From a Saudi student’s 34-year sentence to carbon credits and crypto – Here’s your August 19 news briefing

From a Saudi student’s 34-year sentence to carbon credits and crypto – Here’s your August 19 news briefing
Salma al-Shehab with her husband and two sons. (Source: Twitter)

To start off, we’re looking into:

Saudi student receives 34-year sentence for tweets

Over the past five years, there’s been a crackdown on dissent in Saudi Arabia under its current leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Although there have been certain progressive advances under MBS (like granting women the right to drive), Saudi Arabia’s human rights reputation is still pretty bad among the international community.

One example of this was the arrest of 34-year-old Saudi doctoral student Salma al-Shehab in January 2021, just days before returning to the UK.

Now, Saudi court documents have been obtained detailing her sentence to 34 years in prison for spreading “rumors” and retweeting some dissenting opinions. A student at Leeds University in the UK and part of the Saudi Shi’a Muslim minority, al-Shehab was initially given six years in prison for the “crime” of using an internet website to “cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security,” but she received a harsher ruling of a 34-year sentence from an appeals court on Monday.

China tries to boost its birth rate

China birthrate
FILE PHOTO: An elderly woman pushes two babies in a stroller in Beijing, October 30, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

With one of the lowest birth rates in the world, China’s population is aging. China’s birth rate in 2021 was 1.16, far below the international standard of 2.1 for keeping a stable population. And, it reported its lowest number of births since 1950 last year. So far, government efforts to encourage the population to have more babies haven’t been working. But why aren’t Chinese people having children? It comes down to the high cost of living, delayed marriages and lack of social mobility. Also, the effects of China’s longstanding one-child policy, which ended just in 2016, persist.

Now, the Chinese government is introducing new policies to try and boost the national birth rate. So far, it’s brought forward tax deductions and other incentives to encourage having children, begun addressing the high cost of raising a child, enhanced medical insurance, offered housing subsidies and put a curb on expensive private tutoring. Plus, unmarried mothers will be eligible for equal maternity benefits.

China’s not a fan of the US CHIPS and Science Act

US chips China
FILE PHOTO: Employees work at a production line manufacturing chips inside a factory of an electronics company in Chizhou, Anhui province, China March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Back in July, US Congress passed a bill called the CHIPS and Science Act, which was essentially legislation that invests a lot of money into the country’s domestic production of microchips.

But, China is expressing frustration with this legislation for various reasons, one being that Chinese officials have said that parts of the legislation explicitly discriminate against China, violating the principles of fair trade that the WTO operates under.

In addition to creating subsidies for US-based chipmaking companies, it also prohibits companies who get US funding from also getting funding from China. And it puts more restrictions on the equipment American companies can sell to Chinese companies for chip production. Effectively, more and more companies will have to choose to operate in either China or the US because they won’t be able to do both.

To end, we’ll look into:

Are carbon credits going crypto?

carbon credits
FILE PHOTO: A tree that is about to be planted is seen during a reforestation project in Nova Mutum, Brazil, February 19, 2020. Picture taken February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo

So you might have heard of something called carbon offsets, or carbon credits. Basically, the idea is that companies that focus on pulling carbon out of the air sell these credits to all the other companies in the world that specialize in putting carbon back into the air. (Well, maybe not specialize, but when you’re hauling a few million iPhones across the world, some of these companies are really good at it.)

These credits typically represent one metric ton of carbon, and the idea is that companies that pollute the Earth can buy credits to cancel out their carbon footprint.

Now, people are saying these credits should be put on the blockchain as a sort of cryptocurrency. The idea has a few benefits. One is that it would make the process more transparent, and everyone could see which companies did and didn’t buy and sell these credits. That transparency also means keeping track of the carbon offset will be easier. Another benefit is that it’s more accessible because smaller companies and even individuals can invest in it.

But here’s the issue – changing carbon credits to crypto doesn’t really solve their root problems. See, carbon credits have quality issues, meaning that not every carbon credit is the same.

Some organizations that produce carbon credits might be perfectly worthwhile, such as those developing technologies to filter carbon from the air. But other companies, not so much – like those that claim to be protecting forests which are later found not to be actually at risk in the first place, which kind of cancels the carbon benefit. Not to mention that aspects of the crypto industry are huge carbon emitters in the first place, with mining crypto taking up massive loads of energy.

And some people say turning carbon credits into a cryptocurrency can actually make the problem worse. For now, people and companies can differentiate between “good” and “bad” carbon credits. When they’re all represented the same as a fungible currency, that isn’t possible.

In other news …

📈Stocks: MSCI’s global gauge of stocks is up 0.13% to 2826.41

📰Some specifics:

  • S&P 500 is up 0.23% to 4,283.74.
  • Nasdaq rose 0.21% to 12,965.34.
  • Dow Jones is up 0.06% to 12,965.34.
  • Hang Seng Index is down 0.80% to 19,763.91.

🧠Some quick factors to bear in mind:

  • More retail earnings were released today in the US, revealing a drop for Kohl’s but a jump for BJ’s Wholesale. These earnings suggest consumer spending is sluggish, especially amid inflation pressures on middle-income customers.
  • More data released today shows that initial jobless claims fell to 250,000 last week, underscoring the tight labor market.
  • And traders are still reacting to the Fed’s July minutes released yesterday.
  • Meanwhile, uncertainties about the future of China’s economy are being fueled by concerns about the current zero-COVID policy and how it will affect consumers.
  • China is also dealing with energy constraints caused by the current heat wave. With those energy constraints comes production cuts.
  • With all this, Beijing’s stimulus response is still limited, with two surprise interest rate cuts earlier this week.

👄Some comments and chatter:

“Since the Fed’s July 27 meeting, the two-year yields have been up 43 basis points, meaning that the bond market thinks they’re going to raise rates higher for a longer period of time, whereas the stock market has been up 5%, meaning the market thinks they’ll raise rates relatively quickly and maybe even decrease rates next year," said Charles Self, chief investment officer at Tandem Wealth Advisors in Appleton, Wisconsin.

“In contrast with some people’s concerns about too much policy stimulus in H2, the real risk is that Beijing’s policy support may be too little, too late and too inefficient," said Japanese financial holding company Nomura.

🛢Oil: Brent crude rose 3.09% to US$96.59 a barrel, and US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 2.7% to US$90.50. Higher US fuel consumption of oil and the expected drop in Russian oil supply in the future balance out concerns about waning demand.

👛Bitcoin: Bitcoin is up 0.11% right now, hitting US$23,65.80.

📞US and Taiwan in trade talks: A couple of weeks after Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan, the US and Taiwan have officially announced formal trade talks. The talks will begin this fall and concern trade facilitation, digital trade and anti-corruption standards.

😲Palestinian rights groups’ offices raided: The offices of several Palestinian human rights groups were raided today by the Israeli military, which then welded the doors shut. Located in the occupied West Bank, Israeli authorities say these groups are a front for terrorist activities.

📱WhatsApp crackdown: Asset managers are tightening controls on communication tools like WhatsApp to make sure employees are careful when remotely doing business with clients. Regulators have already been cracking down on unauthorized messaging tools being used to discuss certain market-moving financial matters.

💣Ukraine behind Crimea bombings: Ukraine is behind three different bombings in Russian-annexed Crimea this past week, all of which targeted Russian military facilities, according to an internal government report shared with CNN by an anonymous official.

🍎New iPhone launch planned: Apple is planning on launching the iPhone 14 (with faster speed and camera upgrades) on September 7. Other new products are also expected to reach shelves later next month.

🥂Japan is urging young people to drink: The Japanese government is encouraging young people to drink more in an effort to curb the downward drinking trend there, which hurts Japan’s sake, beer and liquor industry, especially in the wake of the pandemic. It’s launching a contest called Sake Viva to revive the domestic alcoholic beverage market. #kanpaikids.

Kilimanjaro goes online: Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, now has broadband service. Launched Tuesday, tourists can now use publicly available internet to navigate the mountain (and to … you know … post about their achievements on Instagram in real-time).

Written and put together by Jake Shropshire, Vanessa Wolosz, Christine Dulion and Krystal Lai