An out-of-control sales culture, a defensive boss obsessed with stamping out negative views about her division and a group chief executive who called her the “the best banker in America” were to blame for Wells Fargo & Co’s (WFC. N) devastating sales scandal, an internal investigation found. The probe into how the San Francisco-based bank could have allowed abusive sales practices to fester for years at its branch network laid most of the blame on the former head of the retail division, Carrie Tolstedt, and some of her management team, in a report released to media on Monday. In the report, which was carried out by the bank’s chairman Stephan Sanger and three other independent directors, Tolstedt is blamed for ignoring the systemic nature of the problem which was pinned instead on individual wrongdoers and accused of obstructing the board’s efforts to get to the bottom of what was going on. John Stumpf, the CEO who retired under pressure from the scandal in October, was criticized for failing to grasp the gravity of the sales practice abuses and their impact on the bank. In the 110-page report, Stumpf was described as blinded by Wells Fargo’s cross-selling success. He refused to believe the model was seriously impaired and was full of admiration for Tolstedt, with whom he had a long working relationship. According to one director, Stumpf praised Tolstedt as the “best banker in America.”The report said Tolstedt hid the scale of the misconduct from the board, which only discovered that 5,300 staff had been fired for opening more than 2 million unauthorized accounts when the bank reached a $185 million settlement with regulators in September last year. On the advice of her lawyers, Tolstedt declined to be interviewed for the investigation. Lawyers for Tolstedt and Stumpf did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters on Monday morning. Wells Fargo said Tolstedt had been fired for cause and would be forfeiting her outstanding stock options with an approximate value of $47.3 million. Wells Fargo said it had decided to claw back approximately $28 million of Stumpf’s bonus, which was paid in March 2016. In total, the bank has fired five senior retail bank executives, including Tolstedt, over the scandal and has imposed forfeitures, clawbacks and compensation adjustments on senior leaders totaling more than $180 million, including $69 million from Stumpf and $67 million from Tolstedt.

Since the scandal broke, the bank has seen a steady decline in the number of consumers opening checking and credit card accounts and has lost its status as America’s most valuable bank by market value. THE BOARD Sanger, a board member since 2003, is under pressure to assure investors and regulators that he is rooting out the bank’s problems after a welter of criticism that the board did not do enough despite knowing about the problem since 2014. According to the report, multiple board members felt misled by a presentation by Tolstedt and others to the board’s risk committee in May 2015. The board members said they left thinking that between 200 and 300 employees had been fired for sales practice abuses and the problem was largely concentrated in southern California. Last week, influential proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services recommended investors vote to replace the majority of directors at Wells Fargo, including Sanger and the other three independent directors, at its April 25 annual meeting.

The U.S. Justice Department, meanwhile, is investigating whether executives hid details from the company board and regulators as the problem grew over the years, people familiar with the matter have told Reuters. U.S. Attorney offices in San Francisco and Charlotte, North Carolina, are investigating. The report criticized the board for not centralizing the risk functions at the bank earlier, not requesting more detailed reports from management and not insisting Stumpf get rid of Tolstedt sooner. Tim Sloan, who replaced Stumpf as CEO, is described in the report as having little contact with sales practices at the bank before becoming chief operating officer and Tolstedt’s boss in November 2015. Six months later he told her to step aside. Since the scandal broke, the bank has ended sales targets, changed pay incentives for branch staff, separated the role of chairman and CEO and hired new directors to its board. A NOTEWORTHY RISK A big part of Wells Fargo’s problem was its decentralized business model, which meant the retail bank was able to keep inquiries from head office at arm’s length and there was no joined-up effort by either the bank’s human resources or legal divisions to track and analyze the scale of the problem.

Futures flat as first-quarter earnings season approaches U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Monday as investors awaited earnings from big banks later in the week, kicking off the first-quarter earnings season.

Geopolitics from France to Korea keep investors cautious LONDON Muted trading volumes across many financial assets on Monday and the dollar rising to a three-week high underscored investor caution against making big bets in the face of geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and the Korean peninsula.

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Bill Hinshaw is not a typical 75-year-old. He divides his time between his family – he has 32 grandchildren and great-grandchildren – and helping U.S. companies avert crippling computer meltdowns. Hinshaw, who got into programming in the 1960s when computers took up entire rooms and programmers used punch cards, is a member of a dwindling community of IT veterans who specialize in a vintage programming language called COBOL. The Common Business-Oriented Language was developed nearly 60 years ago and has been gradually replaced by newer, more versatile languages such as Java, C and Python. Although few universities still offer COBOL courses, the language remains crucial to businesses and institutions around the world. In the United States, the financial sector, major corporations and parts of the federal government still largely rely on it because it underpins powerful systems that were built in the 70s or 80s and never fully replaced. (GRAPHIC: tmsnrt.rs/2nMf18G)And here lies the problem: if something goes wrong, few people know how to fix it. The stakes are especially high for the financial industry, where an estimated $3 trillion in daily commerce flows through COBOL systems. The language underpins deposit accounts, check-clearing services, card networks, ATMs, mortgage servicing, loan ledgers and other services. The industry’s aggressive push into digital banking makes it even more important to solve the COBOL dilemma. Mobile apps and other new tools are written in modern languages that need to work seamlessly with old underlying systems. That is where Hinshaw and fellow COBOL specialists come in. A few years ago, the north Texas resident planned to shutter his IT firm and retire after decades of working with financial and public institutions, but calls from former clients just kept coming. COWBOYS AND YOUNGSTERS In 2013, Hinshaw launched a new company COBOL Cowboys, which connects companies to programmers like himself. His wife Eileen came up with the name in a reference to “Space Cowboys,” a 2000 movie about a group of retired Air Force pilots called in for a trouble-shooting mission in space. The company’s slogan? “Not our first rodeo.”Of the 20 “Cowboys” that work as part-time consultants many have reached retirement age, though there are some “youngsters,” Hinshaw said.”Well, I call them youngsters, but they’re in their 40s, early 50s.”

Experienced COBOL programmers can earn more than $100 an hour when they get called in to patch up glitches, rewrite coding manuals or make new systems work with old. For their customers such expenses pale in comparison with what it would cost to replace the old systems altogether, not to mention the risks involved. Antony Jenkins, the former chief executive of Barclays PLC, said for big financial institutions – many of them created through multiple mergers over decades – the problems banks face when looking to replace their old technology goes beyond a shrinking pool of experts.”It is immensely complex,” said Jenkins, who now heads startup 10x Future Technologies, which sells new IT infrastructure to banks. “Legacy systems from different generations are layered and often heavily intertwined.”Some bank executives describe a nightmare scenario in which a switch-over fails and account data for millions of customers vanishes. The industry is aware, however, that it cannot keep relying on a generation of specialists who inevitably will be gone.

The risk is “not so much that an individual may have retired,” Andrew Starrs, group technology officer at consulting firm Accenture PLC, said. “He may have expired, so there is no option to get him or her to come back.”International Business Machines Corp, which sells the mainframe computers that run on COBOL, argues the future is not so bleak. It has launched fellowships and training programs in the old code for young IT specialists, and says it has trained more than 180,000 developers in 12 years.”Just because a language is 50 years old, doesn’t mean that it isn’t good,” said Donna Dillenberger, an IBM Fellow. But COBOL veterans say it takes more than just knowing the language itself. COBOL-based systems vary widely and original programmers rarely wrote handbooks, making trouble-shooting difficult for others.”Some of the software I wrote for banks in the 1970s is still being used,” said Hinshaw. That is why calls from stressed executives keep coming.

“You better believe they are nice since they have a problem only you can fix,” he said. Hinshaw said the callers seem willing to pay almost any price and some even offer full-time jobs. TURNING POINT Oliver Bussmann, former chief information officer of UBS AG, said banks usually tap into their networks of former employees to find COBOL experts. Accenture’s Starrs said they go through a “black book” of programmer contacts, especially those laid off during or after the 2008 financial crisis. The industry appears to be reaching an inflection point, though. In the United States, banks are slowly shifting toward newer languages taking cue from overseas rivals who have already made the switch-over. Commonwealth Bank of Australia, for instance, replaced its core banking platform in 2012 with the help of Accenture and software company SAP SE. The job ultimately took five years and cost more than 1 billion Australian dollars

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Unilever (ULVR. L) (UNc. AS) promised a multi-billion euro program of shareholder rewards on Thursday after a corporate rethink sparked by a takeover approach from Kraft Heinz (KHC. O), aiming to prove it can generate lucrative returns as an independent company. Under a restructuring sparked by the rebuffed $143 billion offer by its U.S. rival, the maker of Dove soap and Knorr soup set out an accelerated cost-saving plan, the sale of its Flora to Stork spreads business where sales are declining, and a review of its dual-headed Anglo-Dutch structure. Unilever will also splash out 5 billion euros ($5.3 billion) on a share buyback and raise its dividend 12 percent this year. Unilever, one of Europe’s biggest blue-chip stocks, called the Kraft episode a “trigger moment” to assess its business, as the global packaged goods industry faces slowing growth and greater competition. Some analysts had speculated it would split into two in a dramatic strategy reversal, but executives said the current strategy was working while needing to be speeded up. “We need to accelerate our plans to unlock further value faster, and this was brought home to us by the events of February,” Chief Executive Paul Polman said. “There is no doubt that however … opportunistic it (the Kraft approach) was, it did raise expectations,” Polman said. “We are absolutely determined to use it as an opportunity to place Unilever on an even stronger footing.” Unilever executives said their strategy of long-term steady growth had found support in talks they had held with investors including all of the group’s top 50 shareholders. STRONG POSITION

GAM fund manager Ali Miremadi, who manages two worldwide equity funds that are 2.5 percent invested in Unilever shares, said the announcement was in line with expectations.”They’re not stretching here, and nor should they. They’re in a very strong position and this is hopefully a sign they’re going to be a bit leaner and more shareholder-focused,” Miremadi said, adding Unilever should be able to deliver the premium Kraft was offering or more over the next four or five years. Unilever’s London-listed shares, which hit a record 4,088 pence in recent weeks ahead of Thursday’s announcement, were up 1.3 percent at 3,989p by 1036 GMT, outperforming the FTSE 100 . FTSE which was down 0.4 percent. The group said it would speed up a cost-savings plan, targeting a 20 percent underlying operating margin, before restructuring expenses, by 2020, up from 16.4 percent on the same basis in 2016.

The company previously forecast 4 billion euros of savings from 2017 to 2019 and has raised that to 6 billion. That includes doubling the savings target within brand and marketing investments to 2 billion euros and increasing supply chain savings from 3 billion euros to 4 billion. About two thirds of these savings are to be reinvested in the business. It also sees 3.5 billion of restructuring costs over the three years. Pitkethly told Reuters that much of the margin improvement would come from the food business, which it plans to combine with the refreshment business, which includes Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Lipton tea. SHARE BUYBACK Unilever also said it would take on more debt, at least in part to finance acquisitions, targeting net debt of two times core earnings or EBITDA. Its leverage ratio has been below one time for more than half of the past 20 years, Jefferies analysts have said.

“Some had speculated Unilever could go to three times to free up even more cash, but it’s remaining fairly conservative,” said Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital in London. “The move ought to deter speculative bids such as that of Kraft Heinz. Unilever was vulnerable to a takeover exactly because it’s been so free of debt.”Polman also signaled the company might be interested in the food brands being sold by Reckitt Benckiser (RB. L), saying it would have to decide what position to take. The group will launch a share buyback this year of 5 billion euros having not had a buyback program in place since 2008. Pitkethly said Unilever would consider combining its dual-headed structure – in Britain and the Netherlands – into one, in order to make future large-scale transactions easier. It said a review on the matter would be finished by the end of the year and would not be impacted by Brexit.”The recent review has shown us that it can add complexity to structural portfolio change,” Pitkethly said. Regarding the margarine and spreads business, one of its founding businesses, Pitkethly said it was already seeing a lot of interest, particularly from financial players such as private equity firms. The company stood by its 2017 sales target of growth of between 3 and 5 percent, supported by brand and marketing investment of about 30 billion euros over the period to 2020. It said its margin would grow by at least 80 basis points this year.

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Data analytics firm Qlik Technologies is in the market with a $1.07 billion loan refinancing that is expected to halve the interest margin on a highly leveraged loan that it raised from direct lenders less than a year ago to finance its $3 billion sale to private equity firm Thoma Bravo. Thoma Bravo financed the take private acquisition with a record $1.075 billion unitranche loan that was provided by a group of alternative capital providers led by business development company Ares Capital Corp in mid 2016 after traditional bank lenders were unable to match the debt or leverage on offer. Qlik is one of a host of highly leveraged US companies that are taking advantage of white hot demand from institutional loan buyers desperate for higher yields and floating rate assets in a rising interest rate environment to refinance existing loans. Issuers booked a record US$261bn in opportunistic refinancings in the first three months of 2017, pushing average first-lien institutional term loan spreads to 343bp, excluding Libor floors or Original Issue Discounts, according to LPC data.“I would say that demand seems very strong right now. It’s certainly a reason why Qlik can price a deal,” a banking source said. Alternative lenders have been picking up business from traditional banks since 2013, when federal regulators introduced leveraged lending guidelines to curb leverage and restrict capital to reduce systemic risk in the banking sector.  This time, Qlik has turned to traditional banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to lead its new loan. The two leads are selling the deal on the back of the company’s improved performance and reduced leverage, which at less than 5.0 times total debt-to-Ebitda is now in line with the guidelines requiring extra scrutiny when leverage exceeds 6.0 times.“Fast forward and the company has recognized nearly all of the cost cuts that were projected, and at the same time Ebitda has grown very nicely,” the banking source said.

BIG SAVINGS The refinancing swaps Qlik’s unitranche loan for a single first-lien term loan B. The deal is helping the company to cut nearly 500bp off the spread, which will save about $50 million in interest expense, according to Moody’s Investors Service. Unitranche loans are typically seen on small to mid-sized buyouts and are popular with investors for high yields and private equity firms for ease of execution and certainty of funding in volatile or capital constrained markets. The loans offer senior and subordinated debt in one instrument with a blended cost of capital and average yields of 8-9%. Moody’s gave the new deal B3 corporate family and first-lien facility ratings and expects the company to generate 2017 revenues of approximately $785 million with average annual sales growth of more than 10% in the next two years.

The spread on the US$75m revolver and the $995 million term loan is guided at a range of 350bp-375bp over Libor, down from 825bp over Libor on the unitranche loan. The term loan has a 1% Libor floor and is offered at a discount of 99-99.5. BACK STORY Traditional banks subject to US leveraged lending guidelines and tough regulatory capital requirements were unable to lend to Qlik’s original deal in June 2016 given the amount of debt required, several banking sources said. Alternative lenders not subject to leveraged lending guidelines took big losses on deals that failed to syndicate in the fourth quarter of 2015, which reduced balance sheet capacity and they pulled back from lending.

Although a syndicated deal was available, the unitranche loan offered certainty of close and pricing that the syndicated loan was unable to guarantee, a second banker said. At US$1.075bn, the deal was too large for any single direct lender and Qlik assembled a group of about 10 lenders after going out to more than 20, the banking source said. Ares Capital led the deal, which was one of the biggest-ever provided by a business development company, together with joint arrangers Golub Capital, TPG’s credit specialist TSSP and Varagon Capital Partners. Unitranche loans typically carry higher prepayment penalties. Qlik’s original unitranche loan has a premium of 105 cents on the dollar if the loan is repaid, which the company will have to pay to do the current refinancing. The new loan has call protection of 101 for six months. If Qlik completes its proposed refinancing, three holders of the loan, ARCC, TSLX and GBDC – business development companies managed by Ares Capital, Golub Capital and TSSP, respectively – should be fully repaid, according to a Wells Fargo equity research note. Qlik’s cost saving will cover the cost of paying the call protection in just over a year, the first banking source said.

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Jana Partners has upped its stake in Whole Foods Market Inc (WFM. O) as the hedge fund looks to shake up the board and senior management of the high-end grocer and push for a sale of the company that has been losing ground in the natural and organic niche it popularized. Whole Foods’ shares, which have lost nearly half their value since early 2015, jumped almost 10 percent to close at $34.17 on Nasdaq. Jana announced a 8.3 percent stake in Whole Foods in a regulatory filing on Monday, up from the 7.15 percent it held at the end of last month, according to Thomson Reuters data. The New York-based activist investor, which usually works behind the scenes, is mounting an increasingly public campaign for change at the Austin, Texas-based grocer. Jana said in its filing that it had started a review of strategic options for Whole Foods in light of the company’s “apparent unwillingness to engage in discussions with third parties regarding such alternatives.” (bit.ly/2okbH8b)Like other hedge funds mounting proxy contests, Jana has assembled a group of industry experts it feels can add hands-on knowledge to running the business. Former Gap Inc (GPS. N) Chief Executive Glenn Murphy, former Harris Teeter Supermarkets CEO Thomas “Tad” Dickson and former Barclays stock analyst Meredith Adler have agreed to be on Jana’s slate of nominees, the hedge fund said in its filing.

Jana said it is also working with former Safeway chief marketing officer Diane Dietz and food writer Mark Bittman as consultants. Murphy bought $44 million worth of Whole Foods stock, while Dickson, Adler, Dietz and Bittman bought smaller amounts of stock, according to Jana’s filing. The filing also disclosed that Jana plans to “internalize grocery distribution and limit the influence of its primary wholesale distribution partner,” United Natural Foods Inc (UNFI. O), which in turn relies on Whole Foods for about a third of its sales. United Natural’s shares tumbled 8.2 percent to close at $39.47.

FULL-BLOWN PROXY FIGHT Jana, founded by Barry Rosenstein in 2001, oversees $6 billion and has engaged with companies dozens of times. Only once, in the case of Agrium Inc (AGU. TO), has it entered into a full-blown proxy contest. In its filing, the hedge fund said it wanted to boost Whole Foods’ undervalued shares by discussing issues like optimizing its real estate and capital allocation strategies as well as its management analytics and digital capabilities. Whole Foods has been losing shoppers to rivals as the natural and organic category that it pioneered has gone mainstream via grocery rivals ranging from Kroger Co (KR. N) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT. N) to newer competitors such as Amazon.com Inc (AMZN. O) and meal kit provider Blue Apron.

Late last year, Whole Foods returned co-founder John Mackey to the role of solo chief executive after six years of splitting the job with co-CEO Walter Robb, who focused on operations, betting that Mackey would be best to lead a turnaround. Mackey is an outspoken libertarian with a knack for capitalizing on nascent food trends, but he also has courted controversy. For years before the company’s purchase of organic food producer Wild Oats, Mackey used the alias “Rahodeb,” an anagram of his wife’s name, to post comments on web forums praising Whole Foods and criticizing Wild Oats. Jana announced its plans to push for change long before the company’s annual meeting which is not expected to occur until early next year. Whole Foods in February cut its full-year sales and profit forecasts after posting its sixth straight quarter of same-store sales declines. In addition to closing stores and centralizing its business, Whole Foods now is working with Dunnhumby, a consumer data subsidiary of Tesco Plc, in a bid to catch up with Kroger and other rivals that already use such information to improve merchandising and personalize offers to loyal customers.

A customer exits a Whole Foods Market in New York City, U.S., February 7, 2017.

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

BHP rebuffs Elliott’s reform plan, says costs outweigh gains SYDNEY/LONDON BHP Billiton on Monday rejected a plan by activist shareholder Elliott Advisors to scrap the miner’s dual company structure, split off its oil business and return more cash to investors, saying the costs would outweigh any benefits.

AT&T bets on 5G with Straight Path Communications buy for $1.25 billion AT&T Inc said on Monday it would buy Straight Path Communications Inc , a holder of licenses to wireless spectrum, for $1.25 billion in an all-stock deal as it aims to accumulate the airwaves it needs for a next generation network.

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“Macro” hedge funds are back in favor with investors seeking to take a view on U.S. President Donald Trump’s economic policies, European elections, or interest rates, but it is start-up funds rather than established players which are attracting cash. Some of the main beneficiaries of the macro revival are managers who cut their teeth at the big macro firms such as Moore Capital Management, Brevan Howard and Tudor Investment Corp, which made their names for outperformance in 2007-2009. Eric Siegel, head of hedge funds at Citi Private Bank (C. N), said in general that macro strategies are likely to thrive. “With volatility coming back and monetary supply tightening, we believe it could be a great environment for macro managers,” Siegel said. Macro funds bet on macroeconomic trends using currencies, bonds, rates and stock futures. They outperformed the broader industry during the financial crisis and amassed tens of billions of dollars between 2010 and 2012. But they lost most of those assets between 2013 and 2014 and also in 2016 for a variety of reasons, including performance. But macro is back in vogue and was the most popular hedge fund strategy among investors in the fourth quarter of 2016 and the first two months of this year, according to industry data providers Preqin and eVestment. Moore Capital’s Louis Moore Bacon, Alan Howard, who co-founded Brevan Howard, and Paul Tudor Jones of Tudor Investment were among the macro stars after years of delivering double-digit returns. But during the lean years, when macro was less in favor, they had to cut fees and in some cases staff. Now newcomers, such as Moore Capital spin-out Stone Milliner, are pulling in cash and producing some strong returns. Stone Milliner’s discretionary global macro closed to new money last year after taking in over $4 billion in the previous two years. Moore Capital’s assets have fallen slightly from $15 billion in 2012 to $13.3 billion as of Dec. 31 2016, filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) showed.

Anglo-Swiss firm Stone Milliner, set up in 2012 by former Moore Capital portfolio managers Jens-Peter Stein and Kornelius Klobucar, averaged returns of 8.3 percent between 2014 and 2016, a source told Reuters, while Moore Capital Management averaged 3.4 percent, a second source said. London-based Gemsstock, set up in January 2014 by Moore Capital trader Darren Read and his co-founder Al Breach, made 12.8 percent on average over the same period, documents seen by Reuters showed. Chris Rokos, a Brevan Howard alumnus, raised another $2 billion in February after returns of 20 percent in 2016. EDL Capital made gains of 18.4 percent last year after ex-Moore Capital trader Edouard De Langlade launched the firm in September 2015, according to a source close to EDL Capital. It has amassed assets of $450 million to date, he said. Ben Melkman, who also formerly worked at Brevan Howard until May 2016, raised over $400 million for his launch in March, SEC filings showed.

Brevan Howard’s firm-wide assets fell to $14.6 billion in 2017, from $37 billion in 2012. [here]RUSH FOR MACRO But the old guard are fighting back. Some have been cutting fees and offering alternatives. Howard, Brevan Howard’s co-founder, last month launched a new fund managed solely by him, which sources said has already amassed more than $3 billion. Tudor Investment lowered its management fees to 1.75 percent and performance fees to 20 percent in February after a reduction last year and Moore Capital cut the management fee on its Moore Macro Managers fund to 2.5 percent from 3 percent.

Tudor Jones laid off 15 percent of staff in August. The firm’s main Tudor BVI Global Fund started 2017 down 0.6 percent to March 3 after gaining 0.9 percent in 2016. Brevan cut its management fees to zero for some current investors in its Master Fund and its Multi-Strategy fund last September after a similar move from Caxton Associates. But for both the old and new macro funds, it is still to be determined what 2017 will hold. Even though macro funds are flat on average for the first two months of 2017, making gains of just 0.38 percent, according to Hedge Fund Research, the popularity of macro strategies is not in doubt. A Credit Suisse survey in March of more than 320 institutional investors with $1.3 trillion in hedge funds showed macro was set to be the favorite strategy of 2017. Preqin data showed that after pulling assets out of macro for three back-to-back quarters, investors added $6.4 billion to the strategy in the fourth quarter of 2016 after Trump’s win.eVestment data showed that macro funds have pulled in $4.4 billion in the first two months of 2017, demonstrating a turnaround from 2016 when investors took $9.8 billion out of macro after withdrawing $10 billion in 2013 and $19.1 billion in 2014.”I don’t think macro is dead. Managers who can be nimble and are able to look outside the large liquid asset classes can still find great opportunities,” Erin Browne, head of Global Macro Investments at UBS O’Connor, said. Representatives at Tudor did not immediately respond to a request to comment. Moore Capital had no comment. A spokesman at Brevan declined to comment.

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Asian stocks fell in choppy trade on Tuesday as the political tinderbox in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula added to uncertainty over the looming French vote, pushing edgy investors into safer assets such as the yen and Treasuries. Oil continued its steady climb on supply concerns in the wake of U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base last week, and a shutdown at a Libyan oilfield. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan . MIAPJ0000PUS swung between gains and losses and was last down 0.4 percent. “Most Asian markets could be seen with moderate changes this morning amid a mixed trend,” said Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG in Singapore. “Price movements here appear to be largely mirroring those in the U.S., with key corporate earnings due later in the week and could be the reason that investors are still holding onto equities.”The heightened geopolitical risks come at a time when the global economy has shown steady improvement, led by the United States and encouraging momentum in export-reliant Asia. Tokyo’s Nikkei . N225 slipped 0.5 percent, dragged lower by a stronger yen. The declines were led by Toshiba Corp. (6502. T), which slumped 4.3 percent, with the conglomerate expected to file its twice-delayed earnings results on Tuesday, possibly without a full sign-off by auditors. Accountants question the numbers at the company’s U.S. nuclear subsidiary Westinghouse Electric Co., where massive cost overruns have pushed the Japanese parent company to the brink. Chinese stocks fell about 0.1 percent . CSI300 and Hong Kong shares . HSI surrendered earlier gains to slide 0.7 percent. South Korean shares . KS11 and Taiwan . TWII were also lower. Australian stocks reversed earlier losses to climb 0.5 percent, after a measure of business conditions hit the highest level in a decade. They earlier hit their highest level since April 2015 for the second session in a row.

The Australian dollar AUD=D4 fell 0.1 percent to $0.7494, reversing earlier gains. Overnight, Wall Street ended a choppy session little changed, weighed down by nervousness about quarterly corporate earnings later this week. The depressed sentiment pulled 10-year U.S. Treasury yields down to 2.3463 percent on Tuesday from Monday’s 2.361 percent close. British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke on Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump and agreed that “a window of opportunity” exists to persuade Russia to break ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, May’s office said. Trump is open to authorizing additional strikes on Syria if the use of chemical weapons continues in the country, the White House said on Monday.

Investors are also nervous about the possibility of U.S. military action against North Korea after the strikes in Syria. A U.S. Navy strike group headed toward the western Pacific Ocean near the Korean peninsula as a show of force, while China and South Korea agreed on Monday to tougher sanctions on North Korea if it carries out nuclear or long-range missile tests. In France, polls for many weeks have been showing centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen on track to top the first round of voting on April 23 and go through to a May 7 runoff. While Le Pen’s plans to ditch the euro and hold a referendum on European Union membership have spooked many investors, recent polls have pointed to a tighter race, with support for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon surging recently.”After Britain’s Brexit referendum and the U.S. presidential election surprised markets in 2016, could this event do the same?,” Mark Burgess, global head of equities at Columbia Threadneedle in London, wrote in a note.

“As a Le Pen presidency is perceived to increase the likelihood of France’s withdrawal from the EU, the uncertainty is likely to continue about what this could mean for the euro, along with a potential wider hit to global markets.”The euro EUR=EBS pulled back 0.1 percent to $1.0585. The dollar fell 0.2 percent to 110.68 yen JPY=, extending losses from Monday. The dollar index . DXY, which tracks the greenback against a basket of major trade-weighted peers, was flat at 101.05, failing to rebound from Monday’s 0.16 percent loss. Oil prices retained recent gains that have pushed them to five-week highs, on a shutdown at Libya’s largest oilfield over the weekend and the U.S. strikes against Syria. U.S. crude CLc1 was little changed at $53.09 a barrel, lingering near a five-week high touched earlier in the session. Global benchmark Brent LCOc1 was also steady at $56.01, following six straight sessions of gains The market jitters and a weaker dollar supported gold, which retained gains from its two prior sessions. Spot gold XAU= was fractionally higher at $1,254.89 an ounce.

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An out-of-control sales culture, a defensive boss obsessed with stamping out negative views about her division and a group chief executive who called her the “the best banker in America” were to blame for Wells Fargo & Co’s (WFC. N) devastating sales scandal, an internal investigation found. The probe into how the San Francisco-based bank could have allowed abusive sales practices to fester for years at its branch network laid most of the blame on the former head of the retail division, Carrie Tolstedt, and some of her management team, in a report released to media on Monday. In the report, which was carried out by the bank’s chairman Stephan Sanger and three other independent directors, Tolstedt is blamed for ignoring the systemic nature of the problem which was pinned instead on individual wrongdoers and she was accused of obstructing the board’s efforts to get to the bottom of what was going on. John Stumpf, the chief executive who retired under pressure from the scandal in October, was criticized for failing to grasp the gravity of the sales practice abuses and their impact on the bank. In the 110-page report, Stumpf was described as someone who was blinded by Wells Fargo’s cross-selling success. He refused to believe the model was seriously impaired and was full of admiration for Tolstedt, with whom he had a long working relationship. According to one director, Stumpf praised Tolstedt as the “best banker in America”. The report said Tolstedt hid the scale of the misconduct from the board, which only discovered that 5,300 staff had been fired for opening over 2 million unauthorized accounts when the bank reached a $185 million settlement with regulators in September last year. On the advice of her lawyers, Tolstedt declined to be interviewed for the investigation. Wells Fargo said that she had been fired for cause and it would be forfeiting her outstanding stock options with an approximate value of $47.3 million. Wells Fargo said it had decided to claw back approximately $28 million of Stumpf’s bonus, which was paid in March 2016. In total, the bank has fired five senior retail bank executives, including Tolstedt, over the scandal and has imposed forfeitures, clawbacks and compensation adjustments on senior leaders totaling more than $180 million, including $69 million from Stumpf and $67 million from Tolstedt.

Since the scandal broke, the bank has seen a steady decline in the number of consumers opening checking and credit card accounts and it has lost its status as America’s most valuable bank by market value. THE BOARD Sanger, a board member since 2003, is under pressure to assure investors and regulators that he is rooting out the bank’s problems after a welter of criticism that the board didn’t do enough despite knowing about the problem since 2014. According to the report, multiple board members felt misled by a presentation by Tolstedt and others to the board’s risk committee in May 2015. The board members said they left thinking that between 200 and 300 employees had been fired for sales practice abuses and the problem was largely concentrated in southern California. Last week, influential proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services recommended investors vote to replace the majority of directors at Wells Fargo, including Sanger and the other three independent directors, at its April 25 annual meeting. The Justice Department, meanwhile, is investigating whether executives hid details from the company board and regulators as the problem grew over the years, people familiar with the matter have told Reuters. U.S. Attorney offices in San Francisco and Charlotte, North Carolina, are also investigating.

The report criticized the board for not centralizing the risk functions at the bank earlier, for not requesting more detailed reports from management and for not insisting Stumpf get rid of Tolstedt sooner. Tim Sloan, who replaced Stumpf as chief executive, is described in the report as having little contact with sales practices at the bank before becoming chief operating officer and Tolstedt’s boss in November 2015. Six months later he told her to step aside. Since the scandal broke, the bank has ended sales targets, changed pay incentives for branch staff, separated the role of chairman and chief executive and hired new directors to its board. A NOTEWORTHY RISK A big part of Wells Fargo’s problem was its decentralized business model, which meant the retail bank was able to keep inquiries from head office at arm’s length and there was no joined-up effort by either the bank’s human resources or legal divisions to track and analyze the scale of the problem.

Futures flat as first-quarter earnings season approaches U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Monday as investors awaited earnings from big banks later in the week, kicking off the first-quarter earnings season.

Geopolitics from France to Korea keep investors cautious LONDON Trading volumes were muted for many financial market assets on Monday with investors refraining from making big bets because of geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and the Korean peninsula.

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Saudi Arabia and international oil companies have discussed gas venture opportunities inside the kingdom and abroad as part of the top crude-exporting country’s drive to diversify investments before the listing of national energy giant Saudi Aramco. Saudi officials explored investment opportunities with firms including BP (BP. L) and Chevron (CVX. N) to help develop its gas reserves, the world’s sixth largest, at a time of booming energy demand at home, four industry sources told Reuters. Aramco has also looked into investing in gas ventures abroad, including with Italy’s Eni (ENI. MI), the sources said. The development revives memories of talks between Aramco and global majors at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, known as the Saudi gas initiative. Most of those talks collapsed as the parties disagreed over returns on investment. This time, Aramco is gearing up for a share listing next year, aiming to get a valuation of up to $2 trillion in what could be the world’s biggest initial public offering (IPO). Chevron, BP, Aramco and Eni declined to comment on talks.”We have a long-standing relationship with Saudi Arabia, so it is not uncommon for us to talk to them. We’re always having discussions about business development. I don’t have anything particular to say about Saudi Arabia,” Chevron CEO John Watson told Reuters last week. BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley, who traveled to Saudi Arabia at the end of last year, said this year he wouldn’t rule out “creative partnerships” with Aramco but that an outright investment by BP in the IPO was unlikely. The kingdom has a long-term goal of increasing the use of gas for domestic power generation, thus reducing oil burning at home and freeing up more crude for export. This could help increase Aramco’s valuation as it generates more revenue from exports than selling oil at lower domestic prices – Saudi Arabia is the world’s fifth-biggest oil consumer despite being only the 20th-biggest economy. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, who is also Aramco’s chairman, said last year that Aramco was interested in investing in international upstream ventures, particularly gas, and could invest in importing gas into the kingdom.

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What to say about a federal program that helps enable 245,000 U.S. seniors to tutor kids, renovate homes and teach English to immigrants?

How about this: “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good.” That is White House budget director Mick Mulvaney last month, explaining why the Trump administration’s budget blueprint proposes cutting dozens of federal programs. Mulvaney was not specifically referring to Senior Corps, which allows all those seniors to find ways to volunteer. He was trying to justify a much longer list of cuts that are, well, deplorable – everything from legal services for the poor to public television and environmental protection. The plan would eliminate a long list of federal agencies – among them the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which administers Senior Corps and Americorps, the community service program aimed at young people.

The White House also wants to kill programs that help low-income seniors with job training and placement and assistance paying utility bills. Some funding for the Meals on Wheels program also could be threatened. It is not clear that the White House can get any of this through Congress – all of these programs have devoted followings in communities across the country, and older people vote in disproportionate numbers. But the call to pull the plug on CNCS underscores the administration’s misplaced values, and should be resisted strongly.

Senior Corps does not just “sound good” – it actually is good. The roots of its programs date back to the 1960s; today, Senior Corps operates three programs: RSVP, the largest senior volunteer organization in the nation; Foster Grandparent, which tutors and mentors special-needs young people; and the Senior Companions Program, which helps frail seniors and other adults maintain independence and stay in their own homes. INTERGENERATIONAL GOOD

Senior Corps is the prototype for an idea that is fast gaining ground – engaging the rapidly growing ranks of older Americans for a range of intergenerational projects for the greater good. “The way our demographics are changing, we need more ways to engage older people in communities and neighborhoods, because they are one of our greatest growing assets,” said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a nonprofit focused on intergenerational collaboration programs and public policy.“We can’t just think of it as something nice and sweet,” Butts said. Generations United did some simple math calculations to demonstrate the value and power of volunteers. There are 108 million Americans today over age 50, and they watch 47 hours of television every week. If 2 percent of them gave just 2 percent of their TV time as volunteers, that would generate almost $2.5 billion worth of human resources devoted to addressing problems each year (valuing an hour of time at $23).“Mulvaney is way off base,” Butts added, referring to the White House budget director. “We have to engage these folks, especially at a time like this, when we know there are divides in our country that need to be healed. Engaging people of different generations is one way to do that.”

PURPOSEFUL ENGAGEMENT Private-sector philanthropy gets this. Consider Encore.org, which made its name encouraging interest in encore careers and inventing the Purpose Prize, a sort of MacArthur genius prize for older entrepreneurs. Encore’s new project is Generation to Generation – a campaign aiming to recruit and mobilize more than a million older adults to help young people thrive through mentoring programs. (reut.rs/2g4FH2m)Encore is wrapping up a study on the positive effects that purposeful engagement through volunteering can have on older adults; purposeful people report significantly higher life satisfaction, personal growth and sense of empathy. It also found that volunteering did not cut in to more personal goals, such as spending time with friends and family or pursuing hobbies – rather, older adult volunteers were more likely to engage in those activities.

“People get so much joy out of doing something that engages their capacities and makes them feel competent,” said the lead researcher, Anne Colby, an adjunct professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Colby is a developmental psychologist specializing in the study of purpose, values and character at all ages. An especially surprising finding, she said, is that the prevalence of “purpose beyond the self” not only cut across all demographic lines, but was also just as high among respondents with health and financial problems as among those who were healthy and financially secure.“And engagement has this spillover effect – people feel more motivated to address health problems like losing weight or getting more exercise.”Eliminating the CNCS would save the government about $1 billion a year – coincidentally the same amount the White House wants to fund the first 62 miles (100 km) of that all-important border wall with Mexico that it now seems American citizens will pay for. A much better idea: encourage the grandparents to keep reading to the kids.

(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)