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TikTok unveils mental health features as Instagram comes under fire

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Rafael Henrique | LightRocket | Getty Images

TikTok on Tuesday announced a slew of features intended to help users struggling with mental health issues and thoughts of suicide.

These include well-being guides, a support guide for those struggling with eating disorders and a search intervention feature that will direct users to support resources when they look up phrases such as #suicide.

TikTok’s announcement of the new features followed a Tuesday Wall Street Journal report that said Facebook has repeatedly found that its Instagram app could be harmful to teenagers’ mental health, in certain situations.

The two apps are in tight competition for the teens’ attention. Since its 2017 launch, Chinese-owned TikTok has gained ground on Instagram, and last year surpassed it as U.S. teenagers’ second-favorite social media app, after Snapchat, according to an October 2020 report by Piper Sandler.

TikTok’s new features will direct users to support, such as a Crisis Text Line if they search for the term “suicide.”

Although TikTok’s new features may be timed to National Suicide Prevention Week, which was last week, the timing is fortuitous. Following the Journal’s report, U.S. lawmakers heavily criticized Facebook for social media’s impact on teen mental health and the company’s failure to address the problems.

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Washington gridlock and a debt ceiling showdown are weighing on the market

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

The U.S. stock market is on track to post its worst day in months. And U.S. politics are in part to blame.

As the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 614 points on Monday — its worst day since July — and the S&P 500 shedding 1.7%, strategists say gridlock on Capitol Hill is starting to send shutters through the market.

The S&P 500 on Monday notched its worst session since May.

Dan Clinton, head of policy research at Strategas Research Partners, wrote Monday that Wall Street is increasingly convinced lawmakers won’t address the debt ceiling anytime soon.

“Much of this is short-term risk and headline risk, but the framework of Washington policy is shifting to more risk after 18 months of unlimited fiscal and monetary policy,” he wrote. “Consensus now believes that the debt ceiling will be raised in the second half of October, meaning a last-minute move, and another month of talk of debt ceiling breaches and prioritization of government spending if the debt ceiling is not lifted.”

If Congress fails to suspend or raise the borrowing limit before the so-called drop-dead date, the U.S. government will default for the first time. The Treasury Department doesn’t have a precise “drop-dead” date right now, but estimates that it’s likely some point in October.

House Democrats plan to hold a vote this week on a piece of legislation that would suspend the limit and fund the government for a matter of months beyond the close of the fiscal year when it ends Sept. 30.

Republicans have said they won’t help Democrats lift the borrowing limit as a sort-of protest over the trillions of dollars in new spending the Biden administration has proposed.

“This week, the House of Representatives will pass legislation to fund the government through December of this year to avoid a needless government shutdown that would harm American families and our economic recovery before the September 30th deadline,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in press release Monday.

“The legislation to avoid a government shutdown will also include a suspension of the debt limit through December 2022 to once again meet our obligations and protect the full faith and credit of the United States,” she added. “The American people expect our Republican colleagues to live up to their responsibilities and make good on the debts they proudly helped incur in the December 2020 ‘908’ COVID package that helped American families and small businesses reeling from the COVID crisis.”

The bigger hurdle is likely the Senate, where lawmakers will need to muster 60 votes to pass such a bill that isn’t tied to the separate reconciliation legislation.

Raising or suspending the debt ceiling does not authorize additional fiscal spending. Instead, raising the ceiling is more like increasing the country’s credit card limit.

Importantly, even if the Biden administration hadn’t authorized any spending — even if Congress had passed zero bills in 2021 — lawmakers would still need to lift the ceiling to pay for legislation passed in prior years.

“The U.S. has never defaulted. Not once. Doing so would likely precipitate a historic financial crisis that would compound the damage of the continuing public health emergency,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote in an op-ed over the weekend.

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“Default could trigger a spike in interest rates, a steep drop in stock prices and other financial turmoil,” she added. “Our current economic recovery would reverse into recession, with billions of dollars of growth and millions of jobs lost.”

Even if lawmakers ultimately avoid a technical default, a lengthy last-minute fight over the debt limit could lead to another downgrade of the U.S. debt rating, akin to what happened in 2011. The mere specter of default led Standard & Poor to downgrade U.S. sovereign credit, which in turned whacked demand for Treasurys and pushed yields up.

But investors fears aren’t exclusive to the borrowing limit.

Instead, the added angst over the debt ceiling adds to growing fears about the delta variant of Covid-19, pesky inflation and the end of easy Federal Reserve policies, according to Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities.

Hogan explained that markets are keeping a close eye on the bipartisan effort to pass $1 trillion in infrastructure spending and Democrats’ effort to add on another $3.5 trillion to revolutionize the country’s social safety net.

But, he said, it’s not necessarily surprising to see the $3.5 trillion bill curtailed as it makes its way through Congress.

“It feels like consensus is that we will get some but not all of the spending proposals passed,” Hogan wrote in an email. It’s likely we see some “increased taxes but certainly not in an order of magnitude that is currently being discussed.”

September is often a choppy month for markets, Hogan added, and 2021 is proving no exception.

“When we think about things that are driving markets, it certainly feels like we have turned from complacent to concerned about a plethora of potential headwinds,” he wrote. “None of the concerns that market participants have in the here and now are necessarily new, but are being viewed through the lens of what historically has been a rough month for markets in general, as such they seem to be hitting a crescendo.”

The Dow and S&P 500 have each lost more than 3.5% in September.

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China’s Evergrande crisis could inflict pain on the world economy

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A man walks in front of unfinished residential buildings at the Evergrande Oasis, a housing complex developed by Evergrande Group, in Luoyang, China September 15, 2021. Picture taken September 15, 2021.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins | Reuters

A liquidity crisis at a large Chinese property developer has shaken global markets, and strategists say it could send ripples across the global economy.

But they also say the issue will likely be contained by the Chinese government before it wreaks damage in the banking system and it is not expected to lead to a broader global financial contagion.

The critical question for investors is how and when do leaders in Beijing handle the situation, and whether they launch a restructuring of China Evergrande Group as many market pros expect.

Investors have worried that Beijing is likely to let the company fail, wounding stockholders and domestic bondholders. Evergrande faces a debt payment on its offshore bonds this coming Thursday, after it said last week it was facing unprecedented difficulties.

“Everyone was expecting the government would have some kind of resolution given that Evergrande is a systemically important company,” said Jimmy Chang, chief investment officer at Rockefeller Global Family Office. “It has $300 billion in outstanding debt. There is a contagion issue if China Evergrande is not resolved. I think it will end up having some deep-pocketed state-owned enterprises to take over.”

Market pros don’t think that Evergrande could lead to the next financial crisis, but it could lead to more volatility.

“The hard thing about particularly understanding China is that it is an opaque system and oftentimes you don’t have answers until you get answers,” said Rick Rieder, chief investment officer of global fixed income at BlackRock.

“The banking system tends to be controlled by the government,” Rieder added. “There is government intervention that presumably would come in. I think for a period of time, when you wrap this into everything else there, there’s near-term financing questions around some of the other property entities and when that happens then it can create some volatility, and some financial contagion. My sense is the government will act and my sense is it will stabilize.”

Rieder said there could be some caution around Chinese property companies and multi-disciplinary companies for a period of time.

There is concern the already slowing China economy affected further and that could flow into other economies.

Chang said the Chinese government needs to act quickly since Evergrande is beginning to affect sentiment, after being ignored by global markets.

“It could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This liquidity issue, real estate is so important to the Chinese economy and the financial well-being of so many Chinese families. Homeownership is over 90%,” said Chang. “So many people buy apartments as an investment, so if it this thing is not contained, it could become a real black swan.”

The fact that China’s economy is so large could affect the rest of the world, Chang added. “If China were to have a serious economic issue because of China Evergrande, the rest of the global economy would have contagion from it.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended Monday’s trading session down more than 600 points, after steep stock market declines in Europe and Hong Kong and other parts of Asia. The 10-year Treasury yield, which moves opposite price, slid as low as 1.297% as investors sought safety in bonds.

Protecting the broader financial system

“I think ultimately the Chinese authorities will step in to make sure at least the wider financial system doesn’t run into crisis,” said Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics. “If you’re a property developer you’re facing a few bleak months ahead. The key distinction I think is policy makers will allow property developers to suffer considerable pain, but they’ll step in to make sure the banking system is okay.”

Jim Chanos, president and founder of Kynikos Associates, said it’s a critical moment for the Chinese leadership, which has been carrying out a regulatory crackdown on internet companies, education companies, gaming and other industries.

Chanos said it will be key to see how Beijing responds to Evergrande.

“We are seeing a different change in tone… the way the government is treating business, business leaders, western investors. How will they handle a bailout that everyone thinks is coming, in some way, shape or form?” he said on CNBC. “Will Western bondholders be bailed out? Will it only go to property owners who are owed apartments that are not yet constructed by Evergrande? Will banks take a haircut?”

Pain in the Chinese property market?

China has tried to stem the speculation in its property market four times since 2011, Chanos noted. “In each of those cases, the economy hit stall speed really quickly, and the authorities took their foot off the brakes and hit the accelerator again,” he said.

He said that the residential property market equals 20% of China’s GDP while real estate activity in general is about 30% of GDP. “These are just the off-the-chart kind of numbers, and they’ve gotten worse under President Xi, not better. We don’t think it’s systemic to the Western financial markets,” said Chanos, who has shorted China stocks.

Capital Economics’ Williams said there are about 1.4 million property owners who have paid deposits and await delivery of Evergrande properties. “We don’t know whether they can build the houses, but it seems unlikely,” he said, noting that some residences are already under underway and at different stages of construction.

The risk is if there is also trouble at other property companies, property values will suffer and there could be turmoil in the housing market. The consumer is a large factor in the Chinese economy, and a hit on housing could hurt consumption.

That would also bleed into other regional and global markets through a weakening in the Chinese imports market as well as a slowing of demand for all sorts of raw materials.

“When you couple it with some of  the regulatory changes in China, the clear slowdown in growth, the clear slowdown in commodity demand alongside that growth, there’s some reason to pause and be patient about what’ happening  in the region,” said Rieder. “But the growth of China economically and the intertwined nature of China in the global economy is massive, and so China as an important focus of the markets isn’t going away any time soon.”

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Shell announces $9.5 billion sale of West Texas oil field assets to ConocoPhillips

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Separator tanks stand at the Royal Dutch Shell Plc processing facility in Loving, Texas, Aug. 24, 2018.

Callaghan O’Hare | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell on Monday announced a deal to sell the entirety of its Permian Basin assets to ConocoPhillips.

ConocoPhillips is purchasing the West Texas business for $9.5 billion in cash, according to a press release.

The assets span roughly 225,000 net acres with current production about 175,000 barrels per day, the press release said. The sale is set to close in the fourth quarter this year.

The deal would mark Shell’s complete withdrawal from onshore production in Texas. Shell will maintain its offshore production in Texas.

The move comes as the oil industry faces increasing pressure to invest in renewable energy and lower its carbon emissions in the face of a changing climate.

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