Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, held onto his status as China’s richest tycoon this year as surging demand for online shopping and other services during the coronavirus pandemic swelled the fortunes of internet entrepreneurs, according to a survey released Tuesday.
Ma’s fortune rose 45% percent over 2019 to $58.8 billion, according to Hurun Research Institute, which follows the country’s wealthy.
Ma Huateng, founder of Tencent, which operates the popular WeChat messaging service, was No. 2 at $57.4 billion, up 50%. Debuting at No. 3 was Zhong Shanshan, chairman of bottled water brand Nongfu Spring, with $53.7 billion following his company’s Hong Kong stock market debut in September.
Rising share prices created an average of five new Chinese entrepreneurs worth at least $1 billion every week over the past year, according to Hurun’s founder, Rupert Hoogewerf.
“The world has never seen this much wealth created in just one year,” said Hoogewerf in a statement. “China’s entrepreneurs have done much better than expected. Despite Covid-19 they have risen to record levels.”
The richest woman on the list was Yang Huiyan of real estate developer Country Garden. She was No. 6 at $33 billion, up 29% from last year.
Rankings of China’s richest change abruptly from year to year as real estate, technology and other industries rise and fall in the fast-evolving economy.
This year, the coronavirus boosted the fortunes of Alibaba’s Ma and other internet entrepreneurs as the shutdown of the Chinese economy to fight the virus propelled demand for online shopping and business tools.
Eric Yuan of California-based video conference platform Zoom rose more than $10 billion to $16.2 billion. Li Yongxin of Offcn, an online work training platform, more than doubled to $20.6 billion. Chen Xiangdong of tutoring platform Genshuixue rose eightfold to $11.8 billion.
Ma, 56, retired as Alibaba chairman last year and also is a shareholder in Ant Group, a payments service spun off from Alibaba. It is preparing for a public share offering after being valued at $150 billion in a 2017 private financing round, which will add to Ma’s fortune.
Entrepreneurs in electric cars, an industry the ruling Communist Party is promoting, also saw their fortunes swell.
Zeng Yuqun of battery producer CATL tripled to $17.6 billion. He Xiaopeng of electric car brand Xpeng, rose 80% to $6.6 billion following a stock market debut in New York. Li Bin of NIO rose 300% to $3.5 billion.
Business leaders who tumbled down the list included Ren Zhengfei, founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei. U.S. export controls imposed in a feud with Beijing over technology and security threaten to cripple its sales of smartphones and switching equipment. Ren’s net worth declined 10% to $2.8 billion, according to Hurun.
Lei Jun of rival smartphone brand Xiaomi saw his fortune more than double to $25 billion as its share price surged, possibly boosted by expectations sales will benefit from Huawei’s troubles.
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed nearly all Mideast nations into the throes of an economic recession this year, yet some rebound is expected as all but two — Lebanon and Oman — are anticipated to see some level of economic growth next year, according to a report published Monday by the International Monetary Fund.
This comes as the IMF estimates that the global economy will shrink 4.4% this year, marking the worst annual plunge since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Well before the coronavirus swept across the globe, several Mideast countries had been struggling with issues ranging from lower oil prices and sluggish economic growth to corruption and high unemployment.
The IMF projects the Lebanese economy will see one of the region’s sharpest economic contractions this year at 25%. The pandemic has only pushed the country further to the brink after a wave of anti-government anger before the virus struck.
Lebanese demonstrators were protesting government corruption, foreign exchange shortages, hyperinflation, constant electricity cuts and increasing poverty. The currency has dropped by 70% compared to the end of last year, with people struggling to afford basic goods. A devastating explosion at Beirut’s main port in August killed at least 180 people, injured more than 6,000 and destroyed entire neighborhoods. The blast left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.
While Mideast nations have seen fewer confirmed cases and deaths from the virus than countries in Europe and the U.S., the region still faces challenges in containing the disease.
“Risks of a worse-than-projected scenario loom large, particularly given recent surges in COVID-19 infections in many countries around the world that have reopened,” the IMF warned.
Iran, for example, recorded its highest daily death tolls from the virus last week. Its economy shrank by 6.5% last year and is projected to contract by another 5% this year. The IMF, however, expects Iran’s economy to rebound with 3.2% growth next year, based in part on the government’s future capacity to manage the virus, which it thus far as has struggled to do.
“Iran was among the first countries to become an epicenter of COVID-19 and we are now in the third wave of the pandemic, and this was on top of an economy that has been underperforming because of (U.S.) sanctions,” Jihad Azour, director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF, told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, wealthy Mideast oil exporters are expected to see their economies contract by 6.6% in 2020, the IMF said. Gulf Arab states, however, are expected to see average economic growth of 2.3% next year. The IMF says it projections are based on assumptions that the price of oil averages $41.69 a barrel in 2020 and will rise to $46.70 a barrel in 2021.
The IMF revised its gloomy estimate of Saudi Arabia’s economic contraction down from 6.8% to 5.4%. As one of the world’s largest oil producers and top 20 largest economies, the kingdom took the bold step this year of trying to shore up more revenue by tripling value-added tax to 15% and increasing customs duties.
Egypt was the sole outlier in the region, experiencing modest growth of 3.5% this year after more than 5% growth annually for past two years as lower energy prices help it as an oil importer. Still, Egypt faces challenges with its massive population and as tourism revenues remain sluggish.
The IMF, known for its bullish stance on taxes and subsidy cuts, has largely suspended its calls for belt-tightening austerity measures as people struggle under the weight of lockdowns and job losses. The IMF said “in general, tax increases would be more effective after the crisis” as such measures “will likely be a drag on the recovery and invite larger fiscal costs in the future.”
The international lender is calling on countries to focus their immediate priorities on ensuring adequate resources for health care and correctly targeting support programs to the most-vulnerable people.
Meanwhile, other Mideast oil exporters like the United Arab Emirates, home to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, will see an economic contraction of more than 6% this year, while Oman’s economy is projected to shrink by 10%. Iraq faces a recession of 12%, the IMF said.
The World Bank estimates the pandemic has thrown between 88 million and 114 million people into extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day.
According to the International Labor Organization, working hours in Arab states declined by 1.8% during the first quarter of 2020, equivalent to about 1 million full-time jobs. That number jumped to 10.3% in the second quarter, equivalent to about 6 million full-time jobs.
While Mideast states have rushed to provide various forms of support to their own citizens amid the pandemic, the impact from the virus has been acutely felt by many of the millions of low-wage laborers who hail mostly from South Asia and reside in the region. Their families back home rely on their salaries for survival.
Azour said Gulf Arab states alone provide 18% of global remittances. He said these countries should use the moment “to modernize labor laws” by providing support to all laborers in their countries.
China’s shaky economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is gaining strength as consumers return to shopping malls and auto dealerships while the United States and Europe endure painful contractions.
The world’s second-largest economy expanded by 4.9% over a year ago in the three months ending in September, official data showed Monday. Retail spending rebounded to above pre-virus levels for the first time and factory output rose, boosted by demand for exports of masks and other medical supplies.
The recovery is broadening out and becoming less reliant on government stimulus, Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said in a report. He said growth is “still accelerating” heading into the present quarter.
China, where the pandemic began in December, became the first major economy to return to growth after the ruling Communist Party declared the disease under control in March and began reopening factories, shops and offices.
It is the only major economy that is expected to grow this year while activity in the United States, Europe and Japan shrinks.
The Chinese economy expanded by 3.2% over a year earlier in the three months ending in June, rebounding from the previous quarter’s 6.8% contraction, its worst performance since at least the mid-1960s.
The economy “continued the steady recovery,” the National Bureau of Statistics said in a report. However, it warned, “the international environment is still complicated and severe.” It said China faces great pressure to prevent a resurgence of the virus.
Authorities have lifted curbs on travel and business but visitors to government and other public buildings still are checked for the virus’s telltale fever. Travelers arriving from abroad must be quarantined for two weeks.
Last week, more than 10 million people were tested for the virus in the eastern port of Qingdao after 12 cases were found there. That broke a two-month streak with no virus transmissions reported within China.
Industrial production rose 5.8% over the same quarter last year, a marked improvement over the first half’s 1.3% contraction. Chinese exporters are taking market share from foreign competitors that still are hampered by anti-virus controls.
Retail sales rose 0.9% over a year earlier. That was up from a 7.2% contraction in the first half as consumers, already anxious about a slowing economy and a tariff war with Washington, put off buying. Online commerce rose 15.3%.
In a sign demand is accelerating, sales in September rose 3.3%.
“China’s recovery in private consumption is gathering momentum,” said Stephen Innes of AxiCorp in a report.
China has reported 4,634 coronavirus deaths and 85,685 confirmed cases, plus three suspected cases.
Economists say China is likely to recover faster than other major economies due to the ruling party’s decision to impose the most intensive anti-disease measures in history. Those temporarily cut off most access to cities with a total of 60 million people.
The International Monetary Fund is forecasting China’s economic growth at 1.8% this year while the U.S. economy is expected to shrink by 4.3%. The IMF expects a 9.8% contraction in France, 6% in Germany and 5.3% in Japan.
Private sector analysts say as much as 30% of China’s urban workforce, or up to 130 million people, may have lost their jobs at least temporarily. They say as many as 25 million jobs might be lost for good this year.
The ruling party promised in May to spend $280 billion on meeting goals including creating 9 million new jobs. But it has avoided joining the United States and Japan in rolling out stimulus packages of $1 trillion or more due to concern about adding to already high Chinese debt.
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Disney theme Park on Tuesday decided to lay-off 28,000 people in the United States as the coronavirus pandemic hits its parks and resorts business.
Around 67 percent employees who are losing their jobs are part-timers, Disney sayd, reports CNN.
Disney has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic in many ways, but its theme parks and resort business has arguably taken the biggest hit of all. Disney's parks unit which brought in more than $26 billion in fiscal 2019, was crushed during the second quarter of this year.
The segment's operating profit fell 58 percent compared with the previous year, and Disney reported a loss of billion dollars in profit just a few weeks into the global health crisis.
Disney Parks Chairman Josh D'Amaro defended the staffing cuts as “necessary” citing the "prolonged impact" of coronavirus on business. That included "limited capacity due to physical distancing requirements and the continued uncertainty regarding the duration of the pandemic."
In a statement, D'Amaro said that Disney's employees have always "been the key to our success, playing a valued and important role in delivering a world-class experience".
"We look forward to providing opportunities where we can for them to return," he said.
The Disney theme parks have been closed globally during the Covid-19 pandemic, hampering its business.
According to the sources, 67 percent of the employees laid off will be part-time workers and the cuts will also affect the Disney's Parks, Experiences and Products unit and more than 100,000 US employees are working in the Disney Parks and resorts division.
Due to the pandemic, the company’s profit dropped 91 percent during the first three months of 2020.
D'Amaro also blamed the state of California for its "unwillingness to lift restrictions” that would allow Disneyland to reopen. "Disneyland and California Adventure, the company's flagship resorts in California, have been closed since March.
Disney World, the company's resort in Florida, closed its doors in March as well, but they began their operation for its parks in July.
The resort reopened with safety protocols and health measures that included reduced capacity at its parks and requiring all employees and guests to wear masks.
Disney notified its employees in April that because of coronavirus it would furlough employees "whose jobs aren't necessary at this time" starting on April 19.
"As you can imagine, a decision of this magnitude is not easy," D'Amaro wrote in a memo to employees that was obtained by CNN Business. "We've cut expenses, suspended capital projects, furloughed our cast members while still paying benefits, and modified our operations to run as efficiently as possible, however, we simply cannot responsibly stay fully staffed while operating at such limited capacity."
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Tuesday said that it has been forced to halt its India operations after the government froze several of the organisation’s bank accounts.
The watchdog has also accused the government of indulging in a "witch-hunt of human rights organisations", reports BBC.
Amnesty says its bank accounts have been frozen and it's been forced to lay off staff in the country, and suspend all its campaign and research work.
“The complete freezing of Amnesty International India’s bank accounts by the Government of India which it came to know on 10 September 2020, brings all the work being done by the organization to a grinding halt,” the organisation said in a statement on its website, reports Hindustan Times.
The government is yet to respond to the allegations.
Amnesty further claimed that it has been compelled to let go of staff in India and pause all ongoing campaign and research work.
“For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.
The statement also claimed that Amnesty India stands in full compliance with all applicable Indian and international laws.
"We are facing a rather unprecedented situation in India. Amnesty International India has been facing an onslaught of attacks, bullying and harassment by the government in a very systematic manner," Rajat Khosla, the group's senior director of research, advocacy and policy, told the BBC.
"This is all down to the human rights work that we were doing and the government not wanting to answer questions we raised, whether it's in terms of our investigations into the Delhi riots, or the silencing of voices in Jammu and Kashmir."
In a report released last month, the group said police in the Indian capital, Delhi, committed human rights violations during deadly religious riots between Hindus and Muslims in February.
Rebutting the claims, the Delhi police told The Hindu newspaper that Amnesty's report was "lopsided, biased and malicious".
Earlier in August, on the first anniversary of the revocation of Indian-administered Kashmir's special status, Amnesty had called for the release of all detained political leaders, activists and journalists, and for the resumption of high-speed internet services in the region.
In 2019, the watchdog testified before the US Foreign Affairs Committee during a hearing on human rights in South Asia, where it highlighted its findings on arbitrary detentions, and the use of excessive force and torture in Kashmir.
Amnesty has also repeatedly condemned what it says is a crackdown on dissent in India.