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What General Electric investors want from CEO on Thursday

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Portfolio manager Michael Kon began buying General Electric Co shares about a year ago and got more last fall after GE Chief Executive Larry Culp outlined plans to reboot the ailing power-plant unit.

The logo of U.S. conglomerate General Electric is pictured at the company’s site of its energy branch in Belfort, France, February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

“I wouldn’t say that they’ve got their arms around it,” Kon, who is also research director at investment firm value-oriented Golub Group LLC, said of the power trouble.

“But at least they’ve identified all the issues.”

Culp has a chance to attract more investors by providing greater clarity on GE’s strategy when he and other GE leaders lay out their 2019 financial forecast on Thursday.

Wall Street analysts expect GE to earn 70 cents a share this year and generate $1.9 billion in free cash flow, on average, according to data from Refinitiv.

GE optimists, spurred by Culp’s actions, have fueled a 53 percent rally from the stock’s low in December. As the first outsider to head the 127-year-old conglomerate, Culp has cracked open GE’s books to more scrutiny, shaken up its board and stationed new leaders in trouble spots like power and insurance.

But Culp still faces many skeptics who dumped the stock as GE racked up staggering losses of more than $30 billion over the last two years and cut its dividend to near zero.

The camps are unusually divided: Of 19 analysts who cover the company, nine rate its stock “hold” or “strong sell” while 10 rate it “buy” or “strong buy,” according to Refinitiv.

MURKY OUTLOOK

Those views did not change much even after GE reported a $22 billion loss in January or told investors last week its industrial businesses will lose cash in 2019.

GE shares are down 15 percent since Culp took over in October, and they are worth less than a third of their value in 2016.

Some analysts count Culp’s candor as positive and say the cash flow warning shows serious investment in restructuring.

But others say the changes have clouded GE’s outlook and want Culp to paint a credible picture of its future.

GE’s strategy of selling assets to pay off its outsized debt, for example, is ditching some of its most cash-generative businesses, such as rail and biopharma, said John Inch, analyst at Gordon Haskett Research Advisors. GE’s power unit has cut 12,000 jobs and 30 percent of facility space but plans to spend more on restructuring this year, he added.

“Just exactly what are you doing in power with all that restructuring money?” Inch asked.

GE’s forced asset sales also mean GE is not getting good prices, said Oliver Pursche, chief market strategist at Bruderman Asset Management LLC.

Investors who buy GE stock thinking it is cheap are ignoring cash outflows, strategy uncertainty and the fact that GE cannot afford to pay a dividend.

“The reality is, it’s at $9 for a very good reason,” said Pursche, who’s firm sold when GE cut its dividend in 2017 and won’t buy until the dividend returns and the outlook is clear.

“Until you get a cohesive growth strategy,” he said, “there’s no compelling reason to invest.”

Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Stocks splutter as oil races to near six-month high

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LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices jumped to near six-month highs on Tuesday as the United States tightened sanctions on Iran, sending shares of energy companies higher but largely failing to help the currencies of the main crude-oil producers.

FILE PHOTO: Visitors are seen as market prices are reflected in a glass window at the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) in Tokyo, Japan, October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

News that the U.S. had told buyers of Iranian oil to stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions pushed Brent toward $75 a barrel and made for a lively return from the four-day Easter break for Europe’s markets. [O/R]

Oil and gas shares jumped more than 1.7 percent for their best start in six weeks, though almost every other sector suffered. So did bonds, as higher energy costs hung over profits and nudged up inflation expectations. [.EU][GVD/EUR]

Foreign-exchange market volatility was still largely absent. The dollar held near a three-week high, but the usual beneficiaries of higher oil prices, the Canadian dollar and Norwegian crown, dipped to $1.33 and $8.52 respectively. [/FRX]

“Oil is interesting, but the interesting thing for FX is that we are not getting the usual feed-through in the petrocurrencies,” said Saxo bank’s head of FX strategy, John Hardy, adding that might be caused by questions about Chinese stimulus.

Both the Canadian dollar and the crown had gained on Monday, and the Russian rouble, another petrocurrency, hit its highest against the euro in more than a year its highest against the dollar in a month.

Overnight, MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares ended 0.1 percent higher and Japan’s Nikkei closed up 0.2 percent. Oil and gas gains were offset by losses for airlines and other transport shares facing higher fuel costs.

The White House said after its Iran move it was working with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ensure oil markets were “adequately supplied,” but traders had already been worried about tight supplies.

Oil prices are up nearly 50 percent since late December, and before the re-imposition of sanctions last year Iran was the fourth-largest producer among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, at around 3 million barrels per day.

Oil prices are “not so high that it crushes manufacturing by putting energy-price inputs up, but it is producing a nice boost to oil-producing nations,” said Robert Carnell, Singapore-based chief economist and head of research for Asia Pacific at ING.

Carnell sees Brent crude’s sweet spot at between $65 and $75 per barrel: “Above this, you may see some negative impact.”

SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka’s stock market and government bonds both fell as trading resumed after bombings had killed more than 300 people on Sunday. Tourism is likely to collapse, which would deal a serious blow to the island’s economy and financial markets.

The International Monetary Fund last month extended a $1.5 billion loan to Sri Lanka into 2020, a key step in keeping foreign investors involved in what so far this year has been a top-performing frontier debt market.

In China, major benchmarks dipped in and out of negative territory amid concern that Beijing will slow the pace of policy easing after unexpectedly strong first-quarter economic data last week.

China’s blue-chip stocks have surged over 30 percent so far this year on expectations of more stimulus and hopes Beijing and Washington will reach an agreement to end their nine-month trade dispute.

“We’ve had a fantastic run in Chinese equities year-to-date. Some profit taking is completely normal. I don’t think China is changing its policy that quickly,” said Stefan Hofer, chief investment strategist at LGT Bank Asia in Hong Kong.

Additional reporting by Noah Sin in Hong Kong and Tomo Uetake in Tokyo; editing by Larry King

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Sri Lanka detains Syrian in investigation of blasts; toll rises to 321

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COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lankan police detained a Syrian among 40 people being questioned about the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels, government and military sources said on Tuesday, as the toll from the coordinated bomb attacks rose to 321.

Security personnel stand guard outside St. Anthony Shrine, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which officials said were carried out by at least seven suicide bombers on three churches and four hotels. About 500 people were also wounded.

However, the focus of suspicion is falling on Islamist militants with links to foreign groups. U.S. intelligence sources said the attacks bore some of the hallmarks of the Islamic State extremist group.

Tuesday was declared a national day of mourning and the funerals of some of the victims were held as pressure mounted on the government over why effective action had not been taken in response to a warning this month about a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic Islamist group.

Police said the number of people arrested since Sunday had risen to 40, most of them Sri Lankans. The investigation of those detainees had led to the Syrian, three government and military sources told Reuters.

“He was arrested after the interrogation of local suspects,” one of the sources said.

The first six attacks – on three churches and three luxury hotels – came within 20 minutes on Sunday morning during Easter services and as hotels served breakfast.

Two more explosions – at a down-market hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital, Colombo – came in the early afternoon.

Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans, although government officials said 38 foreigners were killed. That included British, U.S., Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

FBI TO HELP

The bombs brought a shattering end to a relative calm that had existed in the Buddhist-majority Indian Ocean island since a bitter civil war fought by Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Up to now, Christians had largely managed to keep out of the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.

The government imposed an emergency law at midnight on Monday, giving police extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders.

An overnight curfew has also been imposed since Sunday.

U.S. President Donald Trump called Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday to pledge U.S. support in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The Washington Post quoted an unidentified law enforcement official as saying Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents were being sent to Sri Lanka to assist in the investigation.

The FBI has also offered laboratory expertise to test evidence and analysts were scouring databases for information that might shed light on the attacks, the Post said. Counter-terrorism officials from Britain were also due to arrive on Tuesday, a Western diplomat in Colombo said.

U.S. intelligence sources said the attacks carried some of the hallmarks of the Islamic State militant group, although they were cautious because it had not claimed responsibility.

Islamic State is usually quick to claim responsibility for, or links to, attacks against foreign targets or religious groups whether they were involved or not.

Footage on CNN showed what it said was one of the bombers wearing a heavy backpack. The man patted a child on the head before entering the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Dozens were killed there.

INTERNAL FEUD

The attacks have also underlined concern over fractures in Sri Lanka’s government, and whether the discord prevented action that might have stopped them.

The government got a tip-off from India this month about a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic Islamist group, the National Thawheed Jama’ut group.

It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken in response. A government minister said on Monday Wickremesinghe had not been informed about the warning and had been shut out of top security meetings because of a feud with President Maithripala Sirisena.

Sirisena fired Wickremesinghe last year only to be forced to reinstate him under pressure from the Supreme Court. Their relationship is reported to be fraught.

The U.S. State Department said in a travel advisory “terrorist groups” were plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka and targets could include tourist spots, transport hubs, shopping malls, hotels, places of worship and airports.

China’s embassy in Sri Lanka warned Chinese nationals against traveling to Sri Lanka in the near term because of “huge security risks”.

China is a major investor in Sri Lanka. The embassy said one Chinese national was killed, five wounded and five were missing.

Among the victims were three of the four children of Anders Holch Povlsen, Denmark’s richest man.

Eight Britons were also killed, including Anita Nicholson, her 14-year-old son and her 11-year-old daughter. Nicholson’s husband survived the attack on the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.

Slideshow (19 Images)

(GRAPHIC: Sri Lanka bombings – tmsnrt.rs/2Xy02BA)

(GRAPHIC: A decade of peace shattered – tmsnrt.rs/2W4wZoU)

Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Additional reporting by Joe Brock, Mark Hosenball and Kieran Murray in WASHINGTON, and Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo in BEIJING; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait

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Samsung retrieving all Galaxy Fold samples after defect reports: source

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SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd is retrieving all Galaxy Fold samples distributed to reviewers to investigate reports of broken screens, a day after it postponed the phone’s launch, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said on Tuesday.

The retrieval comes as the world’s biggest smartphone maker met with embarrassment ahead of the foldable device’s U.S. release on April 26, with a handful of technology journalists reporting breaks, bulges and blinking screens after a day’s use.

The South Korean tech giant postponed the handset’s launch for an unspecified period of time while it investigated the matter. It said initial findings showed the issues could be associated with impact on exposed areas of the hinges.

A representative declined to comment further on Tuesday.

Samsung’s share price was 0.4 percent lower as of 0425 GMT, in a flat Seoul market. However, parts suppliers fell, with hinge maker KH Vatec Co Ltd shedding 3.1 percent.

A person with direct knowledge of the supply chain said KH Vatec conducted an internal review of hinges used in the Galaxy Fold and found no defects. The supplier declined to comment.

In March, Samsung released a video showing robots folding Galaxy Fold handsets 200,000 times for its durability test.

Samsung’s head of IT and mobile communications, DJ Koh, has repeatedly said foldables are the future of smartphones.

Though the issue does not hurt Samsung’s balance sheet, the postponement damages the firm’s effort to showcase itself as an innovative first mover, not a fast follower, analysts said.

In some cases, reviewers had peeled off a layer of film which they mistook for a disposable screen protector.

“It’s disastrous that Samsung sent samples to reviewers without clear instructions on how to handle the device, and that the firm needs to fix screen flickering,” said analyst Kim Young-woo at SK Securities.

Slideshow (2 Images)

One Samsung employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “On the bright side, we have an opportunity to nail down this issue and fix it before selling the phones to a massive audience, so they won’t have same complaints.”

Samsung emailed pre-order customers upon delaying the launch, online outlets said on Twitter.

“Your pre-order guarantees your place in the queue for this innovative technology,” Samsung said in the email. “We’ll update you with more specific shipping information in two weeks.”

Reporting by Ju-min Park; Additional reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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