Update on the latest business

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks fall in midday trading

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks fell in midday trading on Wall Street after comments from a key U.S. trade representative heightened doubt over how much progress was being made in trade talks between the U.S. and China. Traders were also keeping a wary eye on a flare-up in tensions between India and Pakistan. Pakistan said it shot down two Indian warplanes in the disputed region of Kashmir.

POWELL ON CAPITOL HILL

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Powell says Fed intends to closely watch potential risks to US economy such as global slowdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is delivering his second day of testimony to Congress, this time to the House Banking Committee, now controlled by Democrats. Powell is facing questions from committee members about whether moves to loosen banking regulations could put the financial system at risk.

President Donald Trump has made government deregulation a key part of his economic program and has nominated officials to the Fed to push that agenda.

Powell told the committee that the Fed is making its decisions on interest rates based on “our best thinking” and not political considerations. He also said that the central bank is close to announcing how it will its end its program to reduce its large holdings of bonds.

CHINA TRADE – LIGHTHIZER

Much work remains to reach US-China trade deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — In testimony before a House panel today, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (LYT’-hy-zur) said a U.S.-China trade agreement is far from being completed and will require much more work, particularly on enforcement.

Lighthizer said that if the two sides can reach a resolution on that issue, and he stressed “if”, then there might be an agreement that enables the U.S. to turn the corner in its relationship with China.

Lighthizer also said that his agency is aware that China has not kept many of its past promises.

Members of Congress from both parties expressed support for the Trump administration’s confrontational approach and urged Lighthizer to reach a far-reaching agreement.

PENDING HOME SALES

Pending home sales rebounded 4.6 percent in January

WASHINGTON (AP) — More Americans signed contracts to buy homes in January as lower mortgage rates appeared to give the real estate market a boost.

The National Association of Realtors says its pending home sales index rose 4.6 percent last month to 103.2. The rebound has come as average 30-year mortgage rates have fallen since peaking at nearly 5 percent in early November. Still, higher mortgage rates depressed pending sales by 2.3 percent in 2018.

The index improved in the Northeast, Midwest, South and West in January. Signed contracts jumped 8.9 percent in the South, where homes are generally more affordable. But in the pricier West, the increase was just 0.3 percent.

Pending sales are a barometer of home purchases that are completed a month or two later.

BREXIT

Britain strikes it’s first deal for a post-Brexit world

LONDON (AP) — Britain has struck its first deal through the World Trade Organization for a post-Brexit world, inking plans to stay part of a market for lucrative government contracts with dozens of trading partners.

The accord reached Wednesday paves the way for Britain to retain its place among 47 WTO countries that are involved in the Government Procurement Agreement, including the European Union’s 28 and soon to be 27 members.

The arrangement ensures continuity of cross-border bidding for big-ticket government contracts, though military contracts are generally excluded.

A Geneva-based trade official said the agreement was a relatively straightforward step but also important for ensuring access to a combined market valued at over $1.7 trillion.

Britain still faces unresolved issues when it comes to access for its goods and services markets after its withdrawal from the EU scheduled for March 29.

TRUMP-KIM-SUMMIT-STUDYING THE ECONOMY

On summit sidelines, North Koreans study Vietnam’s economy

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Senior members of the North Korean delegation in Hanoi for Kim Jong Un’s summit with President Donald Trump have taken a side trip to view one of Vietnam’s most successful conglomerates.

Kim has several senior foreign and economic advisers with him in Hanoi and gleaning insights into ways to improve the North’s economy appears to be high on their list of priorities.

As Kim stayed behind to prepare for the summit, former Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong, now the ruling party’s top foreign policy adviser, and O Su Yong, a ruling party vice chairman and director of its Economic Affairs Department, traveled by car to the port city of Hai Phong, about 60 miles east of Hanoi.

The two toured Vinfast, part of the Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest conglomerate.

GERMANY-BAYER-WEED KILLER

Germany’s Bayer vows defense against Roundup cancer cases

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s Bayer AG, which bought Monsanto Co. last year, is underlining its determination to fight cases involving the U.S. company’s Roundup weed-killer in the face of more than 11,000 lawsuits so far.

In August, a San Francisco jury awarded a man $289 million after determining Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A judge later slashed the award to $78 million, and Monsanto has appealed. A second case in which a man claims the weed-killer caused cancer went to trial this week.

Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said as he presented the company’s annual earnings Wednesday that, as of Jan. 28, 11,200 lawsuits had been filed. He said that “we will continue to defend ourselves resolutely in all proceedings.”

He stressed that the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, “is a safe product.”

ITALY-DEBT

EU warns Italy to slash rampant public debt

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union says it’s concerned about Italy’s debt and is warning the government in Rome to shore up its public finances.

According to European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis Italy’s “public debt ratio is not expected to decline in coming years due to the weak economic outlook and government fiscal plans.”

Dombrovskis said “reform momentum has stalled” and noted “some reversals,” particularly on pensions.

Italy expects its debt-to-GDP ratio to rise to 131.7 percent, but the EU’s executive commission warned it might be higher “due to the weak macroeconomic outlook, underachievement of privatization targets and a worsening primary balance.”

Growth is unlikely to exceed 0.2 percent this year, according to the commission, which said it will “closely monitor developments” and potentially take action against Italy in the spring.

VOLVO-ELECTRIC CAR

Volvo’s Polestar unveils electric car touted as Tesla rival

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Volvo’s performance brand Polestar is unveiling a battery-powered compact car touted as a rival to Tesla’s Model 3. The Polestar 2 is a five-door vehicle with a sloping roof, an all-vegan interior, with battery capacity to drive 275 miles under U.S. testing rules.

With 408 horsepower, it should accelerate from zero to 62 mph in under five seconds. Polestar said the U.S. price for the launch version will be $55,500 after tax incentives with a lower-priced version but with less range possible in the future.

The car, to be shown at next month’s Geneva auto show, becomes available in 2020.

Volvo Car Group, headquartered in Goteborg, Sweden, is a subsidiary of Chinese automaker Geely.

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