Daily Archives: February 18, 2015

Mississippi asks Supreme Court to review ruling blocking abortion law

<span class="articleLocatio

n”>(Reuters) – Mississippi asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to review a lower court decision blocking a law that would shut the state’s sole abortion clinic.

Mississippi is among several states that have passed laws requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinics. Some of the measures are under court review.

A federal district court judge issued a temporary injunction in 2012 blocking the Mississippi law because it would have forced women seeking abortions to go out of state. The same judge issued a second injunction in 2013, which was upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last November.

The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office argued in its filing that the U.S. Supreme Court should weigh in on whether closing Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic places an undue burden on women seeking the procedure when it is available in adjoining states.

A spokeswoman for Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, declined to comment on the petition.

Abortion rights advocates urged the high court not to take the case.

“The Court should decline to review the sound determination that Mississippi women would be irreparably harmed if the state were allowed to close its last clinic,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Abortion rights supporters say the law in Mississippi and similar ones elsewhere impose medically unnecessary requirements targeting providers of the procedure.

Anti-abortion advocates have countered they are intended to protect women’s health, although some have also said they would likely shutter clinics.

If the high court does not review the case, abortion rights advocates expect it to move forward at the trial court later this year.

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)


Source: Newsjyoti Politics

Kate Brown sworn in as Oregon governor, replacing embattled Democrat

Oregon Governor Kate Brown speaks after being sworn in at the state capital building in Salem, Oregon February 18, 2015. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola


(Reuters) – Liberal Democrat Kate Brown was sworn in as Oregon governor on Wednesday, pledging to restore trust in government after an influence-peddling scandal led to the resignation of her predecessor.

Brown replaced fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber, who stepped down as his administration faced federal and state corruption investigations because of allegations that his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, used her role in his office for financial gain.

Brown, 54, who had been secretary of state, took the oath of office during a ceremony in the state House of Representatives in Salem, Oregon’s capital, making her the nation’s first openly bisexual governor.

Kitzhaber, who had been elected in November to an unprecedented fourth term, has denied wrongdoing but agreed last week to resign following pressure from prominent Democrats who were once his strong allies.

“Oregon has been in the national news for all the wrong reasons. That changes, starting today,” said Brown, known for her efforts to expand voting and promote campaign finance transparency. “It’s time for us to get back to work. It’s time to move Oregon forward.”

Brown’s ascent to the governorship could give her an edge in a 2016 election triggered by Kitzhaber’s resignation. Oregon media had reported she had already been mulling a run for governor.

In public remarks after the swearing-in ceremony, Brown called for reforms to “restore the public’s trust” and for more jobs and access to good education and healthcare, but offered little in the way of specifics. She also vowed that neither she nor any family members would accept outside compensation related to state business.

Kitzhaber did not attend the ceremony and made no public statements afterward. Before stepping down, he commuted the sentence of a man convicted of attempted murder, Brown’s office said.

UNEASE AMONG REPUBLICANS

Republicans have expressed concern that Brown might try to lead Democrats further left.

“She doesn’t come in with a strong mandate,” University of Oregon political scientist Joseph Lowndes said. “In terms of getting things done, the landscape has changed in Salem and it may be that Democratic leaders in the Senate and House have more authority given there is a vacuum in leadership.”

Brown, whose role as secretary of state was focused mostly on behind-the-scenes workings of governance such as voting, was appointed to the state House in 1991. In 2004, she became the first woman to serve as state Senate majority leader.

She has touted her work in passing civil rights and domestic partnership laws, and she backed a bill to let Oregonians register to vote when they get a driver’s license. She also has worked to create an online campaign donation database.

Critics accused her of playing politics when she delayed a 2012 election for labor commissioner, a move perceived by some as helping a fellow Democrat.

(Reporting by Shelby Sebens in Salem, Ore.; Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)


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Rapper Vanilla Ice arrested on burglary charges in south Florida

Singer Vanilla Ice, whose real name is Robert VanWinkle, arrives at the 2012 MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles, in this file photo taken June 3, 2012. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Singer Vanilla Ice, whose real name is Robert VanWinkle, arrives at the 2012 MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles, in this file photo taken June 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Danny Moloshok


(Reuters) – The rapper known as Vanilla Ice was arrested on Wednesday after police said he stole furniture, a pool heater and other items from a neighbor’s home in south Florida.

Police earlier in the day searched the home of Robert Van Winkle, which is the musician’s legal name. They found there objects that had been stolen in recent months, according to a news release from the Lantana Police Department.

The home, which is under construction, is also where the artist is shooting his latest venture, a reality TV show for the DIY Network called “The Vanilla Ice Project.”

The rapper, best known for the song “Ice, Ice Baby,” met with investigators and offered a sworn statement before he was taken into custody, according to the news release.

He was expected to be charged with burglary of a residence and grand theft, Lantana Police Department Chief Sean Scheller told Reuters.

It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.

If jailed, he may have to spend the night until he can make a first court appearance in the morning, according to Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Natalie Cruz.

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Eric Walsh)


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Drake's stealth release flies to top of Billboard chart

Rapper Drake smiles during an announcement that the Toronto Raptors will host the NBA All-Star game in Toronto, in this September 30, 2013, file photo.  REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Rapper Drake smiles during an announcement that the Toronto Raptors will host the NBA All-Star game in Toronto, in this September 30, 2013, file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch


(Reuters) – Hip-hop star Drake’s surprise release “If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late” shot to the top of the Billboard 200 chart on Wednesday, and helped relegate reigning queen Taylor Swift’s “1989” to the No. 5 spot.

Taking a page from Beyonce’s book, Drake released his album on iTunes last Friday with no advance warning and debuted with 535,000 sales units – 495,000 of which were albums, according to figures from Nielsen SoundScan for the week ending Feb. 15.

It was Drake’s fourth No. 1 debuting album. Overall album sales for the week were the second largest in the last year, only behind industry-wide sales in the debut week of Swift’s “1989,” Billboard said.

The soundtrack “Fifty Shades of Grey” came in at No. 2 with 258,000 units sold after the book-inspired sex fantasy broke box office records in its debut weekend.

Sam Smith, the big winner from the Feb. 8 Grammy Awards, received a 91 percent Grammy sales boost from the previous week to 164,000 sales units, including 15 million streaming hits.

Fellow British singer and Grammy nominee Ed Sheeran’s “X” saw a 44 percent rise in sales after the Grammys but fell from third to fourth place.

Their good performances pushed Swift to her lowest spot on the chart since “1989” debuted 16 weeks ago. Her sales went up 16 percent to 125,000 units, but unlike the others ahead of her, she has no streaming sales since she famously pulled her material off that platform last year. Every week since release, “1989” has claimed one of the top two spots.

The reformulated Billboard 200 considers album sales, song downloads and online streaming to compile an album’s total sales units.

Los Angeles rocker “Beck,” the surprise winner of the best album Grammy for “Morning Phase,’ moved up to No. 8 from No. 39.

Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” bumped singer Bruno Mars and producer Mark Ronson’s hit “Uptown Funk!” from the top of the downloaded song chart after six weeks holding that spot. Sheeran’s song showed a 17 percent increase in downloads to 314,000.

(Reporting by Mary Milliken; Editing by Eric Kelsey and David Gregorio)


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Refinery blast at Exxon facility in Torrance, Calif., injures 4

Refinery units are heavily damaged after an explosion at the Exxon-Mobil refinery in Torrance


(Reuters) – An explosion and fire ripped through a gasoline processing unit at an Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance, California, near Los Angeles on Wednesday, slightly injuring four workers and shattering windows of surrounding buildings, authorities said.

 

The cause of the blast, shortly before 9 a.m. PST (12 p.m. GMT), was under investigation, but there was no evidence of foul play, said Torrance Fire Captain Steve Deuel.

“All personnel have been accounted for,” Exxon said in a statement. “Four contractors have been taken to Long Beach Medical Center for evaluation for minor injuries.”

Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey told local television station KNBC in an interview that people who live near the refinery should take precautions.

“The most important thing is to shelter in place, stay indoors, no outdoor activity, turn the air conditioners off, keep the windows closed,” Furey told the station.

Cory Milsap, an electrical contractor at the plant, said many workers were sent home after the explosion.

“All I heard was a loud sound and I saw people running.” … “All I saw was smoke and people running, so I made sure I got out of there,” Milsap said.

Jason Hernandez, another plant employee, said, “I felt the explosion really, really hard through my body. I got scared, I’m not going to lie.”

Giselle Monreal, a neighbor who lives across the street from the plant, said the blast shook the ground like an earthquake, knocking a 52 inch (132-cm) flat-screen television off its stand onto a coffee table and shattering a window in her garage.

Deuel said a small ground fire following the explosion was quickly extinguished. Firefighters and refinery crews also contained a gasoline leak caused by the blast, he said.

Surrounding areas were not evacuated, but nearby schools kept students and staff indoors immediately after the explosion as a precaution, Deuel said.

The fire captain said structural damage appeared to be confined to the processing unit that blew up but said the full extent of damage had yet to be ascertained.

“We’re in the process of stabilizing the situation and there are no other issues happening,” he told Reuters. Excess gasoline was being flared, or burned off, by the refinery, he added.

Students at 14 schools near the refinery were ordered to shelter in place because of concerns over air quality, meaning students would not be allowed outside, Torrance Unified School District spokeswoman Tammy Khan told Reuters.

The company was looking into the cause of the explosion, according to Gesuina Paras, a public and government affairs adviser at Exxon Mobil.

Trade publication OPIS, citing an unidentified source, reported that an electrostatic precipitator (ESP), which reduces fluid catalytic cracker particulates, exploded as contract workers were doing maintenance on the nearby fluid catalytic cracking unit, or FCC.

“Contractors working on the FCC to fix the expanders,” the source said, adding that an injection of ammonia on top of the flue gas stream caused a pressure buildup, which resulted in the ESP unit explosion.

The unit could take up to a year to replace, the source said.

Exxon Mobil’s shares extended morning losses after news of the blast before stabilizing. The shares were down 2.2 percent at $90.83 in late afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

TWISTED METAL, ASH

David Campbell, an official with the local chapter of the United Steelworkers union, which represents plant workers, also said the blast at the refinery occurred near the fluid catalytic cracking unit.

The plant, which occupies 750 acres (300 hectares), refines 155,000 barrels of crude oil per day, according to Exxon Mobil. Its workforce consists of 650 employees and 550 contractors.

Helicopter news footage on local television station KNBC showed a scene of twisted metal wreckage as firefighters poured streams of water on the refinery. A few vans were covered in ash and debris with their doors open.

Exxon had planned to overhaul the 100,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) gasoline-producing FCC at the refinery this month, said sources familiar with the refinery’s plans.

If the plant is shut due to the explosion and fire, it will be the second California refinery to be closed. Tesoro’s Martinez refinery is already shut.

News of the explosion jolted some energy markets. March-delivery CARBOB gasoline in the Los Angeles wholesale market jumped on news of the refinery fire, traders said.

Tesoro Corp shares rose more than 3.5 percent to $86.83. They have three California refineries and will benefit from the Torrance incident.

Torrance is a residential suburb about 20 miles (30 km) south of Los Angeles, which is also home to some industries. Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co Ltd have their North American operations bases there.

The city had a population of more than 147,000 in 2013, according to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate.

The incident came after the United Steelworkers walked out of 11 facilities, including nine refineries accounting for 13 percent of U.S. production capacity, after negotiations on a national contract stalled on Feb. 1. One of the central issues, according to the USW, is employee safety.

Torrance has not been part of the walkouts.

Striking U.S. refinery workers said on Wednesday that the Exxon blast underscores concerns the United Steelworkers has about safety standards at refineries and chemical plants nationwide.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman; Writing Bernard Orr; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)


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Ukrainian forces quit besieged town after rebel assault

Ukrainian servicemen ride on a tank as they leave area around Debaltseve


(Reuters) – Ukraine pulled thousands of troops out of an encircled town on Wednesday after a massive assault by pro-Russian rebels, who ignored a new ceasefire to seize the strategic railway junction.

 

The fall of the besieged town of Debaltseve was one of the worst defeats of the war for Ukraine’s troops, who proved unable to stop an advance by Moscow-backed rebels fighting for territory the Kremlin calls “New Russia”.

Twenty-two Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in the town in the past few days, the Ukrainian military high command said, with more than 150 wounded.

President Petro Poroshenko, who flew to the frontline, nevertheless tried to cast the battle in a positive light, saying that by holding out as long as they had, Ukraine’s troops had exposed “the true face of the bandits and separatists who are supported by Russia”.

The Ukrainian troops had held out for three days beyond the start of a Europe-brokered ceasefire, forcing the rebels to disavow the truce to pursue their advance on the town.

Ukrainian troops, their faces blackened, some in columns, some in cars, arrived in Artemivsk, about 30 km (20 miles) north of Debaltseve in government-held territory.

Fighting did not halt with the retreat. A Reuters correspondent near Debaltseve saw black smoke rising over the town and heard loud blasts hours after the withdrawal began.

“One hundred and sixty-seven wounded have been taken to Artemivsk. They did not pick up a lot of bodies. I don’t know the total figure,” Semen Semenchenko, who heads the Donbass paramilitary battalion, said on Facebook.

Eighty percent of the troops had withdrawn from the town by morning, Poroshenko said, and the rest were leaving in what he described as a planned and orderly withdrawal. He said the force withdrawing numbered more than 2,000 men.

The rebels described the battle as a victory and said they let the Ukrainian troops leave only after they were defeated.

“There were no attempts by Ukrainian forces to break through. The surrounded Ukrainian forces were completely demoralised. They lost their direction. They began shooting at residential areas of Debaltseve,” said a senior rebel commander, Eduard Basurin.

PUTIN SAYS SURRENDER

Despite drafting a U.N. Security Council resolution that called on all sides to cease fighting, Russia never criticised the rebel advance on Debaltseve. Hours before the town fell, President Vladimir Putin told Ukraine it should let its men surrender to save their lives.

The rebel advance drew denunciations from Western powers who accused Moscow of sending its armed forces to fight on behalf of the separatists in clear violation of the ceasefire negotiated with Germany and France last week in the Belarus capital Minsk.

Western countries pour scorn on Russia’s denials that it aids the rebels. NATO says hundreds of Russian troops are fighting in eastern Ukraine with advanced weapons systems.

Nevertheless, the Western outrage was tempered by hope that Putin and the rebels would now halt their advance and allow the peace deal to take effect, having achieved their immediate objective in a war that has killed more than 5,000 people.

While Washington and its European allies threatened to impose new economic sanctions on Moscow if fighting did not end, they were also careful to say the peace deal was still alive.

“We don’t consider it dead,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Washington. “We still need time for the agreement to work through.”

A German government spokesman said the Minsk agreement had been damaged but it still made sense to try to implement it.

From the moment the ceasefire took effect on Sunday, the rebels maintained that it did not apply to Debaltseve, a strategic location which links the main rebel-held areas.

With Debaltseve now in their hands, they indicated they would now start implementing the truce, announcing that they were pulling back heavy weapons from the front.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was clear that Moscow and the separatists had not lived up to the terms of the ceasefire, and “their failure to do so does put them at risk of greater costs”.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said he is making up his mind whether to provide weapons to Kiev. Earnest said he had no update on that decision.

European countries fear that sending weapons would backfire by escalating the conflict without providing Kiev enough fire power to win it. The EU is instead considering tighter economic sanctions, although these require unanimity among 28 members which is difficult to achieve.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in Brussels the rebels’ actions were in clear violation of the ceasefire and “the EU stands ready to take appropriate action in case the fighting and other negative developments in violation of the Minsk agreements continue.”

For Poroshenko, ordering the retreat may have saved the lives of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. But another military defeat, coming as Ukraine approaches the first anniversary of the overthrow of the Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich, may be difficult to stomach for a population weary of a long conflict.

Russia has already annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, and Western countries believe Putin’s goal is to establish a “frozen conflict” in eastern Ukraine, gaining permanent leverage over a country of 45 million people seeking integration with Europe.

(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Alessandra Prentice and Richard Balmforth in Kiev, Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Elizabeth Piper, Richard Balmforth and Peter Graff)


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Oil tumbles; supply glut raises doubts about month-long rally

An oil well is seen near Denver, Colorado February 2, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

An oil well is seen near Denver, Colorado February 2, 2015.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking


(Reuters) – The comeback rally in oil paused on Wednesday, with crude prices falling up to 4 percent, as traders took stock of the market’s blistering 35 percent gain over the past month despite mounting U.S. supplies.

Oil began the day lower as Asian markets wound down for the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations that would stretch into the weekend.

The selloff accelerated in the afternoon after a fire and explosion at a gasoline processing unit in a refinery owned by Exxon Mobil in (XOM.N) Torrance, California, near Los Angeles. Gasoline and heating oil prices RBc1 HOc1 saw less losses compared to crude as traders reacted nervously to the incident.

Benchmark Brent crude LCOc1 fell $2, its most in two weeks, to settle at $60.53 a barrel, after touching a session low of $60.05. It had risen to $63 on Tuesday, its highest this year, marking a 35 percent gain from a near six-year low of $45.19 set on Jan. 13.

U.S. crude CLc1 closed down $1.39, or 2.6 percent, at $52.14.

The selloff came ahead of supply estimates due at 4:30 p.m. ET (2130 GMT) from industry group American Petroleum Institute that could show a build of over 3 million barrels of crude last week. [EIA/S]

Oil rallied the past month on extensive short-covering by traders fearing the market had hit bottom following a 60 percent price crash since June. Violence in Iraq and Libya, both important oil producers, added fuel to the rebound.

Market bears, however, point to creeping stockpiles of U.S. crude which they say counter any positive story in oil.

Crude stocks rose nearly 5 million barrels in the week ended Feb. 13, taking total U.S. inventories to a record high of nearly 418 million barrels. The next weekly update twill be provided by the government on Thursday. [EIA/S]

“We have more supply coming from here with the refinery maintenance season in swing, and that’s prompting some people at least to ask if the market has overstretched itself with the rebound,” said Tariq Zahir, managing member at Tyche Capital Advisors in Laurel Hollow in New York.

(Additional reporting by Robert Gibbons in New York, Jack Stubbs in London and Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by Dale Hudson, David Goodman, Marguerita Choy, Christian Plumb and Andrew Hay)


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U.S. regulators give three non-banks more time for living wills

Feb 18 (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Reserve and
the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation gave three non-bank
firms more time to submit plans that lay out how they can be
wound down through bankruptcy in a crisis, the regulators said
on Wednesday.

General Electric Capital Corporation and insurers
Prudential Financial and American International Group
were given until Dec. 31 of 2015 to submit the so-called
living wills, instead of July 1, the regulators said.

The extension was consistent with that provided to other
firms in previous years, the regulators said.

The living wills are a crucial part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank
Act to reform Wall Street aimed at avoiding another costly
taxpayer bail-out of systemically important firms.

(Reporting by Douwe Miedema; Editing by Sandra Maler)


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Grateful Dead duo, Cyndi Lauper lead Songwriters Hall inductees

File photo of Toby Keith waving after performing "Shut Up and Hold On" at the 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas


(Reuters) – Grateful Dead songwriting duo Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, country music star Toby Keith and “Time After Time” singer Cyndi Lauper will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame later this year, the organization said on Wednesday.

 

They will be joined by “Hoochie Coochie Man” blues songwriter Willie Dixon and Bobby Braddock, a co-writer of George Jones’ country classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

Linda Perry, who transitioned from off-beat rock ’n’ roll singer with early 1990s band 4 Non Blondes to penning pop hits for Christina Aguilera and Pink, will also be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at a June 18 ceremony in New York.

Dixon and Garcia will be inducted posthumously and both are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as is Hunter.

Last year’s Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees included Scottish 1960s singer and guitarist Donovan and The Kinks’ Ray Davies.

The Songwriters Hall of Fame was established in 1969. It has an online museum and a physical space at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Tom Brown)


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UPDATE 2-Virgin America gives positive outlook, but sees increased competition

(Changes headline, adds company comment, earnings details and
byline)

By Jeffrey Dastin

<span class="articleLocatio

n”>Feb 18 (Reuters) – Virgin America Inc on Wednesday
forecast unit revenue for the current period in line with
industry peers but said competition for travelers in New York
and Dallas has heated up.

Shares of the low-cost carrier rose more than 4 percent in
afternoon trading as it projected unit revenue to be down 1
percent to up 1 percent in the first quarter from a year
earlier, despite winter storms that have prompted flight
cancellations throughout the industry.

“That’s encouraging,” said CRT Capital Group analyst Michael
Derchin.

While revenue grew last quarter 3.4 percent year-over-year,
airline executives said an influx of capacity in New York and
Dallas has squeezed its sales, although its bookings seem to be
better for March and April.

“There’s a lot of new capacity, especially with premium
seats,” Virgin America’s Chief Financial Officer Peter Hunt said
in an interview, noting recent additions in first class by
JetBlue Airways.

Larger airlines have offered free upgrades to premium-class
cabins to fill their planes, a practice that Virgin America does
not do, according to Hunt. Yet the toll on Virgin has been muted
because its premium cabins have fewer seats, Hunt said.

Excluding costs from its November initial public offering
and other special items, Virgin America earned $1.16 per share,
or 71 cents per share on a pro forma basis as if the offering
had occurred prior to the start of the fourth quarter.

Analysts on average were expecting 80 cents, according to
Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. The airline said it topped expectations
when taking into consideration that several analysts did not
prepare their estimates on a pro forma basis.

Virgin America’s fourth-quarter net income fell to $3.87
million from $14.2 million a year earlier.

The Burlingame, California-based company also said it
expected unit costs excluding fuel and profit-sharing to
increase 1 percent to 3 percent in the current quarter and to
grow 4 percent to 6 percent for the full year.

The airline forecast its average fuel expenses to be between
$2.45 and $2.55 per gallon in the first quarter, down from its
earlier outlook of $2.76 – still a worse price than what its
peers are paying, according to Derchin.

Hunt said the airline recorded $13 million last quarter in
losses from fuel hedging, and that hedges covered about
two-thirds of its fuel consumption for the current quarter.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and
Marguerita Choy)


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