U.S., China set to sign massive purchases deal, easing trade war

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will sign an initial trade deal on Wednesday that will roll back some tariffs and see China boost purchases of U.S. goods and services, defusing an 18-month conflict between the world’s two largest economies.

Liu said the two sides will work more closely together to obtain tangible results and achieve a win-win relationship despite differences in their political and economic models, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.

U.S. officials called the deal a huge win that marked a significant shift in Washington’s relations with China, but said it included a tough enforcement measure that could trigger renewed tariffs if Beijing does not live up to its promises.

The Phase 1 agreement caps a trade war marked by tit-for-tat tariffs that has hit hundreds of billions of dollars in goods, roiling financial markets, uprooting supply chains and slowing global growth.

Some analysts and economists have questioned whether the outcome of the drawn-out talks justified that economic pain.

Trump and Liu, who led the Chinese side in the trade talks with Washington, are scheduled to sign the 86-page Phase 1 deal at a White House event at 11:30 a.m. EST (1630 GMT) before over 200 invited guests from business, government and diplomatic circles.

It is not clear at this time whether the entire document will be released on Wednesday.

Trump, who entered the White House in 2017 vowing to rebalance global trade in favor of the United States, has already begun touting the deal as a pillar in his 2020 re-election campaign, calling it “a big beautiful monster” at a rally in Toledo, Ohio last week.

“Our farmers will take it in. I keep saying, ‘Go buy larger tractors, go buy larger tractors,'” Trump said.

The centerpiece of the deal is a pledge by China to purchase an additional $200 billion worth of U.S. farm products and other goods and services over two years. That will help reduce the bilateral U.S. trade deficit in goods, which peaked at $420 billion in 2018. The United States had a small services trade surplus with China of $40.5 billion in 2018.

Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News the agreement would add 0.5 percentage point to U.S. gross domestic product growth in both 2020 and 2021.

Kudlow said the deal called for China to buy an additional $75 billion worth of U.S. manufactured goods over the two-year period. A source told Reuters this week that would include aircraft, autos and car parts, agricultural machinery and medical devices.

Beijing will boost energy purchases by some $50 billion and services by $40 billion, mostly in the financial sector, Kudlow said.

The Reuters source said agricultural purchases will get a $32 billion lift over the two years, compared to a 2017 baseline of U.S. exports to China.

When combined with the $24 billion in 2017 farm exports, the $16 billion annual increase approaches Trump’s goal of $40 billion to $50 billion in annual agricultural sales to China.

China will significantly increase imports of U.S. soybeans after the Phase 1 deal is signed, the Global Times reported on Wednesday, citing comments from a senior Chinese economist at a state think tank.

Wang Liaowei, senior economist at the China National Grain and Oils Information Center, which is under the National Food and Strategic Reserves Administration, also told the paper that imports of U.S. products such as pork and cotton could also see a jump.

Although the deal could be a big boost to farmers, planemaker Boeing <BA.N>, U.S. automakers and heavy equipment manufacturers, some analysts question https://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL4N29J26S China’s ability to divert imports from other trading partners to the United States.

“I find a radical shift in Chinese spending unlikely. I have low expectations for meeting stated goals,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Group in Minneapolis. “But I do think the whole negotiation has moved the football forward for both the U.S. and China.”

TARIFFS TO STAY

The Phase 1 deal, reached in December, canceled planned U.S. tariffs on Chinese-made cellphones, toys and laptop computers and halved the tariff rate to 7.5% on about $120 billion worth of other Chinese goods, including flat panel televisions, Bluetooth headphones and footwear.

But it will leave in place 25% tariffs on a vast, $250 billion array of Chinese industrial goods and components used by U.S. manufacturers.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Wednesday the deal would boost the U.S. economy, and that Washington could lower tariffs as part of a Phase 2 agreement that would address complex issues such as cybersecurity.

Mnuchin said the U.S. relationship with China was complicated and Washington would continue to raise humanitarian and national security concerns with Beijing in separate discussions. “You have to negotiate different pieces at different times,” he said.

He said Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co Ltd was not a “chess piece” in the economic negotiations.

China’s Global Times said the Phase 2 discussions may not start anytime soon.

Evidence is mounting that tariffs have raised input costs for U.S. manufacturers, eroding their competitiveness.

Diesel engine maker Cummins Inc <CMI.N> said on Tuesday that the deal will leave it paying $150 million in tariffs for engines and castings that it produces in China.

The company issued a tepid statement of approval on Tuesday: “We believe this is a positive step and remain optimistic that all parties will remain at the table in order to create a pathway to eliminate all of the instituted tariffs.”

Lighthizer and Mnuchin insisted there were no side agreements to remove more tariffs after the November U.S. elections. Mnuchin on Wednesday reiterated that Trump could consider easing tariffs if the two countries move quickly to seal a Phase 2 follow-up agreement.

CORE ISSUES UNTOUCHED

The Phase 1 deal includes pledges by China to forbid the forced transfer of American technology to Chinese firms as well as to increase protections for U.S. intellectual property.

But it stops well short of addressing the core U.S. complaints about China’s trade and intellectual property practices that prompted the Trump administration to pressure Beijing for changes in early 2017.

The deal contains no provisions to rein in rampant subsidies for state-owned enterprises, which the administration blames for excess capacity in steel and aluminum and says threaten industries from aircraft to semiconductors.

It also fails to address digital trade restrictions and China’s onerous cybersecurity regulations that have hobbled U.S. technology firms in China.

China has agreed in the Phase 1 deal to open its financial services sector more widely to U.S. firms, and to refrain from deliberately pushing down its currency to gain a trade advantage, the latter prompting Treasury to drop its currency manipulator label on Beijing.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert, Andrea Shalal, Echo Wang, Alexandra Alper, and Herb Lash in New York, and Se Young Lee and Stella Qui in Beijing; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Paul Simao)

China to ramp up U.S. car, aircraft, energy purchases in trade deal: source

By David Lawder and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China has pledged to buy almost $80 billion of additional manufactured goods from the United States over the next two years as part of a trade war truce, according to a source, a target that could provide a much-needed boost for planemaker Boeing but is being questioned by U.S. trade experts.

Under the trade deal to be signed on Wednesday in Washington, China would also buy over $50 billion more in energy supplies, and boost purchases of U.S. services by about $35 billion over the same two-year period, the source told Reuters late on Monday.

The Phase 1 agreement calls for Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural goods to increase by some $32 billion over two years, or roughly $16 billion a year, said the source, who was briefed on the deal.

When combined with the $24 billion U.S. agricultural export baseline in 2017, the total gets close to the $40 billion annual goal touted by U.S. President Donald Trump.

The numbers are expected to be announced at Wednesday’s White House signing ceremony between Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and represent a staggering increase over recent Chinese imports of U.S. manufactured goods. The size of the targets has raised questions https://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL4N29J26S about how realistic they are.

BEYOND THE FARM

Two other sources familiar with the Phase 1 trade deal agreed with the rough breakdown of the purchases, without providing specific numbers.

A spokesman for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Lighthizer on Monday called the deal a “huge step forward” for U.S.-China trade relations and “a really, really good deal for the United States.” He told Fox Business Network that Beijing’s compliance would be monitored closely.

Lighthizer and his counterparts from Japan and the European Union on Tuesday took aim at China, proposing new global trade rules to curb subsidies that they say are distorting the worldwide economy.

Beijing’s subsidies to state-owned firms are expected to be addressed under a later Phase 2 U.S.-China trade deal, but it remains unclear when those negotiations will begin.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer warned Trump in a letter that a weak agreement that failed to address what he called China’s “rapacious trade behaviors” and structural inequities would harm U.S. workers and firms for years to come.

When the Phase 1 trade deal was struck on Dec. 13, U.S. officials said China had agreed to buy $200 billion in additional U.S. farm products, manufactured goods, energy and services over the next two years, compared to the baseline of 2017.

They said they would publish targets for the four broad areas, but would keep details of specific products classified to avoid market distortions.

The $32 billion agriculture increase over 2017 was confirmed by Myron Brilliant, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s head of international affairs, who spoke to reporters on Monday in Beijing.

Analysts and traders doubted whether China could absorb such a big increase. Relying on the United States so heavily could expose China to price and supply risks, they said.

Large Chinese purchases of Brazilian soybeans and Beijing’s suspension of a plan to implement a nationwide gasoline blend containing 10% ethanol this year have also raised questions about China’s ability to double its imports of U.S. farm products.

Trump had mainly touted the increased farm exports, which would benefit a major political constituency that has been battered by Chinese retaliatory tariffs during his 18-month trade war with Beijing.

Company executives have been waiting eagerly for details of what other U.S. goods China would be buying more of, aside from farm products, after 18 months of tit-for-tat tariffs that have stalled U.S. business investment.

MANUFACTURING CHALLENGES

The $80 billion increase for manufactured goods includes significant purchases of autos, auto parts, aircraft, agricultural machinery, medical devices and semiconductors, said one of the sources, without naming any specific suppliers.

The aircraft would likely be built by Boeing Co <BA.N>, the No. 1 U.S. exporter, whose new sales to China have ground to a halt over the past two years. That would be a welcome boost for the aerospace giant, where shares and earnings have plummeted as its best-selling 737 MAX aircraft remains grounded due to two fatal crashes.

The source providing the purchase figures expressed skepticism about manufactured goods pledges by Beijing since the U.S.-China trade deal does not address any of the non-tariff barriers that have kept these U.S. goods out of the Chinese market for decades, including procurement rules, product standards and subsidies to Chinese state-owned firms.

With Chinese car sales flagging and excess domestic assembly capacity on the rise, China would seem unlikely to purchase significantly more U.S.-built cars. Among the most popular U.S.-built vehicles sold in China are BMW <BMWG.DE> and Mercedes-Benz <DAIGn.DE> sport-utility vehicles.

China also has major industrial policy goals to dominate the very manufacturing sectors in which it has pledged to pump up purchases of U.S. goods, further fueling skepticism.

Many economists and experts are dubious the Phase 1 trade agreement will be implemented as written, despite what U.S. officials describe as an important enforcement clause.

If a U.S. claim of Chinese non-compliance cannot be resolved, Washington would have the right to reimpose tariffs on Chinese goods in proportion to the economic damage alleged. But nothing would preclude China from retaliating, people familiar with the deal said.

Oil traders and analysts were also doubtful whether China would be able to purchase an extra $50 billion of energy products, including crude oil, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and imports of petrochemical raw materials such as ethane and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

(Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Hallie Gu in Beijing, and Florence Tan in Singapore; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Howard Goller)

Oil back in positive territory ahead of U.S.-China trade deal

By Ron Bousso

LONDON (Reuters) – Global oil benchmark Brent crude rose to more than $64.50, recovering from four days of declines on easing Middle East tensions, as the United States and China prepared to sign a preliminary trade deal.

Brent crude gained 43 cents, or 0.7%, to $64.63 a barrel by 1507 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 11 cents, or 0.2%, to $58.20 a barrel.

The outlook for oil demand was supported by the expected signing of a Phase 1 U.S.-China trade deal on Wednesday, marking a major step in ending a dispute that has cut global growth and dented demand for oil.

China has pledged to buy more than $50 billion in energy supplies from the United States over the next two years, according to a source briefed on the trade deal.

The trade war between the world’s two biggest energy consumers had a tangible impact on global oil demand growth last year, said Tamas Varga, an analyst at broker PVM. Varga pointed to 2019 demand growth of 890,000 barrels per day (bpd), compared with initial forecasts of 1.5 million bpd.

“This year, however, the pace is expected to pick up again and average 1.25 million bpd … In the event of a trade deal upward revisions can be anticipated,” Varga said.

Regardless of trade wars, China’s crude oil imports in 2019 surged 9.5% from the previous year, setting a record for a 17th straight year as demand growth from new refineries propelled purchases by the world’s top importer, data showed.

However, gains were limited by easing concern over possible supply disruptions as a result of tensions in the Middle East.

The recent declines came as investors unwound bullish positions built after the killing of a senior Iranian general in a U.S. air strike on Jan. 2, which sent oil prices to a four-month high, said Harry Tchilinguirian, global oil strategist at BNP Paribas in London.

“As geopolitical tensions take a back seat for now, we may see more of the same in the short term,” Tchilinguirian told the Reuters Global Oil Forum.

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, said his country will work for oil market stability at a time of heightened U.S.-Iranian tension.

He also said it was too early to talk about whether the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, a group known as OPEC+, would continue with production curbs that are due to expire in March.

Separately, U.S. crude oil inventories were expected to have fallen last week, a preliminary Reuters poll showed on Monday.

The poll was conducted ahead of reports from the American Petroleum Institute (API), an industry group, and the Energy Information Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.

(Additional reporting By Jessica Jaganathan; Editing by Louise Heavens and David Goodman)

White House adviser says U.S.-China trade deal on track for January 15

White House adviser says U.S.-China trade deal on track for January 15
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Phase 1 U.S.-China trade deal is on track to be signed Jan. 15, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox Business Network on Friday.

“It’s all on schedule,” he said.

The translation of the agreement “has worked out beautifully. It is virtually complete,” Kudlow added in an interview, adding that he had spoken to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Thursday.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. Senate panel advances North American trade deal, final vote timing uncertain

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Finance Committee overwhelmingly approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on Tuesday, moving the revamped North American trade deal a step closer to a final Senate vote in the coming days or weeks.

The committee advanced the USMCA implementing legislation by a 25-3 vote, drawing opposition from Republican senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

The timing of a long-delayed final U.S. congressional vote to approve the trade pact remains uncertain, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said its consideration would likely have to wait until after a Senate trial over the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

The trade deal, first agreed in October 2018 and revised last month, aims to modernize and broaden the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Trump’s Senate trial is also in limbo, because House Democrats have not yet sent articles of impeachment approved in December to the Senate as the two parties argue over terms of the proceedings.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley earlier told CNBC http://bit.ly/36vNLSN television USMCA would “pass the Senate sometime within the next few days or at the most the end of this month.”

Following the Senate panel’s vote, Grassley said the timing was up to McConnell, but articles of impeachment would take precedence over USMCA. A vote could occur quickly as there was little other legislation to stand in its way, he added.

The Senate’s parliamentarian has directed other some other committees to consider the legislation, which could delay a floor vote slightly, but Grassley said those panels were expected to quickly approve the trade deal.

“The intent is for the leader to get them to move quickly,” Grassley added.

The finance committee’s vote indicates broad bipartisan support for USMCA, which includes new chapters covering digital trade, stronger intellectual property protections and new requirements for automakers to use more parts and materials sourced in the region and from high-wage areas, notably the United States and Canada.

Toomey, an ardent free trade Republican, objected to the new automotive content rules, saying they were “designed to raise the cost to American consumers of buying Mexican-made cars.”

“It’s the first time we are ever going to go backwards on a trade agreement,” Toomey said during the committee’s debate.

Cassidy complained that the agreement weakens NAFTA’s investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which will deter big projects such as a gas pipeline from the United States to Mexico.

Whitehouse, an ardent environmentalist, said he objected to USMCA because the trade deal does not mandate any action to fight global warming and rising sea levels.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Tom Brown)

Oil, safe havens surge as U.S. strikes kill Iranian commander

By Herbert Lash and Marc Jones

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices surged as much as $3 a barrel as gold, the yen and safe-haven bonds all rallied on Friday after the U.S. killing of Iran’s top military commander in an air strike in Iraq ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Traders were spooked after the death of Major General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force who was also one of Iran’s most influential figures, and by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s vow of revenge.

Mideast-focused oil markets saw the most dramatic moves, with Brent oil futures leaping as much 4.5% to $69.20 a barrel. That was the highest since the attacks on Saudi crude facilities in September, though the impact hit almost every asset class.

Europe’s broad STOXX 600 index fell as much as 1% and shares on Wall Street almost the same as New Year optimism, which had pushed equity markets to new records, evaporated.

The yen rose half a percent against the dollar to a two-month high, the Swiss franc hit its highest against the euro since September and gold prices  climbed to a four-month peak, racing past the key $1,550 an ounce level.

“Geopolitics has come back to the table, and this is something that could have major cross-asset implications,” said Salman Ahmed, Lombard Odier’s chief investment strategist.

“What is critical is how it pans out in the next few days,” Ahmed said. “Whether it turns into a theme depends on Iran’s reaction and then the U.S. response.”

Iran promised harsh revenge. Soleimani’s Quds Force and its paramilitary proxies, ranging from Lebanon’s Hizbollah to the PMF in Iraq, have ample means to mount a response.

In September, U.S. officials blamed Iran for attacking the oil installations of Saudi Aramco, the state energy giant and the world’s largest oil exporter. Iran has denied responsibility for the strikes and accused Washington of war-mongering.

The Trump administration then did not respond, beyond heated rhetoric and threats, and markets settled down within a week after Brent surged 14.6%, its biggest one-day percentage gain since at least 1988.

The U.S. government and others on Friday urged their citizens in the region either to return home or to stay away from potential targets and public gatherings.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a round of TV interviews that the United States remained committed to de-escalation with Iran but that it had needed to defend itself.

“He (Soleimani) was actively plotting in the region to take actions – a big action as he described it – that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk. We know it was imminent,” Pompeo told CNN.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 0.43%, while its emerging markets index lost 0.32%.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average  fell 210.81 points, or 0.73%, to 28,657.99. The S&P 500  lost 18.86 points, or 0.58%, to 3,238.99 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> dropped 58.26 points, or 0.64%, to 9,033.93.

The global gauge and Wall Street indices set record closing highs on Thursday, extending the year-end rally in equities.

Brent  hit a peak of $69.50 a barrel, its highest since mid-September, though it later traded up $2.40 to $68.65.

West Texas Intermediate  crude  rose $2.20 to $63.38 a barrel, after earlier spiking to $64.09 a barrel, its highest since April 2019.

SCRAMBLE TO SAFETY

Yields on German Bunds and U.S. Treasuries – the world’s benchmark government bonds that are typically seen as the safest assets – fell sharply.

 

The 10-year Bund  yield fell 7 basis points to a two-week low of -0.299%, while Bund futures  were up 0.51 percent, at 172.13 euros.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes rose 23/32 in price to yield 1.802%, from 1.882% late on Monday.

The dollar index fell 0.08%, with the euro up 0.06% to $1.1177. The Japanese yen  strengthened 0.59% versus the greenback at 107.94 per dollar.

The focus on geopolitics meant markets paid little attention to stronger-than-expected data from France, where inflation rose 1.6% year-on-year in December, beating analysts’ expectations for a 1.4% rise.

German inflation figures were also higher, although unemployment in Europe’s largest economy rose more than expected.

The U.S. manufacturing sector contracted in December by the most in more than a decade, with order volumes crashing to near an 11-year low and factory employment falling for a fifth straight month, the Institute for Supply Management said.

Investors also were looking forward to the minutes of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Dec. 10-11 meeting due at 2 p.m. (1900 GMT).

(Reporting by Herbert Lash, additional reporting by Sujata Rao and Dhara Ranasinghe in London and Diptendu Lahiri in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler)

North Korea’s Kim to unveil ‘new path’ in New Year speech after U.S. misses deadline

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to make a closely watched New Year address on Wednesday which is likely to offer a glimpse of a “new path” he has vowed to take if the United States fails to meet his deadline to soften its stance over denuclearization.

The New Year address is expected to touch upon a wide range of issues from foreign affairs and military development to the economy and education.

In his 2019 speech, Kim said he might have to change course if Washington sticks to its pressure campaign and demands unilateral action, while stressing a “self-reliant” economy, a drive he has launched amid tightening sanctions.

The United States was on track to ignore a year-end deadline set by Kim, which Washington has downplayed as artificial, to show more flexibility to reopen talks aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

The upcoming speech is expected to be the culmination of an ongoing meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s 7th Central Committee, a key policy-making body, which Kim convened on Saturday. It was still under way on Tuesday, state media said.

Discussions at the gathering remain largely unknown, but official media KCNA said on Tuesday that Kim spent seven hours during a Monday session discussing state, economic and military building. On Sunday, he called for “positive and offensive measures” to ensure the country’s security.

“The Central Committee plenary meeting is meant to legitimize the process behind the policy decisions Kim Jong-un will announce in his New Year speech,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

“This meeting is to provide political justification for the economic and security policies Pyongyang will pursue in 2020.”

North Korea has provided few hints for what the “new path” may involve, but U.S. military commanders said Pyongyang next move could include the testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which it has halted since 2017, alongside nuclear bomb tests.

U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien warned Washington would be “extraordinarily disappointed” if North Korea tests a long-range or nuclear missile, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped it would choose peace over confrontation.

“We still maintain our view that we can find a path forward to convince the leadership in North Korea that their best course of action is to create a better opportunity for their people by getting rid of their nuclear weapons. That’s our mission set,” Pompeo told Fox News on Monday.

The U.S. Air Force flew an RC-135 surveillance plane over South Korea on Monday and Tuesday, according to military flight tracker Aircraft Spots.

Despite mounting speculation over a potential military provocation, any restart of an ICBM test would risk a personal relationship with Trump, which Pyongyang has repeatedly touted while denouncing Pompeo and other aides, analysts say.

Cho Tae-yong, a former South Korean deputy national security advisor, said Kim had few options that can leave the Trump ties intact.

“In any case, North Korea would add a lot of caveats before and after testing to make sure they’re not intent on destroying the negotiating table and it was the Americans who betrayed them,” Cho told Reuters.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry)

Record online sales give U.S. holiday shopping season a boost: report

(Reuters) – U.S. shoppers spent more online during this year’s holiday shopping season, a report by Mastercard Inc. showed on Wednesday, with e-commerce sales hitting a record high.

The holiday shopping season is a crucial period for retailers and can account for up to 40% of annual sales. But this year, Thanksgiving, which traditionally starts the U.S. holiday shopping period, was on Nov. 28, nearly a week later than last year’s Nov. 22, leaving retailers with six fewer days to drive sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

E-commerce sales this year made up 14.6% of total retail and rose 18.8% from the 2018 period, according to Mastercard’s data tracking retail sales from Nov. 1 through Christmas Eve.

Overall holiday retail sales, excluding autos, rose 3.4%.

“E-commerce sales hit a record high this year with more people doing their holiday shopping online,” said Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard.

“Due to a later than usual Thanksgiving holiday, we saw retailers offering omnichannel sales earlier in the season, meeting consumers’ demand for the best deals across all channels and devices,” Sadove said.

Retailers have invested heavily to provide same-day delivery, lockers for store pick-up and improve their online presence as they battle against retail giant Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O> for market share.

U.S. President Donald Trump, whose support in the polls has been buoyed by strong economic data despite his impeachment by the House of Representatives, heralded the news in a tweet in all capital letters.

“2019 HOLIDAY RETAIL SALES WERE UP 3.4% FROM LAST YEAR, THE BIGGEST NUMBER IN U.S. HISTORY. CONGRATULATIONS AMERICA!,” Trump tweeted.

However, Mastercard spokesman William Tsang, citing 2018’s 5.1% growth in total sales, said this year’s holiday sales growth was not the biggest ever.

The White House had no immediate comment on the apparent discrepancy.

Despite slowing global growth, U.S. consumer spending is benefiting from wage growth and a strong labor market, retail consultants and analysts say.

The holiday season was challenging for retailers after Amazon expanded its free return policy to include products that were not previously eligible, giving consumers until January to return even small purchases bought on the website.

The National Retail Federation had forecast U.S. holiday retail sales over the two months to increase between 3.8% and 4.2%. That compares with an average annual increase of 3.7% over the past five years.

The SpendingPulse report tracks spending by combining sales activity in Mastercard’s payments network with estimates of cash and other payment forms but excludes automobile sales.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler)

‘There’s a deal:’ Mexico says USMCA trade pact to be signed Tuesday

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Canada, Mexico and the United States have reached an agreement on a new North American free trade deal and they will sign it on Tuesday, but the pact still needs the approval of U.S. and Canadian lawmakers, Mexico’s president said.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the three countries had agreed on tweaks to labor, steel and aluminum provisions in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), after U.S. Democrats pressed for changes, particularly to strengthen enforcement of new Mexican labor laws.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S: White House adviser Jared Kushner will take part in the signing ceremony at 1200 (1300 ET), a senior Mexican official said on Twitter.”On our end, there is now a deal. We’re convinced that it’s a good deal for Mexico, just as it is for Canada and United States,” Lopez Obrador said, adding that the signing would happen in Mexico’s historic National Palace.

“In the case of the United States, there’s a deal from the government, but we need Congress to ratify it,” Lopez Obrador said.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will hold a news conference on Tuesday morning, has said the deal is close to being finalized.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Abraham Gonzalez, Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

China says hopes it can reach trade agreement with U.S. as soon as possible

China says hopes it can reach trade agreement with U.S. as soon as possible
BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Monday that it hoped to make a trade deal with the United States as soon as possible, amid intense discussions before fresh U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports are due to kick in at the end of the week.

Beijing hopes it can reach a trade agreement with the United States that satisfies both sides, Assistant Commerce Minister Ren Hongbin told reporters on Monday.

“On the question of China-U.S. trade talks and negotiations, we wish that both sides can, on the foundation of equality and mutual respect, push forward negotiations, and in consideration of each others’ core interests, reach an agreement that satisfies all sides as soon as possible,” Ren said.

China and the United States are negotiating a so-called “phase one” deal aimed at de-escalating their prolonged trade dispute, but it is unclear whether such an agreement can be reached in the near term.

Washington’s next round of tariffs against Chinese goods are scheduled to take effect on Dec. 15.

China has demanded that some of the existing U.S. tariffs imposed on about $375 billion worth of its exports be removed, in addition to cancellation of the Dec. 15 tariffs on some $156 billion of its remaining exports to the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded that China commit to specific minimum purchases of U.S. agricultural products, among other concessions on intellectual property rights, currency and access to China’s financial services markets.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Friday that the two sides had talked almost daily, but there were currently no plans for face-to-face talks or a signing ceremony between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

With less than a week to go before the deadline amid “intense” negotiations, Kudlow said Trump would make the final decision on the tariffs, which would hit Chinese-made cellphones, laptop computers, toys and clothing.

“We’ll have to see, but right now we’re moving along,” Trump said last week. “On December 15th, something could happen, but we are not discussing that yet. We are having very good discussions with China, however.”

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley, writing by Se Young Lee and Ryan Woo; Editing by Himani Sarkar & Kim Coghill)