From China's oil imports to its UFOs – Here are today's Headlines

China is the world's biggest oil importer and heavily relies on the stuff for its growing economy.

From China's oil imports to its UFOs – Here are today's Headlines
Miniatures of oil barrels and a rising stock graph are seen in this illustration taken January 15, 2024. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

To start off, we're looking into:

China's oil imports

The backstory: China is the world's biggest oil importer and heavily relies on the stuff for its growing economy. Despite efforts to use more electric vehicles (EVs), the country’s demand for oil keeps going up. Even though China's post-COVID economic recovery last year was slow-going, its need for oil remains strong, ready to break previous records. The nation's crude oil imports hit a record high in 2023, rising 11% year on year

More recently: Towards the end of last year, analysts predicted that China’s oil demand growth would slow down in the first half of 2024 to 4%. This is because, even though consumption is getting back to normal in the aviation and petrochemical industries, the property crisis is offsetting some of that with weaker diesel use and a shaky outlook for the construction and manufacturing sectors.

The development: Now, experts are saying China will likely be the top consumer of oil and account for more than a quarter of new oil demand globally this year. Click the link here for more.

Deutsche Bank-Commerzbank merger buzz

Deutsche Bank merger
A logo of a branch of Germany's Deutsche Bank is seen in Cologne, Germany, July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File Photo

The backstory: Back in 2019, there was this big talk about Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank teaming up for a mega-merger, with the aim to fix some of their shared problems, like low-interest rates and years of poor returns. The idea was that if they joined forces, it would possibly save money, make things more efficient and create a stronger financial institution. But long story short, the talks hit a dead end because both banks thought the risks were bigger than the rewards.

More recently: Alexander Wynaendts, the Supervisory Board Chairman at Deutsche Bank, mentioned in November that the bank is open to growth options through mergers and acquisitions. Essentially, it's preparing to seize good opportunities when they come along.

The development: Five years after the flop of the Deutsche Bank-Commerzbank merger, there's speculation that the idea might be back on the table. The bank is said to be thinking about buying other banks, with Commerzbank and ABN Amro reportedly on the radar. Click the link here for more.

Apple takes steps to avoid ban

Apple Watch ban
An Apple smartwatch is displayed as customers visit the Apple store in New York, U.S., December 26, 2023. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The backstory: When it comes to wearable tech, the Apple Watch is a well-rounded tool, especially for fitness enthusiasts. Its health features, like ECG and blood oxygen readings, are key to its global success. In 2022, Apple sold around 49 million smartwatches. And for the first nine months of 2023, the company had already sold nearly 27 million of them. 

But the tech giant has been in hot water over a patent dispute with Masimo, which says some of its former employees who went to work with Apple led the company to copy its technology. In October, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that Apple had violated the patents and banned imports and sales of the devices in violation.

The development: If its appeal fails, Apple has found a workaround by redesigning the watch to remove the blood-oxygen feature. This would only apply to watches in the US, and it wouldn’t affect any Apple Watch owners who already have a device with the feature. Click the link here for more.

To end, we'll look into:

The GPT store’s AI companions

GPT store
ChatGPT logo and AI Artificial Intelligence words are seen in this illustration taken, May 4, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Last week, ChatGPT’s OpenAI launched its GPT store, which has been compared to Apple’s App Store. Why? Well, essentially, anyone can now create their own customized chatbot (called a GPT), and they can either keep it private, share it with a few people or share it with the world. On top of that, no coding is needed. 

Up to now, you could already customize your own GPT on a premium plan, but this marketplace will broaden the number of customized GPTs, letting you buy what you need rather than make one yourself. “For example, GPTs can help you learn the rules to any board game, help teach your kids math, or design stickers,” writes the company on its site. 

Since then, millions of custom GPTs have been created, and OpenAI announced that it will launch a revenue-sharing program with the creators of these GPTs early this year based on how popular and engaged their GPTs are. 

But by day two of the store launch, rules were already being broken. Click the link here for more.

In other news ...


📉Market snapshot and key quotes:

  • In the US: The US market was closed for Martin Luther King Day.
  • In Hong Kong: Hong Kong stocks dipped due to China's economic concerns and the central bank's decision not to cut short-term rates. The People’s Bank of China surprised the market by holding the rate on one-year medium-term loans at 2.50%.

📊Top gainers/losers and company news:

  • In Hong Kong: Baidu dropped over 11% after a report linked its AI chatbot Ernie Bot to Chinese military research.

👀The numbers everyone is watching:

  • In the US: Big banks, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, report earnings on Tuesday.
  • In Hong Kong: Investors are eagerly awaiting China’s Q4 GDP numbers this Wednesday.

📅To check out our economic calendar for this week, click here.

More headlines ...

🚢Red Sea update: Yemen-based Houthi militants have been targeting ships transiting through the Red Sea in protest of the ongoing war in Israel and Palestine. Over the weekend, the US and the UK carried out strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen in response. On Monday, the Houthis hit a US-owned commercial vessel with an anti-ship ballistic missile, but the ship avoided major damage and was able to continue its journey. Meanwhile, economist Mohamed El-Erian said that although the shipping disruption caused by the Red Sea attacks isn't quite as severe as during COVID, it will still push up prices and pose a risk of raising inflation rates. 

🚘Car attack in Israel: An incident in central Israel on Monday resulted in one woman's death and injured 17 people. The police called it a terrorist attack and have arrested two Palestinian suspects. Authorities alleged that the two suspects stole cars and rammed into a number of people in different areas of Ra'anana after entering Israel illegally from the West Bank. 

🛳️Sri Lanka ban on Chinese ships: In late December, the Hindustan Times reported that Sri Lanka had told India that it wouldn't allow Chinese research ships to dock at its ports or operate in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for a year. This means the Chinese research ship Xiang Yang Hong 3, scheduled for deepwater exploration in the Indian Ocean this week, wouldn't be given clearance. Although this is seen as a "victory" for India, experts have said it underscores the challenges of smaller countries "in maneuvering between major powers."

👮London Stock Exchange plot: The UK has experienced widespread protests against the Israel-Gaza war since it began in October, and activists from the Palestine Action group were allegedly plotting to disrupt the London Stock Exchange on Monday morning. The Met Police received info from the Daily Express newspaper on Friday, which sparked an investigation, and six suspects have been arrested. They're taking more precautions as it's been suggested that this was only "one part of a planned week of action."  

🏇Macau ends horse racing era early: In 2018, the Macau government signed a contract letting the Macau Jockey Club run its horse racing business until August 31, 2042. But, the agreement was scrapped early on Monday because of the Jockey Club's financial and other challenges. It was supposed to invest 1.5 billion patacas (US$186 million) in sustainable development by the end of last year, but it hasn't. The sport's popularity has been declining, so after more than 40 years, horse racing is over in Macau.

🏚️Singapore housing sales at 15-year low: Singapore's housing sales are at their lowest since 2008 and have dropped by nearly 10% compared to 2022 due to real estate purchasing restrictions and a slowing economy. Last April, the government doubled housing purchase taxes for foreigners to 60%, leading to less external demand. On Monday, the Urban Redevelopment Authority said that only 6,671 units were sold by developers last year, and December sales dropped to 135.

📱iPhone discounts in China: Apple is competing with domestic companies in China after it saw a 30% decline in demand for the iPhone 15 last year, according to Jeffries. In the world's largest mobile market, there's been a growing preference for Chinese smartphones from companies like Huawei and Xiaomi. To combat this, Apple is offering up to 500 yuan (US$70) off its latest devices ahead of the Lunar New Year shopping season to boost sales. The discounts are available from January 18-21. 

🤑The rich get richer: The five wealthiest men in the world, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, LVMH owner Bernard Arnault, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Oracle's Larry Ellison and investment guru Warren Buffet, have increased their wealth by 114% since 2020, according to Oxfam, to £688 billion (US$850 billion). Meanwhile, the wealth of the poorest 60% has fallen. Oxfam says the world's first trillionaire could emerge within the next 10 years, but it would take nearly 230 years to eradicate poverty. 

🌠Daytime fireball spotted near Tokyo: Locals in the region of Kanto, Japan, reported seeing an exceptionally bright meteor on Monday morning. A curator of astronomy captured the phenomenon, known as a fireball, on his home cameras. The footage shows a sphere of light emerging in the sky and traveling for a few seconds before vanishing.

Japan fireball
Source: Fujii Daich

📺Michelle Yeoh joins Lululemon's spring campaign: Lululemon's Lunar New Year campaign, "Be Spring," featuring Oscar-winning actress Michelle Yeoh, is a short film that explores the concept of well-being and eternal spring. Eight theatrical dancers perform alongside Yeoh, aiming to inspire viewers to welcome the essence of spring in their everyday lives as the season of fresh beginnings and rejuvenation approaches.

🎵Mirror performs in Hong Kong again: After a major malfunction at a Mirror performance in 2022, which left two dancers injured after a large screen fell from above the stage, the group told fans at their concert on Monday that they "will keep singing." Mirror performed on Monday for the first time since the incident, kicking off a 16-night tour in Hong Kong.  

👰New Zealand's ex-PM gets married: Global female icon for left-wing politics and former prime minister of New Zealand from 2017-2023, Jacinda Ardern, married her long-term partner Clarke Gayford on Saturday. In her last speech to Parliament before stepping down from her post, Ardern told Gayford, "Let's finally get married." After postponing their wedding for years due to COVID restrictions, they finally tied the knot. A big congratulations!

🏃‍♂️Hong Kong Marathon: The Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon is happening this coming Sunday, and participants can expect a drop in temperature down to 15 C for the annual event, boding in the runners' favor. One expert said the best temperature range for running is between 10 and 15 degrees, allowing them to release heat and maintain their core temperature.

🎬Is AI shifting India's film scene?: Indian writer Khushwant Singh published his novel, "Maharaja in Denims," in 2014, and it's now being adapted into a film entirely with artificial intelligence (AI), except for the script. Although India's film industry has been cautious about using AI, this could potentially be a sign it's on track to be a disrupter for Indian cinema.

👽Chinese UFO?: Locals in Beijing and other parts of China reported seeing an unidentified glowing object rapidly fly from west to east Sunday evening, with many taking to social media to recount what they saw. By mid-day on Monday, it was the fifth most searched topic on Weibo, with over 900,000 threads about it. One expert said it was likely a SpaceX rocket used to launch the latest Starlink satellites. People in northern China reported seeing a similar strange object on September 13. That turned out to be a rocket cloud created by a spacecraft launch.

China UFO
Source: Weibo / @_叶抱一

Quiz Time!

What Apple Watch feature is the center of a patent dispute right now?

  1. Apple Pay
  2. Blood oxygen monitoring
  3. Fitness tracker
  4. Maps

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

**The answer to the quiz is [2]