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Trump administration shelves plan to blacklist China’s Ant Group – Al Jazeera English

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The administration of United States President Donald Trump has put on hold an effort to blacklist Ant Group Co Ltd, the Chinese financial technology company affiliated with e-commerce giant Alibaba, following a phone call between a company executive and a top US government official, four people familiar with the matter said.

Reuters News Agency reported last month that the US Department of State had submitted a proposal to add Ant Group to a trade blacklist in order to deter US investors from taking part in its initial public offering, which was expected to rake in a record $37bn before being postponed on Tuesday.

But the Department of Commerce, which oversees the blacklist, shelved the proposal after Alibaba Group Holding Inc President Michael Evans urged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to reject the bid in a phone call, the people said, declining to be named because they were not authorised to speak on the matter.

Three of the people said fears of antagonising Wall Street before Tuesday’s presidential elections and the possibility of a lawsuit helped convince Ross to set the plan aside.

“It could spur legal action or cause a chill in markets,” one of the sources said.

In contrast, the fourth person said Ross was taking into account the fact that Alibaba’s platform Taobao is already on the United States Trade Representative’s notorious markets list due to concerns it includes some counterfeit goods. That means it already faces US government scrutiny, the person said, stressing that Ross’s decision was neither due to the phone call nor market, election or legal concerns.

Ant and the State Department declined to comment. Ross and Evans could not be reached for comment.

Ant is China’s dominant mobile payments company, offering loans, payments, insurance and asset management services via mobile apps. It is 33 percent owned by Alibaba and controlled by Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

Inclusion on the trade blacklist, known as the entity list, forces a company’s US suppliers to seek special licences before selling to it. It does not, however, prevent US investors from buying its shares, and its impact on a financial-tech giant like Ant would have likely been largely symbolic.

While Ant’s Alipay payment app is currently unavailable for American users, according to a company spokesperson, China hawks in the Trump administration feared it could access sensitive banking data belonging to future US users.

The Trump administration has recently shown some reluctance to flex its muscle against Beijing before Tuesday’s election, in which polls show the Republican incumbent trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden by double digits nationally.

In September, the Commerce Department softened a bid by the Defense Department to add China’s top chipmaker SMIC to the entity list, instead instructing the company’s US suppliers to seek licenses before shipping it certain high-tech items.

With the spread of the coronavirus, which originated in China last year, and Beijing’s crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong, Trump had stepped up actions against Chinese companies like Bytedance, which owns social media app TikTok, earlier this year.

But a move by the Trump administration to ban certain US transactions with the Chinese owners of messaging app WeChat and TikTok has been held up in court.

Investors had largely shrugged off concerns about Ant Group, bidding for a record $3 trillion for its shares before China suspended the Ant Group’s stock market listing, in a dramatic move that left investors and bankers scrambling for answers.

The Hong Kong leg of the IPO was being sponsored by China International Capital Corp, Citigroup, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley. Credit Suisse is working as a joint global coordinator. Goldman Sachs is also involved.

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Canadian bank bonuses climb 3.9% as virus stops 'crazy' payouts – BNN

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Canada’s biggest banks set aside 3.9 per cent more for bonuses, a relatively small increase in a year when record revenue from trading and dealmaking helped firms weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

The country’s six largest lenders set aside $16.2 billion (US$12.6 billion) for performance-based compensation in the 2020 fiscal year. The increase improved upon the previous year’s 2.5 per cent gain — the smallest in nine years — though it fell short of the 6.3 per cent average for the past decade.

“This year is going to be very challenging when it comes to bonuses,” said Bill Vlaad, president of Vlaad & Co., a Toronto-based recruitment firm that monitors compensation trends. “The rest of Canada has had a really challenging year, so the banks can’t then go out and pay investment bankers crazy bonuses. They just can’t do that optically.”

Toronto-Dominion Bank and Royal Bank of Canada, the two largest lenders, had the biggest increases to their bonus pools, while Bank of Nova Scotia — which sold businesses and operations through the year — was the only company to shrink its reserves for performance-based pay.

Banks saw a 22 per cent surge in annual revenue from their capital-markets operations, to about $31.1 billion collectively for the year ended Oct. 31. Underwriting and advisory fees rose 23 per cent to a new peak of $5.66 billion, and trading revenue soared 41 per cent to a record $16.5 billion.

Overall, the Big Six banks had $41.2 billion in annual net income, down 12 per cent from the previous year’s record.

Canada’s bonus reserves may hint what’s ahead for U.S. and European banks. Wall Street traders are poised for handsome bonuses in their best year in a decade, though their investment-banking peers may be less fortunate. Traders at JPMorgan Chase & Co. may see a 20 per cent bonus boost.

In Europe, Deutsche Bank AG signaled in October that it’s planning bonus increases for top-performing investment bankers. UBS Group AG plans to raise fixed salaries for some employees by as much as 20 per cent, allowing the company to lower its bonus pool.

The Canadian banks pay bonuses based on performance, with most of the variable compensation going to capital-markets employees such as investment bankers, research analysts and those in sales and trading. Variable compensation reflects the amount reserved, not paid out, and doesn’t include base salaries. Bonuses are typically distributed in December.

“There aren’t a lot of bonuses to go out when you divide it by the number of people that are still on at the firms,” Vlaad said. “The banks have an unnatural, invisible hand that is coming in and has restricted them from having any material layoffs, so they haven’t been able to be as efficient as they’d like to be because of their promises to the Canadian public.”

The six banks’ workforce totals about 378,400, down 3 per cent from last year, with Scotiabank shrinking the most after selling operations in the Caribbean and winding down other businesses. Bank of Montreal’s and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s ranks also shrunk after the two companies announced cost-reduction measures before the pandemic. Job cuts across the industry could have been higher if not for COVID-19, with chief executive officers vowing that employees wouldn’t lose their jobs due to the pandemic.

Embedded Image

Here’s a bonus breakdown by bank:

Toronto-Dominion

Canada’s largest lender by assets set aside $2.89 billion for incentive compensation, with its 6.2 per cent increase the highest since 2017. The pool reflects employees’ ability to keep the bank serving customers and running efficiently throughout the pandemic, Chief Financial Officer Riaz Ahmed said in an interview.“Bonuses are linked to performance, and overall some of our businesses have done very well,” he said. “We’ve also made sure we’ve continued to look after all of our people through the pandemic.”

Royal Bank

Royal Bank, which has the biggest capital-markets division among Canadian lenders, set aside $6.04 billion for variable compensation, a 5.9 per cent increase and the highest total for the Big Six.

“We take a very balanced approach to compensation with consideration of the external environment in the long-term interest of both our employees and our shareholders,” CFO Rod Bolger said in an interview. Market-driven businesses such as wealth management and capital markets will see rates “according to what the market pays, and both of those businesses had strong performance this year.”

Still, overall earnings at Canada’s second-largest lender were down, “so a lot of our employees will see lower variable compensation this year,” Bolger said.

Scotiabank

Scotiabank’s performance-based compensation pool fell 1.3 per cent to $1.74 billion, its first decline since 2015, even as Canada’s third-largest lender posted record revenue from its capital-markets operations as trading reached an all-time high.

“It’s not all about ‘eat what you kill’ because we want them to be good corporate citizens,” CFO Raj Viswanathan said in an interview. “We want to compensate them appropriately when they have a good year,” but employees won’t necessarily receive a specific percentage of the business they generate.

Scotiabank’s compensation calculations take into account the company’s performance relative to its projections, and that’s weighing on compensation this year because of how the pandemic hurt business, he said.

“The overall variable compensation of the bank is down because the bank’s performance has been lower” in the second and third quarters, Viswanathan said.

BMO

Bank of Montreal raised its set-asides for variable compensation 0.8 per cent to $2.63 billion, its smallest increase in at least eight years.

“We’re committed to the principles of paying for performance and providing market-competitive compensation for our employees,” CFO Tom Flynn said in an emailed statement. “This year, we are comfortable with how well we have adhered to those principles, for both bonuses and total compensation.”

CIBC

The fifth-largest Canadian lender allocated 4 per cent more for performance-based pay, reserving $1.95 billion, a reversal from the previous year’s 4.7 per cent contraction.

“We believe in paying competitively and paying for performance, and that philosophy is applied,” CFO Hratch Panossian said in an interview. “This year, the level of compensation we’ve landed on we believe reflects the performance of the bank both from a financial perspective as well as doing the right thing for our clients and supporting clients through a very tough environment.”

National Bank

National Bank of Canada set aside 4 per cent more for bonuses, with the Montreal-based lender allocating $990 million for variable compensation, rebounding from a 1.3 per cent contraction in fiscal 2019.

“We’re trying to balance a good year with the fact also that our loan losses did go up during the year and that has to be reflected,” CEO Louis Vachon said in an interview. “In the context of a pandemic, I think our approach to compensation does need to remain relatively sober. So that’s how we’re balancing things out.”

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OPEC Finally Reaches Deal On 2021 Oil Output Cuts – OilPrice.com

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OPEC+ Finally Reaches Deal On 2021 Oil Output Cuts | OilPrice.com

Julianne Geiger

Julianne Geiger

Julianne Geiger is a veteran editor, writer and researcher for Oilprice.com, and a member of the Creative Professionals Networking Group.

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After much debate, the OPEC+ group has finally reached an agreement on oil production for next year. Or at least for January.

OPEC+ will, as a group, add in 500,000 barrels per day in January to its oil production quotas, which currently calls for a production cut of 7.7 million bpd. The total production cut in January will now just 7.2 million bpd.

Future assigned quotas could rise or fall, and to determine those levels of oil production beyond January, OPEC+ ministers will hold additional meetings—one each month.

The agreement is being touted as a win for all parties, although behind closed doors, it is unlikely that all ministers feel that way, as some ministers were vocally opposed prior to the meeting to adding in any production out of fear that oil demand would not be able to sustain any added production.

In addition to the agreement for adding 500,000 bpd of production back in, OPEC+ members that are laggards in sticking to their production quotas will have to make up the difference between now and March, one delegate said.

Additional things we know:

  • Russia’s share of the 500,000 bpd additional January production is 125,000 bpd.
  • Countries can either use their part of the 500,000 bpd increase by increasing production outright or—for the laggards—they can “use” their share of the additional allowance to offset any additional compensatory cuts they must make.

The fact that the agreement only covers January could mean that there were some heavy concessions that had to be made to reach a consensus. But the January-only deal is being sold as a flexibilie that will allow the group to react to demand swings.

The January-only agreement should have a considerable effect on oil price volatility in the months to come. With fresh OPEC announcements every month, the market will hang on every word, and oil prices will respond in kind, regardless of their actual effect on oil prices.

In a presser following the meeting, OPEC chairman HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud chastised the media for their “imaginative” star wars they have been perpetuating in recent weeks, referring to reports that the UAE and Saudi Arabia were spatting over the way forward.

By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com

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Loonie rises to highest point in 2 years on vaccine optimism, oil prices – CBC.ca

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The Canadian dollar hit its highest point in more than two years on Thursday as the U.K. announced it had approved a coronavirus vaccine for emergency use and oil prices were buoyed by an apparent deal among OPEC nations to extend their current production cuts past January.

The loonie at one point touched 77.61 cents US, its highest level since October 2018.

One catalyst for the loonie’s uptick was word that members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia are reportedly nearing a deal to extend production cuts of more than seven million barrels a day past January. 

Some in the oil cartel have pushed for a three month extension to May to the cuts, but given the recent run up in oil prices, the cartel has settled on a compromise of maintaining the cuts into February.

“This is roughly what was expected to come from these talks which will be why oil prices continue to trade around the highs,” said Craig Erlam, an analyst with foreign exchange company OANDA.

A barrel of West Texas Intermediate oil was trading above $45 US on Thursday, a level it has not reached and stayed above since early March when the pandemic walloped demand for energy around the world.

Currencies benefit from hope world economy will recover

The loonie is riding the wave of higher oil prices, but is also benefiting from a general weakness in the U.S. dollar.

The Australian dollar, the euro and the Korean won also hit two-year highs against the U.S. dollar on Thursday, as the flight for the perceived safety of America’s currency seems to be coming to an end.

Britain announced it has approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, which has spurred expectations that other nations may soon follow suit. That, in turn, is stimulating hopes that the world’s economy may soon get back to some semblance of normal.

“The big talk seems to be all about the U.K. getting ready to do the vaccine next week — faster than a lot of people expected and it’s having an effect on pretty much everything,” said Michael Currie, vice-president and investment adviser at TD Wealth.

Counterintuitively, that’s bad news for the U.S. dollar, which has seen its value increase by about 13 per cent during the pandemic because it is a perceived store of value. If things are indeed getting better, there’s less need to keep cash stashed in something safe like a U.S. dollar. 

Loonie could be headed higher: analyst

Shaun Osborne, chief foreign exchange strategist with Bank of Nova Scotia says the loonie has appreciated by about 10 cents since bottoming out in April, and he thinks a case can be made that the loonie could be headed higher still in the medium term.

“The U.S. economy is likely to perform on par with the rest of the world [and] may underperform Canada,” he said in an interview.

“A stronger global economy and higher demand for commodities … that is something I would expect to be positive for the Canadian dollar [but] I think we need to get through the next two or three months just to see just how much this move can extend,” Osborne said.

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