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Customers browse produce during the grand opening of the Lidl Ltd. store in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Benjamin Boshart | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Customers browse produce during the grand opening of the Lidl Ltd. store in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

World food prices declined in November to their lowest level in more than two years, led down by much weaker vegetable oil, dairy and cereal prices, the United Nations food agency said on Thursday.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) food price index, which measures monthly changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar, averaged 160.8 points last month, down from a revised 162.9 in October, reaching its lowest level since May 2016.

The October figure was previously given as 163.5.

FAO said global cereals output in 2018/19 was seen at 2.595 billion tonnes, down marginally from the previous forecast and 2.4 percent below last year’s record high production.

FAO’s forecast for world wheat production in 2018/19 was 725.1 million tonnes, 2.8 million tonnes lower than the previous forecast.

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US, China expected to hold in-person trade talks next week

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US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Feb. 15, 2019

Mark Schiefelbein | AFP | Getty Images

American trade negotiators will soon head to China for face-to-face talks as the world’s two largest economies try to strike a deal, sources told CNBC.

The U.S. officials will travel to China for discussions sometime between Friday and Thursday, August 1. The discussions will continue renewed engagement between the sides as they try to end a potentially damaging trade war. 

White House officials are eyeing a longer-term timeline to strike a deal with China, two people who have met with White House principals in the last day said. It may take roughly six months to reach an agreement. 

In the meantime, the administration could shift its focus to ratifying the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. President Donald Trump sees approving his replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement as a major economic and political priority. 

Investors have watched the China talks closely. A widening trade war between Washington and Beijing would risk more damage to American companies and the global economy. 

The Trump administration has put tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods — and threatened to put duties on even more products. Beijing has slapped tariffs on $110 billion in American goods. 

Both the U.S. and China have taken steps to deescalate tension in recent days. Trump agreed to make “timely” decisions about whether to allow American tech companies to sell to blacklisted Chinese firm Huawei. 

Meanwhile, Chinese state media reported that China had taken steps to start following through on its promise to buy more U.S. agricultural goods. Trump sees the step as important to reaching an agreement as American farmers take a hit from tariffs on crops. 

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UBS earnings Q2 2019

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UBS announced a net profit of $1.4 billion for the second quarter of 2019. This compared to a net profit of 1.28 billion Swiss francs ($1.29 billion) in the second quarter of 2018.

The Swiss-lender announced that this is the highest second-quarter net profit since 2010. The profit boost comes in despite declines in both its investment bank and wealth management divisions.

Here are some key highlights for the quarter:

  • Operating income hit $7.5 billion versus $7.6 billion a year ago
  • Return on tangible equity stood at 11.9% versus 12% a year ago
  • Common equity tier 1 capital ratio of 13.3% versus 13.4% a year ago

“We saw a normalization of the environment coming out of a good March into the rest of the quarter. I’d say the highlights were clearly: diversification paid off again,” Sergio Ermotti, chief executive officer of UBS told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche.

UBS shares hovered around the flatline shortly after the market open.

Global Wealth Management down

UBS, however, saw a decline in its global wealth management business compared to a year ago. The bank reported an operating profit of $886 million compared to over $1 billion in the second quarter of 2018.

Profits in its investment bank division also fell from a year ago. It registered an operating profit of $440 million in the second quarter for this year compared to $571 million a year ago.

Speaking to CNBC, Ermotti explained that “the u-turn in the interest rate environment in the U.S. has created pressure.”

Market expectations point to an interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve later this month. The central bank had embarked on a normalization path in 2015, after the global and sovereign debt crises. However, recent data has shown worsening economic conditions in the U.S.

In Europe, the outlook is similar for monetary policy. The European Central Bank (ECB) said in May that if incoming economic data does not show an improvement, then the central bank will be prepared to announce more stimulus.

Ermotti told CNBC that he is not sure whether further easing will propel the economy. “I’m not sure going deeper into negative territory or using the QE (quantitative easing) is the way to get out of the problems…We need more structural answers,” he said.

Ermotti warned “there are severe broader considerations than just the banking industry” from low rates.

Outlook

Ermotti’s comments come in after the Swiss-lender warned in its latest results that a return to monetary stimulus from various central banks could dent profits going forward. “A sharp drop in interest rates and expected rate cuts will continue to adversely affect net interest income compared with last year,” UBS said.

However, the Swiss bank expects that a diversified business, stronger investor sentiment and higher market volatility will help offsetting impacts from changes to monetary policy.

In the previous quarter, UBS had announced that cutting an extra $300 million from its 2019 costs after anticipating the fall in revenues.

“We constantly look at ways from a structural and tactical point of view, and the 300 million were pretty much tactical. We always think constantly on how to optimize our cost base but at the same time we are investing in the future,” Ermotti said Tuesday.

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Q2 net profit falls 18% amid Popular costs

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Santander said on Tuesday second-quarter net profit fell 18% from a year earlier, due to one-off restructuring costs from its acquisition of troubled lender Banco Popular and a weak performance in Britain.

The euro zone’s largest bank in terms of market cap — which took over Banco Popular in June 2017 — reported a net profit of 1.39 billion euros ($1.56 billion) for the April to June period, topping analysts’ expectation of 1.29 billion euros in a Reuters poll.

Steady growth in Latin America business volumes, where it makes 46% of its earnings, was not enough to offset charges of 706 million euros, mainly in Spain.

Like its European rivals, Santander is struggling to lift earnings from loans in its home market with interest rates hovering at historic lows.

“We have delivered the strongest underlying quarterly performance in over 8 years, reflecting the progress that we have made in our commercial and digital transformation,” Jose Garcia Cantera, chief financial officer of Santander, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”

“Our businesses in both North and South America continue to perform extremely well and while the charges relating to ongoing infrastructure in Europe have impacted attributable profit — something that we anticipated — we are already starting to see the value that this will create going forward,” Cantera said.

Net interest income, a measure of earnings on loans minus deposit costs, was 8.95 billion euros, up 5.6% from the second quarter of last year and 3.1% higher against the previous quarter due to a solid lending growth in Latin America.

Analysts had forecast a NII of 8.76 billion euros. 

In Britain, its third-largest region, profit fell 41%, partly due to restructuring costs of 26 million euros and provisions of 80 million euros.

Santander ended the quarter with a core Tier-1 capital ratio, a closely watched measure of a bank’s strength, of 11.3%, compared with 11.23% in the previous quarter.

Shares of the bank were up over 2% shortly after the opening bell.

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