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Asia reopening boosts travel, fashion brands; pandemic winners take backseat

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October 28, 2021

By Sayantani Ghosh and Byron Kaye

SINGAPORE/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Fashion brands and airlines are creeping back into investors’ good graces in Asia as lockdowns ease and vaccination rises, boosting travel and leisure activities, taking some shine off pandemic stalwarts such as supermarkets and gadget makers.

Earnings report cards show that people are spending less time watching TV or shopping online for groceries as they resume dining out or plan vacations after emerging from coronavirus curbs. Luxury purchases from China’s big spenders, still unable to travel abroad, are also rebounding.

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Asia-Pacific airlines are offering more flights as some countries resume domestic travel, and some like Singapore allow quarantine-free travel for select vaccinated visitors. Australia’s planned reopening of state and international borders has led to a surge in bookings.

“There is massive demand for loved ones wanting to get together for Christmas,” Alan Joyce, CEO of Australia’s Qantas Airways said last week. “There is demand for people wanting to take that holiday that they have been looking forward to for nearly two years.”

To be sure, a recovery in the tourism sector in Asia is months away and China’s huge domestic travel market remains in flux. As well, businesses including McDonald’s are still struggling with frequent and temporary curbs that countries impose to control outbreaks.

But airline stocks in the Asia Pacific region climbed nearly 5% over the last three months while global airlines slipped 6% due to a slower-than-expected return of corporate travel.

The broader MSCI All Country Asia Pacific Price Index rose roughly 2% in the same period.

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European fashion houses like LVMH and Kering have signaled ongoing strong demand in China as appetite for luxury items remains largely undimmed, despite power shortages and a property sector crisis hurting the economy.

“China’s population and its middle classes are increasing and their appetite for beauty is not satisfied,” L’Oreal CEO Nicolas Hieronimus said last week.

Hieronimus expects a recent shift in Chinese government policy to narrow the gap between rich and poor to boost the middle class, a sentiment echoed by LVMH.

Japan’s Fast Retailing reported record profits in China last quarter, where it will open its first flagship store next month. Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido Co believes next summer will be a “turning point” as inbound tourists from China return.

EARLY WINNERS

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Companies globally are struggling with severe labour shortages, supply bottlenecks and marine logjams as economies bounce back from pandemic lows, resulting in a steep rise in costs. A long-running chip shortage has disrupted the auto industry and slammed production at the biggest car makers around the world.

For supermarkets, among the early winners of the pandemic when people scrambled to stockpile food and toilet paper, the rising inflation is likely to offset some of the post-pandemic slowdown.

Australian grocer Woolworths said on Wednesday that food sales started to slow in October. Its shares have fallen 10% since mid-August when the pace of vaccinations started picking up. The stock rose nearly 40% during the 17 months prior, when coronavirus restrictions were in place.

“The big question now is how many people will return to the offices, how will that play out in terms of at-home consumption?”, said Morningstar retail analyst Johannes Faul.

Pandemic winners are unlikely to turn losers overnight, though, said Jason Teh, chief investment officer at Vertium Asset Management in Sydney. But work-from-home trends that benefitted companies like Australian electronics retailer JB Hi-Fi were waning as vaccination surged, he said.

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China’s smartphone sales in the third quarter fell 9% from a year earlier, according to Counterpoint Research.

While pent up demand from supply bottlenecks is likely to support a seasonally strong holiday quarter, sales are starting to slow at chipmakers and component suppliers such as South Korea’s Samsung Electronics and LG Display.

“LCD panels for televisions are expected to see further drops in the fourth quarter as vaccinated people have begun to spend less time in front of screens,” said Park Sung-soon, Seoul-based analyst at Cape Investment & Securities.

(Reporting by Sayantani Ghosh in Singapore and Byron Kaye in Sydney; Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Jamie Freed in Sydney, Heekyong Yang and Joyce Lee in Seoul, Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Keith Weir)

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Bukele steps up El Salvador’s bet on sliding bitcoin; buys another 150 coins

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December 5, 2021

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – El Salvador President Nayib Bukele said the Central American country had acquired an additional 150 bitcoins after the digital currency’s value slumped again, enlarging his bet on the cryptocurrency despite criticism.

Bitcoin, the world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, is down about 30% from the year’s high of $69,000 on Nov. 10. Bukele said last week that El Salvador had acquired 100 additional coins to take advantage of the currency weakening.

Late on Friday, Bukele announced the government had stepped into the market again.

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“El Salvador just bought the dip! 150 coins at an average USD price of ~$48,670,” Bukele wrote on Twitter.

Until Nov. 26, El Salvador had 1,220 bitcoins.

In September El Salvador became the world’s first nation to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, a move that generated global media attention but also attracted criticism from the opposition and foreign financial institutions.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Monday that El Salvador should not use bitcoin as legal tender, considering risks related to the cryptocurrency.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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Bitcoin falls 9.2% to $48,782

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December 4, 2021

(Reuters) – Bitcoin dropped 9.29% to $48,752.15 at 22:01 GMT on Saturday, losing $4,991.54 from its previous close.

Bitcoin, the world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, is down 29.3% from the year’s high of $69,000 on November 10.

Ether, the coin linked to the ethereum blockchain network, dropped 3.61% to $4,070.52 on Saturday, losing $152.28 from its previous close.

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(Reporting by Juby Babu in Bengaluru; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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Trump’s social media venture says it has raised $1 billion

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December 4, 2021

By Krystal Hu and Juby Babu

(Reuters) – Donald Trump’s new social media venture said on Saturday it had entered into agreements to raise about $1 billion from a group of unidentified investors as it prepares to float in the U.S. stock market.

The capital raise, details of which were first reported by Reuters on Wednesday, underscored the former U.S. president’s ability to attract strong financial backing thanks to his personal and political brand. He is working to launch a social media app called TRUTH Social that is at least several weeks away.

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Digital World Acquisition Corp, the blank-check acquisition firm that will take Trump Media & Technology Group Corp public by listing it in New York, said it will provide up to $293 million to the partnership with Trump’s media venture, taking the total proceeds to about $1.25 billion.

The $1 billion will be raised through a private investment in public equity (PIPE) transaction from “a diverse group of institutional investors,” Trump Media and Digital World said in a statement. They did not respond to requests to name the investors.

Trump Media inked its deal with Digital World to go public in October at a valuation of $875 million, including debt. The social media venture is now valued at almost $4 billion based on the price of Digital World shares at the end of trading on Friday. Trump supporters and day traders snapped up the stock.

Many Wall Street firms such as mutual funds and private equity firms snubbed the opportunity to invest in the PIPE. Among those investors who participated were hedge funds, family offices and high net-worth individuals, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Family offices manage the wealth of the very rich and their kin.

Some Wall Street investors are reluctant to associate with Trump. He was banned from top social media platforms after the Jan. 6 attack by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol amid concerns he would inspire further violence. The Capitol attack was based on unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in last year’s presidential election.

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“As our balance sheet expands, Trump Media & Technology Group will be in a stronger position to fight back against the tyranny of Big Tech,” Trump said in a statement on Saturday.

The deal also faces regulatory risk. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren asked Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler last month to investigsate the planned merger for potential violations of securities laws around disclosure. The SEC has declined to comment on whether it plans any action.

Trump Media and Digital World said the per-share conversion price of the convertible preferred stock PIPE transaction represents a 20% discount to Digital World’s volume-weighted average closing price for the five trading days to Dec. 1, when Reuters broke news of the capital raise.

If that price averages below $56 in the 10 days after the merger with Digital World has been completed, the discount will grow to 40% with a floor of $10, the companies added. Digital World shares ended trading on Friday $44.97.

Trump had 89 million followers on Twitter, 33 million on Facebook and 24.5 million on Instagram at the time he was blocked, according to a presentation on his company’s website.

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Investors attending the confidential investor road shows were shown a demo from the planned social media app, which looked like a Twitter feed, Reuters reported.

FIRST-QUARTER ROLLOUT

Since Trump was voted out of office last year, he has repeatedly dropped hints that he might seek the presidency in 2024.

Special purpose acquisition companies such as Digital World had lost much of their luster with retail investors before the Trump media deal came along. Many of these investors were left with big losses after the companies that merged with SPACs failed to deliver on their ambitious financial projections.

TRUTH Social is scheduled for a full rollout in the first quarter of 2022. It is the first of three stages in the Trump Media plan, followed by a subscription video-on-demand service called TMTG+ that will feature entertainment, news and podcasts, according to the news release.

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In a slide deck on its website, the company envisions eventually competing against Amazon.com’s AWS cloud service and Google Cloud.

(Reporting by Juby Babu in Bengaluru and Krystal Hu in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman)

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