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Biden in Kyiv, Meta subscription plan, Galois closure - what's moving markets

By Geoffrey Smith -- U.S. President makes use of the Presidents' Day holiday to make a surprise visit to Ukraine, four days before the anniversary of Russia's invasion. U.S. stock markets are closed, leaving most of the rest of the world without a clear lead. Facebook parent Meta is trialing a subscription service (and making sure that you know how much Apple and Alphabet will charge you for using it). Hedge fund Galois Capital has become the latest casualty of the FTX collapse, and oil prices drift higher as UN inspectors deal a blow to hopes of Iranian oil returning to world markets. Here's what you need to know in financial markets on Monday, 20th February.

1. Biden beats Putin to Kyiv

U.S. President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, at the start of a week that will mark the anniversary of Russia's invasion.

Biden said his visit was to "reaffirm our unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine's democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity."

Both sides in the conflict are currently engaged in a scramble to replace depleted stockpiles of ammunition. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said at the weekend that China is considering supplying Russia with military aid and warned that any move to do so "would cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship."

Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to make a keynote speech that is expected to focus on the war on Tuesday.

2. Meta to offer subscription services for Facebook, Instagram

Meta Platforms (NASDAQ:META), the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, said at the weekend it's launching a paid subscription service that will offer benefits such as account verification, a step that it said would protect up-and-coming content generators.

The move – which will debut in Australia and New Zealand - is a reaction against increasing disillusionment with spam and other bad-faith material on Facebook in particular.

It will cost $11.99 a month if subscriptions come through a web browser, but in a pointed jab at Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL), it will cost another $3 a month if ordered through Apple's App Store or Google Play, reflecting the steep commissions that the two platform giants charge.

3. Stocks adrift during U.S. holiday

Asian stocks were higher but European stocks largely drifted through a day depleted by public holidays. U.S. equities markets are closed for the Presidents' Day holiday, while Europe is thinned out by Carnival celebrations.

By 06:30 ET (11:30 GMT), the benchmark Euro Stoxx 50 index was up less than 0.1%, while the euro was down by a similar amount at $1.0687.

Among the few stocks moving in Europe was Reckitt Benckiser (LON:RKT), which fell over 2% after voluntarily recalling two batches of infant formula in the U.S. "out of an abundance of caution."

4. Hedge fund Galois becomes latest FTX casualty

Galois Capital, a hedge fund run by former Kraken executive Kevin Zhou, has become the latest casualty of the FTX debacle.

The fund, which was managing $200 million at the time of FTX's collapse, still has half of those assets trapped on the exchange's platform. According to various reports, Zhou has now decided to close the fund, returning 90% of its unencumbered assets to investors. The remaining 10% will be held back "temporarily." The Financial Times reported that Galois has sold its claims on FTX (currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S.) for 16c on the dollar.

5. Oil edges higher on Iran setback

Crude oil prices edged higher after reports indicated further delays to the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Iran. UN monitors detected the presence of uranium enriched to just below the level needed to make a nuclear bomb (and well in excess of the level needed to make fuel for reactors, which Iran says is the only aim of its nuclear program). The disclosures will complicate any attempt to lift the U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil exports.

Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz insisted that the OPEC+ group of oil exporters is still flexible in its output policy, despite announcing last week that existing output quotas would be frozen for the rest of the year.

By 06:50 ET, U.S. crude futures were up 0.6% at $77.03 a barrel, while Brent was up 0.6% at $83.50 a barrel.


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