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Blackstone picks Luxembourg for EU base Luxembourg official says

LONDON Private equity firm Blackstone (BX. N) is among a number of financial services companies to have chosen Luxembourg as the site for a European Union subsidiary following Britain's vote to leave the EU, the head of Luxembourg's financial development agency said. Blackstone is among three or four private equity firms that have picked Luxembourg over larger rival European financial centers, Luxembourg for Finance chief executive Nicolas Mackel told Reuters by phone on Monday."That's what (Blackstone) told us in December already," he said, adding he could not name the other firms, as they had not yet made their decisions public. Blackstone, which currently uses so-called "passporting" arrangements to offer its services across the European Union from its European base in London, declined to comment. Firms without regulated EU operations outside Britain say they are working on the assumption of a "hard Brexit", where they will no longer be able to sell their services across the EU without an operation regulated by an EU member country.

Mackel's comments come after U.S. insurer AIG (AIG. N) said last week it would set up an EU subsidiary in Luxembourg, the largest financial services firm so far to set out details of its EU hub. Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris are among other centers touting themselves as an alternative base for firms wishing to retain access to the EU once Britain departs.

Mackel said one bank had also made a decision to set up in Luxembourg, while 10 to 20 were planning to expand existing operations. Mackel declined to name the bank. He said four or five "big name" asset managers were also planning to set up operations in Luxembourg, following Prudential (PRU. L) asset management arm M&G's recent decision to do so. Five to 10 so-called "fintech" companies had already chosen Luxembourg, Mackel said, while three to four insurance companies were close to doing so, with Lloyd's of London also due to make a decision soon.

Lloyd's of London, the world's largest specialty insurance market, has said it will pick its EU location by the end of March. Luxembourg is one of its options. Insurer Hiscox

Futures slightly higher as focus shifts to Fed

U.S. stock index futures were slightly higher on Wednesday as investors focused on a Federal Reserve meeting, where the central bank is widely expected to raise interest rates for the second time in three months. The Fed is scheduled to release its latest policy statement along with updated economic forecasts at 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT). Fed Chair Janet Yellen is due to hold a press conference half an hour later. Traders have priced in more than a 90 percent chance of a 25 basis points increase, according to Fed fund futures, but the market will look for clues that could point to a more hawkish tone from the Fed. Attention is turning to whether Yellen and her colleagues will signal an even faster pace of monetary tightening this year than the current three rate hikes that it projected at the December policy meeting. The U.S. economy has been strengthening as the labor market approaches full employment and inflation improves. Markets are also betting on a potential economic boost from President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal policies.

The S&P 500 has risen 10.6 percent since the election, spurred by optimism regarding Trump's policies but the major indexes have been stuck in a tight trading range this month following a slew of hawkish comments from Fed members. U.S. stocks fell on Tuesday as oil prices dropped to their lowest since November and airlines pulled industrial stocks down as a blizzard hit the U.S. Northeast. Oil prices rebounded on Wednesday, lifted by a surprise drawdown in U.S. inventories and after a monthly report from the International Energy Agency said OPEC cuts need more time to work. [O/R]

Shares of oil major Exxon (XOM. N) were up 0.8 percent at $81.67 in premarket trading. Investors will also have a host of economic data to digest before the Fed's announcement, with retail sales and consumer price index numbers expected at 8:30 a.m. ET. A reading on business inventory and home builders is scheduled at 10 a.m. ET. Twitter was down 0.8 percent to $15.20 after a number of prominent accounts on the microblogging website were hacked.

German prosecutors searching Audi offices in Germany INGOLSTADT, Germany German prosecutors searched Audi's two biggest plants and several other sites on Wednesday in connection with an emissions cheating scandal, adding to pressure on Volkswagen's luxury division and its Chief Executive Rupert Stadler.

CEO of Australia's Atlassian says he'll meet seven-day Tesla batteries deadline SYDNEY The co-founder of Australian software firm Atlassian Corp Plc said on Tuesday he was close to meeting a self-imposed one-week deadline of getting political and financial support for a plan to use batteries from Tesla Inc to bridge an electricity supply gap in South Australia.

Valeant shares fall as Ackman exit highlights company's challenges BOSTON Valeant Pharmaceuticals Inc's stock price fell to its lowest level in eight years on Tuesday after the abrupt exit of its biggest supporter put renewed focus on the Canadian company's most pressing problem: raising capital to cut its roughly $30 billion debt pile.