Putin: My spy chiefs know nothing about alleged agent Butina in U.S

December 11, 2018

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday it was unclear to him why a Russian woman, Maria Butina, had been detained in the United States and accused of being a Russian agent because his intelligence chiefs had told him they knew nothing about her.

Butina is suspected of trying to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and influence U.S. policy towards Russia and is expected to plead guilty this week following a deal between her lawyers and U.S. prosecutors, according to court filings on Monday.

“…she risks 15 years in jail. For what?” asked Putin. “…I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on. Nobody knows anything about her.”

(Reporting by Polina Devitt and Andrew Osborn; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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UK’s Hammond opposes easing rules to boost finance after Brexit

December 11, 2018

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will remain a pre-eminent global financial center after Brexit with an agile, but not lax, system of financial regulation, finance minister Philip Hammond said on Tuesday.

“I reject the idea that laxer regulation makes a jurisdiction more attractive,” Hammond told a conference in London.

Some lawmakers have called for regulators to make it a formal objective to keep London competitive as a global financial center after Britain leaves the European Union next March.

Britain’s banks face the prospect of losing “passporting” rights – or unfettered access to the European Union’s single market – after Brexit.

But Hammond said it was not the EU passport that built London as a global financial center but a combination of the English language, and Britain’s legal system, world class universities and technology.

He said financial regulation would remain a key discriminator between financial centers.

Britain will have a regime that is safe, transparent, predictable, and agile enough to keep abreast of changes in business models, Hammond added.

Uncertainty increased for British businesses this week when a vote in parliament on Britain’s Brexit divorce deal was postponed after Prime Minister Theresa May said the deal was likely to be voted down.

Hammond said the deal on the table was the best for the British economy and could enable Britain to move on from the divisive Brexit debate.

It would also allow “hugely beneficial” financial services trade between the EU and Britain to continue to flourish, he said.

(Reporting by Huw Jones, editing by Marc Jones)

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Verizon takes billions in charges for Oath, voluntary buyouts

December 11, 2018

By Sheila Dang and Sonam Rai

(Reuters) – Verizon Communications Inc <VZ.N> said Tuesday it will take a $4.6 billion charge related to its Oath media assets – Yahoo and AOL – and a severance charge of up to $2.1 billion for voluntary buyouts, in the fourth quarter.

The largest U.S. wireless carrier by subscribers said in a filing that competition pressures will continue for Oath, which was formed after Verizon bought Yahoo and AOL. The company previously said it did not expect Oath to meet its revenue goals. [nL3N1X36DP]

Verizon had said that about 10,400 employees will leave the company by the middle of next year as part of its voluntary separation program. The employees will get a salary of up to 60 weeks, bonus and benefits, depending on their length of service.

The New York based-company said the severance charge was mainly on account of the buyouts announced on Monday as well as other headcount reductions.

Verizon, which had 152,300 employees as of the quarter ended Sept. 30, has been looking to cut costs as it ramps up investment in its next-generation 5G network, which is expected to fuel its future growth.

It said severance charges in the fourth quarter would come to $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion after tax, with the Oath charge amounting to $4.5 billion after tax.

Analysts on average expect Verizon to post a profit of $1.08 per share for the current quarter, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

The company is set to post its fourth-quarter results on Jan. 29.

(Reporting by Sonam Rai in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Jonathan Oatis)

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Senate to take up criminal justice bill this month: McConnell

December 11, 2018

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate will take up a revised criminal justice bill this month, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

McConnell had declined to bring up the bill until now, despite broad bipartisan support and backing by President Donald Trump. The proposed overhaul of America’s prison policies and criminal sentencing standards was reworked on Monday as supporters sought to pass it before the end of the year.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell)

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Britain must revoke notice to quit EU now, former PM John Major says

December 11, 2018

By Graham Fahy

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Britain must revoke its notice to quit the European Union with immediate effect to allow for “serious and profound reflection” by both parliament and the people, former Prime Minister John Major said on Tuesday.

British Prime Minister Theresa May postponed a parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal on Monday in an abrupt move that opened up a range of possibilities from a Brexit without a deal, a last-minute agreement or another EU referendum.

The European Union’s top court also ruled on Monday that the British government may reverse its Article 50 formal divorce notice that has set its withdrawal date from March 29 without having to consult other member states.

In order to calm financial markets and protect the economic wellbeing of the British people, the Brexit process needs to be stopped, Major said.

“We need to revoke article 50 with immediate effect. The clock, for the moment, must be stopped,” Major, who also faced a revolt inside the Conservative Party over Europe, said in a speech at an international affairs think tank in Dublin.

“It’s clear we now need the most precious commodity of all: time. Time for serious and profound reflection by both parliament and people. There will be a way through the present morass, there always is.”

Major, who led Britain from 1990 to 1997 and campaigned to stay in the EU, is among three of the four former British prime ministers still alive to have called for a second referendum as a way to resolve the crisis.

The former prime minister, who faced down Eurosceptic members of his own cabinet to win a vote of confidence over his handling of the EU’s landmark Maastricht Treaty in 1993, said he believed Brexit reduced Britain’s international influence.

“We are a more valued ally for America because of our influence in Europe and we are more valued by Europe because of our close relationship with America,” he said.

“Britain, shorn of both these long-standing allies, will be seen by the world as a mid-sized, middle-ranking power that is no longer super-powered by her alliances.”

(Writing by Padraic Halpin; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

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BlackRock and peers slash research budgets as new EU rules squeeze brokers

December 11, 2018

By Josephine Mason

LONDON (Reuters) – BlackRock and other investment houses have slashed their budgets for external research by as much as half after the introduction of new European Union rules, piling pressure on stockbrokers, a senior executive at the world’s top asset manager said on Tuesday.

The EU’s Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II, known as MiFID II, which took effect in January, states investment research must be priced separately from other broker services to ensure transparency and better value for money.

With the rules making clear how much investors are being charged for research, many asset managers are scrutinizing more than ever what they’re paying for and using less.

“It’s really clear the amount being paid is 30-50 percent lower and that’s staying there,” Nigel Bolton, chief investment officer of international equities at BlackRock, told Reuters on the sidelines of a briefing on Tuesday.

“A lot of people are waiting for it to get better, but I don’t think it will. Budgets are down and aren’t going to come back up.”

The sweeping changes in how asset managers consume research will underscore concerns about pain being felt across European equity research providers almost one year after MiFID II came into force.

Stockbrokers have been the main losers from the new legislation, Bolton said, echoing a sentiment across the financial sector.

“We basically think twice before having a meeting (with a stockbroker), and we share meetings,” Bolton said.

The cuts are likely to drive consolidation as small- and medium-sized brokerages struggle with the loss of research income and falling commission fees amid growing competition.

His comments come after reports last month that Australia’s Macquarie <MQG.AX> was in talks to buy boutique London-based broker, Liberum, in a bid to strengthen its UK equities business as MiFID II forces it to pay for research.

German private bank Berenberg has laid off staff in its equities business amid pressure from MiFID II, the Financial Times reported last month.

“We haven’t seen the mass cull I’d expected. We’ll see more mergers (in 2019),” Bolton told a briefing earlier on Tuesday. He is also co-head of fundamental equities and head of the European equities team at the world’s top asset manager.

(Reporting by Josephine Mason; Editing by Adrian Croft)

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Opposition UK lawmakers call for second Brexit referendum preparations

December 11, 2018

By Andrew MacAskill

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May’s government and the European Union should begin planning for a second Brexit referendum because parliament cannot agree on a divorce deal and voters will be asked to break the deadlock, opposition lawmakers said.

Less than four months until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on March 29, Brexit was plunged into chaos on Monday when May accepted that British lawmakers would not accept her deal and withdrew a key vote on it.

The ultimate outcome of Brexit is now uncertain. Possible scenarios include May’s deal ultimately winning approval in a new parliamentary vote; May losing her job; Britain leaving the bloc with no deal or another referendum.

“The UK is in the middle of a constitutional crisis, which is unparalleled in modern history,” said Ian Blackford, the leader of the Scottish National Party in Westminster. “There now appears to be scant potential for consensus to be found.”

May has repeatedly said that British lawmakers face a choice of approving her deal or facing an exit with no deal or even the reversal of Brexit. So far there has been no indication that the government has been preparing for a second vote.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said the government must ask the Electoral Commission, the independent body which oversees referendums, to begin looking at what question might be asked and when another vote could be held.

A new vote, Cable said, must ask whether voters wanted a Brexit deal or to stay in the EU. He said a “no deal” exit should not be one of the options.

“You prepare for what might happen rather than what you want to happen,” he said.

His comments were echoed by Blackford, the Green Party, the Welsh nationalist party, the Labour Party’s Margaret Beckett and the Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry.

Bookmakers are offering almost an even chance of another EU referendum before 2020.

An array of smaller parties including the SNP and the Liberal Democrats said European leaders should prepare by agreeing to allow an extension of Britain’s Article 50 departure notification.

Blackford also issued the opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with an ultimatum to call a vote of no-confidence in the government or they would attempt to do so without them.

“This is a government that is in chaos and crisis and that is why I would appeal to Jeremy – we have no option,” he said.

“We cannot delay and if Jeremy does not accept that responsibility then I am afraid the rest of us will have to accept that responsibility.”

On Monday the speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow said that while smaller parties could table a no-confidence motion, it was usually only put forward for a debate and vote if it came from the main opposition party.

(Editing by Stephen Addison)

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Wall Street opens sharply higher on trade optimism

December 11, 2018

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks jumped at the open on Tuesday in broad-based gains led by industrial and technology stocks amid signs of progress in trade talks between the United States and China.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 296.65 points, or 1.21 percent, at the open to 24,719.91.

The S&P 500 opened higher by 26.72 points, or 1.01 percent, at 2,664.44. The Nasdaq Composite gained 101.13 points, or 1.44 percent, to 7,121.66 at the opening bell.

(Reporting by Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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Trump says more than 10 people want top White House job

December 11, 2018

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, without offering any names, said on Tuesday more than 10 people are vying to be his new White House chief of staff, a job his top choice declined over the weekend.

Trump and the outgoing chief of staff, John Kelly, reportedly had been at odds for months, but the president was left without a clear replacement after Nick Ayers declined the crucial position.

“Many, over ten, are vying for and wanting the White House Chief of Staff position,” Trump wrote in a tweet.

The opening comes as the White House braces for an onslaught of political and legal challenges in the coming year.

On Saturday, Trump said Kelly would be leave at year’s end, capping months of clashes between the president and the retired general who had been brought in after Reince Priebus left the post.

Ayers, currently chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said on Sunday he was returning to Georgia with his family at the end of the year.

Sources familiar with the search for a replacement said Trump was considering a number of candidates, including Republican Representative Mark Meadows, former campaign adviser David Bossie, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Other possible contenders, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney have said they are not interested, sources said.

(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bill Trott)

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Time ‘Person of Year’ goes to journalists, including imprisoned Reuters pair

December 11, 2018

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Time magazine on Tuesday named a group of journalists, including a slain Saudi Arabian writer and a pair of Reuters journalists imprisoned by Myanmar’s government, as its “Person of the Year,” in a cover story headlined “The Guardians and the War on Truth.”

The honor went to a series of journalists including Reuters journalists Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who the government of Myanmar convicted on Sept. 3 under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in a case seen as a test of democratic freedoms in Myanmar.

Also honored was Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi was killed two months ago at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul when he went there to collect documents for his forthcoming marriage.

The 95-year-old magazine also honored Maria Ressa, the founder of the Philippine news site Rappler that has been a frequent critic of that nation’s President Rodrigo Duterte, and the staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, where a gunman shot and killed five people in June.

Time said it chose to honor journalism at time when the practice critical democracy is under threat both from governments and technological advances. Its annual distinction is intended to recognize the person, group, thing or idea that had the greatest influence on world events that year.

“For taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts that are central to civil discourse, for speaking up and for speaking out, the Guardians — Jamal Khashoggi, the Capital Gazette, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo — are Time’s Person of the Year 2018,” Time editor-in-chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal said in a statement.

Ressa and her site were charged with tax evasion by the Philippines’ justice department in November.

The four groups were highlighted on four separate covers of the magazine, one of which features the wives of the imprisoned Reuters reporters embracing one another as they hold photos of their husbands.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski)

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