News Archive

Los Angeles drops mortgage discrimination case against JPMorgan

NEW YORK Los Angeles has dropped a lawsuit accusing JPMorgan Chase (JPM.N), the largest U.S. bank, of discriminatory mortgage lending, ending the first of the city’s four lawsuits accusing major banks of driving up foreclosures among minority borrowers.

Disclosed in a filing on Tuesday in a California federal court, the agreement ends a lawsuit attempting to hold the bank liable for lost property tax revenues caused by falling home values and the cost of repairing blight in minority neighborhoods hit by foreclosures.

A hangover from the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the lawsuit and others like it were brought by a handful of local governments claiming damages for economic destruction wrought nationwide by foreclosures, lost taxes and neighborhood blight. The legal actions have brought only mixed results as banks strongly contested claims that they discriminated.

Los Angeles is still pursuing similar complaints against Bank of America BAC.N , Wells Fargo Co (WFC.N) and Citigroup Inc (C.N).

JPMorgan spokesman Jason Lobo said the bank was pleased with the city’s decision.

“We have consistently supported the Los Angeles community” and helped thousands of families get into homes they can afford, he said.

A spokesman for the city was not immediately available.

Filed last year in U.S. District Court in Central California, the lawsuit accused JPMorgan of engaging in mortgage discrimination since 2004.

The complaint said the bank practiced “red-lining,” or the denial of credit to minority borrowers, and then “reverse red-lining,” or targeting minorities for costly subprime loans they could not afford.

In court filings, JPMorgan denied that it discriminated against minority borrowers. It said Los Angeles was trying to make the bank responsible for lending by Washington Mutual, which JPMorgan acquired in 2008 during the financial crisis.

U.S. District Judge Otis Wright dismissed the lawsuit last year, agreeing that under U.S. law, the city could not sue in federal court before exhausting claims involving Washington Mutual at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Los Angeles filed an amended complaint in August 2014.

In a court filing last month, lawyers for JPMorgan said the new complaint should be dropped because the bank did not foreclose on a single loan to African-American or Hispanic borrowers during the time covered by the lawsuit.

The city’s lawsuits against Bank of America and Wells Fargo are on appeal in the 9th Circuit after Wright dismissed them earlier this year. A lawsuit against Citigroup is set for trial next year.

A federal appeals on Tuesday court revived similar lawsuits filed by Miami against Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citigroup.

The Los Angeles case is City of Los Angeles v JPMorgan Chase Co, U.S. District Court for Central District of California, No 14-cv-4168.

(Reporting by Dena Aubin; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Lisa Von Ahn)

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Gun maker Colt says near deal to exit bankruptcy

WILMINGTON, Del Gun maker Colt Defense and its creditors are close to a deal on a plan to bring the company out of bankruptcy, but if it fails, the business will go on the auction block next month, a company lawyer told a judge on Thursday.

Colt filed for bankruptcy earlier this year due to falling sales of its sport rifles and the loss of military contracts. The company’s private equity owner has been battling its bondholders for control of the West Hartford, Connecticut-based business, and the parties are pressured by Colt’s dwindling cash.

“It’s fair to say the parties are very close to a deal,” Colt lawyer John Rapisardi told the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware. “The parties are working to finalize a term sheet and an agreement can be reached in a couple days.”

Colt wanted more time for talks but was forced to court by Morgan Stanley, which is using its bankruptcy loan to demand the start of a court-supervised auction process.

Judge Laurie Silverstein paused the hearing and sent the parties into a conference room to work out an agreement. The parties agreed to auction procedures, but postponed by three weeks the deadline for bids and a sale. An auction would be held on Oct. 20.

Colt filed for bankruptcy in June with a plan to sell the company to its private equity owner, Sciens Capital Management, in return for some of Colt’s debt. Under that plan, which was abandoned, holders of the company’s $250 million in bonds would have received nothing.

Bondholders have proposed their own plan, which includes eliminating a large portion of their debt in return for control of the company.

A Sciens affiliate has an interest in the Colt lease, which expires in November, and creditors have alleged the private equity firm is using that lease to discourage possible bidders and unfairly increase its leverage in the case.

If Colt does go to auction, it may have brewing labor problems.

A lawyer for United Auto Workers union warned that the company plans to market its business to potential buyers without its collective bargaining agreement, which would prompt the union to take Colt to arbitration.

The union lawyer said the workers supported efforts to reach a consensual plan to bring Colt out of bankruptcy.

The case is Colt Holding Co LLC, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 15-11296

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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B&G to buy General Mills’ Green Giant frozen foods business

Snack food company BG Foods Inc (BGS.N) said it would buy General Mills Inc’s (GIS.N) Green Giant frozen foods and Le Sueur canned vegetables brands for about $765 million to expand its distribution network and enter the frozen foods market.

Shares of BG, which expects the deal to add to earnings immediately, rose as much as 14 percent to a 14-month high on Thursday.

Growth in the frozen vegetables category has been sluggish in recent years as consumers shift to fresher items. This has led to companies scaling back marketing spend on frozen foods.

BG plans to double the amount General Mills has been spending on marketing the Green Giant brand, BG Chief Executive Robert Cantwell said on a conference call.

“In General Mills, Green Giant was an important brand, but they had a different direction…It makes more sense under BG’s ownership and we’re going to pay a lot more attention to it,” Cantwell said.

Green Giant, with a portfolio of more than 160 products, is the second-biggest frozen foods brand by market share in the United States and the largest in Canada.

BG, which sells Vermont Maid syrups, Pirate’s Booty popcorn and Cream of Wheat breakfast porridge mixes, said it expected the acquired businesses to generate annual sales of about $550 million and add 60 cents per share to its profit.

The two brands had net sales of about $585 million in fiscal 2015, General Mills said.

General Mills, like other big packaged food companies, has been looking to shed less-profitable brands to cut costs and focus on faster-growing brands.

Reuters reported last week that General Mills was in late-stage talks with BG to sell Green Giant, whose mascot is the Jolly Green Giant.

The sale raises the question of whether General Mills might be considering more extensive portfolio changes to reduce exposure to older legacy brands, Sanford Bernstein Alexia Howard wrote in a note.

General Mills said it would continue to operate the Green Giant business in Europe and select other markets under license from BG.

BG shares were up 12.6 percent at $34.29 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, while General Mills’ shares were up 1.3 percent at $57.55.

Barclays and RBC Capital Markets are BG’s financial advisers for the deal, while Rothschild advised General Mills.

(Reporting by Ramkumar Iyer in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza and Kirti Pandey)

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Oil up again on Wall Street; volatility after U.S. stockpile hike

NEW YORK Oil prices seesawed on Thursday in line with volatile U.S. equities, rising early as market bulls supported prices for a second day, then retreating, with global benchmark Brent falling into negative territory.

Despite data on Wednesday showing a huge build in U.S. crude inventories, oil rallied early in New York trade as investors regained their appetite for risk due to a respite in bad news out of China and the potential for more European monetary easing.

But oil prices came sharply off session highs by afternoon as stocks on Wall Street pared their early advance. Brent gave back all its gains and turned lower.

“Early strength and now a late fade,” Donald Morton, an oil trader with Fairfield, Connecticut-based Herbert J. Sims Co., said, describing the action.

Brent’s front-month contract LCOc1, was down 20 cents at $50.30 a barrel by 1:42 p.m. EDT. Earlier in the session, it had risen more than $2.

U.S. crude’s front-month CLc1 was up 15 cents at $46.40, versus its session high above $48.

Wall Street’s early rally faded in afternoon trading on caution ahead of a U.S. jobs report that will probably influence the Federal Reserve’s position on a potential interest-rate hike.

Adding to early support for oil was the European Central Bank’s pledge to keep monetary policy loose and to act promptly when needed, after weak inflation and growth forecasts.

In China, markets closed for public holidays for the rest of the week, helping stabilize volatile oil prices.

Over the past two weeks, U.S. crude has see-sawed. Oil plunged to a 6-1/2-year low of $37.75 early last week, then climbed almost 28 percent over three trading sessions into Monday. It has since retraced much of that three-day gain.

Brent has also been erratic, gaining 28 percent over the last week in August to a one-month high above $54 before dipping back under $48 on Wednesday.

Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Wednesday showed U.S. crude stocks rose by 4.7 million barrels in the week to Aug. 28 to 455.4 million, the biggest one-week rise since April.

Harry Tchilinguirian, head of global commodity strategy at BNP Paribas, said Friday’s weekly data on the U.S. oil rig count[RIG/U] would be pivotal to direction.

The rig count has risen for six consecutive weeks so far. Any drop will alleviate oil’s weak outlook.

(Additional reporting by Libby George in London and Keith Wallis; in Singapore; editing by Susan Fenton, Andrew Hay and David Gregorio)

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Ford opens $275 million engine plant in Russia

MOSCOW U.S. carmaker Ford’s (F.N) Russian venture, Ford Sollers, opened a $275 million engine plant on Thursday, which will help make its Russian-produced vehicles less dependent on imported components and currency fluctuations.

Ford aims to spend 60 percent of the cost of producing cars for the Russian market in the country itself by 2020, to qualify for benefits such as lower import duties on car components.

The new plant, in the republic of Tatarstan, has the capacity to produce up to 105,000 engines a year, with the possibility of expansion to up to 200,000, Ford Sollers said in a statement.

At least 30 percent of Russian-built Ford vehicles, including Ford Fiesta, Ford Focus, and Ford EcoSport models, will be equipped with locally built engines, the company said without providing a timeframe. Ford does not currently make any engines in Russia.

“Our main target in line with our long-term localization strategy was to launch engine production with a significant level of localization … We are fully committed to this strategy which is key for our business in the current environment,” said Adil Shirinov, Ford Sollers’ Chief Operating Officer.

After years of growth in excess of 10 percent, Russian car sales collapsed in 2014 as the economy shrank and the rouble weakened, due to lower oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis.

New car sales in Russia are forecast to drop 36 percent this year to 1.55 million, according to the Moscow-based Association of European Businesses (AEB). In January-July, sales fell 35 percent, year-on-year, the AEB said.

Ford’s sales in Russia fell 52 percent in January-July, even though it launched four new models in the country this year. It also took control of the Ford-Sollers venture, which was in the red last year due to the economic slump.

Carmakers with models targeted at middle-class buyers and heavily dependent on imported components have been hit hardest.

General Motors Co (GM.N) said in March it would shut its plant in St Petersburg and wind down sales and production of its Opel brand in Russia as it did not want to make significant investments in a tumbling market.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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ECB flags beefed up QE as growth, inflation outlook fades

FRANKFURT The European Central Bank cut its growth and inflation forecasts on Thursday, warning of possible further trouble from China and paving the way for an expansion of its already massive 1 trillion-euro plus asset-buying program.

The ECB, which left interest rates unchanged in a widely expected decision, said growth would suffer from fading momentum in emerging markets, particularly China, and falling oil prices could drag the 19-member euro zone back into deflation in coming months.

The new projections are a stark admission that Europe’s recovery, described by the bank as disappointing, is hardly gaining momentum. Consequently, the ECB may have to roll out new measures, just six months after it began quantitative easing, considered a policy “bazooka” when it was introduced in January.

For the first time, ECB President Mario Draghi said explicitly the bond-buying program may run beyond September 2016 and the bank may adjust its size and composition. As it stands, the ECB is buying 60 billion euros ($66.68 billion) per month asset buys, mostly government bonds.

“There aren’t special limits to the possibilities that the ECB has in gearing up monetary policy,” Draghi told a news conference. “The risks to the euro area growth outlook remain on the downside, reflecting in particular the heightened uncertainties related to the external environment.”

The euro fell 1 percent against the dollar on Draghi’s comments, European stocks rallied and bond yields fell as investors started to price in new policy steps from the bank.

“The words chosen by the ECB suggest that it would not hesitate to raise the size of its asset purchases and prolong them beyond September 2016 if the outlook for growth and inflation weakens further,” Holger Schmieding, an economist at Berenberg said.

“As far as such conditional statements go, the ECB was rather clear: It would not take much further turbulence to trigger an ECB response. We can count this as a clear verbal intervention.”

In one small change to the quantitative easing scheme, a possible precursor for further moves, the bank increased the share of any sovereign bond issue it could buy to 33 percent from 25 percent, provided that did not give it a blocking minority among bondholders.

“September 2016 is still a long way off, and the market would probably not be much impressed by the announcement of a mere continuation of the purchases beyond this date,” Commerzbank economist Joerg Kraemer said.

“We think the ECB is more likely to announce a higher monthly purchase volume, fuelling expectations that it will extend its bond purchases well beyond September 2016,” Kraemer added.


The ECB expects euro zone headline inflation, now running at 0.2 percent, to average just 0.1 percent this year, down from previous expectations of 0.3 percent.

Even for 2017 the bank lowered its forecasts to 1.7 percent from 1.8 percent. That suggests hitting its inflation target of just under 2 percent may be difficult even years from now.

Adding to uncertainty, Draghi said the forecasts were made in the first half of August. The worst of China’s market volatility and the drop in oil prices came later, so the figures may still be too optimistic.

However, the domestic outlook is relatively healthy. Lending is increasing, unemployment falling and the latest composite purchasing managers’ index rose unexpectedly.

Meanwhile, the external outlook changed for the worse. Growth in China, the world’s biggest economy, is expected to reach a two-decade low, hurt by soft demand, over-capacity and falling investment.

Its economy has been further buffeted by plunging shares and a surprise devaluation of the yuan, a combination of factors that is rattling global markets and could strain relations with China’s major trading partners.

Draghi said China’s faltering growth would also weaken other emerging markets, with ramifications for the rest of the world.

“It is never an easy task to engineer an orderly deleveraging process, especially as the country also faces other structural problems,” RBS said. “A less well-controlled credit crunch in China can have contagion effects into other countries.”

The ECB now sees GDP in the euro zone growing 1.4 percent this year, below its previous 1.5 percent projection. The forecast for 2017 was cut to 1.8 percent from 2.0 percent. Draghi said the cuts were caused by weaker external demand.

A majority of analysts polled by Reuters before Thursday’s meeting expect the ECB to extend or increase its asset purchases. Three quarters said the bank has simply run out of tools and that adjusting QE was its only viable option left.

(Writing by Balazs Koranyi and Paul Taylor; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt, Larry King)

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Shrinking U.S. trade gap shows economy’s underlying strength

WASHINGTON The U.S. trade deficit fell in July to its lowest level in five months as exports rose broadly, signaling underlying strength in the economy amid concerns about a global growth slowdown.

While other data on Thursday showed an increase in the number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits, the trend in jobless claims remained consistent with a strengthening labor market. Activity in the vast services sector also hovered at a 10-year high in August.

“There is little evidence that the abrupt deterioration in financial market conditions and the heightened concerns about the global economy have begun to affect the U.S. economy,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

The Commerce Department said the trade gap narrowed 7.4 percent to $41.9 billion, the smallest since February. When adjusted for inflation, the deficit fell to $56.2 billion from $59.0 billion in the prior month.

The smaller deficit implied a modest contribution to gross domestic product from trade early in the third quarter. Trade added 0.3 percentage point to the economy’s 3.7 percent annualized growth rate in the second quarter.

Data ranging from consumer spending to employment and housing have suggested the economy retained much of its momentum from the second quarter and was on solid footing when global financial markets were rocked by turbulence triggered by worries over China’s economy.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher after the data. Investor sentiment also was boosted after the European Central Bank indicated it could prolong its monetary stimulus program.

The dollar rose against a basket of currencies, while prices for longer-dated U.S. Treasuries fell.

In a separate report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 282,000 for the week ended Aug. 29.

The claims data has no bearing on Friday’s closely watched employment report for August as it fell outside the survey period. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased by 220,000 last month after rising 215,000 in July.

But job gains could come in below expectations as the first reading of August payrolls has tended to be weaker in the last several years before being revised higher.


The August employment report will be released less than two weeks before the Federal Reserve’s Sept. 16-17 policy-setting meeting. There is speculation the U.S. central bank could raise interest rates at that meeting.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 3,250 to 275,500 last week.

It was the 23rd straight week that the four-week average remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is usually associated with a strengthening labor market.

A third report from the Institute for Supply Management showed its services industry index slipped to 59 last month from a reading of 60.3 in July, which was the highest since August 2005. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the sector.

Fifteen out of 18 service industries, including real estate, construction and retail trade, reported an expansion in activity – the most since October. Only mining reported a contraction.

“The domestic economy is holding strong. The Fed must weigh this against the prospects of a weakening global economy as they decide whether to raise interest rates in two weeks,” said Jay Morelock, an economist at FTN Financial in New York.

The strong services sector should help offset the drag on the economy from manufacturing, which has been hit by a strong dollar and spending cuts by energy companies.

But the buoyant dollar’s negative impact on the economy is starting to ease. Exports increased 0.4 percent to $188.5 billion in July, the first rise since April. There were increases in exports of food, industrial supplies and materials, and capital goods in July. Automobile exports also rose.

Imports fell 1.1 percent to $230.4 billion, led by consumer goods such as pharmaceuticals and cell phones. However, automobile imports were the highest on record and the value of crude oil imports was the highest since January.

Soft import growth is usually associated with sluggish domestic demand. The weakness, however, is probably related to a slowdown in inventory accumulation as businesses try to whittle down a huge stockpile of merchandise accumulated in the first half of 2015.

The politically sensitive U.S.-China trade deficit was $31.6 billion in July, up 0.4 percent from June. That trade gap will be closely watched in the coming months in the wake of China’s recent devaluation of its currency.

Exports to Canada fell 8.3 percent in July and could come under more pressure after the Canadian economy slipped into recession in the second quarter.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

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As Fed ponders interest rate rise timing, markets overshadow U.S. jobs report

NEW YORK In calmer times the U.S. employment report due to be published on Friday would be the Federal Reserve’s best and last economic signal before it decides whether to raise interest rates later this month for the first time in nearly a decade.

But the world’s financial markets have been anything but calm recently and, as such, have themselves become the primary determinant of whether U.S. central bankers tighten monetary policy on Sept. 17 for the first time since 2006.

According to Fed policymakers and other economists, employment and wage growth for August would likely need to be particularly strong for the Fed to act this month, while the sharp recent gyrations in stocks, bonds and currencies would need to dissipate.

“Because of the volatility, you’ll need an even stronger report to get them to hike,” said Thomas Costerg, senior economist at Standard Chartered Bank, in New York. “A middling report might not be enough if markets continue on like this.”

Economists polled by Reuters expect the U.S. economy to have produced 220,000 new non-farm jobs last month, continuing the robust rate of employment creation of the past five years, while average hourly earnings are predicted to have risen by a modest 0.2 percent as they did in July.

Job growth closer to 300,000 would put pressure on the Fed to promptly raise interest rates, said Costerg, adding that wage pressures will be much more vital than usual to the much-anticipated September policy decision.

This is because Fed officials are concerned not with the resilience of the labor market but with the possibility that inflation, which has remained below a 2.0-percent target for a few years, will not rebound any time soon without wage rises.


However, in recent weeks fears that China’s economic growth is slowing resulted in tumbling stock and commodity prices and sharp falls in emerging market currencies.

Slower economic growth in Asia, weaker commodity prices, and a U.S. dollar near its highest levels in a decade, could all keep U.S. consumer price inflation low and delay a return to more normal monetary policy by the Fed.

As investors and governments globally prepare for a Fed interest rate rise, futures market traders predict about a 30 percent chance the rise will come this month, down from more than a 50 percent probability before the volatility in world markets of the past month. Interest rates futures markets indicate a higher probability for a Fed move in October and December.

Fed policymakers gathered at a conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming last week acknowledged that market volatility affects their decision on the timing of policy.

Even “hawkish” officials like St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said a move on interest rates is unlikely if markets remain turbulent through to the policy meeting.

Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer said there was “a pretty strong case” to tighten before the slump in stock prices led by China, and that now, “we are still watching how it unfolds.”

While the U.S. central bank wants reasonable confidence that inflation will rebound in the medium term, data on the broader economy have remained healthy, with the Fed’s own Beige Book reporting on Wednesday that labor markets were tight enough to fuel small wage rises across the country.

The U.S. Labor Department jobs report on Friday, which is expected to show unemployment has fallen to about 5.2 percent, may not clarify the Fed decision even if the data fails to meet expectations. Employment growth for the month of August in particular has a history of being initially underestimated and later revised higher.

Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York, said a challenge for the Fed is “to prevent the labor market from overheating down the road,” if it delays a liftoff in interest rates.

“I don’t see any evidence that the economy is weak or that we are about to enter a recession,” he wrote to clients. “Instead I see a labor market that is looking hotter and hotter.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; editing by Clive McKeef)

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VW’s finance chief set to become new chairman

BERLIN Volkswagen’s (VOWG_p.DE) finance chief Hans Dieter Poetsch is set to become its next chairman, putting Europe’s biggest carmaker on course for calmer waters after rival factions including ousted patriarch Ferdinand Piech united to back him.

The company has been looking for a permanent successor to Piech, who was turfed out in April after clashing with Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn over strategy but still wields influence through his family holding.

One day after proposing to extend the CEO’s contract by two years until the end of 2018, the supervisory board’s executive and nomination committees on Thursday proposed to elect Poetsch, 64, as chairman.

Volkswagen’s 51-percent owner Porsche Automobil Holding SE (PSHG_p.DE) said Poetsch had the unequivocal support of its supervisory board – which includes Piech. Winterkorn also supported the move to elevate Poetsch, according to a source familiar with the company’s thinking.

“This is good news,” said Arndt Ellinghorst of research firm Evercore ISI, citing Poetsch’s clear understanding of VW’s financial problems. “Poetsch has been advocating an increased focus on consolidating VW’s business post an era of MA.”

VW’s plans to appoint Poetsch, who has been the German group’s finance chief since 2003, to the helm of its 20-member board were reported earlier on Thursday by Reuters.

Shares in Volkswagen rose on the news, trading up 2.7 percent at 167.50 euros by 1506 GMT but still underperforming a 3.2 percent-stronger German DAX .GDAXI.

Wolfsburg-based Volkswagen chose an internal candidate who understands the complexities of the relationship between labor unions, investors, major shareholder Lower Saxony and the Porsche-Piech clan.

Appointing an external chairman would have caused more unrest than stability, according to the source familiar with the company’s thinking.

“Everybody at VW believes firmly that the current problems can be overcome on our own,” the source said.

Poetsch is likely to be elected for a full five-year term – even though he is replacing Piech whose board mandate officially expires in April 2017, a source at VW said.

This would represent a break from tradition for the company, as a new board member usually serves out the remaining term of his predecessor before a new election takes place.

If Poetsch were to serve out his full term, that would effectively put an end to 68-year-old Winterkorn’s ambitions of becoming chairman himself, earning a belated victory for Piech who had pledged to thwart the CEO’s chances of succeeding him.

However, any success by Winterkorn in turning VW around could nevertheless bolster his chances of nudging the new man out and becoming chairman himself.

Poetsch will first have to be elected to the supervisory board at an extraordinary shareholder meeting in November, which will also have to approve the appointment to the board of Piech’s niece, Louise Kiesling.

Huber said the supervisory board would decide on a successor for Poetsch as CFO without delay.

The chief executive of VW’s premium carmaker Audi, 52-year-old Rupert Stadler, is a candidate to succeed Poetsch as VW CFO, a source familiar with the matter said.

(Additional reporting by Edward Taylor and Jan Schwartz; Editing by Georgina Prodhan and Pravin Char)

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