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Expert panel calls for ‘competitiveness shock’ to reinvigorate French economy

PARIS — President François Hollande of France received a challenge Monday from a report he commissioned, as an expert panel called for a “competitiveness shock” to a country falling behind in the global economic race.

France is facing “a crisis of confidence,” Louis Gallois, one of France’s best-known businessmen, said to reporters after handing over a set of policy recommendations to the French government. Gallois said the proposals, which include a major reduction in payroll taxes, were meant to “stop the slide, the stalling, and to support investment.”

“This is what I call the competitiveness shock,” said Gallois, who led a team of government officials in various ministries in preparing the report.

Hollande’s government commissioned the study and appointed Gallois, a former chief executive of European Aeronautic Defense & Space, as its investment commissioner.

But having bought itself time by putting Gallois on the case, the government has been distancing itself from the report’s conclusions, which have leaked out in recent weeks and prompted media reports suggesting it would be dead on arrival. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is to give the government’s response to the report Tuesday evening in a televised address.

Gallois’ call to arms received an implicit endorsement from the International Monetary Fund, which called on the French government Monday to overhaul the labor market and focus on “quality fiscal adjustment in order to strengthen incentives to work and invest.”

The Gallois report notes that France has lost 750,000 industrial jobs over the past decade, as the country’s trade balance has deteriorated. Prominent among its criticisms is that the tax burden borne by businesses and their employees — as well as rigid work rules and long-term contracts — render French industry uncompetitive.

—David Jolly, The New York Times

Record numbers of young Americans earn

Although the United States no longer leads the world in educational attainment, record numbers of young Americans are completing high school, going to college and finishing college, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available census data.

This year, for the first time, a third of the nation’s 25- to 29-year-olds have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. That share has been slowly edging up for decades, from fewer than one-fifth of young adults in the early 1970s to 33 percent this year.

The share of high school graduates in that age group, along with the share of those with some college, have also reached record levels. This year, 90 percent were high school graduates, up from 78 percent in 1971. And 63 percent have completed some college work, up from 34 percent in 1971.

The study attributed the increase both to the recession and a sluggish jobs recovery, which led many young people to see higher education as their best option, and to changed attitudes about the importance of a college education. In a 2010 Gallup survey, about three-quarters of Americans agreed that a college education is very important, up from only 36 percent in 1978.

The wage premium for those with college degrees has leapt 40 percent since 1983, according to Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

—Tamar Lewin, The New York Times

Toyota profit triples in

TOKYO — In the biggest sign yet of a strong recovery for Toyota, the Japanese automaker raised its forecast for full-year net profit to 780 billion yen, or $9.7 billion, on Monday, shrugging off a sales decline in China brought about by a territorial spat between the two countries.

Toyota was briefly the world’s largest automaker by sales in 2008, before the global financial crisis hit home. But after difficult years involving recalls and natural disasters, Toyota ceded that crown to General Motors. More recently, analysts worried that falling sales in China, the biggest auto market in the world, would weigh on Toyota’s bottom line.

But the numbers unveiled Monday suggest that Toyota is making a comeback. Net profit more than tripled to 257.9 billion yen, or about $3.2 billion, in the July-to-September quarter, compared with a year ago, helped by strong sales in North America, where Toyota has been regaining market share. Toyota and its group companies sold 7.4 million vehicles in the first nine months of 2012, beating GM and Volkswagen.

Toyota’s raised net profit forecast for the full year through March was 2.6 percent higher than a previous estimate. But reflecting lower sales in China, the automaker pared back its outlook for full-year production to 8.75 million vehicles from 8.8 million. Last month, sales in China fell 44.1 percent from a year earlier, Toyota said, hurt by boycotts of Japanese brands by Chinese consumers. Japanese exporters are now re-evaluating their sales plans in a once-promising market.

Toyota’s results show the start of a recovery from years plagued first by a collapse in exports during the economic crisis, then by a mishandling of recalls linked to reports of acceleration, natural disasters and a stubbornly strong yen. The latest sales numbers show Toyota roaring back in the United States, with a 15.8 percent jump in sales of light vehicles in October, compared with those of a year earlier, according to Autodata. And although the yen remains stubbornly high, hurting the company’s price competitiveness, Toyota is adapting — as it has in the past — by building more vehicles overseas.

—Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times