Text and ASCII Torture Test

1. Long string of unbreaking text (this is actually a real word, word will appear once followed by a space followed by the word twice in a row): Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch LlanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochLlanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

2. Here’s a youtube link (pronunciation of the above word): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHxO0UdpoxM

3. Some “smart” quotes and we can’t leave out the smart apostrophe.

4. Sometimes putting two dashes together makes an em dash —

5. Every web developer’s favorite escape sequence: &

6. How about some inline <b>HTML</b> code. <a href=http://zumobi.com>this should just all be plain text</a>

7. Giving Microzines™ a trademark.

8. Copyright © 2018.

9. The “registered” symbol: ®

10. One thousand US Dollars = 853.39 Euro = 746.23 British Pounds = 109,823.00 Japanese Yen = 67,100.50 Indian Rupee= 0.13 Bitcoin. Here that is using currency symbols: $1000 = €853.39 = £746.23 = ¥109,823.00 = ₹67,100.50 = ₿0.13

11. Who doesn’t love interrobang‽

12. Here are some text decoration effects we often need. This sentence should contain some strong text. This sentence should contain some bold text. This sentence should contain some emphasized text. This sentence should contain some underlined text. This sentence should contain some subscript text. This sentence should contain some superscript text. All of the text here in this section should be a continuous paragraph.

Without NHL players, Team USA hockey looks to Europe

Jan 1, 2018; Queens, NY, USA; Team USA hockey Olympic player Brian Gionta (right) and head coach Tony Granato attend a press conference during the second period in the 2018 Winter Classic hockey game between the New York Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres at Citi Field. Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

By Dan Burns

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Stanley Cup winner Brian Gionta will captain a U.S. men’s Olympic ice hockey team made up of players from European leagues or the North American development ranks at next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Gionta, who has played 15 years in the NHL, was named on Monday amongst more than a dozen little-known Americans playing professionally in Europe, along with a hodgepodge of minor leaguers and ex-NHL players for the Feb. 9-25 Olympics.

He is the only player in the squad to have previous Olympic experience, having played for the U.S. at the 2006 Games in Turin and is well aware the team has precious little time together to try and challenge for a medal in Pyeongchang.

“The biggest challenge is getting the team to gel together as quick as possible,” Gionta, who won a Stanley Cup in 2003 with the New Jersey Devils, told reporters on Monday.

“We have four practices or so before we come together and start competing in games.”

Next month’s Olympics are the first since 1994 not to include players from the National Hockey League.

The league said last April it would not release players after failing to reach a deal with the International Olympic Committee to cover players’ travel and insurance costs.

The NHL also were unhappy with the prospect of a nearly three-week interruption to the regular season schedule.

USA Hockey named the bulk of their squad during the NHL’s Winter Classic New Year’s Day game between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres.

Most are drawn from leagues around Europe, with a few playing in the U.S. minors and former NHL players like Gionta.

Only four come from the college ranks, ensuring the team does not mark a full return to the pre-NHL era when the last American team to win gold at the Lake Placid Games in 1980 in the ‘Miracle on Ice’ were predominantly collegiate players.

The 2018 team features many of the players who went to the Deutschland Cup in Germany in October in what amounted to both a trial and their only warm-up games ahead of Pyeongchang.

They lost all of their games against Slovakia, Russia and Germany and were outscored 12-4.

“Obviously from a selection process it’s been a real battle for us,” coach Tony Granato said.

“I think we’ve put together an outstanding group of players that will represent us well come February and give us a great chance to … compete for a medal.”

The team’s first group game is on Feb. 14 against Slovenia before they face Slovakia on Feb. 16. They also face a stiff challenge on Feb. 17 from an unknown collection of Russians, who will play under the Olympic flag.

The IOC has banned Russia from formal participation for doping violations, but Russian athletes deemed to be drug-free can compete independently.

“Any time you play a Russian team you expect high skill and expect to see extremely talented players,” Granato said.

“How they put it together and what they do in the next few weeks, we’ll have to keep an eye on, but we’re not going to do anything different as we get ready for the Olympics.”

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Jay-Z ‘confesses’ to Beyonce in ‘Family Feud’ music video

FILE PHOTO: Beyonce arrives with husband Jay-Z at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala 2015 celebrating the opening of “China: Through the Looking Glass,” in Manhattan, New York May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Jay-Z released a music video on Friday that features the rapper addressing the pain of infidelity as he appears in a confessional booth opposite his wife Beyonce.

Set partly in a church and also featuring the couple’s 5-year-old daughter Blue Ivy, the “Family Feud” video pays tribute to family ties and female empowerment.

“We all lose when the family feuds,” Jay-Z sings. “A man that don’t take care of his family can’t be rich.”

The video is the latest from Jay-Z’s hit album “4:44,” in which he responds to allegations of cheating revealed by Beyonce in her 2016 Grammy-winning album “Lemonade.” It briefly shows an unidentified couple having sex, until the woman stabs the man in the back.

Within an hour of its release, the video was the top trending item on Twitter.

Jay-Z, 48, confirmed in a New York Times interview in November that he had been unfaithful to Beyonce earlier in their nine-year marriage.

The rapper’s soul-baring “4:44” album on love, life and social issues was widely seen as an apology to his wife.

The couple, one of the richest and most influential in the music industry, have reconciled and Beyonce gave birth to their twins in June.

Heavy on symbolism, the eight-minute-long “Family Feud” video shows the musician walking into a church holding the hand of a white-clad Blue Ivy and taking a seat in the confessional booth.

Beyonce, dressed in a black, priestess-like robe, watches silently from a pulpit and later sits listening on the other side of the confessional screen.

Directed by filmmaker Ava DuVernay, the video also envisions a future in which a grown-up Blue Ivy and other women of color, portrayed by actresses Mindy Kaling, Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera, Thandie Newton and Niecy Nash, appear to rule the world.

Jay-Z has a leading eight nominations for the Grammy Awards in January, including the top prizes of best album, song and record of the year.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Tom Brown)

Dollar starts new year in doldrums, Asia stocks in good cheer

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Wayne Cole

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The euro stood within striking distance of its 2017 peak on an ailing U.S. dollar on Tuesday, while Asian stocks began the new year close to their highest in a decade.

Sentiment was helped by news that North Korea had offered an olive branch to South Korea, with Kim Jong Un saying he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul.

Yet activity was sparse, with Japan on holiday and many investors on an extended break. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was a fraction firmer after rising by one-third in value last year to heights last visited in 2007.

Japan’s Nikkei also had a bright 2017 with gains of 19 percent.

While Wall Street had ended Friday with modest losses, it was still a bumper year for U.S. stocks.

The benchmark S&P 500 climbed 19.5 percent during 2017, while the Dow added 25.2 percent and the Nasdaq 28.2 percent, all the best yearly performances since 2013.

Still to come on Tuesday was the Caixin survey of Chinese manufacturing which is expected to show a slight slowdown as a punishing crackdown on air pollution and a cooling property market weigh on the world’s second-largest economy.

The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) released on Sunday dipped to 51.6 in December, from 51.8 in November, though the index of non-manufacturing rose to a three-month high of 55 from 54.8 in November.

In currency markets, the dollar remained out of favor having hit a three-month low against a basket of its peers on Friday. That brought its losses for 2017 to 9.8 percent, its worse performance since 2003.

Its pain was the euro’s gain, with the single currency enjoying its strongest year against the dollar in 14 years. Early Tuesday, the euro was firm at $1.2013 and just off a three-month top of $1.2028.

Bulls were now eyeing the September peak of $1.2092, a break of which would take the euro to ground last trod in late 2014.

The euro had already broken major resistance on the yen to reach highs not seen since late 2015 at 135.51, leaving the dollar struggling at 112.74 yen.

A major hurdle for the dollar will be Wednesday’s release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s December meeting when it raised interest rates. Two policymakers voted against the move amid doubts inflation would accelerate as hoped.

“With the market pricing in a 68 percent chance of a March hike and two hikes for 2018, there will close inspection to assess just how shaky their confidence is for any pick-up in inflationary trends,” said Chris Weston, chief markets strategist at broker IG in Sydney.

“That said, the U.S. dollar is underloved and oversold and it won’t take much to promote a bout of profit-taking from the shorts.”

The skid in the dollar, combined with strength in Chinese demand, has benefited commodities priced in the currency.

Copper stood tall at $7,251.50 a ton, having risen 31 percent in 2017 to a four-year top, while aluminum amassed gains of 34 percent.

Gold was 0.2 percent firmer at $1,305.62 an ounce, after advancing by 13 percent in 2017 for its best performance in seven years.

Brent crude oil futures ended the year with a 17 percent rise, while U.S. crude rose 12 percent on strong demand and declining global inventories. [O/R]

Early Tuesday, Brent was steady at $66.62 a barrel while U.S. crude eased 17 cents to $60.25.

(Editing by Richard Borsuk)

Chief justice orders review of sexual harassment standards in U.S. judiciary

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts speaks at the dedication of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts said on Sunday he would launch a review in 2018 of how the federal judiciary handles sexual harassment, following the recent resignation of a U.S. appeals court judge amid allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct and comments.

In his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary, Roberts said the judicial branch of government was not immune to incidents of sexual harassment and addressing it would be a new challenge in the coming year.

Allegations of systematic sexual harassment and assault that surfaced against movie producer Harvey Weinstein earlier this year galvanized women to speak out about instances of sexual harassment in the media, government and workplaces across the country.

Earlier this month, renowned San Francisco-based federal appeals judge Alex Kozinski, 67, retired from his lifetime appointment after over a dozen women came forward to accuse him of inappropriate sexual conduct or comments.

In a statement announcing his resignation, Kozinski said that while friends and family had urged him to stay on and defend himself, he could not “be an effective judge and simultaneously fight this battle.” Reuters has not verified any of the accusations.

“The judiciary will begin 2018 by undertaking a careful evaluation of whether its standards of conduct and its procedures for investigating and correcting inappropriate behavior are adequate to ensure an exemplary workplace for every judge and every court employee,” Roberts wrote in his report.

Roberts said he asked the federal judiciary’s director of the administrative office to form a working group to examine the courts’ practices and recommend necessary changes to codes of conduct, employee guidance on reporting misconduct and its own rules for investigating complaints.

“I am sure that the overwhelming number have no tolerance for harassment and share the view that victims must have clear and immediate recourse to effective remedies,” he wrote.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Record-shattering cold reaches into Florida

A person dressed as a polar bear walks on the boardwalk after participating in the Coney Island Polar Bear Club New Year’s Day Plunge on Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) – Record-shattering arctic cold reached as far south as Florida on Monday with freeze warnings in place from Texas to the Atlantic Coast and the northeastern United States facing another cold wave at the end of the week, forecasters said.

Temperatures were from 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (11 to 17 degrees Celsius) below normal across the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, with only southern Florida untouched by the arctic blast.

“That degree of cold will be with us until tomorrow,” said Brian Hurley, a National Weather Service meteorologist at College Park, Maryland. “Tuesday morning, we’re looking at temperatures with very high probability of record lows.”

Along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, the temperature in the city of Mobile could hit a low of 16F (minus 9C) overnight. Stiff breezes were expected to create dangerously cold wind chills across southeastern Georgia and most of northeastern Florida, the weather service said.

The mass of frigid air pumped south by a dip in the jet stream sent temperatures plunging across the U.S. heartland. Omaha posted a low of minus 20F (minus 29C), breaking a 130-year-old record, and Aberdeen, South Dakota, shattered a record set in 1919 with a temperature of minus 32F (minus 36C).

The cold will be unrelenting across the Middle Atlantic and northeastern United States, with up to two dozen low temperature records expected in those regions over the next day or two, Hurley said.

Although the cold should ease across most of the United States after Tuesday, the northeastern quarter of the country will see a repeat of the current frigid temperatures from Thursday to Friday as another arctic blast hits the area.

“We’re still talking 20 to 30 degrees below normal,” Hurley said. “So, here we go again,”

The private AccuWeather forecaster said the cold snap could combine with a storm brewing off the Bahamas to bring snow and high winds to much of the Eastern Seaboard as it heads north on Wednesday and Thursday.

The only part of the United States spared the deep freeze is the Southwest. Above-normal temperatures and dry weather is expected to continue there, with temperatures in Los Angeles above 70F (21C) for the rest of the week, the weather service said.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Konta overcomes blip to get past Keys in Brisbane opener

FILE PHOTO: Tennis – Wimbledon – London, Britain – July 13, 2017 Great Britain’s Johanna Konta in action during her semi final match against Venus Williams of the U.S. REUTERS/Matthew Childs

(Reuters) – Johanna Konta made a shaky start to the new season before battling past U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys and into the second round of the Brisbane International on Monday.

Konta, who prevailed 4-6 6-4 6-3, needed two hours and eight minutes to quell the challenge of her American opponent as her usually reliable serve sputtered early on before eventually coming to her rescue at the Pat Rafter Arena.

“This was my first match in quite a while, so I’m really happy to have had such a competitive match against such a great player,” Konta said.

“It was a really tough first round for both of us. Madison is an incredibly good player, so I feel very lucky that I got to play her so early on and really have a good match.”

World number 19 Keys missed eight opportunities to break Konta’s serve before she finally succeeded while up 5-4 to take the first set with a powerful forehand drive.

Konta appeared to calm her serve and nerve in the second set, fighting back with an early break to go up 3-2. The world number nine then held on to level the match at one set apiece.

The Briton battled her way to a 2-0 lead in the decider as Keys began to tire and finished the match with another break to set up a clash with Ajla Tomljanovic in the next round.

Belarusian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich came from behind to upset sixth seed Kristina Mladenovic 1-6 6-3 7-5 while Elina Svitolina beat Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2 6-4. Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko then stunned eighth seed Ashleigh Barty 6-3 6-2.

Double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova withdrew from the event with a viral illness. The 27-year-old Czech was unable to take the court against Estonian Anett Kontaveit and was replaced in the draw by lucky loser Heather Watson.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Two more head coaches fired as Bears dump Fox, Lions ditch Caldwell

FILE PHOTO: Aug 29, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Chicago Bears head coach John Fox looks on from the sidelines in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals in a preseason NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) – Two more head coaches were fired from National Football League teams on Monday, bringing the number to four in less than 24 hours since the end of the regular season.

John Fox was sent packing from the Chicago Bears after three seasons, while Jim Caldwell was sacked after four seasons with the Detroit Lions.

Fox departs after a 5-11 season, and a 14-34 overall record.

“Today is the tough part of our results-oriented business but I wish the Bears organization the best for years to come,” he said in a statement released by the club.

Caldwell, meanwhile, leaves Detroit after compiling a 36-28 record, the first head coach at the franchise to compile a winning record since the early 1970s.

The Lions made the playoffs twice under Caldwell, but have not won a postseason game since 1991, the second longest active drought in the NFL.

On Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts dumped head coach Chuck Pagano after six seasons, while the Oakland Raiders dispensed with Jack Del Rio after three seasons.

The New York Giants fired Ben McAdoo four weeks ago.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

California launches legal sale of cannabis for recreational use

Steve DeAngelo (C) makes the first legal recreational marijuana sale to Henry Wykowski at Harborside, one of California’s largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana sales in Oakland, California, U.S. January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California will launch the world’s largest regulated commercial market for recreational marijuana on Monday, as dozens of newly licensed stores catering to adults who enjoy the drug for its psychoactive effects open for business up and down the state.

It becomes the sixth U.S. state, and by far the most populous, venturing beyond legalized medical marijuana to permit the sale of cannabis products of all types to customers at least 21 years old.

Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Nevada were the first to introduce recreational pot sales on a state-regulated, licensed and taxed basis. Massachusetts and Maine are on track to follow suit later this year.

With California and its 39.5 million residents officially joining the pack, more than one-in-five Americans now live in states where recreational marijuana is legal for purchase, even though cannabis remains classified as an illegal narcotic under U.S. law.

The marijuana market in California alone, which boasts the world’s sixth-largest economy, is valued by most experts at several billion dollars annually and is expected to generate at least a $1 billion a year in tax revenue.

“Adding California to the regulated [recreational] market for cannabis is a really big deal,” said Heather Azzi, a senior attorney for the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group working to liberalize marijuana laws.

Uruguay became the first and only country to legalize recreational marijuana sales nationally, permitted through its pharmacies starting in July 2017, but is far smaller in comparison, with a population of just 3.4 million.

Still, most California jurisdictions are sitting out the highly anticipated New Year’s Day inauguration of recreational cannabis sales.

Many, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, will not be ready for days or weeks because of additional red tape required by city and county governments before would-be retailers can obtain their state licenses.

But business will almost certainly be brisk at newly permitted shops ready on Day One. They number about four-dozen outlets across California, according to an authoritative guide to the cannabis market, GreenState, published by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Stores authorized to carry recreational weed were set to go on New Year’s Day in San Diego, San Jose, Santa Cruz, Oakland, Berkeley, Eureka and Desert Hot Springs, among other locales. Hundreds more are expected to open throughout the state as the year progresses.

Many previously operated strictly as medical cannabis dispensaries under a patchwork of local regulations, and will now be licensed by the state for recreational merchandise as well.

Among the very first will be the Oakland-based Harborside dispensary, which has long ranked as the largest U.S. medical marijuana outlet. It planned to opens its doors at 6 a.m. local time on Monday.

Customers in the recreational sector – which state regulators prefer to call the “adult use” market – are only permitted to buy an ounce (28 grams) of raw cannabis or its equivalent at a time.

Medical patients can buy unlimited quantities, but must present a doctor’s note and have purchased a medical ID card.

The stage for Monday’s grand opening was set when voters passed a ballot measure in November 2016, Proposition 64, immediately legalizing personal possession and use of recreational pot by adults 21 and over.

But it has taken California lawmakers and bureaucrats over a year to devise a licensing, regulatory and tax structure for all phases of the commercial distribution chain.

California in 1996 became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use, and more than 30 states have since done likewise.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Siemens to gauge interest of state funds in Healthineers IPO: CEO

Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser attends the company’s annual news conference in Munich, Germany, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Dalder – RC12652D94E0

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Siemens will test the appetite of sovereign wealth funds ahead of the planned listing of its healthcare unit Healthineers next year, its chief executive told a German weekly, possibly to secure anchor investors for the flotation.

The listing of a minority of the unit, which makes X-ray and MRI machines, is set to take place in the first half of 2018 and is expected to value Healthineers as a whole at around 40 billion euros ($48 billion).

Siemens is expected to sell 15-25 percent of Healthineers, sources have said, implying stock worth 6-10 billion euros could be sold – Germany’s biggest share offering since Deutsche Telekom in 1996.

“Internal preparations are going well and we are still planning the listing in the first half of 2018, if markets play along,” Joe Kaeser told Frankfurt Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in an interview published on Sunday.

“In any case, we are planning to test the interest of relevant anchor shareholders, including sovereign wealth funds.”

Asked whether this included Norway and China, home to the world’s largest and third-largest state funds, respectively, Kaeser said: “We will probably cover the range of the most important state funds, yes. The advantage would be that we would gain anchor investors. The disadvantage: the free float of shares is not as high.”

The move is designed to enable the unit to raise its own funds for takeovers and investments in the healthcare sector as well as crystallizing its standalone value, removing some of the “conglomerate discount” that weighs on Siemens’ valuation.

In 2016, utility RWE won BlackRock as an anchor investor in the initial public offering of its Innogy unit. RWE ended up selling a 23.2 percent stake in the networks, renewables and retail unit.

(Reporting by Christoph Steitz; Editing by Alison Williams)

Arise Sir Ringo: Beatles drummer knighted in UK honors list

FILE PHOTO: Musician Ringo Starr poses during a “Peace & Love” event to celebrate Starr’s 77th birthday in Los Angeles, California, U.S., July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

LONDON (Reuters) – Ex-Beatles drummer Ringo Starr has been knighted in Queen Elizabeth’s New Year’s honors list, along with Bee Gees singer Barry Gibb and author Michael Morpurgo, while ballet dancer Darcey Bussell becomes a dame.

Ringo, 77, real name Richard Starkey, joined the Beatles as a replacement drummer for Pete Best in 1962 and occasionally sang lead vocals, notably in “Yellow Submarine” and “With a Little Help from my Friends.”

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Beatle in 1988 and again in 2015 for his solo career after the group split up.

Gibb, 71, is the British musician who co-founded the Bee Gees with his brothers Robin and Maurice and went on to record a string of pop classics including “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” from the film “Saturday Night Fever.”

English author Morpurgo, 74, is best known for children’s novels like “War Horse” and was Children’s Laureate from 2003 to 2005.

Bussell, 48, is a former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet and currently one of the four judges in the long-running BBC TV ballroom contest “Strictly Come Dancing.”

The New Year’s honors have been awarded since Queen Victoria’s reign in the 19th century and aim to recognize not just well-known figures but those who have contributed to national life through often selfless and unsung contributions over many years.

In that category, Margaret Jamieson, of the Blue Door charity shop on the Scottish island of Orkney is recognized, along with Geoffrey Evans, a local councillor in Falmouth, Cornwall for over 40 years.

Actor Hugh Laurie receives the CBE medal, as does author Jilly Cooper and the former editor of British Vogue magazine Alexandra Shulman.

England women’s cricket captain Heather Knight is made an OBE while hip hop artist Richard Cowie, aka Wiley, is made an MBE, along with Paralympian athlete Stefanie Reid.

The biannual honors list is released on the Queen’s official birthday in June and at the end of each year. The list is published by the Cabinet Office and can be seen at www.gov.uk/honours/honours-lists

(Reporting by Stephen Addison, editing by Andy Bruce)

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Box Office: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Tops $1 Billion Worldwide

FILE PHOTO: Actors Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill pose for photographers as they arrive for the European Premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’, at the Royal Albert Hall in central London, Britain December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

By Dave McNary

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – Disney-Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has cleared the $1 billion milestone in worldwide grosses in less than three weeks.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” pulled in $120.4 million globally on the New Year’s Eve weekend with $52.4 million at 4,232 domestic venues and $68 million internationally during the Friday-Sunday period.

“The Last Jedi” is now the eighth highest-grossing domestic movie of all time with $517.1 million — only $15 million behind last year’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in the seventh spot. On the worldwide chart, it’s now 24th with $1.04 billion, edging Universal-Illumination’s “Despicable Me 3.” The tentpole’s international total, currently at $523.2 million, will see a significant jolt when it opens on Jan. 5 in China, its final market.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has also topped Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which grossed $504 million in North America, for the top spot among 2017 releases domestically. It’s the fourth 2017 title to go past $1 billion worldwide, along with “Beauty and the Beast” at $1.26 billion, “The Fate of the Furious” at $1.24 billion and “Despicable Me 3” at $1.03 billion.

“The Last Jedi” is also winning the domestic weekend box office crown for the third time with $52.4 million, edging Sony’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which took in $50.6 million at 3,765 locations for the Friday-Sunday. However, Sony’s projection showed the “Jumanji” sequel grossing $16.5 million on New Year’s Day on Monday — well above Disney’s forecast of $13.2 million for “The Last Jedi.” Should those numbers hold, “Jumanji” would edge “Jedi” over the four-day period with $67 million, winning by $1.4 million.

“Jumanji” has been “The Last Jedi’s” biggest competitor by far since it opened on Dec. 20. The action-comedy should wind up with an 11-day domestic total of $186.3 million by the end of Monday. The action-comedy, starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, has a $90 million budget. It’s also performed impressively in international markets with $107 million thr0ugh Dec. 28.

“Jedi” and “Jumanji” helped lift the entire domestic box office for 2017 to $11.12 billion, down 2.3% from last year’s $11.38 billion and off slightly from 2015’s $11.14 billion, according to comScore. The gap for 2017 had been more than 6% at the end of the worst summer in a decade but performances by “It,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Justice League,” “Jedi” and “Jumanji” closed most of that margin.

“With another $11 billion plus year on the books, the industry looks ahead to awards season and a 2018 packed with blockbuster titles and a hope for a year slightly less volatile than 2017,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore. Universal’s “Pitch Perfect 3” led the rest of weekend’s domestic pack with a projected $22.7 million at 3,468 locations for Friday-Monday, lifting its 11-day total to $69.2 million. The comedy threequel, starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, took in $13.1 million this weekend from 34 international markets for a foreign total of $28.6 million.

Hugh Jackman’s musical drama “The Greatest Showman” is finishing a close fourth with $20.3 million at 3,316 theaters forecasted for the four days. The Fox-Chernin Entertainment title showed the biggest gain in the top 10 movies from the Christmas Eve weekend with an impressive 73% surge. The domestic total should hit $53.8 million through Monday.

Fox’s second weekend of “Ferdinand” — the only film to open on the same weekend as “The Last Jedi” — followed in fifth with $15.1 million at 3,337 North American venues, giving the animated comedy $57.3 million in 18 days. Disney-Pixar’s seventh weekend of “Coco” finished sixth with a projected $8.8 million at 2,845 sites for a domestic total of $181.1 million and $539 million worldwide.

Sony’s “All the Money in the World” and Focus Features’ “The Darkest Hour” were in a battle for seventh place at about $7.2 million for the four days. “All the Money” opened on Christmas Day as the final wide release of the year at 2,074 locations after director Ridley Scott excised Kevin Spacey’s scenes and reshot them with Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty, following the early November sexual abuse allegations against Spacey. Its eight-day total will be around $14.4 million.

Awards contender “Darkest Hour,” starring Gary Oldman as the 1940 version of Winston Churchill, expanded to 943 venues in its sixth weekend and will have taken in $19.8 million by the end of the weekend. Focus reported strong performance in Washington, D.C./Maryland, Phoenix, Boston, Salt Lake City, and Florida markets.

“‘Darkest Hour’ is taking America by storm,” said distribution chief Lisa Bunnell. “We’re seeing audiences coming out in big numbers. It’s a movie they found inspiring over the holiday break and the word of mouth gives us a strong outlook for the upcoming weeks.”

Matt Damon’s comedy-drama “Downsizing” finished ninth with a projected $6 million at 2,664 sites for the four days for Paramount. The 11-day total for “Downsizing,” which carries a $65 million budget and was directed by Alexander Payne, should come in around $18.5 million.

Warner Bros.-Alcon Entertainment’s second weekend of R-rated comedy “Father Figures” rounded out the top 10 with a projected $5.5 million at 2,902 locations. The 11-day total for the Owen Wilson-Ed Helms vehicle, which has a $25 million price tag, should hit about $14 million.

Wall Street eyes 2018 gains with a side of caution

FILE PHOTO: Traders react at the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, (NYSE) in New York, U.S., November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Sinead Carew

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks are expected to keep rising in 2018 because a massive drop in the corporate tax rate is seen boosting the economy and corporate profits, but strategists say sizable gains could either be short-lived or elusive.

The bull market is on track to mark its ninth birthday in March, with the S&P 500 climbing 20 percent for 2017 – its biggest increase since 2013. The drop in the corporate tax rate in 2018, to 21 percent from 35 percent, is seen by many as the biggest factor for the stock market next year.

Yet 2018 share gains are expected to be smaller than 2017 with the S&P 500’s price/earnings ratio – a measure of stock prices against expected profits – is around its highest level since June 2002. Many on Wall Street cite potential pitfalls even though they see no signs of a recession.

“We’ve had six years in a row where stocks have (outperformed) earnings, and I think we break that streak with stocks going up but not as much as earnings,” said Robert Doll, chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management in Princeton, New Jersey.

Some say the tax bill’s benefit will be short lived. David Kelly, chief global strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management described the bill as “more carbs and less protein,” because the tax overhaul will improve spending but does nothing to boost productivity.

“It’ll be a one-year wonder,” said Kelly. “People should enjoy the party while it lasts but just make sure you know where your coat is.”

Several strategists cite the risk that faster economic growth could cause inflation to increase at a pace that would lead the U.S. Federal Reserve to raise interest rates faster than expected.

Wall Street’s rosy forecasts seem “well supported by the tremendous string of good news which the economy has delivered,” according to Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist with Leuthold Group in Minneapolis.

But he said, the news is too good: “The problem with getting good news is that at some point you can’t be positively surprised any more.”

Paulsen does not expect a recession. But when the economic surprise index – which compares economic data to consensus expectations – is at high levels, equity performance tends to be weaker, according to Paulsen.

The Citi Economic Surprise index <.CESIUSD> was at 77 on Thursday, not far from its almost six-year high of 84.5 reached on Dec. 22.

“We’re going to have a 10-15 percent correction at some time in 2018. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re down for the year,” Paulsen said. “If we get a correction and people get scared I’ll probably be buying again.”

Investors will keep a close watch on the on U.S. mid-term elections in 2018 because a Republican loss of control of the Senate or the House of Representatives could stall the party’s agenda. In 10 of the last 17 U.S. mid-term election years, equity price moves for the full year followed January’s direction, according to Jeff Hirsch, editor of the Stock Trader’s Almanac.

Investor moods in January may depend on whether the U.S. Congress reaches an agreement to raise the country’s debt ceiling. Investors will also be hoping Congress can reach a 2018 budget pact by Jan. 19. These are just some of the worries traders are contending with.

But the market has history against it. The S&P 500 rises on average 1.3 percent in the so-called Santa Clause rally – the period between Dec. 22 and Jan. 3 – according to Hirsch. This year, five days in, the S&P has risen just 0.1 percent.

“The failure of stocks to rally during this time tends to precede bear markets or times when stocks could be purchased at lower prices later in the year,” Hirsch wrote in a blog post.

(Reporting by Sinead Carew; Additional reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch and Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Leslie Adler)

As U.S. budget fight looms, Republicans flip their fiscal script

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol Dome (L) building is pictured in Washington, DC, U.S. on October 4, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of a conservative Republican faction in the U.S. Congress, who voted this month for a huge expansion of the national debt to pay for tax cuts, called himself a “fiscal conservative” on Sunday and urged budget restraint in 2018.

In keeping with a sharp pivot under way among Republicans, U.S. Representative Mark Meadows, speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” drew a hard line on federal spending, which lawmakers are bracing to do battle over in January.

When they return from the holidays on Wednesday, lawmakers will begin trying to pass a federal budget in a fight likely to be linked to other issues, such as immigration policy, even as the November congressional election campaigns approach in which Republicans will seek to keep control of Congress.

President Donald Trump and his Republicans want a big budget increase in military spending, while Democrats also want proportional increases for non-defense “discretionary” spending on programs that support education, scientific research, infrastructure, public health and environmental protection.

“The (Trump) administration has already been willing to say: ‘We’re going to increase non-defense discretionary spending … by about 7 percent,'” Meadows, chairman of the small but influential House Freedom Caucus, said on the program.

“Now, Democrats are saying that’s not enough, we need to give the government a pay raise of 10 to 11 percent. For a fiscal conservative, I don’t see where the rationale is. … Eventually you run out of other people’s money,” he said.

Meadows was among Republicans who voted in late December for their party’s debt-financed tax overhaul, which is expected to balloon the federal budget deficit and add about $1.5 trillion over 10 years to the $20 trillion national debt.

“It’s interesting to hear Mark talk about fiscal responsibility,” Democratic U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley said on CBS.

Crowley said the Republican tax bill would require the United States to borrow $1.5 trillion, to be paid off by future generations, to finance tax cuts for corporations and the rich.

“This is one of the least … fiscally responsible bills we’ve ever seen passed in the history of the House of Representatives. I think we’re going to be paying for this for many, many years to come,” Crowley said.

Republicans insist the tax package, the biggest U.S. tax overhaul in more than 30 years, will boost the economy and job growth.

‘ENTITLEMENT REFORM’

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who also supported the tax bill, recently went further than Meadows, making clear in a radio interview that welfare or “entitlement reform,” as the party often calls it, would be a top Republican priority in 2018.

In Republican parlance, “entitlement” programs mean food stamps, housing assistance, Medicare and Medicaid health insurance for the elderly, poor and disabled, as well as other programs created by Washington to assist the needy.

Democrats seized on Ryan’s early December remarks, saying they showed Republicans would try to pay for their tax overhaul by seeking spending cuts for social programs.

But the goals of House Republicans may have to take a back seat to the Senate, where the votes of some Democrats will be needed to approve a budget and prevent a government shutdown.

Democrats will use their leverage in the Senate, which Republicans narrowly control, to defend both discretionary non-defense programs and social spending, while tackling the issue of the “Dreamers,” people brought illegally to the country as children.

Trump in September put a March 2018 expiration date on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which protects the young immigrants from deportation and provides them with work permits.

The president has said in recent Twitter messages he wants funding for his proposed Mexican border wall and other immigration law changes in exchange for agreeing to help the Dreamers.

Representative Debbie Dingell told CBS she did not favor linking that issue to other policy objectives, such as wall funding. “We need to do DACA clean,” she said.

On Wednesday, Trump aides will meet with congressional leaders to discuss those issues. That will be followed by a weekend of strategy sessions for Trump and Republican leaders on Jan. 6 and 7, the White House said.

Trump was also scheduled to meet on Sunday with Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott, who wants more emergency aid. The House has passed an $81 billion aid package after hurricanes in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico, and wildfires in California. The package far exceeded the $44 billion requested by the Trump administration. The Senate has not yet voted on the aid.

(Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Florida; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Trump tries to sell tax reform to Democrats

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about tax reform in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump intensified his efforts to sell Democrats on his tax reform plan on Wednesday even as Senate Republicans edged closer to passing a budget measure that would push forward a tax bill without Democratic support.

Trump, whose plan would bestow up to $6 trillion in tax cuts on businesses and individuals over the next decade, talked with 18 members of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, including Republicans and Democrats.

The White House said both parties shared a willingness to work with the president on tax reform.

Five of six Democrats at the meeting are up for re-election in states that Trump won in the 2016 presidential election. The White House hopes they will be open to working with Trump because they face voters next year.

Senator Ron Wyden, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, was also at the meeting, but another six Democrats on the panel who hail from states that Trump lost were not invited.

“We’re going to have a great discussion today, and I’m sure we’ll have unanimous support. I have no doubt, right? Right, Ron? I think, right?” Trump joked as the meeting got under way.

It was the latest White House attempt to recruit Democratic support to ensure that tax reform does not meet the same fate as Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, which failed in the Senate when Republicans could not muster enough votes.

Republicans control the Senate by only a 52-48 margin.

Most Democrats have offered to pursue bipartisan tax reform only if it does not benefit the wealthy, raise taxes on the middle class or increase the federal deficit. But they have largely rejected the Trump plan, saying it does all three.

Still, Republicans moved closer on Wednesday to an agreement on a budget resolution that would allow them to move tax legislation through the 100-member Senate with a simple majority instead of requiring 60 votes.

The budget resolution would allow tax legislation to expand the deficit by up to $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

The Senate is expected to vote on the fiscal year 2018 spending blueprint on Thursday. Republicans can only afford to lose two votes from their own ranks for the measure to pass.

Republican Senator Rand Paul, a fiscal hawk, has already threatened to vote against the measure. [L2N1MS18K] But on Wednesday, the number of other potential no votes shrank to within the margin of safety as conservative Senator Mike Lee indicated he would support the measure.

“As long as we follow through on this budget’s proposed spending cuts, this is a good start towards a fiscally responsible plan that cuts deficits,” his office said in a statement.

That appeared to leave only conservative Senator Ted Cruz as another possible no vote from within Republican ranks. Cruz declined on Tuesday to say whether he supported the budget. His office did not respond to queries seeking comment on Wednesday.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Ford to recall about 1.3 million trucks in North America for door latch fix

FILE PHOTO: An airplane flies above a Ford logo in Colma, California, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ford Motor Co said on Wednesday it would recall about 1.3 million 2015-17 Ford F-150 and 2017 Ford Super Duty trucks in North America to add water shields to side door latches at a cost of $267 million.

The No.2 U.S. automaker said the safety recall is due to a frozen door latch or a bent or kinked actuation cable in the affected vehicles, that may result in a door not opening or closing.

A Ford spokeswoman said customers would be notified next month but did not have a timetable for when parts will be available. Dealers will install water shields over the door latches and inspect and repair door latch cables if needed.

Ford has now recalled more than 5 million vehicles for varying door latch-related issues since 2016, but the company said the issue in the new recall is different from prior ones.

Ford said the cost of the new recall would be reflected in its fourth-quarter results. Ford said it continues to expect full-year adjusted earnings in the range of $1.65 to $1.85‍​ per share.

The company said it was not aware of any accidents or injuries associated with the issue but said because of the fault, the door may appear closed, increasing the risk of the door opening while driving.

Ford has previously disclosed plans to spend $935 million on other recalls announced since August 2016.

In March, Ford said it would spend $295 million to recall 211,000 vehicles in North America to replace potentially faulty side door latches and 230,000 vehicles for under-hood fire risks.

Ford previously recalled nearly 4 million vehicles for door latch issues in six separate recalls since 2014, including 2.4 million vehicles recalled in August 2016.

In September 2016, Ford said it was taking a $640 million charge for its expanded side-door latch recalls.

Ford shares fell 0.7 percent to $12.19 in morning trading Wednesday.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and James Dalgleish)

McDonald’s South Korea office raided in burger probe: reports

People practice at a fitness club located on top a McDonald’s restaurant in Paris, France, September 29, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean investigators raided the Seoul office of McDonald’s Corp on Wednesday following a series of complaints that children fell ill after eating hamburger patties alleged to have been undercooked, Yonhap News Agency and other media said.

The Seoul central district prosecutors’ office confiscated some documents and evidence at the office and three other companies, including an ingredient supplier, the reports said.

A spokeswoman at the office confirmed the raid to Reuters but gave no reason or details. Prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment on the issue.

“We take this matter very seriously,” company spokeswoman Karen Kim said. “McDonald’s Korea continues to fully cooperate with all relevant authorities.”

In July, a consumer filed a complaint against the U.S. firm, saying her 4-year-old daughter was diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, often referred to as hamburger disease, after suffering irreversible kidney damage following the consumption of a McDonald’s hamburger last year, Yonhap said.

Complaints also were filed by parents of four more children who became sick after eating McDonald’s burgers.

In August, consumers at a McDonald’s in the southwestern city of Jeonju reported stomach aches and high fever after eating bulgogi burgers. The chain temporarily halted sales of the burgers, launched in 1997, to determine the cause.

Last year, talks to sell McDonald’s South Korean business to domestic firm KG Chemical Corporation collapsed over what KG called “a large difference of opinion.” [nS6N1BG01F]

(Reporting by Haejin Choi; Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Hyunjoo Jin and Bill Trott)

Las Vegas gunman’s estate could offer rare redress for victims

FILE PHOTO: A candlelight vigil is pictured on the Las Vegas strip following a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 2, 2017. Picture taken October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

By Tina Bellon

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Victims of mass shootings in the United States often win little or no damages from perpetrators but the Las Vegas massacre may be different because the shooter is thought to have been a wealthy man, lawyers said.

While there are often few assets to collect from the young men who typically carry out these killings, Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, 64, is thought to have had multi-million-dollar investments in buildings across Texas and California.

Paddocks’s estate has become a target for claimants in a case where victims and their families face an uphill battle holding liable the hotel and musical festival where the shooting rampage took place.

“It definitely depends on the assets in the estate whether you pursue that claim,” said Theida Salazar, a Los Angeles attorney who represented one of the victim’s families in the 2015 shooting in San Bernadino, California.

Paddock killed 58 people and injured hundreds more on Oct. 1 when he fired into the crowd gathered for a country music festival from his 32nd-floor suite at the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay hotel. The gunman killed himself before he could be apprehended.

His estate was named as a defendant in a complaint filed last week in Nevada state court. Attorneys who brought that action said they are planning to file more lawsuits.

Plaintiff Paige Gasper, who was wounded in the shooting, accused Paddock of battery and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. She also sued MGM Resorts International, the owner of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino; event organizer Live Nation Entertainment and the maker of a gun accessory Paddock used, Slide Fire Solution.

Another lawsuit on behalf of a California woman, Andrea Castilla, killed in the shooting was filed on Tuesday against the same defendants.

Eric Paddock, the shooter’s brother, did not respond to a request for comment, but he previously told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he was administering his brother’s estate for the benefit of his victims.

MGM and Live Nation declined to comment on pending litigation. Slide Fire never responded to a request for comment.

LIABILITY BEYOND QUESTION

Legal experts said it was hard to hold premises and firearms manufacturers responsible for mass shootings.

Victor Schwartz, an attorney specializing in injury cases, said victims suing the Las Vegas hotel and event organizer would have to show the latter could have foreseen and taken steps to prevent the shooting. That would be difficult for such an extreme event, he said.

At the same time, Federal law specifically protects the makers of guns and ammunition from liability for the criminal use of their products.

Though Paddock’s estate will likely not be able to pay nearly as much as a large corporate defendant could, and individual payouts could be small given the number of victims, his liability for the shooting is beyond question.

Shooting victims would have the same claim on Paddock’s estate as those trying to collect unpaid bills, said Mark Solomon, a Las Vegas estate lawyer. Certain claims, such as unpaid taxes or an outstanding mortgage, would have higher priority.

However, among victims, the families of those killed would receive the highest amounts and those who suffered emotional distress and no physical harm would get the least, Solomon said.

Paddock’s heirs would not receive anything unless all creditors had been paid. Given the number of victims, there is unlikely to be anything left, legal experts said.

Any money Paddock gave away just before the shooting, like the $100,000 he is believed to have sent to his girlfriend Marilou Danley in the Philippines, might also be clawed back as a “fraudulent conveyance,” said Elizabeth Carter, an estate law professor at Louisiana State University.

Though recovery from shooters has been rare, victims have received substantial payments from younger shooters’ parents, who have been accused of insufficiently monitoring their children or failing to prevent them from accessing firearms.

The parents of the two teenagers who committed the 1999 Columbine high school shooting settled with most of the victims’ families for $1.6 million in 2001.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Anthony Lin and Andrew Hay)

IBM beats revenue estimates; hints at sales growth

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Dow Jones Industrial Average stock market index listed company IBM (IBM) is seen on a computer screen in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Pushkala A and Laharee Chatterjee

(Reuters) – International Business Machines Corp’s <IBM.N> shift to newer businesses such as cloud and security services helped it beat analysts’ quarterly revenue estimates, and the technology major hinted at sales growth after nearly six years of declines.

Shares of the Dow component rose nearly 5.1 percent to $153.93 in extended trading on Tuesday.

IBM has been focusing on cloud, cybersecurity and data analytics, or what the company calls its “strategic imperatives”, to counter a slowdown in its legacy hardware and software businesses.

Revenue from these businesses climbed 11 percent to $8.8 billion in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, accounting for about 46 percent of the company’s total revenue.

“Management is focused in the right areas, but still have some work and must demonstrate this growth is sustainable,” said Josh Olson, an analyst at Edward Jones.

Revenue from the cognitive solutions business, which includes the AI-powered supercomputer Watson, rose nearly 4 percent to $4.40 billion, after falling 2.5 percent in the previous quarter.

Analysts on average expected revenue of $4.17 billion, according to financial data and analytics firm FactSet.

IBM said it expected revenue to grow $2.8 billion to $2.9 billion in fourth quarter from the third quarter.

This implies fourth-quarter revenue in the range of $22 billion to $22.1 billion, a year-on-year growth of about 1.4 percent at the high end.

A part of the rise in revenue is expected to come from the mainframe business, which got a boost from the launch of Z14.

Revenue in mainframe business jumped 60 percent in the third quarter, Chief Financial Officer Martin Schroeter told Reuters, adding that the business gained from Z14, which began shipping in mid-September.

“The progress around the mainframe contribution, signings growth/visibility in consulting and positive trends in cloud likely sets up for further momentum in Q4,” said David Holt, an analyst with CFRA.

IBM backed its forecast for 2017 adjusted earnings of at least $13.80 per share. Analysts on average are expecting earnings of $13.75 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Total revenue fell 0.4 percent to $19.15 billion, but handily beat analysts’ estimates of $18.60 billion.

The company’s net income fell to $2.73 billion, or $2.92 per share, in the third quarter, from $2.85 billion, or $2.98 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, IBM earned $3.30 per share, beating analysts’ estimates of $3.28.

(Reporting by Pushkala A and Laharee Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

YouTube debuts comedy video series in virtual reality push

The YouTube app logo is seen on a smartphone in this picture illustration taken September 15, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Paresh Dave

(Reuters) – YouTube virtual reality video series “The Confessional” debuted on Tuesday, featuring comedians Trevor Noah, Judd Apatow and Howie Mandel, as parent company Google races Facebook Inc to attract viewers to the new medium.

Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc , has boosted funding for virtual reality video producers since it unveiled in October the $79 Daydream View headset, which straps a smartphone display close to a user’s eyes for stereoscopic video.

About 500,000 immersive videos are available on YouTube, and the streaming service plans to increase the titles and genres.

“Nearly half the time in VR headsets is spent in video,” Julia Hamilton Trost, partner development manager at Google VR, said in an interview. “We need to give creators tools to make VR content more easily, then also partner with people to push content to the platform as well.”

An undisclosed Google grant to production company Felix & Paul Studios in Montreal funded the creation of “The Confessional.” In seven, minutes-long episodes over the next few weeks, comedians and YouTube stars including Lilly Singh and Grace Helbig will confess about embarrassing and awkward moments in their lives such as first dates gone wrong.

Felix & Paul Studios proposed the idea to Google a few months ago and filmed at Montreal’s Just for Laughs comedy festival in July.

Underscoring the infancy of the medium, Felix & Paul co-founder Paul Raphael said “The Confessional” marked the first time in four years that the studio felt comfortable cutting between shots in a video without disturbing the immersive experience. Jumps can be jarring to viewers, especially when wearing a virtual reality headset, he said.

Felix & Paul benefits from government tax credits and venture capital, but most of its work is funded by Facebook or Google. Facebook announced in May plans to spend $50 million on virtual reality content, excluding video games, over an undisclosed period.

Google has not specified overall spending for virtual reality. This year, YouTube launched a training program for videomakers with at least 10,000 followers that comes with a project grant of about $30,000. The streaming service also introduced a new video format for semi-immersive videos, which cost less to create.

Other Google VR partners have included fashion magazine Vogue and the National Football League.

As with other YouTube uploads, virtual reality clips are supported by ads, with revenue split between the company and the uploader.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Richard Chang)

Allergan ruling casts doubt on tribal patent strategy

FILE PHOTO: A sign marks Allergan’s offices in Medford, Massachusetts, U.S., July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – A U.S. judge’s ruling on Monday invalidating Allergan Plc’s patents on its blockbuster $1.5 billion dry-eye medicine, Restasis, has cast doubt on the company’s novel strategy to enlist a Native American tribe to help shield those patents from challenge by generic drugmakers, legal experts said.

In a deal announced last month, Allergan transferred the Restasis patents to New York state’s Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, claiming the group’s status as a sovereign nation meant the patents could not be reviewed by the U.S. patent office.

Allergan said the move was justified because the same patents were already being reviewed in federal court, but critics said it was a cynical attempt to prolong the company’s monopoly on Restasis.

The federal judge, William Bryson, expressed concerns about the legitimacy of the tribal transfer, calling it a ploy by Allergan to “rent” the tribe’s sovereign immunity.

He did not rule directly on whether the transfer was legal, however, because that question was not squarely before him. But his decision on Monday rendered Allergan’s move largely meaningless, since he invalidated the Restasis patents himself instead of waiting for the patent office to rule.

Allergan said it was disappointed by Bryson’s decision to invalidate the patents and vowed to appeal.

Legal experts said the rebuke from a prominent judge will make other patent owners reluctant to copy Allergan’s maneuver.

“This should flash some serious yellow lights, if not red lights, in front of parties considering a deal like this,” said Michael Carrier, a professor of patent law at Rutgers Law School.

PR BACKLASH

The dispute over the Restasis patents dates back to 2015 when generic drug companies led by Mylan NV asked a federal judge sitting in Texas to invalidate Allergan’s Restasis patents in hopes of launching their own generic versions of the medicine.

The generic drugmakers also asked the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), an administrative court run by the patent office, to revoke the patents. Companies often ask both a federal judge and PTAB to cancel patents.

Allergan said in September that it had transferred its Restasis patents to the tribe, which agreed to license the patents back to Allergan in exchange for ongoing payments.

The company said the PTAB proceeding should be terminated because the tribunal did not have jurisdiction over the tribe. Allergan said it wanted to avoid defending the patent in both federal court and before PTAB.

But after Bryson’s ruling, other patent owners will be less likely to transfer such patents to tribes to shield them from review, said Rachel Sachs, a professor of patent law at Washington University in St. Louis.

Bryson said “sovereign immunity should not be treated as a monetizable commodity that can be purchased by private entities as part of a scheme to evade their legal responsibilities.”

Sachs said Bryson is a well-regarded judge and that his reasoning could be cited by other courts, including PTAB judges.

She noted the ruling comes after weeks of criticism on Capitol Hill, where politicians have slammed Allergan’s move as a sham, with one U.S. senator introducing a bill to ban attempts to take advantage of tribal sovereignty.

In a research note on Monday, analysts at Credit Suisse said Allergan suffered a “public relations backlash” from the deal without helping its bottom line.

Allergan said in a statement on Tuesday that its deal with the tribe has helped raised awareness about the need to reform the PTAB process, which the company said does not provide due process to patent owners.

Some legal experts said it is too early to declare Allergan’s patent gambit a failure.

Jacob Sherkow, a professor of patent law at New York Law School, said PTAB may still rule in favor of Allergan on its sovereign immunity defense.

If that happens, Allergan’s deal with the tribe could be copied by other patent owners, said Joshua Landau, a patent lawyer with the trade group Computer & Communications Industry Association.

Bryson’s decision “will make patent owners question the arrangement, but I don’t know if the ruling will prevent it entirely,” Landau said.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Matthew Lewis)

Dow pierces 23,000 but finishes below milestone

A screen shows the Dow Jones Industrial Average as it briefly traded at 23,000 on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly broke above the 23,000-point mark for the first time on Tuesday, driven by strong earnings from UnitedHealth and Johnson & Johnson, but finished the session just below that milestone.

The blue-chip index, which surpassed similar 1,000-point marks three times previously this year, has been steadily inching higher and is up 2.6 percent so far this month, putting it on track for a seventh straight monthly advance.

Still, the Dow may in the near term have a difficult time sustaining a move above 23,000, said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth in New York.

“My view is it may pull back before staying above” that level. “It may take several days or a couple of weeks,” he said.

“Right now, you’re contending with earnings season and the fact that the market has run up leading up into the earnings season,” Pavlik said.

Shares of the largest U.S. health insurer UnitedHealth <UNH.N> touched a life intraday high and closed up 5.5 percent after the company reported a stronger-than-expected profit and raised its full-year earnings forecast.

Johnson & Johnson <JNJ.N>, up 3.4 percent, also posted better-than-expected results and raised its forecast, leading a 1.3 percent gain in the S&P healthcare sector <.SPXHC>.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> rose 40.48 points, or 0.18 percent, to end at 22,997.44 after rising as high as 23,002.20.

The S&P 500 <.SPX> gained 1.72 points, or 0.07 percent, to 2,559.36. and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> dropped 0.35 point, or 0.01 percent, to 6,623.66.

Also boosting some health insurers and U.S. hospital operators was news of a bipartisan deal in the U.S. Senate to stabilize Obamacare. Shares of Anthem <ANTM.N> were up 1.9 percent, while shares of Tenet Healthcare <THC.N> were up 5.3 percent.

Financials were the biggest drag on the S&P 500, with shares of Goldman Sachs <GS.N> down 2.6 percent despite reporting a profit beat and smaller-than-expected trading revenue fall.

Netflix <NFLX.O> slipped 1.6 percent after touching a record high as more subscribers signed up for its original content in the latest quarter.

After the bell, shares of International Business Machines <IBM.N> were up 4.9 percent after the company reported revenue that beat analysts’ expectations. The stock ended the regular session down 0.2 percent at $146.54.

During the session, declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.37-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.72-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

About 5.5 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges. That compares with the 5.9 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

(Editing by Nick Zieminski and James Dalgleish)

Snap and NBCUniversal launch studio to produce shows for Snapchat

FILE PHOTO – A woman stands in front of the logo of Snap Inc. on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) while waiting for Snap Inc. to post their IPO, in New York City, New York, U.S. on March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

By Sheila Dang

(Reuters) – Snap Inc <SNAP.N>, parent company of messaging and video app Snapchat, and NBCUniversal <CMCSA.O> launched a joint venture studio on Tuesday to produce scripted shows and other genres to air on Snapchat.

The two companies have already produced at least three shows for Snapchat in an effort to reach more viewers as mobile audiences continue to grow, including a daily news show called “Stay Tuned” and an entertainment show from E! network called “The Rundown.”

Financial details were not disclosed. NBCUniversal, part of Comcast Corp <CMCSA.O>, made a $500 million investment in Snap as part of the company’s initial public offering in March.

Lauren Anderson, previously senior vice president of primetime programming at NBC who oversaw the hit shows “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” will be chief content officer of the new studio, the companies said.

The new studio’s first deal is with Donut Studios, founded by brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, who have produced and acted in shows like HBO’s “Togetherness” and “Room 104.”

Snap and NBCUniversal did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.

The companies said NBC Sports will continue a partnership with Snapchat and Buzzfeed to create videos on Discover during the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The partnership’s previous Snapchat videos during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro garnered more than 2 billion views.

In August, Snap said the “Stay Tuned” news show drew more than 29 million unique total viewers since its launch in July, and that more than 40 percent of viewers watched the show at least three days a week, showing potential for publishers to reach younger audiences on Snapchat.

(Reporting by Sheila Dang; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Senators reach bipartisan deal on Obamacare backed by Trump

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), flanked by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), speaks to reporters on following a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. senators on Tuesday announced a bipartisan breakthrough to shore up Obamacare for two years by reviving federal subsidies for health insurers that President Donald Trump planned to scrap, and the president voiced support for the plan.

The agreement worked out by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray would meet some Democratic objectives, including a revival of the subsidies for Obamacare and restoring $106 million in funding for a federal program that helps people enroll in insurance plans.

In exchange, Republicans would get more flexibility for states to offer a wider variety of health insurance plans while maintaining the requirement that sick and healthy people be charged the same rates for coverage.

The Trump administration said last week it would stop paying billions of dollars to insurers to help low-income Americans pay medical expenses, part of the Republican president’s effort to dismantle Obamacare, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

Trump appeared well-placed to make good on his campaign promise to dismantle Obamacare when he took office in January, with Republicans, who pledged for seven years to scrap the law, controlling Congress. But he has been frustrated with their failure to pass legislation to repeal and replace it and is now backing a plan that could keep Obamacare in place until the 2020 presidential campaign starts heating up.

“We are ironing out a few of the last details right now but I am very optimistic that we will be able to make an announcement with all the details very soon,” Murray told reporters.

“This takes care of the next two years. After that, we can have a full-fledged debate on where we go long-term on healthcare,” Alexander said.

Alexander said he hoped to have “a significant number” of senators from both parties as co-sponsors of the plan.

It is unclear whether the agreement can make it through Congress.

Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said the agreement had “broad support” among senators in his party, but it was harder to gauge possible support among Republicans. Moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins, who helped sink earlier Obamacare repeal legislation, voiced support for the new plan, but conservative Republicans might be less welcoming.

Schumer urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the plan to a vote on the Senate floor and urged the House of Representatives to take it up then as quickly as possible so Trump can sign it.

Trump said on Tuesday the 2010 law, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, was a “disaster” and “virtually dead.” But Trump indicated he could get behind the Alexander-Murray plan.

“It is a short-term solution so that we don’t have this very dangerous little period – including dangerous period for insurance companies, by the way. For a period of one year, two years, we will have a very good solution,” Trump told a news conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Trump added that once Congress completes work on his proposed tax overhaul, he wants lawmakers to again take up broader legislation that failed in the Senate last month that would divvy up federal healthcare money as block grants to states.

Despite backing the deal, Trump repeated his criticism that the subsidies amounted to a giveaway by the federal government that had enriched insurance companies.

‘OBVIOUSLY A GOOD STEP’

Murray is the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Alexander is its chairman.

She said the two were able to find common ground on the steps aimed at stabilizing the insurance markets created under Obamacare and to “help protect families from premium spikes as a result of the sabotage we have seen from this administration.”

The subsidies to private insurers cost the government an estimated $7 billion this year and were forecast at $10 billion for 2018. Trump’s move to scuttle them had raised concerns about chaos in insurance markets.

If the subsidies vanish, low-income Americans who obtain insurance through Obamacare online marketplaces where insurers can sell policies would face higher insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. It would particularly hurt lower-middle-class families whose incomes are too high to qualify for certain government assistance.

Shares of U.S. hospital operators, including Tenet Healthcare Corp and HCA Healthcare Inc, moved higher after news of the deal. Tenet shares closed 5.3 percent higher, while HCA rose 2.2 percent. Shares of some U.S. health insurers also extended their gains on the day, with Anthem Inc finishing up 1.9 percent and Centene Corp gaining 3.2 percent.

Analyst Brian Tanquilut of global investment banking firm Jefferies, who focuses on hospital companies, said that if the deal is passed in Congress, it should stabilize the Obamacare insurance exchanges and improve their viability.

“Hospitals will avoid a potential spike in bad debt and charity care next year,” Tanquilut said. “This is obviously a good step. It’s bipartisan and guaranteed for two years.”

(Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Writing by Yasmeen Abutaleb, Caren Bohan and Will Dunham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

China confirms bird flu outbreak at poultry farms in central province

FILE PHOTO: People participate in an emergency exercise on prevention and control of H7N9 bird flu virus organised by the Health and Family Planning Commission of the local government in Hebi, Henan province, China June 17, 2017. Picture taken June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Tuesday confirmed an outbreak of bird flu at broiler chicken farms in a central province, the Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement.

Flocks are particularly vulnerable to avian flu during the drier winter months, following which outbreaks usually die down.

The outbreak in Hexian, a city of about 500,000 people in the province of Anhui, was caused by the H5N6 strain of virus, and has been brought under control, the ministry said on its website.

The local government culled 30,196 fowl after the outbreak, which infected 28,650 broiler chickens and killed 15,066 of the birds, it added.

The last bird flu outbreak, also of the H5N6 strain of the virus, killed 9,752 birds on quail farms in the southwestern province of Guizhou, the ministry said in August.

South Korea and Japan battled major outbreaks during the winter.

The H7N9 strain of the virus has caused at least 281 deaths since October in China, with two cases of human infection last month, authorities said last week.

Live poultry markets were shut down in many provinces following the human infections.

China’s last major bird flu outbreak in 2013 killed 36 people and cost the farm sector more than $6 billion in losses.

(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Josephine Mason; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Russia probe special counsel interviews ex-Trump chief of staff Priebus

FILE PHOTO: Reince Priebus boards Air Force One to travel with U.S. President Donald Trump to Ronkonkoma, New York from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was interviewed on Friday by the special counsel investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 U.S. election.

“Mr. Priebus was voluntarily interviewed by Special Counsel Mueller’s team today,” said his lawyer, William Burck. “He was happy to answer all of their questions.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators are interviewing a number of White House and other officials as part of the inquiry into any ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.

Mueller’s inquiry includes whether Trump might have obstructed justice by trying to persuade then-FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation of Michael Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser.

Flynn resigned in February after disclosures that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office and misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.

Priebus, who was Republican National Committee chairman during the campaign, became White House chief of staff upon Trump’s taking office in January. He resigned in July after major pieces of legislation on Trump’s agenda failed to pass Congress.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York; Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by James Dalgleish)
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Amazon Studios chief Roy Price suspended following harassment allegation

FILE PHOTO: Roy Price, Director of Amazon Studios, poses during Amazon’s premiere screening of the TV series “Transparent” at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, California September 15, 2014. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Amazon Studios chief Roy Price was put on an immediate leave of absence Thursday, the company said, following allegations that he harassed a producer and ignored an actress’s claim of a sexual assault by producer Harvey Weinstein.

The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday reported an allegation by Isa Hackett, a producer on one of Amazon.com Inc’s shows, that Price had lewdly propositioned her in 2015.

Amazon said in a statement: “Roy Price is on leave of absence effective immediately. We are reviewing our options for the projects we have with The Weinstein Co.”

Hackett did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reuters could not independently confirm the allegation. Price could not immediately be reached independently by Reuters and he declined to comment to the Hollywood Reporter.

Price’s removal creates uncertainty about the studio’s direction when Amazon is investing more on video content than ever before – some $4.5 billion this year.

The studio’s Chief Operating Officer Albert Cheng will step in as the interim chief, Amazon said.

Hackett is the daughter of famed science fiction author Philip K. Dick, whose book “The Man in the High Castle” served as the basis for Amazon’s eponymous show.

Also on Thursday, actress Rose McGowan said on Twitter that she had told Price that she had been assaulted by Weinstein, who was forced out of his company this week following reports in the New Yorker and the New York Times that he had harassed and assaulted numerous women over the years. In tweets directed at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, she criticized the company for doing business with the Weinstein Co.

A spokeswoman for Harvey Weinstein said: “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.”

Price has been integral to Amazon’s movie business, helping steer it through an attempt to crowd-source television scripts and garnering Hollywood awards for shows such as “Transparent.”

Amazon hopes original movies and TV shows will draw new people to join its streaming and shopping club Prime, and in turn buy more goods from the online retailer.

The studio picked up three Oscars this year under Price’s helm, though its failure to show at the Emmy Awards last month was seen by many in Hollywood as a setback.

(Reporting by Jonathan Weber and Jeffrey Dastin; Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Wall St. ends up after economic data; S&P up for a fifth week

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks rose on Friday following upbeat economic data and gains in technology shares, pushing the Dow and the S&P 500 to a fifth straight week of gains.

Data showed U.S. retail sales jumped in September, and the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index hit its highest since January 2004.

Another report showed consumer prices recorded their biggest increase in eight months as hurricanes Harvey and Irma boosted demand but underlying inflation remained muted.

Netflix <NFLX.O> shares closed 1.9 percent higher after hitting an intraday record high at $200.82 on a slew of price target increases ahead of its earnings report on Monday.

Apple <AAPL.O>, up 0.6 percent, gave the S&P 500 its biggest boost, while the S&P technology index <.SPLRCT> was up 0.5 percent. Shares of big banks were mixed following reports from Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

“We’re seeing a continuation of the strength in the market combined with low volatility. There seems to be money searching for stocks and looking for investments, simply because the momentum is still positive,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

“Also we’re entering a seasonal period where it’s difficult to fight the tape. So I imagine there’s cash coming in off the sidelines.”

The CBOE volatility index <.VIX> remains at historically depressed levels, closing at 9.61 on Friday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> rose 30.71 points, or 0.13 percent, to end at 22,871.72, and the S&P 500 <.SPX> gained 2.24 points, or 0.09 percent, to 2,553.17.

The Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 14.29 points, or 0.22 percent, to 6,605.80, a record closing high.

For the week, the Dow was up 0.4 percent and the S&P 500 was up 0.2 percent. The Nasdaq rose 0.2 percent for the week, registering a third week of gains.

Bank of America <BAC.N>, the second-biggest U.S. bank by assets, rose 1.5 percent after the lender’s profit topped estimates due to higher interest rates and a drop in costs.

But Wells Fargo <WFC.N> tumbled 2.8 percent after it reported lower-than-expected revenue for the fourth straight quarter due to a decline in mortgage banking revenue.

The reports from the Wall Street banks kicked off the third-quarter earnings season, with investors hoping profit growth will help justify valuations after a rally that has sent the S&P 500 up about 14 percent so far this year.

Also limiting the day’s gains, the healthcare sector <.SPXHC> was down 0.3 percent as health insurers and hospital operators tumbled on news that President Donald Trump scrapped billions of dollars in Obamacare subsidies to private insurers for low-income Americans.

Centene <CNC.N> sank 3.3 percent, Molina Healthcare <MOH.N> dropped 3.4 percent and Anthem <ANTM.N> fell 3.1 percent.

Tenet Healthcare <THC.N> dropped 5.1 percent and Community Health System <CYH.N> declined 4 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.43-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.08-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

About 5.8 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges. That compares with the 6.1 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch in New York; Editing by James Dalgleish)

J&J psoriasis drug gets expanded U.S. approval for teens

The logo of healthcare company Johnson & Johnson is seen in front of an office building in Zug, Switzerland July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

(Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson said on Friday it has received an expanded U.S. approval for its blockbuster psoriasis drug Stelara to treat adolescent patients aged 12 and over with moderate to severe cases of the unsightly skin condition.

Stelara was already approved to treat adults with the condition, a chronic, autoimmune inflammatory disorder that causes inflamed, scaly, sometimes painful skin patches.

It is also approved to treat adults with the related condition psoriatic arthritis, and for moderate to severe Crohn’s disease.

About one-third of people who develop plaque psoriasis do so before 20 years of age, J&J said.

“Psoriasis is a highly visible disease, and it is essential that these younger patients and their caregivers have options that can effectively reduce the difficult-to-conceal and often misunderstood plaques,” Michael Siegel of the National Psoriasis Foundation said in a statement.

Stelara is one of J&J’s most important pharmaceutical products, with 2017 sales expected to reach $3.7 billion and increasing to more than $5 billion by 2021, according to Thomson Reuters data.

(Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Fiat Chrysler recalls 470,000 vehicles for restraint defect

A specialist trader works at the post where Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is traded on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV <FCHA.MI> said on Friday it is recalling 470,000 vehicles worldwide to replace a component that may inhibit deployment of the vehicles’ active head restraints in the event of a crash.

The Italian-American automaker said it is unaware of any injuries or accidents related to the recall. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into the issue in June. The recall covers 2012 Jeep Liberty sport utility vehicles and 2012-13 Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger mid-size cars.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Russia cinema chain, changing mind, will run film about tzar’s affair

FILE PHOTO: Russian film director Alexei Uchitel speaks during a news conference, dedicated to the press screening of the movie “Matilda” in Moscow, Russia October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s largest cinema chain said on Friday it had changed its mind and would now run the film “Matilda” despite threats from religious conservatives slamming the film as blasphemous.

It said it now believed cinema-goers would be safe after statements by law enforcement officials.

“Matilda”, to be released in late October, tells the tale of a late-19th century romance between Nicholas II, before he became Russia’s tzar, and half-Polish dancer Matilda Kshesinskaya.

Long before its premiere, the film drew ire from Russian nationalists and religious conservatives who say it besmirches the memory of the tzar who was executed by Bolsheviks in 1918 and is revered by many of Russia’s Christian Orthodox believers.

The Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin took power 100 years ago this month.

“We are grateful to law-enforcement bodies and special services for all they’ve done in the past month for us to be assured of our spectators’ safety,” Roman Linin, the head of the Cinema Park and Formula Kino cinema chain, said in a statement.

Deciding last month not to run “Matilda”, Linin said: “We simply cannot expose our numerous visitors to danger.”

The film’s four foreign actors, including the two lead stars in the movie, have declined to travel to Russia for the premiere because they fear for their safety.

Film director Alexei Uchitel told reporters earlier this week that police had set a letter to cinemas saying law enforcers “will take serious security measures”.

But in a move clearly aimed at intimidation, there have been arson attempts at a cinema in the city of Yekaterinburg, a building in St Petersburg that houses Uchitel’s studio and to two cars parked outside the office of Uchitel’s lawyer..

The tzar and his family were executed in Yekaterinburg.

(writing by Denis Pinchuk; additional reporting by Olga Sichkar; editing by Dmitry Solovyov/Jeremy Gaunt)

Trump strikes blow at Iran nuclear deal in major U.S. policy shift

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a television address in Tehran, Iran, October 13, 2017. President.ir/Handout via REUTERS

By Steve Holland and Yara Bayoumy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump struck a blow against the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement on Friday in defiance of other world powers, choosing not to certify that Tehran is complying with the deal and warning he might ultimately terminate it.

Trump announced the major shift in U.S. policy in a speech in which he detailed a more aggressive approach to Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its support for extremist groups in the Middle East.

He accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the nuclear agreement and said his goal is to ensure Tehran never obtains a nuclear weapon, in effect throwing the fate of the deal to Congress.

He singled out Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for sanctions and delivered a blistering critique of Tehran, which he accused of destabilizing actions in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

“We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Trump said.

Trump’s hardline remarks drew praise from Israel, Iran’s arch-foe, but was criticized by European allies.

The move by Trump was part of his “America First” approach to international agreements which has led him to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

His Iran strategy angered Tehran and put Washington at odds with other signatories of the accord – Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union – some of which have benefited economically from renewed trade with Iran.

Responding to Trump, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Friday on television that Tehran was committed to the deal and accused Trump of making baseless accusations.

“The Iranian nation has not and will never bow to any foreign pressure,” he said. “Iran and the deal are stronger than ever.”

European allies have warned of a split with the United States over the nuclear agreement and say that putting it in limbo as Trump has done undermines U.S. credibility abroad, especially as international inspectors say Iran is in compliance with the accord.

The chief of the U.N. atomic watchdog reiterated that Iran was under the world’s “most robust nuclear verification regime.”

“The nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented,” Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said, referring to the deal by its formal name.

U.S. Democrats expressed skepticism at Trump’s decision. Senator Ben Cardin said: “At a moment when the United States and its allies face a nuclear crisis with North Korea, the president has manufactured a new crisis that will isolate us from our allies and partners.”

CONGRESS DECIDES

While Trump did not pull the United States out of the agreement, he gave the U.S. Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the pact.

If Congress reimposes the sanctions, the United States would in effect be in violation of the terms of the nuclear deal and it would likely fall apart. If lawmakers do nothing, the deal remains in place.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker was working on amending the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act law to include “trigger points” that if crossed by Iran would automatically reimpose U.S. sanctions.

The trigger points would address strengthening nuclear inspections, Iran’s ballistic missile program and eliminate the deal’s “sunset clauses” under which some of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program expire over time.

Trump directed U.S. intelligence agencies to probe whether Iran might be working with North Korea on its weapons programs.

The president, who took office in January, had reluctantly certified the agreement twice before but has repeatedly blasted it as “the worst deal ever.” It was negotiated under his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.

Trump warned that if “we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.”

“We’ll see what happens over the next short period of time and I can do that instantaneously,” he told reporters when asked why he did not choose to scrap the deal now.

The Trump administration designated the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps under an executive order targeting terrorists. The administration stopped short of labeling the group a Foreign Terrorist Organization, a list maintained by the State Department.

The Revolutionary Guard is the single most dominant player in Iran’s security, political, and economic systems and wields enormous influence in Iran’s domestic and foreign policies.

It had already previously been sanctioned by the United States under other authorities, and the immediate impact of Friday’s measure is likely to be symbolic.

The U.S. military said on Friday it was identifying new areas where it could work with allies to put pressure on Iran in support of Trump’s new strategy and was reviewing the positioning of U.S. forces.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said no changes in force posture had been made yet, and Iran had not responded to Trump’s announcement with any provocative acts so far.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Additional reporting by James Oliphant, Phil Stewart, Makini Brice, Patricia Zengerle, Jonathan Landay, Justin Mitchell, Tim Ahmann and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, John Irish in Paris, Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Shadia Nasrallah in Vienna; Editing by Yara Bayoumy, Alistair Bell and James Dalgleish)

U.S. states plan suit to block Trump Obamacare subsidies cut

U.S. President Donald Trump smiles after signing an Executive Order to make it easier for Americans to buy bare-bone health insurance plans and circumvent Obamacare rules at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

 

By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Dan Levine

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – California, New York and others states vowed to sue President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday to stop him from scrapping a key component of Obamacare, subsidies to insurers that help millions of low-income people pay medical expenses, even as Trump invited Democratic leaders to negotiate a deal.

One day after his administration announced plans to end the payments next week, Trump said he would dismantle Obamacare “step by step.”

His latest action raised concerns about chaos in insurance markets. The subsidies cost $7 billion this year and were estimated at $10 billion for 2018, according to congressional analysts.

“As far as the subsidies are concerned, I don’t want to make the insurance companies rich,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “They’re making a fortune by getting that kind of money.”

Trump’s action took aim at a critical element of the 2010 law, his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement. Frustrated by the failure of his fellow Republicans who control both houses of Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare, Trump has taken several steps to chip away at it.

Democrats accused Trump of sabotaging the law.

The Democratic attorneys general of New York and California were joining forces with several other states, including Kentucky, Massachusetts and Connecticut, to file a lawsuit in federal court in California later on Friday. The states will ask the court to force Trump to make the next payment, the Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healey, a Democrat, told reporters.

Legal experts said the states are likely to face an uphill battle in court.

“His effort to gut these subsidies with no warning or even a plan to contain the fallout is breathtakingly reckless,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “This is an effort simply to blow up the system.”

The new lawsuit would be separate from a case pending before an appeals court in the District of Columbia in which 16 Democratic state attorneys general are defending the legality of the payments.

The SoCal Health Care Coalition protests U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order on healthcare at UC San Diego in La Jolla, California, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

If the subsidies vanish, low-income Americans who obtain insurance through Obamacare online marketplaces where insurers can sell policies would face higher insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. It would particularly hurt lower-middle-class families whose incomes are still too high to qualify for certain government assistance.

About 10 million people are enrolled in Obamacare through its online marketplaces, and most receive subsidies. Trump’s action came just weeks before the period starting on Nov. 1 when individuals have to begin enrolling for 2018 insurance coverage through the law’s marketplaces.

The administration will not make the next payment to insurers, scheduled for Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer expressed optimism about chances for a deal with Republicans to continue the subsidy payments.

“We’re going to have a very good opportunity to get this done in a bipartisan way” during negotiations in December on broad federal spending legislation, “if we can’t get it done sooner,” Schumer told reporters.

Trump offered an invitation for Democratic leaders to come to the White House, while also lashing out at them. “We’ll negotiate some deal that’s good for everybody. But they’re always a bloc vote against everything. They’re like obstructionists,” Trump told reporters.

INSURERS’ STOCK TAKES A HIT

Hospitals, doctors, health insurers, state insurance commissioners and patient advocates decried Trump’s move, saying consumers will ultimately pay the price. They called on Congress to appropriate the funds needed to keep up the subsidy payments.

Health insurers’ stocks fell on Friday. Centene Corp <CNC.N> and Molina Healthcare <MOH.N> both declined around 3 percent. Hospital shares also fell, with Tenet Healthcare <THC.N> down 5.5 percent and Community Health Systems <CYH.N> down 3.8 percent in afternoon trading.

Trump, who as a candidate last year promised to roll back the law formally called the Affordable Care Act, received applause for his latest action during an appearance on Friday before a group of conservative voters.

“It’s step by step by step, and that was a very big step yesterday,” Trump said. “And one by one, it’s going to come down, and we’re going to have great healthcare in our country.”

Earlier on Twitter he called Obamacare “a broken mess” that is “imploding,” and referred to the “pet insurance companies” of Democrats.

Republicans for seven years had vowed to get rid of Obamacare, but deep intra-party divisions have scuttled their efforts to get legislation through the Senate where they hold a slim majority.

Since taking office in January, Trump threatened many times to cut the subsidies. Health insurers that planned to stay in the Obamacare market prepared for the move in many states by submitting two sets of premium rates to regulators: with and without the subsidies.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners said the change would drive up premium costs for consumers by at least 12 to 15 percent in 2018 and cut more than $1 billion in payments to insurers for 2017.

The White House announced the cut-off just hours after Trump signed an order intended to allow insurers to sell lower-cost, bare-bones policies with limited benefits and consumer protections.

Republicans have called Obamacare an unnecessary government intrusion into the American healthcare system. Democrats have said the law needs some fixes but noted that it had brought insurance to 20 million people.

(Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Justin Mitchell, Steve Holland, Makini Brice, Jeff Mason and Susan Heavey in Washington, Megan Davies in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, and Divya Grover in Bengaluru; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Leslie Adler)

Delta refuses to pay tariffs on Bombardier CSeries jets

FILE PHOTO: A Delta Airlines jet takes off from Washington National Airport in Washington, U.S., August 9, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Alana Wise

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Delta Air Lines Inc on Wednesday said it would refuse to pay a 300 percent U.S. tariff on Canadian-built Bombardier CSeries jets, raising doubts about its purchase of 75 of the new aircraft at a list price of more than $5 billion.

“We’re not going to be forced to pay tariffs or anything of the ilk,” Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said on the company’s third-quarter earnings call.

Delta is the only major U.S. carrier to buy the CSeries so far, and Bastian called the U.S. Commerce Department’s decision to impose anti-dumping duties on the jets “nonsensical.”

He said Delta still expects to take delivery of the CSeries order, however.

The U.S. tariff decision, sparked by rival planemaker Boeing Co, stems from a claim that Bombardier used Canadian government subsidies to bankroll the CSeries sale to Delta and dump the planes at “absurdly low” prices.

The proposed duties would not take effect unless affirmed by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) early next year.

Shares of Bombardier, which is based in Canada, were up 3.78 percent at $2.34 in afternoon trading.

Delta shares were up slightly, 0.85 percent at $53.15, on the airline’s stronger-than-expected third-quarter results.

Responding to Bastian’s remarks, Bombardier said it was “confident the ITC will reach the right conclusion given that Boeing did not compete for the Delta order.”

“Delta has been supporting Bombardier throughout the process and its CEO, Ed Bastian, reaffirmed the airline’s intention to take possession of its CSeries aircraft. This is the message that we should get out of this,” spokesman Simon Letendre said.

How the extra costs of the planes would be covered remained unclear. Bombardier has also said it would not pick up the tab for the trade duties. [nL8N1M75O0]

The CSeries dispute has spiraled into a broader discussion of trade agreements between the United States and Canada, as U.S. President Donald Trump has warned he would terminate the tri-national North American Free Trade Agreement unless changes were made to address deficits within the trade pact.

(Reporting by Alana Wise; editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)

Academy of Motion Pictures to meet over allegations against Weinstein

FILE PHOTO: Film producer Harvey Weinstein attends the 2016 amfAR New York Gala at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan, New York February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

(Reuters) – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organizes the Oscars, said on Wednesday that it would hold a special meeting on Saturday to discuss allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein.

“The Academy finds the conduct described in the allegations against Harvey Weinstein to be repugnant, abhorrent, and antithetical to the high standards of the Academy and the creative community it represents,” the Academy said in a statement.

“The Board of Governors will be holding a special meeting on Saturday, October 14, to discuss the allegations against Weinstein and any actions warranted by the Academy.”

Weinstein’s spokeswoman Sallie Hofmeister did not immediately return a request for comment on the Academy’s statement.

The statement follows allegations that Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted a number of women over the past three decades.

Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.

Earlier on Wednesday, Weinstein was suspended from the British film academy BAFTA.

“In light of recent very serious allegations, BAFTA has informed Harvey Weinstein that his membership has been suspended, effective immediately,” the academy said in a statement.

Weinstein won an Oscar in 1999 for producing best picture winner “Shakespeare in Love.”

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

Boy Scouts of America to allow girls to join, earn Eagle Scout rank

FILE PHOTO – A boy scout statue titled “Trail to Manhood” stands outside the National Scouting Museum in Irving, Texas, U.S. on May 22, 2013. REUTERS/Michael Prengler/File Photo

By Gina Cherelus and Bernie Woodall

(Reuters) – In a historic shift, the Boy Scouts of America will let girls enroll in Cub Scouts starting next year and allow them to eventually earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout, the organization said on Wednesday.

The unanimous decision by the 100-year-old group’s board of directors came after years of requests from families and girls, it said, though the announcement prompted a largely negative reaction on social media.

“We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children,” Boy Scouts Chief Executive Michael Surbaugh said in a statement.

Beginning next year, families will be able to enroll their sons and daughters in Cub Scout programs. Existing packs, or community-level units, can decide to establish new girl packs or co-ed packs. They can also choose to remain exclusive to boys.

After the announcement, the Girl Scouts of the USA issued a statement that did not mention the Boy Scouts or its move to include girls.

“Girl Scouts remains committed to and believes strongly in the importance of the all-girl, girl-led and girl-friendly environment that Girl Scouts provides, which creates a necessary safe space for girls to learn and thrive,” the organization said, adding “we are girl experts.”

In August, a top Girl Scout official accused the Boy Scouts of running a “covert campaign” to recruit girls to increase its declining membership, the Washington Post reported.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) said it has 2.3 million youth members, down about a third since 2000.

The BSA said it will announce a program for older girls using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts program that will allow them to earn the Eagle Scout rank, the highest achievement in the organization, by 2019.

Cub Scouts range in age from 7 to 10, and Boy Scout members can be as young as 10 if they have finished the fifth grade. There are programs to allow Boy Scouts to remain until they are 20 years old.

On social media, hundreds of people were critical of the news, with many posts echoing the sentiments of Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son.

“Strange, I thought that’s what the Girl Scouts was for???” he said on Twitter.

Sing Oldham, spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, said the announcement continued a “reinvention” of the Boy Scouts his group does not support, including the decision in 2013 to allow openly gay members.

In January, the Boy Scouts also opted to allow transgender boys to join.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio)