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Asian shares hit 18-month high after new Wall Street records – Aljazeera.com



Asian shares jumped to an 18-month high on Friday while gold and oil prices stayed buoyant in a holiday-shortened week, following another record-setting rally on Wall Street.

On Thursday, the Nasdaq index rose above the 9,000-point mark for the first time as all three major Wall Street indexes posted record closing highs, boosted by optimism over United States-China trade relations and gains in shares of Amazon.com after a report signalled robust online holiday sales.


Traders returned from their Christmas and Boxing Day breaks to digest comments from Beijing that it was in close contact with Washington about an initial trade agreement, shortly after US President Donald Trump talked up a signing ceremony for the recently struck Phase 1 trade deal.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan jumped 0.55 percent to 555.25, a level not seen since mid-2018. It is up about 16 percent so far this year.

Japan’s Nikkei was flat, but on track for a near 20 percent rise this year, the biggest annual increase since 2013.

The country’s industrial output slipped for a second straight month in November in another sign the economy is cooling. Japan has approved a record budget for the coming fiscal year, in a bid to shore up growth.

Australia‘s benchmark index rose 0.2 percent while Chinese shares were upbeat after Beijing laid out additional plans to bolster its economy, including infrastructure investments. The blue-chip CSI300 added 0.56 percent.

The rally in global share indices is in sharp contrast to a plunge late last year when fears about the effect of the Sino-American trade war had sapped investor confidence.

The worries scuttled capital expenditure plans over much of 2019, but strong employment and signs of an improving global economy suggest that will change next year.

The US Federal Reserve’s policy easing, economic data that has come in above expectations, and strong corporate profits have helped lift stocks this year along with trade-related optimism.

“A lot of robust sentiment toward the end of 2019 – but we need to see that translate into the underlying real economy going into 2020,” Ann Berry, a partner at Cornell Capital LLC, said on Bloomberg TV. “It’s astonishing that you’ve had a period of rate cuts that we have seen, and yet that investment in capital goods has not gone up in the way that you’d expect.”

Market participants are now waiting for fourth-quarter earnings in January for indications as to whether sentiment among corporates has actually improved.

Overnight, MSCI’s all-country world index and Wall Street’s Dow Industrials, the benchmark S&P 500 and the technology-rich Nasdaq all closed at record highs.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.38 percent to a record, on track for its best year since 2009. The index has gained 24 percent this year.

Wall Street was boosted overnight by US-China trade optimism and gains in Amazon.com.

Amazon shares jumped 4.4 percent after Mastercard said US shoppers spent more online during the holiday season than in 2018, with e-commerce sales hitting a record.

Oil, gold retain gains

Both oil and gold held on to their recent gains.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, extended gains into a fourth session, hitting $68.09 per barrel, the highest since mid-September. US West Texas Intermediate crude gained 14 cents to $61.82 a barrel.

Brent has rallied about 25 percent in 2019, supported by supply cuts by OPEC and allies including Russia.

Gold prices were a bit shy of a two-month high at $1,509.29 an ounce. They have been on the rise recently as a hedge against dollar weakness and increased equity market volatility in 2020.

The rally in oil and gold boosted commodity-linked currencies with the New Zealand dollar up 0.6 percent and the Australian dollar up 0.3 percent.

The US dollar was slightly weaker against the Japanese yen at 109.47.

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BMO names new head of retail banking Subscriber content – theglobeandmail.com



A Bank of Montreal sign is seen in Toronto’s financial district, in an Aug. 22, 2017, file photo.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Bank of Montreal gave two of its senior executives new responsibilities for winning over customers in an increasingly digital business.

Toronto-based BMO handed Cam Fowler the title of chief strategy and operations officer, a newly created role that wraps in all of the bank’s branch and digital services. Mr. Fowler was the head of BMO’s North American personal and business banking group. That job now belongs to Erminia (Ernie) Johannson, who is currently the head of BMO’s North American personal banking and U.S. business banking teams. The promotions are effective March 1, and both Mr. Fowler and Ms. Johannson will report to BMO chief executive officer Darryl White.

In his new role, Mr. Fowler “will be responsible for a lot,” Mr. White said. It will be Mr. Fowler’s job to draw the bank’s strategy, digital operations, innovation, procurement, workplace transformation, marketing and social impact initiatives more closely together.

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“The world moves so quickly and the digital agenda is so important that the premium I put on being front-footed and having a view of the future, and investing horizontally across the enterprise, I’m relying on Cam to be a huge help to me to do that,” Mr. White said.

Mr. Fowler is a 10-year veteran of BMO who has served as one of Mr. White’s key lieutenants over the last two years. On Mr. White’s first day as CEO in November, 2017, Mr. Fowler was promoted to president of North American personal and business banking, tasked with deploying new products and strategies across BMO’s Canadian and U.S. footprint.

Ms. Johannson has been in charge of U.S. personal and business banking since 2018, and has significantly boosted the bank’s American deposit base. Last year, her role expanded to include BMO’s network of bank branches in Canada. She has also held roles in credit cards, payments, marketing and risk, and was the architect of the launch of BMO’s nationwide U.S. digital bank a year ago.

“It’s so natural, because she has done virtually every job that [her new role] encompasses,” Mr. White said. Ms. Johansson will divide her time between BMO’s Toronto headquarters and its U.S. base in Chicago. David Casper, BMO’s U.S. CEO and head of North American commercial banking, will work closely with Ms. Johannson.

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Bank of Canada decides against launching digital currency, but leaves door open – The Globe and Mail



The Bank of Canada has made a bank-issued digital currency a key research priority over the past year, as the development of private-sector alternatives, especially Facebook’s proposed Libra cryptocurrency, have accelerated the urgency among the world’s central banks to respond.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Bank of Canada doesn’t yet see a need to create its own digital currency, even as some central banks advance toward e-money.

“We have concluded that there is not a compelling case to issue a CBDC [central bank digital currency] at this time,” Bank of Canada deputy governor Timothy Lane said in a speech in Montreal Tuesday. Nevertheless, the bank is developing a contingency plan so that it is prepared for the possibility of such a digital option down the road.

“The Bank will build the capacity to issue a general-purpose, cash-like CBDC should the need to implement one arise,” the bank said in a background note published on its website in conjunction with Mr. Lane’s speech.

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“While we don’t know what the future may bring, we need to move forward to work out what a potential CBDC might look like and how it could be managed, if the decision were ever taken to issue one,” Mr. Lane said in his speech. And he noted that the decision wouldn’t be up to the Bank of Canada.

“That’s a choice that Canadians and their elected representatives would need to make at the time,” he said, adding that “the bank would need proper legislative authority to issue a CBDC.”

The background paper indicated that it would take “several years” before the central bank would be in a position to launch its own digital currency.

The Bank of Canada has made a bank-issued digital currency a key research priority over the past year, as the development of private-sector alternatives, especially Facebook’s proposed Libra cryptocurrency, have accelerated the urgency among the world’s central banks to respond. The bank published a series of papers on the issue Tuesday. It has also formed a working group along with the central banks of England, Japan, the European Union, Sweden and Switzerland to combine their efforts on understanding the implications of CBDCs.

But many central banks look to be further down the road toward pursuing their own digital currencies than Canada is. In a recent survey by the Bank for International Settlements, about one in 10 central banks said they are likely to issue a digital currency within the next three years. China’s powerful central bank is believed to be considering a launch of a digital currency within the year. Last week, Sweden’s Riksbank announced the launch of a pilot program over the next year to test a new “e-krona” using blockchain technology, though it stressed that no decision has been made regarding introducing the currency.

Sweden is considered one of the world’s most cash-less societies, with cash used for only about 15 per cent of retail payments. By comparison, Mr. Lane noted that, while Canadians’ use of electronic payment methods has risen substantially in recent years, cash is still used in about one-third of transactions.

He said the case for a Bank of Canada digital currency would become more compelling “if we ever reach the tipping point where cash could no longer be used for a sufficiently wide range of transactions.”

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He added that another key factor would be if private digital currencies became widely adopted, something that could pose a risk to the stability of central bank currencies and the conducting of monetary policy.

“If either scenario came to pass, society may be well-served with a digital currency,” he said.

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Hong Kong Budget 2020: HK$10000 cash handouts for all adult permanent residents among raft of relief measures – Hong Kong Free Press



Hong Kong’s financial secretary has announced a HK$10,000 cash handout to all permanent residents over the age of 18 in a bid to boost local consumption and ease economic woes in light of a fiscal deficit.

The relief measure involving an estimated expenditure of around HK$71 billion came amid negative economic growth since the second half of last year and the city’s first deficit in 15 years as the economy took a hit from the US-China trade war, large-scale protests and the coronavirus outbreak.

But Paul Chan remained confident that fiscal reserves, previously estimated at HK$1.1 trillion, could weather the cost of the handout.

“I consider that, with ample fiscal reserves, the government has to increase public expenditure amid an economic downturn to stimulate the economy and ride of the difficult times with members of the public,” he said as he delivered his fourth budget blueprint at the legislature on Wednesday.

paul chan

Paul Chan. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Chan also announced a salary tax cut of 100 per cent for the 2019-20 year up to a ceiling of HK$20,000 – set to benefit 1.95 million taxpayers and cost HK$18.8 billion.

Other relief measures for the public:

  • Rates for residential properties for 2020-21 will be waived up to a ceiling of HK$1,500 per quarter – estimated to involve 2.93 million properties and cost HK$13.3 billion.
  • Eligible social security recipients will benefit from an extra month of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance payments, Old Age Allowance, Old Age Living Allowance or Disability Allowance. A similar arrangement will be rolled out for the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy. It will cost around HK$4.23 billion.
  • Lower-income tenants in government public housing will have a month of rent waived, with a total cost of HK$1.83 billion.
  • Exam fees for students sitting the 2021 Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination will be waived, at a cost of about HK$150 million.
sophia chan

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Relief measures for business:

  • Profits tax will be reduced by 100 per cent for the 2019-20 year to benefit 141,000 taxpayers at a cost of HK$2 billion.
  • Business registration fees will be waived for 2020-21, benefitting 1.5 million business owners at a cost of HK$3 billion. Company registry fees for annual tax returns will be waived for two years to benefit 1.4 million firms at a cost of HK$212 million.
  • A concessionary low-interest loan of up to HK$2 million will be provided to enterprises under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme.
  • Rates for non-domestic properties for 2020-21 will be waived up to a ceiling of HK$5,000 per quarter in the first two quarters and a ceiling of $1,500 per quarter in the remaining two quarters for each non-domestic property. 420,000 properties will benefit, at a cost of HK$3.2 billion.
  • Non-domestic electricity accounts will enjoy a 75 per cent discount up to a ceiling of HK$5,000 for four months, at a cost of HK$2.9 billion. Likewise, water and sewage costs will be discounted by 75 per cent up to a cap of HK$20,000 and HK$12,500 respectively, costing HK$340 billion.
  • Local recycling firms will see a rental subsidy for six months, costing HK$100 million.
  • Tenants of government properties, government land and EcoPark will see rent discounts of 50 per cent, costing HK$573 million. Rent and fees for eligible operators of properties will be slashed by 50 per cent, costing HK$265 million.
  • Hirers of civic centres under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department will enjoy discounts of 50 per cent for six months, costing HK$23 million.

“In preparing this budget, I put the focus on ‘supporting enterprises, safeguarding jobs, stimulating the economy and relieving people’s burden,’ Chan said.

Paul Chan

Paul Chan. Photo: Inmediahk.net.

“Hong Kong may have all sorts of shortcomings, but it is our home which allows diversity and freedom of development. Even if we have been disappointed, we can choose to feel hopeful for our future. Even if we are striving for different goals, we can work together to put aside our differences, make room for resolving conflicts, and drive Hong Kong forward,” he said in his concluding remarks.

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