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US fund sues London Metal Exchange over nickel trade halt

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LME's owner, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited, said in a statement that Elliott Management's claim is "without merit and the LME will contest it vigorously"
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A US investment firm has filed a $456-million lawsuit against the London Metal Exchange for suspending nickel trading during a huge surge in prices in March, the two sides said Monday.

The prices for the metal, used in stainless steel and electric vehicle batteries, jumped on March 8 to a then-record high of $101,365 per tonne on a bad bet from a Chinese billionaire after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The LME subsequently decided to cancel all trades made that day and temporarily halted trading.

That left nickel’s record high at $48,002 per tonne, set on March 7.

The turmoil prompted fierce investor criticism of LME management, and UK financial regulators launched a review into the matter.

The US investment firm, Elliott Management, considers that by cancelling nickel trades, the LME either “acted unlawfully” by exceeding its powers or exercised them “unreasonably and irrationally” by “taking into account irrelevant factors”, a spokesman for the fund said.

LME’s owner, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited, said in a statement that Elliott Management’s claim is “without merit and the LME will contest it vigorously”.

The LME said in a separate statement that it had cancelled trades to “take the market back to the last point in time at which the LME could be confident that the market was operating in an orderly way”.

“At all times the LME, and LME Clear, sought to act in the interests of the market as a whole,” it added.

Moscow’s invasion sparked nickel market chaos because of concerns about supplies from Russia, the world’s third-biggest producer of the industrial metal.

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In Ukraine’s ‘martyr towns’, hopes for speedy reconstruction

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Gorenka was pummelled at the beginning of Moscow's invasion
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Zoya Potapova planted flowers behind the ruins of her home — bombed by Moscow in March — in the hope of a quick restoration even before any building work had begun.

Like Potapova, many residents of satellite towns north of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv are overcoming difficult memories of Russia’s occupation and placing their hope in the government’s promise of reconstruction.

In the settlement of Gorenka, which was pummelled at the beginning of Moscow’s invasion, the time is now for Potapova, who lost her husband in the conflict.

“I hope we won’t be forgotten. We did a lot to stop the advance towards the capital,” she says tearfully, throwing up her arms next to the charred remains of her home.

A local official, Tetiana Shepeleva, told AFP that 1,000 homes had been reported as either entirely or partially destroyed.

– Modular housing units – 

Potapova’s garden is thriving and beneath fruit trees shredded by shrapnel, potatoes and strawberries are flourishing.

Thanks to a streak of good weather, some residents are taking reconstruction efforts into their own hands. 

But there is a conspicuous lack of help and building material in the town, whose pre-war population was around 10,000 people.

The need for both is great across Ukraine. In late May, Prime Minister Denys Shmygal estimated the cost of the destruction wrought by Russia’s invasion at 561 billion euros ($603 billion).

For now, the priority in liberated towns north of Kyiv appears to be demining and AFP journalists there heard military engineers clearing unexploded ordnance.

Electricity is gradually being restored and so too a bridge near Gorenka.

In the town of Bucha, which has become synonymous with the alleged war crimes carried out by Russian troops, some 600 families are looking for a roof over their heads or renting vacation properties.

The town was known as a calm getaway surrounded by quiet pine forests before the invasion.

Some of those returning are being put up in grey shipping containers installed next to a large market that was reduced to a mess of sheet metal.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki during a recent visit to Borodianka near Gorenka opened the first settlement for people left homeless by the conflict.

The settlement uses temporary modular housing units and more are planned in Ivankiv, Gostomel and Bucha.

“They’re made available for free by the government with enough space for 92 families,” said Bucha’s mayor, 50-year-old Anatoly Fedoruk, describing the compartments of 20 square metres (215 square feet) each that can accommodate four people.

– ‘We will get back everything’ – 

These makeshift homes provide clean living spaces, disinfected toilets and canteens with painted walls, accompanied by signs urging residents to stay strong, happy and hopeful.

Oksana Polishchuk’s own home was partially destroyed and her food stand went up in flames.

But the 41-year-old trader, who still suffers frequent panic attacks and is receiving psychological help, said she was not waiting for her house to be rebuilt.

“I want to be compensated and rebuild my life elsewhere,” she said.

“Ukrainians are not afraid of the rebuilding effort that awaits them.

“We will get back everything we had before. The only important thing is winning this war.”

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Asian markets mixed as US jobs data give Fed room to hike rates

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All eyes remain fixed on the US Federal Reserve and its potential further raising of interest rates
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Asian markets were mixed Monday following a steep drop on Wall Street in response to a forecast-topping US jobs report that gave the Federal Reserve room to continue hiking interest rates as it struggles to contain surging inflation.

US traders took flight after the closely watched non-farm payroll figures Friday, which showed a slowdown in hiring but still with more new posts created than expected.

That came as more officials suggested the Federal Reserve could continue lifting borrowing costs sharply as they try to rein in inflation.

However, with prices being driven higher by factors ranging from the Ukraine war to China’s lockdown-induced slowdown, there are fears the bank’s measures could deal a blow to the world’s biggest economy.

The jump in inflation has forced finance chiefs around the world to tighten monetary policy, with the European Central Bank indicating it will raise rates in July for the first time in more than a decade.

“The critical issue for markets is whether inflation can be brought under control by central banks without generating a recession,” Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital, said in a note. 

“Shares are likely to see continued short-term volatility as central banks continue to tighten to combat high inflation, the war in Ukraine continues and fears of recession remain.”

All three main indexes on Wall Street ended deep in the red, with tech firms taking most of the pain, though Asia fared a little better in early trade.

Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai and Taipei all rose, but there were losses in Sydney, Singapore, Manila and Jakarta.

Oil prices — a key driver of inflation — continued to rise, as a pledge by OPEC and other major producers to boost output fell short of what markets had hoped for. 

The increase came as Saudi Arabia also said it had hiked the official selling price for customers in Asia, while demand expectations rose on the back of the easing of some Covid lockdown measures in China and the start of the US summer driving season.

– Key figures at around 0230 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.3 percent at 27,844.26 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: UP 0.8 percent at 21,250.08

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.4 percent at 3,208.52

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.7 percent at $120.51 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.7 percent at $119.76 per barrel

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0721 from $1.0719 on Thursday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2492 from $1.2488

Euro/pound: UP at 85.83 pence from 85.81 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 130.61 yen from 130.81 yen

New York – Dow: DOWN 1.0 percent to 32,899.7 (close)

London – FTSE 100: Closed for a holiday

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ECB to end stimulus in prelude to rate hikes

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The European Central Bank is lagging behind its counterparts in Britain and the US, which have moved aggressively to try to stamp out inflation
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The European Central Bank is set to draw a line under its massive bond-buying stimulus programme at a meeting in Amsterdam on Thursday, as inflation in the eurozone soars to all-time highs.

The decision, already extensively flagged in advance by senior policymakers, is then expected to pave the way for the ECB to raise its interest rates for the first time in over a decade in the weeks that follow. 

Eurozone consumer prices rose by 8.1 percent year-on-year in May, a record since the single currency was launched and well above the ECB’s own target of two percent.

The surge, driven by the war in Ukraine and the consequent rise in energy prices, has boosted calls for the ECB to move more quickly to end its expansionary monetary policy. 

The ECB is lagging behind the central banks in Britain and the United States, which have moved aggressively to try to stamp out inflation.

But the ECB first plans to discontinue asset purchases under its crisis-era stimulus programme before proceeding to actual rate hikes. 

The so-called asset purchase programme, or APP, is the last in a series of debt-purchasing measures worth a total of around five trillion euros ($5.4 trillion) deployed by the ECB since 2014.

ECB chief Christine Lagarde suggested recently that the APP would “end very early in the third quarter”.

– ‘Lift off’ –

For ING’s head of macro, Carsten Brzeski, the comments by Lagarde, a former French finance minister, were “remarkable” in that she has taken the unusual step of mapping out a timetable for ECB policy into the second half of the year.

Lagarde said that rates were set to “lift off” at the ECB’s meeting in July — the first upward move in borrowing costs in over a decade — and the euro’s guardian would then close the era of negative interest rates by the end of September.

Of the ECB’s three main interest rates, the so-called deposit rate — which is normally the interest commercial banks would receive for parking their cash with the ECB overnight — has been negative since 2014.

A negative rate effectively means that commercial banks have to pay the ECB to park their cash, a move introduced by the then president Mario Draghi to keep cash circulating in the eurozone financial system at a time of looming deflation.

For Brzeski, the ECB “has clearly passed the stage of discussing whether and even when policy rates should be increased” and the “only discussion” for the coming weeks was how big the first step would be. 

A number of governing council members have openly discussed the possibility of a 50-basis-point, or half-point, hike to lift ECB interest rates out of negative territory in one go.

Before the most recent eurozone inflation data was released, the head of the Dutch central bank, Klaas Knot, said that such a move was “clearly not off the table”.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the US Federal Reserve already raised rates by half-a-percentage point last month, and some of its policymakers are arguing for more big increases.

But observers have urged the ECB to proceed more cautiously.

Smaller steps of 25 basis points, or a quarter of a percentage point, were the “benchmark pace” for the move out of negative interest rates, the ECB’s chief economist Philip Lane said at the end of May.

– ‘Neutral’ rates –

The idea is to “normalise” eurozone borrowing costs and bring them to a more “neutral” level — which neither stimulates nor stifles the economy — even if opinions differ as to what that level might be. 

Ultimately, the appropriate level of borrowing costs will depend on the eurozone’s economic outlook.

A worrying further acceleration in inflation could prompt the ECB to step on the brakes harder.

The ECB is also scheduled to publish its new economic forecasts on Thursday.

Its previous estimates — published in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — cut projected growth in 2022 to 3.7 percent and saw inflation rising to 5.1 percent.

But for the chief executive of US bank Citi, Jane Fraser, Europe faced a “very high likelihood” of going to recession on the back of the war, she told journalists in Frankfurt last week.

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