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Germany to lower threshold for probes of takeovers

BERLIN (Reuters): Berlin plans to cut to 10 percent the threshold at which it can launch national security probes of stake purchases by non-European companies in German firms, business newspaper Handelsblatt reported on Sunday.

The decision follows years of mounting concern at the risk posed to the German economy by cash-rich Chinese investors buying stakes in strategically important companies, gaining access to valuable know-how and inside knowledge.

The takeover of robotics firm Kuka by China’s Midea in 2016 spooked Germany, as did the surprise purchase earlier this year of a 9.7 percent stake in Daimler by Chinese carmaker Geely.

In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said rule changes were due.

The move comes amid mounting Western concern at the security implications of investments by an increasingly assertive China.

The United States has been urging European countries not to buy advanced telecommunications infrastructure from China’s Huawei, for fear it could plant technology accessible to the Chinese state. Huawei has denied it would ever do this.

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Finland cuts debt for the first time in decade

HELSINKI (Reuters): Finland has canceled planned bond auctions for the remainder of the year and is on course to cut debt in 2018 for the first time in a decade, the finance ministry said on Sunday.

Government debt was previously expected to increase by 1.3 billion euros this year but according to an update by the state treasury it will come down by 0.9 billion euros to 104.9 billion euros.

“Finland will be able to reduce debt for the first time in 10 years… This temporary turn is a significant thing psychologically,” Finance Minister Petteri Orpo said on his Twitter account.

“But the pace of reform in the economy must not slow down,” he added.

The debt reduction is due to several things, including growth in output and employment, payments to the state from Finnish Export Credit Agency and sales of shares in state-owned companies, a ministry source said.

Next year, however, the debt is expected to grow again by 1.6 billion euros.

In the decade following the global financial crisis, Finland’s economy struggled due to a string of external and internal problems, including a decline of Nokia’s (NOKIA.HE) former mobile phone business and recession in neighboring Russia.

While the economy has rebounded and is expected to grow by around 3 percent this year, the country’s employment rate is lagging Nordic peers at 72 percent and GDP growth is seen slowing down next year.

The general government debt per GDP has recently fallen below 60 percent as required by the European Union, but the ratio is seen growing again in the future amid an ageing population. Orpo said the next government, to be formed after elections in April, must step up reforms to boost employment.

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Motiva preliminarily picked to run Curacao

NEW YORK (Reuters): Motiva Enterprises has preliminarily been chosen by the government of Curacao to operate the 335,000-barrel-per-day Isla refinery,replacing Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA, local media said.

The refinery has been idle since May when a legal dispute between PDVSA and US producer ConocoPhillips (COP.N) forced its closure.

PDVSA’s contract to run the facility, which is crucial for its storage, refining and shipping operations, will expire at the end of 2019. The government of the Caribbean island is seeking a company willing to handle it in the long run and probably also to finish the lease term next year.

Motiva, based in Houston, was chosen by Curacao from a list of interested companies as the “preferred bidder” to run the refinery from 2020 or possibly before, if a separate agreement is reached, according to the Antilliaans Dagblad newspaper.

Motiva is a US subsidiary of Saudi energy giant Aramco and a regular buyer of Venezuelan crude.

The Curacao refinery on Saturday confirmed a company was chosen but said it would not disclose the name of the new operator until a final agreement is signed.

Motiva declined to comment in a statement.

A memorandum of understanding between the chosen operator and the government is expected to be signed in mid-January, the manager of the refinery, Marcelino de Lannoy, told Reuters.

Lannoy, who is temporarily replacing Isla’s managing director, Roderick Van Kwartel, amid accusations of corruption linked to the bidding process to choose the new operator, also said PDVSA has agreed to cooperate in any transition.

PDVSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Curacao Refinery Utilities (CUR), the company that provides water and electricity to the facility, is expected to resume supply this month to prepare the refinery for its restart.

Earlier this year, Motiva said it was weighing an expansion of its Port Arthur, Texas, refinery. But in June that plan was scrapped over what sources said were worries about concentrating too much production in a single, hurricane-prone location.

Instead, Motiva was “actively exploring a number of opportunities and locations” to boost its North American refining capacity to as much as 1.5 million barrels per day, a Motiva spokeswoman said.

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OPEC shown it can reach deal despite splits

DUBAI (Reuters): Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh praised OPEC for what he said was the producer group’s ability to reach agreement despite intense internal political differences.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its Russia-led allies agreed on Dec. 7 to cut output by more than expected, despite pressure from US President Donald Trump to reduce the price of crude.

“OPEC… has shown the capacity in which members can hold talks and reach important results regarding their common interests despite having the most intense political disputes or even military conflicts (such as during the Iran-Iraq war),” Zanganeh said on Twitter.

The OPEC deal had hung in the balance for two days – first on fears that Russia would cut too little, and later on concerns that Iran, whose crude exports have been depleted by United States sanctions, would receive no exemption and block the agreement.

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Gulf stocks hurt by global market woes

DUBAI (Reuters): Gulf shares were mostly weak in early trade on Sunday,hurt by a fall in global and emerging markets on Friday, with property stocks suffering sharp declines in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Qatar shares were flat as shares of Qatar Aluminium opened at 18.00 riyals, nearly 80 percent above their initial public offer price of 10.10 riyals, capping a successful run for Qatar’s biggest equity listing this year. The shares later eased to 13.60 riyals.

In Dubai, shares of Emaar Properties dropped 3.5 percent and DAMAC Properties fell 1.2 percent in early trade.

On Wednesday, Emaar Properties had seen its biggest one-day gain since June 2017 and had extended gains on Thursday, as investors were tempted after a steep fall in the stock price.

Dubai’s weak real estate market has been a big drag for property shares this year with Emaar Properties down more than a third year-to-date. The Dubai index fell 1 percent. In Abu Dhabi, the index fell 0.6 percent, hurt by selling in Abu Dhabi National Energy Co which fell 8 percent on weak oil prices. Aldar Properties also dropped 2.5 percent.

The Saudi Arabia index was flat, but Zain Saudi Arabia surged 4.9 percent after it announced that it was one of three companies that had agreed with the government to a change in the calculation of their annual royalty fees.

Zain Saudi Arabia said the expected positive financial impact from the settlement of its disputed annual royalty fees for the period 2009 to 2017 was 1.7 billion riyals ($453 million).

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Qatar Petroleum to invest $20b in US in major expansion

DOHA (Reuters): Qatar Petroleum (QP) is looking to invest at least $20 billion in the United States over the coming few years, its chief executive told Reuters, after the Gulf Arab state unexpectedly quit OPEC this month.

Saad al-Kaabi, who holds the energy portfolio of the world’s top liquefied natural gas supplier, also said on Sunday QP aimed to announce its foreign partners for the new LNG trains it is building by the middle of next year, and the company has decided to self-finance the expansion rather than borrowing. The move – a shift from previous practices where QP used to borrow up to 70 percent of its needs from banks – might be a disappointment for banks.

“We are looking at many assets in the US We’re looking at gas and oil, conventional and non-conventional,” Kaabi said in an interview at his office in Doha.

Qatar, a tiny but wealthy country is one of the most influential players in the LNG market due to its annual production of 77 million tonnes. It plans to boost capacity 43 percent by 2023-2024 and will be building four liquefaction trains for the LNG expansion.

Kaabi said QP could also carry out the LNG expansion project at home alone, with no international oil company at its side, if no good offers were made.

“We are looking for a lot of things (in our partners) including asset swaps, things that will help me in my international expansion,” he said.

“If I don’t get good deals, nobody will come. I’m telling you, mark my words: if I don’t get a good deal, we go alone”. QP is still in talks with international oil companies for the new expansion project. Existing oil companies operating in Qatar include Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), Total (TOTF.PA), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) and ENI (ENI.MI).

QP currently pumps 4.8 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (boed) and aims to boost its output to 6.5 million boed in the next 8 years by expanding its upstream business abroad.

Qatar, a small oil producer, this month quit the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after 57 years to focus on gas.

Kaabi said that proposed US legislation known as “NOPEC”, or No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, which could open the group up to anti-trust lawsuits, was one of the reasons for quitting the oil exporting club.

OPEC members Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and fellow Arab states Bahrain and Egypt, have imposed a political and economic boycott on Qatar since June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism, which Doha denies.

Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US are the world’s top three oil producers.

Qatar Petroleum is majority owner of the Golden Pass LNG terminal in Texas, with Exxon and ConocoPhillips holding smaller stakes.

Kaabi said he expected to make a final decision on the investment and whether to move ahead with the project “by the end of the year, if not January.”

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Hopeful rupee will stabilise as money flows in: Governor

F.P. Report

LAHORE: State Bank of Pakistan governor Tariq Bajwa on Sunday expressed hope that the slide in the rupee will be stemmed once money flows into the economy.

Speaking to reporters in Lahore earlier today, Bajwa said the dollar rate is dependent on two factors: macroeconomic fundamentals and market sentiments.

“As money [flows into] the economy [through cash injected], Insha’Allah you will see, the market sentiment will improve… the pressure will dissipate from the rupee,” he said.

The central bank governor said the Supreme Court’s decision to end the mobile phone tax affected the country’s tax net.

Bajwa added that Finance Minister Asad Umar knew about the spike in the dollar and had already clarified in a statement earlier that the rupee devaluation had been discussed with him.

On November 30th, the rupee hit an all-time record low of Rs144 against the US dollar, plunging almost five percent after what appeared to be a sixth devaluation by the State Bank in the past year as the country struggles with an acute balance of payment crisis. The surge in dollar came owing to the widening current account deficit and the International Monetary Fund’s suggestion to the government to realign the rupee with market fundamentals to access funds.

The rupee has depreciated by 36 percent against the dollar over the past 12 months. It has fallen by Rs19.5 against the dollar since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf took the reins of the country following the general election in July this year.

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Japan plans to cut JGB issuance for 6th straight year

TOKYO (Reuters): Japan plans to trim its annual government bond issuance by 3.6 percent during the financial year beginning April 1, sources with direct knowledge of the plans told Reuters on Sunday, as part of government efforts to curb public borrowing.

Japan’s Finance Ministry is planning to issue 129.4 trillion yen ($1.14 trillion) in Japanese government bonds (JGBs) in the next fiscal year, down from 134.2 trillion yen in the initial budget for the current year, two people told Reuters on condition of anonymity because the plan has not yet been announced.

That will mean the sixth consecutive year of reductions. The government is expected to announce its initial budget plans for the 2019/2020 fiscal year this week. The Finance Ministry was not available for comment outside office hours.

Another cut would mark an ongoing decline in JGB issuance from a record high 156.6 trillion yen in the 2013 fiscal year. It would also further reduce the need for the Bank of Japan to buy bonds from the market, a pillar of the central bank’s super-loose monetary policy.

Annual issuance for two-, five-, 10- and 20-year maturities will be reduced by 1.2 trillion yen each to 24.0 trillion yen, 22.8 trillion yen, 25.2 trillion yen and 10.8 trillion yen respectively.

Issuance plans for 30- and 40-year bond maturities will remain unchanged at 8.4 trillion yen and 2.4 trillion yen respectively.

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China purchases US soybeans amid trade war

BEIJING (BBC): China’s purchase was hailed as a “wonderful” step by US officials

China has bought US soybeans for the first time since the trade war between the two countries started in July.

The country’s finance ministry also confirmed it would temporarily reduce tariffs on US car imports from 40% to 15%, beginning on 1 January.

The much anticipated moves follow a truce reached after Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping met in December.

In announcing the tariff suspension, China said it hoped the two sides would speed negotiations.

US officials hailed China’s purchase of 1.13 million tonnes of US soybeans on Thursday as a “great step” – but said it remained uncertain if a broader deal would follow.

“Having a million, million-and-a-half tonnes is great, it’s wonderful, it’s a great step,” said Steve Censky deputy secretary of the US Department of Agriculture.

“But there needs to be a lot more as well, especially if you consider it in a normal, typical year, we’ll be selling 30 to 35 million metric tonnes to China.”

Analysts also cautioned against interpreting it as a sign that the trade war was cooling.

Chief economist Robert Carnell from ING Bank told the BBC that the recent arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and deputy chair, was far more indicative of the current state of the trade war.

Huawei finance chief arrested in Canada

US-China trade row: What has happened so far?

“[It’s] a battle for technology, a battle for 5G,” he said. “In particular, Huawei has become one of the world’s biggest suppliers of telecoms technology – and the US doesn’t really like that.

“[So that arrest] is giving you a much better, a much clearer message on where the trade war lines in the sand are really being drawn.”

How did this start?

The trade war started over US claims that China engages in “unfair” trade practices, such as intellectual property theft.

It has seen the two countries levy tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of goods, including cars and soybeans.

Earlier this month, the two sides agreed to postpone any further increases, pending negotiations. US officials also said China had committed to major purchases of US goods and reducing the tariffs on US-made cars.

US and China agree to suspend new tariffs

The bean at the heart of America’s trade war

What is a trade war and why should I worry?

Why do soybeans matter?

China is by the far the world’s biggest importer of soybeans, accounting for some 60% of the global trade in the commodity last year.

The country, which uses the crop to feed livestock, has historically relied on supplies from both the US and Brazil, in part due to seasonality.

But purchases from US farmers – an important part of Mr Trump’s political base – have plummeted since the trade war began.

Thursday’s purchase failed to excite traders in the US, who said the numbers fell short of estimates.

“It’s a start, but it’s not nearly enough to fix our problems in regards to soybeans and a soybean oversupply in this country,” said Joe Vaclavik, president of Standard Grain, a Tennessee-based brokerage.

Mr Carnell from ING Bank said he thought China’s purchase on Thursday was more about convenience than anything else.

“The simple fact is China needs a lot of soybeans and it’s been buying them from Brazil, not the US,” he said.

“But Brazil could never supply all the soybeans China needed, so ultimately [China has] been driven back to US soybeans. And I think it’s just convenient for them to do that right now.”

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ECB announces to cut massive bond-buying scheme

Monitoring Desk

BRUSSELS: The ECB began its asset purchase program in 2015, years after the UK and US took similar action to shore up their economies

The ECB began its asset purchase program in 2015, years after the UK and US took similar action to shore up their economies

ECB has so far pumped more than two trillion Euros into the bloc’s economy, while maintaining ultra-low interest rates

ECB has so far pumped more than two trillion Euros into the bloc’s economy, while maintaining ultra-low interest rates

The European Central Bank has confirmed it is ending its huge net asset purchase program to stimulate the Eurozone economy this month. The ECB has stopped its bond-buying scheme, worth €30bn a month, despite a recent slowdown in the bloc’s recovery.

The move, first announced in June, is a big step towards unwinding the policies brought in to stabilize the Euro zone in the wake of the financial crisis. The ECB said it was keeping its main interest rate on hold at zero per cent.

The ECB began its asset purchase program in 2015, years after the UK and US took similar action to shore up their economies.

It has so far pumped more than two trillion Euros into the bloc’s economy, while maintaining ultra-low interest rates.

The bank argues this has countered deflation and staved off a deeper economic crisis, but it has long signaled it would gradually wind the program down.

Before the financial crisis, QE had been largely untried. Its potential impact was unknown – and is still unclear. In the UK, the Bank of England estimates that funds played a very significant role in boosting activity.

However, there is evidence that a large part of the funds were concentrated in the assets held by the wealthiest – from property to shares – boosting their value.