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Update on the latest in business:

February 15, 2019

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian stocks slip on Wall Street leads as trade talks simmer

SINGAPORE (AP) — Asian shares were broadly lower on Friday, tracking a weak Wall Street session as traders awaited the conclusion of U.S.-China talks in Beijing.

Disappointing data led U.S indexes to a mixed finish on Thursday. According to the Commerce Department, December retail sales fell 1.2 percent from the previous month, its biggest drop since September 2009.

The National Retail Federation also announced poor holiday sales growth in November-December that it attributed to trade tensions with China and the U.S. government shutdown.

The broad S&P 500 index dropped 0.3 percent to 2,745.73. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite added 0.1 percent to 7,426.95 while the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.4 percent to 25,439.39. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks was 0.1 percent higher at 1,545.11.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose above $54.50 per barrel.

The dollar eased against the yen and rose against the euro.

CHINA-US-TRADE TALKS

US, China hold 2nd day of talks with no tariff decision

BEIJING (AP) — U.S. and Chinese envoys are holding a second day of trade talks after the top economic adviser to President Donald Trump said he has yet to decide whether to go ahead with a March 2 tariff increase on imports from China.

Business groups and economists say the two days of negotiations due to run through Friday are too brief to resolve a sprawling dispute over Beijing’s technology ambitions. They say China’s goal is to persuade Trump to push back the March 2 deadline.

Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, told reporters in Washington the “vibe is good” in the talks, but he said Trump has made no decision on whether to escalate the dispute by letting the March 2 tariff hike go ahead.

Both sides have expressed optimism without releasing details.

TRUMP-AUTO TARIFFS

Trump’s new trade decision: Impose tariffs on imported cars?

DETROIT (AP) — By Sunday, President Donald Trump’s Commerce Department is expected to issue its opinion on whether auto imports endanger U.S. national security enough to justify imposing tariffs of 20 to 25 percent on imported autos and auto parts.

The department could decide to postpone its conclusion. Or it could just hand its recommendations to Trump without making them public.

But if it does suggest that Trump impose the tariffs, Commerce would be advocating a major escalation in Trump’s combative trade policies. So far, he has stuck tariffs on imported steel, aluminum, dishwashers, solar panels and hundreds of Chinese goods. The tariffs have become a financial burden for U.S. companies that import goods and parts and have led some to pass on their higher costs to customers. Many economists worry about the eventual impact on the U.S. economy.

U.S. auto tariffs would almost surely lead Japan and the European Union to retaliate. They could also spark a rebellion in the U.S. Congress — including from Trump’s fellow Republicans — over concern that he is raising tariffs by invoking his authority to label certain imports a threat to America’s national security.

INDIA-IKEA

Ikea woos India’s rising consumer class, tapping new markets

HYDERABAD, India (AP) — Swedish giant Ikea is tackling the $40 billion Indian market for home furnishings, taking on local furniture makers in places like Hyderabad’s bustling Nampally market.

Ikea hopes to win over India’s growing consumer class with its clean, air-conditioned stores. It says India is a test case for whether to keep shifting resources toward emerging economies, including Latin America and China, given the saturation of markets in the West and the possibility of another global recession.

Six months after Ikea opened its first store in Hyderabad, the 400,000-square-foot cornucopia of furniture, linens, kitchenware and other goodies is drawing between 10,000 and 30,000 visitors per day, Hornell said.

The store sits within Hyderabad’s Hitec City, a cluster of global tech companies in the city of 6.7 million that includes Amazon, Google and Microsoft and employs hundreds of thousands of people. High-rise apartment buildings are sprouting up to house the city’s new migrants.

Just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Hyderabad’s Ikea, Nampally remains a beehive of activity — demand for India’s traditional custom-built furniture remains high. But Ikea already is adding to pressure on Indian furniture sellers’ profits and could eventually take a bigger bite of the market.

OIL PIPELINE-ETP LAWSUIT

Racketeering lawsuit by Dakota Access developer dismissed

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a $1 billion racketeering lawsuit that the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline filed against environmental groups and activists, saying he found no evidence of a coordinated criminal enterprise.

Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners sued Greenpeace, BankTrack and Earth First in August 2017, alleging the groups worked to undermine the $3.8 billion pipeline that’s now shipping oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The company’s accusations included interfering with its business, facilitating crimes and acts of terrorism, inciting violence, targeting financial institutions that backed the project, and violating defamation and racketeering laws. The groups maintained the lawsuit was an attack on free speech.

U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson last year dismissed Earth First and BankTrack as defendants, saying ETP had failed to make a case that Earth First is a structured entity that can be sued and that BankTrack’s actions in imploring banks not to fund the pipeline did not amount to radical ecoterrorism.

Wilson on Thursday granted motions to dismiss from Greenpeace and individually-named defendants that the company added to the lawsuit last August. The judge said ETP’s claim failed to establish several necessary elements required by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, including that the defendants worked together on a criminal enterprise.

Greenpeace lauded the dismissal of what it said was an attempt by ETP to “bully” those who “advocate for human rights and the planet.”

ETP spokeswoman Vicki Granado said the company is disappointed and intends to pursue some claims in state court.

ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD

Major business and economic reports scheduled for release today.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve issues its report on industrial production in January.

Also, the Treasury Department releases international money flows data for December.

BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INVESTMENTS

Buffett’s firm tweaks stock portfolio, adds Suncor, Red Hat

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Billionaire Warren Buffett’s company has taken a new stake in Canadian firm Suncor Energy and trimmed its huge Apple stake.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. filed a quarterly update on holdings with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday.

The Omaha, Nebraska-based company said it owned 10.76 million Suncor shares at the end of last year. But these quarterly filings don’t make clear who made all the investments.

Berkshire said it sold nearly 3 million Apple shares but it still held 249.6 million shares of the iPhone maker.

Investors follow what Berkshire buys and sells closely because of Buffett’s successful track record. Berkshire officials don’t generally comment on these quarterly filings.

Berkshire also sold the 41.4 million Oracle shares it disclosed last quarter and revealed owning 4.2 million shares of Red Hat.

IRS-TAX REFUNDS

Average tax refunds fall, creating political flashpoint

WASHINGTON (AP) — The average tax refund and the total amount of refunds issued declined for the second straight week, potentially intensifying a political flashpoint seized by Democrats as proof that the Republican-written tax law hurts the middle class.

The average refund in the second week of the filing season ended Feb. 8 was $1,949, down 8.7 percent from $2,135 a year earlier, according to IRS data released Thursday.

Total refunds to date are down 23 percent to $22.2 billion, from $28.9 billion last year.

The decline may be largely due to how some employees and employers had adjusted the amounts withheld from paychecks to account for changes under the new tax law. Most taxpayers received a tax cut under the law but some may have had too little withheld, resulting in a smaller-than-expected refund, or even money owed to the government.

AMAZON-HQ

Amazon dumps NYC headquarters and its promised 25,000 jobs

NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon abruptly dropped plans Thursday for a big new headquarters in New York that would have brought 25,000 jobs to the city, reversing course after politicians and activists objected to the nearly $3 billion in tax breaks promised to what is already one of the world’s richest, most powerful companies.

“We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion — we love New York,” the online giant from Seattle said in a blog post announcing its withdrawal.

The stunning move was a serious blow to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had lobbied intensely to land the project, competing against more than 200 other metropolitan areas across the continent that were practically tripping over each other to offer incentives to Amazon in a bidding war the company stoked.

Amazon said it isn’t looking for a replacement location “at this time.” It said it plans to spread the technology jobs that were slated for New York to other offices around the U.S. and Canada, including Chicago, Toronto and Austin, Texas. It will also expand its existing New York offices, which already have about 5,000 employees.

FACEBOOK-FTC

Report: Facebook, FTC discussing ‘multibillion dollar’ fine

NEW YORK (AP) — A report says Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission are negotiating a “multibillion dollar” fine for the social network’s privacy lapses.

The Washington Post said Thursday that the fine would be the largest ever imposed on a tech company. Citing unnamed sources, it also said the two sides have not yet agreed on an exact amount.

Facebook has had several high-profile privacy lapses in the past couple of years. The FTC has been looking into the Cambridge Analytica scandal since last March. The data mining firm accessed the data of some 87 million Facebook users without their consent.

At issue is whether Facebook is in violation of a 2011 agreement with the FTC promising to protect user privacy. The FTC declined to comment. Facebook did not immediately comment.

UTILITY HEARING-PHONY SUPPORTERS

Decision next week on $5 million Entergy penalty

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A major utility company will learn next week whether the use of paid actors to gin up phony support for a new power plant will result in the project being derailed by New Orleans’ City Council.

Entergy New Orleans has agreed to a $5 million penalty in return for permission to forge ahead with plant construction.

Opponents of the plant say the fine and other elements of a proposed settlement aren’t enough. They want the council to withdraw permission for the plant and renew regulatory reviews in light of revelations that phony supporters showed up at public hearings on the plant.

Vehement opposition to the proposed settlement at a Thursday hearing led the council’s utility committee to defer a decision to the full council, which meets in one week.

OIL PIPELINE-ETP LAWSUIT

Racketeering lawsuit by Dakota Access developer dismissed

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge has thrown out a racketeering lawsuit that the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline filed against environmental groups and activists.

Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners sued Greenpeace, BankTrack and Earth First for up to $1 billion in August 2017. The company alleged the groups worked to undermine the $3.8 billion pipeline that’s now shipping oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson last year dismissed Earth First and BankTrack as defendants. He’s now granted motions to dismiss Greenpeace and individually named defendants.

Wilson says there’s no evidence of a coordinated criminal enterprise.

Greenpeace says it’s a victory for “everyone who has ever stood up against powerful corporate interests.”

ETP spokeswoman Vicki Granado says the company is disappointed and reviewing its options.

TRUMP-HOTEL CHAINS SCRAPPED

Trump Org scraps plans for 2 hotel chains, blaming politics

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump’s company is scrapping plans for two new hotel chains announced two years ago, casting blame in part on a hostile political environment.

The Trump Organization says that it will no longer try to open hotels under its Scion and American Idea brands.

The announcement comes as the company has posted losses at some of its golf properties and brand experts say it has lost some of its appeal.

The Trump Organization did not dismiss the possibility that it could revive the new brands someday, perhaps when Donald Trump leaves the presidency.