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To start off, we're looking into:
Ecuador's gang crisis
The backstory: Ecuador, a major player in banana and oil exports, has been grappling with escalating gang violence. Historically, Ecuador played a key role in keeping the peace between Colombia and Peru, the two largest cocaine producers in the world, acting as a buffer zone. But recent violence, fueled by clashes among drug cartels and domestic gang rivalries, changed the situation. Ecuador went from being a peacemaker to a hotspot, with many of its local gangs having ties with drug cartels.
The heart of this conflict lies in the struggle for control over cocaine routes to lucrative markets in the US and Europe. The tipping point came on January 7 when an attempt to transfer the leader of the Los Choneros gang, Adolfo Macias, known as "Fito," triggered widespread prison riots.
The development: On Tuesday, armed individuals stormed TC Television in Guayaquil on live air, raising tensions and resulting in two people injured before the police detained the men involved in the attack. On Wednesday, Noboa declared Ecuador at war with criminal gangs. Car bombings, shootings and prison riots around the country have so far resulted in at least 15 people being killed, and more than 150 people are still being held hostage. Click the link here for more on the situation.
TikTok's US$10 billion milestone
The backstory: TikTok, the popular app known for its bite-sized videos, took a noteworthy turn in 2021 when ByteDance, its parent company, introduced TikTok Shop. This marked the app's foray into e-commerce, with Indonesia as the pioneering market. Within a year, around 6 million sellers flocked to the platform. Last year, the video platform expanded its reach by launching TikTok Shop in the US e-commerce market.
But on top of moving into e-commerce, TikTok also has a way for users to purchase credit that they can then use to “tip” their favorite creators and live streamers. This marks a newer method of monetization, aside from revenues an app might generate from advertising, subscriptions or, especially in the case of mobile games, purchases like accessories for your characters or extra lives and other things that tempt users to spend money in the app.
The development: TikTok recently achieved a major feat, crossing US$10 billion in what users spent on the app, according to data.ai's latest report. It and other video platforms, like Disney+, contributed an 11% boost in consumer app sales last year. But its tipping feature accounted for the bulk of that, so TikTok is really onto something here. Click the link here for more.
What’s going on in the Red Sea?
The backstory: The Red Sea is a significant waterway connecting the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, transferring hundreds of vessels and millions of containers through its waters every day. At the northern end of the Red Sea is the Suez Canal, one of the busiest and most important human-made waterways in the world. Every day, millions of products are transferred and moved between hundreds of countries and companies.
More recently: In November, the Houthis, a rebel group backed by Iran that controls parts of Yemen after years of conflict, started attacking international shipping vessels to support the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in its conflict with Israel in Gaza. They initially said they were attacking ships they believed had ties to Israel, but many experts say they’ve moved onto commercial ships that don’t seem to have anything to do with Israel. They’ve been attacking these shipping lanes since November 19. Many shipping countries have begun to reroute and stop using the waterway as the situation continues.
The development: The Red Sea saw the Houthis launch their biggest missile and drone attack so far on Tuesday. Click the link here for more.
To end, we'll look into:
The rise of the reusable cup
With the environment worsening from climate change, and 2024 posing to be even hotter than 2023, many of us have been looking to find ways to lower our carbon footprint, whether that means cutting down meat consumption or just trying to reduce energy usage at home.
More recently, though, there’s been an increase in awareness of the environmental impact of the paper cup. Now some are saying that just like how tote and canvas bags took over for groceries, bringing your own cup is also becoming trendy. Some believe it could end up being like the Stanley Tumbler or Hydro Flask, products that have seen their sales skyrocket after finding their places in the heart of Zoomers who TikTok about them. Click the link here for more.
In other news ...
📉Market snapshot and key quotes:
- In the US: US stocks closed near the flat line on Thursday, despite better-than-expected new inflation data.
- In Hong Kong: Hong Kong stocks rose slightly on Thursday, influenced by positive moves on Wall Street and upcoming US inflation data.
📊Top gainers/losers and company news:
- In the US: Lyft dropped 0.3% after a Goldman Sachs downgrade from buy to neutral.
- Citigroup fell over 1% after warning of a possible quarterly loss.
- In Hong Kong: WuXi Biologics jumped by over 8%.
- Meituan gained 5.4%, Tencent rose by 2.6% and Alibaba advanced by 2.2%.
👀The numbers everyone is watching:
- In the US: The consumer price index is projected to have gone up by 0.2% in December 2023, or 3.2% for the full year.
- In Hong Kong: China is set to release important economic indicators, including China CPI, PPI and trade data on Friday.
📅To check out our economic calendar for this week, click here.
More headlines ...
🗞️Ukraine/Russia update: On a Baltic visit to raise support for Ukraine's ongoing war with Russia, President Zelenskiy ruled out a ceasefire, saying it could play into Russia's hands and "it might crush us afterward." He argued that Ukraine can still win but needs more support and stronger air defense systems. Meanwhile, the British Ministry of Defence said that Russia has been accidentally bombing its own areas in occupied Ukraine, likely because of "inadequate training and crew fatigue." A senior ally of Russian President Putin warned on Thursday that any attacks from Ukraine on missile launch sites in Russia could provoke a nuclear response. Also, the World Bank has mobilized about US$1 billion to rebuild Ukraine's private sector.
🌍European passports are now more powerful: Over the last five years, Singapore and Japan have held the title of the world's most powerful travel docs, with their citizens able to access more countries without a prior visa than other nations. But now, according to the Henley Passport Index 2024, citizens from France, Germany, Italy and Spain can enjoy visa-free access to 194 out of 227 places, up three from last year, helping all four European nations also land first place in the ranking.
📈Hong Kong rents reach four-year highs: After an exodus of residents and expats during COVID, Hong Kong has launched incentives to attract talent back into the city. One of these includes talent visas, having received around 50,000 applications by last November, 47,000 of which have been approved, according to Secretary for Labor and Welfare Sun Yuk-han. With that, rental prices in Hong Kong are quickly rebounding, with city residential rents hitting a four-year peak, climbing for 10 consecutive months until November. Midland Realty projects an average of 10% rise for 2024. Singapore, on the other hand, is seeing lease projections for 2024 drop.
🎵Response to Creamfields 2024 lineup: The Creamfields lineup is out for 2024! Martin Garrix and Zhu will take the main stage on Saturday, headlining this year's festival, while Armin van Buuren and Illenium will lead the Sunday lineup. Other notable DJs to perform include Chase and Status, Subtronics and Chris Avantgarde. All in all, reactions have been positive, but after last year saw complaints about volume issues and obstructed views from the VIP booth, one post wrote, "did u hear us when we said turn up the volume tho 🤡," and another said, "Zhu 🔥 But don't "do your best" to fix the volume. Just fix it 🙏🏽."
📰OpenAI to license more news content: In mid-December, OpenAI announced it had inked a deal for sharing content, letting ChatGPT summarize news from Axel Springer's outlets as soon as it's published. Now, according to people familiar with the situation, Bloomberg has reported that OpenAI is in talks with CNN, Fox. and Time to license their content.
👩✈️Hong Kong leader tells Cathay to fix capacity issue ASAP: After a big workforce cut during COVID, Cathay Pacific has been struggling to hire pilots in time to meet holiday demands, with the airline calling off nearly 70 flights during the holiday period because of "higher-than-expected pilot absences caused by seasonal illness." On Sunday, it announced its decision to cancel an average of 12 flights a day until the end of February to make sure things were a bit smoother moving forward. While it's been able to hire new pilots, these 20 or so new hires need about 13 months of training. The airline has now apologized and put together a task force to tackle the problem after the city's leader, John Lee, asked the company just to fix the problems "very quickly and effectively."
⚡China and India coal usage: Many know that, to fight climate change, a lot of systemic change needs to occur. But even though India and China, top coal consumers, have set ambitious renewable energy targets, experts say that with their economies continuing to grow in the coming years, their coal demand won't be decreasing anytime soon. For example, China's share of global electricity consumption, 60% of which is generated by coal, is set to jump to one-third by 2025, compared with a quarter in 2015, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
❓What's going on in Papua New Guinea? Tensions in Papua New Guinea have been increasing over unemployment and increased costs of living. With that, on Wednesday, unrest kicked off in the capital, Port Moresby, after hundreds of police officers, soldiers, prison staff and public servants walked off their jobs because of a pay dispute. Riots also broke in the country's second-largest city, Lae. Now, the country is in a state of emergency, and more defense personnel have been flown in, with at least 15 people reported dead between the two cities.
👶Pope Francis calls for an end to surrogacy: During Pope Francis' annual "state of the world" speech recently, he strongly condemned surrogacy, calling it a "deplorable" practice that goes against the dignity of women and children and he's urging the world to work together to ban it. He listed surrogacy as a threat to global peace and human dignity, alongside issues like wars and climate change. He says children should be seen as gifts, not commodities in commercial contracts. Someone on social media has gone viral by asking, "Wasn't Jesus a surrogate child? 🤔"
💼Google layoffs: Google's parent company, Alphabet, is trimming its workforce in the digital assistant, hardware and engineering teams, affecting hundreds of employees. This move is part of its strategy to boost artificial intelligence (AI) investment and cut costs. During calls with investors, execs at the company pledged to look into ways to cut down costs to invest in company focuses. Some within the company have also revealed that they now see January as the yearly bleak time for layoffs.
📊Spot bitcoin ETFs off to a strong start: We informed yesterday that, for the first time, US regulators had given the green light for exchange-traded funds (ETFs) tracking bitcoin. From there, as of 1 p.m. in New York on Thursday, more than US$3.5 billion worth of shares have been traded among the 11 approved US spot bitcoin ETFs. With Hong Kong regulators saying last month that they were ready to evaluate applications for spot crypto ETFs, there's speculation that the city may follow suit after the US.
🐉Hong Kong's Lunar New Year parade: After a five-year break, The Hong Kong Tourism Board announced on Thursday that the annual Lunar Year Parade is back, scheduled for February 10, the first day of the Year of the Dragon. The Board expects around 150,000 spectators, with tourists making up at least 30% of the attendees.
🐕🦺Poland for the pups: With a deep freeze on the way, a Polish animal shelter launched "Operation Frost" last Friday, asking the public to help shelter some of its animals in outdoor pens, as it didn't have space to bring all of them inside. And the response was heartwarming. People came in droves, waiting in line for hours, and about 120 pups were taken for temporary (hopefully, some permanent) shelter to wait out the cold. Police also showed up to manage the crowds and even took a pup named Mombaj back to headquarters. "We are extremely grateful and moved," the shelter said. Well done, Poland.
Which app just surpassed the US$10 billion mark in consumer spending, breaking a record?
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