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Economy

UPDATE 1-Blackstone eyes US$7.5bn for mezzanine debt

(Adds market commentary)

By Andrew Hedlund

NEW YORK, July 7 (LPC) – Private equity firm Blackstone Group LP’s credit arm GSO Capital Partners is seeking US$7.5bn for its fourth subordinated debt vehicle, according to investor notes from the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana.

The New York-based asset manager has launched its GSO Capital Opportunities Fund IV (Fund IV), which is looking to surpass the US$6.5bn raised by its predecessor (Fund III), the pension fund notes show.

Fund IV will invest US$100m to US$450m in mezzanine debt for North American and Western European businesses that have enterprise values between US$500m and US$5bn.

The Fund IV portfolio will consist of between 30 to 40 investments with a hold period of three to five years.

Fund III posted a 6% net internal rate of return and a 1.1 times multiple on invested capital, according to Blackstone’s first quarter earnings results.

A GSO spokesperson declined to comment.

EVOLUTION

GSO raised its debut US$2bn mezzanine fund, which began investing in July 2007, Blackstone’s results show, at the cusp of the global financial crisis. Since then the market for direct lending has evolved significantly, said Steve Nesbitt, chief executive officer of investment advisory firm Cliffwater.

“The mezzanine market has evolved since the global financial crisis as direct lending, particularly unitranche (loans), has become a popular financing tool for private equity as an alternative to mezzanine financing,” he said.

“(Now) could be an attractive time to invest (in mezzanine debt), but investors also need to be cautious about being deeper in the capital structure during a time period where the length and severity of this recession is unknown.”

According to the most recent data available from financial data firm Preqin, global mezzanine debt funds collected US$1.6bn in the first three months of the year. Of the total amount of investor capital currently being sought by all private credit funds monitored, 18% of it would go to mezzanine debt funds.

If GSO meets or surpasses US$7.5bn, it would be one of the largest private debt funds raised, according to Refinitiv LPC data.

In recent years, a slew of global private debt firms have gained market share. Fourteen percent of the funds in the market are seeking more than US$1bn but targeting 49% of the aggregate capital across all private debt strategies, which include direct lending, special situations and distressed debt.

With US$121bn in assets under management, GSO invests in leveraged loans, high yield bonds, mezzanine debt and direct lending opportunities, among others. (Reporting by Andrew Hedlund. Editing by Michelle Sierra and Paula Schaap.)

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World News

Cordless vacuum cleaner has nifty tools

The V8 Slim Fluffy+ is the latest model in Dyson’s stick cordless vacuum cleaner series.

At $599, it is also the most affordable model of the series, which is led by the $999 V11 Absolute.

It uses the digital motor first introduced three years ago in the original V8 model. But this motor is no slouch – it is capable of 107,000 rotations a minute.

At 2.15kg, the V8 Slim is lighter than its bigger cousins. For example, the V11 Absolute weighs 3.05kg. It feels even lighter during use, almost like wielding a broomstick.

In terms of design, the V8 Slim looks no different from the original, with a hand grip that has a trigger you press to activate the suction.

A transparent bin in front of the trigger lets you see the amount of hair and dirt collected, which you dispose of by holding the main unit over your rubbish bin and lifting the ejection handle to open the bin’s bottom lid. The main unit can be easily dismantled and cleaned.

A slider behind the ejection handle lets you switch between normal and maximum suction power.

For floors, normal suction will suffice. But for bedding or carpets, you might want to switch to the maximum suction.

Included is an array of cleaning tools, such as the new Slim Fluffy cleaner head (for floors and general use), a mini-motorised tool (for sofas or cushions), a combination tool (for table surfaces), a light-pipe crevice tool (for hard-to-reach spots), a mini soft-dusting brush (for furniture) and a mattress tool.

And it is these tools that really differentiate the V8 Slim from its predecessors.

For instance, the new cleaner head is 40 per cent smaller and lighter than the original, making cleaning the tight corners of small flats easier. And the light-pipe crevice tool has two LED lights at its suction end to make cleaning small, dark spaces a breeze. In fact, I believe this is the first time Dyson has such a “lit” tool.

FOR

• Lightweight and easy to manoeuvre

• Most affordable Dyson vacuum cleaner

• New cleaning tools

AGAINST

• No trigger lock

• Non-removable battery

• Battery life could be better

SPECS

PRICE: $599

WEIGHT: 2.15kg

RATING

FEATURES: 4/5

DESIGN: 5/5

PERFORMANCE: 4/5

BATTERY LIFE: 3/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

OVERALL: 4/5

But Dyson continues to leave out the trigger lock. Without it, I find myself having to change the finger I use to press the trigger often, as my finger goes numb pretty quickly.

According to Dyson, the V8’s battery life is around 40 minutes if you use small attachments such as the combination tool. But if you use the cleaner head, the battery life drops to around 25 minutes.

Thankfully, the latter is the time I normally take to vacuum my 90 sq m flat.

During my test, I find the V8 Slim able to pick up most of the dust and hair around my home.

Still, it is not as thorough as my $3,000 industrial-grade heavyweight vacuum cleaner.

The V8 Slim does much better with maximum power, but that lasts only seven minutes on a full charge. And it takes five hours to charge the battery to full again. This is made worse by the fact that it does not use a removable battery.

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World News

New French PM pledges 7.5 billion euros for hospital staff

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s new prime minister, Jean Castex, said on Tuesday his government would commit an envelope of 7.5 billion euros to raise wages of hospital workers.

“I have insisted for jobs to be at the heart of the discussions,” Castex said on Twitter of negotiations between unions, hospital officials and the government, which started before a government reshuffle on Monday.

Officials at the Health Ministry were not immediately available for comment.

Although France enjoys a reputation for having one of the world’s best healthcare systems, hospital staff have been asking for more money, jobs and equipment in the last decade to better address the needs of an ageing population and a shortage of city doctors.

The coronavirus outbreak has strained the system even more with hospitals on the verge of saturation earlier this year.

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World News

What unites young people against Obama and Trump

In the midst of America’s racial reckoning, the question of how to deal with memorials to controversial leaders has risen again to the national stage – and has brought back criticisms of “cancel culture” with it.

“Cancel culture”, the term for when individuals or companies face swift public backlash and boycott over offensive statements or actions, has been an incendiary topic in the movements of recent years, whether relating to misogyny, race or homophobia.

To some, it’s a new way to flag past wrongs. To others, it’s an ineffective over-reaction in the court of public opinion. In the wake of the George Floyd protests, some see the dethroning of historical figures associated with racism as the latest iteration of cancel culture.

On Tuesday, a group of more than 100 famous writers such Salman Rushdie and JK Rowling published a letter in Harper’s magazine in which they decried “this stifling atmosphere” as toxic to artistic expression and healthy debate.

Here’s a look at what US leaders and cultural experts have had to say about it.

Trump: ‘Far-left fascism’

US President Donald Trump appears to be making it a central part of his re-election campaign. He has deemed cancel culture “far-left fascism”, saying it is “driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees…is the very definition of totalitarianism”.

He has criticised calls for renaming sites and removing monuments as part of this “dangerous movement”.

“This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty, must be stopped, and it will be stopped very quickly,” Mr Trump told supporters during his Independence Day event on 3 July.

“We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation’s children, end this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life.”

Obama: ‘The world is messy’

Last October, former President Barack Obama challenged cancel culture and the idea of being “woke” – a term describing being alert to injustices and what’s going on in the community – saying change was complex.

“I get a sense among certain young people on social media that the way of making change is to be as judgemental as possible about other people,” Mr Obama said.

“The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.”

Young people who disagree with Trump and Obama

Mr Trump’s critics in particular have said his own remarks condemning and publicly shaming those he disagrees with – from news outlets to former staff to protesters – also play into cancel culture.

But younger generations have pushed back against the notion that cancel culture equals unhelpful judgment.

Journalist Ernest Owens wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times: “As a millennial who has participated in using digital platforms to critique powerful people for promoting bigotry or harming others, I can assure you it wasn’t because they had ‘different opinions’.

“It was because they were spreading the kinds of ideas that contribute to the marginalisation of people like me and those I care about.”

Owens said Mr Obama’s generation failed to understand that this was not bullying people with different opinions, but rather pushing back against influential people who had caused harm or could in the future.

Essayist Sarah Hagi, writing for Time Magazine, said those “whose privilege has historically shielded them from public scrutiny” turned to phrases like cancel culture to “delegitimise the criticism”.

“I’m a black, Muslim woman, and because of social media, marginalised people like myself can express ourselves in a way that was not possible before,” she said. “That means racist, sexist, and bigoted behaviour or remarks don’t fly like they used to.”

So what’s the statue row about?

Opinions held by protesters range from tearing down Confederate statues to dethroning all monuments associated with colonisation or with ties to slavery and racism.

Activists calling for the removal of statues like Confederate general Robert E Lee and Italian explorer Christopher Columbus have said these monuments glorify in lieu of teaching people about history.

What began in America has caused statues of past leaders around the world – from Winston Churchill to Mahatma Gandhi – to come under scrutiny.

And what’s Trump said about this?

The president has called US statues “sacred” and “treasured American legacies”, while describing the push for their removal “a merciless campaign to wipe out our history” and “erase our values”.

His address at Mount Rushmore – a controversial memorial on land sacred to Native Americans – focused on these notions of “angry mobs” attacking US culture.

“Before these figures were immortalised in stone, they were American giants in full flesh and blood, gallant men whose intrepid deeds unleashed the greatest leap of human advancement the world has ever known,” Mr Trump said.

The president has also defended the preservation of symbols of the Confederacy – the group of southern states that fought to keep slavery and sparked the Civil War.

What about Democrats?

Former Vice-President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has also defended keeping monuments to presidents past, but said those memorialising Confederate leaders should be taken down.

“The idea of comparing whether or not George Washington owned slaves or Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and somebody who was in rebellion committing treason trying to take down a union to keep slavery, I think there’s a distinction there,” Mr Biden said at a recent news conference.

He added that Confederate statues of people who “strongly supported secession and maintaining slavery” should go to museums.

Mr Obama has also touched on the issues over Confederate memorials in the past, saying the Confederate flag belongs in a museum.

So where does the public stand?

A Quinnipiac University poll on 17 June found that most Americans support removing Confederate statues, with four in 10 opposing.

The numbers are a stark change from when Quinnipiac posed the same question three years ago and found 50% of people were against removing the statues.

What about other views?

African American Studies Senior Lecturer Jason Nichols of the University of Maryland says deciding which monuments ought to go should depend on the reason the person is memorialised.

“Statues and monuments are supposed to show where we want to be – the people in the past who have shown us a path to a better and unified nation, the people who represent the ideals that the nation aspires to,” Mr Nichols told the BBC.

“We have to talk about the Confederacy, we just don’t have to praise it in public.”

He says that ideally, all statues belong in museums that can provide context and there is never a reason to bury history, adding: “I do think that some people do try to take this moral indignation a little too far and extend it beyond these Confederate monuments.”

“The key difference is we praise Lincoln for what he did right, not what he did wrong,” Mr Nichols says, noting that while people like Washington and Jefferson were slaveholders and did not outright condemn slavery, they still put forth important principals that were positive in the long-run.

“That is the major nuance with Confederate statues – we’re praising them for tearing our country apart.”

Others think that statutes to the Confederacy should remain up, but only with additions like plaques or even graffiti.

Columnist Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch told the Economist the graffiti on monuments in Richmond “make them far more approachable, that humble them, and have made these statutes welcoming places for people they were not intended to draw, people they were largely intended to intimidate”.

Reporting by Ritu Prasad

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World News

Children of British military personnel to get free childcare

The children of British military personnel will receive free childcare, the defence secretary has announced, in an attempt to modernise working conditions after recent criticism that the armed forces are not inclusive.

From September, breakfast and after-school clubs will be offered to service children between four and 11 years old.

The first pilots will begin at RAF High Wycombe and RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire, before the scheme is rolled out across the country through 2021.

It will cost up to £150m a year and benefit up to 44,000 children – it fulfils an election manifesto pledge made by the Conservative Party.

It is hoped that it will make the armed forces a more attractive career and easier for those serving on operations abroad.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News: “We think it’s a really important commitment to our workforce because at the heart of our armed forces are the people and so we recognise what they’ve done in COVID, we recognise what they do around the world to keep us safe and looking after their families while they’re doing it is something that I think is really important.

“I am determined to make the armed forces a more modern, inclusive and family-friendly employer, in order to improve the working environment for retention of all personnel but also to encourage more talented women to pursue long and fulfilling careers in uniform.”

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer, who has just become a father for the third time, said: “I know from first-hand experience that, while service life is hugely rewarding, it isn’t without its challenges when it comes to juggling the demands of family life.

“It is only right that those who continue to do extraordinary work on behalf of the country are recognised and rewarded, and I’m pleased we’re continuing to honour our commitment to our hard-working personnel so they receive the right support to care for loved ones.”

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World News

Fuss-free mentaiko pasta for one

Cooking for yourself does not mean boiling instant noodles or eating poorly.

For a quick yet scrumptious dish that is easy to rustle up, try mentaiko pasta.

Mentaiko is spicy cured pollock roe, but I find it more savoury than spicy. With just a few ingredients and minimal effort, you can enjoy a Japanese cafe-style one-dish meal at home.

As I am crazy about it, I have added more shiso (perilla) in my take on this Japanese fusion dish. You can do without shiso and use nori strips as a garnish, but it is not quite the same.

Shiso has a herbaceous, nutty minty taste that helps cut through the creaminess and intensifies both flavour and texture.

This is a dish that requires very little washing up afterwards. Serve it with a side salad and you are all set for a delectable, fuss-free meal.

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MENTAIKO PASTA

INGREDIENTS

2 shiso leaves

2 litres of water

2 tsp fine salt

85g angel hair pasta

1 Tbs thickened cream

10g finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

45g mentaiko (marinated pollock roe), removed from the sac

Sea salt

10 nori strips

3g Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings

METHOD

1. Rinse and dry the shiso leaves.

2. Place the leaves one on top of the other. Roll them up and slice finely. Set aside.

3. Bring 2 litres of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add 2 tsp of fine salt.

4. Let water reach boiling point again and add pasta. Boil according to the packet’s instructions – usually around 4 to 5 minutes. Switch off fire.

5. Pour pasta into a colander to drain all the water. Place pasta back into pot.

6. In a bowl, mix thickened cream with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

7. Add the mixture to the pasta and stir through.

8. Add three-quarters of the mentaiko and toss through. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and toss briefly.

9. Transfer the pasta to a plate. Place the remaining mentaiko on top. Garnish with finely sliced shiso, nori strips and Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings.

10. Serve immediately.

Serves one

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Met Police refers itself to watchdog over stop and search of sprinter

The Metropolitan Police has voluntarily referred itself to the police watchdog after athlete Bianca Williams and her partner were stopped and searched.

A video of the incident, which saw the Great Britain sprinter and Ricardo dos Santos pulled from their car in a London street, was posted online.

Williams has said she believes officers racially profiled her and dos Santos – a Portuguese 400-metre runner – when they were handcuffed and separated from their three-month-old son.

She said she was treated like ‘scum’ by officers and was considering legal action.

In a statement issued this evening the Met said that following a vehicle stop on Lanhill Road in west London on Saturday it had made ‘a voluntary referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct’.

The force added: ‘We have now recorded this incident as a public complaint.

‘The decision to refer to the IOPC has been taken due to the complaint being recorded and the significant public interest in this matter and we welcome independent scrutiny of the facts.

‘Two reviews of the circumstances by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards have not identified misconduct for any officer involved.’

The referral follows comments from 68-year-old Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, who accused the Met Police of being ‘out of touch’ and described the incident as ‘disturbing and shocking’.

The Met previously said on Monday that its Directorate of Professional Standards had revisited body-worn camera footage and social media videos of Saturday’s incident and found no misconduct issues.

But Hynde, who lives in Maida Vale, west London, where Williams and her partner were stopped, said the incident ‘illustrates how out of touch the police in London have become’.

In a letter published by The Guardian, she wrote: ‘The incident was disturbing and aggressive, and the police van remained parked there for over an hour.

‘The couple were innocent of whatever charges they were suspected of and were eventually let go.

‘There has been a surge of violence in this area over the past five years. The son of a friend of mine was stabbed eight times last year in broad daylight on the same street as Saturday’s incident.

‘Nobody will press charges against local gangs for fear of the inevitable payback.

‘I watched gang members smash the windows and rob the shop downstairs from me recently and could not get the police on the phone – I was held in a queue long after the smash-and-grabbers had left.

‘For years there has been no protection at all on the streets and now hordes of police are pulling over innocent citizens and causing real distress for no reason.

‘Can the police get their house in order and start patrolling the gangs, and leave parents to do their shopping?’

Footage of the search was shared widely on Twitter after being posted by former Olympic medallist Linford Christie, who asked why the vehicle had been stopped.

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy described the video as ‘shocking footage that anyone in their right mind would be alarmed about’.

Nothing was found in the search, which the Met said was carried out by officers patrolling the area in response to an increase in violence involving weapons.

The force also said the vehicle was seen driving suspiciously, including on the wrong side of the road, and that the driver sped off when asked to stop.

But this account was rejected by Ms Williams, who has said she is considering legal action against the Met.

‘I feel very hurt by their actions, and to witness my partner being taken away and for me to be taken away from my son, my heart hurts,’ she said.

In a statement on Monday, Met Commander for Central West Helen Harper said that while no misconduct issues had been found, ‘that does not mean there isn’t something to be learnt from every interaction we have with the public’.

She added: ‘Myself and Chief Superintendent Karen Findlay, who is in charge of the Territorial Support Group, are really keen to speak personally to the occupants of the vehicle to discuss what happened and the concerns they have.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected]

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World News

Football: Teenager Lee gives Valencia hope of European spot

VALENCIA, SPAIN (REUTERS) – Valencia’s teenage forward Lee Kang-in struck in the 89th minute to give his side a 2-1 win at home to Real Valladolid in La Liga on Tuesday (July 7), earning caretaker coach Voro his first victory since taking charge last month.

Valencia have been on a dismal run since the season resumed after the coronavirus stoppage and their poor form looked set to continue when Valladolid’s Victor Garcia scored early in the second half to cancel out Maxi Gomez’s opening goal.

Yet South Korean forward Lee, 19, gave them their first win in five matches with a superb late strike, cutting inside from the right wing and hooking a low shot just inside the near post from outside the area.

The victory breathed life into Valencia’s hopes of earning a Europa League berth and took them into eighth place in the standings on 50 points, one behind seventh-placed Real Sociedad who hold the final European spot. Valladolid are 13th on 39.

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Business

Dollar rises as virus worries hurt risk appetite

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. dollar rose against a basket of currencies on Tuesday, holding above the near two-week low hit in the previous session, as investors turned uneasy over new coronavirus flare-ups and local lockdowns in some countries.

The U.S. Dollar Currency Index =USD, which measures the greenback’s strength against six major currencies, was 0.15% higher at 96.889. On Monday, the index had fallen as low as 96.565 with its 50-day moving average slipping below its 200-day average, viewed as a bearish signal.

Graphic: Dollar death cross, here

“There was no data to move markets, though Wall Street posted losses as investors have a rethink, at least for now, on the economic growth outlook, as COVID hot spots continue to slow reopenings around the world,” Ronald Simpson, managing director, global currency analysis at Action Economics, said in a note.

The dollar, viewed as a safe haven, benefits when investors bail on riskier assets.

Riskier currencies such as the commodity-driven Aussie AUD=D3, Norwegian crown NOK=D3 and the Swedish crown SEK=D3, which have rallied strongly since April alongside increased risk appetite in global markets, eased on Tuesday.

Lockdown measures were reimposed in Australia’s second biggest city on Tuesday, confining Melbourne residents to their homes unless undertaking essential business for six weeks.

In the United States, Florida’s greater Miami area became the latest hotspot to roll back its reopening as virus cases surged nationwide by the tens of thousands and the U.S. death toll topped 130,000.

U.S. health official Anthony Fauci said on Monday that the current state of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States “is really not good.”

The surge in U.S. coronavirus cases has made business owners “nervous again,” Atlanta Federal Reserve president Raphael Bostic said on Tuesday.

Sterling was 0.51% higher on optimism that British and European Union trade negotiators could find common ground at a dinner planned for later in the day. [nL8N2EE49L]

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World News

Turkey, Italy agree Libya needs political solution – Turkish defence ministry

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey and Italy’s defence ministers agreed at talks on Tuesday on the need for a political solution to Libya’s conflict, according to a readout by the Turkish defence ministry.

“We have gladly observed that we share common and similar views on several issues,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in the readout, adding security and defence cooperation between the countries would benefit the Mediterranean region.

Turkey, with the second largest military in NATO, backs the internationally recognised GNA government in Libya’s conflict while eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.

Relations between some NATO members have soured over the Libya as Turkey has accused France of backing Haftar’s forces. Paris denies this and accused Turkish warships of aggressive behaviour in a June 10 incident when a French frigate under NATO command tried to inspect a cargo ship suspected of smuggling arms to Libya in violation of a U.N. embargo.

The European Union recognises the GNA but there are differences between member states. Italy, whose state-controlled oil and gas major Eni is the biggest foreign oil producer in Libya, has sent troops to train GNA security forces.

European countries worry about Libya because of its energy supplies and – given its chronic disorder – its role as a major source of undocumented migration to Europe and as a haven for Islamist militants.

Italian Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini said all parties need to work together to achieve stability in the Mediterrenean, according to the Turkish ministry readout.

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