Wall Street enters third day of gains as trade fears ease

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Sruthi Shankar

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks rose on Monday, with bank stocks leading third day of gains in a row after strong U.S. jobs data from last week helped investors brush aside trade concerns.

The S&P financial index rose 1.3 percent, providing the biggest boost to the main S&P index. But gains were widespread, with technology, energy, industrials, consumer discretionary and healthcare stocks rising.

The United States and China engaged in tit-for-tat tariffs on Friday, both countries imposing duties worth $34 billion on each others’ goods. But the benchmark S&P 500 closed up 0.84 percent on Friday as many analysts said the move was already priced in, but warned that further escalation could dent the appetite for stocks.

China’s securities regulator said on Sunday it plans to ease restrictions on foreign investment in stocks listed on the Shanghai or Shenzhen exchanges to attract more foreign capital and support the economy.

The sentiment was largely upbeat after Friday’s U.S. payrolls report showed tame wages and more people looking for work, boosting optimism that the Federal Reserve would stay on a path of gradual interest rate increases.

“Last Friday’s gains managed to put a positive patina on what was otherwise a rather unimpressive week for equity investors,” Peter Kenney, senior market strategist at Global Markets Advisory Group in New York, wrote in a note.

“That tone could serve investors well this week as we launch into Q2 earnings season.”

At 9:49 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 193.11 points, or 0.79 percent, at 24,649.59, the S&P 500 was up 15.33 points, or 0.56 percent, at 2,775.15 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 46.97 points, or 0.61 percent, at 7,735.36.

All eyes will turn to second-quarter earnings reports, with banks JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and Citigroup scheduled to report on Friday.

S&P 500 companies are expected to report 21 percent growth in earnings per share for the June quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. But focus will be on any warnings companies might give about the impact of trade tariffs.

U.S.-listed shares of Chinese companies Alibaba, JD.com and Baidu climbed after KeyBanc recommendations on the stocks.

Tesla was up 1.6 percent after automotive news website Electrek reported the company hiked prices of its Model X and S cars by over $20,000 in China due to tariffs.

Groupon jumped 8.8 percent after a Recode report that the daily deals website operator was looking for a buyer.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners for a 2.53-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 2.16-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 17 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 97 new highs and six new lows.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

China says will work with U.S. for positive outcome in trade talks

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He attends the news conference following the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC), at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Monday it is willing to work with the United States for a positive outcome in trade negotiations this week.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang made the comment at a regular briefing.

Vice Premier Liu He will attend the talks in Washington from May 15 to 19. High-level discussions in Beijing earlier this month appeared to make little progress but there have been signs recently of some easing in tensions.

(Reporting by Sue-lin Wong; Writing by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Xi warns Taiwan will face ‘punishment of history’ for separatism

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 20, 2018.

By Philip Wen and Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping told self-ruled Taiwan on Tuesday that it would face the “punishment of history” for any attempt at separatism, offering his strongest warning yet to the island claimed by China as its sacred territory.

In response, the government of Taiwan, one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potentially dangerous military flashpoint, said it hoped China could “break free” of the old clichés of threats and force.

China’s hostility toward Taiwan has risen since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the island’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

China suspects Tsai wants to push for formal independence, which would cross a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, though Tsai has said she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace.

China has been infuriated by U.S. President Donald Trump’s signing into law legislation last week that encourages the United States to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet Taiwan counterparts, and vice versa.

The United States does not have formal ties with Taiwan but is required by law to help it with self-defense and is the island’s primary source of weapons.

China will push for the “peaceful reunification of the motherland” and work for more Taiwanese to enjoy the opportunities of its development, Xi told the 3,000-odd delegates to the annual session of parliament.

“It is a shared aspiration of all Chinese people and in their basic interests to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and realize China’s complete reunification,” Xi said in a speech at the end of the session.

“Any actions and tricks to split China are doomed to failure and will meet with the people’s condemnation and the punishment of history,” he added, to loud applause.

China had the will, confidence and ability to defeat any separatist activity, Xi said.

“The Chinese people share a common belief that it is never allowed and it is absolutely impossible to separate any inch of our great country’s territory from China.”

In Taiwan, the China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said the government was firm in its conviction to protect Taiwan’s “sovereign dignity” and the well-being of its people.

“We also hope that mainland China’s leaders, at this time of entering into a new administration period, can break free of clichéd thinking of strong intimidation,” it added.

In a visit likely to further irritate China, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong will be in Taiwan this week, the island’s foreign ministry said.

PATRIOTIC SPIRIT

China has also been worried about independence activists in the former British colony of Hong Kong following big street protests there in 2014 calling for universal suffrage.

Xi said China would uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, but would also seek to increase “national consciousness and patriotic spirit” in the financial center.

Taiwan has shown no interest in being run by China, and has accused China of not understanding how democracy works, pointing out that Taiwan’s people have the right to decide its future.

The new U.S. law on Taiwan adds to strains between China and the United States over trade, as Trump has enacted tariffs and called for China to reduce its huge trade imbalance with the United States, even while Washington has sought Beijing’s help to resolve tension with North Korea.

Taiwan has thanked the United States for the law and its support, but its foreign ministry said on Monday there were no plans for any senior leaders, such as the president, to visit the United States.

While stepped-up Chinese military exercises around Taiwan over the past year have rattled the island, Xi reiterated China’s assertion that its rise was not a threat to any country, though China considers Taiwan to be merely a Chinese province not a nation.

“Only those who are in the habit of threatening others will see everyone else as a threat,” Xi said.

(Additional reporting by Stella Qiu and Christian Shepherd, and Twinnie Siu and Fabian Hamacher in TAIPEI; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)

Trump asked South Korea officials to show flexibility in trade talks: Seoul

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in hold a joint press conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jung Yeon-Je/Pool

SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump asked South Korean officials to show flexibility in trade negotiations with the United States in a phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the Blue House said in a statement on Friday.

South Korea and the United States were scheduled to hold a third round of talks for amendments to an existing bilateral free trade agreement this week in Washington. Trump has repeatedly said the free trade deal with South Korea is “unfair” and has threatened to scrap it altogether on multiple occasions.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

An economy in ruins leaves Gazans with hard choices

Palestinians stand at their house in the northern Gaza Strip February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – The man who makes crisps, chocolate and vanilla snacks for Gaza had just finished explaining how his business was going through the worst economic crisis of his life when the lights went out, shutting down his factory. Again.

Wael Al-Wadiya has been running his food manufacturing business since 1985 – in a Gaza Strip that was very different from the one in which he and two million other Palestinians now live.

Back then Israeli settlers were still in Gaza, the Islamist militant group Hamas did not yet exist, and Palestinians were still two years away from the first of the uprisings against Israeli military occupation that introduced the word ‘Intifada’ to the world.

Sitting in a slowly declining industrial estate near the fortified border with Israel, the 51-year-old confectioner says that Gaza has been brought to a near-standstill by a decade of Israeli-led blockades, and internal Palestinian divisions.

“The situation is very miserable. People’s ability to buy has fallen to a minimum, therefore our businesses and businesses in Gaza are suffering as never before,” said Wadiya.

Palestinians work at Wael Al-Wadiya's snacks and chips factory, east of Gaza City February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Palestinians work at Wael Al-Wadiya’s snacks and chips factory, east of Gaza City February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

He has cut production by 70 percent and wages by 30 percent. Employees who used to work each day now may work one day in three. “Unless a miracle happens, factories and companies will close down and it will be the real death of the economy,” he said.

There has long been poverty in Gaza, but with unemployment now at 43.6 percent, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, even once-wealthy merchants are defaulting on debts, causing other businesses to collapse, like dominoes.

Many in Gaza blame Israel for the hardships, accusing it of placing an economic blockade on the enclave that has drastically reduced the movement of people and goods.

But Gazans also fault their own leaders, complaining of a power struggle between Hamas, the armed group that seized military power in Gaza in 2007, and Fatah, the secular party of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Both Hamas and Fatah levy taxes. Both run competing bureaucracies. And even electricity has become a tool of political power – until recently the blackouts that plagued Wadiya’s factory were exacerbated by Abbas cutting money for Israeli current for Gaza.

Fatah says Hamas exploits money it collects from electricity consumers for its own purposes.

Israel, which pulled its settlers and soldiers out of Gaza in 2005, says it has been forced to control access to and from the territory to stop Hamas sending out gunmen and bombers, and from smuggling in weapons or material to make them.

The Israeli military says that it carries out “constant calculated risk management” between allowing humanitarian aid through to Gazans, while contending with Hamas, which “attempts to exploit the aid intended for Gaza’s civilian residents”.

 

POVERTY AND SECURITY

A combination of war, isolation, and internal rivalries has left Gaza in its current state.

Last year Abbas cut the salaries of 60,000 government employees in Gaza by 30 per cent, leaving them with little to spend in shops and markets after paying off bank loans. The sums of bounced checks in Gaza nearly doubled from $37 million to $62 million between 2015 and 2016, and then again to $112 million in 2017, according to the Palestinian Monetary Authority.

This lack of buying power contributed to a drop in imports through the one remaining commercial crossing with Israel, with just 350 truckloads per day compared with 800 in the last quarter of 2017.

Palestinian children play as a girl held by her mother looks out of the window of house in the northern Gaza Strip February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Palestinian children play as a girl held by her mother looks out of the window of house in the northern Gaza Strip February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Some merchants took a religious initiative in December in which they offered to write off customers’ debts using the hashtag ‘Sameh Toajar’ – ‘Forgive, and Be rewarded (by God).’

It was supported by Hamas and other factions, but the scale of the debts was too great for such a small-scale remedy.

“Gaza has gone into clinical death and is in need of root solutions, real and sustainable, and not temporary or short-lived solutions,” said Maher al-Tabba, a Gaza economist.

At the other end of the economic scale from the merchants are Suhaib, Shadi and Ahmed al-Waloud, who scavenge through garbage near their home in northern Gaza searching for plastic to sell to recycling plants.

Their father was one of the Gazans who lost their jobs in Israel more than a decade ago when Israel closed the door to thousands of Palestinian workers following Hamas’s seizure of control.

“I have been used to doing this job since I was a child,” said Suhaib, 19, from Beit Lahiya. But they now earn just enough to “stay alive,” he said, because the price paid for second-hand plastic has fallen by 80 per cent. “Nowadays there is not much work. People are not throwing away a lot of plastic.”

The question that dominates Gaza is whether hard times will make Palestinians more inclined to support attacks on Israel, or less so, because they fear reprisals.

 

Ali al-Hayek, the chairman of the Palestinian Businessmen Association in Gaza, said that total collapse of the economy would lead to instability that would be in nobody’s interests.

“Gaza is living through a real humanitarian crisis,” he said. “An economic collapse will lead to a security collapse that will cause trouble for the international community and for Israel.”

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi Writing by Stephen Farrell, Editing by William Maclean)

Trump says to address trade, immigration in State of the Union speech

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while participating in the swearing-in ceremony for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2018.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday he will address his proposed immigration overhaul in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday and will seek Democratic support for it.

Speaking to reporters after a swearing-in ceremony for new Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Trump said his immigration overhaul will have to be bipartisan “because the Republicans don’t really have the votes to get it done in any other way.”

Trump also said his speech will cover his efforts to lower trade barriers around the world for American exports. “We have to have reciprocal trade. It’s not a one-way deal anymore,” he said.

(Reporting By Steve HollandEditing by Chizu Nomiyama)

As NAFTA talks drag, Mexico suggests timeline could be extended

Flags are pictured during the fifth round of NAFTA talks involving the United States, Mexico and Canada, in Mexico City, Mexico, November 19, 2017.

By David Ljunggren and Allison Lampert

MONTREAL (Reuters) – A senior Mexican official on Friday suggested talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement could be extended to give officials more time to address major disagreements threatening to undermine the $1.2 trillion trade pact.

Officials are planning an extra round of negotiations in Mexico at the end of February, according to sources close to the negotiations.

Teams from the United States, Canada and Mexico are in Montreal for the sixth of seven planned rounds on how to modernize NAFTA but progress is slow. Washington wants major changes to the 1994 pact and addressing various U.S. demands has eaten up time, officials said.

Although the process was initially scheduled to finish by the end of March to avoid clashing with Mexican presidential elections in July, Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said the timeline could be extended.

“This negotiation has a window of opportunity to reach a deal between February and the end of July,” he told Reuters.

Canada, which this week presented a series of suggestions on how to unfreeze the talks, quickly welcomed the idea.

“Canada does not believe that we need put an arbitrary deadline on these negotiations at the cost of a good deal for all three countries. ‎We are happy to continue negotiating,” said a government source.

U.S. chief negotiator John Melle, asked about a possible extension, told Reuters, “I have nothing to say on that. We are pushing ahead.”

A Mexican source briefed on the talks said once the election campaign has started, negotiators could still continue their work but without holding formal rounds.

The three nations are now looking at an extra week of talks in Mexico, possibly starting Feb. 26, ahead of the last round in Washington at the end of March, said the sources.

Whether more talks can help forge an agreement is unclear, given the gulf between the United States and its two partners.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which blames NAFTA for hurting U.S. manufacturing, wants the North American content of autos to be raised.

Canada responded by suggesting that content would be higher if the value of software and other high-tech materials made by the three nations were taken into account.

An auto industry source said U.S. and Mexican negotiators found the idea interesting but gave no details. Canadian chief negotiator Steve Verheul said on Thursday “there is a lot more thinking” to do about the idea.

Mexico and Canada have dismissed a separate U.S. demand that 50 percent of all autos produced in NAFTA nations must have American-made content. They also object to the idea of a subset case that would allow one party to pull out of the treaty after five years.

(Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Netanyahu says Israel, India both face threat from radical Islam

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi looks on during a signing of agreements ceremony at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India January 15, 2018.

By Sanjeev Miglani

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he was discussing with India ways to strengthen security cooperation against the menace of from Islamist extremism that both democracies faced.

Netanyahu spoke while on a six-day tour of India, the first by an Israeli premier for 15 years, and is being feted by Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, whose Hindu nationalist party has long admired Israel for its tough posture against terrorism.

India, wary of upsetting Arab nations on which it was dependent for oil, and heeding the sentiments of its own large Muslim minority, kept a distance from Israel for decades. But under Modi, the two sides have embraced a closer relationship based on security and economics.

The right-wing Netanyahu told a security conference that India and Israel were two democracies with a natural affinity, but their open and liberal societies faced risks.

“Our way of life is being challenged, most notably, the quest for modernity, the quest for innovation (are) being challenged by radical Islam and its terrorist offshoots from a variety of corners,” he said.

Both Israel and India have long sought to counter militant Islamists – in Israel’s case, mainly from Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai region and, in India’s case, mainly from Pakistan. Away from the public eye, India and Israel have been cooperating against the threat through, in part, intelligence sharing, officials say.

“We’ve discussed in this visit how we can strengthen our two nations in the civilian areas, in security areas, in every area,” Netanyahu told the conference.

His trip to India comes just six months after Modi made the first trip by an Indian prime minister to Israel, during which he did not go to Ramallah, seat of the self-ruling Palestinian Authority and a customary stop for leaders visiting the region.

Netanyahu toured the Taj Mahal on Tuesday and will also visit Modi’s home state of Gujarat and India’s financial capital Mumbai.

He will join an 11-year-old Israeli boy, Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were murdered by Pakistan-based militants in Mumbai in 2008, for a memorial event at the Indian financial hub’s Jewish center where the attack took place.

The boy, who lives with his grandparents in Israel, arrived on Tuesday as a guest of Modi.

(Additional reporting by Neha Dasgupta; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Wall Street kicks off 2018 on a strong note

The trading floor is seen on the final day of trading for the year at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 29, 2017

By Sruthi Shankar

(Reuters) – Wall Street’s main indexes were higher on Tuesday, the first trading day of the year, buoyed by gains in technology and consumer discretionary stocks.

Major stock indexes closed out 2017 with their best performance since 2013, powered by a combination of strong economic growth, solid corporate earnings, low interest rates and hopes of corporate tax cuts.

“The first week of trading usually suggests the overall trend of the markets which we expect to be positive,” Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial in New York, wrote in a note.

Oil prices hovered near their mid-2015 highs on Tuesday amid large anti-government rallies in major exporter Iran and ongoing supply cuts led by OPEC and Russia.

Gold and copper prices continued their upward march, but the greenback began the year on the back foot, with the dollar index slipping to its weakest level since September.

“While we don’t expect the Iranian unrest to reach a full blown political situation just yet, the protest will add to an already positive uptrend in oil and gold prices,” Cardillo said.

December payrolls report, data on manufacturing and service sectors are among leading indicators expected during the week, and will be scrutinized for signs of improving economic health and the number of interest rate hikes this year.

Minutes from the Federal Reserve’s December meeting, when the central bank raised rates for the fourth time since the 2008 financial crisis, will be issued on Wednesday.

At 9:34 a.m. ET (1434 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 112.06 points, or 0.45 percent, at 24,831.28 and the S&P 500 was up 9.49 points, or 0.35 percent, at 2,683.1. The Nasdaq Composite was up 21.51 points, or 0.31 percent, at 6,924.90.

Six of the 11 major S&P sectors were higher, led by gains in technology and consumer discretionary stocks.

Shares of Walt Disney rose 1.6 percent, giving the biggest boost to the Dow, after brokerage Macquire upgraded the company’s stock to “outperform”.

Netflix and Discovery Communications also rose on positive recommendations from Macquire.

Shares of casino operators Wynn resorts, Las Vegas Sands and Melco Resorts Entertainment were down after a report showed lower-than-expected rise in Macau gambling revenue in December.

Abbott Labs jumped 2.6 percent after JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley upgraded the healthcare company’s stock to “overweight”.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,938 to 652. On the Nasdaq, 1,678 issues rose and 743 fell.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

China halts oil product exports to North Korea in November as sanctions bite

A North Korean iron ore mine, near the North Korean town of Musan is seen in this general view taken May 11, 2013.

By Ryan Woo and Muyu Xu

BEIJING (Reuters) – China exported no oil products to North Korea in November, Chinese customs data showed, apparently going above and beyond sanctions imposed earlier this year by the United Nations in a bid to limit petroleum shipments to the isolated country.

Tensions have flared anew over North Korea’s ongoing nuclear and missile programmes, pursued in defiance of years of U.N. resolutions. Last week, the U.N. Security Council imposed new caps on trade with North Korea, including limiting oil product shipments to just 500,000 barrels a year.

Beijing also imported no iron ore, coal or lead from North Korea in November, the second full month of the latest trade sanctions imposed by U.N.

China, the main source of North Korea’s fuel, did not export any gasoline, jet fuel, diesel or fuel oil to its isolated neighbour last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Tuesday.

November was the second straight month China exported no diesel or gasoline to North Korea. The last time China’s jet fuel shipments to Pyongyang were at zero was in February 2015.

“This is a natural outcome of the tightening of the various sanctions against North Korea,” said Cai Jian, an expert on North Korea at Fudan University in Shanghai.

The tightening “reflects China’s stance”, he said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she didn’t know any details about the oil products export situation.

“As a principle, China has consistently fully, correctly, conscientiously and strictly enforced relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea. We have already established a set of effective operating mechanisms and methods,” she said at a regular briefing on Tuesday, without elaborating.

Since June, state-run China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) [CNPET.UL] has suspended sales of gasoline and diesel to North Korea, concerned that it would not get paid for its goods, Reuters previously reported.

Beijing’s move to turn off the taps completely is rare.

In March 2003, China suspended oil supplies to North Korea for three days after Pyongyang fired a missile into waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

It is unknown if China still sells crude oil to Pyongyang. Beijing has not disclosed its crude exports to North Korea for several years.

Industry sources say China still supplies about 520,000 tonnes, or 3.8 million barrels, of crude a year to North Korea via an aging pipeline. That is a little more than 10,000 barrels a day, and worth about $200 million a year at current prices.

North Korea also sources some of its oil from Russia.

TOTAL TRADE LESS THAN $400 MILLION

Chinese exports of corn to North Korean in November also slumped, down 82 percent from a year earlier to 100 tonnes, the lowest since January. Exports of rice plunged 64 percent to 672 tonnes, the lowest since March.

Trade between North Korea and China has slowed through the year, particularly after China banned coal purchases in February. In November, China’s trade with North Korea totalled $388 million, one of the lowest monthly volumes this year.

China has renewed its call on all countries to make constructive efforts to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula, urging the use of peaceful means to resolve issues.

But tensions flared again after North Korea on Nov. 29 said it had tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile that put the U.S. mainland within range of its nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile Chinese exports of liquefied petroleum gas to North Korea, used for cooking, rose 58 percent in November from a year earlier to 99 tonnes. Exports of ethanol, which can be turned into a biofuel, gained 82 percent to 3,428 cubic metres.

 

(Reporting by Muyu Xu and Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Meng Meng, Hallie Gu, Christian Shepherd and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Tom Hogue)