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February 13, 2019

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian shares mostly higher on hopes for US-China trade deal

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares are mostly higher today, cheered by prospects for a resolution of the costly trade dispute between the U.S. and China.

The region tracked gains overnight on Wall Street, with Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 adding 1.4 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng up 1.1 percent. The Shanghai Composite index jumped 1.6 percent.

In other markets, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.3 percent and South Korea’s Kospi edged up 0.4 percent. Shares were mostly higher in Southeast Asia.

Yesterday on Wall Street, the S&P 500 index gained 1.3 percent to 2,744.73 and the Dow climbed 1.5 percent to 25,425.76. The Nasdaq composite rose 1.5 percent to 7,414.62 while the Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks, which has been leading the other indexes this year, added 1.3 percent, to 1,538.23.

NATIONAL DEBT

National debt hits new milestone, topping $22 trillion

WASHINGTON (AP) — The national debt has passed a new milestone, topping $22 trillion for the first time.

The Treasury Department’s daily statement shows that total outstanding public debt stands at $22.01 trillion. It stood at $19.95 trillion when President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017.

The debt figure has been rising at a faster pace following passage of Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut in December 2017 and action by Congress last year to increase spending on domestic and military programs.

Michael Peterson, head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, says “our growing national debt matters because it threatens the economic future of every American.”

The national debt is the total of the annual budget deficits. The Congressional Budget Office projects this year’s deficit will be $897 billion.

AUTO LOANS-LATE PAYMENTS

NY Fed: Auto loan delinquencies at highest point since 2010

DETROIT (AP) — The Federal Reserve Bank of New York says borrowers are behind in their auto loan payments in numbers not seen since delinquencies peaked at the end of 2010.

But economists and auto industry analysts say they aren’t sounding an alarm yet. The number is higher largely because there are far more auto loans out there as sales grew since the financial crisis, peaking at 17.5 million in 2016.

More than 7 million Americans were 90 or more days behind on their car loans at the end of last year. A report from the New York Fed says that’s 1 million more than eight years ago.

TRUMP-NATIONAL ENQUIRER

Trump says he wasn’t aware of tabloid’s Bezos investigation

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says he was unaware the owner of the National Enquirer, American Media Inc., had been investigating Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

The Trump-friendly tabloid has a history of trying to help him.

It acknowledged paying $150,000 to Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal for the rights to her story about an alleged affair with Trump. The company then buried the story until after the 2016 election.

The Enquirer published a story last month about Bezos having an extramarital affair. Trump responded with a mocking tweet days later. It’s not unusual for him to lash out at The Washington Post owner.

Bezos hired private investigators to learn how the Enquirer obtained risque texts.

Trump was asked Tuesday whether he was aware of AMI’s investigation and responded, “No. No, I wasn’t.”

CONGRESS-SPRING-T-MOBILE MERGER

T-Mobile, Sprint execs defending merger to lawmakers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top executives of T-Mobile and Sprint are taking the case for their 26.5 billion merger to Congress, arguing that joining their companies won’t hurt competition or jack up prices for wireless service.

They could face skepticism at a hearing today. The deal, which must win approval from federal regulators, would combine the nation’s third- and fourth-largest wireless companies, creating a new behemoth roughly the size of industry giants Verizon and AT&T.

Obama administration regulators blocked a similar merger earlier this decade when AT&T attempted to purchase T-Mobile, concluding that it would inhibit competition.

T-Mobile and Sprint say American consumers would get more and pay less as a result of the merger and argue that the combination would allow them to better compete as wireless, broadband and video industries converge.

CHINA-US-TRADE TALKS

US, China envoys hold last talks before March 1 deadline

BEIJING (AP) — U.S. and Chinese negotiators meet this week for their final trade talks before President Donald Trump decides whether to go ahead with a March 2 tariff hike on $200 billion of imports from China.

Businesspeople and economists say two days of talks starting Thursday are too little time to resolve a tariff war over Beijing’s technology ambitions that threatens to drag on weakening global economic growth. Instead, China’s goal is to show they are making enough progress to persuade Trump to extend his deadline.

There are few signs of progress on their thorniest issue: Washington’s demand that Beijing scale back plans for government-led creation of champions in robotics and other technology.

China’s trading partners say those violate its market-opening obligations. Some American officials worry they might erode U.S. industrial leadership.

REI-CEO RESIGNS

REI leader resigns over undisclosed relationship

SEATTLE (AP) — Outdoor retailer REI says its president and CEO has resigned for failing to disclose a relationship with the head of another organization in the outdoor industry.

REI officials at their Kent, Washington, headquarters said Tuesday that Jerry Stritzke will leave March 15.

The company says Stritzke resigned after an outside investigation into “a personal and consensual relationship.”

Officials also say the working relationship between REI and the partner organization, which has not been identified, found there was no financial misconduct.

REI board Chair Steve Hooper said that since Stritzke became CEO in 2013 he and a strong team have consistently delivered outstanding results.

Stritzke said in a letter to employees that he was sorry he didn’t disclose the relationship. REI’s chief operating officer Eric Artz will become interim CEO.

ACTIVISION BLIZZARD LAYOFFS

Activision to lay off 800 workers as video game sales slow

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Video game maker Activision Blizzard is laying off nearly 800 workers as the company braces for a steep downturn in revenue following the best year in its history.

The cutbacks announced Tuesday illustrate the boom-and-bust cycles in an industry whose fortunes are tied to video games that can have a relatively short lives before players move on to the next craze.

Although Activision also still owns popular games such as “Call of Duty” and “Candy Crush,” the Santa Monica, California, company expects its revenue this year to fall by about 20 percent to $6 billion.

Activision will cope trimming 8 percent from its workforce of nearly 10,000 people and assigning more of its remaining employees to work on “Call of Duty,” ″Candy Crush,” and several other titles.

COAL MINE-LAWSUITS

Judge: US must reconsider climate impacts of Montana mine

BILLLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. officials have again been faulted by a federal judge for failing to adequately consider the potential climate change effects of expanding a massive coal mine in the sagebrush-covered hills of southeastern Montana.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan recommended in a Monday ruling that the Interior Department be given 240 days to re-analyze the expansion.

But Cavan said mining shouldn’t be stopped in the interim, frustrating environmentalists who have campaigned for years to curtail coal production from the huge strip mines in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.

A final decision is up to U.S. District Judge Susan Watters.

GUCCI-BLACKFACE

Gucci creative head breaks silence over ‘blackface’ sweater

NEW YORK (AP) — Gucci’s creative director has broken his silence over a sweater that resembled blackface. In a letter sent Tuesday to company employees, Alessandro Michele said he was pained and so were people who saw “an intolerable insult” in one of his creative projects.

The black sweater with a pull-up neck featured a cutout surrounded by cartoonish red lips. Michele wrote that it was not intended as racist imagery. He says his inspiration for the design was the late Leigh Bowery, a performance artist, club promoter and fashion designer who often used flamboyant face makeup and costumes.

The creative head of the Italian fashion brand took “full accountability” for the $890 sweater. It was sold online and pulled last week.

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