Acclaimed Swedish author Per Olov Enquist dies

One of Sweden’s best-known authors, Per Olov Enquist, has died aged 85.

His career spanned more than half a century, and his work won acclaim not just in his native country but across Europe, especially France and Germany.

Enquist’s plays and novels – described as pessimistic in their outlook – often deal with questions of truth, and the blurred lines between fact and fiction.

The film Pelle the Conqueror, whose screenplay he helped write, won an Oscar for best foreign-language film.

Born in 1934 in northern Sweden, he penned more than 20 novels, plays and essays which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and won a number of awards at home and abroad.

The Visit of the Royal Physician – which won Sweden’s top literary honour in 1999, the August Prize – earned him broad international acclaim. It tells the story of a romance between the physician of the mad Danish King Christian VII and the queen, youngest sister of George III of England.

Enquist won a second August award for his autobiography A Different Life in 2008. He died on Saturday.

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Anti-abortion group is short of signatures for ban at 22 weeks

An anti-abortion group did not turn in enough valid signatures to place a 22-week abortion ban on Colorado’s November ballot, the Secretary of State’s Office says.

The group, Due Date Too Late, will now have 15 days to collect more signatures. Because of a Denver judge’s order Thursday in favor of the activists, those 15 days will not begin until after the state’s emergency stay-at-home order is lifted.

The proposed Initiative 120 would make performing an abortion after 22 weeks a misdemeanor punishable by a fine, with an exception if it’s to save the mother’s life. A woman receiving an abortion cannot be punished under the proposed law.

Last month, Due Date Too Late turned in 137,624 signatures. An initial sampling found the group was likely short of the 124,632 valid signatures needed. Line-by-line verification of the signatures was then conducted, concluding Friday, and 114,647 signatures were accepted.

“Coloradans have repeatedly rejected abortion bans by landslide margins, so it’s not a surprise that this one failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot,” said Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt, a Colorado abortion-rights group.

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China factory activity unexpectedly expands, but economy cannot shake off virus shock

BEIJING (Reuters) – Factory activity in China unexpectedly expanded in March from a collapse the month before, but analysts caution that a durable near-term recovery is far from assured as the global coronavirus crisis knocks foreign demand and threatens a steep economic slump.

China’s official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose to 52 in March from a plunge to a record low of 35.7 in February, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Tuesday, above the 50-point mark that separates monthly growth from contraction.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected the March PMI to come in at 45.0.

The NBS attributed the surprise rebound in PMI to its record low base in February and cautioned that the readings do not signal a stabilization in economic activity.

That view was echoed by many analysts, who warn of a further period of struggle for China’s businesses and the broader economy due to the rapid spread of the virus across the world, the unprecedented lockdowns in several countries and the almost near certainty of a global recession.

“This does not mean that output is now back to its pre-virus trend. Instead, it simply suggests that economic activity improved modestly relative to February’s dismal showing, but remains well below pre-virus levels,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics, in a note to clients.

The pandemic’s sweeping impact on production was underlined in two of Asia’s main export engines, Japan and South Korea. In Japan, industrial out rose at a slower pace in February and factories expect a plunge this month, while production in South Korea contracted the most in 11 years.

Economists are already forecasting a steep contraction in China’s first quarter gross domestic product, with some expecting a year-year slump of 9% or more – the first such contraction in three decades.

Nie Wen, economist at Shanghai-based Hwabao Trust, said given weak export orders, rising stockpile and soft prices, the underlying issue facing Chinese manufacturers has shifted to a lack of market demand, from production shutdowns forced by Chinese authorities.

The survey’s sub-index of manufacturing production picked up to 54.1 in March from February’s 27.8, but new export orders received by Chinese manufacturers were still mired in contraction, after ticking up to 46.4 from 28.7 in February.

Manufacturers are still facing big operational pressures, the survey showed, with over half of the respondents reporting a lack of market demand and 42% reporting financing issues, both up from the previous month.

“The biggest problem facing China’s economy in the second quarter is the slumping foreign demand,” said Nie, adding that authorities may roll out more policies on top of the billions of dollars pumped into the financial system since February to boost domestic consumption and tide over the shrinking overseas demand.

Markets reacted positively to the PMI survey, with Asian stock rising as investors seemed relieved by the rare good news as the pandemic showed few signs of abating.

China’s yuan, however, barely budged, reflecting analysts’ views that a sustainable bounce in manufacturing looked some way off despite a slowdown in China’s coronavirus infections from its peak in February.

GRIM OUTLOOK

Beijing, at great costs to the economy, had imposed draconian quarantine rules and travel restrictions to curb the pandemic that has killed more than 3,000 in the country.

While life for millions of people has started to slowly return to normal, the pace of business resumptions has been constrained by China’s efforts to guard against a second wave of infections from abroad.

The coronavirus, which originated late last year in China, has wreaked havoc along global supply chains and severely hurt foreign demand amid tight lockdowns in Europe, the United States and a number of other key economies where daily life has ground to a halt.

Already, Chinese exporters are seeing overseas orders being scrapped as the worldwide spike in coronavirus infections and deaths has forced many of the nation’s trading partners to slow or suspend production. Globally the outbreak has claimed the lives of over 37,000 people with more than 770,000 infections.

China should not set an economic growth target this year given the heightened uncertainty and avoid having to resort to “flood-like stimulus” to meet the goal, a central bank adviser said.

The service sector, which accounts for 60% of China’s GDP, also saw an expansion in activity, with the official non-manufacturing PMI rising to 52.3 from 29.6 in February, a separate NBS survey showed.

Analysts warn the outbreak could have a lingering impact despite the government loosening restrictions in recent weeks, as many people remain worried about the possibility of new infections or fretting about job security and potential cuts to wages as the economy struggles.

China’s urban jobless rate hit 6.2% in February, up one percentage point from the end of 2019, with analysts estimating about 5 million jobs lost in January-February period.

“The situation remains volatile as the trajectory of the COVID-19 virus outbreak in several key economies is still unpredictable,” ANZ analysts said in a note.

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Coronavirus: Three-day rally of markets is over as FTSE 100 falls 6%

Stock markets have endured a renewed rout in values as investors fret over the extent of coronavirus damage expected to be inflicted on the global economy.

The brakes were firmly applied on Friday after a three-day rally for major indices in Europe and the United States which had raised hopes, in some quarters, that the worst was over after five weeks of turmoil.

The collapse began as COVID-19 took hold in Europe and losses on Monday, over the year to date, averaged more than 30% for the likes of the FTSE 100 and Dow Jones Industrial Average.

As the weekend market closure neared, analysts said investors were moving to protect their positions ahead of the two-day shutdown when they are unable to react to the news flow.

The FTSE 100 in London was 6.5% lower by mid-afternoon, with every constituent company trading in the red.

It closed the day 5.3% lower at 5,510. It meant just shy of £77bn had been erased from the value of the index but it ended the week 300 points above where it had started.

The CAC in France lost 4.2% on Friday while the German DAX was 3.7% off.

On Wall Street, the Dow was 3% down having recovered some losses earlier in the session.

Only on Tuesday, the US index had enjoyed its best single day percentage gain since 1933 as the market eagerly awaited details of the $2trn relief plan for the US economy agreed between Donald Trump’s White House and Capitol Hill.

The House of Representatives is due to vote on the package later on Friday, allowing the president to sign the bill over the weekend.

Stimulus from governments and central banks over the past few weeks have helped bolster sentiment but there are fears it will not be enough to offset the damage left behind – given there is so much uncertainty over what is to come.

Craig Erlam, senior market analyst for the UK and Europe at Oanda, said in a note: “Rallies don’t last forever and clearly investors are happy to call time on this one as we head into another uncertain weekend.

“We may have had a good run this week but the weekend can feel like a long time at moments like this and the numbers we’re getting from the US, which now has more cases than China or Italy, are getting uglier by the day.”

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