Wednesday, February 1

Wednesday, February 1

Bold prediction: Donald Trump will dominate the headlines again. But what for this time?

TRUMP ANNOUNCES SUPREME COURT PICK

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite

Donald Trump has laid siege to global headlines of late and there appears to be no let-up in sight. Mr Trump is set to announce his Supreme Court pick on Tuesday night (DC time).

The vacancy on America’s top court was created by the sudden death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February last year. While President Obama attempted to fill the position, Senate Republicans blocked the move in the hopes that a new (Republican) president would appoint a similarly conservative candidate. It seems they’ve got their wish.

Reports suggest Thomas Hardiman is Trump’s most likely choice. The 51-year-old is reportedly favoured by Trump’s sister – who’s a senior judge in Pennsylvania – but lacks some of the hard-core social conservatism some Republicans are clamouring for.

The president’s pick will need to gain Senate approval, a chamber in which Republicans hold 52 of the 60 votes required. For their part, Democrats have pledged to hold a filibuster against anyone nominated by the president. But with the ‘nuclear option’ a distinct possibility, things could get ugly.

INDIA UNVEILS BUDGET

Photo: PIB

Photo: PIB

Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will deliver a difficult budget on Wednesday as the government seeks to boost waning confidence damaged by the shock of last year’s demonetization. With PM Narendra Modi’s reputation on the line and elections to be contested in Punjab State on Saturday, the governing BJP will be wary of riling voters.

However, if Wednesday’s budget is too expansionary it risks increasing India’s public debt – one of the highest in Asia. With the country’s credit rating already perilously close to a ‘junk’ status, wary investors may push towards selling off Indian bonds and stocks. This could drive the rupee down and cause a surge in inflation, hampering economic growth already hamstrung by demonetization.

Mr Jaitley will have to manage competing pressures to boost domestic growth, appease unhappy voters and trim down India’s deficit. Striking this delicate balance will be no easy task.

FACEBOOK REPORTS EARNINGS

Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP Photo

Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP Photo

Facebook is expected to announce its quarterly earnings on Wednesday, which are forecast to top $8.5 billion ­– up 46% since last year.

Such stellar growth has allowed the social media behemoth to dream big. It’s embarking on an ambitious project to reach the 4.5 billion people still without access to the internet. Cue Internet.org.

Rebranded as Free Basics, the service provides free, bare-bones access to Facebook and 300 other websites in 38 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. To deepen penetration in developing countries, Facebook’s R&D division is now pushing towards a 2017 deadline to trial what will eventually be a fleet of 10,000 passenger jet-sized drones equipped with data-transferring laser technology.

In 2016, at least 11 African governments suspended internet services. Facebook’s burgeoning internet infrastructure might one day prove to be a wily way around government-limited internet access – and perhaps even a formidable tool for political change.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The US Federal Reserve will announce the outcome of its two-day monetary review but is not expected to alter interest rates.

The four largest Dutch political parties will take part in a televised debate ahead of the country’s March 15 election.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis will travel to South Korea for talks with his counterparts. Later in the week he’ll visit Japan. Mattis will reassure these two key Asian allies of Washington’s continued support in an increasingly tense region.

Russia’s upper house may begin discussing an agreement with Turkey on the construction of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline. The pipeline was put on hold in late 2015 after tensions between the two countries escalated but is now back on the table.

Tariffs will be increased on crude oil transiting Belarus beginning Wednesday. Belarus is a key transit point for Russian oil heading to Europe.

India will lift limits on ATM withdrawals imposed after the chaotic demonetization policy was introduced late last year.