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Trudeau says no public inquiry into SNC-Lavalin affair needed right now

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested today a public inquiry isn’t necessary to get to the bottom of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Heading into a Liberal national caucus meeting, Trudeau did not rule out an inquiry but said the Commons justice committee is “seized” with the issue and noted the ethics commissioner also has launched an investigation.

“We’ll be hearing from (former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould), we’ll be hearing from experts, we’ll be hearing from a range of people. (The committee) will make the determination as to who it needs to hear from,” he said. “It is important that there be an airing on this situation at the same time as we continue to work on a broad range of big issues that matter.”

MPs will vote later today on an NDP motion to launch a public inquiry into allegations that officials in the Prime Minister’s Office tried to pressure Wilson-Raybould to direct the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to draft a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) — a legal tool resembling a plea deal — for SNC-Lavalin.

That would have allowed the global engineering firm to avoid criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud charges related to contracts in Libya.

Conservatives have said they will support the motion.

Liberal caucus chair Francis Scarpaleggia said he has “a lot of faith” in the justice committee process and doesn’t think a public inquiry is necessary.

“Personally, I don’t see a need for one,” he said.

Asked about the damage the scandal may be doing to the Liberals in an election year, Scarpaleggia said the caucus is “100 per cent” behind the prime minister and is letting the process unfold.

After a two-hour closed door meeting Tuesday, members of the justice committee emerged with a list of witnesses that includes a handful of academics and Justice Minister David Lametti, in addition to Wilson-Raybould.

The hearings were tentatively scheduled to begin this afternoon, but were delayed due to scheduling issues with potential witnesses.

Bound by privilege constraints

It’s still not clear how much Wilson-Raybould will be able to publicly divulge, as she remains bound by client-solicitor privilege. As the former attorney general, she served as the government’s top lawyer.

Today, Wilson-Raybould said she respects the committee process. She also acknowledged that the question of whether her appearance will be meaningful — given the potential limitations on what she can say — is “an appropriate one.”

“I want to be able to ensure that I’m confident in what I can and can’t say,” she said on her way in to the weekly Liberal caucus meeting.

Wilson-Raybould has retained Thomas Cromwell, a retired Supreme Court justice, as her legal counsel.

She quit Trudeau’s cabinet last week — just a week after being demoted to the Veterans Affairs post and just days after the Globe and Mail reported on the allegation of political interference in the SNC-Lavalin criminal case. Today, she said she is unable to explain her resignation due to confidentiality constraints.

Key players not invited to committee

“I know this is frustrating for many people. I’m committed to ensuring that I know what I can and cannot say as I’m getting legal advice around privilege,” she said.

Conservatives and New Democrats have accused the Liberals of blocking key players from appearing before the justice committee — among them Gerry Butts, who suddenly resigned Monday from his position as Trudeau’s top adviser.

Wilson-Raybould surprised many Tuesday when she emerged from the cabinet room in the afternoon after addressing Trudeau and his ministers.

Today, Trudeau said she had made the request to address her former cabinet colleagues.

“I think it’s extremely important that everyone have an opportunity to hear the different perspectives in this situation,” he said.

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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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