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US-China trade tensions, currencies and stocks in focus

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Japan’s Nikkei 225 tacked on 0.16 percent and the broader Topix edged up by 0.15 percent. Meanwhile, South Korea’s Kospi slid 0.7 percent.

Over in Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 was little changed in early trade, with the index last higher by just 0.01 percent.

U.S. stock index futures tumbled following the latest trade-related development, with Dow Jones industrial average futures falling more than 300 points. S&P 500 and Nasdaq futures also came under pressure early during Asia hours.

Earlier, U.S. and European markets had advanced in the last session as trade fears among investors eased in the last session. The Dow rose nearly 1 percent and the pan-European Stoxx 600 surged 2.4 percent on Thursday.

Markets in mainland China, Taiwan and Thailand will be closed on Friday.

Investor concerns over recent U.S.-China trade rhetoric have been in focus in the past month. Markets had initially been on edge over trade tensions potentially triggering a trade war between the two largest economies in the world.

China on Wednesday unveiled plans for additional tariffs on 106 U.S. products. That came after the Trump administration released of its list of Chinese imports that could be targeted with proposed tariffs.

The safe-haven yen firmed following the latest trade comments from Trump. Against the yen, the dollar traded at 107.01 by 7:52 a.m. HK/SIN, off levels around the 107.3 handle before the statement.

The dollar had touched its highest levels against the yen in three weeks in the overnight session amid improved investor confidence on Thursday.

“Markets are digesting the fact that most of the tough trade tariff talk is unlikely to result in action that will upset global growth or even come to fruition,” Richard Grace, chief currency strategist and head of international economics at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, said in a morning note.

The dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against six peers, traded at 90.369.

In corporate news, Samsung Electronics said its first-quarter operating profit was expected to climb 57.6 percent compared to one year ago, Reuters said. The forecast profit of 15.6 trillion won ($14.7 billion) was above a Thomson Reuters estimate of 14.5 trillion won.

Samsung stock was last down 1.48 percent.

In economic news, the Reserve Bank of India held policy rates steady and reduced its inflation projection for the six months ending September.

Ahead, investors awaited the release of U.S. March nonfarm payrolls due during U.S. hours. Economists estimated around 193,000 jobs were likely added last month, according to a Reuters poll.

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Google Pay now lets U.S. users send money to India and Singapore

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The Google Pay app now lets U.S. users make money transfers to India and Singapore thanks to integrations with Wise and Western Union.

Google

Google is jumping into the massive remittances market.

The tech giant’s mobile payments service Google Pay announced Tuesday that users in the U.S. will now be able to send money to India and Singapore.

The company has teamed up money transfer firms Wise and Western Union on the feature, integrating their platforms into the Google Pay app. Users can choose between Wise or Western Union to move their money abroad. Google will take a small cut of the cross-border transactions made through its app.

Google Pay launched a new version of its app in the U.S. last year, marking a push into banking services with the addition of checking accounts from lenders like Citi, as well as rewards and budgeting insights.

Google is one of many large tech firms pushing deeper into the financial world. Apple launched its own credit card in partnership with Goldman Sachs in 2019. Facebook is making a number of moves in digital currency and payments. In China, Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial and Tencent have become formidable players in the digital payments space.

Still, these Big Tech companies have no apparent ambitions to become banks.

“We’re not planning to become a bank or a remittance provider,” Josh Woodward, Google Pay’s director of product management, said in an interview with CNBC. “We work with the ecosystem that already exists to build these products.”

Google’s latest financial services push will see it enter the huge remittances market. The World Bank forecasts that remittances into low- and middle-income countries were worth $508 billion in 2020. That’s actually down 7% from 2019, a decrease the bank attributed to the Covid pandemic’s impact on migration.

The news is a big win for Wise. The London-based fintech firm, formerly known as TransferWise, is increasingly selling its platform as a service to banks like France’s Groupe BPCE, Britain’s Monzo and Germany’s N26. Rival Western Union has been upping its digital strategy lately to ward off upstarts like Wise and WorldRemit.

Going forward, Google wants to expand its remittances feature into the 80 countries Wise operates in and, eventually, the 200 nations Western Union covers.

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Facebook has been told to stop processing German WhatsApp data

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The WhatsApp messaging app is displayed on an Apple iPhone on May 14, 2019 in San Anselmo, California. Facebook owned messaging app WhatsApp announced a cybersecurity breach that makes users vulnerable to malicious spyware installation iPhone and Android smartphones. WhatsApp is encouraging its 1.5 billion users to update the app as soon as possible.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON — A German regulator ordered Facebook to stop processing data on its citizens from messaging service WhatsApp.

The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, or HmbBfDI, said Tuesday that it has issued an injunction that prevents Facebook from processing personal data from WhatsApp.

Facebook said it is considering how to appeal the order.

Mark Zuckerberg’s social media giant has been looking for new ways to monetize WhatsApp, which is used by around 60 million people in Germany, ever since it acquired it for $19 billion in 2014.

In the latest move, WhatsApp users worldwide have been invited to agree to new terms of use and privacy that gives the company wide-ranging powers to share data with Facebook.

WhatsApp users are being told to agree to the new terms by May 15 if they want to continue using the app, which now competes with rivals like Signal and Telegram.

The majority of users who have received the new terms of service and privacy policy have accepted the update, Facebook said.

But the update isn’t legal, according to Johannes Caspar, who leads the HmbBfDI. He has issued a three-month emergency order that prevents Facebook from continuing with WhatsApp data processing in Germany.

“The order is intended to safeguard the rights and freedoms of the many millions of users throughout Germany who give their consent to the terms of use,” he said in a statement. “It is important to prevent disadvantages and damages associated with such a black box procedure.”

Caspar said the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the data leak that affected more than 500 million Facebook users “show the scale and dangers posed by mass profiling,” adding that profiles can be used to manipulate democratic decisions.

“The order now issued refers to the further processing of WhatsApp user data,” said Caspar. “Global criticism of the new terms of use should give rise to a fundamental rethink of the consent mechanism. Without the trust of the users, no data-based business model can be successful in the long run.”

Caspar also urged a panel of European Union data regulators to follow suit, so the ban applies to all 27 EU members states.  

A WhatsApp spokesperson told CNBC that the Hamburg Data Protection Authority’s order against Facebook is “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and effect of WhatsApp’s update and therefore has no legitimate basis.”

They added: “Our recent update explains the options people have to message a business on WhatsApp and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. As the Hamburg DPA’s claims are wrong, the order will not impact the continued roll-out of the update. We remain fully committed to delivering secure and private communications for everyone.” 

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Pipeline shutdown could push pump prices above $3 a gallon, highest since 2014

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A store clerk posts a sign at a Marathon gas station in Elizabethtown, North Carolina, U.S., on Monday, May 10, 2021.

Andrew Sherman | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Gas prices could rise to their highest level since 2014 as portions of the Colonial Pipeline remain shutdown.

The national average for a gallon of gas stood at $2.985 on Tuesday, up 6 cents over the last week. A gain of 3 more cents would take the national average to its highest level since November 2014.

“AAA forecasts gas prices to climb this week in reaction to the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline,” the road travel organization said in a statement. “The longer the pipeline is offline, the larger the impact on the east coast.”

Colonial Pipeline, which connects the Gulf Coast to the Northeast, transports roughly 45% of the East Coast’s fuel in a network stretching 5,500 miles. The system was taken offline Friday after the company fell victim to a ransomware cyberattack.

On Monday afternoon, the company said it was aiming to have all of its operations restored by the end of the week. Later Monday, it said one of its mainlines was open again but on a limited basis and under manual operation. The company’s website was down on Tuesday morning, so it was unclear if there were any overnight developments.

“This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and prices, but the impact will vary regionally,” said AAA spokesperson Jeanette McGee, noting that Mississippi, Tennessee and the Eastern Seaboard from Georgia into Delaware could experience limited availability and price increases.

However, traders note that tanks are sufficiently supplied to meet demand, and that there are alternatives should the pipeline remain offline for an extended period. Additionally, the Department of Transportation declared a state of emergency across 17 states and the District of Columbia on Sunday evening, easing some of the restrictions around tanker trucks transporting gasoline and other fuels.

Drivers filling up their tanks in anticipation of a shortage could press the system, and some gas stations in the country are beginning to run out of fuel.

“Motorists are well advised not to strain the system by filling up or beating price adjustments, for they may make the problem much more severe if they do strain the system by filling their tanks, and prolong any outages by doing so,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.

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