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Hong Kong retail sales post worst slump on record as protests take toll



People run into a shopping mall after police fired tear gas in the Central district of Hong Kong on November 11, 2019.

Dale de la Rey | AFP | Getty Images

Hong Kong’s retail sales in October fell by their steepest on record, as ongoing anti-government protests that have gripped the Chinese-ruled city for nearly six months scared off tourists and hit spending.

Retail sales in October fell 24.3% from a year earlier, government data showed on Monday, against a revised 18.2% drop in September and a 23% fall in August, as violent clashes spread across shopping districts and took a heavy toll on malls and restaurants.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam renewed her appeals for peace in the Chinese-ruled city but failed to offer any concessions to anti-government protesters despite a resounding victory for pro-democracy parties in local elections.

Protests have sprung up on an almost daily basis since June, with crowds gathering with little notice, at times forcing the government, businesses, schools and even the international airport to close.

Market analysts say the outlook is overshadowed by the protests and a weak Chinese yuan that translates into weaker spending.

Retail operators, from prime shopping malls to family-run businesses, have been forced to close for multiple days over the past few months.

Retail sales fell to HK$30.1 billion ($3.85 billion) in October, a ninth consecutive month of decline. In volume terms, retail sales in October fell 26.2%, compared with a revised 20.3% drop in September.

“The local social incidents with increasing violence depressed consumption sentiment and severely disrupted tourism- and consumption-related activities,” a government spokesman said.

The government will monitor the implications for the labor market and the economy, he added.

Hong Kong sank into recession for the first time in a decade in the third quarter, as months of political protests plunged the city into its worst crisis since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan said on Monday the city could record a budget deficit in this financial year, the first in 15 years.

“The external environment is uncertain, the economic growth of major trading partners is expected to slow down, and the local social incidents are not yet ended. The damage caused is yet to be restored. Hong Kong’s economic prospects next year are full of challenges,” Chan said.

Tourism hit

October tourist arrivals fell 43.7% on year to 3.31 million, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board. They compared with a 34.2% drop in September.

The number of mainland visitors fell 45.9% in October, accounting for 76.1% of the total.

Many businesses have felt the pain, especially some of the city’s large luxury retailers who rely heavily on mainland Chinese spending, as the protests show no sign of easing.

Sales of jewelry, watches, clocks and valuable gifts plunged 42.9% on-year in October, data showed. Medicines and cosmetics fell 33.5%, while department store sales dropped 31.1%.

The Hong Kong Retail Management Association has urged landlords to halve rents for six months, anticipating that some retailers may have to sack staff or even shut down.

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Sequoia, Lightspeed India on startup outlook during coronavirus



A man scans an Alipay QR code to get e-vouchers at a store on March 27, 2020 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China.

Shang Zeyang | China News Service | Getty Images

Like most businesses around the world, start-ups are encountering challenging times as the coronavirus hurts business sentiment and dries up funding. Small- and medium-sized businesses have been more adversely affected in most places, but large corporations have also started slashing jobs.

Entrepreneurs currently trying to build their businesses have to understand how the pandemic is going to shift user behavior in the future and adapt, Rajan Anandan, a managing director at Sequoia Capital India, told CNBC.

He oversees the venture firm’s Surge program which provides seed capital of up to $2 million and community access to selected start-ups in Southeast Asia and India.

In the first quarter of the year, as infection cases around the world began ticking up, there was an overall decline in fundraising activities, data from CB Insights and Crunchbase showed. The data points to worse times ahead as the current quarter could see a more pronounced slowdown.

Currently, there are more than 5 million people worldwide who have been infected by Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. The pandemic has pushed the global economy into a downturn as most governments clamped down on business activities to contain the virus.

Make sure you don’t run out of cash

For start-up founders, the immediate priority is to ensure there is sufficient “runway” — the amount of time they have before their businesses run out of cash, said Anandan.

“Once you have adequate runway, focus on reimagining your business. If you’re in a sector that’s been deeply impacted, you may consider … pivoting to an entirely different segment,” Anandan said. He explained start-ups may also need to revamp the way they sell, where they spend their marketing dollars and where they can find new customers.

“Try to understand how the consumer and buying behaviour is likely to change in light of COVID-19 and align your strategies in line with what the likely new scenario is going to be,” Anandan said by email. “If you have runway, then this is also the time to build – to set yourself apart from your competition.”

Complete funding rounds quickly

Hemanth Mohapatra, a partner at venture capital firm Lightspeed India, said that start-ups currently raising funds need to close their rounds as soon as they can.

“Our advice to founders is to close their rounds as quickly as possible, not to wait on multiple term sheets, not to wait on the best possible terms they can possibly get, not to shop around and just close the round quickly,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs” last Thursday. He added that in the current climate, valuations for start-ups will likely fall, but he predicted the market will bounce back faster than expected. 

Find opportunities as behaviors change

While the pandemic derailed several sectors including travel and tourism this year, other areas — such as e-commerce, digital payments, remote work, online learning, and health-care technologies — have seen a positive impact.

Vinod Nair, an angel investor in early-stage start-ups, told CNBC the ongoing crisis has led to two types of changes in behavior: First, a tactical shift in consumption habits that is expected to last up to two years. Secondly, there are some structural changes taking place — like more people will probably be working from home even after the pandemic is over, according to Nair.

Having been through multiple crises — back in late-90s and also in 2008 — we have seen the best companies and the best founders come out of these crises.

Hemanth Mohapatra

partner at Lightspeed India

“I look for (investment) themes where there is either a structural change or where a change that was already anticipated has just got accelerated a lot,” he said.

For example, the use of online marketplaces, digital payments and electronic health services — from online workout classes to consulting with doctors over the internet — will likely increase, he said.

Look for growing trends

Sequoia India’s Anandan said that alongside changing consumer behavior, the pandemic has accelerated the pace of digitalization. In India, that is evident in the kind of growth seen in areas like education technologies and digital health, he pointed out.

“The number of online learners in education has doubled over the past two months. Telemedicine, which was virtually non-existent in India months ago, is now growing at an exponential rate,” he said.

Lightspeed India’s Mohapatra pointed to a silver lining amid the challenging business environment at the moment.

“Having been through multiple crises — back in late-90s and also in 2008 — we have seen the best companies and the best founders come out of these crises,” he said. “We think calamity leads to creativity.”

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Asia set to open higher as China’s annual parliament meeting continues



Futures pointed to a higher open on Monday for Australia and Japan as investor sentiment remained somewhat resilient despite growing concerns over the U.S.-China relationship. 

SPI futures in Australia were up more than 1% at 5,574, which was a touch higher than the benchmark ASX 200’s last close at 5,497. 

Nikkei futures traded around 20,590, pointing to opening gains for the Nikkei 225 index. 

Markets in Singapore, India and Indonesia were shut due to public holidays. 

Asia Pacific markets declined on Friday after China announced a new national security law, which, if implemented, would give Beijing more control over Hong Kong and may incite further pro-democracy protests in the city. The draft measure was announced as China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) — the country’s parliament — kicked off its annual session and will last until May 28. 

“Risk sentiment proved resilient, on Friday night, to concerns about the fallout from China introducing national security legislation in Hong Kong. Weakness in Asian equities gave way to a flattish European session, and mild positivity in the US,” Hayden Dimes at ANZ Research said in a Monday morning note. 

Still, China’s announcement drew criticism from U.S. officials. White House national security advisor Robert O’Brien said on Sunday that if Beijing goes ahead with implementing the controversial law, the U.S. government will likely impose sanctions on China

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters on Sunday that some political forces in the United States were taking the bilateral relation “hostage” and pushing the two economic powerhouses to the brink of “a ‘new Cold War’,” according to an official English translation of his remarks posted by the foreign ministry. 

The U.S. dollar traded at 99.750 against a basket of its peers at 7:16 a.m. HK/SIN versus its previous close at 99.863. 

Currency strategists at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia said in a morning note that the dollar faces upside risks this week. “Rising tensions can put the US-China Phase One trade deal at risk. Although not our central scenario, if the US or China were to withdraw from the Phase One deal, (the dollar) would sharply appreciate,” they wrote. 

The Japanese yen changed hands at 107.69 per dollar, strengthening from levels near 108 in the previous week. Meanwhile, the Australian dollar traded near flat at $0.6537. 

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Trump suspends travel from Brazil as coronavirus pandemic worsens in South America



US President Donald Trump arrives to take part in a joint press conference with Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro in the Rose Garden at the White House on March 19, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

President Donald Trump is suspending travel from Brazil to the U.S. as the coronavirus pandemic worsens in Latin America’s largest nation and economy. 

The president’s order, published Sunday, denies entry to “all aliens” who were in Brazil two weeks prior to their attempted entry into the United States. The order takes effect May 28 at 11:59 pm ET. 

Brazil has rapidly become one of the hardest hit countries in the world as the World Health Organization warns that the epicenter of the pandemic has shifted from Europe and the U.S. to South America. 

“We’ve seen many South American countries with increasing numbers of cases and clearly there’s a concern across many of those countries, but certainly the most affected is Brazil at this point,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, said Friday during a news briefing at the organization’s Geneva headquarters. 

Brazil has more than 347,000 confirmed cases of the virus and at least 22,013 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. At this point only the United States is harder hit in terms of total positive cases. 

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly downplayed the virus, dismissing it as a “little flu” and attacking stay-at-home orders imposed by governors as a “crime.” He is a close ideological ally of Trump. 

Bolsonaro’s own press secretary tested positive for the virus in March after attending a gathering with the Brazilian president and Trump at Mar-a-Lago. The incident raised concern about the health of Bolsonaro and Trump at the time, though both leaders have tested negative for the virus.  

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