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U.S. frustrations grow over China trade talks
China’s vice premier, Liu He, is scheduled to hold face-to-face trade talks in Washington today, before attending a meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office. There is still plenty to be discussed.
“The tone of the negotiations between the two nations has grown more stern,” according to Ana Swanson and Alan Rappeport of the NYT, citing unnamed sources. “American officials have come to realize that China has been repackaging promised reforms and trying to sell them as concessions to Mr. Trump,” which has “caused deep frustration among the administration’s China hard-liners.”
Here are some of the key issues on the table:
• Trade deficits. The two nations have “reached consensus on how to alleviate the trade imbalances,” Reuters reports. “Washington and Beijing are looking at a 10-item list for that, including additional Chinese purchases of agricultural produce, energy and goods such as semiconductors.”
• Currency stability. U.S. negotiators are said to be demanding that China stop devaluing its currency as part of a deal. But CNBC reports that such a measure is “likely to encounter little resistance from the Chinese” because the nation’s central bank also wants the same thing, according to economists who spoke with the network.
• Settling chip spats. “U.S. and Chinese negotiators are trying to resolve a long-running dispute between semiconductor rivals Micron Technology and Fujian Jinhua as part of a larger trade agreement,” the FT reports.
• Enforcement mechanisms. “Negotiators have struggled this week to overcome differences on specific language to address tough U.S. demands for structural changes in China’s economy,” Reuters reports, including “an enforcement mechanism to ensure that China complies with any agreements.”
“The final terms of the deal are likely to be worked out in a meeting or phone call between Mr. Xi and Mr. Trump himself,” Ms. Swanson and Mr. Rappeport write. That means that Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, must now “narrow the suite of disagreements down to just a handful of remaining issues for the president to negotiate.” It’s unclear how long that might take.
Kraft Heinz’s $15.4 billion problem
The processed food giant announced yesterday that it had taken a $15.4 billion write-down, earned less than expected and been subpoenaed by the S.E.C. Unsurprisingly, that spooked investors and raised big questions about its strategy.
Blame changing tastes for the write-down. Peter Eavis of the NYT writes that the hit affects the company’s U.S. and Canadian operations and the Kraft and Oscar Mayer brands, and “appears to come from a shift in how consumers eat, emphasizing fresh food over processed products.” The earnings miss, Kraft Heinz said, was because it didn’t deliver enough cost cuts.
And accounting questions brought the S.E.C. inquiry. Kraft Heinz said that an accounting cost related to vendor contracts should have been recorded in previous quarters, but that the misstatement “was not material.”
Investors, including Warren Buffett, also took a big hit. Shares fell by nearly 21 percent in after-hours trading. Mr. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which is one of Kraft Heinz’s largest shareholders, saw the value of its holdings drop nearly $3 billion yesterday, to $12.9 billion.
Kraft Heinz may need a reboot. The company’s fundamental business model — promoted by 3G Capital, the investment firm that pushed Kraft and Heinz to merge — is buying companies and then cutting costs. But the strategy could sputter, writes Tara Lachapelle of Bloomberg Opinion: “Who would want to sell to Kraft Heinz now?”
Mixed messages over a tweaked Brexit deal
As the British Parliament heads toward a vote next week that could strip control of the Brexit process from Prime Minister Theresa May, there is confusion about the current state of play.
There was “no breakthrough” in talks between two of Mrs. May’s key ministers and E.U. officials during meetings in Brussels yesterday, according to Bloomberg. Her government has been trying to convince Europe to renegotiate the existing withdrawal plan, but E.U. officials have repeatedly declined to do so. Mrs. May is expected to hold more talks with E.U. officials at a meeting in Egypt this weekend.
And there are unclear signals about progress. Philip Hammond, Britain’s finance minister, said last night that a revised deal could be put to a vote in Parliament as soon as next week. Unnamed government officials have since tried to play down those claims. One unidentified source told Reuters, “It doesn’t feel like we will have a deal by next week.”
But the E.U. reportedly expects a delay. “Discussions between the two sides suggest May will ask for an extension to the two-year negotiating period if the British Parliament backs the Brexit deal but it isn’t signed off until an E.U. summit on March 21-22,” Bloomberg reports. “That is emerging as the EU’s current plan.”
More Brexit news: Euro-skeptic Conservative Party lawmakers are threatening to back out of crucial votes, which could paralyze Mrs. May’s Brexit efforts. A no-deal Brexit could cause chaos for the London-Paris train line run by Eurostar. Mrs. May’s government is said to have delayed a report on the impact of tariffs to avoid a backlash. And deal or no, Britain’s currency is in trouble.
Might Trump go easy on Huawei?
The Trump administration has been branding Huawei as a threat to national security for months now. But yesterday, President Trump hinted that he may be softening his stance on the company.
Mr. Trump wants 5G in the U.S. “as soon as possible” according to a tweet he posted yesterday. But, intriguingly, he wants the U.S. to win the race for the next-generation wireless technology “not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies.” (He also wants 6G technology, which doesn’t yet exist.)
That could be seen as an olive branch to China. “Some officials in Mr. Trump’s administration have been pushing for him to sign an order that could result in U.S. companies being barred from buying Huawei technology at all,” the FT reports. “Experts believe the president’s tweet signaled he was backing away from such an action, possibly as a way to soften up Beijing for a wider trade deal.”
It comes as Huawei is winning over U.S. allies. Despite pressure from Washington to exclude the company’s equipment from national wireless networks, countries like India and Canada are continuing to rely on Huawei products because a) they work, and b) they’re cheap. And Britain and Germany both seem to be open to using the company’s hardware.
By day, MSNBC anchor; by night, Under Armour’s adviser
Under Armour’s board grilled the athletic equipment company’s founder and chief, Kevin Plank, last year, the WSJ reports, citing unnamed sources. Its focus: his relationship with Stephanie Ruhle, an MSNBC anchor — and his apparent business guru.
• “Ms. Ruhle has traveled with Mr. Plank and Under Armour staff on his private jet, they said, and given the C.E.O. her input on a range of business matters.”
• Among the topics: How to handle bad press over a sneaker model and recommending that Mr. Plank get involved with the White House, at a time when other C.E.O.s were keeping their distance.
• “Ms. Ruhle’s involvement at the Baltimore company was unusual and problematic, these people said, and left employees unsure how to handle her feedback because many people believed she was romantically involved with Mr. Plank.”
• “The board asked Mr. Plank about the nature of the relationship and whether company assets were used, these people said.”
• A spokeswoman for Under Armour said the two are friends, and that Mr. Plank keeps clear lines between the company and his private life.
• “The company has grappled with complaints about its culture, including strip-club visits and inappropriate behavior by executives. Mr. Plank has spoken openly about the company’s shortcomings and vowed to make improvements.”
Stock and bonds are up. What does that mean?
Simultaneous rebounds in the stock and bond markets are sending conflicting signals about the direction of the U.S. economy, writes Stephen Grocer of the NYT:
• “The S&P 500 is off to its best start to a year in nearly a decade, up 11 percent so far.”
• “Bond investors have taken a more pessimistic view on the economy’s fate. Prices on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note have risen this year, pushing down its yield to 2.69 percent, from 3.23 percent just three months ago.”
• “Stock and bond prices are not supposed to rise and fall in tandem. Historically, when investors fret about the future, they pull money out of stock markets and buy relatively safe United States Treasury securities.”
• “Investors are in a familiar situation: An economy that isn’t strong enough to compel the Fed to raise rates but is strong enough for corporate America to keep expanding its bottom line.”
• “But how long this so-called Goldilocks scenario can persist will depend on the Fed’s plan for rates and the United States-China trade negotiations.”
Mark Frissora will stay on as C.E.O. of Caesars Entertainment longer than expected, as the casino company faces pressure from Carl Icahn.
Spencer Rascoff stepped down as C.E.O. of Zillow, the real-estate company. He’ll be replaced by his co-founder, Rich Barton.
Reggie Fils-Aime will retire as president of Nintendo of America. He’ll be succeeded by Doug Bowser.
Lisa Borders resigned as the C.E.O. of Time’s Up, the anti-sexual-harassment advocacy group, after her son was accused of sexual assault.
The speed read
• Pinterest filed confidentially to go public, becoming the latest tech unicorn to seek an I.P.O. (NYT)
• Barrick Gold has reportedly considered a takeover bid for fellow miner Newmont, whose market value yesterday was about $19 billion. (Bloomberg)
• The food delivery company DoorDash raised $400 million at a $7.1 billion valuation. (NYT)
• SoftBank’s Vision Fund led a $1 billion investment in Flexport, a freight company. (CNBC)
Politics and policy
• The Green New Deal is technologically possible. But it’s politically far-fetched. (NYT)
• Testimony that Dr. Richard Sackler, the former president of the maker of OxyContin, gave in a 2015 deposition appears to contradict the findings of a Justice Department report. (NYT)
• A federal judge ruled that prosecutors, including the current labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, violated the law by not disclosing that they had struck a nonprosecution agreement with Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire accused of molesting young girls, in 2008. (WaPo)
• The N.J. State Senate passed a bill to bar President Trump from the state’s 2020 ballot unless he releases his tax returns. David Leonhardt of the NYT argues that House Democrats should renew their demand for the documents as well. (Hill, NYT Opinion)
• One party totally happy with the U.S.-China trade war: Russian soybean farmers. (WSJ)
• E.U. officials are set to debate when to start trade talks with President Trump. (Reuters)
• Chinese ports have banned Australian coal imports indefinitely. (Nikkei Asian Review)
• Apple is teaming up with Goldman Sachs to create a credit card that provides extra account features on iPhones. The tech company is also working with Ant Financial to offer interest-free iPhone financing in China. (WSJ, Reuters)
• Google will no longer force employees to settle disputes with the company in private arbitration. (NYT)
• Tesla’s Model 3 lost its “recommended” status from Consumer Reports. But the cars are finally being delivered in China. (WSJ)
• Verizon plans to roll out 5G wireless connections in 30 unnamed U.S. cities this year. (Verge)
• How China tracks people using DNA. (NYT)
Best of the rest
• Ford is investigating how it tested vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency after employees reported possible flaws in its analyses. (NYT)
• The $15 minimum wage doesn’t just improve lives. It can save them, too. (NYT)
• Could money laundering be widespread across Scandinavia’s banks? (Bloomberg)
• How China could both calm its trade war and make itself richer. (Economist)
• Delta’s C.E.O., Ed Bastian, says “leadership is not a popularity contest.” (NYT)
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