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US lawmakers have announced a tentative deal to avert another government shutdown, raising hopes that Congress can pass a spending bill before the Friday deadline, if President Donald Trump decides to sign it.

Both parties have repeatedly stated they are strongly against a second government shutdown. The most recent shutdown — the longest in US history — lasted 35 days and affected 800,000 federal workers, with knock-on effects for government contractors, as well as the broader US economy. Congressional aides said the tentative agreement struck would include close to $1.4bn for 55 new miles of border barrier, a quarter of Mr Trump’s initial demand for $5.7bn.

The president addressed a rally on Monday to garner support for his wall in the border city of El Paso. But at the same time and less than a mile away Beto O’Rourke, who is considering a run for the Democratic presidential nomination, said to thousands of cheering supporters “we are not safe because of walls but in spite of walls”. (FT, NYT)

In the news

Saudi Arabia doubles down on oil
The world’s largest oil producing company Saudi Aramco is planning to develop an international energy exploration and production business, like Royal Dutch Shell or Exxon Mobil. In an interview with the Financial Times Khalid al Falih, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister and chairman of state oil company Saudi Aramco, said: “Going forward the world is going to be Saudi Aramco’s playground.”

A $900m bet on millennials
Morgan Stanley has acquired Canadian stock plans administrator Solium Capital for $900m in a play to position itself as a leading wealth manager for future millennial millionaires. The deal comes just days after the $66bn merger of US banks BB&T and SunTrust marked the biggest post-crisis US bank M&A, suggesting a revival of dealmaking in the banking sector after years of caution. (FT)

SoftBank invests $940m in driverless delivery start-up
Softbank’s Vision Fund has doubled down on autonomous driving technology, leading a $940m investment into Nuro.ai, a maker of robot delivery vans. The deal adds to Softbank’s expanding portfolio in the transportation-technology market, following its Vision Fund’s $2.3bn investment in General Motors’ self-driving car unit, Cruise, last May. (FT)

Nissan’s skidding sales
Nissan cut its sales target in all of its key markets on Tuesday including Japan, China, US and Europe in its first set of results since the ousting of former chief executive Carlos Ghosn. The carmaker is tackling a myriad of problems including brand erosion, tensions with its alliance partner Renault and executive departures in the wake of Ghosn’s arrest in November. (FT)

Salvini talks up seizing control of Italy’s gold
Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister and leader of the anti-migration League party, has raised the possibility of wresting control of Italy’s sizeable gold reserves away from the country’s central bank in the latest in a series of threats to the independence of the Bank of Italy by Rome’s populist coalition. (FT)

The day ahead

Brexit brinkmanship
Theresa May will tell British lawmakers on Tuesday to hold their nerve. The prime minister will say in a statement to the House of Commons that Brexit talks are at “a crucial stage”. But opposition Labour MPs and even some of her own cabinet members believe she is running down the clock to exit day on March 29. This analysis shows Stoke, once the heart of the industrial revolution, is now the Brexit capital of Britain. (FT)

Catalonia separatists trial
Proceedings for Spain’s most sensitive trial in four decades of democracy will begin on Tuesday with 12 Catalan separatists facing charges of rebellion and sedition. Regardless of the outcome, the government is bracing itself for a fight in the court of public opinion. (FT)

Mike Pompeo in Europe
The US secretary of state started a European tour in Hungary on Monday, spreading a message of concern about China and Russia’s growing influence in central Europe. His next stop will be Slovakia, on Tuesday, before heading to Poland. (FT, AP)

Keep up with the important business, economic and political stories in the coming days with the FT’s Week Ahead.

What we’re reading

Virgin at 50
Fifty years ago Sir Richard Branson created a mail order record business that would become today’s Virgin Group. Now, the CEO who runs the billionaire’s business has ambitious plans to push into the US market — 35 years after the first Virgin flight across the Atlantic — where the brand has been far less well-known than in the UK. (FT)

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No-deal fears fuel Irish business anxiety
It takes three years for the whiskey produced at the Great Northern Distillery to mature. So when the company began work on the bottles that came on to the market late last year, the first it had produced, there was little concern over Brexit and no mention of a “backstop”. Now Great Northern and companies like it are caught in the middle of political brinkmanship and facing the prospect of a nascent economic revival being slammed into reverse. (FT)

Maybe men will not be the winners from AI after all
While some AI tools are biased against women and men are dominant in computer programming it is important to remember, argues Sarah O’Connor, that only a small number of the jobs of the future will actually involve creating algorithms. Far more of us, she says, will find our work reshaped and revalued by them. And it is here that women may have the advantage. Meanwhile, Rafael Reif, president of MIT, argues universities must equip tomorrow’s leaders to be “AI bilingual”. (FT)

Debt Machine head-to-head
Do leveraged loans pose a threat to the US economy? An economist argues that the rapid growth of the asset class has shifted the balance of power from investors to borrowers and contributed to a watering down of covenants. While a credit investor says the facts do not back up that assertion and the loans still have robust underlying protections for investors. The latest in our Debt Machine series.

© Adam Simpson

Generalists rule
Polymaths are rarities but polymathic range is less unusual. We are all born with it and it should be celebrated and cultivated, argues Andrew Hill, management editor. Studies by Cláudia Custódio of Imperial College Business School and others found generalist chief executives earned more and fostered more innovation than more specialised counterparts. (FT)

In defence of the realm
The Munich security conference used to be a transatlantic love-in, where declarations of devotion were made and military vows renewed. But at a time when Donald Trump has branded the Nato alliance “obsolete” there are fears among Europeans that this week’s defence get-together will be a prelude to divorce — or even worse. (FT)

Seeking advice
American Media, the owner of National Enquirer, sought backing from Saudi investors and advice from the US Justice Department over whether it should register as a foreign agent, the Wall Street Journal reports. Last week Amazon-owner Jeff Bezos took to the internet to push back against what he said was an extortion attempt by the National Enquirer against him over an extramarital affair. In a blog published on the internet, Mr Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, said the “Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve”. (WSJ)

‘Hidden Figures’ in the footnotes
Inspired by the 2016 film about three black female mathematicians who helped Nasa win the space race in the 1960s, university students in the US have combed through decades of acknowledgments in genetics papers and discovered dozens of women who were consigned to thank-yous in footnotes instead of being credited with authorship, as researchers are today. (The Atlantic)

Video of the day

Iran’s revolution — 40 years on
The FT’s Andrew England, Middle East editor, and Najmeh Bozorghmehr, Tehran correspondent, reflect on the celebrations in Tehran of the 1979 Islamic revolution. Read more here. (FT)

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