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Germany’s Christian Democrats elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Friday to replace Angela Merkel as party leader, a decision that moves her into pole position to succeed Europe’s most influential leader as chancellor.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, is Merkel’s protege and was the continuity candidate favored by the party elite. She won the leadership with 517 votes out of 999 votes cast by delegates. Her rival, Friedrich Merz, won 482 votes in a run-off.

A former state premier in Saarland, where she led a three-way coalition, Kramp-Karrenbauer has a reputation for uniting support across the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a talent for striking alliances with other parties.

Sometimes dubbed “mini Merkel”, Kramp-Karrenbauer is admired by the CDU upper echelons for her appeal across the party.

“I have read a lot about what I am and who I am: ‘mini’, a copy, simply ‘more of the same’. Dear delegates, I stand before you as I am and as life made me and I am proud of that,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a passionate speech to the congress.

Playing up her experience in regional government, she added to cheers and loud applause: “I learned what it is to lead – and above all learnt that leadership is more about being strong on the inside than being loud on the outside.”

Merkel said in October she would step down as party chief but remain chancellor, an effort to manage her exit after a series of setbacks since her divisive decision in 2015 to keep German borders open to refugees fleeing war in the Middle East.

There was jubilation as the result of the run-off was announced. A tearful Kramp-Karrenbauer thanked her rivals and invited them to share the stage with her in a show of party unity, which delegates applauded.

Earlier, an emotional Merkel bowed out as party leader, telling the congress: “It has been a great pleasure for me, it has been an honour.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer has differentiated herself from Merkel on social and foreign policy by voting in favour of quotas for women on corporate boards and taking a tougher line on Russia.

She told Reuters last week that Europe and the United States should consider blockading Russian ships over the Ukraine crisis.

But on what lies ahead for the CDU, Kramp-Karrenbauer said when campaigning: “I have no particular recipe.”

During the campaign, she took a more cautious stance on the future of Europe than Merz, who said Germany should “contribute more” to the European Union as it benefits from a euro common currency that is “too weak for our economy”.

Last month, Kramp-Karrenbauer told a business conference: “With every wish to take Europe forward with a German-French nucleus, the proposals must always fit with German interests.”

Party insiders say she gets on well with Merkel. “The chemistry is good,” said one senior CDU official.

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World

Dow falls 103 points, Nasdaq snaps 8-day winning streak on weak economic data

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The data releases come a day after the Federal Reserve released the minutes from its January meeting. The minutes highlighted downside risks to the U.S. economy, including “a rapid waning of fiscal policy stimulus, or a further tightening of financial market conditions.”

However, the Fed also hinted it may end its balance-sheet normalization process faster than expected. This would be positive for equity investors, as many see the reduction of the balance sheet as a form of tighter monetary policy.

Equities closed slightly higher on Wednesday, adding to the recent sharp gains in stocks. The S&P 500 is up more than 10 percent this year as the Fed signaled patience in future rate hikes and amid perceived progress in U.S.-China trade talks.

“Risk markets continue to probe higher with the SPX index … effectively completing the right hand side of the ‘V,'” wrote Michael Shaoul, chairman and CEO of Marketfield Asset Management. “With earnings season winding down, the FOMC minutes now released and some sort of a trade deal (or benign extension past March 1st) priced into the market further progress may be hard to squeeze out of the headline index.”

Officials from China and the U.S. met again in Washington on Thursday. Reports early Thursday morning said Washington and Beijing have begun drawing up memorandums of understanding over trade.

The U.S. and China are trying to resolve their differences over trade ahead of a March 1 deadline. However, speculation has risen that there may be an extension to that target, after President Donald Trump said it was not a “magical date.”

“Tariff news outweighs everything. There was no major news on trade, so the market is trading on what’s out there,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. “What’s out there today, there’s not that much excitement to it.”

Nike shares fell 1 percent after star Duke University basketball player Zion Williamson broke his shoe at the start of a highly anticipated game. The break led to Williamson hurting his knee.

—CNBC’s
Ryan Browne
contributed to this report.

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US-China trade war cited as headwind

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Danish shipping group Moller-Maersk reported fourth-quarter earnings in line with expectations on Thursday, but warned a long-running trade conflict between the world’s two largest economies could hamper growth in 2019.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) came in at $1.12 billion for the final three months of 2018, above the $1.07 billion forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll.

Shares of the company slipped more than 9 percent after results.

The company said it expects EBITDA as calculated under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) for this year of around $5 billion.

“Although we had a challenging start to 2018, looking at our financial performance, we increased earnings despite significantly higher bunker fuel prices and lower than expected container volume growth in the second half of 2018,” Soren Skou, CEO of Moller-Maersk, said in a statement on Thursday.

“However, profitability needs to improve,” he added.

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg meets UK culture secretary to discuss regulation

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Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks to participants during the Viva Technologie show at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 24, 2018 in Paris, France.

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Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks to participants during the Viva Technologie show at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 24, 2018 in Paris, France.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg is meeting with a British official Thursday to discuss internet regulation and fake news.

Zuckerberg will speak with U.K. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright at the firm’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, about a U.K. government plan to regulate tech companies over how they tackle harmful content online.

Another topic high on the agenda will be the spread of disinformation on the web, a government spokesperson said, an issue the social network has faced heightened scrutiny over globally.

“I look forward to meeting Mr. Zuckerberg to discuss what more Facebook can do to help keep people safe on their platforms, as we prepare a new regulatory framework that will reinforce Facebook’s and other tech firms’ responsibility to keep us safe,” Wright said in a statement Thursday.

Britain’s Home Office and the culture department are due to release a white paper where they will lay out their strategy to counter issues like cyberbullying and child abuse content online. Reports have said the report could include a proposed regulator similar to Ofcom, the media watchdog, to monitor social media.

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