The daily business briefing: December 31, 2019

Harold Maass

1.

Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn has fled to Lebanon from Japan, where he faced charges for financial crimes. Ghosn said Tuesday from Lebanon that he left to escape "injustice and political persecution" before his trial next year on allegations that he underreported his income and shifted his own financial losses to the automaker. He has citizenship in France, Brazil, and Lebanon, where he spent part of his youth. He is popular in Beirut, where after his November 2018 arrest someone put up a billboard reading, "We are all Carlos Ghosn." He had been in and out of jail awaiting trial, and was out on $9 million bail when he left the country. His flight threw his case into uncertainty, because Lebanon does not extradite its citizens. [The New York Times, The Associated Press]

2.

China's top trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, plans to visit Washington next week to sign the "phase one" deal to ease the trade war between the U.S. and China, the South China Morning Post reported Monday, citing a source briefed on the matter. "Washington has sent an invitation and Beijing has accepted it," the source told the newspaper under condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the deal. The signing would represent a significant de-escalation in tensions between the world's two largest economies, which have exchanged a series of damaging tit-for-tat tariffs. The interim deal, announced on Dec. 13 after lengthy negotiations, led both sides to cancel another round of tariffs that had been scheduled to hit on Dec. 15. China also committed to increasing its purchases of U.S. farm goods. [South China Morning Post]

3.

Tesla shares fell by 4 percent on Monday after an analyst predicted the electric-car maker would fall short of its fourth-quarter sales target. Tesla has said it expected sales exceeding 360,000 in 2019, but it would have to sell 105,000 cars in the fourth quarter to make that target. Cowen auto analyst Jeff Osborne said in a note Monday that he believed the company would fall just under its goal. He also forecast that Tesla stock would fall next year from its current price of $420 to between $190 and $210. "We continue to see risks to the company's growth story, which we believe is likely to be challenged as competition enters the market," he wrote Monday. "Simply, we see a lot more that can go wrong than can go right." [CNN]

4.

U.S. stock index futures fluctuated between slight gains and losses early Tuesday, ahead of the last trading day of 2019. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq had their worst days since early December on Monday, with all three falling by roughly 0.6 percent as some investors sought lower risk after a strong year-end rally. Some people are taking profits and "squaring up a lot of short-term bets," said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda. The S&P still is headed for its best year since 2013. Traders remain focused on political developments, including President Trump's looming impeachment trial, and the still-unsigned "phase one" trade deal aiming to eventually end the U.S.-China trade war. [CNBC, CNN]

5.

President Trump on Monday signed a law aiming to reduce the barrage of robocalls targeting consumers with scams. The law creates new enforcement powers for authorities, and encourages industry efforts to identify the unwanted calls. It also protects consumers from charges when phone companies block the calls. "American families deserve control over their communications, and this legislation will update our laws and regulations to stiffen penalties, increase transparency, and enhance government collaboration to stop unwanted solicitation," White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said. The law won't bring a quick end to robocalls, which have exploded thanks to cheap software. [The Associated Press]

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