News Archive

Merchants seek to void $6 billion Visa, MasterCard, AmEx settlements

NEW YORK Dozens of retailers are seeking to void nearly $6 billion of U.S. antitrust settlements with Visa Inc (V.N), MasterCard Inc (MA.N) and American Express Co (AXP.N) after learning that opposing lawyers exchanged confidential information, potentially tainting the accords.

A group of retailers filed papers that remain under seal in the Brooklyn, New York federal court to scuttle their $5.7 billion accord with Visa and MasterCard, which won court approval in 2013, the retailers’ lawyer Owen Glist said in an email.

Similar papers were made public in the American Express case on Wednesday in the same court, where retailers opposing the $79 million accord include Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N), Target Corp (TGT.N) and Home Depot Inc (HD.N) among others.

Retailers claimed that the settlements were rigged in light of the discovery of an exchange of emails and other documents between Gary Friedman, a lawyer who represented them, and Keila Ravelo, a lawyer who represented MasterCard while she was a partner at Willkie Farr Gallagher.

Friedman and Ravelo had previously been associates at another law firm and become close friends. Their alleged improper communications were discovered by Willkie after Ravelo and her husband were criminally charged in December with stealing from that firm, another law firm and MasterCard.

Roy Simon, a Hofstra University legal ethics professor, in a court filing supporting the objecting retailers, said Friedman crossed a line by passing important information to Ravelo, whose firm should in turn have been disqualified.

“In my three decades studying professional responsibility for lawyers,” Simon wrote, “I cannot recall ever seeing such repeated and serious violations of professional duties by an attorney representing a class, or such willing participation in those violations by an attorney for a defendant in a class action.”

The settlements were meant to resolve claims that the card networks overcharged merchants on interchange fees, or swipe fees, whenever shoppers paid with debit or credit cards.

In a Wednesday conference call discussing second-quarter results, MasterCard Chief Executive Ajay Banga called the lawyers’ alleged conduct “pretty disappointing,” but said he was “pretty confident” that the company’s settlement will stand.

MasterCard spokesman Seth Eisen declined to elaborate. Visa spokeswoman Connie Kim declined to comment. American Express spokeswoman Marina Norville had no immediate comment.

Friedman, in a Wednesday filing in the American Express case, said none of the challenged communications “detracts from the conclusion that this settlement represents the best feasible settlement for the merchant class, and is fair and adequate by any measure.”

The cases are In re: Payment Card Interchange Fee and Merchant Discount Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 05-md-01720; and In re: American Express Anti-Steering Rules Litigation Antitrust Litigation in the same court, No. 11-md-02221.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Fed says economy improving; September rate hike in view

WASHINGTON The U.S. economy and job market continue to strengthen, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday, leaving the door open for a possible interest rate hike when central bank policymakers next meet in September.

Following their latest two-day policy meeting, Fed officials said they felt the economy had overcome a first-quarter slowdown and was “expanding moderately” despite a downturn in the energy sector and headwinds from overseas.

They nodded in particular to the “solid job gains” seen in recent months.

“On balance, a range of labor market indicators suggest that underutilization of labor resources has diminished since early this year,” the Fed said in a policy statement that kept rates unchanged.

That language and other small changes in the statement mark an upgrade in the central bank’s view of labor conditions since its last policy meeting in June, when it said labor slack had “diminished somewhat.”

The Fed also said it now only needs to see “some” more improvement in the labor market, a qualification that analysts said strongly suggested it believes the recent solid U.S. job gains will continue.

“They slightly lowered the hurdle for a rate hike by adding the word ‘some’ to their conditions required for further improvement in the labor market,” said Shyam Rajan, head of U.S. interest rate strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Although the Fed may have ramped up expectations of a rate hike in September, it didn’t give a clear signal of its plans. Besides the additional improvement on the labor front, it said it also needed to be more confident that low inflation will rise to the 2 percent medium-term target.

U.S. Treasury prices were largely unchanged after the Fed statement. U.S. stocks rose and the dollar was stronger against a basket of currencies.


The Fed’s policy statement also retained language saying that risks are “nearly balanced,” suggesting it is still more concerned about a new economic downturn rather than of rapidly rising inflation.

Central bank officials and market analysts have been waiting

to see if weak economic growth in the first part of the year signaled the beginning of the end of an expansion, or merely a


The verdict now seems firm.

“The Fed is taking baby steps towards a rate hike. Enough improvements have been made in the labor market that the Fed only needs a little more confirming evidence to say it is time,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management.

Most economists forecast that U.S. economic growth will pick up after a lackluster first half and that the Fed will begin tightening monetary policy in September, according to a Reuters poll published last week.

And Wall Street’s top banks still target September as the most likely time for an initial Fed rate hike, according to another Reuters poll published earlier this month.

With no meeting scheduled in August, the Fed will have two months of data to analyze before deciding whether to hike rates for the first time since 2006.

There were no dissents in the Fed statement on Wednesday.

(Editing by David Chance and Paul Simao)

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Wall Street ends higher after Fed leaves investors unruffled

U.S. stocks finished stronger on Wednesday after the U.S. Federal Reserve said the economy and job market continued to strengthen and left its key interest rate unchanged.

The central bank’s comments on the economy and inflation after its two-day pow-wow appeared to do little to drastically change wide expectations that the first rate hike will come in September or possibly December.

No move on rates was expected this week. U.S. interest rates have remained near zero for almost a decade and the Fed has said it will raise rates once it sees a sustained recovery in the economy.

“The statement tried to just give an update on the state of the economy, which is showing some modest improvement,” said Guy Haselmann, head of U.S. interest rate strategy at Scotiabank in New York. “They were trying not to create extra volatility in a market already on edge.”

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 0.69 percent to end at 17,751.39. The SP 500 .SPX gained 0.73 percent to 2,108.57 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 0.44 percent to finish at 5,111.73.

All 10 major SP sectors were higher with the energy index’s .SPNY 1.28 percent rise leading the way.

The SP 500 has bounced about 2 percent higher in the past two days following a deeper near-3 percent drop over the preceding week that had been caused in part by a rout in China’s stock markets.

With second-quarter earnings season more than halfway done, analysts now expect overall earnings of SP 500 companies to edge up 0.8 percent and revenue to decline 3.9 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

While earnings are expected to increase this quarter, valuations remain a concern. The SP 500 is trading near 16.9 times forward 12-month earnings, above the 10-year median of 14.7 times, according to StarMine data.

After the bell, Facebook (FB.O) and Whole Foods Market (WFM.O) dropped 4 percent and 11 percent, respectively, following quarterly reports that left investors wanting more.

During the session, Twitter (TWTR.N) shares fell 14.5 percent to a year-low of $31.24 after the microblogging company said its number of monthly average users rose at the slowest pace since it went public in 2013.

General Dynamics (GD.N) rose 3.93 percent after its earnings. It sparked a sector-wide rally across major aerospace stocks including Northrop Grumman (NOC.N), Spirit Aerosystems (SPR.N), Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) and Transdigm Group (TDG.N).

Cytec (CYT.N) soared 27.06 percent after Belgian chemical group Solvay agreed to buy the company for $5.5 billion.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2.69 to 1. On the Nasdaq, the ratio was 1.28 to 1.

The SP was chalked up 26 new 52-week highs and 1 low; the Nasdaq posted 43 new highs and 62 lows.

Some 7.2 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the daily average of 6.7 billion so far this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

(Editing by Don Sebastian and Nick Zieminski)

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Tesla offering $1,000 referral bounty on Model S sales

DETROIT Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA.O) will offer a $1,000 bounty to Model S owners and buyers who take advantage of word-of-mouth referrals of the electric cars, Chief Executive Elon Musk said Wednesday.

The referral bounty will be available to those who buy new Tesla sedans – and those who refer them – through October 31. Musk said the program, if deemed successful, could be extended to sales of used cars.

Such a referral program is unusual but not unprecedented among traditional automakers and their franchised dealers.

Musk, in a conference call with reporters, described the referral program as “a guerilla tactic against car dealers in certain states” that do not permit Tesla to sell its luxury electric cars directly to customers.

Tesla operates its own stores but does not use franchised dealers. Nor does it do traditional advertising and marketing, although Musk said the company may change that policy in the future.

Musk said it costs about $2,000 more to sell a Tesla Model S through one of the company stores than directly to the customer.

“If we can amplify word of mouth, then we don’t need to open as many new stores in the future,” he said in a letter to Tesla owners announcing the referral plan.

Under the program, buyers will get $1,000 off the purchase price and referring owners will get a $1,000 credit toward the purchase of another car or parts and service.

Musk said owners who refer 10 buyers will be able to purchase at a discounted price a limited-edition “Founders Series” Model X, the new crossover that is slated to go into production this fall at the company’s Fremont, California factory.

(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Exclusive: FCA’s Chrysler group faces U.S. product drought through 2016

DETROIT Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will face a shortage of new products in North America over the next 18 months, especially hot-selling trucks and crossover vehicles, according to three sources familiar with the company’s plans.

While the Italian-American automaker said it will bring three new sports models from Italy to the United States in the coming year, it plans to introduce only one all-new vehicle developed and built in North America: A redesigned Chrysler Town and Country minivan that is due next spring.

In comparison, FCA’s two Detroit rivals between them plan to introduce more than a dozen new or redesigned U.S. models by the end of 2016, the sources said. General Motors’ Chevrolet brand alone expects to launch as many as six new U.S. vehicles over the next 18 months.

Fiat Chrysler will announce its quarterly results on Thursday in London.

Gualberto Ranieri, senior vice president of communications at FCA’s North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, disputed the notion that the company faces a shortage of new vehicles.

“To say that we have virtually no new products coming in North America in the next 18 months is simply nonsense,” Ranieri said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “You will see us reveal new products at upcoming auto shows in Los Angeles, Detroit and New York.”

Ranieri cited the new Chrysler minivan, as well as the three Italian-designed vehicles: The Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan, the Fiat Spider convertible and a new Maserati crossover vehicle.

However, aside from the Chrysler minivan, the company continues to defer investments in new North American-built products, leaving it with a dearth of fresh cars and trucks in the company’s most important market, where competition is red-hot, especially in pickups and crossovers.

The apparent slowdown in FCA’s rollout of new North American-built products “is a big deal,” says Matthew Stover, auto analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group. “It’s pretty obvious – while they’re making good money on the existing products, they’re saying, let’s push back these” new models.

Since May 2014, redesigns of FCA’s highest-margin U.S. vehicles – the Ram 1500 pickup, the Jeep Wrangler and the Jeep Grand Cherokee – have been delayed several times, in some cases by more than a year, according to the three sources.

FCA declined to comment on the latest reported delays.

Ranieri said that FCA has no shortage of fresh products. In the past year, he said, the company has introduced two all-new crossovers, the compact Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X, as well as redesigned versions of the full-size Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger.

But a makeover of the Wrangler has been delayed again, this time to fall 2017, while a full redesign of the Grand Cherokee has been pushed back to fall 2019, the sources said.

After the debut next spring of the redesigned minivan, the next all-new model slated to begin production in North America is a replacement for the Jeep Patriot and Compass compact crossovers, the sources said. The as-yet-unnamed Jeep is slated to arrive at U.S. dealers in early 2017, but may go into production earlier in some overseas markets, including China.

FCA Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne has said he is reluctant to retool an assembly plant for a popular model like the Wrangler while demand is still brisk. But the risk is that newer, more efficient and attractive competitors with fresher designs will be entering the market, potentially shrinking demand for Chrysler’s aging vehicles.

FCA shares in New York were down 2.8 percent to $14.51 in late afternoon trading.

(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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Anthem profit beats as medical costs stay at low end of estimates

Health insurer Anthem Inc (ANTM.N), which plans to buy rival Cigna Corp (CI.N) for $47 billion, on Wednesday said medical costs, particularly in its Medicaid and Medicare businesses, were at the low end of expectations and helped boost second-quarter profit.

Anthem raised its profit outlook for 2015 and said it expects health spending to increase at the lower end of a range of 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent this year. It also said that a key financial measure of medical costs fell during the quarter.

Health insurers closely manage costs to contend with a constant rise in medical spending. Cost increases had been held back for many years by the weak economy, but began picking up in 2014 with the improved economy and as the national healthcare reform law extended insurance to millions more people.

A few months ago, the largest U.S. insurers began scrambling to line up merger partners that would give them leverage to contend with the trend and negotiate lower prices with medical providers.

Consolidation has heated up across the healthcare industry, including among hospitals, doctor groups, pharmacy benefit managers, pharmacies and drugmakers.

On July 3, No. 3 health insurer Aetna Inc (AET.N) said it would buy rival Humana Inc (HUM.N) and Anthem on Friday said it would acquire Cigna for $47 billion in cash and stock to create the No. 1 U.S. health insurer with 53 million members.

Anthem, which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in more than a dozen states, said on Wednesday that spending on medical claims as a percentage of premiums fell to 82.1 percent from 82.7 percent a year ago. That is about 30 basis points better than Wall Street estimates, according to Leerink Partners analyst Ana Gupte.

Anthem is the first insurer to report earnings since UnitedHealth Group Inc (UNH.N) two weeks ago missed analyst expectations for that key ratio, a harbinger of cost increases.

“(Anthem’s) loss ratios came in very favorably. That’s a big plus considering there were some concerns about the UnitedHealth report,” Gupte said.

Anthem shares were up 0.24 percent at $154.77.


Anthem’s net income rose to $859.1 million, or $3.13 per share, from $731.1 million, or $2.56 per share, a year earlier. Revenue increased 8.3 percent to $20.02 billion, topping analysts’ expectations of $19.63 billion.

The company cited strong growth in its government Medicaid and Medicare businesses, where revenue rose 25.7 percent. Medicaid membership increased 11 percent.

Medicaid enrollments began to increase in earnest starting in July of last year as the expansion of Medicaid coverage for the poor kicked in, Anthem Chief Financial Officer Wayne DeVeydt said during a conference call.

Anthem expects 2015 adjusted net income to be more than $10 per share, up from its previous forecast of more than $9.90.

Analysts expected full-year earnings of $10.11 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Excluding items, Anthem earned $3.10 per share in the second quarter, well above the average analyst estimate of $2.77.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer in New York and Amrutha Penumudi in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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MasterCard’s revenue misses estimates on higher incentives

MasterCard Inc (MA.N), the operator of the world’s second largest payment network, reported lower-than-expected quarterly revenue as the company offered more rebates and incentives to win new and renewed deals.

Shares of MasterCard, which operates the world’s second largest payment network, fell about 3 percent in premarket trading on Wednesday.

The company paid $940 million in rebates and incentives in the second quarter, up 21 percent from a year earlier.

MasterCard charges companies using its payment network for transactions on cards that carry its brands. It doesn’t issue cards, extend credit or set interest rates.

The company usually pays higher incentives to its partners than larger rival Visa Inc (V.N).

Client incentives accounted for nearly 28 percent of MasterCard’s gross revenue in the second quarter, way above Visa’s 16 percent.

MasterCard’s cross-border volumes – the value of transactions made by card holders outside the card-issuer’s country – jumped by 17 percent.

The company’s net income fell to $921 million in the quarter ended June 30 from $931 million, a year earlier, due to a $44 million after-tax charge related to a U.K. merchant litigation settlement. However, earnings rose on a per-share basis to 81 cents from 80 cents.

Excluding the charge, MasterCard earned 85 cents per share.

Net revenue rose 0.9 percent to $2.39 billion.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of 85 cents per share and revenue of $2.41 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

MasterCard’s shares were trading at $92.50 before the bell.

Up to Tuesday’s close, the stock had risen 10.5 percent this year, while Visa’s shares had risen 14 percent.

(Story corrects to change company description to “operator of the world’s second largest payment network” from “credit and debit card issuer” in paragraph 1)

(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan in Bengaluru; Editing by Kirti Pandey)

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Being frank not enough, Twitter needs to act

Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) interim CEO Jack Dorsey’s harsh criticism of the company’s efforts to woo new users may just be the first step to addressing its long-standing problems.

But being frank is not enough, particularly for a social media company struggling to sign up subscribers.

Twitter needs to act fast – simplify its core product and organize news feeds better, analysts said.

Wall Street took a dim view of the management’s commentary on a post-earnings call on Tuesday. At least 19 brokerages cut their price target on Twitter to as low as $30 – 18 percent lower than the stock’s Tuesday’s close of $36.54.

Investors were harsher. Twitter’s shares skidded more than 13 percent to $32.15 on Wednesday, wiping out about $3 billion of the company’s market value.

Twitter co-founder Dorsey, who took over last month from Dick Costolo in the midst of criticism over the company’s strategy, warned on Tuesday that Twitter was unlikely to see sustained growth in monthly active users (MAU) until it can reach the mass market.

The company reported its slowest growth in MAU for the second quarter since it went public in 2013. Core MAUs rose only 2 million to 304 million. That number pales in comparison to Facebook Inc’s (FB.O) 1.4 billion users.

Dorsey said the company would focus on more disciplined product execution, simplify the website and better communicate Twitter’s purpose.

“I think they are saying the right things, but the problem is that they’ve been saying the right things for quite some time,” Macquarie Research analyst Ben Schachter said.

“The Street wants to see them actually act and execute.”

Twitter bought video streaming app Periscope in January and video-sharing service Vine in 2012, and has been aggressively expanding its capabilities to carry pictures, videos and interactive content.

“Both are interesting, but if you can’t fix the core it’s not going to matter,” Schachter said.

Some analysts have said that Twitter needs to introduce new features that will help it win a bigger chunk of the digital advertising market from rivals such as Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Google Inc (GOOGL.O).

“In essence it must go from being a one product company to an ecosystem and this will require a radical shift in strategy from where the company is today,” Edison Investment Research analyst Richard Windsor said.

But before that, Twitter quickly needs to find a way to add users and keep them engaged.

“Most importantly, they have to answer the ‘Why Twitter’ story,” Monness, Crespi, Hardt Co analyst James Cakmak said.

“Why should any member of the mass market visit and engage with Twitter. That story needs to be addressed, answered and communicated.”

(Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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Pressed by left, Greece’s Tsipras vows ‘thus far and no further’

ATHENS Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, struggling to contain a revolt in his left-wing Syriza party, said on Wednesday that his government would not implement reform measures beyond those agreed with lenders at a euro zone summit this month.

Tsipras faces a tough Syriza central committee session on Thursday with many activists angered by his acceptance of bailout terms more stringent than those voters rejected in a July 5 referendum.

In a clear warning to Syriza rebels, Tsipras said he could be forced to call early elections if he no longer had a parliamentary majority, and suggested an emergency party congress could be held in early September.

At the same time, he is under pressure from Greece’s creditors to go beyond the two packages of so-called prior actions passed by parliament and include unpopular steps to curb early retirement and tax breaks for farmers, EU sources say.

“I know well the framework of the deal we signed at the euro zone summit on July 12,” Tsipras told Sto Kokkino radio. “We will implement these commitments, irrespective of whether we agree with it or not. Nothing beyond that.”

With Greece close to the financial abyss last month, the government closed the banks for three weeks and Tsipras was forced to make the major concessions on reform and austerity to open negotiations on a third bailout of up to 86 billion euros.

In a setback for government efforts to restore more economic normality, the Athens stock exchange will stay closed probably until the end of a fifth week because banks need to adapt IT systems to enforce limits on trading by Greeks.

A European Commission spokeswoman declined to say what additional measures Athens was expected to take before the conclusion of the new bailout, although she said earlier this week more reforms were due before the first aid is disbursed.

Tsipras said Greece’s primary budget balance before debt service would break even at best or show a deficit this year, depending on a financial situation that has deteriorated sharply since the imposition of capital controls on June 28.

The Brussels summit agreement did not specify fiscal targets but Athens had previously been expected to achieve a primary surplus equivalent to 1 percent of annual Greek economic output this year and 2 percent in 2016.

Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine reported that the creditors were willing to allow a gentler fiscal path taking account of Greece’s return to recession, provided Athens pursued economic and administrative reforms more energetically.


With the banking squeeze easing, the European Central Bank kept its cap on emergency funding for Greek banks unchanged on Wednesday after Athens did not request another increase, a source familiar with the decision said.

The Athens Stock Exchange has been shut since June 29 after the government closed the banks, rationed cash withdrawals and imposed capital controls to stop a run on deposits by savers and companies.

The ECB gave Greece the go-ahead on Tuesday to reopen the stock market without restrictions for foreign investors, but with limitations for local investors to avert the risk of further capital outflows.

“The Greek banks need to resolve some IT issues regarding the restrictions,” a spokeswoman for the exchange said.

European Commission spokeswoman Nina Andreeva, keen not to add to Tsipras’s domestic woes, praised the conduct of the bailout talks so far, brushing aside security and access issues.

“We are satisfied with the smooth and constructive cooperation with the Greek authorities and that should now allow us to progress as swiftly as possible,” she told reporters.

Intensive talks with officials from the Commission, the ECB, the International Monetary Fund and the euro zone’s rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, began on Monday.

On Wednesday, the two sides opened technical talks on energy issues, including the fate of power grid operator ADMIE, an energy ministry official told Reuters.

Under the Brussels deal, Greece committed to selling ADMIE unless replacement measures that would open up competition in the market can be found.

The leftist government halted the sale of a 66 percent stake in the grid operator, fully owned by the biggest electricity utility PPC, when it came into power in January. Newly appointed Energy Minister Panos Skourletis said last week the state should take over ADMIE due to its strategic importance and the government would look to alternatives to privatizing it.

Tsipras faces an uncertain vote in the 200 member Syriza central committee with sacked former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis leading a leftist faction that rejected the July 13 deal and is demanding a tougher line with the creditors.

Compounding his problems, former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis continues to denounce the agreement in daily media interviews and articles, accusing the creditors of trampling on Greek sovereignty and justifying his own secret planning while in office to set up an alternative currency.

“It was a financial war,” Varoufakis told Germany’s Stern magazine in the latest interview released on Wednesday. “Today you don’t need tanks to beat someone. You’ve got your banks.”

A Greek prosecutor has opened an investigation into whether any laws were violated during his covert contingency planning, court officials said on Wednesday.

The inquiry will not focus on Varoufakis himself, since courts cannot investigate ministers or lawmakers who enjoy parliamentary immunity from prosecution. Varoufakis, who was finance minister from January until he quit in July, remains a member of parliament.

Instead it will look into media reports of the plan to see whether crimes such as violation of personal data protection and breach of duty were committed.

A group of lawyers filed a suit this week seeking the inquiry. A statement from Varoufakis’s office said: “Their aim is to register the January-July period as a ‘great’ mistake or even ‘better’ to criminalize the five-month tough negotiations by the government of the Left.”

(Additional reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and Deepa Babington in Athens and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Writing by Paul Taylor; editing by David Stamp)

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