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Nerves stretched, China data dump kicks off key week By Reuters

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© Reuters. Cars travel past a display showing Shanghai and Shenzhen stock indexes near the Shanghai Tower and other skyscrapers at the Lujiazui financial district in Shanghai, China February 5, 2024. REUTERS/Xihao Jiang

By Jamie McGeever

(Reuters) – A look at the day ahead in Asian markets.

A batch of top-tier Chinese economic data releases gets Asian markets underway on Monday, with sentiment pretty fragile after last week’s global market wobble and as investors brace for U.S. and Japanese policy decisions later in the week.

Asian equity markets are on the defensive. The index’s 1.4% slump on Friday – its steepest since January – sealed its biggest weekly loss in two months, while 225 lost 2.5% for its biggest weekly loss this year.

The sharp rebound in U.S. bond yields is taking its toll on risk appetite, and was probably the main catalyst for the selloff in global stocks last week.

The ICE BofA U.S. Treasuries index fell every day last week, its worst run since August resulting in the biggest weekly fall since October. The two-year yield rose 24 basis points, almost the equivalent of a quarter-point rate hike.

The Asia and Pacific calendar this week is packed with hugely important economic data releases and central bank policy meetings, none more so than the Bank of Japan’s two-day meeting that starts on Monday.

Expectations are high that the BOJ will raise interest rates for the first time since 2007, bringing the curtain down on eight years of ‘negative interest rate policy’, or NIRP.

Japan’s biggest companies agreed to raise wages by 5.28% for 2024, the heftiest pay hikes in 33 years, the country’s largest union group said on Friday, reinforcing views that policymakers will make their historic move on Tuesday.

Sources have also told Reuters that the BOJ will offer guidance on how much government bonds it will buy upon ending NIRP and yield curve control (YCC), to avoid causing market disruptions.

Policy decisions from the central banks of China, Australia, Indonesia and Taiwan are also on tap this week, as are inflation figures from Japan and New Zealand’s fourth-quarter GDP report.

The week kicks off on Monday, though, with four key indicators from China – business investment, retail sales, industrial production and unemployment.

Some green shoots of recovery in China are gradually becoming visible. There are signs that capital is no longer flooding out the country, stocks have recovered, and some economic data is improving – China’s economic surprises index is the highest since October.

But the road to recovery will be long and rocky. Figures last week showed that house prices fell at their fastest annual rate in over a year, and new bank lending growth fell to the lowest on record.

Figures on Monday are expected to show that business investment growth in February ticked up to 3.2%, industrial output growth slowed to 5.0% and retail sales also slowed to 5.2% from the month before. These are all year-on-year measures.

Here are key developments that could provide more direction to markets on Monday:

– China ‘data dump’ (February)

– Japan machinery orders (January)

– Malaysia trade (February)

(By Jamie McGeever; Editing by Aurora Ellis)



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Ex-Post Office boss regrets ‘missed opportunity’ to halt Horizon scandal

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“On reflection, and I have reflected on this very hard, when I finished being the Horizon programme director [in early 2000] it would have been very beneficial if I had notified both the lawyers and the [investigations team] that Horizon was a new system coming in, and that they should be very cautious about evidence coming out of that system,” he said.



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Sri Lanka’s economic crisis and debt restructuring efforts By Reuters

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COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s government rejected a proposal from its international bondholders on Tuesday on restructuring the more than $12 billion the country owes to them.

It means a near two-year spell in default will drag on for Sri Lanka and that the country’s next tranche of vital IMF support money could potentially get delayed.

Below is a timeline of the key events in the crisis and the efforts to resolve it:

2021-2022: Sri Lanka’s economy crumbles after years of overspending leaves its foreign exchange reserves critically low and the government unable to pay for essentials, such as fuel and medicine.

The country’s bonds suffer from multiple downgrades by credit rating agencies warning of the increasing risk of default. At the start of 2022 it manages to make a $500 million bond payment but it leaves its foreign exchange reserves precariously low.

MAY, 2022 – Sri Lanka is declared in default after it fails to make a smaller $78 million bond coupon payment.

JULY, 2022 – Public anger drives protesters to storm then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office and residence. Rajapaksa flees to the Maldives, before moving on to Singapore.

Current President Ranil Wickremesinghe is voted into power by Sri Lankan lawmakers.

MARCH, 2023 – The International Monetary Fund approves a near $3 billion bailout for Sri Lanka after talks with Wickremesinghe’s government and assurances about its plans to repair the country’s finances.

OCTOBER, 2023

Sri Lanka announces an agreement with China’s EXIM (export/import) Bank to delay payments on about $4.2 billion worth of loans the Chinese lender it has extended to the country.

NOVEMBER, 2023

Other creditor nations including India, Japan and France agree to restructure about $5.9 billion in debt.

MARCH, 2024

A group of Sri Lankan officials arrives in London to meet with a number of investment funds that hold its more than $12 billion worth of government bonds. Talks advance to the key “restricted” phase where proposals are discussed privately and those involved agree not to buy or sell any of the debt on the open market.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A general view of the main business district as rain clouds gather above in Colombo, Sri Lanka, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo

APRIL, 2024

The government rejects a proposal tabled by the bondholders. The main stumbling blocks are that some the “baseline” assumptions used differ to those of the IMF and that the plan did not include a contingency option for the government in case the economy fails to recover as expected.





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AI could gobble up a quarter of all electricity in the U.S. by 2030 if it doesn’t break its addiction

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Before artificial intelligence can transform society, the technology will first have to learn how to live within its means.

Right now generative AI have an “insatiable demand” for electricity to power the tens of thousands of compute clusters needed to operate large language models like OpenAI’s GPT-4, warned chief marketing officer Ami Badani from chip design company Arm Holdings. 

If generative AI is ever going to be able to run on every mobile device from a laptop and tablet to a smartphone, it will have to be able to scale without overwhelming the electricity grid at the same time.

“We won’t be able to continue the advancements of AI without addressing power,” Badani told Fortune’s Brainstorm AI conference in London on Monday. “ChatGPT requires 15 times more energy than a traditional web search.” 

Not only are more businesses using generative AI, but the tech industry is in a race to develop new and more powerful tools that will mean compute demand is only going to grow—and power consumption with it, unless something can be done. 

The latest breakthrough from OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, is Sora. It can create super realistic or stylized clips of video footage up to 60 seconds in length purely based on user text prompts. 

The marvel of GenAI comes at a steep cost

“It takes a 100,000 AI chips working at full compute capacity and full power consumption in order to train Sora,” Badani said. “That’s a huge amount.” 

Data centers, where most AI models are trained, currently account for 2% of global electricity consumption, according to Badani. But with generative AI expected to go mainstream, she predicts it could end up devouring a quarter of all power in the United States in 2030.

The solution to this conundrum is to develop semiconductor chips that are optimized to run on a minimum of energy.

That’s where Arm comes in: its RISC processor designs currently run on 99% of all smartphones, as opposed to the rival x86 architecture developed by Intel. The latter has been a standard for desktop PCs, but proved too inefficient to run battery-powered handheld devices like smartphones and tablets. 

Arm is adopting that same design philosophy for AI.

“If you think about AI, it comes with a cost,” Badani said, “and that cost is unfortunately power.”  

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