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Kobe Steel CEO to provide update on data fabrication at 0600 GMT

TOKYO (Reuters) – Kobe Steel Ltd (5406.T) said it would hold a news conference at 3 p.m. (0600 GMT) in Tokyo on Thursday to provide an update on a data fabrication scandal that has rocked Japan’s third-biggest steel maker.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Hiroya Kawasaki will attend the news conference.

Kobe Steel had been told by Japan’s industry ministry to disclose the results of its safety checks by around Thursday.

Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/5QUzCgPLfv0/kobe-steel-ceo-to-provide-update-on-data-fabrication-at-0600-gmt-idUSKBN1CV0C2

Global growth? Sure. But still not much inflation pressure: Reuters poll

BENGALURU (Reuters) – The global economy is on its best roll in years and set to do better in 2018, but economists in Reuters polls around the world mostly said synchronous growth is not about to spawn significant price pressures.

Indeed, while several major central banks have shifted their bias away from ultra-easy monetary policy, with a few notable exceptions, inflation remains below their targets and is generally set to stay that way in the year ahead.

“It is becoming a familiar refrain. Another quarter, another set of upward revisions to our global growth forecasts, another downward revision to our global inflation forecasts,” said Janet Henry, global chief economist at HSBC.

“But for developed world central banks, the task is getting ever harder. Tackling both low inflation and rising financial stability risks will demand a delicate balancing act by central banks and a more nuanced approach to inflation targeting if the global expansion is to be sustained.”

In Reuters surveys taken Oct 3-24 of more than 500 economists across Asia, Europe and the Americas, 2017 and 2018 growth forecasts for nearly three-quarters of the 48 economies polled were raised or left unchanged.

Global economic growth as a whole is forecast at 3.5 percent this year, steady compared with a poll published three months ago but a tad lower than the recently upgraded view from the International Monetary Fund.

While the consensus forecast for 2018 also remained steady at 3.6 percent, a majority who answered an additional question said the risk to their forecasts were skewed more to the upside.

However, respondents cut their 2017 inflation forecasts for nearly two-thirds of the economies surveyed.

Around 40 percent of the 134 economists who answered an extra question said global inflation pressures won’t pick up until 2019 or beyond while a quarter said they were unlikely to rebound at all. The rest said they will before end-2018.

Erik Nelson, a strategist at Wells Fargo in New York, said for their global growth forecasts, which are roughly in line with the Reuters consensus, inflation picking up faster than expected is the number one risk.

“If inflation picks up a lot more than we are expecting, either in the United States or other economies, and central banks have to tighten a little more aggressively than we currently think, then there is probably some downside risk for those forecasts,” Nelson said.

CHALLENGE FOR CENTRAL BANKS

Global central banks are at different stages in removing monetary policy accommodation, with persistently weak inflation nearly everywhere complicating decision-making.

“Low inflation expectations may have become self-fulfilling, so low inflation is likely more persistent than what central banks think,” said Mikael Milhoj, senior analyst at Danske Bank.

The U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates in December and twice next year, according to economists who largely said risks were skewed more to a slower pace of hikes.

Uncertainty over who U.S. President Donald Trump will choose to head the Fed when Chair Janet Yellen’s term ends on Feb. 1 has also clouded the outlook.

One of the candidates Trump has interviewed and is seriously considering according to reports, former Treasury undersecretary John Taylor, was deemed in a Reuters poll as likely to adopt the most radical change to current policy were he to be appointed.

After more than two years of purchases worth over 2 trillion euros in total, the European Central Bank is expected to announce at its meeting on Thursday that it will trim asset purchases to 40 billion euros a month from January and continue buying securities for another six or nine months.

The rising risk of a disorderly Brexit won’t deter the Bank of England – the only major central bank dealing with inflation running well above its target – from making what a majority of economists say will be a policy error by raising rates for the first time in a decade on Nov. 2.

The Chinese economy, Asia’s largest and the world’s second-biggest, is forecast to expand 6.4 percent next year but faces twin risks of managing its massive debt pile as well as a highly inflated property market.

Inflation there is expected to be more muted at 1.6 percent this year, down from last year’s 2.0 percent, due to weak food price rises, but is expected to pick up to 2.2 percent in 2018.

Asia’s third-largest economy, India, is predicted to grow 6.7 percent in 2018 – its weakest pace in four years – following disruptions caused by a government currency ban late last year and a new national tax launched in July.

And the biggest economy in Latin America, Brazil‘s, is likely to outpace Mexico for the first time in five years this year thanks to record-low interest rates. It will grow 2.3 percent in 2018, the poll found.

(For other stories from the Reuters global long-term economic outlook polls package)

Additional reporting by Shrutee Sarkar in Bengaluru; Polling and reporting by the Reuters Polls team in Bengaluru and bureaus in Seoul, Beijing, Sydney, Shanghai, Tokyo, London, Milan, Paris, Stockholm, Istanbul, Dubai, Cairo, Johannesburg, Toronto, Brasilia, Mexico City, Lima, Buenos Aires, Bogota, Caracas and Santiago; Editing by Ross Finley and Hugh Lawson

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/j7iXh5S8phk/global-growth-sure-but-still-not-much-inflation-pressure-reuters-poll-idUSKBN1CV0B5

Asian stocks flat after Wall Street pullback, euro gains before ECB

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian stocks barely changed on Thursday, capped as Wall Street shares pulled back from record highs, while the euro stretched gains ahead of a European Central Bank meeting that could take a major step away from its accommodative policy.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was flat. Australian stocks and South Korea’s KOSPI .KS11 both inched down 0.1 percent.

Japan’s Nikkei .N225, which had its 16-day winning run snapped the previous day, shrugged off Wall Street weakness and rose 0.2 percent, lifted by shares backed by strong earnings.

Shanghai stocks .SSEC were up 0.4 percent. Taiwan .TWOII was flat.

U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday on a batch of soft quarterly earnings, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI suffering its worst day in seven weeks after rising to a record peak the previous session. [.N]

Decliners included chipmaker AMD (AMD.O), which tumbled 13.5 percent after it flagged competitive pressures with a forecast that pointed to a drop in fourth quarter revenue from the third.

In currency markets, the euro added to overnight gains to reach a six-day high of $1.1833 EUR=, accompanying a rise by the German 10-year bund yield DE10YT=TWEB to a three-week top of 0.50 percent.

The rise by the euro and German yields was prompted by expectations the ECB would cut back its bond-buying stimulus and take the biggest step yet in unwinding years of loose monetary policy.

However, the central bank is still concerned about low inflation and is expected to accompany the tapering with an extension of the stimulus in a “less-but-for-longer” move.

“The focal point is how long the ECB decides to spend on tapering its bond buying,” said Junichi Ishikawa, senior forex strategist at IG Securities in Tokyo.

“If the ECB opts to spend more than six months to taper, it will lead to thoughts that it won’t be able to move onto hiking interest rates until 2019,” he said.

“The ECB could be seen as dovish in such a case and in turn weigh on the euro,” he said.

The dollar was 0.2 percent lower at 113.520 yen JPY=.

The greenback rose to a three-month high of 114.245 yen overnight as the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield spiked to a seven-month peak of 2.475 percent US10YT=RR.

But the dollar pared the gains as the Treasury yield retraced its rise amid the drop in Wall Street shares. The 10-year Treasury yield last stood at 2.429 percent.

The dollar index against a basket of six currencies was down 0.15 percent at 93.565 .DXY, its lowest in six days.

The South Korean won KRW= rose to an eight-week high against the dollar after data showed the domestic economy last quarter grew at its fastest pace in seven years. This raised market expectations for the Bank of Korea to hike rates in November.

The pound added to overnight gains and brushed $1.3278 GBP=D3, its highest in 10 days. Sterling climbed almost 1 percent the previous day after stronger-than-expected U.K. growth data cemented expectations the Bank of England will raise interest rates next week.

Another big mover was the Canadian dollar, which slid 1 percent overnight to a three-month low of C$1.2816 per dollar CAD=D4 after the Bank of Canada left interest rates steady as expected, but was seen to have sounded dovish in its policy statement.

The loonie rebounded slightly to last trade at C$1.2789 per dollar.

U.S. crude oil futures CLc1 was 0.15 percent lower at $52.10 per barrel following data on Wednesday that showed a surprising increase in U.S. crude inventories.

Brent crude LCOc1 slipped 0.15 percent to $58.35 per barrel.

Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro; Editing by Sam Holmes and Richard Borsuk

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/qXe2jU02LkA/asian-stocks-flat-after-wall-street-pullback-euro-gains-before-ecb-idUSKBN1CV024

London comes to Macau as Las Vegas Sands revamps casino resort

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Las Vegas Sands, the casino behemoth owned by U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson, said on Wednesday it plans to spend $1.1 billion on new projects in the world’s largest gambling hub, including building a London-themed attraction.

Sands, which owns five properties in the Chinese territory of Macau via its subsidiary Sands China, said it would renovate and rebrand Sands Cotai Central as The Londoner Macao by 2020.

Sands Cotai Central has been one of the company’s weakest properties, analysts said, due to its lack of character and tourist appeal when compared with Sands’ gondola-filled Venetian or its Parisian property that features a replica Eiffel Tower.

The timing of the Cotai renovation comes as operators in the former Portuguese colony of Macau such as MGM Resorts and SJM Holdings race to finish their planned resorts before casino licenses start to expire in 2020.

Authorities have been pushing Macau’s casino operators to diversify away from gambling because of their dependence on the industry which accounts for over 80 percent of government revenues.

Sands, which completed the Parisian in 2016, has now turned to revamping existing properties to further boost its appeal. The company said it would add new suites and rooms to its St Regis and Four Seasons properties and renovate VIP areas at the Venetian and Plaza Macau.

Sands, which reported earnings in line with analyst expectations on Wednesday, said net revenue for the third quarter was $3.2 billion.

Adelson, the first mover into Macau’s Cotai strip – once a dusty stretch of reclaimed land which now teems with glitz and cavernous gambling halls – said the market in Macau was continuing to recover.

“While we have invested over $13 billion in Macao since 2002… we see tremendous future opportunity in the Macao market as it continues to grow and evolve,” he said in a statement.

Analysts were mostly positive on the announcement although cautioned the renovations would bring some disruption over the next two years.

“In the long run should be value additive to the company. However dividend growth may be limited over next few years as FCF (free cash flow)is redirected to capital expenditure,” said Vitaly Umansky, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong.

Reporting by Farah Master

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/2LamtaLFvkg/london-comes-to-macau-as-las-vegas-sands-revamps-casino-resort-idUSKBN1CV07W

Three women sue Uber in San Francisco claiming unequal pay, benefits

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Three women engineers have sued Uber Technologies Inc for discrimination based of their gender and race, the latest blow to the ride-services company that is straining to overcome a year of controversies over its workplace culture.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday at the Superior Court in San Francisco, follows a widely read blog post in February from another female engineer that described Uber’s work environment as one that tolerated and fostered sexual harassment.

The lawsuit filed by Ingrid Avendano, Roxana del Toro Lopez and Ana Medina, who described themselves as Latina software engineers, says that Uber’s compensation and other practices discriminate against women and people of color. As a result, the three women have lost out on earnings, promotions and benefits, the lawsuit says.

Avendano and Toro Lopez left Uber this summer after more than two years with the company. Medina is still employed there, according to the lawsuit.

Uber spokesman Matthew Wing declined to comment.

The lawsuit describes an employee ranking system that is “not based on valid and reliable performance measures” and favors men and white or Asian employees. Women, Latino, American Indian and African American employees are given lower performance scores, making it more difficult for them to advance professionally and confining them to more menial tasks, according to the lawsuit.

“In this system, female employees and employees of color are systematically undervalued compared to their male and white or Asian American peers,” the lawsuit says.

Women, black and Latino employees also lose out on pay raises, bonuses, stock options, benefits and other wages because of the company’s discriminatory practices, the lawsuit alleges.

“These three engineers are seeking to ensure that Uber pays women and people of color equally for the hard work they’ve done – and will continue to do – to help make Uber successful,” said lawyer Jahan Sagafi of Outten Golden which is representing the plaintiffs. 

Outten Golden have also represented employees in gender discrimination lawsuits against Goldman Sachs and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O).

Avendano and Toro Lopez brought their complaints to the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency this summer, an administrative step that precedes a public lawsuit. News site The Information reported on the complaint Tuesday.

In August, Uber made a series of changes to address pay equity, including increasing pay of employees who were paid below the median salary for their job and providing an annual 2.5 percent raise.

Reporting by Heather Somerville; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/NhZsfE_JpVA/three-women-sue-uber-in-san-francisco-claiming-unequal-pay-benefits-idUSKBN1CU2Z1

GE’s CEO sees more partnerships ahead for digital business

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – General Electric Co (GE.N) will use more alliances to build its digital-industrial business in coming years, Chief Executive Officer John Flannery said on Wednesday, suggesting the industrial conglomerate will curb spending in that area.

GE is investing about $2.1 billion in GE Digital this year, and executives had said that amount would fall in 2018.

Flannery on Wednesday made his first direct remarks about the digital strategy since he became CEO on Aug. 1. He has begun slashing costs in other areas, including reducing staff, grounding corporate jets and axing the “Maserati benefit” of corporate cars for about 600 senior executives.

Flannery is due to unveil new financial targets on Nov. 13 and is under heavy pressure to turn GE around after the company’s third-quarter earnings and cash flow badly missed targets. GE stock is down 32 percent so far this year, while the SP 500 index is up 14 percent,

GE’s digital strategy is built around a cloud-based software platform, known as Predix, that connects factories, power plants and other industrial equipment to computers that improve performance and predict outages.

But Predix’s limited capabilities and performance problems have caused GE to lose out to competitors such as Siemens AG (SIEGn.DE) and startups such as Uptake and C3IOT.

Flannery said on Wednesday that GE will focus on selling Predix in its own businesses: energy, oil-and-gas, aviation, healthcare, transportation and mining, as Reuters reported in August.

In other markets, “We’re going to be more selective … and do it largely through partners,” Flannery said at GE’s annual Minds + Machines conference.

Gary Mintchell, chief executive of The Manufacturing Connection, an industrial-internet-focused research and consulting company, said GE’s strategy of using partners reflects the company’s realization that “they can’t build their own ecosystem.”

GE said it was expanding its partnership with Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), to provide access to Microsoft applications on Predix. The specifics largely duplicated what the companies said when they first announced the deal in July 2016.

GE said Predix will be available on Azure in North America on Nov. 30, months later than the original target of the second quarter. Predix will still be available on Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) Amazon Web Services cloud platform, GE said.

GE Digital’s chief executive, Bill Ruh, on Wednesday noted a partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co (HPE.N). GE also is linking Predix with Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O) IOS operating system for iPhones and iPads.

Patrick Franklin, vice president in charge of Predix, said there was still room to improve Predix after the company held a two-month time-out this year to fix bugs, but the platform was showing near-100 percent stability.

“We are paying careful attention to quality,” he said, referring to the delay in deploying Predix on Azure.

GE executives said the company is focusing on developing apps for Predix to boost sales. GE plans to bundle applications for equipment monitoring and service technicians, both of which it bought last year.

GE said orders for Predix were rising sharply. Some customers at the event echoed that view. U.S. utility Exelon Corp (EXC.N), for instance, said it is rolling out Predix to its nuclear, gas, wind and other power plants after a two-year pilot of the system showed it worked as advertised, said Brian Hoff, director of corporate strategy and innovation at Exelon.

“If it didn’t hit its targets, we wouldn’t be moving forward,” Hoff said.

Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Leslie Adler

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/-Pnf-f3JqC8/ges-ceo-sees-more-partnerships-ahead-for-digital-business-idUSKBN1CU2IC

Ackman: All directors, shareholders ‘disappointed’ by Chipotle slide

BOSTON (Reuters) – Activist investor William Ackman on Wednesday said he believes directors and investors in Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc (CMG.N) are disappointed in the chain’s recent performance, on a day its shares hit their lowest since 2013.

Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management holds a 10 percent stake, making the hedge fund the largest investor in the fast-casual burrito chain.

“There is not a member of the board of directors; there is not a member of management; there is not a shareholder of the company who isn’t disappointed with the progress of the company so far,” Ackman said in an interview with Reuters in Boston.

Chipotle on Tuesday posted lower-than-expected earnings and said it would open fewer restaurants than previously planned over the coming year, news that sent its shares down 14.6 percent to close at $277.01 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ackman declined further comment on the company. His fund’s stake in Chipotle lost about $145 million in value in Wednesday’s slide.

The billionaire investor in May described Chipotle Chief Executive Steve Ells as “outstanding.” Ells was made sole chief executive in December when Pershing Square also received two board seats.

Ackman has a been involved with a number of companies where chief executives have lost their positions soon after he arrived on the scene including Canadian Pacific and Air Products.

Chipotle’s sales swooned in November 2015 when the chain was linked to a multi-state E. coli outbreak and went into free fall in December 2016 after at least 80 Boston College students were sickened by norovirus traced to a Chipotle restaurant.

Ackman signaled that he was not worried about the safety of Chipotle’s burritos, tacos and salads, noting that he had eaten lunch at the chain on Wednesday.

“The entire investment team is going to be eating Chipotle until the stock price is back at $500,” he joked.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/81qQpE8LDgY/ackman-all-directors-shareholders-disappointed-by-chipotle-slide-idUSKBN1CV01D

Ryan says Republican tax plan must speed through choppy waters: Reuters interview

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday that a sweeping Republican tax-cut plan is entering its toughest phase yet as lobbyists swarm Congress to try to protect valuable tax breaks.

Urging lawmakers to move quickly on the plan, Ryan said in an interview with Reuters that speedy action would prevent the legislation getting bogged down and deliver sooner the economic growth that Republicans expect from it.

“K Street,” as Washington’s lobbying industry is known after the downtown street where much of it is based, will soon descend on Capitol Hill to defend tax benefits for companies and other special interests, said Ryan, the top Republican in Congress.

”When the details come, that is when you’re going to see K Street coming to Congress. And that’s why this hasn’t been done for 31 years,” said Ryan, looking back to the country’s last major tax code overhaul under President Ronald Reagan in 1986.

While the broad parameters of the Republican plan, backed by President Donald Trump, have been made public, detailed legislation is not expected to be revealed until next week.

Securing passage by Congress of the tax plan would give Trump his first major legislative win since he took office in January. Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress and are under pressure to deliver on their election campaign promises. Final action on taxes is at least weeks away.

The Republican plan would cut taxes for businesses and people by up to $6 trillion over the next decade, according to independent analysts.

It calls for reducing the corporate income tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent and setting a lower rate for smaller businesses, as well as cutting taxes for individuals and allowing larger deductions for families.

Democrats have called it a gift to the rich and to corporate America that would cause the federal deficit to balloon and add to the $20 trillion U.S. national debt.

CHOPPY WATERS

Ryan referred to white-water rafting to describe how the tax overhaul effort is entering its toughest phase.

“We’ve been going through Class 3 rapids, which is a pleasant ride. It’s nice. Everybody pretty much stays in the boat and it’s pretty good. But we’re about to go through Class 5 rapids, which is the biggest rapid you can go through,” he said.

He called on Republicans to hold tight as details are hammered out. “We’ve got to make sure that everybody stays in the boat and we get the boat down the river,” Ryan said.

He dismissed concerns that tax cuts could expand the federal deficit. “We don’t anticipate a big deficit effect from this tax reform because we will broaden the base and lower the rates, plug loopholes and get faster economic growth.”

Republicans intend to pay for their proposed cuts in part by broadening the tax base. That would require discarding trillions of dollars of tax deductions, loopholes and other breaks, each one protected by powerful interests.

If lobbyists succeed in protecting such tax breaks, lawmakers would be looking at less revenue to offset the tax cuts, raising the risk of higher deficits and debt that could undermine long-term economic growth.

DEMOCRATIC SUPPORT?

Ryan has previously said he wants the House to pass the tax bill by the Nov. 23 U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. He predicted on Wednesday that some Democratic lawmakers would back the tax plan.

“At the end of the day, I do believe some Democrats will end up voting for this thing,” Ryan said. “It’s hard for me to see why – no matter what party you’re from – you’d want to vote against this.”

At least some Democratic support could end up being needed in the Senate, where Republicans hold only a 52-48 majority. Party dissent in the Senate led to Republicans’ failure this summer to push through an overhaul of the healthcare system that Trump and the party leadership had pushed for.

Ryan, from Wisconsin, blamed Democrats for the lack of bipartisanship in Washington. Republicans are drafting the tax legislation on their own.

“I so wish we had Bill Bradley Democrats around these days. We do not have Bill Bradley Democrats. Believe me, I really, really wish we did,” Ryan said, referring to Democratic former Senator Bill Bradley, who played a key bipartisan role in the Reagan tax reform.

Among Republicans, skirmishes around the tax breaks have already begun.

Some Republican lawmakers are resisting a proposal to eliminate a popular deduction for state and local tax payments, which would hit middle-class voters in high-tax states like New York, New Jersey and California.

“You do have to broaden the base in order to lower the rates. And that is what reform is,” Ryan said. “With respect to state and local, I think there’s a way of addressing the concerns that our members have for middle income taxpayers … so that they are net winners in tax reform as well.”

Ryan also said Republican lawmakers will not take up a bipartisan plan to stabilize Obamacare insurance markets or try again this year to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

The House speaker said he wants Congress to pass legislation to protect illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children but offered no timetable.

Asked about strong denunciations of Trump this week by two Republican senators, Ryan said people should “settle their differences personally” rather than in public.

He also urged the Department of Justice to immediately give Congress documents related to the funding of a dossier on Trump during the presidential campaign.

Reporting by David Morgan, Amanda Becker and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Susan Heavey and Alistair Bell; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Will Dunham and Frances Kerry

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/9Q7JZcjSdJ4/ryan-says-republican-tax-plan-must-speed-through-choppy-waters-reuters-interview-idUSKBN1CU1T0

Exclusive: Pfizer to launch consumer health sale in November

LONDON (Reuters) – Pfizer (PFE.N) plans to kick off an auction process for its consumer healthcare business in November, paving the way for a potential $15 billion-plus sale of the headache pill to lip balm business, sources close to the matter told Reuters.

Several global companies, including GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) and Reckitt Benckiser (RB.L), have expressed interest in bidding for the unit, which had sales of about $3.4 billion in 2016.

The prospective sale, which is being led by Centerview Partners, Guggenheim Securities and Morgan Stanley (MS.N), was first mooted on Oct. 10, when Pfizer said it was considering strategic options for the unit.

But preliminary discussions with interested parties including Reckitt have already taken place, one of the sources said, adding the U.S. drugmaker wants to get the ball rolling before the end of this year.

GSK Chief Executive Emma Walmsley confirmed on Wednesday she would look “carefully” at the business.

Three people familiar with the situation said the British drugmaker had hired Citi (C.N) to represent it in the auction. GSK declined to comment while Citi was not immediately available.

Other possible bidders could include Procter Gamble (PG.N), Sanofi (SASY.PA), Johnson Johnson (JNJ.N) and Nestle (NESN.S), several sources said.

Pfizer plans to send out financial information about the consumer unit to prospective buyers in around three weeks time, one of the sources said.

The process is expected to heat up early next year as bids come in and a deal could be sealed around the middle of 2018, the source said.

Germany’s Merck KGaA (MRCG.DE) is also looking to divest its consumer health business and has hired JP Morgan (JPM.N) to sell the unit, best known for making Seven Seas vitamins.

Some banking and industry sources said Merck could put the divestment on hold since the sale, estimated to be worth around $4.5 billion, risked being eclipsed by the Pfizer auction.

One source said Pfizer believed keen competition would allow it to raise at least $20 billion from the sale of the business, whose well-known brands include painkiller Advil, Centrum multivitamins and lip balm Chapstick.

As aging populations and health-conscious consumers drive demand for self-medication, the consumer health sector has proved a fertile ground for deal-making in recent years.

But the industry remains fragmented and GSK’s Walmsley said she expected more merger activity, with GSK in a strong position to act as a “consolidator”.

Although consumer remedies sold over the counter have lower margins than prescription drugs, they are typically very long-lasting brands with loyal customers.

Pfizer Chief Executive Ian Read said he was considering the sale of consumer healthcare because it was not integral to the core prescription drug business and might be worth more outside the group.

GSK has taken a different view, opting to retain a diverse portfolio in which consumer health offers a hedge against riskier prescription drugs.

For Reckitt, meanwhile, over-the-counter medicines offer higher-margin growth than its household business. Chief Executive Rakesh Kapoor, who last week announced plans to separate Reckitt into health and home and hygiene divisions, said he would weigh a bid if Pfizer’s strategic review resulted in a sale.

Nestle could also enter the fight and use the Pfizer consumer business as a platform to expand the intersection of food and healthcare, sources said. The Swiss group has previously identified consumer healthcare as a sector of interest.

Reporting By Pamela Barbaglia; Editing by Susan Fenton

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/fIBD8SfGm78/exclusive-pfizer-to-launch-consumer-health-sale-in-november-sources-idUSKBN1CU2RW