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Cathay Pacific 747 sits at Vanouver Airport. (ANDY CLARK)
Cathay Pacific 747 sits at Vanouver Airport. (ANDY CLARK)

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Friendly skies: Airline staff lose jobs after X-rated photos Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Friday, Aug. 12. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

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Friendly skies Here we are again, the Friday of a frantic week when everyone would like to forget about markets and the economy for just a few minutes. So here's something different.

Cathay Pacific Airways is taking pains today to assure its customers that two crew members who were photographed in a - um, compromising - situation weren't photographed that way while they were in flight. Which is comforting indeed.The airline went so far as to get rid of the employees in question.

I'll let this statement issued today by chief executive officer John Slosar speak for itself:

“I can confirm that two members of our crew shown in compromising situations in photographs published recently in Chinese-language daily newspapers are no longer employees of the company.

"I can also report that we have found no evidence to suggest that the incidents happened on any of our flights while airborne.

"We will now produce a report of our findings and pass it to our regulator, the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department. We will continue to co-operate with the CAD as required.

"I know that many people were disturbed by the damage this incident caused to the reputation of our cockpit and cabin crews, all of them serious safety and service professionals, and to the airline itself."

The two members of the flight crew involved are believed to be a pilot and a flight attendant. Privacy laws prohibit the airline from releasing certain details, despite the fact that, according to Mr. Slosar, "I appreciate that some people wish to know more details of our findings." Yeah, I'll bet they do.

Euro leaders scurry Italy's cabinet met today and agreed to cut a further €45-billion ($63.5-billion) in the next two years, which would allow the embattled government to meet its commitments to the European Central Bank to erase its deficit.

Some €20-billion in cuts will come next year, a further €25-billion in 2013.

“Our heart is bleeding as we have always maintained that we wouldn’t put our hands in the pockets of Italians, but the international scenario has deeply changed,” Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said, according to reports from Bloomberg News. “The measures go in the direction that the ECB wanted.”

Included are tax measures on high-income earners, and billions of euros in cuts to transfers to lower levels of government, in addition to other initiatives.

Other government leaders are also scrambling to get a handle on Europe's debt crisis, having failed to do so now for almost two years.

German leader Angela Merkel and her French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy also plan another meeting early next week to try to come up with other solutions, while the French leader has ordered additional budget cuts as well.

Europe's leaders have been unable to calm fears over their debt crisis, leading many observers to complain about a policy vacuum and a lack of co-ordinated action aimed at long-term stability. Most meetings to date, and short-term measures such as boosting the size of their bailout fund, seem to calm things down for days, or in some cases just hours, at most. The group has generally been divided.

Dead Pensioners Society Want to know one of the reasons Greece is in such trouble?

According to Reuters, the country's largest pension fund has unearthed - yes, that was intended - the fact that it has been paying out benefits to dead people, 1,473 of them.

The news agency quotes Rovertos Spyropoulos, the chief of the IKA-ETAM fund, as pledging to take action against anyone who took the pensions of their dead relatives. He wants to stem losses of some €2-million a month.

They call them "phantom" pensioners, and it's not clear who's getting the money. And with soaring unemployment and lost input, funds need to save every euro they can.

This all began because the government, which has already got one bailout and has one of the worst tax systems in the world, found that it had 9,000 people registered as pensioners who were over 100 years old. The pension fund then began checking its elderly. A very long lifespan in Greece? Nope, just a lot of dead people still collecting benefits.

Can it get worse than that?

"I am very much afraid that when the census is completed on Sept. 3 this figure will be multiplied," Mr. Spyropoulos told a television interviewer.

Indicators grim The actual economic news from Europe today is bleak.

The French economy flatlined in the second quarter, pulled down by wary consumers, according to France's statistics agency. Despite the fact that GDP stalled in the quarter, the government is sticking to its guns and pledging to meet its deficit-reduction targets.

“No one should doubt our determination to respect the deficit targets that the president of the republic has fixed,” the country's finance minister said in a radio interview.

Separately, indicators from Greece showed the country where the debt crisis began continues to sink into the muck.

GDP contracted 6.9 per cent in the quarter, compared to a year earlier. And across the euro zone, industrial production slipped.

Yesterday, Greece reported depressing jobless numbers, showing the unemployment rate rose in May to 16.6 per cent. It has been climbing steadily since its most recent low of 6.6 per cent in May 2008.

"The overnight economic data were uniformly weaker, contributing to concerns about slowing global growth," said BMO's Mr. Reitzes.

"Europe saw some of the softer data, with French real GDP growth flat in Q2, versus expectations of a 0.3-per-cent gain. A sharp decline in consumer spending was the only area of weakness. Part of the drop was due to the expiry of government car purchase incentives. Even so, the decline is worrying as households have been strong contributors to growth over the past year and that needs to continue as government spending cuts flow through. Meantime, euro area June industrial production unexpectedly fell 0.7 per cent, highlighting that the entire region had trouble in the early summer months."

Retail sales buoy hopes In the United States, however, a report on retail sales showed U.S. consumers still have some spunk left in them, a good sign for a stalling economy.

Retail sales rose 0.5 per cent in July, while June's gain was revised upward today. That suggests consumer spending will rebound at an annualized pace of about 2 per cent in the current quarter, after a weak showing in the last quarter, said senior economist Sal Guatieri of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

"After flatlining in the spring, the American consumer is showing a pulse," Mr. Guatieri said. "Don’t write off the American consumer (or economy) just yet. Firmer employment in July likely boosted sales, and lower jobless claims point to better job growth in August. Recent declines in oil prices and interest rates will remove the sting from the equities pullback. The solid July retail sales report should help allay recession fears."

Dissent at Fed doesn't look to ease The dissent in the ranks of the Federal Reserve isn't likely to ease any time soon, based on the comments of one of its members today.

The U.S. central bank meeting earlier this week wasn't notable only because the Fed said it would hold interest rates low for two more years, but also because three members of the policy-setting panel dissented to a change in language, which could have ramifications going forward.

Previously, the Fed had said it would hold rates at emergency levels for an "extended period," which is generally taken to mean up to six months. But at the latest meeting, it changed that to say it expected rates to hold at their lows until mid-2013.

Today, Narayana Kockerlakota, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and one of the dissenters, gave his reasons on his website.

"I believe that in November, the committee judiciously chose a level of accommodation that was well calibrated for the prevailing economic conditions," he said.

"Since November, inflation has risen and unemployment has fallen. I do not believe that providing more accommodation - easing monetary policy - is the appropriate response to these changes in the economy. Going forward, my votes on monetary policy will continue to be based on the evolution of the data on PCE inflation and its components, medium-term PCE inflation expectations, and unemployment."

Sprint drops PlayBook 4G plans One of the major carrier partners of Research In Motion Ltd. has dropped plans to carry the new version of the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, raising concerns there isn’t enough preliminary interest in the product.

Sprint confirmed today it will not carry the cellular-equipped version of the PlayBook, due out this fall, on its high-speed network. Like other carriers, Sprint will continue to carry the Wi-Fi-only model currently in stores.

Clearwater gets bid A battle of sorts may be shaping up on the high seas.

Canada's Clearwater Seafoods Income Fund said today it has become the target of a $97-million takeover bid by Cooke Acquaculture Inc., a family-run business that has grown over the years to now boast operations in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrado, PEI, Maine, Spain and Chile.

Clearwater, a seafood company based in Halifax, said Cooke already holds more than 20 per cent of the fund's units and almost 11 per cent of the voting rights. It's offering $3.50 a unit.

But Clearwater Fine Foods Inc. holds the equivalent of more than 48 per cent of the voting rights and "they are not interested in selling any of their securities in the fund."

In International Business today Forbes magazine has opened a lawsuit against a firm in Russia’s Dagestan region that published an unlicensed “special edition” of the magazine on how to do business there. Thomas Grove of Reuters reports from Moscow.

From today's Report on Business

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