The daily business briefing: January 16, 2020

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Harold Maass
Trump and Liu He
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

1.

Trump signs first phase of trade deal with China

President Trump signed the "phase one" trade deal with China on Wednesday in what both sides portrayed as a step toward ending the 18-month trade war between the world's two largest economies. China's Vice Premier Liu He traveled to the White House to lead Beijing's delegation at the signing ceremony. Under the agreement, China pledged to buy at least an additional $200 billion in U.S. farm products and other goods and services, including in the energy and manufacturing sectors, over two years. The Trump administration has said it will monitor progress and start talks on the next phase in its push to end what the president has called unfair trade practices by China. "Together we are righting the wrongs of the past," Trump said. [The New York Times, Reuters]

2.

Rise of Skywalker becomes Disney's 7th billion-dollar release of 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has passed the $1 billion mark in global ticket sales, making it Disney's seventh billion-dollar release of 2019. That boosted what was already a record year in which Disney smashed the record for most films topping $1 billion at the box office in a single year. Disney set the previous record of four in 2016. Before 2019, the most billion-dollar films across all studios in a single year stood at five. The seven 2019 Disney films to cross the threshold were Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Aladdin, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, Frozen 2, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Despite the big numbers, the latest Star Wars installment is expected to finish with the lowest worldwide gross of the franchise's sequel trilogy. [CNBC, Polygon]

3.

Stocks futures gain after Dow closes above 29,000 for first time

U.S. stock index futures gained early Thursday, pointing to a higher open after the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 29,000 for the first time ever on Wednesday. Futures for the Dow, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq were up by 0.2 percent or more several hours before Thursday's opening bell. The three main U.S. indexes surged early Wednesday but surrendered most of the gains later in the day, even though the U.S. and China signed a "phase one" deal to de-escalate their trade war, which has hurt both of the world's two largest economies. The deal included the suspension of some tariff hikes on Chinese goods and increased purchases of U.S. goods and services by China, but some analysts considered it "fragile" because they feared possible new tariffs. [CNBC, The Wall Street Journal]

4.

One of Ghosn's Japanese lawyers quits

One of former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn's lawyers announced Thursday that he was stepping down. The lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, said in a statement that the entire Ghosn team at his office was stepping aside, although he did not specify why. The move came after Ghosn, who was awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct, fled the country to Lebanon, where he holds citizenship. Hironaka has a record of securing acquittals for high-profile clients in a country with a 99 percent conviction rate. Ghosn said in a news conference in Beirut last week that he was innocent and left Japan to escape unfair prosecution. [The Associated Press]

5.

Target's stock drops after report of weak holiday sales

Target shares dropped by 7 percent on Wednesday after the retailer reported disappointing sales during the crucial 2019 holiday shopping season. Target said same-store sales rose by just 1.4 percent in November and December, down from 5.7 percent growth in the same period a year earlier. Target said that despite the trouble, fueled by flat toy sales and a 6 percent decline in electronics sales, its outlook for for fourth-quarter earnings remained unchanged. Shares of rival Walmart fell by 1.8 percent even though it had not yet reported holiday results. Best Buy shares fell by about 2 percent after the news about Target's weak electronics sales. [CNBC, MarketWatch]