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Asian indexes cautiously higher after Wall Street earnings; oil off lows, French election eyed (CNBC) Asian indexes were cautiously higher on Thursday, following key earnings on Wall Street and as oil prices came off two-week lows set earlier in the session. Oil prices recouped some losses after falling to a two-week low, down nearly 4 percent, following an unexpected build in U.S. gasoline inventories and an increase in U.S. crude production. Brent crude was up by 0.72% to trade at $53.31 a barrel while U.S. crude rose 0.65% at $50.77. The dollar rose from around three-week lows to trade at 99.79 against a basket of rivals at 11:10 am HK/SIN. Spot gold was mostly unchanged at $1,278.64 per ounce at 0346 GMT. The metal fell 0.8% on Wednesday in its worst one-day drop in over a month.
Worries over Trump policies cloud start of IMF, World Bank meetings (Reuters) World finance leaders are gathering on U.S. President Donald Trump's home turf on Thursday to try to nudge his still-evolving policies away from protectionism and show broad support for open trade and global integration. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings bring the two multilateral institutions' 189 members face-to-face with Trump's "America First" agenda for the first time, just two blocks from the White House. Domenico Lombardi, a former IMF board official who is now with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a Canadian think-tank, said:
"These meetings will all be about Trump and the implications of his policies for the international agenda."
Oil could be a big factor Thursday after price slump (CNBC) U.S. oil futures threaten to crack $50 per barrel, with just weeks to go before OPEC and other producers have to sign off on a new deal to hold down production. The rapid decline in prices Wednesday was partly a technical response to the May futures contract's expiration, as well as a negative response to an unexpected increase in U.S. gasoline supplies. That futures contract expires at the close Thursday, and it lost 3.8 percent to $50.44 per barrel Wednesday. The June contract fell to about the same level.
Chaffetz decision stuns Washington (The Hill) Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R, UT) shocked Washington on Wednesday by announcing he is leaving Congress after his term ends. Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, kept the surprise decision under wraps, offering no hints that he planned to cut short his tenure leading the panel. Chaffetz has long been seen as one of Washington’s most ambitious politicians, and the news immediately stoked questions about whether he would run for governor or the Senate. Chaffetz said he would not run for any office in 2018, which would take him out of Utah’s Senate race that year. But he didn’t rule out a run for Utah governor in 2020, saying he “may run again for public office".
House Speaker Ryan sees long battle over tax reform (Reuters) The United States' first tax overhaul in decades may not pass Congress until well into 2017, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday, in a sign the timetable for the legislation has been pushed back. Revamping the U.S. tax code has become a new legislative test for President Donald Trump after a Republican push to repeal former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law failed last month in a humiliating defeat for the party. Some Republicans in Congress had hoped to pass the tax overhaul before August, but party divisions over the legislation and difficulties in replacing Obamacare have slowed the process.
Both sides will put in big money for the Georgia runoff
Dems face decision on Montana special election in May
Repeating Clinton numbers isn’t good enough
The European Republic: a bold vision to save the union (The Conversation) The outstanding successes of the European Union are its historic contribution to peace and reconciliation across the continent, its post-Cold War role in the ongoing transformation of 14 former dictatorships into democratic market economies, and the legal framework it has produced for its citizens. That framework is far from perfect but it protects consumers, workers and the environment, and underpins the single European market - an economy larger than that of the US and twice as large as China’s. This is all at risk. The union may not survive a series of major threats. The author suggests the solution is the formation of a Republic, possible starting with only a merger of France and Germany, and expanding from there:
The next French president (presumably Emmanuel Macron, not Le Pen) must forge a political union with Germany - a genuine economic union, with common taxation. The vision should be for a European Republic of democratic and cosmopolitan citizenship. Other states may join this crusade for a social Europe based on solidarity among European peoples.
The EU needs a strengthened European Parliament to be the principal legislative forum, backed by a reviewing chamber of regional and sectoral interests. State veto on community policy should be abolished with qualified majority voting in all areas.
Britain loses 1 billion pounds through VAT fraud and error by Amazon and eBay sellers (Reuters) Britain is losing up to £1 billion a year in value added tax (VAT) because of fraud or error by sellers using online marketplaces eBay and Amazon, a report by the government auditor said. The National Audit Office (NAO) said on Wednesday that the sellers involved are often based in China and that consumer regulator Trading Standards had found that U.S. companies Amazon and eBay had failed to remove sellers that were flouting VAT rules, even after being informed of the sellers' non-compliance.
Labour is considering making a pledge that would give voters the chance to reject any Brexit deal negotiated by a future government.
Senior party figures are understood to be pushing Jeremy Corbyn to include a promise for a so-called second referendum in Labour’s manifesto. They hope the plan would firm up Labour support among former Remain voters, while making clear that they will not seek to stop or reverse Brexit.
Spain’s freedom of speech repression is no joke (The Conversation) Cassandra Vera, a 21-year-old student from the city of Murcia in the south-east of Spain, has been sentenced to a year in prison, and disqualified from public functions for seven years, after making jokes on Twitter that “glorified terrorism". Between 2013 and 2016, Vera published 13 tweets that commented on terrorist group ETA’s assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco, which happened in 1973. Blanco had been expected to succeed dictator Francisco Franco, and was a long-time ally of the general.
Ruling on her crime, judges in the National Audience, Spain’s top criminal court, stated that Vera’s tweets “constitute contempt, dishonour, disrepute, mockery and affront to the people who have suffered the blow of terrorism".
Though the victims of terrorism do, as noted by the judges, deserve “respect and consideration", the prison sentence has caused outcry in Spain. These kinds of jokes have been repeated publicly since the day of the attack. Luis Carrero Blanco’s granddaughter herself has even written that though the jokes were in bad taste, she is “scared of a society in which freedom of expression … can lead to jail sentences".
Erdoğan declares victory in his pursuit of one-man rule (The Conversation) After a long and contentious referendum campaign, Turkey has voted to endorse a package of constitutional changes that will turn the country’s long-established parliamentary system into a presidential one. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that his proposals had passed, with just over 51% of votes in favour.
While opposition parties have said they’ll challenge the result, its significance of this result should not be underestimated. This is a watershed moment in Turkish history, and it will fundamentally change the republican system established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. Many in Turkey and beyond view these constitutional changes as the building blocks of an authoritarian system.
Putin-Controlled Group Had Plans to Sway 2016 Election (Reuters, Newsweek) A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters. They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, after the election. The institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin’s office.
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