China Boosts Liquidity as Trade War Threatens Economy

Chinese policymakers are pumping more liquidity into the financial system and channeling credit to small- and medium-sized firms, and Beijing looks set to further loosen monetary conditions to mitigate threats to growth from a heated Sino-U.S. trade war.

The world’s second-biggest economy has started to lose momentum this year as a government campaign to reduce a dangerous build-up of debt has lifted borrowing costs, hitting factory output, business investment and the property sector.

As an intensifying trade conflict raises risks to exporters and overall growth, many economists expect the central bank to further reduce reserve requirements in the coming months, on top of the three reductions made so far this year.

Benchmark rate unchanged

However, few see a cut in the benchmark policy rate this year, as authorities walk a fine line between keeping liquidity conditions supportive and preventing any destabilizing capital outflows that could put the skids on a fragile yuan currency.

On Wednesday, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) plans to introduce incentives that will boost the liquidity of commercial banks.

These are aimed at encouraging banks to expand lending and increase their investment in bonds issued by corporations and other entities, such as local government financing vehicles (LGFVs).

The PBOC has also been ensuring ample liquidity by allowing commercial banks to tap its Medium-Term Loan Facility (MLF), especially lenders that have invested in bonds rated AA+ and below, the source said.

The improved cash conditions have been reflected in reduced short-term borrowing costs for banks, with the country’s key seven-day money rate at 2.6409 percent Thursday, 37 basis points lower than recent highs at the end of June.

Economy expansion slows

The combination of lower interbank rates and the push to boost bank support should help to ease financing pressures for weaker firms, analysts said.

“This should spell good news for lower-grade bond markets which have been suffering from a flight to quality-grade bonds, and some firms have subsequently found access to liquidity difficult,” analysts at Everbright Sun Hung Kai said in a note.

China’s economy expanded a slower-than-expected 6.7 percent in the second quarter, and June factory output growth weakened to a two-year low as the trade dispute with the United States intensified.

To be sure, markets don’t expect aggressive policy loosening, given Beijing’s broad deleveraging pledge and fears that doing so could hit the yuan and trigger a spike in capital outflows.

Trade war worries have already weighed on the yuan, which hit a one-year low on Thursday.

Focus on small, medium businesses

A key focus is on small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which account for 80 percent of all jobs in China, and have suffered from rising borrowing costs and a shrinking credit pool amid Beijing’s three-year-long crackdown on off-balance sheet financing and a corporate debt build-up.

A trader at a state-run copper smelter in southern China told Reuters his firm has resorted to selling inventory to raise cash in light of the tougher financing conditions.

“Banks give, but the cost has gone up,” said the trader, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to comment on his firm’s finances.

While the PBOC did not respond to faxed questions about its plans, a Shanghai-based trader at an Asian bank said the bond market had seen a notable pick-up in the volume of trade of LGFV debt.

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Cyberattacks on 2018 US Political Campaigns Already Underway

Hackers targeted the campaigns of at least three candidates running for Congress in the upcoming 2018 U.S. elections, but the attacks were detected and thwarted, a Microsoft executive said Thursday.

The attempted attacks tried to use a fake Microsoft domain as a landing page for phishing attacks, said Tom Burt, Microsoft vice president for customer security and trust. He refused to name which candidates were targeted, citing privacy concerns.

“They were all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint, as well as an election disruption standpoint,” Burt told an audience at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado.

He also did not identify the source of the phishing attacks, though the tactic was similar to those used by Russian operatives to target the Republican and Democratic parties during their presidential nominating conventions in 2016.

Burt said Microsoft coordinated with the U.S. government and was able to take down the fake domains. He also said none of the campaign staffers targeted by the phishing attacks were infected.

​More attacks are coming

Thursday’s revelation came in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s news conference Monday in Helsinki, Finland, after his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump sided with Putin, supporting the Russian leader’s assertions that his country did not meddle with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Trump’s comments, which directly contradicted the findings of the U.S. intelligence community, have drawn harsh criticism from politicians, and former diplomatic and intelligence officials.

Current intelligence and security officials have warned repeatedly that not only was Russia responsible for meddling in the 2016 election, but that more attacks — both in the form of hacks and in the form of more subtle information operations — are coming.

Russia taking lead

“What we assessed and reassessed and have carefully gone over still stands,” U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said of Russia’s efforts.

“It’s undeniable that the Russians are taking the lead on this,” Coats added, speaking during an appearance at the same security forum. “They are the ones who are trying to undermine our basic values, divide us with our allies.”

But U.S. and private sector officials say that, at least to this point, Russian efforts to influence the 2018 elections appear to be somewhat subdued.

“We’re not seeing the targeting of the actual state and local election systems that we saw in 2016 right now,” said Jeanette Manfra, the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for cybersecurity.

New tools working

For now, some leading private sector technology and social media companies agree.

Facebook, which Russia used to run ads and false news stories as part of its 2016 influence campaign, thinks some of that could be related to more awareness and crackdowns on the fake accounts Russian-linked operatives had been using.

“The new tools that would identify and remove fake accounts like the IRA [Russia’s Internet Research Agency] was running, combined with the new requirements for transparency in advertising, are such that I think we’re not seeing that same conduct,” Monika Bickert, head of Facebook’s product policy and counterterrorism, said.

“But we are watching for that activity,” Bickert said.

Microsoft’s Burt is also cautious, despite his experts “not seeing the same level of activity by the Russian activity groups” as they did two years ago.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to see it,” he said. “There’s a lot of time left.”

“I think we should all be prepared, given that capability and will, that they’ll do it again,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warned Thursday. “We would be foolish to think they’re not.”

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Trump Administration Wants to Scrap Some Species Protection

The Trump administration wants to scrap automatic federal protection for threatened plants and animals, a move that would anger environmentalists but please industry.

A proposal unveiled Thursday would no longer grant threatened species the same instant protection given to endangered species. It would also limit what can be declared a critical habitat for such plants and animals.

Officials with the Interior Department and Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that they wanted to streamline regulations. They said current rules under the Endangered Species Act were inconsistent and confusing.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the new rules would still be very protective of endangered animals.

“At the same time, we hope that they ameliorate some of the unnecessary burden, conflict and uncertainty that is within our current regulatory structure,” he told reporters.

But conservationists called the changes a “wrecking ball” and a gift to big businesses.

“They could decide that building in a species habitat or logging in trees where birds nest doesn’t constitute harm,” the Center for Biological Diversity’s Noah Greenwald said.

Industries such as logging, mining and oil drilling have long complained that the Endangered Special Act has stopped them from gaining access to new sources of energy and has stifled economic development.

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US Seen Receiving Frosty Reception at G-20 Meeting

The financial leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies meet in Buenos Aires this weekend for the first time since long-simmering trade tensions burst into the open when China and the United States put tariffs on $34 billion of each other’s goods.

The United States will seek to persuade Japan and the European Union to join it in taking a more aggressive stance against Chinese trade practices at the G-20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank presidents, according to a senior U.S. Treasury Department official who spoke on condition on anonymity.

But those efforts will be complicated by frustration over U.S. steel and aluminum import tariffs on the EU and Canada. Both responded with retaliatory tariffs in an escalating trade conflict that has shaken markets and threatens global growth.

“U.S. trading partners are unlikely to be in a conciliatory mood,” said Eswar Prasad, international trade professor at Cornell University and former head of the International Monetary Fund’s China Division. “[U.S.] hostile actions against long-standing trading partners and allies have weakened its economic and geopolitical influence.”

At the close of the last G-20 meeting in Argentina in March, the financial leaders representing 75 percent of world trade and 85 percent of gross domestic product released a joint statement that rejected protectionism and urged “further dialogue,” to little concrete effect.

Since then, the United States and China have slapped tariffs on $34 billion of each other’s imports and U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened further tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods unless Beijing agrees to change its intellectual property practices and high-technology industrial subsidy plans.

Trump has said the U.S. tariffs aim to close the $335 billion annual U.S. trade deficit with China.

U.S. Treasury Minister Steven Mnuchin has no plans for a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Buenos Aires, a U.S official said this week.

Growth concerns

Rising trade tensions have led to concerns within the Japanese government over currency volatility, said a senior Japanese G-20 official who declined to be named. Such volatility could prompt an appreciation in the safe-haven yen and threaten Japanese exports.

Trump’s metals tariffs prompted trade partners to retaliate with their own tariffs on U.S. goods ranging from whiskey to motorcycles. The United States has said it will challenge those tariffs at the World Trade Organization.

The EU finance ministers signed a joint text last week that will form their mandate for this weekend’s meeting, criticizing “unilateral” U.S. trade actions, Reuters reported. The ministers will stress that trade restrictions “hurt everyone,” a German official said.

In a briefing note prepared for the G-20 participants, the International Monetary Fund said if all of Trump’s threatened tariffs — and equal retaliation — went into effect, the global economy could lose up to 0.5 percent of GDP, or $430 billion, by 2020.

Global growth also may have peaked at 3.9 percent for 2018 and 2019, and downside risks have risen due to the tariff spat, the IMF said.

“While all countries will ultimately be worse off in a trade conflict, the U.S. economy is especially vulnerable,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “Policymakers can use this G-20 meeting to move past

self-defeating tit-for-tat tariffs.”

Trade is not on host country Argentina’s published agenda for the July 21-22 ministerial, which focuses on the “future of work” and infrastructure finance. But it will likely be discussed during a slot devoted to risks facing the global

economy, much as in March, according to an Argentine official involved in G-20 preparations, who asked not be named.

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Trump Slams Record EU Fine Against Google

President Donald Trump lashed out Thursday after Brussels hit US tech giant Google with a record fine, and warned he would no longer allow Europe to take “advantage” of the United States.

“I told you so! The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google,” Trump tweeted in reaction to the 4.34 billion euro penalty imposed on Google for abusing the dominance of its mobile operating system.

“They truly have taken advantage of the US, but not for long!” he said.

In announcing the fine on Wednesday, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager accused Google of using the Android system’s near-stranglehold on smartphones and tablets to promote the use of its own Google search engine while shutting out rivals.

The decision, which followed a three-year EU investigation, comes as fears of a transatlantic trade war mount because of President Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on European steel and aluminum exports.

The new sanction nearly doubles the previous record EU antitrust fine of 2.4 billion euros, which also targeted Google, in that case for the Silicon Valley titan’s shopping comparison service in 2017.

Denmark’s Vestager ordered Google to “put an effective end to this conduct within 90 days or face penalty payments” of up to five percent of its average daily turnover.

The Google decision came one week before European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker was due to travel to the United States for crucial talks with the American president on the tariffs dispute and other issues.

Google chief Sundar Pichai immediately said the firm would appeal.

“Today’s decision rejects the business model that supports Android, which has created more choice for everyone, not less. We intend to appeal,” he said in a blog post.

Google provides Android free to smartphone manufacturers and generates most of its revenue from selling advertisements that appear along with search results.

The EU says Android is used on around 80 percent of mobile devices, both in Europe and worldwide.

The Android case originated when a lobbying group called FairSearch — with members then including huge tech companies like Microsoft, Nokia and Oracle — complained that Google was unfairly tilting the field of competition.

Google’s parent company Alphabet ranked as the fifth largest information technology company in the world in 2017, with global revenue of $111 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

That figure represented a doubling in global revenue in only four years.

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