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Asian markets plunge after Wall St battering

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Stocks were sharply down in early Hong Kong trade
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Asian markets posted big early losses Thursday, after Wall Street suffered one of its worst batterings in two years in the previous session.

Downcast earnings reports from retailers had exacerbated worries about consumer resilience and corporate profitability Wednesday, sparking a rough day’s trade.

On Thursday morning, Hong Kong was down by more than three percent, while Tokyo was down by about 2.5 percent.

Among the biggest losers in Hong Kong was Chinese tech giant Tencent, whose stocks fell more than eight percent on lacklustre first-quarter results.

Elsewhere in the region, Australia posted its lowest jobless rate in 48 years, in a potential boost to Prime Minister Scott Morrison two days ahead of tightly contested federal elections.

The unemployment rate dipped to 3.9 percent, the official statistics body said, the lowest rate since 1974.

But stocks in Sydney were still down, as were those in Singapore, Shanghai, Seoul and Taipei, though Jakarta was up by more than two percent.

Stephen Innes at SPI Asset Management called Wednesday’s losses “the most significant daily decline since June 2020”.

“The weakness came as Target’s quarterly earnings added fuel to the recession risk narrative,” he added.

Target, the North American-focused big-box retailer, plunged around 25 percent after earnings missed expectations despite higher sales.

The company pointed to the hit from higher operating costs in results that echoed those of bigger rival Walmart.

The retailers said profits were under pressure and some consumers were avoiding discretionary purchases as prices for food, gasoline and other household staples rise.

All three major US indices dove, with the Dow sinking more than 1,150 points or 3.6 percent, and the Nasdaq plunging 4.7 percent.

European bourses were also down.

“The big falls in shares of these retails… highlights the damage inflation is inflicting on the sector’s profit margins,” said Fawad Razaqzada at City Index.

“What’s more, consumers are getting squeezed as well and if they now start to cut back on spending then retailers could suffer even further,” he added.

In some of his most hawkish remarks to date, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the US central bank would raise interest rates until there is “clear and convincing” evidence that inflation is in retreat. 

— Bloomberg News contributed to this report —

– Key figures at around 0215 GMT –

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 3.07 percent at 20,009.68 

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.89 percent at 3,058.44 

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 2.63 percent at 26,202.70 (break)

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.08 percent at $110.19 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.62 percent at $110.21 per barrel

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0487 from $1.0533

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2349 from $1.2476

Euro/pound: UP at 84.93 pence from 84.43 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 128.54 yen from 129.18 yen

New York – Dow: DOWN 3.6 percent at 31,490.07 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 1.1 percent at 7,438.09 (close)

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Seaweed and 3D printers: Chile’s innovative approach to feeding kids

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Food engineering student Alonso Vasquez cuts cochayuyo seaweed to process it before putting it into a 3D printer at the lab of Chile's University in Santiago, on June 17, 2022
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Some dehydrated “cochayuyo” seaweed, some instant mashed potatoes and hot water: these are the ingredients for a nutritious menu of 3D printed food that nutritional experts in Chile hope will revolutionize the food market, particularly for children.

With a 3D food printer and a modern twist on the traditional use of cochayuyo, an algae typically found in Chile, New Zealand and the South Atlantic, Roberto Lemus, a professor at the University of Chile and several students, have managed to create nutritious and edible figures that they hope kids will love to eat. 

Pokemon figures, or any type of animal imaginable, are all fed into the 3D printer, together with the gelatinous mixture, and the food is “printed” out seven minutes later. 

“We looking for different figures, fun figures…visual, colors, taste, flavors, smells,” Lemus told AFP. 

But, he stressed, the main focus is on nutritional content. “The product has to be highly nutritious for people, but it also has to be tasty,” he said. 

3D food printers are expensive, costing from $4,000 to more than $10,000, but Lemus hopes that as technology advances, their cost will come down and reach more people. 

The technology is developing in the culinary field in dozens of countries, and 3D food printers are used to design sweets, pasta and other foods. 

NASA already tested it in 2013 with the idea of expanding the variety of foods that astronauts dine on in space.

– Superpower algae –

Chile is making progress with cochayuyo seaweed, one of the typical ingredients of the coastal nation’s cuisine, and which is rich amino acids, minerals and iodine, according to Alonso Vasquez, a 25-year-old postgraduate student who is writing his thesis on the subject. 

The young researcher takes dehydrated cochayuyo, cuts it and grinds it to create cochayuyo flour which he then mixes with instant mashed potato powder. 

He then adds hot water to the mixture to create a gelatinous and slimy substance that he feeds into the printer. 

“It occurred to me to use potatoes, rice flour, all of which have a lot of starch. The starch of these raw materials combined with the cochayuyo alginate is what generates stabilization within the 3D printing,” he says, waiting for the printer to finish creating a Pikachu figure of about two centimeters (just under one inch) and a taste of mashed potatoes and the sea. 

The project has been underway for two years and is still in its infancy, but the idea is to apply ingredients such as edible flowers or edible dyes to the menu to make them more attractive to children.

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SpaceX fires workers behind letter criticizing Musk

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Some SpaceX workers have been fired after circulating a letter critical of CEO Elon Musk
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Elon Musk’s SpaceX has fired several employees behind a letter critical of the outspoken billionaire’s public behavior, the aerospace firm said in a message to staff confirmed by AFP on Friday.

A “small group” of employees sought their colleagues’ signatures in a show of support for the letter and participation in a survey, SpaceX chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell wrote in an email late Thursday. 

The mercurial billionaire regularly uses Twitter to provoke, speak directly to customers as well as fans and sometimes offend with unfiltered or crude comments.

Shotwell’s message said some workers felt “uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views.”

“We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism,” she added.

After conducting an investigation, the company “terminated a number of employees involved,” Shotwell said, without specifying how many.  

The workers’ letter, first reported by website The Verge, criticized Musk’s behavior in public, as well as recent accusations of sexual harassment against him, as “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us.” 

“As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX — every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company,” the letter added.

Musk, who also heads electric car maker Tesla, is in the midst of roller-coaster $44 billion bid to buy Twitter that has brought even more attention to the entrepreneur.

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US stocks end rocky week lower ahead of holiday

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Wall Street stocks have been battered amid moves to raise interest rates to combat blistering inflation
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New York equities ended a rocky week mostly higher on Friday but lower for the week amid worsening fears of recession as the US central bank takes aggressive action against inflation. 

In the last session before the holiday weekend, the broad-based S&P 500, which entered a bear market earlier this week, added 0.2 percent to finish at 3,674.84, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index gained 1.4 percent to 10,798.35.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.1 percent to 29,888.78, after closing below 30,000 on Thursday for the first time since January 2021.

The S&P lost 5.8 percent in the week, its worst performance since 2020, while the Dow and Nasdaq dropped 4.8 percent.

Wall Street stocks have been battered amid moves to raise interest rates to combat blistering inflation.

Investors initially welcomed the Federal Reserve’s super-sized rate hike on Wednesday, but retreated after other central banks including the Bank of England joined.

The Fed promised there are more big rate hikes to come, and recent economic data has not helped sentiment, including weak manufacturing data that followed a surprising resurgence in inflation in May.

Karl Haeling of LBBW said “markets are oversold, but probably not oversold enough to call for a bottom.”

He said the modest gains Friday likely mark “a little technical pause.”

But Kim Forrest of Bokeh Capital Partners did not read a lot into the session.

“We’ve had a pretty dramatic sell off yesterday. And it’s a holiday on Monday and people probably left, so there are fewer traders out there today,” Forrest told AFP.

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