Reuters

FILE PHOTO: People attend a symbolic funeral prayer for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the courtyard of Fatih mosque in Istanbul
FILE PHOTO: People attend a symbolic funeral prayer for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the courtyard of Fatih mosque in Istanbul, Turkey November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir/File Photo

June 19, 2019

RIYADH (Reuters) – Moments before Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered last October, two of his suspected murderers laying in wait at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate fretted about the task at hand, according to a U.N. report published on Wednesday.

Will it “be possible to put the trunk in a bag?” asked Maher Mutreb, a Saudi intelligence officer who worked for a senior advisor to Saudi crown prince, according to a report from the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions.

“No. Too heavy,” responded Salah al-Tubaigy, a forensics doctor from the Interior Ministry who would dismember and dispose of the body. He expressed hope his task would “be easy”.

Tubaiqy continued: “Joints will be separated. It is not a problem. The body is heavy. First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them.”

Mutreb and 10 others are now standing trial in closed hearings in Saudi Arabia for their role in the crime.

Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, rejected the investigator’s report as “nothing new”.

He added in a tweet: “The report of the rapporteur in the human rights council contains clear contradictions and baseless allegations which challenge its credibility.”

The report, which calls for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior Saudi officials to be investigated over their liability for Khashoggi’s death, relies on recordings and forensic work conducted by Turkish investigators and information from the trials of the suspects in Saudi Arabia.

Khashoggi, a critic of the prince and a Washington Post columnist, was last seen at the consulate where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding.

TEXT MESSAGE

The report concludes that his murder was deliberate and premeditated. The CIA and some Western countries believe the crown prince ordered the killing, which Saudi officials deny.

Media reports have published the contents of some recordings obtained from inside the consulate, but the U.N. report discloses chilling new details.

At the end of the exchange with Tobaigy, Mutreb asks if “the sacrificial lamb” has arrived. At no point is Khashoggi’s name mentioned, but two minutes later he enters the building.

Khashoggi is ushered to the consul general’s office on the second floor where he meets Mutreb, whom he knew from when they worked together at the Saudi Embassy in London years earlier.

Mutreb tells Khashoggi to send his son a mobile text message.

“What should I say? See you soon? I can’t say kidnapping,” Khashoggi responds.

“Cut it short,” comes the reply. “Take off your jacket.”

“How could this happen in an embassy?” Khashoggi says. “I will not write anything.”

“Type it, Mr. Jamal. Hurry up. Help us so that we can help you because at the end we will take you back to Saudi Arabia and if you don’t help us you know what will happen at the end; let this issue find a good end,” Mutreb says.

The report says the rest of the recordings contain sounds of movement, heavy panting and plastic sheets being wrapped, which Turkish intelligence concluded came after Khashoggi’s death as Saudi officials dismembered his body.

(Reporting By Stephen Kalin, Editing by William Maclean)

Source: OANN

Turkish President Erdogan greets his supporters during an opening ceremony in Istanbul
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters during an opening ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, June 18, 2019. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

June 19, 2019

By Orhan Coskun, Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Spicer

ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has gone on the warpath against the main opposition days ahead of a re-run of a mayoral vote in Istanbul, scrapping plans to avoid divisive rhetoric that some officials in his ruling AK Party believed would alienate voters.

Standing atop a bus in Istanbul on Tuesday, Erdogan claimed the opposition’s mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu aligned with coup plotters, without presenting evidence, and later warned of unspecified actors targeting Turkey’s independence.

After weeks of keeping an uncharacteristically low profile, the president re-inserted himself into the campaign with his usual confrontational style.

The switch is a risk for Erdogan and the AK Party (AKP), which suffered a shock defeat in Istanbul in March local elections – a loss that some in his party believed was in part due to the president’s uncompromising style.

The loss marked one of his biggest setbacks in 16 years in power, and the AKP challenged the result.

According to interviews with five party officials, as well as their advisers, Erdogan and his party had decided in recent weeks to effectively air-brush the president from the campaign ahead of the June 23 Istanbul vote, including erasing his face from highway-side billboards and cancelling dozens of planned rallies across the city.

AKP officials had concluded that Erdogan’s uncompromising approach had become a liability with some key voters in Istanbul, especially Kurds and AKP supporters who were turned off by his polarizing rhetoric, the party insiders said.

By laying low, Erdogan also could have distanced himself in the event of another defeat, advisers added.

But things changed earlier this week with internal party polling showing Imamoglu slightly ahead, prompting Ergodan to intervene, according to two of the people.

In recent days, “Erdogan had asked party officials if it is possible to arrange a meeting or a rally to make a speech every day in Istanbul” ahead of the vote, a senior AKP official said. “That’s the new strategy.”

Defeat on Sunday for Erdogan’s hand-picked mayoral candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, would serve as a further embarrassment for the president after the AKP succeeded in annulling the March result.

It would also weaken what only three months ago appeared to be his iron grip on power as Turkey battles recession, jockeys in war-torn Syria, and balances its U.S. and Russian ties.

It may embolden challengers to his rule, although it wouldn’t immediately affect the balance of power in Ankara.

An AKP spokesman declined to comment on the shifting strategy.

In public appearances in recent days, Erdogan urged supporters to help him rally voters this weekend.

“We can’t hand our Istanbul to these liars,” Erdogan said in a speech on Tuesday, referring to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its mayoral candidate Imamoglu.

Imamoglu has denied any links with the coup plotters.

“I know things will be said,” Imamoglu said in an interview with state broadcaster TRT Haber late Tuesday. He added: “These attacks are the attacks of those who cannot digest that we are ready for the task.”

STRATEGY ‘BACKFIRED’

Erdogan, the country’s most dominant political figure since the modern Turkish state’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, launched his own career in Istanbul and had served as its mayor.

The AKP and its Islamist predecessors had for 25 years controlled the city, which has a budget of close to $4 billion and accounts for a third of the country’s economic output.

Ahead of Turkey’s local elections in March, Erdogan held up to eight rallies a day addressing thousands of voters and millions more on live television. He delivered tough nationalist messages, asking voters to support the AKP as “a matter of survival.”

“The Erdogan campaign strategy backfired, especially among Kurds and middle-class conservatives,” in part because of his polarizing rhetoric said Galip Dalay, a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford.

After Erdogan’s Istanbul mayoral candidate Yildirim lost by some 13,000 votes, the AKP complained that the election was marred by irregularities.

Last month, Turkey’s High Election Board scheduled the re-run, a move that opponents said was politically influenced and heightened concerns about eroding rule of law and institutional independence.

According to AKP officials and insiders, the party is targeting the 1.7 million voters who stayed home on March 31, particularly conservative Kurds and AKP supporters looking for more focus on fixing the country’s stalled economy.

“People who didn’t vote and disenchanted voters, as well as Kurdish voters, will be a major factor,” said one AKP official, who added that the party was looking to boost turnout from an already high 84 percent in March to 94 percent.

The party had in recent weeks emphasized a face-to-face campaign in areas that had relatively low overall turnout and high Kurdish populations, officials say.

That included bringing several elderly Kurdish leaders from the country’s southeast to the city to build support in small neighborhood gatherings, sources close to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) told Reuters.

But a return to a prominent role for Erdogan in the campaign in the past few days followed fresh polling data and a debate on Sunday between the two mayoral candidates.

Imamoglu, who won the March vote, was gaining momentum, according to figures published Monday by polling firm Mak Danismanlik. Internal polls from the two leading parties showed the CHP candidate enjoying a narrow lead over the AKP’s Yildirim as of last week.

“Erdogan looked at the internal polls and saw that Yildirim still lagged behind, so he decided to go all in,” said one source close to the party with knowledge of the recent polling. “But it could have the opposite impact on voters and push them away.”

COURTING KURDS

In Istanbul’s working-class Esenyurt district, where turnout was low in March and the CHP ousted the AKP, resident Halil Cetin said Erdogan should step back.

“This survival rhetoric was too much at the center and people were annoyed by this, saying ‘This is a municipal vote, what kind of a survival issue could there be?’” said Cetin, originally from Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish Diyarbakir region. Yildirim “resonates,” he added.

Among the overtures the AKP has made to Kurds in recent weeks was lifting a years-long ban on lawyers visiting jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, a move that prompted several Kurdish lawmakers and thousands of prison inmates to end hunger strikes.

But such gestures were unlikely to make a meaningful impact on Kurdish voters, said HDP Group Chairman Saruhan Oluc. “These little acts have no chance of creating a positive response,” he said in an interview.

The economy remains another key challenge for AKP and Erdogan, who have seen support hurt by last year’s currency crisis that tipped Turkey’s economy into recession, devalued the lira by 30% and sent inflation soaring.

“The economy is problematic. The voters are heavily influenced by the developments in the economy and we see the impact of that by them not going to the ballot box,” the senior AKP official said.

(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul and Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Cassell Bryan-Low)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked at the Boeing Factory in Renton
FILE PHOTO: An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, U.S. March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

June 19, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who in 2009 landed a U.S. Airways flight safely on the Hudson River in New York, told a congressional panel on Wednesday that pilots of the now-grounded 737 MAX should get new simulator training before the plane returns to service.

He also said that the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) system of certifying new aircraft is not working after two deadly crashes killing 346 people since October: “Our current system of aircraft design and certification has failed us.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Source: OANN

An Iraqi soldier stands next to a military vehicle at the entry of Zubair oilfield after a rocket struck the site of residential and operations headquarters of several oil companies in Basra
An Iraqi soldier stands next to a military vehicle at the entry of Zubair oilfield after a rocket struck the site of residential and operations headquarters of several oil companies at Burjesia area, in Basra, Iraq June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani

June 19, 2019

By Aref Mohammed and Ahmed Rasheed

BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) – A rocket hit a site in southern Iraq used by foreign oil companies on Wednesday, including U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil, wounding three people and threatening to further escalate U.S.-Iran tensions in the region.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack near Iraq’s southern city of Basra, the fourth time in a week that rockets have struck near U.S. installations.

Three previous attacks on or near military bases housing U.S. forces near Baghdad and Mosul caused no casualties or major damage. None of those incidents were claimed.

An Iraqi security source said it appeared that Iran-backed groups in southern Iraq were behind the Basra incident.

“According to our sources, the team (that launched the rocket) is made up of more than one group and were well trained in missile launching,” the security source said.

He said they had received a tip-off several days ago the U.S. consulate in Basra might be targeted but were taken by surprise when the rocket hit the oil site.

Abbas Maher, mayor of the nearby town of Zubair, said he believed Iran-backed groups had specifically targeted Exxon to “send a message” to the United States.

U.S.-Iranian hostility has risen since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and other world powers in May last year.

Trump has since reimposed and extended U.S. sanctions on Iran, forcing states to boycott Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own. Tehran has threatened to abandon the nuclear pact unless other signatories act to rein in the United States.

The U.S. face-off with Iran reached a new pitch following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf in May and June that Washington blames on Tehran. Iran denies any involvement.

ESCALATION FEARED

While the long-time foes say they do not want war, the United States has reinforced its military presence in the region and analysts say violence could nonetheless escalate.

Some Western officials have said the recent attacks appear designed to show Iran could sow chaos if it wanted.

Iraqi officials fear their country, where powerful Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim militias operate in close proximity to some 5,200 U.S. troops, could become an arena for escalation.

The United States has pressed Iraq’s government to rein in Iran-backed paramilitary groups, a tall order for a cabinet that suffers from its own political divisions.

Iraq’s military said three people were wounded in Wednesday’s strike by a short-range Katyusha missile. It struck the Burjesia site, west of Basra, which is near the Zubair oilfield operated Italy’s Eni SpA.

Police said the rocket landed 100 meters from the part of the site used as a residence and operations center by Exxon. Some 21 Exxon staff were evacuated by plane to Dubai, a security source said.

Zubair mayor Maher said the rocket was fired from farmland around three to four kilometers (2 miles) from the site. A second rocket landed to the northwest of Burjesia, near a site of oil services company Oilserv, but did not explode, he said.

“We cannot separate this from regional developments, meaning the U.S.-Iranian conflict,” Maher said.

“These incidents have political objectives … it seems some sides did not like the return of Exxon staff.”

EXPORTS UNAFFECTED

Exxon had evacuated its staff from Basra after a partial U.S. Baghdad embassy evacuation in May and staff had just begun to return.

Burjesia is also used as a headquarters by Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Eni., according to Iraqi oil officials.

The officials said operations including exports from southern Iraq were not affected.

A separate Iraqi oil official, who oversees foreign operations in the south, said the other foreign firms had no plans to evacuate and would operate as normal.

A Shell spokesman said its employees had “not been subject to the attack … and we continue normal operations in Iraq.”

Wednesday’s rocket strike fits into a pattern of attacks since May, when four tankers in the Gulf and two Saudi oil pumping stations were attacked.

They have been accompanied by a spate of incidents inside Shi’ite-dominated Iraq, which is allied both to the United States and fellow Shi’ite Muslim Iran.

The attacks in Iraq have caused less damage but have all taken place near U.S. military, diplomatic or civilian installations, raising suspicions they were part of a campaign.

A rocket landed near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad last month causing no damage or casualties. The United States had already evacuated hundreds of diplomatic staff from the embassy, citing unspecified threats from Iran.

Iran backs a number of Iraqi Shi’ite militias which have grown more powerful after helping defeat Islamic State.

Iraqi officials say that threats from Iran cited by Washington when it sent additional forces to the Middle East last month included the positioning by Iran-backed militias of rockets near U.S. forces.

Rockets hit on or near three separate military bases housing U.S. forces near Baghdad and in the northern city of Mosul in three separate attacks since Friday.

(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal in Dubai; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Jon Boyle and Andrew Cawthorne)

Source: OANN

Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks is seen during a closed door interview before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill
Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks is seen during a closed door interview before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

June 19, 2019

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hope Hicks, once a close aide to U.S. President Donald Trump, arrived on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to face questions in Congress about six instances in which Democrats believe Trump may have broken the law during the 2016 presidential campaign and while in the White House.

The White House has asserted immunity over testimony by Hicks involving her 14 months in the Trump administration, according to a knowledgeable source, continuing its strategy of not cooperating with House investigations.

The 30-year-old Hicks, accompanied by two personal lawyers, ignored shouted questions from reporters as she arrived just before 9 a.m. (1300 GMT) to appear under subpoena in a closed session of the House Judiciary Committee.

Two White House lawyers also were expected to join her, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Hicks could remain well into the evening, fielding a wide range of questions from the panel’s 41 Democratic and Republican lawmakers and staff.

Hicks was Trump’s former campaign press secretary and his White House communications director until she left in March 2018 and later became chief communications officer and executive president for Fox Corporation, parent company of Fox News.

Democrats want to hear from her about alleged hush money payments made during the campaign to two women, including porn star Stormy Daniels, who say they had affairs with Trump. He has denied the affairs.

They also want Hicks to talk about five examples of potential obstruction of justice by Trump that are laid out in U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference in the 2016 presidential election, as well as the president’s efforts to impede the Mueller investigation.

Hicks was mentioned 183 times in Mueller’s report.

Assertions during questioning of executive privilege, a legal principle sometimes cited by presidents to keep White House information under wraps, would block a key line of inquiry by the committee and could lead to a subsequent legal challenge.

Despite the closed setting, Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, view Hicks’ appearance as a breakthrough for their congressional investigation, which could trigger impeachment proceedings against the president if it unearths evidence of serious misconduct.

Democrats say her appearance could help undermine Trump’s strategy of stonewalling congressional investigators by encouraging others to cooperate with them and by giving investigators the chance to challenge any executive privilege assertions, possibly in federal court.

MANY TOPICS

Democrats want Hicks to testify about an effort by the president to mislead the public about a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower in New York, where the Mueller report said campaign officials, including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., met with Russians offering “dirt” on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. A key question is whether Trump himself was aware of the meeting at the time.

Aides said Hicks also would be asked about alleged obstruction by Trump involving McGahn, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former FBI Director James Comey and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

A transcript of her testimony, which will be released after the interview, will be featured at a Thursday hearing where the committee will examine an ABC News interview, in which Trump said he saw nothing wrong with accepting damaging information about a U.S. political opponent from a foreign government, aides said.

The White House last month asserted executive privilege to block the release of Mueller’s unredacted report and related evidence, such as investigative interviews. The committee and the Justice Department have since reached an agreement giving panel members access to more of the Mueller report and some underlying material from the investigation.

The House voted 229-191 on June 11 on party lines to

authorize House committees to file lawsuits in federal court seeking orders from judges to compel officials to cooperate with official congressional demands for testimony or evidence.

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn, a star witness in the Mueller report, last month defied a subpoena for his testimony and documents after the White House directed him not to cooperate with the Judiciary panel.

McGahn could face legal action. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said last week that other witnesses, including Hicks and former McGahn aide Annie Donaldson, also could face court action if they defy committee subpoenas.

Mueller’s 448-page report found insufficient evidence to establish that the Trump campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow, despite numerous contacts between the campaign and Russia. It also described numerous attempts by Trump to impede Mueller’s investigation but stopped short of declaring that he committed a crime.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

Source: OANN

Russian national Oleg Pulatov, accused of downing of flight MH17, is seen in this handout photo
Russian national Oleg Pulatov, one of the accused of downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, nearly five years after the crash that killed 298 passengers and crew, is seen in this handout photo released by Dutch Police and obtained by Reuters on June 19, 2019. Dutch Police/Handout via REUTERS

June 19, 2019

By Toby Sterling and Anthony Deutsch

NIEUWEGEIN, Netherlands (Reuters) – Three Russians and a Ukrainian will face murder charges for the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine which killed 298 people, in a trial to start in the Netherlands next March, an investigation team said on Wednesday.

The suspects are likely to be tried in absentia, however, as the Netherlands has said Russia has not cooperated with the investigation and is not expected to hand anyone over.

“These suspects are seen to have played an important role in the death of 298 innocent civilians”, said Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke.

“Although they did not push the button themselves, we suspect them of close cooperation to get the (missile launcher) where it was, with the aim to shoot down an airplane.”

Dutch Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said in a letter to parliament the Netherlands had taken unspecified “diplomatic steps” against Moscow for failing to fully comply with legal requests or providing incorrect information.

The Dutch-led international team tasked with assigning criminal responsibility for the plane’s destruction named the four suspects as Russians Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko. It said international arrest warrants for the four had been issued.

Girkin, 48, a vocal and battle-hardened Russian nationalist, is believed to live in Moscow where he makes regular public appearances. He is a commentator on Russian and foreign affairs via his own website and YouTube channel.

“The rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” Girkin told Reuters on Wednesday without elaborating.

Ukrainian authorities said they would try to detain Kharchenko, the suspect believed to be on their territory.

MH17 was shot out of the sky on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Everyone on board was killed.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “The Russian Federation must now cooperate fully with the prosecution and provide any assistance it requests.” There were 10 Britons on the flight.

RUSSIAN MISSILE

Most of those on board were Dutch. The joint investigation team formed by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine found that the plane was shot down by a Russian missile.

Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin called MH17’s downing a “terrible tragedy” but said Moscow was not to blame and there are other explanations for what happened.

The governments of the Netherlands and Australia have said they hold Russia legally responsible.

Asked if she expected the suspects to attend the trial, Silene Fredriksz, whose son Bryce was on the plane, said: “No, I don’t think so. But I don’t care. I just want the truth, and this is the truth.”

Moscow has said it does not trust the investigation.

“Russia was unable to take part in the investigation despite expressing an interest right from the start and trying to join it”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The investigation team said Girkin was a former FSB security service colonel who served as minister of defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in the summer of 2014.

It said Dubinsky was head of the military intelligence agency of DNR, while Pulatov was head of a second department of the DNR military intelligence agency. Kharchenko was head of a reconnaissance battalion for the second department, it said.

Prosecutors have said the missile system that brought down the plane came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.

(Additional reporting by Bart Meijer in Amsterda, Maria Vasilyeva and Anastasia Teterevleva in Moscow; Editing Hugh Lawson and Janet Lawrence)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: EU summit following the EU elections in Brussels
FILE PHOTO: European Council President Donald Tusk holds a news conference after a European Union leaders summit following the EU elections, in Brussels, Belgium May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

June 19, 2019

By Philip Blenkinsop and Belén Carreño

BRUSSELS/MADRID (Reuters) – European Council President Donald Tusk said on Wednesday that he was “cautiously optimistic” that EU leaders would agree names to hold the bloc’s top jobs when they meet in Brussels on Thursday.

Multiple diplomats and officials have told Reuters it may be too soon for a deal at the summit, which will be chaired by Tusk, citing disagreement between Berlin and Paris over a German candidate Manfred Weber’s bid to take over at the helm of the bloc’s executive Commission later this year.

“There are different views, different interests, but also a common will to finalize this process before the first session of the European Parliament,” Tusk said in an invitation letter to the 28 national leaders.

“I remain cautiously optimistic, as those I have spoken to have expressed determination to decide swiftly. I hope we can make it on Thursday.”

The new leaders will help set the EU’s course for the next five years as the bloc struggles with weak economies and a wave of euroskeptic sentiment at home, as well as facing external challenges from the United States to Russia to China.

Following an EU-wide election last month, the new European assembly is due to gather for the first time on July 2 and should then elect its new president for 2019-24.

That job is part of a package of the EU’s most senior leadership positions that come vacant soon.

They include replacements for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the bloc’s chief diplomat Federica Mogherini, the head of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt Mario Draghi, and Tusk himself.

“I think that there is a chance of reaching an agreement at the summit,” said a senior EU diplomatic source. “At least, we are going to know which candidacies can fly and which couldn’t.”

Others have pointed out, however, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel could not drop Weber – who is a deputy head of her Bavarian sister party CSU – just yet.

Weber’s bid to lead the European Commission is firmly opposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as the socialist Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez who is seeking to raise Madrid’s sway in the bloc.

WEBER’S LAST DANCE?

Should a deal prove elusive this week, Brussels sources said another leaders’ summit could take place on June 30 or July 1, or even in late August.

“There’s a strong desire to get things done quickly. I don’t see things going on beyond the summer,” another senior EU diplomat said on Wednesday.

The EU needs to balance out political affiliations, regional distribution and the candidate’s own profiles. The bloc is also seeking to let more women into its male-dominated leadership, with expectation that senior Commission roles would go to candidates such as Spain’s Economy Minister Nadia Calvino.

Beyond a firm majority – or, preferably, unanimity – among the 28 national leaders, any candidate to run the next European Commission must also be approved by the new European Parliament.

Despite voting to quit the bloc in 2016, Britain remains one of the 28 members and has members of the European Parliament until it finally leaves.

Political factions in the parliament are still discussing a coalition agreement and a pro-EU majority is in the works between the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the socialists, the liberals and the greens.

The EPP, the parliament’s largest multi-country grouping, has so far stuck firmly with Weber. The socialists promote Dutchman Frans Timmermans, who currently is a deputy head at the Commission responsible for the rule of law.

The bloc’s current top competition official in Brussels, Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager, runs for the liberals. The group, which includes Macron’s allies, on Wednesday elected a former Romanian prime minister, Dacian Ciolos, as their new leader.

Brussels sources said Merkel’s condition for eventually dropping Weber could be demanding that no other candidate proposed by the European Parliament – Timmermans or Vestager – get to lead the Commission either. Other names in the running include the bloc’s Brexit negotiator and center-right Frenchman Michel Barnier, Belgium’s liberal caretaker Prime Minister Charles Michel, Bulgaria’s World Bank head, Kristalina Georgieva, or Lithuania’s outgoing President Dalia Grybauskaite.

GRAPHIC – EU top jobs race – https://tmsnrt.rs/2WSEMJU

(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott, Peter Maushagen and Sabine Siebold in Brussels, Giselda Vagnoni in Rome, Gederts Gelzis in Riga, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alison Williams)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor at the NYSE in New York
FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

June 19, 2019

By Shreyashi Sanyal

(Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures pointed to a flat opening for Wall Street’s main indexes on Wednesday, as investors refrained from taking positions ahead of the Federal Reserve’s policy statement that is expected to open the door to future interest rate cuts.

Bets of a rate cut have helped markets climb in June, with the S&P 500 index gaining 6% so far and about 1% away from its all-time high hit in early May.

The Fed’s statement and new economic projections are to be released at 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT), giving investors an idea on how a prolonged U.S.-China trade conflict, President Donald Trump’s demands for a rate cut and softer-than-expected economic data have impacted monetary policy thinking.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell will hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. ET (1830 GMT).

“Expectations remain elevated over a rate cut in July and investors will be closely scrutinizing the statement for confirmation of a cut next month,” said Lukman Otunuga, a research analyst at ForexTime Limited in London.

“Should the Fed sound less dovish than expected or completely omit any hints about taking action next month, it could send equity markets sliding.”

Global financial markets have been fired up by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s Tuesday volte-face on policy easing and as investors bet on a worldwide wave of central bank stimulus.

At 8:27 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 17 points, or 0.06%. S&P 500 e-minis were up 0.5 points, or 0.02% and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 8.75 points, or 0.11%.

Sentiment was also buoyed by hopes of progress on U.S.-China trade dispute, with Beijing hinting that positive outcomes were possible in negotiations with Washington, after the world’s two largest economies agreed to revive their troubled talks at a G20 meeting this month.

Trade-sensitive industrial giants Boeing Co and Caterpillar Inc rose in premarket trading, while semiconductor companies, which source and supply products to China, also moved higher.

Boeing shares inched up 0.5% as the planemaker secured orders from Taiwan’s China Airlines and Qatar Airways at the Paris Airshow, a day after IAG placed a lifeline order for the grounded 737 MAX jet.

Among other stocks, Adobe Inc jumped 4% after the Photoshop software provider beat analysts’ estimates for quarterly profit and revenue.

TripAdvisor Inc gained 3.4% after SunTrust Robinson upgraded the company’s stock to “buy.”

(Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor at the NYSE in New York
FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

June 19, 2019

By Shreyashi Sanyal

(Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures pointed to a flat opening for Wall Street’s main indexes on Wednesday, as investors refrained from taking positions ahead of the Federal Reserve’s policy statement that is expected to open the door to future interest rate cuts.

Bets of a rate cut have helped markets climb in June, with the S&P 500 index gaining 6% so far and about 1% away from its all-time high hit in early May.

The Fed’s statement and new economic projections are to be released at 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT), giving investors an idea on how a prolonged U.S.-China trade conflict, President Donald Trump’s demands for a rate cut and softer-than-expected economic data have impacted monetary policy thinking.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell will hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. ET (1830 GMT).

“Expectations remain elevated over a rate cut in July and investors will be closely scrutinizing the statement for confirmation of a cut next month,” said Lukman Otunuga, a research analyst at ForexTime Limited in London.

“Should the Fed sound less dovish than expected or completely omit any hints about taking action next month, it could send equity markets sliding.”

Global financial markets have been fired up by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s Tuesday volte-face on policy easing and as investors bet on a worldwide wave of central bank stimulus.

At 8:27 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 17 points, or 0.06%. S&P 500 e-minis were up 0.5 points, or 0.02% and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 8.75 points, or 0.11%.

Sentiment was also buoyed by hopes of progress on U.S.-China trade dispute, with Beijing hinting that positive outcomes were possible in negotiations with Washington, after the world’s two largest economies agreed to revive their troubled talks at a G20 meeting this month.

Trade-sensitive industrial giants Boeing Co and Caterpillar Inc rose in premarket trading, while semiconductor companies, which source and supply products to China, also moved higher.

Boeing shares inched up 0.5% as the planemaker secured orders from Taiwan’s China Airlines and Qatar Airways at the Paris Airshow, a day after IAG placed a lifeline order for the grounded 737 MAX jet.

Among other stocks, Adobe Inc jumped 4% after the Photoshop software provider beat analysts’ estimates for quarterly profit and revenue.

TripAdvisor Inc gained 3.4% after SunTrust Robinson upgraded the company’s stock to “buy.”

(Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Homes are seen for sale in the southwest area of Portland
FILE PHOTO: Homes are seen for sale in the southwest area of Portland, Oregon March 20, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola/File Photo

June 19, 2019

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. mortgage applications declined last week from about a 33-month peak as most home borrowing costs moved up from their lowest levels since September 2017, the Mortgage Bankers Association said on Wednesday.

The Washington-based group’s seasonally adjusted index on loan requests, both to buy a home and to refinance one, fell to 511.8 in the week ended June 14. It fell 3.4% from the prior week’s 529.8, which was the highest reading since September 2016.

Interest rates on 30-year fixed-rate “conforming” mortgages, or loans whose balances are $484,350 or less, averaged 4.14% last week. They were up 2 basis points from prior week’s 4.12%, the lowest level since September 2017.

Other 30-year mortgage rates MBA tracks were unchanged to 3 basis points higher from the week before.

Meanwhile, 15-year mortgage rates averaged 3 basis points lower at 3.50%, while the average borrowing costs on five-year adjustable home loans rose 2 basis points to 3.45%.

Mortgage rates generally increased in line with higher bond yields last week as traders pared their safe-haven bond holdings after U.S. President Donald Trump called off threatened tariffs on Mexico and encouraging data on retail sales and industrial output.

MBA’s seasonally adjusted gauge on refinancing applications fell 3.5% to 1,888.8 from prior week’s 1,956.5, which was the highest since November 2016.

The refinance share of mortgage activity grew to 50.2% of total applications from 49.8% the week before.

“Borrowers were sensitive to rising rates, but the refinance share of applications was still at its highest level since January 2018, and refinance activity was at its second highest level this year,” Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, said in a statement.

The group’s barometer on loan applications for home purchases, which is seen as proxy on future housing activity, slipped 3.5% to 268.6. The latest figure was up almost 4% from a year ago.

“Strong demand from first-time buyers and low unemployment continue to push this year’s purchase activity above a year ago,” Kan said.

(Graphic: U.S. mortgage applications interactive – https://tmsnrt.rs/2RnEpRD)

(Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: U.S. investor and founder of the Baring Vostok private equity group Michael Calvey leaves a court after a hearing in Moscow, Russia
FILE PHOTO: U.S. investor and founder of the Baring Vostok private equity group Michael Calvey leaves court after a hearing in Moscow, Russia. April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

June 19, 2019

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian private equity fund Baring Vostok said on Wednesday it has ceded a 9.99% stake in Vostochny Bank to the lender’s other big shareholder following a legal battle, meaning it is no longer the majority shareholder.

Baring Vostok, whose U.S. founder is under house arrest in Russia on embezzlement charges, has been locked in a legal battle with businessman Artem Avetisyan’s Finvision over control of the bank. The case is being closely watched by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A court in Russia’s Far East ruled last week that Baring Vostok must relinquish a 9.99% stake to Finvision after Avetisyan went to court, claiming Finvision had an agreement with Baring Vostok that it could exercise an option to increase its stake by 10%.

The fund’s share in Vostochny Bank has now fallen to 41.6%, while Finvision’s share has risen to 42%, according to Reuters calculations.

A spokesman for Baring Vostok said on Wednesday that the fund did not plan to appeal the ruling and that it had already handed over the stake to Finvision.

Baring Vostok was founded by prominent U.S. businessman Michael Calvey, who with other fund executives, has been detained in Russia since February pending a trial on embezzlement charges. They all deny the charges and say the case is a way of pressuring them in a dispute over control of a Russian bank.

The case against Calvey rattled Russia’s business community and in April he was freed from jail and placed under house arrest.

Putin said earlier this month that he was closely following the embezzlement case against Calvey and that Russian law enforcement agencies should work to establish whether he was guilty or not.

(Reporting by Tatiana Voronova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Susan Fenton)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Outside view of a restaurant's wall decorated with hundred of bottles in Paris
FILE PHOTO: Outside view of a restaurant’s wall decorated with hundred of bottles in Paris, France, July 5, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

June 19, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – Sales of spirits in France fell last year, hurt by “yellow vest” anti-government protests that were at their peak during the end of the year period that accounts for a bulk of sales, French spirits association FFS said on Wednesday.

Protests late last year, which saw some of the worst street violence in Paris in decades and blocked access to shopping malls around the country, cost 0.1 percentage point of French growth in the fourth quarter last year, the INSEE statistics agency said in March.

The weekly protests gradually waned this year.

In 2018, spirits sales in French supermarkets fell 2.1% in volume to 275 million liters, and fell 1.34% in value to 4.72 billion euros compared to the year earlier, FFS said.

Not all spirits performed poorly. Sales of rum showed a 5.7% rise in value and 3.3% rise in volume, while sales of gin increased by 7.6% in value and 2.4% in volume, boosted by innovation and higher qualities.

Spirits exports hit a record high of 4.3 billion euros in 2018, up 1.8% on 2017, mainly boosted by Cognac, liqueurs and rum sales. The volume exported stood at 445 millions liters, or 53 million 12-bottle boxes, up 1.9% on the year.

This confirmed data from wine and spirits exporters group FEVS in February.

Looking ahead, FFS warned that a food law implemented in February raising the minimum price at which retailers can sell goods had added between 5% and 8% to spirit prices, but that only benefited retailers and not producers.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, editing by Inti Landauro and Deepa Babington)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Outside view of a restaurant's wall decorated with hundred of bottles in Paris
FILE PHOTO: Outside view of a restaurant’s wall decorated with hundred of bottles in Paris, France, July 5, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

June 19, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – Sales of spirits in France fell last year, hurt by “yellow vest” anti-government protests that were at their peak during the end of the year period that accounts for a bulk of sales, French spirits association FFS said on Wednesday.

Protests late last year, which saw some of the worst street violence in Paris in decades and blocked access to shopping malls around the country, cost 0.1 percentage point of French growth in the fourth quarter last year, the INSEE statistics agency said in March.

The weekly protests gradually waned this year.

In 2018, spirits sales in French supermarkets fell 2.1% in volume to 275 million liters, and fell 1.34% in value to 4.72 billion euros compared to the year earlier, FFS said.

Not all spirits performed poorly. Sales of rum showed a 5.7% rise in value and 3.3% rise in volume, while sales of gin increased by 7.6% in value and 2.4% in volume, boosted by innovation and higher qualities.

Spirits exports hit a record high of 4.3 billion euros in 2018, up 1.8% on 2017, mainly boosted by Cognac, liqueurs and rum sales. The volume exported stood at 445 millions liters, or 53 million 12-bottle boxes, up 1.9% on the year.

This confirmed data from wine and spirits exporters group FEVS in February.

Looking ahead, FFS warned that a food law implemented in February raising the minimum price at which retailers can sell goods had added between 5% and 8% to spirit prices, but that only benefited retailers and not producers.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, editing by Inti Landauro and Deepa Babington)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Outside view of a restaurant's wall decorated with hundred of bottles in Paris
FILE PHOTO: Outside view of a restaurant’s wall decorated with hundred of bottles in Paris, France, July 5, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

June 19, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – Sales of spirits in France fell last year, hurt by “yellow vest” anti-government protests that were at their peak during the end of the year period that accounts for a bulk of sales, French spirits association FFS said on Wednesday.

Protests late last year, which saw some of the worst street violence in Paris in decades and blocked access to shopping malls around the country, cost 0.1 percentage point of French growth in the fourth quarter last year, the INSEE statistics agency said in March.

The weekly protests gradually waned this year.

In 2018, spirits sales in French supermarkets fell 2.1% in volume to 275 million liters, and fell 1.34% in value to 4.72 billion euros compared to the year earlier, FFS said.

Not all spirits performed poorly. Sales of rum showed a 5.7% rise in value and 3.3% rise in volume, while sales of gin increased by 7.6% in value and 2.4% in volume, boosted by innovation and higher qualities.

Spirits exports hit a record high of 4.3 billion euros in 2018, up 1.8% on 2017, mainly boosted by Cognac, liqueurs and rum sales. The volume exported stood at 445 millions liters, or 53 million 12-bottle boxes, up 1.9% on the year.

This confirmed data from wine and spirits exporters group FEVS in February.

Looking ahead, FFS warned that a food law implemented in February raising the minimum price at which retailers can sell goods had added between 5% and 8% to spirit prices, but that only benefited retailers and not producers.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, editing by Inti Landauro and Deepa Babington)

Source: OANN

File photo of clouds over a Tesco Extra store in London
FILE PHOTO: Grey clouds hang over a Tesco Extra store in New Malden in southwest London, Britain June 4, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/File Photo

June 19, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Tesco, Britain’s biggest retailer, said it is considering a trial of an upmarket convenience store under the ‘Tesco finest’ banner but has not disclosed when or where a pilot will be launched.

Tesco hosted a capital markets day for analysts and investors on Tuesday at which it presented a slide flagging an opportunity for a ‘Tesco finest’ store concept with a 7% operating margin – significantly ahead of the group-wide target of 3.5% to 4%.

The premium ‘finest’ range of grocery products is Tesco’s most expensive.

“‘Tesco finest’ as a brand is one of the largest food brands in the country. We have a very high percentage of more upmarket customers,” Chief Executive Dave Lewis told reporters on Wednesday.

“The opportunity to curate that range and bring new things in a more convenient outlet is something that we have tested, is something we’re interested in.”

But Lewis said Tesco is: “Not at a place where we are saying we’re going to open this shop or this many shops.”

The CEO said the point of the capital markets day was to share with investors a number of growth opportunities Tesco is actively looking at without giving specific details on timings.

“No dates for any of the initiatives were given yesterday,” he said.

News of Tesco’s new concept sent shares in upmarket food retailer Marks & Spencer down as much as 4.5% on Wednesday on competition fears.

Last year Tesco launched the Jack’s chain to compete with German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl.

Other initiatives Tesco discussed on Tuesday include opportunities to sell more unique brands and online meal subscriptions, developing its Clubcard loyalty program with a subscription model, setting-up mini fulfillment centers at the back of stores for online grocery, and delivery robots.

Celebrating its 100th year, Tesco is deep into a recovery plan under Lewis after a 2014 accounting scandal capped a dramatic downturn in its fortunes.

He said in April Tesco had met, or would soon meet, most of the turnaround goals he set in 2016, including a key margin target of earning 3.5 to 4 pence of operating profit for every pound customers spend by the end of its 2019-20 financial year.

Lewis said on Wednesday he did not issue a new margin target at the capital markets day.

“We said there was more opportunity for us to lower cost and that gave us the opportunity to invest back in the customer offer (and) new propositions, or if none of those were available then the opportunity would be to improve margin,” he told reporters.

(Reporting by James Davey; editing by Costas Pitas and Louise Heavens)

Source: OANN

RUSADA Director General Ganus attends a news conference in Moscow
Yuri Ganus, Director General of Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), speaks during a news conference in Moscow, Russia June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

June 19, 2019

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian anti-doping chief Yuri Ganus said on Wednesday that the country’s suspended athletics federation was not doing enough to stamp out doping culture and was falling short in its bid to be reinstated by global athletics governing body IAAF.

Russia’s athletics federation has been suspended since a 2015 report commissioned by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found evidence of mass doping in the sport. The IAAF decided to uphold Russia’s suspension earlier this month and will review its status in September.

“Enough with appearances. Over the last four years we have presented our athletics as being in a great state,” Ganus told a news conference. “We have serious grounds to say that the federation in its current condition cannot be reinstated.”

Ganus, who last month called for the dismissal of senior Russian athletics officials, said efforts to transform the culture in Russian athletics had so far fallen flat.

“We need to stop trying to demonstrate a (change) in culture,” he said. “A culture comes with daily work… in our relationship to athletes.”

Reuters reported this month that two coaches and one doctor banned for doping were still working with athletes, a situation that can expose athletes to anti-doping violations.

The IAAF task force overseeing Russia’s reinstatement said this month that Reuters’ findings called into question the federation’s ability to enforce doping bans and embrace a new anti-doping culture, which are conditions for its reinstatement.

Margarita Pakhnotskaya, deputy head of RUSADA, said on Wednesday the agency could not provide a timeline for its investigation into Reuters’ findings. The Russian sports ministry has said it would probe the findings by the end of the month.

Despite the ban, some Russian athletes – including two-time world champion high jumper Maria Lasitskene – have been cleared to compete internationally by the IAAF after demonstrating they train in a doping-free environment.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Source: OANN

A converted supermini car Zastava 750, which has its combustion engine replaced with an electric one by BB Classic Cars, drives in Skopje
A converted supermini car Zastava 750, which has its combustion engine replaced with an electric one by BB Classic Cars, drives in Skopje, North Macedonia, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

June 19, 2019

SKOPJE (Reuters) – In the North Macedonian capital Skopje, a small light blue car, reminiscent of bygone Communist times, silently zips through the streets in the first major attempt in the Balkan country to produce its own electric vehicle.

It is the brainchild of Skopje-based BB Classic Cars, a local company which restores vintage cars and now converts some of them to electric ones with help from a government innovation fund partly aimed at promoting greener technologies.

North Macedonia, which wants to join the European Union where tighter emissions rules are due to come into force in 2020, is battling major pollution mainly from car emissions and heating coal. It is planning to introduce subsidies for purchases of less polluting or zero emission cars.

BB Classic Cars converted the supermini Zastava 750, an upgraded license-built Fiat 600 popular across the now-defunct Yugoslavia, replacing its petrol engine with an electric one.

Milorad Kitanovski, director of the BB Classic Cars, said that the performance of converted Zastava 750s, originally manufactured in Serbia’s city of Kragujevac from the early 1960s until mid-1980s, is the same or better than the original.

“The engine has a far greater potential for a far greater performance and higher speed, but we limited it to 120 kilometers per hour,” Kitanovski said.

The converted cars are fitted with electric motors manufactured by Germany’s Kessler which also has a plant in North Macedonia. Kitanovski did not say how much the company invested to make the conversion.

The car has a range of 150 kilometers, while charging time is around three hours with a home charger, and only 15 minutes with rapid chargers.

“The cost of three hours of charging is less than 1 euro ($1.12), for the 10 kilowatts which is the battery capacity,” Kitanovski said.

The price tag is set around 20,000 euros ($22,568.00) and the company is mainly looking at international buyers, he said.

In comparison, Porsche Macedonia offers Volkswagen’s e-UP! and e-Golf electric cars for 25,000 euros and 37,000 euros respectively, according to a February report by the country’s MIA news agency.

(Reporting by Ognen Teofilovski; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Sweden's prime minister speaks at campaign rally in Stockholm
FILE PHOTO: Sweden’s Prime Minister Goran Persson speaks at a campaign rally one day before Sunday’s general election in Stockholm September 16, 2006. REUTERS/Bob Strong/File Photo

June 19, 2019

By Johan Ahlander and Esha Vaish

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Swedbank shareholders elected Goran Persson as chairman on Wednesday, with the former Swedish Prime Minister pledging to “clean the house” after a money-laundering scandal.

Sweden’s oldest retail bank has lost its chief executive, chairman and a third of its stock market value this year as its Estonian business was embroiled in a money laundering inquiry.

Swedbank, which is under investigation in the United States, the Baltics and Sweden, now faces the potential threat of sanctions and fines as it seeks to regain public confidence.

The most recent allegations against Swedbank, reported by Swedish state TV in March, say it processed gross transactions of up to 20 billion euros a year from high-risk, mostly Russian non-resident clients, through Estonia from 2010 to 2016.

Swedbank suspended its two top Estonian executives on Tuesday as part of an internal inquiry into its compliance with anti-money laundering rules which it launched in April under shareholder pressure for greater transparency.

Swedbank bulked up its board with three appointments at its annual shareholder meeting, including the addition of Persson, as it seeks to regain investor confidence following the scandal, which has also engulfed neighboring Danske Bank.

The 70-year-old former Swedish politician has emerged as a troubleshooter since playing an instrumental role in reviving Sweden’s economy after a financial crisis in the 1990s.

Persson, a Social Democrat who served as prime minister for a decade until 2006 and has since sat on several boards including smaller regional lender Alandsbanken, vowed to restore confidence in Swedbank and work for a better corporate culture.

“We’re going to clean our house. That work starts now,” Persson said after his election as chairman of Swedbank, whose shares were up 1% to 140.50 Swedish crowns at 1031 GMT.

Shareholders also voted in Bo Magnusson and Josefin Lindstrand as new members of the board, which also faces the task of finding a new chief executive for the bank.

Persson expects a new CEO to be in place by “end of autumn.”

(Reporting by Johan Ahlander and Esha Vaish in Stockholm; editing by Johannes Hellstrom and Alexander Smith)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A Harley-Davidson Inc. logo is seen at the Paris auto show in Paris
FILE PHOTO: A Harley-Davidson Inc. logo is seen at the Paris auto show in Paris, France, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

June 19, 2019

(Reuters) – Harley-Davidson Inc will partner with Qianjiang Motorcycle Co. to produce a new range of smaller bikes, adding to moves to build more motorcycles outside the United States that have angered President Donald Trump.

The company said the new bike would have an engine displacement of 338 cubic centimeters, by far the smallest-powered engine Harley has ever made and would be sold in China from the end of 2020.

Most motorcycles sold in the U.S. are far larger, with engine capacities of more than 601 cubic centimeters.

(Reporting by Rachit Vats in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO - Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah is seen during the Arab summit in Mecca
FILE PHOTO – Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah is seen during the Arab summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed

June 19, 2019

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Kuwait’s ruling emir arrived on a state visit to Iraq on Wednesday and is expected to discuss escalating regional tensions after attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.

Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah was met by Iraq’s president, oil minister and other senior Iraqi officials and will discuss bilateral ties and recent regional and international developments, Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA said.

The two OPEC member states transport most of their crude through the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s oil passes, and near where six tankers have been attacked in the past month.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of being behind the attacks, which Tehran denies. Kuwait has described the tanker attacks as a threat to international peace and security, without assigning blame.

(Reporting by Iraq Newsroom; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

June 19, 2019

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Evidence suggests Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and other senior Saudi officials are liable for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.N. rights investigator said on Wednesday.

There was no immediate reaction from Riyadh which was sent the 100-page report in advance – but the kingdom has regularly denied accusations that the prince was involved.

Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, called for countries to widen sanctions to include the Crown Prince and his personal assets, until and unless he can prove he has no responsibility.

Khashoggi, a critic of the prince and a Washington Post columnist, was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2 where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding.

His body was dismembered and removed from the building, the Saudi prosecutor has said, and his remains have not been found.

“It is the conclusion of the Special Rapporteur that Mr. Khashoggi has been the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law,” Callamard said in her report based on a six-month investigation.

Callamard went to Turkey earlier this year with a team of forensic and legal experts and said she received evidence from Turkish authorities.

“There is credible evidence, warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including the Crown Prince’s”, she said.

“Indeed, this human rights inquiry has shown that there is sufficient credible evidence regarding the responsibility of the Crown Prince demanding further investigation,” she added, urging U.N. Secretary-General to establish an international probe.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: New Toyota cars are transported from their manufacturing facility in Burnaston
FILE PHOTO: New Toyota cars are transported from their manufacturing facility in Burnaston, Britain March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Staples/File Photo

June 19, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – British factory orders slid in June against a backdrop of stoppages in car production following uncertainty about when Britain will leave the European Union, the CBI’s monthly industrial trends survey showed on Wednesday.

The Confederation of British Industry survey’s total order book balance sank to -15 this month from -10 in May, the weakest reading since October 2016 and a steeper fall than expectations of a reading of -12 in a Reuters poll.

June’s production index sank to +2 from +14 in May, which the CBI said reflected the sharpest contraction in car manufacturing since March 2009, as producers brought forward seasonal plant closures.

“There’s clear evidence that Brexit uncertainty is really biting, with our surveys showing volatility in both stocks and output in recent months,” CBI economist Alpesh Paleja said.

“Firms are desperate to see an end to the current impasse. That means securing a Brexit deal that can not only command the support of parliament and the EU, but prioritizes the protection of jobs and the economy,” he added.

(Reporting by David Milliken, editing by Andy Bruce; London newsroom +44 20 7542 7947, uk.online@reuters.com)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO - A Republican supporter wears a party logo on her denim jacket before a sunset cruise with the Belknap County Republicans in Laconia
FILE PHOTO – A Republican supporter wears a party logo on her denim jacket before a sunset cruise with the Belknap County Republicans in Laconia, New Hampshire, May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

June 19, 2019

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Republicans chagrined by how few women their party has serving in Congress are launching an initiative on Wednesday aimed at reversing the trend in the 2020 elections, though steep fundraising, recruitment and policy hurdles lie ahead.

The WFW (Winning for Women) Action Fund, which raises money to support female Republican candidates for Congress, is announcing a goal of electing 20 Republican women to the House of Representatives next year.

There are 13 Republican women serving in the House now, down from 23 in the previous Congress and the smallest number since 1995. Democrats have 89 female representatives after a record number of women ran for office in 2018, many of them motivated by a dislike of President Donald Trump.

“Our numbers are so low, it’s become appalling,” said Olivia Perez-Cubas, spokeswoman for the WFW Action Fund.

The fund will ramp up recruitment efforts and offer more financial support to help women get through primaries, where they sometimes struggle against men who are viewed as more conservative by the party’s base.

Some party activists report a high level of early interest from Republican women thinking about throwing their hats in the ring for Congress in 2020.

Julie Conway, executive director of VIEW PAC (Value in Electing Women Political Action Committee), another group that supports Republican women candidates, said she has already met with as many as 85 women considering a bid.

“At this point in the 2017 cycle, it probably would have been a third of that,” Conway said, noting many of the women are looking to run in the competitive swing seats Republicans lost when Democrats seized control of the House in the mid-term elections last year.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the party’s official congressional campaign arm, has engaged with 172 women interested in running, and 50 have filed papers to run, spokesman Michael McAdams said.

Republicans suffered a setback last week when Representative Susan Brooks, who heads NRCC recruiting efforts, announced she would take herself out of the re-election game by retiring from Congress next year.

Democrats pounced on the news about the Indiana lawmaker. Representative Cheri Bustos, chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said it underscored the problem Republicans had created “in a party whose leadership continually marginalizes women’s voices.”

HISTORIC DISPARITY

The disparity between the number of Republican and Democratic female lawmakers has never been greater, said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

“You are talking about a situation where of the 127 women who serve in Congress, House and Senate, 106 are Democrats and 21 are Republicans. That’s the biggest difference we’ve ever seen,” Walsh said.

Republican women lag far behind in financial resources compared to their Democratic counterparts. Organizations such as Emily’s List spent $24.4 million last year to back female House Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.

By contrast, VIEW PAC says it has directly contributed and helped raise over $6.5 million for Republican women candidates since it began operating more than 20 years ago.

Republican women in 2020 may also have to grapple with a voter backlash to new laws in some states restricting abortion and could find it difficult to disentangle their candidacies from the impact of Trump’s rhetoric and policies, Walsh said.

“Women’s underrepresentation (in Congress) has been a problem within the Republican party for a while, but I think Donald Trump’s presidency has only exacerbated that situation,” Walsh said.

In the near term, Republican women activists are hoping their preferred candidate prevails in a special election in North Carolina’s third congressional district, to replace long-time Republican Representative Walter Jones who died in February.

The July 9 Republican primary runoff pits pediatrician Joan Perry, who has never before run for political office, against state lawmaker Greg Murphy.

All 13 Republican women in the U.S. House have endorsed Perry. The WFW Action Fund has spent almost half a million dollars on advertising on her behalf, and Women Speak Out PAC, linked to the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, has spent $75,000 backing her.

However, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Republican Representative Mark Meadows, has endorsed Murphy, saying he has done more to advance conservative policy.

Perry agrees more Republican women are needed in Congress. But she is urging voters to elect her for her conservative stances, including her opposition to abortion and support for Trump’s wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I am running for whom I am, and the values that I embrace,” she said.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Adler)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the upper house of the Italian parliament, in Rome
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the upper house of the Italian parliament, in Rome, Italy March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo

June 19, 2019

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission has asked Italy to adopt new measures to cut its growing public debt and avoid an EU disciplinary action that could lead to financial sanctions and stricter oversight of the country’s fiscal policies.

Italy narrowly averted such sanction procedure late last year, when it reached an agreement with the Commission, the European Union’s executive, over its 2019 budget. The Commission had initially rejected the budget, saying it would not cut Italy’s large debt.

Official data released in April showed Italy’s debt grew to 132.2% of gross domestic product in 2018, the largest ratio in the EU after bailed-out Greece. It is set to expand further this year and next, according to Commission forecasts, in spite of EU rules that say the debt should fall.

Italy’s euroskeptic government has so far shown little inclination to reduce its debt. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has instead urged a relaxation of EU fiscal rules and wants broad tax cuts — without explaining how they would be funded.

The possible next steps are:

June 20-21: EU leaders meet in Brussels for a quarterly summit. The meeting offers Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte a chance to discuss ways to avoid the debt procedure with the outgoing Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker.

June 26: The European Commission could recommend the opening of a disciplinary procedure against Italy if Rome makes no concessions. Exceptionally, this decision could be postponed to July 2, but EU officials have repeatedly said a delay is unlikely.

July 1-2: EU governments’ officials meet and could decide to endorse the Commission’s proposal to start a disciplinary action over Italy’s debt.

July 8-9: EU finance ministers gather in Brussels for a regular monthly meeting, where they are expected to decide on the possible formal opening of disciplinary proceedings against Italy, if recommended by the Commission.

Once the procedure is started, Italy will be required to adopt measures, such as higher taxes and spending cuts, to correct its deviation from fiscal targets within three or six months from the beginning of the procedure.

July 29: If EU finance ministers open a disciplinary procedure, July 29 would be the deadline for the Commission to propose what would be unprecedented financial sanctions against Rome. If deemed in “serious” breach of EU rules, the Italian government could be required to lodge with the Commission a non-interest bearing deposit worth 0.2% of GDP — around 3.5 billion euros ($3.9 billion).

Aug. 7: Euro zone governments would have 10 days, until Aug. 7, to block by qualified majority a Commission proposal to impose sanctions.

Sept. 20: Italy presents updated growth and public finance targets, which will be the framework of its 2020 budget.

Mid-October: First possible deadline for Italy to meet, in its 2020 draft budget, the fiscal requirements imposed by the EU in the disciplinary procedure.

Failure to act could trigger further sanctions, including a fine of up to 0.2% of GDP, the suspension of billions of euros in EU funds and closer fiscal monitoring by the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Further failure to cooperate could incur even stricter penalties. Those might include a fine of up to 0.5% of GDP, the potential loss of multi-billion-euro loans from the European Investment Bank, and precautionary monitoring by the EU of Italy’s plans to issue new debt.

Nov. 1: The new Commission is expected to take office, unless the mandate of the existing executive is extended.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio in Brussels; additional reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Gavin Jones in Rome; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Source: OANN

Cars stand on closed highway A9 at the crossing to highway A10 after a car accident near Mischendorf
FILE PHOTO: Cars stand on closed highway A9 at the crossing to highway A10 after a car accident near Mischendorf, 40 km south-west of Berlin, Germany, August 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

June 19, 2019

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission said on Wednesday it had cleared 431 million euros ($482.8 million) of public support by German authorities to cities to adapt diesel-powered municipal and commercial vehicles to reduce their nitrogen oxide emissions.

The measures are designed to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 1,450 tonnes per year and will be available in over 60 municipalities where national limits for the emissions were exceeded in 2017.

“Tackling air pollution is one of Europe’s greatest challenges,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “So these three schemes provide a good incentive for vehicle operators in Germany to invest in cleaner vehicles in the most polluted German cities.”

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop)

Source: OANN

A North Korean flag is seen on the top of its embassy in Beijing
FILE PHOTO – A North Korean flag is seen on the top of its embassy in Beijing, China, February 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

June 19, 2019

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea has provided its largest food and aid donation since 2008 to U.N. aid program in North Korea, officials said on Wednesday, amid warnings that millions of dollars more is needed to make up for food shortages.

South Korea followed through on a promise to donate $4.5 million to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), and announced it was also providing 50,000 tonnes of rice for delivery to its northern neighbor.

North Korea has said it is facing droughts, and U.N. aid agencies have said food production fell “dramatically” last year, leaving more than 10 million North Koreans at risk.

“This is the largest donation from the Republic of Korea to WFP DPRK since 2008 and will support 1.5 to 2 million children, pregnant and nursing mothers,” WFP senior spokesman Herve Verhoosel said in a statement, referring to his agency’s operation in North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

More aid would be needed, however, to make up for the shortfalls, he said.

“WFP estimates that at least 300,000 metric tons of food, valued at $275 million, is needed to scale up humanitarian assistance in support of those people most affected by significant crop losses over successive seasons,” Verhoosel said.

North Korea is under strict international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

While inter-Korean engagement spiked last year amid a push to resolve the nuclear standoff, Seoul’s efforts to engage with Pyongyang have been less successful after a second U.S.-North Korea summit ended with no agreement in February.

SANCTIONS A PROBLEM

South Korea would work with the WFP to get the aid as quickly as possible to the North Korean people who need, the South’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, said in a statement.

“The timing and scale of additional food assistance to North Korea will be determined in consideration of the outcome of the aid provision this time,” the ministry said.

According to South Korean officials the rice is worth 127 billion won ($108 million).

The government would aim to have the rice delivered before September, and officials were in touch with counterparts in North Korea, Unification minister Kim Yeon-chul told reporters.

South Korea’s Agriculture Ministry said the last time South Korea sent rice to North Korea was in 2010, when 5,000 tonnes were donated. The largest donation ever was in 2005 when South Korean sent 500,000 tonnes of rice.

Seoul also recently donated $3.5 million to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for humanitarian projects in North Korea.

Technically humanitarian aid is not blocked by the sanctions, but aid organizations said sanctions enforcement and a U.S. ban on its citizens traveling to North Korea had slowed and in some cases prevented aid from reaching the country.

Aid shipments have also been controversial because of fears that North Korea’s authoritarian government would divert the supplies or potentially profit off it.

Verhoosel said the WFP would require “high standards for access and monitoring” to be in place before distributing any aid.

In March, Russia donated more than 2,000 tonnes of wheat to the WFP’s North Korea program.

(Reporting by Josh Smith. Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin.; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping meet business leaders at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping meet business leaders at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

June 19, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Wednesday positive outcomes were possible in trade negotiations with the United States, after the presidents of the world’s two largest economies agreed to revive their troubled talks at a G20 meeting this month.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. China, which previously declined to say whether the two leaders would get together, confirmed the meeting.

The two countries are in the middle of a costly trade dispute that has put pressure on financial markets and damaged the global economy.

Talks to reach a broad deal broke down last month after U.S. officials accused China of backing away from agreed commitments. Interaction since then has been limited, and Trump has threatened to put more tariffs on Chinese products in an escalation that businesses in both countries want to avoid.

News that the negotiations were back on the agenda cheered China’s stock markets with the blue-chip CSI300 index ending 1.3% higher while the Shanghai Composite Index rose 1.0%.

Speaking at a daily news briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said it was important to find a solution that was acceptable to both sides.

“I’m not getting ahead of myself, but communication over four decades shows it is possible to achieve positive outcomes,” he said.

Lu said he could not give an exact agenda for the meeting.

“The two leaders will talk about whatever they want,” he said. “A deal is not only in the interests of the two peoples but meets the aspirations of the whole world.”

In another possible sign of a pre-G20 thaw, China’s state television’s movie channel, which has in recent weeks broadcast old patriotic films about China’s heroics against the United States in the 1950-53 Korean War, on Wednesday showed a movie that put the United States in a far more positive light.

The channel showed 1999’s “Lover’s Grief over the Yellow River”, about a U.S. pilot in World War Two who was rescued by Communist guerrilla forces in China and falls in love with one of the young women fighters.

The overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said on its Weibo account the movie was “deeply moving”, and showed a picture of the lead Chinese actress and lead U.S. actor locked in an embrace.

“It’s better to fall in love than to fight,” the Beijing office of the Communist Youth League wrote approvingly of the movie on its Weibo account.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Austrian oil and gas group OMV is seen at a gas station in Vienna
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Austrian oil and gas group OMV is seen at a gas station in Vienna, Austria, October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader/File Photo

June 19, 2019

(Corrects name of Borealis CEO to Alfred Stern (not Achim Stern) in paragraph 22 in June 18 story.)

By Kirsti Knolle

VIENNA (Reuters) – After years of largely banking on low-cost Russia for growth, OMV is shifting attention towards the Middle East as its chemist chief executive chases his vision of making the Austrian oil and gas group a major supplier of plastics.

OMV boss Rainer Seele has spent more than 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion) – 40% of the group’s M&A budget until 2025 – for oil and gas concessions in the region, a 15% stake in Abu Dhabi National Oil Co’s (ADNOC) refining business and a to-be-formed trading joint venture with ADNOC and Italy’s Eni. 

“We want to have a fully integrated business model in Abu Dhabi – from the well via the refinery and the petrochemicals all the way to marketing and trade in international markets,” the chief of Austria’s second-largest listed company told shareholders last month.

OMV traditionally earns its money from producing, distributing and refining oil and gas in Europe. A focus on low-cost oil and gas fields in Russia – a source of investor concern due to U.S. and EU sanctions – helped the group get back on its feet financially in recent years and become one of the best cash-flow generators in the sector.

After fixing a price this month for the purchase of Siberian gas assets from Gazprom, OMV has largely achieved its Russian expansion plans.

The Russia-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, of which OMV is a financing partner, could face delays. However, OMV’s downside risks are limited to the 950 million euros it has committed, of which it has paid 644 million euros so far.

“This is already captured by its discounted valuation relative to its peers,” analysts at Berenberg said in a note.

Seele’s new, Middle East-focused strategy stems from a shift in the environment surrounding OMV’s business model, with challenges created by the politically promoted rise of renewable energy and increased use of electric vehicles.

Consultancy Wood Mackenzie forecasts that demand for oil in developed countries will revert to structural decline next year and drop by about 4 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2035. In contrast, it expects demand in developing economies, mainly in Asia, to increase by nearly 16 million bpd in the same period.

The rise in developing-country demand is seen largely driven by the petrochemicals industry, which uses oil to make the plastics needed for fertilisers, packaging, detergents and clothes, as well as for electric-car parts, solar panels and wind turbines.

This is where Seele gets excited. Refraining from expanding into renewables like BP and Royal Dutch Shell, the CEO plans to monetize his oil with the expected surge in demand for plastics and also jet fuel, especially in China.

For Seele, the new focus is a journey back to his roots. The 58-year-old German holds a PhD in chemistry and started his career as a chemical research scientist.

He has chosen the United Arab Emirates as a base from which to secure a big piece of the Asian petchem pie, aiming to maximize profit via the entire value chain.

“What I am always preaching is, hey guys, try to think integrated,” he told Reuters when asked why he did not simply buy into China. “I cannot come up with an integrated business model in Asia if I buy into a petchem unit there. It would be an isolated investment.”

The UAE, a strategic investor in OMV since 1994, has aggressive energy ambitions for the coming decade. It is cooperating with international groups including Shell, Germany’s Wintershall DEA and U.S. investment firms KKR and BlackRock to pioneer approaches and technologies.

Last year, the UAE launched a $132 billion capex program to become self-sufficient in gas by 2030 and establish itself as an exporter of petrochemical products. It plans to invest $45 billion alone into the Ruwais complex, which is located 240 km (150 miles) west of Abu Dhabi, to make it the largest integrated refinery/petrochemicals facility in the world.

CREATING A “BORDEAUX”

ADNOC Refining plans to spend $1.9 billion annually, according to its five-year business plan. As OMV holds 15%, its share would be 285 million euros per year.

A cost optimization of Ruwais operations will be followed by investments to enable the use of different feedstocks and the processing of heavier, more sour crude at the site, Seele said in explaining the plans for ADNOC Refining.

“We will create a Bordeaux,” said Seele, a connoisseur of red wine. “Right now we are only running with Cabernet Sauvignon in Abu Dhabi and we will add some Merlot.”

One challenge will be to export to Ruwais OMV’s European model of bundling refining and petrochemical production in integrated hubs.

“We are transferring our European refineries now from predominantly fuel refineries to jet fuel and petchem units,” Seele said. “That’s the transformation we have in mind (for Ruwais as well).”

To deliver on its goal, OMV is working closely with its subsidiary Borealis, which partly runs the Ruwais refinery via its Borouge joint venture with ADNOC. Seele and Alfred Stern, chief executive at Borealis, plan big.

Borouge hopes to give the final go-ahead for the construction of a fourth petrochemical complex at the site next year, Stern told Reuters. He did not disclose the cost of the new complex, but said it would be a “multi-billion” decision.

OMV’s purchases of a 20% stake in Abu Dhabi’s SARB and Umm Lulu offshore oil concessions and a 5% stake in the Ghasha offshore gas and condensate fields from ADNOC were crucial for growth as they secure access to cheap feedstock, Seele said.

OMV also plans to recycle used plastic and convert it into synthetic crude oil at the Abu Dhabi complex. It is testing the patented, so-called ReOil technology at home.

“What we see in the market is a clear signal. If we don’t find a solution to recycle plastics, our polymer business will be negatively impacted,” the CEO said with a view to investors, who want the industry to work harder against climate change.

“At the latest, in 2025 we would like to have a commercial plant.”

Analysts have praised OMV’s plans, saying major players in the oil and gas industry may envy the company for the deals with its financially strong shareholder ADNOC.

However, risks remain: The emirate’s gas fields have proved challenging to monetize in the past due to high operating costs and artificially low local prices for the fuel.

“New technologies and development plans can improve this, but the fields still remain relatively difficult,” said Robin Mills, chief executive at energy consultancy Qamar Energy in Dubai.

Another challenge is inadequate infrastructure. The pipeline network needs to be extended, Seele says, at the same time indicating a solution is under way. “If you identify a problem, solve it.”

($1 = 0.8897 euros)

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Additional reporting by Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich; Editing by Dale Hudson and Jan Harvey)

Source: OANN

Boxes of Adidas shoes are pictured in the warehouse of local footwear retailer
Boxes of Adidas shoes are pictured in the warehouse of local footwear retailer “Pomp It Up” in Bussigny near Lausanne, Switzerland 24 Aprill, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

June 19, 2019

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – The European Union’s second highest court ruled on Wednesday that Adidas’s three-stripe branding was invalid as a trademark as it lacked a distinctive character.

The General Court of the European Union said it upheld a decision of the European Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in 2016 to annul a previous decision to accept the mark.

The German sports goods company registered the trademark in 2014 for clothing, footwear and headgear, saying it consisted of “three parallel equidistant stripes of equal width applied to the product in whichever direction.”

However, it was challenged by Belgian company Shoe Branding Europe, with which Adidas has been in a decade-long dispute.

An EU court rendered Shoe Branding’s two-stripe trademark invalid last year saying the stripes were too similar to the trademark of Adidas.

Adidas needed to show the mark had acquired a “distinctive character” throughout the European Union based on its use so that consumers inherently knew a product was from Adidas and could distinguish it from products of another company.

The court said the mark was not a pattern but an “ordinary figurative mark” and it was not relevant to take into account specific uses involving colors.

It also said Adidas had provided evidence related to the mark’s use in five EU countries but not throughout the bloc.

Adidas can still appeal to the European Court of Justice.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds a joint news conference with visiting U.S. President Donald Trump (not pictured) in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds a joint news conference with visiting U.S. President Donald Trump (not pictured) in Tokyo, Japan May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

June 19, 2019

By Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faced stiff opposition criticism on Wednesday after a report warned that many retirees won’t be able to live on pensions alone, a topic likely to become an issue in an election for parliament’s upper house.

Abe has made reform of the social security system a top priority to cope with Japan’s fast-ageing, shrinking population.

But the furor over the report and Finance Minister Taro Aso’s refusal to accept its findings have created a headache for Abe’s coalition ahead of the upper house poll and amid speculation that the premier may also call a snap election for the more powerful lower chamber.

A report this month by advisers to the Financial Services Agency (FSA) said a model case couple would need $185,000 in addition to their pensions if they lived for 30 years after retiring.

The report was meant to highlight the need to plan ahead for retirement but instead gave opposition parties ammunition to blast Abe’s government.

“What is making lots of people angry is that you are simply stressing stability (of the system) and not addressing their anxiety head-on,” Yukio Edano, leader of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told Abe during debate before a parliamentary panel.

Abe said the report had caused “misunderstandings” and reiterated the government’s position that reforms to the pension system implemented in 2004 had ensured its sustainability.

Pensions are a particularly sensitive topic for Abe.

His Liberal Democratic Party suffered a massive defeat in a 2007 upper house election during his first stint as premier partly because of voter outrage over misplaced pension records. Two months later, Abe resigned.

Abe’s ruling bloc is unlikely to lose its upper house majority but the fuss has trimmed his support and a weak performance would hamper efforts to cement his legacy.

Aso, 78, the wealthy scion of an elite political family, also said he’d never worried about supporting himself as he aged and didn’t know if he was receiving a pension.

“INCONVENIENT TRUTH”

That many retirees cannot subsist on pensions alone and will outlive their savings is one of Japan’s worst-kept secrets and one reason Abe is considering raising the retirement age.

“The FSA has done exactly what it is supposed to do — not be afraid to uncover inconvenient truths,” said Jesper Koll, CEO of asset manager WisdomTree Japan.

Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, said Aso’s rejection of the report had deepened public unease.

“Holding back, hiding or even falsifying information just because an election is near does not help you win trust for the government nor for the pension system,” he told Abe.

Japan’s life expectancy is the highest among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries at 87.1 years for women and 81 years for men. The World Economic Forum last week forecast Japanese men could be expected to outlive their savings by 15 years and women by almost two decades.

About 54% of Japanese who get public pensions rely on them for their entire income, according to 2015 government data.

Opposition parties have also used the FSA report to renew questions about the sustainability of the public pension system.

The government in 2004 adopted reforms it said had made the system sustainable for the next 100 years, a pledge many private economists, opposition lawmakers and ordinary Japanese question.

“People knew, even before the release of report, that there will be many economic problems after their retirement,” said Yu Nakahigashi, 40, a self-employed businessman. “I don’t want them to hide the truth from the public.”.

(Additional reporting by Yuri Harada; editing by Darren Schuettler and Nick Macfie)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Southern EU Countries Summit in Valletta
FILE PHOTO: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte gestures at a news conference during the Southern EU Countries Summit in front of the Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Malta, June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

June 19, 2019

ROME (Reuters) – Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday that Italy’s commissioner in the European Union’s next executive should have an important economic job.

Addressing the Chamber of Deputies ahead of an EU summit later this week, Conte said his government would push to obtain “a top-drawer economic portfolio.”

The term of the current European Commission expires on Oct. 31, and EU governments have begun negotiations over the next team of commissioners.

(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Angelo Amante, writing by Gavin Jones, editing by Giselda Vagnoni)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: People pass by an entrance to Google offices in New York
FILE PHOTO: People pass by an entrance to Google offices in New York, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

June 19, 2019

By Paresh Dave

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Shareholder activists want Google parent Alphabet Inc to break itself up before regulators force the world’s biggest internet ad seller to split into different pieces.

SumOfUs, a U.S.-based group that aims to curb the growing power of corporations, is set to make that proposal at Alphabet’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday at an auditorium at the company’s offices in Sunnyvale, California.

“Officials in the US & EU continue to be concerned about Alphabet’s market power in view of restrictions on monopolies,” the proposal reads. “We believe that shareholders could receive greater value from a voluntary strategic reduction in the size of the company than from asset sales compelled by regulators.”

The proposal has no realistic chance of success as Alphabet’s top two executives, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, hold 51.3 percent of shareholder votes.

Nevertheless, it shows a growing focus on the prospect of antitrust action against Alphabet and other big technology firms such as Facebook Inc and Amazon.com Inc as they face a political and public backlash over privacy issues and the power they now wield over the world’s information.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been a frequent critic of Google, claiming without evidence that its search engine unfairly produces results unfavorable to him. He has suggested that U.S. regulators should follow Europe’s lead and look closely at tech companies’ monopolies, but has not suggested any specific remedy.

The U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are gearing up to investigate whether Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook misuse their massive market power, sources told Reuters earlier this month.

The breakup proposal is one of a record of 13 on the ballot at Alphabet’s Wednesday meeting. A group of Google employees is backing five of the proposals, which it helped craft, but not the proposal to split the company.

Tibetan and Uighur ethnic group leaders concerned about Google’s work in China are among speakers expected to speak at demonstrations outside the auditorium before the meeting. Community activists pressing Google to address housing shortages in Silicon Valley also planned to rally.

Alphabet said in shareholder materials its existing policies address issues raised in the proposals and declined to comment further.

Although none of the proposals is likely to pass, Google may respond to issues raised. The company stopped working on a censored Chinese search engine and banned use of its artificial intelligence tools for weaponry after petitions from employees and outside activists.

“We started as a voice in the wilderness on some of these issues, but conversations have come more to the fore,” SumOfUs campaign manager Sondhya Gupta said.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Bill Rigby)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees gather at a market inside a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar
FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees gather at a market inside a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

June 19, 2019

By Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Human rights groups on Wednesday called on Southeast Asian leaders to rethink their approach to the Rohingya refugee crisis ahead of a regional summit in Bangkok this week.

Myanmar regards Rohingya Muslims as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and has confined tens of thousands to camps in its western Rakhine State since violence swept the area in 2012.

More than 700,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh in 2017, according to U.N. agencies, after a crackdown by Myanmar’s military sparked by Rohingya insurgent attacks on the security forces.

The Rohingya issue, especially their repatriation from Bangladesh, is expected to be a major topic during four days of meetings among leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Thailand from Thursday.

Human rights activists say the bloc should not rush to get involved in the repatriation without addressing the root causes of their displacement.

“ASEAN needs to stop turning a blind eye to Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya, and cease lending legitimacy to the repatriation process,” Eva Sundari, an Indonesian lawmaker and a board member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement.

U.N. investigators have said the 2017 Myanmar military operation that drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh was executed with “genocidal intent” and included mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson.

Myanmar denies widespread wrongdoing and says the military campaign across hundreds of villages in the north of Rakhine State was in response to the attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

But rights groups say conditions in Rakhine State are not conducive to the safe return of refugees.

“ASEAN seems intent on discussing the future of the Rohingya without condemning – or even acknowledging – the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against them,” said Brad Adams, the Asia director of the Human Rights Watch.

“It’s preposterous for ASEAN leaders to be discussing the repatriation of a traumatized population into the hands of the security forces who killed, raped, and robbed them.”

Mostly Buddhist Myanmar is a member of ASEAN. The grouping includes Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia, where the plight of the Rohingya is of particular concern.

Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai rejected any suggestion the grouping, which is under Thailand’s chairmanship this year, would gloss over Myanmar’s action, but at the same time, said ASEAN would not be apportioning blame.

“This is not about whitewashing anyone,” he told Reuters.

“ASEAN is not here to point to who is right or wrong, our concern is the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in refugee camps who should begin to take their first step to making a return”.

Repatriation would only take place on a voluntarily basis, and with the consent of both Myanmar and Bangladesh, he said.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea in an exodus that peaked in 2015, crossing the Andaman Sea to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Last week, a boat carrying 65 Rohingya arrived at a southern Thai island, raising concern that there could be a new wave of people smuggling by sea after a 2015 regional crackdown on trafficking.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: The German share price index DAX graph at the stock exchange in Frankfurt
FILE PHOTO: The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, June7, 2019. REUTERS/Staff

June 19, 2019

(Reuters) – European stock markets were flat on Wednesday after posting their best results in five months a day earlier thanks to a strong policy speech from European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi that flagged a potential return to bond-buying and lower interest rates.

Draghi’s speech sank the euro and drove major euro zone bond yields back below zero, slashing effective market borrowing costs, giving a boost to companies worried by sagging growth and driving the pan-European STOXX 600 index almost 2% higher.

It was flat compared to Tuesday’s close by 0709 GMT, although interest rate sensitive banking stocks outperformed with a 0.7% rise.

Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group bucked that trend to gain 2.8% after the British lender pledged to make an additional 50 million pounds ($62.75 million) in savings from its takeover of rival Virgin Money.

Also keeping markets afloat was news that China and the United States are rekindling trade talks ahead of a meeting next week between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit in Japan, sparking hopes that the tensions between the two sides would abate.

Draghi’s speech has also further upped the stakes for a Federal Reserve policy meeting that will be Wednesday’s main market event, already expected to point the way to interest rate cuts for the second half of this year.

(Reporting by Amy Caren Daniel and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at his official residence after an earthquake, in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at his official residence after an earthquake, in Tokyo, Japan June 18, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

June 19, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday said he did not have the slightest idea of dissolving parliament’s lower house for a snap election.

He was speaking in parliament in reply to an opposition question. Speculation has swirled that Abe may call a poll for the lower chamber to coincide with an election for the upper house that must be held this summer.

(Writing by Linda Sieg)

Source: OANN

Former head of European football association UEFA Michel Platini leaves a judicial police station where he was detained for questioning over the awarding of the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament, in Nanterre
Former head of European football association UEFA Michel Platini leaves a judicial police station where he was detained for questioning over the awarding of the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament, in Nanterre, France June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

June 19, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – Michel Platini, the former head of European soccer association UEFA, was freed in the early hours of Wednesday after having questioned over the awarding of the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament to Qatar.

A Reuters photographer saw Platini leave a local police station, where he had been detained for questioning on Tuesday.

Platini’s lawyer, William Bourdon, said his client was innocent of all charges and that he had been questioned on “technical grounds.”

France’s national financial prosecutor’s office, which specializes in investigating economic crimes and corruption, has been leading a probe into the awarding of the 2022 tournament to Qatar.

It is looking into possible offences including private corruption, conspiracy and influence peddling.

Platini is one of France’s most famous sportsmen and soccer stars. He led France to victory in the 1984 European Championship and played in two World Cup semi-finals.

(Reporting by Arthur Connan, Gonzalo Fuentes and Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Mathieu Rosemain)

Source: OANN

Women's World Cup - Group C - Jamaica v Australia
Soccer Football – Women’s World Cup – Group C – Jamaica v Australia – Stade des Alpes, Grenoble, France – June 18, 2019 Jamaica players applaud fans after the match REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

June 19, 2019

(Reuters) – Tributes rained down on Sam Kerr in Australia on Wednesday after the striker-captain became the nation’s first player – male or female – to score a World Cup hat-trick in a four-goal blitz of Jamaica.

Kerr did it all by herself in Grenoble on Tuesday, firing the Socceroos to a 4-1 win over the eliminated Reggae Girlz and a last 16 clash against Norway..

Former Australia striker Tim Cahill, the country’s most prolific scorer with 50 goals from 108 matches, led the congratulations on social media.

“Massive result,” Cahill tweeted with a bunch of applause emoticons. “Congratulations Matildas and Sam Kerr with 4 goals”.

Kerr struck her first two with a pair of well-taken headers in the first half and capitalized on two defensive blunders after the break, with Jamaica goalkeeper Nicole McClure gift-wrapping her fourth with a botched attempt at a pass.

The 25-year-old Kerr now has five goals for the tournament to equal the United States’ Alex Morgan in the Golden Boot race.

Cahill, who retired from international football after the men’s World Cup last year, was renowned for his lethal headers and Kerr’s efforts against Jamaica raised comparisons by local pundits on Wednesday.

“It was the best individual performance of her Matildas career, and probably the greatest one-off show by any Australian player,” Fairfax soccer journalist Michael Lynch wrote on Wednesday.

Kerr joked that she was going after Cahill’s “heading record”.

“I grew up watching Timmy Cahill. Headers are my favorite goals. I think it just comes naturally for me, I know it is one of my strengths so I try and work on it a bit,” she said.

“Maybe it is coming from an AFL (Australian Rules football) background and getting up there.”

Kerr’s five goals for the tournament have lifted her past veteran team mate Lisa De Vanna’s previous Australian record of four at a World Cup set in the 2007 finals.

Only Americans Michelle Akers (1991) and Morgan, who scored five in the 13-0 rout of Thailand, have scored more goals in a women’s World Cup match.

Jamaica coach Hue Menzies was left dazzled by Kerr’s display.

“I told her after the game, ‘you were just good to sit back and watch’. I would pay to come and watch her, it’s just something she just has within her, and she brings her team with her,” Menzies said.

Despite the easy win, it was still a tense night for Kerr and Australia who were in danger of slipping into third place in the group after substitute Havana Solaun netted Jamaica’s first World Cup goal after halftime.

Kerr’s enterprise ensured Australia finished second, however, and pushed third-placed Brazil into a tough last 16 clash against heavyweights France or Germany.

Australia were criticized after being upset 2-1 by Italy in their opener, and the Matildas needed an epic 3-2 comeback win over Brazil to steady their tournament.

A defiant Kerr told the critics “to suck on that one” after the Brazil win, a riposte that sat uncomfortably with some media pundits at home.

After her Jamaica masterclass, there was only praise.

“She’s a special one and in the end I’m fortunate not only with the win but if there’s one player you’re really happy for to score the goals, it’s Sammy,” said coach Ante Milicic.

“We, as an Australian footballing community, should be thankful that we’re witnessing one of the best players in the world live.”

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) are illuminated with a giant euro sign in Frankfurt
FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) are illuminated with a giant euro sign in Frankfurt, Germany, March 12, 2016. EUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach//File Photo

June 19, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Commerzbank said on Wednesday that it has now bought forward its expectations for an interest rate cut from the European Central Bank to July from the fourth quarter of this year.

The change in forecast follows comments by ECB chief Mario Draghi on Tuesday that the central bank will ease policy again if inflation fails to accelerate.

“Yesterday’s speech in Sintra may well be remembered as opening the door for the next round of large-scale stimulus, similar to his Jackson Hole speech in 2014,” analysts at Commerzbank said in a note.

“In essence, the ECB could no longer tolerate the adverse mix of collapsing inflation break-evens and rising real yields since the meeting two weeks ago.”

(Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe, editing by Karin Strohecker)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting in Fukuoka
FILE PHOTO: Italy’s Economy and Finance Minister Giovanni Tria speaks to reporters during the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting in Fukuoka, Japan June 9, 2019. Franck Robichon/Pool via REUTERS

June 19, 2019

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s public account could benefit from 3 to 4 billion euro ($3.4-$4.5 billion) of lower than expected uptake of welfare measures next year, finance minister Giovanni Tria was reported as saying in a interview with the Financial Times.

The European Union looks increasingly likely to impose disciplinary procedures on Italy over the management of its huge public debt.

Tria is expected to discuss later in the day how to avoid the EU infringement with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the leaders of the ruling coalition.

(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

Source: OANN

An Airbus A350-1000 performs during the 53rd International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris
An Airbus A350-1000 performs during the 53rd International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, France June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

June 19, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – Airbus, reeling from the potential loss of a major customer for its best-selling A320neo as British Airways owner IAG placed a lifeline order for the grounded 737 MAX, prepared to hit back with more orders for its A321XLR on Wednesday.

The planemaker has been negotiating with U.S. airlines investor Bill Franke whose Indigo Partners has also been known to place orders for multiple airlines within its portfolio and could reel it in for the Paris Airshow, industry sources said.

Airbus declined to comment.

After weathering intense scrutiny over safety and its public image, Boeing won a vote of confidence on Tuesday as IAG signed a letter of intent to buy 200 of its 737 MAX jets that have been grounded since March after two deadly crashes.

The surprise order lifted the energy of a previously subdued Paris Airshow, where the talk had been of the possible end of the aerospace cycle, given the issues at both Boeing and Airbus as well as geopolitical and trade tensions around the world.

Australia’s Qantas Airways said on Tuesday it would order 10 Airbus new A321XLR jets and convert a further 26 from existing orders already on the Airbus books.

Airbus is also in talks with leasing company GECAS and has been trying to secure an eye-catching order for the A321XLR from American Airlines, though the world’s largest carrier does not typically make announcements at air shows.

Airbus is looking for up to 200 orders for the A321XLR, which is designed to open up new routes.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Eric M. Johnson, Jamie Freed, Editing by Alistair Smout)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Japanese Vice Minster of Finance Asakawa, Finance Minister Aso, and Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda hold a news conference at the IMF and World Bank's 2019 Annual Spring Meetings, in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Vice Minster of Finance Masatsugu Asakawa, Finance Minister Taro Aso, and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda hold a news conference after the G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors’ meeting at the IMF and World Bank’s 2019 Annual Spring Meetings, in Washington, April 12, 2019. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

June 19, 2019

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – Substantial discussions on trade, including reform of the World Trade Organization, will likely take place at a summit of Group of 20 major economies next week in Osaka, a senior Japanese finance ministry official said on Wednesday.

Japan, which chairs this year’s G20 gatherings, will take a neutral stance in the U.S.-China trade row and urge countries to resolve tensions with a multilateral framework, said Masatsugu Asakawa, vice finance minister for international affairs.

“With regard to differences (on trade) between the United States and China, Japan of course won’t take sides. We will also not take any steps that go against WTO rules,” said Asakawa, who oversaw the G20 finance leaders’ gathering earlier this month.

“Japan will continue to take a multilateral approach in promoting free trade,” he told a news conference.

China and the United States, the world’s two largest economies, are in the middle of a costly trade dispute that has pressured financial markets and damaged the world economy.

Markets are focused on whether U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping can narrow their differences when they sit down at the G20 summit.

The bitter trade war has forced the International Monetary Fund to cut its global growth forecast and overshadowed the G20 meetings that conclude with the Osaka summit on June 28-29.

At the finance leaders’ gathering, the G20 issued a communique warning that trade and geopolitical tensions have “intensified” and that policymakers stood ready to take further action against such risks.

“The macro-economic impact (of the trade tensions) is an issue of concern,” Asakawa said, conceding it took considerable time for G20 finance ministers and central bank heads to agree on their communique’s language on trade.

More “concrete” discussions on trade policy will take place at the G20 Osaka summit, he added.

The row over trade appeared to spread to currency policy when Trump criticized European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s dovish comments as aimed at weakening the euro to give the region’s exports an unfair trade advantage.

Asakawa rebuffed the view the Bank of Japan’s massive stimulus program could also provoke the ire of Trump.

He also said the G20 shared an understanding that members would accept any exchange-rate moves driven by ultra-easy monetary policies as long as the measures are not directly aimed at manipulating currencies.

“The BOJ’s ultra-easy policy is aimed at beating deflation, not at manipulating exchange rates. That’s understood widely among the G20 economies,” he said.

Fears of the widening fallout from the trade war have heightened market expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve will start cutting interest rates this year. Draghi said on Tuesday the ECB will ease again if inflation fails to accelerate.

The dovish tone of other central banks have piled pressure on the BOJ, though many analysts expect it to keep policy steady at least at this week’s rate review.

(Additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Chris Gallagher & Shri Navaratnam)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell holds a news conference in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell arrives at his news conference following the closed two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, U.S., May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

June 19, 2019

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday kept up pressure on the head of the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates, following a report that White House lawyers earlier this year explored whether they could legally strip Jerome Powell of the Fed chairmanship.

Asked by reporters outside the White House if he wanted to demote Powell, Trump said: “Let’s see what he does.”

Trump has repeatedly attacked Powell for raising interest rates, claiming that the Fed’s four rate hikes last year were undercutting his economic and trade policies, particularly as he battled over trade issues with China. Last October Trump said the Fed had “gone crazy” under Powell.

The Fed wraps up a two-day policy meeting in Washington on Wednesday. Powell and fellow U.S. central bankers are expected to leave interest rates steady but potentially lay the groundwork for a rate cut later this year.

“They are going to be making an announcement pretty soon, so we’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters.

Earlier Tuesday, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi signaled he would ease policy to deal with low inflation across the Atlantic, a move that Trump said benefited Europe and was unfair to the United States.

“I want to be given a level playing field, and so far I haven’t been,” Trump told reporters.

The comments add to pressure on Powell, who is facing financial market expectations for three rate cuts by year’s end as economic data has weakened, though the data still points to continued, though slower, growth.

Trump, who picked Powell to replace Janet Yellen as the Fed chair, told ABC News last week: “I’m not happy with what he’s done.”

Bloomberg News, citing people familiar with the matter, reported Tuesday that the White House’s counsel’s office had looked into the legality of demoting Powell to a Fed governor in February, soon after Trump discussed firing the Fed chairman. Such a move would be unprecedented in the Fed’s 100-year history.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow declined to confirm or deny the report, but told reporters that Trump is not considering any changes to Powell’s status. Powell’s four-year term as Fed chair expires in 2022.

“The Fed is independent. They’ll act on their own time, in their own way,” Kudlow said.

Powell has said he does not believe the president has the power to fire him, and that he would not resign if asked.

A spokeswoman for the Fed Board of Governors on Tuesday said, “Under the law, a Federal Reserve Board chair can only be removed for cause.”

Robert C. Hockett, a law professor at Cornell Law School, whose research includes monetary law and economics, said demoting Powell might not be considered removal. But any move by Trump to do so would probably be contested by members of the Senate, which must confirm nominees for Fed chair and to the Fed’s Board of Governors, and could lead to a legal challenge over the limits of the president’s power, Hockett said.

He also said the Fed’s policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee, known as the FOMC, could act to preserve Powell’s authority.

“Even if Trump could ‘demote’ Powell, the FOMC could nevertheless vote to keep him on as FOMC chair, thereby neutralizing Trump’s move,” Hockett said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Trevor Hunnicutt, Dan Burns; writing by Ann Saphir; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Source: OANN

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Grandi attends a news conference in Geneva
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi attends a news conference on the annual Global Trends report on forced displacement at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

June 19, 2019

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Developing countries, not rich Western nations, are bearing the brunt of the world’s refugee crisis and are hosting most of the record 70.8 million displaced people who have fled war and persecution, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Half of the world’s forcibly displaced are children and the 2018 total is the highest in nearly 70 years, the U.N. refugee agency said in its annual flagship report, Global Trends.

But the global figure, which comprises 25.9 million refugees, 41.3 million people uprooted within their homelands, and 3.5 million asylum-seekers, is “conservative”, it said.

That is because it does not include most of the 4 million Venezuelans who have fled abroad since 2015 as they do not need visas or to lodge asylum claims to stay in most host countries. If the outflow continues, a total of 5 million Venezuelans could have left by year-end, it said.

“Certainly if the situation is not solved politically in Venezuela, with a political agreement, we will see a continuation of this exodus,” Filippo Grandi, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told a news briefing.

Venezuelans, arriving mainly in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, formed the second biggest flow abroad last year, after Syrians fleeing to Turkey following eight years of war, the report said.

“When you say Europe has a refugee emergency, or the United States, or Australia – no. Most of the refugees are in fact in the country next to where the war is, and unfortunately that means mostly in poor countries or in middle-income countries,” Grandi said.

“That’s where the crisis is, that’s need where we need to focus,” he told a news briefing.

More than two-thirds of the world’s refugees come from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia, the report said.

ASYLUM CLAIMS

U.S. President Donald Trump has made reducing illegal migration along the border with Mexico one of his signature policy pledges.

Central Americans reaching the United States after fleeing violence or persecution in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are entitled to request asylum, Grandi said.

The United States should give such people a fair hearing and not separate children from their parents, he said, adding that his agency stood ready to help U.S. authorities deal with the challenge.

With 254,300 asylum claims lodged in 2018, the United States is the world’s largest recipient of applications, the report said.

But Grandi said the United States has a huge backlog of 800,000 cases to be processed and that his agency was also helping Mexico to beef up its capacity to handle asylum-seekers.

Asked whether Trump’s policies had made the work of UNHCR more difficult, he said: “It’s not just in the United States, in Europe as well, and Australia.

“This is the crisis of solidarity that I have mentioned. It is identifying refugees and migrants with a problem instead of people that are fleeing from a problem,” he said.

In Europe, the issue has been heavily politicized, leaving some governments “terrified” to commit to take in people rescued at sea after fleeing Libya or other conflict zones, Grandi said.

“So the appeal I make, now that we are in a situation where European (Parliament) elections are behind us, is to stop this electoral agitation. The numbers arriving in Europe are frankly manageable,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Source: OANN

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at his official residence after an earthquake, in Tokyo
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at his official residence after an earthquake, in Tokyo, Japan June 18, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN. THIS IMAGE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY, AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY.

June 19, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – A strong and shallow earthquake struck Japan’s northwest coast around Niigata prefecture on Tuesday, triggering a small tsunami, shaking buildings and cutting power to around 9,000 buildings.

The magnitude 6.4 quake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), lasted for as long as 20 seconds and damage included a landslide that struck a road, according to public broadcaster NHK. There were no initial reports of fatalities or fires.

Authorities lifted a 0.2-1.0 meter tsunami warning for the region after waves several centimeters high struck parts of the Niigata coast.

A tsunami of up to one meter could have caused some flooding and damage in low-lying coastal areas and river banks, though much of Japan’s coastline is guarded by sea walls.

“We will work closely with local authorities to provide any disaster measures including lifesaving and rescue operations and have instructed officials to provide information in a timely and accurate manner,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga – the top government spokesman – told a media briefing.

The quake struck at 10.22 p.m. local time (1322 GMT Thursday) at a depth of 12 kilometers (7.5 miles), the USGS said.

It measured 6.7 according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, and in some places was as high as a strong six on the agency’s seven-point “Shindo”, or Seismic Intensity Scale, which measures ground motion at specific points unlike magnitude which expresses the amount of energy released.

Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (Tepco) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant was not affected by the quake, which hit 85 km ( 53 miles) northeast of the site. All of its seven reactors were already shut down, NHK said.

A Tepco spokesman said an initial inspection showed no damage to the plant, and inspectors would carry out more detailed checks.

The quake also temporarily halted express bullet train services in the region, with some roads also closed, according to NHK.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly, Elaine Lies, Linda Sieg, Takaya Yamaguchi and Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Catherine Evans and John Stonestreet)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Women's World Cup - Scotland Training
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – Women’s World Cup – Scotland Training – Allianz Riviera, Nice, France – June 8, 2019 Scotland manager Shelley Kerr during training REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo

June 19, 2019

(Reuters) – Scotland must “bring their A-game” to their final group stage match of the women’s World Cup against Argentina on Wednesday if they are to have any hope of reaching the last-16, coach Shelley Kerr has said.

World Cup debutants Scotland are bottom of Group D after defeats by Japan and England, but victory over Argentina in Paris could help guide them into the knockout rounds as one of the four best third-placed teams.

The stakes are as high for Argentina, who have one point so far and will be guaranteed a spot in the last-16 if they beat the Scots, and Kerr wants her players to take the game to their opponents.

“We have to be more attacking against Argentina and they will have to at some point as well,” she told a news conference on Tuesday.

“It’s something we’ve been good at throughout the campaign to get us here. And I’ve no doubt that our players are prepared well enough and (if they) bring their A-game, I’m sure it will be a positive result for us.”

With England and Japan both ranked in the world’s top 10, Kerr said 20th-ranked Scotland knew their chances of reaching the knockout rounds would rest on the game against Argentina, who are 17 places below them in the world rankings.

“Not in a negative way, but we probably planned to be in this position,” the 49-year-old added. “We were hopeful we’d have taken something from those first two games but realistic that it would probably come down to the Argentina game.”

(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Jennings)

Source: OANN

A car passes in front of Toyota dealer in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
A car passes in front of Toyota dealer in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia June 15, 2019. Picture taken June 15, 2019. REUTERS/ Hamad I Mohammed

June 19, 2019

By Marwa Rashad and Stephen Kalin

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia began courting Toyota two years ago to build a large car plant as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s grand plan to wean the kingdom off oil revenues and create jobs for young Saudis.

But the Japanese carmaker has rebuffed Riyadh’s overtures following talks that dragged on without tangible results because high labor costs, a small domestic market and a lack of local supplies gave Toyota pause for thought, four sources said.

Securing a deal with a major automaker by 2020 for a car plant is a key target in the Gulf state’s national industrial strategy, part of a broader agenda to diversify the economy of the world’s largest oil exporter.

Failure to do so would be a setback for Prince Mohammed, coming after the listing of oil giant Saudi Aramco was shelved and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi tarnished the kingdom’s image.

“Nobody would say ‘No, full stop’ … but they politely conveyed they’re not interested,” said an industry source familiar with the Toyota talks.

Toyota said it could not comment on the current internal discussions and communication with the Saudi government.

Saudi Arabia’s ministry of energy, industry and mineral resources and the government media office did not respond to requests for comment.

As part of measures designed to create 1.6 million manufacturing and logistics jobs by 2030, Prince Mohammed wants to localize half the production of imported vehicles and weapons – which are expected to account for up to $100 billion in spending by Saudi government entities and consumers by 2030.

Under the deal Toyota signed in March 2017, the Japanese company agreed to conduct a feasibility study for an industrial project to make vehicles and car parts in the kingdom.

Two sources familiar with the matter said Toyota concluded after the study and negotiations that Saudi Arabia would need to provide huge subsidies for the project to be viable.

“They found that production costs will be similar to other countries only if there is a 50% government incentive. But even then, they aren’t sure it will be profitable,” said one source with knowledge of the negotiations.

(GRAPHIC: Saudi Arabia GDP breakdown – https://tmsnrt.rs/2WDjAZb )

TOUGH SELL

When it comes to establishing manufacturing, Riyadh hopes to replicate its 1980s push into petrochemicals – the cornerstone of an industrial drive that turned Saudi Basic Industries (SABIC) into the world’s fourth biggest petrochemicals firm.

Hundreds of thousands of Saudis work in petrochemicals, one of the biggest contributors to the economy outside oil. But it took decades to build up the industry, even with huge government funding and cheap raw materials.

Saudi Arabian Military Industries, owned by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, is spearheading the drive to localize military spending. It aims to generate $10 billion in revenue over the next five years and hopes to generate 30% of revenues from export markets by 2030.

For cars, the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program (NIDLP) wants half the roughly 400,000 vehicles bought each year in Saudi Arabia to be made there by 2030, one source said.

But Toyota, which has a 30 percent market share, only proposed a small plant producing up to 10,000 vehicles using imported goods and the Saudis wanted a bigger factory, the industry source and the source familiar with the talks said.

A strategy document posted on NIDLP’s website acknowledged that Saudi Arabia had a major competitive disadvantage and state incentives would be needed to create “substantial commercial justifications” to attract carmakers.

It did not provide specifics about the disadvantages, nor the size and kind of state incentives required.

At NIDLP’s launch in January, the state approved 45 billion riyals ($12 billion) of incentives to develop an auto sector, including duty rebates, human resources subsidies and tax holidays, but it wasn’t enough, the industry source said.

NIDLP did not respond to requests for comment.

Asked if it would consider the project if the economic conditions changed, Toyota said: “We do not comment on assumptions about the current and future situations.”

(GRAPHIC: Economy by sector in 2018 – https://tmsnrt.rs/2IUeZbs)

JOBS PUSH

The NIDLP is aiming to create 27,000 jobs in the automotive sector by 2030 by attracting so-called original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

One obstacle, though, is the absence of a local supply chain for car parts, three automotive industry executives said.

Riyadh would need to build integrated economic districts producing components such as windows, batteries and wheels to lower costs, a senior executive at a Western auto firm said.

“If I have to open a manufacturing process in Saudi and then import every single component from abroad, I do not have any economical plus,” he said. “The problem is not really setting up a plant, but having the entire value chain.”

The local market is also relatively small. Demand for cars in Saudi Arabia has fallen by some 50% over three years to about 450,000 cars in 2018, as a drop in oil prices and departure of expatriates hit consumption, said Subhash Joshi, director of mobility practice at research firm Frost & Sullivan.

“Saudi Arabia and (Gulf) countries have been persistently disappointing in terms of sales in recent years, so it’s not as if OEMs would be entering a booming market,” said Justin Cox, director of global production at LMC Automotive.

Cox said countries such as Egypt and Turkey had more advantages for carmakers.

Toyota has a 1.2 billion euro plant with an annual capacity of 150,000 vehicles in Turkey, which is in a customs union with Europe. A plant Nissan set up in Egypt in 2005 with a $200 million investment will produce 28,000 cars this year.

Cars imported into the GCC customs union which includes Saudi Arabia only attract a 5% tariff, offering little protection against cheap imports for countries trying to get domestic car production off the ground.

CARMAKERS WARY

Turkey and Egypt also provide experienced, cheap manpower while Riyadh has been reducing the number of foreign laborers to create jobs for Saudis, who prefer higher-paying public jobs. Some 10 million foreigners have been doing the strenuous, lower-paid jobs largely shunned by the 20 million nationals.

Khalid al-Salem, who oversees the development of industrial cities, said the authorities were working on incentives to lure Saudis to industrial jobs instead of retail, where entry requirements are easier and pay is higher. He did not elaborate.

It’s not the first time Saudi Arabia has attempted to lure automakers.

In 2012, Jaguar Land Rover signed a deal to explore producing 50,000 Land Rovers a year in the kingdom at a cost of 4.5 billion riyals ($1.2 billion), but it never moved forward.

The industry source said the British luxury brand, owned by India’s Tata Motors, got a better offer from a European country.

“We continually review our global manufacturing footprint. At this time, our focus remains on our manufacturing presence in the UK, China, Brazil and mainland Europe,” Jaguar Land Rover said in an emailed response when asked about the Saudi project.

Two of the sources said Riyadh has also approached Nissan Motor Co in recent years.

They said the Japanese firm considered contract manufacturing through a 75% Saudi-owned venture – without the Nissan brand – but the arrest of former chairman Carlos Ghosn last year meant it was off the table for now.

Nissan declined to comment.

MINING AND PHARMACEUTICALS

While Saudi Arabia is struggling to lure carmakers, it does have a truck assembly industry. But analysts say assembling vehicles imported in kit form requires less investment and doesn’t create as many jobs as building cars from scratch.

Economists say, however, that Saudi Arabia does have the potential to build competitive industries and create jobs in the mining and pharmaceutical sectors.

The state is looking to triple mining’s contribution to gross domestic product by 2030 by focusing on untapped reserves of bauxite, phosphate, gold, copper and uranium.

Saudi authorities estimate the country holds 500 million tonnes of phosphate ore, about 7% of global proven reserves and a new mining law to boost foreign investment is being drafted.

Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, said investment in mining infrastructure would likely have the most direct impact on developing new manufacturing industries.

Pharmaceuticals is another strategic sector for NIDLP. About 25 local manufacturing plants produce 30% of prescription drugs consumed now and the government wants to double the sector’s contribution to non-oil gross domestic product to 1.97% by 2020.

Suhasini Molkuvan, program manager at Frost & Sullivan, said the target was almost close to reality though a lack of investment in research and development and intellectual property left local firms dependent on multinationals.

“Diversity is easier said than done,” said a senior Riyadh banker. “It might be achievable in 15 to 20 years if they continue to make the push.”

(Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall, Tuqa Khalid and Saeed Azhar in Dubai, Costas Pitas in London, Naomi Tajitsu in Tokyo and Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing; editing by Ghaida Ghantous and David Clarke)

Source: OANN

Pumpjacks are seen against the setting sun at the Daqing oil field in Heilongjiang
Pumpjacks are seen against the setting sun at the Daqing oil field in Heilongjiang province, China December 7, 2018. Picture taken December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

June 19, 2019

By Aaron Sheldrick

TOKYO (Reuters) – Oil prices extended gains on Wednesday after rising in the previous session on rekindled hopes for a U.S.-China trade deal and on the potential for conflict between the U.S. and Iran in the Middle East after tanker attacks there last week.

Brent crude futures were up 3 cents at $62.17 a barrel by 0330 GMT. They rose 2% on Tuesday.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude gained 12 cents to $54.02 a barrel. The U.S. benchmark surged 3.8% in the last session.

In a post on Twitter, U.S. President Donald Trump said preparations were starting for him to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, next week.

That comes after talks to reach a broad deal on trade between the United States and China broke down last month after Washington accused the Chinese of backing away from previously agreed commitments.

Interaction between the two sides since then has been limited, and Trump has threatened, repeatedly, to slap more tariffs on Chinese products in an escalation that businesses in both countries want to avoid.

“Global demand for crude got a boost on expectations that trade talks are showing some positive signs following President Trump’s tweets,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York.

Both oil benchmarks gave up earlier gains in the Asian session after data showed that Japan’s exports fell for a sixth straight month in May as China-bound shipments weakened, underlining the impact of the trade war.

Tensions in the Middle East after last week’s tanker attacks remain high, with Trump saying he was prepared to take military action to stop Iran having a nuclear bomb but leaving open whether he would sanction the use of force to protect Gulf oil supplies.

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since last Thursday’s attacks, which Washington has blamed on Tehran. Iran has denied involvement.

Iran said this week it would breach internationally agreed curbs on its stock of low-enriched uranium within 10 days, possibly paving the way for the country to develop a nuclear weapon, adding that European nations still had time to save a landmark nuclear deal.

The U.S. is deploying about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what Washington said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

Market participants are also waiting for a meeting between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers including Russia, a group known as OPEC+, to decide whether to extend a supply reduction pact that ends this month.

OPEC and non-OPEC states are discussing holding meetings on July 10-12 in Vienna, a date range proposed by Iran, OPEC sources said on Tuesday. OPEC itself, however, is considering meeting on July 1-2 though it is still saying meeting will be held on June 25-26 on its website.

U.S. crude stocks also fell by 812,000 barrels last week to 482 million, industry group the American Petroleum Institute said on Tuesday.

The report from the government’s Energy Information Administration are due later on Wednesday. [EIA/S]

(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Joseph Radford and Christian Schmollinger)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Japan's SoftBank Group Corp Chief Executive Masayoshi Son bows his head after his presentation at a news conference in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp Chief Executive Masayoshi Son bows his head after his presentation at a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

June 19, 2019

By Sam Nussey

TOKYO (Reuters) – Most investors in SoftBank Group Corp’s $100 billion Vision Fund want to join the group’s forthcoming second fund, founder and Chief Executive Masayoshi Son said on Wednesday, adding discussions would begin soon.

The entrepreneur said in May a second fund would launch “soon”, with SoftBank likely to be the only investor initially.

Raising further funds is essential if Son is to extend his spending spree on late-stage startups around the world.

Investors in the first fund include the sovereign wealth funds of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, Apple Inc and Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd.

The Vision Fund will ramp up its employee numbers to 1,000 from 400 currently, Son said at the group’s annual general meeting.

The fund’s head, Rajeev Misra, said he sees investment rising to 100-150 companies, from around 80 at present.

Internet firms now dominate rankings of the world’s largest companies but have transformed just two industries, advertising and retail, which make up only a small part of the economy, Son told investors.

While SoftBank has invested in those industries in less mature markets – in, for instance, South Korea’s Coupang and Indonesia’s Tokopedia – its tech bets have been focused on startups looking to disrupt other industries like transport, insurance and healthcare.

Son also said he wants to be the conductor in an AI-driven technological revolution.

“The conductor doesn’t play anything but actually he plays everything,” Son said.

Shareholder responses at the meeting included a plea for Son to take care of his health, concern over the number of injuries at the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks baseball team, and from one father who said he had taken his son to SoftBank’s headquarters in the hopes of glimpsing the founder.

Outside the venue in Tokyo, Japan’s taxi lobby protested Son’s support for the ride-hailing industry, which remains strictly regulated domestically.

SoftBank portfolio companies including recently listed Uber Technologies Inc and China’s Didi Chuxing control 90% of the industry globally.

(Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at the Istana in Singapore
FILE PHOTO: Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at the Istana in Singapore, June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Feline Lim

June 19, 2019

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will need to secure just three votes in the country’s upper house to pass legislation after election results on Wednesday showed his government picked up four additional Senate seats.

Morrison’s position will be tested when he seeks to pass his major re-election policy of A$158 billion in tax cuts when lawmakers return to parliament for the first time since the election — expected to be in the first week of July.

Morrison secured re-election in May when his coalition won a majority of seats in Australia’s lower house – a result he declared as a political miracle.

Confirming the final results for the Senate, the Australian Electoral Commission said Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition won 19 of the 40 seats contested.

These lawmakers will now sit alongside 16 government Senators who were not up for re-election this year, giving Morrison 35 of the 76-seats in Australia’s Senate.

The government previously held 31 seats, leaving them dependent on the support of independents to pass legislation.

While Morrison remains shy of an outright majority, several right-wing independents are expected to support the bulk of his legislation.

“The government has struggled for years to pass legislation. This Senate will be much friendlier, and the bulk of Morrison’s agenda will become law,” said Haydon Manning, a professor of political science at Flinders University, told Reuters.

The conservative government in April proposed A$158 billion in tax cuts over the next decade, primarily aimed at middle-income earners.

While Australia’s opposition Labor party has promised to support the tax cuts for the lower income earners, it has said it will oppose the third stage of the fiscal plan that delivers tax cuts that favor higher earners.

Morrison has said the tax cuts will not be split, setting the stage for a political fight amid calls for urgent fiscal stimulus to boost a flagging economy.

Australia’s central bank earlier this month cut interest rates for the first time in nearly three years, though it warned the economy needed additional support.

Should Morrison win enough support for his tax plan, about 10 million middle- and low-income earners – will receive up to A$1,080 ($742.72) per person.

Economists have estimated the tax breaks would inject about A$7.5 billion into the economy over 2019/20.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Labourers work at Maxport garment factory in Thai Binh province
FILE PHOTO: Labourers work at Maxport garment factory in Thai Binh province, Vietnam June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kham

June 19, 2019

By Sachin Ravikumar

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Confidence among Asian companies in the June quarter fell to its lowest since the 2008-09 financial crisis, as a U.S.-China trade war disrupts global supply chains and shows little sign of easing soon, a Thomson Reuters/INSEAD survey found.

The Thomson Reuters/INSEAD Asian Business Sentiment Index tracking companies’ six-month outlook worsened in the three months ended June to 53, versus 63 in the previous two quarters.

A reading above 50 means optimistic respondents outnumbered pessimists, but worries about the threat of a prolonged trade war drove the index to its lowest since the June quarter of 2009, when the first edition of the survey was released.

“There was a big dip (in the index) three quarters ago, and we felt it was the uncertainty about the trade war and people were worried about the future,” said Antonio Fatas, a Singapore-based economics professor at global business school INSEAD.

“We get a sense after four quarters of low numbers that now, it’s not just uncertainty. This is a true slowdown in growth. We see activity declining — it’s not just the expectation that activity will decline,” Fatas added.

For a fourth straight quarter, survey participants cited the global trade war as the chief risk to business, followed by Brexit and a slowdown in the Chinese economy.

The survey interviewed 95 companies in 11 Asia-Pacific countries that together contribute about a third of global gross domestic product and are home to 45% of the world’s population.

It was conducted from May 31 to June 14.

RISING CAUTION

The index staying above the neutral point of 50 suggests companies in the region are not expecting an imminent global recession, but the decade low indicates caution was rising as trade tensions mount.

The United States and China have been embroiled in a trade standoff since last year, marked by tit-for-tat import tariffs, as Washington looks to force Beijing to make changes to its business policies. Talks between the two to reach a detente ended last month without a deal.

Washington’s move to put Huawei, the world’s No.2 maker of smartphones, on an export blacklist that bars U.S. companies from doing business with the Chinese firm without special approval further ratcheted up tensions.

Still, U.S. President Donald Trump has said that a deal would “eventually” be struck.

BNP Paribas, however, does not expect a resolution to the trade war this year, said Hong Kong-based Manishi Raychaudhuri, Asia-Pacific equity strategist at the banking group.

The trade tensions are hurting supply lines, especially that for higher-end smartphones, with many manufacturers looking to move production out of China and into countries such as Vietnam, Taiwan and Bangladesh, Raychaudhuri noted.

These changes, however, “can’t be made overnight”, he added.

U.S.-based Broadcom Inc, which makes radio-frequency chips used in Apple’s iPhones and iPads, last week forecast a $2 billion hit to annual sales from the trade tensions and the U.S. ban on Huawei.

Huawei has acknowledged a harder-than-expected hit from the ban and slashed its revenue forecast for the year.

China’s economy is also feeling the heat, with industrial output growth sliding to a 17-year low in May.

Respondents to the survey included Japan’s Nikon Corp, South Korea’s Samsung Electronics, India’s Tata Consultancy Services and Reliance Industries Ltd, as well as Thailand’s PTT PCL.

Note: Companies surveyed can change from quarter to quarter.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Source: OANN


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