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Asia stocks cheer Sino-U.S. trade talk, still see red for the year

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian stocks crept higher on Monday as hints of progress on the Sino-U.S. trade standoff provided a rare glint of optimism in what has been a disappointing year for equities in the region.

FILE PHOTO: Men look at stock quotation boards outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

U.S. President Donald Trump said he held a “very good call” with China’s President Xi Jinping on Saturday to discuss trade and claimed “big progress” was being made.

Chinese state media were more reserved, saying Xi hoped the negotiating teams could meet each other half way and reach an agreement that was mutually beneficial.

The Wall Street Journal reported negotiators were starting to work out a deal that could boost U.S. exports and loosen regulations that stifle U.S. firms in China.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS added 0.2 percent in early trade, but was still down 16 percent for the year. Japan’s Nikkei .N225 was closed for a holiday having ended the year with a loss of 12 percent.

Across the region, the worst performer of the year was the index of Chinese blue chips .CSI300 which lost a quarter of its value. The only major market in the black for the year was India, where the BSE .BSESN was ahead by almost 6 percent.

The story was much the same across the globe, with the vast majority of the major stock indices in the red.

The S&P 500 .SPX is off almost 10 percent for December, its worst month since February 2009. That left it down 15 percent for the quarter and 7 percent for the year.

“Simply looking at the markets would suggest that the global economy is headed into recession,” said Robert Michele, chief investment officer and head of fixed income at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

“However, while we agree the global economy is in a growth slowdown, we don’t see an impending recession,” he added, in part because the Federal Reserve could provide a policy cushion.

“Already, commentary out of the Fed suggests that it is nearing the end of a three-year journey to normalize policy,” argued Michele.

NO MORE HIKES

Indeed, Fed fund futures <0#FF:> have largely priced out any hike for next year and now imply a quarter point cut by mid-2020.

The Treasury market clearly thinks the Fed is done on hikes, with yields on two-year paper US2YT=RR having fallen to just 2.52 percent from a peak of 2.977 percent in November.

The $15.5 trillion market is heading to its biggest monthly rally in 2-1/2 years, according to an index compiled by Bloomberg and Barclays.

The precipitous drop in yields has undermined the U.S. dollar in recent weeks. Against a basket of currencies .DXY, it was on track to end December with a loss of 0.9 percent but was still up on the year as a whole.

It has also had a tough month against the yen with a loss of 2.8 percent, and was last trading at 110.31 JPY=>. Then again, 2018 was a pretty stable year for the pair given they spent all of it in a narrow trading range of 104.55 to 114.54.

The euro was ending the month on a firmer note at $1.1439 EUR=, but still nursed losses of almost 5 percent for the year to date.

That was trivial compared with the hit oil prices have taken in the last couple of months, with Brent down almost 40 percent since its peak in October.

Early Monday, the crude benchmark LCOc1 was up 14 cents at $53.35 a barrel but down 20 percent for the year. U.S. crude futures CLc1 nudged up 7 cents to $45.40.

Gold was ending the year on a high note after rallying almost 5 percent in the past month to stand at $1,279.26 an ounce XAU=.

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5 ways to pay off a loan faster

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Gaining access to a loan has gotten easier and easier, but borrowers must still navigate a system that offers both good and bad loans. With so many options and hidden clauses, finding the right strategy for paying off a loan faster can seem complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. Borrowers can still achieve financial freedom quickly while remaining Zen.

Here are five ways to pay off a loan faster:

1. Increasing the monthly payment

Yes, this is an obvious strategy and might seem difficult to do at first glance. However, you’d be surprised at what you can really do when you use a loan payment calculator to determine how much you’ll save on interest payments if the loan is closed ahead of schedule.

Before calculating the amount to increase the monthly payment, borrowers need to contact their bank to find out:

  • how early repayment takes place;
  • what hidden fees and penalties exist for early repayment;
  • whether it is necessary to write an application;
  • when the payments can be made.

All these factors can significantly affect the final amount due. Often, the contract contains hidden payments and sanctions for early full or partial repayment of the loan. It is less profitable for a bank to allow their client to close a loan or credit account ahead of time. For this reason, many companies resort to all sorts of tricks to prevent clients from paying off their loans early.

2. Finding an additional source of income

Another perhaps overlooked approach to paying off a loan is to simply increase your income. Some options for doing this might include

  • getting a part-time job;
  • working additional shifts;
  • looking for temporary seasonal openings;
  • engaging in a one-time project;
  • selling unnecessary or unused household items.

Whatever the activity, it does not have to be related to the borrower’s main profile and specialization. In spring and summer, unskilled workers are constantly required for cleaning summer cottages, harvesting crops, or pruning bushes. In the winter, it can be tutoring, cleaning apartments, construction and repair work, tailoring, and freelancing.

3. Minimizing expenses

Many borrowers find it impossible to pay off their loans without cutting costs.

So, it is a good idea to analyze your income and expenses, leaving room for only the essentials.

Borrowers need to be as honest as possible with themselves and clearly define what they can temporarily refuse in favor of quick loan repayment.

During this period, borrowers should avoid unnecessary expenses or online shopping, and develop a rational but economical meal plan.

Cutting costs should also include getting rid of expensive habits like alcohol, cigarettes, morning lattes on the way to work, lunch with employees in a cafe, or Friday evenings out with friends. However, borrowers should have in mind that these are only temporary harsh measures to shorten the loan term that will help them get out of debt.

4. Rounding up the Payments

Rounding up the payments is an interesting strategy to reduce the time it will take to pay off the loan. For example, a borrower owing $425 a month can decide to be paying $500 a month. This little commitment adds up to an extra 75$ in repayment every month. Over time, that adds up to a significant amount, saving interest payments and getting the borrowers out of debt ahead of schedule.

5. Speeding up the loan repayment

Another clever strategy is to make a bi-weekly payment rather than just one monthly payment. Which is better: paying $1000 per month or $500 every two weeks? The second strategy wins.

To really speed up the loan repayment, borrowers could divide their monthly payment in half and pay that amount every two weeks. This means making 26 half-payments in one year, which is the equivalent of a whole additional monthly payment. This 13th payment is called the accelerator. It allows borrowers to pay off their loans faster.

The bottom line

Paying off the loan faster decreases the overall term of the loan and helps borrowers get out of debt ahead of schedule.

In addition to adopting the strategies above, borrowers may be able to help themselves by adopting good financial habits that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Borrowers who spend less than what they earn can reduce their debt and even start saving for other projects. They can do this by revising their monthly budget. This allows them to control their game plan and quickly see where they need to adjust.

These good habits will not only help people take control of their debt, but also take control of their general finances.

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Future of Ottawa: Coffee with Francis Bueckert

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Francis Bueckert: When it comes to the current landscape of coffee-roasting companies and independent cafes in Ottawa, I think we are at a really interesting moment in time. There are more local roasters that are doing artisanal small-batch production—with more attention to the quality and origin of the beans.

With larger corporations such as Starbucks closing locations, it has opened a bit of space for local players to grow. We have been lucky to work with many folks in the coffee-roasting community, and we have found that there is a willingness to collaborate among different coffee roasters. For example, when Cloudforest started back in 2014, we were roasting our coffee at Happy Goat and it was the expertise of their head roaster Hans that helped me learn how to roast. Other companies such as Brown Bag Coffee have also lent a hand when we needed extra roasting capacity. There are others, such as Lulo, Mighty Valley Coffee, Bluebarn, The Artery, and Little Victories that are also part of the growing local coffee community. It’s small roasters like these who have shown me what a coffee community can look like, and that we can help to elevate each other, rather than being locked in competition.

If you care to make a prediction… What’s happening to the local café industry in 2021?

We believe that there is hope and that 2021 can be a big pivot year for small roasters and cafes.

This year will not be ideal from a business point of view. However, it could create a shift in people’s attitude toward where they get their coffee. We are holding out hope that people will support the roasters and cafes that are local to help them economically survive what is in all reality a very difficult time.

It all depends on where consumers decide to go this year. People are starting to recognize that supporting large corporations at this moment will be at the cost of the local roasters and cafes. There is the growing realization that a future where there is only Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks would be pretty bleak. So we have an opportunity this year to support the kind of local businesses that we want to see thrive.

In your wildest dreams, what will the landscape for local coffee roasters and cafés look like in your lifetime?

In my wildest dreams, all of the coffee roasters and cafés would be locally owned and independent. They would all be focused on direct trade and artisanal coffee. Each different coffee roaster and café would know exactly where their coffee came from. Ideally, each company would be a partnership between the farmers who grow the beans and the people here selling them. There would be a focus on how to cooperate and collaborate with the farmers in the countries of origin to share the benefits around. We would all work together and share orders of cups, lids, and other packaging so that we could get better bulk pricing. In this way, we would make our local coffee community so efficient that the large corporate coffee companies wouldn’t even be able to compete.

We would also like to see people use coffee as a way to create social good. For example, we started Cloudforest as a way of helping support farmers in Ecuador who were taking a stand against large mining companies. This remote community stood up to protect their environment, so that they could have clean drinking water and soil for the next generation. They started an organic coffee cooperative to help show that there are other models of development, and we are doing our part year after year to help support their vision. They have a vision of development that does not include mass deforestation and contamination, and organic coffee is a key (among others) to show that another way forward is possible.

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Special events in the Ottawa Valley dominate annual OVTA tourism awards

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The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association hopes that its annual tourism awards will provide a little sunshine during what is a dark time for local tourism operators because of the pandemic.

The Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards are presented annually by the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association (OVTA) to individuals, businesses, and events that recognize the importance of working together for the growth of the local tourism industry, as well as offering exceptional visitor experiences.

“After a year that saw a lot of businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry being challenged like never before, the annual Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards represent a bit of light on the horizon” said Chris Hinsperger, co-owner of the Bonnechere Caves.

The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s (OVTA) Awards Committee co-chairpersons, Meghan James and Chris Hinsperger, said they were very pleased with the recent nominations received, especially in the Special Events category. Submissions were received for The Farm to Fork Dinner Series at the Whitewater Inn; Light up the Valley; The Eganville Curling Clubs’ Rock the Rings; The Ontario Festival of Small Halls ; The Bonnechere Caves On-line Underground Concert Series; The Opeongo Nordic Ski Clubs’ Ski Loppet; The Tour de Bonnechere — Ghost de Tour 2020; and The Bonnechere Caves Rock ‘n Roll Parking Lot Picnic.

“During a time when communities were challenged, it is nice to see that people still made an effort to get together and celebrate, albeit under certain conditions. It just shows the creativity and resiliency of our tourism Community here in the valley” said Meghan James, director of sales at the Pembroke Best Western.

There are three Award categories: The Marilyn Alexander Tourism Champion Award, The Business of Distinction and The Special Event of the Year.

Hinsperger, is excited about this year’s awards.

“During this pandemic the hospitality and tourism industry was the first to be hit, was the hardest hit and will be the last of our industries to fully recover. As Valley entrepreneurs we owe it to ourselves, to our businesses and to our communities to be an active part of that recovery. Our livelihood and economic recovery depends on our efforts. And we will get back to welcoming people from all over the world to share a little bit of the place we are privileged to call home. This awards process leaves myself and others fully optimistic about our positive outcomes.”

Award winners will be announced at the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s virtual annual general meeting on Monday, May 31.

The OVTA is the destination marketing organization for the Upper Ottawa Valley and proudly represents more than 200 tourism businesses, comprised of attractions and outfitters, accommodation, food, beverage and retail establishments, artists and galleries, municipalities, as well as media and industry suppliers. The OVTA is supported by the County of Renfrew, Renfrew County municipalities and the City of Pembroke.

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