European stocks close lower on US tax overhaul concerns

European stocks close lower on US tax overhaul concerns

The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed provisionally lower, down almost 0.2 percent, with most sectors and major indexes trading in negative territory. Retail stocks were by far the worst-performing sector, down more than 2 percent, after H&M reported fourth-quarter sales below its own expectations. Shares of the fashion retailer fell almost 13 percent to their lowest level since 2009. In other stock news, Deutsche Telekom agreed to buy the Dutch business of Tele2. The latter jumped around 6 percent in early trade but it has since then lost some ground, trading…

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The refugee crisis is subsiding while political fallout is going strong

The refugee crisis is subsiding while political fallout is going strong

Though the flood of immigrants in 2015 and 2016 has subsided, Europe is ending the year without having prepared for the next migration wave. Meanwhile, many immigrants are languishing. This year, German refugee applications declined to levels not seen since 2014. Greece and Italy, which bear the brunt of migrant arrivals across the Mediterranean have also gotten a little more breathing space. In part, that can be explained by the winding down of the Syrian war, in part by the efforts to shut down the routes that most asylum seekers…

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Austria: Far-right joins coalition led by PM Sebastian Kurz

Austria: Far-right joins coalition led by PM Sebastian Kurz

Austria’s president has approved a coalition government between the conservative People’s Party and the far-right Freedom Party. The deal will make Austria the only Western European state with a governing far-right party, which is opposed to migration and the European Union. The parties previously governed the country together between 2000 and 2005. But at just 31, the People’s Party’s Sebastian Kurz is set to become the world’s youngest head of government. No details have been given about the government’s programme, but several important ministerial roles are expected to be handed…

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Sports Direct shareholders block £11m payout to Mike Ashley’s brother

Sports Direct shareholders block £11m payout to Mike Ashley’s brother

Sports Direct’s independent shareholders have blocked a proposed £11m payout to the brother of Mike Ashley, the company’s founder and majority shareholder. Shareholders voted by more than 70% to reject the plan for a payout to John Ashley at a special general meeting on Wednesday morning. Sports Direct received heavy criticism from shareholders and corporate governance experts last year after it emerged the sportswear retailer was paying a company owned by John Ashley to deliver its online orders outside the UK. The arrangement with Barlin Delivery Ltd, which was unwound…

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Scottish jobless rise prompts calls for tax restraint

Scottish jobless rise prompts calls for tax restraint

The Scottish government is facing renewed pressure from business leaders to temper its plans for income tax rises after the jobless total increased and inflation rates rose. Derek Mackay, the Scottish finance secretary, is expected to unveil modest tax increases for higher earners in Holyrood’s budget on Thursday to fund a public sector pay increase, higher NHS spending and more childcare spending. Mackay, who manages a budget of roughly £30bn, has complained bitterly about cuts to next year’s UK government grant. It will cut day-to-day spending by £200m in real…

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Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry is no witch-hunt, says deputy attorney general

Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry is no witch-hunt, says deputy attorney general

Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein defended special counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday and said he had seen no cause to fire him or received encouragement to do so. He also rejected Donald Trump’s characterization of the special counsel’s investigation as a witch-hunt. Rosenstein appeared before the House judiciary committee a day after the Justice Department provided congressional committees with hundreds of text messages between an FBI agent assigned to Mueller’s team and an FBI lawyer who was on the same detail. Those messages, which occurred before Mueller was appointed in…

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UK Christmas shoppers to spend record £4.2bn on food and drink

UK Christmas shoppers to spend record £4.2bn on food and drink

Shoppers in the UK will spend a record £4.2bn on food and drink in the final week before Christmas, shrugging off higher prices caused by the fall in the value of the pound since the EU referendum. Total spending on festive feasts will be up by 3.6%, with Friday 22 December the busiest day as families prepare for the big day, according to analysts at Nielsen. “With Christmas Day falling on a Monday, people are likely to delay their big Christmas shop until the final week and we expect nearly…

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World Bank to end financial support for oil and gas exploration

World Bank to end financial support for oil and gas exploration

The World Bank will end its financial support for oil and gas exploration within the next two years in response to the growing threat posed by climate change. In a statement that delighted campaigners opposed to fossil fuels, the Bank used a conference in Paris to announce that it “will no longer finance upstream oil and gas” after 2019. The Bank ceased lending for coal-fired power stations in 2010 but has been under pressure from lobby groups also to halt the $1bn (£750m) a year it has been lending for…

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Norway becomes first country to end national radio broadcasts on FM

Norway becomes first country to end national radio broadcasts on FM

Norway has completed its transition to digital radio, becoming the first country in the world to shut down national broadcasts of its FM network. The country’s most northern regions and the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic switched to digital audio broadcasting (DAB) as scheduled on Wednesday, said Digitalradio Norge (DRN), an umbrella group for Norway’s public and commercial radio. The transition, which began on 11 January, allows for better sound quality and more channels and functions at an eighth of the cost of FM radio, according to authorities. The move…

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Bitcoin bubble warnings issued as futures trading opens in Chicago

Bitcoin bubble warnings issued as futures trading opens in Chicago

Bitcoin has taken a step toward legitimacy with the launch of a product on a Chicago exchange that allows investors to take bets on its price in the future. The new contract on the Chicago Board Options Exchange came as the digital currency jumped another 10%, sparking fresh warnings of a speculative bubble after last week’s 40% climb in price. Bitcoin was trading at $16,200 – up 10% on the day – while the new futures contract trading in Chicago showed that traders were expecting the cryptocurrency to be trading…

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