Stock markets dive after Trump threat on China tariffs

People walk past a bank’s electronic board showing the Hong Kong share index at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange yesterday. (AP Photo)
Updated 06 May 2019
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Stock markets dive after Trump threat on China tariffs

  • The Shanghai index plunged more than 5 percent, with the Chinese yuan also taking a battering after the president threw a spanner into the high-level negotiations
  • European equities also dived, with key euro zone exchanges Frankfurt and Paris down by around 2 percent

PARIS/NEW YORK: President Donald Trump sent Asian and European markets plunging Monday after threatening to hike tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods at the end of the week in a bid to speed up stuttering trade talks between the economic superpowers.
The Shanghai index plunged more than 5 percent, with the Chinese yuan also taking a battering after the president threw a spanner into the high-level negotiations, which many observers were expecting to wrap up imminently.
“For 10 months, China has been paying Tariffs to the USA of 25 percent on 50 Billion Dollars of High Tech, and 10 percent on 200 Billion Dollars of other goods,” Trump tweeted Sunday night. “The 10 percent will go up to 25 percent on Friday.”
He added: “The Trade Deal with China continues, but too slowly, as they attempt to renegotiate. No!”
The warning will throw a shadow over the next round of talks ahead of a visit by a Chinese delegation to Washington this week.
European equities also dived, with key euro zone exchanges Frankfurt and Paris down by around 2 percent. London was closed for a public holiday.
However, while a number of news outlets reported that China was considering delaying or canceling the meeting, a foreign ministry spokesman said a delegation would head to the US as planned.
“Trump has taken the proverbial sledgehammer to the walnut this morning and the only two words likely to be on the minds of traders and investors this week are ‘trade talks’,” said OANDA senior market analyst Jeffrey Halley.
Shanghai shares sank 5.6 percent as investors returned for the first time since Tuesday. News that the People’s Bank of China would slash the amount of cash lenders must keep in reserve, to support small businesses, had little impact in the face of Trump’s warning.
Hong Kong tumbled 2.9 percent, Singapore was off 3.1 percent and Taipei shed 1.8 percent, while Sydney dropped 0.8 percent and Wellington was 1 percent down.
“Trade had been put to the side by many market participants,” said Andrew Tilton, chief Asia-Pacific economist at Goldman Sachs.
But Trump’s threat now “raises the specter of a significant hit to growth should these tariffs escalate and should the uncertainty associated with that weigh on investment going forward,” he told Bloomberg TV.
The yuan sank 1.3 percent at one point against the dollar, its heaviest fall in more than three years.
“Investors will remain bearish on the yuan, as they reprice in trade war risks because the new developments are a reversal of previous positive progress,” said Ken Cheung, senior foreign-exchange strategist at Mizuho Bank. “The news was unexpected.”
On oil markets, both main contracts were hammered by worries that a trade war between the world’s top two economies could hit demand.
However, Stephen Innes at SPI Asset Management remained positive.
“We do know the president tends to retreat from more aggressive displays, so I am viewing this thinly veiled threat as political posturing or a tactical decision to apply more pressure on China to put through a trade deal that aligns with the best USA economic interest at heart.
“Despite US-China trade talks hitting an apparent impasse based on (the) tweet, I think a deal will be signed shortly.”
Warren Buffett said on Monday that a trade war between the US and China would be “bad for the whole world.”
His conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway owns or invests in many companies that do business in China, including Apple, in which it has a more than $50 billion stake.
“If we actually have a trade war it will be bad for the whole world,” Buffett said. “With some people in negotiations, the best technique is to act half-crazy.”
A full-scale trade war “would be bad for everything Berkshire owns,” Buffett added, though the probability it might happen is low.
He added that Trump’s threat raises the stakes for Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“You’re talking about two personalities who are very much used to getting their way in politics, and talking about how they will be perceived in their own country in terms of their behavior,” he said. “It gets very complicated.”


INTERVIEW: Sam Darwish, Group CEO at IHS Towers - the accidental engineer who found his calling

Updated 25 May 2019
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INTERVIEW: Sam Darwish, Group CEO at IHS Towers - the accidental engineer who found his calling

  • The CEO has made it big in telecoms, in a career shaped early on by Lebanon’s bloody civil war

For some, student survival means merely coasting along at university in the hope of bagging a 2.1, as well as invites to as many parties as possible.

For telecoms executive Sam Darwish, however, survival took on a more literal sense, having embarked on his studies in the dying days of the Lebanese civil war.

Teenage life was tough for Darwish, who is now 47 and a US citizen. Growing up in Beirut in the 1980s meant a constant backdrop of violence —  “there were many wounded,” he said — plus the daily struggles of putting food on the table and regular electricity blackouts.

But it was this experience that taught Darwish a certain “pragmatism” that he continues to put to use today as chief executive of telecoms company IHS Towers, which has to date raised more than $5.5 billion in funding.

Sitting in the IHS office in London’s plush Mayfair district, Darwish recounted how, when he was a student, his father would give him a small sum of money each day. He could either use it to take public transport to the American University of Beirut campus — or buy lunch, and risk the walk through the war-torn streets.

“Decisions like that make you pragmatic. It makes you solution-orientated. It makes you appreciate what the basics in life are,” said Darwish.

“You need just to survive. You need to find a solution. Electricity would disappear for a few days, then people started charging their batteries in their cars, and at the end of the day remove the battery to put on a light or small TV,” he added.

“It taught me to not take anything for granted. You needed to think and rethink every little thing that exists.”

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BIO

SAM DARWISH

•47 years old

•US citizen, grew up in Lebanon

•Married, three children based in US

EDUCATION

•Bachelor’s engineering degree in computer communications, American University of Beirut

CAREER

•Network chief engineer, Libancell, Lebanon

•Vice chairman, director of projects, Lintel

•Deputy managing director, CELIA Motophone, Nigeria

•Co-founder, IHS Towers

OTHER INTERESTS

•Founder, Singularity Investments

•Founder, DAR Properties

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This practical attention to detail — along with an awareness of the importance of finance, power and security — are very much required in Darwish’s role today.

IHS Towers’ business model is relatively straightforward: The company buys mobile towers from telecoms companies, or builds them itself, then leases them back to the operators.

Darwish co-founded the company in Nigeria in 2001, and it now has operations in Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda and Zambia.

Renting out mobile communications towers is hardly the most glamorous of businesses — it is “simple and low profile, we don’t make it flashy,” he said — but the economics stack up.

Selling mobile towers allows telecoms companies to free up cash, while companies such as IHS can rent space on the masts to multiple carriers, which is more efficient. It is a model that Darwish believes the entire industry will one day embrace.

“When (a single operator) owns a tower, often it’s not optimized in terms of the revenue that that tower can get,” he said.

“They end up with hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of dollars on their balance sheet (with) towers (that are) inefficient, and simply depreciating. Sharing means more efficiency, and more margin for everyone.”

There is also a certain advantage to dealing with purely “basic” infrastructure, given the global furor about the security of telecoms networks.

IHS deals with the actual steel masts, rather than the more sensitive communications kit or software they house.

For that reason, it does not face as much scrutiny as a company such as Huawei, the Chinese equipment firm that the US believes poses a security risk.

“There’s a big difference between us and what Huawei does. We’re providers of passive infrastructure,” said Darwish.

“Our towers are simple towers … It’s a location, it’s a tower, it’s power, it’s security —  that’s what we provide,” he added.

“But at the end of the day, we’re also part of critical infrastructure for countries … So there’s always the aspect of ‘who are these guys, who are their shareholders, what’s their track record, what’s their governance like?’”

That is partly why Darwish runs IHS as if it was a “a public company by Western standards.” The company’s governance is “very strict,” and its high-profile shareholders include Goldman Sachs (through a special fund), the Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, the Korea Investment Corp. and IFC, the private equity arm of the World Bank.

At the end of the day, we’re part of a critical infrastructure for countries.

Sam Darwish

Such backing — Darwish said IHS has raised between $5.5 billion and $6 billion of capital since it was formed —  and governance standards bode well for a potential initial public offering (IPO) of IHS.

The company last year shelved such a plan, but Darwish said it is thinking about “moving ahead” with plans for a listing in New York or London.

“There are hundreds of thousands of towers out there that could be bought, or built, over the next few years … That’s why a potential listing is important to us at some point in time,” he said.

Such a move would potentially expedite the company’s expansion in areas such as the Arabian Gulf, which is currently its “main focus.”

IHS has already struck regional agreements to buy towers from telecoms operators Zain Kuwait and Zain KSA.

Upon completion of those two deals — which are still subject to regulatory approval — the Mauritius-headquartered IHS will have approximately 33,100 towers in its portfolio. It is currently the world’s second-largest independent, multi-country tower operator.

Darwish said Saudi Arabia is “where we’d like to grow,” with IHS recently having obtained a foreign investment license from the General Investment Authority, with plans for an office staffed by 100-200 people.

He cited the economic reforms underway, which include weaning Saudi Arabia off its reliance on oil and encouraging more women into the workplace.

“The Kingdom is going through a transformation now. This transformation is fascinating, and it’s something that needs to be watched very carefully,” he said.

“They’re using this cash they have now to start planning, and start transforming — theaters, entertainment, industries, manufacturing, all these massive investments they’re doing.”

Whilst inhabiting an industry that lacks a certain glam factor, there is something of the “Davos man” about Darwish.

Dressed casually in a designer jacket in his Mayfair office, he explained some of his interests that run parallel to IHS.

He is the founder of Singularity Investments, a private investment firm with a focus on technology and media companies in the US and emerging markets, along with DAR Properties, a property investment company.

Darwish also has a strong interest in corporate social responsibility, having supported incubator programs for aspiring tech entrepreneurs in Lagos, served as a mentor to local business executives, and worked on several health and education projects in Africa.

His personal passion, however, is the IHS Academy, launched one and a half years ago, which offers online education in the field and has seen some 40,000 course completions.

“The training for me is the single most important thing I can give, and it helps us at the end of the day,” said Darwish.

“I personally believe in the power of education — that’s what transformed my life. My father worked three shifts to basically make sure we stayed in the best private schools … He believed in what education can do in transforming lives.”

Darwish’s own studies in Beirut, however, nearly took a different turn. Though he graduated as an engineer in computer communications with “the highest distinction” — setting him out on a 20-year career in telecoms — it was never the path he envisaged.

“I wanted to be a Nobel Prize physicist. (But the university) dean called me, and he was like, ‘no — we need you in engineering’,” Darwish said. “It was just by accident that I became an engineer, but it paid off.”