By Sybilla Gross and Alex Millson
President Donald Trump signed a bill into law that expresses U.S. support for Hong Kong protesters, a move that will strain relations with China and further complicate the president’s effort to wind down his trade war with Beijing. The legislation requires annual reviews of Hong Kong’s special trade status under American law, and sanctions against any officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses or undermining the city’s autonomy. China’s foreign ministry had urged Trump to prevent the legislation from becoming law, warning the Americans it “will take strong countermeasures” against it. The new U.S. law comes just as Washington and Beijing have shown signs of working toward what the White House calls a “phase-one” deal to ease the trade war.
What’s poised to be China’s biggest listing since 2015 faces a headwind: investors are losing interest in mainland stocks. State-owned lender Postal Savings Bank of China is looking to raise around 28.4 billion yuan ($4 billion) in what would be the largest onshore share sale since 2015. It follows a flurry of initial public offerings that have faded quickly, amid slumping trading activity and a steady decline in new stock accounts that signals a lack of exuberance in China’s market. One of China’s largest state-owned lenders, Postal Bank would potentially be the world’s fourth-largest listing this year behind Alibaba’s $11 billion share sale this month, Uber’s $8.1 billion IPO in May and that of Budweiser in September.
Concern is rising that Hong Kong has become a breeding ground for wild volatility after the third stock in a week suddenly lost most of its value. China First Capital Group, an investment company that focuses on financial and education services, plunged as much as 78% on Wednesday before trading was suspended. Last week, ArtGo Holdings slumped 98% after MSCI scrapped plans to add the stock to its benchmark indexes, citing concerns about investability. That same day, a Chinese furniture maker fell as much as 91% after a short-seller questioned the company’s accounting. While Hong Kong is no stranger to sudden stock slumps, the fresh wave of declines is once again putting the spotlight on corporate governance at the city’s listed companies.
U.S. futures slipped and the yen nudged higher after President Donald Trump signed a bill backing Hong Kong protesters. The yuan retreated. Futures pared gains in Japan as did shares in Sydney. Earlier, the S&P 500 hit a fresh record and the yield on 10-year Treasuries climbed after data on U.S. gross domestic product and claims for unemployment beat analysts’ expectations. The pound rose as a poll suggested the U.K.’s December election could deliver a large majority for the Conservative Party.
A spat between an Australian property manager and a Singapore rival that’s become its biggest investor is set to intensify when shareholders meet in Brisbane today. Australia’s Cromwell Property Group will adjust the makeup of its board at the annual general meeting, and it’s urging shareholders to vote against the election of Gary Weiss, who is backed by Singapore’s ARA Asset Management Ltd. The nomination comes as ARA pursues a campaign to change Cromwell’s business strategy and boost the stock’s value. Cromwell argues that ARA is trying to exert control without paying for the privilege, and with a future listing in mind. What’s more, Cromwell says Weiss is conflicted because he sits on the boards of companies including Straits Trading Co., which holds shares in ARA. For its part, ARA says Weiss isn’t involved in any commercial transactions or management that would result in conflicts.