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South Korea’s Moon bemoans GM plant closure move

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Monday General Motors Co’s (GM) decision to shut down a factory south of Seoul will hurt that region, and called upon his administration to take measures to boost economic activity there.

GM announced last week it will shutter the plant in the city of Gunsan, in South Korea’s southwest, by May and decide within weeks on the fate of the remaining three plants in the country.

Gunsan employs 2,000 out of GM’s 16,000-strong workforce in the Asian nation, with local authorities saying one out of five people in the city were dependent on GM for their livelihood.

“Especially, the decline in employment (at GM) and subcontractors will be difficult to bear for Gunsan City and North Jeolla province,” Moon told his aides at a regular meeting, according to a statement released by his office.

Addressing the issue publicly for the first time, Moon asked his administration to look “aggressively” into any possible mitigation measures like designating Gunsan as an “employment crisis area” and called for urgent measures to aid workers affected by pending layoffs.

Since taking office last May, Moon has pushed hard on job creation, especially those for young South Koreans, and the closure of the GM plant is viewed as a setback for his plans regarding boosting employment in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Workers at the Gunsan GM plant have called the shutdown a “death sentence” and threatened a strike.

The factory had been running at about 20 percent of capacity over the past three years even before the U.S. car maker announced the shutdown, the latest of steps taken by GM to put profitability and innovation ahead of sales and volume.

A GM Korea spokesman said on Monday the company was committed to supporting the affected workers. The U.S. automaker launched a voluntary redundancy program last week for all its workers in the nation.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has recently approved import tariffs on washing machines, took the shutdown announcement last week as an opportunity to launch fresh criticism of the free trade agreement between the United States and South Korea.

Trump has been critical of the deal ever since his bid for presidential office and the two countries are in renegotiation.

Moon on Monday also asked his government to act sternly in trade talks with the United States, expressing worry over curbs on imports from other countries recently imposed by Washington.

“Due to the expansion of U.S. import curbs on our export products like steel, electronics, solar panels and washing machines, I worry about our exports as a whole despite our international competitiveness,” said Moon in the same meeting.

“I ask the government to act firmly and sternly to unreasonable protectionist measures, such as by lodging complaints to the World Trade Organisation and checking for violations of the U.S.-South Korea free-trade agreement.”

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Moderna says it plans to expand trial for kids 5 to 11

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With her husband Stephen by her side Erin Shih hugs her children Avery 6, and Aidan, 11, after they got their second Moderna COVID-19 vaccines at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on Friday, June 25, 2021.

Sarah Reingewirtz | MediaNews Group | Getty Images

Moderna plans to expand the size of its clinical trial testing its Covid-19 vaccine in kids ages 5 to 11, the company confirmed to CNBC on Monday.

The U.S. drugmaker is expanding the trial, which began in late March, to increase the likelihood of detecting potential rare side effects, the company said, declining to say how many children it ultimately hopes to enroll. The Food and Drug Administration last month added a warning label to the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines to list a rare risk of heart inflammation, which was reported in young people, as a potentially rare side effect.

“It is our intent to expand the trial and we are actively discussing a proposal with the FDA,” the company told CNBC in a written statement. “At this point, we expect to have a package that supports authorization in winter 2021/early 2022, should the FDA choose to use the authorization avenue.”

The New York Times reported earlier Monday that the FDA asked both Moderna and Pfizer to include 3,000 children in the 5- to 11-year-old trials, citing unnamed sources. One source described that as double the original number of study participants envisioned, according to the Times.

In a statement to CNBC, Pfizer said it has not provided any updates to the previously stated timelines or details for its trial.

The update comes as parents in the U.S. patiently wait for their children to be eligible to get vaccinated. In May, the FDA permitted the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine for kids ages 12 to 15. Moderna’s vaccine is expected to be authorized for children as young as 12 any day now.

Vaccinating children is seen as crucial to ending the pandemic. The nation is unlikely to achieve herd immunity — when enough people in a given community have antibodies against a specific disease — until children can get vaccinated, scientists say.

Federal health officials will need to balance the risk of potentially rare side effects from the shots against the risks of getting Covid.

In June, health officials said there had been more than 1,200 cases of a myocarditis or pericarditis mostly in people age 30 and under who received the shots. Myocarditis is the inflammation of the heart muscle and pericarditis is the inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart.

There have been just 12.6 heart inflammation cases per million doses for both vaccines combined, officials said at the time. They added the benefits still outweighed the risks.

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Facebook creates exec team to work on metaverse

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David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Facebook will create a product team to work on the “metaverse,” a concept that involves creating digital worlds that multiple people can inhabit at the same time.

The metaverse team will be part of Facebook’s virtual reality group, Reality Labs, executive Andrew Bosworth said in a Facebook post on Monday.

“Today Portal and Oculus can teleport you into a room with another person, regardless of physical distance, or to new virtual worlds and experiences,” Bosworth wrote. “But to achieve our full vision of the Metaverse, we also need to build the connective tissue between these spaces — so you can remove the limitations of physics and move between them with the same ease as moving from one room in your home to the next.”

Vishal Shah, the executive in charge of product at Instagram, is among those joining Facebook’s new metaverse group.

Technology companies and executives have started to increasingly discuss building a “metaverse” as a successor technology to smartphones and the mobile internet. Generally, technologists consider a metaverse a virtual world where large numbers of people can gather to play, work and socialize.

The metaverse is closely related to virtual reality and augmented reality technologies currently being developed by Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft in addition to Facebook. Roblox, a game targeted at children whose parent company is valued at over $44 billion, is often considered an example of a metaverse.

Facebook is heavily investing in AR and VR technologies because they offer the company the possibility of controlling its own hardware platform if they end up taking off, instead of being controlled by rules Apple and Google place on their app stores.

In an interview with The Verge published earlier last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company’s own metaverse would work on virtual reality headsets, as well as mobile devices and game consoles.

“And my hope, if we do this well, I think over the next five years or so, in this next chapter of our company, I think we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company,” Zuckerberg said in the interview.

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China’s June industrial profits data ahead

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SINGAPORE — Shares in Asia-Pacific looked set for a mixed start on Tuesday after the major indexes on Wall Street notched record closing highs once again.

Futures pointed to a higher open for Japanese stocks. The Nikkei futures contract in Chicago was at 27,975 while its counterpart in Osaka was at 27,950. That compared against the Nikkei 225’s last close at 27,833.29.

Australian stocks looked poised to slip, with the SPI futures contract at 7,328.0, against the S&P/ASX 200’s last close at 7,394.30.

Investors will monitor stocks in Hong Kong after their Monday tumble amid regulatory fears in China’s technology and private education sectors.

Geopolitical concerns may also weigh on investor sentiment in the region, after a high-level meeting between U.S. and Chinese officials ended with criticism on both sides.

Looking ahead, China’s industrial profits data for June is set to be out at 9:30 a.m. HK/SIN on Tuesday.

Stock picks and investing trends from CNBC Pro:

Overnight on Wall Street, the S&P 500 gained 0.24% to 4,422.30 while the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged 82.76 points higher to 35,144.31. The Nasdaq Composite was fractionally higher at 14,840.71. The gains left all three major indexes stateside closing at new record highs.

Currencies

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 92.649 after a recent fall from above 92.8.

The Japanese yen traded at 110.36 per dollar, stronger than levels around 110.5 seen against the greenback yesterday. The Australian dollar was at $0.7384, above levels below $0.736 seen yesterday.

Here’s a look at what’s on tap:

  • China: Industrial profits for June at 9:30 a.m. HK/SIN

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