This week, it was all things May: Theresa May, May Day and “May the Fourth be with you."
While colored ribbons are something of a spring tradition in parts of the UK, they’re more commonly seen hanging from the top of a maypole, ready for dancers to weave around it.
But this week, on the date of another traditional folk festival – International Star Wars Day – UK voters were asked to elect councils in 88 of its regions. This means there have been brightly hued rosettes and ribbons aplenty, fluttering on the breasts of would-be local councilors. The results may provide something of a leading indicator of the public’s sentiment towards the UK’s main political parties in the run-up to the June general election.
Meanwhile, the UK’s appropriately-monikered prime minister was allegedly on the receiving end of some negative sentiment from Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. According to a German newspaper, Mr. Juncker said Mrs. May was “living in another galaxy” (although he didn’t specify whether it was far, far away) and was “deluded” about the prospects for Brexit negotiations after he met with her at Downing Street last week. The British prime minister dismissed the comments as “Brussels gossip.” They were no Mayday for the FTSE 100 Index, either. It gained 0.61% for the week to close on Thursday.
Apparently, the origin of the universally recognized distress call lies in the French phrase “venez m’aider” or “come and help me.” There was little bonhomie between the two remaining candidates for France’s presidency as the electoral race entered its final days, but centrist nominee Emmanuel Macron received a little help from a former U.S. leader. Barack Obama endorsed Mr. Macron, saying he appealed to “people’s hopes.” The most recent polls put him about 20 points ahead of his rival, Marine Le Pen.
Elsewhere in Europe, the troubled Greek economy got a little aid from its friends in the European Union (EU): it has agreed a deal to release the next pay-out under an €86 billion (US$94.5 billion) bailout plan. In order to secure the payment, Greece must undertake further austerity measures in the form of tax increases and pension cuts. Investors in Europe were cheered by news of the deal, and the FTSE World Europe (ex UK) Index gained 1.8% over the week.
Turning to the U.S., the Federal Reserve (Fed) continued to lend a hand to the country’s economic recovery by leaving interest rates unchanged for this month. Central bank watchers expect a hike in June, however, especially after the Fed commented that economic weakness in the first quarter of 2017 was probably “transitory.” In politics, Donald Trump secured his first significant legislative win as president. His new healthcare bill (which repeals the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare) was narrowly approved by Congress and will now go in front of the Senate. The S&P 500 Index was almost unchanged over the week, finishing up 0.22% at yesterday’s close.
The darling buds
Apple failed to blossom fully, after its first-quarter results disappointed investors. Rough winds came in the form of surprise decline in iPhone sales over the first three months of the year. The tech giant’s CEO, Tim Cook, said that leaks about new models were to blame for the “pause in purchases.” There were some shoots of hope, however. Earnings per share were up 10% over the period.
Although May the fourth has unquestionable significance for many, it was nice to see the occasion marked appropriately by one particular Tennessee resident. After years of being asked about his unusual name, Darth Vader Williamson, a 39 year-old hospital technician from Memphis, decided he could no longer just Sith there and released a video explaining its origins. According to Mr. Williamson, who was born shortly after the release of the original Star Wars, his father was such a fan of the film that he decided to name his offspring after the iconic villain. Darth Vader says he eventually got used to his name and even thought he might be able to use it to his advantage. But his relaxed demeanor masks no desire to emulate the Dark Lord. His favorite character? “…the bounty hunter named Boba Fett.”
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