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China slowdown worsens as Covid outbreak exposes consumer weakness

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China slowdown worsens as Covid outbreak exposes consumer weakness


Coronavirus economic impact updates

China’s economic slowdown worsened in August as coronavirus outbreaks exposed lingering weakness in consumer spending and cast greater doubts over the country’s growth prospects.

Retail sales rose just 2.5 per cent in August year-on-year, far below economists’ forecasts of a 7 per cent rise, and the slowest increase in 12 months.

Industrial production, which was one of the main engines behind China’s world beating recovery in 2020, also missed targets to add 5.3 per cent, official data showed on Wednesday.

The figures add to mounting concerns over a loss of momentum across China’s economy, with recent flooding, regulatory interventions, new coronavirus infections and a property slowdown driving down growth expectations.

Consumer activity, which has lagged behind the country’s wider recovery over the course of the pandemic as households remained cautious, was hit hard by the disruption. Retail sales of catering and restaurants dropped 4.5 per cent, the first contraction since November 2020, HSBC analysts noted.

“It’s proven more challenging than expected to boost retail sales post-Covid,” said Carlos Casanova, senior economist at UBP. 

Outbreaks of the coronavirus in recent months, originally centred around cases of the Delta variant of Covid-19 in Nanjing in July, have curbed travel and consumption after authorities imposed preventive measures.

Over the past week, dozens of new cases were reported in the southern province of Fujian, where authorities have closed schools.

“Insofar as China maintains a zero-tolerance policy towards Covid-19, that leaves their economy vulnerable to any potential local outbreaks because they will have to shut down,” added Casanova. “That will translate into declines in consumption and supply chain disruptions”.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs, which last month lowered its growth forecasts for real GDP in China in the third quarter to 2.3 per cent from 5.8 per cent, also pointed to a “meaningful slowdown” in industrial metrics, including electricity production and ferrous metals smelting.

Weaker economic indicators and expectations have coincided with a slowdown in the country’s property sector, which according to Bank of America makes up around 28 per cent of economic activity when both direct and indirect contributions to growth are factored in.

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A crisis surrounding Evergrande, the country’s most heavily-indebted developer that has hundreds of projects across the country, has thrust into the spotlight Beijing’s efforts over the past year to reduce leverage in the sector.

The weak data has stoked debate over the prospect of further policy interventions, after the People’s Bank of China in July unleashed more liquidity into the banking system by cutting the reserve requirement ratio.

“We don’t think policymakers will ease the overall macro policy stance significantly,” said Tommy Wu at Oxford Economics. “But we expect Beijing will be keen to avoid a sharp slowdown and will be more willing to take measures to support growth than they have been so far this year”.



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Covid-19, Integrity And The Premiership: First Clues To Pandemic’s Role In Match Fixing

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Covid-19, Integrity And The Premiership: First Clues To Pandemic’s Role In Match Fixing


November 17th will mark the second anniversary of the first reported case of Coronavirus. Two years of turmoil have ensued—with the sports industry suffering agonies no worse to other sectors of the global economy. Despite this, fears of financial collapse have played out particularly publicly in the sector. Meanwhile, as business gradually returns normal, experts and analysts warn that Covid-19 has left all sport with a problem that could prove particularly infectious, unless acknowledged. As I first reported for Forbes in November, both football association FIFA, and bilateral law enforcement body Interpol had embarked on initiatives to highlight the threat to fair play spawned by the pandemic. Research conducted by StatsPerform and Starlizard Integrity Services on suspicious betting activity across all flights of soccer, including the English Premier League, add empirical evidence to the spartan news coverage published so far. While the reports authors are reticent to draw immediate conclusions—due to the data gathering difficulties caused by the pandemic itself, as significantly fewer fixtures than normal were played—the betting patterns observed across 61,296 soccer matches show that transnational crime is a real, and resilient threat to the beautiful game. In the absence of action, there is a real danger that crime could rob fans of their faith in results, and in the teams they support.

Fate Of A Nation: Why Wealth Inequalities In The F.A Premier League Provide A Useful Litmus To Risk Of Foul Play

Fears of bankruptcy among teams in Europe’s upper leagues, relate directly to the ghostly stadiums which fans witnessed when leagues in Europe and the United States locked down, during the first quarter of 2020. While a handful of teams in the English Premier League, the Bundesliga, the Serie A and La Liga had successfully leveraged decades of league success to license their brands, globally, most in soccer’s top flight were considerably less liquid. While the same is true across developed nations, Covid-19’s effects on the English Premier League may be most revelatory when studying the threat of soccer’s infiltration by criminal organizations. Though rich, the distribution of finance between teams varies enormously. As industry experts and analysts—such as Price Waterhouse Cooper, and Deloitte, state—the business acumen on show in the Premier League can also oscillate wildly between football clubs. Teams who play alongside Manchester United and Chelsea often rely on budgets that are just a fraction of those leading the league. As PwC are particularly keen to explain, diversification of revenue and adaptation to new technology an identifiable problem—for many C-suite executives globally, not least those based in the U.K. In some cases, teams went in to the Coronavirus pandemic with low cash reserves, and commercial norms that had hardly changed for seven decades.

As Deloitte highlight, most clubs weighted spend on player salaries were, and remain, outside the norms appropriate to business in any other sector—likely to an extent that is subtly but still significantly greater than comparable sides in Europe and North America. With such significant outgoings, clubs outside the top four ranking teams in the Premiership entered the pandemic dependent on ticket sales at the turn-style. When Great Britain entered its first lockdown in the first quarter of 2020, this vital source of revenue evaporated. In the absence of weighted revenue streams, Premier League clubs entered the pandemic with different risk exposure. Neither Stats Perform nor Starlizard identifies successful attempts by organized crime to engage clubs in any form of improper behavior—but prevailing constructs on corruption in English law traditionally tie financial impediments and acute stress to heightened risk of impropriety.

Findings: Stats Perform & Starlizard Integrity Services’ 2021 Suspicious Betting Trends in Global Football Report

As Stats Perform Integrity and Starlizard Integrity Services’ 2021 Suspicious Betting Trends in Global Football Report highlights, it is too soon to claim to know the extent of the Premier League’s exposure to match fixing—not least, whether the related criminal offences which would almost certainly accompany such an accusation have occurred in any UK fixture. Both companies preface the data set by underscoring how global betting patterns reported during the pandemic have certain unfortunate flaws—which derive from a significantly smaller number of football matches being played under Covid-19 conditions in 2020. This said, the report does intimate that match-fixing in football is targeting new leagues, perhaps at higher levels than previously known, with transnational crime making important adaptations to the loopholes which regulators cannot restrict diligently and reactively, within the confines of Coronavirus laws.

In an interview by telephone from his office in London, Jake Marsh, who is Global Head of Integrity at Stats Perform, clarified that there were clear differences between the methodology of the 2021 report “due to league closures, and the number of matches played in 2020, which, in contrast to comparable years, were far fewer due to the closure of most soccer leagues in the United States and Western Europe”.

Despite concerns raised by various watch-dogs, as I have previously reported, the fear that football faced heightened risks as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have not been proven—which is why Stats Perform and Starlizard’s work is framed as a primary source data set for conflation with research from the sector, unlike the work both organizations performed in the prior three reports.

As Marsh was keen to qualify, only 217 (or 0.35%) matches played in 2020 were identified as suspicious. This represents a reduction in both real and percentage terms from the 456 (or 0.56%) of the matches cited in the company’s 2019 report. From a strictly empirical perspective, 2020 is in fact the third successive year that the proportion of suspicious matches identified was reduced. As Marsh told me, by phone, “the matches identified were now over 50% fewer than the figure given in our inaugural report back in 2018, when approximately 0.73% of matches we investigated were identified to be suspicious”.

Yet this does not negate, nor explain, several new trends which present—often during the most confusing moments of the Coronavirus pandemic, and likely, if proven to significant criminal gain.

Unfriendly Matches: Sheikh & The Demand For Football Fraternity During Lockdown

As Affy Sheikh, who is CEO and founder of Starlizard Integrity Services’ elaborated to me, by phone, ‘Friendly Matches’—which have long been attractive to criminal syndicates, for their low profile, high remuneration betting—became “considerably less friendly” during the initial phase of the United Kingdom’s Coronavirus lockdown.

Sheikh, whose background includes work for UK and European security services, heads the joint party to Stats Perform’s work. In addition to consulting on integrity for the Premier League, and Italy’s Serie A, Sheikh advises national football associations in Central and Eastern Europe—including the Moldovan and Slovakian soccer federations. In his view, the ‘friendly’ took on an usual and potentially suspicious form as Europe and the United States isolates themselves.

“The suspicious betting patterns on such matches doubled in 2020, when compared to 2019” Sheikh told me, in an interview by telephone, also from his home in London. “This means that for comparable purposes, the overall percentage of suspicious friendly matches doubled, rising from 0.67% in 2019 to 1.19% in 2020. The majority of these matches took place during the spring months when most competitive leagues were suspended.

While Sheikh feels it is not helpful to be “state specific” on what is “clearly a transnational threat, comprising the cross-border entities and individuals present in all forms of organized crime” Sheikh did disclose that the majority of these suspicious friendlies were played in three countries, where analysis has shown professional leagues have become considerably less prone to fixing—which is obviously a coup for fans. The counter argument, though, is that fixers were instead more selective—riding improved trust for the integrity of players and officials, to decisively and profitably rig a handful of results outside league ties. Sheikh declines further comment, on basis that the report will require “further substantiation and discussion in our sector, and between all of our partners” which seems a reasonable and cautious consideration for the current time, as others begin to embark on similar work to collate with Stats Perform and Starlizard.

End Game: Soccer’s Uncomfortable Lessons From Covid-19

In a report titled “A whole new ball game: Navigating digital transformation in the sports industry” Deloitte implore the soccer industry—in both the United Kingdom, and beyond—that to avert the financial position which will exacerbate risk to integrity during future shocks, lessons must be learned. The auditor warns [that] “digital will need to be embedded in every aspect of the business, transforming people, processes, and technology”.

These are sentiments echoed by Price Waterhouse Cooper, whose fall 2021 report “Sports Industry: Ready For Recovery?” canvasses 792 industry leaders, in 55 countries. According to David Dellea, who heads PwC’s Sports Business Advisory team, optimism reigns—with PwC’s findings revealing “the imperative for sport to better confront today’s collective responsibilities”.

In PwC’s view, teams, leagues and owners must now “frontally embrace societal challenges, using their influential platform not only to promote human well-being and environmental protection, but [to] more concretely play an active role in developing a stronger society”. A redoubled focus on sustainability, fan engagement and new technology makes for sound counsel—but any politicization of leagues in the United States and United Kingdom has proven highly divisive. Dellea’s belief that “the reality of the world at large is now directly shaping the future of our industry” is sound council—yet ignores the serious problems which sport has embraced during Covid-19. For their to be any meaningful progress on the lessons of Covid-19, it would seem sacrosanct that financial stability first be secured—which PwC’s delegated predicted to be a five year project. Without this, steps to improve soccer’s governance, close funding gaps, entrench fair play, and underscore best practice will always encounter the same hurdle. It’s probably fair to say that panic about threats to integrity on the pitch closely mirror concerns about business integrity which require redress, too.

Issues such as the opacity of player ownership has led other bodies to voice concerns about the potential for conflicts of interest between team and owner. Couple this with the long shadow that the gambling industry has been alleged by UK lawmakers to cast its influence over teams—whose very existence, never mind solubility, depends on shirt sponsorship, and it’s challenging not to tie soccer’s pandemic morals with wider trends in many developed countries. Many timely questions about fairness will hinge on the ultimate outcome of leaks such as the “Pandora Papers”. Yet a fairer, stronger, cleaner game, is foregrounded in statistics—which is precisely why this first look at integrity during Coronavirus is so much more valuable than anecdote.



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Former U.S. President Clinton making progress but will remain in hospital By Reuters

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Former U.S. President Clinton making progress but will remain in hospital By Reuters


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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Members of media wait outside University of California Irvine Medical Center after it was announced that former U.S. President Bill Clinton was admitted to the hospital in Orange, California, U.S. October 15, 2021. REUTERS/Ringo Chiu

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(Reuters) -Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will remain overnight in a Southern California hospital following a urological infection, but he has continued to make “excellent progress” and is expected to be discharged on Sunday, his spokesman said in a statement on Saturday.

The 75-year-old, who served as president from 1993 to 2001, entered the University of California Irvine Medical Center on Tuesday evening after suffering from fatigue.

Clinton spokesperson Angel Urena said the former president was doing well.

“He is in great spirits and has been spending time with family, catching up with friends, and watching college football,” Urena said in a statement posted on Twitter (NYSE:).

Clinton’s wife, former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, was at the hospital on Saturday.

Since his admission to the hospital’s intensive care unit, he has received fluids and antibiotics, his doctors said.

Clinton, who was in California to attend a dinner and reception for his foundation in Los Angeles County, has dealt with health problems in the past. He had quadruple bypass operation in 2004 and a procedure to open a blocked artery in 2010.

The Democrat served two four-year terms in the White House, overseeing strong economic growth while engaging in bruising political battles with congressional Republicans.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives impeached him in 1998 on charges arising from his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but Clinton was acquitted by the Senate.

He was only the second U.S. president to be impeached. Republican President Donald Trump would later become the third when he was impeached twice during his term.

Clinton, a former Arkansas governor, has combined a folksy charm with deep knowledge of policy issues. He defeated an incumbent president, Republican George H.W. Bush, in 1992 and then beat longtime Republican Senator Bob Dole to win re-election in 1996.

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Democrats opposed to Biden spending bill raise record funds

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Democrats opposed to Biden spending bill raise record funds


Moderate Democrats who have stood in the way of Joe Biden’s $3.5tn “Build Back Better” agenda raised record sums of money in the third quarter, with big contributions from the oil and gas, pharmaceutical and financial services industries, filings show.

Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic senator from Arizona, are the two main opponents to Biden’s plan to make massive investments in America’s social safety net.

Both have demanded cuts to bring down the cost of the $3.5tn plan, which would make sweeping investments in childcare, public healthcare and schemes to combat climate change.

The two relatively conservative Democratic senators wield outsized influence in a US Senate that is split, 50-50, between Democrats and Republicans. Any budget bill will need support from both Manchin and Sinema if it is to be signed into law.

The latest Federal Election Commission filings, out this weekend, show the two senators, who are not up for re-election until 2024, raised more money in the three months to the end of September than they had in any other quarter in a nonelection year.

Manchin raked in nearly $1.6m in the third quarter compared to $1.5m in the second quarter of this year and just over $175,000 in the first. Sinema raised over $1.1m in the third quarter, narrowly edging out her haul in the second. In the first quarter of this year, Sinema brought in just over $375,000.

Manchin ended the quarter with $5.4m cash on hand, while Sinema had $4.5m in the bank — relatively large sums of money for politicians who will not need to face voters for another three years.

Manchin represents West Virginia, a Republican-leaning state that favoured Donald Trump over Biden by nearly 40 points in last year’s presidential election. Sinema is from Arizona, a traditional Republican stronghold that has become increasingly Democratic in recent years. Biden won there last year by a razor-thin margin of just over 10,000 votes.

The senators maintain they are representing the interests of their constituents when they seek to dilute the president’s agenda. But progressive critics from within their own party have accused them of being beholden to special interests, including the fossil fuel and pharmaceutical industries, which would stand to lose under Biden’s plans. The White House proposals would give incentives to companies to transition to cleaner energies, and lower the cost of prescription medicines for consumers by allowing the government to negotiate with drug companies on behalf of senior citizens.

The latest filings show that Manchin’s biggest donors in the third quarter include Vicki Hollub, president and chief executive of Occidental Petroleum, the major oil company, Albert Huddleston, the founder and chief executive of Aethon Energy, another big oil and gas firm, and Wil VanLoh, the chief executive of Quantum Energy Partners, a private equity firm focused on the energy industry.

Manchin also received several $5,000 donations from corporate PACs, including Enterprise Products, the Houston-based crude oil pipeline company, and Encompass Health, an Alabama-based healthcare services firm.

Sinema received several large donations from healthcare and pharmaceutical industry bosses in the third quarter, including Bristol-Myers Squibb chair and chief executive Giovanni Caforio, Eli Lilly chief executive David Ricks, and Kabir Nath, chief executive of Otsuka.

The Arizona senator also cashed cheques from several big names on Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs president and chief operating officer John Waldron, and Apollo Global Management co-founder and chief executive Marc Rowan. The cryptocurrency investor twins best known for their lawsuit against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss — also both contributed the maximum legal amount to Sinema’s campaign.

Manchin and Sinema are not the only moderate Democratic lawmakers who have thrown their weight around on Capitol Hill in recent weeks. A group of nine House Democrats, led by Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, have also raised concerns about the size of the budget plan, and tried unsuccessfully to force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to push ahead with a separate vote on a stalled $1.2tn infrastructure package. House progressives have refused to vote for the infrastructure bill without assurances that Manchin and Sinema will not gut the bigger budget bill.

The latest filings show Gottheimer raised nearly $1.1m in the third quarter, compared to $966,000 in the second quarter and $965,000 in the first quarter. He finished the three-month period with more than $11m, a record high for a House member from New Jersey.

Top donors to Gottheimer included Tim Wentworth, president of both Express Scripts Holding Company, the pharmacy benefit manager, and Cigna, the health insurance company, as well as Tony James, executive vice-chair of Blackstone. The congressman also received the maximum legal donations of $5,000 each from the corporate PACs of companies including Comcast, John Deere and New York Life Insurance.



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