Renault says will reopen Wuhan plant with partner Dongfeng on February 10

LONDON (Reuters) – Renault (PA:) will resume production at the factory it runs with Dongfeng Group (HK:) in Wuhan, Hubei province and the epicenter of the outbreak of a new flu-like virus, on Feb. 10, a spokeswoman for the French carmaker said on Tuesday.

The reopening of the plant will be eight days after the end of the extended Lunar New Year holiday in China, the world’s top car market.

On Monday, Beijing added three days to the week-long holiday, which will now last until Feb. 2 as it seeks to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected thousands and killed more than 100.

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UK to use high tariff threat to raise pressure in trade negotiations: The Times

(Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is mulling to use the threat of high tariffs to raise pressure on the European Union, the United States and other nations to strike trade deals with Britain, The Times newspaper reported on Saturday.

Johnson and his cabinet ministers discussed using tariffs as “leverage” in an effort to accelerate trade talks at a meeting this week which could result in taxes of 30% on some types of French cheese and 10% on German cars, the newspaper reported.

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Air France-KLM proposes buying 49% of Malaysia Airlines, JAL seeks smaller stake: sources

By Liz Lee and Anshuman Daga

KUALA LUMPUR/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Proposals to invest in ailing Malaysia Airlines include one from Air France-KLM (PA:) which wants as much as 49% while Japan Airlines (T:) is looking at a 25% stake, sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Domestic carrier AirAsia Group Bhd (KL:) and Malindo Air, the Malaysian arm of Indonesia’s Lion Air, have also submitted proposals, the sources said.

“The bids from the foreign carriers are more comprehensive and strategic as both plan to capitalize on the strategic location of Malaysia for their operations,” said one of the sources.

The Malaysian government has been seeking a strategic partner for its national airline, which has struggled to recover from two tragedies – the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370 and the shooting down of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.

In 2014, it was taken private by sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd, which paid 1.4 billion ringgit ($ 345 million) for the 30% of shares it did not already own.

The sources declined to be identified as the discussions are confidential. Representatives for Air France-KLM, Japan Airlines (JAL), AirAsia and Malindo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Monday five proposals had been received as part of a review that started last year but declined to name the suitors.

Malaysia Airlines last year signed a joint venture agreement with JAL covering flights between Malaysia and Japan, which the Japanese airline said could be expanded in the future to cover U.S. flights.

Malaysia Airlines and JAL are both members of the oneworld airline alliance, while Air France-KLM is part of the rival SkyTeam alliance.

Khazanah, which appointed Morgan Stanley (NYSE:) last year to advise on potential options for the airline, said it was working closely with the government.

“While there have been several proposals in this regard, a review of the options available to us is still ongoing,” Khazanah said in a statement.

Sources said Air France-KLM had proposed setting up a hub for maintenance, repair and overhaul services in Malaysia, while Japan Airlines had offered to make the Southeast Asian country its regional hub, including for low-cost flights.

Business news website Focus Malaysia said on Monday, citing an official document, that Khazanah had been pushing for AirAsia’s long haul unit AirAsia X (KL:) to merge with Malaysia Airlines.

“An international solution is probably better in this situation as AirAsia would have competition concerns,” one of the sources said.

“This is still a work in progress but the story is around the potential for a massive hub in Southeast Asia and it’s clear that international airlines see value in Malaysia Airlines because of this,” the source said.

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Flybe discussing loan on commercial terms with government: BBC

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An airport worker examines a flybe aircraft before it takes off from Liverpool John Lennon Airport in Liverpool northern England. © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An airport worker examines a flybe aircraft before it takes off from Liverpool John Lennon Airport in Liverpool northern England.

By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) – Struggling British regional airline Flybe is in talks with the government about a loan on commercial terms which would not represent a state bailout, the BBC reported on Friday.

British Airways (L:) and Ryanair (I:) have opposed government-backed support for Flybe, saying it prevents a level playing field and breaches state aid rules, although the details of the plan have not been made public.

The government has said that its support for Flybe, which provides links between many regional UK and European airports, does not breach EU rules on state aid.

Flybe’s boss Mark Anderson said any government help would be made on commercial terms, the BBC reported, citing an address he gave to Flybe staff.

“We are in conversation with the government around a financial loan – a loan, not a bailout – a commercial loan, but that is the same as any loan we’d take from any bank,” the BBC quoted Anderson as saying.

Flybe was rescued from near collapse on Tuesday, when its shareholders agreed to invest more money alongside government.

The airline declined to comment on the BBC’s report of what Anderson said, but did say that it had agreed with Britain’s finance department a payment plan for a debt of less than 10 million pounds ($ 13.1 million).

“This agreement will only last a matter of months before all taxes and duties are paid in full. This is a standard ‘Time to Pay’ arrangement with HMRC that any business in financial difficulties may use,” a spokesman for Flybe said in an email.

Flybe is owned by Connect Airways, a consortium created by Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Group (L:) and investment adviser Cyrus Capital. They bought the struggling airline last year and have already provided it with 110 million pounds of funding.

But the airline’s losses were such that the new funding was used up quickly, Anderson is reported to have said.

“Three-quarters of the money the shareholders invested was gone before we even really started. That has hurt this business and more money is needed,” the BBC quoted Anderson as saying.

But he tried to reassure staff about Flybe’s future.

“We are not making millions of profit at the moment but if we stick to the plan, and what we have to do, we will,” he said.

UK Infrastructure company Stobart said on Thursday it was providing 9 million pounds of funding for Flybe as part of this week’s government-backed deal.

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Russian Billionaire Loses Lawsuit Against Nordic Banks

© Reuters.  Russian Billionaire Loses Lawsuit Against Nordic Banks © Reuters. Russian Billionaire Loses Lawsuit Against Nordic Banks

(Bloomberg) — A group of Nordic banks sued by a Russian oligarch aren’t required to accept his business, according to what may prove to be a landmark ruling by a court in Finland.

Russian billionaire Boris Rotenberg, an associate of President Vladimir Putin, lost his lawsuit against four Nordic banks and was ordered to pay more than 500,000 euros ($ 556,000) to cover their legal fees, the Helsinki District Court ruled on Monday.

The court said that forcing the banks to accept business from Rotenberg, who is on the U.S. sanctions list, would have subjected them to significant financial risk which they, by law, are prohibited from taking.

The lawsuit targeted Svenska Handelsbanken AB (ST:) for refusing to accept cross-border deposits from Rotenberg, and Nordea Bank Abp (SIX:), OP Group and Danske Bank A/S (CSE:) for not processing payments to vendors for basics including Rotenberg’s electricity bills.

Jakob Dedenroth Bernhoft, a Copenhagen-based lawyer who specializes in compliance and money laundering issues, said the decision would set an important precedent.

“All the other banks will look at this decision from the court for guidance on what to do in a similar situation,” Bernhoft said by phone before the verdict was delivered.

At stake was the banks’ access to the U.S. dollar market, which is crucial to their ability to operate.

The case comes against a backdrop of money-laundering scandals in the region, with regulators ratcheting up compliance requirements. Banks are also under increasing pressure to identify dodgy customers. According to documents provided to the court, Rotenberg has a current account at Handelsbanken, which the bank has supplied on the recommendation of the Finnish Financial Ombudsman Bureau.

Rotenberg had argued that his status as a dual citizen of both Russia and Finland meant that banks based in Europe must process his transactions. But the court said Rotenberg failed to prove he resides in a European Economic Area country, and thus has no such rights to basic banking services as mandated by law.

The court’s panel of judges ruled unanimously, but the verdict can be appealed. Rotenberg has seven days to express his dissatisfaction with the ruling, the court said.

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Supporting Trump Tariffs, One Exemption at a Time

© Reuters.  Supporting Trump Tariffs, One Exemption at a Time © Reuters. Supporting Trump Tariffs, One Exemption at a Time

(Bloomberg Opinion) — Robert Wetherbee, CEO of steelmaker Allegheny Technologies (NYSE:) Inc., has penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal sporting a headline for the ages:

I Support Trump’s Tariffs But Need An Exemption

It’s tough to know if this is merely a straight summation of the piece (which it is) or the pointed effort of some wag on the copy desk. Either way, as pithy distillations of the tricky trade-offs of tariffs go, it is tough to beat.

Allegheny’s management wasn’t always so down on the trade war. Back in the summer of 2017, some months before President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, Wetherbee’s predecessor Richard Harshman told analysts on an earnings call that tariffs held “direct upside potential” for the company.  By early 2018, however, it became clear that semi-finished slabs from Indonesia needed by Allegheny’s A&T stainless-steel joint venture were swept up by the new trade broom. The company filed for an exemption in March of that year, a request that was denied last April.

Wetherbee’s op-ed looks like another attempt, albeit with different paperwork. After acknowledging the wisdom of Trump’s approach in broad terms (read the headline), it then calls tariffs “blunt instruments” that will force the closure of a Pennsylvania plant, risking 300 direct and indirect jobs in a “vital swing state.” (That sound you just heard is the sledgehammer of subtlety being hurled at the Oval Office.) It goes on to say that only three companies in the U.S. produce those slabs, but that doesn’t help because they are direct competitors who have “zero interest” in helping Allegheny prosper (which sounds par for the course, really). The piece closes with a plaintive “Mr. President, we implore you: Save our jobs.”

On the one hand, the U.S. has legitimate trade grievances with China, and commodity industries such as steel are at the bleeding edge of that. Utilization at steel plants has risen since the trade war began, according to a recent report from ClearView Energy Partners.

On the other hand, decades of globalization championed by the very superpower now decrying it have created webs of supply chains that are fiendishly hard to unravel. Case in point: Indonesian semi-finished slabs — who knew? Hence, while everyone in the chosen field supports the blunt instrument in principle, the complex realities beneath demand an edifice of waivers be built, with tariffs generally agreed to work best when they affect one’s competitors only.

Leaving aside Allegheny’s specific woes, the price of protecting steelworkers from foreign competition via tariffs is, as with most any product, higher prices for consumers. In our populist age, that is a price Americans may be willing to vote for again. Besides that gorgeous headline, Wetherbee’s op-ed is a timely reminder that the recent sigh of relief in financial markets about the phase one trade agreement with China looks premature. Given the depth and breadth of the Sino-U.S. rivalry — with geopolitical aspects far beyond mere tariffs and bipartisan antipathy to Beijing — the deal is more partial ceasefire than treaty.

Moreover, it has sprung up in the middle of Trump’s impeachment saga and the final stretch of the 2020 election. It’s very hard to predict how the president will balance a desire to keep stocks humming with an impulse to deliver on years of tough talk about Beijing. Speaking publicly on Thursday morning, he mentioned again the notion that “phase two” might have to wait until after November. For anyone worried, call your representative. Or write an op-ed.

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

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Gold, oil surge in Asia as U.S., Iran exchange threats

By Wayne Cole

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian share markets looked to be heading into turbulence on Monday as a flare-up of tensions in the Middle East sent gold to its highest in almost seven years while oil flirted with four-month peaks.

The United States detected a heightened state of alert by Iran’s missile forces, as President Donald Trump warned the U.S. would strike back, “perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” if Iran attacked any American person or target.

Iraq’s parliament on Sunday recommended all foreign troops be ordered out of the country after the U.S. killing of a top Iranian military commander and an Iraqi militia leader.

surged 1.6% to $ 1,575.37 per ounce in jittery trade and reached its highest since April 2013.

Oil prices added to their gains on fears any conflict in the region could disrupt global supplies. [O/R]

Brent crude () futures rose $ 1.05 to $ 69.65 a barrel, while U.S. crude () climbed 94 cents to $ 63.99.

“The risk of further escalation has clearly gone up – given the direct attack on Iran, Iran’s threat of retaliation and Trump’s desire to look tough – posing the threat of higher oil prices,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital.

“Historically though oil prices need to double to pose a severe threat to global growth and we are long way from that.”

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan () was off 0.16% though most major indices were yet to open. Futures () for Japan’s Nikkei () pointed to an opening fall of around 500 points.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 () fell 0.4% in very choppy trade.

Sovereign bonds benefited from the safety bid with yields on 10-year Treasuries () down at 1.795% having fallen 10 basis points on Friday. Treasury futures () gained 7 ticks.

In currency markets, the Japanese yen remained the favored safe harbor courtesy of Japan’s massive holdings of foreign assets. Investors assume Japanese funds would repatriate their money during a true global crisis, pushing the yen higher.

Early Monday, the dollar had edged down to a three-month trough of 107.81 yen , and risked a pullback all the way to 107.00. The euro likewise eased to 120.45 yen () having hit a three-week low.

The dollar was steadier against the other majors, with the euro being little changed at $ 1.1166 (). Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was holding at 96.852 ().

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

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Asian shares rise on China’s policy easing, trade deal hopes

© Reuters. Passersby are reflected on a stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo © Reuters. Passersby are reflected on a stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo

By Andrew Galbraith

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Asian shares kicked off the new decade higher on Thursday, after global stocks ended the previous one at record highs, and buoyed by Chinese markets after Beijing eased monetary policy to support slowing growth.

Investors also cheered news that the United States and China will sign a trade pact soon after a year of volatile negotiations between the world’s two largest economies.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan () was up 0.35% in morning trade after rising 5.6% in December.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Phase 1 of trade deal with China would be signed on Jan. 15 at the White House, though uncertainty surrounds details about the agreement.

Rising hopes for a resolution to the U.S.-China trade war helped propel global equities to record highs late last year and depress the value of the U.S. dollar.

MSCI’s all-country world index () of stock performance in 49 nations touched an all-time high of 567.80 on Dec. 27. It was last quoted at 565.46, off 0.41% from that peak.

In China, the blue-chip CSI300 index (), one of the world’s best-performing indexes last year, was 1.34% higher in early trade.

China’s central bank on Wednesday that it would cut the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves, releasing around 800 billion yuan in funds effective Jan. 6.

“I think the monetary angle in terms of what it means for the companies, is not that important,” said Jim McCafferty, head of Asia ex-Japan equity research at Nomura in Hong Kong.

“However for what it means for the consumer point of view, then clearly if there’s easy money and … individuals can borrow cheaply, repay debt quickly, then that of course is going to help the economy and the companies.”

McCafferty said he expects a memory up-cycle and new handset development prompted by the rollout of 5G mobile technology could help to lift tech-heavy markets like Korea and Taiwan this year.

Australian shares () flicked between small gains and losses, and were last up 0.2%. Seoul’s Kospi () began the year down 0.85%, while shares in Taiwan () added 0.51%.

Markets in Japan are closed for a national holiday.

The gains in Asia follow a bullish end to the year on Wall Street on Tuesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average () rose 0.27% to 28,538.44 and the S&P 500 () gained 0.29% to 3,230.78. The Nasdaq Composite () added 0.3% to 8,972.60.

In currency markets on Thursday, the dollar continued to weaken slightly against major peers as investors bet on a better outlook for global growth and trade.

The dollar was 0.06% weaker against the yen at 108.64 while the euro () gained 0.11% to 1.1222.

The (), which tracks the greenback against a basket of six rivals, was little changed, rising 0.04% to 96.427.

U.S. crude () was up 0.36% to $ 61.28 and global benchmark Brent crude () rose to $ 66.24 per barrel, building on a rise that gave oil its biggest annual gain in three years in 2019.

Gold, which has benefited from a weaker greenback, was up 0.18% on the spot market, fetching $ 1,519.64 per ounce. [GOL/]

Graphic: Asian stock markets https://product.datastream.com/dscharting/gateway.aspx?guid=516bc8cb-b44e-4346-bce3-06590d8e396b&action=REFRESH

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Lufthansa’s Germanwings fails in bid to avert cabin crew strike

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – An attempt by Deutsche Lufthansa (DE:) to avert a planned cabin crew strike at the airline’s Germanwings unit failed on Saturday as their trade union rejected management concessions as insufficient.

An offer by Lufthansa’s short-haul budget division to enter mediation and make concessions on part-time working was jilted by cabin crew union UFO, which said it would proceed with the strike from Monday to Wednesday next week as announced on Friday.

The strike is an escalation of a months-long dispute with Lufthansa and its subsidiaries over pay and pensions.

Lufthansa cabin crew struck for two days in November, resulting in the cancellation of one in five flights, affecting around 180,000 passengers and costing the airline between 10 and 20 million euros ($ 11-$ 22 million).

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

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‘It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas’: Hong Kong pro-democracy activists keep up protests

© Reuters. A man tries to evade police at Yuen Long mall in Hong Kong © Reuters. A man tries to evade police at Yuen Long mall in Hong Kong

By Donny Kwok and Mari Saito

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong anti-government protesters marched through Christmas-decorated shopping centers on Wednesday, chanting pro-democracy slogans and forcing one mall to close early, as police fired tear gas to disperse crowds gathering on nearby streets.

The protests have turned more confrontational over the festive season, though earlier in December they had been largely peaceful after pro-democracy candidates overwhelmingly won district council elections.

Despite the embarrassing results, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leaders have made no new concessions.

“Confrontation is expected, it doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas,” said Chan, a 28-year-old restaurant worker who was part of a crowd which exchanged insults with police outside a shopping center in the Mong Kok district.

“I’m disappointed the government still didn’t respond to any of our … demands. We continue to come out even if we don’t have much hope,” said Chan, who only gave his surname.

Riot police patrolled several neighborhoods while tourists and shoppers, many wearing Santa hats or reindeer antlers, strolled past.

There were no major clashes, but with impromptu crowds forming to shout expletives at the unpopular officers, who have been accused of using excessive force, police briefly fired tear gas in Mong Kok, a popular protest area.

Police describe their reaction to the unrest as restrained.

Hundreds of protesters, dressed in black and wearing face masks, descended on shopping malls around the Chinese-ruled city, shouting popular slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times!”

Police arrested several people in a shopping mall in the Sha Tin district after pepper-spraying them. The mall closed early.

CHRISTMAS ‘RUINED’

Baton-wielding police fired tear gas on Tuesday at thousands of protesters who barricaded roads and trashed a Starbucks (NASDAQ:) cafe and an HSBC branch.

The city’s leader Carrie Lam said in a Facebook (NASDAQ:) post on Wednesday that many Hong Kongers and tourists were disappointed that their “Christmas Eve celebrations have been ruined”.

“Such illegal acts have not only dampened the festive mood but also adversely affected local businesses.”

The Hospital Authority said 25 people had been injured overnight, including one man who fell from the second to first floor of a shopping mall as he tried to escape the police.

HSBC has become embroiled in a controversy involving a recent police crackdown on a fund-raising platform supporting protesters. HSBC denied any connection between the crackdown and its closure of an account linked to the group, but remains the target of protester rage.

Starbucks has been targeted after the daughter of the founder of Maxim’s Caterers, which owns the local franchise, publicly condemned the protesters.

DINNER WITH STRANGERS

The protests started more than six months ago against a now-withdrawn bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China where courts are controlled by the Communist Party.

They have since evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement, with demonstrators angry at what they perceive as increased meddling by Beijing in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering, saying it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula put in place at that time and blaming foreign forces for fomenting unrest.

While protesters have repeatedly vandalized businesses they believed to have ties with pro-Beijing figures, they deliberately supported those which have offered them shelter from tear gas or free water during hot summer marches.

One eatery in the Tsim Sha Tsui tourist area organized a Christmas dinner for protesters, with hundreds queuing outside for a free plate of noodles or fried chicken.

“It’s my first time going to a buffet with strangers, but we share the same goals … so it feels like a meaningful way to spend Christmas,” said private tutor Kenny, 46, who was eating outside the diner.

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