China Overtakes U.S. as High Vacation spot for International Funding: Dwell Updates

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The tit-for-tat trade restrictions between China and the United States under the Trump administration, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, have given China a surprising edge.

China has for the first time surpassed the United States as the top place for foreign direct investment, an important measure of a country’s economic health.

Foreign investment in the United States fell by almost half, or 49 percent, in 2020 to $134 billion, according to figures released on Sunday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

The decline in the United States mostly centers on overall trade, financial services and mergers and acquisitions, the study indicated.

China, where the coronavirus outbreak was first detected, notched a slight 4 percent rise to $163 billion, led by investments in the country’s growing high-tech sector and in mergers and acquisitions. China, the world’s most populous nation, ordered strict lockdowns and masking requirements, rules that appear to have helped contain the spread of the virus within its borders.

Foreign direct investment plunged for most countries as they struggled to contain the virus. Investment in Europe was wiped out, and globally, the flow of foreign investment altogether fell by 42 percent.

Developed nations such as the United States are typically attractive destinations for such investments because of their skilled work force, open markets and consistently enforced regulations.

For years, China’s manufacturing prowess and its rising consumer base have attracted foreign companies such as Apple, but its stringent guidelines around foreign ownership of its companies and its sometimes unclear enforcement rules made such investments tricky.

But the surging clout of consumers has been hard for multinational corporations to ignore. As foreign investors set up shop, Chinese citizens bought and created enormous wealth. The country is stutter-stepping its way from becoming an economy driven by manufactured exports to one driven by its own consumers.

The United Nations group expects foreign direct investment across the globe to remain weak for 2021.

Credit…Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post, via Getty Images

Michael S. Barr, a law professor and former official in the Obama administration, is President Biden’s leading choice to become comptroller of the currency, a highly influential post that regulates banks.

As an assistant Treasury secretary under President Barack Obama, Mr. Barr helped shape the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform law, a sweeping regulatory act that subjects financial firms to stricter government oversight, a résumé bullet point that appears to certify him as a reformer.

Progressives, however, are less enamored, Emily Flitter writes in The New York Times. Some have pointed to Mr. Barr’s efforts to ease some of Dodd-Frank’s restrictions, such as the Volcker Rule, which prohibits banks from using customer money to make their own bets on the markets, as evidence that he might be more friendly to business.

His recent ties to the financial community, including advising a trade group that tries to influence legislators on behalf of fintech companies, have also come under scrutiny.

Several progressive groups have expressed support for a different candidate: Mehrsa Baradaran, a law professor who has studied the inequitable treatment that Black and poor people often receive from banks. One supporter of Ms. Baradaran even threatened to go on a hunger strike should Mr. Barr win the nomination.

The explosion in cryptocurrency and online banking has raised the stakes of the regulatory role. Fintech firms are lobbying for banking charters, and the wider circulation of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin will draw more regulatory review.

Getting a coronavirus test in Ahmedabad, India. A new study calls attention to the pandemic’s damage to supply chains that even wealthy nations depend on.Credit…Ajit Solanki/Associated Press

Wealthy nations have been hoarding the scant supplies of coronavirus vaccines in an effort to save lives and revive their devastated economies.

But to inoculate wealthy states while shutting out poor nations would be extremely costly, according to an academic study set to be published on Monday, Peter S. Goodman writes in The New York Times. In the most dire scenario, the global economy would lose more than $9 trillion — that’s more than the yearly output of Germany and Japan combined.

So far, a staggered rollout of the vaccine is playing out where so-called developed countries appear to be first in line. As they rush to fully vaccinate their citizens by the middle of this year, developing countries would be able to inject only half of their populations by the end of the year.

Even in that case, the world economy would suffer by as much as $3.8 trillion, and it is the wealthy nations such as the United States that would absorb the brunt of that loss.

The study was commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce, and it proffered a different solution. The equal distribution of vaccines to all countries would be in every country’s economic interests.

In a business universe that has become so globally interconnected that few, if any, industries operate in isolation, a staggered rollout of vaccines would cripple businesses worldwide. Companies large and small rely on supplies and customers from almost every continent, and to inoculate one group ahead of another would do nothing to free up the global flow of commerce.

At least one philanthropic group, the ACT Accelerator, is working to close the gap by trying to raise $38 billion to help developing nations get vaccines faster. So far, it has secured a commitment for only about $11 billion.

Credit…Till Lauer

Late-year tax changes approved by Congress are now forcing the I.R.S. to push back the start of tax filing season, reports The New York Times’s Ann Carrns.

Even so, the I.R.S. said, most taxpayers due a refund for the 2020 tax year will get it within three weeks if they file electronically and have the money deposited directly into their bank account. The average refund in recent years has been more than $2,500. Many families use refunds to pay bills or use it as a kind of forced savings plan.

Typically, the Internal Revenue Service begins accepting and processing individual income tax returns in late January. But the agency has pushed back the start of filing to Feb. 12 for returns for the tax year 2020.

The I.R.S. Free File program is ready to use now, if you are comfortable preparing your own tax return. Free File, a partnership between the I.R.S. and tax software companies, is available to people with adjusted gross income of $72,000 or less. The program offers free online preparation and filing of federal returns, but some providers charge fees for state returns. You can complete your return now, and it will be transmitted to the I.R.S. starting Feb. 12.

This is shaping up to be another challenging tax season for the Internal Revenue Service, which has struggled in recent years with reduced budgets that have forced it to make do with fewer workers and outdated computer systems. During the pandemic, it has also had the extra work of distributing stimulus checks.

Debenhams, a longtime chain of department stores in Britain, began holding closing-down sales last month.Credit…Oli Scarff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The British online fast-fashion retailer Boohoo said Monday it would buy the Debenhams brand name and website for 55 million pounds, or $75 million, a few weeks after the 242-year-old department store chain began to wind down its operations after going into administration in April.

The deal is the latest reflection of the seismic reordering underway in the global retail hierarchy caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Strong businesses with agile supply chains and e-commerce operations are growing stronger, while weaker — often older — rivals with large brick-and-mortar footprints and more traditional models have started to fall away.

Asos, another online fast-fashion retailer, confirmed Monday that it was in exclusive talks with administrators for Philip Green’s retail group Arcadia to buy its fashion brands portfolio, which includes Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT. Arcadia filed for bankruptcy protection late last year.

A closing-down sale at 124 Debenhams stores began in December, as the administrators continued to seek offers for all or parts of the business. Now Boohoo, known for its $5 bikinis and tie-ins with reality TV stars, will buy Debenhams’ intellectual property rights in a cash deal — though none of its stores or stock will be included. The company took the same approach when acquiring several other British brands teetering on bankruptcy, including Oasis and Karen Millen.

It said that Debenhams was expected to relaunch on Boohoo’s web platform in early 2022.

“Our acquisition of the Debenhams brand is strategically significant as it represents a huge step which accelerates our ambition to be a leader, not just in fashion e-commerce, but in new categories including beauty, sport and home ware,” said Boohoo’s executive chairman, Mahmud Kamani. “Our ambition is to create the U.K.’s largest marketplace.”

Neither Asos nor Boohoo are looking to acquire stores, so Debenhams’ remaining 118 department stores and more than 400 store sites occupied by Arcadia brands are likely to close for good, putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

Boohoo, co-founded by Mr. Kamani in Manchester in 2006, came under public scrutiny last year after investigations into working conditions at garment factories in Leicester found many workers were being paid less than the minimum wage.

  • S&P 500 futures fluctuated but suggested Wall Street’s main index would open slightly higher on Monday, after an upbeat mood in Asian markets faltered in European trading when new data showed a drop in business confidence.

  • Most European indexes were lower. The Stoxx Europe 600 fell 0.2 percent, led by losses in financial and energy companies. The CAC 40 in France dropped 0.5 percent, whole the DAX in Germany and FTSE 100 in Britain declined 0.3 percent. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong rose 2.4 percent to its highest level in two and a half years. Gains were driven by a 11 percent jump in Tencent shares after a company it backed announced an I.P.O.

  • In Europe, concerns are growing about the pace of the vaccination rollout. Drugmakers have said the European Union will face a significant delay to delivery in the first few months of the year and officials responded they would take legal action to get their contracts fulfilled.

  • In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, the latest surveys recorded a big decline in expectations for the economy. The Ifo business climate survey fell to its lowest in six months.

  • “With the current lockdown measures in place until mid-February and no significant easing in the offing immediately afterwards, the short-term outlook for the German economy is anything but rosy,” Carsten Brzeski, an economist at Dutch bank ING, wrote in a note.

  • In Britain, there has been a shake-up in the retail industry, with newer online brands sweeping up the old guard: Shares in Boohoo, the fast-fashion online retailer, jumped as much as 5.7 percent after it said it would buy the brand of Debenhams, a two-century-old chain of department stores that fell into insolvency last year. The stores are likely to be shut down.

  • Shares in ASOS, another online retailer, climbed as much as 6.4 percent after it confirmed it was in talks to buy some of Arcadia’s most popular brands, including Topshop, following the collapse of the downtown fixture.

  • In other financial markets, the U.S. dollar and gold prices were little changed. Oil futures rose, with West Texas Intermediate prices up 0.8 percent to $52.66 a barrel.

  • The Turkish-owned Godiva chocolatier announced iit would close or sell all 128 brick-and-mortar locations in North America by the end of the first quarter in response to the turmoil in retail wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. Its retail operations across Europe, the Middle East and Greater China will remain, and U.S. consumers will be able to continue to purchase online and at retail partners stores.

  • Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, will buy Ubitricity, a European provider of on-street charging points for electric vehicles, the companies said Monday. Shell and other oil giants are investing not only in cleaner energy sources like wind and solar but in infrastructure, like charging points for delivering it. Ubitricity, which was founded in Berlin and has a large presence in Britain, installs its plugs at lamp posts and other street features.

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