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Wall Street concluded a tumultuous 2018 on Monday as the major stock indexes posted their worst yearly performances since the financial crisis.

After solid gains on Monday, the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average were down 6.2 percent and 5.6 percent, respectively, for 2018. Both indexes logged in their biggest annual losses since 2008, when they plunged 38.5 percent and 33.8 percent, respectively. The Nasdaq Composite lost 3.9 percent in 2018, its worst year in a decade, when it dropped 40 percent.

The S&P 500 and Dow fell for the first time in three years, while the Nasdaq snapped a six-year winning streak. 2018 was a year fraught with volatility, characterized by record highs and sharp reversals. This year also marks the first time ever the S&P 500 posts a decline after rising in the first three quarters.

For the quarter, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq plunged 13.97 percent and 17.5 percent, respectively, their worst quarterly performances since the fourth quarter of 2008. The Dow notched its worst period since the first quarter of 2009, falling nearly 12 percent.

A sizable chunk of this quarter’s losses came during a violent December. The indexes all dropped at least 8.7 percent for the month. The Dow and S&P 500 also recorded their worst December performance since 1931 and their biggest monthly loss since February 2009.

Investors dumped stocks this month amid concerns of an economic slowdown and fears the Federal Reserve might be making a monetary policy mistake. Concern over ongoing trade negotiations between China and the U.S. have also pressured stocks this month.

But that doesn’t explain just how wild a ride December was for investors. At its low price on Christmas Eve, the S&P 500 was down more than 20 percent from its record high on an intraday basis, briefly meeting the requirement for a bear market. The stock market would come soaring back in the next session, with the Dow jumping more than 1,000 points on Dec. 26, its biggest ever point gain.

Traders had trouble pinpointing the cause of the extreme volatility, with some chalking it up to computer-driven trading.

The major averages trimmed some of their sharp annual losses on Monday on hopes of trade progress between China and the U.S. The Dow climbed 265 points, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both gained 0.8 percent.

John Stoltzfus, chief investment strategist at Oppenheimer Asset Management, said these declines are “setting the stage for upward surprises in 2019.”

“With what we believe to be almost all but the kitchen sink priced into current valuations, we see opportunity for multiples to return to levels seen at the end of the third quarter … with multiple expansions resulting in a global equity rebound in the coming year,” Stoltzfus wrote in a note.

“That said, we do not expect a rally of great significance to emerge until sometime into the first quarter of 2019. We look for market risk to weigh on investor sentiment into the new year until catalysts for a rally of some material significance appear on the scene,” he added.

Merck shares rose more than 1 percent, ending the year as the best-performing Dow component of 2018. Pfizer, the second best performer on the Dow this year, also climbed 1.6 percent on Monday. Netflix jumped 4.5 percent while Amazon rose 1 percent after the popular FAANG trade (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Alphabet) took a beating recently.

President Donald Trump said this weekend he had a “very good call” with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss trade. The president also claimed that “big progress” was being made on this front. Trump’s statements sparked gains in markets worldwide.

However, The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump may be overstating how much progress was being made. The report cited people familiar with the situation. China and the U.S. agreed earlier this month to a 90-day grace period to try and work out their differences on trade.

“The threat of an escalating trade war has chilled US business confidence, with managers uncertain as to if/how they should restructure global supply chains,” Nicholas Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research, wrote in a note to clients.

“The most bullish case here is that the tariff issue will be settled in Q1 2019, and a meaningful resolution should be enough to trigger a first half rally for stocks,” Colas added. “Against that optimistic take are two bearish outcomes: one, that these negotiations take longer and two, that they fail outright.”



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Apple TV channels streaming TV service announced

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Apple TV Channels includes Epix, HBO, Showtime, Starz and others. Users will need to subscribe to each channel, but Apple did not say how much it will cost for each service or if it will offer a package that includes all of them at a discount.

“For some of us, the big bundle is more than we need, so we designed a new TV experience where you can pay for only the channels you want all in one app,” Apple’s Peter Stern said during Apple’s press conference. “Watch everything on-demand and ad-free.”

Some of this isn’t new: Apple TV already lets people connect their cable provider into the Apple TV app and, using single sign-on, automatically login to apps that support streaming if you also pay for cable.

A new home screen inside a new Apple TV app will serve as a launchpad for finding TV shows and movies to watch, and it will make recommendations it thinks you’ll like. The Apple TV app is already available on iPad, iPhone and Apple TV, but the company will also bring it to Macs this spring. It will also launch on Vizio, Sony, LG and Samsung smart TVs, as well as Roku and Amazon Fire TV boxes.

Apple TV Channels and the new Apple TV app will launch through a software update in May. It will be available in more than 100 countries.

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Trump’s victory in the Mueller probe could make him take a tougher stand in China talks

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President Donald Trump’s resounding triumph in the Russia collusion investigation is set to reverberate into policy, with the most likely first impact the looming trade negotiations with China.

With the release of a summary of Robert Mueller’s report on his two-year investigation, a previously reeling Trump no longer looks as desperate for a policy win of any sort.

“It sure looked a month ago like he really badly needed a victory. I thought he would take virtually anything on trade,” said Greg Valliere, chief U.S. policy strategist at AGF and an expert on the political ramifications on financial markets. “Now that he’s got this victory, it makes him less desperate for a deal. Maybe he can get a little tougher on the Chinese.”

The timing couldn’t be better for Trump.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are off to China this week to continue negotiations over multiple trade-related issues. The two sides have been at loggerheads and involved in a tit-for-tat tariff battle that has been suspended while the negotiations continue.

Financial markets have been nervous over the progress of talks, and Wall Street largely has been hoping the issues could be resolved by the end of the month.

However, the potential that Trump could feel emboldened by the apparent conclusion from the Mueller report that the president’s campaign did not collude with Russia might delay progress with China.

“Although it is too early to tell, the developments are likely to increase the stickiness of the administration’s policies for the foreseeable future,” Ed Mills, public policy analyst at Raymond James, said in a note. “This may serve to lengthen the runway for the completion of a deal with greater concessions from China.”

The Mueller report and the China negotiations were thought to represent two of the key unknowns for corporate executives and investors. After 2018 saw the best economic growth of the expansion that began in mid-2009, 2019 started off with a high level of uncertainty, particularly over the effects that slowdowns in Europe and China will have on the U.S.

With an election year right around the corner, Trump also will need to shore up his base, much of which exists in the heartland and among the farmers who have taken a substantial hit from the China tensions. China also has suffered by losing a key market for its exports.

“Both sides have incentives to reach an agreement,” wrote Tom Block, head of research at Fundstrat Global Advisors. “China’s economy has been slipping and an end to mounting US tariffs would be a significant boost. For the US, all roads for a Trump 2020 victory lead through a solid red farm belt.”

Those looking for a resolution, however, may have to be patient.

“For people who were hoping for a quick trade deal, prospects have slipped that we’ll get anything done quickly,” Valliere said. “This could drag on a little bit more than the market had anticipated.”

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Trump moves toward China trade deal and USMCA after Mueller report

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The high-stakes trade decisions in Washington do not end there. Trump has also accused Europe of unfair trade practices, and sees tariffs on European cars as one means to address them.

The move would come with its own political risks. Trump’s tariff policy has sparked more backlash from Republicans on Capitol Hill than just about anything the president has done since he took office.

GOP lawmakers have in particular questioned the national security justification the Trump administration used to put duties on steel and aluminum imports last year. A group of lawmakers from both major parties led by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross last week asking him to publish the auto tariff report and answer questions about how he came to his conclusions.

Some GOP senators have already signaled they will oppose auto tariffs if Trump levies them.

“Section 232 is a vital trade remedy tool for genuine national security threats, but misusing it on autos is harmful for Ohio, its economy & auto manufacturing in our state,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a written statement. “I urge the administration to make public its recent report justifying its rationale in this case.”

Last week, Trump told Fox Business Network that he wants European automakers to build their cars in the U.S. Still, he may not exactly agree with the rationale his administration would use to levy the duties on automobiles.

Asked if he thought car imports threatened national security, the president answered, “Well, no.” He said “what poses a national security risk is our balance sheet,” in reference to trade deficits with the European Union.

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