, a terrible outcome preceded by a terrible hospital malfunction,” he said. “On the day that happens, the patient is going to point the finger at the insurance companies.”

That idea doesn’t deter the hip patient Timmi Ryerson, who said she won’t use U.S. hospitals for future surgeries.

“I really will not because of the cost and because of the quality of the medical care,” she said.

In fact, she’s planning now for a medical trip to Costa Rica in a few years. She figures she’ll need a mini face-lift and her new husband will require some work on his neck and his knees as well.

“They’ve got a place where you can go for medical care and it’s like going to a spa for month,” she said. “Who wouldn’t want that?”

Article courtesy :

Downturn Drives Up New York’s Jobless Rates

The unemployment rates for New York City and State shot up in August as the rapidly spiraling economic downturn left more people without jobs, the state’s Department of Labor said on Thursday.

The city’s unemployment rate rose to 5.8 percent from 5 percent in July — the largest monthly increase in more than 30 years — as about 5,200 private-sector jobs were eliminated, the department reported. Many of the layoffs came in the tumbling financial sector, which is one of the city’s biggest employers and the provider of nearly one-fourth of its annual wages and salaries.

In the last 12 months, employment in the financial realm has declined by 5,300 jobs, according to James Brown, an analyst with the Labor Department. Some of those losses resulted from the collapse of the Bear Stearns investment bank in March. But many of the cutbacks at that firm and others on Wall Street still have not shown up in the official statistics.

For example, the August totals do not include the 1,500 layoffs that Lehman Brothers had planned to make before it was forced into a bankruptcy filing on Monday. Lehman, which employed more than 25,000 people, has sold its main trading operations to Barclays Capital, a London-based firm, but it is not known how many of the 10,000 employees of those operations will keep their jobs.

American International Group, the Manhattan-based insurance giant, was on the brink of failure before receiving an $85 billion lifeline from the federal government this week.

“Although the crises at Lehman Brothers and A.I.G. appear to be working out so as to avoid immediate large-scale layoffs, the continued financial-sector turmoil guarantees that job losses on Wall Street will climb rapidly over the next few months,” Mr. Brown said.

Despite the current deterioration in the job market, the city still had about 31,000 more jobs last month than it had in August 2007, when the unemployment rate was 5.3 percent, according to the report. Most of that job growth has come in the fields of education, health care, trade and transportation, and leisure and hospitality.

“Most of the professional business industries such as law firms lost a small number of jobs in August, but all in all, New York City has still yet to see any significant impact from the turmoil on Wall Street,” said Barbara Denham, chief economist for Eastern Consolidated, a real estate investment firm.

“This will undoubtedly change in the next few months, but the job losses from Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy and Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill Lynch may not hit the job numbers until November or later,” Ms. Denham said. “While New York City’s economy remains well diversified in health care and private education, the problems on Wall Street will likely spill over into the business travel industry, which would affect hotels, restaurants and entertainment.”

The jobless rates for the city and the state were lower than the national unemployment rate, which jumped to 6.1 percent last month, according to the Labor Department.

Statewide, the jobless rate also rose to 5.8 percent, from 5.2 percent in July. That was the largest monthly increase in the state’s rate since January 1991, said Peter A. Neenan, director of the department’s division of research. Still, the department reported that the state added 3,000 private-sector jobs in August.

CBN moves to shield Nigeria from global credit crunch

THE Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has allayed fears that the recent rumblings in the global financial system could take a toll on the country's economy.

Citing a healthy foreign reserve component, stable micro and macro economic policies coupled with a strong banking sector, the apex bank said yesterday that investors and even ordinary Nigerians have no cause to worry over happenings in the international economy.

Although the CBN admitted that Nigeria is not entirely insulated from global occurrences, it said that sound measures have been put in place to absolve any of such shocks. Such measures include a cut in interest rate to enhance liquidity in the economy.

CBN Governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, told journalists after the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) special meeting in Abuja yesterday that "despite the recent threats to the global financial system, Nigeria's foreign reserves are safe. The banks are safe and sound. There is really no cause to worry much. All indicators show that the economy is well."

Finance Minister Shamsudeen Usman, also spoke on efforts to stabilise the economy, particularly the capital market yesterday when he hinted that the Federal Government must have shelved the idea of providing share stabilisation funds and combat the current bears dominance in the equities sector of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).

Usman, who spoke with journalists in Lagos, explained that the government has resolved to use market-oriented measures such as share buy-back to refuel the market.

Besides, he said the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR), Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR), and Liquidity Ration (LR) have been reduced to enhance liquidity in the capital market.

Soludo buttressed this when he said that the MPR had been cut by 500 basis points from 10.25 per cent to 9.75 per cent to shield the economy from the global credit-crunch.

Early this week, one of the United States (U.S.) largest banks, the Lehman Brothers, crashed like the Merry Lynch and others before it, a development which has sent jitters across America and Europe with the U.S. government initiating frantic efforts to bail out one of its largest insurance groups, the AIG, with huge funding.

The CBN chief said the decision to cut interest rate was one of the key strategies agreed upon to liquidify the system.

Also the CRR was reduced from four per cent to two per cent, with immediate effect; and the liquidity ratio from 40 per cent to 30 per cent. The apex bank only recently in what it explained as efforts to control inflation increased the CRR as part of strategies to mop up money in circulation.

The CRR is the least deposit funds banks are required to keep with the CBN as part of security against unpredictable happenstance. Its increase would require banks keeping more money with the apex bank while its reduction means making more funds at the disposal of commercial banks.

Indications that the CBN had changed strategy in its monetary policy posture first showed late July when after its MPC meeting for that quarter, it retained the MPR at 10.25 per cent, thus confounding economic watchers, who were used to the frequent upward adjustment of the MPR that modulates lending rate.

Soludo said the CBN would continue to monitor developments in both domestic and international economies and would be on the alert to take necessary steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the financial markets and the economy in general.

To lay credence to his assurances, he disclosed that the nation's foreign reserves are as high as $63 billion, representing about 16 months of total foreign exchange disbursements, adding that "Inflow of foreign investments remained strong at about $8.5 billion by the end of August 2008, compared to $5.8 billion for the corresponding period of 2007.

"In order to lubricate the system, the MPC has decided to ensure that the financial system remains liquid. The MPC accordingly, decided to reduce the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR) from 10.25 per cent to 9.75 per cent; reduce Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) from four per cent to two per cent with immediate effect; reduce the liquidity ration from 40 per cent to 30 per cent; allow repo transactions against eligible securities for 90 days, 180 days and 360 days," he said.

The CBN would also now buy and sell securities through the two-way quotes.

Soludo, who explained that the special MPC meeting was held to review the stance of monetary policies in the light of the evolving economies and financial developments in the world economies, maintained that Nigeria could not afford to be unmindful of the international financial developments.

He reeled out further details from the meeting. "The committee noted that while headline inflation and food prices have been on the increase, core inflation has been in single digit. The outlook on output for 2008 is strong, with non-oil Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growing at over eight per cent. The committee acknowledges that growth in M2 and credit to the private sector have been high. Credit to the core private sector grew at 70.6 per cent yearly rate by end of August 2008. However, the increase in interest rates in August was mainly due to pressure of liquidity in the financial markets in general and in the inter-bank market in particular.

"The financial crisis has slowed down the industrialised economies. Reflecting the sharp fall in demand, crude oil prices have been softening in the international markets in recent weeks (below $100 per barrel), even as consumer inflation continues to be relatively high in relation to target levels. The policy makers in these countries are at present concerned mainly with managing risk in the financial sector and reviving growth," Soludo said.

He took the same message yesterday to the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, (NIPSS) in Kuru, near Jos, Plateau State, where he told reporters after addressing course participants, that though there had been a fall in the market value of stock and shares but that the prices in most of the sectors were still higher than their initial value.

He said the current dip in the value of shares was due to a panic created by shareholders who were anticipating a further appreciation of the value of their investments, noting that when that did not happen, most of them began to withdraw from the market.

The CBN boss said the reality is that most of the stocks still offer prices that triple their value during their initial public offers, which shows that the stock market is only responding to the vagaries of market forces.

On his part, Usman advised investors that this is the time to buy shares in the stock market, assuring that the market will soon bounce back.

"The stabilisation fund has been taken care of, as share buy-back has taken care of it. We believe the market will soon begin to respond to these measures later. My hope is that the market will rebound soon, but, it might take some time. It will rebound faster than we expect."

The minister said that the Federal Government intervention in the market has helped to hedge against the persistent fall in share prices.

On the subject of faith

TORONTO — Comedian Bill Maher says he’s not normally the type to make political donations, but he was so moved by the words of Republican vice-presidential running mate Sarah Palin that he immediately cut a cheque — for her opponents.

Maher, in town to support his new film Religulous at the Toronto International Film Festival, has based a career on political humour and eagerly ripped into Palin when the topic was put before him.

"I tell you I do not ever make a habit of giving money to politicians, but when I saw her make that speech I ran to my chequebook and sent money to Barack Obama," Maher said.

"She is scary."

Religulous, director Larry Charles’s first film since the outrageous Borat, documents Maher’s travels around the world as he confronts Christians, Muslims and Jews about their faith.

The film’s underlying argument is that religion needs to be abolished before faith leads to the destruction of humanity.

Palin is a staunch Christian who has said, among other things, that the Iraq war is "a task from God."

Last week, Palin gave a fiery speech to the party faithful that pulled no punches against her Democratic rivals.

Maher’s appraisal of her oratory skills were succinct: "She snarls."

"It was like, wow, I will send (Obama) whatever I have to to keep this woman out of the White House."

Noting that Obama has also professed himself a man of faith, Maher quipped: "I hope he’s lying."

Faith and politics go hand-in-hand in America, Charles said in a separate interview.

"You cannot get elected anymore in the United States without being a person of faith, without professing your faith," he said.

"You’re a pariah in American society if you’re someone who questions these basic foundations of belief."

The film sees Maher posing those questions to hilarious effect — if audience reaction during a recent screening is any measure — to priests, rabbis, imams and, among others, a man who plays Jesus at a theme park.

The degree to which faith is ingrained in American politics can be blamed on former Democratic president Jimmy Carter, Maher said.

"He’s the first one that brought all of that into it, ‘my personal relationship with God’ and ‘my faith is so important to me,’ " Maher said.

"I put it on him, absolutely."

The Republicans seized on faith as a political virtue and "took advantage," Maher added.

"We have retrogressed. That is not progress, that is going in the opposite direction from a country that was founded very specifically on the idea of separation of church and state," he said.

"The founding fathers were very, very clear on that."

Palin’s beliefs may not accord with his views, but Maher says there is an upside to Republican presidential candidate John McCain choosing her as a running mate.

"When I saw her get the nomination, as a citizen I was not happy," he said.

"But I said selfishly, ‘This is not going to be bad for my little movie.’ "

Religulous opens in theatres on Oct. 3.

’You’re a pariah in American society if you’re someone who questions these basic foundations of belief.’

Article Courtesy : Bill Maher