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Nissan top exec Munoz resigns amid broadened Ghosn probe

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(Reuters) – One of Nissan Motor Co’s (7201.T) top executives has resigned, further rattling the Japanese automaker’s management team as it broadens an investigation into ousted Chairman Carlos Ghosn’s alleged financial misconduct.

FILE PHOTO: Jose Munoz, Chairman of Nissan North America, speaks during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 9, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Jose Munoz, widely considered as a close ally to Ghosn and a possible successor to lead the automaking partnership between Nissan and France’s Renault SA, had been a “person of interest” in Nissan’s widening internal investigation.

The 53-year-old, who was Nissan’s chief performance officer and head of its China operations, made the announcement in a LinkedIn post on Friday. In a statement, Nissan said that Munoz had “elected to resign” from the company, effective immediately. It declined to offer details.

He becomes the latest executive casualty since Nissan in November removed Ghosn as chairman and fired representative director Greg Kelly.

The resignation deals another blow to the Japanese automaker which is grappling with the scandal at a time when it is struggling to shore up profitability in the United States and expand aggressively in China.

Reuters had reported earlier on Friday that the Japanese automaker was looking into decisions made in the United States by Munoz who led Nissan’s North American operations from 2016 to 2018.

“Unfortunately, Nissan is currently involved in matters that have and will continue to divert its focus,” Munoz said in his post.

“As I have repeatedly and recently made clear to the company, I look forward to continuing to assist Nissan in its investigations.”

People with knowledge of the issue have said that Munoz, who had been placed on a leave of absence earlier in the month, had not been co-operating with the internal investigation.

Ghosn, once the most celebrated executives in the auto industry and the anchor of Nissan’s alliance with Renault, remains in custody in a Tokyo detention center since his initial arrest in late November.

Ghosn has been indicted on two counts of under-reporting his income, and aggravated breach of trust for temporarily shifting personal investment losses worth 1.85 billion yen ($17 million) to Nissan.

The scandal has sent shockwaves through the automotive industry and has escalated tensions between Nissan and Renault, where Ghosn remains CEO and chairman.

Munoz joined the automaker in 2004 in Europe and led its significant expansion in North America after the global financial crisis. Since then, Nissan has succeeded in raising its market share in the United States and posted record sales.

Earlier this year, Nissan tapped Munoz to oversee its operations in China where it plans to ramp up sales over the next few years.

Since then, the world’s largest auto market has been showing signs of a slowdown, prompting the automaker to cut local production plans in the coming months.

Reporting by Mary Ann Alapatt and Sonam Rai in Bengaluru and Naomi Tajitsu in Tokyo; Editing by Shailesh Kuber & Kim Coghill

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S&P 500 posts highest close since November 8 on trade optimism

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – The S&P 500 posted its highest closing level since Nov. 8 on Friday as investors clung to signs of progress in the ongoing trade talks between the United States and China.

Investors assessed a slew of headlines on the talks, with top trade negotiators from the two countries meeting to wrap up a week of discussions on some of the thorniest issues in their trade war.

If the two sides fail to reach a deal by midnight on March 1, then their seven-month trade war could escalate.

“People are expecting some sort of positive news on trade and tariffs with China fairly soon,” said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“But we won’t know until the end of next week,” he said, and, “there has been a lack of specifics.”

Optimism on the trade front and dovish signals from the U.S. Federal Reserve have driven the recent gains and left indexes well above their lows of December, when the market swooned on fears of an economic slowdown. The S&P 500 is now up about 19 percent since its late-December low.

The S&P 500 technology index was up 1.3 percent, leading gains among the 11 major S&P sectors, while the trade-exposed industrials index climbed 0.6 percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 181.18 points, or 0.7 percent, to 26,031.81, the S&P 500 gained 17.79 points, or 0.64 percent, to 2,792.67 and the Nasdaq Composite added 67.84 points, or 0.91 percent, to 7,527.55.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

All three indexes registered gains for the week, with both the Dow and Nasdaq posting a ninth week of increases.

The number of New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq stocks hitting 52-week highs hit 367, the most since mid-September and outnumbered those hitting year lows by the widest margin in six months.

Stocks briefly pared gains after U.S. officials briefed on the negotiations said more time is likely needed in the talks given China’s resistance this week to American demands for specific steps by Beijing to end forced transfers of U.S. technology and certain other policies.

Afterward, President Donald Trump said there was a very good chance the United States would strike a deal with China to end the trade war, and that he was inclined to extend his March 1 deadline to reach an agreement.

“Right now the downside risk has been not as steep, but there’s always a concern that something happens last-minute,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

“Having a Chinese economy that stabilizes is constructive for global markets,” she said. “That’s what is key in terms of the market looking at the results.”

Kraft Heinz Co tumbled 27.5 percent, and was the biggest drag on the S&P along with a 1.7 percent fall in Class B shares of the company’s controlling stakeholder, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

The packaged food company posted a quarterly loss, disclosed a Securities and Exchange Commission probe and wrote down the value of its iconic Kraft and Oscar Mayer brands.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.99-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.45-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 64 new 52-week highs and three new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 112 new highs and 21 new lows.

About 6.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges. That compares with the 7.3 billion-share daily average for the past 20 trading days.

Additional reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis

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FCA sets $14 million annual target compensation for CEO Manley: filing

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FILE PHOTO: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) CEO Mike Manley arrives at the memorial service held in honor of former CEO Sergio Marchionne in Turin, Italy, September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Massimo Pinca/File Photo

DETROIT (Reuters) – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) has set an annual compensation target for Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley consisting of pay, cash and equity bonuses of $14 million, the automaker said in a regulatory filing on Friday.

Manley took over as the head of FCA last July after the abrupt departure of his predecessor Sergio Marchionne. The company paid its new CEO 600,442 euros ($680,240) for 2018 and he will receive a bonus for 2018 of $367,000 to be paid this year.

Manley also was granted FCA 180,364 shares for his work in 2018, which will vest in 2019 if the company meets certain targets. The fair value per share on the date those were granted was $16.61, FCA said.

His target annual compensation consists of a base salary of $1.6 million, and a bonus of $2.4 million and an equity award valued at $10 million, both linked to the company hitting certain performance targets.

Former CEO Marchionne received 6.6 million euros in compensation for 2018, which consisted of nearly 2 million euros in base pay and an annual bonus for 2017 of just over 4.6 million euros.

For the 2014 to 2017 time period, Marchionne also received 2.8 million FCA shares. The fair value per share was $14.84, FCA said.

FCA chairman John Elkann received a base salary of 1.7 million euros and no annual bonus.

Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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Flattening U.S. yield curve in late 2018 ‘flashing red’ on economy: Fed’s Williams

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President and Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, John Williams, addresses a news conference in Zurich, Switzerland September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A flattening U.S. yield curve in December, which was close to being inverted, was “flashing red” about a deceleration in U.S. economic growth heading into 2019, despite some solid data at the time, New York Federal Reserve President John Williams said on Friday.

The yield curve flattens as the gap between short and long-dated yields narrow, suggesting investors’ worries about a slowing economy.

The yield curve inverts when shorter-dated yields rise above longer-dated ones. An inverted yield curve has preceded all U.S. recessions in the past 50 years.

Williams was giving closing remarks at a conference about quantitative tools, jointly sponsored by the New York Fed and the Atlanta Federal Reserve.

Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Diane Craft

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