News Archive


Target beats and sales forecasts in sign strategy working


(Reuters) – U.S. retailer Target Corp (TGT.N) reported a stronger-than-expected jump in fourth-quarter sales and profits and forecast modest growth this quarter in a sign that its online business strategy and focus on promoting select categories is working.

The company said it had enjoyed strong sales of apparel and products for children and babies, a reflection of its move to expand a few product lines in which it believes it can outsell the competition on quality and price.

Its online business contributed to a quarter of the growth in same-store sales, helped by waiving all shipping costs on orders during the Christmas holiday season.

Similar to other retailers lower fuel prices also helped, Chief Financial Officer John Mulligan told a media call.

Shares of Target were down 0.8 percent at $76.24.

Target will announce investments in focus areas at an analyst meeting on Tuesday as well as cost cuts to fund them, Mulligan said. He did not say whether it may cut jobs.

Target said comparable sales at stores open longer than a year rose 3.8 percent in the November-January quarter. That beat its forecast, unveiled just five weeks earlier when it announced an exit from the Canadian market, for a rise of 3 percent.

“No one was more surprised than me,” Mulligan said. “Sales were incredibly strong in those last two weeks.”

Target has gained back all of the customers lost in the wake of a damaging breach of consumer data that hurt sales during the holiday season in 2013 and then some, Mulligan said.

He also pointed to a 3.2 percent rise in store traffic.

Aiding the online business was the waiving of a $50 threshold on free shipping orders during the holidays. This week Target said it was halving that threshold to $25 in a bid to better compete with online leader Amazon.com (AMZN.O) and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT.N).

Adjusted earnings per share, which excludes items including a $5.1 billion loss related to the Canada exit, came to $1.50 in the fourth quarter, the most important for retailers because it includes Christmas. That was above the $1.43 to $1.47 per share range forecast by the company last month.

For the current quarter to end-April, Target forecast adjusted earnings per share of $0.95 to $1.05, up from $0.92 in the first quarter of 2014 and compared with the average analyst estimate of $1.04, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

(reporting by Nathan Layne, editing by W Simon)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/otOfAGin3Wc/story01.htm

GSK set to complete $20 billion Novartis asset swap next week


LONDON (Reuters) – GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) said on Wednesday it expected to conclude a $20 billion-plus three-part asset swap with Novartis (NOVN.VX) in the week commencing March 2, following progress in obtaining clearances for the deal.

GSK is forming a consumer health joint venture with Novartis, while at the same time buying the Swiss company’s vaccines business and divesting its cancer drugs portfolio to Novartis.

The two companies originally announced the transaction in April 2014 to bolster their best businesses and exit weaker ones as the drugs industry contends with healthcare spending cuts and increased generic competition.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/lfpwaCCKtwU/story01.htm

U.S. new home sales near multi-year highs; supply rises


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New U.S. single-family home sales fell less than expected in January and supply rose to its highest level since 2010, hopeful signs for a sluggish housing market.

The Commerce Department said on Wednesday that sales dipped 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 481,000 units. December’s sales pace was revised up to 482,000 units, the highest level since June 2008, from 481,000 units.

Sales last month were likely held back by bad weather in the U.S. Northeast, where sales recorded their biggest drop since June 2012.

Economists had forecast new home sales, which account for about 9.1 percent of the housing market, falling to a 470,000-unit pace last month. Compared to January of 2014, sales were up 5.3 percent.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.

Shares in Lowe’s Cos Inc, the No. 2 U.S. home improvement chain, were after it reported same-store sales well above analysts’ estimates.

Increased spending on home renovations also helped larger rival Home Depot post better-than-expected sales and profit on Tuesday.

Housing activity has remained lackluster since hitting a speed bump in the second half of 2013, as tight home inventories and higher prices sideline first-time buyers and tepid wage growth also keeps a lid on buying.

The housing sector has lagged the overall economy, even though mortgage rates have declined substantially from their 2013 peaks. Recent data showed a plunge in home resales in January and softer single-family housing starts and permits.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday that housing had not “recovered in the way that I would have anticipated.”

But there is reason to be cautiously optimistic on the sector’s prospects. The labor market is gaining steam and housing activity should be boosted as more people get a paycheck.

In addition, home prices are showing signs of reaccelerating after slowing for much of 2014. That should lift more homeowners out of “underwater mortgages” and increase equity in their properties, allowing some to put their houses on the market.

In a separate report, the Mortgage Bankers Association said its measure of loan requests for home purchases, a leading indicator of home sales, increased 4.6 percent last week, rising for the first time in six weeks.

Last month, new home sales in the Northeast plunged 51.6 percent to a record low. Sales in the South rose 2.2 percent to their highest level since May 2008, and surged 19.2 percent in the Midwest. Sales in the West, however, slipped 0.8 percent.

The stock of new houses available on the market rose 1.4 percent last month to 218,000, the highest level since March 2010. Inventories still remain at less than half of what they were at the height of the housing boom.

At January’s sales pace it would take 5.4 months to clear the supply of houses on the market, unchanged from December.

The median new home price rose 9.1 percent from a year ago to $294,300, confirming an accelerating trend evident in recent house price data.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/WTKvpL3Y2lY/story01.htm

Swiss central bank under scrutiny after franc shock


ZURICH (Reuters) – Six weeks after a fateful decision that blasted its currency skywards, Switzerland’s central bank is coming under intense scrutiny, with critics calling for changes to its insular policy practices and century-old ownership structure.

The shock of the Jan. 15 move by the Swiss National Bank (SNB) to abandon the franc’s three-year-old cap against the euro is still reverberating, with politicians stepping up their criticism as the economy falters.

With an election looming this year, the pressure is likely to grow. The Social Democratic Party (SP) is pushing for a parliamentary debate on the workings of the SNB and its tiny three-governor board, a structure it says has led to opaque decision-making. Lawmakers from the party came away dissatisfied from a rare meeting with one of the governors last week.

“It can’t be that three people have more influence over a country’s destiny than the government,” Susanne Leutenegger Oberholzer, a Social Democrat lawmaker, told Reuters.

The move by the SP, which holds two seats on the seven-member council that governs Switzerland, is part of a wider backlash since the SNB move that sent the franc soaring against the euro, threatening an economy that relies heavily on exports to Europe.

A slump could further erode confidence in the SNB’s ability to deliver on its mandate to ensure stable prices and, as it states on its website, an “appropriate environment for economic growth”. The nominally independent bank may find it increasingly difficult to shut out the noise from Swiss politicians.

“The SNB will come under pressure to do everything it can to depreciate or stop the appreciation of the franc,” said Thomas Straubhaar, an economics professor at Hamburg University. “However the options are very limited.”

The SNB justified its decision by saying the ceiling on the currency, introduced at the height of the euro zone debt crisis in 2011 at a rate of 1.20 francs per euro, was unsustainable, especially as the European Central Bank (ECB) was about to unveil a trillion-euro bond-buying scheme that would push the euro lower.

Swiss media have praised the SNB for having the guts to make the controversial move. But the decision has also cast a harsh spotlight on the bank, three years after its previous chairman stepped down in a scandal over his wife’s currency trades.

“OUT OF TOUCH”

One set of critics, including members of the SP party, has zeroed in on how the SNB takes its monetary policy decisions.

In the United States, the 12 members of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), decide on monetary policy. At the Bank of England it is nine. And at the ECB 25, including the 19 national central bank heads of the euro zone, debate policy before decisions are made.

The SNB board is composed of just three governors, all with similar professional backgrounds, a setup that some fear precludes a rigorous exchange of views.

“The SNB must remain independent. But it should not make its decisions in an ivory tower, out of touch with reality,” Nick Hayek, the head of Swiss watchmaker Swatch, said at the weekend.

Another group of critics say it is the ownership structure of the SNB, under which the Swiss cantons participate in the share capital and profits of the central bank, which is flawed.

Keeping the cap in place could have led to big losses on the SNB’s balance sheet. This would normally not be a problem for a central bank, but in Switzerland it risked angering the cantons, whose budgets rely on SNB transfers, as well as members of the influential Swiss People’s Party (SVP).

Earlier this month, leading economists Beatrice Weder di Mauro and Barry Eichengreen highlighted these pressures and denounced the removal of the cap as “entirely political”, prompting a swift denial from SNB Chairman Thomas Jordan.

A better solution, the economists said, would have been to overhaul the century-old cantonal financing mechanism.

The wave of censure has come at a time when the SNB was already under fire for its communication strategy on the cap.

A little over a week before the move, Jordan himself had called it “absolutely central” to the SNB’s policy. Abandoning it, and failing to put a substitute in place, was seen by some economists as bordering on reckless. To the critics, the SNB has given up the one effective policy tool it had, relinquishing responsibility for the economy.

LIMITED OPTIONS

Now Jordan and his two colleagues on the board have precious few options.

Data suggests they have continued to intervene in the markets to try to steer the franc to a manageable level. On Wednesday, one euro bought 1.077 Swiss francs, a more palatable rate than the 0.86 seen during frenzied trading on Jan. 15.

But early signs on the economy have not been good.

French engineering group Alstom recently decided to cut half the workforce, or 50-60 jobs, at its Neuhausen factory in Switzerland because of competitiveness concerns.

Smaller firms are slashing prices, demanding supplier discounts and seeking longer hours from employees. In December, Swiss economic institute KOF was predicting GDP growth of 1.9 percent this year. Now it expects a 0.5 percent drop.

In a bid to discourage investors from piling into the franc, the SNB has said it could take the interest rate it charges some banks for deposits even lower than the current -0.75 percent. But that could hit Swiss pension funds and banks, and lead savers to hoard cash, said Georg Rich, a former SNB chief economist.

The SP party is pushing for the reintroduction of a cap but few believe the SNB can afford another U-turn. In the end, the only real option may be to sit tight and hope an economic revival in Europe puts upward pressure on the euro.

“For me this is the only way the reputation of the Swiss National Bank would not be damaged further,” said Arturo Bris, a professor of finance at the IMD business school.

(Reporting by Alice Baghdjian, Albert Schmieder, Oliver Hirt and Katharina Bart; Writing/Editing by Noah Barkin and Mark Trevelyan)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/70lur-AhTbc/story01.htm

Wall St. little changed with Yellen, data on deck


NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks held near the unchanged mark on Wednesday, as investors looked for clues to the timing of an interest rate hike during a second day of testimony from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.

The Fed chair’s prepared testimony to a House of Representatives’ committee on Wednesday was identical to remarks she delivered a day earlier to a Senate panel and a question and answer session was under way.

“What people are really hinging on is any noises that are coming out of the Fed, most notably Janet Yellen,” said Keith Bliss, senior vice-president at Cuttone Co in New York.

“I would term what she did yesterday as somewhat ‘jawbone therapy’ where she knows the market is listening to every word and she is being just noncommittal enough.”

Housing data was upbeat, as single-family home sales in January fell less than expected and supply rose to its highest level since 2010.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 4.24 points, or 0.02 percent, to 18,204.95, the SP 500 .SPX lost 1.69 points, or 0.08 percent, to 2,113.79 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 1.92 points, or 0.04 percent, to 4,970.04.

Target (TGT.N) reported a stronger-than-expected jump in same-store sales and profits for the key fourth quarter, and forecast modest earnings growth in the current quarter. Shares in the retailer dipped 0.9 percent to $76.27.

Hewlett-Packard (HPQ.N) shares tumbled 10.1 percent to $34.66 as the worst performer on the SP 500 after the world’s No. 2 PC maker reported flat or lower quarterly revenue in all of its operating units and forecast full-year earnings well below analysts’ expectations.

Lowe’ Cos (LOW.N) reported same-store sales well above analysts’ estimates and forecast full-year sales above expectations, but shares of the home improvement retailer slipped 0.2 percent to $74.48.

As earnings season winds down, Thomson Reuters data through Wednesday morning showed that of the 465 companies in the SP 500 that have posted earnings, 69 percent have topped expectations, matching the beat rate for the last four quarters but above the 63 percent rate since 1994.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,720 to 1,162, for a 1.48-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,366 issues rose and 1,120 fell, for a 1.22-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

The SP 500 posted 50 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 87 new highs and 11 new lows.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/MFMEe5mq7aI/story01.htm

Oil rises above $59 as Saudis say demand growing


LONDON (Reuters) – Brent crude oil rose above $59 a barrel on Wednesday after data showed Chinese factories were producing more than expected and Saudi Arabia’s oil minister said oil demand was growing.

Gains were capped, however, by data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showing U.S. crude stocks rose 8.4 million barrels last week to a record level, including a 2.4 million barrel rise at Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery point of the U.S. crude oil contract.

U.S. gasoline stocks fell by 3.1 million barrels and distillate stocks – including diesel and heating oil – fell by 2.7 million barrels, the EIA said.

Brent LCOc1 was up 55 cents at $59.21 a barrel by 1543 GMT, while U.S. crude futures CLc1 were down by 11 cents at $49.17 a barrel.

China’s factory sector has expanded slightly this month, according to the flash HSBC/Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index. The index reached a four-month high of 50.1 in February, just above the 50 level that separates growth in activity from contraction. A Reuters poll had forecast a reading of 49.5.

China is the world’s biggest energy consumer and second largest user of oil behind the United States, and even small changes in Chinese demand can move oil prices.

The market also had a small lift from comments by Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi, who spoke to reporters in the port city of Jizan, southwest Saudi Arabia.

“Markets are calm now … demand is growing,” said Naimi, who drove a change in the strategy of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries last year, when it decided not to adjust production despite a sharp fall in oil prices.

Oil prices collapsed by 60 percent between June and January to almost $45 a barrel, but have since recovered some ground.

Simon Wardell, oil analyst at Global Insight, said Naimi’s comments reflected a desire for stability in the market.

“They want to find out where the floor price is. I think they are indicating that we are not that far off the floor in the current price,” he said.

Yusuke Seta, commodity sales manager at Newedge Japan, said the China data was also a plus for oil.

“That’s good news (as it means) potential oil demand, but I think the market needs to see more stable and concrete demand from China,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Jane Xie in Singapore; Editing by Dale Hudson, Christopher Johnson and David Evans)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/iOVyRHFx_ic/story01.htm

No deal too small for Lazard’s $500 billion banker


LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) – Lazard banker Vincent Le Stradic recently took a break from his job advising Europe’s top telecoms companies on deals to help little-known French start-up Sigfox raise 100 million euros.

Not many of his peers would spend months working on a relatively small transaction when big fees were there for the taking from industry leaders such as BT Group (BT.L) and Vodafone (VOD.L) shopping round for acquisitions.

But building relationships with self-made entrepreneurs has been key to the success of a man who has sealed 91 deals worth some $500 billion over the past 18 years. And if that means starting small, the 46-year-old doesn’t mind.

“What’s so special about Vincent is his authentic passion for his job, which allows him to deploy the same level of focus and energy whether he works on a $10 million deal or a $20 billion deal”, said Bernard Mourad, who used to work for Le Stradic at Morgan Stanley.

Sigfox, founded by French entrepreneur Ludovic Le Moan, builds low-cost wireless networks to connect objects such as electricity meters, smart watches and washing machines to the Internet — providing the infrastructure that makes the so-called Internet of Things possible.

According to Le Stradic, nicknamed the “Petit Breton” for his small stature and origins in the rainy northwest of France, the company has the potential to be the next Facebook (FB.O).

If he’s right, Le Moan could be the source of many lucrative deals to come — just as Le Stradic has benefited from a string of transactions since befriending Egyptian entrepreneur Naguib Sawiris a decade ago and, more recently, Xavier Niel, the billionaire founder of French telecoms firm Iliad (ILD.PA).

“THE MASTER OF OBFUSCATION”

In a banking industry associated with cold reasoning and hard cash, Le Stradic has put personal skills at the heart of his approach.

Disparaged by some competitors as a “carpet seller” who haggles as if in a souk, most still dread facing him. Last year, he played billionaires Patrick Drahi and Martin Bouygues off each other to up their bids for French mobile firm SFR and raised $23 billion for his client Vivendi (VIV.PA).

Le Stradic takes pleasure in calling himself “the master of obfuscation,” and his negotiating skills have left even Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim with a bitter taste.

In June 2012, the banker helped Austrian investor Ronny Pecik sell shares in Telekom Austria (TELA.VI) to Slim for 9.5 euros apiece, only for their value to halve in 2013.

Le Stradic’s track record is not without failures, though.

Xavier Niel’s attempt to buy T-Mobile U.S. (TMUS.N) last year foundered in part because owner Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) saw the French tycoon’s camp, which included Le Stradic, as arrogant and overconfident, people close to the matter said.

DIPLOMACY

Despite his self-confessed wheeler-dealing, many top executives have complete confidence in Le Stradic.

“Vincent is someone with a strong ethical sense so people trust him”, said Iliad Chief Financial Officer Thomas Renaud. “We worked with him even though he had recently advised some of our diehard competitors.”

Part of this may be down to dedication. In 2012, Le Stradic interrupted a sailing trip in Sicily on his Scottish Bermudan cutter to help Sawiris on a deal, showing up at a meeting with an Italian CEO in tight trousers and flashy sneakers because they were the only clothes he could buy at the airport.

Having a “good laugh” is always part of working with Le Stradic, say people who know him, while his time at the French Treasury before joining Morgan Stanley (MS.N) in 1996 and Lazard (LAZ.N) in 2002 means he is at ease navigating both the public and private sectors.

That has at times made the engineering graduate from France’s prestigious Les Mines school a natural intermediary.

Le Stradic organized several trips to India for Vivendi executive Regis Turrini when the media group was looking at targets there. “We didn’t end up doing any deals but we had a really good time,” recalled Turrini, who hired Le Stradic for about four deals after 2003.

Le Stradic’s diplomatic skills were tested to the limit during the five-year battle for Egypt’s largest mobile operator Mobinil that pitted French telecoms firm Orange (ORAN.PA) against Sawiris.

In 2009, both parties called him for help but since he could not choose between two good clients, the banker offered his services as negotiator on a peace deal.

“That was totally surreal,” he recalls. “I was literally emailing myself a term sheet I had done with one party in the morning and responding to it with the other party later on in the afternoon!”

As the negotiations dragged on, the family man decided to bring his four children and wife Ines to Egypt to visit the Pyramids while he worked over New Year’s Eve.

Another fight soon erupted between Sawiris and Orange and Le Stradic stayed stuck at the hotel while his family went to Giza.

Orange eventually took control of Mobinil in 2012. Both camps paid him a fee and continue working with him — though Le Stradic has yet to see the Pyramids.

(Editing by Mark Potter)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/-j-je3qhad0/story01.htm

HSBC CEO repeats apology, says used Swiss bank to keep pay details private


LONDON (Reuters) – HSBC is more than halfway through a series of major reforms and still has more to do to guarantee the bank does not add to a “terrible list” of failures, its chairman said on Wednesday.

Europe’s biggest bank has admitted failings in compliance and controls in its Swiss private bank after media reports said it helped wealthy customers conceal millions of dollars of assets in a period up to 2007.

This adds to a long list of banking scandals over past behavior that have emerged since the financial crisis, including several at HSBC. The bank was fined $1.9 billion two years ago by U.S. authorities for lax controls that allowed criminals to launder money and was also hit with a $611 million penalty by regulators in November for alleged manipulation of currency markets.

“It’s a terrible list,” HSBC Chairman Douglas Flint said when a UK member of parliament read out the recent fines and investigations involving the bank at a panel hearing where Flint was being questioned.

The latest allegations around HSBC’s Swiss bank have damaged its reputation and caused a political storm in Britain ahead of an election in May. The opposition Labour Party has criticized Prime Minister David Cameron for appointing former HSBC Chairman Stephen Green as a trade minister after he left the bank.

Flint and HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver apologized to the cross-party panel of UK politicians who oversee the financial industry for past failings at its Swiss private bank that allegedly allowed clients to dodge taxes.

“It clearly was unacceptable, we very much regret this and it has damaged HSBC’s reputation,” Gulliver told the Treasury Committee in regard to practices at HSBC’s Swiss bank in the mid-2000s.

“I am responsible for clearing it up. I have made substantial changes,” he said.

Gulliver told the lawmakers a Swiss account he held in the past was not to avoid tax, saying he had paid all his UK taxes and opened the account so colleagues could not see his finances.

Gulliver has come under fire after Britain’s Guardian newspaper said he had sheltered millions of pounds in HSBC’s Swiss private bank via a Panamanian company.

(Editing by Sinead Cruise and Jane Merriman)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/WYi8TOrO-tc/story01.htm

Greece sees problems repaying IMF, ECB; Germans air mistrust


ATHENS/BERLIN (Reuters) – Greece admitted on Wednesday it will struggle to make debt repayments to the IMF and the European Central Bank this year as Germany’s finance minister voiced open doubts about Athens’ trustworthiness.

A day after euro zone finance ministers agreed to a four-month extension of a financial rescue for the currency bloc’s most heavily indebted member, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis gave a frank assessment of Greece’s financial position.

“We will not have liquidity problems for the public sector. But we will definitely have problems in making debt payments to the IMF now and to the ECB in July,” he told Alpha Radio.

He put no figure on the funding gap. After interest payments this month of about 2 billion euros, Athens must repay an IMF loan of around 1.6 billion that matures in March and about 7.5 billion for maturing bonds held by the ECB in July and August.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, revelling in his role as the euro zone’s grumpy paymaster, said no further aid would be paid out until Greece fulfilled the conditions of its bailout programme.

“The question now is whether one can believe the Greek government’s assurances or not. There’s a lot of doubt in Germany, that has to be understood,” he told SWR2 radio.

Fuelling German suspicion, a hardline leftist in Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ radical new government appeared to row back on a commitment made to creditors a day in Brussels earlier not to halt privatisations that are already under way.

Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said the government would not go ahead with the sale of the main electricity utility PPC (DEHr.AT) or power grid operator ADIME.

“The companies have not submitted binding bids so it will not be completed,” he told Ethnos newspaper.

That drew an angry response from Berlin, where a finance ministry spokesman said Athens could not decide to delay or stop privatisations on its own.

Despite scepticism in both governments and dissenting voices on their fringes, the four-month bailout extension seems certain to be approved by the German and Greek parliaments this week.

However, the next round of negotiations on Greece’s debt mountain will start as soon as those votes go through, and take place under the shadow of a looming repayment crunch.

BETTER THAN ALTERNATIVE

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seeking to convince doubters in her own conservative bloc and the public, said the extension deal was preferable to the alternative.

“I welcome the fact that we have found a starting point for negotiations with the new government. This is gratifying when you see what was being talked about weeks ago,” she said in an oblique reference to the risk of Greece going bankrupt and being forced out of the euro area.

“In the last few days we managed to show we are all able to make compromises, which is not unimportant, though it is far from being everything,” she told a news conference.

Right-wing dissident lawmakers warned against throwing good money after bad by continuing to support Greece, but Merkel was assured of a comfortable majority since her right-left “grand coalition” controls 504 seats in the 631 member lower house.

Berlin has ruled out any debt write-down for Athens and Schaeuble’s spokesman said it was premature to talk now about either a precautionary credit line or a third bailout programme when the four months expire.

Varoufakis said he wants discussion of debt restructuring to begin immediately and encompass bond swaps that would “significantly reduce the debt” to official creditors.

If European leaders “shoot down” Greece’s anti-austerity government, they would drive the country into the arms of racists and nationalists, he told French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

“This is what I tell my counterparts: if you think it is in your interest to shoot down progressive governments like ours, just a few days after our election, then you should fear the worst,” Varoufakis said.

In another indicator of the strain on the Greek economy, two of the country’s four main lenders, Eurobank (EURBr.AT) and Bank of Piraeus (BOPr.AT), will be dropped from the pan-European STOXX 600 benchmark index, potentially depriving them of vital investment at a rocky time.

Despite a rebound since the bailout extension was agreed, shares in the two banks have fallen about 65 percent since last February, hurt by a wave of deposit withdrawals and worries over the solvency of the Greek state.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/o6dwrVaq-l8/story01.htm