Trump asks China to lift farm tariffs

Donald Trump and Xi JinpingImage copyright
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Mr Trump now plans a summit with China’s Xi Jinping about trade

US President Donald Trump has asked China to “immediately” lift all tariffs on US agricultural products.

In a tweet, the president said he made the request because “we are moving along nicely with Trade discussions”.

Mr Trump has delayed tariffs scheduled for 1 March on Chinese goods due to progress in talks.

He has long complained about the country’s trading practices, and has imposed tariffs totalling more than $250bn (£189bn) on Chinese goods.

China has responded in kind, placing tariffs on $110bn of US products and accusing the US of starting “the largest trade war in economic history”.

Last month Mr Trump said the two countries were “very very close” to signing a new trade agreement, saying they had made “substantial progress” following a Washington summit.

While a rise in import duties on Chinese goods from 10% to 25% was due to come into effect on 1 March, the US is now planning a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

The trade war has prompted worries in financial markets about the impact on the global economy.

The International Monetary Fund warned the trade war risked making the world a “poorer and more dangerous place” in its assessment on world growth last October.

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PwC’s golden goodbye ties former partners to the firm’s profits forever

Perception of conflict

Former senior PwC partner Bill Edge confirmed on Monday he was still being paid by the firm while acting as the chairman of the Financial Reporting Council, a body responsible for overseeing the effectiveness of the financial reporting framework in Australia.

As head of the council, Mr Edge has previously stated the FRC has “found no evidence of systemic issues or major concerns” with audit quality, adding that he had confidence that the big four firms Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC were doing their best to improve audit quality.

In contrast, the corporate regulator and the joint committee on corporations and financial services have both raised major concerns about audit quality in Australia.

Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert said the PwC payments are “not relevant”, while Labor MP Julian Hill said the payments could lead to a “perception of a conflict”. Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson was more direct, saying Mr Edge had to “make a choice” between heading the FRC and the PwC payments.

But no matter how the FRC and the government resolve the issue, the payments create the perception of a conflict of interest for all former equity partners of PwC.

Unfunded liability paid out of profit

The crux of the problem is the payments, knowledge of which is tightly held among current and former equity partners, are not superannuation or defined benefit income from a pot of money that has been set aside. Instead, they are payments made each year out of the firm’s net profit, tying the alumni partners to the firm’s ongoing operation.

This unfunded liability is believed to be worth roughly 20 per cent of the firm’s net profit, a figure that means it was worth more than $80 million around five years ago and would have exceeded $100 million in the past few years.

“[I]f the money is coming from PwC’s general funds, retired partners still have some interest in the continued success of the firm,” said Ian Gow, a professor in the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Corporate Governance and Regulation and co-author of a critical look at the firms, The Big Four.

Former senior PwC partner Bill Edge confirmed on Monday he was still being paid by the firm while acting as the chairman of the Financial Reporting Council. Viki Lascaris

PwC declined to comment. The details of its retirement plan are based upon a number of sources including current and former partners and other individuals familiar with the firm’s workings.

The main condition that PwC has on the payments is that retired partners cannot work for an ever-expanding list of rival firms. PwC, privately, argues this eliminates any concern about conflict of interest.

But, as Professor Gow points out, it doesn’t eliminate the fact that partners have a direct financial incentive to ensure the firm continues to thrive.

Are declarations required?

It also raises questions, such as if former partners are obliged to declare the payment and its quantum when dealing with decisions that involve PwC. Might they have to also recuse themselves from making decisions that involve PwC? And are either of these options practical for those in certain senior commercial roles?

There are no exact figures but there are dozens if not hundreds of former PwC partners in mainly commercial and not-for-profit roles across the country and this number grows every year.

That means the payments remain an ongoing, and growing, issue for the firm. PwC must continue to grow at a rapid rate to comfortably fund the payments and provide current-day partners with their income. So far, current CEO Luke Sayers has managed double-digit growth year-on-year.

The payments have created a stark generational divide at the firm. Existing equity partners echo their predecessors by grumbling about each CEO attempting to reign in the payments, while younger partners grouse about losing out on their share of each year’s profit to partners long since departed from the firm.

In Mr Edge’s case, the FRC had the first of its four annual meetings where the articles about the payments were discussed with a representative of Mr Robert’s office in attendance for part of the day-long meeting. But it is unclear what the parties will do next.

As any accountant will tell you, this isn’t about any actual conflict of interest, it’s all about the look. And any way you look at it, receiving payments from your old firm raises a perception of conflict of interest.

To contact the author of this article: edmundtadros@afr.com.au

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Amanda Bynes checked back into rehab facility after ‘relapse’ following return to public eye

Amanda Bynes is back in a mental health facility.

The actress, who retreated from the public eye after a breakdown in 2014, checked into a rehab facility in January. A source close to Bynes tells PEOPLE that she had a “relapse” and is getting help and treatment from mental health professionals and addiction counselors for drug addiction and mental health issues.

The source says Bynes has been struggling again since the end of last year, when she stepped back into the public eye and began pursuing work in Hollywood again.

Bynes opened up about her previous mental struggles in a November cover story for Paper. In the interview, the She’s the Man actress detailed how her drug use led to the spiral, explaining she began using drugs at 16 and smoked marijuana for the first time.

“Later on it progressed to doing molly and ecstasy,” she admitted. “[I tried] cocaine three times but I never got high from cocaine. I never liked it. It was never my drug of choice.”

While she didn’t use cocaine, Bynes did say she regularly got high on another drug: “I definitely abused Adderall.”

Her Adderall use led to her dropping out of the movie Hall Pass, where she remembered being “scatterbrained” from taking the pills. But the real breaking point came after seeing herself in the Emma Stone film Easy A. Bynes recalled being so alarmed by her appearance in the film, which she viewed negatively, that it convinced her to quit acting on the spot.

“I literally couldn’t stand my appearance in that movie and I didn’t like my performance. I was absolutely convinced I needed to stop acting after seeing it,” Bynes explained. “I was high on marijuana when I saw that but for some reason, it really started to affect me. I don’t know if it was a drug-induced psychosis or what, but it affected my brain in a different way than it affects other people. It absolutely changed my perception of things.”

She went on to have several brushes with the law — including two hit-and-run charges in 2012 and a DUI arrest (though all three charges were ultimately dropped) — she retreated from the spotlight completely and her mom Lynn was named conservator over her “person”, which includes health and medical decision-making, in 2014.

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Tesla pays $920 million convertible bond obligation in cash

Tesla has paid off its $920 million convertible bond obligation in cash, sources familiar with the matter told CNBC. The company also confirmed that it made the payment today.

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The $920 million in convertible senior notes expired March 1, at a conversion price of $359.87 per share. Since Tesla’s stock hasn’t traded at or above $359 in weeks, the electric vehicle maker had to pay in all-cash rather than half-stock and half-cash as it had previously intended.

In its 2018 annual report, Tesla said it had $3.69 billion in unrestricted cash and equivalents to end the year.

When asked about the payment earlier this week, a Tesla spokesperson pointed to comments from the fourth-quarter shareholder letter, when the company said it has “sufficient cash on hand to comfortably settle in cash our convertible bond that will mature in March 2019.” Tesla also said that its cash position improved by $1.45 billion in the second half of 2018, and that it expects positive net income and positive free cash flow “in every quarter beyond Q1 2019.”

WATCH: Tesla shifts to online sales, lowers price of Model 3

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Antonio Brown Trade Rumors: Raiders, Redskins, Titans Have Most Interest in WR

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) acknowledges fans while leaving the field after an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

The trade market for Antonio Brown appears to be heating up with three serious suitors for the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver. 

Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans have shown the most interest in acquiring Brown thus far. 

Brown’s tenure with the Steelers likely came to an end after nine seasons. The 30-year-old tweeted last month he and team president Art Rooney II “agreed that it is time to move on” after a face-to-face meeting that saw them air out their differences. 

Schefter noted Pittsburgh’s asking price for Brown “started out as a first-round pick and other compensation, but now has been reduced to a first-round pick.

It’s not a surprise the Raiders, Titans and Redskins would be interested in Brown. All three teams desperately need help at wide receiver.

Oakland’s top two pass-catchers in 2018 were 31-year-old tight end Jared Cook and 33-year-old Jordy Nelson. The Raiders certainly have the draft capital to strike a deal with three first-round picks this year, including the No. 4 overall choice.

Corey Davis was the only Titans player who had at least 60 receptions and 500 yards last season. No player on the team had more than four touchdown catches. 

Washington may have to remake its entire offense this offseason. The team is reportedly planning to play next season without quarterback Alex Smith as he recovers from a fractured tibia and fibula in his right leg, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

As the Redskins try to figure out their quarterback situation, they also need playmakers on the outside. Oft-injured tight end Jordan Reed led the team with 84 targets, 54 receptions and 554 yards last season. 

Brown, who is under contract for three more seasons, has had at least 101 receptions, 1,284 receiving yards and eight touchdowns each year since 2013. 

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Trae Young Drops Career-High 49 as Hawks Fall to Bulls 168-161 in 4OT Thriller

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 1: Trae Young #11 of the Atlanta Hawks shoots open floater against the Chicago Bulls on March 1, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Chicago Bulls came out on top over the Atlanta Hawks 168-161 in a quadruple-overtime affair at State Farm Arena in Atlanta on Friday night. It marks the first time since Dec. 7, 2006, per the Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds, that a team has scored at least 150 points in a loss.

Getting there was a wild ride. Hawks rookie point guard Trae Young hit a three-pointer with just over three seconds to play in regulation, which appeared to be the winning shot before Bulls forward Otto Porter Jr. was fouled while shooting a three.

Porter, who tied his career high with seven threes in the game and ended with 31 points, made all of his free throws with .4 seconds left and sent the game to overtime.

Young opened the first overtime period with a 27-footer beyond the arc and ended it by going coast-to-coast on a layup to tie the game at 140, forcing a second overtime.

Young was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for February and is the only rookie in the Eastern Conference with multiple 30-plus-point games. Four of his six such games have come after the All-Star break with back-to-back 36-point games entering Friday night’s matchup.

In this Hawks loss, Young continued that streak with a career-high 49 points along with 16 assists and eight rebounds. The No. 5 overall pick led all scorers.

Zach LaVine led all Bulls with 47 points, also a career high, including the layup that ultimately put the game out of reach for the Hawks. The point guard led the Bulls on the season with 23.2 points per game coming into this game. Forward Lauri Markkanen scored 25 points, his 12th game in a row with at least 20 points.

What’s Next? 

The Bulls and Hawks will play each other one last time this season in Chicago on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. EST.

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available. Get the best sports content from the web and social in the new B/R app. Get the app to get the game. 

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Trump asks China to immediately remove all agricultural tariffs

Trump, speaking to reporters in Hanoi on Thursday after a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, said: “Speaking of China we’re very well on our way to doing something special. But we’ll see.”

“I am always prepared to walk,” he said. “I’m never afraid to walk from a deal, and I would do that with China, too, if it didn’t work out.”

If China were to remove the tariffs, it would likely be a huge boon to US crop markets that have been caught in the trade war crossfire.

Soybean, pork and ethanol shipments have all languished amid the duties. China is a key destination for most of the world’s biggest agriculture markets.

Farmers and lawmakers have long decried the tariffs, and the US agriculture economy has suffered under the weight of falling crop prices.

China has already made some good-faith purchases of American soybeans after declaring a trade truce with the US in December. Last week, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said more soybean purchases were coming.

Ending the tariffs would dovetail with a proposal by Beijing to buy an additional $US30 billion ($42.4 billion) a year of American agricultural products including corn, soybeans and wheat as part of a possible agreement.

The preparations for a Trump-Xi summit come amid conflicting signals from the Trump administration over the prospect of a deal.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday the two nations are working on a 150-page document that would turn into a “very detailed agreement”, though he cautioned that “we still have more work to do”.

Speaking shortly before Mnuchin, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the countries are on the verge of an “historic” pact that would commit Beijing to cut subsidies on state-owned companies and disclose when its central bank intervenes in currency markets.

His optimism came just a day after Trump’s top trade negotiator struck a more cautious tone.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told lawmakers that more work needs to be done and said the administration won’t accept a deal that doesn’t include significant “structural” changes to China’s state-driven economy. He also stressed the need for a enforcement mechanism, allowing the US to take unilateral action if China breaks the rules.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday the two nations are working on a 150-page document that would turn into a “very detailed agreement”. Chris RatcliffeBloomberg

Bloomberg

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