Clinton courts Appalachian voters to counter Trump on trade

WASHINGTON/CARMEL, Ind. U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton met with coal and steel workers in the Appalachian region on Monday in an effort to win over blue-collar voters in a part of the country with strong support for Republican Donald Trump.The real estate mogul made his own pitch on Monday to voters in areas struggling from the loss of industry, telling a crowd in Indiana he would create "clean coal" jobs.Clinton has increasingly turned her attention beyond the Democratic Party nomination fight with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and is making early moves to try to siphon support from Trump ahead of a possible match-up in the Nov. 8 election.On Monday, she met union leaders and some of the 600 workers who were laid off last year when AK Steel Holding Corp announced it would idle a furnace in eastern Kentucky.She said jobs losses in manufacturing and the coal industry in the area had been a heavy blow."Talk about a ripple effect. It's just devastating communities," Clinton told workers around a table at an Italian restaurant in the town of Ashland. While the Republican presidential candidates focus on Tuesday's primary contest in Indiana, Clinton launched a trip to Appalachia this week that will include events in Ohio and West Virginia. She has a large lead over Sanders for the Democratic nomination. Unions typically back Democratic candidates, and union leaders have endorsed both Clinton and Sanders in the 2016 presidential race. But Trump's pro-coal, anti-trade message and outsider status has resonated with some blue collar union members frustrated with Washington politicians. He and other Republicans also accuse President Barack Obama's administration of waging a "war on coal" by imposing strict environmental regulations."I'm a free-market guy, but not when you're getting killed," Trump said at a rally in Carmel, Indiana. "Look at steel, it's being wiped out. Your coal industry is wiped out, and China is taking our coal." The New York businessman won the Republican nominating contest in Kentucky in March, sweeping most of the counties in the economically struggling east of the state.Parts of Appalachia, a region that spans multiple states across the eastern United States, have struggled with poverty and job losses. West Virginia's unemployment rate of 6.5 percent in March was well above the national rate of 5 percent, according to Labor Department data. Ohio's unemployment rate was 5.1 percent, while the figure in Kentucky was 5.6 percent.It will be an uphill struggle for Clinton there if she wins the nomination. She has pledged more than $30 billion to help regions that depend on coal, but her promise was overshadowed when she said in March that the country would "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." And her husband, former President Bill Clinton, campaigned on Sunday in West Virginia, encountering protests from Trump supporters. West Virginia last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 1996, when Bill Clinton was running for his second four-year term. He is the only Democrat who has won Kentuckysince 1980. TRUMP IN INDIANATrump will take a leap toward winning the Republican nomination if he comes out ahead in Tuesday's Indiana primary. His success in the race for the White House may well ride on the support of Republican evangelicals.Top rival Ted Cruz planned stops to greet voters across the state on Monday, running into a group of Trump supporters in Marion, Indiana who berated him. He deployed his wife, Heidi, and Carly Fiorina, the ex-candidate who Cruz has chosen as his running mate if he gets the Republican nomination, to a coffee shop and art gallery in Carmel, Indiana.Cruz, who lags Trump in delegates to the Republican National Convention in July, told reporters on Monday he would stay in the race "as long as we have a viable path to victory."Republicans plan to tie Clinton to what they say is an anemic economy under President Barack Obama. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Monday cited data released last week that showed economic growth slipped in the first quarter to its slowest pace in two years."Struggling Americans will never get ahead under Hillary Clinton. They are going to keep getting taken to the cleaners," Priebus said in an opinion piece for RealClearPolitics. (Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Doina Chiacu in Washington, and Alana Wise in Indiana; Writing by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Caren Bohan and Alistair Bell)

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Pfizer walks away from $118 billion AstraZeneca takeover fight

LONDON/NEW YORK Pfizer abandoned its attempt to buy AstraZeneca for nearly 70 billion pounds ($118 billion) on Monday as a deadline approached without a last-minute change of heart by the British drugmaker.The decision ends a month-long public fight between two of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies that sparked political concerns on both sides of Atlantic over jobs and corporate tax maneuvers.British rules now require an enforced cooling-off period. AstraZeneca could reach out to Pfizer after three months and Pfizer could take another run at its smaller British rival in six months time, whether it is invited back or not.Pfizer's move came two hours before a 5.00 pm (1200 ET) deadline to make a firm offer or walk away, under UK takeover rules. Its decision to quit the stage, at least for now, had been widely expected after AstraZeneca refused its final offer of 55 pounds a share."Following the AstraZeneca board's rejection of the proposal, Pfizer announces that it does not intend to make an offer for AstraZeneca," Pfizer said in a short news release.The biggest U.S. drugmaker promised it would not go hostile by taking its offer directly to AstraZeneca shareholders, leaving the fate of what would have been the world's largest ever drugs merger in the hands of its target, whose board would have had to make a complete U-turn to get a deal done."We continue to believe that our final proposal was compelling and represented full value for AstraZeneca based on the information that was available to us," said Ian Read, Pfizer's chairman and chief executive.Pfizer's final offer was at a price that many analysts and investors had previously suggested would bring AstraZeneca to the table for serious negotiations. But in rejecting an earlier offer of 53.50 pounds as undervaluing the company, the British group indicated it needed a bid more than 10 percent higher, or at least 58.85 pounds per share, for its board to consider a recommendation.Pfizer had urged AstraZeneca shareholders to agitate for engagement and several expressed disappointment at its intransigence, although others - encouraged by AstraZeneca's promising drug pipeline - backed the firm's standalone strategy.AstraZeneca Chairman Leif Johansson welcomed Pfizer's decision to back down, which he said would allow the British company to focus on its growth potential as an independent company.What happens next will depend upon whether AstraZeneca's share price deteriorates in the coming weeks and how hard its shareholders push for it to revisit a deal with Pfizer. BlackRock, AstraZeneca's biggest shareholder, backed the board's rejection of Pfizer's 55 pounds a share offer, but urged it to talk again in the future.POLITICAL OPPOSITIONThe proposed transaction ran into fierce opposition from politicians in Britain, Sweden - where AstraZeneca has half it roots - and the United States over the likelihood that the marriage would lead to thousands of job cuts.Ultimately, it was price and the lack of room for eleventh-hour maneuvering by Pfizer that killed the deal. Pfizer had several reasons for taking aim at AstraZeneca for what would have been its fourth mega-merger in 14 years.Highest on the list appeared to be Pfizer's desire to take part in a recent trend of so-called tax inversions, under which it could reincorporate in Britain and pay significantly lower corporate tax. Pfizer would also be able to use tens of billions of dollars it has parked overseas, avoiding high U.S. taxes for repatriating the huge cash pile.Pfizer also had its eye on a promising portfolio of drugs in AstraZeneca's developmental pipeline, especially several potentially lucrative cancer medicines.It was this pipeline that AstraZeneca management used to make its case for Pfizer significantly undervaluing the company.Chief Executive Pascal Soriot went as far as making a 10-year forecast for a 75 percent rise in sales by 2023."As we said from the start, the pursuit of this transaction was a potential enhancement to our existing strategy," Pfizer's Read said. "We will continue our focus on the execution of our plans, bringing forth new treatments to meet patients' needs and remaining responsible stewards of our shareholders' capital."The merger would have restored Pfizer as the world's largest drugmaker by sales, a position it relinquished to Swiss-based Novartis when billions of dollars in annual revenue evaporated after its top-selling cholesterol fighter Lipitor began facing generic competition in 2011.(Editing by David Evans and Mark Potter)

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Buffett says Berkshire 'fine' with Trump or Clinton

OMAHA, Neb. Warren Buffett said on Saturday that Berkshire Hathaway Inc is poised to do well no matter who wins the White House in November, and the billionaire investor defended the performance and tactics of the conglomerate's several large investments.Buffett presided over his 51st Berkshire annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, where he and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded five hours of questions on such matters as Coca-Cola's sugary drinks, lower shipping volumes on the BNSF railroad, risks from derivatives, and who might succeed Buffett as chief executive.Buffett, a staunch supporter of Democrat Hillary Clinton for president, was asked about the regulatory impact on Berkshire if Republican front-runner Donald Trump wins the 2016 U.S. presidential election."That won't be the main problem," he said to audience laughter. "If either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton becomes president, and one of them is very likely to be, I think Berkshire will continue to do fine."Because the meeting fell early this year, Berkshire also released only preliminary first-quarter results rather than full results, which will come out on May 6.Berkshire said net income probably rose 8 percent, helped by a gain from the swap of Procter & Gamble Co stock for the Duracell battery business.Operating profit probably fell 12 percent, however. Buffett said BNSF was hurt by declining oil prices and coal shipments, while hailstorms caused losses in Berkshire insurance units."Railroad carloading throughout the industry - all of the major railroads - were down significantly in the first quarter, and probably almost certainly will continue to be down for the balance of the year," Buffett said.Berkshire owns close to 90 businesses in energy, insurance, manufacturing, railroad, retail and other sectors, and invests well over $100 billion in stocks. COKE IS STILL IT The meeting filled a downtown arena and overflow rooms, and shareholders could buy products made by Berkshire units at deep discounts in an exhibit hall.Buffett suggested that 40,000 people may have shown up for his "Woodstock for Capitalists," close to last year's record, though the meeting was streamed online for the first time.At the meeting, Buffett and Munger fielded dozens of questions from shareholders, analysts and journalists. A shareholder proposal for more disclosures on the risks to Berkshire on climate change was overwhelmingly rejected.Buffett parried concerns raised by a shareholder, and previously by hedge fund manager William Ackman, that Berkshire promotes bad health through its roughly 9-percent stake in Coca-Cola Co.Buffett, who consumes 700 calories of Coke a day, said it seemed wrong to blame calories alone for rising obesity levels."I elect to get my 2,600 or 2,700 calories a day from thingsthat me feel good when I eat them," he said, including the Cherry Coke and See's peanut brittle he consumed during the meeting. "That's my sole test." Buffett also renewed his defense of Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital, which with Berkshire has a controlling stake in food company Kraft Heinz Co, where it has built on its reputation as a ruthless cost-cutter.Berkshire is seen as a friendlier owner, but Buffett said 3G's cuts have been "extremely intelligent," and did not appear a threat to Kraft Heinz's ability to produce packaged goods.Buffett also defended efforts of Berkshire's NV Energy unit to persuade Nevada regulators to reduce subsidies for homeowners there who use solar power, prompting Elon Musk's SolarCity Corp to say it would cease activity there."Ninety-nine percent of our consumers were being asked to subsidize the one percent that had solar units," Buffett said. "I personally think that if society is the one that's benefiting from the reduction of greenhouse gasses, that society should pick up the tab."Buffett also emphasized his worry that derivatives could cause major risks for most of the world's largest banks if markets were disrupted."It is still a potential time bomb," he said, but added that he was "not in the least troubled" by Berkshire's big stakes in Wells Fargo & Co and Bank of America Corp. Buffett also said Geico has been hurt because falling oil prices led to more driving, more accidents and more loss claims, but said he did not "necessarily see the same trends this year."He also said there are no "tea leaves" in the recent announcement that the next chief of the General Re reinsurance unit will report to Buffett's insurance lieutenant Ajit Jain, not to Buffett. Some investors believe Jain is a top candidate to succeed Buffett as Berkshire's chief executive.EARLY WAKE-UPBuffett also said Mark Donegan, chief executive of Precision Castparts, which Berkshire bought in January for $32 billion, may now fare even better now that his company has the support from Berkshire's deep well of capital."I would almost rank Mark as one of a kind," Buffett said, before joking: "If he needs capital, he's got my 800 number."Shareholders at the meeting included hundreds who waited hours in a rainstorm before doors opened at 6:20 a.m., 40 minutes early."I wanted to make sure I got a good seat," said Kim Baumler, an office manager for a wealth management company from Fargo, North Dakota, who said she was at the head of the line at 10:30 p.m. Friday night. "My boss is a huge Warren Buffett follower, and I got hooked. I wanted to see what it was all about."Mark Hughes, a money manager from Ashton, Maryland attending his 25th meeting, said he sees no sign Buffett and Munger are winding down."They're 85 and 92, and look as good as they ever did," he said. (Editing by Jennifer Ablan and Nick Zieminski)

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Anti-Trump protests break out for second day in California

BURLINGAME, Calif. Protests erupted in California for the second day in a row on Friday against U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is moving closer to winning the Republican nomination after a string of victories this week. The billionaire businessman was forced to halt his motorcade and go through a back entrance to a hotel to give a speech to the California Republican convention and avoid several hundred loud protestors gathered outside."That was not the easiest entrance I've ever made," Trump told the gathering in Burlingame, south of San Francisco, after weaving around a barrier and clambering across a road to get to the venue. "It felt like I was crossing the border actually."Demonstrators, some of whom held Mexican national flags, at one point rushed security gates at the hotel and police officers had their batons out. The mogul had already drawn protests in California, with chaotic scenes on Thursday outside a Trump rally in Costa Mesa. Anti-Trump protesters smashed the window of a police patrol car and blocked traffic and some 20 people were arrested.Protests have become common outside rallies for Trump who has earned ardent critics, as well as support from Republican voters, for his rhetoric against illegal immigration. His campaign abandoned a rally in Chicago last month after clashes between his supporters and protesters. He has accused Mexico of sending drug dealers and rapists across the U.S. border and has promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Trump, who described himself this week as the party's presumptive nominee, would take a large stride toward knocking his Republican rivals out of the presidential race if he wins the Indiana primary next week. On Friday, he said he is approaching the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. Trump, who has run as a political outsider and only recently started making inroads to the Republican establishment, called for the party to band together behind him. But said he could win the White House without them if needed. "There should be and there has to be unity. Now with that being said, would I win, can I win without it? I think so, to be honest," Trump told the convention. His speech drew applause, though not the fervent reception of his usual campaign rallies. INDIANA FIGHTTrump's main rival, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, on Friday picked up the backing of Governor Mike Pence of Indiana in a rearguard battle to damage Trump's chances. "I'm not against anybody, but I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the upcoming Republican primary," Pence said on an Indiana radio show. Cruz, from Texas, is trailing the former reality TV star in the Midwestern state after losing to him by a wide margin in all five Northeastern states that held nominating contests on Tuesday. A CBS poll earlier this week found Trump with about 40 percent of support in Indiana, compared to 35 percent for Cruz. The poll had a margin of error of 6.6 points. Other polls have also shown Trump ahead. The Republican front-runner was in California ahead of its June 7 primary, when the most convention delegates of the Republican nominating cycle will be at stake. After his speech, Trump made a similarly unconventional exit out of the hotel via the back door.Cheryl McDonald, 71, of Discovery Bay, said she had to pass through protesters to get inside the hotel. "They were yelling. I think the only words they know in the dictionary are profanity," said McDonald, who said she is a Trump supporter. (Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Timothy Ahmann in Washington and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Alistair Bell)

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Pfizer walks away from $118 billion AstraZeneca takeover fight

LONDON/NEW YORK Pfizer abandoned its attempt to buy AstraZeneca for nearly 70 billion pounds ($118 billion) on Monday as a deadline approached without a last-minute change of heart by the British drugmaker.The decision ends a month-long public fight between two of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies that sparked political concerns on both sides of Atlantic over jobs and corporate tax maneuvers.British rules now require an enforced cooling-off period. AstraZeneca could reach out to Pfizer after three months and Pfizer could take another run at its smaller British rival in six months time, whether it is invited back or not.Pfizer's move came two hours before a 5.00 pm (1200 ET) deadline to make a firm offer or walk away, under UK takeover rules. Its decision to quit the stage, at least for now, had been widely expected after AstraZeneca refused its final offer of 55 pounds a share."Following the AstraZeneca board's rejection of the proposal, Pfizer announces that it does not intend to make an offer for AstraZeneca," Pfizer said in a short news release.The biggest U.S. drugmaker promised it would not go hostile by taking its offer directly to AstraZeneca shareholders, leaving the fate of what would have been the world's largest ever drugs merger in the hands of its target, whose board would have had to make a complete U-turn to get a deal done."We continue to believe that our final proposal was compelling and represented full value for AstraZeneca based on the information that was available to us," said Ian Read, Pfizer's chairman and chief executive.Pfizer's final offer was at a price that many analysts and investors had previously suggested would bring AstraZeneca to the table for serious negotiations. But in rejecting an earlier offer of 53.50 pounds as undervaluing the company, the British group indicated it needed a bid more than 10 percent higher, or at least 58.85 pounds per share, for its board to consider a recommendation.Pfizer had urged AstraZeneca shareholders to agitate for engagement and several expressed disappointment at its intransigence, although others - encouraged by AstraZeneca's promising drug pipeline - backed the firm's standalone strategy.AstraZeneca Chairman Leif Johansson welcomed Pfizer's decision to back down, which he said would allow the British company to focus on its growth potential as an independent company.What happens next will depend upon whether AstraZeneca's share price deteriorates in the coming weeks and how hard its shareholders push for it to revisit a deal with Pfizer. BlackRock, AstraZeneca's biggest shareholder, backed the board's rejection of Pfizer's 55 pounds a share offer, but urged it to talk again in the future.POLITICAL OPPOSITIONThe proposed transaction ran into fierce opposition from politicians in Britain, Sweden - where AstraZeneca has half it roots - and the United States over the likelihood that the marriage would lead to thousands of job cuts.Ultimately, it was price and the lack of room for eleventh-hour maneuvering by Pfizer that killed the deal. Pfizer had several reasons for taking aim at AstraZeneca for what would have been its fourth mega-merger in 14 years.Highest on the list appeared to be Pfizer's desire to take part in a recent trend of so-called tax inversions, under which it could reincorporate in Britain and pay significantly lower corporate tax. Pfizer would also be able to use tens of billions of dollars it has parked overseas, avoiding high U.S. taxes for repatriating the huge cash pile.Pfizer also had its eye on a promising portfolio of drugs in AstraZeneca's developmental pipeline, especially several potentially lucrative cancer medicines.It was this pipeline that AstraZeneca management used to make its case for Pfizer significantly undervaluing the company.Chief Executive Pascal Soriot went as far as making a 10-year forecast for a 75 percent rise in sales by 2023."As we said from the start, the pursuit of this transaction was a potential enhancement to our existing strategy," Pfizer's Read said. "We will continue our focus on the execution of our plans, bringing forth new treatments to meet patients' needs and remaining responsible stewards of our shareholders' capital."The merger would have restored Pfizer as the world's largest drugmaker by sales, a position it relinquished to Swiss-based Novartis when billions of dollars in annual revenue evaporated after its top-selling cholesterol fighter Lipitor began facing generic competition in 2011.(Editing by David Evans and Mark Potter)

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