US Trade Deficit Hits 8-Month Low on Weak Chinese Imports

The U.S. trade deficit fell to an eight-month low in February as imports from China plunged, temporarily providing a boost to President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda and economic growth in the first quarter.

The surprise second straight monthly narrowing in the trade gap reported by the Commerce Department on Wednesday was also driven by soaring aircraft exports, which are likely to reverse after Boeing halted deliveries of its troubled 737 MAX aircraft. MAX planes have been grounded indefinitely following two deadly crashes.

Economists warned the trade deficit would remain elevated regardless of whether the United States and China struck a trade deal that was to the White House’s liking because of Americans’ insatiable appetite for cheaper imports.

Talks between Washington and China to resolve the bitter trade war have been dragging. The United States is also embroiled in conflicts with other trading partners, including the European Union, contributing to big swings in exports and imports data in recent months.

“Even if trade negotiations are resolved in such a way as to reduce the bilateral trade deficit with China, one of the Trump administration’s stated goals, this would likely divert trade flows to other countries and have little impact on the top-line U.S. trade deficit,” said Emily Mandel, an economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

The trade deficit tumbled 3.4% to $49.4 billion in February, the lowest level since June 2018. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the trade shortfall widening to $53.5 billion in February.

The politically sensitive goods trade deficit with China – a focus of the Trump administration’s protectionist trade policy – decreased 28.2% to $24.8 billion in February as imports from the world’s No. 2 economy plunged 20.2%. U.S. exports to China jumped 18.2% in February.

Washington last year imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of goods imported from China, with Beijing retaliating with duties on $110 billion worth of American products. Trump has defended the duties as necessary to protect domestic manufacturers from what he says is unfair foreign competition.

Trump has delayed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. The White House argues that substantially reducing the trade deficit would lift annual economic growth by at least 3% on a sustainable basis, a feat that economists have said is impossible because of low productivity and population growth.

The economy grew 2.9% in 2018.

The dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies, while U.S. Treasury debt prices rose marginally.

Stocks on Wall Street fell.

Growth estimates raised

February’s smaller trade deficit suggests the economy will probably avoid a sharp slowdown in growth that had been feared at the start of the year. The goods trade deficit declined 1.7% to an eight-month low of $72.0 billion in February.

When adjusted for inflation, the overall goods trade deficit fell $1.8 billion to $81.8 billion, also the lowest since last June. Goldman Sachs raised its first quarter gross domestic product estimate by four-tenths of percentage point to a 2.1% annualized rate.

The Atlanta Federal Reserve bumped up its GDP forecast to a 2.4% pace from a 2.3% rate. The economy grew at a 2.2% rate in the fourth quarter.

“It sounds like pencils are being sharpened in order to revise up first-quarter GDP forecasts,” said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.

In February, goods exports increased 1.5% to $139.5 billion. The surge in goods exports is unlikely to be sustained given slowing global economic growth. The dollar’s strength last year means U.S.-manufactured goods are less competitive on foreign markets.

Shipments of civilian aircraft soared by $2.2 billion in February. Exports of motor vehicles and parts increased by $0.6 billion. There was a small rise in soybean exports. Economists expect soybean exports to remain moderate because of an outbreak of swine flu that has reduced demand for soybean meal in China.

In February, imports rose 0.2% to $259.1 billion.

Consumer goods imports increased by $1.6 billion in February, led by a $2.1 billion rise in imports of cellphones and other household goods.

Imports of industrial supplies and materials fell by $1.2 billion. Capital goods imports rose slightly, pointing to slower business spending on equipment.

Crude oil imports fell to 173.7 million barrels, the lowest since March 1992, from 223.1 million barrels in January. An increase in domestic production has seen the United States become less dependent on foreign oil.

“We see more potential for stronger imports in coming months, which would reestablish a trend toward wider deficits,” said Andrew Hollenhorst, an economist at Citigroup in New York.


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Чинний президент перемагає на виборах в Індонезії – попередні дані

На президентських виборах в Індонезії, що відбувалися 17 квітня одночасно з парламентськими, перемагає чинний президент Джоко Відодо, свідчать попередні неофіційні результати.

Згідно з цими даними, Джоко Відодо випереджає свого суперника екс-генерала Прабово Субіанто на 10%.

Офіційних результатів виборів очікують не раніше ніж у кінці травня.

Експерти називають ці вибори наймасштабнішим одноденним голосуванням у світі. У країні відкрито 800 тисяч виборчих дільниць, на яких працює близько шести мільйонів людей.

Цього року вперше вибори президента і парламенту в Індонезії відбуваються в один день.

Шістнадцять політичних партій висунули 250 тисяч кандидатів, які претендують на понад 20 тисяч місць у національних, провінційних і муніципальних зборах.

В Індонезії проживає 263 мільйони людей, з них близько 229 мільйонів мусульман. Близько 193 мільйонів людей, у тому числі 80 мільйонів народжених після 1980 року, мають право голосу.


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Порт «Южний» остаточно став «Південним» – Омелян

Кабінет міністрів України на засіданні 17 квітня ухвалив рішення про перейменування найбільшого морського порту України з «Южного» на «Південний». Про це повідомив міністр інфраструктури України Володимир Омелян у своєму Facebook.

Міністр ще тиждень тому повідомляв, що уряд завершив «декомунізацію та дерусифікацію» українських морських портів, але на той час рішення ще не було остаточним.

Назва населеного пункту, в якому розташований порт «Південний», наразі є незмінною – місто Южне. За перейменування населених пунктів в Україні відповідає Верховна Рада.

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Long-Hidden Kafka Trove Within Reach After Series of Trials

A long-hidden trove of unpublished works by Franz Kafka could soon be revealed following a decade-long battle over his literary estate that has drawn comparisons to some of his surreal tales.

A district court in Zurich upheld Israeli verdicts in the case last week, ruling that several safe deposit boxes in the Swiss city could be opened and their contents shipped to Israel’s National Library.

At stake are untouched papers that could shed new light on one of literature’s darkest figures, a German-speaking Bohemian Jew from Prague whose cultural legacy has been hotly contested between Israel and Germany.

What’s in the vaults?

Though the exact content of the vaults remains unknown, experts have speculated the cache could include endings to some of Kafka’s major works, many of which were unfinished when they were published after his death.

Israel’s Supreme Court has stripped an Israeli family of its collection of Kafka’s manuscripts, which were hidden in Israeli bank vaults and in a squalid, cat-filled Tel Aviv apartment. But the Swiss ruling would complete the acquisition of nearly all his known works, after years of lengthy legal battles over their rightful owners.

Kafkaesque saga

The saga could have been penned by Kafka himself, whose name has become known as an adjective to describe absurd situations involving inscrutable legal processes. Kafka was known for his tales of everyman protagonists crushed by mysterious authorities or twisted by unknown shames. In “The Trial,” for example, a bank clerk is put through excruciating court proceedings without ever being told the charges against him.

“The absurdity of the trials is that it was over an estate that nobody knew what it contained. This will hopefully finally resolve these questions,” said Benjamin Balint, a research fellow at Jerusalem’s Van Leer Institute and the author of “Kafka’s Last Trial,” which chronicles the affair. “The legal process may be ending, but the questions of his cultural belonging and inheritance will remain with us for a very long time.”

Manuscripts not burned

Kafka bequeathed his writings to Max Brod, his longtime friend, editor and publisher, shortly before his death from tuberculosis in 1924 at the age of 40. He instructed his protege to burn it all unread.

Brod ignored his wishes and published most of what was in his possession — including the novels “The Trial,” “The Castle” and “Amerika.” Those works made the previously little-known Kafka posthumously one of the most celebrated and influential writers of the 20th century.

But Brod, who smuggled some of the manuscripts to pre-state Israel when he fled the Nazis in 1938, didn’t publish everything. Upon his death in 1968, Brod left his personal secretary, Esther Hoffe, in charge of his literary estate and instructed her to transfer the Kafka papers to an academic institution.

Instead, for the next four decades, Hoffe kept the papers stashed away and sold some of the items for hefty sums. In 1988, for instance, Hoffe auctioned off the original manuscript of “The Trial” at Sotheby’s in London. It went for $1.8 million to the German Literature Archive in Marbach, north of Stuttgart.

When Hoffe died in 2008 at age 101, she left the collection to her two daughters, Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler, both Holocaust survivors like herself, who considered Brod a father figure and his archive their rightful inheritance. Both have since also passed away, leaving Wiesler’s daughters to continue fighting for the remainder of the collection.

Legitimate inheritance or cultural assets?

Jeshayah Etgar, a lawyer for the daughters, downplayed the significance of the potential findings in Zurich, saying they were likely replicas of manuscripts Hoffe had already sold. Regardless, he said the ruling was the continuation of a process in which “individual property rights were trampled without any legal justification.” He said his clients legitimately inherited the works and called the state seizure of their property “disgraceful” and “first degree robbery.”

Israel’s National Library claims Kafka’s papers as “cultural assets” that belong to the Jewish people. Toward the end of his life, Kafka considered leaving Prague and moving to pre-state Israel. He took Hebrew lessons with a Jerusalem native who eventually donated her pupil’s vocabulary notebook to the library. In recent years, the library also took possession of several other manuscripts the courts had ordered Hoffe’s descendants to turn over.

“We welcome the judgment of the court in Switzerland, which matched all the judgments entered previously by the Israeli courts,” said David Blumberg, chairman of the Israel National Library, a nonprofit and non-governmental body. “The judgment of the Swiss court completes the preparation of the National Library of Israel to accept to entire literary estate of Max Brod, which will be properly handled and will be made available to the wider public in Israel and the world.”

Other scholars question Israel’s adoption of Kafka, noting that he was conflicted about his own Judaism. The German Literature Archive, for instance, has sided with Hoffe’s heirs and aimed to purchase the collection itself, arguing the German-language writings belong in Germany. Dietmar Jaegle, an archive official, said he would not comment on the Zurich verdict as he had not yet seen it.

Balint cautioned that the contents of the hidden archive may not live up to everyone’s expectations.

“It is very unlikely we are going to discover an unknown Kafka masterpiece in there, but these are things of value,” Balint said, noting the fierce competition over any original Kafka material. “There is something about the uncanny aura of Kafka that is attracted to all this.”

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В Індонезії вперше в один день обирають президента і парламент

В Індонезії 17 квітня обирають одночасно нового президента і парламент. Експерти називають ці вибори наймасштабнішим одноденним голосуванням у світі. У країні відкрито 800 тисяч виборчих дільниць, на яких працює близько шести мільйонів людей.

Цього року вперше вибори президента і парламенту в Індонезії відбуваються в один день.

За посаду президента змагаються два основні кандидати – чинний президент країни Джоко Відодо й колишній генерал Прабово Субіанто. Вони вже були суперниками на президентських виборах у 2014 році.

Недавні опитування показують, що Джоко Відодо може бути переобраний, але й допускають незначний відрив у суперника.

Офіційних результатів виборів очікують не раніше ніж у кінці травня, але екзит-поли мають показати, хто перемагає, вже наприкінці дня 17 квітня.

Шістнадцять політичних партій висунули 250 тисяч кандидатів, які претендують на понад 20 тисяч місць у національних, провінційних і муніципальних зборах.

В Індонезії проживає 263 мільйони людей, з них близько 229 мільйонів мусульман. Близько 193 мільйонів людей, у тому числі 80 мільйонів народжених після 1980 року, мають право голосу.



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Майже мільярд доларів зібрали на відновлення Нотр-Даму

На відбудову пошкодженого пожежею паризького собору Нотр-Дам вже зібрали близько мільярда доларів, повідомив 17 квітня президентський посланець із питань культурної спадщини Стефан Берн.

За його словами, на даний час на відбудову собору перерахували 880 мільйонів євро (995 мільйонів доларів). Кошти передають бізнесмени-мільярдери (зокрема, представники Apple, L’Oreal, Chanel, Dior), а також прості люди з Франції і всього світу, пише агенція AP.

Пожежа в соборі Паризької Богоматері почалася ввечері 15 квітня і тривала дев’ять годин. За попередніми даними, причиною займання стали ремонтні роботи. В результаті пожежі обвалилися шпиль і покрівля собору. Пожежникам вдалося врятувати каркас історичної будівлі.

Президент Франції Емманюель Макрон пообіцяв, що собор буде відновлений упродовж п’ять років. Він заявив, що пожежникам вдалося уникнути найгіршого розвитку подій – обвалення стін храму.


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Human Tissue Used to Create 3D Printed Heart

Scientists in Israel have revealed what they say is the world’s first 3D-printed heart using human tissue. It’s hoped the small heart will pave the way for transplants without donors, when every hospital might have access to 3D organ printers. Faith Lapidus reports.

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China’s Economic Growth Steady Amid Tariff Fight With US

China’s economic growth held steady in the latest quarter despite a tariff war with Washington, in a reassuring sign that Beijing’s efforts to reverse a slowdown might be gaining traction.

The world’s second-largest economy expanded by 6.4% over a year earlier in the three months ending in March, the government reported Wednesday. That matched the previous quarter for the weakest growth since 2009.

“This confirms that China’s economic growth is bottoming out and this momentum is likely to continue,” said Tai Hui of JP Morgan Asset Management in a report.

Government intervention

Communist leaders stepped up government spending last year and told banks to lend more after economic activity weakened, raising the risk of politically dangerous job losses.

Beijing’s decision to ease credit controls aimed at reining in rising debt “is starting to yield results,” Hui said.

Consumer spending, factory activity and investment all accelerated in March from the month before, the National Bureau of Statistics reported.

The economy showed “growing positive factors,” a bureau statement said.

​Recovery later this year

Forecasters expect Chinese growth to bottom out and start to recover later this year. They expected a recovery last year but pushed back that time line after President Donald Trump hiked tariffs on Chinese imports over complaints about Beijing’s technology ambitions.

The fight between the two biggest global economies has disrupted trade in goods from soybeans medical equipment, battering exporters on both sides and rattling financial markets.

The two governments say settlement talks are making progress, but penalties on billions of dollars of each other’s goods are still in place.

China’s top economic official, Premier Li Keqiang, announced an annual official growth target of 6% to 6.5% in March, down from last year’s 6.6% rate.

Li warned of “rising difficulties” in the global economy and said the ruling Communist Party plans to step up deficit spending this year to shore up growth.

Beijing’s stimulus measures have temporarily set back official plans to reduce reliance on debt and investment to support growth.

Also in March, exports rebounded from a contraction the previous month, rising 14.2% over a year earlier. Still, exports are up only 1.4% so far this year, while imports shrank 4.8% in a sign of weak Chinese domestic demand.

Auto sales fell 6.9% in March from a year ago, declining for a ninth month. But that was an improvement over the 17.5% contraction in January and February.

Tariffs’ effect long-lasting

Economists warn that even if Washington and Beijing announce a trade settlement in the next few weeks or months, it is unlikely to resolve all the irritants that have bedeviled relations for decades.

The two governments agreed Dec. 1 to postpone further penalties while they negotiate, but punitive charges already imposed on billions of dollars of goods stayed in place.

Even if they make peace, the experience of other countries suggests it can take four to five years for punitive duties to “dissipate fully,” said Jamie Thompson of Capital Economics in a report last week.

Chinese leaders warned previously any economic recovery will be “L-shaped,” meaning once the downturn bottomed out, growth would stay low.

Credit growth accelerated in March, suggesting companies are stepping up investment and production.

Total profit for China’s national-level state-owned banks, oil producers, phone carriers and other companies rose 13.1% over a year ago in the first quarter, the government reported Tuesday. Revenue rose 6.3% and investment rose 9.7%.

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Zimbabwe’s White Farmers Hopeful After Promise of Compensation

In Zimbabwe, white farmers whose land was taken by the government are cautiously hopeful about a promise from President Emmerson Mnangagwa to give them at least partial repayment. The promise came a few days before Zimbabwe celebrates 39 years of independence.

On Sunday, state media quoted President Mnangagwa promising partial compensation for white commercial farmers whose land was seized under former president Robert Mugabe and redistributed to blacks.

He said the government would pay for improvements to the land, such as buildings or dams.

Ex-farmers are now submitting requests for compensation at the offices of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union.

One of them is Glen Johnston, whose mother, Agnes, was displaced from her farm about 17 years ago. Since then, she has been living in Harare with her son.

Johnston says he is taking the president’s promise with caution.

“Basically, it looks like we’ve been promised that we have steps to be taken. So now, taking the steps, will we get the money at the end of the day? Obviously time will tell,” he said.

The land seizures began in 2000 with the backing of Mugabe, who said they would correct colonial imbalances. Farm production plunged, and critics blamed the seizures for the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy.

Others blamed the collapse on targeted Western sanctions imposed in 2002, in response to alleged election rigging and human rights abuses.

Douglas Mahiya of the ruling ZANU-PF party does not think Zimbabwe should compensate white farmers, who in his view, took the country’s land at the point of a gun.

“But we are saying that we compensate for their sweat. And when that happens, then the international world must accept Zimbabwe in the global family again economically and politically,” he said.

The Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union says it has received nearly 1,000 applications for compensation, which it will submit to the government.

Ben Gilpin, the director of the union, says the possibility for compensation gives his members some hope ahead of Zimbabwe’s Independence Day this Thursday.

“I think for many people (farmers) the last 20 independence days have come and gone without such promises being hinted at, and now the promise is that this is being dealt with seriously, so we appreciate that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mnangagwa’s government says it hopes Zimbabwe’s cold relations with the West will thaw and that the ailing economy will improve, so that Zimbabweans can fully enjoy their political independence.

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Palestinian PM Accuses US of ‘Financial War’

The new Palestinian prime minister on Tuesday accused the United States of declaring “financial war” on his people and said an American peace plan purported to be in the works will be “born dead.”


In his first interview with the international media since taking office over the weekend, Mohammad Shtayyeh laid out plans to get through the financial crisis he has inherited and predicted that the international community, including U.S. allies in the Arab world, would join the Palestinians in rejecting President Donald Trump’s expected peace plan.


“There are no partners in Palestine for Trump. There are no Arab partners for Trump and there are no European partners for Trump,” Shtayyeh said during a wide-ranging hour-long interview.


Shtayyeh, a British-educated economist, takes office at a difficult time for the Palestinians, with his government, the Palestinian Authority, mired in a dire financial crisis. The PA administers autonomous zones in the West Bank.


The Trump administration has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars of aid, including all of its support for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.


Israel has also withheld tens of millions of dollars of tax transfers to punish the Palestinians for their “martyrs’ fund,” a program that provides stipends to the families of Palestinians imprisoned or killed as a result of fighting with Israel.


The Israelis say the fund rewards violence, while the Palestinians say the payments are a national duty to families affected by decades of violence. Furious about the withholding, the Palestinians have in turn refused to accept partial tax transfers from Israel.

Loss of Revenue


Without its key sources of revenue, the Palestinian Authority has begun paying only half salaries to tens of thousands of civil servants, reduced services and increased borrowing. In a new report being released Wednesday, the World Bank said the Palestinian deficit will grow from $400 million last year to over $1 billion this year.


“Israel is part of the financial war that has been declared upon us by the United States. The whole system is to try to push us to surrender” and agree to an unacceptable peace proposal, Shtayyeh said. “This a financial blackmail, which we reject.”


Shtayyeh laid out a number of proposals for weathering the storm. He said he has imposed spending cuts by reducing perks for his Cabinet ministers.


He said he would seek to develop the Palestinian agricultural, economic and education sectors and seek ways to reduce the Palestinian economy’s dependence on Israel. For example, he proposed importing fuel from neighboring Jordan, instead of from Israel, and even floating a Palestinian currency. He also said the Palestinians would seek financial backing from Arab and European donors.


Despite the tensions with Israel and the U.S., Shtayyeh said the Palestinians remain committed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war. That includes establishing a capital in east Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed and claims as part of its eternal capital.

Netanyahu Electoral Victory


The two-state solution has enjoyed overwhelming international support for the past two decades. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hard-line political allies reject Palestinian independence.


Netanyahu secured another term in office in elections last week and is expected to form a new coalition with religious and nationalist parties that oppose the two-state solution. On the campaign trail, Netanyahu even raised the possibility of annexing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a step that could extinguish any remaining hopes for an independent Palestine.


Netanyahu has received a boost from Trump, who has given Netanyahu a number of diplomatic gifts since taking office. Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. Embassy to the holy city, slashed aid to the Palestinians and shuttered the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.


In a departure from Republican and Democratic predecessors, Trump also has notably refused to endorse the two-state solution. His peace team, led by son-in-law Jared Kushner, has repeatedly pushed back the release of a peace plan it says it is preparing, and it remains unclear if or when it will be released.


Kushner’s team has said little about their proposal. But their limited public statements have indicated it will call for large amounts of economic investment in the Palestinians, but given no sign that it will include their demand for independence.


Shtayyeh said that after all of the U.S. moves in favor of Israel, particularly the recognition of Jerusalem, there is nothing left to negotiate.


He said any proposal that ignores key Palestinian demands will be rejected by the international community. The European Union this week reiterated its call for peace talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state.


“Where are we going to have the Palestinian state?” he asked. “We are not looking for an entity. We are looking for a sovereign state.”


“Palestinians are not interested in economic peace. We are interested in ending occupation,” he said. “Life cannot be enjoyed under occupation.”

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