Global news briefs from the Economist
The European Union outlined its strategy to create a digital single market. The thrust of the proposals include establishing standard rules for buying goods online, pruning cross-border regulations on telecoms and reducing the tax burden on businesses. But the plan also calls for a “comprehensive assessment” of whether Google, Facebook and other Internet platforms distort competition.
American authorities levied their first civil penalty against a virtual-currency exchange. Ripple Labs, a start-up backed by investors in Silicon Valley which operates a digital payment known as XRP that is similar to Bitcoin, was fined $700,000 for not complying with anti-money-laundering rules. It does not face criminal charges as it has promised to change its systems.
PIMCO’s Total Return Fund lost the crown it has worn for two decades as the world’s largest bond fund. It was usurped by Vanguard’s Total Bond Market Index Fund, which had $117 billion in assets in April, compared with $110 billion in Total Return. Investors have withdrawn roughly $110 billion from PIMCO since Bill Gross, its founder, widely known as the Bond King, was ousted in September.
Europe’s blue-chip banks posted decent results. Profit at UBS almost doubled in the first quarter compared with the same period last year, to $2.1 billion, as business picked up at its streamlined investment bank. This was despite the soaring value of the Swiss franc. Net profit at Société Générale, a French bank, soared to $977 million, as its investment bank also benefited from increased global trading.
The chief executive of HSBC, Stuart Gulliver, suggested that the bank would make a decision about whether to move its headquarters away from London by the end of the year.
The European Commission said “positive economic tail winds” such as cheaper oil and the European Central Bank’s quantitative-easing program mean GDP should increase in the eurozone by 1.5 percent this year, slightly higher than had been previously forecast. Following four months of deflation, consumer prices in the currency bloc are estimated to have been flat in April, and are expected to pick up later in the year.
Although the oil price remains far below its 2014 peak, Brent crude touched $70 a barrel, the most since December. Oil is now 50 percent higher than in mid-January. The rebound helps to explain why yields on government bonds in America, Britain and Germany have sharply reversed the downward trend of recent weeks and risen to new highs for the year.
The Chinese government took more action to shake up China’s state-controlled giants. Trading in the shares of two of China’s biggest carmakers, Dongfeng (which holds a 14 percent stake in Peugeot) and FAW, were suspended temporarily amid rumors that Beijing wants them to merge. And the senior management ranks were reshuffled at China’s biggest oil producers, Sinopec, CNOOC and China National Petroleum Corporation.
Eric Chu, the chairman of Taiwan’s ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT), held talks with the general secretary of China’s Communist Party, President Xi Jinping, in Beijing. It was the first meeting between the two parties’ leaders in six years. China is worried that the KMT, which favors closer ties between Taiwan and the mainland, may lose power in elections next year.
China accused the Philippines of “malicious hyping” in a dispute over territorial claims in the South China Sea. In a tit-for-tat row over satellite photographs showing land-reclamation work by China on several contested reefs, the Chinese foreign ministry claimed that the Philippines itself had engaged in “large-scale construction of military and civil facilities” on islands in the sea for many years.
Benjamin Netanyahu just about met the deadline to form a new government in Israel, after his victory in March’s election. The foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, resigned and his group of six in the Knesset declined to join Netanyahu’s new coalition, which as a consequence will have a bloc of only 61 in the 120-seat parliament.
Iranian security forces arrested a prominent human-rights activist, Narges Mohammadi, soon after she was charged in court with crimes against national security.