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Algeria Jails Former Energy Boss

FILE: Then-Sonatrach CEO Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour (right) with Indonesian Elia Massa Makik of Pertamina, in Algeirs, Algeria. Taken December 21, 2017

An Algerian court on Tuesday handed a 15-year prison sentence to the former head of state energy giant Sonatrach in a corruption case involving an Italian refinery, his lawyer said.

Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour, accused of squandering public funds, abuse of office and conflict of interest, was "sentenced to 15 years in prison without parole", his lawyer Miloud Brahimi said.

Ould Kaddour had been on trial over the 2018 purchase of the Sicilian Augusta oil refinery, the latest ex-official in late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's administration to be jailed for alleged corruption.

According to Algerian media, the state oil and gas firm had paid ExxonMobil subsidiary Esso Italiana $720 million for the site and associated infrastructure, seen as overpriced for a refinery in operation since the 1950s.

Prosecutors said the deal had cost Sonatrach over $2 billion, including some $916 million for the fuel stocked at the site, as well as renovation costs.

Sonatrach's former deputy chief Ahmed Mazighi, who oversaw the purchase, was jailed for seven years, Brahimi said.

Another former Sonatrach official indicted in the case was jailed for three years and a fourth was released, the lawyer added.

Ould Kaddour, who was close to Bouteflika, had been extradited from the United Arab Emirates in August last year after being detained on an international arrest warrant.

Appointed as Sonatrach head in March 2017, he was sacked just three weeks after Bouteflika's April 2019 resignation amid vast protests against his 20-year rule.

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Nearly Everyone Has a Mobile!

FILE: The iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max are displayed at the Apple Fifth Avenue store, Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, in New York.

Nearly three quarters of people over the age of 10 now own a mobile phone, potentially opening the way to broader internet use, the United Nations said Wednesday.

The UN's International Telecommunication Union has provided its first estimate of regional and global ownership, revealing that 73 percent of the world's population over 10 years of age owned a cellphone in 2022.

"Mobile phones are the most common gateway to internet use, with the percentage of ownership serving as an indicator of internet availability and access," the ITU said as it launched its annual report on global connectivity.

The ITU found that mobile phone ownership had grown steadily in recent years, estimating it had risen from under 67 percent in 2019.

The online population also saw a big "bump" up in 2020 during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, ITU senior economist Thierry Geiger told AFP.

Unsurprisingly, ownership was highest in wealthy countries, where 95 percent of people currently own a mobile phone, and lowest in low-income countries, where only 49 percent do, the ITU said.

"Mobile phones are the most common gateway to internet use, with the percentage of ownership serving as an indicator of internet availability and access," the ITU said as it launched its annual report on global connectivity.

But it cautioned that mobile phone ownership remains higher than internet use -- especially in lower-income countries, with broadband usually more expensive than cellular-only services.

The UN's telecoms agency says roughly a third of the planet has still never been online.

But the online population has been increasing and an estimated 5.3 billion people, or 66 percent of people worldwide, are now using the internet.

"Access to the internet is increasing, but not as quickly and evenly across the world as it needs to," Doreen Bogdan-Martin, who heads the ITU's telecommunications development division and will soon take over as agency chief, said in the statement.

"Too many people still live in digital darkness."

According to Wednesday's report, the global median price of mobile-broadband services dropped from 1.9 percent of average gross national income (GNI) per capita last year to 1.5 percent now.

However, the cost still remains too high for the average consumer in most low-income economies, where a basic mobile data plan is estimated to cost nine percent of GNI per capita.

The ITU called on all countries to ensure affordable broadband access, defined as costing less than two percent of GNI per capita.

While the cost of connectivity appears to be continuing its decline, Geiger warned rising costs for other necessities could force many to move offline.

The ITU report also found a significant gender gap: some 259 million fewer women have access to the internet than men.

Only 63 percent of women are currently using the internet, compared to 69 percent of men, it said.



U.S. Hiring Slows

FILE: A help-wanted sign hangs in the front window of the Bar Harbor Tea Room, Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Bar Harbor, Maine.

US employers eased their hiring pace in November, with job creation slowing the most since early 2021, as the central bank's interest rate hikes trickle through the economy, payroll firm ADP said Wednesday.

November job creation slowed by the most since January 2021, ADP said.

Private employment rose by 127,000 jobs this month, much less than analysts expected and below the 239,000-job increase in October, with firms no longer in "hyper-replacement mode," the survey showed.

"Turning points can be hard to capture in the labor market, but our data suggest that Federal Reserve tightening is having an impact on job creation and pay gains," said ADP chief economist Nela Richardson in a statement.

The slowdown was led by construction and other sectors sensitive to interest rate hikes, while consumer-facing segments such as health care and hospitality proved to be "bright spots."

Employees saw annual pay gains moderate further to 7.6 percent in November, according to ADP's recently revamped report which includes wage data.

For those who changed jobs, the median change in annual pay was up 15.1 percent, but the report noted that job changers had the smallest increase in pay since January as well.

Richardson added that the post-pandemic recovery is also "stabilizing" with fewer people quitting their jobs.

"Overall, the trend in job growth remains positive and the labor market remains tight. But there are some initial signs of softening," said economist Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics in a note.

While she expects job growth to remain positive for now, the pace is "expected to slow further in response to Fed hikes, which will... slow demand and economic activity over time."

The ADP data also comes before key employment figure is released by the Labor Department on Friday.


U.S. Third-Quarter GDP Up

FILE: US President Joe Biden speaks during an event on Micron's plan to invest in CHIPS manufacturing, at the SRC Arena in Syracuse, New York. Taken October 27, 2022.

The US economy grew more than initially reported in the third quarter this year, with government data released Wednesday reflecting upward revisions to retail spending and some forms of investment.

GDP growth in the July to September period came in at 2.9 percent, annualized, better than the 2.6 percent figure reported in October by the Commerce Department.

It was the first expansion this year, after two quarters of negative growth that deepened fears of a recession in the world's biggest economy.

The latest estimate "primarily reflected upward revisions to consumer spending and nonresidential fixed investment," the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

But this was partially offset by private inventory investment that was lower than expected, while imports decreased more than earlier estimated, the statement added.

The pick-up came days before midterm elections in the United States, in welcome news for President Joe Biden, but analysts have cautioned of a less rosy path ahead, saying that the leap seen in exports was unsustainable.

Economist Oren Klachkin cautioned that the headline figure "masks cracks beneath the surface." A downward revision to imports meant net trade offered an "even heftier" boost to growth, he added in a note.

He added that the report also offered an early look at how companies fared in the last quarter, noting that profits "fared relatively well" despite a challenging environment.

"Despite higher borrowing costs and prices, household spending - the driver of the economy - appears to be holding," added economist Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics in an analysis.

While economists expect this to be a positive trend in the near-term, they expect growth to follow a slower path as moves to cool the economy and bring down inflation bite.

Spotify CEO Attacks Apple

FILE: Daniel Ek, CEO of Swedish music streaming service Spotify, gestures as he makes a speech at a press conference in Tokyo on September 29, 2016.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek renewed his attack on Apple on Wednesday through a series of tweets alleging the iPhone maker "gives itself every advantage while at the same time stifling innovation and hurting consumers".

"So how much longer will we look away from this threat to the future of the internet? How many more consumers will be denied choice?," Ek said in a tweet tagging the European Commission and the U.S. Commerce Department.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. It said earlier this week that the commissions it gets help to fund reviews of apps to ensure consumers are not exposed to fraud, pornography or privacy-intrusion.

Spotify has previously submitted antitrust complaints against Apple's policies with the European Commission.

On Monday, Elon Musk criticized the fee Apple charges software developers, including Twitter, for in-app purchases, and posted a meme suggesting he was willing to "go to war" rather than pay the levy.

Apart from Musk, Ek also tagged various technology executives in his tweets, from Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney to Microsoft President Brad Smith.

"So how much longer will we look away from this threat to the future of the internet? How many more consumers will be denied choice?," Ek said in a tweet tagging the European Commission and the U.S. Commerce Department.

"There's been a lot of talk. Talk is helpful but we need action," Ek said.

Nigeria Ending Oil Imports

FILE: Nigeria petroleum minister Timipre Sylva attends a session of the "Saudi Green Initiative" forum, in the capital Riyadh on Oct. 23, 2021.

Nigeria expects to stop importing petroleum products from before or around the third quarter of 2023, its oil minister Timipre Sylva said on Tuesday.

"We're expecting that we will actually be exiting the importation of petroleum products from maybe about third quarter next year if I was to give it a longer timeframe, but I believe that even before the third quarter next year," Sylva said.

With high global oil prices, Nigeria wants to refine its own fuels. Its previous efforts to revamp its refineries stalled, leaving it reliant on imports.

Nigeria swaps its crude for refined petroleum products but is in the process of modernizing the Port Harcourt refinery at a cost of $1.5 billion.

Sylva said a refurbished refinery in the city of Port Harcourt in the oil-producing Niger Delta would be delivering 60,000 barrels per day of refined crude by the end of December.

The minister also said he still expects the new Dangote refinery to come on stream in the first quarter of next year.

"We're expecting that we will actually be exiting the importation of petroleum products from maybe about third quarter next year if I was to give it a longer timeframe, but I believe that even before the third quarter next year," Sylva said.

Nigeria's production of crude had improved to about 1.3 million barrels per day from under 1 million barrels previously, and that the country hoped to meet its OPEC quota by May of next year, Sylva told reporters in Abuja.

Oil is Nigeria's biggest export earner, but crude theft and vandalism of pipelines have cut oil and gas output, knocking the country from its spot as Africa's top producer.

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