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Five Things - Asia

China unveils its tech-fueled plans for the economy. Apple tumbles after iPhone sales miss. And Hong Kong shows signs of emerging from recession.

Tech Drive

China promised to become a technological powerhouse, emphasizing quality growth over speed as it unveiled the first glimpses of its economic plans for the next five years. Initial details released by the Communist Party's Central Committee Thursday pledged to develop a robust domestic market and elevated China's self-reliance in technology into a national strategic pillar. Central to that endeavor is self-reliance in chips, the building blocks for innovations from artificial intelligence to fifth-generation networking and autonomous vehicles. The communique didn't specify the pace of growth policy makers would target. It comes just as the U.S.-China conflict over chips is about to get uglier. It's no wonder Chinese investors now see the Sino-American feud continuing beyond the election.

Markets Mixed

U.S. shares fell in late U.S. trading, while Asian equities looked poised for a mixed start on Friday. The dollar and benchmark Treasury yields climbed back past 0.80%. An exchange-traded fund tracking the Nasdaq 100 fell in after-hours trading following a string of reports from Amazon.com, Facebook, Alphabet and Apple. The S&P 500 Index earlier bounced back a day after its biggest rout in four months. Elsewhere, the euro weakened after the European Central Bank paved the way for a package of fresh easing in December.

Apple Falls

Apple shares fell more than 5% after the company reported iPhone sales that missed Wall Street estimates and a 29% slump in revenue from China — one of the company's most important regions — to $7.9 billion, the lowest in several years. Still, the firm on Thursday said fiscal fourth-quarter sales came in at $64.7 billion, a record for the period, driven by record sales of Macs and Services. It beat analysts' estimates of $63.5 billion. Meanwhile fellow tech giant Amazon predicted a steep jump in sales this quarter, with revenue landing in the vicinity of $112 billion to $121 billion.

Hope For Hong Kong

Hong Kong's economy is showing the first signs of emerging from a crippling recession sparked by political unrest last year and deepened by the global pandemic. After more than a year of weakness in multiple economic indicators, data this week showed exports from the Asian financial hub surged the most in almost two years in September, fueled by a 17% increase in shipments to mainland China. Advance third-quarter economic growth figures to be released today are forecast to show quarter-on-quarter growth of 0.7%. Over in the U.S., the economy's path is looking less certain after its record third-quarter surge.

Slippery Slope

North America's biggest oil explorer, Exxon Mobil, will slash its global workforce by 15% by the end of 2022 — an unprecedented cull as it struggles to preserve dividends. The cuts will include 1,900 U.S. jobs, mostly in Houston, as well as layoffs previously announced in Europe and Australia. Shares rose on the news of CEO Darren Woods's latest effort to curtail spending and halt the worst string of quarterly losses since Exxon's 1999 takeover of Mobil. 

What We've Been Reading

This is what's caught our eye over the past 24 hours:

And finally, here's what Tracy's interested in today

There are a lot of quirks in Chinese capitalism. One of them is an arcane rule that forbids state-owned banks from selling new shares at a price below book value. The rule is supposed to prevent bank executives from embezzling or mispricing government property (a discount to book value being considered a giveaway to capitalists), but it's perhaps no surprise that the requirement tends to make it difficult for Chinese banks to raise money when they are actually trading below book value. This Catch-22 of needing to secure new capital at a time when share prices are depressed but also being unable to secure new capital because share prices are depressed was on full display when a Fujian bank this week sold stock for the first time.

Shares of Xiamen Bank initially jumped by the maximum permitted when they started trading at the beginning of the week, in what was cast as a sign of positive things to come for Chinese banks in need of fresh funding. But despite being massively oversubscribed, shares of the bank quickly plunged. Xiamen had priced its shares at a book value of precisely "1" when it IPOed — the lowest price possible under Chinese guidelines. That enabled it to go ahead with the offering of course, but it also ensured that the shares would be quickly dumped as investors calibrated Xiamen's market price with banking peers trading far below the value of their assets.

You can follow Tracy Alloway on Twitter at @tracyalloway.


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