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Chinese companies see delays in getting paid as economy slows

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A Chinese national flag flies in front of a building under construction in the central business district of Beijing, China.

Giulia Marchi | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A Chinese national flag flies in front of a building under construction in the central business district of Beijing, China.

Companies in China are increasingly having difficulty getting paid.

The country’s slowing economic growth, tighter credit conditions and rising bond defaults are putting pressure on corporate cash flows, according to a survey by French trade insurer Coface.

Growth in the world’s second-largest economy slowed to 6.6 percent in 2018, the worst showing since 1990. Efforts by authorities to rein in high debt levels by constricting credit were a factor behind record corporate bond defaults, while the trade war with the United States also weighed on businesses and consumer spending.

“This context has led to pressure for Chinese companies, who have resorted to using longer payment terms to sustain business,” Carlos Casanova, Coface’s Hong Kong-based economist for Asia Pacific, said in his firm’s China Payment Survey 2019, released Thursday.

The longest payment terms were seen in the automotive and broader transportation sector as well as the construction and energy sectors, according to Casanova’s report.

Coface queried 1,500 Chinese companies and found that 62 percent reported delays in getting paid last year.

Many companies have complex supply relationships. Automobile manufacturers, for example, need to procure steel, plastic and electronic components and numerous transactions occur along the supply chain. That dynamic is also at play in other industries, such as construction.

A total of 40 percent of respondents said payment delays increased last year, higher than the 29 percent recorded in 2017.

Coface said 90 percent of the surveyed companies are privately owned while 10 percent are state owned.

Pressure from the slowing economy and the trade war eventually caused authorities to pause last year in their efforts to pare down total debt, estimated at more than three times the size of China’s GDP, in order to try and support overall growth.

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Cboe to stop listing bitcoin futures as interest in crypto trading cools

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A trader works in S&P 500 stock index options pit at the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) in Chicago, Illinois.

Jim Young | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A trader works in S&P 500 stock index options pit at the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) in Chicago, Illinois.

The major U.S. exchange company that paved the way for bitcoin futures has had a change of heart.

Cboe Global Markets, which rolled out the first bitcoin futures contracts in December 2017, has decided to stop adding new ones. In a statement last week, the Cboe Futures Exchange said it will not add new bitcoin futures in March. It did not rule out the possibility of other cryptocurrency derivatives, though, and “is assessing” its approach for how it plans to continue.

In the meantime, active bitcoin contracts are still available to trade, but the last of them expires in June.

Futures are a way for investors to bet on whether the price of a commodity — in this case bitcoin — will rise or fall. The contracts expire each month, meaning an exchange has to continuously list more if it wants to keep the market alive.

The move by Cboe highlights cooling enthusiasm for bitcoin after an all-out mania led by retail investors in 2017. When the “XBT” futures launched in December of that year, bitcoin was trading near $17,000. Not long after, it shot to almost $20,000. Prices have come crashing down by 80 percent since. Bitcoin was trading near $4,000 as of Monday afternoon.

Cboe was not the only exchange to try to capitalize on the bitcoin frenzy. Its Chicago-based rival CME Group debuted its own cash-settled bitcoin contracts, also denominated in U.S. dollars, and has not announced any changes. CME’s version has historically seen more trading volume. CME bitcoin futures’ 30-day average volume is more than four times larger than Cboe’s.

When they were introduced, futures gave investors a way to buy and sell cryptocurrency in a regulated marketplace. Those in favor of it said it would be a way to usher institutional investors into the bitcoin marketplace. There has been little evidence of that happening in the form of crypto derivatives.

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Jamie Dimon says we’ve split the U.S. economy, leaving the poor behind

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Jamie Dimon, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co., gestures while speaking during a Bloomberg Television interview at the JPMorgan Global Markets Conference in Paris, France, on Thursday, March 14, 2019.

Christopher Morin | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Jamie Dimon, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co., gestures while speaking during a Bloomberg Television interview at the JPMorgan Global Markets Conference in Paris, France, on Thursday, March 14, 2019.

J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said that the U.S. economy has essentially been split into those benefiting from thriving corporations and those who are left behind.

“I don’t want to be a tone deaf CEO; while the company is doing fine, it is absolutely obvious that a big chunk of [people] have been left behind,” Dimon said. “Forty percent of Americans make less than $15 an hour. Forty percent of Americans can’t afford a $400 bill, whether it’s medical or fixing their car. Fifteen percent of Americans make minimum wages, 70,000 die from opioids” annually.

“If you travel around to most neighborhoods where companies live, they’re doing fine,” Dimon said. “So we’ve kind of bifurcated the economy.”

Dimon was speaking at an event at the bank’s New York headquarters to unveil a new $350 million program to boost job prospects for people in under-served communities. The J.P. Morgan chairman and CEO has frequently voiced concern about the declining labor force participation rate and the shortfalls of the educational system in preparing people for emerging roles.

Making progress against these issues involves companies working with local organizations to provide skills outside of the university context, he said.

Dimon called the education system “broken” and said his bank stopped giving philanthropic dollars to colleges years ago.

“Harvard and Princeton are not a philanthropy,” Dimon said. “Helping these kids is.”

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Apple Watch heart study with Stanford: results and debate

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Apple and researchers from Stanford Medicine released some new results from a study of more than 400,000 participants, who were given Apple Watches eight months ago to monitor their heart rhythm to signs of a medical condition known as atrial fibrillation. The watches are not the newest version, which has an electrocardiogram built-in, but are able to detect abnormal heartbeats.

The results were presented on stage this weekend at the American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans, prompting a wide range of reactions from the cardiologists who attended. The discussion was not just limited to the Apple Watch, but about the role of consumer wearables more broadly in screening and potentially even diagnosing disease.

In interviews with CNBC, some in the medical community pointed to the high participation in the study as reason enough for optimism — 419,000 is far higher than most medical research studies — while others expressed concern that Apple Watch would produce many false alarms.

Most agreed that the results presented on stage were still preliminary, as the full paper has not been published in a scientific journal. Moreover, it was an observational study, and not a randomized controlled trial. (Apple is moving ahead with study of this kind that includes a control arm for the heart health features on its Apple Watch, in partnership with pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson.)

Atrial fibrillation is an important health target for Apple, as it impacts up to six million people in the United States, but many of them have not been diagnosed. For some people, especially those over the age of 65, the condition can put them at a higher risk for serious health complications, including strokes.

Heart health is the focus of Apple’s efforts in health care, so it’s vital for the company to win over the support of cardiologists. At this stage, Apple is ahead of its rivals, including Alphabet and Samsung, in introducing novel health features to its devices. But to win over the medical community, it needs to open up a dialog about the pros and cons, and publish research in scientific journals, which is not in the DNA of a company that has historically prized secrecy.

For Apple, its inaugural heart study with Stanford represents an important first step, and just one of its ongoing medical research efforts.

“We’re trying to be thoughtful about how we introduce this in partnership with the medical community,” said Sumbul Desai, a physician and Apple’s vice president of health, in an interview with CNBC. “We want to hear (from doctors) about all the positives and all the negatives.”

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