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China lockdown worries hit Asian equity, crude markets

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Markets are spooked by the prospect of another Covid lockdown in Shanghai, China's biggest city
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Asian markets and oil prices mostly fell Monday with a fresh Covid flare-up in Shanghai fanning fears of another economically painful lockdown in China’s biggest city.

The news came after a forecast-busting US jobs report last week indicated the world’s top economy was coping so far with the Federal Reserve interest rate hikes, giving it room for more as it battles soaring inflation.

Traders are also keeping tabs on developments in Washington as President Joe Biden weighs removing some of the Donald Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Shanghai recorded more than 120 virus cases at the weekend, having seen its first case of the highly contagious BA.5 Omicron strain, forcing officials to launch another mass testing drive.

With China fixated on its zero-Covid strategy of wiping out the disease, there is increasing concern that authorities will revert to another painful lockdown, with Shanghai residents having only emerged from a two-month confinement in June.

There have also been new infections uncovered in other parts of the country, including Beijing.

Data this week will provide a fresh update on the economic impact of those measures, as well as similar strict controls in Beijing.

The prospect of another lockdown sparked a sell-off in Hong Kong and Shanghai, while there were also losses in Sydney, Seoul, Taipei, Manila, Jakarta and Wellington.

However, there were gains in Tokyo as traders welcomed Japan’s ruling bloc securing a strong win in Sunday’s upper house election, held days after the assassination of former premier Shinzo Abe.

The result should provide the government with some stability, while there were also hopes for a cabinet reshuffle and economic stimulus.

– Fed ‘must be resolute’ –

The weak start to the week followed a tepid lead from Wall Street, where the strong jobs reading ramped up bets on further big Fed rate hikes after officials said the economy was strong enough to withstand them.

The central bank is predicted to announce a second successive 0.75 percentage point lift at its next meeting this month, while further big increases are also expected before the end of the year.

Policymakers have said they are determined to bring inflation down from four-decade highs, even if that means hurting growth.

On Friday, New York Fed president John Williams reiterated its determination, saying in a speech: “Inflation is sky-high, and it is the number one danger to the overall health and stability of a well-functioning economy.

“I want to be clear: this is not an easy task. We must be resolute, and we cannot fall short.”

Worries about another shock to the Chinese economy from possible shutdowns also dented oil markets as concerns about a hit to demand outweighed ongoing concerns about tight supplies.

Still, there is a view that prices will remain elevated for now.

“Covid numbers are ticking up again,” said SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes.

“Although the possible demand impact of a recession continues to weigh on sentiment, the prevailing view, at least for now, is that the longer-term structural issues facing the oil market will support prices.”

Investors will be keeping watch on Biden’s visit this week to Saudi Arabia, where he is expected to push for the crude giant to ramp up production to make up for the output lost to sanctions against Russia.

– Key figures at around 0230 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 1.0 percent at 26,787.00 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 2.4 percent at 21,194.75

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 1.2 percent at 3,314.43

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.7 percent at $104.07 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.4 percent at $106.63 per barrel

Euro/dollar: DOWN at 1.0148 from 1.0183 on Friday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at 1.1990 from 1.2034 

Euro/pound: UP at 84.65 pence from 84.59 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 137.03 yen from 136.10 yen

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.1 percent at 7,196.24 (close)

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.2 percent at 31,338.15

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Biden signs major semiconductors investment bill to compete against China

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President Joe Biden signs the CHIPS and Science Act to support domestic semiconductor production, new high-tech jobs and scientific research
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President Joe Biden signed into law Tuesday a multibillion dollar bill boosting domestic semiconductor and other high-tech manufacturing sectors that US leaders fear risk being dominated by rival China.

The Chips and Science Act includes around $52 billion to promote production of microchips, the tiny but powerful and relatively hard-to-make components at the heart of almost every modern piece of machinery.

Tens of billions of dollars more are allocated for scientific research and development.

The White House says the government commitment to bolstering high-tech industries is already drawing in large-scale private investors, with some $50 billion in new semiconductor investment alone. The lion’s share of that is a plan announced by US firm Micron to put $40 billion into domestic expansion by 2030.

Biden said at a White House speech that the cash injection from the Chips Act will help “win the economic competition in the 21st century.”

Entrepreneurs are “the reason why I’m so optimistic about the future of our country,” he said, and “the Chips and Science Act supercharges our efforts to make semiconductors here in America.”

One of the Democrat’s key themes since he took office has been the need to revamp US leadership in cutting-edge innovation and rebuild the homegrown industrial base in the face of China’s mammoth state-backed investments.

Semiconductors are of particular concern because they are vital to everything from washing machines to sophisticated weapons and nearly all are made abroad.

Although the semiconductor was invented in the United States, the country only produces around 10 percent of global supply, according to the White House, with some 75 percent of US supplies coming from east Asia.

Biden is also counting on the Chips Act to generate enthusiasm among voters, as his Democratic party tries to defend a thin congressional majority from a Republican takeover in this November’s midterm elections.

He told Americans that studies show the expansion of factories will create around a million construction jobs over the next six years — and these will be “union jobs” that pay “the prevailing wage.”

On Wednesday, Biden will sign another bill increasing funding for military veterans exposed to toxins. Like the Chips bill, this won bipartisan support in the usually bitterly divided Congress.

Shortly, Biden is also expected to be signing an enormous domestic investment bill — backed only by Democrats — aimed at fighting climate change and reducing health care costs.

Reflecting on the string of successes in Congress and the sudden momentum for his long stalled agenda, Biden predicted that “people will look back at this week and all we passed, and all we moved on, that we met the moment at this inflection point in history.”

“We bet on ourselves, believed in ourselves and recaptured the story, the spirit and the soul of this nation,” he said.

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US regulators clear Boeing to resume 787 deliveries

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The FAA has approved changes Boeing made to production of its 787 Dreamliner which will allow deliveries to resume
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After more than a year, aviation giant Boeing will be allowed to resume deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner aircraft “in the coming days,” after the company made changes to its manufacturing process, US air safety regulators announced Monday.

Deliveries of the top-selling widebody plane have been halted since spring 2021, so the news will be welcomed by US airlines and travelers who have suffered from massive delays and canceled flights in recent weeks, partly due to the shortage of aircraft.

“Boeing has made the necessary changes to ensure that the 787 Dreamliner meets all certification standards,” the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

The plane’s travails date to late summer 2020, when the company uncovered manufacturing flaws with some jets. Boeing subsequently identified additional issues, including with the horizontal stabilizer.

The difficulties curtailed deliveries between November 2020 and March 2021. Boeing suspended deliveries later in spring 2021 after more problems surfaced.

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen met with safety inspectors in South Carolina last week to confirm they were satisfied with the company’s improvements, which were made to ensure they comply with standards and to identify potential risks after defects were uncovered on the plane.

“The FAA will inspect each aircraft before an airworthiness certificate is issued and cleared for delivery,” the statement said. “We expect deliveries to resume in the coming days.”

– Cleared for takeoff –

A company spokesman told AFP that Boeing will “continue to work transparently with the FAA and our customers toward resuming 787 deliveries,” but did not confirm the firm had received final FAA approval.

During a July 27 earnings conference call, Chief Executive Dave Calhoun described the company was “on the verge” of garnering approval, though he declined to give a precise target date.

At the end of June, Boeing had 120 Dreamliner planes in inventory and was producing the jet “at very low rates,” the company said in a filing.

The company’s stock price gained ground on the news, closing 0.5 percent higher.

Inability to deliver the Dreamliner has dragged down Boeing’s profits, which plunged 67 percent in the second quarter. And the manufacturing changes have led to billions in additional costs for the company.

The firm has delivered just over 1,000 of the planes since it was first introduced in 2004.

The enhanced regulatory scrutiny of the 787 and other Boeing planes comes on the heels of a pair of crashes in 2018 and 2019 on the 737 MAX, which led to aircraft being banned from the skies globally for more than a year.

But the MAX has since returned to service, enabling Boeing to ramp up production of the planes, collect meaningful revenues and announce significant new orders at the Farnborough Airshow earlier this month.

Even so, Boeing’s backlog of orders in the pipeline lags behind that of archrival Airbus.

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No recession in Switzerland this year: chief economist

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The Swiss economy is 'doing well' despite the impact of the war in Ukraine on energy prices, the country's chief economist said
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Switzerland does not expect to dip into recession this year despite the threat of an energy supply squeeze, the government’s chief economist said Sunday.

The Swiss economy is “doing well” despite the impact of the war in Ukraine on energy prices, Eric Scheidegger told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper.

He said it was down to companies to steel themselves for the possibility of power shortages in the winter months.

“We may have to revise our economic forecast downwards for next year. The revised forecast will be published on September 20. However, we do not expect a recession for this year,” Scheidegger said.

“We run the risk of an energy supply bottleneck in winter. If there are persistent production interruptions in the EU and we ourselves have a gas shortage, it becomes problematic.

“In our negative scenario, we expect zero growth for 2023 instead of growth of almost two percent.”

Despite the threat of power shortages and the effects of the war in Ukraine, Scheidegger does not see a serious economic crisis heading towards Switzerland.

“At present, the economy is still doing well. Current indicators show that the economy in this country also developed well in the second quarter — after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine,” he said.

“Economic support measures such as general perks or tax relief are currently therefore neither necessary nor helpful,” he added.

– ‘Foreseeable events’ –

Scheidegger said the Swiss economy was less susceptible to high energy prices than other European countries as gas accounted for only five percent of its total energy consumption.

He said the government would discuss possible measures to curb high energy prices in the coming weeks, which could involve reducing health insurance premiums for low-income households.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs official said the help for businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic could not become the norm during economic downturns.

“It’s been known since spring that there can be a power shortage in winter. Companies have time to prepare for this,” he said.

“Companies can, and must, take this operational risk into account… it is up to companies to prepare for foreseeable events.”

As for inflation, he said Switzerland was “an island of bliss” compared to the United States, and inflation was likely to fall before the end of the year.

“At 3.4 percent, inflation is much lower here than in other countries.  Core inflation — inflation excluding fresh food, energy and fuel — is at two percent,” he said.

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