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    Japan's exports rose 16 percent in November from a year earlier driven by robust overseas demand for cars and manufacturing equipment that is helping to sustain the longest economic expansion in more than 15 years.Customs data released Monday showed the trade surplus for the world's third-largest economy slipping 23 percent from the year before to 113.4 billion yen ($1 billion), however, as imports jumped 17 percent thanks to a surge in purchases of crude oil and natural gas.Exports totaled 6.92 trillion yen ($61.4 billion), while imports came to 6.81 trillion yen ($60.4 billion), according to the preliminary data.A revival in export manufacturing is helping sustain Japan's recovery, with strongest growth in shipments of vehicles, power generating equipment, computers and computer parts and semiconductor machinery.Exports to China surged 25 percent, helping drive a 20 percent increase in exports to all of Asia. Shipments to the U.S. were up 13 percent, while exports to Western Europe climbed 17 percent, led by a 27 percent jump in exports to Germany.Japan's trade surplus with the rest of Asia jumped nearly 26 percent last month, to 439 billion yen ($3.9 billion), with double-digit year-on-year increases to all countries in Southeast Asia. Japanese companies have focused on expanding in that increasingly affluent market of more than 600 million people.Trade values will likely weaken due to a strengthening in the value of the Japanese yen, Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics said in a commentary. 'However, the export climate index was the highest in nearly three years in November and suggests that export volumes will continue to rise strongly,' he said.Japan's economy expanded at a 2.5 percent annual pace in July-September, the seventh straight quarter of growth and the longest period of expansion since 2001.
  • Another security based on the price of bitcoin, the digital currency that has soared in value and volatility this year, began trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Sunday.The CME Group, which owns the exchange, opened up bitcoin futures for trading at 6 p.m. EST on Sunday. The futures contract that expires in January opened higher at $20,650, then declined steadily. The futures were trading at $18,895 at 10:30 p.m. EST.The CME futures, like the ones that CME competitor the Cboe started trading last week, do not involve actual bitcoin. The CME's futures will track an index of bitcoin prices pulled from several private exchanges. The Cboe's futures track the price of bitcoin prices on the particular private exchange known as Gemini.Each contract sold on the CME will be for five bitcoin.As bitcoin's price has skyrocketed on private exchanges this year, largely under its own momentum, interest on Wall Street has grown. The virtual currency was trading below $1,000 at the beginning of the year, and rose to more than $19,000 on some exchanges in the days leading up to its debut on the Cboe and CME. Bitcoin was trading at $18,786.00 Sunday night on Coinbase.But the growing interest in bitcoin has raised questions on whether its value has gotten too frothy. The Securities and Exchange Commission put out a statement last week warning investors to be careful with any investment in bitcoin or other digital currencies. Further, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission has proposed regulating bitcoin like a commodity, not unlike gold, silver, platinum or oil.Futures are a type of contract where a buyer and seller agree on a price on a particular item to be delivered on a certain date in the future, hence the name. Futures are available for nearly every type of security out there, but are most familiarly used in commodities, like oil wheat, soy and gold.Bitcoin is the world's most popular virtual currency. Such currencies are not tied to a bank or government and allow users to spend money anonymously. They are basically lines of computer code that are digitally signed each time they are traded.A debate is raging on the merits of such currencies. Some say they serve merely to facilitate money laundering and illicit, anonymous payments. Others say they can be helpful methods of payment, such as in crisis situations where national currencies have collapsed.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi' will happily settle for second.Rian Johnson's second installment in the third 'Star Wars' trilogy rocketed to a debut of $220 million at the North American box office, according to studio estimates Sunday. That gives 'The Last Jedi' the second-best opening ever, slotting in behind only its predecessor, 'The Force Awakens.'The Disney blockbuster became just the fourth film to open above $200 million domestically. Aside from 'The Force Awakens' ($248.8 million), the others are 'The Avengers' ($207.4 million) and 'Jurassic World' ($208.8 million). Accounting for inflation, the debut of 2012's 'The Avengers' would roughly tie with 'The Last Jedi.'The Last Jedi' is off to a similar start overseas, too, with $230 million in international ticket sales, said Disney. That brings its three-day global haul to $450 million.The opening also gave the Walt Disney Co. the opportunity to flex its muscles on the heels of the deal announced Thursday for it to purchase 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion. As part of the deal, Disney will take control of 20th Century Fox, one of Hollywood's six major studios.'The weekend that we're in is a byproduct of the foresight and vision from our CEO Bob Iger to bring Lucasfilm into the fold,' said Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis, alluding to Disney's 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm. 'So as we think about the possibility of other things being added, you can't help but be excited about the possibilities.'Fox, as it happens, was the only studio to open another new wide-release film against 'The Last Jedi.' Its family film, 'Ferdinand,' was essentially stampeded by 'The Last Jedi,' grossing $13.3 million. 'Ferdinand' and other upcoming holiday season releases will look for more room in the coming weeks, once the 'Star Wars' tsunami has waned.While Abrams' reboot capitalized on a decade's hiatus for 'Star Wars,' Johnson's sequel didn't have the same benefit of freshness. It follows not only 'The Force Awakens' (which ultimately grossed $2.1 billion) but last year's spinoff, 'Rogue One.' That release opened with $155.1 million, and grossed in total little more than $1 billion globally.Johnson, who wrote and directed, instead aimed to distinguish 'The Last Jedi' by introducing some new tones to George Lucas' space opera. 'The Last Jedi' is more irreverent than previous chapters. And it has drawn plaudits for its diverse cast, including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran.'The results speak to the power of representation,' said Hollis. 'The film really reflects our world and beyond. It becomes something people can see themselves in, whether they see themselves in Rey or Finn or Poe or Rose or Captain Phasma. They can relate to all those characters.'Johnson's approach has seemed to work. Critics gave Johnson's film a 93 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences endorsed it, too, with an A CinemaScore, though not all fans are on board with Johnson's innovations. As of Sunday, 'The Last Jedi' has scored a dismal 56 percent rating from some 95,000 Rotten Tomato users.Yet the haul for 'The Last Jedi' dwarfed most all releases in the two years since 'The Force Awakens.' By comparison, it has in three days already bested the five-week gross of Warner Bros.' 'Justice League' ($219.5 million).'Seeing a movie like this in the movie theater, getting the collective goose bumps and having the OMG-moments, that's something you cannot replicate at home on the small screen,' said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. 'Rian Johnson has made a movie that showcases the movie theater experience in a truly brilliant way.'Signaling its faith in Johnson's course for 'Star Wars,' Lucasfilm earlier announced that Johnson will develop the next trilogy for the franchise, the first of which he'll write and direct. Abrams is set to return to direct Episode IX after he was brought in to replace Colin Trevorrow. A separate spinoff centered on a young Han Solo is due out next summer.The massive debut for 'The Last Jedi' singlehandedly brightens what has been a disappointing year for Hollywood. The weekend was far and away the highest grossing of the year. According to comScore, the industry was down about 3.9 percent from last year before this weekend. Now it's 2.9 percent off the 2016 pace. Dergarabedian estimates the year will end about 2 percent down with a little over $11 billion in ticket sales.'The Last Jedi' may be playing the role of savior at the box office, but the news isn't all rosy for exhibitors. Given the demand, Disney put more onerous demands on some theater owners for 'The Last Jedi,' including a higher percentage — 65 percent — of ticket sales. And Disney's acquisition of Fox is seen by analysts as a bid, in part, to strengthen the studio's in-development streaming platform, set to debut in 2019.Disney and Fox combined for five of the top 10 movies on the weekend and together accounted for approximately 90 percent of ticket sales.Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.1. 'The Last Jedi,' $220 million ($230 million international).2. 'Ferdinand,' $13.3 million ($6.2 million international).3. 'Coco,' $10 million ($27.4 million international).4. 'Wonder,' $5.4 million ($9.4 million international).5. 'Justice League,' $4.2 million ($5.3 million international).6. 'Daddy's Home 2,' $3.8 million ($5.8 million international).7. 'Thor: Ragnarok,' $3 million ($1.1 million international).8. 'The Disaster Artist,' $2.6 million.9. 'Murder on the Orient Express,' $2.5 million ($10.8 million international).10. 'Lady Bird,' $2.1 million.___Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to comScore:1. 'The Last Jedi,' $230 million.2. 'Youth,' $44 million.3. 'The Thousand Faces of Dunjia,' $27.9 million.4. 'Coco,' $27.4 million.5. 'Steel Rain,' $11.6 million.6. 'Murder on the Orient Express,' $10.8 million.7. 'Paddington 2,' $9.7 million.8. 'Wonder,' $9.4 million.9. 'Ferdinand,' $6.2 million.10. 'Daddy's Home 2,' $5.8 million.___Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he can't rule out a possible government shutdown later this week if Congress deadlocks on another temporary Washington spending bill, but thinks it's unlikely.Speaking on 'Fox News Sunday,' Mnuchin says he expects that lawmakers will understand the need to reach bipartisan agreement on another short-term funding extension to avoid 'sending government workers home for Christmas.'Congress in early December passed a two-week stopgap bill that keeps the government running through this Friday. That measure bought time for negotiations on Republicans' signature tax bill, but GOP talks with Democrats haven't been going as smoothly on the budget.Lingering budget issues include disaster aid, children's health and the potential addition of subsidies for low-income people participating in the Affordable Care Act.
  • British Prime Minister Theresa May said Sunday her government is 'proving the doubters wrong' after European Union leaders agreed that Brexit negotiations can finally move on to their next phase in the new year.Leaders of the other 27 EU nations gave a boost to May on Friday when they agreed that the protracted talks over Britain's exit from the bloc can proceed to the issues of transition and future trade relations between the two sides.Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, May declared that 'the last 10 days have marked a watershed in our negotiations to leave the European Union.' Striking a defiant note, she added that her Brexit plans won't be 'derailed' by anti-Brexit campaigners.'Amid all the noise, we are getting on with the job,' she wrote. 'In the face of those who want to talk Britain down, we are securing the best and most ambitious Brexit deal for our whole United Kingdom.'May, who is already struggling to maintain her authority amid the fractious exit process, suffered a significant political defeat in Parliament on Wednesday when the House of Commons voted to give lawmakers the final say on any Brexit agreement.The prime minister said negotiations would now begin on an 'implementation period' immediately after Britain formally leaves the bloc in March 2019 — but some of her Conservative party members have already signaled that they won't accept arrangements that closely resemble continued EU membership during the transition to a new relationship.With so little time before Britain's expected exit date, negotiators face a tight deadline to carve out a wide-ranging separation deal. A transition phase of about two years, aimed at easing Britain out of the EU and providing some certainty to business, is expected to be an early point of discussion.
  • Israel's national trade union on Sunday held a half-day nationwide strike to protest generic drugmaker Teva's decision to lay off a quarter of its workforce, snarling traffic and shuttering key services across the country.The work stoppage crippled the country's main international airport and seaports, closed banks and government offices and forced hospitals to scale back services to reduced-staff weekend levels.Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., the world's largest generic drugmaker, announced last Thursday that it was cutting 14,000 jobs worldwide. The cuts are expected to include about 1,700 jobs in Israel, roughly one-quarter of its local workforce. The company is considered a national treasure and is one of the largest private-sector employers.In Jerusalem, Teva workers staged demonstrations outside a company plant, at the entrance to the city and outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office as he was convening his Cabinet for its weekly meeting. The workers blocked traffic, beat drums and chanted slogans against the coming layoffs. 'Closing Teva is an attack against the state of Israel,' read one poster.The protest resumed later Sunday when dozens of workers waving Israeli flags again blocked a road near the Jerusalem plant, backing up traffic at the height of rush hour.Speaking to his Cabinet, Netanyahu said that he would be meeting Teva's new chief executive, Kare Schultz. The Israeli leader has said he would do everything possible to minimize the impact of Teva's decision on local workers and keep the company operating in Israel.'It started as an Israeli company and we want it to remain as an Israeli company,' Netanyahu said.Schultz last week sent Netanyahu a letter apologizing for the layoffs but saying he had no choice.The company has been hit hard by the expiration of patents on its blockbuster drug, Copaxone, price pressure on its core business of generic drugs and a $35 billion debt load from its purchase of the generics business of Allergan.
  • The Brazilian construction giant at the center of Latin America's largest corruption scandal says there is no indication the payments made to a consulting firm owned by Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski were illegal.In a letter shared Saturday, Odebrecht Peru says the payments to Westfield Capital were officially accounted for and made exclusively to Kuczynski's business partner.It was unclear whether Odebrecht's disclosure would do anything to sway lawmakers keen on voting for Kuczynski's ouster on grounds the president failed to disclose the payments.Congressional leaders initiated impeachment proceedings against Kuczysnki Friday following revelations Odebrecht-led consortiums paid Westfield Capital $782,000 between 2004 and 2007. Kuczynski was a government minister during much of that time.The president has denied wrongdoing and is scheduled to defend himself before lawmakers on Thursday.
  • Investigators are awaiting the results of autopsies performed on Toronto billionaire and philanthropist Barry Sherman and his wife before determining the next steps in the ongoing probe into their suspicious deaths.Toronto Police Const. David Hopkinson said Saturday the autopsies were being performed a day after the Apotex founder and his wife, Honey, were found dead in their north Toronto mansion. Police have described the deaths as suspicious, but offered no other details to date.Sherman was the chairman of generic drug maker Apotex. Apotex described their deaths as shocking and tragic.Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that he was saddened to by the news of the sudden passing of Barry and his wife Honey.Canadian Business magazine estimated Sherman's worth at $4.77 billion Canadian (US$3.65 billion).
  • Closing in on the first major legislative achievement of his term, President Donald Trump on Saturday defended the Republican tax cut as a good deal for the middle class while boldly suggesting it could lead to explosive economic growth.The legislation, which the GOP aims to muscle through Congress next week, would lower taxes on the richest Americans. Benefits for most other taxpayers would be smaller, but Trump attempted to sell the bill as a 'Christmas present' for middle-class Americans in part because it would trigger job growth.'It'll be fantastic for the middle-income people and for jobs, most of all,' Trump told reporters on the White House lawn before traveling to Camp David for the weekend. 'And I will say that because of what we've done with regulation and other things our economy is doing fantastically well, but it has another big step to go and it can't take that step unless we do the tax bill.'No stranger to hyperbole, Trump also predicted the legislation would cause the economy to soar beyond its current 3 percent rate of growth.'I think we could go to 4, 5 or even 6 percent, ultimately,' the president said. 'We are back. We are really going to start to rock.'Many economists believe that attaining consistent 4 or 5 percent annual growth would be challenging. The nation last topped 5 percent growth in 1984.The Republican plan is the widest-ranging reshaping of the tax code in three decades and is expected to add to the nation's $20 trillion debt. The tax cuts are projected to add $1.46 trillion over a decade.Under the bill, today's 35 percent rate on corporations would fall to 21 percent, the crown jewel of the measure for many Republicans. Trump and GOP leaders had set 20 percent as their goal but added a point to free money for other tax cuts that won over wavering lawmakers in final talks.'This is happening. Tax reform under Republican control of Washington is happening,' House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told rank-and-file members in a conference call Friday. 'Most critics out there didn't think it could happen. ... And now we're on the doorstep of something truly historic.'The bill would repeal an important part of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act — the requirement that all Americans have health insurance or face a penalty — as the GOP looks to unravel a law it failed to repeal and replace this past summer. It came together as Republicans cemented the needed support for the overhaul, securing endorsements from wavering senators.Marco Rubio of Florida relented in his high-profile opposition after negotiators expanded the tax credit that parents can claim for their children. He said he would vote for the measure next week.Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the only Republican to vote against the Senate version earlier this month, made the surprise announcement that he would back the legislation. Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has repeatedly warned that the nation's growing debt is the most serious threat to national security.'I realize this is a bet on our country's enterprising spirit, and that is a bet I am willing to make,' Corker said.The bill embodies a long-standing Republican philosophy that a substantial tax break for businesses will trigger economic growth and job creation for Americans in a trickle-down economy. Skeptical Democrats are likely to oppose the legislation unanimously.'Under this bill, the working class, middle class and upper middle class get skewered while the rich and wealthy corporations make out like bandits,' said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. 'It is just the opposite of what America needs, and Republicans will rue the day they pass this.'The bill would drop today's 39.6 percent top rate on individuals to 37 percent. The standard deduction — used by around two-thirds of households — would be nearly doubled, to $24,000 for married couples.The $1,000-per-child tax deduction would grow to $2,000, with up to $1,400 available in IRS refunds for families who owe little or no taxes. Parents would have to provide children's Social Security numbers to receive the child tax credit, a measure intended to deny the credit to people who are in the U.S. illegally.Those who itemize would lose some deductions. The deduction that millions use in connection with state and local income, property and sales taxes would be capped at $10,000. That's especially important to residents of high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey and California. Deductions for medical expenses that lawmakers once considered eliminating would be retained.The bill would allow homeowners to deduct interest only on the first $750,000 of a new mortgage, down from the current limit of $1 million.People who inherit fortunes would get a big break. The bill would double the exemption, meaning the estate tax would apply only to the portion of an estate over $22 million for married couples.Members of a House-Senate conference committee signed the final version of the legislation Friday, sending it to the two chambers for final passage next week.Republicans hold a slim 52-48 majority in the Senate, and two ailing GOP senators missed votes this past week.John McCain of Arizona, who is 81, is at a Washington-area military hospital being treated for the side effects of brain cancer treatment, and 80-year-old Thad Cochran of Mississippi had a non-melanoma lesion removed from his nose earlier this week. GOP leaders are hopeful they will be available next week.___Associated Press writer Marcy Gordon contributed to this report.___Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Ohlemacher? at http://twitter.com/@stephenatap
  • The Latest on the tax plan in Congress (all times local):4:10 p.m.President Donald Trump will be holding a series of weekend meetings with Cabinet members at Camp David.A White House spokeswoman said Saturday that Trump would meet with Vice President Mike Pence and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as the Republican-led Congress plans to vote on its tax bill.Trump will also meet with Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Housing and Urban Development head Ben Carson, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin.Trump is set to return to the White House on Sunday afternoon.___1 p.m.President Donald Trump is defending the Republicans' tax cut plan, pushing back against criticism that it will benefit the wealthy more than the middle class.Speaking to reporters at the White House Saturday before leaving for Camp David, Trump said the middle class will benefit because the tax cut will draw companies back from overseas, creating jobs.The GOP plans to muscle the bill through Congress next week.Trump touted the nation's economy, predicting that it would 'start to rock' once the bill is passed.Trump also predicted that economic growth could go from the current 3 percent to '4, 5 and maybe even 6 percent ultimately.'Many economists doubt that even a sustained 4 percent growth rate is achievable.___3:10 a.m.Republicans seem to have secured the votes to pass a tax overhaul that President Donald Trump hopes to sign before Christmas.Here's what House Speaker Paul Ryan says: 'This is happening. Tax reform under Republican control of Washington is happening.'It's the widest-ranging reshaping of the tax system in three decades and is expected to add $1.46 trillion to the nation's debt over a decade.The GOP plans to muscle it through Congress next week before its year-end break.Under the bill, today's 35 percent rate on corporations would fall to 21 percent. The legislation would lower taxes on the richest Americans. Benefits for most other taxpayers would be smaller.