From China Vanke's downgrade to Hong Kong's glowing eggs – Here are today's Headlines

Moody has downgraded Vanke's credit rating from "investment grade" to "junk."

From China Vanke's downgrade to Hong Kong's glowing eggs – Here are today's Headlines
A person walks past by a gate with a sign of Vanke at a construction site in Shanghai, China, March 21, 2017. Picture taken March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

To start off, we're looking into:

Moody's downgrades China Vanke to "junk"

Moody has downgraded Vanke's credit rating from "investment grade" to "junk," giving it a Ba1 rating. That means it needs to offer a higher yield on its bonds to make up for its greater risk of payment default. The agency also put all of Vanke's ratings under review for possible further downgrade. Here's the backstory.

"The rating actions reflect Moody's expectation that China Vanke's credit metrics, financial flexibility and liquidity buffer will weaken over the next 12 to 18 months because of its declining contracted sales and the rising uncertainties over its access to funding amid the prolonged property market downturn in China," Kaven Tsang, a senior vice president at Moody's said in a press release.

Alibaba's Hong Kong investment

Alibaba Hong Kong
A man walks past Alibaba Group's logo at its office building in Beijing, China August 9, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

Alibaba's entertainment arm is investing HK$5 billion (US$639 million) in Hong Kong's cultural scene in the next five years. It's teaming up with local giants like Television Broadcasts (TVB) and Emperor Motion Pictures for this. This push, called the Hong Kong Cultural and Art Industry Revitalization Program, targets four main areas: TV dramas, films, live performances and talent development.  Here's the backstory.

"At 24 years of age, Alibaba is welcoming a new opportunity for growth," said Daniel Zhang, Alibaba CEO and chairman, in a statement last year.

Cathay Pacific makes a profit

Cathay Pacific
Cathay Pacific employees work at Hong Kong International Airport, in Hong Kong, China March 8, 2023. REUTERS/Lam Yik/File Photo

Cathay Pacific announced on Wednesday that it had its first profitable year since 2019, making HK$9.79 billion (US$1.25 billion) for 2023, compared with a loss of HK$6.62 billion (US$848.72 million) the year before. Cathay Chairman Patrick Healy said the company expects to return to 80% of its pre-pandemic passenger flight capacity in the second quarter of this year. Here's the backstory.

"The imbalance between supply and demand resulted in high yields and contributed to a strong financial performance in both halves of the year," Cathay Chairman Patrick Healy said, adding that the discrepancy would diminish this year as capacity was restored.

To end, we'll look into:

Why is Southeast Asia squabbling over Taylor Swift?

It's no secret that the world is crazy for Taylor Swift lately – and there's even been big drama in Asia over it. In fact, a lot of Southeast Asian countries got pretty mad recently at Singapore over something being called "Swiftonomics."

When Tay Tay comes to town, fans are elated to go see her perform. But local governments and businesses get pretty excited, too, and it's not just because they like to sing "Shake It Off" in the shower.

Swiftonomics refers to how Taylor Swift's tour has massive economic effects wherever it goes. Her Eras Tour kicked off in 2023, and it's become the first concert tour of all time to gross over US$1 billion. Her shows draw people from all over into host cities, where they spend money on accommodations, food, entertainment and more. In fact, many cities have seen hundreds of millions pumped into their economy when Swift comes to town. 

But when she came to Southeast Asia this year, her only stop was in Singapore. It later came out that the city-state had worked out an exclusive deal so that all six of her sold-out shows in the region would be in Singapore. Some neighboring countries like the Philippines seemed pretty upset about this, with one Filipino lawmaker saying, "This isn't what good neighbors do." Click here for more.

In other news ...

📰Russia/Ukraine update: In an interview with a Russian state media agency ahead of the country's elections, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned NATO that he's "ready" to use nuclear weapons if Western forces, particularly the US, send troops to Ukraine. This is the 11th nuclear warning Putin has given since the war began and the third in the last month, as tensions continue to rise between the West and Russia. 

Ukraine-based armed groups composed of Russians that oppose the Kremlin – The Freedom of Russia Legion (FRL) and Siberian Battalion (SB) – posted videos of them launching cross-border raids in the Russian regions of Belgorod and Kursk. The Russian Defense Ministry said that these attempts were unsuccessful, and the Ukraine Military Defense has denied any involvement in the raids.

Leonid Volkov, a close ally of Alexei Navalny, who died last month in a Russian penal colony, was attacked with a hammer outside his home in Lithuania. Volkov is an exiled Russian opposition activist, and Lithuania's intelligence service has said the attack seems to be linked with the upcoming Russian election, as the Kremlin is worried about Navalny's team's influence in Russia.

📄TikTok bill advances: The fast-tracked legislation in the US that is looking to force Chinese company ByteDance to divest TikTok in the US within six months has been favored in a vote by the House of Representatives. The bill now moves to the US Senate for another round of voting, and US President Joe Biden has said if both chambers vote to pass the bill, he'll sign it. But China has warned the US that banning TikTok will inevitably lead to repercussions. 

💥Gas explosion in China: A suspected gas leak caused an explosion in a fried chicken shop and took out a four-story building in China's Hebei province, killing two and injuring dozens of others. More than 150 personnel from emergency departments were sent to the scene. 

🚀Japan's rocket: On Wednesday, private Japanese space company Space One launched its first rocket with the goal of putting a government satellite into orbit. But the rocket exploded seconds after it took off. 

🥊Biden and Trump rematch: Former US President Donald Trump and current US President Joe Biden have passed the delegate thresholds for nominations in their parties, setting them up for a rematch in November. This is the first presidential rematch in the US since 1956.

🕵️‍♀️South Korean spy: We reported yesterday that a South Korean man was arrested in Russia on suspicion of espionage. But the head of his Christian aid group has now said that he was sent to do purely humanitarian and missionary work and had no hand in helping North Korean workers defect.

🤝OpenAI news deal: OpenAI's ChatGPT has struck a deal so that users get access to French and Spanish news content from Le Monde and Prisa Media. The content will also be used to help train its artificial intelligence (AI) models.

🎵Spotify music videos: Spotify, the Swedish-owned music streaming company, has announced that it'll launch a limited beta trial of full music videos that premium subscribers can view starting Wednesday in an effort to expand its user base. The videos will be available to premium users in the UK, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Brazil, Colombia, Philippines, Indonesia, and Kenya.

🐗Hong Kong's wild boars: Over 900 of Hong Kong's wild boars have been "humanely dispatched" by the government in the last two years in an effort to reduce the "nuisance" caused by the wild animals. The government has used CCTV cameras and trapping devices to capture them, and they're euthanized with general anesthetics. Hong Kong used to have a trap-neuter-return (TNR) policy in place to deal with the boars, but that changed after a wild boar in Tin Hau bit a police officer.

💊AI-developed drugs: The world's first artificial intelligence (AI) designed drug targeting deadly lung disease is being trialed in the US and China. If successful, AI-produced drugs show great promise of revolutionizing the industry, said AI drug discovery firm Insilico Medicine.

👩‍⚖️Potter cafe in trouble: A Harry Potter-themed restaurant in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, called 9 3/4 Cafe is in hot water after Warner Bros. filed a writ on Tuesday asking a court to jail its director for not removing unlicensed materials and decorations, which the court had previously told it to do. Warner Bros. first sued the cafe director and his company in January 2019 for copyright infringement.

🐊Ocean Park croc: Last year, a crocodile mix of the critically endangered Siamese and Cuban species was found wandering around the New Territories. It's unclear where the croc came from, as it's not native to Hong Kong. Since it was captured, it's been transferred to its new home in Ocean Park. The croc, named Passion, has grown to two meters long (6.6 feet), and Hong Kongers can now go see the reptile at the park. Entry is free in a bid to raise awareness about conservation.

Passion crocodile Hong Kong
Source: Ocean Park Hong Kong

🥚Art@Harbour 2024: A series of art and cultural events will be held on Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour front from March 25 to June 2, courtesy of the international art collective teamLab. One display will feature 200 "glowing eggs" that change color based on interaction, said to represent life and its inseparable connection to the world.

Art@Harbour 2024
Source: Hong Kong Government

Quiz Time!

Which Chinese property giant was just downgraded by Moody’s to “junk” in its credit rating?

  1. Evergrande
  2. China Vanke
  3. Country Garden
  4. Greenland Holdings

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

**The answer to the quiz is [2]