VW's Audi suspends two engineers in emissions probe

BERLIN Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE) luxury flagship Audi has suspended two engineers after its larger diesel engines were found evading emissions limits in the United States, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday.Volkswagen (VW) and Audi notified U.S. authorities last Thursday that about 85,000 vehicles with 3.0 liter V6 diesel engines were fitted with emissions-control equipment that was not disclosed to U.S. regulators.The news widened a scandal at parent VW which has led to the ouster of its long-time chief executive and wiped more than 20 billion euros ($21 billion) off the group's market value.Audi is now investigating whether employees in technical development and other departments deliberately manipulated emission-control devices and has suspended two engineers, Stadler said in an interview with the Donaukurier regional newspaper, without giving any further details.The V6 diesel engine was designed and assembled by Audi at its factory in Neckarsulm, Germany and widely used in premium models sold by the group's VW, Audi and Porsche brands in model years 2009 through 2016, Audi said on Monday.The Audi suspensions take the number of officials confirmed to have been put on leave across the VW group as a result of its internal investigations to eight, including at least six senior individuals. Ingolstadt-based Audi has said it failed to notify authorities in the United States of three so-called auxiliary emissions control devices (AECD) in luxury models, one of which is classified there as a banned "defeat device."The admission from Audi, which contributes about 40 percent to VW group profit, is raising pressure on Stadler, a 25 year VW group veteran who has led Audi for nine years. Asked by Donaukurier about potential personal consequences, the 52-year-old Stadler said: "What's at stake now is (to find out) the truth and I will not rest until everything is on the table."A spokesman for Audi's works council, which has about half the seats on the carmaker's supervisory board, said the company's labor boss would comment on the situation later on Thursday.Audi Chairman Berthold Huber "has expressed no criticism (of Stadler) whatsoever," a VW spokesman said, citing a "continuous dialogue" between VW and the former IG Metall union chief. ($1 = 0.9428 euros) (Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Editing by Mark Potter) Read more

Brent, U.S. crude futures flat on light U.S. Thanksgiving trade

SINGAPORE Brent and U.S. crude oil futures traded nearly flat on Thursday on light trading due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. U.S. crude's West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures flirted in both negative and positive territory in morning trade, slipping 2 cents, or 0.05 percent, to $43.02 a barrel as of 0133 GMT. They finished the previous session up 17 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $43.04 a barrel.Brent edged down 8 cents, or 0.17 percent, to $46.09 a barrel. It settled up 5 cents, or 0.11 percent, at $46.17 a barrel the day before, after falling more than $1 to a session low $45.03. U.S. crude edged higher earlier in the day, supported by a smaller-than-expected build in U.S. inventories. Stocks rose 1 million barrels in the week to Nov. 20, the ninth consecutive week, compared with analyst expectations for a 1.2 million barrel rise, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. [EIA/S]Analysts say U.S. crude was also boosted by a fall in oil rigs, a sign that drillers were waiting for higher prices before returning to the well pad. Drilled cut rigs for the 12th week in the last 13, data from services company Baker Hughes showed. Asian stocks advanced in early trade on Thursday as the euro remained under pressure on growing bets that the European Central Bank would deliver further stimulus steps. U.S. markets will be closed Thursday and most of Friday afternoon. [MKTS/GLOB] (Reporting by Catherine Ngai; Editing by Joseph Radford) Read more

Pfizer walks away from $118 billion AstraZeneca takeover fight

LONDON/NEW YORK Pfizer abandoned its attempt to buy AstraZeneca for nearly 70 billion pounds ($118 billion) on Monday as a deadline approached without a last-minute change of heart by the British drugmaker.The decision ends a month-long public fight between two of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies that sparked political concerns on both sides of Atlantic over jobs and corporate tax maneuvers.British rules now require an enforced cooling-off period. AstraZeneca could reach out to Pfizer after three months and Pfizer could take another run at its smaller British rival in six months time, whether it is invited back or not.Pfizer's move came two hours before a 5.00 pm (1200 ET) deadline to make a firm offer or walk away, under UK takeover rules. Its decision to quit the stage, at least for now, had been widely expected after AstraZeneca refused its final offer of 55 pounds a share."Following the AstraZeneca board's rejection of the proposal, Pfizer announces that it does not intend to make an offer for AstraZeneca," Pfizer said in a short news release.The biggest U.S. drugmaker promised it would not go hostile by taking its offer directly to AstraZeneca shareholders, leaving the fate of what would have been the world's largest ever drugs merger in the hands of its target, whose board would have had to make a complete U-turn to get a deal done."We continue to believe that our final proposal was compelling and represented full value for AstraZeneca based on the information that was available to us," said Ian Read, Pfizer's chairman and chief executive.Pfizer's final offer was at a price that many analysts and investors had previously suggested would bring AstraZeneca to the table for serious negotiations. But in rejecting an earlier offer of 53.50 pounds as undervaluing the company, the British group indicated it needed a bid more than 10 percent higher, or at least 58.85 pounds per share, for its board to consider a recommendation.Pfizer had urged AstraZeneca shareholders to agitate for engagement and several expressed disappointment at its intransigence, although others - encouraged by AstraZeneca's promising drug pipeline - backed the firm's standalone strategy.AstraZeneca Chairman Leif Johansson welcomed Pfizer's decision to back down, which he said would allow the British company to focus on its growth potential as an independent company.What happens next will depend upon whether AstraZeneca's share price deteriorates in the coming weeks and how hard its shareholders push for it to revisit a deal with Pfizer. BlackRock, AstraZeneca's biggest shareholder, backed the board's rejection of Pfizer's 55 pounds a share offer, but urged it to talk again in the future.POLITICAL OPPOSITIONThe proposed transaction ran into fierce opposition from politicians in Britain, Sweden - where AstraZeneca has half it roots - and the United States over the likelihood that the marriage would lead to thousands of job cuts.Ultimately, it was price and the lack of room for eleventh-hour maneuvering by Pfizer that killed the deal. Pfizer had several reasons for taking aim at AstraZeneca for what would have been its fourth mega-merger in 14 years.Highest on the list appeared to be Pfizer's desire to take part in a recent trend of so-called tax inversions, under which it could reincorporate in Britain and pay significantly lower corporate tax. Pfizer would also be able to use tens of billions of dollars it has parked overseas, avoiding high U.S. taxes for repatriating the huge cash pile.Pfizer also had its eye on a promising portfolio of drugs in AstraZeneca's developmental pipeline, especially several potentially lucrative cancer medicines.It was this pipeline that AstraZeneca management used to make its case for Pfizer significantly undervaluing the company.Chief Executive Pascal Soriot went as far as making a 10-year forecast for a 75 percent rise in sales by 2023."As we said from the start, the pursuit of this transaction was a potential enhancement to our existing strategy," Pfizer's Read said. "We will continue our focus on the execution of our plans, bringing forth new treatments to meet patients' needs and remaining responsible stewards of our shareholders' capital."The merger would have restored Pfizer as the world's largest drugmaker by sales, a position it relinquished to Swiss-based Novartis when billions of dollars in annual revenue evaporated after its top-selling cholesterol fighter Lipitor began facing generic competition in 2011.(Editing by David Evans and Mark Potter) Read more

Asian shares slip, dollar close to eight-month peak

TOKYO Asian shares struggled on Tuesday after a healthcare mega-merger failed to impress Wall Street, while the dollar took a breather from its run to 8-month highs on rising conviction that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next month.The mood was expected to carry over into European trading. Financial spreadbetters predicted Britain's FTSE 100 .FTSE would open down by as much as 0.4 percent, Germany's DAX .GDAXI would fall as much as 0.4 percent, and France's CAC 40 .FCHI was seen dropping 0.5 percent.MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan wavered in and out of positive territory, and was last down 0.2 percent.Japan's Nikkei .N225 ended a choppy session with a 0.2 percent gain, after a long weekend. Markets were closed for a national holiday on Monday."We're post Japan Inc earnings now and the focus is back on China where local brokers are talking about market reforms, many of which have direct market impacts, which is important because China is a policy-driven market," said Gavin Parry, managing director of Parry International Trading. "There's also a continued focus on the U.S. Federal Reserve, with a lot of sell-side banter about quantifying what level of rate increase brokers are expecting," he said.Chinese shares wilted, with the blue chip CSI300 index .CSI300 of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen off session lows but still down 0.2 percent, while and the Shanghai Composite Index .SSEC edged down 0.1 percent.On Monday, Wall Street marked modest losses as Pfizer's (PFE.N) plan to buy Allergan Plc (AGN.N) in a $160 billion deal quickly drew criticism from politicians as a tax dodge. "Investors may feel that even if this deal comes through, this will become the last of this sort," said Yoshinori Shigemi, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset.Markets showed no immediate reaction to a worldwide travel alert issued by the U.S. State Department, that warned U.S. citizens of the risks of travelling because of what it described as "increased terrorist threats."The dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against six major peers, edged down about 0.1 percent to 99.741, after it rose to an 8-month high of 100.00 USD= .DXY overnight, within sight of its 12-year peak of 100.39 touched on March 13.Whether the dollar can rise above that peak could depend on the pace of the Fed's rate hikes next year. Markets are currently pricing in two more rate hikes next year after a likely December move. In the meantime, Thursday's U.S. Thanksgiving holiday is likely to give investors few incentives to take new positions. "Thanksgiving week sees a light data calendar. With investors settling on expectations for a dovish Fed hike there remains risk for USD-negative consolidation," wrote Todd Elmer, Citi's Asian head of G10 FX strategy. In contrast to the Fed, the European Central Bank is widely expected to add stimulus next week, including deepening its already negative interest rates that make banks pay, not receive, interest on their deposits at the central bank.The euro gave up about 0.1 percent to $1.0626 EUR=, after falling to a 7-month low of $1.0592 in U.S. trade on Monday. Precious metals got a reprieve as the dollar's gains stalled but remained under pressure. Spot gold edged up about 0.2 percent to $1,071.61 an ounce but was not far above last week's near six-year low. Silver also touched six-year lows overnight, while platinum dipped to a fresh seven-year low on Tuesday.Base metals were also pressured, suffering from concerns about slowing demand from China.Copper, which has fallen more than 12 percent so far this month, stood at $4,410.50 per tonne, up about 0.6 percent but not far from a 6-1/2-year low of $4,443.50 hit on Monday.Crude prices marked solid gains after Saudi Arabia pledged to work toward oil price stability.U.S. crude futures were off earlier highs but were still up 0.7 percent at $42.06 per barrel, up from a three-month low of $38.99 hit on Friday. Brent added 0.6 percent to $45.08. (Additional reporting by Joshua Hunt in Tokyo; Editing by Eric Meijer and Jacqueline Wong) Read more

Euro and commodities skid, Asia stocks mixed

SYDNEY The euro sagged to a seven-month trough on Monday as the prospect of more policy easing in Europe benefited the U.S. dollar, while activity in Asian shares was crimped by a holiday in Japan.The strength of the dollar also combined with worries about Chinese demand to clobber commodity prices again, sending copper to its lowest in over six years.The head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, last week offered the strongest hint yet that the ECB will unveil fresh stimulus measures at its Dec. 3 policy meeting.The contrast with the U.S. Federal Reserve could not be more stark as it seems destined to lift rates in December for the first time in a decade, underpinning the dollar.The impact was clear in bond markets where yields on two-year German debt hit their lowest ever at negative 38 basis points, while U.S. yields were at their highest since mid-2010.As a result the premium offered by U.S. paper yawned out to 130 basis points, the fattest since 2006. The drag from negative yields pulled the euro down to $1.0605 EUR=, breaching the recent low of $1.0615. It also peeled off to 130.55 yen EURJPY=, again the lowest since April. Against a basket of currencies .DXY the dollar firmed 0.4 percent to 99.949, while also rising to 123.15 yen JPY=.Equities were quieter, with MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS off 0.2 percent. South Korea's main index .KS11 gained 0.7 percent while Australian stocks added 0.35 percent.Wall Street could find support from news of another blockbuster merger. Sources told Reuters that Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) was due to secure formal board approval for its acquisition of Allergan Plc (AGN.N) for more than $150 billion, creating the world's biggest drug maker. The EMINI contract on the S&P 500 ESc1 was trading 0.1 percent firmer on Monday. The Dow .DJI had ended Friday up 0.51 percent, while the S&P 500 .SPX added 0.38 percent and the Nasdaq .IXIC 0.62 percent.The S&P 500 boasted its best week in almost a year, while Europe's main stock index enjoyed its strongest week in a month. "Interestingly, markets are treating the prospects of policy divergence reasonably well," said Jo Masters, a senior economist at Australia and New Zealand Bank. "But with two of the world’s major central banks about to head on divergent policy paths, can such smooth sailing continue over the months ahead?" they wondered. "Increased policy tension is likely to mean that volatility remains elevated."The strength of the dollar kept commodity prices under pressure. Gold XAU= was stuck at $1,070.50 an ounce having touched its lowest level in nearly six years.Copper CMCU3 slipped to a fresh six-and-a-half year low, as traders bet metals prices had further to fall given China's slowing factory demand. [MET/L]Oil prices sank again with U.S. crude CLc1 off 90 cents at $40.99 a barrel, while Brent LCOc1 lost 60 cents to $44.06. [O/R] (Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Sam Holmes) Read more

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