Good morning. It is Wednesday, February 1st.
A renewed wave of strikes is unfolding throughout Europe. In France, labor unions are protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, while Belgian health workers demand better working conditions. In the meantime, over 11,000 technology workers in Finland are stopping work after wage disputes between employers and the union.
- Here is a strike and union-themed playlist that will go along well with reading today’s news. Turn it up and scroll down.
—Özlem, with Tanem and Can
• The eurozone economy expanded by 0.1% in the final quarter of 2022, according to figures released by Eurostat on Tuesday, defying estimates for a contraction of 0.1% and raising hopes that the single-currency bloc might avoid a recession. The region managed to grow in each quarter last year. For all of 2022, eurozone GDP rose by 3.5%, outpacing the 2.1% expansion in the US and 3% growth in China.
• France’s economy expanded slightly in the final quarter of 2022, preliminary GDP figures from INSEE revealed on Tuesday, as falling energy imports and strong business investment offset a pullback in consumer spending. The euro zone's second-biggest economy grew 0.1% in Q4, down from 0.2% in the previous quarter. For 2022 as a whole, the French economy grew by 2.6%, roughly in line with the government's expectations.
- Inflation: French consumer prices rose in January on higher energy prices after the government phased out some measures that had reined in increases, according to preliminary figures. The Harmonized Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) rose 0.4% from December, pushing the 12-month inflation rate to 7.0% from 6.7% the previous month, in line with expectations.
• German retail sales fell by 5.3% in December compared with the previous month, according to the Federal Statistics Office on Tuesday, well below a 0.2% rise expected by analysts. Retail sales also fell in December by 6.4% in price-adjusted terms compared with a year earlier, Destatis said, reviving fears of a more marked slowdown in Europe's largest economy.
- In other news: Germany's unemployment rate remained stable at a seasonally-adjusted 5.5% in January, Labour Office figures showed on Tuesday, highlighting the resilience of the labor market despite rising interest rates.
- An important note: The release of Germany’s inflation data for January —which was normally due Tuesday— was postponed to next week due to technical issues with data processing, Destatis said. The delay means crucial eurozone inflation data due a day before the ECB's Thursday meeting will only include an estimate for Europe’s largest economy.
• US consumer morale rose to its highest level in nine months, thanks mainly to easing inflation and healthy incomes, a survey by the University of Michigan showed on Tuesday. The benchmark Consumer Sentiment Index was revised higher to 64.9 in January, the highest since April, from a preliminary of 64.6 and a final reading of 59.7 in December.
• China's economic activity swung back to growth in January as disruptions caused by the abrupt end of its zero-Covid policy appear to be fading. The official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for manufacturing jumped to 50.1 from 47.0 in December, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Tuesday, crossing the 50-line that separates growth from contraction for the first time since September.
• Europe’s largest banks are pledging to return large payouts to shareholders in a combination of buybacks and dividends after interest rate earnings bolster lenders. The Swiss bank UBS vowed to return €6.1 billion as it made record profits partially from clients switching from Credit Suisse, while the Milan-based UniCredit intends to return €5.25 billion.
• Spotify’s fourth-quarter losses hit €270 million, up from €39 million in the same period last year. For all of 2022, the company reported a net €430 million loss on revenue of €11.7 billion. Spotify said that the losses were due to "higher personnel costs primarily due to headcount growth and higher advertising costs," along with currency fluctuations.
- The big picture: Like other tech companies, Spotify rapidly hired more employees over the pandemic boom, and announced recently that it is laying off 6% of its workforce.
• ExxonMobil announced a record annual profit as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raised oil prices despite a fourth-quarter retreat from recent heights. The Texas-based oil giant brought in $12.75 billion (€11.7bn) in profits in the fourth quarter, bringing annual net earnings to $55.7 billion (€51.2bn).
• Pfizer’s 2023 forecast was lower than analysts’ expectations, as demand for its Covid vaccine Comirnaty and Paxlovid treatment fell dramatically. The vaccine and the virus pill contributed more than half of the company’s $100 billion in sales last year. For 2023, Pfizer expects sales of around $13.5 billion for Comirnaty and $8 billion for its Covid pill Paxlovid.
• Samsung said its profit dropped nearly 70% as a weak global economy cut demand for its consumer electronics products and computer memory chips. The South Korean tech giant thrived through the first two years of the pandemic benefiting from robust demand for PCs, TVs, and chips as millions worked at home. But the company struggles with the economic shock due to Russia’s war on Ukraine, which disrupted supply chains and caused high inflation.
• Intense fighting continued in Ukraine's eastern city of Bakhmut, with Russian forces continuing their offensive to capture the key city, the Ukrainian military said. The military also said that many cities in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions have been subjected to shelling by Russian forces in the past 24 hours.
- In accordance: Russia claimed to have captured a village on Bakhmut's outskirts, although there was no immediate response from Ukraine on the state of Blahodatn, Reuters reported.
• Ukraine won support from Baltic nations and Poland for its push to obtain Western fighter jets, as NATO's eastern flank has been leading advocates for providing more military aid. However, major allies such as Germany and the US have so far declined to provide fighter jets to the embattled country.
- Furthermore: The UK government said that sending its fighter jets is "not practical" due to how long it takes to train pilots to fly them.
- A step back: French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that France doesn’t exclude sending fighter jets to Ukraine, but he laid out multiple conditions before such a step is taken, including not leading to an escalation of tensions or using the aircraft "to touch Russian soil."
• French labor unions held a second day of mass strikes and protests against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform that aims to raise the retirement age. France's rail operator SNCF said only one-third of high-speed TGVs were running and urged people to work from home. Subway and commuter trains in Paris were also disrupted, and many schools were closed.
- In other news: More than 10,000 care sector workers held a protest in Brussels, demanding better working conditions and more pay in a field that has been specifically hard-hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. Workers and trade unions are asking for more people to be hired in hospitals and care homes, and for wages to be scaled higher to attract more young people into the sector.
• NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg heavily criticized China for "bullying its neighbors and threatening Taiwan," and called for Japan and other democracies to work together with NATO to defend international order. Visiting Tokyo, Stoltenberg called it a "critical moment for NATO and for Japan," saying that trans-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific are "deeply interconnected" while accusing China and Russia of leading an authoritarian pushback against the international order.
• The death toll from a suicide bomb that exploded in a mosque in Pakistan's city of Peshawar rose to at least 100, a regional hospital said, and left 217 injured, with police suspecting that 12 kg of explosives were used by the attacker.
• Employees for technology companies in Finland will go on strike from Wednesday to Friday after no agreement was reached at a wage dispute between the industrial union and technology industry employers. The strike will affect 20 companies including ABB, Sandvik, and Outokumpu, that employ 11,000 workers, the technology employers' organization said.
• The US government has reportedly stopped approving licenses for US companies to export to China’s Huawei. The company has faced US export restrictions for several years, since former President Donald Trump’s administration put the company on the "entity list", making it ineligible from receiving exports from the US without a license. Some companies, such as Qualcomm, which supplies Huawei with 4G chips for smartphones, were issued licenses since then.
• Binance and its US affiliate both used the lobbying services of the law firm Hogan Lovells in Washington to pitch US lawmakers in late 2022, according to Congressional filings.
- Why it matters: The arrangement shows links between the two trading platforms that claim to operate separately. Binance, the world's largest crypto exchange, has insisted that its US operation is independent of the wider group, which has been subject to regulatory censures worldwide.
• A US judge ruled that the names of two people who posted bail for indicted FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried should be made public, but put his ruling on hold pending an expected appeal. Judge Lewis Kaplan said the public’s right to know who SBF’s guarantors have outweighed SBF’s arguments for confidentiality.
- A step back: Eight major media outlets on Thursday asked the judge to make public the names of two people who helped guarantee the FTX cryptocurrency exchange founder's $250 million bond.
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