European stocks were mostly lower on Thursday, as investors keept abreast of geopolitical news taking place across the globe.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 was off by 0.4 percent with almost every sector in the red.

Basic resources was the worst-performer, down by about 1.4 percent, on the back of renewed trade worries. On Wednesday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer stated in front of the House Ways and Means committee that he foresaw long-term hurdles ahead. In his testimony, Lighthizer stated that more would need to be done by China, than just purchasing U.S. goods, if the two nations were to secure an agreement.

Looking across the European benchmark, it is clear that earnings were also impacting trade. Adecco dropped more than 4 percent in early deals, after reporting its fourth quarter results.

Zalando rose to the top of the index, up by 15 percent, after announcing that its expects solid growth this year. The French retailer Carrefour also jumped 3 percent after increasing its savings goals.

Meanwhile, a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam was cut short after the latter asked for an end to sanctions. The two nations have worked towards stronger relations and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Elsewhere, investors continue to watch for geopolitical news surrounding India and Pakistan, along with developments surrounding Brexit. The British opposition Labour Party declared that it would now look to supporting a new vote on Brexit by the public.

No major economic data for the euro area is due.

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Luxury British carmaker Aston Martin posted an adjusted pre-tax profit of 68 million pounds ($90 million) in 2018, a 7 percent fall on 2017 as it continues to invest in a series of new models and a second factory as part of its turnaround plan.

The automaker, which floated on the London Stock Exchange last year, reported 136 million pounds of one-off costs due to its initial public offering, pushing it to a reported pre-tax loss of 68 million pounds.

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Here’s one takeaway from the Michael Cohen hearings that probably everyone can agree on — from Donald Trump to Michael Cohen, and from Rush Limbaugh to Rachel Maddow.

If you’re running for president, and you want to make a hush money payment to a porn star, it’s probably unwise to pay by check.

“The two were very stupid,” said Alex Ozols, a defense attorney in San Diego, referring to Cohen and Trump. “When Trump wrote the check he obviously wasn’t thinking long-term and of the consequences… Cash is essentially untraceable.”

“Obviously, by writing a check for a dubious payment, one is leaving a paper trail,” said Chicago attorney Nancy DePodesta at Saul, Ewing, Arnstein & Lehr. “People (frequently) pay in cash or services, for this exact reason.” DePodesta, who was a federal prosecutor for 12 years, says checks and other proof of financial transactions were often gold dust for investigators. “We’d follow the money,” she says.

It is startling to realize that if Cohen and Trump had shown some savvy when paying off porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, possibly none of this would be public.

Cohen wrote a $135,000 check to Daniels weeks before the 2016 presidential election, so that she wouldn’t speak up publicly about her past sexual tryst with the married Trump. On Wednesday Cohen presented Congress with checks written to him in 2017 by Trump and associates to reimburse him.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A copy of a check paid to Michael Cohen by President Trump was displayed when Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill.

Those payments are the only concrete proof connecting Trump, Cohen and Daniels. New York prosecutors are now investigating whether they amounted to campaign finance violations by candidate Trump. Cohen has now been disbarred — for a variety of offenses — and is going to jail, and he is co-operating with prosecutors against Trump. That has led directly to Cohen’s testimony to Congress against Trump — damaging testimony watched across America and the world.

Last year Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine after pleading guilty to tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, unlawful excessive campaign contributions and lying to Congress as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.

Cohen on Wednesday went into details about the convoluted process, including creating a shell company, that he followed in order to keep the payments secret. He wanted to hide them from Trump’s wife Melania, Cohen’s own wife, and others, he said. He also said there were other hush money payments (and, intriguingly, “not all of them had to do with women.”).

President Trump tweeted Wednesday that Cohen was “lying in order to reduce his prison time.”

But with some simple common sense none of this would have been necessary, financial and legal experts agree.

Making legal payments with checks creates a paper trail through the banking system that anyone can follow. (Another recent example: “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett allegedly paid two men with a check to help him stage an attack.)are popular with criminals. But making payments with cash or certain other alternatives would have left them completely anonymous. That’s one reason that criminals like crytocurrencies like bitcoin

BTCUSD, -1.43%

 

The main problem with cash, legal and financial experts say, is that the banking system is already set up to track suspiciously large cash withdrawals or deposits. If you withdraw or deposit more than $10,000 at a time, the bank has to report the transaction to federal banking regulators as a suspicious activity. Even worse, it is actually illegal to withdraw large sums under the $10,000 threshold if you are doing so in order to avoid scrutiny. (Prosecutors used that technicality to jail former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Dennis Hastert, though their real target was his past behavior sexually molesting underage boys).

One simple way around this? Our old standby gold bullion — the oldest money still in use today.

You can purchase unlimited amounts of gold bullion from established dealers without triggering transaction reports, and the bullion can be used in many circumstances as a substitute for U.S. dollars or other currencies. Gold was trading at around $1,250 per troy ounce in October, 2016, around the time the Daniels hush-money payment was made. Cohen could have handed her 108 ounces — just under seven pounds — of gold Eagles or Buffaloes. Those are coins issued by the U.S. Mint and readily available from dealers. As long as Cohen wore gloves there would have been no Trump campaign fingerprints on the money, figurative or literal.

Gold, however, leaves a transaction record when it’s bought or sold, Ozols noted.

Cynics reply: That’s an argument for buying it well ahead of time. If Michael Cohen had kept $1 million in gold Eagles in a safe in his office, he could have made hush money payoffs on behalf of Trump as needed and left no money trail at all. He might still be Trump’s attorney. He might not be disbarred or going to jail. And Daniels might be seen today as nothing more than an obscure porn star telling a wild tale about getting gold coins from the president’s attorney — a tale for which she would be able to provide no evidence at all.

Trump might have learned from the case of TV talk show how and former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer, who was caught in a sex scandal in the 1970s when he visited a brothel and also paid by check. In Springer’s case he compounded the error because the check bounced.

The latest scandal is not the first time a minor, seemingly trivial error ended up having enormous ramifications. We shouldn’t overdo the Watergate comparisons. But that affair only broke because of a simple, stupid burgling error. And it brought down the president only because he had bugged his own office.

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Reuters

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sit down for a dinner during the second U.S.–North Korea summit at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un on Wednesday kicked off their second summit, this time in Vietnam, as Trump blasted Michael Cohen before his former lawyer’s congressional testimony.

TRUMP PREDICTS ‘WONDERFUL SITUATION’

With analysts skeptical of major breakthroughs at the summit in Hanoi, Trump talked up the prospects for North Korea’s economic development if the country ends its nuclear-weapons program.

“A lot of things are going to be solved, I hope,” Trump said at the beginning of a dinner with Kim. The president said he hoped the meeting leads to a “wonderful situation” and told Kim that North Korea has “tremendous economic potential.” The two leaders will hold formal talks Thursday. “Very good dialogue,” Trump said in a tweet. “Resuming tomorrow!”

U.S. stocks opened lower Wednesday as the summit kicked off and Cohen prepared to go before lawmakers. The Dow Jones Industrial Average

DJIA, -0.28%

  closed down 72 points after Trump’s top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, and Fed chief Jerome Powell also testified before Congress.

Opinion: How Trump’s premature victory celebration became Kim’s triumph.

FIRING AT COHEN

With one eye back on the U.S., Trump slammed Cohen as a liar in a Twitter posting.

Cohen’s testimony labeled Trump a “con man,” a “cheat” and a “racist.” In response, Trump said Cohen was “lying in order to reduce his prison time” and that “he did bad things unrelated to Trump.”

See MarketWatch live blog and video of Cohen’s testimony.

Cohen also said in his testimony that Trump didn’t have surgery for a bone spur. Trump claimed a medical deferment to avoid military service during the Vietnam War. “I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now,” he said.

The line appeared to prompt Trump to tweet that he’d been in Vietnam longer than Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who admitted previously that he had “misspoken” about his military service during the war in Vietnam.

Now read: Stock-market investors say Michael Cohen hearing takes a back seat to U.S.-China trade concerns — for now.

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Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday wouldn’t commit to holding a vote on the Green New Deal proposal backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, just weeks after calling the climate plan a “dream.”

As reported by Roll Call, California Democrat Pelosi told an audience at Howard University, “I can’t say we’re going to take that and pass it, because we have to go through our checks and balances of it with our committee chairs and the rest.”

Pelosi said she welcomed the “enthusiasm” that lawmakers offered but “we have to operate in a way that’s evidence-based, current in its data.”

Introduced by New York’s Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, the Green New Deal aims to eliminate the U.S. carbon footprint by 2030 while creating thousands of jobs in renewable energy.

Read: As vague as it is, the Green New Deal could have a real impact on Corporate America. Here’s why

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he plans a vote on the nonbinding measure, which has drawn harsh criticism from President Donald Trump and other Republicans. A “yes” vote on the legislation could help the GOP paint Democrats as extreme on energy policy ahead of next year’s elections.

Earlier this month, Pelosi dubbed the proposal a “green dream, or whatever they call it.”

Ocasio-Cortez said she didn’t consider the term dismissive.

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L Brands, owner of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Work, on Wednesday reported mixed results in the holiday quarter that sent shares of the company down 9 percent.

Here’s what the company reported compared with what Wall Street was expecting, based on a survey of analysts by Refinitiv:

  • Earnings per share: $2.14, adjusted, vs. $2.07 expected
  • Revenue: $4.85 billion vs. $4.88 billion expected

L Brands reported fiscal fourth-quarter net income of $540 million, or $1.94 per share, down from $664 million, or $2.33 per share a year earlier.

Excluding items, L Brands earned $2.14 per share, beating the the $2.07 per share expected by analysts surveyed by Refinitiv.

It delivered net sales of $4.85 billion, missing expectations of $4.88 billion.

L Brands said it expects earnings for 2019 will fall between $2.20 and $2.60 a share. That includes break-even earnings per share result in its first quarter.

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Fitbit shares plunged in extended trading after the maker of wearable fitness devices provided a weaker-than-expected forecast.

The shares sank another 12 percent after hours to $6.08.

Fitbit said sales in the first quarter will increase as much as 8 percent from a year earlier to between $250 million and $268 million. Analysts were expecting revenue of $272.3 million, according to Refinitiv. The company also said its loss, excluding certain items, will be 22 cents to 24 cents a share, while analysts were predicting a 15-cent loss.

The wearables market has proven increasingly difficult for Fitbit as Apple continues to upgrade the Apple Watch and Xiaomi becomes a bigger global player. As of Wednesday’s close, the stock was 66 percent below its IPO price from 2015.

For the fourth quarter, Fitbit reported sales of $571.2 million, topping the $569 million average estimate, according to Refinitiv.

WATCH: Fitbit CEO on smartwatches

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The race is on to provide the world with high speed internet using next-generation networks of small satellites.

OneWeb sent its first six satellites to space on Wednesday, using an Arianespace Soyuz rocket launched from French Guiana.

Eventually, the startup plans to launch 650 satellites in an interconnected network, called a constellation. Once in orbit, the satellites will provided internet coverage across the entire globe, CEO Adrian Steckel explained to CNBC.

“It’s a big launch for us because it makes it real,” Steckel said. “These are fully working satellites.”

Several other companies are also racing to launch satellite internet constellations, including Boeing, SpaceX and Telesat. SpaceX launched the first two test satellites last year for its Starlink network, which aims to put 4,425 satellites into orbit.

OneWeb has raised more than $2 billion to fund its massive satellite network. Due to the heavy capital and technical requirements of OneWeb’s goal, the company has also either partnered with or received investment from SoftBank, Qualcomm, Airbus, Virgin Group, Coca-Cola, Maxar Technologies, Hughes Communications and Intelsat. Despite the big names backing the company, OneWeb has largely remained quiet ahead of this first launch.

“I think a lot of people may have wondered what is going on with us but we’ve been keeping our heads down and working,” Steckel said.

“Our mission is for the OneWeb network to provide seamless global Internet coverage by 2021,” the company said in a tweet.

@OneWeb tweet

These next-generation satellite constellations are looking to offer speeds comparable to Earth-bound fiber optic networks. But, beyond competing with each other, the likes of OneWeb and SpaceX will be going up against the ground-based systems of telecom giants Time Warner, Comcast and AT&T.

“We will become the largest internet provider by square miles covered,” Steckel said.

OneWeb has facilities in London and Virginia, and is building a massive manufacturing facility in Florida. Each satellite will be about $1 million to manufacture.

“We’re set up for scale,” Steckel said. “We can do about two satellites a day at maximum.”

To manufacture the satellites, OneWeb created a joint venture with Airbus. These first six satellites were built in Toulouse, France, at the company’s facility near Airbus’ manufacturing plant.

“We anticipate, with a successful launch, our second launch will be in the fourth quarter of this year,” Steckel added. “Then we will be launching once a month for the next two years.”

At the Mobile World Congress (MWC) on Wednesday, OneWorld announced its first ever customer contracts.

The company will provide network operator Talia – which mainly operates in Africa and the Middle East – with consumer broadband and community Wi-Fi across several regions. OneWeb is aiming to connect all of Talia’s markets by 2023.

In a separate contract with Italian telecom provider Intermatica, OneWeb will assist with connectivity.

“We have significant agreements with both partners, and (we’ll be looking to) expand beyond those and gain a good proportion of customers. We want to secure more partners in key markets,” OneWeb COO Nicolas Zibell said.

Although OneWeb would not disclose the costs involved in the deals, Zibell told CNBC that both contracts were “substantial.”

– CNBC’s
Chloe Taylor
contributed to this report.

Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, parent company of CNBC and CNBC.com.

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AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un at last year’s summit in Singapore.

There may be some flashy headlines coming out of the second meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam this week, but foreign-policy analysts say not to expect any big breakthroughs that would dismantle the nuclear program in North Korea, formally end the Korean War, or stop U.S. economic sanctions.

What to expect

Trump himself has lowered expectations for a breakthrough. “I’m in no rush for speed,” he said last week. “We just don’t want testing” of missiles or weapons.

Many policy experts have interpreted Trump’s statement as an indication that his chief objective will not be to achieve complete denuclearization in North Korea. Rather his focus will be ensuring that Kim is in fact following through on his promise to end nuclear testing, as he proclaimed in his New Year’s address.

“We talk about something that, frankly, he never spoke to anybody about, but we’re speaking and we’re speaking loud, and I think we could have a very good summit,” Trump told governors in Washington on Monday before departing for Hanoi. “I think we’ll have a very tremendous summit.”

The U.S. has not lifted the sanctions that it began imposing on North Korea in 2008. It is difficult to precisely gauge the North Korean economy, given that the country treats economic data as state secrets.

Trade between China and North Korea declined 80% to 90% in 2018 compared to 2017, according to official Chinese trade data. That, along with the sanctions imposed by the U.S. as well as other members of the United Nations, have presumably taken a major toll on their economy.

North Korea warned the U.N. on Thursday that it is facing a shortfall of up to 1.4 million tons of food in 2019 and has been forced to almost halve rations, according to a memo reviewed by Reuters.

“On the side of the president there is a major investigation going on and there is an opposition majority in Congress and he is frustrated because he hasn’t gotten funding for the wall” through Congress, said Scott Snyder, program director on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“This offers an opportunity to have an accomplishment to distract from these other issues,” he said, adding that there is potential for Trump to achieve the Nobel Peace Prize if a resolution is reached.

Realistically, Snyder said that the best possible outcome from the two-day meeting beginning Wednesday is for both nations to establish a shared objective. “If both sides establish a process that will be enough to keep things going but if they can’t achieve that I think many people will see the meeting as a failure.”

What not to expect

Analysts say it’s unlikely that the meetings between Trump and Kim will lead Kim to forfeit all of the country’s nuclear weapons or Trump to lift sanctions.

What is clear is that both leaders are eager to come out of the meetings with concrete accomplishments, said Victor Cha, a senior adviser and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“There’s a great deal of pressure on both leaders to produce tangible results out of this second meeting, since the first meeting effectively laid out a statement of principles between the two leaders about what the endgame or the outcome of these negotiations should be,” Cha said on a press call on Thursday which briefed reporters on the upcoming summit.

“The only tangible concession that was really made in Singapore was the president’s decision, impulsively, to suspend U.S.-South Korean military exercises,” Cha said.

Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at CSIS, also said on the call that he doesn’t expect Trump to declare a withdrawal of troops from the Korean Peninsula.

Nevertheless, he is not ruling it out either. When the president announced in Singapore an eventual withdrawal of troops in Korea it was a “real shock to our allies and Congress.”

“The president may agree to an end-of-war declaration — not a peace treaty, but a declaration that the war has ended — and other things that make for good headlines but ultimately have no impact on the nuclear program,” Green said.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a Fox News interview on Friday that Trump “has had great success here in the fact they were able to even sit down at the table. The fact he is able to do it again is in itself a big success.”

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Electronic trading across CME Group Inc.’s futures markets resumed late Tuesday after technical problems triggered an hourslong trading halt.

The problem started at 7:39 p.m. Eastern time and trading across all markets on CME’s electronic platform was halted about 28 minutes later, according to a CME spokeswoman.

The Chicago-based company

CME, +0.35%

is the world’s largest exchange operator by market capitalization, offering futures and options contracts for an array of assets, including soybeans, wheat, crude oil and U.S. stocks. Trading on Nymex, Comex and the CBOT were also affected by the glitch.

There were no live quotes for e-mini S&P 500 futures for three hours starting at around 7:40 p.m. Eastern time, according to FactSet. These are the most liquid contracts available for U.S. stocks and are traded virtually around the clock. CME said all its electronic markets reopened by 10:45 p.m. Eastern time and added that all “day and session orders” with Tuesday’s date would be canceled.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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