News Archive

Ford, IBM win dismissal of 12-year lawsuit over apartheid abuses

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A Manhattan federal judge has dismissed a 12-year-old lawsuit accusing Ford Motor Co (F.N) and IBM Corp (IBM.N) of encouraging human rights abuses in apartheid-era South Africa, reluctantly concluding that the case does not belong in U.S. courts.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin on Thursday said the black South Africans who brought the case did not show “relevant conduct” by Ford and IBM within the United States to justify holding the companies liable.

The plaintiffs had accused Ford, IBM and other companies of having between the 1970s and early 1990s aided South Africa’s former apartheid government in abuses such as killings and torture, by having made military vehicles and computers for government security forces.

“That these plaintiffs are left without relief in an American court is regrettable,” Scheindlin wrote. “But I am bound to follow [legal precedent], no matter what my personal view of the law may be.”

The case had been brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law that lets non-U.S. citizens pursue some cases in U.S. courts over alleged violations of international law.

In April 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court said that law was presumed to cover only violations in the United States, or violations elsewhere that “touch and concern” U.S. territory “with sufficient force.”

Four months later, the federal appeals court in Manhattan applied that holding, and said the Ford and IBM cases should be dismissed altogether.

In April, Scheindlin nonetheless gave the plaintiffs one more chance, to meet the new standards imposed by those higher courts.

But in Thursday’s decision, she said the bar proved too high, and that any alleged international law violations were by Ford’s and IBM’s South African units, and occurred abroad.

“It has been 12 years. We’re really disappointed, devastated by the decision,” said Diane Sammons, a partner at Nagel Rice in Roseland, New Jersey, who represents some plaintiffs.

“The end result of the ruling is that corporations can act abroad with impunity, even if they’re totally controlling the activities of their foreign subsidiaries,” she added. “I don’t think the Supreme Court’s decision was that narrowly defined.”

She said the plaintiffs had not decided whether to appeal.

Jonathan Hacker, an O’Melveny Myers partner who represents Ford, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Keith Hummel, a Cravath, Swaine Moore partner who represents IBM, did not immediately respond to similar requests.

Germany’s Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE) and Rheinmetall AG (RHMG.DE) were dismissed as defendants in December.

Apartheid ended in 1994 when South Africa held its first all-race elections, bringing Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress to power.

IBM’s full name is International Business Machines Corp.

The case is In re: South African Apartheid Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 02-md-01499.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)

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Wall Street loses ground on Ukraine worry

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks edged lower on Thursday after the latest tension between Ukraine and Russia snapped the focus of investors back to the volatile region, but U.S. economic data helped curb losses.

Worries over tension abroad had largely receded from Wall Street, with major indexes seeing few negative days over the past two weeks, and the Dow and SP both hitting record highs.

Ukraine’s security and defense council said the border town of Novoazovsk and other areas of Ukraine’s south-east had fallen under the control of Russian forces, together with rebels. The U.S. accused Russia of active fighting in Eastern Ukraine, and said it was considering a range of responses, including more sanctions.

While few U.S. companies have heavy exposure to either country, investors are concerned about the potential response by the United States and Europe to any escalation in hostility.

A trio of economic reports pointed to improving conditions and helped mitigate declines. The second reading of gross domestic product showed the U.S. economy rebounded more strongly than initially thought in the second quarter, while jobless claims fell for a second straight week.

In addition, July pending home sales rose far more than had been expected to an 11-month high. The PHLX housing index .HGX lost 0.4 percent, but was off earlier lows.

“The data did cheer things up, but the stuff that is happening in the Ukraine is worrisome and I’m glad to at least see a little bit of red out there today because of that,” said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst, Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 42.44 points or 0.25 percent, to 17,079.57, the SP 500 .SPX lost 3.38 points or 0.17 percent, to 1,996.74 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 11.93 points or 0.26 percent, to 4,557.70.

Since falling to a near three-month low on Aug. 7, the benchmark SP index had risen for 11 of the prior 14 sessions, pushing it above 2,000 for the previous two days. However, recent daily moves have been slight and trading volume has been among the lightest of the year.

An index of major shares in Europe, which has more exposure to the region, closed down 0.6 percent .FTEU3. If European Reconomic growth is depressed by the conflict, that could have an indirect impact on the United States. Russia’s dollar-denominated RTS index .IRTS slumped 3.3 percent while the Market Vectors Russia Exchange-Traded Fund (RSX.P) fell 3.1 percent to $24.37.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was investigating media reports that several U.S. financial firms have been victims of recent cyber attacks. JPMorgan Chase Co (JPM.N) said it was investigating a possible attack; shares fell 0.7 percent to $59.16. The SP financial index .SPSY lost 0.4 percent as the worst performing of the 10 major SP groups.

Abercrombie Fitch Co (ANF.N) lost 4.8 percent to $41.87 after the retailer’s second-quarter same-store sales fell more than expected. Williams-Sonoma Inc (WSM.N) tumbled 12 percent to $65.93 a day after reporting its results and giving an outlook.

Volume continued to be on the light side, with about 4.16 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, well below the 5.34 billion average so far this month, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,735 to 1,265, while on the Nasdaq, declines beat advances 1,761 to 905.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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IMF board likely to back Lagarde during French probe: sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund’s board is likely to stand behind the global lender’s leader, Christine Lagarde, who is facing a criminal investigation in France tied to a political corruption probe, sources close to the board said.

The 24-member board, which has the power to hire and fire the IMF’s managing director, has not yet been briefed on the latest turn in the case dating from 2008, but three sources said it was unlikely to view the investigation as something that would interfere with Lagarde’s duties.

French magistrates on Wednesday put Lagarde under formal investigation for “negligence” after questioning her in Paris for a fourth time. The long-running saga concerns allegations that tycoon Bernard Tapie won a large arbitration payout due to political connections when Lagarde was French finance minister.

IMF board members discussed the situation after the first three times Lagarde was questioned under her previous status as a witness, and also considered the case’s implications when it decided to hire her in 2011.

“On each of those occasions, they have expressed confidence in the ability of the managing director to carry out her duties,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters on Thursday.

The three sources, who are familiar with the board’s thinking but not authorized to speak publicly, said the IMF’s directors would likely do so again.

Lagarde’s lawyer, Yves Repiquet, who is launching an appeal, said the legal process should not require Lagarde to return to Paris in the meantime. He told Reuters he would probably lodge the appeal against the investigation by Sept. 15, and that it would likely take at least a year to exhaust all means of recourse, and a further year to arrive at a trial.

A two-year appeals process would last beyond the end of Lagarde’s first five-year IMF term, which ends in July 2016.

Lagarde’s predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, resigned over sexual assault charges that were later dropped.

While having a second managing director under a legal cloud might not look good for the IMF, the details of this case appear much less serious, the sources said.

The inquiry relates to allegations that Tapie, a supporter of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, was improperly awarded 403 million euros ($531 million) in an arbitration to settle a dispute with now defunct state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Tapie’s political connections played a role in the government’s decision to resort to arbitration. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Lagarde is accused of “negligence” for not blocking the arbitration that won Tapie a huge pay-out. She has said the case is “without merit.”

Under French law, magistrates place a person under formal investigation when they believe there are indications of wrongdoing, but that does not always lead to a trial.

Lagarde’s lawyer, Repiquet, said the magistrates initially considered whether Lagarde was “complicit” in the misuse of public funds, but later settled on investigating her for the lesser infraction of “negligence.”

“Being formally investigated for that does not justify a resignation,” he said. “It is a very minor infraction.”

The offense carries a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment and a fine of 15,000 euros ($19,773).

(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov in Washington; Additional reportint by Chine Labbe in Paris; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Paul Simao)

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ECB’s Coeure says action needed for euro zone recovery

ATHENS (Reuters) – Economic recovery in Europe requires action both on the demand and supply sides and persistence with structural reforms, European Central Bank Executive Board member Benoit Coeure said on Thursday.

“What we have been saying, what particularly the ECB President (Mario Draghi) has been saying last week in Jackson Hall is that the European economy is at a point where action is needed both on the demand and the supply side,” Coeure told Greek Skai TV in an interview.

“Action on the supply side is very important. There will be no recovery if euro area countries do not move on towards structural reforms,” he said.

Coeure said the ECB was committed to maintaining a high level of liquidity in the European economy.

“The spur of the recovery, the fuel of the recovery will come from aggregate demand. The ECB is committed to play its part by maintaining its very accommodative monetary conditions for an extended period of time,” he said.

Coeure met Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, and top officials including central bank chief Yannis Stournaras during his visit in Athens, ahead of talks between the government and its foreign lenders in Paris next month, which will kick off the country’s next bailout review.

Greece’s economy is on the cusp of recovery after six years of recession, expected to grow by 0.6 percent this year.

“Greece has turned the corner,” Coeure said adding that a lot remains to be done on structural reforms.

Asked about Greek banks’ capital needs that may be revealed in the ECB’s region-wide stress tests in October, Coeure gave no clues but said it was positive that banks had already successfully tapped capital markets.

“We don’t know yet whether money will be needed and how much, and in any case the first line of defense will be accessing capital markets,” he said. “There should be no worry about it, they have a proven ability to access capital markets.”

(Reporting by George Georgiopoulos and Renee Maltezou; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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Dollar General margins fall in tough discount market

(Reuters) – Dollar General Corp (DG.N) reported lower margins and slower-than-expected growth in quarterly same-store sales, reinforcing the need for consolidation among deep-discount retailers as it vies to take over its closest rival.

Chief Executive Rick Dreiling said Dollar General would not relinquish its pursuit of Family Dollar Stores Inc (FDO.N), even though the No. 1 U.S. deep-discount retailer’s bid was rejected in favor of a smaller offer from Dollar Tree Inc (DLTR.O).

“We truly hope that Family Dollar will come to the table,” Dreiling said on a post-earnings conference call on Thursday.

Dollar General’s shares rose 1.8 percent, Family Dollar’s were marginally higher and Dollar Tree’s were up 1 percent.

The company has been struggling to shore up margins after it slashed prices to keep its lower-income shopper base from being lured by retail giants Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) and Target Corp (TGT.N) as well as by Family Dollar and Dollar Tree.

This growing competition among discount chains, always a popular choice for penny-pinching customers in a struggling economy, has intensified pressure to merge.

Family Dollar last week rejected a $9 billion buyout offer from Dollar General that it said could run afoul of competition law, opting instead for Dollar Tree’s earlier $8.5 billion bid.

Goodlettsville, Tennessee-based Dollar General said its gross margins fell in the second quarter as it offered more discounts and sold more lower-margin products, such as tobacco. It was the sixth straight quarter without gross margin growth.

Growth in same-store sales slowed for the third consecutive quarter, and the company also cut the top end of its full-year comparable-store sales forecast.

“Dollar General’s lackluster results further demonstrate why Family Dollar is a ‘must have’ property for the company,” BBT Capital Markets analyst Anthony Chukumba wrote in a note.Dreiling said in a statement that the financial benefits of Dollar General’s offer for Family Dollar were “indisputable” and that any potential antitrust issues raised by the merger of the two biggest U.S. deep discount retailers were “manageable.”

Dollar General has said it would divest 700 stores after it merged. A combination of the two would have nearly 20,000 stores in 46 U.S. states; Dollar Tree and Family Dollar combined would have 13,000 stores in the United States and Canada.

Asked on the call about a “Plan B” should its takeover of Family Dollar fail to materialize, Dreiling said: “I don’t want to give up on the deal yet.”


Dollar General reported same-store sales growth of 2.1 percent for the quarter ended Aug. 1, below the 2.9 percent estimated by analysts polled by research firm Consensus Metrix.

It said it expected same-store sales to grow 3.0-3.5 percent in the year ending Jan. 31, versus its previous forecast of 3.0-4.0 percent.

SP Capital IQ analyst Efraim Levy said the company would need Family Dollar to accelerate its profit growth. He said there was a good chance Dollar General would raise its offer, and raised his rating on the stock to “hold” from “sell”.

The company said it was working to increase sales of non-consumable items, which have higher margins, and was seeing higher demand for home products and apparel in the $1-$5 range, as well as for back-to-school items.

“We also see the back half of the year being less promotional than what we saw in the front half of the year,” Chief Financial Officer David Tehle said on the call.

For the second quarter, Dollar General’s gross margins shrank 53 basis points to 30.8 percent.

Dollar Tree reported a lower-than-expected second-quarter profit last week, with its gross margins shrinking by about 80 basis points to 34.2 percent.

Dollar General’s shares were up 1.8 percent at $64.87 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. To Wednesday’s close, they had risen almost 11 percent since the offer to buy Family Dollar.

(Editing by Savio D’Souza and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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U.S. second-quarter growth strengthens

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy rebounded more strongly than initially thought in the second quarter with more of the growth being driven by domestic demand and less by restocking by businesses.

Gross domestic product expanded at a 4.2 percent annual rate instead of the previously reported 4.0 percent pace, the Commerce Department said on Thursday, reflecting upward revisions to business spending and exports.

It combined with separate reports showing a second consecutive week of declines in the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits and a jump in home purchase contracts to give the economy a healthy glow.

“We expect growth during the latter half of the year to continue running at an above three percent pace, underscoring the rebound in growth momentum as economic slack continues to decline,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, an economist at TD Securities in New York. The dollar firmed against a basket of currencies on the data. U.S. stocks were down as traders kept a wary eye on Ukraine, which accused Russia of entering the country. Prices for U.S. Treasury debt rose as the troubles in Ukraine triggered flight-to-safety bids.

Separately, the Labor Department said the number of Americans filing new applications for jobless benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 298,000 last week, underscoring the strengthening labor market fundamentals.

In a third report, the National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, which leads home resales by a month or two, increased 3.3 percent in July to its highest level in 11 months.

That was the latest indication that the housing market recovery was back on track after faltering in the second half of 2013 in the wake of a run-up in mortgage rates.

The composition of growth in the second quarter was even more encouraging, with the sources of growth broad-based.

Domestic demand increased at a brisk 3.1 percent rate, instead of the previously reported 2.8 percent pace. It was the fastest pace since the second quarter of 2010 and suggested the recovery was becoming more durable after output slumped in the first quarter because of an unusually cold winter.

The broad-based growth, however, will not be enough to spur the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates as slack still exists in the labor market and inflation will probably continue to run below the U.S. central bank’s 2 percent target.

“We still have a long way to go. Hence, the Fed remains cautious about how rapidly it raises rates,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago.

Economists had expected the second-quarter GDP growth pace would be revised down to 3.9 percent. The economy contracted at a 2.1 percent pace in the first quarter.


Gross domestic income, which measures the income side of the growth ledger, surged at a 4.7 percent rate, consistent with strong job gains during the quarter. That was the fastest increase since the first quarter of 2012.

This alternative growth measure decreased at a 0.8 percent pace in the first quarter. While personal income growth for the first quarter was revised down a bit, estimates for the second quarter were more robust than previously believed.

After tax corporate profits rebounded from a decline that had been spurred by the expiration of a depreciation bonus, hitting a three-year high in the second quarter.

Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was unrevised at a 2.5 percent rate.

Businesses accumulated $83.9 billion worth of inventory in the second quarter, less than the initially reported $93.4 billion. That saw restocking contributing 1.39 percentage points to GDP growth rather than 1.66 percentage points.

The relatively smaller inventory build means less stock overhang, which bodes well for third-quarter GDP growth. Third-quarter growth estimates range as high as a 3.6 percent rate.

While trade was a drag for a second consecutive quarter, export growth was raised to a 10.1 percent pace from a 9.5 percent rate. Business spending on equipment and nonresidential structures, such as gas drilling, was revised higher.

Housing market-related spending was revised slightly down as was government spending.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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Ford to halt Romanian production in Sept: report

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Ford Motor Co. (F.N) will halt production at its Romanian car factory for nine days in September because of low demand, Ford Romania spokeswoman Ana-Maria Timis was quoted as saying on Thursday by local news agency Mediafax.

Ford took over struggling local carmaker Automobile Craiova in 2008 and started producing its B-Max model there four years later. Ford Romania, which employs about 4,000 people, has regularly stopped production for several days a month for over one year.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie)

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Wall Street dips on Ukraine concerns, but data strong

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks fell moderately on Thursday after Ukraine’s president said Russian forces had been brought into his country, returning focus to the volatile region, though the latest round of U.S. economic data pointed to improving conditions.

Worries over tension abroad had largely faded from Wall Street, with major indexes seeing few negative days over the past two weeks and both the Dow and SP hitting records.

Ukraine’s security and defense council said the border town of Novoazovsk and other parts of Ukraine’s south-east had fallen under the control of Russian forces who, together with rebels, were staging a counter-offensive.

While few U.S. companies have heavy exposure to either country, investors are worried about the potential fallout from any escalation in tensions, including increased sanctions.

“The longer this situation goes on, the bigger concern it will become for the market as it is unclear how it gets resolved,” said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at Voya Investment Management in New York.

An index of major shares in Europe, which has more exposure to the region, fell 0.7 percent .FTEU3. If European economic growth is depressed by the conflict, that could have an indirect impact on the United States. Russia’s dollar-denominated RTS index .IRTS slumped 3.3 percent while the Market Vectors Russia Exchange-Traded Fund (RSX.P) fell 2.9 percent to $24.37.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 55.55 points or 0.32 percent, to 17,066.46, the SP 500 .SPX lost 4.36 points or 0.22 percent, to 1,995.76 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 10.83 points or 0.24 percent, to 4,558.80.

Equities have been so strong of late that the SP’s slight decline still represents its biggest one-day drop since Aug. 7. The index has risen for 11 of the past 14 sessions, and has closed above 2,000 for the past two days. However, recent daily moves have been slight and trading volume has been among the lightest of the year.

A trio of economic reports pointed to improving conditions. The U.S. economy rebounded more strongly than initially thought in the second quarter, with gross domestic product growing by 4.2 percent. Separately, jobless claims fell for a second straight week, the latest sign of improving labor market conditions, and July pending home sales rose far more than had been expected.

“This data is so good and so strong that it raises the concern that the Federal Reserve will have to come in earlier when it comes to raising rates,” said Cote, who helps oversee $215 billion.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was investigating media reports that several U.S. financial firms have been victims of recent cyber attacks. JPMorgan Chase Co (JPM.N) said it was investigating a possible attack; shares fell 0.8 percent to $59.11.

Abercrombie Fitch Co (ANF.N) sank 5.2 percent to $41.73 after the retailer’s second-quarter same-store sales fell more than expected. Williams-Sonoma Inc (WSM.N) tumbled 11 percent to $66.61 a day after reporting its results and giving an outlook.

(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Meredith Mazzilli)

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Telefonica prevails in battle for Vivendi’s Brazil unit GVT

PARIS (Reuters) – French media company Vivendi (VIV.PA) picked Telefonica (TEF.MC) for exclusive talks over the sale of its Brazilian broadband unit GVT, spurning a rival bid from Telecom Italia (TLIT.MI).

Telefonica aims to fold GVT into Brazil’s leading mobile phone network Vivo (VIVT3.SA), using GVT’s pay-TV and broadband services to chase higher-value customers and keep profits growing as mobile subscriber growth slows in the nation of almost 200 million.

Vivendi’s decision deals a blow to Telecom Italia, which needed GVT to shore up its own Brazilian mobile business Tim Participações (TIMP3.SA), which lacks a fixed-line network.

For Vivendi, the GVT sale caps a tumultuous two-year overhaul in which it sold three telecom businesses and its video games arm to pay down debt and focus more on media and content.

“The Telefonica offer best meets the group’s strategic and financial objectives,” said the French company. “Vivendi begins a new phase in its development to become an integrated industrial group focused on media and content.”

Vivendi will get 4.66 billion euros ($6.1 billion) in cash from Telefonica, which boosted the cash element of a previous bid to see off Telecom Italia.

On top of the cash, Vivendi will get a 12 percent stake in the combined Vivo-GVT, of which about one third could be exchanged for a 5.7 percent stake in Telecom Italia if Vivendi so chose. Telefonica is Telecom Italia’s largest shareholder but the two have had a tense relationship for years since they also compete in Brazil.

French tycoon Vincent Bollore, who is Vivendi largest shareholder, led the talks with Telefonica and Telecom Italia in recent weeks in his first major strategic move since taking over as chairman in June.

Bollore wants to get Vivendi’s remaining units, which include Universal Music Group and French pay-TV operator Canal Plus, to work more closely together to generate growth.

Vivendi is also expected to build up its media and content activities via acquisitions, sources told Reuters earlier, and will be flush with cash even after returning money to shareholders.

In its statement, Vivendi did not rule out taking minority positions in “allied companies to distribute content”, something it already did in negotiating the sale of its largest unit, French telecoms group SFR, to Numericable (NUME.PA) earlier this spring.


Vivendi is likely to take up the option to be paid for GVT partly in Telecom Italia shares, said two people close to the company.

Once the sales of SFR and GVT close, Vivendi will therefore own a portfolio of stakes in telecom companies in France, Italy, and Brazil, which it can exploit to sell more music and TV content, said one of the people.

Winning GVT was crucial for both Telefonica and Telecom Italia since their European home markets have been shrinking. Brazil brings in one fifth of Telefonica’s revenue and one third of Telecom Italia’s sales.

With GVT, Telefonica will gain a much bigger broadband network in Brazil without having to build it. Vivo is the country’s third-biggest broadband provider but is concentrated around the Sao Paulo region, whereas GVT has built coverage elsewhere, such as in Rio de Janeiro, the south and northeast.

Telecom Italia looks unlikely to come back with a new offer. Analysts say its balance sheet is too stretched and its chief executive pledged not to do anything “crazy” in a bidding war.

Its losing bid, also a cash-and-shares offer, valued GVT at 7 billion euros, including 1.7 billion euros in cash, a 16 percent stake in Telecom Italia and a 15 percent stake in the new Brazilian entity.

Telecom Italia’s Tim, number two in Brazil’s mobile market, may now be vulnerable to a takeover by rival Grupo Oi (OIBR3.SA), which is exploring a bid to split up Tim between itself, Mexico’s America Movil (AMXL.MX) and Telefonica.

Telecom Italia shares rose 1.6 percent by 1524 GMT as investors speculated that a sale of Tim Brasil could be in the offing. Oi shares also jumped as much as 3.5 percent.

“If TIM had merged with GVT it would have been a much tougher target,” said Alex Pardellas, a telecom analyst at CGD Securities in Rio de Janeiro. “Now it remains a natural candidate for consolidation.”

(1 US dollar = 0.7590 euro)

(Reporting by Brad Haynes in Sao Paulo, Tracy Rucinski in Madrid, Gwenaelle Barzic in Paris and Lisa Jucca, Stefano Rebaudo and Stephen Jewkes in Milan; Editing by Andrew Callus and Tom Pfeiffer)

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