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News from China
Bitcoin dealer faces trial over disappearing money
10th July 2017

 The former CEO of collapsed Bitcoin exchange MtGox heads to trial in Tokyo next week on charges stemming from the disappearance of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the virtual currency from its digital vaults.

Frenchman Mark Karpeles — once the high-flying head of the world’s busiest Bitcoin trading platform, who reportedly lived in an US$11,000-a-month penthouse and spent money lavishly, including on prostitutes — faces embezzlement and data manipulation charges.

“He is keeping calm as the trial gets underway,” his lawyer Kiichi Iinosaid, adding Karpeles plans to plead innocent.

The 32-year-old was arrested in August, 2015, and released on bail nearly a year later over allegations he fraudulently manipulated data and pocketed millions worth of Bitcoins.

MtGox, which said it once hosted around 80 percent of global Bitcoin trading, shuttered in 2014 after admitting that 850,000 coins — worth around $480 million at the time — had disappeared from its vaults.

The company initially said there was a bug in the software underpinning Bitcoins that allowed hackers to pilfer them.

Karpeles later said he had found about 200,000 of the lost coins in a “cold wallet” — a storage device, similar memory stick, that is not connected to other computers.

Tokyo-based MtGox filed for bankruptcy protection soon after the cyber-money went missing, leaving a trail of angry investors calling for answers and denting the virtual currency’s reputation.

Karpeles, who said he is working as an IT consultant, is active on social media and has commented on issues concerning Bitcoin but not on details of his criminal case.

“The charges (against Karpeles) only cover a subset of the issues which were happening at MtGox, so I don’t expect that we will find out most of the information we want to know,” said Kolin Burges, a British investor who said he lost several hundred Bitcoins in the MtGox collapse. “I’ve not had any back yet but hopefully, eventually all the creditors will get a small percentage of their money back.”

Source: Shanghai Daily, July 10, 2017
Home sales continue heavy slide
7th July 2017

 SALES of pre-occupied homes fell for the third consecutive month in Shanghai in June as sentiment among buyers stayed subdued, new market data showed yesterday.

 
Across the city, about 12,200 units of existing houses changed hands last month, a month-on-month fall of 16.6 percent and a year-on-year plunge of 49.9 percent, Shanghai Homelink Real Estate Agency Co said in a report.
 
“Last month’s data was the third-lowest June figure since 2011, as strictly enforced home purchase restrictions and tightened credit policies, coupled with unfavorable weather conditions, kept more potential buyers in the sideline,” Homelink said in its report.
 
“And for two months, transactions for existing houses stayed below 15,000 units, indicating lackluster momentum in the market.”
 
For the first half, a total of 79,300 established houses were traded in the city, a drop of 55 percent from same period a year ago.
 
The housing market started the year weak.
Source: Shanghai Daily, July 7, 2017
China’s pork demand peaks for changing diet
6th July 2017

 CHINA’S frozen dumpling makers are finding there’s a quick route to winning new sales — increase the vegetable content, and cut down on the meat.

 
This departure from traditional pork-rich dumplings is a hit with busy, young urbanites, trying to reduce the fat in diets often heavy on fast food.
 
“They like to try to eat more healthy products once a week or fortnight. It’s a big trend for Chinese mainland consumers, especially those aged 20 to 35,” said Ellis Wang, Shanghai-based marketing manager at US food giant General Mills, which owns top dumpling brand Wanchai Ferry.
 
For pig farmers in China and abroad, it is a difficult trend to stomach. The producers and other market experts had expected the growth to continue until at least 2026.
 
Chinese hog farmers are on a building spree, constructing huge modern farms to capture a bigger share of the world’s biggest pork market, while leading producers overseas have been changing the way they raise their pigs to meet Chinese standards for imports. Some have, for example, stopped using growth hormones banned in China.
 
China still consumes a lot more meat than any other country. People here will eat about 74 million tons of pork, beef and poultry this year, around twice as much as the United States, according to US agriculture department estimates. More than half of that is pork and for foreign producers it has been a big growth market, especially for Western-style packaged meats.
 
But pork demand has hit a ceiling, well ahead of most official forecasts. Sales of pork have now fallen for the past three years, according to data from research firm Euromonitor. Last year they hit three-year lows of 40.85 million tons from 42.49 million tons in 2014, and Euromonitor predicts they will also fall slightly in 2017.
 
Chinese hog prices are down around 25 percent since January, even though official numbers suggest supply is lower compared with last year.
 
Since China began opening up to the world in the late 1970s, pork demand expanded by an average 5.7 percent every year, until 2014 as the booming economy allowed hundreds of millions of people to afford to eat meat more often. During 1949 to 1976, meat had been a rare luxury for many.
 
Now, growing concerns about obesity and heart health shape shopping habits too, fuelling sales of everything from avocados to fruit juices and sportswear.
 
“Market demand remains very weak. I think one factor behind this is people believe less meat is healthier. This is a new trend,” said Pan Chenjun, executive director of food and agriculture research at Rabobank in Hong Kong.
 
Sales of vegetable-only dumplings grew 30 percent last year, compared with around 7 percent for all frozen dumplings, Nielsen research showed.
 
“Demand for vegetable products keeps rising, giving us large room for growth,” said Zhou Wei, product manager at number two dumpling producer Synear Food.
 
Guangzhou-based Harmony Catering says health is the key to reduced servings of meat to the roughly 1 million workers eating at its 300 canteens each day.
 
Staff at the technology companies, banks and oil majors that are Harmony’s clients will consume about 10 percent less meat today than they did five years ago, but around 10 percent more green vegetables, according to Harmony vice president Li Huang. “It’s mainly because of media, the concept of health has entered popular consciousness,” he said.
 
For now, it’s mostly urban and white-collar workers paying closer attention to their diets. There’s been, for example, a sharp rise in vegetarian food stations at university campuses. But the government wants a nationwide shift in eating habits.
 
Childhood obesity in China is rocketing, and the country also faces an epidemic of heart disease, Harvard researchers warned last year. Among the problems, they blamed growing consumption of red meat and high salt intake.
 
In April, the health ministry kicked off its second 10-year healthy lifestyle campaign, urging citizens to consume less fat, salt and sugar, and aim for a ‘healthy diet, healthy weight and healthy bones’.
 
By 2030, Beijing wants to see a marked increase in nutritional awareness, a 20 percent cut in the per capita consumption of salt, and slower growth in the rate of obesity, it said in its recently published ‘Healthy China 2030’ pamphlet.
 
Some companies have been urgently changing the mix of products they sell, going for higher-margin pork meats rather than volume. Sales of traditionally less popular lamb and beef have also been increasing.
 
Li of Harmony Catering says although servings of pork are down, the firm is including more beef and lamb in meals.
 
“People usually eat lean beef or lamb, like beef brisket, while with pork it’s both fatty and lean parts, like in ‘hong shao rou’,” said Beijing-based nutritionist Chen Zhikun, referring to the widely consumed braised pork dish.
 
China’s top pork producer WH Group has been going up market, selling Western-style products in China, such as sausages and ham. A lot of this is imported from Smithfield, the largest US pork producer, which was acquired by WH in 2013.
 
Some producers say that the recent drop in pork consumption can be partly explained by sharply lower output. A prolonged period of losses during 2013 to 2015 forced farmers to cull millions of hogs, hitting supply and sending pork prices to record levels in 2016.
 
But for a growing portion of Chinese consumers, price tags on food items are less and less important. A spate of safety scandals in recent years, many related to meat, have made urban Chinese highly sensitive to food quality.
 
More than 80 percent of people in China surveyed by Nielsen last year said they were willing to pay more for foods without undesirable ingredients, much higher than the global average of 68 percent.
 
“China is in a new stage where consumption of pork and other foods is no longer a simple matter of ‘more is better’,” said Fred Gale, senior economist at the United States agriculture department.
Source: Shanghai Daily, July 6, 2017
Industry growth outstrips forecasts
4th July 2017

 DOMESTIC manufacturing activity expanded faster than expected in June despite lingering economic headwinds, a private report said yesterday.

 
The Caixin China General Manufacturing Managers’ Index returned to the positive territory at 50.4, the highest in three months, according to the survey conducted by financial information services provider Markit and sponsored by Caixin Media Co. Ltd.
 
That compared with May’s 49.6 and market expectations for 49.5 according to a Reuters poll.
 
A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below that reflects contraction.
 
New orders rose the fastest in three months.
 
Input and output prices both showed renewed increases although the inflation was cooler than the beginning of the year.
 
But relatively muted demand overall led manufacturers to reduce their inventory and trim their workforces again.
 
Optimism on the business outlook edged down to its lowest this year, the report said.
 
“The manufacturing sector recovered slightly in June, but based on the inventory trends and confidence on future output, the June reading 
was more like a temporary rebound, with an economic downtrend likely to be confirmed later,” said Zhong Zhengsheng, director of macroeconomic analysis at CEBM Group. 
The improvement in Caixin PMI echoed a pick-up of official PMI data of 51.7 in June, up from May’s 51.2.
Source: Shanghai Daily, July 4, 2017

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