Authorities in France say a ninth person has been killed in yellow vest protests, as a dwindling number of demonstrators continue to block tollbooths and roundabouts around the country and more in Thursday’s Markets In Brief.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in remarks carried on French television that the victim was a protester killed Thursday in the southwest city of Agen, among several thousand still holding actions despite police efforts to dislodge them.

Calling for calm during the holidays, Castaner said, “This must stop. Nine dead.”

Lawmaker Olivier Damaisin tweeted that the protester was hit by a truck, and had been a local yellow vest movement leader.

Eight others have died in incidents tied to the movement, mostly from traffic accidents linked to roadblocks. The movement started Nov. 17 by drivers angry over a fuel tax hike.


China Says Trade Talks With US Planned for January

Chinese and U.S. envoys will hold talks in January aimed at resolving a tariff battle, a Ministry of Commerce spokesman said Thursday.

Timing and other details are being worked out following discussions by phone about intellectual property protection, trade balances and other issues, said spokesman Gao Feng. He didn’t respond to a question about a possible location.

Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed Dec. 1 to postpone more tariff hikes while the two sides negotiate over U.S. complaints that Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.

Trump agreed at that time to postpone a round of tariff hikes on $200 billion of Chinese imports planned for Jan. 1. On Friday, Beijing responded by announcing a 90-day postponement on imposing a 25-percent duty on imported U.S. vehicles.

“Both sides have taken the initiative to release positive signals,” said Gao.

Sweden Raises Key Interest Rate for First Time Since 2011

Sweden’s central bank says it has raised its key repo interest rate to -0.25 percent, from -0.50 percent amid signs that the Swedish economy is picking up steam.

Riksbanken says the country’s monetary policy “is still expansionary and will thereby continue to support economic activity.”

Swedish news agency TT said Thursday it was the first time since 2011 that the central bank in Sweden had raised its repo rate, the interest rate it charges on lending to commercial banks.

Riksbanken said another increase will probably come in the second half of 2019.

Altria Spending $12.8B for a Stake in E-Vapor Company JUUL

Altria is spending $12.8 billion for a stake in e-vapor company JUUL as one of the world’s biggest tobacco companies tries to offset declining cigarette use.

Altria Group Inc. said Thursday that its investment puts the value of JUUL Labs Inc. at $38 billion.

JUUL will remain a fully independent company and have access to Altria’s infrastructure and services.

3 More Ex-Pilot Flying J Officials Sentenced in Fraud Plot

Three more former executives of the largest U.S. fuel retailer have been sentenced to prison in a plot to cheat trucking companies out of millions of dollars.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports former Pilot Flying J executives Arnold Ralenkotter, Jay Stinnett and John Spiewak were sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier. They received reduced sentences for admitting guilt and working with prosecutors to convict former company president Mark Hazelwood of fraud, and two others, this year.

Ralenkotter and Spiewak each received a 21-month sentence. Stinnett was sentenced to 30 months.

Judge Collier says it was probably the biggest fraud case in the trucking industry’s history.

The Knoxville, Tennessee-based company is controlled by the family of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. The Haslams haven’t been charged with wrongdoing.

Walgreens: Fiscal 1Q Earnings Snapshot

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. (WBA) on Thursday reported fiscal first-quarter profit of $1.12 billion.

The Deerfield, Illinois-based company said it had profit of $1.18 per share. Earnings, adjusted for one-time gains and costs, were $1.46 per share.

The results exceeded Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $1.43 per share.

The largest U.S. drugstore chain posted revenue of $33.79 billion in the period, also topping Street forecasts. Seven analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $33.58 billion.

Walgreens shares have risen nearly 1 percent since the beginning of the year. The stock has risen 1.5 percent in the last 12 months.

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