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Update on the latest in business:

December 17, 2018

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks steady after lower open

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are mostly lower on Wall Street, though they’ve steadied after a rocky start.

Health insurers and hospitals are falling after a judge in Texas ruled that the 2010 Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

HCA, the largest publicly traded hospital operator, fell 2.4 percent and Centene, an insurer, lost 5.4 percent.

Retailers are also sinking, but banks are rising.

After several weeks of declines the S&P 500 index is trading near its lowest level of the year.

FEDERAL RESERVE

After the Fed’s likely rate hike this week, all bets are off

WASHINGTON (AP) — Having raised interest rates with steady regularity in recent months, the Federal Reserve may embrace a new message this week: Flexibility.

On Wednesday, the Fed is set to announce its fourth rate hike of the year. But after this week, no one is sure what it will do. Neither, most likely, is the Fed itself.

A confluence of factors — a global slowdown, a U.S.-China trade war, still-mild inflation, stomach-churning drops in stock prices — may have left Fed officials weighing a shift in policy. Many analysts think the Fed will signal Wednesday that it’s considering whether to slow or suspend its rate hikes in 2019 to avoid weakening the economy too much. And some predict that the rate increases, which began three years ago, will end altogether next year.

CHINA-US-TRADE

US, China spar again over trade at WTO review of US policies

GENEVA (AP) — A top U.S. diplomat in Geneva is using a review of America’s trade policy to criticize “forced” technology transfer and a “heavily skewed playing field” in China.

Dennis Shea, the U.S. ambassador to the WTO, says criticism of America’s “unilateralist and protectionist” approach is mistaken, and insists the U.S. wants to reform the global trading system to make it fairer.

At today’s WTO review of the U.S., Shea lashed out at China’s “state-led, mercantilist approach” to the economy and trade.

Meanwhile, his Chinese counterpart, China’s ambassador, says President Donald Trump’s tariff increases on steel and aluminum products are “based on dubious national security concerns” and he’s blasting U.S. efforts to put WTO’s appeals body “in paralysis.”

MALAYSIA-1MDB-GOLDMAN SACHS

Malaysia files criminal charges against Goldman Sachs

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia has filed criminal charges against Goldman Sachs and two former executives for their role in the alleged multibillion-dollar ransacking of state investment fund 1MDB.

Attorney General Tommy Thomas says the government is seeking several billion dollars in fines from Goldman Sachs for breaches of securities laws that involved it making false and misleading statements to investors.

He says his office will seek prison sentences of up to 10 years for former Goldman executives, Roger Ng Chong Hwa and Tim Leissner, who is the husband of model Kimora Lee Simmons.

BREXIT

May says postponed Brexit vote to be held week of Jan 14

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Theresa May says that the postponed vote in Parliament on Britain’s Brexit agreement with the European Union will be held the week of Jan. 14 — more than a month after it was originally scheduled and just 10 weeks before Britain leaves the EU.

May’s government and the EU sealed a divorce deal last month, but May postponed a parliamentary vote intended to ratify the agreement last week when it became clear legislators would overwhelmingly reject it.

She tried to win changes from the EU to sweeten the deal for reluctant lawmakers, but was rebuffed by the bloc at a summit in Brussels last week. May’s authority also has been shaken after a no-confidence vote from her own party on Wednesday that saw more than a third of Conservative lawmakers vote against her.

CZECH-HUAWEI

Czech cyber security agency warns against use of Huawei

PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech Republic’s cyber security watchdog is warning against the use of products by Chinese electronics giant Huawei (WAH’-way) and another Chinese telecommunications company, ZTE.

The National Cyber and Information Security Agency says that their software and hardware pose “a security threat.”

Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies.

It has become the target of U.S. security concerns because of its ties to the Chinese government. The U.S. has pressured other countries to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information.

A Czech spy agency recently warned against the activities of Chinese spies on Czech territory.

WILMINGTON TRUST-BANK FRAUD

Ex-bank president gets 6 years prison for fraud, conspiracy

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — The former president of the only financial institution criminally charged in connection with the federal bank bailout program was sentenced today to six years in prison for fraud and conspiracy.

Former Wilmington Trust president Robert Harra Jr. and three other bank officials were convicted in May of concealing the bank’s troubled condition from regulators and shareholders following the 2008 financial crisis.

Prosecutors were seeking a sentence of eight years, while Harra’s attorney asked for probation, citing his long history of community service.

The defendants were convicted of misleading regulators and investors about Wilmington Trust’s massive amount of past-due commercial real estate loans before the bank was hastily sold in 2011. The century-old bank imploded despite receiving $330 million from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program.

BOEING-EMBRAER

Boeing buying majority stake in Embraer

CHICAGO (AP) — Boeing is buying a majority stake in Embraer’s commercial aircraft and services operations for $4.2 billion.

The joint venture gives Boeing 80 percent ownership of those operations, with Embraer owning the remaining stake.

Boeing will have operational and management control of the company.

Embraer will keep consent rights for some decisions, such as the transfer of operations from Brazil. The deal still needs approval from the Brazilian government, as well as shareholders and regulators.

GOOGLE-NEW YORK

Google spends big bucks on NYC expansion

NEW YORK (AP) — Google is spending more than $1 billion to expand operations in New York City. Ruth Porat, senior vice president and chief financial officer at Google and Alphabet, says in a blog post that Google is creating a more than 1.7 million square-foot campus that includes lease agreements along the Hudson River in lower Manhattan.

Google Hudson Square will be the company’s primary location for its New York operations.

GERMANY-AMAZON-STRIKE

Amazon workers on strike in Germany a week before Christmas

BERLIN (AP) — Workers at two Amazon distribution centers in Germany have gone on strike as part of a push for improved work conditions, leading to fears that Christmas orders may not arrive in time.

The German news agency dpa is reporting that workers in Leipzig in eastern Germany and Werne in western Germany went on strike early today.

The union representing workers says Amazon employees receive lower wages than others in retail and mail-order jobs in Germany.

BRITAIN-STUDENT LOANS

UK student loan changes to add billions to budget deficit

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Office of National Statistics says it is changing the way it accounts for student loans in a decision that will add 12 billion pounds ($15 billion) to the country’s budget deficit.

The statistics agency says the design of the system means much of the loan book is never repaid.

The agency’s David Bailey says the decision “properly reflects the true picture of government spending” because future write-offs will be reflected as government spending now.

Treasury officials stress the accounting decision won’t affect students, who can still get loans.

But Matt Whittaker of the Resolution Foundation says it will inevitably affect the government’s approach to education financing “by making more explicit where the costs of the system lie.”

TEXT MESSAGING SURCHARGE-CALIFORNIA

California withdraws ‘text tax’ after FCC ruling

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California regulators have canceled a plan to charge a fee for text messaging on mobile phones.

The California Public Utilities Commission reversed course after a Federal Communications Commission ruling last week classified text messaging as an information service and not a telecommunications service.

The Federal Telecommunications Act limits state authority over information services.

Regulators announced Friday CPUC commissioner Carla Peterman withdrew the text proposal “in light of the FCC’s action” on Dec. 12.

California officials said the tax would help support programs that make phone service accessible to the poor.

The wireless industry and business groups were against the plan.

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