Vera Lynn, voice of hope in wartime Britain, dies at 103

LONDON (Reuters) – Vera Lynn, the singer who became a symbol of hope in Britain during World War Two and again during the coronavirus pandemic with her song “We’ll Meet Again”, died at the age of 103 on Thursday.

Known as the Forces’ Sweetheart, Lynn struck a chord with soldiers fighting overseas and with the public back home through her performances and records, including “The White Cliffs of Dover”.

To mark her 100th birthday in 2017, a giant image of Lynn as a young woman was projected onto those white cliffs and a new album released.

She was back in the headlines in April when Queen Elizabeth used words from Lynn’s song to tell the country “We will meet again” and urged people to show resolve during the coronavirus lockdown.

Lynn died on Thursday morning surrounded by close relatives, her family said in a statement to British media.

The queen is to send a private message of condolence to Lynn’s family, Buckingham Palace said. The office of heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla said they were remembering the singer.

“Dame Vera Lynn’s charm and magical voice entranced and uplifted our country in some of our darkest hours,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter. “Her voice will live on to lift the hearts of generations to come.”

She died on the day Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron marked the 80th anniversary of General de Gaulle’s call for resistance to the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two.

Decca Records, which worked with Lynn since her earliest releases, paid tribute to its “brightest and most enduring star”.

Lynn was born Vera Welch on March 20, 1917, the daughter of a plumber in London’s East End, and was singing in working men’s clubs at the age of seven.

FILE PHOTO: Second World War British Forces Sweetheart Vera Lynn attends the Battle of Britain commemoration outside the Churchill War Rooms in London August 20, 2010. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

She began radio broadcasts and singing with bands in the late 1930s. But it was her wartime songs that won her fame and led to British tanks trundling into battle with ““Vera” painted on their sides and more than 1,000 written offers of marriage from servicemen.

In 1941, she began a weekly radio broadcast from London called ““Sincerely Yours” in which she relayed messages from British troops serving in all war theatres to their loved ones.

She also toured Burma in 1944 and was later presented with the Burma Star medal.

Captain Tom Moore, a veteran of that campaign who this year raised more than 33 million pounds for the National Health Service during the pandemic, tweeted: “She had a huge impact on me in Burma and remained important to me throughout my life.”

‘EVERYONE PULLED TOGETHER’

Ironically, Lynn’s biggest hit had a German title and came after the war. ““Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart”, backed by a soldiers’ chorus, sold more than 12 million copies worldwide and made Lynn the first British performer to top the U.S. hit parade.

The song made her a star in the United States in the 1950s. But the noisy advent of rock and roll eventually elbowed aside her more sedate brand of nostalgia.

In 1975 – amid a chorus of press disapproval that it had taken so long – Lynn was given the title of Dame of the British Empire.

Always modest about her contribution to Britain’s wartime effort, she told an interviewer in 1984: “”Everyone pulled together and tried to live their lives as normally as possible.”

Lynn never sought publicity and lived quietly for most of her life on England’s south coast near Brighton with Harry Lewis, the man she had married in 1941 – a clarinet player who became her manager.

Slideshow (8 Images)

Known locally in the village of Ditchling as Mrs Lewis, she had a passion for gardening and detective novels.

“”I was lucky,” she said. “”I had a talent; it lifted me out of the bracket I was born into.

“”And when I got my house and a little car, I thought, well that’s all I want.”

Writing by Michael Holden, Guy Faulconbridge, Peter Griffiths and Andrew Heavens; Editing by Janet Lawrence


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World stock markets slip on second wave virus fears, safe-havens rise

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) – Global stock markets drifted lower on Thursday as an increase in new coronavirus cases in some U.S. states and China crushed hopes of a swift economic comeback from the pandemic, underpinning demand for safe-haven currencies such as the dollar and Japanese yen.

Traders wear masks as they work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID19) in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The daily count of infections hit a new milestone in California and Texas, while around 400 workers tested positive for the virus at a slaughterhouse in northern Germany, prompting the closure of local schools.

A Chinese medical expert, meanwhile, said Beijing has brought its recent outbreak under control.

U.S. Treasury yields fell and crude oil rose as worries about fuel demand following the rising coronavirus cases were offset by U.S. government data showing lower inventories of gasoline and distillates, indicating higher demand.

Justin Onuekwusi, portfolio manager at Legal & General Investment Management, said the flare-ups in Germany and China and the rise in infection rates in some U.S. states were cause for concern.

“It’s going to be a theme where we see economies having to do mini-lockdowns and isolation measures in order to contain the virus. The question is how much it affects markets,” he said.

U.S. data that suggested a declining pace of Americans filing for unemployment benefits has stalled amid a second wave of layoffs reminded investors the economy faces a long and difficult recovery from the COVID-19 recession.

Employers hired a record 2.5 million workers in May as businesses reopened, an unexpected bright spot that investors cheered last week. But at least 29 million people are collecting unemployment checks, a sign of the tough road ahead.

“The restarting of the economy is going to be slow, it’s going to be uneven and initial jobless claims today reflect that,” said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco.

As the economy reopens and economic activity increases, infection rates are rising, which Hooper said raises the question: What happens if that continues? Many states will not impose lockdowns to allow economic activity to continue, she said.

“You could have a situation where infections continue to rise, but it doesn’t necessarily have the impact on economic activity that it did in March and April,” Hooper said.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe .MIWD00000PUS shed 0.05%, while the pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 0.84%. Emerging market stocks bucked the trend, rising 0.13%.

Wall Street was mostly lower but the Nasdaq and S&P 500 pulled slightly ahead.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 1.03 points, or -0%, to 26,118.58, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 3.13 points, or 0.10%, to 3,116.62 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 35.04 points, or 0.35%, to 9,945.57.

CHINESE BRIGHT SPOT

China’s blue-chip CSI300 shares .CSI300 were a bright spot, adding 0.7%, helped by reassurances from its central bank governor that the world’s second-largest economy would maintain ample financial liquidity in the second half of 2020 as the economy recovers.

Euro zone bonds hardly budged, even as the European Central Bank announced record demand for its new round of cheap loans, with the strong take-up expected to support the bond market.

Italian yields slipped slightly, with 10-year yields falling to a new low since late March of 1.33%. They were last down 3.5 basis points at 1.34%. IT10YT=RR

British government bond yields touched their highest since June 10 after the Bank of England increased its bond-buying program by another 100 billion pounds ($125 billion) to help revive the economy, but sharply slowed the pace of its purchases. [L8N2DV2K2]

In currency markets, the yen touched a six-day high of 106.70 in Asian trading and was last neutral at 107 JPY=EBS.

The Norwegian crown was the biggest mover among major currencies, after Norway’s central bank said the country’s economic prospects had improved more than expected in recent weeks and its key policy interest rate would be kept unchanged.

The crown was up 0.6% versus the dollar at 9.4560 NOK=D3.

The dollar index =USD rose 0.241%, with the euro EUR= down 0.17% to $1.1224. The yen strengthened 0.20% versus the greenback at 106.79 per dollar.

FILE PHOTO: A street cleaning operative walks past the London Stock Exchange Group building in the City of London financial district, whilst British stocks tumble as investors fear that the coronavirus outbreak could stall the global economy, in London, Britain, March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury notes US10YT=RR fell 3.3 basis points to yield 0.7019%.

U.S. crude CLc1 rose 1.24% to $38.43 per barrel and Brent LCOc1 was at $41.20, up 1.2% on the day.

In commodity markets, spot gold XAU= dropped 0.3% to $1,720.77 an ounce. [/GOL]

Reporting by Herbert Lash; Editing by Dan Grebler


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U.S. lawmakers offer bill to block Trump from German troop withdrawal

FILE PHOTO: Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel (D-NY) speaks during a media briefing after a House vote approving rules for an impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 31, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. congressional Democrats introduced legislation on Thursday to block President Donald Trump’s plan to remove 9,500 troops from close ally Germany by prohibiting funding for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Europe without congressional approval.

Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senator Bob Menendez, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the bill, reflecting concern in Congress from Democrats as well as Trump’s fellow Republicans about the plan to cut troops.

Trump said on Monday he would reduce the number of U.S. troops in Germany to 25,000, faulting Berlin for failing to meet NATO’s defense spending target and accusing it of taking advantage of the United States on trade.

The troop reduction would be a remarkable rebuke to one of the closest U.S. trading partners and could erode faith in a pillar of postwar European security: that U.S. forces would defend alliance members against Russian aggression.

Under the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers, the Senate and House of Representatives – not the White House – control government spending.

Lawmakers often use their power of the purse to influence policy decisions, such as keeping the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay open by barring spending federal money to close it.

The bill would prohibit the use of funds to withdraw or reduce the presence of U.S. armed forces in Europe unless the host government requests it, or the president declares the intent 180 days in advance, justifies the decision, Congress approves it and the secretaries of State and Defense testify about it.

“President Trump’s disastrous decision to withdraw thousands of troops from and reduce the total force cap in Germany endangers our national security,” Engel said in a statement.

“Our legislation will stop the Administration from carrying out this calamitous policy,” he said.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis


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Vans, not glamorous, but key as EU weighs autos mega-merger

MILAN/PARIS (Reuters) – Their silhouettes don’t stir dreams of adventure like a sports car or trendy SUV, but vans are a rare source of profit for European carmakers, which is why EU regulators are focused on them as they decide whether to back an industry mega-merger.

FILE PHOTO: A Peugeot Rifter 4×4 concept van is seen at the Paris auto show in Paris, France, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

European competition regulators are worried that Fiat Chrysler (FCHA.MI) and Peugeot maker PSA’s (PEUP.PA) proposed merger may harm competition in small vans.

With a total of 755,000 vans sold last year in Europe, the combined Fiat Chrysler (FCA) and PSA would get a market share of around 34%, based on industry data, more than double that of Renault (RENA.PA) and Ford (F.N), with shares around 16% each.

Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) and Daimler (DAIGn.DE) follow with market shares of 12% and 10% respectively.

“Commercial vans are important for individuals, SMEs and large companies when it comes to delivering goods or providing services to customers,” European Union competition chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement, announcing an in-depth investigation into the proposed merger.

“They are a growing market and increasingly important in a digital economy where private consumers rely more than ever on delivery services”.

Dario Duse, a managing director at consultancy firm AlixPartners, said demand for vans was not based on people’s disposable income, as for cars, but rather on GDP and industrial trends, and in particular the logistics industry, where big players such as Amazon (AMZN.O) or DHL operate.

“Logistics is a business segment which is having a significant growth, for several reasons including e-commerce, where you need efficient and agile vans for interurban and city deliveries,” he said.

“LCVs (light commercial vehicles) may recover faster than passengers cars in the post-COVID-19 phase.”

Sales of vans up to 3.5 tonnes in Europe amounted to 2.2 millions vehicles last year, compared to 15.8 million for passenger cars, according to data provided by the European Auto Industry Association (ACEA).

The light commercial vehicles (LCVs) market may be secondary in terms of volumes, but it remains highly profitable in an industry where margins are constantly under pressure.

Margins are generally higher than on passenger cars, up to 5-10 additional percentage points, AlixPartners says.

“With LCVs you don’t have to fulfil a series of consumer expectations that drive additional complexity and costs, such as for interiors. LCV customers are more rational and business driven,” Duse said.

And while electrification in heavy trucks is complicated, it might come sooner for LCVs.

“If we look at the total cost of ownership, which is key for businesses, electric battery vans are already competitive with those with traditional engines,” he added.

Prices in the van business are supported by a lower number of competitors and by the lifespan of a product marketed as a long-term investment for professionals.

Pricing is also supported by customised offers for vans. The Renault large van factory at Batilly, for example, offers no less than 350 versions of its Master model.

Profitability also comes from widely shared platforms: Renaults rolls out vehicles for brands including Fiat, Nissan, Opel and Daimler. FCA and PSA have been producing LCVs for decades through Sevel, a 50-50 joint venture, whose plant in Atessa, central Italy, is Europe’s largest van assembly facility.

Writing by Giulio Piovaccari. Editing by Jane Merriman


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From Damascus to Berlin: A Reuters journalist’s quest for family reunion

BERLIN (Reuters) – It was still dark in Damascus as I walked down the stairs, my new life contained in a red suitcase. My mother stood next to the taxi door praying for my safety. My father was silent, certain that he would never see me again.

Ghada Zitouni and Isam Alkousaa pose for a picture near a cafe in the historic quarter of Spandauer Vorstadt in central Berlin, Germany, December 7, 2019. Picture taken December 7, 2019. REUTERS/ Riham Alkousaa

I lowered the taxi window and waved to my parents until they disappeared, grieving over the separation but at the same time grateful to my exhausted old city, which had finally let me go.

I had become one of the 700,000 refugees who have fled Syria and its war without end to Germany, which offered shelter under a grey but generous sky.

Since that morning in September 2014, I’ve told many stories of refugees’ attempts to make Germany more like a home by reuniting with their families here. As a journalist covering the biggest refugee crisis of the 21st century, I’ve reported about the waiting, the loneliness, the maze of the paperwork that torments the family reunification process.

This time, I am telling my story.

A year after I left Syria for Germany at age 23, my parents and I tried in vain to meet in Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan, Iran and Malaysia – some of the countries that still offer visas to Syrians. But as descendants of Palestinian refugees in Syria with no formal Syrian or Palestinian citizenship or national passport, our chances to meet were very slim.

Since the moment I left Syria behind, my life has been a litany of moments meant to be shared: I missed my parents at my graduation from my postgraduate program at Columbia University in New York after President Trump imposed a travel ban on visitors from Syria. I missed them at my engagement party; when I moved to my first apartment in Berlin; and on every Ramadan, Eid, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

WhatsApp helped to create an illusion of contact and closeness. At the beginning, the first thing I saw on my phone in the morning were missed calls from my mother. Then she learned that she could send me voice messages through the app, and they became our morning routine. She would record them while she was having morning coffee with my father, and I would listen to them on my way to German-language school or to work.

We also cherished our video calls, even though the slow internet in Syria would cut them short. But when the ones you love are seen only on the screens of your laptop or phone, they slowly become unreal, like your favorite childhood TV character: very familiar, but imaginary.

In Arabic, we call it “ghurba,” which has an unsatisfying translation of “being a stranger in a foreign land.” It’s trying to cook all your favorite dishes at once, just to reassure yourself that you can bring home back; it’s the long Netflix evening where tea is made in a cup, not the big pot your mother used to keep ready for you; it’s dreading weekends with their empty hours slowly sneaking in on quiet Friday evenings.

Then I heard about a special resettlement program offered by Berlin’s local government that offers a chance – a minuscule one, but a chance nonetheless – for Syrian and Iraqi families to reunite.

Migration has been one of the most divisive topics in Germany and Europe since Chancellor Angela Merkel decided in 2015 to open borders to more than 1 million people escaping war and persecution in the Middle East and beyond. Concerns about migration have fueled far-right parties across the continent and pushed European governments to shut their borders and seal a controversial deal with Turkey to control illegal migration. The number of asylum- seekers in Germany fell 72.5% between 2016, the year the deal was signed, and 2017.

For Syrians, even obtaining a visitor visa to Germany today is difficult because immigration authorities are sceptical that the travellers will return to the war-torn country. There are no government statistics on how many Syrians have been granted a short-stay visa in recent years because the German Foreign Ministry doesn’t record the citizenship of applicants. But in 2019, the German Embassy in Beirut granted only 7,913 short-term visas, which would include all Lebanese applicants in addition to Syrians.

Only minors with “recognized refugee” status have the right to bring their parents and minor siblings to Germany. I was an adult when I applied for asylum five years ago and didn’t qualify for a regular family reunification process.

But if an adult Syrian refugee – or an employed European Union citizen – promises to take care of all financial expenses of a family member, they can reunite in Germany through a special program for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. The resettlement scheme offers two years’ residence, with a work permit and public health insurance for family members.

The program was introduced in 2013 by many German states to resettle families of Syrian refugees whose asylum applications have been approved and already have recognized refugee status in Germany. It’s renewed on an annual basis, and the decision to extend it is made by states’ governments; out of 15 states that offered the program in 2014, only five of them have extended it for 2020.

To be eligible for the program, I had to have a stable job in Germany with long-term employment prospects and a minimum salary to demonstrate that the family member wouldn’t end up being a drain on the system.

With language and skills barriers, meeting those conditions is challenging. In the six years ending in October 2019, only 1,098 people had benefited from the program in the state of Berlin, government data showed. Out of 459 applications submitted in 2019, 173 were approved.

Having a wage of at least of 2,300 euros a month after taxes is among the most challenging conditions.

“It’s is not that easy to earn this amount when one has immigrated here recently,” said Engelhard Mazanke, the head of Berlin’s migration office.

At the beginning of my time in Berlin as an Arabic speaker in a country facing a wave of Arab refugees, I worked with American and German freelance journalists to tell the stories of the newcomers. While translating and talking to people at Berlin’s asylum reception center, I thought that I could tell these stories on my own. But moving from being a “fixer” to a real journalist in a new language and a new country needed much more than I had expected.

It took four years, countless German classes, a master’s degree from an Ivy League school, a few internships and a year-and-half training program until I got a job contract at Reuters and met the program’s conditions.

But one condition was the hardest for me: A choice had to be made.

The Berlin migration official responsible for my case was clear that I must choose between my parents or one of my four siblings for the application. My brothers are still in school in the Syrian city of Homs, so waiting few more years to bring them here made sense. That meant either denying my sisters an opportunity to build a future in Germany or pushing my five-year separation with my parents longer, with no end in sight.

Weeks passed because I couldn’t decide. Then a German friend of mine astounded me with an offer to help.

Pascale Mueller and I had met few years earlier when she needed help translating for a Syrian refugee family for a story for Tagesspiegel newspaper during the 2015 wave of migration. We hadn’t seen each other for more than a year when she said she would act as a guarantor for one of my sisters.

I asked her to take some time before deciding, because the guarantor is financially responsible for the new arrival. If my sister claimed welfare or unemployment benefits, the government would send a bill to Pascale.

“Everyone I spoke with said, ‘I wouldn’t do it,’ but I have a good feeling about this,” Pascale said. A few weeks later we were at Berlin’s migration office signing the papers.

When life decides to give you a break, it makes you feel that the doors that seemed shut might have not been closed in the first place. When another friend of mine, a Briton, heard of Pascale’s unexpected help, he stepped in to guarantee my other sister. We needed to rush through the paperwork before Brexit happened and he was no longer a European Union citizen, but we also had to wait on the pay raise he had been promised. Each delay in Britain’s parliament that pushed its parting from the EU further away gave my sister and me a bigger chance to reunite.

Finally, he was able to sign the papers.

Within weeks, I received an email from the German Embassy in Beirut asking my family for an interview. Because Germany pulled its diplomatic representation in Syria shortly after the uprising there in 2011, Syrians who apply for a German visa must be interviewed in one of the German embassies or consulates in Syria’s neighboring countries. Lebanon was the closest and, theoretically, at least, the easiest to get in.

But like the complicated German sentence structure I have come to know so well, nothing was easy in this process. A simple appointment became a metaphor for the struggles, both bureaucratic and emotional, that the displaced face the world over.

First, my family had to leave Damascus before midnight for an 8:30 a.m. appointment in Beirut, although the trip only takes 3½ hours by road, because of a complicated entry process for Palestinian-Syrians to Lebanon. Then, at the appointment, they tried to hand over a document they’d been told to bring, but the employee said it wasn’t required.

A few weeks later, the embassy called, asking for that same document. We could either pay a driver a fee that was half my father’s monthly salary as a professor to take it to Lebanon or find someone to take it. We got lucky – the parents of a friend of mine were traveling to the consulate in Lebanon the next day for a visa interview through the same program.

But then our luck ran out again. After waiting a month for word of our application, we were asked to send the passports so “an answer” of yes or no could be stamped on the applications. This time we happily paid for a courier to take them to Beirut.

Then came the next delay: We were told there was a problem with my father’s travel document, but the authorities didn’t say what the problem was, exactly.

We called the embassy more than 100 times, with either no answer or a busy line. I tried a different emergency number dedicated for German citizens and was finally forwarded to someone who could answer my question. It turned out that the problem was my father’s passport photo: The glasses he wore made his face unrecognizable. I understood the argument. But why wasn’t this issue flagged when I had applied for the program with copies of the travel documents, or when my father was interviewed and his documents were checked at the embassy six weeks earlier? Why didn’t the embassy simply phone us, asking for a new travel document?

“Due to the very high number of applications in some cases, not all details relevant for any specific applications may stand out at first glance when first filing the application,” the German Foreign Ministry told me in an email.

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We hired a driver, Abu Hisham, to take the passports to the embassy again after my mother received a second call few weeks later. But even that trip was fraught with potential disaster. With an empty car on the way back, he stopped to pick a man on the road, thinking that he needed a ride to Damascus. The man asked to stop for two friends of his, and they robbed Abu Hisham of all his money. But they left a brown envelope in the glove compartment that held the stamped passports.

Finally, more than six months after I applied for their resettlement, my parents were ready to fly to Germany. On a winter evening, I was at Berlin Tegel airport waiting for them to arrive. During normal times, a flight from Beirut to Berlin lands there every other evening, and Syrians are easily recognized at the arrivals’ gate: reunions with excessively arranged bouquets, cute boys dressed in black suits and old men openly crying. Even security guards tear up and smile, although they must have seen the reunion scenes many times.

I cried and cried at my father’s shoulder as he walked off the first flight he had ever taken, at age 59. I cried for all my lonely nights in Berlin, for the years that made him an old man while I became stronger, for our family home that had been pounded to ruins, for the life moments we hadn’t spent together. After five years, we were a family once more.

Reporting by Riham Alkousaa, editing by Kari Howard


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Online fashion stocks in vogue as coronavirus speeds ecommerce

BERLIN (Reuters) – Shares in online fashion retailers Zalando and ASOS jumped on Thursday after the German company said it expects a big increase in second-quarter sales and operating profit as coronavirus lockdowns accelerate a shift to ecommerce.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of fashion retailer Zalando is pictured at the new headquarters in Berlin, Germany, April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

The growth rate of online fashion looks set to triple this year to account for 23% of European sales in 2020, levels not expected before 2024 prior to the pandemic, analysts at Bernstein said, adding the market share could hit 37% by 2030.

“The sudden closure of all apparel retail stores across all major global markets has shaken up the channel mix in an unprecedented way this year,” said Bernstein’s Aneesha Sherman. “(It’s) five years’ worth of growth achieved in about six months.”

Zalando, Europe’s biggest online only fashion retailer, said late on Wednesday it expects to significantly beat market expectations for 16% second-quarter revenue growth and an adjusted operating profit of 104 million euros ($117 million).

Zalando’s shares were up 5.65% by 0904 GMT, bringing their year-to-date gain to more than 40%.

British rival ASOS was also up almost 5%, after shares in Boohoo soared on Wednesday when it said it would top market expectations this year after a 45% rise in first-quarter revenue.

Boohoo, which owns the Nasty Gal and prettylittlething brands, also said it was buying the online businesses of struggling British bricks-and-mortar brands Oasis and Warehouse after last year buying Karen Millen and Coast.

Zalando said it had been helped by its strategy of becoming a marketplace for brands, offering them marketing and logistics services, rather than just selling stock on its website.

Zara-owner Inditex, the world’s biggest fashion retailer, said last week it expects online sales to make up a quarter of its sales by 2022, compared to 14% now, after a 95% surge in lockdown conditions in April.

H&M reported on Monday its group sales halved in March-May and were down 30% in the first 13 days of June even as stores started to reopen. Online sales jumped 36% in March-May.

But there are still some bright spots in brick-and-mortar retailing. Discount fashion retailer Primark, owned by Associated British Foods, attracted long lines of shoppers on Monday as shops reopened in England.

Bernstein’s Sherman notes that people still love shopping in stores as they can see and feel what they are buying, and they can seek out bargains at places like Primark that do not sell online.

“Stores will also offer a much-needed outlet for discretionary time, money, and social interaction this year. All the other usual alternatives will remain largely off the table for a little while longer,” she wrote.

($1 = 0.8916 euros)

Reporting by Emma Thomasson; editing by Jason Neely


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Singer Vera Lynn, voice of hope in wartime Britain, dies at 103 – PA Media

FILE PHOTO: Second World War British Forces Sweetheart Vera Lynn attends the Battle of Britain commemoration outside the Churchill War Rooms in London August 20, 2010. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

LONDON (Reuters) – Singer Vera Lynn, who became a symbol of hope in Britain during World War Two and more recently during the coronavirus pandemic with her song “We’ll Meet Again”, has died at the age of 103, British media reported on Thursday.

Known as the Forces’ Sweetheart, Lynn struck a chord with soldiers fighting overseas and with the public back in Britain with songs such as “The White Cliffs of Dover” that gave voice to the hopes and fears about the conflict with Nazi Germany.

To mark her 100th birthday in 2017, a giant image of Lynn as a young woman was projected on to the White Cliffs and a new album was released.

Lynn, who had continued to make public appearances in later life, was back in the news earlier this year when Queen Elizabeth used words from her famous song to tell the country “We will meet again” during a very rare broadcast to the nation to address the coronavirus outbreak

Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge


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Oil prices tick up as drop in U.S. product stocks encourages bulls

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices ticked up on Thursday after U.S. oil product stocks shrank, providing bulls with ammunition ahead of a meeting between OPEC producers and their allies to discuss their future output strategy.

FILE PHOTO: The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, U.S., November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant

Brent crude LCOc1 futures were up 34 cents at $41.05 a barrel at 1144 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures rose 15 cents to $38.11 a barrel.

Both benchmarks were down about 2% earlier in the session as worries about fuel demand rose after a surge in coronavirus cases led Beijing to cancel flights and shut schools and several U.S. states, including Texas, Florida and California, reported sharp increases in new cases.

But the decline in the market then prompted more bullish investors to move in.

A rise in U.S. crude stockpiles to a record high for a second week in a row weighed on sentiment, but U.S. government data showed lower inventories of gasoline and distillates, which includes diesel and heating oil, indicating higher demand.

“Gasoline and distillates both fell unexpectedly… Add to that that oil producers are still feeling the impact of the rout from March and April as (U.S.) crude oil output is now down at 10.5 (million barrels per day) and you might conclude that bulls have a case in point,” PVM oil analysts said in a note.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, a group known as OPEC+, was due to hold an online meeting from 1200 GMT to discuss the future of a record 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) output cut.

Thursday’s discussion was unlikely to recommend extending record cuts into August, sources said. OPEC+ compliance with crude production cut commitments in May was 87%, two OPEC+ sources said on Wednesday.

Iraq and Kazakhstan are expected to present their plans for production cuts and compensation for overproduction at the meeting.

OPEC warned in a monthly report that the market would remain in surplus in the second half of 2020 even as demand improves, as it now expects supply from outside the group to be about 300,000 bpd higher than previously thought.

Additional reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore; editing by David Evans/Mark Potter/Susan Fenton


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Australian regulator says Google’s $2.1 billion Fitbit deal could harm competition

SYDNEY/BENGALURU (Reuters) – Australia’s antitrust regulator warned Google’s planned $2.1 billion acquisition of fitness tracker maker Fitbit (FIT.N) may give it too much of people’s data, potentially hurting competition in health and online advertising markets.

FILE PHOTO: Fitbit Blaze watch is seen in front of a displayed Alphabet logo in this illustration picture taken November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is the first regulator to voice concerns about the deal in a preliminary decision on Thursday. The Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O)-owned tech giant is already at loggerheads with the Australian government over planned new rules about how internet companies use personal information.

“Buying Fitbit will allow Google to build an even more comprehensive set of user data, further cementing its position and raising barriers to entry to potential rivals,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said on Thursday. “User data available to Google has made it so valuable to advertisers that it faces only limited competition.”

The ACCC, which does not generally have the power to block a deal outside Australia, will announce its final decision on August 13. In previous takeovers, it has ordered certain conditions such as asset sales.

Google wants the deal, announced in November, to help it compete with Apple (AAPL.O) and Samsung (005930.KS) in the market for fitness trackers and smart watches.

But consumer groups have raised privacy concerns. The U.S. Justice Department is evaluating the deal, while the European Commission is due to give a ruling in July.

Following an ACCC report last year, the Australian government is working on new rules to force large internet companies to disclose their data usage, and pay for the local media content. Google and Facebook Inc (FB.O) oppose most of the proposed changes.

Google said it had promised not to use Fitbit data for advertisements, and to give users choice and control over their data.

“We will be transparent about the data we collect and why – and we do not sell personal information to anyone,” Google said in an email.

Fitbit was not immediately available for comment.

Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney and Shashwat Awasthi in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill, Edwina Gibbs and Jane Wardell


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Australian regulator says Google’s $2.1 billion Fitbit deal could harm competition

SYDNEY/BENGALURU (Reuters) – Australia’s antitrust regulator warned Google’s planned $2.1 billion acquisition of fitness tracker maker Fitbit (FIT.N) may give it too much of people’s data, potentially hurting competition in health and online advertising markets.

FILE PHOTO: Fitbit Blaze watch is seen in front of a displayed Alphabet logo in this illustration picture taken November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is the first regulator to voice concerns about the deal in a preliminary decision on Thursday. The Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O)-owned tech giant is already at loggerheads with the Australian government over planned new rules about how internet companies use personal information.

“Buying Fitbit will allow Google to build an even more comprehensive set of user data, further cementing its position and raising barriers to entry to potential rivals,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said on Thursday. “User data available to Google has made it so valuable to advertisers that it faces only limited competition.”

The ACCC, which does not generally have the power to block a deal outside Australia, will announce its final decision on August 13. In previous takeovers, it has ordered certain conditions such as asset sales.

Google wants the deal, announced in November, to help it compete with Apple (AAPL.O) and Samsung (005930.KS) in the market for fitness trackers and smart watches.

But consumer groups have raised privacy concerns. The U.S. Justice Department is evaluating the deal, while the European Commission is due to give a ruling in July.

Following an ACCC report last year, the Australian government is working on new rules to force large internet companies to disclose their data usage, and pay for the local media content. Google and Facebook Inc (FB.O) oppose most of the proposed changes.

Google said it had promised not to use Fitbit data for advertisements, and to give users choice and control over their data.

“We will be transparent about the data we collect and why – and we do not sell personal information to anyone,” Google said in an email.

Fitbit was not immediately available for comment.

Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney and Shashwat Awasthi in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill, Edwina Gibbs and Jane Wardell


News by Editor