Italy has given steelmaker ArcelorMittal a few days to agree to a plan to keep operating a southern Italian plant.
The French-Italian steelmaker this week balked at continuing to operate the Taranto steel plant when the Italian government removed immunity from prosecution in case of environmental damage.
Premier Giuseppe Conte says he has rejected as "unacceptable" the steelmaker's plan to cut 5,000 jobs. Political pressure was building Thursday on the center-left government to avoid cuts.
Conte said late Wednesday, after meeting ArcelorMittal executives, that the government offered in the talks to restore the immunity. But he described the immunity shield as a "false problem," saying ArcelorMittal wants to slash jobs and cut production annually to 4 million tons, to far below previously agreed upon levels.
The Bank of England is set to keep its main interest rate on hold at 0.75% as it awaits more clarity over Britain's departure from the European Union.
The central bank's nine-member Monetary Policy Committee has been reluctant to move interest rates for over a year given the huge uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Britain's general election on Dec. 12 has the potential to affect the outcome of Brexit.
The Brexit impasse is increasingly weighing on the economy and the central bank is predicted Thursday to downgrade its growth forecast for next year from the previous 1.3% largely because of weakness in business investment.
It's unclear whether the election will lead to more Brexit clarity, though, particularly if no one party manages to win an outright majority.
North Korea on Thursday called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe an "idiot" after he criticized a recent weapons test by the North.
In a statement attributed to a foreign ministry official, Song Il Ho, North Korea described Abe as an "idiot and villain" who was overreacting to what the North described as a test-firing of rocket artillery last week "as if a nuclear bomb was dropped on the land of Japan."
The statement ridiculed Abe's expressed willingness to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying he would be "well-advised not to dream forever of crossing the threshold of Pyongyang" after insulting the North's "just measures" for self-defense.
North Korea has said it conducted its third test-firing of a new "super-large" multiple rocket launcher system last week, although the Japanese Defense Ministry assessed them as ballistic weapons.
During a regional summit in Thailand earlier this week, Abe reportedly condemned the North's latest test and described it as a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. He also said he's eager to meet Kim "without conditions."
"Abe is also a rarely ignorant man who dreams of making Japan a military power, failing to distinguish between multiple rocket launchers and missiles, and he is an under-wit as he is only able to say such crude words as 'provocation,' 'outrage,' 'violation,' 'abduction,' and 'pressure,'" said the statement carried by Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency.
"It is too natural that Abe is treated as a poor dog and dwarf that fails to enter the international political arena with the Korean Peninsula as a center," it said.
North Korea has often unleashed crude insults against foreign leaders and politicians to criticize what it sees as slanderous remarks toward its leadership or hostile policies against Pyongyang. The insults have included racist and sexist diatribes, including against former U.S. President Barack Obama and former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the country's first female leader.
In May, the North labeled Democratic U.S. presidential hopeful Joe Biden a "fool of low IQ" and "imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being" after he called Kim a tyrant during a speech.
Asian stocks were mostly lower Thursday after a meandering day of trading in the U.S. left stock indexes close to their record highs.
The Shanghai Composite Index declined 0.3% to 2,969.81. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 was down 0.1% at 23,275.17. Hong Kong's Hang Seng sank 0.4% to 27,589.65 and South Korea's Kospi shed 0.2% to 2,140.64.
Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 advanced 0.9% to 6,717.40, making it the best performer across regional markets. India's Sensex gained 0.5% to 40,651.44. Benchmarks in New Zealand advanced while Taiwan and Singapore declined.
Earlier, a Reuters report that the United States and China may delay signing "Phase 1" of their trade deal until December sent U.S. shares decisively lower by midday. However, the drop didn't last long.
After sinking 0.3%, the S&P 500 erased its loss within about two hours. The index closed 2.16 points, or 0.1% higher, at 3,076.78. It's within two points of its record.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average less than 0.1% to 27,492.56, and the Nasdaq composite fell 0.3% to 8,410.63.
The U.S.-China trade war has been a top concern for investors since early 2018, and momentum has recently been tilting toward at least a partial agreement. That, combined with encouraging reports on the economy and corporate profits, have recently propelled U.S. indexes past their prior peaks from July to all-time highs.
While acknowledging that trade talks could easily falter again, Jeff Mills, chief investment officer at Bryn Mawr Trust, said both sides have an incentive to come to a deal. China's economic growth has slowed under the weight of increased U.S. tariffs. President Donald Trump's chances of re-election, meanwhile, likely hinge in large part on the economy, and a worsening trade war would only sour it.
Mills is optimistic the economy will show more life after the Federal Reserve cut interest rates three times this year, if trade tensions continue to ratchet lower. It would be a sharp turnaround from just a few months ago, when worries were spiking that Trump's trade war and four interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve in 2018 could tip the economy into a recession.
"People know this intellectually but tend not to focus on it: Changes in interest rates impact the economy with a significant lag," Mills said. "What we've been seeing the last year or so is the economy absorbing the rise in interest rates that we experienced in 2018."
Early next year, the economy should start to get a boost from the Fed's three rate cuts since the summer, "and I would expect the market to see the recession narrative as overblown," he said.
Until then, though, markets are still trading on every whiff of news about trade. Wednesday's moves following the report of a possible "phase one" delay demonstrated that.
"Trade is a key issue but it's difficult to gain an edge because no deal has been signed," said Tom Hainlin, national investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. "It's proving to be challenging for investors."
One thing more certain for investors has been the steady flow of better-than-expected profit reports from big companies. Over the last month, hundreds have told investors how much they made from July through September, and in most cases the declines were not as steep as analysts had forecast.
Benchmark U.S. crude lost 3 cents to $56.32 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gained 12 cents to close at $56.35 per barrel.
Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 2 cents to $56.33.
The dollar fell to 108.68 Japanese yen from 108.96 yen. The euro declined to $1.1058 from $1.1068.
A Chinese court sentenced three fentanyl traffickers Thursday in a case that was a culmination of a rare collaboration between Chinese and U.S. law enforcement to crack down on global networks that manufacture and distribute lethal synthetic opioids.
Liu Yong was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, while Jiang Juhua and Wang Fengxi were sentenced to life in prison. Six other members of the operation got lesser sentences.
Working off a 2017 tip from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Chinese police busted a drug ring based in the northern Chinese city of Xingtai that shipped synthetic drugs to the U.S. and other countries from a gritty clandestine laboratory. They arrested more than 20 criminal suspects and seized 11.9 kilograms (26.23 pounds) of fentanyl as well as 19.1 kilograms (42.11 pounds) of other drugs.
Liu had been accused of manufacturing and trafficking synthetic drugs from the lab in eastern China's Jiangsu province. Death sentences are almost always commuted to life in prison after the reprieve.
Austin Moore, an attaché to China for the U.S. Homeland Security Department, said the case was "an important step" showing that Chinese and U.S. investigators have the capacity to collaborate across international borders.
U.S. officials say China's vast chemicals industry is the main source of illicit fentanyl. Chinese officials deny that, blaming greedy pharmaceutical companies, lax regulation, and out-of-control demand as the reasons America has an opioid abuse crisis.