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Airbnb bookings jump 52% as vaccinations spur vacation rental demand

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By Sanjana Shivdas

(Reuters) – Airbnb Inc beat Wall Street expectations for first-quarter gross bookings and revenue on Thursday, as speedy COVID-19 vaccinations and easing restrictions encouraged more people to check into its vacation rentals.

Gross bookings jumped 52% to $10.29 billion in the quarter, easily beating analysts’ estimates of $6.93 billion.

“For guests aged 60 and above in the U.S., who were amongst the first groups to benefit from vaccine rollouts, searches on our platform for summer travel increased by more than 60% between February and March 2021,” Airbnb said.

The San Francisco-based company expects second-quarter revenue to be similar to 2019 levels, adding that the return of urban and cross-border travel is likely to underpin growth over the coming quarters.

Airbnb is also set to benefit from demand for longer stays and a shift to traveling in groups by business travelers, Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky said on a post-earnings call.

The company has weathered the pandemic better than rivals as people turned to its offering of larger spaces and locations away from major cities in the era of social distancing.

It recorded a surge in bookings in Britain after the government laid down plans in February to exit lockdown, while the easing of travel restrictions in France earlier this month also lifted demand.

Airbnb, however, said it was too early to predict if the recovery momentum would continue at the same pace in the second half of 2021.

Its revenue rose 5.4% to $886.9 million in the first quarter ended March 31, exceeding estimates of $714.4 million, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

Adjusted loss before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization narrowed to $59 million, from $334 million a year earlier, largely due to cost cuts.

(Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/airbnb-bookings-jump-52-vaccinations-spur-vacation-rental-demand/14654

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Exclusive-Pacific undersea cable project sinks after U.S. warns against Chinese participation

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By Jonathan Barrett and Yew Lun Tian

SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) – A World Bank-led project declined to award a contract to lay sensitive undersea communications cables after Pacific island governments heeded U.S. warnings that participation of a Chinese company posed a security threat, two sources told Reuters.

The former Huawei Marine Networks, now called HMN Technologies and majority owned by Shanghai-listed Hengtong Optic-Electric Co Ltd, submitted a bid for the $72.6 million project priced at more than 20% below rivals Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN), part of Finland’s Nokia, and Japan’s NEC, the sources said.

The East Micronesia Cable system was designed to improve communications in the island nations of Nauru, Kiribati and Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), by providing underwater infrastructure with a far greater data capacity than satellites.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the tender told Reuters that the project reached a stalemate due to security concerns raised within the island nations over HMN Tech’s bid. The project’s planned connection to a sensitive cable leading to Guam, a U.S. territory with substantial military assets, heightened those security concerns.

“Given there was no tangible way to remove Huawei as one of the bidders, all three bids were deemed non-compliant,” one of those sources said.

The source said that HMN Tech was in a strong position to win the bid due to the terms overseen by the development agencies, prompting those wary of Chinese involvement to find an expedient solution to end the tender.

The World Bank said in a statement to Reuters that it was working with the respective governments to map out the next steps.

“The process has concluded without an award due to non-responsiveness to the requirements of the bidding documents,” the Washington-based multilateral lender said.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters that all parties should provide a non-discriminatory business environment that companies from all countries, including China, can participate in.

“As a matter of principle, I want to emphasise that Chinese companies have always maintained an excellent record in cyber security,” the spokesperson said.

“The Chinese government has always encouraged Chinese companies to engage in foreign investment and cooperation according to market principles, international regulations and local laws.”

The three island nations involved in the project were represented on the bid assessment committee. Development agencies typically review the committee’s recommendations to ensure the selected bidder complies with the agencies’ policies and procedures.

A second development bank involved in the project, the Asian Development Bank, referred questions from Reuters to the World Bank as the lead agency.

HMN Tech and Hengtong Group, the parent company, did not respond to emailed questions. A representative who answered the phone at HMN Tech declined to comment.

A spokesman for Nokia-owned ASN told Reuters the company was not authorised to comment on confidential information. NEC did not respond to questions. (Graphic: Submarine Cables in the Pacific, https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-PACIFIC/dgkvlqbmmpb/SUBMARINE-CABLES.jpg)

U.S. CONCERNS

During the bidding process last year, Washington detailed its concerns in a diplomatic note sent to FSM, which has military defence arrangements with the United States under a decades-old agreement.

The note said Chinese firms posed a security threat because they are required to co-operate with Beijing’s intelligence and security services, an assertion rejected by China.

In separate correspondence, prominent U.S. lawmakers warned that the Chinese government subsidises companies, undermining tenders like those run by development agencies.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to questions on Thursday.

While the warnings were issued during the Trump administration, there’s been no apparent change to the U.S. position on the issue under the new government.

The project was designed to connect to the HANTRU-1 undersea cable, a line primarily used by the U.S. government that connects to Guam.

Washington has pressed governments around the world to squeeze Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies out of supplying critical infrastructure, alleging the company would hand over data to the Chinese government for spying, a charge consistently denied by the company.

The U.S. Commerce Department publicly lists Huawei Marine on its so-called “Entity List” – known as a blacklist – which restricts the sale of U.S. goods and technology to the company. The Department did not immediately respond to questions on whether the change in Huawei Marine’s ownership changed this status.

Nauru, which has strong ties to Australia and is a Pacific ally to Taiwan, initially raised concerns over the bid lodged by the Chinese company.

The third island nation involved in the project, Kiribati, has forged strong bilateral ties with Beijing in recent years, which includes drawing up plans to upgrade a remote airstrip.

A spokesman for FSM said the government was unable to comment on the project. Representatives of Nauru and Kiribati did not respond to questions.

(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/exclusive-pacific-undersea-cable-project-sinks-us-warns-chinese-participation/15578

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Japan industry minister says Harvard fund thanked adviser

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Harvard University’s endowment fund thanked a Japanese government adviser for advice, the industry minister said on Friday, in response to a probe that found a government adviser was involved in putting pressure on the fund.

The comments from Hiroshi Kajiyama come as the industry ministry has been under scrutiny about the pressure put on foreign shareholders of Toshiba Corp, and the role of a former adviser, Hiromichi Mizuno.

Kajiyama said Harvard thanked Mizuno for his advice. (This story corrects to clarify Hiroshi Kajiyama said Harvard fund thanked adviser, not government)

(Reporting by Ritsuko Shimizu; Editing by David Dolan)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/japan-industry-minister-says-harvard-fund-thanked-adviser/15577

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Taiwan allows Foxconn’s Gou, TSMC to negotiate for vaccines

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TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan is willing to allow Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Taiwan’s Foxconn, and TSMC to negotiate on the government’s behalf for COVID-19 vaccines, a spokesman said on Friday, but warned he couldn’t guarantee success.

Taiwan is trying to speed up the arrival of the millions of vaccines it has on order as it deals with a spike in domestic cases, although infections remain comparatively low. Only around 5% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people have received at least one of the two-shot coronavirus vaccine regimen.

The government has come under pressure to allow private firms to buy vaccines, and said while it welcomes the idea and is willing to help, they have to provide proof from vaccine producers they have shots and are willing to sell them.

Speaking to reporters after Gou said he was seeking a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen to discuss his plans to buy 5 million shots from Germany’s BioNTech SE, Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng said Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC) wanted to donate an equal amount.

Lo said BioNTech had told Gou, who wants to make the purchase through his Yonglin Education Foundation, on Wednesday they will only sell vaccines to governments.

“A good method is for the government to, under this framework, authorise TSMC and the Yonglin Education Foundation to buy them and then donate to the government,” he said.

He said the government was, with the help of the German government, continuing its own talks with BioNTech, adding there was no guarantee Gou or anyone else would succeed.

“Even if Mr. Gou can discuss this with the original manufacturer or an agent, can he get them to sell sufficient vaccines? Honestly, nobody knows.”

Earlier on Friday, Gou said he wanted to meet Tsai to discuss the proposal and that he had “absolutely no political or commercial intentions in this matter”.

TSMC said it “confirmed the initiative”, but offered no other details. BioNTech did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Taiwan’s own deal with BioNTech fell through this year, with the government blaming it on pressure from Beijing.

China has denied the accusation, saying Taiwan is free to obtain the vaccines through Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd, which has a contract with BioNTech to sell the vaccines in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Taiwan says it has and will only deal with BioNTech in Germany as it does not trust vaccines from China.

Gou’s spokesperson Amanda Liu told reporters that Gou had held talks with “all partners” on the vaccine purchase idea, and had proposed signing a deal with Fosun’s Swiss or Hong Kong branches to avoid political problems.

Japan donated 1.24 million AstraZeneca Plc shots to Taiwan this month and the United States has pledged 750,000 doses, although it has not given details, all on top of vaccines Taiwan has already ordered.

Another 240,000 Moderna Inc doses will arrive in Taiwan later on Friday.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Christopher Cushing)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/taiwan-allows-foxconns-gou-tsmc-negotiate-vaccines/15576

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China new energy vehicle sales to grow over 40%/yr in next 5 years -industry body

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) -China’s new energy vehicle (NEV) sales are expected to grow more than 40% each year in the next five years, a senior official at the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said on Friday.

Fu Bingfeng, executive vice chairman of CAAM, made the remarks at a conference held by the industry body in Shanghai.

Fu’s presentation showed that CAAM forecasts sales of NEVs, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, to hit 1.9 million units this year and 2.7 million vehicles in 2022.

NEV makers, such as Tesla Inc, Nio Inc, Xpeng Inc and BYD, are expanding manufacturing capacity in China, encouraged by the government’s promotion of greener vehicles to cut pollution.

China could extend tax exemptions on NEV purchases beyond 2022 to support development of the sector, Wan Gang, a high-ranking government industrial policy adviser who is often referred to in state media as China’s “father of EV”, said at the same CAAM conference.

Shares in China’s NEV-related companies climbed after the forecast.

Top battery maker CATL gained 3.7%. Hunan Zhongke Electric Co Ltd, Ningbo Rongbay New Energy Technology Co Ltd, Guangzhou Tinci Materials Technology Co Ltd and BYD climbed between 2.9% and 10%.

(Reporting by Yilei Sun and Tony Munroe; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/china-new-energy-vehicle-sales-grow-40yr-next-5-years-industry-body/15575

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