Hungary’s ruling Fidesz pulls two points ahead of opposition – IDEA survey

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party pulled two percentage points ahead of the opposition alliance, according to a survey of voter intentions by think thank IDEA Institute published on Thursday ahead of a parliamentary election on April 3.

The survey put support for the six united opposition parties at 37% with long-serving nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz on 39%. The institute’s December survey showed the two camps tied on 38%.

It said Thursday’s poll confirmed that “month by month, Fidesz is growing its support systematically, although not spectacularly,” adding that “the governing party gained an advantage in all voting groups surveyed.”

Orban will in April face a united opposition front for the first time since taking office a landslide election win in 2010.

The opposition alliance includes the Democratic Coalition, the Socialists, liberals and the formerly far-right, and now centre-right, Jobbik. Its candidate for prime minister is Peter Marki-Zay, an independent who is currently mayor of Hodmezovasarhely, a town in southern Hungary.

Two fringe parties, the Two-Tailed Dog Party (TTDP) and far-right Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) both scored 3% in the survey, below the 5% threshold for getting into parliament.

DATE AGENCY FIDESZ OPPOSITION UNDECIDED

Jan 4-14 IDEA 39 37 10

Dec 4-7 Median 39 34 13

Dec 9-14 Republikon 33 36 24

Nov 2-12 Zavecz 37 41 14

Nov 2-3 Nezopont 56 42 N/A

Oct 25-29 Republikon 32 38 30

Oct 11-19 Zavecz 35 39 23

Sept 29-Oct 4 Median 37 37 17

Oct Szazadveg 50 44 6

Sept Zavecz 37 38 23

Sept 20-21 Nezopont 53 45 N/A

Aug 23-25 Nezopont 52 46 N/A

(Reporting by Anita Komuves; editing by John Stonestreet)

ECB accounts reveal divisions on inflation outlook

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – European Central Bank policymakers meeting last month saw a risk that inflation could get stuck above target and argued that the bank should be equally open to tightening or easing policy, the accounts of their Dec. 16 meeting showed on Thursday.

The ECB cut the amount of stimulus it is pumping into the euro zone economy at the meeting but extended its bond-buying until at least late 2022, arguing that inflation is likely to dip back below its 2% target by the end of the year.

The decision was not unanimous, however, and the accounts published on Thursday revealed deep divisions over the outlook, with a number of policymakers arguing that inflation was at risk of overshooting expectations.

“It was cautioned that a ‘higher for longer’ inflation scenario could not be ruled out,” the ECB said in the accounts.

“For 2023 and 2024, inflation in the baseline projection was already relatively close to 2% and, considering the upside risk to the projection, could easily turn out above 2%.”

Five of 25 Governing Council members opposed December’s policy moves, an unusually large group of dissenters for a body that normally strives for consensus and does not always take formal votes, sources told Reuters earlier.

“It was emphasised that the Governing Council should stress its willingness to adjust all of its instruments as appropriate, in either direction, in order to stabilise inflation at 2% over the medium term,” the ECB added.

The differences appeared to be around how durable the current bout of inflation might prove, the accounts showed.

The bank’s main view is that inflation — now running at a record high 5%, more than twice the ECB’s target — will abate on its own without policy action.

But a growing number of policymakers fear that even if the surge is temporary, it will last long enough to spur an acceleration in wage growth and lift consumer price inflation above the long-term trend, and possibly above the ECB’s target.

With December’s decision, the ECB will continue to buy bonds at least through the first nine months of the year but the purchases are set to decline in each quarter. The bank has also said an interest rate hike this year is highly unlikely.

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi and Francesco Canepa; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Credit Suisse hires Berenberg analyst to lead EMEA healthcare investment banking -memo

By Pamela Barbaglia

LONDON (Reuters) – Credit Suisse has hired a senior Berenberg analyst to lead its healthcare investment banking franchise in EMEA in a bid to revamp the unit after a string of scandals at the lender and a leadership overhaul, according to a memo seen by Reuters.

The Swiss lender has appointed Scott Bardo as its co-head of healthcare in EMEA to win a slice of the lucrative healthcare market which saw investment banks earning more than $13 billion in global fees in 2021, according to Refinitiv data.

Credit Suisse, which faced the abrupt departure of chairman Antonio Horta-Osorio on Monday, has also reinforced its healthcare team in New York after veteran banker Leo Reif – responsible for global healthcare operations – defected to Jefferies last year.

Bardo will be based in London and report to Maarten Swart, who is in charge of consumer, retail, real estate and healthcare across EMEA. He previously worked at Credit Suisse between 2005 and 2010 as part of its European healthcare equity research team.

He will focus on medtech, healthcare services and diagnostics and work closely with Friedrich von Schwedler who co-heads the healthcare franchise and looks after pharma and biotech clients.

In New York, Credit Suisse has hired Joel Thompson from Moelis to focus on medtech, life science tools and diagnostics as well as former SCYNEXIS’ chief financial officer Eric Francois to cover biotech and ex Centerview banker Mark Filenbaum to look after healthcare services.

(Reporting By Pamela Barbaglia; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

U.S. stands with Bosnia in crisis times – U.S. top official

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – The United States stands with Bosnia-Herzegovina at this time of crisis just as it has during and after the Balkan country’s war in the 1990s, and will act against those who threaten its stability, a U.S. top diplomat said on Thursday.

Bosnia has been going through its worst political crisis https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/what-is-causing-political-crisis-bosnia-2021-11-03 since its 1992-1995 war after the Bosnian Serbs blocked decision making in national institutions and launched a process to withdraw from the state armed forces, tax system and judiciary.

“The United States stood with the people of this country during the war. … We have stood with the people of this country for the last 26 years, and we stand with you now,” said Samantha Power, the visiting administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Power is the first U.S. official to visit Bosnia after the United States earlier this month slapped fresh sanctions on Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, accusing him of corruption and threatening Bosnia’s stability and territorial integrity.

The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement ended the Bosnian war, which claimed 100,000 lives. It split the country into two highly autonomous regions, the Orthodox Serb-dominated Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks. The two regions are linked via a weak central government.

Dodik has long advocated the secession of the Serb Republic and its eventual unification with Serbia, the wartime patron of Bosnian Serbs.

Power said she would talk on Friday with the Bosnian tripartite presidency, of which Dodik is a Serb member, about the current political impasse.

“It is extremely important that every individual recognises that stoking the fires of division is dangerous,” she told reporters in Sarajevo. “It is clear that the threats to withdraw from the state institutions threaten the stability that was created 26 years ago through the Dayton peace agreement.”

Commenting on the sanctions, Power said the United States and its European friends were dedicated to “the cause of accountability.”

“We will not hesitate to act against those who pursue corruption, de-stabilisation and division at the expense of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” she said.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Mark Porter)

Any sanctions would impose ‘asymmetric’ costs on Russia – White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Any sanctions imposed on Russia over its aggression toward Ukraine would not particularly expose the U.S. economy, although the Biden administration is focused on any possible impact on oil, the White House’s top economic official said on Thursday.

“The actions that we have ready and that we are working closely with our allies to deploy would impose very significant costs across time on the Russian economy, and it would do so in a way that mitigates the impact on the global economy and the American economy,” National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told CNN in an interview.

“We are, as an economy, not particularly exposed to the way in which we would implement these costs. There’s obvious concern in energy markets, for example, and the risk premium in oil prices, that’s an issue that we are closely focused on and looking at how we can take actions to mitigate,” he said.

Western countries say they fear Russia is planning a new assault against Ukraine, nearly eight years after its forces seized the Crimea peninsula. Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s border in recent months. It denies planning an attack but says it could take unspecified military action unless a list of demands are met, including a promise from NATO never to admit Kyiv.

The United States and other Western powers have raised the prospect of new sanctions targeting Moscow, possibly the severest yet, if it attacks neighboring Ukraine.

Deese said any actions would zero in specifically on Moscow’s financials.

“The reality here is the steps we are prepared to take would impose asymmetric and very significant costs on the Russian economy,” he told CNN.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Pravin Char)

Atlantia posts 19% jump in 2021 revenue as sale of motorway unit nears

MILAN (Reuters) – Italy’s Atlantia on Thursday said its full-year revenue rose 19% to 6.3 billion euros ($7.14 billion), when excluding its domestic motorway business which it has agreed to sell.

The turnover is slightly above the 6 billion euro guideline indicated for 2021, thanks to a positive performance of its foreign motorway operators, while the airport business was penalised by a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fourth quarter.

The group controlled by the Benetton family said that earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) rose 29% to 4 billion euros last year, net of the contribution from Autostrade per l’Italia, its domestic motorway unit that the group is selling after a deadly bridge collapse in 2018.($1 = 0.8821 euros)

(Reporting by Francesca Landini; editing by Agnieszka Flak)

Baker Hughes posts Q4 profit as higher oil prices spur drilling demand

By Arunima Kumar and Liz Hampton

(Reuters) -Baker Hughes Co on Thursday reported an adjusted quarterly profit compared with a year-ago loss, as producers took advantage of a rise in crude prices that has fueled demand for oilfield service equipment.

Oil prices surged more than 50% last year amid a global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and as OPEC+ cut supplies, despite a continued surge in COVID-19 cases.

Higher crude prices have encouraged U.S. producers to ramp up drilling activity, with the U.S. rig count rising to 586 at the end of the fourth quarter, compared with 348 at the close of the December quarter in 2020, according to Baker Hughes data.

U.S. crude futures are trading around $86.6 a barrel, while Brent futures are around $88.12 a barrel. U.S. crude futures were roughly flat Thursday morning.

“We believe the broader macro recovery should translate into rising energy demand for 2022 and relatively tight supplies for oil and natural gas,” said Lorenzo Simonelli, the chief executive officer of Baker Hughes, in a release. However, he warned that the pace of economic growth would moderate slightly in 2022 compared with last year.

Shares of Baker Hughes were up 1.52% in pre-market trading to $26.69.

Adjusted net income for the fourth quarter was $224 million, or 25 cents per share, missing analysts’ estimates by 3 cents, according to data from Refinitiv IBES. The same quarter last year, Baker reported a loss of $50 million, or 7 cents per share, last year.

Revenue for the quarter was $5.52 billion, which topped Wall Street forecasts of $5.49 billion.

For the full year, the company reported a loss of $219 million, versus a loss of $9.94 billion in 2020.

(Reporting by Arunima Kumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel and Chizu Nomiyama)

Deliveroo meets top growth forecast as dining in trend stays intact

By Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) -British food delivery company Deliveroo hit the top of its forecast for 60-70% growth in gross transaction value in 2021 after GTV rose by more than a third in the fourth quarter despite a tough yearly comparison when new lockdown restrictions were coming into force.

Food delivery boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic when pubs and restaurants were closed, and the popularity of the platforms has not faded since hospitality reopened.

Deliveroo founder and Chief Executive Will Shu said the performance was “really encouraging”, although he cautioned that the first quarter of 2022 would be the hardest comparison because many of its markets were in full lockdown in the first three months of 2021.

He said the average order value of 21.40 pounds ($29.12) in the fourth quarter was down 5% year on year, reverting back to pre-COVID levels. However it was slightly up on the third quarter and the frequency of orders from its 8 million active monthly customers had increased to 3.4 per month, from 3.3 in the third quarter.

“We feel good about the consumer engagement side,” he said in an interview.

The company was also not struggling to recruit riders, he said, despite competing opportunities in other sectors because they valued the flexibility on offer.

Deliveroo, which competes with the likes of Uber Eats and Just Eat Takeaway, said it grew market share as it improved its customer offer, including more grocery options, which accounted for 8% of GTV in the second half of 2021.

Shares in Deliveroo, which have lost more than half of their value since listing at 390 pence in March 2021, were trading up 2.6% at 174 pence on Thursday.

The company, which has yet to make a profit even as demand has boomed, said it maintained its guidance for gross profit margin as a percentage of GTV at 7.5-7.75%.

Shu said he would guide on 2022 when the company reports full-year results in March, and he would also talk about the longer-term path to profitability.

“This is a giant market that’s still in its infancy,” he said. “We’re going to invest where we see appropriate, but we have got to do that with increasing levels of efficiency.”

($1 = 0.7348 pounds)

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Kate Holton and Susan Fenton)

Innovation is slowly prising open UK banking, regulator says

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) -Innovation is finally weakening the market grip of Britain’s “Big Four” banks, but “challenger” lenders are finding it slow and expensive to build up market share, the Financial Conduct Authority said on Thursday.

High street banking has long been dominated by HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest, prompting Britain to make it easier for new banks to enter the market, and for customers to switch banks with little fuss.

“There are signs that some of the historic advantages of large banks may be starting to weaken through innovation and digitisation and changing consumer behaviour,” the FCA said in an update of its strategic review https://www.fca.org.uk/publication/multi-firm-reviews/strategic-review-retail-banking-business-models-final-report-2022.pdf of retail banking business models.

But building market share has been an “expensive and slow process” for new banks and mid-tier lenders like Santander and Nationwide, though those based purely online such as Starling and Monzo are making progress with around 8% of personal customer accounts, the FCA said.

“Despite this, traditional challengers have provided additional choice and value for those consumers that have opened accounts with these challengers,” the FCA said in its update of a 2018 report.

But customer inertia is acting as a barrier to expansion among challengers, and the Big Four banks continue to achieve higher returns on capital, a key measure of profitability, than most other banks, but the gap has narrowed, it added.

Purely digital challengers don’t appeal to everyone and are likely to co-exist alongside other business models for the foreseeable future, the review said.

Banking industry body UK Finance said the review showed that customers are benefitting from a competitive retail market giving them a much better incentive to shop around.

“Nearly 90% of UK adults now use online, mobile or telephone banking services, but as the FCA highlights, technology is not for everyone, so the industry has set out commitments to ensure there is access to cash and banking services both now and in the future,” UK Finance said.

Competition in the mortgage market has intensified following the introducing of requirements on banks to “ring-fence” their retail deposits with extra capital, it said.

Critics say liquidity ‘trapped’ inside the fence is being use to offer cheap mortgages, increasing the Big Four’s market share.

“Smaller banks and building societies have struggled to compete with larger firms in the low-risk lending segment. Some have exited altogether; others have sought yields in other segments, including higher risk areas of the market,” the FCA said.

A government-sponsored review https://rfpt.independent-review.uk/news/rfpt-review-interim-statement of ring-fencing said in an interim report on Wednesday the rules have not damaged competition in home loans.

(Reporting by Huw Jones; editing by Jason Neely, William Maclean)

American Airlines loss narrows on strong holiday travel demand

(Reuters) -American Airlines Group Inc reported a smaller fourth-quarter loss on Thursday, boosted by strong travel demand during the holiday season.

U.S. carriers benefited from millions of Americans flying in November and December, with the Transportation Security Administration screening https://www.tsa.gov/news/press/releases/2021/12/07/near-pre-pandemic-travel-volumes-expected-continue-through-december nearly 21 million travelers during the 10-day Thanksgiving holiday.

Demand during Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve was strong as well, although mass flight cancellations towards the end of the year due to rising COVID-19 cases and inclement weather meant airlines could not fully tap that demand.

American said the volatility in travel demand due to new COVID-19 variants has created “the most challenging planning environment in the history of commercial aviation”.

The carrier plans to match its capacity with bookings trends. It expects its capacity in the quarter through March to be down about 8% to 10% compared to the same period in 2019. Its revenue in the current quarter is estimated to be down 20% to 22% versus the first quarter of 2019.

Shares of the company were up 1.6% at $17.56 before the bell on Thursday.

Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines had ramped up capacity and staffing to meet the demand surge during the key season. Available seat miles, the carrying capacity of an airplane available to create revenue, rose 84% from a year earlier.

The carrier said it plans to hire another 18,000 employees this year after adding 16,000 new team members last year.

On an adjusted basis, American reported a loss of $1.42 per share for the quarter through December, compared with a loss of $3.86 per share a year ago. Analysts surveyed by Refinitiv, on average, had expected a quarterly loss of $1.48 per share.

Operating revenue for the quarter rose to $9.43 billion from $4.03 billion a year earlier.

(Reporting by Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bengaluru and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Editing by Ramakrishnan M. and David Evans)

Finland’s PM says NATO membership is “very unlikely” in her current term

(This Jan.19 story corrects headline and third paragraph to show Marin was talking about her current term of office)

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland does not plan to join NATO in the near future but is ready to stand with its European allies and United States by imposing tough sanctions on Russia if it attacks Ukraine, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday.

“It would have a very substantial impact and the sanctions would be extremely tough,” Marin told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

Marin said it is “very unlikely” that Finland would apply for a NATO membership during her current term of office.

The Nordic country shares a 1,340 km (833 mile) border and a difficult history with Russia and the Soviet Union, including clashing during World War Two, but has opted to only cooperate with the Western security alliance instead of joining it.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden called Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto to speak with him for a second time in a month to discuss “the importance of Finland’s close defense partnership with the United States and with NATO”, Biden’s office wrote in a statement.

Marin was tight-lipped about the discussions but said she believed other countries appreciated the fact that Finland had long maintained “functional” relationships with Russia.

Marin said Finland remained firm on its previous stance that it has the right to join NATO one day if it so decides.

“Nobody can influence us, not the United States, not Russia, not anyone else,” she added.

Finland in December opted for F-35 https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/lockheed-f-35-jet-wins-finnish-fighter-competition-source-2021-12-10 fighter jets in line with its defence forces materials policy that is based on new military equipment being compatible with NATO countries.

Finland would need to demonstrate substantial public support for joining NATO to be granted membership.

In a recent poll by Finland’s largest daily Helsingin Sanomat, 28% of respondents wanted Finland to join NATO, 42% were against and the rest were unsure, meaning an 8 percentage point rise in the share of those in favour from the last poll at the end of 2019.

“All in all, I believe the NATO discussion will increase in the coming years,” Marin said.

(Reporting by Essi Lehto and Anne Kauranen; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Sudanese judges and prosecutors denounce protest crackdowns

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Dozens of Sudanese judges and prosecutors have condemned the killing of more than 70 protesters since a military takeover in October and have called for investigations, in rare public statements released on Thursday.

Frequent protests since the Oct. 25 takeover have been met with live gunfire and tear gas. At least 72 civilians have died and more than 2,000 have been injured, according to medics aligned with the protest movement.

Military leaders have said the right to peaceful protest is protected and have commissioned investigations into the bloodshed. Sudanese police say they have faced aggression from protesters.

A statement from 55 judges to the head of the judiciary said military leaders had “violated [international] agreements and covenants since the October 25 coup, as they have carried out the most heinous violations against defenceless protesters”.

They called for an end to the violence and a criminal investigation.

It is unusual for Sudan’s judges and prosecutors to make public statements about the conduct of the security forces.

Separately, more than 100 prosecutors announced they would stop work from Thursday in support of their call for security forces to cease violations and lift a state of emergency. They stated their opposition to a recent emergency order that offered immunity and wider powers to security forces.

They also noted that prosecutors had been unable to carry out their legal duty to accompany police to protests and determine the acceptable use of force.

A further group of 48 other prosecutors called for an investigation of alleged violations against protesters, and for prosecutors to be able to monitor protests.

Asked for comment, Acting Information Ministry Minister Nasreldin Ahmed noted that military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan had ordered an investigation into seven protester deaths on Monday and a probe was under way.

The deaths triggered strikes, civil disobedience and the erection of new street barricades this week, as well as protests that began early afternoon on Thursday in eastern Khartoum.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Writing by Nafisa Eltahir, Editing by William Maclean)

Italian parties look to solve presidential conundrum, avoid political chaos

ROME (Reuters) – The Italian parliament will convene on Jan. 24 to begin voting for a new head of state to replace the outgoing Sergio Mattarella.

The president is highly influential in Italy and is often called on to resolve political crises. The voting procedure is complex, with ballots cast in secret https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/italian-presidential-elections-shrouded-parliamentary-secrecy-2022-01-13, often making it difficult to predict the result. Here are some possible outcomes.

DRAGHI WINS

Prime Minister Mario Draghi has long been viewed as the favourite to win, with parties in his broad government rallying behind him in an effort to maintain political unity and prevent an unseemly scrap. Such a deal might emerge in the very first round of voting on Monday. Otherwise, support for Draghi might coalesce if the initial rounds of voting show that neither the centre-right nor centre-left blocs can present a candidate capable of winning a majority in the deeply divided parliament.

The parties are unlikely to throw their weight behind Draghi without first agreeing who might take his place as prime minister and without securing assurances that the legislature will continue, as scheduled, into 2023.

A COMPROMISE CANDIDATE IS FOUND

The parties might decide that Draghi must remain as prime minister to guarantee political stability for the final year of the legislature, and instead manage to build support for a compromise candidate who can appeal broadly to both centre-left and centre-right blocs. Many names have been floated in the media but no-one, as yet, has received a clear endorsement from any major party.

NO POLITICAL DEAL GIVES RISE TO DIVISIVE VOTE

If the two main blocs fail to agree on Draghi or on a compromise candidate, one of them might look to muster enough support to ram their own choice into the president’s palace. This would mean small parties, such as former prime minister Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva group, would become decisive and could extract a high political price for their support. Draghi has already said such an outcome would almost certainly trigger the collapse of his coalition and mean the victors would likely have to try to piece together a new ruling majority. This would be complicated and could open the way to early elections.

STALEMATE PUTS PRESSURE ON CURRENT PRESIDENT

Mattarella, the outgoing president, has said he does not want another seven-year term. But if there is political stalemate, the party leaders might ask him to continue for a short while, perhaps using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse. Under this scenario he would remain in office, in a de facto caretaker capacity until the end of the legislature, while Draghi would carry on as prime minister, guaranteeing a few more months of political stability.

Just such a scenario played out in 2013 when the then head of state, Giorgio Napolitano, reluctantly agreed to an unprecedented second term in office to end political deadlock. He stood down two years later. If Mattarella were to continue, it would be highly likely that Draghi would replace him early next year.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer)

UK PM Johnson condemns all forms of bullying and harassment -spokesman

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemns all forms of bullying and harassment, his spokesman said on Thursday, after a senior lawmaker from his Conservative Party accused the government of intimidation.

William Wragg, chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the government had attempted to “blackmail” those lawmakers it suspects of wanting to force Johnson out of power.

Johnson’s spokesman declined to comment specifically on the allegations, but when asked if the prime minister would “unequivocally condemn all forms of bullying and harassment”, he said: “Yes”.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Elizabeth Piper)

Namibian court rules against gay couples seeking legal recognition

WINDHOEK (Reuters) – Namibia’s High Court on Thursday ruled against two gay couples fighting for their marriages to be recognised under domestic law, with the judge saying that while she agreed with the couples’ position, she was powerless to change the situation.

The ruling centered on the cases of partners Daniel Digashu and Johan Potgieter and a second couple, Anette Seiler-Lilles and Anita Seiler-Lilles. Digashu, a South African, and German-born Anita had applications for a work permit and permanent residency respectively denied based on their same-sex marital status.

Namibia’s legal system does not recognise same-sex marriages and criminalises sexual conduct among non-heterosexual couples, though the law is seldom enforced. Both couples secured their legal partnerships outside of Namibia, where they now live together.

Same-sex relationships are illegal in many African countries from Algeria in the north to Eswatini in the south, and couples risk being jailed or openly scorned in public.

In court, they argued that the word “spouse” in Namibia’s Immigration Control Act should include same-sex spouses, or, failing that, that the relevant section of the act should be declared unconstitutional.

Judge Hanelie Prinsloo said she agreed with these arguments but was bound by a previous over-20-year ruling by the Supreme Court, which said Namibia does not legally recognise same-sex relationships.

“Only the Supreme Court can correct itself,” she said, adding it was high time the Namibian constitution reflected that same-sex relationships are part and parcel of society.

Anette Seiler-Lilles said while the decision was disappointing, it also gave hope things could change, and that they would now discuss an appeal.

“It impacted us emotionally,” she said of the ordeal, adding that she and Anita, who have been partners for over 20 years and married for 18, felt they had been discriminated against.

“On the other hand, emotionally, it strengthened our relationship,” she said.

The case marked the latest legal challenge aimed at improving LGBTQ+ rights in Namibia.

In a verdict hailed as a big win for gay couples in the country, in October Namibian Phillip Luhl and husband Guillermo Delgado won citizenship by descent for their son, Yona Luhl-Delgado, born to a surrogate in South Africa in 2019.

The couple had been fighting for citizenship for Yona and his younger twin sisters, who were refused documents required to enter Namibia after their birth in March 2021, with authorities arguing that Luhl must prove a genetic link to the children.

(Reporting by Nyasha Francis Nyaungwa; Writing by Emma Rumney; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Futures rise on earnings after Nasdaq enters correction territory

By Bansari Mayur Kamdar

(Reuters) – U.S. stock futures rose on Thursday on a string of strong earnings led by American Airlines and insurer Travelers, a day after the tech-heavy Nasdaq plunged into correction territory.

Investors will also be watching jobless claims data at 0830 ET for cues on the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting next week after data earlier this month showed U.S. consumer prices reached the highest in four decades.

Bets of a more hawkish Fed have weighed on Wall Street this month, with the Nasdaq confirming it was in a correction on Wednesday as investors continued to dump technology stocks.

Recovering somewhat from the selloff, megacap growth companies including Microsoft Corp, Alphabet Inc, Amazon, Tesla Inc, Meta Platforms Inc rose 1.6% in premarket trading.

Several heavyweight growth stocks have underperformed the Nasdaq since its last record close on Nov. 19, with Amazon, Tesla and Nvidia down 15%, 12% and 24%, respectively.

Netflix, the streaming service pioneer that is set to kick off earnings season for big growth companies later in the day, advanced 1%.

Wall Street is watching Netflix’s results to see whether companies have started to pull in enough new customers to justify big spending on online programming in 2022.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is also set to decide on whether the full Senate should vote on two bills aimed at reining in tech giants. The bills would bar tech platforms like Amazon from giving preference to their own businesses on their websites and big app stores like Apple from requiring app providers to use their payment system.

At 7:09 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 157 points, or 0.45%, S&P 500 e-minis were up 22.5 points, or 0.5%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 122.5 points, or 0.81%

American Airlines gained 1.4% after reporting a smaller fourth-quarter loss, boosted by strong travel demand during the holiday season.

Peer United Airlines declined 1.2% after cutting its capacity forecast for 2022 on Wednesday and warning of higher costs due to Omicron coronavirus variant.

Bellwether insurer Travelers Companies gained 3.3% after reporting a record quarterly profit as higher returns from its investments cushioned the hit from a rise in catastrophe-related claims.

U.S. railroad operator Union Pacific Corp and trust bank Northern Trust Corp will also be reporting results later in the day for the final quarter of 2022.

(Reporting by Bansari Mayur Kamdar in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

Oil prices slip from 2014 highs, supply concerns limit losses

By Rowena Edwards and Ahmad Ghaddar

London (Reuters) -Oil slipped on Thursday on indications of rising U.S. stocks and as investors took profits after a recent price rally, but strong demand and short-term supply disruptions continue to support prices close to their highest since 2014.

Brent crude futures were down 45 cents, or 0.5%, at $87.99 a barrel by 1242 GMT after dropping more than $1 in earlier trade. The global benchmark rose to $89.17 on Wednesday, its highest since October 2014.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures for February delivery were down 46 cents, or 0.5%, at $86.50 a barrel after dropping nearly $1 earlier. The contract, which expires on Thursday, climbed to $87.91 on Wednesday.

The more active March WTI contract was down 34 cents, or 0.4%, at $85.46.

“The voices of those forecasting $100 per barrel oil are getting louder by the day,” said Tamas Varga at oil brokerage PVM.

Supply concerns have mounted this week after a fire temporarily halted flows through an oil pipeline running from Iraq’s Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on Tuesday.

An attack by Yemen’s Houthis on the United Arab Emirates, the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), heightened geopolitical risks.

The market is also supported by supply shortfalls from the OPEC+ producer group comprising OPEC and allies led by Russia. The International Energy Agency (IEA) on Wednesday said that the group produced about 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) below its production targets in December. [IEA/M]

The IEA said that while the oil market could be in a significant surplus in the first quarter of this year, inventories are likely to be well below pre-pandemic levels. The agency also upgraded its 2022 demand forecast.

A rise in U.S. oil inventories last week weighed on prices.

Crude stocks rose by 1.4 million barrels last week while gasoline inventories rose by 3.5 million barrels and distillate stocks fell by 1.2 million barrels, according to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute figures on Wednesday.

PVM’s Varga said that high inflation rates and the prospect of rising interest rates represent downside risks to the oil price rally.

(Additional reporting by Naveen Thukral and Roslan Khasawneh in SingaporeEditing by David Goodman)

Ex-Pope Benedict criticised in Munich Church abuse report

By Madeline Chambers

BERLIN (Reuters) -Former Pope Benedict XVI failed to take action against clerics in four cases of alleged sexual abuse in his archdiocese when he was Archbishop of Munich, a report found on Thursday.

Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) was asked to investigate allegations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising between 1945 and 2019.

The report, commissioned by the archdiocese, said there were at least 497 victims of abuse, mainly young males. Many other cases had probably not been reported, said the lawyers.

A spokesman for the former pope did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Benedict, now aged 94, has been living in the Vatican since resigning as pontiff in 2013.

In a statement that did not mention the former pope, the Vatican said it would evaluate the full report and examine its details.

“In reiterating a sense of shame and remorse for the abuse of minors by clergy, the Holy See assures its closeness to all victims and confirms the path it has taken to protect the little ones and guarantee them a safe environment,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

The WSW lawyers were tasked with finding out who knew what happened in the archdiocese and any action they took. Attention has focused on Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, who was Archbishop of Munich and Freising between 1977 and 1982.

Presenting the report for WSW, lawyer Martin Pusch said Ratzinger had done nothing against the abuse in four cases.

“In a total of four cases, we reached a consensus that there was a failure to act,” said Pusch, adding the former pope had “strictly” denied responsibility in response to the accusations.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; additional reporting by Phillip Pullella in Rome; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Two Le Pen allies defect to join Zemmour’s presidential bid

PARIS (Reuters) -A senior EU lawmaker and a parliamentary assistant to another deputy have quit Marine Le Pen’s National Rally to join rival far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, saying they considered Le Pen had no chance to win April’s election.

Zemmour, a newcomer on the political scene, has seen his campaign lose some steam over the past weeks, after an initial, exponential rise in opinion surveys.

He currently polls fourth, behind centre-right president Emmanuel Macron, the conservatives’ Valerie Pecresse and Le Pen.

Having EU lawmaker Jerome Riviere rally to him, after a conservative lawmaker https://www.reuters.com/article/france-election-zemmour-idUKKBN2JJ073 did the same earlier this month, could help Zemmour bolster his candidacy and his assertion that he alone can help bring together the hard-right and more mainstream conservatives – which is the view Riviere himself takes.

“Marine Le Pen is not in a position to win. She will never be able to bring together the conservatives and the populists,” Riviere told Reuters on Thursday, mentioning what he called an “unfair” safety net – or “cordon sanitaire” – many parties and voters have long set around the National Rally (RN), which often finds itself isolated.

“Eric Zemmour can do it,” Riviere said. “He is the only one who can deeply change the French political landscape so that the … ideas of right-wing voters can win.”

Riviere, who is quitting his role as head of the RN’s group in the European Parliament, said he expected more European Union lawmakers to defect and join Zemmour.

The RN shrugged off Riviere’s move. “There will be no political impact, because Jerome Riviere had no political impact within the National Rally,” Le Pen told BFM TV.

Damien Rieu, a parliamentary assistant to another RN EU lawmaker, and an active suppporter of Le Pen on social media, also quit on Thursday to join Zemmour’s ranks.

He said he was initially sceptical of Zemmour’s emergence on the political scene but was now convinced he had become a better champion of his ideas. “Depsite our best efforts and hopes, we were failing to mobilise voters,” he said of the RN.

(Writing by Ingrid Melander, Editing by William Maclean)

BHP investors approve scrapping of dual listing

SYDNEY/LONDON (Reuters) -BHP Group investors in London and Sydney have approved plans to scrap the company’s dual listing in favour of a main listing in Sydney.

More than 97% of investors voted in favour of the plan at a company shareholder meeting in London after the proposal won the support of more than 96% of proxy votes at an earlier meeting in Australia.

Owners of BHP’s London-listed shares on the FTSE 100 index account for 42% of the overall register split between London and Sydney.

After unifying the shares BHP will drop out of the FTSE 100 but retain a standard listing in London.

The results of the votes will be published on the two stock exchanges later in the day.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in Sydney and Clara Denina in LondonAdditional reporting by Zandi ShabalalaEditing by David Goodman)