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Sterling shoots higher on report of EU concession

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TOPSHOT – A vehicle passes an anti-Brexit pro-Irish unity billboard seen from the Dublin road in Newry, Northern Ireland, on October 1, 2019 on the border between Newry in Northern Ireland and Dundalk in the Irish Republic. – Britain will give the EU new proposals for a Brexit deal “shortly”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on October 1, but rejected reports it would see customs posts along the Irish border. (Photo by PAUL FAITH / AFP) (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)

PAUL FAITH | AFP | Getty Images

The British pound made a sharp move higher against both the dollar and the euro Wednesday morning, after one newspaper report suggested the EU is ready to make a major concession in negotiations over the U.K.’s withdrawal from the trading bloc.

According to The Times, sources close to the talks believe that the EU will grant lawmakers in Northern Ireland the right to leave any backstop arrangement within a few years.

The backstop is an arrangement whereby Northern Ireland remains in the customs union — a common tariff area — until a solution can be found to prevent any return of physical checks on the U.K.’s border with the Republic of Ireland.

The story, published Wednesday morning, claims that lawmakers from all sides of Northern Ireland’s assembly government would be granted the right to revoke the withdrawal treaty, and therefore the backstop, if a “double majority” was secured.

In reaction, sterling jumped 0.4% to $1.2265 versus the dollar and 0.2% to 89.54 pence against the euro.

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China’s Greater Bay Area has opportunities despite slowing economy

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Xiao Wuhan, Executive Vice Chairman of Asia-Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation speaks with Qian Chen, reporter of CNBC.

Zhong Zhi | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Even amid a slowing Chinese economy and ongoing political unrest in Hong Kong, there are still many business and investment opportunities in the country’s Greater Bay Area, said Xiao Wunan, executive vice chairman of the China-backed Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APECF).

The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area is made up of nine Chinese cities in Guangdong province and two special administrative territories, Hong Kong and Macau.

At the East Tech West conference in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China, Xiao told CNBC in Mandarin, that the Greater Bay Area is not only serving Guangdong province but it is an integral economic, historical and political part of China.

He added that the region has always been a “window” for China to the outside world and vice versa. Historically, Guangdong has always been a port of entry and a big trading hub. And while Nansha is a leading innovative area in the province, he said there are many more opportunities and beyond the district as well.

China’s economic transition

Beijing has said the Chinese economy has been undergoing a supply side reform for many years now, and Xiao said that during the transition, the economy “will suffer some short-term pain.”

He pointed out that, “especially for conventional sectors and labor intensive industries, and there will be pressure to push for stricter environmental protection regulations,” according to CNBC’s translation.

Employees work on a mobile phone assembly line at a Huawei Technologies Co. production base in Dongguan, China.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Xiao, who used to work in the Chinese government, said the country’s continued heavy reliance on manufacturing will be “unsustainable,” and on top of that China is faced with an aging population.

Therefore, a “transition is inevitable, it’s a must,” said Xiao.

He added that the timing of the transition is the key to success. Across sectors, Xiao said innovation and efficiency are vital for the Chinese economy to transition smoothly.

Hong Kong unrest

The APECF executive told CNBC that “looking back at history in the past 1,000 years, I don’t think that the short-term chaos in Hong Kong would really have a huge impact on the Greater Bay Area.”

In fact, he said that he thinks “once the conflict settles, the future of Hong Kong will be supported by many policies. It will be supported by stronger and more favorable policies by the government. And I think the Greater Bay Area will have Hong Kong’s support in the future.”

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Prince Andrew interview on Jeffrey Epstein fallout: Sponsors drop him

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HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York visits the Showground on the final day of the 161st Great Yorkshire Show on July 11, 2019 in Harrogate, England.

Ian Forsyth | Getty Images

Corporate sponsors of Prince Andrew of Britain’s initiative to boost entrepreneurship are reconsidering their relationship with the project on the heels of a botched television interview about his former friend, sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein.

The auditing firm KPMG is not renewing its sponsorshop of Andrew’s Pitch@Palace and “made the decision following adverse press scrutiny around Prince Andrew,” SkyNews reported Monday. KPMG did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

A spokesman for pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca, told CNBC, “Our three year partnership with pitch@palace is due to expire at the end of this year and is currently being reviewed.”

The logo of insurance broker Aon, which had been prominently featured on the Pitch@Palace website as a “global partner,” is no longer there.

A person familiar with the company said that Aon — before Andrew’s recent interview — asked for the removal of its logo, which Aon believed had been prematurely posted. The person said that the company never finalized an agreement to be a sponsor.

The bank Standard Chartered declined to comment to CNBC. Requests for comment from Barclays, Tencent, Hult International Business School, Inmarsat and Bosch Group were not immediately answered.

Andrew, son of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, is just one of a number of high-profile people whose past friendship with Epstein came under renewed scrutiny after the wealthy investor’s arrest in July on federal child sex trafficking charges.

Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton were also friends with Epstein before he pleaded guilty in 2008 to soliciting an underage prostitute in Florida.

Andrew, in his interview with BBC Newsnight that aired over the weekend, denied having sex with one of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Giuffre in 2001, and discussed his decision to sever ties with Epstein after his conviction in Florida.

But the interview sparked widespread criticism over Andrew’s answers and demeanor, particularly when he pooh-poohed Giuffre’s claim that he was “sweating all over me” on a London dance floor around the time of their alleged sexual encounter.

Andrew said he was incapable of sweating in most cases at that time because of an “overdose of adrenaline” as a result of a stress reaction he experienced while being shot at during the Falklands War with Argentina in 1982.

“I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady. None whatsoever,” said Andrew, who is also known as the Duke of York.

But there is a photo of a young Giuffre and Andrew together. Both of them are smiling and Andrew has his arm around Giuffre, as the royal’s friend, Ghislaine Maxwell, stands behind them.

Prince Andrew with Virginia Giuffre and Ghislain Maxwell.

Source: Attained through court documents.

Giuffre and other Epstein accusers have said Maxwell directed them to have sex with various friends of her former boyfriend and confidant Epstein. Giuffre has said she had sex with Andrew at Maxwell’s behest.

Andrew also said that he had spent four nights at Epstein’s massive townhouse in Manhattan when he went there to end his friendship with him.

“It was a convenient place to stay,” Andew said, when asked why he stayed with Epstein for multiple days, much less for any time at all.

Andrew said that in hindsight, that was “the wrong thing to do.”

“I admit fully that my judgment was probably colored by my tendency to be too honorable but that’s just the way it is,” Andrew said.

Dickie Arbiter, who previously was press officer at Buckingham Palace, said in a tweet that the interview was “not so much a car crash but an articulated lorry crash.”

“Lorry” is the British term for truck.

Andrew agreed to the interview on the heels of continued publicity regarding Giuffre’s claims that he had sex with her at Maxwell’s home in London.

Epstein, 66, died in August from what authorities have ruled was a suicide by hanging while being held in a federal jail in Manhattan.

Epstein had been held in that jail since early July, when he was arrested on sex trafficking charges.

Prosecutors alleged that Epstein had sexually abused dozens of underage girls at his Manhattan residence and in his Palm Beach, Florida, mansion from 2002 through 2005.

Epstein’s death remains under investigation. A forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s brother has said that the injuries that caused Epstein’s death are more commonly seen in cases of homicide than in suicide.

Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York also are continuing to investigate the allegations that Epstein’s crimes were abetted by employees and other associates, who allegedly provided him with a steady stream of young women and girls to satisfy his obsessive sexual cravings.

Last week, the co-executors of Epstein’s estate asked a judge in the U.S. Virgin Islands to approve the creation of a compensation fund for his sex abuse victims.

More than a dozen women are now suing Epstein’s estate, claiming he abused them. The estate is valued at upward of $570 million.

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Alibaba to close books early for $13.8 billion Hong Kong listing

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A logo of Alibaba Group is seen during Alibaba Group’s 11.11 Singles’ Day global shopping festival at the company’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China, November 11, 2019.

Aly Song | Reuters

Alibaba will close its order books to institutional investors early for its upcoming secondary listing in Hong Kong, a sign that demand for shares is strong, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told CNBC.

The e-commerce giant will close its book at 12 p.m. ET on Tuesday, earlier than initially planned, the sources, who wished to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak publicly, said. One of the sources who spoke to CNBC said the book will close half a day earlier than originally scheduled.

An Alibaba spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by CNBC.

“The book is well-covered,” one source said. “The international offering received strong feedback.”

Alibaba got the greenlight from Hong Kong regulators for the secondary listing last week, CNBC previously reported.

News of Alibaba’s plans to close the books early was first reported by Reuters.

The Chinese e-commerce giant will issue 500 million new ordinary shares plus 75 million “greenshoe” options. These give the underwriting banks the ability to sell more shares than the original amount set.

Of those 500 million shares, 12.5 million will be reserved for retail investors. Alibaba has the option to increase the portion available for retail investors to 50 million shares or 10% of the total offering.

The company previously said those retail shares will be priced at no more than 188 Hong Kong dollars (about $24.01). However, the remaining shares for institution investors, could be priced higher than that.

At 188 Hong Kong dollars a share, the total amount raised will be around $13.8 billion if the greenshoe option is exercised.

Alibaba will set the final offer price by Nov. 20 Hong Kong time. Shares of Alibaba will begin trading on Nov. 26.

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