Entries in Business (5)


Volkswagen Gives Workers a Break from BlackBerry Email

Scott Olson/Getty Images(WOLFSBURG, Germany) -- When the BlackBerry appeared, people said the best thing about it was that you could take the office with you wherever you went -- and the worst thing about it was that you had to take the office with you wherever you went.

Now Volkswagen AG, giving in to union demands in Germany to protect workers from burnout, has agreed to stop routing emails to employees' BlackBerry devices 30 minutes after their shifts end, and to not turn them back on until 30 minutes before the next day's shift begins. Their handhelds will still be usable as cellphones.

According to the German newspaper Wolfsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, the policy will affect 1,154 employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement. It's not a large group -- VW says it has more than 190,000 employees in Germany -- but it's a start.

"The new possibilities of communications also present dangers," said Heinz-Joachim Thust of the Volkswagen workers council, in a comment to the paper translated by ABC News. Bosses routinely expect employees to be reachable at off hours, Thust said, and burnout has been a major issue in Germany, especially after the September resignation of Ralf Rangnick, a well-known soccer coach who said he was exhausted by his work.

VW, says the BBC, is following a trend in Europe. The makers of Persil washing powder in the U.K. declared an email "amnesty" for their workers between Christmas and New Year's. Atos, a French technology giant, has announced it will ban internal email starting in 2014 so that workers have more time for other things.

The VW email stoppage does not affect managers or non-union employees, and the union said such policies may not be practical for other companies, particularly small businesses. But when those 1,154 workers are off-duty, they'll be more off-duty than they were.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Generating Energy from Space: Is 'Luna Ring' the Solution?

NASA/JPL/USGS(TOKYO) -- When Tetsuji Yoshida first unveiled a revolutionary plan to generate solar energy on the moon last year, the news received little fanfare. Yoshida envisioned a "lunar ring" or belt made up of solar panels placed around the moon's equator that could power all of planet Earth.

The president of space consulting group CSP Japan, a subsidiary of Japanese construction firm Shimizu Corporation, says his plan was featured on NASA's Lunar Science Institute website. But it didn't generate much interest beyond that.

That is, until March 11, when a massive earthquake and tsunami crippled nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daichi Power Plant, raising serious questions about the country's energy policy.

Japan's 54 nuclear reactors generate 30 percent of the nation's energy supply, but with more than half of them idle because of safety concerns, the Japanese are looking to alternative forms of energy to power the country. And lunar solar power is emerging as a potential source.

"It's been very quiet for about a year, so it's surprising to get this attention, one year later," Yoshida said.

Scientists have looked to space as a gold mine for clean energy for decades. Yoshida says American scientist Peter Glaser first proposed placing solar panels in space back in 1968, and NASA began research on it a decade later.

The moon is seen as prime location for solar energy because there is virtually no atmosphere, meaning no bad weather or clouds to keep the sun's rays from the panels. Even in the most ideal situations, Yoshida says solar panels on Earth can only generate one-twentieth of the energy produced in outer space.

"In space, there is constant light hitting the solar panels," he said. "When all the energy created from those panels reaches Earth, there will be no need to produce energy from coal, oil, or biomass."

The Luna Ring proposed by Yoshida, on behalf Shimizu Corporation, attempts to harness solar energy on a larger scale than previous concepts. It involves building a belt of solar panels around the moon's 6,800 mile equator, and using built-in cables to transmit the power generated by the solar cells, to the near side of the moon – the side, facing the Earth. The electricity would be converted into microwaves and lasers beamed at Earth, and each country would have receivers that allow them to take in the energy and store it.

Yoshida says the project would largely rely on robots to build the infrastructure, while a team of astronauts would support the machines on-site. Construction could get underway by 2035, if Shimizu Corporation gets the proper funding.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


What a Greek Default Could Mean for Americans

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Greece, a small nation in southern Europe, is having an outsized impact on the U.S. economy amid fears among investors that Greece might default on its debt.

The news comes just as the U.S. is seeing some positive signs regarding unemployment benefits and mortgage payment rates.

Fewer Americans applied for jobless benefits in the past three weeks, and more have stayed current on their mortgage payments than at any time since 2006, before the nationwide housing crisis spurred the Great Recession.

This indicates that the U.S. economy is recovering, albeit slowly, even as problems in Europe continue to cool the stock market.

The problems in Greece could lead to these probable outcomes:

If the European economic zone countries come to an agreement to bail out Greece, those countries will have less money to spend on American goods, causing job losses here.

If Greece defaults on its debt, it would mean any entities that bought bonds (banks, governments and private investors) would have to readjust their balance sheets. Those entities had relied on the interest payments paid by Greek bonds to fund other investments and buy goods and services so that money would no longer be there to spend.

If a full default occurred, other troubled countries, notably Spain and Portugal, could also follow suit, leading to a wave of defaults that would severely affect the European zone and could send shockwaves all the way to Wall Street.

Already, Greeks are rioting in the streets and tossing petrol bombs at riot police. They are protesting austerity measures their government has tried to impose as it works to solve its country's debt crisis. Prime Minister George Papandreou has so far failed to put together a cross-party coalition that could come up with a plan to combat the debt.

"Greece has defaulted already," Richard Bove, an analyst at Rochdale Research, told ABC News. "We are arguing about how we are going to handle this default in a way that is least destructive to bank balance sheets."

Although U.S. businesses, even banks, are not severely exposed to Greece's economy, investors worry that if Greece defaults on its debt and leaves investors such as Greek bond holders out in the cold, financial trouble would spread to other troubled European economies, such as Spain's, Portugal's and Ireland's. If the European economy were to implode in a wave of defaults and associated bank failures, it could pull the U.S. economy down as well, since there is a lot of trade between the U.S. and Europe.

"Large European banks are very intertwined with American banks," said Bove. The question becomes, in the worst case-scenario, a wave of defaults, "Will these banks be able to absorb a number of defaults from a number of countries?"

Large country defaults have happened before. Argentina defaulted on part of its external debt in 2002, leading to a decade of economic turmoil for that country. Following the default, Argentina received a crucial loan from the International Monetary Fund in 2003 and restructured its massive debt. Today, Argentina is the third-largest economy in Latin America.

Next week, European leaders will convene a summit to attempt to deal with the crisis, and another meeting is set for July 11.

Europe has far more money as a whole than Latin America, so perhaps it can avoid the worst-case scenario for Greece and help save their own skins -- and ours too.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama to Brazil: Let Us Stand Together as Equal Partners

ABC News(RIO DE JANEIRO) -- President Obama spoke to the nation of Brazil on Sunday, telling the hemisphere’s second largest economy that he wants to be a partner with the South American country as its skyrocketing growth continues.

“Let us stand together – not as senior and junior partners, but as equal partners, joined in a spirit of mutual interest and mutual respect, committed to the progress we can make together.  Together, we can advance our common prosperity.  As two of the world’s largest economies, we worked side by side during the financial crisis to restore growth and confidence,” he told the crowd at the Teatro Municipal, a large theater.

The president has gone out of his way to praise Brazil during his two days in the country. The message is seen as critical for the White House, one of the reasons the trip was not canceled as the president prepared military strikes against Libya.

President Obama talked about universal rights as he referred to the trouble in the Middle East and acknowledged how Brazil has moved from dictatorship to democracy.

“ We yearn to live without fear or discrimination; to choose how we are governed and to shape our own destiny.  These are not American or Brazilian ideas.  They are not Western ideas.  They are universal rights, and we must support them everywhere,” he said.

The overriding message from the President came in one line of his 25 minute speech: “I am here to tell you that the American people don’t just recognize Brazil’s success – we root for it. “

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


U.S. to Impose Sanctions on Companies Pursuing Business with Iran

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- On Thursday, the U.S. announced it would take action against international companies doing business with Iran's energy sector.

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told reporters Thursday that the new sanctions would be imposed on Naftiran Intertrade Company, a Swiss-based subsidiary of Iran's national oil company, which he said brought major sums of cash into the county.  The State Department said that it was considering similar moves against other companies elsewhere, but would not provide details.

Steinberg added that, as a result of previous sanctions against Iran, an additional four foreign energy companies have said that they were discontinuing doing business with Iran, including France’s Total, Norway’s Statoil, Italy’s ENI, and Royal Dutch Shell.

"People are increasingly reaching the conclusion that it's simply not worth it to engage in activities with Iran," Steinberg said.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio