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Health start-up uBiome cuts more than 50 jobs

Health start-up uBiome cuts more than 50 jobs

UBiome, a start-up that provides a test for people to monitor the health of the bacteria and other microorganisms that live in the body, has eliminated about than 10 percent of its staff in the US and additional positions overseas.

Indiegogo more than five years ago, which was particularly popular with the so-called “quantified self” community. The company has since raised money from 8VC, a firm started by Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, as well as Y Combinator.

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Ariana Grande’s Fifth Album Is Coming — See The Full Thank U, Next Tracklist

Ariana Grande’s Fifth Album Is Coming — See The Full Thank U, Next Tracklist

For anyone who was skeptical that Ariana Grande is really, actually planning to release her fifth album less than six months (!) after Sweetener, rest assured it’s definitely happening. The 25-year-old has been steadily dropping new tunes — the latest being last week’s flex anthem “7 rings” — and now she’s generously unveiled her new project’s tracklist.

Ari took to her @Sweetener Instagram account on Tuesday evening (January 22) to spell out thank u, next‘s 12 song titles. Of course, the smash title track is accounted for, as are “7 rings,” “imagine,” and the oft-teased “needy.” Besides those, fans have intriguing cuts like “ghostin,” “fake smile,” and “NASA” to look forward to, as well as the curiously titled closing track, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.”


There’s still no confirmed release date for thank u, next, but Grande heavily suggested to a fan on Twitter that it could be coming on February 8. In the same tweet spree on Monday, the singer revealed that “7 rings” is the album’s final single before its release.

The arrival of thank u, next is just one of many exciting things Arianators have to look forward to in 2019. Sweetener is up for Best Pop Vocal Album at next month’s Grammys, and Ari is embarking on a Sweetener World Tour starting in March. She’ll even squeeze in a festival date at Coachella — and possibly one at Lollapalooza — on the way. Until then, study up on her new tracklist below!

1. imagine

2. needy


4. bloodline

5. fake smile

6. bad idea

7. make up

8. ghostin

9. in my head

10. 7 rings

11. thank u, next

12. break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored

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Cristiano Ronaldo guilty of $28m tax fraud, sentenced to 23 months in jail

Cristiano Ronaldo guilty of $28m tax fraud, sentenced to 23 months in jail

The trial of Ronaldo’s former Real Madrid team mate Xabi Alonso, also in court on Tuesday over accusations of tax fraud, was suspended, a court magistrate said.

Prosecutors were seeking a five-year jail sentence and a fine of €4 million for Spaniard Alonso, who retired as a player in 2017, accusing him of defrauding the Spanish state of some 2 million euros between 2010 and 2012.

Alonso said he was confident he had not committed a crime and would have to wait while the magistrates evaluated his case.

“I’d be worried if I thought I had something to hide or something I didn’t do right but as that isn’t the case I am carrying on,” Alonso told reporters outside the court.

Ronaldo had to enter the courtroom through the front door after his request for special security measures to avoid the spotlight was denied on Monday.

In 2017, Ronaldo denied the accusation that he knowingly used a business structure to hide income generated by his image rights in Spain between 2011 and 2014.

After reaching the deal, he paid a fine of €5.7 million, plus interest of about €1 million, in July 2018, the prosecutor’s office said last week.


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Catastrophe, episode 3, review: Nobody could call this sitcom predictable

Catastrophe, episode 3, review: Nobody could call this sitcom predictable

Usually, Catastrophe is memorable for its M-16 style fusillades of killer one-liners, witty takes on the many absurdities of modern middle-class life and deep, rich, ironic observational humour. Midway into the final series, Sharon (Sharon Horgan) and Rob (Rob Delaney) are shooting their well-turned dialogue into our ears (maybe it helps that they also write it), with just the right sardonic ricochets to prevent them and the small universe of characters orbiting around them from falling the wrong side of political correctness. Plenty of sex too. As I’ve remarked before, Catastrophe is like a modernised Terry and June, very funny in an arid sort of way, and likes to shock.

However, nothing really prepares the viewer for the kinkiness newly separated Fran (Ashley Jensen) and her on-off lover boy Douglas (Douglas Hodge) now indulge in. There she was, in the street, in broad daylight, pinned up against the wall by Douglas in a particularly frenetic knee-trembler, to use a rather quaint term for their risky al fresco wordless shag. It lasts for just a few seconds, I suppose, and Fran emerges from it with most of her dignity intact, but I just can’t get this image of the upper reaches of Fran’s thighs out of my poor, tortured mind. It’s not erotic; just difficult to believe it was broadcast.

Nor, to be even-handed about things, is her description of Douglas’s genitalia any less remarkable, when she tells Sharon he is so handsome that “even his scrotum is attractive”. I mean, I don’t know what goes on in the minds of Horgan and Delaney, or anywhere else, but I have nothing but admiration for their imagination.  

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So, the formula may be a reliable one, but no one could call Catastrophe predictable. I rather hope that this brief adventure into raw sex will at least stop Jensen from getting typecast.

As Sharon and Rob jog towards the end of the series, and, possibly their relationship (who knows?) there are growing intimations of mortality. Sharon’s GP tells her – it comes to us all – that her cholesterol levels are a little high, and she has “high levels of fat” surrounding her organs. Nor can he do anything about her persistent postnatal incontinence – “we’re closer to curing cancer than figuring out how mothers not pee when they don’t want to”. Kitted out in Lycra, Sharon turns up for “military fitness” sessions on the park which she finds humiliating, enjoyably for us. Meanwhile, Rob is sprayed in the face by youths on a scooter – though it turns out just to be orange juice. He’s out there, yelling what sounds like “Hasidic Jews” (in fact “acidic juice”) at his prank assailants, a small vignette of the everyday paranoia about random attacks with oven cleaner or bleach that haunts people living in our capital.

As ever, though, the best of Catastrophe takes place in quiet and thoughtful conversations. After her doc dropped the cholesterol bombshell, Sharon reflects aloud on her father dying when he was 70: “That’s nothing these days – like dying in your forties. My parents had me in their thirties, I had my dad all my adult life, and he knew his grandkids, sort of. If I die in my seventies my kids will barely be thirty. They won’t have had kids. No way. Not millennials. They don’t give a s*** about anyone… I just want a decent while.”

That’s one reason why Catastrophe enjoys the popularity it does – because it echoes something back to a certain demographic, the coming class that will, whether they like it or not, be running what’s left of this poor old country in a decade or two. Doing intergenerational fairness in a sitcom is a brave enterprise, and, as you see, they succeed.

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Catastrophe’s modish wisdom “speaks to” the nation’s thirty-somethings, if I can use that ugly terminology. Many will recognise the brutal truth of their shared predicament. For example, here are Rob and Sharon at a lunch party with some new parent friends: “Having kids is like strapping yourself to a Formula 1 race car, you know? Boom! Your life is over, but not in a bad way…” Sharon, almost, finishes the thought: “Yeah. You just have to take everything you ever wanted and put it in a box because you never… But, yeah, it’s great, you know.”

Maybe, despite the cholesterol and the alcohol intake, Sharon and Rob will live long enough to return one day, with or without their grandchildren, and entertain us before frailty finally overtakes them.

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Challenger downgrades earnings citing market volatility

Challenger downgrades earnings citing market volatility

Its fund management performance fees were $2 million in the first half of the 2019 financial year, Challenger said, which were $4 million lower than the same time last financial year.

Challenger said it expects to report a $6 million profit for the first half, compared to $195 million a year ago.

​Challenger’s chief executive Richard Howes, who took over the job from Brian Benari, declined The Australian Financial Review‘s request for an interview.

In a statement, Mr Howes said while conditions are challenging he remains very positive about the future.

“Challenger has a strong track record of success through the cycle, which gives me confidence in our performance over the longer term. We continue to be well placed to take advantage of growth in the retirement income market,” Mr Howes said

Challenger will release its half-year results on February 12.

More to come

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China’s slowing growth improves the chances for an ‘advantageous’ trade deal: Jim Cramer

China’s slowing growth improves the chances for an ‘advantageous’ trade deal: Jim Cramer

China’s slowing economic growth could pave the way for its government to reach a trade agreement with the United States, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said Tuesday as the major averages dropped on worries about weaker global growth.

China’s announcement that, in 2018, its economy grew at the slowest pace in 28 years. Additional pressure came from the International Monetary Fund slashing its global economic growth forecast for 2019 and 2020 and reports that signaled ongoing tensions between U.S. and Chinese trade officials.

The IMF’s forecast cut said a few things about the state of the world’s economy, Cramer said. In her decision, the organization’s chairwoman, Christine Lagarde, cited a slowdown in Europe. Beyond the obvious pressure from Brexit, that weakness could be tied to China because of how many European companies do business there, Cramer said.

Either way, “I figure the weakness in China will make it easier for President [Donald] Trump to get an advantageous trade deal,” Cramer, host of “Mad Money,” told investors.

Specifically, it could lead to some important concessions from Chinese authorities, the most significant being an acknowledgment of China’s alleged intellectual property theft, the longtime market-watcher explained.

“At a certain point, it’s cheaper for the Chinese to just change their policy and stop making it easy for their companies to steal American intellectual property,” Cramer said.

“I bet their government is actually, right now, trying to find a way to show us they’ll respect our IP and let our companies operate independently in China, a sticking point [that] Larry Kudlow, the president’s chief economic advisor, made today,” he continued. “It’s not a perfect solution for the People’s Republic, but considering what the tariffs are doing to their economy, … they may not have a choice.”

If a trade deal is struck, and U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell heeds the IMF’s guidance and stays patient on interest rate hikes, then things could really look up for the domestic stock market, the “Mad Money” host said.

“If we do get a trade deal with China and rates stay low, this market could roar higher, at which point our economy could handle a couple more rate hikes,” Cramer said.

“That said, at the moment, we have no trade deal and ugly data about the world economy, which means the Federal Reserve should be a lot less likely to raise interest rates in the near future,” he said. “It is just too dangerous, and even Jay Powell knows it.”

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Department of Labor accuses Oracle of discrimination that cost women and people of color $400 million

Department of Labor accuses Oracle of discrimination that cost women and people of color $400 million

Mark Hurd, co-chief executive officer of Oracle Corp., speaks during the Oracle OpenWorld 2018 conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Mark Hurd, co-chief executive officer of Oracle Corp., speaks during the Oracle OpenWorld 2018 conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018.

The U.S. Labor Department accused Oracle of wage discrimination practices that cost female and minority employees $400 million, according to a new federal filing Tuesday.

2017 lawsuit the DoL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance filed in 2017 alleging Oracle systematically paid white male workers more than their peers who were women or people of color. The suit was stayed later that year to allow the Department of Labor and Oracle to mediate the dispute. The Department of Labor is now renewing its claims that Oracle discriminates in its compensation and hiring practices and even alleges the company destroyed evidence.

Oracle declined CNBC’s request for comment.

The Department of Labor alleges that Oracle used two methods to discriminate against women and people of color at the company. The first involved allegedly setting initial pay based on prior salary and the second allegedly involved “channeling” these groups into career tracks that would have lower pay.

The complaint alleges “Oracle suppressed starting salaries for its female and non-White employees, assigned them to lower level positions and depressed their wages over the years they worked at Oracle.” These practices caused the employees to miss out on a total of $400 million in compensation, the Department of Labor said in the filing.

The Department of Labor also alleged Oracle has a strong preference for hiring Asian recent college graduates, saying about 90 percent of its 500 college and university hires between 2013 and 2016 were Asian, while the overall targeted college and university population is about 65 percent Asian. The complaint alleges Oracle preferred hiring Asian visa-holders, more specifically, which it says “lends itself to suppression of that workforce’s wages” since visa-holders are dependent on Oracle for work authorization in the U.S.

The complaint also alleges Oracle “destroyed records relating to its hiring process as the case was ongoing.”

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Oracle’s Ellison defends Tesla, Elon Musk

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Homebuilders face profitability risks despite a healthy market, housing analyst says

Homebuilders face profitability risks despite a healthy market, housing analyst says

Investors should be selective in buying homebuilder stocks because the sector faces profitability risks even though the housing market is healthy, housing analyst Ivy Zelman told CNBC on Tuesday.

PulteGroup Inc., Toll Brothers Inc. and D.R. Horton Inc.

“Because I think … what you’re going to see with the builders is that their pricing power is much more challenged but their costs are all rising,” she said on “Fast Money Halftime Report.” “So profits are where you’re going to get the squeeze.”

Zelman suggested traders can still make picks on stocks that have been “way oversold.” Her firm has buys on names such as KB Home and Lennar Corp., which could do well even if housing doesn’t boom, she told CNBC. Lennar, which is down nearly 40 percent in the past year, can outperform the market as homebuilders run into months of uncertainty.

“I think Lennar, because of … what we think is the best operations, the strong cash flow they’re going to generate, they’re buying back stock,” she said.

The firm is also recommending Masco and Fortune Brands, which she says have been substantially discounted.

Shares of Lennar are trading down more than 1 percent before Tuesday’s close.

Zelman said housing is a “tale of two markets,” where there is more demand for lower-priced homes than high-end homes.

Homebuilder sentiment ticked up in January after two months of sharp declines, but increasing costs have stunted construction of lower-priced homes that are less likely to turn a larger profit. Home prices had an annual gain of 5.1 percent last November, the smallest increase in almost four years.

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ASX poised to open lower

ASX poised to open lower

At the close, the Dow was 302 points lower, with 26 of its 30 components in the red paced by Caterpillar, DowDuPont and United Technologies.

“(Investors) are getting more bearish and less optimistic about the outlook,” Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago, told Reuters.

That news compounded the already heightened concerns about global growth from the previous day, when Wall Street was closed for a holiday.

Hopes that the US economy would provide an offset to slowing growth in China and Europe is now threatened by the continuing US federal government shutdown, now into a 32nd day with no signs of a break in the impasse between the White House and Congressional Democrats.

Capital Economics’ Hubert de Barochez said downside risks haven’t yet been fully realised.

“We think that even the revised growth forecasts from the IMF, and the consensus expectations for global growth more generally, are too optimistic.

“In the next two years, we anticipate that growth will slow sharply in the US while the euro-zone economy continues to lose momentum. And even when policy stimulus from the Chinese authorities kicks in later this year, we think that growth in China’s economy will stabilise at a lower level, not rebound like it did in 2016.

“If we are right, concerns about the global economic outlook are likely to grow further this year, boosting demand for safe-haven currencies; we expect the US dollar, Japanese yen and Swiss franc to fare particularly well. And as growth slows in the US, we think that the Fed will gear up for rate cuts next year, pushing the 10-year Treasury yield down to 2.5% before the end of 2019. Lastly, we think that global equities will suffer this year, as they usually do when the global economy falters.”

Today’s Agenda

Local data: NZ CPI fourth quarter

NAB on the pending NZ data: “Market expectations are for a flat result for the quarter, trimming annual CPI inflation to 1.8%, from 1.9%. We are in line with this.

“The RBNZ’s November MPS anticipated a 0.2% increase in the Q4 CPI, for annual inflation of 2.0%. So this appears set for disappointment. But this doesn’t mean core inflation measures are prone to undershoot RBNZ expectations as well (the Bank’s factor model for core inflation was running at 1.7% y/y in Q3, for reference).

“Bear in mind the quarterly flatness captures seasonal weakness in food prices, a 3% fall in fuel prices, and a downshift in health charges as government subsidies increase.”

Overseas data: Bank of Japan policy meeting; US FHFA house prices November, Richmond Fed manufacturing index January,

Market Highlights

SPI futures down 28 points or 0.4% to 5775 near 8.30am AEDT

AUD -0.6% to 71.18 US cents

On Wall St: Dow -1.2% S&P 500 -1.4% Nasdaq -1.9%

In New York, BHP -3.5% Rio -2.6% Atlassian +0.9%

In Europe: Stoxx 50 -0.4% FTSE -1% CAC -0.4% DAX -0.4%

Spot gold +0.2% to $US1283.57 an ounce at 12.51pm New York time

Brent crude -2.7% to $US61.05 a barrel

US oil -3% to $US52.18 a barrel

Iron ore -1.5% to $US74.78 a tonne

Dalian iron ore +0.8% to 528 yuan

LME aluminium +1.7% to $US1883 a tonne

LME copper -0.8% to $US5935 a tonne

2-year yield: US 2.58% Australia 1.84%

5-year yield: US 2.58% Australia 1.95%

10-year yield: US 2.74% Australia 2.30% Germany 0.23%

US-Australia 10-year yield gap as of 8am AEDT: 44 basis points

From Today’s Financial Review

Bowen touts $200 billion tax hike ‘buffer’: Labor must implement all its $200 billion-plus in pledged tax rises to arm the federal government with a bigger fiscal “buffer” to counteract any global downturn.

Xi sends out alert signals as risks rise: President Xi Jinping says he is concerned about China’s slowing economy, US trade tensions and potential political instability, urging the country’s top officials to be “highly alert” to unexpected risks.

How to tell if your super fund is a dud: Start by digging out your most recent statement and look for an average yearly return figure for the past decade, says SuperRatings’ Kirby Rappell.

United States

BofA chief sees more US bank mergers: Bank of America chief executive officer Brian Moynihan predicted another round of consolidation in the US that could lead to the emergence of a new competitor.

Hedge funds Elliott Management and Starboard Value have taken stakes in eBay and are pushing for changes including the sale of some of the e-commerce company’s businesses. In a letter to the company’s board, Elliott asked eBay to hive off its StubHub ticket sales business and eBay Classifieds Group as part of a plan the hedge fund says could double the company’s value.

IBM reported a smaller-than-expected 3.5 per cent drop in fourth-quarter revenue, as higher sales in its newer businesses such as cloud, software and services partially offset tapering sales of its latest mainframe computers and the pressures from a strong dollar.

Johnson & Johnson forecast 2019 sales that fell short of analysts’ estimates and said it expected further pressure on US prescription drug prices, weighing on the broader pharmaceutical sector.

Halliburton forecast lower revenues in key business areas in the first quarter, overshadowing a quarterly profit beat and a pledge to reduce 2019 spending. Halliburton said it will reduce its 2019 capital spending budget by nearly 20 per cent to $US1.6 billion. Further reductions could be made if market conditions erode, executives said on the company’s fourth quarter earnings call.


What to expect from the ECB: The ECB meeting this week will reignite interest in the bank’s intensifying policy challenges as it also faces an upcoming leadership change, according to Mohamed El-Erian.

European shares extended their slide on Tuesday as growth worries weighed on global markets while results from Switzerland’s UBS dragged on the banking sector.

The pan-European STOXX 600 fell 0.4 per cent, with Germany’s DAX also retreating 0.4 per cent and Italy’s FTSE MIB down 1 per cent as a new batch of corporate updates cemented the risk-averse mood.

Shares in UBS dropped 3.2 per cent after the bank’s fourth-quarter earnings sent jitters across a sector struggling to recover after losing almost 30 per cent of its value in 2018.

Europe’s banking index fell 1 per cent, with HSBC , BNP Paribas and Santander down between 1.2 per cent and 2.7 per cent.

Puncturing the gloom was German fashion house Hugo Boss , shares of which jumped 5.2 per cent after it predicted more expansion this year after a pick-up in sales growth at the end of 2018.

“Hugo Boss saw a solid end to the year with Q4 sales coming slightly ahead of expectations … thanks to what looks like a stronger wholesale development,” Berenberg analysts wrote.

China’s unquenched thirst for cognac helped French spirits group Remy Cointreau to deliver stronger than expected third-quarter revenue, but the shares quickly fell into the red after a positive start.

“We expect investors to react positively to the Q3 beat but believe concerns about depletion trends during the forthcoming Chinese New Year will temper enthusiasm,” UBS analysts wrote.


Slow China, big risk: Xi Jinping has used his highest office to warn China of risks ahead.

US views China as rival, not partner: Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says after 40 years of engagement, the United States has dramatically shifted its position on China.

Huawei’s Liang calls for Meng’s release: Huawei chairman Liang Hua wants a quick resolution of the case of its former finance chief Meng Wanzhou, who has been detained in Canada.

Hong Kong stocks closed lower on Tuesday after the global economic outlook grew murky, fresh tensions emerged between the United States and China, while shares of market leader Tencent faltered. The benchmark Hang Seng index ended down 0.7 per cent at 27,005.45 points. The Hang Seng China Enterprises index fell 0.9 per cent.

Tencent, the most actively-traded name in Hong Kong’s stock market , missed out on a third batch of video games approvals in China after a long freeze on such approvals for much of last year. The company’s stock edged down 1.2 per cent.

With Tencent in trouble, and as US-China relations may sour again, the information technology sub-index lost 1.5 per cent and shares of IT hardware makers dropped 1.1 per cent.

China’s main Shanghai Composite index closed down 1.2 per cent at 2579.70 points, while the blue-chip CSI300 index ended down 1.3 per cent.

Japan’s Nikkei edged lower on Tuesday, retreating from a one-month high.

Panasonic fell in the afternoon and ended 2.7 per cent lower after sources said that Tesla has signed a preliminary agreement with China’s Tianjin Lishen to supply batteries for its new Shanghai car factory, as it aims to cut its reliance on Panasonic.

The Nikkei share average shed 0.5 per cent to 20,622.91, after closing at over a one-month high on Monday.


Fed needs rate rethink: Davos: Billionaire investor Ray Dalio chastised monetary policy makers for an “inappropriate desire” to tighten monetary policy faster than the capital markets could handle.

Argentina’s central bank said it bought $US50 million at an average price of 37.597 pesos per US dollar in the foreign exchange market on Tuesday, part of its effort to maintain the currency in a trading band agreed with the International Monetary Fund.

Justin Gmelich, a longtime executive in Goldman Sachs’ bond trading business, plans to retire from the Wall Street bank in March, according to a memo sent by management on Tuesday.

Gmelich has been chief operating officer of fixed income, currency and commodities (FICC) trading since 2017, and before that ran credit and mortgage trading. He joined Goldman Sachs in 1998 and became partner in 2004.

Spain’s long-dated government bond yields fell to six-month lows on Tuesday after a new 10-year bond, sold via a syndicate of banks, attracted record demand.

Spain attracted a record €47 billion of orders for its new 10-year syndicated bond issue, allowing the country’s debt agency to set a size of €10 billion.

“Bond spreads have widened to a decent degree recently,” said Seamus Mac Gorain, fixed income portfolio manager at JPMorgan Asset Management.

“Because of this widening of spreads, people have felt there were attractive valuations coming into January, which is why all of these new bond issues have been well received.”


Marex Spectron on metals markets: “Markets have already posted strong rallies in the past few weeks (Dow up 14% since 24th Dec, LME index up 5.25% between 3-18th Jan) and it is natural for them to pause given macro uncertainty and in the base metals case, where shorts have largely covered aside from ALI and to a lesser extent LEAD it appears. And the implied vol sell off leaves gamma traders to attempt to capture ranges. So we remain largely range bound. However we are of the view that outrights and spreads represent value on dips UNLESS the macro significantly deteriorates.”

MS on aluminium: “Continues to exhibit the largest short of the complex on our ests at 30% of OI (cob Thurs). Turnover this am has been firm with 1.7k lots trading by 8am, +26% on the 20-day avg. Resis into YTD highs c. $1885. Meanwhile supp into uptrend line from 3rd Jan low, which comes in at $1825 today. Capital Economics on the wires commenting that growth in global Ali output will likely increase as expansion in Bahrain increases in 1H and margins at high cost smelters rise following declines in Alumina and power costs. LME on-warrant stocks fall 37kt or 3.6% to 997.2kt, with the declines mostly Port Klang, Malaysia.”

Three-month aluminium on the London Metal Exchange closed up 1.7 per cent at $US1883 a tonne, having hit its strongest since late December.

“The question is how long China can maintain (its) recent record-high production rate, given Chinese smelters are currently chalking up average losses equating to $145 per tonne,” Commerzbank said in a note, citing data from Shanghai Metals Market.

Bellwether copper ended down 0.8 per cent at $US5935 as global equities slumped after the International Monetary Fund warned of a darkening growth outlook.

The union of supervisors at Chilean state miner Codelco’s Gabriela Mistral mine has rejected the company’s final offer for a new collective labour agreement, raising the spectre of a strike in the coming days.

BHP Group raised its 2019 copper production forecast to between 1.6 million and 1.7 million tonnes.

Australian Sharemarket

The ASX broke a five-day winning streak as banks, miners and energy companies lost ground after the International Monetary Fund issued a gloomy forecast for the global economy.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index dropped 31 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 5858. More broadly, the All Ordinaries Index fell 29 points, or 0.5 percent, to 5924.

Miners under pressure included sector giant BHP, down 1.3 per cent to $32.77. It flagged a first-half $US600 million ($840 million) “negative impact” on productivity, naming the November train derailment and production problems at its iron ore mines.

Street Talk

Office outfitter Unispace courts investor interest; EY hired for process

GrainCorp sow seeds for agribusiness shake-up. Who’s next?

AMP Capital taps MacCap for ANU Housing auction

with Reuters, Bloomberg, AAP

Comments? Questions? Let us know what you think of Before the Bell: timothy.moore@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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Brexit Britain has forgotten the crucial role the UK played in shaping the Europe of today

Brexit Britain has forgotten the crucial role the UK played in shaping the Europe of today

Two themes have dominated the debate during the Brexit negotiations: Leavers have repeatedly claimed that Europe “needs us more than we need them”, with feverish anecdotes of Britons buying German cars and French wines; while Remainers have been keen to stress the lopsided nature of the negotiations, suggesting that the 27 EU member states, with a combined economy almost eight times the size of the UK, have significantly more power and sway in the negotiations.

Which side of those two conflicting views you take is usually an indication of how you voted in the referendum, but both are masked in opinion, much of which is formed by ideology.

Irrespective of which side of the fence you are, what has been forgotten since Britain voted to leave the European Union is that the UK has been vastly important and influential in shaping the direction of European integration, and since the end of the Second World War has helped to mould European geopolitics into what it is today.

Without the UK Europe would not be where it is right now – and without a doubt Britain will be missed once we officially leave the bloc on 29 March.

Post-war Britain: helping to shape the continent

Much of the political, military and economic relationships that were formed in Europe following the end of the Second World War up until the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC) were heavily influenced by Britain and the US. Keen not to have Europe fighting each other once again the US pushed for greater integration, often encouraging the UK to take the lead.

There was a belief that an integrated Europe would both embed Germany into the continent, nullifying the threat of another European war and also serve as a deterrence to any Soviet aggression. Britain was, however, not keen on sacrificing sovereignty for a supranational project and instead opted to push for an intergovernmental approach to European integration.

In 1945 Ernest Bevin became foreign secretary and, unlike his predecessors, he was given free reign by his prime minister, Clement Attlee, to determine the direction of British foreign policy. Bevin understood that he was arguably the only man in government in Europe who had the ability to influence the Americans while also maintaining a functioning relationship with allies across the continent.

It was this relationship, alongside the reluctance to sacrifice sovereignty for integration which drove British foreign policy.

In 1948 Britain, France and the Benelux countries signed the Treaty of Brussels which was intended to organise defence efforts against any potential aggressors, particularly the Soviet Union. It built upon the Treaty of Dunkirk which had been signed by Britain and France and was consistent with Bevin’s “grand design”, which outlined his ambition to build political, military and economic co-operation with western European nations.

It was intended to demonstrate to the US that Europe was serious about its own defence, and the signing of the treaty marked an important stage in the post-war period. It was a step towards the creation of anti-Soviet military alliances and, although critics branded the agreement “anti-German”, it ultimately laid important groundwork for military co-operation.

One month after the singing of the treaty Bevin, alongside his French counterpart, Georges Bidault, wrote to US president Harry Truman requesting his assistance in “the effective defence of western Europe” and, after a series of secret negotiations in Washington, the US, Canada, Portugal, Denmark, Italy, Iceland and Norway all signed the Treaty of Brussels and by doing so formed Nato.

Sir Nicholas Henderson, a former British diplomat, described Nato as a “British invention” and, although this embellishes the truth slightly, there is certainly an argument that Britain, second to the US, was the most keen to push for this alliance and highly influential in its formation. This is partly due to Bevin’s desire to work with both the US and Europe, but also due to his worry that he could not rely on the continent or the US alone when it came to defence.

Ernest Bevin (left) in 1948. His ‘grand design’ was to build political, military and economic co-operation with western European nations (Getty)

Britain’s influence with Nato continued long past Bevin’s time at the Foreign Office, and in 1954 – after the collapse of the French proposal of a European Defence Community where French, British and German soldiers would fight side by side – Britain pushed for Germany to be allowed to join the alliance. Anthony Eden, then Britain’s foreign secretary, secured Germany’s admission by negotiating with France and establishing limits on German rearmament.

The UK agreed to station four divisions and a tactical air fleet to accompany the US divisions already on the European mainland to reassure France it would act as a counterweight to German military forces.

Margaret Thatcher addressing the College of Europe in Bruges, 1988 (PA)

This eased the fears of the French, who had insisted on safeguards against any unwelcome developments from Berlin. The move was critical in Germany’s reintegration into Europe and, without the UK pushing for its membership of Nato, Germany’s recovery and rehabilitation would have undoubtedly been hampered.

Germany would go on to become arguably Europe’s most influential nation and, without the UK’s initial push, it could be argued that this would not have happened at the pace that it did. The UK’s role and influence over Nato, coupled with its relationship with the US, had a significant impact on military co-operation in Europe and demonstrated why Britain was so important to the continent and how much influence it had in shaping outcomes.

Another pertinent example of the UK’s influence during this period through the formation of the Committee of European Economic Co-operation (CEEC), which later became the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) and ultimately the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

With Europe still feeling the aftermath of the devastation of the Second World War, the continent turned to the US for financial aid. Then-US secretary of state George Marshall offered a large aid proposal which would later be dubbed the Marshall Plan. The US was adamant the money could not be treated as a short-term solution but instead used to resolve the long-term structural problems that existed on the continent.

There was a consensus in Washington that further European integration was the solution and that many of Europe’s problems were partly due to a lack of unity. There was significant pressure on Britain from the US to take the lead on integration and aid appeared to be predicated on this. Upon Marshall’s initial offer Bevin met with his French counterpart Bidault to discuss how best to approach Washington, and it was through Bevin’s persistence that 16 western European nations joined together to form the CEEC.

The organisation co-ordinated the countries’ recovery plans and presented them to Washington as a single programme, but importantly for Britain ensured decisions were made through a unanimous vote system, not a majority, giving Britain the ability to veto if necessary. Britain was able to ensure this initial integration took place through intergovernmental means rather than supranational institutions, and it was through the CEEC Europe was able to demonstrate this co-operation was possible, satisfying the US, while simultaneously not sacrificing a huge amount of sovereignty.

Throughout the Marshall Plan negotiations Bevin took a significant lead, described by his biographer, Alan Bullock, as his “most decisive personal contribution as foreign secretary”. By the time the plan came to an end, it helped to kickstart the European economy and by 1951 the US has provided approximately $13bn of aid, of which $2.7bn had gone to Britain.

Along with securing aid, the OEEC, which replaced the CEEC in April 1948, was instrumental in several important initiatives, including the European Payments Union and the International Customs Union Study Group (which was set up on Bevin’s initiative), all of which helped to shape the future of Europe and pushed countries to work together and integrate.

The OEEC – which later became the OECD – paved the way for Europe’s integration process and, as an intergovernmental organisation, proved to be popular during the 1950s as it was viewed by many as an alternative to the more far-reaching proposals that were coming from the continent. As a permanent intergovernmental organisation, its work was unspectacular but it played an import role in helping to rebuild Europe.

It was also a perfect example of Bevin’s “grand design” and, during his time in office, he was able to implement an unprecedented level of economic, political and military co-operation for a period of peacetime. Much like Nato, the CEEC/OEEC demonstrated that British influence over Europe and the role the UK has played in pushing for co-operation but also ensuring growth and prosperity of the entire continent.  

Britain inside the EEC/EU: shaping the direction of the union

Britain’s aversion to sharing or losing sovereignty to a federal Europe was the primary motivator for the use of intergovernmental organisations in the initial stages of European integration. It did, however, become a stumbling block for the continent’s desire to integrate further and European powers soon became frustrated – in fact, in the early 1990s during the Maastricht negotiations French president François Mitterrand noted that “Europe has got used to British opposition and to making plans without the UK in the expectation it would join later”.

This is a perfect characterisation of Britain’s role in Europe for almost two decades – in the 1950s French diplomat Jean Monnet, dubbed “The Father of Europe”, proposed a Coal and Steel Community and did not include Britain in the initial negotiations. The UK was also left out of several initiatives including the Schuman Plan, the European Defence Community (although this was ultimately unsuccessful), the Pleven Plan, the Messina negotiations and the creation of Euratom and the EEC.

While European nations pushed forward with their plans to integrate and worked together through the EEC, their economic growth soon began to outstrip Britain’s. It was at this point British reluctance to integrate dimmed and the UK made several attempts to join the bloc before finally being granted membership in 1973.

Within years Britain developed the reputation of being a somewhat “awkward partner”, but this characterisation fails to encompass the influence and role Britain has played in developing the EU.

For two decades between 1950 and 1973 Britain found itself marginalised because of its fear of integration – the UK was left outside the decision-making process and not part of discussions that it would be affected by, but as a member Britain used its influence to ensure the EU would develop into a form of political authority that could manage relations and issues between all member states in way that suited the British vision.

In 1988 Margaret Thatcher addressed the College of Europe in Bruges. She provided several guiding principles for the EEC, and argued that “willing and active co-operation between independent sovereign states is the best way to build a successful European Community”.

This encompassed Britain’s vision of an intergovernmental organisation in which member states retained sovereignty, markets were opened up and regulation decreased.

John Major was very keen on the European project (PA)

These ideas were shared by both John Major and Tony Blair who both bought into the European project in this way. Successive British leaders were incredibly successful in shaping the union to back this preference and recent academic analysis has found that the decision making process in the EU is best characterised by a “new intergovernmentalism”, in line with Brittan’s vision.

Influence in terms of shaping the direction of the EU is of course a difficult concept to measure but there has been some academic work focusing on this subject. Robert Thomson analysed 125 pieces of legislation that were passed by the EU in a 12-year period starting in 1996. He looked at the preferences of member states on each issue, the initial status quo and the final outcome.

The results provide an indication of how much a member state opposed a policy, which was then adjusted to include the saliency of the member state. Upon doing so a metric was formed to determine which nations were influential. The results are astonishing and show the UK’s preference and initial positions were often extremely close to the final outcome.

Academics Daniel Naurin and Rutger Lindahl wanted to examine this concept further and analysed the contact patterns among European officials. In their study they found that when there was no consensus on issues, member states were most likely to work with UK officials to reach an end solution. This is primarily because British officials are considered to have greater knowledge in complex policy areas and have the ability to act as brokers during negotiations.

Through Britain’s ability to influence and the strength of its negotiating, the UK has been able to pull outcomes towards its own preferences, ensuring the EU pushed in the direction that was preferable to Britain’s wishes.

As time went on the UK’s stature on the European stage grew. John Major noted: “Britain didn’t just want to join the train. It wanted to be in the driver’s cabin.” This was seen in arguably one of the most important developments on the continent: the creation of the single market. No member state pushed more for the single market than the UK, which is evident in Thatcher’s memoirs.

She says it was her “one overriding positive goal” and that she was happy to make a number of concessions, including more majority voting and transferring power to the European Commission, to ensure its creation. Thatcher’s work proved to be influential and the market was founded through deregulation and the removal of barriers, as opposed to through introduction of new regulations, which is what many of the other European nations had pushed for.

This shaped how the single market operated, with liberal economic policies similar to those adopted by the Conservatives and New Labour governments in the UK being at the forefront. This suited the British economic model and ensured British business was amongst the leaders in capitalising on the new market.

It’s not just the single market where the UK had significant influence as an EU member. Tony Blair committed the UK to be at the core of the European Security and Defence Policy and also promoted the eastward expansion of the EU in the hope it would offset the UK’s absence from monetary union. Blair was a proud Europhile but was acutely aware that the British public was not as pro-Europe as he was.

On a number of occasions Britain took a step back, allowing Europe to integrate further without causing disruption, most notably through the formation of the single currency, the euro. It was not just under Blair that this tactic of taking a step back took place: in 1993, before Blair became Labour leader, the EU was under significant strain as the exchange rate collapsed.

The UK understood that although it was not directly affected by the crisis, it had a vested interest in ensuring that its primary trading partners did not face economic and political difficulty. Britain proposed relaxing the mechanism without abandoning it and threatening the monetary union.

The move saved the EU from what could have been a huge disaster and kept afloat the integration project – one in which the UK had declined to participate.

It was similar to the role the UK played during the eurozone crisis. Policies such as the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), which helped to address the sovereign-debt crisis, got crucial support from the UK, and this proved to be essential in ensuring the bloc did not crumble under the pressure of a significant crisis. The UK was happy for other European nations to integrate further and even offered a helping hand when it was required.

Brexit and British influence

In 2016 Britain voted to become the first member state to vote to leave the European Union. If a country was ever destined to leave, Britain was it, given its turbulent relationship with the continent.

Tony Blair understood the British public was not as pro-Europe as he was (PA)

Even as Britain bids farewell, it once again proves its importance, shining a light on many of the flaws of the European project on the way out.

Brexit not only provides the opportunity for the EU to consider why a member state left and address what some view as errors in its design; it also highlights the significant gap left after an influential member state walks away.

Putting the obvious financial implications that the EU faces of losing one of its largest net contributors aside, on a political level the UK’s work will be missed. Britain currently has 73 seats in the European parliament, the third highest delegation behind Germany and France and level with Italy. British MEPs have made significant contributions to the parliament over the years and the UK’s work will have to be replaced.

The European parliament has several committees that manage the progress of legislative bills. These committees often appoint a rapporteur to write reports on the bills and also lead the negotiations for it to be passed.

Rapporteur positions are considered powerful and can shape and influence law. British MEPs are incredibly influential in this area and have held rapporteur positions on more dossiers than representatives from any other member state bar Germany.

Britain’s 73 seats in the European parliament will have to be redistributed. Despite a new formula for seats being agreed ahead of the 2019 European elections, the UK’s departure opens the doors for negotiations from all member states to determine what happens to the UK’s quota.

Academic Jonathan Rodden argues that during the bargaining process states that may lose out in terms of representation may need to be compensated with other payoffs. Given the complexity of finalising any agreement, which must be proposed by the European parliament, then unanimously agreed upon by the European Council, voted on by the European parliament and then ratified by each member state, full support for the proposals will be required and the negotiations could therefore change several aspects of the EU in the process.

Post-Brexit, the EU will change, serving as a reminder of how Britain helped to maintain a careful balance in the bloc.


Britain has had a substantial impact on Europe since 1945. The UK’s influence in the creation of the intergovernmental organisations of the OECC and Nato demonstrated its ability to shape the security, prosperity and co-operation of the continent, and the UK proved throughout this period that it mattered and had the ability to determine the direction of European integration.

Inside the EEC/EU Britain was able to influence multiple policy areas, most notably the creation of the single market. When Britain did not wish to partake in further integration it allowed other European nations to proceed with their plans while taking the lead in other policy areas.

As Britain now leaves the EU, several questions arise about how the EU will manage the loss of one of its largest nations.

It is therefore apparent that in the three distinct eras – before joining the EEC, being a member of the EEC/EU and now leaving the EU – Britain has mattered to Europe. Although the focus is now purely on the future relationship with the UK and Europe, we should not forget the role Britain has placed in shaping European geopolitics in the past 75 years.

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