LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - After two decades in power Vladimir Putin is shaking things up – sort of. At an annual address broadcast on television screens across the country on Wednesday, the Russian president told the nation of his plans to hand more power to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. As with the fake villages erected during Catherine II’s visit to Crimea in 1787 by the Russian empress’s lover Grigory Potemkin, there’s an illusory feel to it all.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Britain’s grocery wars are growing ferocious. Big supermarkets are losing market share to discounters and the biggest of them all, Tesco, said on Thursday that its domestic sales barely rose over Christmas and New Year. Improving online services and stocking sought-after premium goods may do more to halt the rot than trying to sell products ever more cheaply.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Turkey will enjoy a reprieve from economic turbulence in 2020. There will be more government spending and interest rate cuts to ensure the economy gets somewhere close to President Tayyip Erdogan’s growth target of 5% for the year. Yet inflation may well remain under control. The reckoning will come later.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Consumer giant Unilever is creaking. The $161 billion maker of Bovril meat paste warned revenue in 2019 will grow below its 3%-5% target. Lucky that CEO Alan Jope doesn’t have the likes of Dan Loeb’s Third Point snapping at him, like Swiss rival Nestlé. But channelling the spirit of an activist would help avoid any more misses.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Anheuser-Busch InBev has a chance to put investors’ minds at ease a whole year sooner. Reuters reported on Wednesday that it is considering selling part of its U.S. packaging operation. Even a minority sale would help the world’s biggest brewer ditch debt faster.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Monday is statistically the most common day for heart attacks. Bankers’ pulses would have been particularly elevated this week, with over $70 billion of deals announced worldwide. Yet the excitement will probably prove temporary. Mergers and acquisitions are in a lull compared with recent years, and a sustained pickup seems unlikely.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan is finally catching a break. After a currency crisis, a recession and shock local election losses, invading Syria is bringing him closer to returning at least one million Syrian refugees home. An ensuing construction drive could boost an economy that is likely to barely grow this year.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Donald Trump’s booze tariffs could have been worse for Europe’s distillers. Makers of Scotch whisky and French wine were among the victims when the famously teetotal U.S. president slapped tariffs on European imports worth $7.5 billion on Wednesday. Investors could find solace in French cognac and champagne, which were spared, at least for now.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - How did Vladimir Putin and his allies take control of Russia’s economy? That’s the story Anders Aslund sets out to tell in “Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy”. The president is cast as a patriarchal overlord who handsomely rewards those loyal to him. His generosity has helped to create a new elite of friends, former co-workers and relatives. What’s less clear is what, if anything, might upset this cosy arrangement.
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Independent central bankers are under attack around the world. Turkey’s Murat Cetinkaya has become the latest casualty. President Tayyip Erdogan, who wants lower interest rates to boost growth, on Saturday fired the governor who had maintained some credibility by keeping benchmark borrowing costs on hold since September. His replacement, Murat Uysal, will find it even harder to give the president what he wants.