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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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JP Morgan on Asian markets outlook, stock picks

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A man looks at a screen showing global stock market information on the street in Tokyo, Japan.

Chris McGrath | Getty Images

A man looks at a screen showing global stock market information on the street in Tokyo, Japan.

Investors can expect the “best” returns from Asian stocks in the first half of 2019 as negative sentiment from last year subsides, a J.P. Morgan strategist said on Thursday.

“We’re expecting more upside in the first half … I think the best part of the returns you’ll have in Asian equities will be in the first half,” Mixo Das, Asia equity strategist at J.P. Morgan, told CNBC’s “Street Signs.”

At end of last year, investors were worried about multiple factors that could pressure stocks, including a potential recession in the U.S., slowing growth in China and the tariff fight between the world’s two largest economies. Those concerns led to a sell-off in global markets, with stocks in Greater China, Japan and South Korea among the biggest losers in Asia.

But many of those events that investors feared could happen this year have not turned out to be as bad as expected, Das noted.

“At we get more clarity on the U.S.-China trade deal, China’s growth bottoming out at some time in [the first] half, and the U.S. economy averting a recession in 2019 — all these things essentially will reinforce that risks are coming down and that’s why equities are going to be going higher in the first half,” he added.

The strategist added that he prefers “value stocks” — those trading a price below where investors think it should be — in the first half of this year. He also favors shares in China, Singapore and the Philippines.

But growth in company earnings could weaken in the second half of the year, partly due to disruptions on the trade front, which has started to hit economic activity worldwide, said Das.

With little good news to lift regional stock prices beyond the first six months of the year, the strategist added that “growth stocks” — firms seen to have a lot of potential to expand — would be his preferred picks. Das said such an environment could make growth stocks “the best performers over the course of 2019.”

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Barney Swan skied Antarctica with clean energy to fight climate change

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When Barney Swan walked out of a meeting with NASA in 2016, he felt frustrated.

The then-23-year-old and a handful of colleagues had just partaken in a presentation highlighting the destructive impact Antarctica’s collapsing ice shelves are having on the planet.

“It was terrifying, actually terrifying,” Swan said, recalling that meeting during a UN-partnered sustainability conference in in Singapore in January.

“(Antarctica has) 90 percent of the world’s ice, 70 percent of the world’s freshwater is locked within that ice,” he said. “That place has the capacity alone to raise our sea level 20 feet, globally.”

“I walked out of that meeting with NASA feeling almost disabled,” said Swan.

But he didn’t let the experience deter him. Instead, Swan decided to do something about it: He teamed up with his father, Robert Swan — the first man to ski to both the South Pole and the North Pole in the late 1980s — and set out on an epic journey to prove that sustainability can be achieved on a large scale.

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Beijing reports China economic data

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China’s closely watched trade surplus with the U.S. fell to $27.3 billion in January, from $29.87 billion in December.

In January, China’s exports to the U.S. fell 2.4 percent from a year ago, while imports from its trade war opponent tanked 41.2 percent over the same period.

Despite the upbeat data, analysts say data from China in the first two months of the year must be treated with caution due to business distortions caused by the timing of the week-long Lunar New Year public holiday, which fell in mid-February in 2018 but started on Feb. 4 this year.

Mixo Das, Asia equity strategist at J.P. Morgan, said he would not read too much into a single data point, especially with the presence of such distortions like the national holidays, cyclical trends and ongoing structural changes.

Das told CNBC he still expected China’s economy to bottom in the first half of the year.

“Even if the latest recovery in trade is genuine, the outlook for this year is still downbeat,” concurred Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China Economist at Capital Economics.

That is due to an expected slowing in global growth that would hit Chinese exports, as well as cooling demand at home, Evans-Pritchard wrote in a note Thursday.

In fact, seasonally adjust trade data will show that even though exports and imports both did better than expected in January, they still remained weaker than a few months ago, he added.

“For now, then, the broad trend in shipments still appears to be pointing down,” Evans-Pritchard said.

Thursday’s data release comes as American and Chinese trade negotiators began a new round of talks in Beijing this week as the world’s two largest economies renewed efforts to reach a deal.

Officials from both countries are trying to reach a deal ahead of a March 1 deadline when U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are scheduled to increase to 25 percent from 10 percent.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Friday, the South China Morning Post reported.

—CNBC’s Fred Imbert and Reuters contributed to this report.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that China on Thursday reported exports and imports data for January that easily topped expectations.

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