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Asian shares advance as inflation shock fades to background

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November 12, 2021

By Hideyuki Sano

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian share prices advanced on Friday as a shock from a surprisingly strong U.S. inflation reading ebbed, with investors hopeful that the worst price hikes could be soon over.

Japan’s Nikkei gained 1.1%, helped by brisk earnings. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.25% but mainland Chinese shares were softer, with CSI 300 index slipping 0.3%.

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European stocks are expected to edge higher, with Euro Stoxx futures up 0.15% and Britain’s FTSE futures 0.1% higher.

U.S. stock futures ticked up 0.1% in Asia after a mixed session on Thursday when the S&P 500 ended 0.06% higher while tech-heavy Nasdaq rose 0.52%.

The world’s stock prices posted their biggest fall in over a month on Wednesday following a surprisingly strong reading on U.S. inflation.

The U.S. consumer price index rose 6.2% year-on-year in October, the strongest advance since November 1990.

“Inflation is obviously a risk to watch. But stock prices will face a major crash only if the Federal Reserve turns out to be completely wrong in its assessment and is forced to raise interest rates rapidly. That’s not where we are now,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

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While the inflation data suggested that the current wave of price spikes due to chronic worldwide supply constraints could have more staying power than many had hoped, many investors still think inflationary pressure will eventually ease, rather than strengthen.

“If we get over the year-end holiday shopping season, when demand should be peaking, perhaps inflation could subside,” said Hirokazu Kabeya, chief global strategist at Daiwa Securities.

“U.S. holiday sales are expected to rise 8.5% to 10% this year, with some consumers said to be starting to buy earlier than usual because of worries about supply glitches. If that’s the case, we could see a pretty strong retail sales number next week, which would be positive for stocks,” he added.

U.S. retail sales for October are due next Tuesday.

Bond yields ticked up, with the 10-year U.S. Treasuries yield rising 0.8 basis points to 1.565% on Friday after a market holiday on Thursday.

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Money markets have already priced in two rate hikes next year.

In the currency market, the dollar held firm after Wednesday’s strong U.S. inflation reading fanned expectations the Fed would tighten monetary policy faster than previously thought.

An index of the dollar against six other currencies rose to a 16-month high of 95.264 as the euro slipped to $1.1436, its lowest since July last year.

The yen softened to 114.30 per dollar, near its four-year low hit last month while commodity currencies such as the Australian dollar and the Canadian dollar were on a back foot.

The Australian dollar hit a five-week low of $0.7277 while the Canadian dollar slipped to C$1.2600 per dollar, a low last seen in early October.

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“It is interesting if a growing number of investors are selling commodity currencies on expectations that the Fed’s tightening will drive down commodity prices,” said Makoto Noji, chief FX strategist at SMBC Nikko Securities.

Oil prices dipped as the market grappled with a stronger U.S. dollar along with concern over increasing U.S. inflation, and after OPEC cut its 2021 oil demand forecast due to high prices.

Brent crude futures were down 0.65% at $82.33 per barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures dropped 0.58% to $81.12 per barrel.

Gold prices stayed near Wednesday’s five-month highs as investors sought inflation hedges. They last stood at $1,859 per ounce, near Wednesday’s high of $1,868.5.

(Reporting by Hideyuki Sano; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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Amazon asks India antitrust body to revoke Reliance-Future deal approval

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November 28, 2021

By Aditya Kalra and Abhirup Roy

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Amazon has asked India’s antitrust regulator to revoke its approval for Future Retail’s $3.4 billion sale of retail assets to Reliance, saying it was “illegally obtained”, violating an order suspending the deal, a letter seen by Reuters shows.

The approval for the deal was a “nullity in the eyes of law” as an arbitrator’s order was still in force, according to the letter sent by Amazon.com Inc to the Competition Commission of India (CCI) last week.

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The battle between two of the world’s richest men, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Reliance Industries Ltd boss Mukesh Ambani, marks a contest for preeminence in India’s booming, nearly trillion-dollar retail market.

The winner in the fight for Future Retail Ltd, India’s second-largest retailer and Amazon’s estranged local partner, will get pole position in the race to meet the daily needs of more than a billion people.

The CCI, Amazon, Future Group and Reliance did not respond to requests for comment.

Future has said the arbitrator’s suspension order was invalid but Indian courts have declined to overturn it.

If the regulator agrees with the previously unreported letter, it would be a major setback for oil-to-telecom conglomerate Reliance.

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Amazon won an injunction against the deal from a Singapore arbitrator last year, alleging Future had violated contracts that prevented it from selling the assets to entities including Reliance.

But the CCI later cleared the deal.

Future misled the CCI and continued to seek approval for the deal, Amazon said in the letter dated Wednesday, calling the injunction a “brazen attempt to subvert the rule of law”.

Amazon asked for a personal hearing from the CCI to make its case.

The letter comes as Amazon is also battling allegations that it misrepresented facts and concealed information while seeking antitrust clearance for a 2019 deal with Future Group.

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Amazon has so far successfully used this deal’s contracts to block Future’s deal with Reliance.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Abhirup Roy in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by William Mallard)

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Exclusive-Visa complains to U.S. govt about India backing for local rival RuPay

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November 28, 2021

By Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Visa Inc has complained to the U.S. government that India’s “informal and formal” promotion of domestic payments rival RuPay hurts the U.S. giant in a key market, memos seen by Reuters show.

In public Visa has downplayed concerns about the rise of RuPay, which has been supported by public lobbying from Prime Minister Narendra Modi that has included likening the use of local cards to national service.

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But U.S. government memos show Visa raised concerns about a “level playing field” in India during an Aug. 9 meeting between U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai and company executives, including CEO Alfred Kelly.

Mastercard Inc has raised similar concerns privately with the USTR. Reuters reported in 2018 that the company had lodged a protest https://reut.rs/3cQA2La with the USTR that Modi was using nationalism to promote the local network.

“Visa remains concerned about India’s informal and formal policies that appear to favour the business of National Payments Corporation of India” (NPCI), the non-profit that runs RuPay, “over other domestic and foreign electronic payments companies,” said a USTR memo prepared for Tai ahead of the meeting.

Visa, USTR, Modi’s office and the NPCI did not respond to requests for comment.

Modi has promoted homegrown RuPay for years, posing a challenge to Visa and Mastercard in the fast-growing payments market. RuPay accounted for 63% of India’s 952 million debit and credit cards as of November 2020, according to the most recent regulatory data on the company, up from just 15% in 2017.

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Publicly, Kelly said in May that for years there was “a lot of concern” that the likes of RuPay could be “potentially problematic” for Visa, but he stressed that his company remained India’s market leader.

“That’s going to be something we’re going to continually deal with and have dealt with for years. So there’s nothing new there,” he told an industry event.

‘NOT SO SUBTLE PRESSURE’

Modi, in a 2018 speech, portrayed the use of RuPay as patriotic, saying that since “everyone cannot go to the border to protect the country, we can use RuPay card to serve the nation.”

When Visa raised its concerns during the USTR gathering on Aug. 9, it cited the Indian leader’s “speech where he basically called on India to use RuPay as a show of service to the country,” according to an email U.S. officials exchanged on the meeting’s readout.

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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said last year that “RuPay is the only card” banks should promote. The government has also promoted a RuPay-based card for public transportation payments.

While RuPay dominates the number of cards in India, most transactions still go through Visa and Mastercard as most RuPay cards were simply issued by banks under Modi’s financial inclusion programme, industry sources say.

Visa told the U.S. government it was concerned India’s “push to use transit cards linked to RuPay” and “the not so subtle pressure on banks to issue” RuPay cards, the USTR email showed.

Mastercard and Visa count India as a key growth market, but have been jolted by a 2018 central bank directive for them to store payments data “only in India” for “unfettered supervisory access”.

Mastercard faces an indefinite ban on issuing new cards in India after the central bank said it was not complying with the 2018 rules. A USTR official privately called the Mastercard ban “draconian”, Reuters reported in September.

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(Reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by William Mallard)

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‘Flash mob’ thieves target U.S. retail stores on Black Friday

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November 28, 2021

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Black Friday shoppers weren’t the only ones out hunting for bargains on the day after Thanksgiving. Thieves were busy as well.

Police in Los Angeles and cities elsewhere across the country spent much of their holiday weekend patrols looking for suspects in a spate of “flash mob” robberies on Friday, part of a surging U.S. crime trend in which groups of thieves swarm a store, ransack the shelves and flee.

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Authorities also have used the term “smash-and-grab” to describe the trend.

At least two such robberies were reported on Saturday by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A local television station, KCAL-TV, counted a total of six smash-and-grab heists on the city’s west side alone on Friday.

In one incident, a group of eight men entered a Home Depot outlet at a shopping mall in Lakewood, south of downtown Los Angeles, walked directly to the tool aisle and snatched a bunch of hammers, sledgehammers and crowbars valued at about $400 before making their getaway, the sheriff’s office said.

According to L.A. television station KTTV, the Home Depot robbery on Friday night involved up to 20 suspects who pulled up to the store in as many as 10 cars and donned ski masks before raiding the tool aisle.

“We tried to stop them,” store employee Luis Romo told KTTV. “We closed the front entrance, and they put their sledgehammers up and whoever got in the way, they were going to hurt them.”

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The Los Angeles City News Service said four suspects in that robbery were arrested on Saturday by Beverly Hills police.

In a similar incident Friday afternoon, a group of 10 men or more invaded a store in the city’s Fairfax district and started grabbing merchandise without paying for it, pushing employees out of the way before fleeing the scene, according to LAPD.

Police are investigating possible ties between that incident and a flurry of other robberies and retail thefts on Friday and earlier in the week, including two smash-and-grabs reported on Wednesday, an LAPD spokesperson said.

The rash of retail crime prompted the LAPD to place its officers on a citywide tactical alert on Friday afternoon.

Mass robberies also were reported on Friday at two Best Buy electronics stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, one of them involving as many as 30 suspects, while a spree of pre-dawn retail burglaries were under investigation in Chicago.

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In one of the biggest flash-mob robberies reported on the West Coast in recent days, police in the San Francisco suburb of Walnut Creek were seeking about 80 suspects who swarmed and ransacked a department store last Saturday.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Paul Simao)

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