Facebook on Friday said it had removed 200 pages, groups and accounts from its social media platforms in the Philippines, citing misleading behaviour to boost messages favouring some politicians in the country.
The move was made ahead of mid-term elections in the Philippines on May 13, when half of the 24-member Senate seats, all House of Representatives seats and tens of thousands of local postings will be up for grabs.
The social media giant said about 3.6 million people were following the 67 pages, 68 accounts and 40 groups on Facebook and 25 Instagram accounts that were taken down following an investigation.
The removed pages, accounts and groups were found to be engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s cybersecurity policy unit.
“What we saw is this cluster of pages groups and accounts, a combination of authentic and fake accounts that were basically being used to drive messaging on behalf of, and related to, local candidates,” he said.
Gleicher said the accounts were made to appear as normal and legitimate to boost messages in favour of certain political candidates.
“They were designed to look independent, but in fact, we can see that they were coordinated on the back,” he said in Manila.
“They would post about local news, they would post things about the upcoming elections, local candidates.”
“A lot of messaging was pro, sort of supporting the candidates they were working on behalf of, some would be attacking political opponents of those candidates,” he added.
Retailer Steinhoff will provide the necessary documents to South Africa's capital markets watchdog to enable it to investigate alleged market transgressions, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) said on Thursday.
Steinhoff admitted "accounting irregularities" in December 2017, shocking investors who had backed its reinvention from a small South African business to a multinational retailer at the vanguard of the European discount furniture retail industry.
Findings from an independent report by PwC said earlier this month that Steinhoff had overstated profits over several years in a $7.4 billion accounting fraud involving a small group of top executives and outsiders.
The FSCA said it had met with representatives of Steinhoff who agreed to provide them with all relevant documents, without waiving confidentiality agreements from the PwC report, which Steinhoff has repeatedly refused to share in full with regulators.
The FSCA added that Steinhoff had confirmed the disclosure will enable it to act against all persons implicated in the transgressions.
Steinhoff said it could not comment on the FSCA's investigations or beyond what was released in the PwC report.
Former Steinhoff Chief Executive Markus Jooste and seven others were named by the new CEO as being involved in a 6.5 billion euro ($7.4 billion) accounting fraud, during a session in parliament.
News of the irregularities in 2017 wiped about 85 percent off its market value and threw the company into a liquidity crisis.
Oil prices rose on Friday amid the ongoing OPEC-led supply cuts and U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, putting crude markets on track for their biggest quarterly rise since 2009.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures were at $59.34 per barrel at 0802 GMT, up 36 cents, or 0.6 percent, from their last settlement. WTI futures were set to rise for a fourth straight week and were on track to rise 30 percent in the first three months of the year.
Brent crude oil futures were up 24 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $68.06 per barrel. Brent futures were set to rise more than 1.5 percent for the week and by more than 25 percent in the first quarter.
For both futures contracts, the first quarter 2019 is the best performing quarter since the second quarter of 2009 when both gained about 40 percent.
Oil prices have been supported for much of 2019 by the efforts of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-affiliated allies like Russia - together known as OPEC+ - who have pledged to withhold around 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of supply this year to prop up markets.
"Production cuts from the OPEC+ group of producers have been the main reason for the dramatic recovery since the 38 percent price slump seen during the final quarter of last year," said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank.
Britain's Barclays bank said on Friday oil prices "are likely to move still higher in Q2 and average $73 per barrel ($65 WTI), and $70 for the year."
OPEC+ are meeting in June to discuss whether to continue withholding supply or not.
OPEC's de-facto leader Saudi Arabia favors cuts for the full year while Russia, which only reluctantly joined the agreement, is seen to be less keen to keep holding back supply beyond September.
However, the OPEC+ cuts are not the only reason for rising oil prices this year, with analysts also pointing to U.S. sanctions on oil exporters and OPEC members Iran and Venezuela as reasons for the surge.
Despite the surging prices, analysts are expressing concerns about future oil demand amid worrying signs the global economy may move into a recession.
"The biggest short-term risk to the oil market is likely to be driven by renewed stock market weakness," said Saxo Bank's Hansen.
Stock markets have been volatile this year amid signs of a sharp global economic slowdown.
"Business confidence has weakened in recent months ... (and) global manufacturing PMIs are about to move into contraction," Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note, although it added that "the services sector ... continues to expand unabated."
Given the OPEC+ cuts, however, Bank of America said it expected oil prices to rise in the short-term, with Brent prices forecast to average $74 per barrel in the second quarter.
Heading toward 2020, however, the bank warned of a recession.
Figures made available by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, have shown that the country’s foreign exchange reserve has hit a six months high at $44.14 billion as at Thursday.
The external reserves have gained over $1.8bn since February 28, when it dropped to its 2019 low of $42.296bn.
The reserves had risen slightly from $43.116bn on December 31, 2018, to $43.174bn on January 31, 2019, only to fall to $42.296bn at the end of last month.
It would be recalled that the external reserves rose to a high of $47.865bn on May 10, 2018. It however plunged to $41.523bn on November 22 from $44.305bn on September 28.
This is coming just as the United States’ President, Donald Trump’s tweet cussed another price upset in the crude oil market.
Trump had on Thursday, called for the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to boost oil production to lower the price of the commodity.
“[it is] very important that OPEC increase the flow of oil. World markets are fragile; price of oil getting too high. Thank you!” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.
Immediately after the tweet, the US crude oil futures fell by more than $1 to $58.33 a barrel and Brent futures were down by more than $1 to a session low of $66.76 per barrel, News reported.
China's Huawei Technologies called on Washington to drop the "loser's attitude" and once again rubbished U.S. allegations its gear could be used by Beijing for spying, as its network business weakened amid mounting global scrutiny.
"The U.S. government has a loser's attitude. It wants to smear Huawei because it cannot compete against Huawei," Guo Ping, rotating chairman of the world's top producer of telecoms equipment and No.3 maker of smartphones, said on Friday.
"I hope the U.S. can adjust its attitude," Guo said at a press briefing that was attended by more than 100 journalists from across the world.
The U.S. embassy in China declined to comment.
Huawei reported a slower pace of profit growth for 2018 as its network business saw its first drop in revenue in two years, overshadowing a robust 45 percent jump in its smartphone unit.
Huawei's outlook has come under a cloud over the past year with the United States voicing concerns that its equipment could be used for espionage. Washington has also urged its allies to ban Huawei from building next-generation 5G mobile networks.
The latest blow for the company came on Thursday when Britain rebuked it for failing to fix long-standing security flaws in its mobile network equipment and revealed new "significant technical issues".
For 2018, the Shenzen-based firm reported a net profit of 59.3 billion yuan (£6.9 billion), up 25 percent from a year ago, versus a 28 percent rise in 2017. Revenue from its carrier business fell 1.3 percent to 294 billion yuan, which it blamed on telecommunications industry investment cycles.
However, the surge in its consumer business sales to a record 348.9 billion yuan, driven by demand for its premium smartphone models such as the P series and Mate series, helped push global revenue to above $100 billion for the first time.
Its total revenue rose nearly 20 percent to about 721 billion yuan, marking the fastest pace of growth in two years. The performance of consumer business was in line with what Huawei flagged in January, when it also said it could become the world's biggest-selling smartphone vendor this year.
Guo said he expects all three business groups - consumer, carrier and enterprise - to post double-digit growth this year, although he did not provide a specific number. The company has previously said it was targeting total revenue of $125 billion this year, a record high.
"Moving forward, we will do everything we can to shake off outside distractions, improve management and make progress towards our strategic goals," Guo said.
Huawei has "prepared some inventories for uncertainties" that has reduced its net cash position, Guo added, without giving any details.
SPYING WOULD BE "SUICIDE"
To fight global concerns over its gear, Huawei has launched an unprecedented media blitz by opening up its campus to journalists and parading its typically low-key founder, Ren Zhengfei, in front of media.
It has stepped up the campaign in recent months after Meng Wanzhou, Huawei CFO and Ren's daughter, was arrested in Canada in December at U.S. behest on charges of bank and wire fraud in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran. She denies wrongdoing.
The company has said the spying concerns are unfounded.
"Spying would be equal to suicide," said Song Liuping, Huawei's chief legal officer.
"We have no intention of committing suicide."
Huawei derived 48.4 percent of its business from overseas markets in 2018, versus 49.5 percent a year earlier. The company's fastest growing region was Europe, Middle East and Africa with a growth of 24.3 percent, followed by Americas with a growth of 21.3 percent.
A top company executive said earlier this week that the U.S. campaign against Huawei was having little impact on its sales and that it was unlikely many countries would heed the U.S. call to ban its gear.
The European Union and India have been negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) since 2007. Despite growing trade between the EU and India, talks stalled in 2013 after 16 rounds, only resuming in 2018. There has been talk in Brussels that Brexit might help remove some of the hurdles to an agreement. But this is unlikely to be the case.
If anything, the UK is better positioned to secure a trade deal with India than the EU, although this will not be straightforward. The UK’s desire to curb immigration is likely to lead to tough negotiations. But future UK-India FTA talks may well be an opportunity to negotiate a manageable set of strategic priorities.
The EU is India’s largest trading partner, accounting for around 13% of India’s total trade in goods in 2017. India contributes around 2.3% of total EU trade and is the EU’s ninth biggest trade partner. Trade in goods between the EU and India grew by three times over 2002-18, from €28 billion to €91 billion.
Services are also an important component of EU-India trade. Eurostat data shows that Indian services exports to the EU were €16.6 billion in 2018, while imports were €17.1 billion. The sector has also attracted foreign direct investment from the EU, including Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Belgium, as well as the UK.
Talks between the EU and India broke down in 2013, after it became clear that reaching an agreement on the demands for tariff reductions and market access, as well as the inclusion of social, environmental and human rights clauses would be impossible. Discussions resumed in 2018, which led to the declaration of an EU-India strategic partnership. While this agreement helped to resume the talks, it mainly reaffirmed current ties rather than tackling any of the issues that caused the trade agreement discussions to stall initially.
From the EU’s perspective, the main sticking points were drug patents, tariffs for second-hand cars, agriculture, services, rules of origin and an unacceptable list of sensitive items. The EU is adamant about negotiating a stronger intellectual property regime and a sustainable development chapter with social and environmental clauses, which India is unwilling to include in the trade agreement.
Plus, the EU wants detailed provisions for investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) after India cancelled 20 bilateral investment protection treaties with individual EU countries in 2016. The ISDS demand is not acceptable to India and current regulations require foreign investors to resolve their problems in Indian courts for a period of five years before pursuing a claim under international law.
India views the proposed trade deal as an opportunity to address issues it has with the way the two sides trade in services. In particular, India wants more visas to be granted to its skilled workers in the services industry. This has been a longstanding demand.
After Brexit, this demand is unlikely to fade. But, at a time when all EU member states are grappling with a “migration crisis” any loosening of visa rules is highly unlikely. India has also been demanding status as a “data-secure nation”, which will reduce compliance costs for Indian software providers. But, given EU concerns over regulatory norms and data-privacy standards it is unlikely that the EU will agree to this demand.
Opportunity for a UK trade deal?
The UK is among India’s main trading partners from the EU bloc. Trade totalled €13.6 billion in 2018, accounting for 17% of India’s overall trade with the EU. Moreover, trade between India and the UK increased at an average rate of 8.8% a year between 2002 and 2018.
Machinery and transport equipment constitute 40% of India’s exports, and accounts for nearly 20% of total UK’s trade with India. The UK’s exports of alcoholic beverages also registered a significant increase, from €14m to €162m from 2002-18.
The lack of progress in EU-India trade talks might just be an opportunity for the UK to launch its own negotiations for a trade deal with India. From an economic perspective, India is an attractive trade partner. It is projected to be the world’s fastest growing economy, with an annual GDP growth rate of around 6.5%. In the UK, GDP is predicted to grow by a mere 1.5% in 2019. India is also home to almost one-fifth of the world’s population. It could be a strategic partner for the UK in Asia, presenting an opportunity to increase Britain’s soft power in the region.
From India’s perspective, a trade deal with the UK could be an opportunity to increase pressure on other Asian countries, especially China, to liberalise their trade. This will also help India’s geopolitical considerations in the region given the history of tense diplomatic relations with Pakistan. And it could help strengthen India’s Commonwealth ties.
But other issues remain. The UK and India would still have to agree on reducing tariffs on their respective imports. Visa numbers and intellectual property would also be issues for the UK, as they were with the EU, and could yet prove contentious. So free trade talks between the UK and India could still be long and drawn out.
Recent political developments, however – including Brexit, eurozone uncertainty, sluggish global growth rates and trade tensions from the Trump administration’s pursuit of a protectionist agenda – all have serious implications for future trade talks. These could well nudge the partners to review their red lines and return to the negotiating table.