Senate confirms Lighthizer as trade rep

The Senate on Thursday confirmed President Trump’s nominee for U.S. trade representative on a bipartisan vote, despite complaints from some Republicans that the administration has an “ongoing, incoherent and inconsistent trade message.”

The Senate voted 82-14 to confirm Robert E. Lighthizer, who served as deputy U.S. trade representative under President Ronald Reagan and has worked on trade issues as a lawyer representing manufacturers and high-tech companies.

Lighthizer will take his cues from a president who has broken with most Republicans in his criticism of free-trade deals.

Two Republican senators said late Wednesday they would oppose Lighthizer. Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) said in a letter to Lighthizer that his confirmation process had failed to reassure them that he understands the economic benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Some of Lighthizer’s strongest support came from Democratic lawmakers. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) said Lighthizer not only understands how the global trading system works, but also how it sometimes breaks down.

Associated Press

Cigna wins ruling on merger with Anthem

Cigna can walk away from its merger with Anthem, a Delaware judge ruled almost three months after another court blocked the deal as anticompetitive.

The ruling Thursday by Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster means Anthem could be on the hook for $1.85 billion in breakup fees and $13 billion in damages to Cigna, which had argued that its would-be partner refused to acknowledge that concerns about competition were insurmountable.

The ruling may be the final dagger to a deal that has been as notable for the bad blood between the two insurers as its antitrust roadblocks. Anthem is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn rulings finding the deal flawed by antitrust problems, but the court is unlikely to weigh in now that Cigna has been allowed to walk.

Bloomberg News

Also in Business

Inflation at the wholesale level jumped in April, fueled by rising prices of food and energy. The Labor Department said Thursday that its producer price index, which measures inflation before it reaches the consumer, rose 0.5 percent in April after a 0.1 percent decline in March — the largest gain since a 0.5 percent rise in January. Energy prices rose 0.8 percent in April; food costs rose 0.9 percent. Overall inflation at the wholesale level was up 2.5 percent over the past 12 months, the largest 12-month gain in five years. Core inflation at the wholesale level, which excludes food, energy and trade services, was up 0.7 percent in April, 2.1 percent over 12 months.

Long-term U.S. mortgage rates inched higher this week. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on 30-year fixed-rate home loans rose to 4.05 percent from 4.02 percent last week. The rate on 15-year mortgages ticked up to 3.29 percent last week from 3.27 percent. The average fee for a 30-year mortgage was unchanged this week at 0.5 point. The fee on 15-year loans also held steady at 0.5 point. Rates on adjustable five-year loans edged up to 3.14 percent from 3.13 percent last week. The fee remained at 0.5 point.

Nordstrom reported weaker-than-expected same-store sales in the first quarter Thursday as fewer people visited its U.S. stores, sending shares down 3.7 percent after the bell. The apparel retailer reported a 0.8 percent decline in comparable-store sales for the quarter that ended April 29. Analysts polled by Consensus Metrix had expected flat sales. The company’s net income rose to $63 million, or 37 cents per share, from $46 million, or 26 cents per share, a year earlier. Net sales rose 2.7 percent to $3.28 billion, helped by strong demand at Nordstrom Rack and its website.

Sony has named former Fox television executive Anthony Vinciquerra as chairman and chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment, effective June 1, the company said Thursday. He will replace Michael Lynton, who announced in January that he would step down in the spring. Vinciquerra, a senior adviser at TPG Capital, will oversee Sony’s film and television studio and its worldwide networks division. He previously served as chairman and chief executive of Fox Networks Group, then a unit of News Corp.

A federal judge in San Francisco has approved a $1.2 billion settlement with owners of about 88,500 Volkswagens with 3-liter diesel engines rigged to cheat on emissions tests. Judge Charles Breyer gave final approval during a hearing Thursday. The deal ends most of the litigation over VW’s cheating scandal, which became public in 2015.

Ice cream maker Mikawaya is recalling a batch of its chocolate mochi ice cream sold at Trader Joe’s stores because the product contains peanuts, the company said Thursday. Peanuts, which can cause dangerous allergic reactions, are not listed as an ingredient on the boxes of the ice cream. The ice cream is sold at Trader Joe’s locations across the United States, but Mikawaya spokesman Russell Barnet did not know how many boxes or which specific stores were affected. Customers can return mochi ice cream with the code “LOT 090-17” for full refunds.

China failed on Thursday to win a tougher ruling against U.S. anti-dumping rules at the World Trade Organization. China complained to the WTO in 2013 about the way Washington calculates anti-dumping duties on Chinese products, and it won the bulk of its case last October. The United States did not appeal that ruling, but China, aiming to score some more points against U.S. trade policy, filed a limited, technical appeal. The WTO’s Appellate Body rejected most of China’s arguments.

From news reports