Facebook data; Central banks in focus; SoftBank soars

Posted February 7, 2019 5:22 a.m. EST

— 1. Facebook data: Germany's anti-trust office has ruled that Facebook is abusing its dominant position in social media by combining data from other sources such as Instagram, WhatsApp and third party websites to build a unique profile of each user.

In future, Facebook will have to seek German users' explicit consent to collect and combine such data. "Facebook is to develop proposals for solutions to this effect," the Bundeskartellamt said in a statement.

Facebook said it disagreed with the conclusions of the investigation and intended to appeal.

"Using information across services helps to make them better and protect people's safety," the company said in a statement.

2. Central banks in focus: India's central bank cut interest rates Thursday for the first time in six months.

The move by the Reserve Bank of India was unexpected — two-thirds of economists polled by Reuters had predicted the bank would keep rates unchanged.

The bank cited a drop in inflation, lower oil prices and a global economic slowdown as factors behind its decision.

With just 50 days to go until Brexit is due to happen, the Bank of England will announce a rate decision and release its assessment of the UK economy at 7 a.m. ET. Governor Mark Carney will hold a press conference at 7:30 a.m.

More worrying economic news came from the eurozone on Thursday. The European Central Bank said it expects "slower growth momentum" in 2019.

At the same time, latest data from Germany revealed the country's industrial production declined in December, increasing fears that the biggest economy in Europe might have slipped into recession.

"Three weeks ago, the Federal Statistics Office said that they thought Q4 GDP was 'a small plus', but that may now have to be revised to 'a small minus'," said Andrew Kenningham, chief Europe economist at Capital Economics.

3. SoftBank soars: Shares in SoftBank Group spiked nearly 18% in Tokyo on Thursday after the company announced it would buy back as much as 600 billion yen ($5.5 billion) of its own shares in the next year.

The stock surge is a boost for CEO Masa Son's strategy of transforming SoftBank from a telecoms operator into the world's most powerful tech investor. The share buyback takes a leaf out of Warren Buffett's playbook.

Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has a policy of buying back its shares if the price falls below a certain level.

Analysts liked the SoftBank move. "We have long argued that Softbank must take cues from Berkshire Hathaway," Atul Goyal, an analyst at investment bank Jefferies, said in a note to clients.

4. Total's record year: Total has joined the ranks of oil companies reporting strong profits and rising production. The French company said Thursday its output jumped 8% to a new record of 2.8 million barrels a day in 2018.

It is set to rise further in 2019. Total announced it has opened a new oil and gas province 175 kilometers (109 miles) off the coast of South Africa after making a "significant" discovery there.

BP, Shell and Exxon Mobil also reported strong results in recent weeks.

Despite the strong earnings, shares in Total declined 0.8% in early trading in Paris.

5. Global market overview: US stock futures were pointing lower early on Thursday.

European markets opened down, following a negative session in Asia.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 0.1% on Wednesday. The S&P 500 shed 0.2%, and the Nasdaq dropped 0.4%.

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6. Earnings: Dunkin, Fiat Chrysler, GrubHub, Hanesbrands, Kellogg, Philip Morris International, T-Mobile US, Twitter, Tyson Foods and Yum! Brands plan to release earnings before the open Thursday.

Columbia Sportswear, Lions Gate Entertainment, Mattel, Motorola Solutions, News Corp and Western Union are set to release earnings after the close.

7. Coming this week:Thursday — Twitter, Yum! Brands, Kellogg, Philip Morris International, MetLife, Mattel, T-Mobile, News Corp and Dunkin Brands report earningsFriday — Hasbro, Phillips 66 report earnings