Actors Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige pose on the stage after placing their handprints in cement at a ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, U.S. April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
April 24, 2019
By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The final chapter in a decade-long superhero saga and the remake of a big-screen classic could topple box-office records during a summer movie season expected to be dominated by Walt Disney Co.
“Avengers: Endgame” from Disney’s Marvel Studios kicks off Hollywood’s parade of potential blockbusters on Wednesday, and it is expected to start with a bang. Industry experts say “Endgame” will likely deliver the biggest opening weekend ever in the United States and Canada.
Then in July, a new version of Disney hit “The Lion King” has a shot at dethroning “Avatar” as the highest-grossing film in Hollywood history, according to box office analysts.
Those movies and others are giving theater owners hope for a turnaround after a sluggish start to 2019. Ticket sales so far are running 16 percent below last year’s bonanza, data from measurement company Comscore showed.
Studios used to reserve their big-budget films for summer, making it Hollywood’s most lucrative season, but now spread them throughout the year.
“I counted over 30 huge movies coming out this year,” said Adam Aron, chief executive of AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest theater operator. Aron said he now considers summer film season to be “March 1 to December 31.”
Possible heavy hitters include “Detective Pikachu” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” from AT&T Inc’s Warner Bros, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” from Comcast Corp’s Universal Pictures, and Sony Corp’s “Spider-Man: Far from Home.”
STRONGEST FILM SLATE
But Disney’s lineup is seen as the most formidable. The company’s other 2019 releases include “Toy Story 4,” a remake of “Aladdin,” “Frozen 2” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
“Disney has probably the strongest film slate in the history of the industry this year,” Cowen & Co analyst Doug Creutz said.
The new “Lion King” tells the well-known story of the plucky cub Simba through computer-generated imagery designed to look like live action. A trailer released at Thanksgiving generated 224.6 million views within 24 hours, a Disney record.
Even so, it will not be easy for the king of the jungle to reach the top of the box office mountain. “Avatar” grossed $2.8 billion after its 2009 release and is one of only four movies ever to cross $2 billion.
“Lion King” boosters noted the original film hauled in $968.5 million way back in 1994, with lower ticket prices. This time, it will play in a booming Chinese movie market that has grown to the world’s second-largest, positioning it to take in far more than the original’s $5 million in the country.
Plus, the story of Simba’s challenges and triumphs has wide appeal.
“That is a movie that will travel very, very well,” said Vue International cinemas CEO Tim Richards. “It has common themes that hit a chord with all of our audiences internationally. It’s for all ages.”
‘ENDGAME’ IS CULMINATION
“Endgame,” the culmination of 22 Marvel films since 2007, also has generated huge buzz. Website Fandango said “Endgame” sold five times as many tickets as last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” over its first seven days of advance sales. Theaters were adding show times to meet demand.
“Infinity War” in 2018 holds the current opening weekend record, generating $257.7 million domestically over its first three days. The movie ended with an epic cliffhanger that will lure fans back to theaters in droves for “Endgame,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
He predicts between $250 million and $275 million for “Endgame,” which will wrap up the story started by Iron Man, Thor and four other Avengers.
“I don’t see how anticipation could be any higher,” Dergarabedian said. “Audiences have developed an ongoing relationship with these characters and these stories. It’s a must-see movie.”
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts during a news conference at his campaign headquarters following a presidential election in Kiev, Ukraine April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
April 24, 2019
By Marc Jones and Tom Arnold
LONDON (Reuters) – Ukraine has entered uncharted political waters by choosing Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian with no previous political experience and few detailed policies, as its new president.
Zelenskiy is the latest anti-establishment figure to unseat an incumbent leader, both in Europe and further afield, but he has a lot to get to grips with. Below are five big questions investors and the international community have.
1/STRIKE WHILE THE IRON IS HOT?
Zelenskiy is expected to take office next month and his ability to work with Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada, will be crucial to meeting the expectations of his voters.
The president appoints the head of the state security service, the head of the military, the general prosecutor, the central bank governor and the foreign and defense ministers. But parliament must confirm each appointment — and there’s the rub.
While Zelenskiy beat incumbent Petro Poroshenko decisively in Sunday’s presidential vote, parliamentary elections are not due until October and opinion polls suggest he is unlikely to win an outright majority.
That means he would need to ally with at least one other party if he is to get many of his policies and appointments through. The other alternative is to try to bring the elections forward in order to capitalize on the momentum from his presidential victory.
2/TEAM BUILDING EXERCISE
With no political experience himself, investors want Zelenskiy to build a team with enough know-how to avoid any policy missteps.
He does not actually have a full slate of policies yet but he brought in two former ministers as advisers for his campaign: former finance minister Oleksandr Danylyuk and former economy minister Aivaras Abromavicius.
Danylyuk is rumored to be in line to become either foreign minister or the head of the presidential administration, which would give him a powerful gatekeeper role.
“Zelenskiy might be inexperienced in foreign affairs but I think he will have plenty of choice of experienced individuals to serve as foreign minister, and will receive plenty of support, advice from Western governments,” wrote Timothy Ash of BlueBay Asset Management.
International Monetary Fund aid has kept Ukraine’s economy above water so its ongoing support is seen as crucial, especially with around $3 billion (about 2 percent of GDP) of external debt obligations, including interest, coming due in the remainder of 2019. Another $5.5 billion (about 4 percent of GDP) must be repaid in 2020.
But Ukraine’s patchy reform efforts led to repeated delays in its previous IMF program that ended up disbursing only $8.7 billion of a planned $17.5 billion.
That was replaced by a new $3.9 billion Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) in December. While Kiev hopes for another tranche of that money as early as next month, investors will want to see a fuller program put back in place soon.
It could be an interesting negotiation. Zelenskiy already wants to talk the IMF about reversing some gas price rises the Fund saw as crucial to mending Kiev’s finances.
Ukraine’s economic backdrop has improved in recent years though, with much smaller twin deficits (2-3 percent of GDP), lower public sector debt (just over 60 percent) and a stable currency. It also has over $20 billion in FX reserves, which is over four months of import cover, according to S&P Global.
One concern is Zelenskiy’s ties to oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, the former owner of Ukraine’s biggest lender PrivatBank, which was nationalized in 2016.
With the international community already concerned about corruption and influence, some have raised questions about what their relationship might mean for the future of PrivatBank and other interests of Kolomoisky in Ukraine.
A court ruling last week could threaten to overturn the nationalization of PrivatBank.
The central bank has said it will appeal — in fact there could be many appeals as well as other legal manoeuvres — but any sign that Zelenskiy might be in Kolomoisky’s camp on this could do serious damage, not least to relations with the IMF.
As world leaders clamored to offer their congratulations to Zelenskiy, one notable name was absent: Russian President Vladimir Putin. How the Russian-speaking Zelenskiy handles Ukraine’s relationship with Moscow will go a long way to determining the success of his term in office.
He has already suggested taking a fresh perspective to try to secure peace with Moscow, while pushing ahead with European Union-friendly moves. That could prove a difficult path to tread.
For its part, Russia has signaled it intends to respect the vote of the Ukraine people, although Putin is not planning talks with Zelenskiy.
Also rumbling in the background is a legal dispute between the two surrounding Ukraine’s $3 billion Eurobond, which Moscow wants repaid in full but which Kiev argues should have been written down along with most of its other debt in 2015.
Any repairing of ties could also bring rewards for Ukraine. Improved relations could help it regain control over the separatist-controlled east, as well as cheap gas and major investment, a Kremlin ally in Ukraine said last week.
(Additional reporting by Matthias Williams in Kiev, Graphics by Karin Strohecker, Editing by Catherine Evans)
FILE PHOTO: Chinese staffers adjust U.S. and Chinese flags before the opening session of trade negotiations between U.S. and Chinese trade representatives at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS
April 23, 2019
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A top White House economic adviser said on Tuesday he was “cautiously optimistic” the United States would strike a trade deal with China and that a lot of progress was being made in negotiations.
Speaking at a luncheon at the National Press Club, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said the two nations still had issues to address and were discussing a “visitation exchange” as part of their ongoing talks.
(Reporting by Alexandra Alper and David Alexander; Editing by Doina Chiacu)
FILE PHOTO: The Airbus logo is pictured at Airbus headquarters in Blagnac near Toulouse, France, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau
April 23, 2019
PARIS (Reuters) – A management shake-up at Europe’s Airbus accelerated on Tuesday as Nicolas Chamussy was replaced as the head of Space Systems.
Airbus said the 51-year-old space engineer would have an unspecified future role, while his job as head of space activities including the company’s 50 percent share of the ArianeGroup rocket venture will be taken by Jean-Marc Nasr.
The move comes less than four months after Nasr, 57, was named head of Asia-Pacific, responsible for group strategy and industrial issues and regional sales for Airbus Defence & Space.
Chamussy is a former chief of staff to Tom Enders, who stepped down earlier this month to make way for planemaking chief Guillaume Faury, and has been facing mounting competition from a new breed of private U.S. and other space contractors.
Companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, LeoSat Enterprises, and Canada’s Telesat are working to enable data networks with hundreds or even thousands of tiny satellites that orbit closer to Earth than traditional communications satellites, a radical shift made possible by leaps in laser technology and computer chips.
Faury, 51, has implemented a tighter structure designed to simplify Europe’s largest aerospace group, while sidelining a number of executives previously close to Enders or former planemaking boss Fabrice Bregier, according to company watchers.
La Tribune, which first reported the changeover at space systems, said the reorganization could lead to other departures, accelerating a sweeping management overhaul already driven partly by an ongoing corruption probe and scheduled retirements.
An Airbus spokesman said Chamussy would stay inside Airbus and declined further comment on management changes.
The Space Systems division makes up 27 percent of Airbus Defence & Space revenues, which grew 4.4 percent last year to 11.1 billion euros ($12.5 billion). Space spending is rising but established players face increase competition within the United States, China, Japan and India.
Airbus is seeking to shore up its position by prioritizing a fledgling market for constellations of tiny satellites designed to broaden internet access and support new services. It launched six mini-satellites in February, the first of at least 600 to be launched in the next two to three years together with partner OneWeb.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher, editing by Louise Heavens)
A rescuer assists a search dog as they try to reach survivors at a collapsed four-storey building following an earthquake in Porac town,, Pampanga province, Philippines, April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
April 23, 2019
PORAC, Philippines (Reuters) – Rescue teams in the Philippines searched for signs of life beneath the rubble of a collapsed four-storey commercial building on Tuesday after a strong earthquake shook the country’s biggest island, killing at least 11 people.
Heavy lifting equipment and search dogs were used as dozens of firefighters, military and civilian rescue teams raced to shift piles of concrete in the town of Porac, about 108 km (67.1 miles) northeast of Manila, where a 6.1 magnitude earthquake destroyed several buildings on Monday.
During the night, seven people were rescued and four dead bodies were pulled out of the rubble of the commercial building, which had caved in on a ground floor supermarket, officials said.
“The rescue is ongoing, they are still hearing a sound, no one can say how many were still trapped,” Pampanga provincial governor Lilia Pineda said in a radio interview.
The quake, which struck at 5 p.m. local time on Monday, was initially reported as being of 6.3 magnitude and later revised down to 6.1 magnitude, the U.S. Geological Survey and Philippines seismology authorities said.
The Philippines is prone to natural disasters, located on the seismically active Pacific “Ring of Fire”, a horse-shoe shaped band of volcanoes and fault lines that arcs round the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
The earthquake was felt strongly in key business areas of Manila, with residential and office buildings evacuated after being shaken for several minutes. Train services were halted and roads and sidewalks were clogged by the sudden exodus of workers.
The government declared Tuesday a holiday for civil servants in Metro Manila to allow for safety inspections of buildings.
The international airport in Clark, a former U.S. military base in Pampanga, remained closed for repairs, while parts of a one corner of a historic church in the province collapsed.
(Reporting by Eloisa Lopez and Peter Blaza; Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema in MANILA; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
FILE PHOTO: Gas flares from an oil production platform at the Soroush oil fields in the Persian Gulf, south of the capital Tehran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
April 23, 2019
By Henning Gloystein
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices hovered near 2019 peaks in early trading on Tuesday after Washington abruptly moved to end all Iran sanctions waivers by May, pressuring importers to stop buying from Tehran.
Brent crude futures were at $74.33 per barrel at 0051 GMT, up 0.4 percent from their last close and not far off 2019 highs of $74.52 reached on Monday.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $65.79 per barrel, up 0.4 percent from their previous settlement, and also just a notch below their $65.92 2019 peak from Monday.
The United States on Monday demanded that buyers of Iranian oil stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions, ending six months of waivers which allowed Iran’s eight biggest buyers, most of them in Asia, to continue buying limited volumes.
Before the reimposition of sanctions last year, Iran was the fourth-largest producer among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) at almost 3 million barrels per day (bpd), but April exports have shrunk well below 1 million bpd, according to ship tracking and analyst data in Refinitiv.
(GRAPHIC: Iran crude oil & condensate shipping departures link: https://tmsnrt.rs/2IBQF06)
Barclay’s bank said in a note following the announcement that the decision took many market participants by surprise and that the move would “lead to a significant tightening of oil markets”.
The British bank added that Washington’s target to cut Iran oil exports to zero posed a “material upside risk to our current $70 per barrel average price forecast for Brent this year, compared with the year-to-date average of $65 per barrel”.
ANZ bank said in a note on Tuesday that “the decision is likely to worsen the ongoing supply woes being felt with Venezuelan sanctions, the OPEC supply cut, and intensifying conflict in Libya”.
The move to tighten Iran sanctions comes amid other sanctions Washington has placed on Venezuela’s oil exports and also as producer club OPEC has led supply cuts since the start of the year aimed at tightening global oil markets and propping up crude prices.
Ellen Wald, non-resident senior fellow at the Global Energy Center of the Atlantic Council, said the United States “seem to expect” Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to replace the Iranian oil, but she added “that this is not necessarily the way Saudi Arabia sees it”.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest exporter of crude oil and OPEC’s de-facto leader. The group is set to meet in June to discuss its output policy.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic Council said the U.S. move would hurt Iranian citizens.
“We’re going to see their currency collapse more, more unemployment, more inflation,” said Barbara Slavin, director for the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, adding that the U.S. sanctions were “not going to bring Iran back to the (nuclear) negotiating table”.
(Graphic: Iran’s oil exports are plunging: https://tmsnrt.rs/2IyFzZT)
(Reporting by Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE; Additional reporting by Humeyra Paumuk in WASHINGTON; Editing by Joseph Radford)