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Recession fears drag on euro and crude, Asian markets mixed

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The European Central Bank has come under pressure to lift interest rates as the euro falls towards parity with the dollar, though it must also be careful to support the ailing eurozone economy
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Crude extended the week’s losses Thursday, while the euro struggled to recover from 20-year lows and equities were mixed as recession fears continued to cast a pall across trading floors.

Expectations for a contraction in some of the world’s leading economies, including China, where a new Covid-19 flare-up has generated angst, have increased in recent weeks owing to central bank interest rate hikes aimed at taming decades-high inflation.

The surge in inflation has been caused by soaring energy costs and rising post-lockdown demand, but observers said concerns about a contraction — along with signs that consumers were being put off by high prices — were weighing on the oil market.

Both main contracts were down more than one percent Thursday and have fallen about 10 percent this month. They are now below $100 for the first time since April.

Data on Wednesday showed US demand appeared to be waning as stockpiles rose, confounding expectations for a drop, while there are also some concerns that the China outbreaks — including another spike in Shanghai — could see major cities put into lockdown again.

Still, Vandana Hari, of Vanda Insights, said prices would likely rebound.

“There isn’t much rational assessment going on — it’s panic selling,” she said. “The fears may not end but could get brushed aside when supply constraints are back to the fore. The market balance is tight.”

While the drop in prices could temper inflation and give central banks some room to ease up on their rate hike cycle, the Federal Reserve remains on course for several more increases.

On Wednesday, minutes from its June policy meeting indicated officials were set for another three-quarter-point rate hike this month — after the first such lift in 28 years in June — saying they were worried “inflation pressures had yet to show signs of abating”.

They also noted a need to maintain credibility among Americans, saying there was “a significant risk… that elevated inflation could become entrenched if the public began to question the resolve of the Committee”.

The increases were likely to continue through to the end of the year, the minutes showed.

Despite the prospect of higher borrowing costs, Wall Street’s three main indexes ended on a positive note.

But Asia struggled to pick up the baton, with the region’s markets mixed.

Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Seoul, Taipei and Jakarta all rose but Hong Kong, Singapore, Wellington and Manila fell.

The Fed’s determination to ramp up rates has sent the dollar soaring against most other currencies, with the euro particularly under pressure due to the European Central Bank’s much slower response to the spike in prices.

The single currency hit a 20-year low against the greenback this week, with fears for the eurozone economy growing as it faces a severe energy crunch owing to sanctions on Russia, while there is a possibility Moscow will cut off its gas supplies.

And while the ECB has said it will start hiking rates this month, analysts said there was a lot of uncertainty, as officials had to balance supporting the currency with avoiding a fragmentation, in which members’ borrowing costs diverge too much.

Now there is a growing belief the euro will fall to parity with the dollar within weeks.

“I’m getting really worried about the recent speeches that have come out the past couple of days that show that there are a lot of concerns and a lot of disagreement” within the ECB governing council, said Vasileios Gkionakis of Citigroup.

“If the ECB wants to tame inflation and support exchange rates … then it needs to do two things: hike rates and come up with an effective anti-fragmentation mechanism,” he told Bloomberg.

And Kit Juckes at Societe Generale added that the currency “remains effectively unbuyable this summer”. 

“Europe’s energy dependency on Russia is falling, but not fast enough to avoid recession if the (gas) pipeline is closed. If that happens, the (euro) will likely lose another 10 percent or so.”

– Key figures at around 0300 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 26,298.66 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.6 percent at 21,459.42

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 3,356.82

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0193 from $1.0186 on Wednesday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.1937 from $1.1921 

Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.40 pence from 85.43 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 135.64 yen from 135.93 yen

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.0 percent at $97.54 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 1.1 percent at $99.54 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.2 percent at 31,037.68 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 1.2 percent at 7,107.77 (close)

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Flight tracking exposure irks billionaires and baddies

How to upset Russian freight companies, Elon Musk, Chinese authorities and Kylie Jenner in one go? Track their jets. 

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The Flightradar24 app is seen on a smartphone in front of a screen showing the live position of planes tracked by the app in the area of Los Angeles on August 5, 2022
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How to upset Russian freight companies, Elon Musk, Chinese authorities and Kylie Jenner in one go? Track their jets.

Flight following websites and Twitter accounts offer real-time views of air traffic –- and sometimes major news like Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan trip –- but that exposure draws pushback ranging from complaints to gear seizures.

Whether Russian air freight firms, Saudi Arabian plane owners or others, Dan Streufert said his group gets dozens of “requests” each year to stop posting aircrafts’ whereabouts.

“We have not removed anything so far. This is all public information. And I don’t want to be the arbiter of who’s right and who’s wrong,” added Streufert, founder of the US-based flight tracking site ADS-B Exchange.

Limits do apply in some cases, but groups that piece together the flight paths note that the core information source is legally available and open to anyone with the right gear.

US rules require planes in designated areas be equipped with ADS-B technology that broadcasts aircraft positions using signals that relatively simple equipment can pick up.

A service like Sweden-based Flightradar24 has 34,000, mostly volunteer-operated receivers around the world to pick up the signals, a key source of information that’s routed back to a central network and combined with data on flight schedules and aircraft information.

Figuring out or confirming to whom a plane actually belongs can require some sleuthing, said jet tracker Jack Sweeney, who filed a public records request with the US government that yielded a form bearing the signature of a particular plane’s owner: Tesla boss Elon Musk.

Sweeney has gotten quite a bit of attention with his Twitter account that tracks the movements of the billionaire’s plane and even rejected Musk’s offer of $5,000 to shut down @ElonJet, which has over 480,000 followers.

“There’s so much traction, I’m doing something right. The celebrity thing –- people like seeing what celebrities are doing, that and the whole emissions thing,” he told AFP, referring to concerns over the planes’ greenhouse gas impact.

“Putting it on Twitter makes it easier for people to access and understand,” Sweeney added.

– ‘We will track anything’ –

Another of Sweeney’s Twitter accounts, powered by data from ADS-B Exchange, showed in July that US model and celebrity Kylie Jenner’s plane took a flight in California that lasted just 17 minutes.

The internet was not pleased and she faced a torrent of criticism on social media over concerns about the message it sent regarding climate change.

“They tell us working class people to feel bad about our once a year flight to a much needed vacation while these celebs take private jets every other day as if it’s an Uber,” tweeted @juliphoria, in an example of the outrage.

Neither Sweeney nor Streufert evoked a distinct redline they were concerned could be crossed by publishing the flight data.

“We will track anything because honestly, if somebody really was a bad actor, and they wanted to know where this stuff is, you can build the electronics for $100 and just deploy receivers to pick up the same signals yourself,” said Streufert from ADS-B Exchange.

Sweeney said “the data is already out there. I’m just redistributing it.”

There is also money to be made, but it’s not clear how much –- Streufert acknowledged he makes a living but declined to provide specifics and Sweeney said his flight tracking work brought in about $100 a month. Flightradar24 didn’t provide its revenue.

The services’ information -– as recently shown by the hundreds of thousands watching whether Pelosi would defy China’s warnings –- has significant potential for impact far beyond embarrassment of celebrities or the rankling of billionaires.

For example, ADS-B Exchange’s data was cited in a non-profit group’s report alleging Europe’s border agency Frontex worked to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean, while US media used it to show surveillance planes flew over racial justice protests in Washington in 2020.

In fact, dozens of US Congress members responded to the revelations by signing on to a letter urging the FBI and other government entities like the National Guard to “cease surveilling peaceful protests immediately and permanently.”

In some parts of the world, governments have made clear the technology and resulting information is not welcome.

Chinese state media reported in 2021 that the government had recently confiscated hundreds of receivers used in crowd-sourced flight tracking, citing the risk of “espionage.”

“In many cases, it’s authoritarian regimes that don’t like this exposure,” Streufert said.

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WSJ reports Pfizer in talks to acquire Global Blood Therapeutics for $5-billion

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A man walks past the Pfizer logo on the drug maker's headquarters in New York
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American drugmaker Pfizer is close to a deal to purchase Global Blood Therapeutics, which manufactures a recently approved drug against sickle-cell anemia, for $5 billion, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

Pfizer, one of the top makers of Covid-19 vaccines, hopes to conclude talks with GBT within days, the newspaper said Friday, citing people close to the negotiations.

But it said other takeover candidates remain in the running.

GBT’s sickle-cell treatment, marketed as Oxbryta, was authorized for those over 12 years old in 2019 but gained federal approval in December for children aged four to 11. The blood disorder affects millions.

Sales of Oxbryta helped the laboratory generate first-quarter turnover of $55 million (up 41 percent), while the company registered a net loss of $81.4 million.

GBT, which is based in San Francisco, California, is to publish its second-quarter numbers on Monday.

Pfizer, for its part, saw its second-quarter turnover jump by 47 percent — to a record $27.74 billion — boosted by sales of its Covid vaccine and pills.

Its net profit soared by 78 percent, to $9.9 billion.

GBT shares on the New York Stock Exchange were up 33.03 percent at the close on Friday, at $63.84, for a market capitalization of more than $4 billion.

Pfizer shares slipped by 1.18 percent, to $49.27.

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Amazon to buy Roomba-maker iRobot in $1.7-billion deal

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Amazon said it will buy iRobot for $61 per share along with acquiring the company's debt
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Amazon on Friday announced a $1.7 billion deal to buy the maker of robotic vacuum Roomba in a merger that would play into the tech giant’s artificial intelligence and smart home ambitions.

US-based iRobot is a global company that builds robots and “intelligent home” innovations, having introduced Roomba self-operating vacuums a decade ago, Amazon said in a release.

“Over many years, the iRobot team has proven its ability to reinvent how people clean with products that are incredibly practical and inventive,” said Amazon senior vice president of devices Dave Limp.

Amazon’s deal to buy iRobot for $61 per share along with acquiring the company’s debt is subject to approval of shareholders and regulators.

Colin Angle is to remain chief executive of iRobot after the purchase.

The acquisition “reinforces Amazon’s interest and market position in robotics and home automation, and underscores the strategic value of AI,” Baird analyst Colin Sebastian said in a note to investors.

The Massachusetts-based company has a 30-year track record in robotics, and underlying software such as mapping and navigation, Sebastian said.

Amazon has been investing in smart home and automation technologies with acquisitions such as Ring doorbells, Kiva warehouse robots and self-driving startup Zoox.

“With Alexa and Amazon.com at the core, Amazon continues to prioritize opportunities to develop the smart home,” Sebastian said.

“MGM even fits as it powers more Prime Video on home entertainment devices.”

Amazon earlier this year closed an $8.45 billion deal to buy the storied MGM studios, boosting its streaming ambitions with a catalog including the James Bond and Rocky film franchises.

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