EU Will ‘Follow Closely’ French Deficit after Macron Measures

EU economics affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici on Tuesday said Brussels will keep close watch over France’s new spending plans, a day after President Emmanuel Macron unveiled new measures to quell violent protests.

“The European Commission will closely monitor the impact of the announcements made by President Macron on the French deficit and any financing arrangements,” Moscovici told AFP.

“We are in constant contact with the French authorities,” added Moscovici, who was attending a plenary session of European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Meeting the EU’s three percent deficit limit has been a centrepiece of Macron’s European strategy in order to win the trust of powerful Berlin and its backing for EU reforms.

Before the “yellow vests” protests, the 2019 public deficit was expected to reach 2.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), just below the threshold.

Among the potentially costly measures Macron announced on Monday was a 100 euro ($113) monthly increase in the minimum wage as of next year paid for by the government, not employers.

The 40-year-old centrist also announced he would roll back most of an unpopular increase in taxes on pensioners introduced by his government.

And he called on all businesses “that can afford it” to give employees a one-off “end of year bonus” which would be tax free.

The EU rules on public spending are “binding for everybody that is clear,” said senior German MEP Manfred Weber, when asked by reporters about France’s new expenditure.

But he added that “what we should not do as the European Union is intervene in domestic policies so when a government in Italy is presenting its budget it is an Italian budget and in France it is the same.”

Italy’s budget for 2019 was the first in history to be rejected by Brussels for breaking bloc rules on spending.

 

 

 

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Taiwan Reinforces Ban on Huawei Network Equipment

Taiwan is reinforcing its five-year-old ban on network equipment produced by Chinese companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp. amid security concerns.

Officials sought over the weekend to reassure lawmakers and the public that such measures have been effective and the threat to the communications sector is minimal.

 

Huawei has established a presence in Taiwan, with its handsets among the top sellers. The company also sponsors a Christmas extravaganza in a Taipei suburb that features a giant Santa emblazoned with Huawei’s logo.

 

While several countries have similar bans in place, the risk for Taiwan is potentially greater since China claims the island as its own territory and threatens to use military force to bring it under its control. Back-doors that some allege Huawei has built into its products could give Beijing access to military and economic secrets or even to disable crucial infrastructure in the event of a conflict.

 

Taiwan has already accused China of meddling in last month’s local elections by spreading false news online.

 

On Monday, legislators called for extending a ban on Huawei to the financial industry, where it reportedly has sought business providing digital finance services.

 

Financial Supervisory Commission Chairman Wellington Koo was quoted by local media as saying the government would have to look into the legality of such a move.

 

Huawei, based in southern China’s Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, is the world’s largest supplier of network gear. ZTE is one of its rivals.

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Disney Again Makes History with Earning Above $7B for 2018

Walt Disney Studios is again ending the year on a high note, posting more than $7 billion in global box office earnings, thanks to hits such as “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

“This is only the second time in history any studio has surpassed the $7 billion mark, after Disney’s own industry-record 2016 global gross of $7.6 billion,” the company said in a statement on Monday.

“The Studios’ estimated international box office gross through December 9 is an estimated $4.069 billion, marking our second biggest year and the third biggest in industry history,” it added.

Disney’s success comes as the studio is set to release “Mary Poppins Returns” on December 19, which is expected to top the box office during the holiday season.

​”To date, four of the top eight worldwide releases of the year are from The Walt Disney Studios, including the top two global and top three domestic releases,” the company said.

“Avengers: Infinity War,” made by Disney’s Marvel subsidiary, led the way, earning $2 billion alone. It is followed by superhero movie “Black Panther,” which earned $1.35 billion worldwide.

“Incredibles 2,” made by Pixar, another Disney subsidiary, earned $1.24 billion.

Other top box office earners for 2018 are “Ant-Man and The Wasp,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” which has held the number one spot at the North American box office for the third consecutive week.

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Chinese Court Bans iPhone Models in Patent Dispute

A Chinese court has ordered a ban in the country on most iPhone sales  because of a patent dispute between iPhone maker Apple and U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm.

The Fuzhou Intermediate People’s Court granted Qualcomm’s request for preliminary injunctions against four subsidiaries of Apple, ordering them to immediately stop selling the iPhone 6S through the iPhone X that use older versions of Apple’s iOS operating system, according to a statement from Qualcomm Monday.

Apple said in a statement Monday its iPhones using newer operating systems remain on sale in China.

The Chinese court found Apple violated two of Qualcomm’s software patents involving resizing photographs and managing applications on a touch screen.

Apple shares fell Monday on the news.

“Qualcomm’s effort to ban our products is another desperate move by a company whose illegal practices are under investigation by regulators around the world,” Apple said in its statement.

Qualcomm’s general counsel, Don Rosenberg, said in a statement Monday “Apple continues to benefit from our intellectual property while refusing to compensate us. These court orders are further confirmation of the strength of Qualcomm’s vast patent portfolio.”

China’s court decision is the latest legal action in a long-running dispute between the California tech giants.

Qualcomm has also asked regulators in the United States to ban several iPhone models over patent disputes, however U.S. officials have so far declined to do so.

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France’s Yellow Vests Attract Attention of Climate Change Conference

Environment ministers from nearly 200 countries are arriving in the Polish city of Katowice to join haggling over ways to advance the 2015 Paris accord to curb climate change. National leaders have stayed away from this year’s climate change conference largely because it is devoted to agreeing the details of the implementation of the Paris agreement.

But as ever, the devil is in the details.

Ahead of the ministerial arrivals, climate activists from around the world marched Saturday in the Polish city to vent their frustration and to urge governments to “wake up” and “make the planet green again.”

“It’s time to save our home,” they chanted near the hall hosting the two-week U.N. Climate Change Conference.

Meanwhile, 1,500 kilometers away police in Paris battled Yellow Vest protesters mounting their fourth Saturday of action against the government of French President Emmanuel Macron, a revolt triggered initially by the imposition of higher taxes on fuel.

For Western governments, even environmentally-friendly ones, climate change poses a massive political dilemma the protests in France are bringing home.

Impose the tax hikes and costly regulations scientists say are needed to lower emissions and move economies away from dependency on fossil fuels and governments risk prompting a backlash, largely from lower-income workers and pensioners who can ill-afford to bear the expense. Or move slowly and risk blow back from climate activists and their supporters among largely middle-class and higher-income groups able to adapt with less hardship.

Squaring the circle between those who demand fast-track climate-friendly measures and those who want to slow down and mitigate the impact of moving towards a low-carbon future isn’t going to be easy, as the Paris protests demonstrate, say analysts.

Poland, which is hosting this year’s conference, used the opening last Monday of the 24th U.N. climate change conference to emphasize the dilemma and to try to temper ambitions when delegates come to finalize the rule book for the Paris agreement to make the accord operational.

Among other things Polish leaders called for a “just transition” for fossil fuel industries that face cuts and closures amid efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, warning a badly managed transition to a low-carbon, renewable-energy future will cause major disruption to industry, hardship for ordinary people and could trigger social unrest not just in France, but in other industrialized nations.

Many climate activists attending the conference dismiss warnings about social and political repercussions, seeing them as merely efforts to impede progress, apply the brakes and of providing specious justification for propping up fossil-fuel industries.

British naturalist and documentary-maker David Attenborough gave voice to their frustration last week at the conference, warning time is running out to avert irreversible disaster.

“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. The world’s people have spoken, their message is clear, time is running out, they want you, the decision-makers, to act now. They’re supporting you in making tough decisions, but they’re also willing to make sacrifices in their daily lives,” he said.

Climate activists remain furious that attempts to incorporate a key scientific study into the talks failed last week. U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, published in October, said the world is completely off track from curbing global warming and is heading towards a catastrophic three-centigrade jump in temperatures this century.

Four oil-producing countries, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia, opposed the inclusion of the IPCC report into the conference’s key negotiating text. The report is likely to resurface in the final week of bargaining.

The issue of a “just transition” is fast developing into one of the core climate-related issues governments are debating, and it is prompting the attention of investor organizations as well as organized labor.

“As the world begins its much-needed transition from high-carbon to low-carbon economies, investors will have to look beyond physical environmental issues and consider the social aspects of workers and their communities who will be impacted by the move away from carbon-intensive industries,” says Fiona Reynolds, chief executive of the Principles for Responsible Investment, an international network of major institutional investors.

 

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Musk Suggests Tesla’s New Chairwoman Won’t Rein Him In

Tesla CEO Elon Musk dismissed the idea that the company’s new chairwoman can exert control over his behavior.

Robyn Denholm, an Australian telecommunications executive, was appointed chairwoman of Tesla’s board last month, replacing Musk as part of a securities fraud settlement with U.S. government regulators.

But Musk said “it’s not realistic” to expect Denholm to watch over his actions because he remains the electric car company’s largest shareholder.

“It’s not realistic in the sense that I am the largest shareholder in the company,” Musk said in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” broadcast Sunday evening, adding that a large percentage of shareholders support him and all he needs is about one-third of them.

“I can just call for a shareholder vote and get anything done that I want,” he said.

Musk, who owns about 20 percent of Tesla, gave up the chairman role under a settlement with the Securities Exchange Commission, which had charged the CEO with misleading investors in August with a tweet that said he had “funding secured” for taking the company private.

 The SEC settlement also required the company to vet Musk’s tweets and other comments about the company before they are released to the public. Musk also shrugged off that provision, saying none of his tweets have been censored so far and the company does not review his posts to determine beforehand whether they could potentially affect the company’s stock price.

“I guess we might make some mistakes. Who knows?” Musk said.

Musk said he does not respect the SEC, but when asked if he would obey the settlement, he said: “Because I respect the justice system.”

After the interview was aired, Tesla said in a statement that the company is complying with the SEC settlement. The part that requires pre-approval of communications that could affect the stock price technically must be in place by December 28, the company said.

Denholm’s appointment in November drew a mixed response from corporate governance experts, who praised her financial expertise but questioned her ability to carve out an independent path for a board that has been dominated by Musk.

Denholm has been on Tesla’s board for five years. She is the chief financial officer and strategy head at Telstra Corp. Ltd., Australia’s largest telecommunications company, but will step down from that company after a six-month notice period and work at Tesla full-time.

Musk told “60 Minutes” interviewer Lesley Stahl that he had hand-picked Denholm.

The SEC settlement would allow Musk to return as chairman after three years, subject to shareholder approval. Musk said he would not be interested.

“I actually prefer to have no titles at all,” Musk said.

Amid its CEO’s erratic behavior, Tesla delivered on promises to accelerate production of its pivotal Model 3 sedan, progress seen as essential to the company’s ability to repay $1.3 billion in debt due within the next six months.

The company also fulfilled a pledge to make money during the third quarter, and Musk has said he expects the company to remain profitable. He said Tesla would consider buying any plant that rival GM closes as part of a restructuring plan that could cost up to 14,000 jobs.

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GM Fights US Government to Retain Tax Credit for Electric Cars

General Motors is fighting to retain a valuable tax credit for electric vehicles as the nation’s largest automaker contends with the political fallout triggered by its plans to shutter several U.S. factories and shed thousands of workers.

Preserving the $7,500 tax incentive for buyers is crucial for GM as the company pivots from internal combustion engines in favor of building cars powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. Yet the layoffs and plant closings could imperil GM’s push to keep the incentive. It helps make plug-ins such as the $36,000 Chevy Bolt more affordable at a time when competition from other electric vehicle makers is heating up.

GM faces opposition from President Donald Trump and other Republicans who consider the credit a waste of taxpayer money and want it eliminated. Trump, who has pledged a manufacturing rebirth in the Midwest, reacted angrily to GM’s “transformation “ announcement late last month, declaring that his administration was “looking at cutting all GM subsidies, including for electric cars.”

The company already is on the verge of being phased out of the tax credit program unless Congress changes a law that caps the break at 200,000 vehicles per manufacturer. Without the incentive, GM may be forced to cut the price of its electric cars to keep prospective customers from taking their business elsewhere, according to automotive industry experts.

As evidence of the credit’s importance to GM’s future, the automaker has expanded its lobbying footprint in Washington and even joined forces with two rivals, Tesla and Nissan, to call for 200,000-vehicle limit to be scrapped.

Standing in the way of that goal is Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Barrasso introduced legislation in October to abolish the tax credit, a move he said would save about $20 billion over the next 10 years. He has argued the market for electric vehicles is already established and “no longer needs the crutch of government assistance.”

“The idea of the subsidies had to do with trying to make sure that electric vehicles would be a viable technology,” Barrasso said. “Well, that’s clearly there.”

The tax credit came up briefly during a private meeting on Wednesday between Ohio’s senators, Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, and GM chief executive Mary Barra, according to a congressional aide familiar with the conversation. As part of the restructuring, GM said it will stop making the Chevy Cruze at its Lordstown, Ohio, plant by March and is considering closing the plant for good.

Portman told Barra that it’s difficult to help with priorities such as the electric vehicle credit when GM is moving production out of Ohio, according to the aide, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the private conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

One of the lobbyists working to salvage the credit for GM is Kent Hance, a former chancellor of Texas Tech University who is well connected in GOP circles, according to his online profile. Hance lists his role as a fundraiser for the campaigns of outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and others. He has known Rick Perry, the energy secretary and former Texas governor, for nearly 30 years.

GM in early August named a former Trump White House official, Everett Eissenstat, its senior vice president for global public policy, a post that oversees the company’s lobbying operations. Eissenstat, however, is not registered as a lobbyist, according to disclosure records filed with Congress. Before coming to GM, he was Trump’s deputy assistant for international economic affairs.

Under federal law, the $7,500 credit for buyers begins to phase out after a manufacturer has sold 200,000 qualifying electric vehicles. GM has estimated it will hit that threshold by the end of December, just as the Bolt will be facing new and potentially stiff competition.

Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst at Navigant Research, said Hyundai and Kia each will be selling compact SUVs in the U.S. beginning early next year that can travel 240 miles on a single battery charge, about the same as the Bolt. Ford will be launching a number of new plug-in hybrid models in 2019, including the Lincoln Aviator, Explorer and Escape.

“With the intensifying market shift away from cars to utility vehicles all of these are expected to be more popular than the Bolt,” Abuelsamid said. To remain competitive against the new entries, “GM will likely have to cut the (retail price) of the Bolt as well as any additional EVs they launch next year by the corresponding reduction in the tax credits,” he said.

Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, said the credit is “hugely important” to electric vehicle manufacturers. Lowering the up-front cost of the vehicle typically plays a significant role in sales, he said, citing surveys that show more consumers would buy electric vehicles if the cars were affordably priced.

GM joined forces with Tesla and Nissan as well as several consumer and environmental groups to broaden its lobbying push even further. The EV Drive Coalition, which was launched in November, urged lawmakers in an open letter last week to put a provision in the must-pass government spending bill that does away with the 200,000-car limit.

“Eliminating the per-manufacturer cap will level the playing field for all EV manufacturers and spur innovation among domestic manufacturers, ensuring America’s leadership in the hyper-competitive, global auto market,” the coalition said.

Tesla hit its 200,000 mark in July and Nissan has sold nearly 128,000 electric vehicles, according to data compiled by the car shopping site Edmunds.com. Other automakers are a long way from the ceiling: Hyundai, for example, has sold 15,550 plug-in vehicles, the numbers show, while Toyota is around 94,000 in electric vehicle sales.

Jeannine Ginivan, a GM spokeswoman, said the tax credit should be modified but declined to say whether the automaker backs a specific piece of legislation that would remove the cap.

“We believe an important part of reaching a zero emissions future and establishing the U.S. as the leader in electrification is to continue to provide a federal tax credit to help make electric vehicles more affordable for all customers,” Ginivan said in an email.

In addition to GM’s in-house lobbyists, four lobbyists from Hance Scarborough, the Austin, Texas-based firm that Hance founded in 1994, are working on GM’s behalf, including Hance, according to disclosure records.

GM also contracted with two other lobbying firms earlier this year to focus on electric and automated vehicle issues: the Polaris-Hutton Group and the DS2 Group. A fourth firm, the S-3 Group, was hired by GM in 2014 and earlier this year added the tax credit to its portfolio of lobbying issues.

 

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