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In other tech news…shares in Just Eat Takeaway have tumbled 5.5% in London today after New York’s City Council approved legislation to permanently cap commissions delivery apps can charge restaurants.
The move is a blow to Just Eat’s Grubhub, one of New York’s biggest food delivery apps, as well as rivals like DoorDash and Uber Eats.
Under the plan, food delivery services may only charge up to 15% of food orders, and 5% for marketing — restaurants had complained that some had commonly charged up to 30%.
Councilman Francisco Moya, a Queens Democrat, said the move would help independent eateries.
By limiting, without expiration, the fees charged to restaurants by third-party food delivery services, we are ensuring that mom-and-pop shops have a real opportunity to recover and thrive.
New York had previously had a temporary cap, to help restaurants through the pandemic. Analysts suspect other cities with temporary curbs, such as Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago, could make them permanent too.
In yet another blow to China’s tech sector, Beijing’s top court said today the country’s notorious “996” overtime policy is illegal.
Under 996, employees work 9am to 9pm, six days a week — part of an engrained culture of overwork that has been particularly prevalent at fast-growing technology companies.
China’s Supreme People’s Court and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security have today jointly published guidelines and examples on what constituted as overtime work, warning companies not to abuse staff.
These new “model” cases that will guide courts on how to treat workers’ rights in labour disputes.
Back in 2019 Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, was criticized for endorsing the controversial culture of 12-hour workdays, saying those who put in longer hours would get the “rewards of hard work.”
Younger workers have been pushing back against 996, with an online movement encouraging people to take breaks, relax – and embrace a less intense philosophy known as “touching fish”.
And recently, tech firms have been moving away from it – with TikTok owner ByteDance pledging to end its weekend overtime policy this month.
The FT has a good take:
The strengthening of labour rights followed years of dissent among tech workers over the so-called 996 system, which had been held up for many years as a badge of pride and a source of competitive advantage. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, once told his employees that they needed to be prepared to work 12 hour days at his company, and described 996 as “a blessing”.
But an anti-996 campaign has taken hold at China’s big tech companies after complaints of gruelling conditions and deaths blamed on overwork. In response companies including ByteDance, owner of short video platform TikTok, and the internet group Tencent have recently cut back working hours.
“This clarification of regulations is very specifically targeted at tech giants and even medium-sized tech companies in China,” added Suji Yan, founder of Mask Network, a Singapore-based cryptographic and encryption start-up.
“If tech companies still practice further violations of working hours, regulators will highly likely take action against them.”
Back in Britain, pig producers are warning that healthy animals may end up being culled if the government does not take urgent action to deal with shortages of workers at abattoirs and meat-processing plants.
As many as 70,000 pigs that should have already been taken to slaughter are stranded on UK farms, according to the industry trade body the National Pig Association (NPA).
The excess numbers of pigs on UK farms is growing by 15,000 each week, the NPA said, with about a quarter fewer pigs leaving for slaughter than would be expected in normal times. More here.
Here’s Raffi Boyadjian, lead investment analyst at XM, on the markets and the state of the economy today:
US stock futures were rebounding on Friday, pointing to gains of 0.3% at the open. Shares in Europe were mixed but in Asia, only Chinese indices managed to close higher as virus woes continue to sap sentiment.
It’s not just in low vaccinated Asian countries, though, that the Delta variant is spreading uncontrollably. The number of people hospitalized in the United States is back above 100,000 and in Britain, there are fears that cases will soar once schools reopen.
As the global recovery comes under threat again, optimism is becoming increasingly reliant on hopes that monetary policy will remain accommodative for the foreseeable future even though many central banks have been moving in the opposite direction lately.
South Korea’s central bank hiked rates for the first time during the pandemic on Thursday. But in China, policymakers have been trying to calm markets by ramping up cash injections into the banking system this week whilst signalling that the reserve requirement ratio for banks could be cut again very soon.
In another significant move to control its technology sector, China is seeking to tighten oversight of the algorithms they use to drive their businesses.
The Cyberspace Administration of China has issued a swathe of draft proposals to more rightly regulate how companies use algorithms.
The proposed guidelines say they must comply with laws and regulations, respect social ethics and ethics, abide by business ethics and professional ethics, and follow principles of (among others) fairness, openness and transparency.
The wide-ranging regulations would bar companies from using algorithms to hit consumers with higher prices based on their known preferences and trading habits, or influence online public opinion, or excessively manipulate search results in a way that harms competition.
Practices which violate public order, or encourage addiction or “high consumption” would also be curbed.
The proposals also say users must be given simple options to turn off algorithm recommendation services — which are used to provide personalised adverts and shopping recommendations — and to select, modify or deleting user tags used for algorithm recommendation services.
The proposals would also force firms to ensure that they protect children, and don’t serve them content that could encourage unsafe behaviors, violate social ethics or induce bad habits among minors… such as becoming addicted to the Internet.
And companies who use algorithms to schedule their workers (such as ride-hire companies) must ensure they protect pay, working hours and other labor rights.
Kendra Schaefer, head of tech policy research at Beijing-based consultancy Trivium China, says the proposals mean algorithms would be “tightly controlled”.
Here’s her full take:
Last weekend, my colleague Vincent Ni wrote a detailed piece about China’s attacks on its entrepreneurs, particularly in the technology sector [one target of this latest clampdown on overseas IPOs].
It outlined how their vast fortunes has clashed with Beijing’s political philosophy, posing a threat to the communist party, prompting Xi Jinping to rein them in.
Here’s a taste:
China’s tech bosses are among its wealthiest citizens, and they are very much in Xi’s sights. The boss of social and gaming giant Tencent, Pony Ma, is estimated by Forbes to be worth $43bn (£31bn). His peer Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, is not far behind at $41bn.
With money have come power at home and influence abroad, both of which pose a threat to the Communist party, analysts say. China’s technologies increasingly shape the western world, from Alibaba in global trade, linking western buyers with exporters of goods made in China, to TikTok in popular culture, to online gaming, where Tencent has an interest in some of the most successful European developers.
“The recent regulatory crackdowns also send a chilling message to enterprising Chinese business people, whose contributions to the economy are far bigger than many state-owned firms,” said Dexter Roberts, senior fellow at Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.
“Chinese economists have long wondered whether the tech sector would be Xi’s next move in addressing the issue of wealth distribution,” said Roberts, who is also the author of The Myth of Chinese Capitalism. “In this sense, it’s unsurprising that this is now happening. After all, these tech firms are the symbol of excessive wealth in China.”
China’s State Council, the cabinet, has issued guidelines on promoting employment in the 2021-2025 period, including targets for boosting the extent of employment and improving workers’ skillsets, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
China will aim to solve structural issues with the workforce and effectively fend off large-scale unemployment risks, Xinhua cited the State Council as saying (via Reuters).
This looks to be another sign that Beijing’s trying to limit the slowdown in its economy, with factory profit growth having slowed this morning.
In France, consumer confidence has dipped for the second month running, back below its long-term average.
Households are less confident about the economic situation, and also less upbeat about their personal finances and future living standards in France generally, statistics body INSEE reports.
People are also more concerned about inflation — with more households reckoning that prices have risen in the last year, and more expecting higher prices in the next 12 months too.
It indicates that France’s rapid recovery this spring as restrictions were lifted, and Covid-19 vaccines rolled out, might be fading.
There will be a reduced choice of toys in stores this Christmas, and prices are expected to rise by 10% over 18 months because of supply chain disruption, labour shortages and higher transport costs, the chairman of the retailer The Entertainer has warned.
Gary Grant, the founder of the family-run toy store chain, which has about 170 shops in the UK, said the cost of shipping a container from China by sea had risen twelvefold from about $1,500 (£1,095) a container in early 2020 to nearer $18,000.
“You are going to see some inflationary pressure, and retailers are working hard to hold those down,” Grant said in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Not all stock we have is being shipped at the very latest container rates, so I think it will probably see 18 months for those prices to flow through to a significant change at retail, which might be a 10% increase over an 18-month period.”
This chart shows just how sharply shipping costs have risen:
In Australia, the pandemic has hit consumer spending.. adding to concerns that its economy is faltering.
Australian retail sales fell by 2.7% in July, as regional lockdowns hit its economy, forcing some shops and service providers to shutter.
That follows a 1.8% drop in June, and is the biggest drop this year, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Retail spending plunged 8.9% in New South Wales, which is under lockdown as cases in state capital Sydney have hit record levels.
With Melbourne also under lockdown – and cases still spreading – it does appear that Australia’s economy could contract sharply this quarter, as officials battle the Delta variant.
Earlier this week, the latest PMI survey of Australia’s manufacturers and services firms dropped to its lowest level since May 2020, signaling a contraction in August.
European stock markets are holding steady this morning, with the FTSE 100 index gaining a modest 0.1% or 7 points to 7132.
Mining stocks and energy are among the risers in London, including Anglo American (+1.5%), gold and silver miner Polymetal (+1.3%) and Glencore (+1.1%).
Investors are waiting for Jerome Powell’s speech at 3pm UK time to the Jackson Hole (virtual) symposium, but the markets don’t appear to expect a major announcement on his plans to wind back the Federal Reserve’s stimulus programme.
Jim Reid of Deutsche Bank explains:
On the Fed’s website, the title of Powell’s speech is simply given as “The Economic Outlook”, and DB’s US economists think that the speech will largely mirror his remarks at the July FOMC press conference, and so aren’t expecting a strong signal on the Fed’s September meeting.
Instead they think that a tapering announcement will come at the following meeting in early November.
The Europe-wide Stoxx 600 index is flat, highlighting the caution (or lack of drama) in the markets.
In the UK, ministers and unions fear that Liberty Steel faces a “cliff edge”, risking thousands of jobs when the UK’s furlough scheme ends next month, unless owner Sanjeev Gupta can secure a new source of financing after months of delays.
Liberty’s main UK plants have been running intermittently for months, and it is understood that the salaries of about 70% of its workers – more than 2,000 employees – have been supported by the government’s furlough scheme in the last month. The company has relied on orders and upfront payments from major customers such as jet engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce.
It is understood that Liberty had previously warned government officials that it would face acute financial pressures by the end of August. The removal of the government wage support on 30 September would further add to Liberty’s difficulties as it becomes fully liable for salaries.
Here’s the full story:
China’s central bank has signaled overnight that it could take steps to support the rural economy, and cushion it from the slowdown.
The People’s Bank of China pledged to use its monetary policy tools to help rural development, such as its reserve ratio rate — which controls now much money banks can lend to the real economy, rather than keeping on their books.
PBOC cut the main RRR rate last month, to encourage lending, and analysts think we could see some fresh targeted measures to help rural businesses soon.
Over to Bloomberg….
PBOC Governor Yi Gang earlier this week pledged to boost credit support to the economy and improve efforts to bring down real lending rates for businesses. In a front-page commentary in the China Securities Journal Friday, analysts said there could be an increase to credit supply soon and another reduction in the RRR following July’s surprise cut.
Zhou Hao, senior emerging market economist at Commerzbank AG in Singapore, said the PBOC’s comments have fueled speculation of a RRR cut as early as Friday. Lu Ting, chief China economist at Nomura Holdings Inc., sees more than 70% chance of a RRR cut in the next two months.
We also have data showing that profits at China’s factories have slowed for the fifth month running, indicating that its recovery may be fading.
China’s industrial profits rose 16.4% year-on-year in July, down from 20% in June.
This pulled profit growth so far this year down to 57.3%, from 66.9% a month ago, which could encourage Beijing to provide more support for the economy.
China’s industrial firms have been hit by the rise in commodity costs and shipping congestion amid global supply bottlenecks, with rising cases of the Delta variant of Covid-19 also weighing on consumer confidence.
Dow Jones newswires has more details:
The profitability of more than 70% of the surveyed industries exceeded the pre-pandemic level, said Zhu Hong, an economist with China’s statistics bureau.
The profit growth of the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry improved significantly as demand for medical supplies and vaccines increased, Zhu said.
China is also introducing new data security laws to tighten up how companies use confidential data…. and some lawyers fear firms could fall foul of them by mistake.
The Data Security Law (DSL), which will take effect on September 1, 2021, aims to regulate a range of “data activities”, including safeguarding data security, protecting individuals, and safeguarding state sovereignty and security.
There are high fines and even criminal charges for breaking the rules, which covers both data activities conducted within the territory of the PRC, and activities outside that may harm national security, or the legitimate rights of Chinese citizens or entities.
They include regulations for “important data”, and emphasizes protection of “core state data”.
Companies and individuals who breach the “core state data management” rules could be fined up to 10 million yuan (£1.1m), lose their business licenses and potentially bear criminal responsibilities [more details].
But, lawyers are concerned that Beijing hasn’t given clear enough definitions for these categories, or given further details on what type of data may fall into which category, Reuters warns this morning.
For example, the law says only that companies looking to transfer “important data” overseas must perform a security assessment each time.
“There is no list, there is no annex, there are no examples,” says Nicolas Bahmanyar, senior consultant at Beijing-based law firm LEAF. “So we’re a little bit in the dark here.”
The country will also impose new rules aimed at protecting “critical information infrastructure,” on the same day, but experts say definitions for such infrastructure are equally unclear….
“Even if you could take inferences from what’s happening in the news, and then public announcements of enforcement actions against certain companies, there’s no official way of benchmarking yourself,” said Alex Roberts, a corporate counsel at the Shanghai office of law firm Linklaters.
China is continuing its crackdown on its tech sector, according to reports this morning, by proposing new rules that would ban firms with large amounts of sensitive consumer data from going public in the United States.
The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that China’s stock regulator plans to propose new rules that could thwart internet companies’ plans to list in the US.
Citing ‘people familiar with the matter’, the WSJ says these new rules would target companies seeking foreign listing via units incorporated outside the country.
Here’s more details of the WSJ piece:
China Securities Regulatory Commission officials said that companies with less sensitive data, such as those in the pharmaceutical industry, are still likely to receive Chinese regulatory approval for foreign listings, according to the people.
The new rules are likely to help Beijing exert more control over the complex corporate structure that China’s biggest tech companies use to sidestep restrictions on foreign investment. Chinese leaders consider sectors such as the internet, telecommunications and education sensitive because of political or national-security concerns.
Chinese technology giants including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , Didi Global Inc. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. have used such a corporate structure known as a Variable Interest Entity to attract foreign capital and list offshore.
The move is the latest in Beijing’s attempts to rein in its tech sector.
Last month, regulators launched an investigation into Chinese ride-hailing app Didi’s handling of customer data, just days after it floated on Wall Street.
Truck-hailing firm Full Truck Alliance and online recruitment platform Boss Zhipin have also been caught up in the regulatory scrutiny.
And last November, shares in major firms such as Alibaba, Tencent and JD.com all tumbled after Beijing released draft plans to “prevent and stop monopolistic behaviours” of internet platforms.
A crackdown on private tutoring is also underway, with China’s State Council barring for-profit companies from tutoring in core curriculum subjects, and foreign investment in such companies.
Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.
Investors around the globe are eager to hear from Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell later today, at the Jackson Hole economic symposium — the Kansas City Fed’s annual gathering of central bankers, which is being held virtually.
Powell may give some guidance about when the Fed will slow its bond-buying stimulus programme, in an attempt to taper without provoking a market tantrum.
He could lay out the groundwork for some sort of roadmap to be proposed at September’s Fed meeting, as policymakers look to tap the brakes on the $120bn/month bond-buying programme without spooking traders.
But, his speech is likely to focus on the economic challenges facing the US, with cases of the Delta variant rising, and signs that the world’s recovery from the pandemic shock may be peaking.
Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics says:
With the Delta-linked resurgence in coronavirus infections adding to the downside risks to economic growth and officials still split on exactly what qualifies as “substantial further progress” toward meeting the full employment goal, we don’t expect Chair Jerome Powell to provide any definitive guidance in his Jackson Hole speech tomorrow on when the tapering of the Fed’s asset purchases will begin.
More generally, there is still uncertainty surrounding the pace and composition of the run-down in asset purchases and whether the Fed will commit to a pre-announced deterministic path or prefer to make adjustments on a meeting-by-meeting basis.
European stock markets look becalmed ahead of Powell’s speech. We also get a new key measure of US inflation (the PCE index), which will show if price pressures have faded, or are still intense.
We’ll also be tracking the latest in the UK supply chain crisis gripping the economy. Our latest Covid Crisis Watch report shows that firms are under pressure from global supply chain disruption and staff shortages – meaning the recovery could falter.
- 7.45am BST: French consumer confidence for August
- 9am BST: Italian business and consumer confidence for August
- 1.30pm BST: US PCE inflation report for July
- 3pm BST: Fed chair Jerome Powell speaks at Jackson Hole symposium