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Musk Relaunching Twitter "Subscription"

FILE: This combination of file pictures created on November 18, 2022 shows Tesla CEO Elon Musk on March 14, 2019, Hawthorne, California and the Twitter logo outside their headquarters in San Francisco, California, on October 28, 2022.

Twitter owner Elon Musk was set to relaunch a subscription service on Monday after a first attempt saw an embarrassing spate of fake accounts that scared advertisers and created doubt on the site's future.

The first rollout of the subscription plan caused an uproar when many fake accounts popped up pretending to be celebrities or companies and Musk's team was forced to swiftly suspend the rollout.

The first try last month came just 10 days after Musk's $44 billion takeover of the influential platform and a mass round of layoffs that saw company staff levels halved, including teams of workers moderating content.

This time the company said that starting Monday subscribers would be required to be reviewed by Twitter before receiving the coveted blue check mark.

The checkmark will become gold for businesses and, later in the week, gray for government organizations, it added.

A blue checkmark on an account, which indicates it has been verified by Twitter, was previously free but reserved for organizations and public figures in an attempt to avoid impersonation and misinformation.

In the US relaunch, the Twitter Blue subscription service will cost $8 per month for users accessing Twitter on the web and $11 for those signing up on an Apple device.

The extra price for iPhone users could be explained by Musk's anger that Apple charges up to 30 percent service fee on the app store while banning other payment methods.

The relaunch of Twitter Blue comes as the Tesla and SpaceX owner has stepped up his tweets endorsing right-wing causes, including against the use of gender neutral pronouns and the US government's response to Covid-19.

Musk's free speech commitment has spooked away major advertisers, caught the attention of regulators and briefly challenged the company's access to the Apple app store.

Musk believes that the previous ownership of Twitter held a strong left-wing and pro-LGBT bias and unfairly banned accounts, including that of former president Donald Trump.

On Sunday he also lashed out against the outgoing key advisor of the US response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Anthony Fauci, a frequent target of vitriol on right-wing media.

Musk posted a meme showing Fauci telling US President Joe Biden, "Just one more lockdown, my king..."

Early in the pandemic, Musk tweeted that concern over the virus was "dumb" and since taking over Twitter has removed its policy targeting Covid misinformation.

His embrace of right-wing talking points seemed to attract increasing scorn in San Francisco, a politically liberal city and the headquarters for Twitter.

Musk was loudly booed by a crowd in San Francisco on Sunday night after he was invited on stage by comedian Dave Chappelle.

"It's almost as if I've offended San Francisco's unhinged leftists ... but nahhh," Musk tweeted after the event.


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Total Makes Mozambique Visit

The logo of French oil and gas company Total is seen at a petrol station in Paris, France, February 8, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

The head of French energy giant TotalEnergies is expected this week to visit Mozambique, where a multi-billion-dollar gas project has been on hold since a 2021 jihadist attack, according to government sources.

CEO Patrick Pouyanne is to fly to the southern African nation to discuss conditions for the possible restart of operations in restive Cabo Delgado province.

Pouyanne "will hold meetings... for the resumption of activities interrupted as a result of the terrorist action," a Mozambican official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He is expected to hold talks with President Filipe Nyusi and government ministers, the sources said.

TotalEnergies said it did not comment on travel arrangements.

Mozambique has set high hopes on vast natural gas deposits -- the largest found south of the Sahara -- that were discovered in the Muslim-majority northern province in 2010.

If all the deposits are tapped, Mozambique could become one of the world's 10 biggest gas exporters, according to estimates.

But the region has since been hit by an insurgency waged by Islamic State-linked militants, casting doubt over the scheme.

TotalEnergies halted its $20 billion LNG project in 2021, after a deadly raid on the coastal town of Palma.

The attack triggered the deployment of forces from Rwanda and southern African countries which have since helped Mozambique retake control of much of Cabo Delgado.

But sporadic and low-level jihadists attacks continue in part of the province.

Pouyanne's visit is likely to fuel expectations that TotalEnergies is closer to resuming work in the impoverished region.

In November, the first export shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the area left Mozambique for Europe.

But the LNG was produced at Coral Sul, a floating facility managed by Italian company Eni.

The deep-water scheme has so far been spared from the risk of attack, whereas Total's project is onshore.

The conflict in northern Mozambique has claimed more than 4,500 lives, 2,000 of them civilians, and forced around a million people to flee their homes.

Euro Inflation Falls

FILE: One Euro coins are seen in this illustration taken, November 9, 2021.

The eurozone's annual inflation rate has fallen for a third consecutive month, official data showed on Wednesday, but uncertainty over the figures and continued price growth cooled optimism.

EU consumer prices in January eased to 8.5 percent, down from 9.2 percent in December, helped by a continued slowdown in the pace of energy cost rises.

Although inflation in the single currency area is slowing, the European Central Bank (ECB) is expected to raise interest rates on Thursday with a 50-basis-point hike.

January's inflation rate was much lower than the forecast of nine percent by financial data firm FactSet. But economists warned against taking the data at face value.

"January's bigger-than-expected decline in headline euro-zone inflation should be taken with a big pinch of salt" because Germany's data were estimates only and "therefore likely to be unreliable", Jack Allen-Reynolds, senior Europe economist at Capital Economics, said in a note.

Inflation had peaked at 10.6 percent in October 2022 -- five times higher than the ECB's target -- after a year of uninterrupted increases.

ECB President Christine Lagarde said last month rates "will still have to rise significantly at a steady pace to reach levels that are sufficiently restrictive and stay at those levels for as long as necessary" to bring inflation down.

There had been fears that the eurozone's core inflation, which excludes food and energy prices, would jump in January. But it ended up not changing from the 5.2 percent recorded in December.

A "jump in core inflation in some key countries will be enough for the central bank to confirm its current hawkish stance," said ING senior eurozone economist Bert Colijn.

Eurostat data showed energy costs increased by 17.2 percent in January compared to 25.5 percent a month earlier.

Food and drink costs recorded a greater rise of 14.1 percent last month compared to 13.8 percent in December.

- European resilience -

Among the 20 countries that use the euro, Luxembourg and Spain had the lowest inflation rate, both reaching 5.8 percent in January, Eurostat said.

A flurry of better-than-expected data in the past weeks have raised hopes that the European economy is more resilient to the economic shocks from the war in Ukraine.

The eurozone is set to avoid recession this winter after recording weak-but-positive growth of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022, data showed Tuesday.

"We think that today's print confirms that headline inflation peaked in Q4 last year and will continue to ease throughout 2023 on the back of favorable base effects and lower gas and energy prices," said Mateusz Urban, senior economist at Oxford Economics.

According to Eurostat data published Wednesday, the unemployment rate in the eurozone remained stable in December at 6.6 percent.

US Fed Considers More Rate Hikes

FILE: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022.

The US Federal Reserve is in the second day of its policy meeting Wednesday, on growing expectations that it will step down to a smaller interest rate hike as red-hot inflation shows signs of cooling.

Policymakers are widely expected to announce a 0.25 percentage point rate hike at the end of their two-day meeting, slowing from a half-point increase in December and steeper hikes before that.

The Fed cranked up the benchmark lending rate seven times last year, including four consecutive 0.75 percentage point increases, lifting borrowing costs in hopes of dampening demand.

The aim is to rein in inflation, which surged to its fastest pace in decades in mid-2022 but has since come off a peak.

- Not done yet -

But Ryan Sweet, chief US economist at Oxford Economics anticipates this will be accompanied by signals that the Fed is not done yet.

"They want concrete evidence that they've killed inflation, and they haven't yet," he told AFP.

An easing of supply chain stress and shift from spending on goods to services allows the cost of goods to moderate.

"However, it is sticky services prices that will keep the Fed on its rate-hiking course," he said in a recent report.

Analysts expect that the Fed is looking for labor market conditions to ease, reducing wage pressures and services inflation.

For now, data released Tuesday showed that a measure of pay and benefits rose less than expected in the fourth quarter last year, adding to signs that the labor market is cooling.

- Time to halt? -

Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics, argues it is time to pause the Fed's rate hikes, saying in a tweet on Tuesday that "their work is done."

"They have suppressed inflation expectations; the Covid distortions to rents and margins are working through and will drive inflation down," he added.

"Every further Fed rate hike from here just increases the chance of an entirely unnecessary recession," said Shepherdson.

Some Democrats in Congress have also expressed concern over rate increases, with Senator John Hickenlooper urging this week for the central bank to "proceed with caution."

But Fed officials have expressed determination to stay the course, with Fed Chair Jerome Powell telling reporters in December that "the historical record cautions strongly against prematurely loosening policy."

Sweet of Oxford Economics told AFP: "If they signal that they're done and then have to reverse course, that's going to be very disruptive to financial markets."

In a speech this month, Fed Governor Christopher Waller cautioned against being "head-faked" by a temporary trend of positive data.

He added that he will be looking for recent improvements in inflation figures to continue.

"We still have a considerable way to go toward our two percent inflation goal, and I expect to support continued tightening of monetary policy," Waller said in the earlier speech.

US Consumer Confidence Down

FILE: People shop at a UNIQLO store during the grand opening of the The Hudson Yards development, a residential, commercial, and retail space on Manhattan's West side in New York City. Taken March 15, 2019.

Consumer confidence in the United States edged down in January on concerns over the economy in the coming months and less optimism on the jobs outlook, according to survey data released Tuesday.

The closely watched consumer confidence index ticked down more than expected to 107.1 in January, down from a revised 109.0 reading in December, said think tank The Conference Board.

"Consumer confidence declined in January, but it remains above the level seen last July," said Ataman Ozyildirim senior director of economics at The Conference Board, which compiles and releases this index.

It fell the most for households earning less than $15,000 and for households aged under 35, he added.

While the start of the year saw an improvement in consumers' assessment of current economic and labor market conditions, the expectations index went lower in January.

This reflects "concerns about the economy over the next six months," Ozyildirim said.

The retreat comes as efforts to cool the world's biggest economy start to bite, with inflation and wage gains showing signs of ebbing.

Consumers were less upbeat about the short-term outlook for jobs, and also expect business conditions to worsen in the near term, he added.

The expectations index fell below a reading of 80, which typically signals a recession within the next year, said The Conference Board's report.

But the expectation is that incomes will remain relatively stable in the months ahead, with fewer people planning to buy a home.

"Consumer attitudes are not yet showing significant improvement, even as inflation is easing, and job growth remains strong," said economist Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics.

"Slower job growth and diminishing savings going forward could be a constraint for households," she said.

ANC Calls Power Cuts "Disaster"

FILE: Maria Modiba cooks by a candlelight during one of the frequent power outages from South African utility Eskom, caused by its aging coal-fired plants, in Soweto, South Africa November 11, 2022

South Africa's governing ANC party has asked top officials to declare a national state of disaster to end severe electricity blackouts that have wreaked havoc on Africa's most industrialised nation, its secretary general said Tuesday.

Declaring a national disaster would unlock additional funds and resources to "better manage the crisis," Fikile Mbalula told a news conference after the party's new executive committee met over the weekend.

The years-long crisis of intermittent power cuts has worsened in recent months, with the electricity network operated by the debt-laden state energy firm Eskom failing to keep pace with demand as it struggles to maintain its ageing coal-powered infrastructure.

"We shouldn't be arrogant and deny the fact that we have... a crisis," Mbalula told a news conference.

"We are responding to this crisis, and the president and the team in government have been given a clear instruction by the ANC," he said.

He said the move would speed up the response of President Cyril Ramaphosa's administration, with a target of ending the blackouts by year-end.

The scheduled blackouts, which can last from two hours to over 12 hours a day, have sparked widespread anger and taken a heavy toll on industrial production and businesses.

Opposition parties have vowed to stage more protests against the government's response to the blackouts, after the most recent mass demonstrations last week drew several thousands of people into the streets.

South Africa's economic growth is expected to slow to just 0.3 percent this year because of the power shortages, after growth of 2.5 percent last year.

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