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China’s Jingye Group agrees outline deal to rescue British Steel

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BEIJING/LONDON (Reuters) – China’s Jingye Group said on Monday it has reached a provisional deal to buy British Steel and promised to invest 1.2 billion pounds ($1.5 billion) over the next decade and save thousands of jobs.

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the British Steel works in Scunthorpe, Britain, May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Scott Heppell/File Photo

An agreement is of major political significance as Britain prepares to elect a new government on Dec. 12. The lack of opportunities in northern England, where British Steel is based, is an election issue, as the social gap between north and south widens.

The deal has yet to be finalised, but Business Minister Andrea Leadsom said in a video clip she was optimistic it would be.

Jingye Group Chairman Li Ganpo said the ambition was to create a world-class group.

“We believe that this combination will create a powerful, profitable and sustainable business that will ensure the long-term future of thousands of jobs while producing the innovative high-quality steel products that the world needs,” he said in a statement.

The value of the deal was not disclosed. Earlier a BBC report saying a deal was imminent gave a figure of 70 million pounds ($90 million), while sources close to the talks said the price was likely closer to 50 million pounds.

Uncertainty over the future of British Steel has hung over its workforce for much of the year. It was put into compulsory liquidation in May after Greybull Capital, which bought it for one pound from Tata Steel (TISC.NS) in 2016, failed to secure funding to continue its operations.

Its closure would impact 5,000 jobs in Scunthorpe and a further 20,000 jobs in the supply chain.

British Steel, which makes high-margin, long steel products used in construction and rail, would give Jingye access to Europe’s large infrastructure market.

But it could face challenges as the European steel industry grapples with weak demand, high costs for energy and labor and exacting environmental standards.

British Steel did not respond to requests for comment.

A previous deal, announced in August, with Turkey’s military pension fund OYAK fell apart and on Monday the fund said the purchase was not commercially viable.

British commodities tycoon Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty Steel Group has also expressed interest in buying British Steel.

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Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, set up to boost the economy in the north of England, said a rescue, if finalised, would be “very welcome news”.

He said it was time to embrace cooperation with China, which is extending its international reach through its Belt and Road global development strategy. Chinese companies also own a steel plant in Serbia and its sole copper mine.

Leading trade union Unite welcomed the prospect of Chinese ownership, but cautioned there had been “a series of false dawns” for the company.

Jingye, which also operates hotels and real estate, employs 23,500 and has registered capital of 39 billion yuan ($5.58 billion), giving it the financial clout to invest.

Under the terms of the agreement, Jingye would acquire certain assets of British Steel from the Official Receiver, subject to regulatory approvals.

The assets include the steelworks at Scunthorpe and Teesside in northern England, as well as its European units FN Steel in the Netherlands and British Steel France.

FILE PHOTO: A British Steel works sign is seen in Scunthorpe, northern England, Britain, May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Scott Heppell/File Photo

Chinese ownership may be contentious, especially in the steel industry. The European Union (EU), which does not include Serbia, has agreed safeguards to protect its own steel industry from competition from cheap imports from China and elsewhere.

Britain has said it will leave the EU but has yet to agree a deal on its departure from the political and economic bloc.

John Cullen,  business recovery partner  at accountancy firm Menzies LLP, said selling the whole British Steel business “in the current trading climate would be no mean feat”.

Reporting by Min Zhang in Beijing, Barbara Lewis and Kate Holton in London, Ceyda Caglayan; editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Josephine Mason and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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Westpac economists now see RBA delaying rate cut to April

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FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian looks at his phone as he walks past a logo for Australia’s Westpac Banking Corp located outside a branch in central Sydney, Australia, November 5, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Analysts at Westpac Banking Corp (WBC.AX) now expect the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) will cut interest rates in April, rather than February, following a second month of surprisingly upbeat jobs data.

In a note to clients, chief economist Bill Evans said the dip in unemployment to a nine-month low of 5.1% in December was probably enough to delay a cut.

“It is sufficiently strong a signal for the Board, which has emphasised the labour market as a key policy driver, to opt for a deferment of the rate cut process pending further information,” said Evans.

The RBA holds its next policy meeting on Feb. 4 and the market had already sharply scaled back the chance of an easing following Thursday’s employment report.

Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Sam Holmes

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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Merkel gibt Klimaaktivisten Sukkurs | NZZ

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Die deutsche Bundeskanzlerin stellt sich in ihrer Rede am WEF gegen Trump.

Die deutsche Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel hält am Donnerstag ihre Rede am Weltwirtschaftsforum (WEF) in Davos. 

Gian Ehrenzeller / EPA

Greta Thunberg gegen Donald Trump: So lautete das meistbeachtete, möglicherweise von den Medien etwas hochstilisierte Wortführer-Duell am Weltwirtschaftsforum (WEF). Am Donnerstag hat die 17-jährige Klimaschutzaktivistin Greta Thunberg Beistand in Gestalt der deutschen Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel erhalten. Diese legte sich in ihrer Rede für die jungen Umweltschützer ins Zeug – und garnierte ihre Worte mit Spitzen gegen den amerikanischen Präsidenten Donald Trump.

Manche Passagen hätten dabei von Thunberg stammen können. «Die Frage der Erreichung der Ziele des Pariser Abkommens könnte eine Frage des Überlebens sein», sagte Merkel etwa. Dort seien ja nicht mehr alle Länder dabei – aber viele, ergänzte sie in Anspielung auf den Ausstieg der USA. Europa stehe mit dem Ziel der EU-Kommission, zum ersten klimaneutralen Kontinent zu werden, ein «Jahrzehnt des Handelns» bevor. Die Rede setzte einen scharfen Kontrast zu jener Trumps, der die Ökoaktivisten als «Alarmisten» bezeichnet hatte. Am Donnerstag legte der US-Finanzminister Steven Mnuchin nach und riet, Thunberg solle an einem College Ökonomie studieren «und dann zurückkommen».

Auch in anderen Teilen der Rede hatte Merkel Kritik am US-Präsidenten eingebaut, ohne ihn direkt beim Namen zu nennen. Die Deutschen seien nicht von der Sorte, dass sie immer darüber redeten, was bei ihnen super laufe, sagte sie in einer Spitze gegen Trumps WEF-Rede am Dienstag. Der Präsident hatte dabei eine Lobeshymne auf die USA und sich selbst gesungen. Deutschland werde sich für den Multilateralismus einsetzen, sagte Merkel. Trump hatte am Rande des WEF derweil die EU aufgefordert, bald ein neues Handelsabkommen mit den USA abzuschliessen. Sonst drohten neue Strafzölle auf Autoimporte und weitere Waren.

Trotz dieser Rhetorik scheint Merkels Glanz als eine Art Gegen-Trump und europäisches Gesicht des Westens zu verblassen. Auch deshalb wird in Davos mit einiger Sorge die Zukunft Europas diskutiert. Bundesrat Ignazio Cassis hat am Donnerstag in einem Mediengespräch über ein geschlossenes Panel zu diesem Thema unter der Co-Moderation des Präsidenten des Europäischen Parlaments berichtet: «Natürlich ist jetzt die Position Europas in der Welt eine grosse Frage. Ich glaube, so ernsthaft habe ich die Diskussion über dieses Thema noch nie erlebt wie an diesem Treffen.» Ein wichtiger Fokus für Cassis ist am WEF auch die Position der Schweiz in Europa, konkret der Fahrplan beim institutionellen Rahmenvertrag. Brüssel habe Verständnis für die innenpolitische Situation der Schweiz, erklärte der Aussenminister: «Es braucht unter Freunden manchmal Geduld, etwas Gutes zu machen. Wir sind nicht an Olympischen Spielen: Es geht nicht um Sekunden. Aber Geduld ist endlich.» Es sei jetzt an der Schweiz, Vorschläge zur Klärung der drei offenen Punkte zu machen: Lohnschutz, Unionsbürgerrichtlinie und staatliche Beihilfen.

Das Ende der Geduld der EU lässt sich wohl auf die Abstimmung vom 17. Mai terminieren. Dann entscheiden Volk und Stände über die Begrenzungsinitiative der SVP gegen die Personenfreizügigkeit. «Die EU akzeptiert, dass bis dahin nicht viel läuft», sagte Cassis dazu. Es geht also am WEF durchaus auch um subtile Diplomatie und nicht bloss um medienwirksame Duelle.



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Oil falls 2% as specter of China virus threatens fuel demand

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell more than 2% on Thursday on concern that the spread of a respiratory virus from China could lower fuel demand if it stunts economic growth, but losses were limited by a drawdown in U.S. crude inventories.

FILE PHOTO: Oil pump jacks work at sunset near Midland, Texas, U.S., August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jessica Lutz

Brent crude LCOc1 futures lost $1.46, or 2.3%, to $61.75 a barrel by 11:12 a.m. EST (1612 GMT), after having touched $61.25 a barrel, lowest since early December.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures fell $1.45, or 2.6%, to $55.29 a barrel. The contract earlier fell to $54.77 a barrel, the lowest since November.

Two Chinese cities that were at the epicentre of a new coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 people and infected nearly 600 were put in lockdown on Thursday as health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a global pandemic.

The potential for a pandemic has stirred memories of the Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2002-03, which also started in China and dented economic growth, causing a slump in travel.

“Such health issues represent significant impediments to normal travel and as a result, have forced the oil market to discount some significant weakening in jet and diesel fuel demand that is extremely difficult to measure until the spread of the health virus is contained,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of trading advisory firm Ritterbusch and Associates.

With coronavirus cases detected as far as away as the United States, global stock markets also felt the effects of fears that the virus could spread further as millions of Chinese prepare to travel for the Lunar New Year this weekend. <MKTS/GLOB>

Beijing said on Thursday that it had canceled major public events, including two well-known Lunar New Year temple fairs, to curb the spread.

“We estimate a price shock of up to $5 (a barrel) if the crisis develops into a SARS-style epidemic,” JPM Commodities Research said in a note, citing historical oil price movements.

The U.S. bank maintained its forecast for Brent to average $67 in the first quarter and $64.50 throughout 2020.

Tempering losses, U.S. crude inventories USOILC=ECI fell 405,000 barrels last week, although gasoline stockpiles rose to their highest on record after 11 weeks of consecutive builds, the Energy Information Administration reported.[EIA/S]

“The report was modestly supportive,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.

China, meanwhile, released data on Thursday showing its gasoline exports rose by nearly a third last year thanks to new refineries.

This week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said it expects a surplus of 1 million barrels per day in the first half of the year.

Additional reporting by Julia Payne in London and Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Bernadette Baum

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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