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The daily business briefing: August 24, 2018

Harold Maass
STR/AFP/Getty Images
The daily business briefing newsletter
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1.

U.S.-China trade talks end without progress

Trade talks between the U.S. and China ended Thursday with no sign of progress, raising concerns that the trade war between the world's two largest economies is poised to escalate. The White House said the two sides had "exchanged views on how to achieve fairness, balance, and reciprocity in the economic relationship," and China called the discussions "constructive, candid." No further talks are scheduled, however. The meeting ended hours after 25 percent tariffs on another $16 billion worth of Chinese goods took effect, and China retaliated with new tariffs on the same amount of U.S. goods. "Now, it seems quite likely that the U.S. will impose tariffs on the $200 billion in imports from China, which will trigger a bigger round of shooting," said Zhou Xiaoming, a former commerce ministry official and diplomat. [Bloomberg]

2.

Google removes YouTube channels linked to Iran

Google said Thursday it had identified and removed 39 YouTube channels linked to state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Google also terminated six blogs on Blogger and 13 Google+ accounts. "Our investigations on these topics are ongoing and we will continue to share our findings with law enforcement and other relevant government entities in the U.S. and elsewhere," Google said in a blog post. The news came two days after Facebook, Twitter, and Google parent Alphabet removed hundreds of accounts believed to be part of alleged Iranian propaganda efforts. The cyber-security firm FireEye Inc., which Google has hired, said it had spotted and blocked plots by "state-sponsored actors" recently, and that it suspects an "influence operation," apparently launched in Iran, is targeting audiences in the U.S., the U.K., Latin America, and the Middle East. [Reuters]

3.

Kroger announces plan to phase out plastic bags by 2025

Kroger, the largest U.S. supermarket chain, announced Thursday that it would stop offering plastic bags in its 2,779 stores by 2025. Kroger uses about six billion plastic bags per year across its two dozen grocery chains in 35 states and the District of Columbia. The company said many of the nearly nine million customers it serves daily have asked for a plastic-bag ban. The company already has started phasing out plastic bags at its QFC stores in the Seattle area, and expects to be free of all plastic bags there by 2019. It is the latest major corporation to announce plans to phase out single-use plastics for environmental reasons. Starbucks, McDonald's, and Disney recently said they would get rid of plastic straws. Ikea plans to stop selling single-use plastics by 2020. [The Associated Press]

4.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell to speak after Trump criticism

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks at the central bank's annual Jackson Hole retreat on Friday, as markets brace for hints on where Fed monetary policy is headed. Powell's remarks come days after President Trump renewed his criticism of Powell for raising interest rates, which the Fed has done twice this year. Trump says the moves are holding back the economy and weakening his hand in trade talks. The president's critics say that by breaking with tradition and directly attacking the Fed, Trump is threatening the central bank's independence, which is considered critical for economic stability. Fed leaders are "taking the tack that at the moment, 'our policy has to stay pristine and independent from political interference,' but the other thing is, what if he's right?" said MUFG chief financial economist Chris Rupkey. "What if rates are having a harmful effect on the prospects for growth here?" [CNBC]

5.

Stocks edge up, shrugging off China tensions and awaiting Fed hints

U.S. stock-index futures inched up early Friday in light trading as investors awaited Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell's comments at Jackson Hole and digested the latest news on U.S.-China trade tensions. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq Composite were all up by 0.2 percent. The S&P and Nasdaq have posted gains this week. The Dow headed into Friday down by 0.1 percent on the week, so any improvement could help it end the week with a modest gain. The market's strength came despite a tense week in which a fresh batch of tit-for-tat sanctions between the U.S. and China took effect, and, in a single day, President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen said he violated campaign-finance law at Trump's direction and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty on bank and tax fraud charges. [MarketWatch]