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G20 finance chiefs meet as Indonesia warns of energy, food catastrophe

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Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani addressed the ministers at the start of talks in Bali
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Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs met in Indonesia Friday for talks on the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the host warning them failure to tackle energy and food crises would be catastrophic.

The two-day meeting on the resort island of Bali started under the shadow of a war that has roiled markets, spiked food prices and stoked breakneck inflation, a week after Moscow’s top diplomat walked out of talks with the forum’s foreign ministers.

In her opening remarks, Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati called on ministers to work together with a spirit of “cooperation” because “the world is watching” for solutions.

“The cost of our failure is more than we can afford,” she told delegates. “The humanitarian consequences for the world and for many low-income countries would be catastrophic.”

Top global finance figures, including US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, were to discuss the rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, but the Ukraine war and its impact on an already brittle global recovery have dominated the agenda.

Canada’s Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, who has Ukrainian heritage, told Russia’s delegation they were responsible for “war crimes” in Ukraine because of their support for the invasion, a Canadian official said. 

“It is not only generals who commit war crimes, it is the economic technocrats who allow the war to happen and to continue,” Freeland said in the opening session, according to the official. 

Both Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko are participating virtually in the meeting. 

Moscow instead sent Russian Deputy Finance Minister Timur Maksimov and Bank of Russia official Elizaveta Danilova to attend the talks in person.

Freeland went on to say the war was currently “the single biggest threat” to the global economy, according to the official, echoing comments from Yellen a day earlier. 

Yellen called Russia’s war in Ukraine the “greatest challenge” to the global economy and said members of Putin’s government “have no place” at the talks.

After Russia’s delegation addressed the meeting, a Western official told AFP Moscow did not send their finance minister or central bank governor in person “after the very direct criticism” that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov faced last week at talks in Bali. 

– No walkout –

The meeting has largely focused on the food and energy crises that are hitting economies across the world as a result of the war.

Italian Minister for Economy Daniele Franco addressed the ministers with the message that they “have a key role in avoiding that food insecurity turns into a humanitarian crisis”, according to an Italian official.

Yellen is pressing G20 allies for a price cap on Russian oil to choke off President Vladimir Putin’s war chest and pressure Moscow to end its invasion while bringing down energy costs.

Yellen in April led a multinational walkout of finance officials as Russian delegates spoke at a G20 meeting in Washington.

But there was no walkout on Friday after Yellen would not be drawn on a possible repeat of that joint action a day earlier.

There is also unlikely to be a final communique issued when talks end on Saturday because of disagreements with Russia.

– ‘Act together’ – 

G20 chair Indonesia -– which pursues a neutral foreign policy –- has refrained from uninviting Russia despite Western pressure

“This is not an easy time given our diverse membership… and also the differences in our position and views,” said Indrawati.

“We need to act together to demonstrate why G20 deserves its reputation as the premier forum for international cooperation.” 

But it has been difficult to get all parties around the table in person. 

Alongisde Moscow and Kyiv’s ministers, Chinese Finance Minister Liu Kun and Britain’s new Finance Minister Nadhim Zahawi were only attending virtually.

International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva will appear in person after saying Wednesday the global economic outlook had “darkened significantly” because of Moscow’s invasion.

European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde is participating virtually, but World Bank chief executive David Malpass will not attend.

The meeting is a prelude to the leaders’ summit on the Indonesian island in November that was meant to focus on the global recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other issues being tackled by the ministers included digital financial inclusion –- with more than a billion of the world’s population still without access to a bank account -– and the deadline for an international tax rules overhaul.

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Elon Musk sells nearly $7 billion worth of Tesla shares

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Elon Musk has sold nearly $7 billion worth of Tesla shares, according to legal filings, amid a high-stakes legal battle with Twitter over a $44 billion buyout deal.

The Tesla boss sold some 7.9 million shares between August 5 and 9, according to filings published on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s website on Tuesday.

“In the (hopefully unlikely) event that Twitter forces this deal to close and some equity partners don’t come through, it is important to avoid an emergency sale of Tesla stock,” Musk, the world’s richest man, wrote on Twitter late Tuesday.

Twitter is locked in a legal battle with the mercurial Tesla boss over his effort to walk away from the April agreement to buy the company, and a judge has ordered that a trial will begin in October.

Musk has filed a countersuit, accusing Twitter of fraud and alleging the social media platform misled him about key aspects of its business before he agreed to a $44 billion buyout.

The move comes after Musk sold around $8.5 billion worth of shares in the electric carmaker in April as he was preparing to finance the Twitter deal. He tweeted at the time: “No further TSLA sales planned after today.”

Tesla rose 3.4 percent to $879 before the start of regular trading Wednesday, while Twitter jumped 4.3 percent to $44.69, Bloomberg reported.

Musk has now sold about $32 billion worth of Tesla shares since November.

“He is cashing up for Twitter,” Charu Chanana, a strategist at Saxo Capital Markets told Bloomberg News. 

Chanana said she believed Musk may be attempting to take advantage of a Tesla share price rebound of about 35 percent since late May.

“The bear market rally has started to falter, and further repricing of Fed expectations could mean more pain for equities ahead, especially in tech.”

Analysts say Musk may continue selling Tesla stock.

“Musk said at the Tesla shareholder meeting that any weakness in the share price was a buying opportunity, and then 24 hours later started selling stock himself,” Jim Dixon, a senior equity sales trader at Mirabaud Securities, told Bloomberg News. 

Dixon added that it was “very unlikely” that Musk was finished selling Tesla stock.

Tesla share prices have been tied to the fate of Musk’s Twitter deal in recent weeks, first slumping over concerns that pursuing the deal could distract him and lead to unnecessary financial risk, and then rebounding when he said he wanted to abandon the takeover.

Musk’s deal to buy Twitter included a provision that if it fell apart, the party breaking the agreement would pay a termination fee of $1 billion under certain circumstances.

At a net worth of $250 billion, Musk tops the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, although he has lost $20.1 billion since the start of the year, mainly due to the decline in Tesla’s stock price.

— Bloomberg News contributed to this story —

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Deliveroo says losses grow, to exit Netherlands

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Deliveroo has enjoyed strong sales growth in a short space of time but faces questions over its sustainability
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Deliveroo, the international delivery food app, announced Wednesday a big increase in losses as investment costs ate into rising revenues, adding it planned to exit its struggling Netherlands market.

Loss after tax jumped 41 percent to £153.8 million ($186 million) compared with the first six months of last year, the British group said in a statement.

Revenue grew 12 percent to £1 billion despite easing Covid curbs and controversy over treatment of its riders.

Deliveroo said the outlook was clouded by strong inflation and the Ukraine war. 

However, company founder and chief executive Will Shu expressed confidence in the company’s ability “to adapt financially to any further changes in the macroeconomic environment”. 

– Netherlands exit –

Deliveroo said it “proposes to consult on ending its operations in the Netherlands”, noting it did “not hold a strong local position” in the country.

The company added that it “would require a disproportionate level of investment, with uncertain returns, to reach and sustain a top tier market position”.

A planned exit from the Netherlands towards the end of November follows Deliveroo’s departure from Spain last year, although the group on Wednesday said it had gained market share in the UK and Italy.

It added that overall marketing and other investment costs, including spend on technology, jumped 29 percent to almost £369 million in the first half.

Deliveroo has enjoyed strong sales growth in a short space of time but faces questions over its sustainability, highlighted by its failed stock market debut which took place in London last year.

Its initial public offering was the capital’s biggest stock market launch for a decade, valuing the group at £7.6 billion.

But its share price tumbled on launch day by almost a third from the IPO price of £3.90 as investors questioned Deliveroo’s treatment of its self-employed riders.

A French court of appeal last month found Deliveroo guilty of “undeclared work” for classifying a courier as an independent contractor instead of an employee.

In early London trading following Wednesday’s earnings update, Deliveroo’s share price rose 0.8 percent at 92 pence.

“Stay-at-home stocks like Deliveroo fared extremely well during the pandemic when restaurants and bars were shut and households were forced into lockdown,” noted Victoria Scholar, head of investment at Interactive Investor. 

“However, the reopening of the economy combined with stiff competition from the likes of Just Eat and Uber Eats and q-commerce (quick-commerce) players like Gorillas and Go Puff, as well as the cost-of-living crisis, have created an extremely challenging environment.”

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Space invaders: How video gamers are resisting a crypto onslaught

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Blockchain-based play-to-earn games have proved hugely popular in parts of Asia and Latin America
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When video game designer Mark Venturelli was asked to speak at Brazil’s biggest gaming festival, he submitted a generic-sounding title for his presentation — “The Future of Game Design” — but that was not the talk he gave.

Instead, he launched into a 30-minute diatribe against the blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrencies and the games it has spawned, mostly very basic smartphone apps that lure players with the promise of earning money.

“Everything that is done in this space right now is just bad — actually it’s terrible,” he told AFP.

He is genuinely worried for the industry he loves, particularly because big gaming studios are also sniffing around the technology.

To crypto enthusiasts, blockchain will allow players to grab back some of the money they spend on games and make for higher-stakes enjoyment.

Critics say the opposite is true — game makers will capture more profits while sidestepping laws on gambling and trading, and the profit motive will kill all enjoyment.

The battle lines are drawn for what could be a long confrontation over an industry worth some $300 billion a year, according to Accenture.

– ‘Ecologically mortifying’ –

Gamers like Venturelli might feel that they have triumphed in the early sorties.

Cryptocurrencies have crashed recently and dragged down the in-game tokens that had initially attracted players.

“Nobody is playing blockchain games right now,” Mihai Vicol of Newzoo told AFP, saying between 90 and 95 percent of games had been affected by the crash. 

Ubisoft, one of the world’s biggest gaming firms, last year tried to introduce a marketplace to one of its hit games for trading NFTs, the digital tokens that act as receipts for anything from art to video game avatars. 

But gamers’ forums, many already scattered with anti-crypto sentiment, lit up in opposition.

Even French trade union IT Solidarity got involved, labelling blockchain “useless, costly, ecologically mortifying tech” — a reference to the long-held criticism that blockchain networks are hugely power hungry.

Ubisoft quickly ditched the NFT marketplace in Tom Clancy Ghost Recon Breakpoint.

Last month, Minecraft, a world-building game hugely popular with children and teenagers, announced it would not allow blockchain technology. 

The firm criticised the “speculative pricing and investment mentality” around NFTs and said introducing them would be “inconsistent with the long-term joy and success of our players”.

The wider sector also has a serious image problem after a spectacular theft earlier this year of almost $600 million from Axie Infinity, a blockchain game popular in the Philippines. 

Analyst firm NonFungible last week revealed that the NFT gaming sector crashed in the second quarter of this year with the number of sales plunging 22 percent.

All of this points to a bleak time for crypto enthusiasts, but blockchain entrepreneurs are not giving up. 

– ‘Revolutionise’ gaming –

Sekip Can Gokalp, whose firms Infinite Arcade and Coda help developers introduce blockchain to their games, argues it is still “very early days”.

He told AFP some of the attention-grabbing play-to-earn games had been “misguided” and he was convinced the technology still had the potential to “revolutionise” gaming.

Reports of a culture clash between gamers and crypto fans, he said, were overplayed and his research suggested there was substantial overlap between the two communities.

Gokalp can take heart from recent announcements by gaming giants such as Sega and Roblox, a popular platform mostly used by children, indicating they are still exploring blockchain. 

And Ubisoft, despite abandoning its most high-profile blockchain effort, still has several crypto-related projects on the go. 

Among the many benefits trumpeted by crypto enthusiasts are that the blockchain allows players to take items from one game to another, gives them ownership of those items and stores their progress across platforms. 

Vicol, though, reckons blockchain gaming needs to find other selling points to succeed.

“It could be the future,” he said, “but it’s going to be different to how people envisage it today”. 

Brazilian Venturelli, whose games include the award-winning Relic Hunters, used his talk at the BIG Festival in Sao Paulo to dismiss all the benefits trumpeted by crypto fans as either unworkable, undesirable or already available. 

And he told AFP that play-to-earn games risked real-world damage in Latin America — a particular target for the industry — by enticing young people away from occupations that bring benefits to society.

He said many people he knows, including venture capitalists and the heads of billion-dollar corporations, shared his point of view.

“They came to congratulate me on my talk,” he said. 

But with new blockchain games emerging every day, he accepts that the battle is far from over.

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