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US-China trade, RBA rate decision, currencies

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Stocks in Asia were set to trade lower on Tuesday following negative trade developments overnight.

Futures pointed to a lower open for Japanese stocks. The Nikkei futures contract in Chicago was at 23,210 while its counterpart in Osaka was at 23,180. That compared against the Nikkei 225’s last close at 23,529.50.

Shares in Australia declined in early trade, with the S&P/ASX 200 dropping about 1.5%. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s interest rate decision is set to be out around 11:30 a.m. HK/SIN on Tuesday.

Market reaction to retail stocks in Hong Kong will be watched on Tuesday, after total retail sales volume for October in the embattled city dropped 26.2% year-on-year, falling by their steepest on record, according to a Reuters report. The city has been rocked by months of anti-government protests.

Overnight on Wall Street, stocks declined amid disappointing manufacturing data. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 268.37 points to 27,783.04. The S&P 500 shed 0.9% to 3,113.87 — its biggest one-day loss since Oct. 8 — while the Nasdaq Composite fell 1% to 8,567.99.

The Cboe Volatility Index, which is regarded as a top fear gauge in the market, rose to 14.3 from 12.6.

Manufacturing activity in the U.S. continued to contract last month, the Institute for Supply Management said Monday. The ISM Manufacturing PMI dipped to 48.1 in November, below an estimate of 49.4. A reading below 50 denotes contraction.

Meanwhile, uncertainty remains on the trade front. U.S. President Donald Trump said China still wants to make a deal on trade, “but we’ll see what happens.”

Investors have been monitoring developments on trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing in anticipation of an elusive “phase one” deal being reached between the two parties. If no agreement is reached by Dec. 15, additional tariffs on Chinese goods exported to the U.S. will kick in.

To exacerbate concerns on the trade front, Trump also said Monday he will restore tariffs on metal imports from Brazil and Argentina.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 97.887 after declining from highs above 98.3 seen earlier.

The Japanese yen, often seen as a safe-haven currency in times of market uncertainty, traded at 109.02 per dollar after strengthening sharply from levels above 109.5 yesterday. The Australian dollar was at $0.6816 after rising from levels below $0.678 in the previous session.

What’s on tap:

  • Australia: Reserve Bank of Australia interest rate decision at 11:30 a.m. HK/SIN



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Staring Down Impeachment Vote, Freshman Democrat Seeks Legislative Victories

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RHINEBECK, N.Y. — On a recent Friday, as impeachment investigators were releasing new evidence of President Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine and John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, was refusing through his lawyer to tell Congress what he knew about “many relevant meetings and conversations” in the matter, Representative Antonio Delgado’s mind was elsewhere.

Driving through his Hudson Valley district under a light snow, Mr. Delgado, a first-term Democrat, was preoccupied with legislation he was pursuing, toxic chemical cleanup provisions he was fighting to include in a must-pass defense bill, the farmers he was scheduled to meet and his push to hold 33 town hall-style meetings by the end of December.

Before the sun set at 4:45 p.m., Mr. Delgado would trek 175 miles across the district, scarfing down a breakfast of fluffy pancakes with his wife and twin sons early in the morning so he could attend a school assembly, then making last-minute edits to a speech in the car in between events. It barely left time to brush up on the latest news in the impeachment inquiry consuming Washington.

With five legislative days remaining before Congress leaves for its holiday break, the House is charging toward a party-line vote on impeachment articles against Mr. Trump that will make him only the third president to be impeached. The vote is a politically risky one for freshman lawmakers like Mr. Delgado who won by narrow margins in districts that supported Mr. Trump in 2016, and one that the president and his political allies have argued will cost them their seats.

Ms. Pelosi knows, as many moderate Democrats do, that the important question is not necessarily how they explain a vote to charge the president with high crimes and misdemeanors, but whether they can show that they are delivering on an agenda of legislative work that affects voters’ everyday lives.

Mr. Delgado has not completely shied away from impeachment. When news broke of Mr. Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president that is at the heart of the charges, he announced that Congress should begin drafting impeachment articles, going further than most of his moderate colleagues, who tentatively endorsed investigating the allegations. The House Republican campaign arm, eager to tie Mr. Delgado to the liberal wing of the party, called it a “political death sentence” and has repeatedly accused him of “pandering to his socialist base.”

Through it all, Mr. Delgado has tried to strike a balance, cultivating relationships with Republicans — with his wife, he was one of only a few House Democrats to show up this week at the White House Congressional Ball, even as the Judiciary Committee was debating the articles of impeachment — while offering unsparing criticism of the president’s conduct.

“There’s an abuse of power,” Mr. Delgado said after the Ukraine allegations surfaced, speaking to voters in the town of Clinton. “And the abuse of power, too, layers over that crime in a way that I think really creates a level of urgency.”

But Mr. Delgado would prefer to talk about other things: his work on three committees, the enactment of his bill to ease financial burdens for farmers, and a grueling schedule traveling to all corners of his 8,000 square-mile district.

“It matters a lot to go back home and say I introduced a bill,” Mr. Delgado, a lawyer, Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Law graduate, said in an interview. “Even if it’s not law, they know that their congressman is working on an issue they flagged.”

“Do you know how powerful that is?” he added. “That democracy is still humming ahead a little bit?”

A black congressman in a district in which voters are more than 80 percent white, Mr. Delgado is an unmistakable presence. At 6 feet 4 inches, Mr. Delgado — a former basketball player and Upstate New York hall of fame inductee — is rarely introduced without some quip about his height. And he is the only African-American who holds one of the 14 districts that flipped from voting for President Barack Obama to backing Mr. Trump in 2016. His victory came after a campaign in which Republicans used decades-old lyrics from his brief tenure as a rap artist to suggest he was misogynistic and anti-American, a line of attack widely denounced as racist.

But since January, Mr. Delgado, who was born just outside the district and moved back to the area after the 2016 election, has also amplified his engagement in one of the most rural counties represented by a Democrat. He has held nearly three dozen town hall-style meetings — three in each of the 11 counties in his district — and made a point of introducing bipartisan legislation with a number of his Republican colleagues. Sometimes, he includes his twins in his trips through the county — including a visit to a local bookstore on a recent Saturday, where he posed with a Muhammad Ali biography and his sons’ book selections. (Mr. Delgado, who considers Mr. Ali a personal hero, frequently wears a wristband that reads, “Find greatness within.”)

His first television ad — believed to be the first from a House Democrat in the 2020 campaign — focused on his litany of events and legislation introduced, even as Republicans sought to tie him to calls for impeachment and more liberal members of the caucus.

“He’s been good to work with,” said Jake Ashby, a local Republican assemblyman who recently participated in a veterans’ event with Mr. Delgado. Pointing toward some of the bills Mr. Delgado has championed, he added, “He’s been able to get them through, and that’s been encouraging to see.”

At one October gathering, Asejah Lazerson, from Pleasant Valley, N.Y., came to see Mr. Delgado after she wrote a letter about her challenges finding employment and taking care of her children. Mr. Delgado had followed up with a 30-minute phone call.

“It feels like my voice isn’t being heard, and there’s so much gridlock in Washington, all this bitter fighting and nothing is getting done,” Ms. Lazerson, who is black, said in an interview. “For him to call me and let me know that he heard my letter, and read my letter, and it touched him — it was very reassuring.”

“Every time I tell my story, I don’t know if anybody cares,” she added, after wiping away tears. Her son ended up writing a report on Mr. Delgado for school.

At a Veterans Day breakfast last month, Walter O’Neil, a Marine veteran, shook Mr. Delgado’s hand and cheerfully informed his congressman, “I didn’t vote for you.”

“That’s all right,” Mr. Delgado replied with a smile. “I’m still serving you.” (In a brief interview afterward, Mr. O’Neil conceded that Mr. Delgado “is doing a good job.”)

But moments later, a couple rushed to Mr. Delgado’s side, professing to be his biggest fans and asking for a picture.

“It was like meeting a rock star,” said Barbara Holms, 64, who came to the event with her husband, Michael, who served with the Navy during the Vietnam War. “He doesn’t lip sync. He shows up.”



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North Korea Links 2nd ‘Crucial’ Test to Nuclear Weapons Program

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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said on Saturday that it had conducted “another crucial test” at a missile-engine and satellite-launching site, its second such test in a week as the country attempts to press the United States into further talks and new concessions. It declared that both tests would feed into its military’s nuclear program.

The test was successfully conducted on Friday night at the “Sohae Satellite Launching Ground,” a spokesman of the North’s Academy of Defense Science said. That was a reference to facilities in Tongchang-ri, near the North’s northwestern border with China, where it also said it had conducted a “a very important test” last Saturday.

South Korean officials have said that the earlier test was of an engine that could power either a satellite-carrying rocket or a ballistic missile. On Saturday, the North Korean spokesman offered no details on the latest test. But he said the successful results of both would “be applied to further bolstering up the reliable strategic nuclear deterrent” of North Korea, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

“Our defense scientists were greatly honored to receive warm congratulations” from the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, the North Korean spokesman said.

In a separate statement on Saturday, Pak Jong-chon, the chief of the general staff of the North Korean People’s Army, said the data from the latest tests at Tongchang-ri would help develop “another strategic weapon” to deter the United States.

“We should be ready to cope with political and military provocations of the hostile forces, and be familiar with both dialogue and confrontation,” Mr. Pak said in his statement, which was carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. He said the United States and other forces would “spend the year-end in peace only when they hold off any words and deeds rattling us.”

Mr. Pak’s comments suggested that the tests could have been for an engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile, said Cheong Seong-chang, the vice president of research planning at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. The statement also signaled that, as diplomacy stalled, the voice of North Korea’s hard-line military was on the rise, Mr. Cheong said.

The North Korean announcement came a day before Stephen E. Biegun, Washington’s top envoy on North Korea, was scheduled to begin a five-day trip to Seoul and Tokyo to discuss how to deal with a Dec. 31 deadline that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had set for Washington to return to the negotiating table with more concessions, including the easing of international sanctions.

In recent weeks, North Korea has repeatedly indicated that it would abandon diplomacy and could even resume provocative tests of weapons unless Washington met its year-end deadline. Mr. Kim is widely expected to use a meeting of his Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, scheduled for this month, and his annual New Year’s Day speech to reveal his new policy options.

The resumption of activities at Tongchang-ri, where a satellite was last launched in February 2016, has worried officials in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo because the site houses facilities to test rocket engines and launch satellite-delivery vehicles.

Although North Korea insists that its space program is peaceful, Washington and its allies said that the program was a front for efforts to build and test technologies for intercontinental ballistic missiles. A series of resolutions by the United Nations Security Council ban North Korea from testing ballistic missile technology.

In March 2017, North Korea successfully tested a high-thrust engine at Tongchang-ri that it used in intercontinental ballistic missiles, such as the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, later that year. Analysts fear that North Korea might now be preparing to launch another long-range rocket carrying a satellite or even to flight-test a long-range missile.

The country conducted its last ICBM test from Pyongsong, north of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital city, in November 2017. Afterward, Mr. Kim declared a halt on all nuclear and ICBM tests and embarked on diplomacy with President Trump.

Mr. Kim met with Mr. Trump in Singapore in June 2018 and agreed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in return for “new” relations and security guarantees from Washington. After the Singapore meeting, Mr. Trump boasted that Mr. Kim had promised to dismantle the Tongchang-ri facilities as one of the first steps toward denuclearization.

North Korea started to dismantled the missile-engine test facility that summer, but then rebuilt it, after Mr. Kim’s subsequent meetings with Mr. Trump and negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington failed to resolve differences over how to implement the broadly worded Singapore deal.

North Korea has also resumed the test of mostly short-range ballistic missiles and rockets this year. Mr. Tump has largely dismissed such tests as involving weapons that do not directly threaten the United States.

If North Korea returned to launching satellites or testing ICBMs, it could seriously dent Mr. Trump’s foreign-policy credentials. Mr. Trump has repeatedly cited Mr. Kim’s self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests as one of his major achievements.



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How a Band of Seasoned Cinephiles Plans to Save the Movie House

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These days, Toby Talbot, 91, has been busy finishing her husband’s memoirs at their sunlit apartment on Riverside Drive, which is filled with posters of movies by directors like Bernardo Bertolucci and Claude Chabrol that once premiered in their theaters.

The closing of Lincoln Plaza Cinemas remains a sore spot. “He keeps our name on the marquee,” she said. “What nerve.”

She’s rooting for New Plaza. “I give them my blessing,” she said. “I want them to succeed. This was our life’s work. Dan and I were educating people, and why should that education have to stop?”

If a recent Saturday night at New Plaza was any indication, word about the cinema was getting around. An eager crowd entered to see “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles,” a documentary about “Fiddler on the Roof.” Two ushers, Naomi Rossabi, 83, and Ruth Mucatel, 91, took tickets. During their downtime, they groused about going to the movies today.

“We hate reserved seating,” Ms. Rossabi said. “What if we’re stuck behind a tall person?”

“Young people are used to getting everything easy,” Ms. Mucatel said. “We know what it means to have to wait for things.”

But a gloomy note soon entered their conversation.

“I heard the New York Institute of Technology is selling off their property in the area,” Ms. Rossabi said. “We don’t know if this space will always be here for us. Some of us are worried.”

In fact, the school recently put a 12-story campus building on 61st and Broadway up for sale, just down the street from New Plaza’s auditorium. But a spokesman for the university said there’s no cause for alarm: those plans don’t involve their space, and New Plaza’s arrangement is secure at least until May.

But considering the travails of New Plaza Cinema, perhaps it still felt like too close a call.

“I hope this isn’t all just a pipe dream,” Ms. Rossabi said. “Because something magic still happens when you go to the movies.”



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