The daily business briefing: May 18, 2018

Harold Maass
China offers concessions as U.S. trade talks start.
VCG/VCG via Getty Images
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China offers concessions as U.S. trade talks start

Chinese negotiators reportedly are preparing to promise to buy more American goods as part of an offer to trim the U.S. trade deficit with China and ease tensions with the Trump administration. The package could include nearly $200 billion in trade concessions the U.S. requested from China earlier this month. China denied on Friday that it was offering to cut the U.S. trade deficit by nearly $200 billion, although hours earlier it dropped an anti-dumping investigation involving U.S. sorghum imports in what was widely perceived as a conciliatory gesture as trade officials meet in Washington. The sorghum investigation had effectively halted trade worth about $1.1 billion last year. [The New York Times, Reuters]


Manafort's former son-in-law and business partner enters guilty plea

Jeffrey Yohai, a former business partner and the former son-in-law of one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, has reached a plea deal with the Justice Department requiring him to cooperate with federal investigations, Reuters reported Thursday, citing two people with knowledge of the case. Yohai reportedly entered a guilty plea earlier this year on criminal fraud charges regarding real estate loans. Manafort, who faces indictments by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges including bank fraud and tax evasion, invested with Yohai in New York and California real estate deals. The two people familiar with Yohai's case said it was likely he would be called on to help in Mueller's prosecution of Manafort. [Reuters, Politico]


Fertility rate falls, creating drag on economy

The U.S. fertility rate fell to a record low in 2017, the National Center for Health Statistics reported Thursday. The 3 percent drop from 2016 to 2017 was the biggest since the Great Recession. Birth rates declined sharply after the financial crisis began in 2008, and have not recovered along with the economy. Last year there were just 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. Researchers think more women of childbearing age are postponing pregnancy to focus on career advancement and financial stability. Declining birth rates have reduced the number of Americans looking for work, and that creates a drag on economic growth, said Kathy Bostjancic, an economist at consulting firm Oxford Economics. "Demographics have a really powerful impact on the economy," Bostjancic said. [The New York Times, The Associated Press]


Musk says riders will pay $1 for trips under LA

Elon Musk on Thursday unveiled details for his Loop "personalized mass transit" system that will carry people in pods traveling at 150 miles per hour through a network of tunnels under Los Angeles. He said the project by one of his ventures, The Boring Company, would take people from downtown Los Angeles to Los Angeles International Airport through a vacuum tube in eight minutes, for $1. Musk's company has been digging, or "boring," its first tunnel under Los Angeles after Musk tweeted complaints about LA's traffic many times. "It's the only way we can think of to address the chronic traffic issues in major cities," Musk said at the event. [CNET]


Global stocks mixed, U.S. futures up as U.S.-China start trade talks

Global stock markets were mixed on Friday but U.S. stock futures edged higher as investors await news from the latest round of trade talks between U.S. and Chinese officials, and keep an eye on high bond yields. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 rose by about 0.2 percent. On Thursday, the Dow and the Nasdaq Composite fell by 0.2 percent, and the S&P 500 dropped by less than 0.1 percent. "A lack of data lies ahead of this Friday, leaving the U.S.-China trade developments the key item to occupy the market's attention into the end of the week," said Jingyi Pan, a market strategist at IG in Singapore. "This all leaves risk assets with little guide of a direction." [The Associated Press, MarketWatch]