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Trump-Kim summit kicks off in Vietnam: Here’s what to look for

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will face each other this week for their second summit in less than a year.

Vietnam, which is playing host to the U.S.-North Korean talks for two days.

The American president kicked off his Wednesday schedule with a visit to the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, where he met with Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong for a photo op and a meeting. From there, he’ll head to meetings with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

The North Korean portion of Trump’s public schedule will begin later on Wednesday when he meets with Kim for a one-on-one conversation. After that, he’ll have what the White House described as “a social dinner” with the dictator.

Most news from the talks is likely to come on Thursday. The two sides are expected to hold meetings throughout the better part of that day, and some form of statement or signing is likely at the summit’s conclusion.

That was how Trump and Kim closed their summit in Singapore last June. The leaders held a signing ceremony for a declaration that said both sides would commit to establishing better relations and that North Korea “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Last year’s meeting marked the first in-person meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean head of state.

Trump heralded that agreement as “very comprehensive,” but outside observers downplayed its importance because of a recurring diplomatic issue with Pyongyang: North Korea has a different definition for “denuclearization” than others.

Pyongyang has said in the past that it may denuclearize only if certain conditions were fulfilled. Those include the U.S. withdrawing troops from South Korea as well as ending the U.S. regional nuclear umbrella, a security arrangement in which Washington promises in-kind retaliation on behalf of close allies if they are attacked with nuclear weapons.

American and North Korean sides still appear far apart on the idea of North Korea getting rid of its nuclear weapons.

“So far, North Korea seems only willing to take measures that limit its nuclear and missile capabilities — it has no indications that it wants to roll back or undercut its existing nuclear arsenal or missile arsenal,” Tong Zhao, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, told CNBC on Tuesday.

Reports since the last Trump-Kim summit suggest North Korean forces are continuing to develop missile technology and nuclear weapons in secret facilities. A U.S. intelligence report last month said that North Korea was “unlikely to give up” its weapons of mass destruction, missiles or production capability.

Trump has repeatedly pointed out that no one has detected North Korea testing nuclear devices or ballistic missiles since his administration began engaging with the Kim regime in earnest.

For a period in 2017 — Trump’s first year in office — North Korea created global anxiety by testing missiles at least once a month and directing regular threats toward the United States and others. Trump declared in August 2017 that such threats “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Pyongyang is last known to have conducted a nuclear test in September 2017 and an intercontinental ballistic missile test in November 2017.

Trump has appeared to downplay the goals for this week’s summit. Whereas last year he claimed the North Korean regime would begin removing its nuclear capabilities “very, very quickly,” he said last week that he was in no hurry.

“Well, I’d just like to see, ultimately, denuclearization of North Korea. I think we will see that ultimately. I have no pressing time schedule,” he said from the Oval Office last Tuesday. “And I think a lot of people would like to see it go very quickly from the other side.”

“But I’m in no rush. There’s no testing,” Trump added. “As long as there’s not testing, I’m in no rush. If there’s testing, that’s another deal.”

Still, as recently as Monday Trump was promoting the idea that Pyongyang could completely denuclearize. He said in a Twitter post, “With complete Denuclearization, North Korea will rapidly become an Economic Powerhouse. Without it, just more of the same. Chairman Kim will make a wise decision!”

As for North Korea’s goals, analysts said the country is probably willing to remove some capabilities it no longer needs and may agree not to increase the size of its arsenal. But Kim won’t give up his nuclear weapons, they said.

Victor Cha, Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, predicted during a discussion in Washington last week that Kim’s approach will be to “actually not really giving up anything.” At the same time, he’ll have “clear demands for the United States to give up things very much in the present” possibly including military exercises, troop deployments and sanctions.

North Korea currently faces United Nations sanctions and separate sanctions from the United States. The UN blocks some imports and exports and has frozen the assets of individuals connected with Pyongyang’s nuclear program. The United States restricts the North Korean economy further and targets more individuals.

—CNBC’s Huileng Tan contributed to this report.


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Gary Cohn is writing a memoir of his career, including his tenure in the Trump White House

Former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn is in the early stages of writing a memoir that will highlight large portions of his career including his tenure as president of Goldman Sachs and his time as a member of President Donald Trump’s administration, CNBC has learned.

Politico’s Playbook reported on Tuesday that Bob Barnett, an attorney at legal powerhouse Williams and Connolly, has been shopping around Cohn’s book idea to publishers in New York.

Cohn and a spokeswoman for him did not return repeated requests for comment. Barnett declined to comment when reached.

Cohn in the past has admitted he was in the process of writing about his experiences in the Trump administration after he left the White House in 2018.

“I’m writing about my time in Washington already,” Cohn told Bloomberg in August. “Look, I rewrote tax reform, which hadn’t been done in 31 years. I’ve been talking into my tape recorder lots and lots and lots and lots of hours. I’m afraid when I listen to it it might be the same thing 35 times. But I’m going to give someone literally thousands of hours of tape.”

Cohn joined the Trump administration after serving as president of Goldman for over a decade. His signature policy achievement while in the White House was as one of the architects of Trump’s tax reform plan, which saw the corporate tax rate drop from 35 percent to 21 percent and made cut backs to the individual tax rate as well.

The former White House advisor’s life has been depicted in books in the past.

During his time at Goldman, Cohn was featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” which painted the bank executive as an example of a successful underdog story. Gladwell focused on Cohn’s early childhood as he battled with dyslexia and struggled in school but found a way to move up the ranks at Goldman to eventually become president.

Cohn has come under fire since he left the White House from Trump himself after Bob Woodward described Cohn’s interactions with the president in his New York Time’s best seller, “Fear: Trump in the White House.”

Woodward claimed Cohn once called Trump “a professional liar” and that the economic advisor along with White House aide Rob Porter, would steal papers off of the president’s desk in an attempt to stop the commander in chief from ending free trade agreements.

“Gary Cohn, I could tell stories about him like you wouldn’t believe,” Trump said in an interview at the time.

Cohn and Porter later denied the book’s claims.

If Cohn were to sign with a book publisher, it would be the latest move by the former Goldman executive to cash in on his life experiences since exiting the White House. CNBC first reported he’s been charging at least $200,000 for speaking engagements while accepting gigs at the National Multifamily Housing Council, a Miami conference for Context Capital Partners, and a corporate event at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

He’s also joined the boards of blockchain start-up Spring Labs and Machine Zone, a global market leader in mobile gaming.


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US futures trading halted due to CME technical problems

Futures contracts for U.S. stock markets, Treasurys and commodities were halted on Tuesday night stateside after a technical fault at CME Group.

“Due to technical issues, all CME Globex markets have been halted,” the company said in a tweet on its official account, referring to the main market for trading U.S. futures overnight.

U.S. stock futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 last traded around 7:40 p.m .ET Tuesday. U.S. crude futures also appeared to halt trading minutes later.

In a subsequent follow-up tweet, CME Group said it “has identified the technical issue and is working to resolve it.”

“We will publish the preopen and opening times shortly,” they said.


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Vietnam overcame isolation to become a manufacturing hub — and North Korea is watching

Once-isolated and among the poorest countries in the world, Vietnam has over the last three decades emerged as a manufacturing hub where large multinational firms such as Intel, Samsung, Adidas and Nike have set up bases in.

Southeast Asian country recorded its strongest expansion in more than a decade in 2018 and was one of the fastest-growing economies in the world that year.

Vietnam’s ability to continue thriving at a time when global growth is stagnating has not gone unnoticed. In recent years, the country’s ability to maintain political stability in the midst of economic transformation is seen as a model for North Korea to follow.

Like the hermit nation, the Southeast Asian country has been ruled by the same political entity, the Communist Party of Vietnam, since its independence in 1945. Vietnam was also once isolated — much like North Korea is now — for invading Cambodia in 1978.

“Vietnam offers North Korea the most realistic path for the massive and successful transformation of a communist one-party state with hostile relations towards the US into a politically stable, rapidly growing economy with good relations with most of its neighbours,” Fitch Solutions wrote in a report.

Vietnam is still considered a lower middle-income country by the World Bank and a frontier market by major index providers — which means the country is thought to be less established and riskier to invest in. But that’s still a long way from the time when it was one of the poorest nations in the world, economists noted.

Many experts have attributed Vietnam’s rise to a series of policies called “doi moi” that were introduced in 1986 to grow the private sector and open up the country to foreign investors, among other things.

Source: ANZ Bank

Those policies “dramatically transformed the country, spurring fast economic and social development,” Manop Udomkerdmongkol, economist at Singapore’s United Overseas Bank, said in a recent report. “The key part of this reform was freeing up domestic trade and investment.”

It came at a time that many factories wanted to diversify their manufacturing bases by moving some operations out of China, which resulted in a surge in foreign direct investments into cheaper destinations such as Vietnam.

In a report last year, World Bank economists said Vietnam has attracted more than 10,000 foreign companies, mostly in export-oriented and labor-intensive manufacturing sectors.

Vietnam now has one of the highest numbers of free-trade agreements among Asian countries.

That led to an improvement in several areas (all figures by the World Bank):

  • Gross domestic product grew $26.337 billion in 1986 to $223.78 billion in 2017
  • GDP per capita, a measure of wealth, increased from $421.659 in 1986 to $2,342.244 in 2017

Source: ANZ Bank

The government’s reforms took advantage of Vietnam’s foundations, including a young workforce, stable political climate and close proximity to major global supply chains, World Bank economists said in their report.

“Vietnam managed to capitalize on its strong foundations through good policies,” the economists wrote.

“First, it has embraced trade liberalization with gusto. Second, it has complemented external liberalization with domestic reforms through deregulation and lowering the cost of doing business. Finally, Vietnam has invested heavily in human and physical capital, predominantly through public investments,” they added.

Pyongyang has for years studied market reforms in Vietnam and their impact on political stability, said Le Dang Doanh, a former advisor to the Vietnamese prime minister.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has allowed some markets in his country to develop, introduced more Special Economic Zones and called for factories to expand their product ranges to cater for diverse consumer tastes.

But some experts questioned the viability of North Korea following in Vietnam’s footsteps, especially when much of the Southeast Asian nation’s economic success was a result of opening up. There were also doubts about Kim’s willingness to give up his country’s nuclear weapons, which is required for sanctions to be lifted but may threaten the leader’s iron-fisted rule.

“While North Korea’s natural resources, geographical location and low labour costs mean its economy has plenty of potential, the likelihood of North Korea emulating the economic achievements of Vietnam are slim,” Gareth Leather, senior Asia economist at consultancy Capital Economics, wrote in a recent note.

Leather pointed out, however, that while the ruling party in Vietnam has maintained “a firm grip on power,” economic liberalization in other parts of Asia such as South Korea and Taiwan have partly led to the emergence of democratic movements.

— CNBC’s Huileng Tan contributed to this report.


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Beijing’s capital controls are weighing on Chinese investors looking to buy property abroad

Chinese investors are keeping unchanged or even reducing the amount of money they allocate for overseas property purchases as they continue to struggle to get money out of the country, according to a survey conducted by a global real estate services company.

declining current account surplus and uncertainty due to the trade war with the United States have led many to believe those measures will persist.

On top of that, it became increasingly difficult for investors to obtain loans last year as Beijing sought to control the high levels of debt in the real estate sector.

In its 2019 China Outbound Real Estate Investor Intention Survey conducted during the final three months of last year, Cushman & Wakefield found that a combined 84 percent of respondents had either kept their funds for foreign real estate acquisitions at about the same level or reduced them compared with 2017.

The firm said the results, released Friday, were based on responses from 51 mainland Chinese who invest in overseas real estate and who represent combined offshore capital of 280 billion yuan ($41.81 billion).

The survey also found that 65 percent of respondents were “significantly or severely impacted” by Beijing’s measures to crack down on money leaving the country, an increase from 50 percent who expressed such a view in 2017.

Also, 60 percent of respondents said they didn’t think policy restrictions would ease this year while 59 percent expressed the view that domestic lending conditions for real estate won’t improve.

Chinese investors acquired a total of $15.7 billion worth of overseas real estate in 2018, down 63 percent from 2017 and the lowest figure since 2014, according to data from Real Capital Analytics cited in the Cushman & Wakefield report.

The report mentioned restrictions placed on foreign real estate investment in 2017 and a significant tightening of lending in the sector last year. That loan environment was the main reason more than $12 billion in Chinese-owned overseas assets were put up for sale in 2018.

“We expect that Chinese banks’ real estate lending may remain tight for much of the year ahead, creating an environment that will clearly continue to restrict deployment of mainland Chinese capital in general, irrespective of geographic location,” James Shepherd, Cushman & Wakefield’s managing director for Greater China Research, said in a press release on the report.

The firm said in the report that despite some recent loosening of policy in China, such as authorities encouraging banks to lend more by cutting the amount of funds they must keep on hand, “the tightened lending environment appears to remain status quo for the real estate sector.”

Larry Hu, head of China economics at Macquarie Commodities and Global Markets, said that controlling capital outflows is the “key concern” of the Chinese government given the waning of its current account surplus and that it doesn’t want foreign exchange reserves to fall too fast.

“So in such a situation they definitely want lower, reduced capital outflows,” Hu told CNBC on Tuesday. “So they put (on) tighter capital controls.”

The domestic property market, meanwhile, is offering little in the way of opportunities.

Peter Churchouse, founder of Hong Kong-based real estate investment firm Portwood Capital, said that tight supply is supporting prices somewhat, but residential transactions by floor area showed limited growth of about 2 percent last year and have fallen as much as 20 to 25 percent in a number of cities so far in 2019.

“That is a signal that we’re going to see a bit of a slowdown in the first half of this year in terms of volumes of transactions,” Churchouse said on CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Friday.

“I would expect to see that reflected in pricing as well,” Churchouse said. “Not to see a decline in pricing, but to see the pace of growth slowing down,” he said.


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House has the votes to block Trump’s national emergency declaration, putting pressure on GOP

The House had the votes Tuesday to block President Donald Trump‘s national emergency declaration, rebuking the president and pressuring Senate Republicans.

In addition, numerous U.S. states and several independent groups have already filed lawsuits challenging the emergency declaration. Trump believes the Supreme Court will ultimately rule in his favor.

The White House aims to secure $8 billion to build border barriers by circumventing Congress. He will use the emergency declaration to draw $3.6 billion from the Department of Defense’s military construction funds. With other executive actions, he plans to divert $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s drug interdiction program and $600 million from the Treasury Department’s drug forfeiture fund.

On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi contended Trump’s “power grab usurps” the power of the purse given to Congress in the Constitution.

“We would be delinquent in our duties if we did not resist, if we did not fight back to overturn the President’s declaration,” the California Democrat said. “To not do that would be to abandon our own responsibilities. We do not intend to do that.”

On Tuesday, McConnell said he “couldn’t handicap” how a vote would go in the Senate. The Kentucky Republican expects the chamber to vote before its next recess on March 18. He noted that GOP senators had a “fulsome” discussion about the emergency declaration during a lunch Tuesday, which Vice President Mike Pence attended.

At least three Senate Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — have signaled they will support the legislation to block the emergency declaration. Both Collins and Tillis face re-election bids next year in ideologically split states.

GOP lawmakers will have to balance a desire to back Trump and the Republican voters who overwhelmingly support him with a professed opposition to expansions of executive power.

“As a U.S. senator, I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress. As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms,” Tillis wrote in a Washington Post column announcing that he would vote to disapprove of the emergency declaration.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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Oprah Winfrey’s stake in Weight Watchers falls by $48 million after shares crater 30 percent

Oprah Winfrey stake in Weight Watchers fell by almost $48 million, at least on paper, after the dieting company released a weak earnings results Tuesday.

cratered 30 percent after reporting disappointing fourth-quarter earnings and giving investors a weak outlook for 2019. Winfrey owns more than 5 million shares of Weight Watchers, or about 8 percent of the company, according to FactSet.

Winfrey’s stake in Weight Watchers was valued at $160.18 million when the markets closed Tuesday. It quickly plunged when the company released its earnings after the markets closed, falling to $112.1 million, erasing $48 million in value within minutes of after-hours trading.

Winfrey’s original investment, however, is still in the black. She bought 6.4 million shares of Weight Watchers at $6.79 a share in October 2015, worth $43.2 million at the time, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. She also joined the company’s board of directors.

Last year, Winfrey sold some of her stake in the company. She now holds 5.4 million Weight Watchers shares, according to a January SEC filing.


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LinkedIn founder: Trump’s ‘reality TV show’ approach is ‘a disaster that compounds every month’

Last December, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman apologized after the New York Times reported that he’d funded a group that spread misinformation on Facebook ahead of the 2017 Alabama Senate election.

Microsoft‘s board of directors and is a partner at venture capital firm Greylock, campaigned publicly for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has been a vocal critic of Trump in the past. In November 2017, he called the president “worse than useless” and said he’d rather have somebody picked out of the phone book.

He’s also the creator of Trumped Up Cards, a satirical party game that pokes fun at the “reality TV star in the White House.”

WATCH: What to expect from Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un


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Cramer: Buy names like Caterpillar and Home Depot because this bull market is about to go higher

CNBC’s Jim Cramer on Tuesday said Federal Reserve policy was to blame for the December sell-off and that the agency’s adjustments have since produced a bull market.

Caterpillar, Home Depot, and the other stocks that investors dumped the day before Christmas, said the “Mad Money” host, who thinks the market has more legs to run.

“I’m grateful and therefore bullish, because it’s almost never too late for the Fed to switch directions,” Cramer said.

On Tuesday, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said in a Senate hearing that the U.S. economy is still strong but warned of headwinds in foreign markets. The central bank will “carefully monitor” those challenges and make necessary adjustments, he said, months after spooking investors by declaring that the balance sheet roll-off was on “autopilot.”

“The fact that Powell knows things are slowing down, well, that may be the best thing this market has going for it,” Cramer said. “It’s one reason why we rallied from a very ugly opening and were briefly in the black before a hiccup at the close.”

The three major U.S. indexes saw a dip in Tuesday’s session.

Coming off a weaker-than-expected earnings report before the bell Tuesday, Home Depot shares closed nearly 1 percent lower. Earnings and revenue misses heightened investors’ concerns about weak housing data and that the market’s “falling off a cliff,” Cramer said.

“In reality though, housing froze in the fourth quarter because of rate hike fears and now it’s unthawing because the Fed has changed its tune, which makes me bullish on Home Depot, not bearish,” he said. “But the turning in this stock from hideous to merely ugly by the end of the day speaks loads about how at least some people are catching onto the right way of looking at things.”

Additionally, Caterpillar‘s stock price lost about 2.4 percent on Tuesday due to a double downgrade from UBS, Cramer said. An analyst at the Swiss bank dropped the equity’s rating from buy to sell and 12-month price target to $125 from $154 on worries that slowing demand in the construction, energy, and transportation sectors will weigh on revenue and margins in 2020.

Cramer has a different outlook for the machine manufacturer. He thinks a dovish Fed could help the market resurge this spring and that a potential trade deal between the United States and China, the largest economies on earth, could help world economics.

“Does anyone honestly believe the global economy won’t make a comeback if we can make a trade deal with the Chinese? I think Caterpillar is exactly, precisely the kind of stock that would scream higher on any kind of agreement with the PRC,” Cramer said.

The host thinks this is a time to buy on Wall Street and investors should ditch the idea that a downturn like last decade’s financial crisis is looming.

“We’re no longer fighting the Fed, people. So don’t be misled by data from the fourth quarter when Jerome Powell was still stock market enemy number one,” Cramer said. “That’s why I think you should buy, not sell, the likes of Caterpillar and Home Depot. … When the Fed is your friend, these are exactly the kind of stocks that like to go higher.”

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Regulators fine Wynn Resorts $20 million for failing to investigate sexual misconduct claims

Nevada gambling regulators fined casino mogul Steve Wynn’s former company a record $20 million on Tuesday for failing to investigate claims of sexual misconduct made against him before he resigned a year ago.

The penalty against Wynn Resorts ends an investigation that began after The Wall Street Journal reported that several women said the company founder harassed or assaulted them.

Wynn Resorts will keep its gambling license under the Nevada Gaming Commission settlement reached last month. The four current commissioners unanimously approved the fine.

“It’s not about one man,” said Commissioner Philip Pro, a former federal court judge. “It’s about a failure of a corporate culture to effectively govern itself as it should.”

The previous highest fine in state history was $5.5 million in 2014 against the sports betting and mobile gambling system company now known as CG Technology. It runs sports betting operations at several Las Vegas casinos.

Commissioners John Moran Jr. and Deborah Fuetsch said they considered a higher fine, but did not specify an amount.

Chairman Tony Alamo said the amount “makes it clear to all licensees that this culture cannot be tolerated,” while also letting the company “heal.”

“It needs to move needles here,” he said. “It needs to ring across the entire country.”

Steve Wynn himself was not part of the Wynn Resorts settlement, and neither he nor any personal representatives attended the commission hearing.

One of Wynn’s attorneys, Colby Williams, said by telephone that he was aware of the fine but declined to comment.

Wynn resigned as board chairman and company CEO in February 2018 following reports that several women said he harassed or assaulted them. Wynn also sold his shares in the company. He has denied all the allegations.

Wynn Resorts acknowledged in the settlement that several former board members and executives knew about but failed to investigate complaints including one that led Wynn to pay $7.5 million in 2005 to a former salon employee who alleged he raped her and that she became pregnant as a result.

“Mr. Wynn … engaged in intimate and sexual conduct with (company) employees,” the settlement document said.

The company also failed to investigate a cocktail server’s allegation that from 2005 to 2006 Wynn pressured her into a nonconsensual sexual relationship, the documents said. Wynn paid a $975,000 private settlement to that woman and her parents, the settlement said.

Wynn Resorts neither admitted nor denied Nevada Gaming Control Board allegations that Wynn sexually harassed multiple flight attendants on company aircraft.

“The company’s initial response during this period was driven by Mr. Wynn’s adamant denial of all allegations,” said a Wynn Resorts statement from company spokesman Michael Weaver. It acknowledged a “short-sighted focus on initially defending Mr. Wynn, rather than reassuring employees of the company’s commitment to a safe and respectful work environment.”

The company points to wholesale changes in the boardroom and executive offices, including hiring a new chief executive, requiring new sexual harassment prevention training for all employees and adding a women’s leadership council to promote equality in the workplace.

Wynn’s name was removed from the company’s Massachusetts project now called Encore Boston Harbor.

“In sum, these 25,000 employees, led by CEO Matt Maddox and a reshaped board of directors, are the company that stands before the commission today, and not Steve Wynn,” the company said in its Jan. 25 written agreement to settle the case.

A company settlement also is pending in Massachusetts, where gambling regulators launched a similar investigation of whether Wynn Resorts should be allowed to operate a more than $2 billion waterfront casino resort slated to open in June in the Boston area.

Steve Wynn sued to block the release of a Massachusetts Gaming Commission report on that investigation, arguing it contains confidential information that is protected by attorney-client privilege. A Nevada state court judge has temporarily blocked its release. A hearing in that case is scheduled Monday.

A former shareholder alleged in a case filed in December that his stock plummeted in value because company officials concealed information about accusations against Wynn.

Records show that Wynn Resorts traded at more than $200 per share before the Wall Street Journal report, and closed at about $165 after Wynn resigned. Company stock closed at $130.45 on Tuesday, up $1.25.


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