Cuba municipal elections see lowest turnout in 40 years

By Dave Sherwood

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba saw its lowest level of voter turnout in municipal elections since at least 1981, according to preliminary government figures on Monday.

Municipal elections, held every five years, are one of few opportunities ordinary citizens on the island have to directly participate in the electoral process.

Election officials said nearly 69% of registered Cuban voters had participated in Sunday’s vote. While that turnout still compares favorably with many regional neighbors, it marks a significant drop from the 89% who voted in 2017 in the first such elections since the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Cuba has long prided itself on high levels of voter turnout, billing participation in elections as a demonstration of the grass-roots nature of its electoral system.

The sharp drop in participation on Sunday versus the 2017 elections follows calls from Cuba’s political opposition to abstain from voting in protest of the administration of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel. The municipal elections were the first since Diaz-Canel became president in 2018.

There are no opinion or exit polls in Cuba, so it is not clear why a growing percentage of Cuban voters choose to abstain on Sunday.

Cuba is suffering from a nearly unprecedented economic crisis that has led to hours-long lines for food, medicine and fuel, as well as regular, rolling blackouts.

Cuba’s on-island opposition has largely evaporated since widespread anti-government protests in July of 2021 led to hundreds being tried and jailed. Others have chosen to migrate or allege they were forced into exile.

Manuel Cuesta Morua, a leader of Cuba’s Council for the Democratic Transition in Cuba, told Reuters prior to the elections that he was aware of just one opposition candidate – a 30-year old breadmaker named Jose Antonio Cabrera of Palma Soriano, a small city in eastern Cuba – out of more than 26,000 that had been nominated.

Cuesta Morua said he had been unable to obtain results of the race in question as of Monday. Reuters was unable to contact Cabrera on Monday.

Cuban law says that any Cubans of any political stripe or affiliation may be nominated for municipal elections. In practice, however, only a few government opponents have ever competed in the elections.

The 11,502 delegates elected to municipal assemblies on Sunday are the front-line representatives in Cuban communities across the island.

They receive complaints from neighbors, help establish municipal budget priorities and some go on to populate half of the National Assembly, for which elections will be held in 2023.

Official data showed that, in addition to the lower voter participation on Sunday, nearly 6% of votes cast were annulled, and 5% were left blank.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Canada to boost defence, cyber security in Indo-Pacific policy, focus on ‘disruptive’ China

By David Ljunggren and Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada launched its long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy on Sunday, outlining spending of C$2.3 billion ($1.7 billion) to boost military and cyber security in the region and vowed to deal with a “disruptive” China while working with it on climate change and trade.

The plan, detailed in a 26-page document, said Canada would tighten foreign investment rules to protect intellectual property and prevent Chinese state-owned enterprises from snapping up critical mineral supplies.

Canada seeks to deepen ties with a fast-growing Indo-Pacific region of 40 countries accounting for almost C$50 trillion in economic activity. But the focus is on China, which is mentioned more than 50 times, at a moment when two-way ties are frosty.

Four cabinet ministers at a news conference in Vancouver took turns detailing the new plan, saying the strategy was crucial for Canada’s national security and climate as well as its economic goals.

“We will engage in diplomacy because we think diplomacy is a strength, at the same time we’ll be firm and that’s why we have now a very transparent plan to engage with China,” said Foreign Minister Melanie Joly.

In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman said Canada’s new strategy was “full of ideological bias, exaggerating and speculating the so-called China threat, and making groundless accusations and attacks against China”.

“China is strongly dissatisfied with this, resolutely opposes it and has already made stern representations to the Canadian side,” the spokesman, Zhao Lijian, added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government wants to diversify trade and economic ties that are overwhelmingly reliant on the United States. Official data for September show two-way trade with China made up less than 7% of the total, versus 68% for the United States.

Canada’s outreach to Asian allies also comes as Washington has shown signs of becoming increasingly leery of free trade in recent years.

The document underscored Canada’s dilemma in forging ties with China, which offers significant opportunities for Canadian exporters, even as Beijing looks to shape the international order into a more “permissive environment for interests and values that increasingly depart from ours,” it added.

CHALLENGE CHINA

Yet, the document said cooperation with the world’s second-biggest economy was necessary to address some of the “world’s existential pressures,” including climate change, global health and nuclear proliferation.

“China is an increasingly disruptive global power,” it said. “Our approach … is shaped by a realistic and clear-eyed assessment of today’s China. In areas of profound disagreement, we will challenge China.”

Tension with China soared in late 2018 after Canadian police detained a Huawei Technologies executive and Beijing then arrested two Canadians on spying charges. All three were released last year, but relations remain sour.

This month, Canada ordered three Chinese companies to divest their investments in Canadian critical minerals, citing national security.

The document, in a section mentioning China, said Ottawa would review and update legislation enabling it to act “decisively when investments from state-owned enterprises and other foreign entities threaten our national security, including our critical minerals supply chains.”

In a statement, Perrin Beatty, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said, “Because the region is both large and diverse, one size definitely does not fit all.”

Canada’s priorities would need to be very nuanced both between and within countries, he added.

The document said Canada would boost its naval presence in the region and “increase our military engagement and intelligence capacity as a means of mitigating coercive behavior and threats to regional security.”

That would include annual deployment of three frigates, from two now, as well as participation of Canadian aviators and soldiers in regional military exercises, Defense Minister Anita Anand said at a separate news conference.

Canada belongs to the Group of Seven major industrialized nations, which wants significant measures in response to North Korean missile launches.

The document said Ottawa was engaging in the region with partners such as the United States and the European Union.

Canada needed to keep talking to nations it had fundamental disagreements with, it said, but did not name them.

($1=1.3377 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Additional reporting by Martin Pollard in Beijing; Editing by Mark Porter and Clarence Fernandez)

Analysis-U.S. green subsidies heighten fears for German industry

By Andreas Rinke and Sarah Marsh

BERLIN (Reuters) – Building a lithium-ion battery factory in Germany, Europe’s top car producer, had seemed like a no-brainer for Northvolt. But a new U.S. law offering hefty subsidies to local manufacturers of green technology has given the company pause for thought. 

    Chief Executive Peter Carlsson said that under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Swedish-based Northvolt could get up to 800 million euros ($836 million) in U.S. state aid to build a factory making the batteries used in electric vehicles.

    That is roughly four times what the German government is offering, he said, with cheaper energy prices in the United States on top. As a result, the company is considering delaying its plans to build a factory in Heide, northern Germany.

    “We are now at a point where we may prioritise expansion in the U.S. over Europe first,” said Carlsson.

    Other company executives have echoed that sentiment in recent weeks, adding to signs that the $430 billion IRA, signed into U.S. law in August, is starting to lure investments in green technology away from Europe’s manufacturing powerhouse.

The act introduces tax credits related to investment in green technology, plus tax breaks for consumers buying an electric vehicle or other green product made in North America.

German carmakers and suppliers, for which the United States is a main export market, are among its biggest victims.

    An October survey by the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) showed 39% of companies wanted to increase investment in the United States compared with 32% for Europe.

    And DIHK’s trade chief Volker Treier told Reuters the U.S.-German Chambers of Commerce had seen increased German investment in the United States, especially in the auto sector. 

    “If we don’t do anything, a lot will emerge in the United States,” said Siemens Energy Chief Executive Christian Bruch. “The risk of migration is there.”

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, of the Greens party, told Handelsblatt newspaper there was a danger “the next wave of technological innovation does not take place in Europe” – innovation key to helping Europe exit its energy crisis.  

Industrial jobs could “disappear from Germany and Europe”, the head of the ruling Social Democrats (SPD) Lars Klingbeil told Reuters.

    EUROPE, USA WRANGLE OVER EXEMPTIONS

    Habeck and his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire last week urged a strong European response to the IRA, which they said violates World Trade Organization rules.

    No country has yet officially launched a legal challenge against the IRA with the trade body, although both China and Russia raised concerns about it during an Oct. 25 WTO meeting on subsidies.

    Europe and the United States, which aim to project a united front in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine, are negotiating possibly reversing parts of the act or seeking exemptions for European companies modelled on those for Mexico and Canada.

French President Emmanuel Macron will try during a state visit to the United States this week to convince Washington it is not in its interests to weaken European companies while Western allies are facing intense competition from China.

“U.S. autos trade unions also say that one should differentiate between cars produced in China and those produced in Germany with our tariff conditions,” Klingbeil said following a trip to the United States.

    The matter is expected to be addressed at a meeting of the EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council on Dec. 5.

INDUSTRIAL POLICY REVAMP NEEDED?

In Germany, criticism of European complacency and calls to introduce measures to boost competitiveness as growing.

“Quicker decisions (on projects), subsidies … other financial support for companies” are some possible solutions, Habeck said.

Europe has its own large subsidies available for investment in green technology, he said – the problem is mobilizing them in a timely manner and obtaining the necessary permits from local and national authorities.

That is one reason CMBlu Energy, a German company that has developed batteries for green energy that do not require special critical minerals, has decided to build its first factory in the United States, Chief Executive Peter Geigle told German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

    “We were going to have to change our industrial policy anyhow as we are under enormous time pressure,” Habeck said. “We cannot afford construction times of 12 years for a hydrogen plant.”

Volkswagen brand CEO Thomas Schaefer accused the European Union on Monday of “sticking to outdated and bureaucratic state aid rules that promote regions rather than preserving and transforming entire industrial sites”.

New strategic instruments like the Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI) focused on “the long-term development of new technologies rather than the short-term ramp-up, scaling and industrialisation of production”, he wrote on LinkedIn.

“The EU urgently needs new instruments to avert insidious de-industrialisation,” Schaefer said. “We have no time to lose.”

($1 = 0.9571 euros)

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Andreas Rinke, Rene Wagner and Victoria Waldersee in Berlin, Christoph Steitz, Patricia Weiss, Tom Kaeckenhoff in Frankfurt, Emma Farge in Geneva, Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm and Phil Blenksinsop in Brussels; Editing by Catherine Evans)

BP weighs ending its 70-year-old Statistical Review of World Energy

By Ron Bousso

LONDON (Reuters) – BP is considering ending the publication of its Statistical Review of World Energy, over 70 years after it first published the benchmark report, as the energy major focuses on its shift to renewables, the company told Reuters.

The Statistical Review has been a go-to resource for the wider energy sector since it was first published in April 1952, providing detailed data on global oil, gas and coal production and consumption.

Led by BP’s Chief Economist Spencer Dale in recent years, the report was expanded to include data on renewable energy and even minerals used for batteries.

However the report has been seen by some BP executives as detrimental to the company’s new direction, sources told Reuters.

A BP spokesperson confirmed the company has launched an internal review of the report.

“We’re looking at options for publishing the annual Statistical Review of World Energy, but as yet we’ve taken no decision,” the company said.

“The world of energy is changing fast and becoming ever more complex, and our energy and economics team are focused on understanding different elements of the energy transition and their implications for BP.”

The company added that “the Review is a valuable source of objective and comprehensive data, and ensuring this continues is an important consideration.”

Chief Executive Officer Bernard Looney has radically shifted BP’s focus since taking office in 2020, aiming to sharply reduce oil and gas production while rapidly building a renewables business in order to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The company has in recent years also cut its ties with several oil and gas associations and has sought to raise its profile as a clean energy provider.

“Put simply, it (Statistical Review) is bad PR,” one company source said.

The report is compiled by BP staff and in recent years with the help of the Edinburgh, Scotland-based Heriot-Watt University.

Graphic: BP Statistical Review https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/mopaknbobpa/Pasted%20image%201669643516914.png

(Reporting by Ron Bousso; Editing by Veronica Brown and David Evans)

U.S. Supreme Court leans toward limiting public corruption prosecutions

By Nate Raymond and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Supreme Court justices on Monday appeared poised to make it tougher to prosecute political corruption cases as they signaled sympathy toward appeals by an ex-aide to Democratic former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and a businessman of bribery and fraud convictions.

The justices heard arguments in appeals by Cuomo’s former executive deputy secretary Joseph Percoco and onetime construction company executive Louis Ciminelli, who were charged in a corruption crackdown by federal prosecutors in Manhattan centered on the halls of the state capital of Albany.

The Supreme Court in recent years has reined in the types of conduct that can warrant prosecution as corrupt. Conservative and liberal justices asked questions on Monday indicating they still see the Justice Department’s view of the class of people who can be targeted under U.S. corruption laws as too broad by implicating private lobbyists in addition to public officials.

“There’s a concern about interpreting this statute to sweep in lobbying,” conservative Justice Samuel Alito said.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan expressed doubt that the government, under its view of the law, could avoid prosecuting someone who is “just a really, really good lobbyist.”

The Supreme Court’s eventual rulings, expected by the end of June, also will affect three co-defendants charged in corruption and fraud cases during Cuomo’s tenure as governor involving state contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The charges against Percoco and Ciminelli were brought in 2016 by former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who also brought corruption charges against top state lawmakers including former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Cuomo was not charged but resigned in 2021 in an unrelated sexual harassment scandal.

Percoco was convicted in 2018 on bribery-related charges for seeking $315,000 in bribes in exchange for helping two corporate clients of Albany lobbyist Todd Howe seeking state benefits and business. Percoco was sentenced to six years in prison.

Howe pleaded guilty and cooperated with investigators. Real estate developer Steven Aiello, who prosecutors said orchestrated bribes to Percoco, was also convicted.

At the time of the actions at issue, Percoco was no longer serving in government as Cuomo’s aide but instead managing the governor’s 2014 re-election campaign, a fact his lawyers said meant he could not be convicted of bribery.

Yaakov Roth, Percoco’s lawyer, argued that his status as a private citizen meant that his acceptance of money to convince the government to do something indicated he was not a criminal but a lobbyist who was free to be paid for his influence.

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021 upheld his conviction, finding Percoco had a guaranteed job in Cuomo’s administration post-election and in the interim exercised enough influence over government decision-making to owe a duty to the public.

While the justices expressed concerns about the prosecution, they suggested that the limited scope proposed by Percoco’s lawyer of who could be targeted might be too narrow, with Kagan saying it would allow an official to quit the government, take a bribe, then immediately rejoin the government.

“There has to be something wrong with that,” Kagan said. “But your theory would suggest that you can’t prosecute the public official under this statute.”

Ciminelli’s case focused on Howe’s role as a consultant hired to help administer Cuomo’s $1 billion revitalization initiative for the Buffalo, New York area. Prosecutors said executives at two companies including Ciminelli conspired with Howe and Alain Kaloyeros, who oversaw the project’s grant application process, to rig bids to ensure contracts went to their firms.

Ciminelli was convicted alongside Kaloyeros, the former president of State University of New York’s Polytechnic Institute, and developers Joseph Gerardi and Aiello. They also have asked the Supreme Court to reverse their convictions.

Ciminelli was sentenced to two years and four months in prison. Michael Dreeben, Ciminelli’s lawyer, argued that prosecutors relied on an invalid legal theory of wire fraud that involved depriving a victim not of tangible property but of economically valuable information – a view that even Justice Department lawyer Eric Feigin called “awkward.”

Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch said there was broad agreement that the legal theory was wrong. But Feigin said Ciminelli’s conviction could still be sustained under a “more straight-forward and traditional” interpretation of wire fraud covering property frauds.

The Supreme Court in recent years has limited prosecutors in political corruption cases. In 2020, it overturned the convictions of two aides to Republican former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the “Bridgegate” political scandal. In 2016, it threw out Republican former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s bribery conviction.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Andrew Chung in Washington)

COP27 climate summit missed chance for ambition on fossil fuels, critics say

By Aidan Lewis, Sarah McFarlane and Valerie Volcovici

(Reuters) – Fossil fuel producers benefited from sympathetic treatment in Egypt at the COP27 climate talks, government officials said, bringing their influence to bear in rushed final negotiations and frustrating those who hoped for a more ambitious outcome.

Officials said the host Egypt, a natural gas exporter and frequent recipient of funds from Gulf oil producers, was partly responsible, although the war in Ukraine and the subsequent European energy crisis also had an impact.

Egyptian officials have said their priority was to provide a conducive atmosphere for negotiations and act as a neutral mediator. The presidency denied that fossil fuel producers had been given sympathetic treatment.

“The end decision at COP27 was a compilation of inputs reached by consensus of all the UNFCCC parties who were all consulted,” it said in a statement, referring to nearly 200 countries taking part in the summit under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Demands from environmental groups and scientists that governments and companies should leave oil and gas in the ground have had less traction this year, since European countries have scrambled to replace Russian gas.

The COP27 meeting yielded mixed results, with a hard-fought agreement on a fund for countries most harmed by climate change being welcomed by vulnerable nations, but a cover text that some officials said lacked ambition due to the influence of fossil fuel producers. The cover text summarises key outcomes of the summit.

“The cover decision and the mitigation work program does not fully reflect the urgency of the climate crisis and did indeed cater too much to the more fossil and backward-looking forces,” said Espen Barth Eide, Norway’s minister of climate and environment.

Some of the countries that had pushed hardest for the new fund for loss and damage simultaneously tried to weaken language around phasing down fossil fuels, he added.

LOW-EMISSION ENERGY

The COP27 agreements are in line with what came out of the Glasgow meeting last year, to accelerate “efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”, rather than being strengthened to phasing down fossil fuels as some countries had pushed for.

It also included a new reference to “low emission and renewable energy”. The Egyptian presidency said the language reflected part of the “just transition” adopted by all parties, which includes the use of hydrogen and nuclear energy to reduce emissions.

Egypt’s COP27 President Sameh Shoukry acknowledged there had been “disappointment in certain quarters” but told reporters after the deal that “a single party cannot achieve all their ambition, and this does not take away from the value of what was reached”.

For some, the Egyptian presidency had delivered a satisfactory deal by forging the agreement to set up a loss and damage fund. The idea had been resisted for years by some of the largest emitters, such as the United States and Europe, who were worried about the extent of liabilities.

Loss and damage was “the one thing we wanted a lot for ages, and that being solved at a COP being hosted by a developing country, that in itself is a great win because it shows their diplomatic strength,” said Selamawit Wubet, an adviser to a group of countries highly vulnerable to climate change.

But climate activists and some delegates said little progress had been made on most other issues, contending that the tone had been set by fossil fuel producers who played a more public and prominent role in Sharm el-Sheikh than at previous summits.

‘DIFFICULT TRANSITION’

“It has now become quite clear that the transition away from fossil fuels is going to be a difficult one,” said Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Munir Akram, citing the impact of the war in Ukraine.

In the final 24 hours, the COP presidency held a meeting where calls from negotiators from countries and groups including Switzerland, the United States, Latin America and small island states, for Egypt to include language initially proposed by India to phase down all fossil fuels were unheeded, officials said. At least 80 countries supported such language, they said.

Some negotiators expressed concern that Egypt had advanced its proposal without thorough consultation, as major emitters and producers took a stand against more ambitious goals on limiting fossil fuel use.

The Egyptian presidency told Reuters the process was “praised by all parties for being focused and streamlined”.

“The issue of phasing down all fossil fuels was not agreed upon by many countries,” it said.

ALL NIGHT TALKS

Ahead of the final plenary meeting where a deal was struck just after 5:30 a.m. local time, a Reuters reporter saw some delegates caught off guard by the presidency’s last-minute announcement of the session. Guards had to wake up some delegates sleeping on couches and chairs outside the plenary hall after 3 a.m., instructing them to go inside.

“It was very rushed towards the end,” said Shauna Aminath, Maldives environment minister. “The normal procedure is that there would be more consultation and open dialogue on these things,” she said.

The European Union, which had threatened to walk out, fell reluctantly in line to preserve the deal on loss and damage.

Egypt will hold the COP presidency until it hands over to the United Arab Emirates, an ally and a major hydrocarbons producer, in just under a year.

“Holding COPs in petro-states may seem counterproductive but actually we can’t ignore these countries. They need to be engaged in the process and putting pressure on them as a COP host may provide bigger gains,” said Mohamed Adow, founder of think tank Power Shift Africa.

Read more:

ANALYSIS-Drops of climate finance start to fill an ocean of need

COP27 delivers climate fund breakthrough at cost of progress on emissions

EXPLAINER-What the latest U.N. science says about climate change

(Reporting by Sarah McFarlane, Aidan Lewis, Valerie Volcovici, Gloria Dickie, William James, Kate Abnett and Seham Eloraby; Editing by Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)

EU sets out plans to shift derivatives clearing from London to Frankfurt

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) -Banks and other market participants in the European Union will have to prove to regulators that they are not overly reliant on clearing houses in London for processing their derivatives transactions, an EU draft document seen by Reuters showed.

The EU has long wanted to end heavy reliance on London-based clearing houses, such as London Stock Exchange Group’s LCH, for clearing euro-denominated interest rate swaps, particularly now Britain is no longer a member of the bloc.

Brexit has meant that much of the UK financial sector has been cut off from the EU, but Brussels has allowed clearers in London to continue serving customers in the bloc until June 30, 2025.

The loss of clearing in contract worth trillions of euros would be a further knock to the City as it faces new competition from EU financial centres like Paris and Frankfurt, alongside longstanding rivals such as New York and Singapore.

Global banks have warned Brussels they could clear contracts in the United States if the EU is too heavy-handed.

The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, set out in a draft law proposed requirements for market participants to have an “active account” with a yet-to-be determined minimum level of activity at a clearing house in the EU.

“It is appropriate to require financial counterparties and non-financial counterparties … to hold, directly or indirectly, accounts with a minimum level of activity” at clearing houses established in the EU, the draft said.

Clearers are backed by a default fund to ensure that trades are completed even if one side of the transaction goes bust.

The measures are aimed at safeguarding financial stability by ending “excessive exposures” to “a few” non-EU clearers, the draft added, with the minimum level of activity to be decided by the EU’s European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) and other regulators in the bloc.

“In addition, ESMA should indicate suitable phase-in periods for the progressive implementation of that requirement,” the draft said.

ESMA would hold a public consultation and publish a cost-benefit analysis. Market participants will have to report to regulators how much they use foreign clearers.

‘PRAGMATIC’

About 60% of EU customers of EU clearers already have an account for rate swaps, rising to 85% for credit default swaps, but many of the accounts are not regularly used, a step Deutsche Boerse’s Eurex Clearing in Frankfurt is seeking to remedy on a voluntary basis ahead of the EU law.

The commission is due to publish the draft law on Dec. 7, with the European Parliament and EU states having the final say.

The EU wants to increase “strategic autonomy” in its capital market to encourage companies to raise funds by issuing stocks on bonds, and ease reliance on bank loans.

An industry official said the proposals were “pragmatic” and focused on building up internal clearing capacity by making it easier and faster to approve new products and risk models at EU clearers to keep abreast of market changes.

Global banks have warned Brussels that heavy, mandatory action forcing them to shift euro derivatives clearing out of London would backfire on EU banks, who need access to global liquidity pools in London, and could send clearing activity to the United States.

The proposals also tackle issues raised in commodity derivatives markets this year when energy prices rocketed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It left energy firms unable to meet collateral calls on their derivatives contracts and forced governments to intervene.

The draft law tentatively proposes requiring EU clearers of commodity derivatives to hold a standalone default fund for that particular asset.

ESMA should also review rules for clearing commodity derivatives to see if better differentiation is needed between agriculture, energy and metals contracts, or based on other features such as environmental, social and governance criteria, environmentally sustainable investments or crypto related features”, the draft said.

(Reporting by Huw JonesEditing by Gareth Jones, David Goodman and Andrew Heavens)

Pakistan, IMF begin talks on $7 billion loan review

By Asif Shahzad

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund have begun talks online on a ninth review of a $7 billion loan programme, the Finance Ministry said on Monday, after a media outlet reported that the lender had asked the country to cut its expenses.

The government has shared fiscal data, including for floods and related expenditures, with the IMF, and a team from the agency is expected to visit Islamabad soon, the ministry added.

Under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF), Pakistan secured a $6 billion bailout in 2019 that was topped up with another $1 billion earlier this year.

“As part of the 9th review under the EFF, remote discussions continue between IMF staff and the Pakistani authorities over policies to re-prioritize and better target support toward humanitarian and rehabilitation needs,” the lender’s resident representative, Esther Pérez Ruiz, told Reuters in a statement.

Pakistan has been reeling from floods this year that killed more than 1,700 people, destroyed farmland and infrastructure and exacerbated an economic crisis marked by decades-high inflation and dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

“The IMF understands that the floods have changed the macroeconomic assumptions on which the programme was designed,” the ministry told Reuters.

“Detailed analysis is being conducted by their team using the data provided.”

Pakistan reserves stood at $7.8 billion as of Nov. 18, barely enough to cover imports for a month.

The Pakistan Stock Exchange fell around 2% on Monday, its first day of trading after the central bank unexpectedly hiked its key policy rate to 16% last week.

ARY News reported on Monday that the IMF had asked Pakistan to reduce expenses before talks on the ninth review.

The IMF’s board approved the seventh and eight reviews in August, allowing the release of more than $1.1 billion.

The ninth review has been pending since September. The IMF told Reuters last week that finalisation of a recovery plan from the floods was essential to support discussions, along with continued financial support from multilateral and bilateral partners.

(Reporting by Asif Shahzad in IslamabadWriting by Shivam Patel in New DelhiEditing by Nick Macfie and Matthew Lewis)

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.

“Ultimately, such a move could secure an early clearance with the European Commission and subsequently be used by the parties before other antitrust agencies,” said Stephane Dionnet, a partner at law firm McDermott Will & Emery.

“However, it remains to be seen whether the active complainants will validate such concessions (in particular in terms of scope) and if behavioural remedies will also be accepted by the CMA and the FTC,” he said, referring to the UK and U.S. antitrust agencies.

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

Activision shares were up 2% after the Reuters story was published.

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

The deal has been cleared unconditionally in Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Serbia.

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

German government defends plan to ease citizenship rules

BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany’s government on Monday defended a plan to make it easier for people to apply for citizenship, countering complaints from within the ruling coalition and the opposition that it might encourage illegal immigration.

The government has said it wants to boost immigration and training to tackle a skills shortage weighing on Europe’s largest economy at a time of weakening growth, and when an aging population is piling pressure on the public pension system.

A position paper obtained by Reuters – and earlier reported on by the German news site t-online – shows the government wants to do that in part by sigificantly reducing the income threshhold for migration and introducing a points system.

“Anyone who lives and works here on a permanent basis should also be able to vote and be elected, they should be part of our country with all the rights and duties that go with it,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a televised immigration forum.

“And this should be completely independent of origin, skin colour or religious affiliation,” he added.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, from Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD), has outlined plans to cut the maximum number of years a person must wait before becoming a citizen from eight to five, and lift restrictions on dual nationality.

German language requirements for citizenship would also be eased for members of the so-called “Gastarbeiter” generation, many of them Turkish, who came to Germany in the 1950s and 1960s as migrant workers.

Scholz further said that Germany, echoing a policy in other countries, would introduce a “transparent, unbureaucratic” immigration points system to allow foreigners who have the right qualifications to apply for work.

It would also be made easier to study or obtain qualifications in Germany, he said.

Scholz defended allowing immigrants to hold dual citizenship, arguing that “belonging and identity are not a zero-sum game.”

The draft legislation will be discussed by cabinet on Wednesday, Scholz said, after which it must be put to lawmakers in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.

The secretary-general of the FDP, the junior partner in coalition with the SPD and environmentalist Greens, has spoken out against the plan. In an interview with the Rheinische Post, Bijan Djir-Sarai questioned its timing while decrying a lack of progress on deportations and combating illegal migration.

Faeser played down differences in the coalition and said that all parties had signed up to the plan in their coalition agreement. The legal changes could take effect in the summer of 2023, she added.

(Reporting by Rachel More, Andreas Rinke and Matthias Williams; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Miranda Murray, Mark Heinrich and Conor Humphries)

Russia’s war on Ukraine latest news: Zelenskiy warns of more Russian attacks

(Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned Ukrainians to expect another brutal week of cold and darkness ahead, predicting that Russian attacks on infrastructure would not stop until Moscow runs out of missiles.

DIPLOMACY

* A communications line created between the militaries of the United States and Russia at the start of Moscow’s war against Ukraine has been used only once so far, a U.S. official told Reuters. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the United States initiated a call through the “deconfliction” line to communicate its concerns about Russian military operations near critical infrastructure in Ukraine.

* Nuclear disarmament talks between Russia and the United States set to take place this week have been postponed, Moscow’s foreign ministry and the U.S. Embassy said.

* The United States is still talking to Russia about a deal to free jailed Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan but Moscow has not provided a “serious response” to any of its proposals, a senior U.S. diplomat said.

POWER SUPPLY

* City authorities said workers were close to completing restoration of power, water and heat, but high consumption levels meant some blackouts had been imposed.

* Zelenskiy criticised Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, saying he had not done enough to help beleaguered residents. Klitschko, a former professional boxer, hit back, saying the criticism was out of place amid Russia’s military campaign.

BATTLEFIELD

* In its evening update on Monday, Ukraine’s armed forces General Staff said Russia kept up heavy shelling of key targets Bakhmut and Avdiivka in Donetsk province, and to the north bombarded Kupiansk and Lyman, both recaptured recently by Kyiv.

On the southern front, it said, Russian forces had reinforced positions in occupied territory and were heavily shelling towns on the west bank of the Dnipro River, including Kherson, abandoned by Moscow earlier this month..

* The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine is still under Russian control and will remain so, the Kremlin said, after a Ukrainian official suggested Russian forces were preparing to leave.

* Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.

* The Pentagon is considering a Boeing proposal to supply Ukraine with cheap, small precision bombs fitted onto abundantly available rockets, allowing Kyiv to strike far behind Russian lines as the West struggles to meet demand for more arms.

QUOTE

“I went outside with my child, and my mother was lying in the building entrance, face down, covered in blood. And my father was sitting by her side, saying he was going to die,” Liliia Khrystenko, 38, told Reuters, describing a recent Russian attack on the southern city of Kherson.

(Compiled by Himani Sarkar; Editing by Bradley Perrett and Philippa Fletcher)

Musk says Apple mostly stopped advertising on Twitter

(Reuters) -Elon Musk said on Monday that Apple Inc has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter, the most high-profile company to pull ads from the social media platform over concerns about content moderation policies under its new owner.

The move aligns the iPhone maker with a rising list of firms from General Mills Inc to luxury automaker Audi of America that have stopped or paused advertising on Twitter since the billionaire’s $44 billion buyout last month.

“Apple has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter. Do they hate free speech in America?,” Musk said in a tweet. He later tagged Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook’s Twitter account in another tweet, asking “what’s going on here?”

Musk said “yes” in response to a user question on whether Apple was threatening Twitter’s presence in the App Store or making moderation demands.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The world’s most valuable firm spent an estimated $131,600 on Twitter ads between Nov. 10 and Nov. 16, down from $220,800 between Oct. 16 and Oct. 22, the week before Musk closed the Twitter deal, according to ad measurement firm Pathmatics.

Musk, a self-described free speech absolutist, had said earlier this month that Twitter had seen a “massive” drop in revenue and blamed activist groups for pressuring advertisers. Ad sales account for about 90% of Twitter’s revenue.

The platform has in the past few days reinstated the account of former U.S. President Donald Trump, as well as comedian Kathy Griffin and U.S. House Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.

The Trump reinstatement prompted a coalition of civil rights activists to say last week that they were urging Twitter’s advertisers to issue statements about pulling their ads off the platform.

At a presentation for advertisers in May, some ad agencies and brands were already skeptical on concerns that Musk would scale back content moderation and security protection on the platform.

(Reporting by Tiyashi Datta in Bengaluru and Sheila Dang in Dallas; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Sriraj Kalluvila)

Crypto lender BlockFi files for Chapter 11

(Reuters) – U.S. cryptocurrency lender BlockFi said on Monday it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection along with eight affiliates in a New Jersey court, the latest casualty since FTX’s collapse earlier this month triggered instability in the crypto market.

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

COMMENTS:

MARTHA REYES-HULME, HEAD OF RESEARCH, BEQUANT, LONDON

“The BlockFi bankruptcy is a sad chapter in the short history of our industry that has forced participants to be more mindful of risk management, counterparty risk, and governance. Our clients have always used diversification to minimize exchange risk but now we are seeing many pull back in the short term and seek better solutions, especially around custody, to protect their assets. We are working closely with them. Ultimately it will be better for everyone. We are still seeing interest to onboard, even in these difficult times, which is reassuring as well as interest from mainstream institutions that attended our conference last week.”

MONSUR HUSSAIN, SENIOR DIRECTOR, FITCH RATINGS, LONDON

“BlockFi’s Chapter 11 restructuring underscores significant asset contagion risks associated with the crypto ecosystem, and, potentially, deficient risk management processes. Restructuring processes can be notoriously lengthy – Mt Gox’s creditors are only getting closer to being paid eight years after the operation failed.”

MARK CONNORS, 3iQ DIGITAL ASSET MANAGEMENT, TORONTO

“During a period of unwinding and consolidation, which is where we are, leveraged strategies are more at risk. We’re trying to separate the wheat from the chaff here, and I don’t think many people were surprised by the BlockFi filing… BlockFi received a $250mm loan in Q2, from FTX – likely in self interest to help keep overleveraged Alameda afloat.  So, today’s action was not unexpected.”

“Institutional investment is stalled right now in the wake of this. The first assessment will be, what failed? We believe it’s the unregulated centralized entities. So institutions are going to go back and say, did we invest in the wrong people in the VC stage? I think that’s going to be a big yes. Does this mean that bitcoin and Ethereum, the two main protocols that account for 60-odd percent of the digital asset space are flawed? There’s no institutional investor who can say those protocols failed, or do not hold the same promise they did before the FTX failure. So there are institutions that remain interested, but regulators need to define the state of play for institutions to follow.”

“There are (crypto) lending models that make sense. The decentralized finance models used proper collateralization and they’re intact. Some centralized models did not. I think you’re seeing the models with the weak lungs fail first. If a company gives you 18% yield, you better know really well where that yield is coming from.”

“FTX US, is I think the second largest creditor in BlockFi. But the question is, was that denominated in the FTT token or was it cash? In other bankruptcies, you’d have hard assets or U.S. dollars … we don’t know if they loaned (FTT) to BlockFi but we’re asking that questions for good reason.”

CONOR RYDER, RESEARCH ANALYST, KAIKO, DUBLIN

“The BlockFi filing is the latest in a string of contagion events after FTX, and arguably continued fallout from Celsius/Three Arrows Capital last summer. It was yet another example of neglected risk management when prices were going up, as crypto winter hit those that took on the most counterparty risk are getting exposed.”

“From a customer standpoint it serves as another reminder to be skeptical of any crypto yield products on offer, particularly those that sound too good to be true. That should be the biggest red flag now that a company is taking on added risk with your assets.”

(Compiled by the Global Finance & Markets Breaking News team)

Venezuelan political talks set to enter challenging phase -opposition delegate

CARACAS (Reuters) – Talks between the Venezuelan government and the country’s opposition, which resumed over the weekend, are set to enter a crucial stage, the head of dialogue for Venezuela’s opposition said on Monday, as the political rivals seek to end a prolonged economic crisis.

“Now is when negotiations get tough,” Gerardo Blyde, who leads the team of negotiators for Venezuela’s opposition, said in an interview with local radio station Circuitos Exitos.

The talks are ongoing but do not have a fixed schedule as yet. The discussions are held in Mexico City and are mediated by Norway.

The opposition will seek to meet with the Venezuelan government again before the end of the year to discuss human rights, political prisoners and other topics including “electoral conditions,” Blyde said.

Delegates for President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition met in Mexico City Saturday to resume formal talks after a hiatus of more than a year.

The parties signed a “social agreement,” asking the United Nations to manage the Venezuelan money currently frozen in international accounts in a fund to be used for aid purposes, reportedly totaling some $3 billion.

The agreement “is not the solution,” however, said Blyde, describing it as a “palliative” step.

The $3 billion is not enough to meet Venezuela’s needs, he said, adding that once the fund is created, the plan is to dole out the cash in phases, taking around three years.

A date has not been set to create the fund, which will be used to make improvements to the electric grid, hospitals and schools in the nation where around half live in poverty.

Blyde also said the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden had been key in getting the Venezuelan government back to the table by easing some Washington-imposed sanctions.

U.S. oil company Chevron Corp also received an expanded license on Saturday, allowing it to resume oil production in the South American country and bring Venezuelan crude to the United States.

The decision gives broader freedom to Chevron, the last large U.S. oil producer operating in Venezuela, though it restricts the company from paying royalties in the country.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas in Caracas; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

European retailers downbeat despite Black Friday boost

By Maria Sheahan, Toby Sterling and Alvise Armellini

BERLIN/AMSTERDAM/MILAN (Reuters) -Europeans snapped up smartphones, Christmas decorations, sweaters and jewellery during a surge in shopping over the Black Friday weekend, though prospects for the festive season remained gloomy, retailers said.

A survey of 400 businesses by Germany’s HDE retailers’ association showed just over half of merchants said they were still dissatisfied with sales last week, versus some 30% who were satisfied.

Retailers across Europe fear the overall Christmas trading season could be the worst in at least a decade as shoppers cut back, hit by double-digit inflation and soaring energy bills.

However, early indications suggest Black Friday has provided some relief.

“Business clearly picked up at the weekend,” HDE’s General Manager Stefan Genth said in a statement.

In the Netherlands, data from credit card transactions and online shops showed strong year-on-year growth for the Black Friday week, though Dutch price inflation of 15% played a role.

Data from International Card Services showed transaction numbers in Holland up 12% and spending up 30% for the week.

Large purchases such as electronics and furniture were rare. Spending was highest at department stores, for shoes and clothing and for food and drinks, ICS said.

Italian retailers offered a mixed picture.

Giulio Felloni, chairman of Federazione Moda Italia Confcommercio, a trade body for Italian fashion retailers, told Reuters that sales across the sector were down by 10-15% compared to last year.

“Black Friday has lost some of its meaning for fashion retailers as it’s no longer on a single day but spread out over a week or even a month. It still works for domestic appliances, electronics, online sales,” Felloni said.

In contrast, Gabriel Meghnagi of the Milan section of Italian retailers’ association Confcommercio said sales over the past weekend were up by “more than 10%” year-on-year, with shoppers spending on average 150-160 euros each, rising to more than 200 euros for clothing.

HDE expects German retail sales to total more than 120 billion euros ($125 billion) in November and December, down 4% in real terms from the year-earlier period.

Only 20% of respondents to the HDE survey said they were optimistic about sales between now and the end of the year.

“The Christmas business is marked by the energy crisis. Retailers are feeling the uncertainty of consumers,” Genth said, with inner-city retailers still feeling the impact of COVID-19.

In Britain, the volume of payments made on Cyber Monday was up 5.0% compared to the same day in 2021, data from Barclaycard Payments showed.

Barclaycard Payments, which says it processes nearly 1 pound ($1.20) of every 3 pounds spent on credit and debit cards in the UK, said Black Friday payment transactions were up 3.59% year-on-year.

Black Friday shopper numbers across Britain rose 9.3% year-on-year, according to data from researcher Springboard, but was still down 17.5% versus 2019. It said footfall on Saturday and Sunday was up 14.8% and 8.5% year-on-year respectively.

Separately on Monday, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said retail sales slid in November and stores are braced for a difficult December as the cost-of-living crisis chips away at consumers’ spending power.

($1 = 0.9598 euros)

(Reporting by Maria Sheahan and Toby Sterling; additional reporting by James Davey; writing by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Alexander Smith, Jan Harvey and Bernadette Baum)

Fed could cut interest rates in 2024, Williams says

By Michael S. Derby

NEW YORK (Reuters) -New York Federal Reserve President John Williams on Monday declined to say how fast and how far he believes the U.S. central bank will need to raise interest rates over coming months but reckons a rate cut is possible in 2024 as inflation pressures ease.

“I do think we’re going to need to keep restrictive policy in place for some time; I would expect that to continue through at least next year,” Williams said at a virtual event held by the Economic Club of New York, noting that borrowing costs need to rise to bring down inflation that is far too high. “I do see a point probably in 2024 that we’ll start bringing down nominal interest rates because inflation is coming down.”

The Fed has boosted the cost of short-term borrowing aggressively this year in its battle to curb inflation. By the Fed’s preferred measure, inflation has been running at more than three times the central bank’s 2% target this entire year.

While Williams pointed to some signs of progress in bringing down inflation, he said interest rates needed to rise further.

“How high those rates need to be will depend on how the economy and inflation evolve,” Williams said.

Williams is vice chair of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee, which holds its next policy meeting on Dec. 13-14. The Fed has pushed through oversized 75-basis-point rate increases at its last four policy meetings, bringing the target rate to the current 3.75%-4.00% range.

Fed officials 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 the increases in borrowing costs 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 any guidance on his preferred size for the rate hike at next month’s meeting, or for the ultimate destination of the federal funds rate, which most policymakers in September thought would be between 4.5% and 5.0%.

With economic growth expected to be in modestly positive territory this year and next, Williams said the unemployment rate will likely rise to between 4.5% and 5.0% by the end of next year, from the current 3.7%.

Still, he said, a recession is not part of his baseline forecast, though risks are to the downside.

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 that the bond market has been holding up fairly well in the face of the Fed’s actions.

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

Apple, energy shares drag Wall St lower amid China COVID protests

By Ankika Biswas and Shreyashi Sanyal

(Reuters) -Wall Street’s main indexes fell on Monday as protests in major Chinese cities against strict COVID-19 policies sparked concerns over economic growth and dragged commodity-linked shares lower, while Apple slid on worries about a hit to iPhone production.

Shares of the tech giant fell 2% and weighed the most on the benchmark S&P 500 index, as growing worker unrest at the world’s biggest iPhone factory in China fanned fears of a deeper hit to the already constrained production of higher-end models.

Rare protests in major Chinese cities over the weekend against the country’s strict zero-COVID curbs have hit growth expectations in the world’s second-largest economy.

“If these protests continue, it could disrupt supply chains and the reopenings, a glimpse of which we saw earlier this year,” said Brian Klimke, director of investment research at Cetera Financial Group.

“It will continue to weigh on investors’ minds going forward.”

The S&P 500 energy index and the materials index slid 1.7% and 1.4%, respectively, making them the biggest sectoral decliners as oil and metal prices dropped on China news. [O/R][MET/L]

U.S.-listed shares of Chinese companies such as Bilibili Inc, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, JD.com Inc, Baidu Inc and Nio Inc, however, eked out gains, rising between 1% and 2.2%.

“Those that are buying might be trying to pick up some ball games on stocks that have been way beaten down or maybe they think that this is going to force the (Chinese) party’s hand into relaxing some of the restrictions,” said Robert Pavlik, senior portfolio manager at Dakota Wealth in Fairfield.

At 12:29 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 270.56 points, or 0.79%, at 34,076.47, the S&P 500 was down 35.13 points, or 0.87%, at 3,990.99, and the Nasdaq Composite was down 87.55 points, or 0.78%, at 11,138.80.

A 1.2% rise in shares of Amazon.com limited the downside, after an industry report estimated spending during Cyber Monday, the biggest U.S. online shopping day, to rise as much as $11.6 billion, encouraged by some of the biggest discounts and deals to attract inflation-wary consumers.

Trading in other growth stocks, including Microsoft Corp, Meta Platforms Inc, Nvidia Corp, Netflix Inc and Tesla Inc, were mixed.

Among other stocks, Biogen Inc fell 3.9% following a report of death during a clinical study of its experimental Alzheimer’s drug.

Shares of cryptocurrency and blockchain-related companies, including Coinbase Global Inc, Riot Blockchain Inc and Marathon Digital Holdings Inc, were down about 2.5% each following lender BlockFi’s bankruptcy filing, the latest casualty since FTX’s collapse earlier this month.

For the week, investors will keep a close watch on nonfarm payrolls for November, the second estimate for third-quarter gross domestic product and consumer confidence this month.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 2.47-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and for a 1.95-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 11 new 52-week highs and two new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 74 new highs and 102 new lows.

(Reporting by Ankika Biswas and Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Anil D’Silva)

UK Cyber Monday transactions up 5% vs 2021 – Barclaycard Payments

LONDON (Reuters) – The volume of payments made in Britain on so-called Cyber Monday was up 5.0% compared to the same point in 2021, data from Barclaycard Payments showed.

“Despite a challenging economic backdrop, shoppers have made the most of the discounts on offer, with today’s data following an encouraging Black Friday and strong weekend both online and in-store,” its head Marc Pettican said.

Barclaycard Payments, which says it processes nearly 1 pound ($1.20) in every 3 pounds spent on credit and debit cards in the UK, said Black Friday payment transactions were up 3.59% year-on-year.

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Jan Harvey)

Fed has ‘a ways to go’ on interest rate hikes, Bullard says

(Reuters) – The Federal Reserve needs to raise interest rates quite a bit further and then hold them there throughout next year and into 2024 to gain control of inflation and bring it back down toward the U.S. central bank’s 2% goal, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said on Monday.

“We’ve got a ways to go to get restrictive,” Bullard said in an interview with MarketWatch, as he restated his conviction that the Fed’s target policy rate needs to rise to at least a range between 5.00% and 5.25% from the current level of 3.75%-4.00% to be “sufficiently restrictive” to reduce inflation.

Once at a high enough level, rates would then “have to stay there all during 2023 and into 2024” given the historical behavior of inflation, Bullard said.

The Fed has raised its policy rate by 375 basis points this year, the fastest pace of tightening since the early 1980s as it tries to quash stubbornly high inflation. By the central bank’s preferred measure, inflation is running at more than three times the Fed’s target.

“We want to get this inflation under control much sooner than in the 1970s,” Bullard said, noting that he prefers to get the policy rate up in short order to create the conditions for price pressures to ebb throughout next year.

However, Bullard also repeated comments made earlier this month that he would defer to Fed Chair Jerome Powell regarding how much higher to move rates at upcoming policy meetings.

Investors overwhelmingly anticipate the Fed to raise its policy rate by half a percentage point at its next policy meeting on Dec. 13-14.

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

Buffalo supermarket shooter pleads guilty to terrorism, 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.

At a press conference following the court proceeding, civil rights attorney Ben Crump described the hearing as a “gut-wrenching” experience for the victims’ families he represents. He called for Gendron to be given the “most-harsh sentence” for the crimes.

“We don’t want it to be marginalized because these were Black people. We want the whole world to never let this be swept under the rug,” Crump said. “We want the same justice if the (races) were reversed.”

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