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Kudlow: White House Talking to Other Possible Fed Candidates

The White House is considering other possible candidates for the board of the Federal Reserve although President Donald Trump still backs his two potential nominees, Herman Cain and Stephen Moore, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Tuesday.

Kudlow, speaking to reporters at the White House, added that Trump’s picks are still going through the nominating process for the seats on the U.S. central bank’s board of governors.

“We are talking to a number of candidates. We always do,” he said when asked if the White House was vetting alternates for Cain and Moore, whose controversial potential nominations have raised concerns among economists as well as some of Trump’s fellow Republicans.

The U.S. Senate must confirm any nominees, and Republicans control the chamber with 53 seats. But four of them have said they oppose Cain, a former pizza company chief executive, effectively sinking his nomination.

Neither candidate’s name has been formally sent to the Senate, but Trump has pledged to do so.

Economists and other critics have raised concerns about two Trump loyalists serving at what has traditionally been a nonpartisan financial entity.

 

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Fearing Austerity, Lebanese Protest Ahead of Budget

The Lebanese government has yet to disclose its budget for 2019, but protesters are already in the streets fearing the “difficult and painful” reforms it is expected to announce as it tries to get spending in control and rein in public debt.

Retired army officers blocked several highways with burning tires Tuesday, a preemptive warning to the government against any cuts to their pensions that might be part of its effort to reduce one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.

Though small, the protests offered a glimpse of the political minefield facing the government.

The budget is seen as a critical test of its will to enact long-stalled reforms that economists say are more pressing than ever for an economy that has suffered years of low growth. State finances are strained by a bloated public sector, high debt servicing costs and hefty subsidizes spent on the power sector.

“We went out today to tell them that our pensions are a red line,” said Khaled Ammar, one of a number of retired officers blocking the highway south of Beirut.

The budget has yet to be finalized but speculation it will include cuts to the massive public wage bill has grown since Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil hinted at such steps Saturday.

“There are those who should be making people aware today that if a temporary reduction doesn’t happen, then there will be no salaries for anyone,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that “if we must start with the ministers and MPs, so be it.”

Protesters said tackling corruption should be the priority.

“If the economic condition of the country has reached this difficult level … we are not responsible for it, the politicians are,” said Ammar, a father of three who served in the military for three decades.

Bloated public sector

Lebanese leaders have been warning of economic crisis for some time. In a February policy statement, the new government committed itself to launching fast and effective reforms that could be “difficult and painful” to avoid a worsening of economic, financial and social conditions.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said last week he was concerned about a Greek-style crisis in Lebanon while saying that government measures would prevent “economic problems.”

At a Paris conference last year, Lebanon promised to cut its budget deficit by 1 percent of gross domestic product a year over five years. Economists are now looking for a bigger cut because last year’s deficit was bigger than expected at between 10.5%to 11% of GDP instead of a projected 8.2%.

Serious reforms would help Lebanon unlock some $11 billion in financing pledged in Paris.

The government last week approved a plan to overhaul the power sector — a major drain on state finances for years.

Critics say the government must deliver this time, pointing to previous such plans that were never implemented.

The public sector wage bill is the state’s biggest outgoing, followed by servicing the public debt equal to around 150% of GDP. The wage bill went up in 2017 after increases were agreed ahead of a parliamentary election.

Nassib Ghobril, chief economist at Lebanon’s Byblos Bank, hopes to see the deficit brought down by 2% of GDP and says reforms should include shutting down the many obsolete government agencies.

“They have to freeze hiring, freeze future salary increases, and increases in benefits, and they have to cut the number of public sector employees and restructure the way companies restructure when they are in financial difficulties,” he said.

“The public sector has recruited 31,000 people over the last four years — more than the entire financial sector.”

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Development Bank Earmarks $4.4 Billion for Central Africa

The African Development Bank (AfDB) promised Tuesday to invest $4.4 billion (3.89 billion euros) in infrastructure in over the next seven years.

The sum will help to finance 30 projects, ranging from electricity networks and transport to information technology and communication and improve cross-border trade, it said in a statement.

Spending will be focused on Cameroon, Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Central African Republic.

Growth in central Africa doubled in 2018, with GDP expanding by 2.2% against 1.1% a year earlier, according to AfDB figures.

The rate is still far behind the average for sub-Saharan Africa, which was 3.5 percent.

 

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Mexican President Says to Return ‘Stolen’ Wealth to the People

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday he will create a “Robin Hood” institute to return to the people the ill-gotten wealth seized from corrupt politicians and gangsters.

His administration is drawing up a bill to create an independent “Robin Hood” institute “against the corrupt” that would put confiscated goods such as real estate, jewelry and cars into the public’s hands, the president told reporters.

“Let’s quickly return everything to the people that’s been stolen,” he said at his regular morning news conference.

For example, the institute could assign seized homes to municipalities for schools, hospitals or elderly care centers, he said. Assets seized by the government tend to have been ransacked or require expensive upkeep, he noted.

He did not estimate the value of the assets, or offer details on how they would be given back to the people.

Since taking office in December, veteran leftist Lopez Obrador has rolled out a string of welfare programs for the poor and the elderly, cut salaries for top civil servants and says he is saving public money by eliminating corruption.

Lopez Obrador has shunned the often luxurious trappings of Mexico’s wealthy elites, choosing to fly coach and drive through the capital in a white Volkswagen Jetta.

Immediately upon taking office, he turned over the presidential palace to the public and put his predecessor’s official plane up for sale.

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Tiger Woods’ Victory in Masters a Win for Golf Business

Tiger Woods’ victory at the Masters golf tournament on Sunday, his first major victory since 2008, is expected to lift sales for sponsors, broadcasters and golf courses lucky enough to host a tournament with Woods playing.

The competition put the 43-year-old back on top of a sport he helped transform 25 years ago.

“Tiger sells golf,” says Eric Smallwood, president of Apex Marketing Group, a Michigan analytics firm. Apex found that Nike earned $22.5 million worth of brand exposure just from Woods’ final round, with Nike’s “Swoosh” logo splashed on his hat, shirt, pants and shoes. Nike stock was up about one percent on Monday.

Tournament broadcaster CBS Corp saw a ratings bump.

Based on preliminary data, the final round of Sunday’s tournament was the highest-rated morning golf broadcast since 1986, when CBS started collecting that data. The tournament, which is usually broadcast in the afternoon, was rescheduled to the morning because of weather.

CBS has the rights to the PGA Championship in May and expects prices for advertising time that is still available to rise as a result of Woods’ Masters victory, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The golf demographic is wealthier and better-educated than other sports fans, so TV ratings are valued more highly because  hey’re more apt to turn into sales, even of big-ticket items, said Neal Pilson, president of Pilson Communications and former president of CBS Sports.

“Historically, events where Tiger Woods is on leaderboards on Sunday generated 30 to 40 percent higher ratings in the United States for those tournaments,” Pilson said.

Makings of a comeback

Woods was a 20-year-old prodigy when he turned pro in 1996.

Less than a year later he was ranked No. 1 in the world. He struck lucrative endorsement deals — including a five-year, $40 million deal with Nike — and golf experienced a surge in popularity.

Then Woods’ personal life collapsed and with it, his brand.

In 2009, after the news of multiple infidelities, he lost endorsement deals with companies like AT&T and Accenture. Other sponsors, such as Procter & Gamble’s Gillette and Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets, kept their contracts with Woods but stopped using him in marketing.

Four back surgeries later, Woods continued to suffer professionally and in the public eye. In 2017 police arrested him for driving under the influence; he pleaded guilty to reckless driving and entered a program for first-time offenders.

In 2018, Woods began a professional comeback that culminated at Sunday’s Masters. After his victory, Nike, which stood behind Woods throughout his darker years, posted an ad on its website titled “Tiger Woods: Same Dream.”

“In sports you have heroes, villains and underdogs,” said Benjamin Hordell, founder of digital marketing and advertising firm DXagency. “Tiger has lived all of it. That’s amazing from a storytelling perspective. People will root against him, but they’re watching.”

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he would award Woods the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Turkey: Buying Russian Defense System Should Not Trigger US Sanctions

Turkey’s purchase of a Russian air defense missile system should not trigger U.S. sanctions because Ankara is not an adversary of Washington and remains committed to the NATO alliance, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Monday.

Speaking at a U.S.-Turkey conference in Washington amid rising tensions between the two NATO allies over Ankara’s plan to buy the Russian S-400 missile system, Akar adopted a relatively conciliatory tone and urged to resolve issues via dialogue.

“Turkey is clearly not an adversary of the United States,” Akar said and added that, therefore, its procurement of the S-400 system should not be considered within the scope of U.S. sanctions designed to target America’s enemies.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that Washington had told Ankara it could face retribution for buying the S-400s under a sanctions law known as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CATSAA).

“This procurement decision does not signify a change in Turkey’s course. I’d like to reiterate strongly that there is no change in Turkey’s commitment to NATO,” Akar said.

The disagreement over the F-35 is the latest of a series of diplomatic disputes between the United States and Turkey including Turkish demands that the United States extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to back down from Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system that the United States has said would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft, made by Lockheed Martin. 

Turkey has said it will take delivery of the S-400s in July.

In early April, the United States halted delivery of equipment related to the stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey, marking the first concrete U.S. step to potentially blocking the delivery of the jet to the NATO ally.

Akar said Turkey was puzzled by the move and expected U.S. and other partners in the program to fulfill their obligations.

“We firmly believe that linking the S-400 to the F-35 project is unfortunate. … We are one of the investors and partners and not just a buyer. We have invested over $1 billion … and fulfilled all our obligations,” he said.

Akar repeated Turkey’s offer to hold technical talks with the United States to address “technical concerns” over the S-400 purchase.

Turkey is also assessing a renewed offer from the United States to buy Patriot missile defense systems, Akar added.

“Recently, we received the restated offer for the Patriots. This offer is now on the table, we are studying it carefully,” he said.

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Ivanka Trump In Africa For Women’s Economic Summit

Ivanka Trump arrived in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Sunday for a summit on African women’s economic inclusion and empowerment.

In addition to attending the summit, the daughter of the U.S. president, who is also an advisor to her father, will meet with female workers in the coffee industry, and tour a female-run textile facility.

President Donald Trump signed a National Security Presidential Memorandum in February, establishing the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative. W-GDP says it hopes to “reach 50 million women by 2025, through the work of the the United States Government and its partners.”

It was not immediately clear if the controversy that surrounds the U.S. president will follow his daughter to Africa. The president has not been kind in his remarks about Africa and its migrants.

“I don’t think people will have a good feeling” said Ethiopian journalist Sisay Woubshet, about the president’s daughter visit to the Continent.

Marakle Tesfaye, an activist, said, however, “I think she’s coming genuinely to empower women and it’s good that she’s coming because she will push forward our agenda.”

Trump is also scheduled to an make an appearance at a World Bank policy summit.

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