The daily business briefing: January 14, 2020

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Harold Maass
The yuan
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
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1.

U.S. removes China from list of currency manipulators

The Trump administration on Monday lifted China's designation as a currency manipulator. The move was considered a significant concession to Beijing as President Trump prepares for the Wednesday signing of a "phase one" trade deal aiming to dial back his trade war with China. The Trump administration labeled China as a currency manipulator in August. Trump has long accused Beijing of weakening its currency to boost exports by making Chinese goods cheaper overseas. But the Treasury Department's newly released currency report said China had made progress addressing the issue. "China has made enforceable commitments to refrain from competitive devaluation, while promoting transparency and accountability," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. [The New York Times]

2.

Calendar-year deficit hit $1 trillion for first time since 2012

The federal deficit reached $1.02 trillion in the 2019 calendar year, marking the first time it topped the trillion-dollar level since 2012, Treasury Department data released Monday showed. The figure amounted to a 17.1 percent increase compared to the 2018 deficit, which was 28.2 percent higher than the shortfall in 2017. President Trump campaigned vowing that his tax cuts, deregulation, and other economy-stimulating policies would increase tax receipts and eliminate deficits. Higher corporate tax revenue did help to reduce the rate of the deficit's growth in 2019. [CNBC]

3.

Russian hackers hit Burisma, Ukrainian firm from Trump impeachment

Russian spies hacked into a server belonging to Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian natural gas company President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate over its hiring of Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden's son, according to a report released Monday by cybersecurity firm Area 1. The Russian Army intelligence service, known as GRU, targeted Burisma in a phishing campaign as early as November, and Area 1 first detected the hacking on New Year's Eve. "The Russians were trying to steal user names," and "from that perspective they were successful," said Area 1 co-founder Oren Falkowitz, a former employee of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command. "What they intend to do from there is unknown." [The New York Times, NBC News]

4.

Stocks struggle ahead of earnings season kickoff

U.S. stock index futures were mixed early Tuesday as investors braced for big banks to kick off earnings season. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq fluctuated between slight gains and losses several hours before the opening bell. Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo were set to kick off the first wave of earnings reports before the start of trading. U.S. stocks rallied on Monday after the U.S. took China off a list of currency-manipulating nations, a key gesture ahead of Wednesday's signing of a "phase one" deal aiming to de-escalate the trade war between the world's two largest economies. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq closed up by 0.7 percent and 1 percent, respectively, both setting record highs. [CNBC, MarketWatch]

5.

VW reports increase in deliveries in 2019

Volkswagen announced Tuesday that it delivered 10.97 million vehicles in 2019. That was up from 10.83 million in 2018, which was enough for the German automaker to narrowly beat out Toyota and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance as the world's top carmaker (although the alliance maintained a slight lead when trucks were added to the equation). Volkswagen's sales were boosted by strong performance in Germany, the U.S., and Brazil, which overshadowed a drop in the Asia-Pacific market. It wasn't immediately clear whether the gains would be enough for VW to hold onto the top spot, however. The alliance and Toyota report their 2019 data in the next weeks. [The Associated Press]