Italy seeks fresh options for TIM as bid for network seen fading

By Elvira Pollina and Giuseppe Fonte

MILAN/ROME (Reuters) -Italy’s new government is seeking fresh options for the future of former phone monopoly Telecom Italia as a planned bid for its landline grid by state investor CDP due by Wednesday is seen as unlikely to materialise.

Championed by the previous government of Mario Draghi, the multi-billion-euro preliminary bid is part of a broader project to combine TIM’s network assets with those of smaller rival Open Fiber to create a unified broadband champion under CDP’s control.

Due by this Wednesday, Nov. 30, an offer would also be central to TIM CEO Pietro Labriola’s plan to split the struggling phone group into several units and cut its 25 billion euro ($26 billion) debt.

But key officials in Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government have expressed strong reservations about CDP’s plans for TIM, making a non-binding bid from the state lender for the network unlikely, three sources told Reuters.

Top government officials are expected to meet later on Monday to discuss plans for TIM, among other issues.

CDP has not yet called a board meeting to sign off any offer ahead of this week’s deadline, another person familiar with the matter said.

Marking a break with the past, Meloni on Friday entrusted the government’s broadband strategy to Cabinet Undersecretary Alessio Butti, who has openly criticised CDP’s plans for TIM.

Butti has called instead on Treasury-owned CDP to take over cash-bleeding TIM, whose shares are trading close to record lows, in full to then sell its service operations, including its Brazil-listed unit.

Economy Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti last week reiterated that the government wants to win control of TIM’s network which is deemed of strategic interest, adding such a goal can be reached in “several ways”.

Giorgetti also warned that Butti’s plans for TIM needs to be extensively discussed within the government.

UNION TALKS

The government did not provide any clarification on whether CDP will bid for TIM’s network by the deadline, the head of Italy’s biggest union CGIL said after a meeting with Meloni’s head of staff on Monday.

“We called for a quick decision, even in the event the government wants to change plans which were drafted so far,” Maurizio Landini told reporters,

Analysts say designing a new setup for any TIM-Open Fiber deal would require at least a year, exposing TIM to fresh uncertainty over its future at a time when rising rates increase the drain on the group’s cash flow from interest payments.

“How the government intends to reach its stated objective to have a (single) telecommunications grid in public hands remains unclear,” Intesa Sanpaolo wrote in a research note.

“The timing to find a path starts to narrow considering that TIM’s available liquidity covers debt maturities until mid-2024 and debt refinancing looks tougher than in the past.”

TIM ended 1.2% down on Monday after falling as much as 4% in early trades. ($1 = 0.9549 euros)

(Reporting by Elvira Pollina and Giuseppe Fonte; writing by Valentina Za;Editing by Keith Weir)

Carlyle raises more than $3 billion to invest in European tech

By Emma-Victoria Farr

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – U.S. buyout firm Carlyle Group has raised more than three billion euros ($3.12 billion) for a pan-European technology fund that is taking advantage of “pockets of life” in the economy, the co-heads of Carlyle Europe Technology Partners told Reuters.

Focused on lower mid-market and growth technology companies across Europe, the fund, called CETP V, has exceeded its 2.5 billion euro target in less than a year of fundraising, more than doubling the size of the previous fund CETP IV.

With an average investment horizon of five years, it is targeting areas such as cybersecurity, digital transformation and cleantech, as well as software applications for financial services, healthcare and infrastructure, Michael Wand and Vladimir Lasocki said.

Lasocki said there were opportunities in less impacted private markets, despite the plunge in tech valuations and a broad tech selloff in public markets following the pandemic and crisis caused by the Ukraine war.

Carlyle aims to invest in approximately 20-30 companies through the new fund and in most cases will buy a majority stake.

It will, however, reserve about 15% of the fund for growth equity transactions, Wand and Lasocki said.

The fund will write equity cheques of up to 250 million euros, resulting in deals from between 100 million euros and 500 million euros in enterprise value, they said.

Targeting B2B technology businesses in Europe, Carlyle will support portfolio firms with plans to become more international, for example breaking into the U.S. market.

It will also work with the companies to upgrade management teams and accelerate growth via M&A transactions, the co-heads said.

The fund already has two investments – Euro Techno Com Group (ETC) a value-added distributor of telecoms equipment which it sold to Cinven in June, rolling on a minority stake into its new fund, and digital marketing agency Incubeta, which it acquired earlier this month.

(This story has been refiled to remove the repeated word in the final paragraph)

($1 = 0.9625 euros)

(Reporting by Emma-Victoria Farr, editing by Barbara Lewis)

Oil stocks drag FTSE 100 lower as China’s COVID protests shake markets

By Shashwat Chauhan and Shristi Achar A

(Reuters) -UK’s FTSE 100 closed lower on Monday, with commodity-linked stocks weighing heavy on the index, as global markets watched the rare protests in China against strict COVID-19 restrictions, leaving its economic outlook uncertain.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 fell 0.2%, following two weekly gains that lifted the index to its highest levels in more than two months. The more domestically focused FTSE 250 midcaps index dropped 1.3%.

Energy stocks were the biggest drags on the FTSE 100, with oil majors BP and Shell down 1% and 0.3%, respectively. Banks and Insurers were the second biggest sectoral losers.

Commodity prices dipped on worries about demand from top consumer China where protests against COVID restrictions flared up. China’s zero-COVID policy has already slowed the economy and pressured global growth, but failed to stem the rise in infections. [O/R] [MET/L]

“It’s a very hard thing to price, even the markets are not used to seeing demonstrations in China,” said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG Group.

“It looks quite serious, worries about how that will affect the government’s reopening strategy and what kind of response you will get from Beijing, that’s definitely causing a bit of caution.”

Real estate stocks lost more than 1%. A survey showed British property market activity stalled in October and house price growth slowed to its lowest quarterly level since February 2020 due to a disastrous “mini-budget” and a cost-of-living crisis.

“Consumer sensitive stocks have had a tremendous run from their lows in October amid hopes for the central bank’s slow down on interest rates,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

“But the ongoing difficulties that consumers face may be that they are pausing a little bit for breath as well.”

British retailers fell 1%. With the worsening cost-of-living crisis, focus will now be on Cyber Monday sales after data showed Black Friday shopper numbers across Britain rose 3.7% year-on-year, albeit still down 21.3% on pre-pandemic levels.

Among individual stocks, BT Group PLC slid 2.4% after the broadband and mobile operator announced a special pay rise reflecting the rising cost of living.

Persimmon dropped 3.7% as brokerage UBS downgraded the homebuilder’s stock to “sell” from “neutral”.

(Reporting by Shashwat Chauhan and Shristi Achar A in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza and Marguerita Choy)

Exclusive-Microsoft likely to offer EU concessions soon in Activision deal – sources

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Microsoft is likely to offer remedies to EU antitrust regulators in the coming weeks to stave off formal objections to its $69 billion bid for “Call of Duty” maker Activision Blizzard, people familiar with the matter said.

The U.S. software giant and Xbox maker announced the deal in January to help it compete better with leaders Tencent and Sony.

It has since then faced regulatory headwinds in the European Union, Britain and in the United States, with Sony criticising the deal and even calling for a regulatory veto.

The deadline for the European Commission, which is investigating the deal, to set out a formal list of competition concerns known as a statement of objection is in January. Offering remedies before such a document is issued could shorten the regulatory process.

Microsoft’s remedy would consist mainly of a 10-year licensing deal to Playstation owner Sony, another person with direct knowledge said.

The EU competition watchdog, which is scheduled to decide on the deal by April 11, declined to comment.

Microsoft said it was working with the Commission to address valid marketplace concerns.

“Sony, as the industry leader, says it is worried about Call of Duty, but we’ve said we are committed to making the same game available on the same day on both Xbox and PlayStation. We want people to have more access to games, not less,” a Microsoft spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Jan Harvey and Lisa Shumaker)

Fed’s Williams says more rate rises needed, sees higher unemployment

By Michael S. Derby

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York Federal Reserve President John Williams said on Monday the U.S. central bank still has more work to do to lower very high levels of inflation, and he also noted he expects to see a notable jump in unemployment as a result of this policy path.

“Inflation is far too high, and persistently high inflation undermines the ability of our economy to perform at its full potential,” Williams said. He noted that there have been signs of progress in lowering inflation, but added that more Fed action will be needed to get inflation back to the central bank’s target.

“Further tightening of monetary policy should help restore balance between demand and supply and bring inflation back to 2% over the next few years,” Williams said in prepared remarks for a gathering of the Economic Club of New York. “Tighter monetary policy has begun to cool demand and reduce inflationary pressures,” he said, adding that “it will take some time, but I am fully confident we will return to a sustained period of price stability.”

Williams also serves as vice chair of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee, with the central bank’s next monetary policy meeting set for Dec. 13-14. The Fed is widely expected to raise its policy rate, currently in the 3.75%-4.00% range, again as officials seek to lower the highest levels of inflation seen in four decades.

The Fed has boosted the cost of short-term borrowing very aggressively this year and since the summer it has moved in historically large increases of 75 basis points, relative to its more normal cadence of quarter-percentage-point increases.

But Fed officials have signaled both at the central bank’s November meeting and in comments since then that they may find the space to slow the pace of increases as they close in on a resting point for their rate-rise campaign. That’s opened the door to the prospect the Fed could raise its target rate by 50 basis points at the next gathering.

Williams did not offer a preference for the size of the Fed’s next move or provide hints on how far he thinks the central bank will need to raise rates over time. He is scheduled to take audience and media questions after his formal remarks on Monday.

Williams said in his prepared remarks that unemployment is set to rise even as the economy is likely to escape falling into recession.

The labor sector remains very tight, Williams said, with strong hiring and rapid wage gains. With economic growth expected to be in modestly positive territory this year and next, he said the unemployment rate will likely rise to between 4.5% and 5.0% by the end of next year.

Meanwhile, slower global growth and improving supply chains should help lower inflation. Compared to the 6.2% rise in September in the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, the personal consumption expenditures price index, Williams said inflation should ease to between 5.0% and 5.5% by the close of 2022 and to 3.0% to 3.5% next year.

Williams also said in his prepared remarks that the bond market has been holding up fairly well in the face of the Fed’s actions.

(Reporting by Michael S. Derby; Editing by Paul Simao)

China’s lockdown protests spread to campuses and cities abroad

By Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) -Protests against China’s strict zero-COVID policy and restrictions on freedoms have spread to at least a dozen cities around the world in a show of solidarity with rare displays of defiance in China over the weekend.

Expatriate dissidents and students staged small-scale vigils and protests in cities around the world including London, Paris, Tokyo and Sydney, according to a Reuters tally.

In most cases, dozens of people attended the protests, though a few drew more than 100, the tally showed.

The gatherings are a rare instance of Chinese people uniting in anger at home and abroad.

The protests on the mainland were triggered by a fire in China’s Xinjiang region last week that killed 10 people who were trapped in their apartments. Protesters said lockdown measures were partly to blame, though officials denied that.

On Monday evening, dozens of protesters gathered in Hong Kong’s Central business district, the scene of sometimes-violent anti-government demonstrations in 2019.

“I think this is the normal right of people expressing their opinion. I think they should not suppress this kind of right,” said Lam, a 50-year-old Hong Kong citizen.

Dozens of students also gathered at the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong to mourn those who died in Xinjiang, according to video footage online.

The White House national security council said in a statement the U.S. believed it would be difficult for China to “control this virus through their zero COVID strategy,” adding, that “everyone has the right to peacefully protest, here in the United States and around the world. This includes in the PRC.”

U.N. Human Rights Office spokesperson Jeremy Laurence, in an email on Monday, urged “the authorities to respond to protests in line with international human rights laws and standards.”

Laurence added that allowing broad debate across society could “help shape public policies, ensure they are better understood and are ultimately more effective.”

‘SUPPORT FROM ABROAD’

Since President Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago, authorities have clamped down hard on dissent, tightening controls on civil society, the media and the internet.

But a strict policy aimed at stamping out COVID with lockdowns and quarantine has become a lightning rod for frustrations. While it has kept China’s death toll much lower than those of many other countries, it has come at a cost of long spells of confinement at home for millions and damage to the world’s second-biggest economy.

Nevertheless, Chinese officials say it must be maintained to save lives, especially among the elderly, given their low vaccination rates.

Some overseas protesters said it was their turn to take on some of the burden their friends and family had been enduring.

“It’s what I should do. When I saw so many Chinese citizens and students take to the streets, my feeling is they have shouldered so much more than we have,” said graduate student Chiang Seeta, one of the organisers of a demonstration in Paris on Sunday that drew about 200 people.

“We’re now showing support for them from abroad,” Chiang said.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told a regular briefing on Monday that China was not aware of any protests abroad calling for an end to the zero-COVID policy.

Asked about the protests at home, the spokesperson said the question did not “reflect what actually happened” and said China believed the fight against COVID would be successful with the leadership of the party and the cooperation of the people.

BLAME, SLOGANS

It has been common in recent years for overseas Chinese students to rally in support of their government against its critics, but anti-government protests have been rare.

Outside the Pompidou Centre in Paris, some protesters brought flowers and lit candles for those killed in the Xinjiang fire.

Some blamed President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party and demanded their removal from office.

Defiance towards Xi has become increasingly public after a dissident hung a banner on a Beijing bridge last month ahead of a Communist Party Congress, criticising Xi for clinging to power and the zero-COVID policy.

About 90 people gathered at Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s busiest train stations, on Sunday, among them a university student from Beijing who said any protests in China against COVID rules would inevitably focus blame on the Communist Party.

“At the core of it is China’s system,” said the student, who asked to be identified as just Emmanuel.

But some protesters were uncomfortable with more belligerent slogans.

An organiser of a protest planned for later on Monday at Columbia University in New York, who asked to be identified as Shawn, said she would steer clear of sensitive issues such as Taiwan’s status and China’s mass internment of ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

“We know that may alienate a lot of people,” said Shawn from the Chinese city of Fuzhou.

(Reporting by Jessie Pang; additional reporting by Emma Farge and Susan Heavey; Editing by James Pomfret, Robert Birsel, Andrew Heavens and Bernadette Baum)

Yahoo to buy minority stake in Taboola in digital ad push

(Reuters) – Yahoo Inc will buy nearly 25% of Taboola.com Ltd and become its largest shareholder in a deal allowing the online advertising company to exhibit paid content on the web portal’s many sites.

The 30-year contract, announced on Monday, marks a big bet by internet pioneer Yahoo on digital advertising at a time when industry giants from Alphabet-owned Google to Meta Platforms Inc are struggling with an inflation-driven downturn in ad spending.

The Yahoo-Taboola partnership is expected to generate $1 billion in annual revenue, but the companies did not provide any other financial details. Yahoo will also get a seat on Taboola’s board.

Yahoo, owned by private equity firm Apollo Global Management since a $5 billion buyout last year, has over the years been overtaken by Google and Facebook, but it still has nearly 900 million monthly active users thanks to a collection of sites such as Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Sports and TechCrunch.

Taboola, whose shares rose 60% on the news, pushes links to articles paid by advertisers – known as native advertising – on many websites such as CNBC and NBC News.

The deal will hand Taboola exclusive rights to sell native ads on Yahoo’s sites.

The advertising firm said it expects the agreement to add to its revenue, operating earnings and free cash flow. In its latest earnings, Taboola posted a drop in quarterly revenue and also lowered its annual forecast because of a weak ad market.

The deal, which has been approved by the companies’ boards, is expected to close in the first quarter of 2023. Taboola plans to host a meeting on Dec. 30 to seek shareholders’ approval.

Taboola, which went public through an about $2.6 billion blank-check merger in 2021, has lost 75% of its market value this year, as of last close.

(Reporting by Yuvraj Malik in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Devika Syamnath)

Shell to buy Danish firm Nature Energy for nearly $2 billion

(Reuters) – Shell said on Monday it would acquire Danish biogas producer Nature Energy for nearly $2 billion, as it looks to boost its low-carbon business amid growing interest in biogas.

Reuters had reported last month Shell was among a number of companies joining a second bidding round to acquire the Denmark-based company.

Nature Energy, which operates 12 biogas plants in Denmark and one in France and has others in the pipeline, confirmed the deal in a separate statement.

(Reporting by Muhammed Husain in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)

Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano erupts for first time in nearly 40 years

(Reuters) -Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, began erupting on Sunday for the first time since 1984, ending its longest quiet period in recorded history.

The night sky above Hawaii’s largest island glowed a hellish red as bright, hot lava sprang forth at the volcano’s summit at around 11:30 p.m. local time on Sunday (0930 GMT Monday).

The lava is contained within the summit and does not threaten Hawaiians living downslope for now, the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) said.

The service warned residents on Monday that volcanic gases and fine ash may drift their way.

Mauna Loa rises 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) above the Pacific Ocean, part of the chain of volcanoes that formed the islands of Hawaii. It last erupted in March and April of 1984, sending a flow of lava within 5 miles (8.05 km) of Hilo, the island’s largest city.

Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency said it had opened two shelters on the island as a precaution but also emphasized that there are no signs that lava will threaten populated areas and that it had not issued any evacuation orders.

About half of all recorded eruptions of Mauna Loa had been confined to the summit, the agency said.

(Reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Toby Chopra and Lisa Shumaker)

Leading media outlets urge U.S. to end prosecution of Julian Assange

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States should end its prosecution of Julian Assange, leading media outlets from the United States and Europe that had collaborated with the WikiLeaks founder said on Monday, citing press freedom concerns.

“This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” editors and publishers of the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País said in an open letter.

Assange is wanted by U.S. authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, related to WikiLeaks’ release of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables. His supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimized because he exposed U.S. wrongdoing, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Monday marked twelve years since those media outlets collaborated to release excerpts from over 250,000 documents obtained by Assange in the so-called “Cablegate” leak.

The material was leaked to WikiLeaks by the then American soldier Chelsea Manning and revealed the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy around the globe. The documents exposed “corruption, diplomatic scandals and spy affairs on an international scale,” the letter said.

In August, a group of journalists and lawyers sued the CIA and its former director Mike Pompeo over allegations the intelligence agency spied on them when they visited Assange during his stay in Ecuador’s embassy in London.

Assange spent seven years in the embassy before being dragged out and jailed in 2019 for breaching bail conditions. He has remained in prison in London while his extradition case is decided. If extradited to the United States, he faces a sentence of up to 175 years in an American maximum security prison.

His legal team has appealed to the High Court in London to block his extradition in a legal battle that has dragged on for more than a decade.

“Publishing is not a crime,” the media outlets said in their letter on Monday.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Crypto lender BlockFi files for bankruptcy in New Jersey

By Hannah Lang, Niket Nishant and Manya Saini

(Reuters) -Major cryptocurrency lender BlockFi has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection along with eight affiliates, it said on Monday, the latest crypto casualty to follow the spectacular collapse of the FTX exchange earlier this month.

The filing in a New Jersey court comes as crypto prices plummet, with bitcoin down more than 70% from a 2021 peak.

New Jersey-based BlockFi had links with FTX, which filed for protection in the United States earlier in November after traders pulled $6 billion from the platform in three days and rival exchange Binance abandoned a rescue deal.

In a court filing on Monday, BlockFi listed FTX as its second-largest creditor, with $275 million owed on a loan extended earlier this year. It said it owes money to more than 100,000 creditors.

Under a deal signed with FTX in July BlockFi was to receive a $400 million revolving credit facility while FTX got an option to buy it for up to $240 million.

BlockFi’s bankruptcy filing also comes after two of BlockFi’s largest competitors, Celsius Network and Voyager Digital, filed for bankruptcy in July citing extreme market conditions that had resulted in losses at both companies.

Crypto lenders, the de facto banks of the crypto world, boomed during the pandemic, attracting retail customers with double-digit rates in return for their cryptocurrency deposits. On the flip side, institutional investors such as hedge funds looking to make leveraged bets paid higher rates to borrow the funds from the lenders, who profited from the difference.

Crypto lenders are not required to hold capital or liquidity buffers like traditional lenders and some found themselves exposed when a shortage of collateral forced them – and their customers – to shoulder large losses.

CREDITOR LIST

BlockFi’s largest creditor is Ankura Trust, a company that represents creditors in stressed situations, and is owed $729 million. Valar Ventures, a Peter Thiel-linked venture capital fund, owns 19% of BlockFi equity shares.

BlockFi also listed the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as one of its largest creditors, with a $30 million claim. In February, a subsidiary of BlockFi agreed to pay $100 million to the SEC and 32 states to settle charges in connection with a retail crypto lending product the company offered to nearly 600,000 investors.

In a blog post, BlockFi said it its Chapter 11 cases will enable the company to stabilize its business and maximize value for all stakeholders.

“Acting in the best interest of our clients is our top priority and continues to guide our path forward,” BlockFi said.

BlockFi had earlier paused withdrawals from its platform and acknowledged it had “significant exposure” to FTX and its associated entities, including “obligations owed to us by Alameda, assets held at FTX.com, and undrawn amounts from our credit line with FTX.US”

In its bankruptcy filing, BlockFi said it had hired Kirkland & Ellis and Haynes & Boone as bankruptcy counsel and Berkeley Research Group as a financial advisor.

At the end of June, a third of BlockFi’s $1.8 billion outstanding loans were unsecured, according to the company.

(Reporting by Hannah Lang in Washington, Niket Nishant and Manya Saini in Bengaluru and Elizabeth Howcroft in London; additional reporting by Dietrich Knauth, Editing by Megan Davies, Shinjini Ganguli and Conor Humphries)

WHO to use ‘mpox’ for monkeypox to tackle stigma

By Emma Farge and Shivani Tanna

GENEVA (Reuters) -The World Health Organization said on Monday it would start using a new preferred term, “mpox”, as a synonym for monkeypox and urged others to follow suit after receiving complaints that the current name for the disease was racist and stigmatising.

“Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” the WHO said in a statement.

The WHO launched a public consultation process to find a new name for the disease earlier this year and received more than 200 proposals. The United States, which was among the countries and bodies supporting the name change, welcomed the announcement.

“We must do all we can to break down barriers to public health, and reducing stigma associated with disease is one critical step in our work to end mpox,” said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

One of the more popular public suggestions was “mpox” or “Mpox”, put forward by men’s health organisation RÉZO among others. Its director said at the time that the removal of monkey imagery helped people take the health emergency seriously.

Some ideas were farcical such as “Poxy McPoxface” which alluded to Boaty McBoatface – the choice of a public vote on the name of a British polar research vessel, before a decision to give it another name – Sir David Attenborough.

The WHO said global experts settled on “mpox” after considering the scientific appropriateness, extent of current usage as well as pronounceability among other factors.

Mpox, discovered in 1958 and named after the first animal to show symptoms, mostly spread in a group of countries in west and central Africa until this year.

Around 100 countries where mpox is not endemic have now reported outbreaks of the viral disease.

The WHO has a mandate to assign new names to existing diseases under the International Classification of Diseases.

Generally, it seeks to avoid associating any disease or virus with a country, region, animal or ethnic group.

Last year, it assigned the letters of the Greek alphabet to new coronavirus variants to stop a practice of linking them with specific countries.

(Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva and Shivani Tanna in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Ahmed Aboulenien and Jeff Mason in Washington; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Researcher accused of spying for China granted bail in Canada

By Allison Lampert and Ismail Shakil

MONTREAL (Reuters) -A researcher charged with espionage in Canada for allegedly trying to steal trade secrets to benefit China was granted bail on Monday by a Canadian judge, according to representatives for both the defense and prosecutors.

Yuesheng Wang, 35, who worked as a battery materials researcher for Hydro-Quebec – Canada’s largest electricity producer – was arrested earlier this month and is facing four charges, including fraud, for obtaining trade secrets, and breach of trust by public officers.

Wang’s attorney Gary Martin said he was satisfied with the judge’s decision to grant his client bail. “We still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

Wang worked for a Hydro-Quebec research unit devoted to developing battery materials that has teamed up with others in the industry including the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.

He was fired this month after about six years at the provincially-owned firm and allegedly committed the crimes between January 2018 and October 2022.

Hydro-Quebec and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada both declined comment. A spokeswoman for prosecutors said Wang would next appear in court on Dec. 13.

(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Investors hope Beijing will lift COVID curbs faster as protests douse markets

By Karin Strohecker and Dhara Ranasinghe

LONDON (Reuters) – Rare protests rippling across China over Beijing’s zero-COVID-19 policy may have unleashed a fresh wave of political uncertainty but could also hasten the reopening of the world’s number two economy, foreign investors said on Monday.

China’s stocks on Monday suffered their worst day in a month and its currency also took a tumble, while global stocks came under pressure and oil prices slumped as much as 3% as protesters made a show of civil disobedience unprecedented since leader Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago.

“Protests are a concern in the short-term,” Seema Shah, chief strategist at $500 billion asset manager Principal Global Investors told Reuters, adding that latest events supported the view that winds were changing.

“While we have been cautious, there is an important shift going on with the COVID reopening.”

China’s markets have had a challenging year, suffering from a mix of political risk aversion in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February as well as worries over its economic growth given stringent COVID curbs and the fallout from its property sector woes.

Chinese bond portfolios have posted outflows every month since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, totaling $105.1 billion over nine months, according to data from the Institute of International Finance (IIF). Chinese stock portfolios lost $7.6 billion in October alone, the most since March.

DEMOGRAPHICS

However, hopes that Beijing could ease some of its harsh COVID restrictions had recently lifted markets off their lows in a year that has seen domestic blue chips and the Hong Kong index tumble more than 20% year-to-date.

“The latest events will reinforce the case for reopening,” said Vincent Mortier, group chief investment officer at Amundi, Europe’s largest asset manager.

The economic pain linked to COVID had started to become a political issue in China, given the impact on youth unemployment in big cities, and adding to pressure on Beijing, which was keen on “avoiding some social unrest”, said Mortier.

Demographics have been a major pressure point for China, which has seen youth unemployment hit a record high of around 20% in July.

If protests were to continue, this would add to the risk premium, said Sean Taylor, chief investment officer for Asia-Pacific at DWS Group.

The 833 billion euro asset manager expects that Chinese stocks could see a 15-20% rally once China exits zero-COVID, though markets could be “quite challenging” until then.

Richard Tang, equity research analyst for Asia at Julius Baer, said offshore investors were more worried about recent events than their onshore peers, potentially lifting onshore equity markets.

“We believe this divergence in view will drive an outperformance in A shares over H shares,” Tang said.

Tang predicted that if there was no major escalation in the situation, investors would soon shift focus back onto the ruling Communist Party’s Central Economic Working Conference in December, which sets the economic agenda for the parliament session, and could confirm a COVID ‘policy pivot’.

Others were more cautious. Social discontent stemming from the zero-COVID policy added to risks in executing and implementing government policies, said Mark Haefele, global wealth management CIO at UBS in Zurich.

“We do not expect economic or market headwinds in China to abate significantly over the coming months,” Haefele said in a note to clients.

“As a result, we remain neutral on Chinese equities. We also view China’s sluggish recovery as a risk for the global economy and markets.”

(Reporting by Karin Strohecker and Dhara Ranasinghe in London, Summer Zhen in Hong Kong; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Rare China protests roil global commodities markets

By Noah Browning, Pratima Desai and Michael Hogan

LONDON (Reuters) – Global commodities markets were hit on Monday by worries over rare demonstrations in China against COVID-19 curbs, with oil and grains hitting significant multi-month lows and safe-haven gold rising.

The protests added a new political dimension to investor concerns after months of stringent measures to curb the virus in one of the world’s largest importers of raw materials just as global economic headwinds mount and recession fears grow.

International benchmark Brent crude erased nearly all the gains seen in 2022 on the back of the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions on Russia, to hit a low of $80.61 a barrel earlier in the session, its lowest since Jan. 4.

Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) most-active wheat hit $7.82 earlier on Monday, its lowest since Aug. 22.

“The long-standing COVID restrictions in China have been extremely restrictive to its growth. As the world’s second largest economy, having civil unrest added to this backdrop is bound to create immense uncertainty,” Craig Erlam, senior markets analyst at OANDA in London, told Reuters.

“It remains to be seen whether the leadership listens and look into loosening its zero-COVID policy or it tries to double down on its policy and suffers the economic consequences.”

China has stuck with President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-COVID policy even as much of the world has lifted most restrictions.

Hundreds of demonstrators and police clashed in Shanghai on Sunday night as protests over the restrictions flared for a third day and spread to several cities, with police on Monday stopping and searching people at the sites of weekend protests in Shanghai and Beijing.

Gold prices rose to more than one-week high on Monday, boosted by diminished investor appetite while copper prices fell on the China demand worries but a weaker dollar helped to support sentiment.

The impact on energy has been especially sharp, as markets brace for a meeting by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies (OPEC+) over the weekend which could rein in supply just as economic woes hit demand.

“A meltdown in energy markets continues to gather steam amid a money manager exodus. Concern for Chinese oil demand is adding to downside pressures on the complex as demand fears weigh,” analysts at Canadian bank TD Securities said.

Meanwhile traders await Beijing’s next move.

“CBOT futures are lower amid China’s rising daily Covid infections and the weekend protest of the government’s lockdown policy,” according to Chicago-based consultancy AgResource Co.

“There is a risk of social instability as traders await the reaction of President Xi.”

(Reporting By Noah Browning; Editing by Conor Humphries)

Sudan’s military leader freezes unions’ activities – statement

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s military leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, issued a decree on Monday freezing the activities of workers and employers unions, according to a statement by the ruling sovereign council he heads.

In a following decree he ordered the formation of a committee that will review the balances and accounts of these unions inside Sudan and abroad to place them under control.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Writing by Nayera Abdallah, Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Poland’s CD Projekt third-quarter profit soars thanks to Cyberpunk boost

(Reuters) -Polish video game maker CD Projekt’s third-quarter net profit jumped 500%, topping expectations, helped by sales of its flagship Cyberpunk 2077 game.

Interest in the game was spurred by the Cyberpunk: Edgerunners anime series which premiered on Netflix in September, and the release of an update to the game, the company said.

“The popularity of the series and the positive reception of the 1.6 update to Cyberpunk 2077, released a week earlier, had a measurable impact on the game’s sales,” CD Projekt Chief Executive Adam Kicinski said in a statement.

Net profit came in 98.7 million zlotys ($21.94 million), compared to the 88 million zlotys expected by analysts.

The studio also behind The Witcher franchise reported revenue of 245.5 million zlotys, up 70% and above expectations of 239 million zlotys.

CD Projekt said in September it had sold 20 million copies of the Cyberpunk 2077 game so far, compared with more than 13.7 million it earlier said it had sold in its debut year.

($1 = 4.4981 zlotys)

(Reporting by Anna Pruchnicka; Editing by Jan Harvey)

Ukraine resumes emergency blackouts in setback after Russian strikes

KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine said on Monday it had been forced to impose regular emergency blackouts in areas across the country after a setback in its race to repair energy infrastructure hit by Russian missile strikes.

Power units at several power stations had to conduct emergency shutdowns and demand for electricity has been rising as snowy winter weather has set in the capital and elsewhere, national grid operator Ukrenergo said in a statement.

“Once the causes of the emergency shutdowns are eliminated, the units will return to operation, which will reduce the deficit in the power system and reduce the amount of restrictions for consumers,” it said.

DTEK, Ukraine’s biggest private electricity producer, said it would reduce electricity supply by 60% for its consumers in Kyiv where temperatures are hovering around zero degrees Celsius (32°F).

Of the remaining supply, only 42% was left over for everyday consumers after critical infrastructure needs were accounted for, it said.

“We are doing everything possible to provide power to every customer for 2-3 hours twice a day,” DTEK’s Kyiv branch wrote on Facebook.

The national system’s power capacity deficit had fallen to 27%, Ukrenergo said.

Moscow says its attacks on vital infrastructure are militarily legitimate, and that Kyiv can end the suffering of its people if it yields to Russian demands. Ukraine says attacks intended to cause civilian misery are a war crime.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Max Hunder; editing by Timothy Heritage)

Buffalo supermarket shooting suspect pleads guilty to murder

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – An avowed white supremacist pleaded guilty on Monday to first-degree murder and other state charges in a mass shooting in May that killed 10 people at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, prosecutors said.

At a hearing at Erie County Court, Payton Gendron, 19, pleaded guilty to multiple counts related to the shooting, including a charge of domestic terrorism motivated by hate.

Gendron was accused of carrying out the attack, which also wounded three other people, with the intention of killing as many African Americans as he could.

“It was established beyond a reasonable doubt that he had this gruesome motive, that in just over two minutes he murdered as many African Americans as he could,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said at a press conference after the plea. “Justice has been done today.”

Gendron, who was 18 at the time of the attack, initially pleaded not guilty after a grand jury returned an indictment in June.

He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole on the domestic terrorism charge alone. New York does not have a death penalty. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 15, according to media reports.

Gendron was the first defendant in New York ever to be indicted for a domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate in the first degree.

He drove three hours from his home near Binghamton, New York, to the Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo after planning the attack for weeks, authorities said. He was looking for a public location in an area where many Black people lived.

At the supermarket, he shot 13 people with a semi-automatic, assault-style rifle. Eleven of the victims were Black.

Police say he left a racist manifesto online before the attack and live-streamed the shooting on social media.

A separate indictment returned in U.S. District Court in July charged Gendron with 27 federal hate crimes and firearms offenses, for which he could face the death penalty if convicted.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker)