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US raises tariffs on European-built aircraft in ongoing dispute over subsidies

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The U.S. government on Friday said it would increase tariffs on aircraft imported from the European Union to 15% from 10%, ratcheting up pressure on Brussels in a nearly 16-year transatlantic dispute over aircraft subsidies.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office said it remained open to reaching a negotiated settlement with the EU on the issue, but could revise its actions if the EU imposed tariffs of its own in connection with a pair of disputes over the subsidies.

In a statement released late on Friday, USTR said it would make minor modifications to 25% tariffs imposed on cheese, wine and other non-aircraft products from the EU, including dropping prune juice from the list. It did not raise the tariff rates on those product, as it had suggested it might do in October.

The higher aircraft tariff will take effect March 18.

The U.S. action comes as U.S. President Donald Trump, emboldened by agreement on a Phase 1 trade deal with China, has trained his sights on restructuring the more than $1 trillion U.S.-EU trade relationship, raising the specter of another major trade war as the global economy slows.

EU officials have said they want to negotiate with Washington but will not be bullied into submission.

European planemaker Airbus said the U.S. move would hit U.S. airlines already facing a shortage of aircraft and complicate efforts to reach a negotiated settlement with the European Union in the longstanding dispute.

Airbus said it would continue discussions with U.S. customers to “mitigate effects of tariffs insofar as possible” and hoped USTR would change its position, particularly given the threat of EU tariffs on U.S. products in its own case before the World Trade Organization.

“USTR’s decision ignores the many submissions made by U.S. airlines, highlighting the fact that they — and the U.S. flying public — ultimately have to pay these tariffs,” the company said in a statement.

EU officials had no immediate comment on Friday’s news.

The USTR had announced in December that it could increase tariff rates up to 100% and subject additional EU products to tariffs, following a decision by the WTO that EU launch aid to Airbus continued to harm the U.S. aerospace industry.

The WTO in October had awarded Washington the right to impose tariffs on $7.5 billion of annual EU imports in its case against Airbus. Washington then slapped 10% tariffs on most European-made Airbus jets and 25% duties on products ranging from cheese to olives and single-malt whisky, from Oct. 18.

Boeing, in a statement, said it was working with U.S. federal and state officials to “promptly bring the United States into full compliance” with WTO rulings.

“The EU and Airbus could end these tariffs by finally complying with their legal obligations, ending these illegal subsidies, and addressing their ongoing harm. We hope they will,” the company said in a statement.

The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) said it remains strongly opposed to tariffs on European-origin wine and spirits, and urged U.S. and EU trade officials to negotiate an end to a trade dispute that was lowering revenues.

A study commissioned by the group estimated that the 25% tariffs implemented in October could result in the loss of nearly 36,000 jobs in the beverage alcohol industry.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States said tit-for-tat tariffs on alcoholic beverages were hurting companies and consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.

It said new U.S. government data showed the U.S. spirit industry’s exports to the EU, its largest export market, fell 27% in 2019 from a year earlier, and global exports of American whiskey declined 16% in the same period.

“We urge both sides to resolve these disputes so that consumers can enjoy #ToastsNotTariffs,” the group said.

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JPMorgan to pay almost $1 billion fine to resolve US investigation into trading practices

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JPMorgan Chase is close to paying almost $1 billion to resolve government investigations into the alleged manipulation of metal and Treasurys markets, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

A settlement between New York-based JPMorgan and several U.S. agencies could come as soon as this week, according to Bloomberg, which first reported news of the fine. The deal would resolve probes from the Justice Department, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

A penalty of that size would be a record for spoofing, which is when sophisticated traders flood markets with orders that they have no intention of actually executing. The practice was banned after the 2008 financial crisis and regulators have made it a priority to stamp out.

While JPMorgan may be forced to admit wrongdoing in the settlement, the deal isn’t expected to result in business restrictions on other areas of the firm, said the person, who declined to be identified speaking about government probes. Spokespersons for the bank and the DOJ declined to comment. 

The case was revealed in September 2019 when a 14-count criminal indictment against three current or former JPMorgan employees, including the global head of base and precious metals trading, was unsealed.

The indictment alleges the traders, along with eight unnamed co-conspirators who worked at JPMorgan offices in New York, London and Singapore, participated in a racketeering conspiracy in connection with a multiyear scheme to manipulate the precious metals markets and defraud customers.

Named in the indictment were Michael Nowak, a  former managing director who also headed the firm’s global precious metals desk, along with Gregg Smith and Christopher Jordan, who both held the title of executive director and were traders on the firm’s precious metals desk.

They each were charged with one count of conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, which historically has been used in mafia prosecutions, as well as other federal crimes in connection with manipulating precious metals futures markets.

Nowak and several others in the case pleaded not guilty and seek dismissal of the charges, while others have cooperated with the authorities.

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Germany has limited its coronavirus death toll but faces criticism

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Doctors in Berlin, Germany.

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Germany has been praised for its tackling of the coronavirus pandemic, having managed to keep deaths under 10,000 while its European neighbors have seen much higher fatalities. 

But the chief executive of German health-care group Fresenius has warned that the country may have been overly focused on the pandemic, ignoring other areas of business and society that have suffered.

“Even though a lot has been done in the right way, my criticism is that we have focused too exclusively on the coronavirus and we have ignored all the collateral damage that has been going on and continues to go on,” Fresenius CEO Stephan Sturm told CNBC on Wednesday.

The damage was evident in the health sector, he said, “with all the cancer, heart attack and stroke cases not being treated the way they should be. But also in society, we’re seeing lost school years and many many children in precarious situations and suffering from what is going on with us focusing exclusively on Covid,” he said.

As the coronavirus crisis surged in Europe, companies like Fresenius, which has a hospital-operating unit Helios, were forced to delay and cancel elective surgeries. The German government offered fixed compensation to hospitals for procedures they have been forced to cancel. 

Sturm said compensation had helped. He also insisted his concerns surrounding the focus on the coronavirus was not due to commercial interests, but from being a “responsible citizen.”

“The German government has been good enough to make available a compensation package that makes us half-way home for the fixed-cost charge that is ongoing. But yes, the fixed-cost charge is hurting us, given that we were basically prohibited from treating elective-surgery patients. There, from the trough in March-April, we’re seeing a steady, gradual recovery.”

Germany has recorded 278,515 infections, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. It’s current death toll of 9,421 is far lower than its European counterparts.

Nonetheless, data from the Robert Koch Institute shows that cases are rising, particularly in the cities of Munich and Hamburg. On Wednesday, a further 1,769 cases were reported after 1,821 new infections were registered Tuesday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a crisis summit next week with regional governors, German media reported Monday.

Despite the “better” data, Fresenius published a study on the pandemic’s impact on Germany in August in which it said the clinical course of the virus in the country was as bad as in other countries. 

“Two of every three Covid-19 patents in intensive care in Germany require mechanical ventilation. One-third of ventilated intensive care patients die, compared with one-quarter of non-ventilated intensive care patients,” according to the study, which had collected and analyzed data on Covid-19 patents treated in 86 German hospitals run by Helios since the start of the pandemic in February.

“This shows that the clinical course of Covid-19 patients in Germany is as poor as in countries hit harder by the pandemic such as Italy, France, the United Kingdom and Belgium,” the study said.

Fresenius’ CEO told CNBC that he believes Germany had seen a lower death toll for several reasons. “A) We had a good hospital infrastructure to start with and B) we were relatively late [to see cases] and we could take some good lessons from other countries. and C) I think social distancing is a good part of the German culture and therefore we had much better prerequisites to deal with this.” 

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Dow futures jump 200 points continuing rebound from September sell-off; Nike shares rise

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U.S. stock futures were solidly higher again early Wednesday after the S&P 500 experienced its first positive day in five trading sessions. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures received a boost from a blowout earnings report from component Nike.

Dow futures rose 201 points, or 0.7%. The move pointed to a gain of more than 150 points at the open. S&P 500 futures added 0.4%. Nasdaq-100 futures gained 0.4%. 

Here’s what traders were watching:

  • Nike’s stock jumped 13% in premarket trading as the company said digital sales surged more than 80% last quarter. Earnings and sales blew past analysts expectations last quarter and the company gave a forecast for growth in the new fiscal year.
  • Airlines and cruise lines gained in premarket trading after President Donald Trump said the U.S. would not be implementing a second round of lockdowns as the U.K. began imposing stricter measures. “The U.K. just shut down again. They just announced that they’re going to do a shutdown, and we’re not going to be doing that,” Trump said. United Airlines and Delta were up more than 2%. Carnival gained 2.7%.
  • Johnson & Johnson started a phase 3 trial of its coronavirus vaccine.
  • The House passed a bill avoiding a government shutdown.
  • Key tech stocks Amazon, Apple and Microsoft were slightly higher in premarket trading. Tech stocks have been the center of the September sell-off.
  • Shares of Tesla fell 4% in premarket trading after Elon Musk offered new delivery predictions for 2020 and detailed a new battery design that it claims will make its cars cheaper to produce.

On Tuesday, the major averages snapped multi-day losing streaks, all closing in the green. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 140 points and the S&P 500 climbed 1.1%. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite was the relative outperformer, popping 1.7% as Amazon surged 5.7%. 

“As soon as the S&P 500 reached the official correction zone near a 10% decline… ‘dip buyers’ emerged and have been evident ever since,” Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at The Leuthold Group, told CNBC. “These buyers, armed with cash holdings, may be driven less by the ‘fear of missing out’ than they are by the ‘opportunity to finally get in.'”

Shares of megacap technology stocks — which have suffered in September — all closed in positive territory on Tuesday. 

“Optimism broadened as the day progressed lifting not only technology and communications stocks for the second day, but ending with eight of the 11 sectors within the S&P 500 Index in the green,” added Paulsen. 

Stock gains were capped by concerns about an uptick in coronavirus cases in the U.K. paired with bleaker outlook for a second stimulus bill from the United States Congress. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Tuesday a tightening of economic restrictions and public health measures to slow the spread of Covid-19. Johnson said that the country was at a “perilous turning point.” 

U.S. coronavirus deaths topped 200,000 on Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

With stimulus plans at a stalemate in Washington, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Tuesday reiterated to lawmakers that the U.S. economy could begin to decelerate in the months ahead without further fiscal stimulus from Congress. Powell told the House Financial Services Committee that many economic forecasts underlies fiscal action. Powell also reassured investors that the central bank will support the economy “for as long as it takes.”

Powell will testify again on Wednesday to Congress’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. 

September continues to be a weak month for stocks with all three averages posting three straight weeks of losses. The Dow is down more than 4% in September and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite have lost 5.3% and 6.9% this month, respectively. 

“We think equities will move higher over the medium term, thanks to the likely development of a successful vaccine, an end to election uncertainty, the passage of new US fiscal stimulus, and continued extraordinary global monetary support,” said Mark Haefele, UBS Global Wealth Management chief investment officer. “However, the path to ‘more normal’ is likely to be bumpy amid uncertainty over the coronavirus, the U.S. political environment, and U.S.-China tensions. We therefore expect volatility to persist over the balance of the year.”

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