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Swiss Re weighs SoftBank deal as 2017 profit beats estimates

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Swiss Re reported better-than-expected annual net income on Friday despite huge claims during a disaster-heavy 2017 and said it was “carefully assessing” an investment approach from Japan’s Softbank.

The world’s second-biggest reinsurer posted net profit of $331 million, down from $3.56 billion a year earlier, but beating the average estimate of $119 million in a Reuters poll. It proposed raising its dividend and launching a new share buyback worth up to 1 billion Swiss francs ($1.07 billion).

Swiss Re had said this month it was in talks about SoftBank taking a minority stake in a deal that could be worth $10 billion or more.

On Friday it said there was no certainty any deal would be concluded. “Swiss Re’s capital position remains very strong; the issuance of new capital is not under consideration,” it said.

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Relief bill stalls over impasse over unemployment aid

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 10, 2021.

Al Drago | Reuters

Senate Democrats have agreed to cut the weekly unemployment insurance supplement in their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill but extend it for a longer period of time.

However, reports indicated Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was reluctant to back the policy, which threw the chamber into chaos Friday and delayed his party’s efforts to pass the legislation. The first in a long series of votes — a failed effort by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to include a $15 per hour minimum wage — was still ongoing after six hours as senators decided how to proceed.

Manchin was reportedly considering supporting a plan from Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. The GOP lawmaker’s amendment would set a $300 per week unemployment supplement through July 18 — a shorter duration than Democrats seek.

Democrats aim to make their change to unemployment programs Friday during a marathon of votes on amendments known as a vote-a-rama. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., was set to propose the plan.

The amendment would maintain the federal jobless benefit supplement at the current $300 per week level, rather than increase it to $400 as a House-passed bill did. The change would keep the policy in place through September, rather than end it on Aug. 29 as the House plan did.

The proposal would also make the first $10,200 in unemployment insurance untaxed. The provision aims to prevent surprise tax bills for beneficiaries.

The change to unemployment aid appeared to be an attempt to appease disparate members of the Democratic caucus. The party cannot lose a vote and still win a simple majority, the baseline needed under budget reconciliation in the chamber split evenly by party.

Cutting the unemployment benefit by $100 per week appeared to be a concession to the most conservative Democrats. Party leaders already agreed to limit the number of people who would get $1,400 direct payments because Manchin and others had concerns about how the checks were targeted.

The extension of extra jobless benefits was also expected to appeal to senators led by Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, who worried about millions of Americans suddenly losing financial support when the jobless benefit programs expired in August. Provisions providing a boost to unemployment benefits and extending eligibility for them lapsed once last summer. Congress did not renew them until December.

Wyden has called to tie the jobless aid to economic conditions so that it does not expire before the economy recovers. In opposing the relief bill, some Republicans have contended a $400 per week unemployment boost would discourage people from returning to work. They made the same argument when lawmakers approved a $600 per week supplement last year, but some research suggests the policy would not have a major effect on people deciding to seek jobs.

Democrats aim to approve their latest rescue package before March 14, the day when the current $300 per week unemployment benefit expires. However, the delays Friday threatened its quick passage as the deadline approaches.

Senate Democrats hope to pass the bill by this weekend. Republicans can drag out the process, as they face no limit on the number of amendments they can offer to the plan.

The House aims to approve the Senate version of the plan by next week and send it to President Joe Biden to sign into law.

— CNBC’s Ylan Mui contributed to this report

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Senate approves bill against Chinese-funded Confucius institutes

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Lily Thompson performs a Celebration Ribbons dance during a Lunar New Year celebration at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center in Westbrook on Saturday, February 10, 2018. Students from the CAFAM Chinese School performed traditional dances at the celebration that was sponsored by the Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine and the Confucius Institute at the University of Southern Maine.

Gregory Rec | Portland Press Herald | Getty Images

The Senate on Friday approved by unanimous consent a bill that would increase oversight on Chinese-funded cultural centers, or Confucius Institutes, on university campuses.

According to Human Rights Watch, Confucius Institutes “are Chinese government-funded outposts that offer Chinese language and culture classes.” However, some politicians have accused them of spreading propaganda.

Sens. Marco Rubio and Marsha Blackburn last year introduced a bill to increase transparency around the centers. “For far too long, the Communist Chinese government has attempted to infiltrate American universities through the disguise of the government-run Confucius Institute,” Rubio said.

The bill approved by the Senate on Friday would decrease federal funding to universities and colleges that have Confucius Institutes on campus that don’t comply with new oversight rules and regulations.

The bill must be taken up by the House and signed by President Joe Biden to become law.

The case against the institutions has gained steam in the past few years, particularly among Republicans.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in 2019 said U.S. schools are allowing a level of access to the Chinese government that can “stifle academic freedom” and provide an “incomplete picture of Chinese government actions and policies that run counter to U.S. interests at home and abroad,” according to NBC News.

However, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said the Senate had uncovered “no evidence that these institutes are a center for Chinese espionage or any other illegal activist,” in the same NBC News article.

Congress’s 2019 annual defense spending package severely limited the autonomy of these Chinese-funded cultural centers by threatening to withhold language program funding from their host universities, Human Rights Watch reported.

In turn, nearly 22 Confucius Institutes have closed since the act’s passage, according to Human Rights Watch.

The University of Missouri closed its Confucius Institute last year, after a notice from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs regarding visa concerns, amid a Trump administration drive to shutter the institutions.

Changes to State Department guidance on hosting the institutions would have made it too costly to maintain, a university provost said at the time.

Long before the lawmakers raised alarms, niversity professors signaled issues with the institutes.

The American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, released a report in 2014 which recommended colleges take a deeper look at curriculums and agendas brought forth in the classroom.

“Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom,” the statement said, also highlighting a lack of transparency. “Most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes feature nondisclosure clauses and unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China.”

Recently-confirmed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield came under fire during her confirmation hearing regarding such Institutes.

GOP Sen. Ted Cruz highlighted a 2019 speech at a Confucius Institute, which has since closed, in which Thomas-Greenfield appeared soft on China. Cruz claimed Thomas-Greenfield was being overly optimistic about China’s relationship with African countries while not being tough enough on Beijing’s human rights record.

She later said the speech was a mistake, didn’t portray her views on China and she vowed to limit Beijing’s influence at U.N. general assembly meetings.

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Robinhood chooses the Nasdaq for its IPO, sources say

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Avishek Das | LightRocket | Getty Images

Robinhood has chosen the Nasdaq as the exchange for its eventual initial public offering, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The company has not yet filed officially for the listing.

The stock trading app has lowered the barrier to entry for millions of retail investors, setting the stage for one of the biggest public debuts of the year.

It’s unclear if Robinhood has chosen a direct listing or a traditional IPO, sources said. Regardless of the method, Robinhood will file an S-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Typically, it takes about one to two months for companies to make their debut once they file with the SEC.

Goldman Sachs is advising on the Robinhood IPO.

Robinhood —whose longstanding mission is to “democratize” investing — is seen as the main gateway for young investors to access the markets.

After record growth during the Covid-19 pandemic, the millennial-favored stock trading app found itself in the middle of a firestorm in January amid the short squeeze in GameStop, which was partially fueled by Reddit-driven retail investors. However, Robinhood’s brand appears to be intact with bids for pre-ipo shares spiking about the GameStop mania.

Robinhood added gained 3 million users in January alone, according to estimates from JMP Securities.

New York-based D1 Partners, Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins and Google’s venture capital arm, GV are some of Robinhood’s biggest venture capital investors.

The Nasdaq and Robinhood both declined to comment.

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