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The number of global merger and acquisition (M&A) deals declined for the first time since 2010 last year amid escalating trade tensions and political instability.

Geopolitical tensions took their toll as Chinese purchases of U.S. firms plummeted by 94.6 percent, falling to a value of $3 billion from a record $55.3 billion in 2016, according to research released by Mergermarket on Thursday.

China instead turned its attention to Europe, the data suggested, as Chinese M&A bids in the region soared by 81.7 percent to $60.4 billion.

Elsewhere, the number of cross-border M&A deals fell by 6.6 percent. After steadily rising for close to a decade, the total number of deals struck globally fell to 19,232 from 19,974.

While the number of deals fell, individual deals rose in value, with the average deal size reaching its second highest value on record at $385 million and total M&A value rising 11.5 percent to $3.53 trillion.

Jonathan Klonowski, Mergermarket’s EMEA research editor, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Wednesday that he expected geopolitical tensions to continue impacting the number of deals finalized in 2019.

“If you look at the protectionist activities of governments, they are going to make these large deals harder to complete,” he said. “The majority of (the spending) increase we saw this year was domestic activity rather than cross-border activity, so that defensive domestic consolidation is possibly what we’ll see more of in the coming year.”

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Trump recognizes Venezuela opposition leader as interim president amid mass protests against Maduro

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Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president on Wednesday, while hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans poured onto the streets to demand an end to the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro.

In a statement minutes later, U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president.

Demonstrators clogged avenues in eastern Caracas, chanting “Get out, Maduro” and “Guaido, Presidente,” while waving national flags. Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in several areas. A rally the night before left four people reported dead, an echo of tumultuous riots two years ago.

The opposition has been energized by young congress chief Guaido, who has led a campaign to declare Maduro a usurper and has promised a transition to a new government in a nation suffering a hyperinflationary economic collapse.

Guaido, in a speech before a cheering crowd, took an oath swearing himself in as interim president.

“I swear to assume all the powers of the presidency to secure an end of the usurpation,” he said.

He has said he would be willing to replace Maduro with the support of the military and to call free elections.

The Trump administration told U.S. energy companies it could impose sanctions on Venezuelan oil as soon as this week if the political situation worsens, according to sources.

Maduro was inaugurated on Jan. 10 to another term in office following a widely boycotted election last year that many foreign governments described as a fraudulent. His government accuses Guaido of staging a coup and has threatened him with jail.

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DAMAC chairman calls bottom for Dubai property market, sees value in Brexit

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A major Emirati property developer believes Dubai’s property market has bottomed out — but says there remain at least two more tough years ahead before a full rebound.

“2018 has been a difficult year, prices have come down, sales have come down, and I think ’19 and ’20 are going to be also not easy years,” Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Dubai real estate heavyweight DAMAC Properties told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Wednesday. “I think we are at the bottom, from a price point of view, but it will take at least two years to absorb the supply.”

The UAE’s commercial hub has suffered a bruising year, with Dubai’s stock market the worst-performing in the Middle East, a fall in tourism and record drops in property sales. Property sector analysts say the city has been overbuilding, and with weak demand for all the newly built homes and apartments, property prices have been tanking. Residential prices in the emirate of 3 million have fallen by some 15 percent since 2014.

A report by real estate platform PropertyFinder published last November predicted a continued slide for the sector in 2019, as supply is expected to double or even triple while demand remains subdued.

Sajwani described a “beautiful five years of growth” at the start of the decade that saw prices going up, and emphasized his belief that the city would stage a comeback.

“Dubai is very resilient, from the long-term growth. It’s always going to go through the cycle,” he said. “As a free capital economy, you know, people are going to overbuild, and then going to catch up. And the leader is very open-minded,” Sajwani added, referencing the leader of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.

“He doesn’t want to restrict the supply or the demand. He says, ‘Let the supply-demand naturally take its place. No point of control(ling) the supply — let everybody manage as a normal economy’.”

DAMAC, with an annual turnover of some $2 billion, was the first Middle Eastern real estate company to list on the London Stock Exchange. The company reported its worst quarter of booked sales last April-June with a 46 percent fall in profits. Still, the company’s leadership predicts a cyclical recovery and has plans to continue expansion in the Middle East, Africa, the U.S. and in Europe in particular.

Sajwani predicted similar levels for profits in 2019 and 2020, but stressed that the company’s focus now is on streamlining costs and finding opportunities to grow in overseas markets. London is a bright spot on the chairman’s radar — and not in spite of Brexit, but because of it, thanks to a dramatic drop in the value of the pound.

“We like London, we have experience in London,” he said, describing a 50-storey tower slated to be completed at the end of next year. “We see, in Brexit issues, a great opportunity, as (the) price is going to correct, the pound has come down really drastically, and we’re waiting for an opportunity to invest in London, and we want to go in a big way in London.”

And Sajwani described interest in a number of real estate sub-sectors, pointing to mixed-use property, luxury apartments, office buildings, and retail. “So we’re looking at property from all the angles, and we’re willing to write a big check and go in a big way in London. We believe in London,” he added.

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Bill Gates turns $10 billion into $200 billion worth of economic benefit

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Investing in global health organizations aimed at increasing access to vaccines created a 20-to-1 return in economic benefit, billionaire Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates told CNBC on Wednesday.

Over the past two decades, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated “a bit more than $10 billion” into mainly three groups: the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

“We feel there’s been over a 20-to-1 return,” yielding $200 billion over those 20 or so years, Gates told CNBC’s Becky Quick on “Squawk Box” from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Helping young children live, get the right nutrition, contribute to their countries — that has a payback that goes beyond any typical financial return.”

As a comparison, Gates echoed what he wrote in an essay in The Wall Street Journal last week under the banner “The Best Investment I’ve Ever Made,” saying that same $10 billion put into the S&P 500 would have grown only to $17 billion over 18 years, factoring in reinvested dividends.

On vaccines, Gates also had a message for parents who fear side effects as a reason not to get their kids their shots. “It is wild that just because you get misinformation, thinking you’re protecting your kid, you’re actually putting your kid at risk, as well as all the other kids around them.”

Using measles as an example of a once-dangerous disease that’s easily preventable by a vaccine, Gates warned against complacency.

“As you get a disease down to small numbers, people forget. So they back off. They think, ‘Gosh, I heard from rumor. Maybe I’ll just avoid doing it,'” he said. “As you accumulate more and more people saying that for whatever reason, eventually measles does show up. Kids get sick. And sometimes they die.”

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