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The booth of Britain is seen during the International Tourism Trade Fair ITB in Berlin
The booth of Britain is seen during the International Tourism Trade Fair ITB in Berlin, Germany, March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

March 25, 2019

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany will miss Britain in terms of trade and the economy, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday, adding that Brexit would cost jobs and weaken the European Union when it comes to foreign and security policy.

“Without the strong Britons, the EU will also be weaker in terms of foreign and security policy,” the ministry said on Twitter. “That’s why we’re trying to continue coordinating as closely as possible. It also concerns our own security.”

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Tassilo Hummel)

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FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the skyline and lakefront of Chicago
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the skyline and lakefront of Chicago, Illinois, U.S., August 14, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young

March 25, 2019

By Karen Pierog

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Financial uncertainties swirling around Illinois and Chicago may not deter bond buyers when the two fiscally shaky governments sell more than $1.1 billion of debt this week.

Slim supply in the $3.8 trillion U.S. municipal market, yield-hungry investors, and the shelving of interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve for the remainder of 2019 have tipped the scale in favor of sellers, investment managers said.

“We believe that if (Chicago and Illinois are) going to pick a time to come to market, now is a pretty good time to be coming,” said Dan Heckman, national investment consultant at U.S. Bank.

Illinois, the lowest-rated U.S. state at a notch or two above junk due to its huge unfunded pension liability and chronic structural budget deficit, will offer $452 million of taxable and tax-exempt general obligation (GO) bonds in competitive bidding on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, underwriters led by Barclays are scheduled to price $700 million of GO bonds for Chicago, which is also struggling with pension funding and deficits, just days before the city elects a mayor to replace the retiring Rahm Emanuel, who served two terms.

“My gut tells me these deals are going to get done and done at a level that is pretty attractive for Illinois and the city of Chicago and over a longer period of time will likely prove unattractive for investors,” said Nicholos Venditti, a portfolio manager at Thornburg Investment Management.

Illinois’ deal comes just weeks after the new Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, unveiled a fiscal 2020 budget and a plan to rescue the state’s sagging finances by switching to graduated income tax rates via a constitutional amendment process.

Budget measures, including the use of one-time revenue and a more than $800 million reduction in contributions to the state’s woefully underfunded pensions, could push Illinois closer to a junk credit rating.

“That is a significant risk,” Venditti said, adding that the situation is even “scarier” in Chicago, which already has a junk rating with Moody’s Investors Service, along with ratings of BBB-plus with S&P Global Ratings and BBB-minus with Fitch Ratings.

The city’s two mayoral candidates – Toni Preckwinkle, who currently heads the Cook County Board of Commissioners, and attorney Lori Lightfoot – have not disclosed detailed plans for addressing a projected $252 million fiscal 2020 budget deficit and escalating pension payments that will top $2 billion in 2023.

“At the city level, I think investors are flying blind,” Venditti said.

Meanwhile, demand is strong with municipal bond funds, including high yield, reporting big weekly inflows of investor dollars since early January, according to Lipper.

Muni bond supply totaling $63.8 billion so far in 2019 is 12 percent below the average year-to-date volume in the previous five years, according to Refinitiv data.

Given the “very, very attractive” muni bond environment for issuers, Heckman said there will be appetite for debt from Illinois and Chicago if their deals are “priced appropriately.”

Investors have been demanding hefty yields for the governments’ GO debt, with Illinois paying the biggest penalty among states.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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FILE PHOTO: Zelenskiy leads polls for Ukraine presidential race
FILE PHOTO: Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian actor, leads latest polls for Ukraine’s presidential race. February 8, 2019. REUTERS/Mykola Tys -/File Photo

March 25, 2019

KIEV (Reuters) – Comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political novice who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series, has strengthened his lead in Ukraine’s presidential election race, according to an opinion poll published on Monday.

But support for the 41-year-old remains far below the level need to secure outright victory in the March 31 ballot, and most voters still do not expect him to become president, the KIIS survey showed.

The poll by the Kiev-based research body showed Zelenskiy on 20.7 percent of votes, with incumbent Petro Poroshenko second on 11 percent and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko third on 8.1 percent.

A total of 39 candidates have registered for the election. If no candidate wins 50 percent of the votes cast, the top two will face each other in a run-off on April 21.

KIIS said it interviewed 2,004 voters in all regions, except in annexed Crimea, from March 14 to March 22.

KIIS said 22.6 percent of those it questioned favored Zelenskiy to win, while 16.5 percent expected Poroshenko to be re-elected, and 12.1 percent saw Tymoshenko as the winner.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by William Maclean)

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Former Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen speaks during a panel discussion in Atlanta
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen speaks during a panel discussion at the American Economic Association/Allied Social Science Association (ASSA) 2019 meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Christopher Aluka Berry

March 25, 2019

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Former U.S. Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen said on Monday the U.S. Treasury yield curve may signal the need to cut interest rates at some point, but it does not signal a recession.

Yellen, who led the Fed between 2014 and 2018, was speaking at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference in Hong Kong.

The yield curve inverted on Friday for the first time since mid-2007, a shift that has in the past signaled the risk of recession. The slope regained its ascendancy in European trading on Monday after stronger-than-expected German data.

Charles Evans, a voting member of the Fed’s policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee, told the same conference on Monday that it was understandable for markets to be nervous when the yield curve flattened.

(Reporting by Noah Sin; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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FILE PHOTO: Tourists walk on a street in Matera, southern Italy
FILE PHOTO: Tourists walk on a street in Matera in the region of Basilicata, southern Italy, April 30, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo

March 25, 2019

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s center-right has won power in the southern region of Basilicata, ousting the center-left after almost a quarter of a century in charge, while the 5-Star Movement lost traction, results showed on Monday.

The right-wing League, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, still runs with its traditional allies Forza Italia (Go Italy!) and Brothers of Italy in local elections, but governs at a national level with 5-Star.

After almost all the votes had been counted in Sunday’s ballot in Basilicata, which forms the arch of the boot of Italy, the center-right candidate was on 42 percent, the center-left on 33 percent and 5-Star on 20.7 percent.

The 5-Star party won 44.3 percent of the vote in the region in a March 2018 parliamentary ballot, but it has traditionally fared worse in local elections because it always runs alone and does not build broad, grass-root alliances unlike its rivals.

However, the contrasting fortunes of the League and 5-Star in the local votes has added to existing tensions within their coalition, and newspapers reported at the weekend that there was a growing risk the government could collapse by mid-year.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte denied that the result in Basilicata would undermine his government and said Italians would not forgive either of the ruling parties if they triggered an early national election.

“5-Star has not shone in these recent elections, but we need to remain lucid and look at things in a broader context … the government is moving forward at great speed,” Conte said in an interview with La Stampa newspaper.

Partial results from Basilicata suggested 5-Star would remain the largest single party there on slightly above 20 percent, with the League close on its heels on 18.8 percent — a strong showing for Salvini who has worked hard to build support for his party beyond its northern heartlands.

“THANK YOU!” Salvini wrote on Twitter. “The League has tripled its vote in a year … now we will change Europe,” he added, referring to a European parliamentary ballot in May.

The center-left has ruled Basilicata, a largely agricultural and underdeveloped region, since 1995 but its image there was battered by a recent corruption scandal, which had forced the resignation of the previous governor.

While parties in the center-left bloc took around a third of the vote on Sunday, the once-dominant Democratic Party (PD) won just 8 percent, suggesting its new leader Nicola Zingaretti faces an uphill battle in trying to revive its fortunes.

The Basilicata result is the sixth successive regional success for the center-right since last year’s national ballot, with the center-left losing ground across the country, still blamed for a recent influx of immigrants and rising poverty.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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FILE PHOTO: A woman passes sale signs in a shop window in downtown Hamburg
FILE PHOTO: A woman passes sale signs in a shop window in downtown Hamburg, Germany, January 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer/File Photo

March 25, 2019

By Michael Nienaber

BERLIN (Reuters) – German business morale improved unexpectedly in March after six consecutive drops, a survey showed on Monday, suggesting that Europe’s largest economy is likely to pick up in the coming months after it narrowly avoided a recession last year.

The Munich-based Ifo economic institute said its business climate index rose to 99.6 from an upwardly revised 98.7 in the previous month. This beat a consensus forecast for a reading of 98.5.

“The German economy is showing resilience,” Ifo President Clemens Fuest said.

Companies were more satisfied with their current business situation and they were more optimistic about their business outlook for the coming six months, the survey showed.

“The Ifo survey is a big surprise, especially after the last purchasing managers index,” UniCredit economist Andreas Rees said.

Markit’s survey among purchasing managers showed last week that manufacturing contracted further in March to reach the lowest level since August 2012.

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Paul Carrel)

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes his way to board a train to depart for North Korea at Dong Dang railway station
FILE PHOTO – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes his way to board a train to depart for North Korea at Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

March 25, 2019

MOSCOW (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia for talks this spring or summer, RIA news agency cited Russian lawmaker Alexander Bashkin as saying on Monday.

The exact date of the trip has not been set yet, Bashkin said.

The United States last week imposed new sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, the first such steps since a U.S.-North Korean summit collapsed last month.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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FILE PHOTO: Woman with a Louis Vuitton-branded shopping bag looks towards the entrance of a branch store by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton in Vienna
FILE PHOTO: A woman with a Louis Vuitton-branded shopping bag looks towards the entrance of a branch store by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton in Vienna, Austria October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo

March 25, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Shares in luxury goods group LVMH briefly fell almost 9 percent at the open on Monday before recovering in what traders said was likely a “fat finger” erroneous trade.

The shares on Paris’ CAC 40 opened at 310.45 euros ($351.34) and fell to 285.7 euros, their lowest since Feb. 12 in the opening minutes.

The stock then recovered most of the lost ground and were at 312.75 euros, down 0.2 percent, at 0905 GMT.

LVMH and Euronext, which operates the CAC 40 stock exchange, were not immediately available for comment.

“It was probably a fat finger right at the start of trading,” said a Paris-based trader.

“No one understood what happened. It was likely a mistake,” said another trader.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Blandine Henault in PARIS, Danilo Masoni in MILAN and Josephine Mason in LONDON, editing by Louise Heavens)

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FILE PHOTO: INTERPOL President Meng Hongwei poses during a visit to the headquarters of International Police Organisation in Lyon
FILE PHOTO: INTERPOL President Meng Hongwei poses during a visit to the headquarters of International Police Organisation in Lyon, France, May 8, 2018. Jeff Pachoud/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

March 25, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – The wife of the missing Chinese former head of Interpol said she had written to French President Emmanuel Macron to ask for his help on the eve of a visit by his counterpart Xi Jinping.

Grace Meng told France 24 she had not heard from her husband Meng Hongwei since he travelled to China from France, where Interpol is based, in late September. China has said it is investigating Meng for wrongdoing.

“I hope the president can help Mr Meng and his family, to protect our fundamental human rights,” Grace Meng said in the interview broadcast on Sunday evening.

China’s foreign ministry declined to comment.

France’s Agence France Presse said Grace Meng wrote to Macron on March 21.

Meng’s wife, who has remained in Lyon with the couple’s two children, said she feared the Chinese authorities wanted to kidnap her family.

“They have no bottom-line. Even if I am in France, they want to kidnap me and my children.”

Meng, 65, was appointed president of the global police cooperation agency in late 2016, part of a broader Chinese effort to gain leadership positions in key international organizations.

Under Xi, China has been engaged in a sweeping crackdown on official corruption. Chinese authorities said several days after Meng’s arrest that the vice minister was being investigated for bribery.

Macron hosted Xi at a private dinner on the French Riviera on Sunday night, ahead of a working meeting in Paris on Monday.

Grace Meng said her husband was “devoted to the motherland”.

“He was well-known for his reformist views”, she said in the interview.

(Reporting by Richard Lough in Paris, additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Nathalie Loiseau, French Minister attached to the Foreign Affairs Minister, attends the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris
FILE PHOTO – Nathalie Loiseau, French Minister attached to the Foreign Affairs Minister, attends the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

March 25, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s European Affairs minister will resign later on Monday to lead President Emmanuel Macron’s party in May’s European Parliament elections, a government source said.

Nathalie Loiseau, a career diplomat who headed the elite ENA school of administration before joining Macron’s government, had put herself forward as the headline candidate for the elections.

Her departure from the government is likely to lead to a cabinet reshuffle.

(Reporting by Marine Pennetier; writing by John Irish; editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

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