From Microsoft topping Apple to Costco in China – Here are today's Headlines

Microsoft is now the world's most valuable public company, beating Apple, as of Friday's market close

From Microsoft topping Apple to Costco in China – Here are today's Headlines
Microsoft logo is seen on the smartphone in front of displayed Apple logo in this illustration taken, July 26, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

To start off, we're looking into:

Microsoft tops Apple

The backstory: For over a year, Apple was the top dog among publicly traded companies, holding the title of the most valuable public company and beating out competitors like Microsoft. It meant Apple held the highest market capitalization, essentially the total value of its shares. But Microsoft occasionally outpaced Apple, especially in 2021, during concerns about iPhone supplies due to the COVID pandemic.

Last year, Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, made some major moves for the company. He invested significantly in artificial intelligence (AI), incorporating tools like ChatGPT to stay ahead in the industry and solidifying ties with ChatGPT creator OpenAI, a major player in AI. Meanwhile, Apple faced challenges, coping with a dip in demand in China after the pandemic and increased competition from local competitors like Huawei.

The development: Microsoft is now the world's most valuable public company, beating Apple, as of Friday's market close. Click the link here for more.

How banks are helping the oceans

Great Blue Wall Project
An undated file photo shows Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos archipelago and site of a major United States military base in the middle of the Indian Ocean leased from Britain in 1966. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

The backstory: The Great Blue Wall project kicked off in 2021 during the COP26 summit in Glasgow. It’s meant to protect the fragile ecosystems of the Indian Ocean. With solid backing, including US$100 million from IUCN, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Irish Aid and government agencies in France and Germany, the mission is to protect 30% of the ocean across the participating nations. The goals are to restore biodiversity, capture 100 million tons of CO2 by 2030 and foster a sustainable ocean-based economy for about 70 million coastal residents. This means safeguarding key areas like mangrove swamps, seagrass meadows and coral reefs.

More recently: As the initiative gained traction, banks joined the conversation, mulling over funding options like bonds and debt-for-nature swaps – essentially, countries restructuring debts in exchange for commitments to environmental protection. Last year, big banks like Credit Suisse and Bank of America worked with The Nature Conservancy to refinance over US$1 billion in debt for countries like Belize, Barbados and Gabon. Ecuador joined in, swapping US$1.6 billion in bonds for a US$656 million loan for local conservation.

The development: Major financial players like Citigroup, BNP Paribas and Standard Chartered have also discussed financing the Great Blue Wall project. Talks involve other big banks like HSBC, Societe Generale and Rothschild, exploring options like bonds and debt-for-nature swaps. Click the link here for more.

Strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen

Houthis Yemen
A missile is launched from a warship during the U.S.-led coalition operation against military targets in Yemen, aimed at the Iran-backed Houthi militia that has been targeting international shipping in the Red Sea, from an undisclosed location, in this handout picture released on January 12, 2024. US Central Command via X/Handout via REUTERS

The backstory: The Houthis are a political militant group that controls much of Yemen, and over the last few months, they’ve been attacking ships in the Red Sea, an important international shipping waterway. They initially said the attacks were against Israel-linked ships in support of Palestine, but they’ve also attacked commercial ships that don’t seem to have any links to Israel. 

More recently: As the attacks in the Red Sea have continued, many shipping companies have stopped operating in the area. Ships have had to take the long route around Africa, raising costs and sparking worries about a new wave of inflation and global supply chain issues.

Last month, the US and several other countries, including the UK, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the Seychelles and Spain, formed a coalition force to patrol the Red Sea and protect ships from the Houthis. Earlier this month, the US and allies warned the Houthis to stop attacking ships in the Red Sea, or they’d have to “bear the responsibility of the consequences”. But the Houthis have insisted they won’t stop until Israel ends its offensive on Gaza and food and aid is let into the Strip. 

The development: Over the weekend, the US and the UK carried out a series of strikes on around 30 Houthi areas in Yemen, saying the strikes were "designed to degrade the Houthis' ability to attack maritime vessels." Click the link here for more.

To end, we'll look into:

Tween takeover at Sephora

tweens preteens teens Sephora
Source: Pexels/Alex Kinkate

When we were younger, what was the rage? There were the Tamagotchis, the trading cards, the Barbies, Nintendo, Sims and perhaps the classic board games like Monopoly and Uno we played with family. Unsurprisingly, though, kids today, young zoomers and Generation Alphas, are interested in completely different things. 

And there’s a heap of acknowledgment about this on social media; kids today, especially girls, seem more “mature” than millennials were at the same age.

Now, there has been an explosion in the number of adults who have taken to social media to address an epidemic – tweens, like 10 to 12-year-olds, are flocking to the likes of Sephora and Ulta and begging their parents to buy them expensive makeup. 

“Has anyone noticed every time you go into Sephora now, it’s just all little girls? And I have never seen it to this extent,” explains @chloevanberkel on TikTok. Click the link here for more.

In other news ...

💣North Korea fires another missile: Tensions between North Korea and South Korea have been on the rise since Pyongyang recently launched its first suspected spy satellite into orbit and fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), violating UN Security Council resolutions, last year. In response, South Korea suspended part of its 2018 military accord with North Korea, meant to limit military activity on the border. On Sunday, Japan and South Korea said the North had fired an intermediate-range missile, the first for this year. Russia and North Korea are also forming closer ties, although they deny making any arms deals, and state media has said Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui will visit Russia from Monday to Wednesday to meet with her counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

📰Ecuador hostage update: Once known as an “island of peace” situated in between two of the world’s largest cocaine producers, Peru and Colombia, Ecuador has been battling an epidemic of gang violence. The country declared a state of emergency after the recent escape of Adolfo “Fito” Macías, the leader of the Los Choneros gang, sparked prison riots, with over 150 guards and staff being taken hostage across several prisons. Authorities in Ecuador have said staff struggle to control inmates inside overcrowded prisons, as they often run criminal networks behind bars. But, all of the hostages have now been freed, according to the prisons agency SNAI, and it will investigate those responsible for their capture. 

👋The Maldives calls for India to remove troops: President Mohamed Muizzu won the Maldives election last year, pledging to end the nation’s “India First” policy as New Delhi and Beijing compete for influence in the region. Around 80 Indian soldiers are stationed on the archipelago, helping with military equipment sent by India and humanitarian activities in the region. Now, a Maldives official has said the country has proposed removing Indian troops by March 15 in recent talks between the two countries. This just adds to tensions between the two that have been ramping up recently. 

📩Taiwan elections: Taiwan held its elections over the weekend, with current VP Lai Ching-te, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), winning. The DPP has been in power for eight years, but with the public frustrated at issues in Taiwan like housing costs and stagnant wages, they’ve now lost their majority in Parliament, making it harder to pass legislation. 

🌋Volcanic eruptions: Last December, Iceland experienced a volcanic eruption after weeks of seismic activity, opening a crack in the earth about 4 kilometers long and causing the evacuation of a nearby fishing town. After the eruption, the country’s meteorological agency said there were more than 300 earthquakes until seismic activity finally settled down. Now, Iceland’s seeing a second eruption, with lava flowing down into the evacuated town of Grindavik, setting buildings on fire. In other explosive news, Indonesia’s Marapi volcano erupted for the second time in weeks on Sunday, with nearby houses, vehicles and evacuation tents covered in ash. Marapi also erupted in December, killing 23 hikers who were on the mountain at the time.

🤑Hong Kong’s property prices: Hong Kong has been dealing with a slumping property market, with residential property prices falling seven straight months last November to near a seven-year low. And it’s not looking to let up anytime soon, as experts have said the market will likely see another round of price cuts as newly built properties are popping up faster than developers can sell them. Industry analysts have said interest rates are not falling fast enough to boost demand, and around 13,400 new units are expected to be completed between now and June. 

👑Queen Margrethe II abdicates: Queen Margrethe II of Denmark has become the first Danish monarch to abdicate in nearly 900 years, passing the throne to her son. Denmark’s PM announced King Frederik X on Sunday, and thousands gathered outside the palace for the royal succession. It’s tradition for the monarch to come up with a royal motto for their reign, and Frederik’s is “United, committed, for the kingdom of Denmark.”

King Frederik X
People gather on the day Danish Queen Margrethe abdicates after 52 years on the throne, and her elder son, Crown Prince Frederik, ascends the throne as King Frederik X, in Copenhagen, Denmark, January 14, 2024. Ritzau Scanpix/Mads Claus Rasmussen via REUTERS

📉Citigroup posts big losses: On Friday, Citigroup posted a disappointing US$1.8 billion fourth-quarter loss, saying it also plans to slash around 20,000 jobs and post up to US$1 billion in severance costs by the end of 2026. The losses come after a handful of one-off charges and expenses tied to the firm’s restructuring, exposure to Argentina’s devalued currency and the company’s exit from Russia.

💼Davos 2024: The World Economic Forum, WEF, established in 1971, is hosting its 54th annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, from January 15-19, with over 100 business and political leaders attending. WEF is a not-for-profit organization aiming to foster global cooperation on political, social, and economic matters. We can expect artificial intelligence (AI) to be a focal point, as well as economic growth, job creation and a long-term strategy for climate, nature and energy. Talks to end the wars in Gaza and Ukraine are also at the top of the agenda.

🖊️RIP Lev Rubinstein: Russian poet Lev Rubinstein, an outspoken critic of Russian President Putin and one of the founders of Russian conceptualism, has died at the age of 76 after being hit by a car and taken to the hospital in critical condition last week. He was also a verbal critic of Russia’s war on Ukraine and its stance towards the LGBTQ+ community. “Shakily poetic, astute and ironic, he was himself a way of perceiving the world,” human rights organization Memorial said in a tribute.

Lev Rubinstein
Lev Rubinstein. Source: Sergei Vedyashkin/Moskva News Agency

🏬China Costco craze: As China’s economic recovery has been slower than hoped, consumers have started budgeting more and stocking up on things like groceries instead of splurging on luxury goods. Costco is a well-known wholesale chain where you can stock up on bulk items at low prices. On Friday, the club opened a new location in Shenzhen, and thousands of people lined up to buy things like fruits, bread, frozen meat, seafood and Disney’s Lotso bear from “Toy Story 3.” The crowd was so big that the store had to use crowd control measures, letting 100 people in every 10 minutes.

🎶KCON in Hong Kong: KCON is a popular K-pop and K-culture festival, and it’ll be kicking off in Hong Kong this year, for its first time in the city. The fest will be at the AsiaWorld-Expo on March 30 and 31 this year. KCON started in the US in 2012 and has since been held in Japan, UAE, France, Mexico, Australia, Thailand and Saudi Arabia. Since its launch, it’s raked in attendance of around 1.65 million people in nine countries.

🏈Taylor Swift’s custom Kelce jacket: In one more example of the world’s obsession with Taylor Swift’s romance with Kansas City Chiefs’ player Travis Kelce, her look at the Chiefs’ game against the Miami Dolphins this Saturday sparked buzz all over the internet. The singer wore a custom puffer jacket made from his No. 87 jersey. It was created by designer Kristin Juszczyk, the wife of San Francisco 49ers athlete Kyle Juszczyk.

Quiz Time!

Who just beat out Apple as the most valuable publicly traded company in the world?

  1. TikTok
  2. Coca Cola
  3. Microsoft
  4. Nvidia

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Written and put together by Joey Fung, Krystal Lai and Christine Dulion

**The answer to the quiz is [3]