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IFC, THE MASTERCARD FOUNDATION, AND FINCA SUPPORT EXPANSION OF FINANCIAL INCLUSION IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

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IFC, THE MASTERCARD FOUNDATION, AND FINCA SUPPORT EXPANSION OF FINANCIAL INCLUSION IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, together with The MasterCard Foundation, today announced a cooperation agreement valued at $1 million with microfinance institution FINCA in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Under the agreement, FINCA will expand access to credit and digital financial services for low-income people and small-scale entrepreneurs.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has made great strides in increasing financial inclusion in recent years, yet less than 11 percent of adults in the DRC have an account with a formal financial institution, and only 2 percent have access to formal and regulated credit services. Such financial exclusion can be a significant constraint on individual and overall economic development.

While mainstream commercial banks in the DRC almost exclusively serve large corporate clients, FINCA DRC focuses on providing financial services to small-scale entrepreneurs that constitute the largest part of the informal economy. FINCA DRC currently is the largest microfinance institution in the Democratic Republic of Congo, operating in four regions of the country through a network of 20 branches and 900 FINCA eXpress agents. About half of its 256,000 customers are women.

Andrée Simon, CEO of FINCA Microfinance Holding Company, said, “FINCA is dedicated to providing access to responsible and affordable financial services to low-income Congolese. This initiative will propel FINCA to better leverage the power of digital technology and put banking in the hands of our customers, no matter where they live.”

IFC will provide advisory services for two years to help FINCA DRC strengthen its ability to offer access to credit for customers and to expand its mobile banking operations to increase its reach by 200,000 new clients. The project is part of the Partnership for Financial Inclusion, a joint initiative of IFC and The MasterCard Foundation to expand microfinance and advance digital financial services in Sub-Saharan Africa.

RiadhNaouar, head of IFC Financial Industry Group Advisory Services in Africa, said, “It is exciting to see how FINCA has already begun to transform the financial landscape in the Democratic Republic of Congo with a ground-breaking mobile banking solution. Access to financial services for all is a cornerstone of inclusive economic growth and development.”

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Oil prices hit 11-month highs on tighter supplies, Fed assurance on low rates

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Oil prices hit 11-month highs on tighter supplies, Fed assurance on low rates 1

By Florence Tan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices rose for a fourth straight session on Thursday to the highest levels in more than 11 months, underpinned by monetary easing policies and lower crude production in the United States.

Brent crude futures for April gained 19 cents, 0.3%, to $67.23 a barrel by 0400 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for April was at $63.30 a barrel, up 8 cents, 0.1%.

Both contracts touched their highest since January earlier in the session with Brent at $67.44 and WTI at $63.67.

An assurance from the U.S. Federal Reserve that interest rates would stay low for a while boosted investors’ risk appetite and global financial markets.

“Comments from Fed Chairman, Jerome Powell, earlier in the week relating to the need for monetary policy to remain accommodative have probably helped, but sentiment in the oil market has also become more bullish, with expectations for a tightening oil balance,” ING analysts said in a note.

A rare winter storm in Texas has caused U.S. crude production to drop by more than 10%, or 1 million barrels per day (bpd) last week, the Energy Information Administration said. [EIA/S]

Fuel supplies in the world’s largest oil consumer could also tighten as its refinery crude inputs had dropped to the lowest since September 2008.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+, is due to meet on March 4.

The group will discuss a modest easing of oil supply curbs from April given a recovery in prices, OPEC+ sources said, although some suggest holding steady for now given the risk of new setbacks in the battle against the pandemic.

Extra voluntary cuts by Saudi Arabia in February and March have tightened global supplies and supported prices.

(Reporting by Florence Tan)

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Australian media reforms pass parliament after last-ditch changes

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Australian media reforms pass parliament after last-ditch changes 2

By Colin Packham and Swati Pandey

CANBERRA (Reuters) – The Australian parliament on Thursday passed a new law designed to force Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc to pay media companies for content used on their platforms in reforms that could be replicated in other countries.

Australia will be the first country where a government arbitrator will decide the price to be paid by the tech giants if commercial negotiations with local news outlets fail.

The legislation was watered down, however, at the last minute after a standoff between the government and Facebook culminated in the social media company blocking all news for Australian users.

Subsequent amendments to the bill included giving the government the discretion to release Facebook or Google from the arbitration process if they prove they have made a “significant contribution” to the Australian news industry.

Some lawmakers and publishers have warned that could unfairly leave smaller media companies out in the cold, but both the government and Facebook have claimed the revised legislation as a win.

“The code will ensure that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public-interest journalism in Australia,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a joint statement on Thursday.

The progress of the legislation has been closely watched around the world as countries including Canada and Britain consider similar steps to rein in the dominant tech platforms.

The revised code, which also includes a longer period for the tech companies to strike deals with media companies before the state intervenes, will be reviewed within one year of its commencement, the statement said. It did not provide a start date.

The legislation does not specifically name Facebook or Google. Frydenberg said earlier this week he will wait for the tech giants to strike commercial deals with media companies before deciding whether to compel both to do so under the new law.

Google has struck a series of deals with publishers, including a global content arrangement with News Corp, after earlier threatening to withdraw its search engine from Australia over the laws.

Several media companies, including Seven West Media, Nine Entertainment and the Australian Broadcasting Corp have said they are in talks with Facebook.

Representatives for both Google and Facebook did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters for comment on Thursday.

(Reporting by Colin Packham in Canberra and Swati Pandey in Sydney; Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Leslie Adler, Stephen Coates and Jane Wardell)

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OPEC+ to weigh modest oil output boost at meeting – sources

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OPEC+ to weigh modest oil output boost at meeting - sources 3

By Ahmad Ghaddar, Alex Lawler and Olesya Astakhova

LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – OPEC+ oil producers will discuss a modest easing of oil supply curbs from April given a recovery in prices, OPEC+ sources said, although some suggest holding steady for now given the risk of new setbacks in the battle against the pandemic.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, cut output by a record 9.7 million bpd last year as demand collapsed due to the pandemic. As of February, it is still withholding 7.125 million bpd, about 7% of world demand.

In January OPEC+ slowed the pace of a planned output increase to match weaker-than-expected demand due to continued coronavirus lockdowns. Saudi Arabia made extra voluntary cuts for February and March.

Three OPEC+ sources said an output increase of 500,000 barrels per day from April looked possible without building up inventories, although updated supply and demand balances that ministers will consider at their March 4 meeting will determine their decision.

“The oil price is definitely high and the market needs more oil to cool the prices down,” one of the OPEC+ sources said. “A 500,000 bpd increase from April is an option – looks like a good one.”

A rally in prices towards $67 a barrel, the highest since January 2020, the rollout of vaccines and economic recovery hopes have boosted confidence the market could take more oil. India, the world’s third biggest oil importer, has urged OPEC+ to ease production cuts.

Saudi Arabia’s voluntary cut of 1 million barrels per day (bpd) ends next month. While Riyadh hasn’t shared its plans beyond March, expectations in the group are growing that Saudi Arabia will bring back the supply from April, perhaps gradually.

Some OPEC+ members also anticipate that the Saudis will be willing to ease cuts further, but it was not clear if they had had direct communication with Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia has warned producers to be “extremely cautious” and some OPEC members are wary of renewed demand setbacks. One OPEC country source said a full return of the Saudi barrels in April would mean the rest of OPEC+ should not pump more yet.

“The Saudi voluntary cut will be back to the market,” the source said. “I’m personally with no more relaxation, not until June.”

Russia, one of the OPEC+ countries which was allowed to boost output in February, is keen to raise supply and a source last week said Moscow would propose adding more oil if nothing changed before the March 4 virtual meeting.

(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal and Nidhi Verma; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

 

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