The daily business briefing: November 15, 2019

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Harold Maass
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1.

China calls lifting new tariffs an 'important condition' for trade deal

China's Commerce Ministry on Thursday called for the U.S. to ease punitive tariffs as an "important condition" for a tentative deal toward ending the two countries' trade war. Beijing said last week that negotiators had agreed to roll back tariffs the Trump administration imposed in September on $112 billion worth of Chinese imports under any "phase one" trade deal, but President Trump said a day later that there was no such agreement yet. Trump did postpone a planned tariff hike on $250 billion of Chinese goods after the two sides announced plans for the "phase one" deal, the details of which are still being hammered out. Many economists doubt the two sides will be able to reach a final deal this year. [The Associated Press]

2.

Amazon contests Pentagon award of cloud computing contract to Microsoft

Amazon said Thursday it is contesting the Pentagon's decision to award Microsoft a cloud computing contract worth up to $10 billion. President Trump has frequently criticized Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos. Trump also bashes The Washington Post and notes that Bezos owns it. Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy said it would be hard for a federal agency to be fair in its contracting process when the president is attacking one of the companies competing for the deal. "Numerous aspects of the (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud) JEDI evaluation process contained clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias," Jassy said. "It is important that these matters be examined and rectified." The challenge was widely expected. [Reuters]

3.

Alibaba prices new share offering

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba on Thursday priced its upcoming secondary share listing in Hong Kong at a price that will raise $13.8 billion. Alibaba plans to issue 500 million ordinary shares and 75 million "greenshoe" options that will let underwriting banks sell more shares than originally planned. Alibaba will reserve 12.5 million of the 500 million ordinary shares for retail investors, with an option to increase that number to 50 million. The retail shares will be priced no higher than $24.01, but the institutional shares could be priced higher. The company's Hong Kong shares are due to start trading Nov. 26. [CNBC]

4.

Barr urges FCC to make rural wireless carriers replace Huawei, ZTE equipment

Attorney General William Barr on Thursday called for the Federal Communications Commission to bar rural wireless carriers that receive money from an $8.5 billion government fund from purchasing equipment or services from Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp. Barr said in a letter to the FCC released Thursday that the Chinese tech giants "cannot be trusted." Barr said Huawei and ZTE posed a security threat by skirting the U.S. embargo on Iran. The U.S. also has warned Huawei gear could be used to spy for Beijing. The FCC is scheduled to vote on Nov. 22 on a proposal requiring carriers in the program to replace equipment from the two companies. Huawei and ZTE did not immediately release comments on Barr's letter. [Reuters]

5.

Stock futures rise on fresh U.S. optimism on trade

U.S. stock index futures rose early Friday after U.S. officials expressed optimism about trade negotiations with China. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq were up by 0.3 percent or more. The gains came after Wall Street closed essentially flat on Thursday despite ongoing concerns about lingering obstacles to a trade deal. Larry Kudlow, the White House economic adviser, said Thursday that negotiators for the world's two biggest economies were getting close to a deal on a first phase of an agreement to end the U.S.-China trade war, despite reports talks were stuck on key issues including purchases of agricultural products and intellectual property rights. [CNBC]