Trump Thanks Saudis for Tamping Down World Oil Prices

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday thanked Saudi Arabia for tamping down world oil prices, a day after saying the U.S. would not turn its back on Riyadh despite its responsibility for killing a dissident U.S.-based Saudi journalist.

From his retreat along the Atlantic Ocean in Florida, Trump praised the Saudis, second only to the U.S. as an oil producer but the biggest global exporter, for sending enough crude to world markets to keep oil prices in check.

Before leaving Washington for the Thanksgiving holiday, Trump told reporters at the White House that U.S. national security and economic interests outweigh any human rights concerns. He said turning his back on Saudi Arabia, despite the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, “would be a terrible mistake.”

“We’re staying with Saudi Arabia,” Trump announced. He noted the kingdom’s opposition to Iran and its purchases of American military equipment that mean, according to the president, “hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment.”

Russia and China “are not going to get that gift,” Trump said before adding that oil prices would soar if the U.S.-Saudi relationship is broken up.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an interview with a Kansas City radio station, defended Trump’s stance favoring Saudi Arabia, while noting that the U.S. had sanctioned 17 Saudis believed involved in the Khashoggi killing.

“We are going to make sure that America always stands for human rights,” Pompeo said.

But the top U.S. diplomat said the protection of Americans was of paramount concern to Trump.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been an important national security partner to the United States, pushing back against the murderous regime in Iran that actually presents real risk to the American people, and we are determined to make sure that the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia stays strong so that we can protect America,” Pompeo said.

‘Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t’

Asked at the White House about the CIA’s reported conclusion that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likely knew about or ordered the plot to kill Khashoggi inside Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul, Trump replied: “Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.” Of the CIA’s finding, he declared: “They have nothing definitive.”

The president denied his decision to avoid harshly punishing the Saudis for the October 2 killing has anything to do with his personal business interests.

“I don’t make deals with Saudi Arabia. I don’t make money from Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “Being president has cost me a fortune.”  

Trump said earlier he understands that some lawmakers in Congress want to pursue sanctions against Riyadh for the killing “for political or other reasons” and said, “They are free to do so.”

“I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America,” Trump said.

But the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Robert Menendez, sent a letter to Trump Tuesday reminding him U.S. law requires him to examine whether the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s death.

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act requires the president to determine if a foreign official is responsible for a human rights violation.

The act is named for Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky who was apparently beaten to death in prison in 2009 after accusing Russian officials of tax fraud.

 

“I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” Senator Corker tweeted Tuesday. He added that  Congress will consider “all the tools at our disposal” to determine the role of the crown prince in the Khashoggi killing. 

Khashoggi lived in the United States, writing opinion articles for The Washington Post that were critical of the crown prince and Riyadh’s military involvement in Yemen.

His editor at the Post, Karen Attiah, described Trump’s statement as “full of lies and a blatant disregard for his own intelligence agencies. It also shows an unforgivable disregard for the lives of Saudis who dare criticize the regime. This is a new low.”

 

U.S Intelligence Community

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Veterans of the U.S. Intelligence Community are also expressing their disdain with the president’s stance.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, who has repeatedly clashed with Trump, said on Twitter that Trump “excels in dishonesty” so now it is up to Congress to obtain and declassify the CIA findings on Khashoggi’s death.

“No one in Saudi Arabia — most especially the Crown Prince — should escape accountability for such a heinous act,” Brennan wrote.

Former CIA officer Ned Price wondered Tuesday “how appointed intelligence leaders could continue to serve after this betrayal is beyond me.”

A Saudi prosecutor cleared the crown prince of wrongdoing last week while calling for the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects indicted in the killing.  The prosecutor said a total of 21 people have been detained.

Turkish officials concluded that Khashoggi was tortured and killed and his body dismembered. His remains have not been found.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday Turkey might formally seek a United Nations investigation of the killing if cooperation with Riyadh reaches an impasse.

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US: China has Failed to Alter ‘Unfair, Unreasonable’ Trade Practices

The Trump administration on Tuesday said that China has failed to alter its “unfair” practices at the heart of the U.S.-China trade conflict, adding to tensions ahead of a high-stakes meeting later this month between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The findings were issued in an update of the U.S. Trade Representative’s “Section 301” investigation into China’s intellectual property and technology transfer policies, which sparked U.S. tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods that later ballooned to $250 billion.

“We completed this update as part of this Administration’s strengthened monitoring and enforcement effort,” USTR Robert Lighthizer said in a statement. “This update shows that China has not fundamentally altered its unfair, unreasonable, and market-distorting practices that were the subject of the March 2018 report on our Section 301 investigation.”

In the update, USTR said it had found that China had not responded “constructively” to the initial section 301 reports and failed to take any substantive actions to address U.S. concerns. It added that China had made clear it would not change its policies in response to the initial investigation.

USTR said that China was continuing its policy and practice of conducting and supporting cyber-enabled theft of U.S. intellectual property and was continuing discriminatory technology licensing restrictions.

The update said that despite the relaxation of some foreign ownership restrictions, “the Chinese government has persisted in using foreign investment restrictions to require or pressure the transfer of technology from U.S. companies to Chinese entities.”

The report comes as the Trump administration and top Chinese officials are discussing possible ways out of their trade war and negotiating details of the Trump-Xi meeting on the sidelines of the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires at the end of November.

But acrimonious trade rhetoric between the governments of the world’s two largest economies has been increasing in recent days, spilling over into an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit last weekend. A top Chinese diplomat said on Tuesday that the failure of APEC officials to agree on a communique from the summit was a result of certain countries “excusing” protectionism, a veiled criticism of Washington’s tariffs.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday that the United States would not back down from the trade dispute, and might even double tariffs, unless Beijing bowed to U.S. demands.

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Retail Disappointments, Energy Decline Hit Wall Street

Stocks dropped again Tuesday as losses mounted for the world’s largest technology companies. Retailers also fell, and energy companies plunged with oil prices as the market sank back into the red for the year. 

 

Oil prices tumbled another 6.6 percent as Wall Street reacted to rising oil supplies and concerns that global economic growth will slow down, a worry that’s intensified because of the trade tensions between the U.S. and China. 

 

Technology companies were hit after the Trump administration proposed new national security regulations that could limit exports of high-tech products in fields such as quantum computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

 

Retailers also skidded. Target’s profit disappointed investors as it spends more money to revamp its stores and its website, while Ross Stores, TJX and Kohl’s also fell on disappointing forecasts. 

 

The S&P 500 index lost 48.84 points, or 1.8 percent, to 2,641.89. The Dow Jones industrial average sank 551.80 points, or 2.2 percent, to 24,465.64. 

 

The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite lost 119.65 points, or 1.7 percent, to 6,908.82. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks shed 27.53 points, or 1.8 percent, to 1,469.01. 

 

The Dow industrials have lost 3.7 percent in the last two days, and the S&P 500 is off 3.4 percent. The Nasdaq is off 4.7 percent. The S&P 500 index has fallen 9.9 percent from the record high it set exactly two months ago. 

 

Investors are measuring several headwinds and increasingly playing it safe. The global economy is showing signs of weakening, with the United States, China and Europe all facing the rising threat of a slowdown, which can hurt demand for commodities such as oil and threaten company profits. Trade tensions between the U.S. and China appear to be getting worse instead of improving, contributing to the sell-off in tech stocks and multinational industrial companies. 

 

For much of this year, investors were hopeful the U.S. and China would easily resolve their differences on trade. That hope has faded in the last two months. While U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to meet this month at a gathering of the Group of 20 major economies, the proposed limits on tech exports were one more reason to worry. 

 

“A resolution doesn’t seem to be coming in the short term,” said Katie Nixon, the chief investment officer for Northern Trust Wealth Management. “A lot of the companies that are front and center [like] Alphabet, Apple, IBM … could be significantly limited in the way they export their technology.” 

 

Apple fell 4.8 percent to $176.98 and is down 23.7 percent from the peak it reached Oct. 3, though it’s still up almost 5 percent this year. Microsoft lost 2.8 percent to $101.71 and IBM fell 2.6 percent to $117.20. 

 

As the tech giants swoon, investors have lately turned to safer bets such as utilities, real estate companies and makers of household goods. They’ve also sought the safety of U.S. Treasuries. 

 

The price of oil has been falling sharply in recent weeks and is now down 30 percent since Oct. 3. 

 

Saudi Arabia and other countries started producing more oil after the Trump administration announced renewed sanctions on Iran, Nixon noted. The administration granted waivers to several countries that allowed them to continue importing oil from Iran, creating a supply glut that pushed prices dramatically lower. 

 

Nixon said OPEC countries will probably cut back on oil production, but some investors are worried that the buildup in crude stockpiles is a sign the global economy isn’t doing as well as expected. 

 

Earnings from retailers didn’t help investors’ mood. Target plunged 10.5 percent to $69.03 after reporting earnings that missed Wall Street’s estimates because of higher expenses. Ross Stores, TJX and Kohl’s also fell on disappointing forecasts. 

 

Tech stocks were among the biggest losers in Europe, too. Nokia and Ericsson, two top suppliers of telecom networks, each fell about 3 percent. European indexes fell, with Germany’s DAX index dropping 1.6 percent and the French CAC 30 falling 1.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 0.8 percent. 

 

Stocks also declined in Asia. Japan’s Nikkei 225 lost 1.1 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 2 percent. 

 

Benchmark U.S. crude lost 6.6 percent to $53.43 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 6.4 percent to $62.53 per barrel in London. Oil prices have nosedived since early October. 

 

Wholesale gasoline fell 5.5 percent to $1.50 a gallon and heating oil skidded 4.6 percent to $1.99 a gallon. Natural gas dipped 3.8 percent to $4.52 per 1,000 cubic feet. 

 

Bond prices were steady. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note remained at 3.06 percent. 

 

Gold slipped 0.3 percent to $1,221.20 an ounce. Silver fell 0.9 percent to $14.27 an ounce. Copper slid 1.2 percent to $2.77 a pound. 

 

The dollar fell to 112.40 yen from 112.54 yen. The euro fell to $1.1399 from $1.1453. 

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Boeing Cancels Call to Discuss Issues With Its Newest Plane 

Analysts say Boeing Co. is canceling a conference call that it scheduled to discuss issues around its newest plane, which has come under scrutiny since a deadly crash in Indonesia. 

The company didn’t immediately give an explanation Tuesday. 

CFRA Research analyst Jim Corridore said canceling the call as “a bad look for the company” when it’s facing questions about potential problems with sensors on the 737 MAX. 

U.S. airline pilots say they weren’t told about a new feature that could pitch the nose down automatically if sensors indicate the plane is about to stall. 

On Oct. 29, a Lion Air MAX 8 plunged into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board. 

Boeing shares are down about 13 percent since Nov. 9. 

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Nissan Says Chairman Arrested for Financial Misconduct in Japan

Shares in automakers Nissan, Mitsubishi and Renault fell sharply Tuesday after the arrest of executive Carlos Ghosn on allegations of “significant acts” of financial misconduct.

All three firms are considering replacing him as chairman.

Nissan, one of the world’s biggest automakers, said Ghosn falsified reports about his compensation “over many years” and that its internal investigation also found he had used company assets for personal purposes.

Japanese media reported Monday that Ghosn is being questioned by Tokyo prosecutors, suspected of failing to report millions of dollars in income. 

Nissan said that based on a report by a whistleblower, it conducted an internal investigation of Ghosn and Representative Director Greg Kelly and shared its findings with public prosecutors. The company said both men had been arrested.

The automaker said its investigation showed that Ghosn had underreported his income to the Tokyo Stock Exchange by more than $40 million over five years.

The Ashai newspaper reported that prosecutors have raided Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama. 

The Brazilian-born Ghosn, who is of Lebanese descent and a French citizen, was the rare foreign top executive in Japan.

Ghosn was sent to Nissan in the late 1990s by Renault SA of France, after it bought a controlling stake of Nissan. He is credited with rescuing Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy.

In 2016, Ghosn also took control of Mitsubishi, after Nissan bought a one-third stake in the company, following Mitsubishi’s mileage-cheating scandal. 

Together, the three automakers comprise the biggest global carmaking alliance, manufacturing one of every nine cars sold around the world. The three companies employ more than 470,000 people in nearly 200 countries.

Before Ghosn’s arrest, Satoru Takada, an analyst at TIW, a Tokyo-based research and consulting firm, said his detention would “rock the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance as he is the keystone of the alliance.”

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Apple, Trade Woes Sink Stocks; Growth Worries Drag on Dollar

World stock markets fell Monday as worries about softening demand for the iPhone dragged down shares of Apple Inc and persistent trade tensions between China and the United States sapped investor sentiment.

Concerns about slowing economic growth also pushed down the dollar.

The U.S. benchmark S&P 500 stock index dropped 1.7 percent following a decline in shares of Apple and its suppliers. The Wall Street Journal reported Apple had cut production orders in recent weeks for iPhone models it launched in September.

Renewed tensions between China and the United States also weighed. At an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative meeting in Papua New Guinea over the weekend, the issue prevented leaders from agreeing on a communique, the first time such an impasse had occurred in the group’s history.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in a blunt speech Saturday that there would be no end to U.S. tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods until China changed its ways.

“That APEC was unable to issue a final statement clearly indicates that China versus the rest of the world isn’t just about the United States,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Massachusetts. “It’s a widening of trade concerns that are already rattling markets.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 395.78 points, or 1.56 percent, to 25,017.44, the S&P 500 lost 45.54 points, or 1.66 percent, to 2,690.73 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 219.40 points, or 3.03 percent, to 7,028.48.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.30 percent.

Mixed signals regarding the Federal Reserve’s course of rate hikes in the face of a potential economic slowdown also weighed on markets, investors said.

Federal Reserve policymakers have recently raised concern about a potential global slowdown, leading some market watchers to suspect the tightening cycle may not have much further to run.

Data released Monday by the National Association of Home Builders showed weakening sentiment in the U.S. housing market, adding to concerns over economic growth.

Still, New York Fed President John Williams stated that the U.S. central bank is moving ahead with its plans for gradual rate hikes as it marches toward a more normal policy stance.

“There’s a widening gap between the Fed and what the markets think is the right course,” McMillan said.

Reflecting economic growth concerns, the dollar dropped to a two-week low Monday. The dollar index fell 0.3 percent.

In similar fashion, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield hit its lowest level in more than a month. Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 3/32 in price to yield 3.0628 percent, from 3.074 percent late Friday.

Boosted by the drop in the dollar, gold added 0.2 percent to $1,223.56 an ounce.

Oil prices edged up, finding support from a reported drawdown of U.S. inventories, potential European Union sanctions on Iran and possible OPEC production cuts.

Brent crude futures settled at $66.79 a barrel, up 3 cents. U.S. crude futures settled at $56.76 a barrel, up 30 cents.

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UN: Afghan Opium Cultivation Down 20 Percent

A new United Nations survey finds that opium cultivation in Afghanistan has decreased by 20 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year, citing a severe drought and falling prices of dry opium at the national level.

The total opium-poppy cultivation area decreased to 263,000 hectares, from 328,000 hectares estimated in 2017, but it was

still the second highest measurement for Afghanistan since the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) began monitoring in 1994.

The potential opium production decreased by 29 percent to 6,400 tons from an estimated 9,000 tons in 2017.

The UNODC country representative, Mark Colhoun, while explaining factors behind the reduction told reporters in Kabul the farm-gate prices of dry opium at the harvest time fell to $94 per kilogram, the lowest since 2004.

The decreases, in particular in the northern and western Afghan regions, were mainly attributed to the severe drought that hit the country during the course of the last year, he added.

“Despite these decreases, the overall area under opium-poppy cultivation is still the highest ever recorded. This is a clear challenge to security and safety for the region and beyond. It is also a threat to all countries to and through which these drugs are trafficked as well as to Afghanistan itself,” said Colhoun.

He warned that more high-quality low-cost heroin will reach consumer markets across the world, with increased consumption and related harms as a further likely consequence.

“The significant levels of opium-poppy cultivation and illicit trafficking of opiates will further fuel instability, insurgency and increase funding to terrorist groups in Afghanistan,” he said.

Colhoun noted that while there is no single explanation for the continuing high levels of opium-poppy cultivation, rule of law-related challenges such as political instability, lack of government control and security as well as corruption have been found to be among the main drivers of illicit cultivation.

The UNODC survey estimated that the total farm-gate value of opium production decreased by 56 percent to $604 million, which is equivalent to three percent of Afghanistan’s GDP, from $1.4 billion in 2017. The lowest prices strongly undermined the income earned from opium cultivation by farmers.

The study finds that 24 out of the 34 Afghan provinces grew the opium-poppy in 2018, the same number as in the previous year.

The survey found that 69 percent of the opium poppy cultivation took place in southern Afghanistan and the largest province of Helmand remained the leading opium-poppy cultivating region followed by neighboring Kandahar and Uruzgan and Nangarhar in the east.

It noted that opium poppy weeding and harvesting provided for the equivalent of up to 354,000 full-time jobs to rural areas in 2017.

A U.S. government agency, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), has noted in its latest report that as of September 30, Washington’s counternarcotics-related appropriations for the country had reached almost $9 billion.

“Despite the importance of the threat narcotics pose to reconstruction and despite massive expenditures for programs including poppy-crop eradication, drug seizures and interdictions, alternative-livelihood support, aviation support, and incentives for provincial governments, the drug trade remains entrenched in Afghanistan, and is growing,” said Sigar, which monitors U.S. civilian and military spendings in the country.

 

 

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Nissan Chairman Faces Arrest In Japan

Japanese automaker Nissan says it has determined that its chairman, Carlos Ghosn, falsified reports about his compensation “over many years.” The company said its internal investigation also found Ghosn had used company assets for personal purposes.

Japanese media are reporting Monday that Ghosn is being questioned by Tokyo prosecutors on allegations that he underreported his income and that he will likely be arrested.

Ghosn is suspected of failing to report hundreds of millions of dollars in income.

Nissan says Ghosn will be dismissed from the company.

The Ashai newspaper reported that prosecutors have raided Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama.

The Brazilian-born Ghosn, who is of Lebanese descent and a French citizen, was the rare foreign top executive in Japan.

Ghosn was sent to Nissan in the late 1990s by Renault SA of France, after it bought a controlling stake of Nissan. He is credited with rescuing Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy.

In 2016, Ghosn also took control of Mitsubishi, after Nissan bought a one-third stake in the company, following Mitsubishi’s mileage-cheating scandal.

“If he is arrested, it’s going to rock the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance as he is the keystone of the alliance,” said Satoru Takada, an analyst at TIW, a Tokyo-based research and consulting firm.

Shares in Renault fell more than 12 percent in late morning trading in Paris after the news about Ghosn came out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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