From China's 2023 economic data to the Coachella lineup – Here are today's Headlines

China, home to some 1.4 billion people, is still grappling with economic challenges post-COVID.

From China's 2023 economic data to the Coachella lineup – Here are today's Headlines
Premier of the People's Republic of China, Li Qiang, arrives at the Zurich Airport in Kloten, Switzerland, on Sunday, 14 January 2024. The Prime Minister of the People's Republic of China, Li Qiang, is visiting Switzerland to attend the WEF, World Economic Forum, in Davos. GAETAN BALLY/Pool via REUTERS

To start off, we're looking into:

China's 2023 economic update

The backstory: China, home to some 1.4 billion people, is still grappling with economic challenges post-COVID. The hurdles include a property crisis, debt risks, slow global growth and rising geopolitical tensions, all of which are putting the brakes on a quick recovery. China's property market (which holds significant weight in its GDP, estimated to make up anywhere between 17-29%) has been on a rollercoaster, with property developers like Evergrande drowning in debt and defaulting on liabilities.

The development: This week, Premier Li Qiang spoke at the World Economic Forum’s conference in Davos about economic strategies for the nation. He highlighted how the country had avoided rolling out big stimulus for quick growth and instead focused on boosting steady development within China. He also surprised the crowd by revealing that China’s GDP had grown 5.2% last year, which beat the country’s target of “around 5%.” This news came ahead of China’s official release of economic data, which was released in Beijing on Wednesday. But, China’s still facing some challenges in its economic recovery ahead. Click the link here for some of the highlights from that data.

Vodafone and Microsoft

Vodafone Microsoft
Microsoft Bing app is seen in this illustration taken December 27, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The backstory: Vodafone, a major telecom player since the 1980s, operates globally, offering mobile, internet and TV services in 150+ countries. In the late 1990s, during the dot-com bubble, where the market crashed in 2000 due to excessive speculation, Vodafone briefly matched Microsoft's value. But over the last two decades Vodafone and Microsoft took different paths. Telecom faced revenue struggles, while Microsoft, especially with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI) giant OpenAI, became the world's most valuable public company, beating Apple after trailing it for a decade.

The development: Vodafone and Microsoft just teamed up for a 10-year partnership, targeting 300 million businesses and consumers in Europe and Africa. Vodafone will invest US$1.5 billion in customer-focused AI using Microsoft's technology. In return, Microsoft will invest in Vodafone's IoT (Internet of Things) platform, set to become independent by April this year. Click the link here for more.

Samsung vs. Apple

Samsung Galaxy AI
Samsung Electronics' flagship smartphones Galaxy S24 series are displayed during their unveiling ceremony in Seoul, South Korea, January 15, 2024. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

The backstory: Samsung, South Korea’s largest company, has been at the top of the smartphone game for more than a decade. But the market has been seeing headwinds from slumping demand, global inflation and economic uncertainty. Plus, geopolitical tensions centered on essential chip technology have loomed over the tech industry. But, after seven quarters in a row of decline, some data is suggesting that 2024 might mark the smartphone sector’s recovery.

More recently: Apple officially beat Samsung last year to become the top-selling smartphone brand in the world – the first time Samsung’s been ousted from the top spot since 2010.

The development: Samsung is revamping its phone lineup, leveraging the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) to get back on top of the market. At its Unpacked conference on Wednesday in California, the company debuted the Galaxy S24, S24+ and S24 Ultra phones – and all of them are incorporating AI in a way that hasn’t been done with other phones yet. Click the link here for more.

To end, we'll look into:

The future of tobacco

tobacco use
A woman holds pack of cigarettes in a tobacco shop at the Vallecas neighborhood, in Madrid, Spain March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Juan Medina/File Photo

Today, there are an estimated 1.25 billion adult tobacco users, according to the latest estimates in the World Health Organization (WHO) tobacco trends report released this week. Tobacco use is predicted to kill over 8 million people every year, 1.3 million of whom aren’t smokers but are exposed to it second-hand. 

With this in the backdrop, in May 2013, the World Health Assembly set a lofty target: slash tobacco use by 30% among people over 15 by 2025. As this date approaches, though, it begs the question – where are we now in this ongoing fight against tobacco? Click the link here for more.

In other news ...


📉Market snapshot and key quotes:

  • In the US: US stocks slipped on Wednesday, following the previous day's losses, as yields continued to rise with the release of stronger-than-expected US economic data.
  • In Hong Kong: Hong Kong stocks took a hit on concerns over China's economy.

📊Top gainers/losers and company news:

  • In Hong Kong: Alibaba Health Information Technology tumbled over 8%, Longfor Group and Meituan both dropped over 6%. 
  • In the US: Charles Schwab saw a 1.34% decline after reporting quarterly results.
  • Boeing rose over 1% after the FAA finished checking the first set of Boeing 737 Max 9 planes.

👀The numbers everyone is watching:

  • In the US: December retail sales beat expectations, rising 0.6% from November and 0.4% month-over-month excluding autos.
  • In Hong Kong: On Wednesday, China released a swath of economic data from last year, giving investors insight into its economic recovery.

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

More headlines ...

📰Middle East update: With the ongoing Israel-Palestine war and Yemen-based Houthis attacking ships in the Red Sea, there has been global worry over the conflict spreading into a wider situation across the region as other countries and groups get involved. This week, in addition to striking targets in Iraq and Syria, Iran has conducted a strike on a militant group in Pakistan, which Pakistan called an illegal act and said it reserved the right to respond. China, which is allied with both nations, urged both sides to restrain from escalating tensions. On Wednesday, the US relisted the Houthis as a terrorist group, which means they will face harsh sanctions. At the ongoing Davos economic conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged for parties involved in the Gaza war to implement an immediate ceasefire. Guterres stressed that they're "ignoring international law, trampling on the Geneva Conventions and even violating the United Nations Charter." So far, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said a ceasefire is not on the table.

🗺️North Korea scraps reunification plan: The Korean Peninsula has been divided into North and South since the end of the Korean war in 1953. But it’s always been the policy of the North to reunify the two at some point. But now, state media has reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said unification with South Korea is no longer possible and that the nation’s constitution should be changed to reflect this and mark it as the "principal enemy." South Korea’s president responded to the news by saying the South would respond to any provocation from the North "multiple times stronger."

😢Thai firework factory blast: A firework factory in central Thailand exploded on Wednesday and killed an estimated 20 people. A regional police commander said there were 20 to 30 workers at the factory at the time of the explosion, but rescue workers said there were no survivors. They aren't sure what caused the explosion, but an investigation is underway. One official said the blast may have been caused by construction work, with the sparks igniting the nearby fireworks.

☃️Germany flights disrupted: Severe winter weather hit Germany on Wednesday, causing Frankfurt airport, the country's busiest, to cancel 570 of 1,047 flights. Germany's business capital expects heavy snowfall and freezing rain, and it's unclear how long the disruption will last. Munich airport has also had to cancel around 250 of 650 flights due to the weather conditions.

📉China's population drops again: China's been dealing with a falling population for decades now, and the nation has introduced different measures to encourage people to have more children and boost the nation's fertility rate. But, for the second year in a row, China's population fell in 2023. The National Bureau of Statistics said the population dropped by 0.15% (2.08 billion people) last year due to a record low birth rate and a new wave of COVID deaths. 

👩‍⚖️Zuck has to testify: Meta is in some hot water over allegedly using its facial recognition technology on its users without consent for commercial gain. Texas wants CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify because of his "unique personal knowledge" about the case. An appeals ruling on Tuesday upheld a lower court's decision that Zuck can't avoid testifying in the lawsuit.

💼JPMorgan will be hiring: Big banks on Wall Street have recently been on a downsizing trend. For example, Goldman Sachs decreased its staff by 7% last year, and Morgan Stanley set aside millions in severance costs. Last week, Citigroup said it would slash about 20,000 jobs to cut costs. But JPMorgan is going against the grain after closing out last year with the most profitable year in US banking history. In an interview with Bloomberg, the bank's president, Daniel Pinto, said the firm expects to hire more staff this year. 

✈️More Boeing blues: Aviation giant Boeing has been going through the wringer lately, with a recent fuselage blowout mid-air grounding a bunch of its 737 Max 9 model planes for safety checks. This came after two devastating fatal crashes that led to more groundings a few years ago. Confidence in the company has been shaken, and another incident on Wednesday just added to the list. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was left stranded in Davos, unable to fly home after his modified Boeing 737 malfunctioned. An oxygen leak was detected that couldn't be fixed.

⌚Apple Watch decision: Earlier this week, we reported that Apple had devised a workaround to remove a blood-oxygen monitoring feature on some of its Apple Watches if an appeals court didn't pause a looming ban on the devices in the US because of a patent battle with Masimo. On Wednesday, the court refused to extend the pause on the ban, so Apple has to stop selling its Series 9 and Ultra 2 watches while its appeal plays out – which could take around a year. It may make moves to sell the modified watches without the blood-oxygen feature, but nothing has been announced yet.  

👵Hong Kong life expectancy drops: A recent survey showed that Hong Kongers' physical, mental, social and occupational well-being are at a low, with stress and the aftermath of COVID weighing on locals. The city, which regularly had one of the world's longest lifespans on average after topping Japan in the 2000s, has lost its spot to Japan, according to 2022 data. On average, women in Hong Kong were expected to live until 86.8 years old in 2022 compared to Japanese women at 87.1. Hong Kong men, on the other hand, had a life expectancy of 80.7 years. Last year's data hasn't been released yet. 

📕Danish King Frederik X publishes a biography: Just three days into his reign, after his mother, Margrethe II, abdicated from the Danish throne, Frederik X has surprisingly published a biography. "The King's Word" reportedly goes into the king's thoughts on Denmark's place in the world and his relationship with his wife, Queen Mary. The book has already reportedly become a bestseller.

💐Get well soon, Princess Kate: The Princess of Wales, Kate Middleton, is recovering from a successful planned abdominal surgery in the hospital, and she's taking a break from public duties until likely after Easter. She's expected to be in the hospital for 10-14 days, and then she'll continue her recovery at home.

🎵Coachella lineup: One of the most famous music festivals in the world, Coachella, is geared up to go in April, and it's already sold all of its 125,000 day tickets. The lineup was announced on Tuesday, with some big names and surprises on the list. Lana del Ray, Tyler the Creator and Doja Cat will headline, with other performers including Ice Spice, the Deftones, Blur and a reunion of the 90s ska favorite No Doubt, headed by Gwen Stefani. Three-day passes are up for presale starting Friday.

Coachella lineup
Source: Goldenvoice

Quiz Time!

Until last year, Samsung was the world’s top phone brand since what year?

  1. 2015
  2. 2013
  3. 2010
  4. 2008

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

**The answer to the quiz is [3]