Indonesia reports highest number of COVID-19 fatalities since March

JAKARTA: Indonesia on Sunday (Jul 19) recorded its highest number of COVID-19 fatalities since March, with 127 deaths, taking the national total to 4,143. 

Indonesian government spokesperson for COVID-19, Achmad Yurianto, said most of the deaths were recorded in East Java and Central Java. 

READ: Lack of compliance blamed for East Java’s high COVID-19 tally, health workers’ deaths: Indonesian minister

He added that another 1,639 new positive coronavirus cases were recorded, bringing the total number of infections to 86,521. A total of 16,538 of these cases are in Jakarta while 18,308 are in East Java. 

About 37,505 patients are still under surveillance, he said. 

READ: Indonesian president sees new COVID-19 peak in August-September

The highest number of COVID-19 positive cases was also recorded in East Java province with 18,308 infections, while Jakarta recorded 16,538. 

To date, East Java province has the highest number of deaths with 1,401 cases, followed by Jakarta with 736 fatalities. There have been 323 deaths related to COVID-19 in Central Java and 279 in South Sulawesi. 

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Malaysia discovers biggest abandoned shipment of illegal toxic waste from Romania

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has uncovered its largest case of abandoned toxic waste, after 110 containers of hazardous heavy metals from Romania and bound for Indonesia illegally entered the country last month, state media Bernama reported on Sunday (Jul 19).

Malaysia in recent years became the world’s main destination for plastic waste, after China banned imports of scrap. It has been negotiating with origin countries to take back hundreds of containers of plastic that entered the country illegally.

READ: Malaysia says won’t be ‘garbage dump’ as it returns waste

Environment and Water Minister Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said 1,864 tonnes of electric arc furnace dust (EAFD) – a by-product of steel production that contains heavy metals like zinc, cadmium and lead – were found abandoned at the Tanjung Pelepas port in the southern state of Johor, according to Bernama.

“The discovery of the EAFD, on transit in Malaysia and bound for Indonesia, is the biggest finding of its kind in Malaysian history,” Tuan Ibrahim was quoted as saying.

He said the EAFD, classified as a toxic waste under the Basel Convention, had been listed as concentrated zinc in declaration forms.

“The Department of Environment, as the Basel Convention authority (for Malaysia), has not granted approval for or received notifications from the waste exporter to transit in Malaysia,” he said.

Malaysia has contacted the Romanian Basel Convention authority to arrange for the repatriation of the containers and have engaged Interpol for further investigations, Bernama said.

China says it will respond resolutely if UK sanctions officials

LONDON: China will respond resolutely to any attempt by Britain to sanction Chinese officials following the imposition of a security law in Hong Kong, its ambassador in London said on Sunday (Jul 19).

Earlier this month Britain introduced a new sanctions regime to target individuals it says are involved in human rights abuses or organised crime.

Some lawmakers in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party have said the sanctions should be used to target Chinese officials.

READ: UK top court says it is assessing UK judges’ position in Hong Kong appeal court

“If UK government goes that far to impose sanctions on any individual in China, China will certainly make a resolute response to it,” Liu Xiaoming told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“You’ve seen what happens in the United States – they sanction Chinese officials, we sanction their senators, their officials. I do not want to see this tit-for-tat happen in … China-UK relations.”

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the same programme he would not be drawn on future additions to Britain’s sanctions list but he denied that Britain would be too weak to challenge China through this channel.

Raab said he would update Britain’s parliament to outline further measures on Hong Kong and China on Monday.

READ: Hong Kong security law sends jitters through city’s feisty press

Britain says the new national security law in Hong Kong breaches agreements made before the handover and that China is crushing the freedoms that have helped make Hong Kong one of the world’s biggest financial hubs.

Hong Kong and Beijing officials have said the law is vital to plug holes in national security defences exposed by recent protests. China has repeatedly told Western powers to stop meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs.

Disney cuts ad spending on Facebook amid growing boycott: Report

REUTERS: Walt Disney has become the latest company to slash its advertising spending on Facebook as the social media giant faces an ad boycott over its handling of hate speech and controversial content, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday (Jul 19), citing people familiar with the situation.

Disney joins other companies like Starbucks, Unilever, Adidas AG and others that have pulled advertising from the tech giant.

The time frame for Disney’s pullback wasn’t clear as some brands paused their ad spending for longer stretches, the report said, adding that Disney didn’t make a public announcement that it was cutting back on Facebook but shifted advertising plans silently.

Disney has paused advertising of its streaming video service Disney+ on Facebook as the company is concerned about Facebook’s enforcement of its policies surrounding objectionable content, the report said.

The company has also paused ad spending on Facebook-owned Instagram for its another streaming service called Hulu, the report added.

“We know we have more work to do, and we’ll continue to work with civil rights groups … and other experts to develop even more tools, technology and policies to continue this fight,” a Facebook representative said in an email statement.

Earlier this month, organizers of the growing Facebook advertising boycott said they saw “no commitment to action” after meeting with Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg.

Disney was not immediately available for a Reuters request for comment.

Virus worries and FOMO drive options bets on surging tech giants

Options investors are ramping up bets on some of this year’s biggest winners, including Amazon.com Inc, Netflix Inc and Tesla Inc, even as they turn cautious on the wider market amid a resurgent U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

The logos of Netflix, Tesla and Amazon are seen in this combination photo
The logos of Netflix, Tesla and Amazon are seen in this combination photo. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/Thilo Schmuelgen

NEW YORK: Options investors are ramping up bets on some of this year’s biggest winners, including Amazon.com Inc, Netflix Inc and Tesla Inc, even as they turn cautious on the wider market amid a resurgent U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

Investors are betting that tech-related stocks will remain comparatively resilient to the coronavirus-fueled economic disruptions that have battered sectors such as retail and travel, despite growing concerns about stretched valuations following steep rallies.

Analysts also see another factor driving the momentum stocks: fear of missing out, or FOMO.

The rocket-like rise of such stocks has driven year-to-date gains for the S&P 500 technology, consumer discretionary and communication services sectors, though the broader S&P 500 benchmark index remains negative for the year. Amazon is a component of the consumer discretionary index, and Netflix is a component of the communication services index.

“The flight to safety is in tech,” said Amy Wu Silverman, equity derivatives strategist at RBC Capital Markets. “These tend to be the names that are insulated from the fact that everyone is quarantined.”

Fears of further economic fallout from the coronavirus mounted on Monday as California reinstituted restrictions on businesses and the state’s two largest public school districts announced instruction would be online-only when school resumes. The tech-heavy Nasdaq toggled between gains and losses Tuesday, a day after falling 2.1per cent, its biggest percentage loss in more than two weeks.

But the purchase of bullish call options in tech-related names hasn’t been dampened. For instance, demand for calls versus bearish put options – a measure called skew – on Tesla currently stands near historic extremes, even after the stock has rallied more than 300per cent from its March lows. Tesla’s 30-day skew is negative, at -15.2per cent, according to Trade Alert, meaning that prices for calls have surged past those for equivalent puts.

Skew in Amazon, Netflix, Twitter and other momentum stocks has also been negative in the past week. By contrast, skew on the S&P 500 shows a growing bias toward puts.

“You have almost a perfect storm,” said Matt Amberson, principal at options analytics firm ORATS. “There’s a little bit of institutional worry, but retail (investors) … are bullish.”

Still, there are plenty of concerns about technology stocks. Fund managers in a recent BofA Global Research survey said buying tech stocks was the market’s “most crowded” trade for a third straight month.

In addition, some strategists believe the sharp run-up could make tech-related shares more vulnerable should the companies’ growth outlooks fall short of investors’ hopes. The second-quarter earnings season began in earnest on Tuesday as several major U.S. banks reported results.

After the recent rally, many tech-related shares have “the type of valuation where you would want to take profits,” said Oliver Pursche, president at Bronson Meadows Capital Management.

Indeed, the forward price-to-earnings ratio for the S&P 500, at 22.1, according to Refinitiv, is at its highest level since the dot-com boom two decades ago.

Some investors have chosen to bet on stocks that are outside the technology sector but may be positioned to benefit from a nascent economic recovery. Skew has dipped for several companies seen as being among the greatest beneficiaries of an economic recovery, including Boeing Co and Delta Air Lines.

Other recent call buyers include investors who want exposure to potential gains but are hesitant to buy stocks at current prices, said Christopher Murphy, co-head of derivatives strategy at Susquehanna Financial Group, a trend he said has occurred in tech-related names such as Tesla and Shopify Inc.

“We’re seeing a FOMO phenomenon being priced in,” he said.

(Reporting by April Joyner; Editing by Ira Iosebashvili and Leslie Adler)

Malaysia’s largest rubber glove manufacturer bullish about prospects as demand soars amid COVID-19

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s largest rubber glove manufacturer Top Glove is investing US$1 billion over the next five years to expand its production capacity, in order to meet surging demand for protective gloves amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Speaking to CNA in an exclusive interview, Top Glove’s executive chairman and founder Lim Wee Chai noted that the company’s third-quarter earnings ending May 31 jumped more than three times to hit almost US$90 million, while its share price has quadrupled since the beginning of the year.

The best quarter has yet to come, he declared, as the demand is still “very strong”. 

“We are now only just (getting) started. There are more good quarters to come. It is only the first quarter and we are seeing good results … The next five or six quarters can be even more in terms of sales revenue and profit.” 

Its nitrile gloves, he said, are oversold by 360 days, which means that customers will have to wait for up to a year to receive their orders. Most buyers are state agencies and many are willing to pay a higher price in order to secure their deliveries. 

Malaysia is reportedly producing around 65 per cent of the world’s supply for rubber gloves. There has been an exponential jump in demand for rubber gloves since the pandemic.

Dr Lim, 62, who started the company about 30 years ago with his wife Tong Siew Bee, took the company public in 2001. Top Glove obtained dual listing on SGX in 2016. 

Top Glove Corporation now has 45 manufacturing facilities across the country and controls over a fifth of the world’s multi-billion dollar rubber glove industry. 

Lim Wee Chai glove Malaysia
Malaysian firm Top Glove founder Lim Wee Chai tells CNA that 2020 is going to be a record year for the company.

With all its factories running at almost full capacity, Dr Lim wants to add up to 10 more factories over the next two years. 

“Usually we build one or two factories a year, this year we are building more. It is good times, we build four or five factories this year and next year, we will also build another four to five factories.” 

Top Glove Corporation’s current production capacity is 75 billion pieces of gloves per year. By 2021, this will be increased to close to 100 billion, he said.

READ: Top supplier Malaysia sees no quick end to shortages in US$8 billion gloves industry

CUTTING-EDGE TECHNOLOGY

A firm believer of cutting-edge technology, Dr Lim said Top Glove must constantly invest in research and development. 

The company has more than 600 researchers and half of them are engineers, while the rest are chemists and scientists, he said. 

“Traditional business grows very slow, 5 per cent to 10 per cent every year. But using technology, we can skill up … We find something new, something better – digitalisation, internet of things, artificial intelligence, all these are very important.” 

In particular, automation and artificial intelligence have saved costs and improved efficiency. They have also enhanced the quality of the products he said. 

By harnessing technology, between 1,000 to 2,000 workers are made redundant each year. They are then deployed to new factories, he explained. 

The number of workers to produce per million gloves has been reduced significantly, from five to 10 a decade ago to less than two today, he also said.

Malaysia Top Gloves
Top Glove Corporation is the world’s largest rubber glove producer. (Photo: Top Glove Corporation Bhd) 

LOFTY TARGET TO BECOME FORTUNE GLOBAL 500 COMPANY

Dr Lim who is a father of two grown children, has set lofty targets for himself and the company. 

He wants Top Glove to become Malaysia’s second Fortune Global 500 company after Petronas by 2040, with an annual revenue of US$35 billion.

“In order to grow big, to become a Fortune Global 500 company, we need to grow 30 times … almost 500 factories. Now we have 45 factories,” he told CNA. 

“It is very possible, because over the past 20 years, Top Glove has grown almost 200 times … I think (it is) not that difficult provided we get the right team of people.” 

READ: COVID-19 – US lifts ban on Malaysian medical glove maker amid shortage

Dr Lim added that he intends to live till 120 years old, by adhering to a strict health and fitness regime. He is a yoga enthusiast and plays badminton as well as golf twice a week. 

He also hopes that his staff will follow his regime on hygiene, health and fitness as well as work ethics. 

Top Glove has employed seven nutritionists, a team of doctors, dentists and nurses to look after its 20,000 employees. 

“People are the most important asset for the company or any organisation. That’s why this asset, must value it, must take care so that everybody is fit and healthy,” Dr Lim said. 

Last year, the company announced that it would bear all recruitment-related fees for its foreign workers. On Monday (Jul 13), the company said that it would implement a programme that will allow workers who have paid recruitment fees to agents in their source country to be reimbursed. 

He added: “(During) good times, we have to work hard, work smart … During bad times, difficult times, actually we learn more. We tend to innovate. Human beings during difficult times, they tend to work extra hard, think hard and have new ideas”. 

Crunch time for Apple in fight against US$15 billion EU tax order

Apple’s clash with EU competition regulators comes to a head on Wednesday as Europe’s second-highest court rules on whether it has to pay 13 billion euros (US$15 billion) in Irish back taxes, a key part of the EU’s crackdown against sweetheart tax deals.

FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed Apple logo is seen in front of a displayed Irish flag in this illustration
FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed Apple logo is seen in front of a displayed Irish flag in this illustration taken September 2, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

BRUSSELS/DUBLIN: Apple’s clash with EU competition regulators comes to a head on Wednesday as Europe’s second-highest court rules on whether it has to pay 13 billion euros (US$15 billion) in Irish back taxes, a key part of the EU’s crackdown against sweetheart tax deals.

In its order four years ago, the European Commission said Apple benefited from illegal state aid via two Irish tax rulings that artificially reduced its tax burden for over two decades – to as low as 0.005per cent in 2014.

Defeat for European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager could weaken or delay pending cases against Ikea’s and Nike’s deals with the Netherlands, as well as Huhtamaki’s agreement with Luxembourg.

Vestager, who has made the tax crackdown a centrepiece of her time in office, saw the same court last year overturn her demand for Starbucks to pay up to 30 million euros in Dutch back taxes. In another case, the court also threw out her ruling against a Belgian tax scheme for 39 multinationals.

The Apple dispute is seen by some analysts as a lose-lose situation for Ireland, which has appealed against the Commission’s order alongside the iPhone maker.

While 14 billion euros – including interest – would go a long way to plugging the coronavirus-shaped hole in the state’s finances, Dublin is seeking to protect a low tax regime that has attracted 250,000 multinational employers.

If Ireland’s appeal succeeds, the government will be ridiculed by opposition parties for not taking the cash, which could cover at least half of a budget deficit forecast to balloon to as much as 10per cent of GDP this year.

Should Ireland lose, the government will be castigated by the same politicians for launching the appeal. A ruling in favour of the Commission could also raise questions about the application of Ireland’s tax code at a sensitive time, when new global rules for taxing digital giants are being debated.

Defeat could also hurt Ireland’s ability to attract investment, although the promotional blitz undertaken after the Commission’s 2016 decision appears to have worked. The numbers employed by multinationals like Apple, Facebook and Google have grown by 25per cent, accounting for one in ten Irish workers.

For Apple, defeat would be a blow, but manageable given its cash holdings topped US$190 billion at the end of its fiscal second quarter.

The cases are T-778/16 Ireland v Commission and T-892/16 Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe v Commission. The defeated side can appeal on points of law to the EU Court of Justice, Europe’s highest court.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Mark Potter)

Tesla secures tax breaks for cybertruck factory in Texas

A central Texas county that includes Austin on Tuesday approved a plan to provide millions in tax subsidies to Tesla Inc if it builds a US$1.1 billion vehicle factory in the area.

FILE PHOTO: The Tesla logo is seen on a car in Los Angeles
FILE PHOTO: The Tesla logo is seen on a car in Los Angeles, California, U.S., July 9, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

REUTERS: A central Texas county that includes Austin on Tuesday approved a plan to provide millions in tax subsidies to Tesla Inc if it builds a US$1.1 billion vehicle factory in the area.

The decision marks a step forward for Texas as it vies with Oklahoma to attract a new factory to build Tesla’s Y sport utility vehicles and cybertrucks.

A majority of commissioners in Travis County voted in favor of providing the electric carmaker with a tax rebate worth at least US$14.7 million.

That brings the total amount of tax rebates to nearly US$65 million after the Del Valle school district, which includes the proposed factory site, approved a US$50 million incentive on Thursday.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The electric carmaker only has a single vehicle manufacturing plant in California and has said it wants to start building a large second plant in the southwestern United States as early as the third quarter of this year..

Commissioners in favor of the agreement decided to move forward after a Tesla representative said executives had met with the governor of a rival state, without naming the state.

The city of Tulsa in Oklahoma has campaigned for Tesla to build the plant there.

Tesla has asked Travis County for an 80per cent rebate on its property taxes for 10 years, worth US$14.7 million, as well as a 65per cent rebate for the next 10 years after that.

Tesla said the factory would create 5,000 jobs, mostly low-skilled. The average annual salary would be roughly US$47,000, an income considered low by the county’s health and human services division.

(Reporting by Joe White and Tina Bellon; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Richard Pullin and Stephen Coates)

China reports six new COVID-19 cases

SHANGHAI: China reported on Wednesday (Jul 15) six new COVID-19 cases in the mainland for Tuesday, up from three cases a day earlier, the health authority said.

All of the new infections were imported cases, the National Health Commission said in a statement. There were no new deaths.

China also reported four new asymptomatic patients, down from five a day earlier.

As of Jul 14, mainland China had a total of 83,611 confirmed coronavirus cases, it said. China’s death toll from the coronavirus remained unchanged at 4,634.

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Trump says he is ‘not interested’ in trade talks with China

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Tuesday (Jul 14) shut the door on Phase 2 trade negotiations with China, saying he does not want to talk to Beijing about trade because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m not interested right now in talking to China,” Trump replied when asked in an interview with CBS News whether Phase 2 trade talks were dead.

“We made a great trade deal,” Trump said, of the Phase 1 agreement signed in January. “But as soon as the deal was done, the ink wasn’t even dry, and they hit us with the plague,” he said, referring to the novel coronavirus, which first emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

For months, Trump has blamed China for sending the coronavirus to the United States, saying that China must be “held accountable” for failing to contain the disease. The pandemic has taken a stiff toll on the US economy, endangering Trump’s hopes for re-election in November.

China pledged to increase purchases of US farm and manufactured goods, energy and services by US$200 billion over two years as part of the Phase 1 trade deal, but Trump has said the pandemic changed his views on the agreement.

At the White House, Trump announced that he signed legislation and an executive order to hold China accountable for the “oppressive” national security law it imposed on Hong Kong.

The measure approved by Congress, the latest in a series of moves aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Beijing, gives Trump’s administration the authority to penalise banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement Beijing’s new national security law on Hong Kong.

Trump said he has no plans to talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic began, few trade watchers in Washington were expecting Phase 2 negotiations to bear fruit before the 2020 election.

While Phase 1 focused mainly on Chinese purchases of US goods, improved US access to China’s financial services market and some intellectual property issues, Phase 2 was meant to tackle far more difficult issues associated with China’s technology transfer policies, industrial espionage and government subsidies to state-owned enterprises.