United Airlines CEO Kirby's annual base salary lower than predecessor

(Reuters) – United Airlines Holdings Inc said on Friday it would pay Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby an annual base salary of $1 million, lower than what prior head Oscar Munoz received.

The compensation committee also approved an annual base salary of $775,000 for President Brett Hart, less than what Kirby got in the role, the company said in a regulatory filing. (bit.ly/2ZuTEPK)

Both Kirby and Hart have waived 100% of their base salaries through the rest of the year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hammered the airline industry, with flights grounded to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

United said Kirby and Hart may not realize the full value of their respective compensation packages as the company has agreed to receive roughly $5 billion in government payroll support under the CARES Act.

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Biden says U.S. should lead world in condemning China over Hong Kong actions

DETROIT (Reuters) – The United States must lead the world in condemning China if it imposes new national security rules on Hong Kong, likely Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on Friday after Beijing unveiled a law that could undermine the territory’s autonomy.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also rebuked this week’s move by China’s Communist Party-controlled parliament, calling it arbitrary and disastrous. On Thursday, Republican President Donald Trump warned that Washington would react “very strongly” against any attempt by Beijing to gain more control over the former British colony.

On CNBC, Biden said, “We should be calling the rest of the world to condemn their actions, criticizing Trump for a “silence” on human rights issues the former vice president said was “devastating for people around the world.”

“All it does is encourage thugs and dictators, which, in fact, I think the president has some kind of affinity for,” Biden said.

China has quickly become a focus in the U.S. presidential race, with both Trump and Biden spending millions of dollars on ad campaigns before Nov. 3’s election targeting each other’s record in dealing with the country.

Trump’s campaign, which has seized on Americans’ growing animosity toward China over the coronavirus outbreak to underpin his re-election pitch, contends Biden will not be as tough on Beijing as the president is.

But Biden argues Trump is helping China by undermining U.S. relations with allies and reducing the United States’ role and influence in international institutions.

China’s action could spark fresh protests in Hong Kong, which enjoys many freedoms not allowed on the mainland, after often-violent demonstrations last year plunged the city into its deepest turmoil since its return to Beijing’s rule in 1997.

Pro-democracy demonstrators have for years opposed the idea of national security laws, arguing they could erode the city’s high degree of autonomy, guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula in place for two decades.

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US condemns China’s Hong Kong security law

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has condemned China’s plan to impose a new security law in Hong Kong, calling it a “death knell” for the city’s freedoms.

China is seeking to pass a law that would ban “treason, secession, sedition and subversion” in Hong Kong.

Critics say the law would strip Hong Kong of autonomy and rights not seen in other parts of China.

Mr Pompeo said the decision to bypass Hong Kong’s lawmakers ignores “the will of the people”.

“The United States strongly urges Beijing to reconsider its disastrous proposal, abide by its international obligations, and respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and civil liberties,” Mr Pompeo said in a statement on Friday.

Mr Pompeo’s intervention is likely to infuriate the Chinese government, whose relations with the US have been strained recently by disputes over trade and the coronavirus pandemic.

In Hong Kong, pro-democracy activists have been calling for support from western governments after China announced the law.

On Friday, campaigners urged mass protests over the weekend against the law, which they see as an erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The law was submitted at the annual National People’s Congress (NPC), which largely rubber-stamps decisions already taken by the Communist leadership, but is still the most important political event of the year.

Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region and an economic powerhouse, was meant to have introduced such a law after the handover from British control to Chinese rule in 1997.

Now, after a wave of sustained and often violent protests in Hong Kong last year, Beijing is attempting to push the law through. The Chinese government argues the law is necessary to “prevent, stop and punish” such protests in the future.

Hong Kong’s government said it would co-operate with Beijing to enact the law, adding it would not affect the city’s freedoms.

Why is the law so controversial?

Hong Kong is what is known as a “special administrative region” of China.

It has observed a “one country, two systems” policy since Britain returned sovereignty in 1997, which has allowed it certain freedoms the rest of China does not have.

Pro-democracy activists fear that China pushing through the law could mean “the end of Hong Kong” – that is, the effective end of its autonomy and these freedoms.

In his statement, Mr Pompeo said any decision to impinge on Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms would “inevitably impact our assessment” of the territory’s status.

The US is currently considering whether to extend Hong Kong’s preferential trading and investment privileges.

President Trump has also weighed in, saying the US would react strongly if it went through – without giving details.

What is in Beijing’s proposed law?

The “draft decision” – as it is known before approval by the NPC – was explained by Wang Chen, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC.

It consists of an introduction and seven articles. Article 4 may prove the most controversial.

That article says Hong Kong “must improve” national security, before adding: “When needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People’s Government will set up agencies in Hong Kong to fulfil relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law.”

Addressing the congress, Premier Li Keqiang said: “We’ll establish sound legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security in the two Special Administrative Regions.”

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, who is seen as part of the pro-Beijing political establishment, said the law would help authorities tackle illegal activity in the city.

Security law open to very wide interpretation

Robin Brant, BBC China Correspondent

China has long desired a new national security law for Hong Kong. Beijing believes almost a year of mass protests and, at times, paralysing confrontations on the streets shows that now it is needed more than ever.

But critics point to what they say are ambiguities inherent in such a law and the broad, generalist framework it would bring to a place which has a very different legal tradition than the communist-controlled mainland.

“Treason, sedition and subversion” are all open to a very wide interpretation. Up to now, the worst charge most arrested protesters have faced has been for rioting.

The notion of “terrorism” also features in this proposed law. That too could encompass wide-ranging acts and activities that the authoritarian rulers on the mainland consider far more menacing than those in Hong Kong, or for that matter elsewhere.

China could essentially place the draft law into Annex III of the Basic Law, which covers national laws that must be implemented in Hong Kong – either by legislation, or decree.

The NPC is expected to vote on the draft law at the end of its annual session, on 28 May.

It will then be forwarded to the NPC’s Standing Committee, China’s top legislature, which is expected to finalise and enact the law by the end of June.

Why is China doing this?

Last year, Hong Kong was rocked by months of protests sparked by a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

Mr Wang said the security risks had become “increasingly notable” – a reference to last year’s protests.

“Considering Hong Kong’s situation at present, efforts must be made at the state-level to establish and improve the legal system and enforcement mechanisms,” he is quoted as saying in state media.

Beijing may also fear September’s elections to Hong Kong’s legislature.

If last year’s success for pro-democracy parties in district elections is repeated, government bills could potentially be blocked.

What is Hong Kong’s legal situation?

Hong Kong was under British control for more than 150 years up to 1997.

The British and Chinese governments signed a treaty – the Sino-British Joint Declaration – that agreed Hong Kong would have “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs”, for 50 years.

This was enshrined in the Basic Law, which runs out in 2047.

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Final round of French local elections slated for June 28

PARIS (Reuters) – The final round of France’s local elections has been set for June 28, provided it has not been deemed a health risk due to the coronavirus pandemic, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Friday.

The first round took place just two days before France imposed a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

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As big cats go hungry, Indonesia zoo considers 'worst-case' deer cull

BANDUNG, Indonesia (Reuters) – A zoo in Indonesia may slaughter some of its animals to feed others, such as a Sumatran tiger and a Javan leopard, if it runs out of food in coming months after the coronavirus pandemic forced it to shut it doors.

While its 850 animals are being fed smaller portions than usual, the zoo is contemplating a “worst-case scenario” of culling some animals to feed others as it expects to run out of food in July.

The Badung zoo in Indonesia’s fourth-biggest city, which usually earns about 1.2 billion rupiah ($81,744) a month from visitors, shut on March 23 as part of a wider country lockdown to try to contain the outbreak.

“We have around thirty dotted deer, and we have identified the old and unproductive ones (who can no longer breed) to be slaughtered to save the carnivores, such as the Sumatran tiger and Javan leopard,” said zoo spokesman Sulhan Syafi’i.

Some birds including geese may also be culled, he said.

Big cats, including a critically endangered Sumatran tiger named Fitri, now get 8 kg (18 lb) of meat every two days, down from 10 kg previously.

The zoo needs more than 400 kg of fruit per day and 120 kg of meat every other day, Syafi’i said, noting it is now relying on donations to keep its animals alive.

“The crocodiles are fatter and the tigers are healthier too. But the lion is still a bit skinny,” said Fauzan Dzulfikar, who was allowed to visit after a donation.

The smaller daily portions have not gone unnoticed by the animals, even though Syafi’i said they still met minimum animal welfare standards.

Orangutan keeper Aep Saepudin said the endangered primates can go into a rage and throw things.

“The food is finished, but they still want to eat,” said Saepudin.

The Indonesia Zoo Association, which has requested help from President Joko Widodo, estimates 92 percent of the country’s 60 zoos can only feed their animals until the end of May.

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Nexi and SIA merger talks gain traction ahead of valuation review: sources

LONDON/MILAN (Reuters) – Italian payments firms Nexi (NEXII.MI) and SIA are exchanging confidential information as they explore a possible tie-up to create an Italian powerhouse in the sector, three sources familiar with the matter said.

Discussions may accelerate in June when the companies will review SIA’s valuation ahead of a possible deal, one of the sources said.

“This will be a make or break moment,” the source said, cautioning that establishing a fair value for SIA may prove a key hurdle.

Nexi and SIA declined to comment. Nexi’s boss Paolo Bertoluzzo said on May 12 that discussions with SIA were ongoing.

Nexi is working with Bank of America and Mediobanca on the deal, and SIA with JPMorgan and Rothschild, two of the sources said.

Milan-based SIA provides payment services for the banking sector and counts top bank UniCredit (CRDI.MI) among its clients.

SIA’s relationship with UniCredit is weighing on its valuation, as a key contract between the two can be ended after 2021, the first source said.

UniCredit may turn to alternative providers or renegotiate the contract’s terms, another source said earlier this month.

“There needs to be more clarity on what will happen with UniCredit,” the first source said.

SIA may still pursue a stock market listing if the discussions fall through, two of the sources said.

Shares in Nexi closed up 7.7% after Bloomberg first reported the talks.

Jefferies analysts said a tie-up could generate annual cost synergies of more than 100 million euros ($109.5 million).

SIA is controlled by Italian state lender CDP through investment vehicle FSIA Investimenti, which owns a 57.42% stake.

CDP also owns 25.69% of SIA via its holding company CDP Equity and is expected to be a key shareholder in any combined entity, banking sources said.

Nexi is majority owned by buyout funds Bain Capital, Clessidra and Advent through their Mercury UK vehicle.

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Trump arrives in Michigan to visit Ford plant amid political tensions

YPSILANTI, Mich. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump traveled on Thursday to the crucial U.S. election battleground state of Michigan to visit a Ford Motor Co (F.N) plant amid hostility with its Democratic governor over how quickly to reopen its economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump, a Republican seeking re-election on Nov. 3, has urged states to loosen coronavirus-related restrictions so the battered U.S. economy can recover even as public health experts warn that premature relaxation of restrictions could lead to a second wave of infections.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, seen as a potential vice presidential running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, is facing a backlash from some critics against her stay-at-home orders in a state hit hard by the last recession. Trump has encouraged anti-lockdown protests against Whitmer held in Michigan’s capital.

Trump arrived in the city of Ypsilanti to tour a Ford plant that has been recast to produce ventilators and personal protective equipment and to discuss vulnerable populations hit by the virus in a meeting with African-American leaders.

It is not clear if Trump, who has said he is taking a drug not proven for the coronavirus after two White House staffers tested positive in recent weeks, will wear a protective face mask. He has declined to wear one on previous factory tours despite guidelines for employees to do so.

When asked by reporters before leaving the White House if he planned to don a face covering, Trump said, “I don’t know. We’re going to look at it. A lot of people have asked me that question.”

On Tuesday, Ford reiterated its policy that all visitors must wear masks but did not say if it would require Trump to comply.

Trump on Wednesday threatened to withhold federal funding from Michigan over its plan for expanded mail-in voting, saying without offering evidence that the practice could lead to voter fraud – though he later appeared to back off the threat.

Whitmer told a news conference she spoke with Trump on Wednesday and he pledged federal support for flood recovery, as rising floodwaters have caused more trouble in Michigan, displacing thousands of residents near the city of Midland.

“I made the case that, you know, we all have to be on the same page here. We’ve got to stop demonizing one another and really focus on the fact that the common enemy is the virus. And now it’s a natural disaster,” Whitmer told CBS News, describing her conversation with Trump.

Regarding Trump’s funding threat, Whitmer said, “Threatening to take money away from a state that is hurting as bad as we are right now is just scary, and I think something that is unacceptable.”

Biden also criticized Trump, saying in a statement, “In the wake of disaster, Donald Trump once again showed us who he is – threatening to pull federal funding and encouraging division.”

Whitmer on Thursday moved to further reopen Michigan’s economy through a series of executive orders.

Trump and Ford have been at odds over its decision last year to back a deal with California for stricter vehicle fuel economy standards than his administration had proposed. Trump first sparred with Ford during the 2016 campaign over the automaker’s investments in Mexico and had vowed to slap hefty tariffs taxes on its vehicles made in Mexico.

Trump won in Michigan in the 2016 election, the first Republican to do since 1988. Trump’s handful of trips out of Washington since the pandemic went into full force have focused on election battleground states such as Arizona and Pennsylvania.

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U.S. reaches consensus with Sudan on 'contours' of future claims deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and Sudan have reached a common understanding on the “contours” of a future bilateral claims agreement linked to the 1998 al Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the U.S. State Department’s top diplomat for Africa said on Thursday.

“This final agreement will reflect Sudan’s agreement to pay. It would include compensation in connection with claims relating also to non U.S. nationals killed and injured in the embassy bombings,” Tibor Nagy, assistant secretary for African Affairs, told a teleconference.

His comments come days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the African nation cannot avoid punitive damages in lawsuits accusing it of complicity in the 1998 al Qaeda bombings that killed 224 people.

The ruling reinstates about $826 million out of a total $4.3 billion in punitive damages, said Christopher Curran, a lawyer representing Sudan.

Nagy did not mention a specific amount for the compensations but said those details were being worked out. “We have discussed obviously numbers with the parties involved, but in no way can we make those public yet,” he added.

The issue is a key component of efforts between the United States and Sudan to normalize relations after decades of antagonism. Both countries pledged to improve ties after the fall of veteran Islamist ruler Omar al-Bashir in an uprising a year ago.

Earlier this month, Sudan has appointed its first ambassador to the United States for almost a quarter of a century. In December, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the two countries would exchange ambassadors.

The U.S. ambassador would be nominated by President Donald Trump and needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

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The slow reopen: Retail visits edge up, broader economic measures still unmoved

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. continued its cautious reemergence from a coronavirus-linked shutdown over the past week, with measures of retail foot traffic slowly increasing but broader indexes of economic activity still stalled.

Data from cellphone location firms Unacast and SafeGraph through last weekend both showed a continued slow rise in visits to retail stores. Data on around 55,000 small businesses from time management firm Homebase showed a few more firms open and more workers on the job.

The latest numbers are in line with both the gradual lifting of coronavirus-related restrictions across the country, and what many analysts expect to be a measured response among households and entrepreneurs until it is clear the virus is controlled.

In some cases, businesses are being allowed to open, but with capacity limits or other regulations to keep the virus in check.

A handful of major retailers have said sales recently have been helped by government emergency relief payments to U.S. households and those who have lost work.

Walmart Inc (WMT.N) executives said on a conference call on Tuesday that stimulus checks have helped deliver a good start to the second quarter, but they did not expect spending to continue at the same pace.

Broader real-time measures of the economy showed little evidence yet of a macroeconomic rebound.

Another 2.4 million people filed for unemployment benefits, though the number dropped from last week.

Consumer and industrial activity measures from Goldman Sachs were unchanged. A New York Fed index tracking growth in gross domestic fell slightly. An Atlanta Fed rolling estimate of current-quarter gross domestic product remained at what’s hoped to be its bottom, showing an annualized drop of more than 40%.

Any good news remained narrowly focused. Unacast data showed foot traffic among home improvement stores recently crept above 2019 levels, and pet stores were attracting more visitors.

Estimated activity moved up faster in the midwest and south – Wyoming and South Dakota saw retail traffic above 2019 levels recently — while coastal states, some still under relatively tight restrictions, remained far below last year.

For more on the real time data referenced here, see:

Unacast here here Safegraph www.safegraph.com/dashboard, NYFed here ATLFed here

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Macy's forecasts $1 billion quarterly loss due to lockdowns

(Reuters) – Macy’s Inc (M.N) forecast a quarterly operating loss of up to $1.11 billion on Thursday, as the retailer was forced to shut stores due to lockdowns implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The department store chain said it expects to post an operating loss of between $905 million and $1.11 billion. It also forecast first-quarter sales in the range of $3 billion to $3.03 billion, down from $5.50 billion a year earlier.

Macy’s had earlier this month said it would report its first-quarter earnings on July 1 as significant business disruptions due to the pandemic had led to delays in preparing its financial statement.

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