Russia prepared to work with Turkey to ease grain shipments from Ukraine

President Vladimir Putin has told his Turkish counterpart that Russia was ready to facilitate the shipment of grain out of blockaded Ukrainian ports in co-ordination with Turkey, the Kremlin said in a statement.

“Vladimir Putin noted the readiness of the Russian side to facilitate unimpeded maritime transit of cargo in co-ordination with our Turkish partners. This also applies to the export of grain from Ukrainian ports,” the Kremlin said on Monday, summarising the phone call with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The issue of demining the Black and Azov seas was also discussed, the statement said. Ukraine and some of its western partners have accused Russia of escalating a growing global food crisis by blockading Ukrainian ports and preventing the export of grain and other commodities.

Russia has demanded that some sanctions against it be lifted before it will increase its export of agricultural products and fertilisers, which could ease the pressure on global food supplies.

“In light of the problems on the world food market caused by the short-sighted financial and economic policies of western states,” the Kremlin said, summarising the call, “it was confirmed that Russia could export significant volumes of fertilisers and agricultural products if the relevant anti-Russian sanctions were lifted.”

It also noted “a significant increase in mutual trade turnover” between Russia and Turkey.

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US will not send Ukraine rockets that could reach Russia, says Biden

Joe Biden speaks to the press outside the White House in Washington DC, US, on May 30 2022
US president Joe Biden: ‘We are not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that can strike into Russia’ © Getty Images

The US will not send Ukraine rocket systems that could reach Russia, Joe Biden said on Monday.

When asked by a reporter whether Washington would consider sending long-range rocket systems to Ukraine, the US president said: “We are not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that can strike into Russia.”

Last week, a number of US media outlets reported that the administration was preparing to send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine.

The US has provided Ukraine with billions of dollars of military assistance, including artillery and anti-tank systems that have played critical roles in fending off Russian efforts to take Kyiv and other parts of the country.

This month, the US Senate approved a further $40bn in military, economic and humanitarian assistance.

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EDF Energy rules out delay to closure of UK nuclear power plant

EDF Energy has ruled out keeping one of Britain’s six remaining nuclear power plants open this winter, in a blow to government efforts to bolster domestic energy supplies and avoid the possibility of blackouts if Russia cuts off gas to Europe.

The French-owned energy group has told staff in a memo that it will not delay the shutdown of Hinkley Point B in Somerset beyond its scheduled closure date of the end of July, despite fears in government that millions of homes could face winter blackouts if Russia stops sending gas to Europe.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote to National Grid, which oversees Britain’s electricity and gas systems, on Friday urging the FTSE 100 company to increase “significantly” the amount of electricity-generating capacity available over the winter, particularly plants that are not reliant on gas.

But in a memo seen by the Financial Times, EDF Energy said: “Although it is technically feasible to extend operations [at Hinkley Point B] for up to six months, the time required to do this and to be confident we would be ready for winter operating has now run out.”

An extension would involve compiling a detailed safety case that would have to be approved by the UK’s nuclear regulator and inspections of the graphite cores of Hinkley’s reactors, the memo added.

The 46-year-old plant has a generating capacity of nearly 1 gigawatt.

In total, the UK has 6.9GW of nuclear capacity, although this will have dwindled to just 3.65GW by March 2024 when two other plants, Hartlepool and Heysham 1, are also due to retire.

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German inflation rises to record 8.7% as food and energy prices jump

German inflation rose by more than expected to a new record of 8.7 per cent in May, driven by soaring energy and food prices, increasing pressure on the European Central Bank to raise interest rates faster than planned.

The annual increase in the harmonised index of consumer prices in Germany was up from 7.8 per cent in the previous month and higher than the 8 per cent expected by economists, according to a Reuters poll.

The federal statistical agency said the biggest drivers were a 38.3 per cent rise in energy prices and an 11.1 per cent jump in food prices — both up sharply from the previous month.

Line chart of  showing Inflation soars to all-time high in Germany

Rental costs, the single biggest component in the inflation basket, rose 1.7 per cent. Growth in services prices slowed to 2.9 per cent, although economists said that was mainly because of the earlier timing of Easter holidays lowering growth in package holiday prices.

Economists said German headline inflation could be temporarily lowered in the coming months by government relief measures coming into force from June, including a cut in fuel duty, discounted train tickets and the removal of renewable energy surcharges on electricity bills.

But Claus Vistesen, chief eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, forecast that German core inflation, excluding energy and food costs, would continue rising from 3.7 per cent in May to above 4 per cent — double the ECB’s 2 per cent target. “In short, the pressure on the ECB over the summer is only going one way, up,” he added.

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France to seek ways to extend help with household energy bills

France will look at ways to protect households from rising energy bills in 2023 if necessary, after capping prices for consumers this year, finance minister Bruno Le Maire has said.

The French government brought in a 4 per cent cap on electricity prices for the whole of 2022, financed in part by the state abandoning some of the levies it normally makes on bills.

State-controlled power group EDF also footed some of the cost, and was made to sell on some of its nuclear power at cheaper prices to its rivals, denting the group’s finances as it was forced to buy supplies on wholesale markets.

Le Maire told reporters on Monday that consumers would in no way have to pay for any “catch-up” in electricity bills next year.

“We will continue to protect consumers,” Le Maire said, adding that energy prices were still rising. The government would look at financing as part of its next budget preparations in the autumn.

The cost of living crisis has been a focus since President Emmanuel Macron was re-elected in April. Ministers have outlined measures to try and help consumers, such as food vouchers.

Economists said that Macron, who will have to balance splurging on such measures with steps to reduce France’s high debts, also faces another electoral test in June when French voters elect parliamentarians.

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France regrets chaos surrounding Champions League’s football final

French sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, left, and interior minister Gérald Darmanin at the  French sports ministry in Paris, France, on May 30 2022
French sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, left, and interior minister Gérald Darmanin, following their emergency meeting on Monday of sporting and law enforcement officials © AFP via Getty Images

The French government has apologised for the chaos that marred football’s Champions League final on Saturday night in Paris and admitted that the way British fans were received went badly wrong.

Interior minister Gérald Darmanin and sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra said they regretted what happened to Liverpool football fans amassed outside the gates, including women and children being tear gassed by police officers.

“We have nothing to be proud of about what happened on Saturday night,” Darmanin said at a news conference after an emergency meeting of sporting and law enforcement officials on Monday.

“Sports should be a celebration and this one was in part ruined” by the delay to the match start, violent incidents and people being tear gassed to clear crowds at gates, he added.

“This is not what should happen, obviously. But I want to add that the decisions that were made helped avoid deaths.”

French officials also appeared to deflect blame, saying that as many as 40,000 fans showed up without tickets or with fake tickets. French prosecutors are investigating the alleged ticket fraud.

Problems were aggravated by a strike that affected one of the train lines that serves the stadium, which forced fans to take other transport methods, concentrating crowds.

The ministers added that Real Madrid supporters did not encounter such problems because three-quarters of the 22,000 football fans were issued digital tickets.

The recriminations after Saturday’s final, in which Real Madrid beat Liverpool, have intensified. Downing Street called for a full investigation.

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Denmark risks supply cut as it refuses to pay for Russian gas in roubles

Denmark could be the next European country to be cut off from Russian gas as its biggest utility refuses to pay for it in roubles.

Ørsted warned on Monday that there was “a risk” that Gazprom Export would stop supplying gas to it because it would continue to pay in euros. The payment deadline is Tuesday.

“We have no legal obligation under the contract to [pay in roubles], and we have repeatedly informed Gazprom Export that we will not do so,” Ørsted added.

Denmark would join Finland, Poland and Bulgaria in having its gas supplies turned off by Russia in that case.

Ørsted said any such move would be a breach of contract, adding that as no gas pipeline directly connects Russia with Denmark, it would still be possible for the Scandinavian country to get gas but that it would “to a larger extent” have to be purchased on the open market.

“We expect this to be possible,” it added.

The Danish company, better known as the world’s largest offshore wind farm developer, buys the majority of Denmark’s gas from Gazprom in a contract that is due to last until the end of the decade. It added it was filling up its storage facilities in Denmark and Germany.

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EU seeks to close ranks around plan for partial Russian oil ban

EU leaders are close to agreeing a watered down ban on Russian oil imports after weeks of wrangling, exempting a key supply route and leaving other details unresolved as they try to levy more sanctions against Moscow for invading Ukraine.

A leader’s summit starting on Monday evening will vow to include crude oil and petroleum products in a sanctions package but will crucially allow a “temporary” exemption for crude delivered by pipeline, according to draft conclusions seen by the Financial Times.

The conclusions may still change before EU leaders meet and diplomats have not agreed how long any carve-out of oil supplied via pipeline would last.

Keeping pipelines out of any embargo has been a key demand of Hungary, which has argued that a ban would put its economy at risk given its reliance on crude delivered by the Druzhba (friendship) pipeline from Russia.

If exports through Druzhba are at the pipeline’s maximum capacity of 750,000 barrels a day, it would help Russia earn in the region of $2bn a month from EU buyers.

A move to ban only Russian seaborne crude also risks distorting competition in the EU oil market, with refineries connected to pipelines from Russia enjoying a large advantage. The price of Russian oil has fallen to a huge discount versus supplies from elsewhere as European traders have shunned the country’s seaborne crude since the invasion of Ukraine.

An embargo solely on seaborne oil purchases would cover about two-thirds of Europe’s imports from Russia.

Read more on this story here.

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European stocks rise and bonds drop as traders assess policy direction

European stocks extended their gains while government bonds came under fresh pressure as traders assessed how far inflationary pressures would push the bloc’s central bank to tighten monetary policy.

The regional Stoxx Europe 600 share gauge climbed 0.8 per cent, as London’s FTSE 100 added 0.2 per cent and Germany’s Dax index also rose 0.8 per cent. Those moves followed upticks of about 2 per cent in Hong Kong and Japan.

The FTSE All-World index on Friday snapped a seven-week losing streak, driven by the best performance for Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 since November 2020, after softening economic data encouraged investors that the Federal Reserve could slow its tightening of monetary policy. US markets were closed on Monday for a holiday.

Shares in European consumer companies, especially luxury good makers such as LVMH and Gucci owner Kering, made some of the largest gains.

Germany’s 10-year Bund yield rose 0.09 percentage points to 1.04 per cent, as its price fell. The pressure on the debt instrument, viewed as a proxy for eurozone borrowing costs, came ahead of preliminary German inflation data for May, which was expected to come in at 8 per cent year on year, its highest level in more than four decades.

The US dollar, which is perceived as a haven asset and is up almost 6 per cent this year in comparison with peer currencies, was on course for a monthly fall in May. The dollar index, which measures the US currency against a basket of six others, was down 0.2 per cent on Monday.

In commodities, international oil benchmark Brent crude rose higher than $120 a barrel for the first time since March, as EU members debate an embargo on Russian supplies.

Read more of the market briefing here.

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Quarter-point rate rises will be ECB’s ‘benchmark’, says chief economist

ECB chief economist Philip Lane at the central bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, in June 2021
ECB chief economist Philip Lane said the process of removing the central bank’s stimulus ‘should be gradual’ © Bloomberg

The European Central Bank’s chief economist has said quarter-percentage point interest rate rises in July and September will be its “benchmark pace”, rebuffing calls for a bigger increase to end its negative rate policy instantly this summer.

Inflation in the eurozone is expected to hit a new high of 7.7 per cent when figures for May are published on Tuesday — nearly quadruple the ECB’s 2 per cent target. But its chief economist Philip Lane said the process of removing its stimulus “should be gradual”.

“Normalisation [of monetary policy] has a natural focus on moving in units of 25 basis points, so increases of 25 basis points in the July and September meetings are a benchmark pace,” he told Spanish business newspaper Cinco Días.

Lane was more specific than ECB president Christine Lagarde, who last week signalled for the first time a clear plan to end its eight-year experiment with negative rates by saying borrowing costs were on track to hit zero by the end of September.

The ECB’s deposit rate is minus 0.5 per cent and has been in negative territory since 2014, when the region faced a sovereign debt crisis. Most of its policymakers agree on the need to start raising rates, but there are divisions over the pace of the move.

Economists said Lane’s comments on Monday were an attempt to quash calls by more hawkish members of the ECB’s governing council for it to follow the lead of the US Federal Reserve by raising rates at a more aggressive pace of half a percentage point at a time.

Read more on the ECB here.

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Oil breaches $120 a barrel as supply concerns push prices up

Oil prices rose above $120 a barrel on Monday as tightness in refined fuel markets and concerns over supplies from Russia propelled prices to the highest level in two months.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, hit a two-month high of $120.50 a barrel in early trading, up 1 per cent ahead of the July contract’s expiry on Tuesday. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate rose by a similar amount to above $116 a barrel. The Brent contract for August delivery was up 0.5 per cent at $116.20 a barrel.

The rise comes as refined fuel prices such as diesel and gasoline have been boosted by tight supplies at key delivery hubs.

Lower exports of diesel from Russia, which many western companies are shunning or cutting back on following the invasion of Ukraine, have tightened markets even more so than crude.

The gas oil contract in Europe, a proxy for diesel and other distillates, is trading close to record levels near $1,200 a tonne.

Sky-high product prices mean motorists in many countries are paying record prices for diesel and petrol even as crude was still well below its all-time high of $147.50 a barrel, which it hit in 2008.

An easing of Covid-19 restrictions and government subsidies however have helped to support demand, says Keshav Lohiya at Oilytics, a consultancy.

Traders are monitoring any EU decision on restrictions or an outright embargo on Russian oil purchases in the coming days. Bloc members are due to meet on Monday and Tuesday. A full ban on Russian oil purchases has been opposed by some members such as Hungary, but the EU is keen to increase pressure on Russia.

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France calls meeting over aftermath of Champions League final

French police guarding the Stade de France before the start of the Champions League final football game between Liverpool and Real Madrid, in Saint Denis, France, on May 28 2022
UK officials blamed French police for poor security protocols at Stade de France, while French officials said British fans turned up without tickets or with fake ones © AP

France convened a meeting on Monday of sporting and law enforcement officials to analyse the clashes and the use of tear gas by the police on football fans that marred this weekend’s Champions League final on Saturday night in Paris.

Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, sports minister in Emmanuel Macron’s government, said that representatives of Uefa, European football’s governing body, the French football federation, the police, the interior ministry, and the city of Seine-Saint-Denis where the stadium is located would attend.

“We absolutely must get to the bottom of what happened,” she said on RTL radio.

Recriminations after the final in Paris in which Real Madrid beat Liverpool in front of 80,000 fans have intensified since Saturday. British officials have blamed French police for poor security protocols, while French officials said British fans turned up without tickets or with fake ones, leading to blockages at gates.

Some fans reported being mugged by locals on the way out of the stadium to public transport stations and blamed police for not securing the zone around the Stade de France. Police officials declined to comment on the reports on Sunday.

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Street battles break out in eastern Ukrainian city as Russian troops advance

A Ukrainian official said on Monday that fierce street fighting has erupted between government troops and invading Russian forces in Sievierodonetsk, a provincial capital in Ukraine’s far eastern Donbas region.

This is the area where Moscow has for more than two months struggled to encircle Ukrainian fighters and capture more ground.

“Fighting is already going on in the streets of Sievierodonetsk . . . The enemy is advancing inside Sievierodonetsk,” Serhiy Haidai, governor of the eastern Luhansk province, said in a Telegram channel post.

Haidai said this past weekend that Russian troops had seized a hotel in the city’s outskirts but his words on Monday suggested invading forces had penetrated deeper into one of the last major Ukrainian towns in the Luhansk region.

Luhansk is one of two provinces, along with Donetsk, that make up Ukraine’s industrial eastern Donbas. Russia has justified its full-blown invasion of Ukraine by saying it wants to liberate Donbas, where it fomented a proxy separatist war after annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Describing the scene in Sievierodonetsk, whose prewar population of more than 100,000 has been largely evacuated, Haidai said “the city is littered with Russian corpses” and more than 90 per cent of infrastructure and residential buildings are “destroyed”.

“Doctors have disappeared‼ ️ Three doctors went missing in the city . . . only a mutilated ambulance was found,” he added.

Haidai said Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk’s sister city located to the west across the Siversky Donets River, remained under Ukrainian control. The westward road connecting both frontline towns to the nearby Donetsk region strongholds of Ukraine’s army near the administrative capital city Kramatorsk was, according to Haidai, also under government control but “is heavily shelled and is dangerous”.

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European and Asian stocks start week in positive territory

European and Asian stocks made gains on Monday after the best week for global equities since mid-March.

The FTSE All-World index snapped a seven-week losing streak on Friday, driven by the best performance for Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 since November 2020, after softening economic data encouraged investors that the Federal Reserve could slow its tightening of monetary policy.

Asian markets followed the ascent of US stocks in the previous session for a strong start to the week. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index and Japan’s Topix rose 2.1 and 1.9 per cent, respectively. In Europe, the regional Stoxx 600 climbed 0.7 per cent, the FTSE 100 added 0.5 and Germany’s Dax index rose 0.8 per cent.

In bond markets, Germany’s 10-year Bund yield rose 0.06 per cent to 1.02 per cent, as the price of the debt instrument — seen as a proxy for European borrowing costs — fell.

With US markets closed for a public holiday on Monday, attention will turn to European economic data, where the publication of German consumer price index data will also indicate the extent to which inflation is rising in the eurozone.

Inflation is expected to reach a new 40-year high of 8 per cent in the eurozone’s largest economy. Continent-wide figures will be published on Tuesday.

Read more on today’s markets here.

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S4 Capital to beef up audit oversight

S4 Capital is looking to hire a new non-executive chair to its audit committee, as Sir Martin Sorrell’s advertising start-up continues its rapid growth despite a share price drop following an accounting slip.

The London-listed company said on Monday morning that it had already implemented “changes” all the way up to board level in areas such as financial control as well as risk and governance.

S4 said it was continuing to “examine merger opportunities” after it bought tech services company TheoremOne this month, in its first acquisition since accounting issues bubbled to the surface in late March.

The company said on Monday that profits and sales in the three months ending March had come in ahead of previous guidance, helped by two new “whopper” clients who bring in more than $20mn a year in revenue.

Sales reached £206.8mn in the period, up 40 per cent on a pro forma basis.

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Foxtons appoints Gittins as new chief

A branch of Foxtons estate agents
Foxtons said it had made ‘a good start to the financial year and current trading remains in line with the board’s expectations’ © Reuters

UK estate agent Foxtons has named a new chief executive to lead the company, with Guy Gittins replacing outgoing boss Nic Budden at the beginning of September.

Gittins joins the agency from rival Chestertons where he is chief executive. Budden has stepped down from the role he held since 2014, leaving Peter Rollings, a non-executive director and former managing director of Foxtons, to act as interim chief.

Foxtons said that it had made “a good start to the financial year and current trading remains in line with the board’s expectations”.

Gittins started his career at Foxtons, leaving in 2007 to take up a sales role at a rival agency. He joined Savills in 2010 before moving to Chestertons in 2012 as the head of their flagship Chelsea office.

“I am looking forward to working with the talented Foxtons team to realise the potential of the business and drive significant shareholder value,” he said.

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GIC and Greystar seal £3.3bn UK student property deal

Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund and a major US property developer have struck an agreement to buy a £3bn-plus portfolio of student housing, completing a deal that is seen as a barometer of investors’ confidence in the UK against a backdrop of soaring inflation and rising interest rates.

Final bids for Student Roost, owned by Canadian fund Brookfield, were submitted on Friday, and GIC and Greystar emerged as the successful bidders overnight on Sunday with an offer in excess of £3.3bn, according to people with knowledge of the process.

The pair have beaten a trio of competitors including US private equity giant Blackstone, UK company Unite Students and specialist student housing investor GSA, according to two people with knowledge of the deal.

The transaction is among the largest UK real estate deals struck since the pandemic.

Brookfield, which was advised by Eastdil Secured and Morgan Stanley on the deal, put Student Roost on the market this year as coronavirus restrictions were eased and occupancy of student halls of residence returned towards pre-pandemic levels.

Brookfield and Greystar declined to comment. GIC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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What to watch in Europe today

Inflation: Germany releases preliminary consumer price index data for May, and Spain publishes its latest inflation figures. In Germany, inflation is expected to reach a new 40-year high of 8 per cent.

UK: The UK will publish official data on youth unemployment by socio-economic background and an analysis tracking the price of the lowest-cost grocery items. In the UK, inflation reached a 40-year high of 9 per cent in April driven by rising energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Economic news: The EU publishes consumer and business sentiment surveys and Italy publishes its latest producer price index.

Markets: Futures for the Euro Stoxx 50 and the FTSE 100 were up 0.6 per cent and 0.2 per cent, respectively. Asian markets rose on Monday, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gaining as much as 2.3 per cent, buoyed by easing Covid-19 restrictions and limited economic support measures in China, as well as a strong performance by US stocks last week.

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Australia’s Liberal Party elects conservative former policeman as leader following election defeat

Peter Dutton, a conservative hard man and former Queensland policeman, has been elected Australia’s new opposition leader, promising to represent the “forgotten people” in the country’s outer suburbs and shift the Liberal Party’s focus from big to small business.

Dutton, who as defence minister took a belligerent approach to relations with China, was elected unopposed by his party on Monday following its election loss under former Liberal prime minister Scott Morrison on May 21.

He will head up a centre-right coalition with the agrarian National Party, which elected former agriculture minister David Littleproud to replace rightwing climate sceptic Barnaby Joyce as its leader. Littleproud, a moderate in the Nationals, will be deputy opposition leader.

Dutton has developed an image as a rightwinger over his 21 years in parliament, with a string of gaffes and insensitive comments about asylum seekers and Pacific island nations as well as bellicose comment on China. But he has also been praised for his “polite” and warm manner in person that has maintained his popularity within his party and his Brisbane constituency.

The Liberal-National coalition lost 18 seats at the election, with surprise losses in traditionally safe Liberal seats in wealthy inner city suburbs to pro-climate, pro-business “teal” independent candidates.

The party’s poor performance in these areas was seen as an indictment of the Morrison government’s perceived weak climate policy and its treatment of women and led moderate Liberals to call for a return to the centre to win back educated, wealthy white collar voters.

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South Korea approves record supplementary budget despite inflation risks

Inflation has emerged as a bigger concern than growth for the Bank of Korea, which last week raised its benchmark interest rate by a quarter point © Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

South Korea’s cabinet approved a record supplementary budget of Won62tn ($49.5bn) to help small businesses hit by the pandemic in what could be the final round of such fiscal support as Asia’s fourth-largest economy faces growing inflationary risks.

Parliament passed the budget plan late Sunday despite concern that pandemic-era stimulus could fuel inflation. President Yoon Suk-yeol urged officials to swiftly execute the spending plan and said the government will do everything to stabilise the rising cost of living as inflation hit 4.8 per cent last month.

“Given that higher prices mean a reduced wage income in real terms, I hope the government will employ all available tools to stabilise the people’s cost of living,” Yoon told a staff meeting on Monday.

Inflation has emerged as a bigger concern than growth for the Bank of Korea, which last week raised its benchmark interest rate by a quarter point to 1.75 per cent in the fifth increase since last summer.

South Korea has drawn up a series of extra budgets over the past two years to cushion the economic blow of Covid-19 and to support self-employed people hit by restrictions. The BoK last week downgraded its growth forecast for this year to 2.7 per cent, from the 3 per cent forecast made in February, and expects inflation to hit 4.5 per cent in 2022.

The government on Monday also announced measures worth Won3.1tn to help reduce living costs by cutting taxes and removing import duties on some food products by the end of this year.

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Asia-Pacific shares rise after Wall Street snaps 7-week losing streak

Asia-Pacific shares rose on Monday after easing inflation concerns in the US helped Wall Street to snap a seven-week losing streak.

Japan’s Topix was up as much as 1.6 per cent, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 1.2 per cent and South Korea’s Kospi added 1.1 per cent. Shares in Hong Kong and mainland China also rose, with the Hang Seng index gaining as much as 1.4 per cent and the CSI 300 up 0.7 per cent.

The gains followed a week in which Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 had its best week since November 2020, adding 6.6 per cent, buoyed by investors’ hopes that the US Federal Reserve might raise interest rates less aggressively than feared following early signs that inflation was easing. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite gained 6.8 per cent last week.

Health workers cycle on a street in Shanghai’s Jing’an district on Sunday
Health workers cycle on a street in Shanghai’s Jing’an district on Sunday © Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

China last week also unveiled limited measures aimed at stimulating its economy, which has been hammered by strict Covid-19 lockdowns. Those included a modest expansion of corporate tax relief and new policy loans of Rmb800bn ($118.7bn). Covid-19 cases in Shanghai and Beijing, the country’s most important cities, dropped on Monday.

Oil prices rose, with international benchmark Brent crude adding 0.6 per cent to trade at $120.12 a barrel, while US marker West Texas Intermediate rose 0.8 per cent to hit $115.95.

European futures were mixed, with contracts for the Euro Stoxx 50 up 0.4 per cent and flat for the FTSE 100.

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Populist Hernández to face leftwinger Petro in Colombia election run-off

Businessman Rodolfo Hernández pulled off a strong second-place showing in Colombia’s presidential election on Sunday, comfortably clinching a run-off next month against former leftwing guerrilla Gustavo Petro.

With most results in, Hernández, an outspoken populist who has been compared with former US president Donald Trump, had earned about 28 per cent of the vote, beating the more established centre-right candidate Federico Gutiérrez, who was third with 24 per cent.

Petro won with more than 40 per cent of the vote but given that most of Gutiérrez’s supporters are likely to back Hernández in the second round, the leftwing frontrunner has his work cut out to win the presidency. He won about 8.5mn votes while Hernández and Gutiérrez took nearly 11mn between them.

“This really is the hardest scenario imaginable for Petro and I don’t think his campaign team will be very happy,” said Sandra Botero, political analyst at Rosario University in Bogotá. “It will be an uphill struggle for him in the second round.”

The results were set to spur financial markets on Monday. Economists had forecast that if Hernández made it to the second round, the peso and Colombian assets would strengthen in anticipation of his eventual victory in a run-off.

Read more about the Colombian run-off here

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AGL scraps demerger after Mike Cannon-Brookes’ corporate raid

AGL, one of Australia’s biggest power companies, has abandoned a planned demerger and its chief executive and chair have resigned, after tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes bought shares in the company in an effort to block the planned restructuring.

The board said in a statement on Monday they believed Cannon-Brookes’ attempt to persuade at least 25 per cent of shareholders to oppose the demerger at a vote next month had been successful, leaving the plan unviable. Chair Peter Botten and chief executive Graeme Hunt will leave the group once replacements have been found, while two other board members will also resign.

The development is a victory for Cannon-Brookes, who opposed the demerger of AGL’s coal generation business because it would have kept the coal plants open well into the 2040s.

Cannon-Brookes, the chief executive of software group Atlassian, wanted AGL to keep the company as one, shut its coal plants down earlier than currently planned, and use the group’s balance sheet to fund investment in renewables.

Steam billows from the AGL-owned Loy Yang brown coal-fired power station near Traralgon in south-eastern Victoria
Steam billows from the AGL-owned Loy Yang brown coal-fired power station near Traralgon in south-eastern Victoria © Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

He argued his proposal, which AGL management said lacked detail, would be better for the environment and for shareholders.

His corporate raid on the company followed his unsuccessful bid with Canadian investment group Brookfield Asset Management to buy AGL outright for A$5.43bn (US$3.89bn) in February. The consortium proposed to take AGL private, close its three coal plants early, and invest A$20bn in renewable generation.

Last week Hesta, one of Australia’s largest pension funds and a shareholder in the company, announced it would vote against the demerger on environmental grounds.

“After reviewing the plan, we remain unconvinced that the overall demerger plan would sufficiently accelerate decarbonisation to meet Paris-aligned targets, nor manage the risk of stranded assets,” the fund said.

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The week ahead: Holiday season comes early with days off for many

This week many of us will be getting an early holiday season as a bulge in anniversaries means an uptick in public rest days across the world.

If you are reading this in the US, you are already immersed in the long Memorial day weekend with tomorrow’s commemoration of those who have given their life in military service.

On other years, the last Monday of May would also be a day off in the UK, linked to the Christian festival of Pentecost, or Whitsun as the Church of England calls it. But this year, the day off has been moved to Thursday and Brits have been handed an extra public holiday on Friday to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years as British head of state — perhaps by heading to the cinema.

On Thursday, Italians will commemorate the founding of their modern state with fireworks and parades on National Republic day.

Then there is the Dragon Boat Festival, the traditional Chinese holiday held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar — this year that will be this Friday. However, due to the pandemic, many of the actual dragon boat races scheduled worldwide will be cancelled or held under restrictions.

Whatever you feel about the point of these public holidays, they have an additional poignancy this year given the debate about working hours. The greater flexibility needed to get things done during pandemic lockdowns has led many to question the rigidity of nine-to-five working, five days a week, about whether we need to blend our home and work life better or move to a four-day week — as tech business WANdisco has already done.

Economic data

It is a fairly full week for economic data with both inflation and unemployment data for the eurozone countries, on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, plus the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book on US economic conditions on Wednesday, and US unemployment data on Friday.


So-called dollar stores in the US have tended to trade resiliently during economic downturns and that will probably be the message from variety discounter B&M this week.

Analysts expect sales and profits for the year to the end of March to be below last year’s record levels as shopping habits normalise and costs rise. But, as my colleague Jonathan Eley notes, the company’s scale and its direct-sourcing operation in Asia will help it keep prices below those of more conventional rivals as incomes come under pressure.

These are likely to be the last set of full-year results for chief executive Simon Arora, who together with brother Bobby took B&M from a small chain of tatty shops in north-west England to an estate of almost 700 UK stores and a place in the FTSE 100. He surprised the market in April by announcing plans to retire.

Read the full week ahead calendar here

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Europe’s unity ‘crumbling’ on Russia sanctions, Germany warns

Europe’s unity on sanctions against Russia is “starting to crumble”, Germany’s economy minister has warned as diplomats highlight continued divisions over a package of sanctions set to be discussed by member states on Monday.

Robert Habeck spoke as EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels on Sunday failed to agree on the bloc’s latest package of sanctions against Moscow, including a plan to stop imports of Russian oil which Hungary has been blocking for weeks.

Diplomats had hoped to agree on measures to put to EU leaders who are due to start a two-day summit on Monday.

“After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, we saw what can happen when Europe stands united. With a view to the summit tomorrow, let’s hope it continues like this. But it is already starting to crumble and crumble again,” Habeck, who is also vice-chancellor, told reporters in Germany on Sunday.

Duna oil refinery, Hungary: the country would be particularly hard hit by an embargo on Russian oil imports
Duna oil refinery, Hungary: the country would be particularly hard hit by an embargo on Russian oil imports © Getty Images

His comments underline the EU’s difficulties in finding a way to extend punishments on Moscow for its war on Ukraine while not affecting parts of the European economy that rely heavily on deliveries of Russian oil and gas.

“Europe is still a huge economic area with incredible economic power. And when it stands united, it can use that power,” Habeck said at the opening of a trade fair.

Read more about European efforts to sanction Russia here

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Biden visits site of Texas shooting but gun reform remains unlikely

President Joe Biden travelled to Texas on Sunday to meet the families of the 19 children and two teachers fatally shot in America’s latest school shooting, as Democrats downplayed the chances of meaningful change to gun laws.

Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old, entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday and opened fire on children with an automatic rifle. Around 90 minutes after the attack began he was shot dead by a Border Patrol agent.

The president and first lady Jill Biden visited the memorial site at the school before attending mass at a nearby Catholic church and meeting with the families of the dead children and surviving pupils.

The massacre in Uvalde, a majority Hispanic town about 60 miles from the Mexican border, came just over a week after another teenager shot and killed 10 people in a grocery store in a largely black neighbourhood in Buffalo, New York state’s second-largest city.

Democrats in Congress have tried to pass stricter gun control measures for years but have encountered steadfast opposition from Republicans, who have resisted even modest proposals such as more rigorous background checks before weapons are bought.

Any legislative changes would need to clear a 60-vote threshold in the Senate, meaning at least 10 Republicans would have to be in favour for gun control legislation to advance.

Read more about Biden’s Texas trip here

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Americans shrug off high petrol prices to travel over holiday weekend

US petrol prices hit fresh records this weekend but, despite the soaring cost, millions of American motorists took to the roads for the unofficial start of summer.

Even as the average cost of a gallon of gasoline broke $4.60 for the first time, around 35mn people were expected to take to the roads over the Memorial day weekend, which traditionally marks the start of America’s summer driving season, according to the AAA, a motoring group.

That would mark a 5 per cent increase on last year’s numbers as holidaymakers indulge in post-pandemic freedom.

“I think it’s all systems go this weekend,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service. “There’s an attitude among the public where it’s like: ‘I deserve this’.”

But despite the early summer rush, high prices are beginning to take their toll on motorists. While drivers might be willing to splurge on holidays, they have cut back on day-to-day spending for commuting and social travel.

“We’re starting to see that term ‘demand destruction’ return,” said Kloza.

Line chart of Retail gasoline ($/gallon) showing Americans are paying record prices at the pump

Read more about US petrol prices here

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