From Microsoft and Mistral AI to jet suit racing – Here are today's Headlines

Microsoft has announced a new partnership with Mistral AI.

From Microsoft and Mistral AI to jet suit racing  – Here are today's Headlines
A view shows a Microsoft logo at Microsoft offices in Issy-les-Moulineaux near Paris, France, February 9, 2024. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

To start off, we're looking into:

Microsoft-Mistral AI partnership

Microsoft has announced a new partnership with Mistral AI. The tech giant is injecting 15 million euros (US$16.2 million) into the collaboration to fuel global growth. This cash infusion will turn into equity in Mistral's next funding round. Plus, Mistral's language models will soon be on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, making it the second to do so after OpenAI. This collab will also roll out Mistral's multilingual conversational assistant, "Le Chat," to more users. Here's the backstory.

“We are thrilled to embark on this partnership with Microsoft. With Azure’s cutting-edge AI infrastructure, we are reaching a new milestone in our expansion propelling our innovative research and practical applications to new customers everywhere. Together, we are committed to driving impactful progress in the AI industry and delivering unparalleled value to our customers and partners globally,” said Arthur Mensch, Mistral AI’s CEO. 

The future of department stores

Department stores decline
A customer exits the Macy's flagship department store in midtown Manhattan in New York City, U.S., December 11, 2023. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Department stores have long been associated with the middle class, anchoring shopping malls and offering a range of popular brands – not too cheap, but not quite “luxury” either. And they’ve been around for a long time. But traditional department stores have been on a steady decline over the years. Now, department stores will have to change their strategy to keep up with the evolving retail landscape. Macy’s announced this week that it’s shutting down 150 stores, while it will also invest more in its successful luxury brands, Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury. Other stores are adapting by embracing the internet. Here's the backstory.

“Thirty years ago when luxury brands started pulling out of department stores because malls were opening, everyone said department stores were going to die. Later when fashion stores started pulling out, people said department stores were going to die. Well, we did not. We just evolved,” said BHG head of store operations Tarquin Yue to Channel News Asia.

Hong Kong tobacco tax

Following the city’s annual budgeting review, the Hong Kong government has now increased the tax on cigarettes for the second year in a row, raising it by almost 32% to take effect immediately. This means a pack of cigarettes will cost HK$96 (US$12) instead of HK$80 (US$10). Here's the backstory.

"We expect that the proportion of tobacco duty in the retail price of cigarettes will rise to about 70 percent, gradually approaching the 75 percent level recommended by the World Health Organisation," said Financial Secretary Paul Chan. 

To end, we'll look into:

Hong Kong’s illegal land grabs

Hong Kong real estate
A view shows the aftermath of a landslide beneath luxury houses in the high-end Redhill Peninsula in Tai Tam after heavy rain days ago in Hong Kong, China, September 10, 2023. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

It can be hard to find a home in Hong Kong where buildings aren’t obstructing your view – unless you live in the New Territories or you have lots of cash to splash. But many houses in areas like Clear Water Bay on the Kowloon side and Tai Tam on Hong Kong Island, known for their amazing views and luxury price tags, have been found to have unauthorized add-ons, like rooftop structures or extensions that were built onto government or public land. It’s all part of what’s being called the invisible land grab. Click here for more.

In other news ...


📉Market snapshot and key quotes:

  • In the US: US stocks dipped on Wednesday as investors waited for a key inflation report.
  • In Hong Kong: Hong Kong stocks fell on Wednesday after the city's budget report didn't lift spirits.

📊Top gainers/losers and company news:

  • In the US: Beyond Meat surged over 30% after beating revenue expectations and announcing big cost cuts for this year.
  • Lemonade dropped over 27% following weak guidance for the first quarter and full year.
  • Urban Outfitters saw a decline of over 12% after reporting weaker-than-expected Q4 results.
  • In Hong Kong: Meituan tumbled over 4%, fell 2.7%, and Alibaba dropped 1.7%.
  • Xpeng sank over 5%, and Nio lowered 4%

👀The numbers everyone is watching:

  • In the US: GDP growth in Q4 was 3.2%, lower than expected.
  • Inflation went up to 1.8% overall and 2.1% without food and energy which is higher than expected.
  • In Hong Kong: China will release key data like the official PMI and Caixin manufacturing PMI.

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

More headlines ...

🗞️Russia/Ukraine update: A date for the funeral of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been announced. It will be held on Friday in Moscow, but Navalny's allies have accused the Kremlin of barring them from holding a larger service and also blackmailing his mother into having a private funeral. 

European leaders have been facing pressure to contribute more to Ukraine's war effort against Russia. Many Western countries have also imposed hundreds of sanctions against Russia, freezing assets. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen suggested that the EU use the frozen Russian assets to boost Ukraine's military efforts. "There could be no stronger symbol and no greater use for that money than to make Ukraine and all of Europe a safer place to live," von der Leyen said.

The Financial Times has seen leaked Russian military files dating from 2008 to 2014 about its war gaming and presentations for naval officers, which reportedly show that Russia's threshold for using nuclear weapons is much lower than it has publicly admitted.

📰Middle East update: We reported yesterday that US President Joe Biden hoped that a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza would be confirmed by Monday, as talks have been ongoing. But both Hamas and Israel have said that Biden's comment was "premature."

The Houthis have been carrying out attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea for months, which has caused major disruptions to the global trading route. Its most recent target was a UK-registered cargo ship, Rubymar, that was struck on February 18. A video has been released that shows it sinking, and a navigational warning was sent that it's uncrewed and drifting. The Rubymar is also believed to be carrying 22,000 tonnes of fertilizer that is potentially explosive, but Blue Fleet Group told Sky News that the US Navy offered to help tow the vessel to the nearest port that would accept it, adding that negotiations are ongoing.

✈️Singapore boosts defense: The Singaporean government has boosted its defense spending amid growing geopolitical tensions, purchasing eight F-35A fighter jets that will be delivered around 2030. 

💰Hong Kong raises taxes: Following Hong Kong's annual budget review, the city has decided to raise taxes for high-income earners for the first time in two decades. The increase will take effect from April, impacting 12,000 people as the government looks to increase its revenue. 

🏢European embassies in North Korea: Due to COVID, many European embassies closed in North Korea, but there is talk of many reopening. German officials are currently inspecting the German embassy building, which has been closed since March 2020, and the UK has called on North Korea to allow the international community to enter the country. 

🫰Country Garden winding up?: China's real estate developers have been dealing with a slumping property market and massive debt, with Evergrande kicking off a string of defaults in 2021. Now, Country Garden is looking at a winding-up petition from Ever Credit, which petitioned a Hong Kong court to liquidate the company because it hasn't paid its debt. The first hearing for the petition is set for May 17.

💼Mitch McConnell steps down: US Republican Mitch McConnell has led the Republican party in the Senate for over 17 years. But he's recently had some health issues, with a fall and concussion last year, on top of seeming to freeze during two news conferences. The 82-year-old politician announced he will step down as party leader after the election in November. But he plans to serve the remainder of his Senate term, which ends in January 2027.

🏠"Spicy" property measures scrapped: Hong Kong's property market has been struggling for many years now, and after the city's annual budget review, the government has announced that it's scrapping property cooling measures that were introduced over a decade ago, including Special Stamp Duty (SSD), Buyer's Stamp Duty (BSD) and New Residential Stamp Duty (NRSD). 

🕵️Philippines to probe Swift concert: Taylor Swift will perform at six sold-out shows in Singapore in early March – her only stop in Southeast Asia – and was given a grant by the government to attract her to the city-state. The grant was allegedly given on the condition that Singapore would be the only Southeast Asia country she performs in. But, a Philippine lawmaker has called on his government to probe Singapore for this move, saying that it's "not what good neighbors do."

🎇Hong Kong's fireworks: Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour show, "A Symphony of Lights," is getting a makeover. To enhance the experience for tourists and locals, there will be a monthly fireworks and drone show with food and beverages, retail and entertainment facilities at selected harborfront locations. But, this decision has received mixed reactions, with some saying it'll be great, while others are concerned that the monthly show may get old pretty quickly. 

👑Prince Harry loses security case: Since the UK's Prince Harry left for the US in 2020 and stopped his royal duties, he's received a lower security detail when he visits the UK. Despite challenging this with the High Court by saying that it's unlawful, unfair and unjustifiable treatment, the court has ruled that this is not the case. 

🏅Beijing wins hosting bid: On Wednesday, the governing body World Athletics said that Beijing had been selected to host the 2027 World Athletics Championships, which it also hosted in 2015. This came after the Italian athletics federation announced it had withdrawn its bid to host the event in Rome because it hadn't secured financial support from the government.

🍝Cup Noodles celebration: Cup Noodle's parent company, Nissin Foods, is set to be the official food partner of team Hong Kong in both the Paris Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games. Also, to celebrate the Cup Noodles Museum Hong Kong's third anniversary, there will be a sports carnival on March 5 with interactive stall games, entry perks and shopping deals. Attendees will be able to take pics with the mascot Ching Chai.

🏁Jet suit racing: In what seemed like a real-life Iron Man competition, Dubai hosted its first jet suit race. On Wednesday, pilots wearing 1,500-horsepower jet suits (more powerful than most luxury sports cars) powered with aircraft fuel raced along a route near the Dubai Marina wearing jet suits created by Gravity Industries that can currently reach speeds of 128 kmh (80 mph).

Dubai jet suit race
Jet Suit Racing - The Dubai Jet Suit Race - Dubai Harbour and The Dubai Boat Show, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - February 28, 2024 Jet suit pilots in action during the first jet suit race at the Dubai Harbour at the Dubai International Boat Show REUTERS/Satish Kumar

Quiz Time!

What French startup has Microsoft just announced a deal with?

  1. Mistral AI
  2. Bioptimus
  3. Electra
  4. Pennylane

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Written and put together by Joey Fung, Alisha Khan and Christine Dulion

**The answer to the quiz is [1]