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Tuesday, 31 December 2019

China’s central bank says economic growth resilient despite large pressure


January 1, 2020
BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s central bank said on Wednesday that economic growth remains resilient despite relatively large downward pressure and mounting external uncertainty.
The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) will work on preventing and defusing financial risks amid “profound changes” in the domestic and international economy, it said in a statement following the fourth-quarter meeting of its monetary policy committee.
The PBOC said it will keep the yuan exchange rate <CNY=CFXS> balanced and stable and use multiple monetary tools and flexible policy to maintain liquidity.
It also said it will keep M2 money supply and social financing growth in line with nominal gross domestic product (GDP) growth.
China’s economic growth has cooled to near 30-year lows.
Though economic activity has shown hints of a pick up recently, analysts widely expect Beijing to roll out further stimulus measures in 2020 to avert a sharper slowdown.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Taiwan leader rejects China’s offer to unify under Hong Kong model

January 1, 2020

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday the island would not accept a “one country, two systems” political formula Beijing has suggested could be used to unify the democratic island, saying such an arrangement had failed in Hong Kong.

China claims Taiwan as its territory, to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if necessary. Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.

Tsai, who’s seeking re-election in a Jan. 11 vote, also vowed in a New Year’s speech to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty, saying her government would build a mechanism to safeguard freedom and democracy as Beijing ramps up pressure on the island.

Fear of China has become a major element in the campaign, boosted by months of anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong people have showed us that ‘one country, two systems’ is definitely not feasible,” Tsai said, referring to the political arrangement that guaranteed certain freedoms in the former British colony of Hong Kong after it was returned to China in 1997.

“Under ‘one country, two systems’, the situation continues to deteriorate in Hong Kong. The credibility of ‘one country, two systems’ has been sullied by the government’s abuse of power,” Tsai said.

Hong Kong has been hit by months of anti-government protests triggered by widespread resentment of perceived efforts by Beijing to exert control of the city despite the promises of autonomy.

Taiwan’s parliament passed an anti-infiltration law on Tuesday to combat perceived threats from China, further straining ties between Taiwan and Beijing. [nL4N295146]

Tsai said the law will protect Taiwan’s democracy and cross-strait exchanges will not be affected amid worries that the legislation may damage business ties with China.

China suspects Tsai and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party of pushing for the island’s formal independence, and has threatened it with war if there was any such move.

Tsai denies seeking independence and reiterated that she would not unilaterally change the status quo with China.

(Reporting By Yimou Lee; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Kim says North Korea to show ‘new strategic weapon,’ leaves room for talks

January 1, 2020

By Hyonhee Shin and Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s leader plans to further develop nuclear programs and to introduce a “new strategic weapon” in the near future, state media said on Wednesday, but he left room for dialogue with the United States after it ignored a year-end deadline he had set for talks.

Kim Jong Un presided over a four-day meeting of top Workers’ Party officials this week amid rising tensions with the United States, which has not responded to his repeated calls for concessions to reopen negotiations. Washington has dismissed the deadline as artificial.

Kim said there were no grounds for North Korea to be bound any longer by a self-declared moratorium on testing nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), according to a statement on the results of the policy meeting carried by the official KCNA news agency.

Kim accused the United States of making “gangster-like demands” and maintaining a “hostile policy”, including by holding continued joint military drills with South Korea, adopting cutting edge weapons and imposing sanctions.

He pledged to continue bolstering his country’s nuclear deterrent but said the “scope and depth” of that deterrent will be “properly co-ordinated depending on” the attitude of the United States.

“The world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future,” Kim said, using the initials for North Korea’s official name – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We will reliably put on constant alert the powerful nuclear deterrent capable of containing the nuclear threats from the U.S. and guaranteeing our long-term security.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it would be “deeply disappointing” if Kim reneges on denuclearization commitments and Kim would hopefully “choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war.”

In his latest comments on Tuesday in the United States, President Donald Trump said he had a good relationship with Kim and thought the North Korean leader would keep his word.

There were no official reports as of noon on Wednesday in South Korea that Kim had delivered an annual New Year’s address.

‘STRATEGIC WEAPONS’

Kim had previously said he might have to seek a “new path” if Washington failed to meet his expectations. U.S. military commanders said Pyongyang’s actions could include test firing an ICBM alongside nuclear warhead tests. North Korea last test fired an ICBM in 2017.

Jeffrey Lewis, a non-proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said it was difficult to predict North Korea’s next move. But it might involve firing a solid-fuel ICBM and an atmospheric nuclear test, he said.

Tension had been rising ahead of the year-end as North Korea conducted a series of weapons tests and waged a war of words with U.S. President Donald Trump.

The nuclear talks have made little headway though Kim and Trump have met three times since 2018. Working-level talks in Stockholm in October fell apart, with a North Korean chief negotiator accusing U.S. officials of sticking to their old stance.

Kim said there will “never be denuclearization on the Korean peninsula” if Washington adheres to what he calls its hostile policy.

We “will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK and lasting and durable peace-keeping mechanism is built,” Kim said.

He called for North Koreans to brace for an “arduous and prolonged struggle” and foster a self-reliant economy because of a delay in the anticipated lifting of sanctions.

“The present situation warning of long confrontation with the U.S. urgently requires us to make it a fait accompli that we have to live under the sanctions by the hostile forces in the future, too, and to strengthen the internal power from all aspects.”

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the party assembly results made clear Kim wants U.S. security guarantees before taking substantial action toward denuclearization.

“And he is suggesting that he will take the bull by the horns to achieve that goal, while promoting self reliance at home and still being open to talks depending on how Trump handles ‘hostile policy,'” Yang said.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Jack Kim; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Grant McCool and Neil Fullick)

Hong Kong gears up for huge New Year’s Day anti-government march


January 1, 2020
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Hong Kong protesters are expected to join a New Year’s Day march on Wednesday as anti-government demonstrations that have embroiled the Chinese-ruled city for over half a year spill into 2020.
The pro-democracy march is being organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, a group that has arranged a number of marches last year that drew millions.
It will kick off from Victoria Park in the popular Causeway Bay shopping district, and end in the heart of the central financial district.
Thousands of Hong Kong revelers had earlier welcomed in 2020 on neon-lit promenades along the iconic skyline of Victoria Harbour, chanting the movement’s signature eight-word Chinese protest couplet — “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our Time.” — for the final eight seconds before clocks struck midnight.
A sea of protesters then surged down Nathan Road, a major boulevard, blocking all lanes in a spontaneous march breaking out within minutes of the new decade. Some held signs reading “Let’s keep fighting together in 2020.”
Overnight, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets in several districts including Mong Kok, and sprayed crowds briefly with a water cannon after some roads were blocked.
One woman was hit in the face with a projectile according to local media reports, and several arrests were made.
China’s President Xi Jinping said in a New Year’s speech that Beijing will “resolutely safeguard the prosperity and stability” of Hong Kong under the so-called “one country, two systems” framework granting the city a high degree of autonomy under Chinese rule.
Wednesday’s march, which has been approved by the police, will call on authorities to respond to the protesters’ five key demands including full democracy and an independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality.
Many are angered by Beijing’s growing influence in the city which was promised a high degree of autonomy when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Beijing denies interference and blames the West for fomenting the unrest.
A group of 40 parliamentarians and dignitaries from 18 countries had written an open letter to Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam on New Year’s Eve, urging her to “seek genuine ways forward out of this crisis by addressing the grievances of Hong Kong people.”
The protest movement is supported by 59% of the city’s residents polled in a survey conducted for Reuters by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.
Police, who reject allegations of brutality and say they have shown restraint, have arrested nearly 6,500 people since the protests began escalating in what is the worst political crisis faced by the city in decades.
Protesters have thrown petrol bombs and rocks, with police responding with tear gas, water cannon, pepper spray, rubber bullets and occasional live rounds. There have been several injuries.
(Reporting by the Hong Kong newsroom, additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Happy New Year 2020!


Another year is upon us and another cultural decade begins. We can only hope the next 12 months will be as eventful an filled with entertainment as the past 12 have been. Thank you for staying with us for another round of exciting stories from the world of mobile technology. We've been quite the busy bees in 2019 - we are on the brink of reaching 1 million subscribers on our YouTube channel, after publishing more than 140 videos in 2019 - that's almost 24 hours of non-stop phone reviews and opinions. We also posted nearly 6,000 articles, trying to stay on point with every leak,...

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Tesla must face lawsuit claiming racism at California factory

January 1, 2020

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A federal judge rejected Tesla Inc’s effort to dismiss claims by two former workers that the California electric car factory where they worked was a hotbed of racial hostility, clearing the way for a possible trial.

In a decision on Monday, U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco found open questions over whether Owen Diaz and his son Demetric Di-az faced “severe and pervasive racial harassment” in 2015 and 2016 at Tesla’s factory in suburban Fremont, which employs more than 10,000 people.

The plaintiffs, who are black, said they were subjected to repeated racial epithets dozens of times, as well as racist cartoons, and that supervisors engaged in or did little to stop the racism.

Orrick said Diaz could pursue claims that Tesla allowed and did not take reasonable steps to stop racial harassment.

He said punitive damages might be available if Tesla must have known about the harassment and “ratified” it, even if only lower level workers were directly involved.

“The n-word is perhaps the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English, a word expressive of racial hatred and bigotry,” Orrick wrote. “This case will proceed to trial.”

A trial is scheduled for May 11, 2020.

Tesla and its lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Palo Alto, California-based company has faced multiple racial harassment lawsuits, but is not the only automaker to face such claims in recent years.

In 2017, Ford Motor Co agreed to pay up to $10.1 million to settle a federal probe into alleged harassment at two Chicago plants.

Tesla has in court papers said it “did not hesitate” to address racial abuse at the Fremont factory, and there was no proof of “oppression, malice, or fraud.”

Orrick also said Diaz could pursue claims against a staffing agency that assigned him to the factory, and a liaison between Tesla and that agency.

Lawrence Organ, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said his clients are seeking damages “in the millions” of dollars.

“Tesla is not sending a message that this kind of conduct in the workplace is not permitted,” he said in an interview.

Owen Diaz said he worked at Tesla for 11 months as an elevator operator, while Demetric Di-az spent two months as a production associate.

Allegations included a claim that Diaz’s supervisor admitted to drawing a cartoon of “a black face person with a bone in his hair” and captioned “booo,” supposedly short for “jigaboo.”

“You people can’t take a joke,” Diaz said the supervisor told him.

The case is Di-az et al v Tesla Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 17-06748.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Grant McCool)

NFL notebook: Browns fire GM Dorsey

January 1, 2020

The Cleveland Browns parted ways with general manager John Dorsey on Tuesday after failing to come to an agreement on a restructuring of the front office.

The decision to move on from Dorsey, 59, after two years comes two days after the Browns fired first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens.

Dorsey arrived in Cleveland in December 2017 as the team was in the midst of an 0-16 season. The Browns went 7-8-1 last year, then 6-10 this year.

–Jason Garrett apparently will open the new year as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Garrett met with team owner Jerry Jones and his son, Stephen, for a second straight day but the meeting ended without an announcement about Garrett’s status. The two sides will meet again at a time still to be determined, according to the report.

–Baylor coach Matt Rhule will not interview with the Browns, declining the franchise’s request for an interview, ESPN reported. The Browns’ next head coach, replacing Freddie Kitchens after one season, will be the fourth since 2018 in Cleveland.

Rhule is reportedly the top candidate to be head coach of the New York Giants. He is one of the college coaches Jerry Jones is intrigued by in Dallas, and Rhule also has an interview with the Carolina Panthers, according to multiple reports.

The Browns plan to interview San Francisco 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur for their vacant head coaching position, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.

–Former Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera agreed to become head coach of the Washington Redskins after interviewing with the team on Monday, according to NFL.com.

Rivera, who turns 58 on Jan. 7, was fired by the Panthers after a 5-7 start to this season, capping a nine-year tenure in which he went 76-63-1 and led Carolina to a Super Bowl 50 appearance.

He replaces interim coach Bill Callahan, who finished the season after Jay Gruden was fired following an 0-5 start. Former NFL head coach Jack Del Rio will serve as Rivera’s defensive coordinator, per reports.

–Head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell were spared their jobs with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Owner Shad Khan said the Jaguars would retain the team’s leaders for another season with higher expectations for 2020.

Khan fired team president Tom Coughlin in mid-December and indicated more changes were in the offing.

–The New York Giants, who fired Pat Shurmur after two seasons at the helm on Monday, are expected to interview former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy next weekend, according to Schefter.

McCarthy has already interviewed with the Panthers and is set to meet with the Browns. He also could be a target in Dallas.

–The Miami Dolphins are set to hire Chan Gailey as their new offensive coordinator, according to multiple reports.

Gailey, who retired after the 2017 season, would replace Chad O’Shea, who was fired Monday after just one season.

–The Chicago Bears are entering the offseason with Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback, general manager Ryan Pace said at a press conference. However, Pace said the team hasn’t committed to exercising the fifth-year option on Trubisky for the 2021 season.

Chicago was 8-8 but missed out on the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons. Trubisky is expected to have surgery on his left shoulder after playing several games with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, Pace said.

Meanwhile, the Bears dismissed offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride Jr. and assistant special teams coach Brock Olivo.

–Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was activated off injured reserve and is expected to play in this weekend’s AFC wild-card game against the visiting Buffalo Bills. Watt had surgery nine weeks ago for a torn pectoral muscle.

Texans wide receiver Will Fuller V, out last week due to a groin injury, returned to practice on a limited basis.

–The Philadelphia Eagles are optimistic that running back Miles Sanders can return from an ankle injury for Sunday’s NFC wild-card game against the Seattle Seahawks. An MRI exam revealed that the Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate has a low-grade ankle sprain, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported.

–The Detroit Lions parted ways with special teams coordinator John Bonamego, linebackers coach Al Golden, tight ends coach Chris White and defensive backs coach Brian Stewart as well as two strength coaches.

–The Seattle Seahawks placed Ethan Pocic on injured reserve and promoted fellow offensive lineman Kyle Fuller from the practice squad. … Giants center Jon Halapio underwent surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon. … The Jets signed kicker Brett Maher to a reserve/futures contract.

–Field Level Media

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Take 5: Most appealing head-coach openings

January 1, 2020

The head-coaching carousel is in full swing again, with the potential for a quarter of the league to be searching for new leaders.

Even more so than usual, ownership could be the top factor in determining which openings should be most enticing to prospective candidates.

Let’s take a look at the openings (and potential openings) from most appealing to least.

1. Talent aplenty, if you can survive the owner(s)

Dallas Cowboys:

If you can handle the spotlight, and an owner constantly drawing unneeded attention, this is the job for you.

While cap money will be tight, the Cowboys’ roster is well-stocked on both sides of the ball. Dallas is essentially set at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and most of the offensive line, assuming Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper are retained via franchise/transition tags or long-term deals. There are also playmakers at all three levels of the defense, although Byron Jones appears likely to leave in free agency.

The talent surplus has coincided with owner Jerry Jones deferring to VP of Player Personnel Will McClay in recent years (why Dallas has All-Pro guard Zack Martin instead of Johnny Manziel, for example). That’s very encouraging, and perhaps reason enough to put up with Jones’ excessively public persona, which inevitably shines the spotlight brighter on the head coach.

Jones is certainly willing to pay. The question is whether his patience with Jason Garrett (nine-plus seasons) was an aberration after no previous coach lasted more than four years during Jones’ ownership tenure.

Cleveland Browns:

Of course, Jones’ early-years impatience is nothing compared to that of Dee and Jimmy Haslam, who are searching for the sixth full-time head coach in just over seven years owning the Browns. None has lasted more than 2 1/2 seasons, and the only one who lasted more than two was Hue Jackson, who went 3-36-1. Two have been fired after only one season.

The Haslams aren’t nearly as public as Jones, but they’ve provided an extremely short leash and turned over the front office four times. It appears more change could be coming, with reports suggesting the new head coach will help determine GM John Dorsey’s future.

That might create a sticky situation, but it shouldn’t obscure the talent. Despite a bumpy year, the offense might already have long-term answers at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. An offseason spent shoring up the offensive line could get it all clicking quickly. The defense has top-end stars in Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, plus several other quality pieces.

The new coach must be able to instill discipline better than Freddie Kitchens, and the specter of the Browns’ losing history is no joke, but there is a lot here.

2. Is Snyder changing his stripes?

Washington Redskins:

Not unlike the Haslams, Dan Snyder is willing to spend money and churn through coaches — he’ll be looking for the eighth since he bought the team in 1999. But Snyder is quietly trending toward more patience.

He gave Jay Gruden five-plus seasons despite only one playoff appearance, the longest tenure of any coach under Snyder. Gruden still wasn’t the primary problem when he was fired in October, but Snyder gave him a fair shot. That’s progress.

Snyder is also overhauling the personnel structure, firing team president Bruce Allen. With Ron Rivera appearing to have already locked up the head-coaching job, the Redskins reportedly could wait to hire a general manager until after the draft. That structure carries risk, but it certainly would empower the new coach.

Removing Allen was long overdue, but there are still concerns about the organization’s stability. Between contract disputes, issues with the medical staff and treatment of major injuries, and extensive media leaks, Washington too often skews toward dysfunction.

If Rivera can handle that, there is ample talent here. Dwayne Haskins looked lost early but made significant strides, and he has young weapons in Terry McLaurin and Derrius Guice. The front seven has talent and depth on the interior and the edges, and the secondary is quietly solid. Plus, Washington should add a generational pass-rusher with the No. 2 overall pick in Chase Young.

3. Complete uncertainty in Charlotte

Carolina Panthers:

We don’t yet know much about what to expect from the NFL’s newest owner, David Tepper. His extreme wealth should mean willingness to spend, but will he be patient? Tepper just dismissed the best coach in team history, Rivera, after a 5-7 start with a second-year undrafted quarterback, though change is common among new owners, who usually look to put their stamp on things.

Tepper has indicated he would prefer an offensive head coach — who may have significant personnel power — but that’s where the uncertainty continues. Cam Newton is entering the final year of his contract after Lisfranc surgery, and Tepper has said Newton’s future depends on health, but that question might not be answered until well into summer.

Would the Panthers invest in another quarterback via free agency, trade or the draft? Hope for Newton to get healthy while trusting Kyle Allen as a backup plan? If you’re a budding offensive coach, do you believe you can revive Newton’s 2015 MVP form? Is it worth the risk if you can’t?

The roster has nice pieces elsewhere. Christian McCaffrey provides an offensive centerpiece, and there are young receivers and several potential answers — though none a sure thing — along the offensive line. Luke Kuechly remains a stud on defense, but the interior D-line needs youth, and youngsters like Brian Burns and Donte Jackson must find consistency.

You could do worse, but the unknown surrounding Tepper and Newton is palpable.

4. Do you believe in the QB?

New York Giants:

The Giants’ ownership structure could be shifting some, as Steve Tisch is expected to be more involved in football decisions, after John Mara primarily led that front in the past. The first result is the firing of head coach Pat Shurmur, while retaining GM Dave Gettleman.

How candidates feel about Daniel Jones and Gettleman are the primary issues at play. Jones profiled as a solid but unspectacular prospect last year, and he showed as a rookie he can execute the offense well, but ball security remains a concern. It wouldn’t be outlandish for the next coach to consider Tua Tagovailoa in the draft, but that’s a pipe dream on Gettleman’s watch.

Meanwhile, Gettleman’s investments in the trenches have paid only marginal dividends on both sides of the ball. The offensive line might need replacements at three positions, and left tackle Nate Solder is vastly overpaid. The trade for Leonard Williams now necessitates a large contract, and the rest of the defense is in shambles.

Unless you think Jones is a future star, it’s hard to get inspired about the Giants job.

5. Potential openings

Los Angeles Chargers:

This year’s 5-11 campaign is hardly all Anthony Lynn’s fault, and he deserves to return. But if not, the Chargers offer ample talent on both sides of the ball.

The offense sports great skill-position talent, assuming tight end Hunter Henry (unrestricted free agent) and running back Austin Ekeler (restricted) are retained. The defense features elite young talents in Joey Bosa and Derwin James, plus terrific veterans in Melvin Ingram and Casey Hayward.

Notice I didn’t mention quarterback, which is suddenly a question mark after Philip Rivers’ recent decline. A 38-year-old with ambitions his arm can’t always cash, Rivers is difficult to trust, and he certainly needs better protection than the Chargers offered this season. He may not be back, and Tyrod Taylor probably isn’t the top choice of most prospective coaches.

That said, the Chargers could grab a young quarterback with the sixth overall pick, and better health could work wonders for the offensive line. With good luck, this team could be back competing for the AFC West title immediately.

But the Chargers have been perennially unlucky, and are now relegated to second-fiddle status in a city that doesn’t want them. What coach wants a slate of eight road games and eight neutral-to-road games?

Jacksonville Jaguars:

The Jaguars present a similar situation to the Giants, despite being just two years removed from an AFC Championship Game appearance. Gardner Minshew showed enough as a rookie to merit starting in 2020, but his ceiling might be limited. His emergence also marginalized Nick Foles, whose contract quickly became one of the NFL’s worst.

That’s hardly the only mess that needs cleaning up. The Jaguars’ cap is littered with bad contracts, and a purge of veterans — especially on defense — appears likely. The dominant 2017 group lost its best player (Jalen Ramsey) and several others, while young star defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is about to get very expensive.

Ramsey’s trade returned draft capital, but it’s unclear who will wield it. Owner Shad Khan has kept general manager Dave Caldwell since 2013 despite many lean years. Whether he stays or goes, the structure is set to change after VP of Football Ops Tom Coughlin’s firing.

There is a ton of work to be done here in a division that appears on the upswing.

–By David DeChant (@DavidDeChant), Field Level Media

Global stocks end 2019 near record highs, dollar slides

January 1, 2020

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The dollar slid to a six-month low on Tuesday as progress on U.S.-China trade tensions led investors to higher-risk assets, while a year-end rally that lifted global equity markets to record highs stayed alive on the last trading day of 2019.

A gauge of world stock markets and stocks on Wall Street rebounded late in the session after trading lower most of the day, marking an end to a remarkable year for investors. Many equity indices, long-term bonds, oil and gold posted double-digit gains in 2019.

U.S. President Donald Trump said the Phase 1 trade pact with China would be signed on Jan. 15 at the White House, though confusion remains about details of the agreement.

Hope of an imminent deal has been a key driver for lifting global equities to their best year since 2009, up 24% for the year and 88% for the decade.

MSCI’s all-country world index <.MIWD00000PUS> of stock performance in 49 nations rose 0.86 point or 0.15 percent, to 565.24. The index is less than 3 points shy of an all-time high set on Friday, when the three major U.S. indices also posted record peaks.

The breakthrough in U.S.-China trade talks and a British election earlier in December pointing to a smoother exit from the European Union have boosted investor sentiment, but the outlook for equities next year is not as buoyant, said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

“This is a year in which everybody will celebrate,” he said.

Going forward, however, Kelly said it will be hard to achieve similar gains, with U.S. equities likely to advance by mid-single digits annually for several years. International markets, especially emerging markets, are poised to do better, he said.

“The U.S. stock market rally could continue but at some stage there’s going to be a significant correction, and the more it goes up, the more it’s going to correct,” he said.

In shortened trading sessions ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations, the pan-European STOXX 600 index <.STOXX> closed down 0.08%.

French <.FCHI>, British <.FTSE> and Spanish <.IBEX> listed stocks lost between 0.1% and 0.7%, while Frankfurt <.GDAXI> and Milan <.FTMIB> bourses were shut for the year-end holidays.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> rose 76.3 points, or 0.27 percent, to 28,538.44 and the S&P 500 <.SPX> gained 9.49 points, or 0.29 percent, to 3,230.78 The Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 26.61 points, or 0.3 percent, to 8,972.60.

Emerging market stocks lost 0.34%.

Bourses in Asia diverged. China mainland stocks <.CSI300> <.SSEC> gained 0.4% after data showed manufacturing activity in the world’s second-largest economy expanded for a second straight month in December.

China’s Purchasing Managers’ Index showing economic trends in the manufacturing and service sectors was unchanged at 50.2 in December from November, but still remained above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction.

In Hong Kong, stocks <.HSI> fell 0.5% as protesters geared up for pro-democracy rallies on New Year’s Eve.

Markets in Japan and South Korea were closed for a holiday.

The dollar’s slide came close to wiping out the year’s gains, as the pound and trade-sensitive currencies rallied on improving U.S.-China trade relations and the outlook for global growth.

The decline of the dollar is one of the biggest bets in the FX market for 2020.

“We could be right at a turning point where global growth re-accelerates relative to U.S. growth, and that could mean a weaker dollar over time,” Kelly said.

The dollar was strong for much of 2019 thanks to the relative outperformance of the U.S. economy and investors’ preference for a safe-haven currency amid the trade dispute. But the dollar’s gains for the year shriveled in December. Investors bought up currencies linked to global trade, sending the Australian dollar, Chinese yuan and Scandinavian crowns to multi-month or multi-week highs against the greenback.

The dollar index <.DXY>, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six currencies, fell 0.237 point or 0.24 percent, to 96.503 and the euro <EUR=> was last up 0.14 percent, at $1.1213.

The Japanese yen <JPY=> strengthened 0.22% versus the greenback at 108.65 per dollar, while Sterling <GBP=> was last trading at $1.3245, up 1.01% on the day.

The weak dollar helped lift spot gold <XAU=> to its highest since Sept. 25 at $1,525.20 an ounce. The metal was set to post its biggest yearly gain since 2010, rising more than 18%.

U.S. gold futures <GCv1> settled up 0.3% at $1,523.10.

The benchmark U.S. Treasury 10-year note <US10YT=RR> fell 7/32 in price to yield 1.9192%.

Longer-dated Treasuries were on track to post their best return since 2014, after concerns about the slowing U.S. economy prompted the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates three times this year. The move was a major reason for Wall Street’s gains.

Thirty-year bonds returned 17.15% this year through Monday <.MERGA30>, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, while 10-year notes <.MERGA10> have returned 9.03%.

Final data will not be updated until late on Tuesday.

Oil fell but was still on track for monthly and annual gains, supported by a thaw in the prolonged U.S.-China trade row and Middle East unrest.

Brent crude <LCOc1> settled down 67 cents at $66.00 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude <CLc1> slid 62 cents to settle at $61.06 a barrel.

Brent has gained about 23% in 2019 and WTI has risen 34%, their best yearly gains in three years.

(GRAPHIC: Asian shares over the past decade – https://ift.tt/2QDNeYe)

(Reporting by Herbert Lash and Karin Strohecker; additional reporting by Andrew Galbraith in Shanghai; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Dan Grebler)

Australian bushfires claim third victim as more than 100 blazes burn

January 1, 2020

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian authorities on Wednesday confirmed a third death in devastating bushfires that engulfed the country’s southeast coastal region this week and said a fourth person was missing and feared dead.

Fanned by soaring temperatures, columns of fire and smoke blackened entire towns on Monday and Tuesday, forcing thousands of residents and holidaymakers to seek shelter on beaches. Many stood in shallow water to escape the flames.

In total, there have been 12 fire-related deaths across Australia since blazes broke out in spring, including three volunteer firefighters, after a three-year drought in large parts of the nation created tinder-dry conditions.

Huge bushfires have destroyed more than 4 million hectares (10 million acres), with new blazes sparked almost daily by extremely hot and windy conditions and, most recently, dry lightning strikes created by the fires themselves.

Cooler conditions on Wednesday gave the country a moment to count the cost of the fierce fires, although there were still more than 100 blazes in New South Wales (NSW) state alone and thousands of firefighters on the ground, authorities said.

The body of a man was found on Wednesday on the south coast of New South Wales after emergency workers began reaching the most damaged areas, according to the state’s Rural Fire Service (RFS).

The death toll is likely to rise, NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. “We still have grave concerns for (another person),” Fitzsimmons told reporters in Sydney.

There is “limited access to the remote area to try to identify and confirm one way or the other the status of that person.”

With thousands of people still stranded, Australia’s military has been drafted in.

Black Hawk helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and naval vessels have all been deployed, along with military personnel.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said authorities were working to restore communications with areas cut off by the fires, and she warned conditions will again deteriorate over the weekend.

“Weather conditions on Saturday will be as bad as they were” on Tuesday, Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

Smoke from Australia’s bushfires has drifted to New Zealand where it has turned the daytime sky orange across the South Island.

(Reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

South Korea Dec. exports top forecasts as China demand, chip prices recover

January 1, 2020

By Choonsik Yoo and Joori Roh

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean exports fell in December year-on-year but less than expected, which along with a turn to growth in shipments to China and a slowing pace of decline in chip sales added to optimism for global trade.

Exports by Asia’s fourth-largest economy shrank 5.2% in the final month of 2019 from a year earlier, trade ministry data showed on Wednesday, just beating a median 6.0% fall tipped in a Reuters poll.

It was the slowest decline in exports since a 2.1% drop in April 2019 and almost half the average rate of decline seen for the past six months as the global prices of memory chips, the country’s top export item, showed signs of picking up.

Analysts said Wednesday’s data supported their view that exports, the main engine of growth for South Korea’s economy, would turn to growth in early 2020 even though growth thereafter could stay low for a considerable period.

“Today’s data was positive in that recovery sustained and exports will return to growth from as soon as February, although the strength of recovery will really depend on how much China’s exports to the U.S. increase,” said Park Sang-hyun, chief economist at Hi Investment & Securities.

The brightest spot in the December data was a turn to growth of 3.3% in exports to China, the first growth in 14 months. China is South Korea’s top export market and takes in a quarter of the smaller neighbor’s total shipments abroad.

Overseas sales of semiconductors, the country’s top-selling item, which accounts for one-fifth of its total exports, fell 17.7% year-on-year, but it was the slowest decline in eight months as global prices are stabilizing after a plunge.

Imports dropped 0.7% in December from the year-earlier month, beating both a 13.0% loss in November and a 4.6% decline tipped in the Reuters survey. That brought the month’s trade balance to a $2.02 billion surplus versus a $3.34 billion profit in November.

South Korea, the world’s leading exporter of chips, smartphones, cars and ships, is the first major economy to report trade data each month, providing an early guide to the health of global trade.

For the whole of 2019, South Korea’s exports tumbled 10.3% as global trade cooled and a semiconductor super-cycle crashed, the worst in a decade and the third-worst in the country’s modern history.

The trade ministry said exports in 2020 would recover to post growth of around 3%, reflecting a still-shaky recovery in global trade as major economies remained in a slowing mode after years of unstopped expansion.

South Korea’s financial markets are closed on Wednesday for the New Year’s Day holiday and will resume trade on Thursday.

(Reporting by Choonsik Yoo and Joori Roh; Editing by Leslie Adler)

U.S. auto safety agency to investigate fatal Tesla crash in California

January 1, 2020

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The fatal Dec. 29 crash of a Tesla Inc vehicle in Southern California will be investigated by the U.S. government’s auto safety regulator, the agency said on Tuesday.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said earlier this month it had opened an investigation into a 12th Tesla crash that may be tied to the vehicle’s advanced Autopilot driver assistance system after a Tesla Model 3 rear-ended a parked police car in Connecticut.

NHTSA did not say if autopilot was suspected in Sunday’s crash in Gardena in Los Angeles county.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Los Angeles television station KTLA reported the driver exited the 91 Freeway in Gardena, ran a red light and struck a 2006 Honda Civic, killing its two occupants.

The two people inside the Tesla were hospitalized but did not have life-threatening injuries, KTLA reported, citing Los Angeles police.

Autopilot had been engaged in at least three Tesla vehicles that were involved in fatal U.S. crashes since 2016. The National Transportation Safety Board has criticized Autopilot’s lack of safeguards and said in September in its probe of a 2018 Culver City, California Tesla crash that the system’s design “permitted the driver to disengage from the driving task.”

Tesla and NHTSA both advise drivers that they must keep their hands on the steering wheel and pay attention at all times while using Autopilot. Tesla says Autopilot “enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within its lane,” but does not make the vehicle autonomous.

Some drivers say they are able to keep their hands off the wheel for extended periods when using the system. Last month, U.S. Senator Ed Markey said Tesla should disable Autopilot until it installs new safeguards to prevent drivers from evading system limits that could let them fall asleep.

NHTSA has previously confirmed special crash investigations in a number of Tesla crashes but until earlier this month had not disclosed the total number of crashes under review. NHTSA previously investigated another Tesla crash that it initially suspected of being tied to Autopilot but ruled it out.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Grant McCool)

Protesters burn security post at U.S. Embassy in Iraq in new foreign policy test for Trump

January 1, 2020

By Ahmed Rasheed and Idrees Ali

BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Protesters angry about U.S. air strikes on Iraq hurled stones and torched a security post at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, setting off a confrontation with guards and posing a new challenge for U.S. President Donald Trump.

The protests, led by Iranian-backed militias, prompted the United States to deploy additional U.S. Marines to protect embassy personnel who were huddled inside the facility. Trump threatened to retaliate against Iran.

Embassy guards used stun grenades and tear gas to repel protesters, who stormed and burned the security post at the entrance but did not breach the main compound.

The State Department said diplomatic personnel inside were safe and there were no plans to evacuate them.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement on Tuesday: “We are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy.” He did not provide numbers.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said troops from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, could be sent to the region in the coming hours if needed. They could number in the hundreds, although less than a thousand, officials said.

The unprecedented attack on an American diplomatic mission in Iraq marked a sharp escalation of the proxy conflict between the United States and Iran – both influential players in the country – and plunged U.S. relations with Iraq to their worst level in years.

The United States and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003 and ousted Saddam Hussein. But political stability has been elusive.

Trump, on a two-week working vacation in Palm Beach, Florida, spoke by phone to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq. “President Trump emphasized the need to protect United States personnel and facilities in Iraq,” the White House said.

Trump – suddenly at risk of entering his 2020 re-election year with a new foreign policy headache to sort out – accused Iran of orchestrating the violence and said Tehran would be held responsible.

“Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat,” Trump said in a tweet.

The embassy incident came seven years after the 2012 attack by armed militants on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans and led to multiple congressional investigations.

“The U.S. Embassy in Iraq is, & has been for hours, SAFE! Many of our great Warfighters, together with the most lethal military equipment in the world, was immediately rushed to the site,” Trump said.

The protests followed U.S. air strikes on Sunday on bases operated by the Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah inside Iraq, which killed at least 25 fighters and wounded 55. The strikes were retaliation for the killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, which Washington blamed on Kataib Hezbollah.

“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will,” Trump said in a tweet. “Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible.”

Iran, under severe economic duress from punishing U.S. sanctions put in place by Trump, denied responsibility.

“America has the surprising audacity of attributing to Iran the protests of the Iraqi people against (Washington’s) savage killing of at least 25 Iraqis,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.

Democrats upset that Trump ditched the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama in 2015 were quick to pounce on the incident as a failure of Trump’s Iran policy.

“The predictable result of the Trump administration’s reckless bluster, escalation and miscalculation in the Middle East is that we are now hurtling closer to an unauthorized war with Iran that the American people do not support,” said U.S. Senator Tom Udall, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

STONES AND TEAR GAS

The protesters, joined briefly by Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militia leaders, threw stones at the embassy gate while others chanted: “No, no, America! No, no, Trump!”

Iraqi special forces prevented protesters entering, later reinforced by U.S.-trained Iraqi Counter Terrorism forces.

The embassy has been hit by sporadic but non-lethal rocket fire in recent months, and was regularly shelled following the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, but had not been physically attacked by demonstrators in that way before.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CBS News that U.S. officials never contemplated evacuating the embassy and had kept the heat on Iraqi officials to ensure the compound was safe.

“We reminded them throughout the day of their continued responsibility,” he said.

The Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella grouping of the militias that have been officially integrated into Iraq’s armed forces, said 62 militiamen and civilians were wounded by the tear gas and stun grenades fired to disperse the crowd.

A Reuters witness saw blood on the face of one wounded militiaman and on the stomach of the other as their colleagues carried them away.

Iraqis have been taking to the streets in the thousands almost daily to condemn, among other things, militias such as Kataib Hezbollah and their Iranian patrons that support Abdul Mahdi’s government.

Kataib Hezbollah is one of the smallest but most potent of the Iranian-backed militias. Its flags were hung on the fence surrounding the embassy.

More than 5,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq supporting local forces.

(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad and Idrees Ali in Washington; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Palm Beach, Fla. and Daphne Psaledakis, Doina Chiacu and Diane Bartz in Washington; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Peter Cooney)

World welcomes 2020, but celebrations shadowed by wildfires, protests, Korea tensions

January 1, 2020

By Swati Pandey, Twinnie Siu and Michael Holden

SYDNEY/HONG KONG/LONDON (Reuters) – The world celebrated the New Year on Wednesday with fireworks displays from Sydney to London, although celebrations were clouded by deadly wildfires in Australia, protests in Hong Kong and India and new nuclear tensions with North Korea.

Large crowds gathered in European capitals for spectacular fireworks displays that lit up the skies over landmarks like Big Ben in London, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Parthenon in Athens and the Kremlin in Moscow.

In Australia, a million revelers thronged Sydney harbor and nearby districts to watch more than 100,000 fireworks explode above the city, even as thousands of people along the country’s eastern seaboard sought refuge from the bushfires on beaches.

Thousands in Hong Kong welcomed 2020 on neon-lit promenades in the picturesque Victoria Harbour, breaking into pro-democracy chants shortly after the countdown to midnight.

Hong Kong authorities canceled the main midnight fireworks display for the first time in a decade, citing security concerns. A “Symphony of Lights” took place instead, involving projections on the city’s tallest skyscrapers, while smaller-scale pyrotechnics were launched from waterfront rooftops.

In Japan, people took turns striking Buddhist temple bells, in accordance with tradition

Sydney decided to press ahead with its fireworks despite calls by some members of the public for the display to be canceled in solidarity with fire-hit areas in New South Wales, of which the city is the capital.

Sydney Mayor Clover Moore said planning had begun 15 months ago and that the event also gave a boost to the economy.

Some towns in eastern Australia canceled their New Year’s celebrations as naval vessels and military helicopters helped firefighters rescue people fleeing the fires, which have turned swathes of New South Wales into a raging furnace.

The fires have killed at least 11 people since October, two of them overnight into Tuesday, destroyed more than 4 million hectares (10 million acres) and left many towns and rural areas without electricity or mobile coverage.

Elsewhere, revelers from Auckland, New Zealand, to Pyongyang, the capital of isolated North Korea, welcomed the new year with fireworks displays.

But amid the celebrations of a new year and decade, old tensions threatened to flare up. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Wednesday his country would keep developing nuclear programs and introduce a “new strategic weapon” in the near future, after the United States missed a year-end deadline to restart denuclearization talks.

PROTESTS, BREXIT

In Hong Kong, rocked by months of sometimes violent pro-democracy demonstrations, protesters were urged to wear masks at a New Year rally called “Don’t forget 2019 – Persist in 2020,” according to social media posts.

Some 6,000 police were deployed and Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, appealed for calm and reconciliation in her New Year’s Eve video message.

The protests began in June in response to a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party, and have evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement.

Thousands of Indians ushered in the year by demonstrating against a citizenship law they say will discriminate against Muslims and chip away at India’s secular constitution.

The demonstrations came despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempts to dampen protests that have run for nearly three weeks.

Irshad Alam, a 25-year-old resident of the Shaheen Bagh area of New Delhi, stood with his 1-year-old child in his arms and his wife by his side. He said he had been participating in the protest every day.

“It’s freezing here,” he said. “But we are still here because we care about this movement.”

More than three years after the UK voted to leave the European Union, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fresh from winning a parliamentary majority in last month’s election, promised in his New Year’s message to “get Brexit done before the end of this month.”

“As we say goodbye to 2019, we can also turn the page on the division, rancour and uncertainty which has dominated public life and held us back for far too long,” Johnson added.

In New York, large crowds were gathering ahead of the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop over Times Square.

(Reporting by bureaux in Sydney, Hong Kong, New Delhi, London and Seoul; Writing by Gareth Jones, Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney; Editing by Giles Elgood and Leslie Adler)

I get to take Riley to work everyday. We both get bored so sometimes I put him on my desk to keep things interesting.


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Star Wars 9 ending completely RIPPED OFF this Game of Thrones final scene? What the Force?



STAR WARS 9 finished on an emotional Skywalker moment but did it completely copy a major moment from the ending of Game of Thrones? Did you spot this huge Skywalker Lannister link?

2019 Winners and Losers: Google

This year the mobile phone market saw the rise of many new trends - from high refresh rate screens through 108MP image sensors to periscope cameras. The first foldable phones went on sale, charging speeds went through the roof, displays got curvier and grew punch holes. Some brands used these trends to their advantage and grow in the market, others missed the mark. In this series we look at what each company got right in 2019 and where their efforts came short. Winner: Pixel 3a and 3a XL Undoubtedly, Google's best products this year were the Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL. Sure, you...

Exclusive: Drugmakers from Pfizer to GSK to hike U.S. prices on over 200 drugs

January 1, 2020

By Michael Erman and Carl O’Donnell

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Drugmakers including Pfizer Inc <PFE.N>, GlaxoSmithKline PLC <GSK.L> and Sanofi SA <SASY.PA> are planning to hike U.S. list prices on more than 200 drugs in the United States on Wednesday, according to drugmakers and data analyzed by healthcare research firm 3 Axis Advisors.

Nearly all of the price increases will be below 10%, and around half of them are in the range of 4 to 6%, said 3 Axis co-founder Eric Pachman. The median price increase is around 5%, he said.

More price increases are expected to be announced later this week, which could affect the median and range.

Soaring U.S. prescription drug prices are expected to again be a central issue in the presidential election. President Donald Trump, who made bringing them down a core pledge of his 2016 campaign, is running for re-election in 2020.

Many branded drugmakers have pledged to keep their U.S. list price increases below 10% a year, under pressure from politicians and patients.

Drugmakers often negotiate rebates on their list prices in exchange for favorable treatment from healthcare payers. As a result, health insurers and patients rarely pay the full list price of a drug.

Pfizer will hike prices on more than 50 drugs, including its cancer treatment Ibrance, which is on track to bring in nearly $5 billion in revenue this year, and rheumatoid arthritis drug Xeljanz.

Pfizer spokeswoman Amy Rose confirmed the company’s planned price increases. She said the company plans to increase the list prices on around 27% of its portfolio in the United States by an average of 5.6%.

Of the medicines with increases, she said 43% of them are sterile injectibles, and many of those increases are less than $1 per product.

GlaxoSmithKline said it will raise prices on more than 30 drugs. The company will raise prices on the blockbuster respiratory treatments it delivers through its Ellipta inhaler, its recently acquired cancer drug Zejula and on several products in its HIV-focused ViiV joint venture, according to 3 Axis Advisors. Price increases ranged between 1% and 5%.

Sanofi said it will raise prices on around 10 of its drugs, with hikes ranging between 1% and 5%. The drugmaker noted the increases are in line with its commitment to not raise prices above medical inflation.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd <TEVA.TA> raised prices on more than 15 drugs, in some cases by more than 6%, according to 3 Axis Advisors. A Teva spokesperson said the company regularly reviews prices in the context of market conditions, availability and cost of production.

3 Axis advises pharmacy industry groups on identifying inefficiencies in the U.S. drug supply chain and has provided consulting work to hedge fund billionaire John Arnold, a prominent critic of high drug prices.

STAYING OUT OF THE CROSSHAIRS?

Ian Spatz, a senior adviser at consulting firm Manatt Health, said that drugmakers could be holding to relatively low price hikes in an attempt to stay out of politicians’ crosshairs. Trump, for instance, targeted Pfizer after a proposed round of price increases in 2018, saying in a tweet that the drugmaker “should be ashamed.”

“I’m sure many manufacturers are interested in making sure they are not called out on a large list price increase,” Spatz said.

The United States, which leaves drug pricing to market competition, has higher prices than in other countries where governments directly or indirectly control the costs, making it the world’s most lucrative market for manufacturers.

Trump, a Republican, has struggled to deliver on a pledge to lower drug prices before the November 2020 election. His administration recently proposed a rule to allow states to import prescription drugs from Canada.

The administration had previously scrapped an ambitious policy that would have required health insurers to pass billions of dollars in rebates they receive from drugmakers to Medicare patients.

The House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, passed a bill earlier in December that would cap prices for the country’s most expensive drugs based on international prices and penalize drugmakers that do not negotiate with the Medicare insurance program for seniors. Trump has threatened to veto the bill, saying it would undermine access to lifesaving medicines.

(Reporting by Michael Erman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Pacers hand Embiid-less 76ers third straight loss

December 31, 2019

Domantas Sabonis had 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists to carry the host Indiana Pacers past the Philadelphia 76ers 115-97 on Tuesday in Indianapolis.

T.J. Warren added 21 points, Myles Turner contributed 14 and Jeremy Lamb had 13 for the Pacers, who improved to 15-3 at home and snapped a two-game losing streak.

Doug McDermott also had 12 points for Indiana, while former 76er T.J. McConnell added 11 points and 10 assists.

Ben Simmons had 18 points and 10 rebounds, but also had three assists against six turnovers for the Sixers. Josh Richardson led Philadelphia with 20 points but the Sixers looked out of sync from start to finish without All-Star center Joel Embiid.

Embiid was nursing a sore left knee and the Sixers fell to 3-4 without him this season.

Since soundly defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 121-109 on Christmas, the Sixers have dropped three straight road games in Orlando, Miami and now Indianapolis.

The Pacers received a big lift with the return of Malcolm Brogdon after he missed the three previous games. But Brogdon missed all five shots, aggravated his back and excited the game in the first quarter.

Still, the Pacers took advantage of Embiid’s absence and bolted to a commanding 67-43 advantage at halftime. Warren led the way with 21 points and knocked down all nine of his shots in the first half.

Simmons paced the Sixers with 12 points and seven rebounds by halftime.

Indiana began the third quarter just as strong. When Lamb stole the ball and drained a 3-pointer from the wing, the lead was 78-49 with 9:17 left. Sabonis scored the Pacers’ next six points and the lead swelled to 35.

The Sixers continued to struggle mightily with their shooting and weren’t able to cut much into the lead as they trailed 96-66 after the third. Tobias Harris’ tip-in actually sliced the lead to 30 with 2.3 seconds remaining.

Midway through the fourth, the Sixers twice trailed by 29.

–Field Level Media

Monday, 30 December 2019

Sharapova to return next month as Brisbane wildcard

December 31, 2019

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Former world number one Maria Sharapova will return to tournament action at the Brisbane International next month after being awarded a wildcard to play in the Australian Open warm-up.

The five-times Grand Slam champion, who last played a competitive match in the first round of the U.S. Open in August, has dropped to 133rd in the world after a season in which injuries restricted her to eight tournaments.

The 32-year-old Russian will join current world number one Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka and Karolina Pliskova in a strong field at the Queensland Tennis Centre from Jan. 6-12.

Sharapova’s lowly ranking means she will also need a wildcard to get directly into the main singles draw for this year’s Australian Open, which begins on Jan. 20.

Sharapova won her third major title at Melbourne Park in 2008 but also tested positive for a banned substance at the tournament in 2016 and served a 15-month suspension from the game.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

Uber, Postmates sue to block California gig worker law, claiming it’s unconstitutional

December 31, 2019

By Tina Bellon

(Reuters) – Ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc and courier services provider Postmates Inc asked a U.S. court to block a California labor law set to go into effect on Wednesday, arguing the bill violates the U.S. Constitution.

In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court on Monday, the companies and two app-based drivers said the law, which would make it harder for gig economy companies to qualify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees, was irrational, vague and incoherent.

The office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement on Monday it was reviewing the complaint.

The bill, called AB5, faces multiple legal challenges.

The law was signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom in September and has garnered national attention, largely owing to the size of California’s workforce and the state’s leadership role in establishing policies that are frequently adopted by other states.

Backers of the bill, including labor groups, have argued the law protects workers’ rights. By classifying the contractors as employees, the companies would be subject to labor laws that require higher pay and other benefits such as medical insurance.

The bill strikes at the heart of the “gig economy” business model of technology platforms like Uber, Postmates, Lyft Inc, DoorDash and others who rely heavily on the state’s 450,000 contract workers, not full-time employees, to drive passengers or deliver food via app-based services.

Uber, Postmates and other app-based companies said the legislation compromises the flexibility prized by their workforce, and that fewer workers would be hired were they considered employees.

The companies in their Monday lawsuit called AB5 a “thinly veiled attempt” to target and harm gig economy businesses. Singling out app-based workers violates equal protection guaranteed under the constitutions of the United States and California, the companies argued.

“It irreparably harms network companies and app-based independent service providers by denying their constitutional rights to be treated the same as others to whom they are similarly situated,” the lawsuit said.

The companies pointed to allegedly arbitrary exemptions of different non-gig worker groups, including salespeople, travel agents, construction truck drivers and commercial fishermen.

The full impact of the bill remains unclear in the short term, but the lawsuit cited a study saying the bill would increase ride-hailing company Lyft’s operating costs by 20% and lead to some 300,000 fewer drivers in California.

Uber, Lyft and food delivery company DoorDash have earmarked $90 million for a planned November 2020 ballot initiative that would exempt them from the law.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Asian shares lower as investors book decade-end profits

December 31, 2019

By Andrew Galbraith

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Asian shares slipped on the last trading day of the decade, echoing falls on Wall Street, as investors locked in gains made since the United States and China reached a preliminary trade deal earlier this month.

Early in the Asian trading session, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was down 0.39%, its weakest performance since Dec. 4. For the month, the index is still up 5.7%.

The index has gained 16% this year, a sharp turnaround from a 16.2% drop last year but lagging a 23.8% year-to-date gain in MSCI’s global share index <.MIWD00000PUS>.

Australian shares <.AXJO> were 1.69% lower and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng <.HSI> dropped 0.32%.

“We are seeing some profit-taking into year-end,” said Ryan Felsman, senior economist at CommSec in Sydney, adding that progress on resolving the 17-month-long U.S.-China trade war remained a positive factor for investors into the new year.

The White House’s trade adviser on Monday said the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade deal would likely be signed in the next week, but said confirmation would come from President Donald Trump or the U.S. Trade Representative.

“We think that the global growth situation is improving, we’re seeing better industrial profits in China … green shoots in the manufacturing sector on the back of an improvement in the trade situation is a key catalyst going forward,” he said.

While easing trade concerns and steps toward a resolution of Britain’s exit from the European Union have helped reduce some near-term market uncertainty, investors remain uneasy with a recession seen as inevitable in the new decade.

Positive Chinese manufacturing data, which showed factory activity in China expanded for a second straight month in December, nudged China’s blue-chip CSI300 index <.CSI300> 0.1% higher, extending the more than 33% gain seen this year.

China’s modest gains built on Monday’s rally, which was driven by a combination of strong retail sales growth and hopes that a new benchmark for floating-rate loans could lower borrowing costs.

Markets in Japan and South Korea were closed for a holiday.

The falls in Asia came after profit taking pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> down 0.64% to 28,462.14, the S&P 500 <.SPX> 0.58% lower to 3,221.29 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> off 0.67% to 8,945.99.

U.S. Treasury futures were lower <TYc1>, reflecting an implied yield of 1.82%. That followed a rise in benchmark U.S. Treasury yields on Monday that pushed the U.S. two-year, 10-year yield curve to its steepest in 14 months.

The dollar continued to weaken against the yen, dropping 0.12% to 108.73 <JPY=>, and the euro strengthened <EUR=> 0.16% to buy $1.1215.

The dollar index <.DXY>, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, was 0.06% lower at 96.686.

U.S. crude <CLc1> dipped 0.18% to $61.57 a barrel and Brent crude <LCOc1> shed 0.15% to $66.57 per barrel.

Gold continued its rally on a weakening dollar. On the spot market, the precious metal <XAU=> was changing hands at $1,520.16 per ounce, up 0.33%. [GOL/]

Graphic: Asian stock markets https://ift.tt/30eIs73

(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Sam Holmes)

House dog brings home and rescues a stray kitten


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Democratic contender Biden says he would consider a Republican running mate

December 31, 2019

By James Oliphant

(Reuters) – Former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said on Monday he would consider choosing a Republican running mate if he is the party’s nominee next year.

However, even as he raised the possibility of a Republican running mate while speaking to a crowd at a campaign event in Exeter, New Hampshire, Biden said, “But I can’t think of one right now.”

Biden has premised much of his presidential bid on appealing to moderate Democrats, independents and Republicans who have been alienated by President Donald Trump. On the campaign trail, Biden has regularly spoken about the need to work with Republicans in Congress should he prevail in the November 2020 general election.

In response to a question by an attendee at the event, Biden elaborated on his answer, contending that Trump’s party has not done enough to hold the president accountable. “There are some really decent Republicans that are out there still, but here’s the problem right now,” he said. “They’ve got to step up.”

Biden, 77, who served two terms as vice president to former President Barack Obama and spent 35 years in Congress, has been criticized by progressive Democrats who say he is out of touch with the party’s leftward drift and is not interested in reforming the U.S. political system.

Biden has previously said he would like to name a woman and/or a person of color as his running mate if he is the nominee.

National opinion polls continue to show Biden the favored choice among Democratic voters ahead of his more liberal rivals, U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Biden’s chief argument for his candidacy is that he is best positioned to beat Trump next year because he can appeal to centrist voters in key battleground states.

Past presidential nominees have flirted with the idea of crossing party lines. In 2008, the Republican pick, the late U.S. Senator John McCain, wanted his close friend U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent, on the ticket. But pressure within the party pushed McCain to make former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin his vice-presidential choice, a move that backfired and helped Obama win election.

(Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Dollar eases, on track for smallest return in six years

December 31, 2019

By Swati Pandey

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The dollar dipped to a near three-week low against the yen in thin year-end volume on Tuesday as investors favored riskier assets, led by renewed optimism about global growth.

The greenback was off 0.1% at 108.77 against the Japanese yen <JPY=>, on track for its third straight session of losses and within a whisker of Monday’s 108.74, the weakest since Dec. 12.

The dollar index <.DXY>, which measures the currency against a basket of rivals, was flat at 96.728 in early Asian trade.

On Friday, the index had suffered its biggest one-day fall since March, which left its gains for the year at under 0.6%, compared with returns of 4.4% in 2018. It is now on track for the smallest rise since 2013.

Encouraging news on the Sino-U.S. trade deal boosted risk sentiment in currency markets overnight.

The White House’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, on Monday said the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade deal would likely be signed in the next week, but said confirmation would come from President Donald Trump or the U.S. Trade Representative.

Increased optimism about U.S.-China trade relations and an improved global growth outlook drove investors out of other safe-haven assets like Treasury bonds while the risk-sensitive Australian and New Zealand dollars jumped to five-month highs. [US/]

China’s yuan <CNH=> strengthened a touch in the offshore market to 6.972 on Monday, its highest since Dec. 13. It was last at 6.9780.

Investor appetite for risk also helped drive the euro <EUR=> to a 4-1/2-month high of $1.121 on Monday. It was last up 0.1% at $1.1209. Signs that the euro zone economy may be stabilizing have lifted the single currency in recent weeks.

Sterling <GBP=> was last treading water at $1.3114 against the dollar after rising 2.8% so far this year. Concerns that Britain is headed for a disruptive “hard Brexit” at the end of 2020 have hurt the pound since mid-December.

(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Kim Coghill)

A cat killing a balloon


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My girlfriend’s rabbit, Banjo, has a smaller rabbit on his nose


https://ift.tt/2u6C46T via /r/aww https://ift.tt/2SEc90w

Hope this doesn’t break this sub.


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Product (RED) Apple Watch briefly spotted, reported to arrive in spring

A new report from French website WatchGeneration cited an Apple database that briefly showed mention of a Product (RED) Apple Watch before it was quickly removed. The report was posted along with the following mock-up images, which depict the aluminum body of the Apple Watch Series 5 in a rather pale hue of red. Source: MacGeneration The report doesn't reveal much more than: "it briefly appeared in an Apple database, under a reference number different from RED bracelets." (translated from French). The report speculates that the supposed (RED) Apple Watch is a Series 5 and...

China’s mutual fund industry had a record year of product launches: Shanghai Sec News

December 31, 2019

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s mutual fund industry witnessed a record year of product launches in 2019, the official Shanghai Securities News reported on Tuesday.

A total of 1,040 new funds were launched during the year, raising a record 1.41 trillion yuan ($201.82 billion), according to the newspaper.

Nearly 500 new bond funds were established, raising 893.4 billion yuan, or 63.2% of the industry’s total new fundraising, the article said.

This year also saw the launch of 212 new equity funds and 305 balanced funds, which raised 238.8 billion yuan and 267.97 billion yuan, respectively, according to Shanghai Securities News.

Ninety exchange-traded funds (ETFs) were launched, raising 175.4 billion yuan, nearly doubling from the previous year, the newspaper said.

China’s stock market has gained over 20% this year, aided by Beijing’s economic stimulus measures and hopes of a trade deal with the United States.

Equity-focused mutual funds achieved an average return of 44%, far outperforming the benchmark, the article said.

(Reporting by Samuel Shen and Emily Chow; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)

China’s service sector activity grows at slower pace in December: official PMI

December 31, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – Growth in China’s services sector activity cooled in December, official data showed on Tuesday.

The official services PMI slipped to 53.5, from an eight-month high of 54.4 in November, the National Bureau of Statistics said.

The 50-point mark separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis.

Beijing has been counting on a strong services sector to help offset prolonged weakness in manufacturing, which has been weighed down by weak domestic and global demand and the protracted U.S.-China trade war. Economic growth has slowed to near 30-year lows.

The official December composite PMI, which includes both manufacturing and sevices activity, fell to 53.4 from November’s 53.7.

(Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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