From developing countries snapping up Russian oil to “idiots" surfing the Venice Grand Canal – Here’s your August 18 news briefing

From developing countries snapping up Russian oil to “idiots" surfing the Venice Grand Canal – Here’s your August 18 news briefing
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar’s junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who ousted the elected government in a coup on February 1, 2021, presides over an army parade on Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

To start off, we’re looking into:

Myanmar buys Russian oil

More and more developed countries are limiting their demand for Russian oil as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine. Notably, the US banned crude oil imports from Russia back in March. An EU embargo on Russian oil is also approaching, coming into effect this December. So far, the biggest buyers of Russian oil have been in Asia, but traders have said even they could begin limiting their consumption once the EU embargo kicks off.

Developing countries have recently been turning to cheap Russian oil amid their own shortages. Myanmar is one of these countries, and junta chief Min Aung Hlaing confirmed this week that the country had bought cargoes of Russian oil that will begin arriving in September. Russian oil is currently less expensive because of the sanctions and restrictions against it, selling around 10% less than similar crudes on the market. But it’s still unclear exactly how Russia will ship this recently purchased oil to Myanmar.

Brazillian presidential campaigning kicks off

Bolsonaro Lula
A man stands in front of presidential campaign materials depicting Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and President Jair Bolsonaro on the first day for political campaigns, in Brasilia, Brazil, August 16, 2022. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Brazil’s current president, Jair Bolsonaro, is not particularly popular among the population, and he is facing some competition in the upcoming election on October 2. So far, Bolsonaro has been criticized for mishandling the COVID pandemic and his roll-back of environmental protections affecting the Amazon rainforest. His main opposition is left-wing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), who was in office from 2003 to 2010. Lula’s administration was massively popular, but he was also later entangled in a corruption scandal.

This week, presidential campaigning officially kicked off in Brazil. Both Bolsonaro and Lula held rival events on Tuesday, and Bolsonaro is trailing behind in polls by around 12 points already. Fears of political violence are also rising as Bolsonaro has hinted that he may not leave office if voted out and has repeatedly suggested that electronic voting machines are unreliable. His supporters have also attacked two of Lula’s rallies, and Lula now wears a bulletproof vest in public.

Pharmacies take a hit in the US

pharmacy chains opioid
FILE PHOTO: Tablets of the opioid-based Hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Portsmouth, Ohio, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Back in the 90s, Big Pharma told the US medical community that opioids weren’t addictive, so doctors in the US gave many people prescriptions for them. But that wasn’t true, and because of all those prescriptions, millions of people have misused opioids, leading to an opioid addiction and abuse epidemic that has left nearly a million people dead across the country since 1999.

Now, big companies making profits from the epidemic have to pay up. On Wednesday, a federal judge said that Walgreens, CVS and Walmart (three of the biggest pharmacies in the US) had to pay US$650 million to two counties in Ohio for their role in fueling the opioid crisis. According to the judge, that price tag was a third of the cost of the damage that had been wrought on those communities – the same proportion that the companies had to blame for the devastation. To put it into perspective – about 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed in Ohio’s Trumbull County between 2012 and 2016. That’s roughly 400 for every resident. The pharmacy chains are expected to appeal the verdict.

To end, we’ll look into:

Venice surfers expelled after a run-in with the mayor

Venice, Italy, is known for its beautiful canals, through which one often sees gondolas floating by, small boats gently motoring through, and … surfers hanging loose and catching a big one?

Well, it turns out that the city’s mayor doesn’t love that so much. See, videos of a pair of surfers riding motorized boards through the city’s Grand Canal got a lot of traction. So on Wednesday, the city’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, said he thought the two should be punished and even offered dinner to anyone who could spot them.

“To those who spot them, I offer dinner," he tweeted out, calling the two “overbearing imbeciles."

This isn’t Venice’s first run-in with rowdy tourists disturbing the peace. Last year, the Italian government banned ships weighing more than 25,000 tons from going through the canal after environmentalists raised the flag about the damage it was causing to the city’s lagoon. But some also said that banning the boats from coming through would hurt the city’s economy. Now, though, cruise companies are shuttling visitors in with smaller boats.

As for the surfers, though, they were found after a video surfaced of one of them riding around on an electric foil board while carrying his surfboard before promptly falling into the water. The city confiscated their boards (worth about US$25,000), fined them for endangering people in the canal and expelled them from the city. It’s also said there could be further fines against the pair for damaging the city’s reputation. So far, though, there haven’t been any reports of Venetians getting dinner on the mayor’s dime.

So take note, surfers – the waters of Venice are not for you.

In other news …

📉Stocks: MSCI’s global gauge of stocks is down 0.76% to ​​2,822.87

📰Some specifics:

  • S&P 500 is down 0.72% to 4,274.04.
  • Nasdaq is down to 12,938.12, a drop of 1.25%.
  • Dow Jones dropped down 0.50% to 33,980.32.
  • Hang Seng Index is up 0.46% today to 19,922.45.

🧠Some quick factors to bear in mind:

  • The latest US Fed minutes came out yesterday, showing that it would continue hiking interest rates until inflation is curbed. But, it also said that it could slow soon.
  • Traders have been combing through corporate earnings, and some aren’t quite meeting the mark. Target’s second-quarter sales only rose 2.6%, missing the mark of expectations big time as it tries to deal with excess inventory and pushing share prices down.
  • In China, five state-owned companies will delist from US stock exchanges over an auditing disagreement, which could lead to more exits.
  • Investors responded positively after China called on its richest provinces to support pro-growth economic measures to fully recover from its economic slowdown this summer.

👄Some comments and chatter:

“Participants judged that, as the stance of monetary policy tightened further, it likely would become appropriate at some point to slow the pace of policy rate increases while assessing the effects of cumulative policy adjustments on economic activity and inflation," the Fed’s minutes said.

“A sense of urgency must be strengthened to consolidate the foundation for economic recovery," Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said.

🛢Oil: Brent crude oil was up 1.42% higher at US$93.65 a barrel, and US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 1.8% to US$88.11 per barrel. US crude oil inventories are lower than expected, ticking up its price.

👛Bitcoin: Bitcoin dropped 1.98%, down to US$23,385.80.

💣Explosions in Thailand: Yesterday, explosions and fires went off in 17 locations across southern Thailand. Seven people have been injured, and it looks like the attacks were coordinated. Authorities don’t yet know who’s behind the explosions.

🛳China continues military activity: Yesterday, Taiwan said it detected 21 Chinese aircraft and five Chinese ships operating around its region. Five of those aircraft crossed into Taiwanese territory in the Taiwan Strait.

😤Former prime minister of Australia stays put: It’s come to light that former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly took on five additional roles in his cabinet during his term. Now serving in Parliament, he refuses to step down despite calls to resign.

Biden signs landmark bill: Yesterday, US President Joe Biden signed a US$700 billion bill into law targeting climate change and healthcare costs. It also raises taxes on corporations and the rich.

🚀One small step for man: NASA’s brand-new moon rocket, known as Space Launch System (SLS), is ready for liftoff. It’ll be lifting off at the end of the month on a test mission with no one on board. But it will someday take astronauts back to the moon.

🌧How China’s ending a drought: A drought has dried out parts of the crucial Yangtze River in China. To remedy this problem, Chinese planes are now firing rods into the sky to encourage more rainfall. These silver iodide rods help form ice crystals in the clouds, making them heavier and likely to produce more rain.

🚭Thailand, not high-land: Two months after largely decriminalizing marijuana, Thailand says it doesn’t want tourists showing up just to smoke up. There are still a lot of places in the country where you can. But, smoking weed in public can result in a three-month jail sentence. That’s pretty long for hitting that bong. (We couldn’t help ourselves)

Cristiano Ronaldo to tell the “truth”: Just to back up a bit – Ronaldo wants to leave Manchester United, but the club’s manager has said that he’s “not for sale.” Now Ronaldo has said he’ll reveal the truth in an interview “in a couple of weeks” after reading a lot of lies. Meanwhile, the family that owns United have said they’re looking to sell a minority stake. Musk tweeted that he’d buy it, only to clarify later that he was joking.

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