US stops listing China as a currency manipulator, raising hopes of end to trade war

The US has stopped classifying China as a currency manipulator as they prepare to sign a long-awaited trade deal.

As senior Chinese officials arrived in Washington on Monday to sign the “phase one” agreement, US trade secretary Steve Mnuchin announced a significant concession to Beijing, reversing a decision made on Donald Trump’s orders in August.

The US president has railed against China for years, claiming it artificially lowers the value of the renminbi to make its exports cheaper, harming American industry in the process. Beijing has consistently denied the charge.

“China has made enforceable commitments to refrain from competitive devaluation, while promoting transparency and accountability,” Mr Mnuchin said in a statement.

The US Treasury said the renminbi had increased in value since the currency manipulator label was applied.

“In this context, Treasury has determined that China should no longer be designated as a currency manipulator at this time,” the department said.

The deal signing on Wednesday by the two countries with the world’s largest economies is being viewed as a precursor to future negotiations that will deal with more complicated trade issues.

Signs that a damaging trade dispute is easing gave markets a dose of optimism on Tuesday, with Asian shares following Wall Street boosts. Indexes in Japan, Australia and South Korea all posted gains.

The “currency manipulator” designation came at the height of the US-China trade war, with Washington accusing Beijing of attempting to gain an “unfair competitive advantage” for its goods.

China rejected the allegations, suspended purchases of American agricultural products and vowed to retaliate with 10 per cent tariffs on $300bn (£230bn) of imports from the US. 

Beijing said it had allowed its currency to fall against the dollar to mitigate anticipated damage to its economy from new US tariffs. A devalued renminbi would make Chinese goods cheaper in other markets, partially compensating for lost exports to America.

A weaker renminbi was one of a number of unintended consequences of Mr Trump’s trade policy. The president’s protectionist agenda is aimed at supporting American regions that have suffered job losses and economic decline as a result of globalisation and deindustrialisation, but has in fact hurt some of those same regions.

Last week, a study concluded that tariffs imposed by Mr Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have hit firms in their own countries almost as much as the ones they were aiming at. Academics scrutinised stock market responses to gain a real-time assessment of the impact of the trade war.

Since February 2018, the US has slapped tariffs on $550bn (£420bn) worth of Chinese products. China, in turn, has set tariffs on $185bn (£140bn) worth of US goods.

Peter Egger, a professor at ETH-Zurich university, and Jiaqing Zhu at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, found that while the trade war tariffs of the US and China directly hurt targeted firms and sectors abroad, they indirectly affected stock prices through global value chain linkages in the US, China, and in economies that weren’t directly participating in the trade war.

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Amazon and eBay failing to stop listing toys declared unsafe, says watchdog

Amazon and eBay are failing to take “basic steps” to stop listing toys which appear to have been declared unsafe by the EU safety alert system, according to Which?.

The consumer watchdog says it found evidence of toys listed for sale on Amazon Marketplace and eBay that appeared to have already been flagged by Safety Gate, the EU’s rapid alert system for dangerous products.

This delay is despite both sites claiming to have dedicated teams and systems in place to monitor listings.

Which? presented eBay with 12 products including toy slimes, a Transformers helmet and a cartoon helicopter which all appeared to bear significant similarities to Safety-Gate listed dangerous products either by a shared batch or product number.

Products were deemed unsafe for a range of reasons including high levels of toxic chemicals, volume levels which could harm a child’s hearing or small detachable pieces that could pose a choking hazard to children.

The marketplace subsequently removed all 12 product listings. 

Which? also reported six products to Amazon including a magnetic building set, an inflatable swim ring and a remote control car. The products were deemed unsafe for reasons such as the potential to cause an intestinal blockage or perforation, and excessive levels of lead.

Amazon removed five of the products but did not respond to enquiries about a toy dinosaur – Which? says the item concerned had the same model number as a toy flagged for containing too much lead.

Although the items have now – largely – been removed, the watchdog is concerned about the ongoing problem of marketplaces not being accountable for safety. 

As a result the consumer group is calling on the government to make online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon legally responsible for stopping dangerous products from being sold.

Online marketplaces are not currently responsible for ensuring products are safe, removing unsafe products from sale or for notifying customers when something goes wrong.

Caroline Normand, Which? director of advocacy, said: “It’s clear that consumer protections have not kept pace with the changes to the retail industry, and it is not acceptable for marketplaces to pass the buck for the responsibility of the items sold on their sites by simply pointing the finger at sellers.”

Which? says by posing as a seller it was able to list a toy on Amazon marketplace, that had been recalled in October last year because it posed a risk of choking or suffocation. 

The information provided for the listing included the barcode number of the product listed on the recall database, and even used the same image.

Despite these details, the product remained live on Amazon for two weeks before being removed by the watchdog.

A spokesperson from Amazon told The Independent: “All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action including potential removal of their account. The products in question are no longer available.

“Safety is a top priority at Amazon. We require all products offered in our store to comply with applicable laws and regulations and have developed industry-leading tools to prevent unsafe or non-compliant products from being listed in our stores.”

A spokesperson from eBay said: “We welcome the findings from Which? Between October 2018 and October 2019 our filters automatically blocked 5 million listings from entering the marketplace on product safety grounds. On average, that’s over 13,500 potentially dangerous listings blocked by our systems every day globally.”

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Alibaba Resumes Plan for Hong Kong Listing in a Boost for the City

HONG KONG — Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, resumed plans to raise $10 billion or more in Hong Kong, giving the protest-wracked Asian financial capital a much-needed vote of confidence.

Alibaba in August postponed plans to reap $10 billion to $15 billion by selling shares in Hong Kong after worsening clashes between demonstrators and the police shook a territory long prized for its stability and rule of law. The move essentially revives those plans. The company expects the amount it hopes to raise may be closer to $10 billion, said a person familiar with the company’s plans, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were not yet public.

The deal could happen as soon as the end of this month, the person said. Alibaba executives are expected to appear in front of the listing committee of Hong Kong’s stock exchange after Singles Day, the Nov. 11 shopping holiday that the Chinese company created and that has become the world’s largest one-day sales event. The resumption was reported earlier by Reuters.

Hong Kong is a part of China that operates under its own laws, making it a critical bridge between the mainland and the rest of the world. For years multinational companies made the city their headquarters for the region because it offered access to China’s booming economy while ensuring legal protections and the free flow of information.

That reputation has been undermined by the demonstrations, which were prompted by the mainland government’s increasingly heavy hand in the territory’s affairs. The protests scared off tourists from mainland China and led companies and industry groups to move their conferences elsewhere. Clashes between demonstrators and the police sometimes filled busy shopping districts with tear gas and Molotov cocktails.

As a result, a city widely regarded as among the world’s friendliest toward business has seen commerce wilt. Hong Kong’s economy has fallen into recession for the first time since the global financial crisis a decade ago. It has also been hit by the trade war between the United States and China.

This summer, Hong Kong’s stock market gave up almost all its gains for the year, and a number of companies canceled their plans for initial public offerings there.

The protests have continued with few signs of abating. On Friday, anger grew after a college student died from injuries he sustained from a fall this week. The circumstances behind his injuries are murky, but some protesters speculated he was trying to flee the police and tear gas, which would make him the first person to die from the clashes.

Still, Hong Kong officials have increasingly denied permits for mass demonstrations, leading to smaller, scattered clashes throughout the city. Major businesses, schools and city services have continued to run, and many people in the city have settled into a sometimes surreal yet predictable routine.

Amid the standoff, signs of normalcy have returned in some areas. Hong Kong’s stock market is now up roughly 8 percent so far this year, though it still lags the performance of some others in Asia.

A Hong Kong listing would help Alibaba further its ambitions to offer a broad array of digital services in China and around the world. It competes heavily with other Chinese heavyweights, like the Chinese internet conglomerate Tencent and, a rival e-commerce company.

It could also help relations with China’s leaders. Alibaba listed its shares in New York five years ago in the world’s largest initial public offering. But a Hong Kong listing could bolster its image with Beijing, which wants to development and improve Chinese markets.

Alibaba has hired Credit Suisse, the Swiss bank, and China International Capital Corp., a major investment bank, said the person familiar with its plans. The person added that it expected several other banks to be involved, as well.

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Airbnb has a listing for a $89-a-night van in New York City

New York City may be full of enviable apartments and luxury hotels, but some Airbnb listings are promising a more authentic, down-to-Earth experience – by sleeping in a van.

In one such listing, for $89 (£73) a night, guests can rent a vintage “custom” van parked on a New York City street, complete with a sofa bed and a small table, however, not everyone is convinced such listings are worth the money. 

The van, which sleeps two people, is “perfect for international travellers, backpackers and the vintage #VanLife experience,” according to the Airbnb description. 

While the van does not have a bathroom, the host states that there are “many restrooms nearby”. 

The listing also includes free guest passes to a nearby gym with a pool, where renters can shower. 

“Van-life is for laid-back, easygoing, fun-loving, adventurers who embrace new experiences, keep an open mind, and have no problem roughing it,” the description reads. “Ideal guests approach van-life with an open mind and a sense of humour.” 

But on Reddit, people are questioning why anyone would shell out so much money on an Airbnb van rental in NYC, especially one that does not come with a bathroom. 

“This is like a masochism field trip,” one person wrote. 

Another said: “Wonder if any tenants have ever woken up to the sound of a tow truck.”

“I wonder if it’s a social experiment designed to highlight how ridiculous people can be,” someone else hypothesised. 

Despite not offering internet accessibility, air conditioning, or a bathroom, the van has a five-star rating on Airbnb, where guests have praised the rental and its host, called Meng. 

“I’ll admit we were a little hesitant about staying in van parked in NY for the night, but it exceeded expectations. The bed was comfortable, the pillows were soft, and the area was safe,” one person wrote.

Another said: “When I woke up this morning I was highly disappointed I wasn’t waking up in Meng’s van anymore! We spent 3 nights and it was everything we needed to get some safe shelter and cosy sleep after exploring the city all day.” 

The popularity of van rentals is also likely due to Instagram, where #VanLife has been tagged more than 5.8m times. 

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You can view the van listing here

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Alibaba Postpones Hong Kong Listing as Protests Roil Markets

LONDON — Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, has postponed plans to list its shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, according to two people briefed on the matter, as protests continue to rock the Asian financial capital.

The protests and the instability they created in Hong Kong’s stock market led to the postponement of the offering, which had been expected to take place later this month, according to these people. The offering had been expected to raise $10 billion to $15 billion, one person said.

Protests have disrupted the city for months and have begun to disrupt the commerce that makes up its lifeblood. Many economists are now predicting its economy will shrink in coming months because of both the antigovernment demonstrations and the worsening trade war between the United States and China.

It is not clear when the company plans to stage the stock offering. A spokesman for Alibaba declined to comment on the plans, which were reported earlier by Reuters.

Hong Kong’s business scene has been increasingly affected by the protesters, who are pushing back against China’s rule. The stock market has fallen about 9 percent since the end of June, as clashes between demonstrators and the police have grown increasingly violent and showed little sign of slowing down.

Beijing has tried to use its economic sway to try to get the corporate world to back its hold on the territory. Last week, the chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways, one of Hong Kong’s most successful global brands, said he would resign as the company came under increasing pressure from Chinese regulators and the country’s state-controlled news media. On Wednesday, Cathay Pacific said its planes were less full in July compared with a year ago, and it said it expects an even more significant impact in the coming months.

Adding to signs of a traffic slowdown, Qantas, the Australian airline, said on Thursday it would cut flight capacity to Hong Kong.

China’s state-controlled news media has also pressured global accounting firms like PwC and Deloitte to keep their employees from participating in protests. Alibaba’s decision to postpone its offering did not stem from pressure from Chinese authorities, according to one of the people briefed on the company’s plans.

A semiautonomous region of China, Hong Kong has long offered access to surging Chinese economic growth while granting the protections of a fiercely independent judiciary, wide freedom of expression, one of the world’s lowest urban crime rates and stable political leadership.

Those factors have helped make Hong Kong one of the world’s favorite places to invest and raise money. Last year, Hong Kong-listed companies raised $69 billion from investors, according to the local exchange operator. In addition, it took steps last year to loosen rules for listing there. A decision by the city’s regulator to allow so-called dual class shares — which gives the founders of a tech company more power than ordinary shareholders — was seen as a broadly positive development for Beijing, which has been vocal about keeping its tech boom closer to home.

Depending on the details, an Alibaba listing would further bolster that total. Five years ago, the Chinese e-commerce company became the world’s largest initial public offering, after raising $25 billion on the New York Stock Exchange. Last week, it reported strong, though slowing, results, demonstrating that it continues to prosper from urbanization and the rise of online retail in China despite the slowing economy there.

The Hong Kong stock offering, which would supplement its existing American listing, would have been one of the biggest in Asia in recent years. It was widely expected to raise billions of dollars in fresh capital for the technology giant.

But the demonstrations that have rocked Hong Kong since June have cast an unexpected pall over the potential offering by roiling the kind of stability that deal makers crave.

The unrest could last well past October. The Hong Kong government has shown little sign that it will acquiesce to the demands of demonstrators, who want universal suffrage in a political system now dominated by Beijing, the full abandonment of a bill that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland and an investigation into the tactics of the police in trying to quell the protests.

Hong Kong has also been hit by the trade war between the United States and China. Thanks to its relatively open borders with the rest of the world, Hong Kong serves as an essential trade conduit for many of China’s factories. Now, a growing number of economists are predicting the territory’s economy will shrink in the coming months.

For all of Hong Kong’s problems, Alibaba has a number of reasons for sticking with its plan to list its shares there. A Hong Kong listing could play well with China’s leaders, who want to build the country’s stock markets so that the markets shed a reputation for corruption and insider trading and become a reliable way for companies to raise money.

In the longer term, the Trump administration could take a tougher stance toward Chinese companies raising money in the United States, which could make Alibaba’s New York listing politically complicated.

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Alibaba delays $15bn stock market listing amid Hong Kong protests, say reports

Alibaba has postponed its long-awaited $15bn (£12.3bn) stock market listing in Hong Kong in the midst of pro-democracy protests in the Asian financial hub, according to reports.

Reuters cited a source with knowledge of the matter as saying that Alibaba could launch its initial public offering as soon as October if tensions between protestors and Chinese police had eased and the market outlook had improved.

A further source is said to have revealed that the e-commerce company’s board took the decision to delay the deal, which had been pencilled in for August, at a board meeting last week.

Pro-democracy protests which began in opposition to an extradition bill have been ongoing for 11-weeks and have shown little sign of coming to an end.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched on Sunday, overflowing from several major roads into side streets. The march appeared to be one of the largest since demonstrations began on 9 June. 

Hundreds of people have been arrested and police have repeatedly fired tear gas in attempts to deter protestors

Alibaba’s proposed IPO would be one of the largest share sales this year and has been touted as a measure of Hong Kong’s strength compared to western financial centres, particularly New York.

The company is already listed on the New York Stock Exchange but filed for a second listing in Hong Kong in June.

Last week, Alibaba reported revenues soared 42 per cent to 115bn yuan (£13.5bn) in its latest quarter compared to a year earlier, despite slowing Chinese economic growth.

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