Long shutdown could hurt economy, a short one just ‘a blip’

If the shutdown lasts just days or even a couple of weeks, the robust stock market that President Donald Trump has boasted about probably will emerge unscathed. A longer impasse, economists say, could rattle consumer and investor confidence, pulling stocks lower and dragging down the economy.

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Economists and investment advisers interviewed by The Associated Press generally didn’t foresee the shutdown that began Saturday lasting long enough to stifle the economy much. With pivotal elections in November, both parties would want to shield voters from any pain. Investors and consumers are feeling optimistic now based on the tax cut signed into law last month, and the economy is strong enough to power through a short shutdown.

But Randy Warren, CEO of Warren Financial Service, a Philadelphia-area investment advisory firm, said shutdown that drags on for six weeks or longer — an unimaginable scenario — could kill a bull market and discourage people from spending money. “These things start to pile up,” he said Saturday. “When you start to doubt the future, then you start to doubt investing.”

And that’s among the reasons Warren and others don’t see a lengthy stalemate.

“It seems unlikely at this point that it would be a four-week shutdown,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at Standard Poor’s. “It will hopefully be a blip.”

The Standard Poor’s 500 index and Nasdaq composite closed at record highs Friday. The Russell 2000 index, composed of smaller, more domestically-focused companies, climbed more than 1 percent and also finished at a record high.

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“Unless it meaningfully impacts the U.S. consumer and leads them to spend much less money, leading to some kind of major (economic) slowdown, it’s not a big deal,” said Sameer Samana, global equity and technical strategist for the Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

The economy could take a hit if national parks and monuments are closed or operations curtailed for a long period. Trips could be canceled, cutting vacation dollars that roll into communities near the parks. The Interior Department pledged to keep as many parks and public lands open as possible, but the pattern on Saturday was spotty. Some parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite were open with limited services, but the Statue of Liberty in New York and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia were closed.

After the 16-day government shutdown in October 2013, the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated that it trimmed an annualized 0.3 percent from growth during the final three months of that year. The reduced growth was mostly because federal employees worked fewer hours.

Leslie Preston, a senior economist at TD Bank, said the economy is currently “strong enough to withstand” a similarly sized hit because growth is projected to be nearly 2.5 percent in the January-March quarter.

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Krisher reported from Detroit. AP Economics Writer Josh Boak in Washington and Markets Writer Marley Jay in New York contributed to this report.

Should we let the crowd fund Canadian science if no one else will?

Hello and happy Saturday! Here’s this week’s round-up of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news.

If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

Asking the ‘crowd’ to pay for Canadian science

Catherine Scott studies black widow spiders at the University of Toronto. She needed a field assistant because it’s dangerous studying venomous spiders at night. But the lab’s science grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council didn’t cover it. So she launched a campaign on a science crowdfunding site and raised the $6,000 she needed.

“We traveled to Victoria B.C. where we worked on the land of the Tsawout First Nation at Island View Beach (with their kind permission) for about 4 months,” she told CBC News in an email.

Over at the University of Winnipeg, Prof. Richard Westwood is trying to save the last surviving populations of a rare Manitoba butterfly called the Poweshiek skipperling which can only survive in the rapidly diminishing tall grass prairie.

Catherine Scott, a PhD candidate in Professor Maydianne Andrade’s lab at U of T Scarborough, is exploring how male black widow spiders use chemical to communicate in nature. (Sean McCann)

He doesn’t have enough funding to send researchers into the field to study the butterfly habitat so he’s crowdfunding to raise $35,000 which will pay for several summer students and a graduate student.

“We need people to work on this and trying to raise money for research is always challenging,” Westwood told CBC News. His ultimate goal is to breed the butterfly in captivity and reintroduce it into new habitats.

Scientific crowdfunding is springing up all over the world. It’s a departure from the way science is traditionally funded, with public sector institutions awarding research money using rigorous evaluation by experts — a process known as peer review.

But those public funding sources are shrinking. A national report last April warned that Canadian research is seriously underfunded and called on Ottawa to dramatically increase support for basic science.

In the meantime, scientists, especially young researchers are struggling to launch their careers.  And that’s a gap Eric Fisher is hoping to fill, through his made-in-Canada science crowdfunding platform called Labfundr.

University of Winnipeg researchers examine host plants for the larvae of the Poweshiek skipperling. (Courtesy Richard Westwood)

“We have these really major questions and challenges facing society and there’s not always the funding available to make the incremental steps forward,” said Fisher. He has a PhD in biochemistry but instead of doing his own research he’s decided to support other scientists and run a business at the same time. Like other crowdfunding platforms, Labfundr takes a percentage of the funds raised in successful campaigns.

The idea of going to the crowd to fund science makes Jeremy Snyder nervous. He’s a medical ethicist at Simon Fraser University and he’s researching the ethics of using crowdfunding to finance medical treatments. Snyder is concerned about a lack of oversight and peer review as science crowdfunding takes off.

“The Labfundr people I’m sure are trying to do a good thing,” he said, “and I think there are probably ways it can be done really well, but I think there’s also a lot of danger of turning it into a popularity contest, hijacking public funding and really hyping new treatments that aren’t well supported by the scientific community and providing an alternate way of funding those.”

Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, applauds the initiative but is also concerned about the lack of oversight and peer review.

“How do you identify what is the most likely to be useful or most likely to be scientifically valid? Peer review does provide some quality control but it also sets a pretty high bar whereas crowdfunding has in essence no bar.”

Fisher said Labfundr requires researchers to be affiliated with academic institutions.

“We’ve launched one project to date,” said Fisher. “[We’ve had] quite a few leads and a lot of interest but it’s been a challenge to get projects launched.”

Crowdfunding science made headlines recently when 1,700 online donors gave money to  campaign to study whether a dimming star is being caused by aliens. A crowdfunding campaign raised more than $100,000, which the researchers used to book time on telescopes. So far the data suggests the dimming light is being caused by space dust — not aliens.

Exposing hidden data  

This week a Toronto family doctor was finally able to answer the question a patient asked him seven years ago. Back then, Dr. Nav Persaud routinely prescribed a popular morning sickness drug, Diclectin, to women who suffered from nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.

But when a patient asked him if the drug worked, Persaud realized he didn’t know. And he was shocked to learn that Health Canada wouldn’t give him access to the files they had about the drug, calling it confidential business information.

Persaud fought the ruling, and finally got his hands on the original clinical trial data, publishing his findings on Wednesday.

The answer to his patient’s question? No. His analysis suggested the drug did not work better than placebo in relieving morning sickness. And he also discovered the results fell short of the company’s own targets for proof.

Health Canada is not changing its labelling on the drug, and the company said in a statement that it stands by its tests and its products.

Dr. Nav Persaud, a family doctor and researcher in Toronto, spent seven years trying to access confidential industry data to determine the efficacy of the popular morning sickness drug Diclectin. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

In hunting down and exposing old industry trial data, Persaud was participating in an international scientific initiative called RIAT — restoring invisible and abandoned trials. RIAT was launched by a group of researchers in 2013. So far five old trials have been brought to light.

In the Diclectin case, Persaud was unable to release the raw data because Health Canada forced him to sign a confidentiality clause ordering him to destroy the 9,000 pages without showing them to anyone. But he’s applied once again to make that data public.

Health Canada is revising its rules so that industry data will be made public when new drugs are approved. Persaud says that could make it possible to find industry studies that were never reported.

“We’ll see when and how many [Health Canada] actually makes available. But if they’re going to do that it opens the door for more of these re-analyses,” Persaud said.

Meanwhile, the RIAT initiative is setting up a support centre to help other researchers recover old trial data and bring it to light, Peter Doshi, University of Maryland pharmacy researcher and leader of the RIAT initiative told CBC News in an email.

What about the animal studies?

It’s hard enough to get access to industry data on clinical trials in humans. But it’s even more challenging for researchers to see the original animal studies that happen before drugs are tested in people.

Yet that animal data is critical in understanding whether there was enough evidence to go forward with human studies, according to McGill University biomedical ethicist Jonathan Kimmelman.

“There’s a lot at stake any time you put humans in a clinical trial,” Kimmelman told CBC News. “You’re exposing them to risks, and burdens and inconveniences, and you want to be really confident that those are going to be redeemed by some kind of medical advance. And the only basis you have for making that estimation or calculation is the quality of the animal evidence that stands behind the product that you’re testing.”

This week, the BMJ published an investigation into the animal research behind a failed trial of a tuberculosis vaccine tested in 2,800 South African infants, suggesting that a close look a the animal studies could have predicted the ultimate failure of the trial. No infants were harmed but the investigation raises questions about whether their parents were properly informed and whether there is sufficient oversight in pre-clinical research.

Animal data is critical in understanding whether there was enough evidence to go forward with human studies. (shutterstock)

Kimmelman said that story is not unique. He has warned about the need to look carefully at pre-clinical animal studies for proof of efficacy before starting drug trials in humans.

“They’re looking at the animal evidence for safety, and toxicology but not the animal evidence that’s suggesting that the drug is likely to be effective.”

Kimmelman is calling for pre-clinical research to be made available to independent researchers. And he says both regulators and research ethics boards should look more carefully at evidence that the drug is likely to be effective before approving human trials.

Flu and commuting  

If there was a serious influenza epidemic in the region where you live, you’d be understandably tempted to ask your boss if you can work from home for a while. After all, common sense tells us that staying close to home will reduce our chances of catching an illness.

But a study published in the journal Nature Physics this week found that the opposite was true: isolating ourselves in our own neighbourhoods may actually increase our chances of contracting an infection disease and worsen the outbreak locally.

The team of researchers from the University of Rovira i Virgili and the University of Zaragoza, both in Spain, developed a mathematical model to study mobility patterns — the kind associated with commuting to work — and their effect on the spread of epidemic illness.

Researchers Alex Arenas, left, Jesus Gomez, middle, and David Soriano developed a mathematical model that found daily commuting reduces the spread of epidemic illness, rather than increases it as expected. (©CC0)

“What we found is pretty astonishing,” said Alex Arenas, a professor in the department of computer science and mathematics at the University Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, who headed up the research.

Using real travel and public health data, the group discovered that daily commuting reduced the spread of epidemic illness, rather than spreading it, as expected.

How can that be? It turns out that since commuting takes many of us out of densely populated suburbs and moves us to business centres where few people live, it reduces rates of infection by spreading us around more evenly.

“What happens is that you homogenize the population in terms of density of people moving back and forth,” said Arenas. In other words, if we didn’t commute, we’d be bunched up in our own neighbourhoods infecting each other at the post office and grocery store.

A team of researchers has created a mathematical model that found commuting to work doesn’t increase the spread of epidemic illnesses, as expected, but instead reduces the rate of infection. (©CC0)

Part of our misconceptions around travel and the spread of disease comes from high-profile news stories that mark, for instance, the first case of Ebola in North America. These tend to give us an inflated sense of travel’s role in spreading illness, Arenas told CBC News. He points to an avian flu outbreak that started in Mexico as another example. “Cases were lower than expected compared to other strains of the flu.”

Arenas said mathematical models “will help to make better predictions, and better predictions means economic and political consequences will be lower.”

1 year after Women’s March, Canadians rally with a new focus on women in politics

One year ago Sara Bingham was part of a caravan of Canadians on buses heading to Washington, D.C., for the historic Women’s March in protest of Donald Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president.

An emergency phone number was written on her forearm with black marker. The travellers were unsure what to expect when they arrived and were prepared for conflict, just in case.

That’s not what they found as they spent the day mingling around the protest site, which was crammed with an estimated 500,000 people, many sporting pink hats.

“It was really a feeling of being at a festival,” Bingham, who lives in Kitchener, Ont., said in an interview this week.

At the march, she waded through the tightly packed crowd toward the stage and heard Madonna and other celebrities, activists and elected officials rally the jubilant crowd.

“It was exhilarating,” said Bingham. “It will be one of our remember-when moments.”

Bingham was one of thousands of Canadian women who participated in the Washington march and solidarity marches across Canada last Jan. 21.

Concrete actions

What was next for Bingham was becoming executive director of Women’s March Canada, one of the global chapters of the U.S.-based Women’s March, to fight for women’s rights and social justice.

A separate organization was also created: March On, whose members describe themselves as more grassroots than Women’s March.

Sara Bingham, wearing a red scarf, went to Washington for the 2017 march. She became executive director of Women’s March Canada. (Sara Bingham)

Despite some discord over the last year, the groups are working together to organize rallies across Canada on Saturday to mark the anniversary. At least 40 are planned from coast to coast to coast.

Bodil Geyer, a March On organizer in Vancouver, and other activists interviewed said Trump’s election and the Women’s March spurred Canadians to get involved in their local communities.

“It created this massive groundswell of everyday people who wouldn’t normally be political to get involved,” said Geyer.

That interest has not let up, according to Geyer. There is a rally every month, fighting for one social justice issue or another, and people have remained active on social media and kept the conversations going.

“We’ve kept the ball rolling,” said Geyer.

‘This isn’t about Trump’

Ottawa resident Catherine Butler had never been politically active. But when she heard about the Women’s March in Washington she was keen to express solidarity with American women.

She organized a local rally instead that attracted thousands in Canada’s capital. Butler said this year’s event on Parliament Hill will have a different focus.

“This isn’t about Trump,” she said. “We have a lot of things we can focus on at home.”

Supporting Indigenous women, particularly throughout the troubled inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, is a priority, said Butler. People are being encouraged to talk to Indigenous women in their communities to understand how to help.

Protesters take part in the Women’s March in Ottawa last year following the inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. president. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Another priority for the Women’s March and March On is getting more women into politics.

Butler said with an Ontario election in June and municipal elections across the province in October, their message to women is either run or join a campaign for a woman candidate.

After Saturday’s march in Ottawa there is a workshop focused on women in politics. Campaign schools are also being organized in various cities to prepare women to run.

Butler said last year’s march was organized quickly in reaction to Trump, and the organizers had to take a deep breath and decide where to go next.

‘Renewed optimism’

“What we are going to be when we grow up is now well established,” she said.

Organizers of Saturday’s marches say the #MeToo movement that emerged at the end of last year and put a spotlight on sexual harassment and abuse has helped their cause.

Kavita Dogra, an organizer of Toronto’s march, said #MeToo has prompted even more women to speak up and get involved.

Protesters in Toronto march in support of the Washington Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

“There’s renewed optimism that change can happen, and I think people want to show their support for that,” said Dogra.

The Toronto event is emphasizing young women leaders on its speakers list. The idea is to support future leaders who will help shape the city, Dogra said.

Toronto organizers, like those in other cities, are also focused on educating men and women on how to be politically active. 

“We are hoping to keep people inspired to take action, to keep the movement going forward, trying to build a city that is great for everyone,” she said.

Janelle Hinds, a 25-year-old engineering graduate, is one of the young women speaking Saturday. She said the Women’s March and #MeToo provided openings for her work in advocating for more women in science and technology.

She’s been doing that for two years, and “I’m starting to feel it now,” said Hinds. “I think there is a lot of momentum.”

Hinds said the inaugural Women’s March helped women feel more empowered, and #MeToo has carried on the feeling.

“One hundred per cent, I do not think it fizzled out, if anything it’s only gotten stronger,” said Hinds.

Janelle Hinds, from Mississauga, Ont., poses within an iron ring, a symbol of the engineering field. Hinds, 25, is an engineering graduate who is working to advance women and racial diversity in science and technology. (Mobolaji Adeolu)

U.S. government shutdown underway amid blame game

Republicans and Democrats are blaming each other for the congressional failure to pass a short-term bill to continue funding for U.S. federal agencies and prevent some of them from shutting down.

Results from the final Senate vote on the Republican bill aimed at thwarting a shutdown were announced around midnight and it was 10 votes short.

Friday’s late-night vote means a government closure is underway after the two parties showed no clear signs that they have significantly narrowed their disputes over immigration and the budget.

Democrats had insisted that any bill to renew government funding also contain permanent protections for approximately 700,000 young, undocumented immigrants who were brought illegally into the United States as children.

U.S. President Trump held a face-to-face meeting with Chuck Schumer around midday Friday. Schumer called it a ‘good meeting’ but described talks with other Republicans that followed as ‘chaotic.’ (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Last week, President Donald Trump rejected a bipartisan Senate deal that would have accomplished that as well as hand the White House $2.7 billion in new money for immigration enforcement at America’s borders.

Minutes before Friday’s midnight deadline for a funding deal, Trump’s White House issued a statement blaming Democrats for the shutdown.

“We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands,” it said.

White House blames ‘obstructionist losers’

In reading the statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said “Senate Democrats own the Schumer shutdown,” adding, “This is the behaviour of obstructionist losers, not legislators.”

The shutdown was cemented when the Senate, meeting late into Friday night, blocked a bill to maintain the federal government’s funding through Feb. 16.

The vote was 50-49, short of the 60 needed in the 100-member chamber to vault the bill over a procedural hurdle.

The House approved the measure Thursday over Democratic opposition. It would have kept agencies afloat for four more weeks, but Democrats wanted a package lasting just days in hopes of intensifying pressure on the Republican party to compromise.

Minutes after the shutdown went into effect, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer blasted Republicans and Trump from the Senate floor.

‘This will be called the Trump shutdown’

“The blame should crash entirely on President Trump’s shoulders,” he said.

“This will be called the Trump shutdown because there is no one, no one who deserves the blame for the position we find ourselves in more than President Trump. he walked away from two bipartisan deals, including one today, in which I even put the border wall on the table. What will it take for President Trump to say yes and learn how to execute the rudiments of government,” Schumer said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined Trump in attacking Democrats in the chaotic close to Trump’s first year as president.

“What we’ve just witnessed on the floor was a cynical decision by Senate Democrats to shove aside millions of Americans for the sake of irresponsible political games,” McConnell said.

Trump sarcastically tweeted on Saturday morning about the Democrats giving him a “present” on the one-year anniversary of his presidency.

Not the first funding impasse

The U.S. government has officially shut down 18 times since 1976, under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Some lasted a few hours, but the 1996 shutdown under Bill Clinton lasted the better part of a month, the longest in history.

Many of the immediate effects of the government shutdown will be muted for most Americans.

Federal employees deemed essential will be expected to report to work. Social Security and most other safety net programs should be unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions will continue, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay.

But if no deal is brokered before Monday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are set to be furloughed, or placed on an unpaid leave of absence

The White House and Capitol Hill will be working with skeleton staffs, but some government agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, have said they were able to shift funding around to keep most workers on the job. National parks and federal museums will be open, but with potentially reduced services.

As Republicans and Democrats heatedly blamed each other for the shutdown, Congress scheduled a Saturday session to consider a three-week version of the short-term spending measure.

2 Canadians, 2 Americans freed after kidnapping in Nigeria, police say

Two Americans and two Canadians have been freed after being kidnapped in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna, a police spokesman said on Saturday.

Mukhtar Aliyu, a spokesperson for Kaduna state police, said they were released Friday night after being kidnapped on Jan. 17. He said no ransom was paid.

He said the four were taken to the capital, Abuja, where they were undergoing medical observation because of the trauma they experienced. Aliya said they are in good condition.

State police commissioner Agyole Abeh said one suspect has been arrested and police are searching for other suspects.

The four were abducted while travelling near Kagarko on their way from the city of Kaduna to the capital Abuja. During the ambush, their two police escorts were killed in a gun battle.

The Abuja-to-Kaduna road in Nigeria has long been a haunt for kidnappers. Last February, two German archaeologists were abducted in the region, though were later freed. In October, kidnappers took four Britons in Delta state in the south. Three were released after negotiations, but the other, Ian Squire, was killed. (Google)

At the time, Global Affairs Canada said it could not release further information about the Canadians due to privacy concerns.

Aliya said the kidnapped foreigners are investors who were setting up solar stations in villages around Kafanchan, a town in southern Kaduna State.

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, especially on the Kaduna-to-Abuja highway.

Two German archaeologists were seized at gunpoint last year less than 100 kilometres northeast of Abuja and later freed unharmed. Sierra Leone’s deputy high commissioner was taken at gunpoint on the highway in 2016 and held for five days before he was let go.

Victims typically are released unharmed after ransom is paid, though security forces have rescued a few high-profile abductees. A number of bandits, including herdsmen, have been arrested.

Barry and Honey Sherman were murdered by multiple killers, private investigators believe: source

Private investigators believe that the billionaire Toronto couple found dead at their home in December were murdered by multiple killers, a source with direct knowledge of the parallel probe into their mysterious deaths told CBC Toronto.

The new information contradicts a widely circulated theory that Barry and Honey Sherman died as a result of a murder-suicide — a notion that is regarded as fiction by those who knew the Shermans well.

Barry, 75, and Honey, 70, were found dead by a real estate agent in the basement of their Toronto mansion on Dec. 15. The source said their bodies were in an upright seated position on the floor near an indoor pool. Police deemed the deaths “suspicious” but have said little else since their investigation began. 

The Sherman family has hired a team of experts, which includes a number of former Toronto homicide detectives, to conduct a separate, independent investigation.

The private investigators have found evidence that both Barry and Honey Sherman had their necks wrapped with leather belts that were then knotted around a handrail that runs adjacent to the pool, the source told CBC Toronto. A coroner previously ruled that the couple had died from “ligature neck compression,” or strangulation.

Their wrists showed evidence that they had been, at one point, bound together. No rope or other materials that could have been used to tie their wrists were discovered, the source told CBC Toronto.

Their bodies were otherwise limp and their arms unbound when they were discovered, the source said. 

The team of private investigators believes that the Shermans were, in fact, killed on Dec. 13, two days before they were found. This conclusion is based on the fact that Honey was wearing the same clothes she was last seen in, on Dec. 13, according to the source.

Private investigators also believe that Honey struggled with her killer or killers. She had cuts on her lip and nose, and was sitting in a pool of her own blood when she was discovered. However, there was comparatively little blood apparent on her upper-body clothing, suggesting that she had been face-down on the tile, bleeding, for some time before being bound to the handrail in an upright position, the source said.

Various media outlets have reported that Toronto homicide detectives are probing the deaths as a possible murder-suicide. The couple’s four children, who plan to have their parents’ North York home demolished once a team of private forensic investigators have had time to scour it, have soundly rejected that theory. So have close friends of the Shermans. 

Barry Sherman is the founder of Canadian pharmaceutical giant Apotex, and both he and his wife have been recognized internationally for their generous philanthropy. The couple, who were quite socially active among the city’s gala class, was believed to have amassed a fortune of some $4.77 billion before their deaths. 

The day the Shermans were found dead, police said that there was no evidence of forced entry into the home.

Judge overseeing AT&T, Time Warner merger trial hears document dispute

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – ATT, owner of DirecTV, is asking for documents from a long list of companies as part of preparation for a trial to determine if they will be allowed to buy movie and TV show maker Time Warner, their lawyer Daniel Petrocelli said in a pre-trial hearing on Friday.

The Justice Department sued in November to stop ATT, the No. 2 U.S. wireless company, from buying Time Warner for $85 billion because of concerns that it could raise prices for rivals and pay-TV subscribers as well as hamper the development of online video. Trial is set for March 19.

Daniel Petrocelli, who represents ATT and Time Warner, said that his team had been unable to get data requested from third parties, who had said they no longer had some of it. He asked the government, which did have the data, to return it so it could be subpoenaed.

An attorney for DISH Network Corp at the hearing identified himself to Judge Richard Leon and offered to discuss the dispute but Leon declined.

The third parties included Verizon Communications, Comcast, Cox, DISH, Charter, Disney and Viacom, among others, a source close to the trial said after the hearing.

Leon expressed surprise at the problem.

“So, the only copy they had, they turned over to the government?” he said, calling the situation “rather extraordinary.”

Leon said that if no solution was found by noon on Monday, he would order the government to return the data to the companies so that they could then either comply with the subpoenas or fight them in court.

“I think that’s a sensible approach,” Petrocelli told the judge.

Fights over data are common during antitrust trials since companies that are subpoenaed frequently fear that their rivals’ executives will gain access to sensitive internal data.

For its part, a lawyer for the Justice Department, Peter Schwingler, said the government was barred from giving the data to ATT under the terms of the subpoena that they used to collect it.

Leon had given access to confidential information to the court, Justice Department lawyers and staff, service providers and ATT and Time Warner’s outside counsel.

A second government lawyer, Craig Conrath, said that he would request a stay if the U.S. Congress failed to fund the government and it shut down.

Leon said the trial would likely continue. “My natural inclination will be not to grant a stay,” he said.

The fate of the deal has been widely followed because U.S. President Donald Trump criticized it on the campaign trail in 2016 and has repeatedly attacked the reporting of Time Warner’s CNN news network. In November, Trump reiterated his opposition to the deal.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Sandra Maler

ADM pursues big ag merger with grain trader Bunge: WSJ

CHICAGO/CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – Top U.S. grains merchant Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM.N) has proposed a takeover of Bunge Ltd (BG.N), The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, a move that could set up a battle for Bunge with Swiss-based rival Glencore Plc (GLEN.L).

Large grain traders that make money by buying, selling, storing and shipping crops have struggled in recent years with a global oversupply. Thin margins have squeezed core commodity trading operations, including those of ADM, Bunge, Cargill Inc [CARG.UL] and Louis Dreyfus Co [AKIRAU.UL]. Together the four are known as the “ABCDs” and dominate the global grains trade.

Consolidation is seen as one remedy. Glencore last year sought a tie-up with Bunge in what was viewed as a start of a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the industry.

The Journal quoted unnamed sources as saying that ADM had made the approach and that details were unclear.

White Plains, New York-based Bunge operates in more than 40 countries and is Brazil’s largest exporter of agricultural products, while Chicago-based ADM says it has customers in 160 countries.

Bunge, which has a market capitalization of $9.79 billion, closed up 11.4 percent at $77.56 on Friday. ADM has a market cap of $22.64 billion.

ADM said it does not comment on “rumors or speculation” Bunge did not respond to requests for comment.

STRATEGY SHIFT?

Grain companies in recent years have expanded into higher-margin sectors, such as food ingredients and aquaculture, to offset weak results and wild swings connected to their traditional business of handling crops.

In 2014, ADM bought natural ingredient company Wild Flavors for about $3 billion in its biggest deal ever. The company has also broadened into handling healthy ingredients such as fruits, nuts and “ancient grains.”

“News of the ADM bid is a bit surprising given that ADM had been indicating the company’s strategic direction was more towards value-added rather the traditional commodities,” said Farha Aslam, analyst for Stephens Inc.

ADM is the most U.S.-focused of the major grain companies and a takeover would help it grow in South America, where Bunge is a major agricultural force.

ADM, which dates back to 1902, has tried to expand its international operations in part to take advantage of growing demand from China. In 2013, Australia rejected its attempted $2.55 billion takeover of Australian grain handler GrainCorp Ltd (GNC.AX) on concerns it could reduce competition.

Bunge was founded in Amsterdam 200 years ago. It moved its headquarters to South America as its operations grew in the region and relocated to New York ahead of an initial public offering in 2001.

HURDLES LOOM

Aslam estimated that fair value for Bunge in a takeover would be $90 to $95 per share. Morningstar said Bunge could go for about $90 to more than $100 per share.

Any tie-up would likely face stiff scrutiny from regulators and opposition from farmers who fear handing more market control to ADM could hurt prices paid for wheat, corn and soybeans.

The biggest overlap between ADM and Bunge in the United States is in grain origination and oilseeds processing, Aslam said. The companies would probably need to divest facilities in North America and also possibly in Europe, she said.

Aslam also said it was possible ADM and Glencore could partner in a bid for Bunge to split up its operations.

“ADM would take the more value-added downstream businesses and Glencore would own the more ag commodity businesses,” she said.

Glencore could not immediately be reached for comment.

A grain trading source said there is so much overlap of oilseed crushing assets between the two companies that the reported deal looks defensive – a way to keep Glencore from acquiring Bunge.

Bunge rebuffed Glencore last year, and the two struck an agreement that temporarily prevents Glencore from making a hostile bid, according to news media reports.

FARMERS RAISE WORRIES

An ADM-Bunge merger would also face opposition from farmer groups in key agricultural markets, including the United States, European Union, China, India and Brazil, said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

The companies’ relative tardiness in joining the big-agriculture merger game – following on the heels of DowDuPont (DWDP.N), Nutrien Ltd (NTR.TO) and others – would make gaining regulatory approval even tougher, Gordon said.

“When you’re the first one, there’s still more competition. Once they’ve let a few through, they may have second thoughts,” he said.

Grain farmers need five or six active buyers in order to get fair prices for their goods, but there are already only a handful, said Peter Carstensen, who teaches law at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

“This is the kind of transaction that will screw farmers,” he said.

Illinois farmer Dan Henebry, who delivers corn and soybeans to ADM’s North American headquarters in Decatur, Illinois, said he was worried a takeover of Bunge could lead to grain handlers paying farmers less for their crops.

“We’ve had so many mergers,” Henebry said. “Less competition is not good.”

Reporting by John Benny in Bengaluru, Rod Nickel in Calgary, Alberta, Tom Polansek in Chicago, Chris Prentice in New York and Diane Bartz in Washington; Writing by Peter Henderson and Anna Driver; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler

FTC makes second request on Broadcom’s bid for Qualcomm

(Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has made a second request for information on chipmaker Broadcom Ltd’s $103 billion hostile bid for Qualcomm Inc, Broadcom said in a statement on Friday, a move that could indicate heightened antitrust scrutiny.

The FTC review is part of a process under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act to scrutinize potentially anti-competitive mergers. The vast majority of deals reviewed by the FTC and the Department of Justice are allowed to proceed after the first preliminary review, according to the FTC’s website.

However, if a second request is issued, companies must provide more information to the FTC. As part of its defense against Broadcom, Qualcomm has argued that any deal faces a long antitrust review.

Broadcom said that it had anticipated the second request as a normal part of the regulatory approval process.

“This signifies that Broadcom is moving into the next stage of the U.S. antitrust review process,” Broadcom said in a statement.

Deals that get a second FTC request for information often do so because of their complexity and size, and a potential acquisition of Qualcomm by Broadcom could still subsequently be approved, according to sources who asked not to be named because the matter is private.

Reuters reported on the second request earlier on Friday. Qualcomm declined to comment, while the FTC did not respond to a request for comment.

Broadcom said this week that a separate FTC review of its client relationships is immaterial to its operations, does not relate to its wireless business and has no impact on its proposal to acquire Qualcomm.

Broadcom has said it is very confident it can complete the Qualcomm deal within 12 months of signing an agreement, while Qualcomm has said that the regulatory review processes required around the world would take much longer.

A deal that Qualcomm has in the works, its proposed $38 billion acquisition of NXP Semiconductors, was approved by EU antitrust regulators this week. Only China has yet to approve this deal, something expected in the next two weeks, according to one of the sources.

The NXP deal still faces an uncertain future because some NXP shareholders have asked for Qualcomm to raise its offer.

Broadcom has offered to pay $60 per share in cash and $10 per share of its own stock for Qualcomm. To put pressure on Qualcomm, Broadcom has put forward 11 board director nominees to replace Qualcomm’s board. Qualcomm shareholders are scheduled to vote on these directors in March.

Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis and Liana B. Baker in New York; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman

Possible Buffett heir Abel has small Berkshire stake, likely to grow

(Reuters) – Greg Abel, considered by many investors the top contender to succeed Warren Buffett as Berkshire Hathaway Inc’s (BRKa.N) chief executive officer, on Friday reported owning about $2.1 million of the conglomerate’s stock.

Abel, who along with Ajit Jain was named a Berkshire vice chairman and director last week, disclosed his stake a day after Jain reported a $109 million ownership stake.

The stakes were disclosed in regulatory filings.

Abel, 55, who has run the Berkshire Hathaway Energy unit, was appointed vice chairman to oversee non-insurance operations such as the BNSF railroad, Dairy Queen ice cream, Fruit of the Loom underwear and NetJets planes.

Jain, 66, Berkshire’s top reinsurance executive and the other strong contender to succeed Buffett, was appointed vice chairman to oversee insurance operations such as Geico auto insurance and General Re reinsurance.

Abel reported holding his Berkshire stake indirectly for the benefit of his family. Berkshire Hathaway Energy said about a year ago that Abel owned a stake in that unit that could be converted into Berkshire stock worth more than $400 million at the time.

Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire said last week that relevant factors in its succession planning were that both possess “integrity, business savvy, an owner-oriented attitude and a deep genuine interest in Berkshire.”

Buffett, 87, has run Berkshire since 1965 and has not signaled any plans to leave soon. He owns roughly one-sixth of the company, comprising most of what Forbes magazine said on Friday is his $91.6 billion fortune.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman