Banco BPM’s board to discuss non-life insurance partnership on Tuesday – sources

MILAN (Reuters) – The board of Italy’s third-largest bank Banco BPM will meet on Tuesday over a non-life insurance partnership which is pitting French bank Credit Agricole against insurer AXA, two sources said on Monday.

The two French companies are the main contenders for the deal. The sources said Banco BPM may decide on Tuesday a bidder to continue discussions on an exclusive basis.

(Reporting by Andrea Mandala and Valentina Za, editing by Cristina Carlevaro)

Workers who won’t sign Russian contracts banned from nuclear plant – Ukraine

KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s military said on Monday Moscow had banned Ukrainian technicians who have refused to sign contracts with Russia’s atomic energy firm from entering the vast Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that Russian forces seized in March.

The largest nuclear power plant in Europe, which is in Ukraine’s partially-occupied southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia, has been operated by Ukrainian technicians throughout the war despite being under Russian control.

“According to available information, starting today, the occupiers have forbidden entry to the territory of the Zaporizhzhia NPP to … workers who refused to sign contracts with Rosatom,” Ukraine’s General Staff said in its daily war update.

There was no immediate comment from Russia about the allegation. A spokesperson for Ukraine’s Energoatom nuclear firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Max Hunder; writing Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Heavens)

Demobilised Russian says he had to share food and sleeping bag

STAROBESHEVE, Russian-controlled Ukraine (Reuters) – A student newly discharged from Russian proxy forces in Ukraine says he was equipped with a Soviet-era bolt-action rifle, and had to share rations and a sleeping bag when first sent to the front.

“When times were hard, we had a certain number of people and there weren’t enough sleeping bags for everyone, you could only cover yourself with a raincoat. We were able to get two or three people into a sleeping bag to keep warm,” said Vladimir, a young man who appeared to be in his late teens.

“At first we didn’t have enough food. After that, everything was fine with supplies, they were completely sufficient, but at first we shared with each other. Helping each other, that was the only way,” he told reporters.

He said he had, like many others, been given a Mosin sniper rifle – a bolt-action weapon designed in Tsarist Russia in the late 19th century and updated in the 1930s.

Reports of young men being sent to fight in Ukraine with inadequate clothing and equipment have stirred deep public concern in Russia, prompting President Vladimir Putin to order better coordination between government, regions and industry to meet the needs of the military.

Putin ordered a “partial mobilisation” in Russia in September, but Moscow’s proxies in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine began calling up men of fighting age much earlier.

Vladimir said he had been drafted into the forces of the breakaway Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) on Feb. 23, the day before Putin sent his forces into Ukraine.

On Monday, he was among dozens of young men who were demobilised at a ceremony in the town of Starobesheve, in line with an order from Putin this month that students should end their service and return to their studies.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Heavens)

Elliott-backed Gardant clinches bad loan venture with Italy’s BPER

By Valentina Za

MILAN (Reuters) -Italy’s BPER Banca on Monday said it had agreed a partnership with loan manager Gardant, which will team up with state-owned peer AMCO to help the bank offload up to 2.5 billion euros ($2.6 billion) in bad debts.

BPER was the only major Italian bank to still have full control of its debt recovery operations, which comprise staff dedicated to recouping problem loans and the technology they use.

The accord values the business at 150 million euros. Gardant, controlled by U.S. investment fund Elliott Management Corporation will acquire 70% of the unit, with BPER retaining 30%.

The Gardant-AMCO duo trumped rival bids by Sweden’s Intrum, Davidson Kempner-owned Prelios and Softbank-backed doValue.

Reuters in May was first to report that Gardant had teamed up with AMCO in the hard fought deal for BPER’s division.

Banks normally offload the recovery units at a profit which they use to offset the hit from simultaneous bad loan disposals.

BPER is shedding up to 2.5 billion euros in bad debts as part of the Gardant-AMCO deal.

It said the disposals would have no significant impact on its financial accounts and would cut problem debts to as low as 2.5% of total loans, from 4.2% in September.

By the end of the year, BPER will sell a first 1.5 billion euro bad loan portfolio to AMCO, which is able to bid higher than privately-owned rivals in tenders thanks to lower funding costs.

Under a 10-year management accord, the new Gardant-controlled joint venture will handle part of BPER’s existing bad loans, including some of those which it is selling.

It will also get 90% of all new defaulted loans and 50% of new ‘unlikely-to-pay’ loans – which are not yet in default.

Gardant had struck a similar deal with Banco BPM four years ago.

“Our partnership with Banco BPM has been a great success,” Gardant CEO Mirko Briozzo said.

“This deal brings our assets under management (AUM) to around 42 billion euros, turning us into a leading industry player in terms of volumes and collections,” he added.

Gardant had 19.9 billion euros in AUM at the end of 2021, according to a report by consultancy PwC, compared with market leader doValue’s 75.9 billion euros.

Briozzo said a task force would work in the next few months to get the partnership off the ground and ensure it can soon run at full steam.

Italy became Europe’s biggest market for soured bank loans after its lenders shed almost 200 billion euros in bad debts since a 2015 peak.

KPMG worked with BPER on the deal. Rothschild & Co was Gardant’s financial adviser. ($1 = 0.9538 euros)

(Reporting by Valentina Za and Andrea Mandala; Editing by Agnieszka Flak, Philippa Fletcher and Conor Humphries)

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)

Oil turns positive in output rumours ahead of OPEC+ meeting

By Nia Williams

(Reuters) – Oil turned positive on Monday, recovering after falling to close to the lowest this year, as rumours of an OPEC+ production cut offset concerns about street protests against strict COVID-19 curbs in China, the world’s biggest crude importer.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 48 cents, or 0.1%, to $76.76 at 11.57 a.m. ET (1647 GMT), after touching its lowest since Dec. 22 at $73.60.

Brent crude rose 14 cents, or 0.2%, to trade at $83.77 a barrel having slumped more than 3% to $80.61 earlier in the session for its lowest since Jan. 4.

Both benchmarks, which hit 10-month lows last week, have posted three consecutive weekly declines.

Crude crash Crude crash https://graphics.reuters.com/GLOBAL-OIL/myvmonqjqvr/chart.png

“The word on the street is there’s rumour that OPEC+ is already starting to float the idea of a production cut on Sunday,” said Matt Smith, lead oil analyst at Kpler. “That’s helped reverse losses that were caused overnight by Chinese protests.”

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+, will meet on Dec. 4. In October, OPEC+ agreed to reduce its output target by 2 million barrels per day through 2023.

Rumours of a cut outweighed an earlier sell-off on the news hundreds of demonstrators and police clashed in Shanghai on Sunday night as protests over COVID restrictions flared for a third day and spread to several cities.

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

“We feel some of the selling based on reports of China uprisings was overdone,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group. “Inventories are still near record lows and this probably increases the odds of an OPEC production cut.”

Meanwhile, Group of Seven (G7) and European Union diplomats have been discussing a price cap on Russian oil of between $65 and $70 a barrel, with the aim of limiting revenue to fund Moscow’s military offensive in Ukraine without disrupting global oil markets.

However, EU governments were split on the level at which to cap Russian oil prices, with the impact being potentially muted.

The price cap is due to come into effect on Dec. 5 when an EU ban on Russian crude also takes effect.

(Reporting by Nia Williams; Additional reporting by Noah Browning in London, Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo and Mohi Narayan in New Delhi; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Chris Reese)

Somali troops overpower militants to end hotel siege

By Abdiqani Hassan and Mukelwa Hlatshwayo

MOGADISHU (Reuters) -Somali security forces stormed a hotel in the capital on Monday to end a near day-long siege by al Shabaab militants who killed nine people at the building near the president’s residence in the capital, police said.

Gunfire crackled from inside the hotel as the special forces fought the militants more than 12 hours after the Islamist group stormed the building in the centre of Mogadishu.

A police spokesperson said 60 civilians had been rescued, while a government minister said he and others had kicked down a door to escape after being caught in the hotel following evening prayers when a suicide bomber struck and the gunbattle broke out.

The assault underscores the continuing ability of the al Qaeda-allied militants to stage deadly attacks with sometimes high casualties inside the city even as President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s government presses an offensive against them.

“The operation at the hotel Rose has been concluded,” Sadik Aden Ali, the police spokesperson said, referring to the Villa Rose hotel where the siege occurred.

Ali said the militants had killed eight civilians and later added that one soldier had also died in the siege. Five soldiers were injured, he said.

Six al Shabaab fighters had been involved in the attack, with one blowing himself up and five shot dead by the security forces, Ali said.

Al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, which controls swathes of the country, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that it was targeting the nearby presidential palace.

Al Shabaab, which is seeking to topple the government and establish its own rule based on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, frequently stages attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

‘BULLETS RAINED’

Government officials in Mogadishu often use the Villa Rose hotel for meetings. Some officials also live there.

Somalia’s environment minister Adam Aw Hirsi said the assault on the hotel, where he lives, began with a deafening explosion by a suicide bomber who was followed by militants on foot to breach the perimeter of the heavily guarded hotel.

“I had exited the hotel mosque where we performed the evening prayer in congregation when the explosion hit. The roof of the VIP room I was in flew and glasses shattered far and wide,” Hirsi told Reuters, describing the scene of the attack.

“Then bullets rained in all directions,” he said, adding that he, a friend and another minister fled the building through a back exit. “Many people followed us to the exit, we broke the door with collective kicks and we exited to safety,” he said.

Asked what the government would do next, he said there was no turning back and the government would “not let up the fight”.

Somalia government forces, supported by clan militias and, at times, African Union troops and U.S. air strikes, have made a number of battlefield gains in offensive against al Shabaab over the last three months.

The U.S. military has conducted several air strikes against the al Shabaab this year, but it was not clear whether it was involved in Monday’s battle.

Despite being pushed back, al Shabaab has still been able to stage large attacks on both civilian and military targets.

In October two car bombs exploded at Somalia’s education ministry next to a busy market intersection, killing at least 120 people. It was the deadliest attack since a truck bomb exploded at the same intersection in October 2017, killing more than 500 people.

Somalia’s parliament said it had postponed a scheduled session for both of its houses on Monday as the siege unfolded.

(Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan in Bosaso; Additional reporting by Mukelwa Hlatshwayo in NairobiWriting by Elias Biryabarema and George Obulutsa; Editing by James Macharia Chege, Gareth Jones and Alison Williams)

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)

China’s COVID protests weigh on European shares; Airbus tumbles

By Sruthi Shankar and Devik Jain

(Reuters) -Europe’s STOXX 600 index fell on Monday, in line with a rout in global markets on economic jitters due to rare protests in China against stringent COVID-19 curbs, while shares of Airbus slid 5.7% on a report the planemaker may delay some jet deliveries.

The pan-European index closed 0.7% lower, slipping from last week’s peak which was the highest in more than three months. [MKTS/GLOB]

Police stopped and searched people at the sites of weekend protests in Shanghai and Beijing, after crowds there and in other Chinese cities demonstrated against stringent COVID-19 measures disrupting lives three years into the pandemic.

China posted record-high COVID-19 infections on Monday, raising worries about the management of the country’s zero-COVID policy and its impact on the world’s second-largest economy.

“A widening of infections could add to supply chain interruptions, with China’s problems spilling into global markets,” Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management wrote in a note to clients.

“Social discontent related to zero-COVID adds to execution and implementation risks for the government. We do not expect economic or market headwinds in China to abate significantly over the coming months.”

European oil stocks dipped 1.4% as crude prices fell on worries about the outlook for the world’s biggest crude importer, while China-exposed automakers and luxury, also slipped.

The benchmark STOXX 600 notched its sixth consecutive weekly gain on Friday, marking a recovery of about 15% from its September lows on hopes that the Federal Reserve will shift to smaller interest rate hike amid signs of cooling U.S. economy.

U.S. jobs data later this week might shift expectations around the Fed’s policy move in December, with traders currently anticipating a 50-basis-point rate hike.

Preliminary reading of euro zone inflation for November is due on Wednesday, with the numbers expected to show a slight cooling from the record levels hit in October.

European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde said inflation has not peaked and it risks turning out even higher than currently expected, hinting at a series of interest rate hikes ahead.

Credit Suisse’s shares dropped 4.2% to log a record closing low, while the cost of insuring its debt against default rose as the Swiss bank struggled to win over rattled investors following an exodus of client cash and with more litigation on the horizon.

Brenntag SE tumbled 9.7% after the German chemicals distributor said it held preliminary discussions for a potential acquisition with U.S. rival Univar Solutions Inc.

Airbus slid 5.7% after Reuters reported the planemaker may delay planned delivery dates of some medium-haul aircraft in 2023 even as it races to meet delivery targets for 2022 in the face of supply chain and labour problems.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar and Devik Jain in Bengaluru; Editing by Uttaresh.V, Sherry Jacob-Phillips and David Gregori)

US Foods names Flitman CEO

(Reuters) – US Foods Holding Corp on Monday named Dave Flitman as its chief executive officer, months after the food distributor’s top boss stepped down following a settlement with activist investor Sachem Head Capital Management.

Flitman, 58, who will also join the board at US Foods, was most recently the CEO at U.S. building products supplier Builders FirstSource Inc. He has also headed Performance Food Group Co’s food service division from 2015 to 2018.

Former US Foods CEO Pietro Satriano exited in May the same day the company settled one of the most high-profile corporate fights this year by appointing three new independent directors to its board as agreed with Sachem Head.

The activist investor had been pushing for changes at Rosemont, Illinois-based US Foods, which has struggled to boost profit margins amid inflation and supply chain disruptions, saying the company’s performance was unsatisfactory.

Sachem Head did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

(Reporting by Deborah Sophia in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

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)

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)

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)