WASHINGTON (Reuters) –
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order banning transactions with eight Chinese software applications, including Ant Group’s Alipay mobile payment app, the White House said, escalating tensions with Beijing two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The move, first reported by Reuters, is aimed at curbing the threat to Americans posed by Chinese software applications, which have large user bases and access to sensitive data, a senior administration official told Reuters.
The order argues that the United States must take “aggressive action” against developers of Chinese software applications to protect national security.
It tasks the Commerce Department with defining which transactions will be banned under the directive within 45 days and targets Tencent Holdings Ltd’s QQ Wallet and WeChat Pay as well.
The order also names CamScanner, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate which is published by Alibaba Group subsidiary UCWeb, and Beijing Kingsoft Office Software’s WPS Office.
“By accessing personal electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers, Chinese connected software applications can access and capture vast swaths of information from users, including sensitive personally identifiable information and private information,” the executive order states.
Such data collection “would permit China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, and build dossiers of personal information,” the document adds.
China will take necessary measures to safeguard the legitimate rights of companies in view of the Trump order, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing on Wednesday, adding that the U.S. was abusing its national power and unreasonably suppressing foreign companies.
In a statement late on Wednesday, China’s Ministry of Commerce said the U.S. ban goes against fair competition.
It also harms the interests of Chinese companies and their customers, including those in the United States, who had “widely welcomed” the apps as a contactless payment option during the pandemic, the ministry added.
Kingsoft said in a statement published by Chinese state media that it did not expect Trump’s order to substantially impact the company’s business in the short term. Ant, the Biden transition team and SHAREit declined to comment.
Alibaba, Tencent, CamScanner and the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The order aims to cement Trump’s tough-on-China legacy before the Jan. 20 inauguration of Biden, a Democrat, who has said little about how he plans to address specific tech threats from China.
Biden could, however, revoke the order on the first day of his presidency, though his transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
The order will likely ratchet up tensions further between Washington and Beijing, which have been locked in a bitter dispute over the origins of the coronavirus and a Chinese crackdown on Hong Kong.
Despite the 45-day time line laid out by the order, the Commerce Department plans to act before Jan. 20 to identify prohibited transactions, another U.S. official told Reuters.
The directive mirrors Trump executive orders signed in August directing Commerce to block some U.S. transactions with WeChat and the Chinese-owned video app TikTok.
Had those orders gone into effect, they would have effectively banned the Chinese apps’ use in the United States and barred Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s app stores from offering them for download for new users.
The restrictions, however, were blocked by courts mainly on freedom of speech grounds. The White House is confident the new restrictions will stand up to judicial scrutiny, since applications like Alipay would struggle to bring a First Amendment case, the senior administration official told Reuters.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement that he supports Trump’s “commitment to protecting the privacy and security of Americans from threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.”
Alipay has been in Washington’s cross hairs for months.
Reuters reported in November that the U.S. State Department had submitted a proposal to add Ant Group to a trade blacklist in order to deter U.S. investors from taking part in its lucrative initial public offering. But the Commerce Department, which oversees the blacklist, shelved the proposal after Alibaba Group Holding Inc President Michael Evans urged Ross to reject the bid.
Ant is China’s dominant mobile payments company, offering loans, payments, insurance and asset management services via mobile apps. It is 33% owned by Alibaba and controlled by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, but is currently unavailable for American users.
Alipay was downloaded from Apple’s U.S. app store and Google Play 207,000 times in 2020, while image scanning app CamScanner and office suite app WPS Office were downloaded 4.4 million and 563,000 times respectively, according to research firm SensorTower.
Tuesday’s move is the latest in a raft of tough new curbs on Chinese companies.
The White House unveiled an executive order in November banning U.S. investment in alleged Chinese military companies including China’s top chipmaker SMIC and oil giant CNOOC. Last month, the Commerce Department added dozens of Chinese companies, including Chinese drone manufacturer SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd, to a trade blacklist.
Reporting by Alexandra Alper and David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Pei Li in Hong Kong and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Leslie Adler, Lincoln Feast and Giles Elgood
U.S. Inflation Hit 30-Year High in October as Consumer Prices Jump 6.2%
Core index was up 4.6% as pandemic-related supply shortages, strong consumer demand continue
U.S. inflation hit a three-decade high in October, delivering widespread and sizable price increases to households for everything from groceries to cars due to persistent supply shortages and strong consumer demand.
The Labor Department said the consumer-price index—which measures what consumers pay for goods and services—increased in October by 6.2% from a year ago. That was the fastest 12-month pace since 1990 and the fifth straight month of inflation above 5%.
The core price index, which excludes the often-volatile categories of food and energy, climbed 4.6% in October from a year earlier, higher than September’s 4% rise and the largest increase since 1991.Consumer-price index, percent change froma year earlier.
On a monthly basis, the CPI increased a seasonally adjusted 0.9% in October from the prior month, a sharp acceleration from September’s 0.4% rise and the same as June’s 0.9% pace.
Price increases were broad-based, with higher costs for new and used autos, gasoline and other energy costs, furniture, rent and medical care, the Labor Department said. Food prices for both groceries and dining out rose by the most in decades. Prices fell for airline fares and alcohol.
U.S. stocks fell and bond prices rose as investors digested the impact of price pressure on the global economy.
Persistently higher inflation—triggered by a faster-than-anticipated but uneven economic recovery, trillions of dollars in pandemic-related government stimulus and other factors—is hitting consumers’ wallets. At the same time, a rebounding economy and healthy household balance sheets are both stoking demand and cushioning price increases.
The inflation surge is complicating the Federal Reserve’s strategy for unwinding easy-money policies the central bank imposed early in the pandemic. It has also emerged as a political factor affecting the Biden administration’s economic agenda.
Prices climbed the fastest in the South, a part of the country that reopened earlier in the pandemic but was hit relatively harder by the Delta variant of Covid-19. Prices were also up more in the Midwest than in the Northeast and West.
Americans have never been in so much debt
American households are carrying record amounts of debt as home and auto prices surge, Covid infections continue to fall and people get out their credit cards again.Between July and September, US household debt climbed to a new record of $15.24 trillion, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Tuesday.
It was an increase of 1.9%, or $286 billion, from the second quarter of the year.
“As pandemic relief efforts wind down, we are beginning to see the reversal of some of the credit card balance trends seen during the pandemic,” such as lower spending in favor of paying down debt balances, said Donghoon Lee, research officer at the New York Fed.
Now that the stimulus sugar rush has worn off, consumers are going back to their old ways of spending with their credit cards. Credit card balances rose by $17 billion, just as they had during the second quarter. But they’re still $123 bullion lower than at the end of 2019 before the pandemic hit.
Mortgages, which are the largest component of household debt, rose by $230 billion last quarter and totaled $10.67 trillion.Auto loans and student loan balances also increased, rising by $28 billion and $14 billion, respectively.
Even though credit card debt has yet to get back to its pre-pandemic level, total debt is already $1.1 trillion higher than at the end of 2019.
High spending spurred by even higher inflation
Americans are spending big at the moment. Economists’ explanation is, for the most part, “because they can”.
With the labor market recovery chugging along and the worker shortage driving up wages, people’s wallets are getting filled ahead of the holidays.
That’s a good thing, because everything is getting more expensive.
Inflation is sitting at multi-year highs thanks to supply chain disruptions that have increased the costs of shipping and raw materials. At the same time, consumer demand is also going through the roof.
The latest inflation data from early Tuesday showed prices producers receive for their products rose 0.6% in October, adjusted for seasonal swings, or 8.6% over the preceding 12-month period. Much of the increase was due to higher energy costs.
Businesses can only absorb so much of the increase in prices before passing the higher costs down to end-consumers.
Stripping out energy and food prices, as well as trade services, the producer price index rose a seasonally adjusted 0.4% last month, or 6.2% over the 12-month period.
The price index tracking intermediate demand — that’s goods and services sold to businesses — for processed goods jumped 2.1%, its biggest advance since May, mostly driven by higher energy costs.
Over the 12-month period ended October, the index has climbed 25.4%, the biggest increase since January 1975.Consumer price inflation, which tracks prices paid for food, housing and the like in October is due Wednesday morning.
IRS reporting requirement: Why crypto and NFT fans are worried about the infrastructure bill
Industry groups are concerned about a ‘digital assets’ provision that may require reporting cryptocurrency transactions to the Internal Revenue Service.
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which is on its way to President Biden’s desk, includes provisions to fund everything from new roads to improved broadband connections, but it also includes tax reporting provisions that people and organizations in the cryptocurrency and NFT worlds are concerned could stifle transactions.
Existing tax law, in a section of the U.S. tax code called 6050I, requires that people who receive more than $10,000 in cash and equivalents (like cashier’s checks and money orders) in many business transactions file a report with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), including details about who paid them—such as names and Social Security numbers—or potentially face felony charges. The new law expands the definition of cash to include “digital assets” and comes as governments around the world grapple with the rapid rise of crypto and the potential for its use in money laundering. Critics worry the new provision could force participants in crypto transactions and NFT trades, which are often anonymous, to have to disclose information about the people they’re doing business with, which they simply might not have.
“Miners, stakers, lenders, decentralized application and marketplace users, traders, businesses, and individuals are all at risk of being subject to this reporting requirement, even though in most situations the person or entity in receipt is not in the position to report the required information,” warned attorney Abraham Sutherland, an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and advisor to the Proof of Stake Alliance, an industry group, in a September report.
Decentralized finance, or defi, operations, where automated smart contracts essentially provide financial services, could also be affected by the provision, warn people in the industry.
“This 6050I provision in the infrastructure bill seems like a disaster if I understand it,” said Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong in a tweet. “Criminal felony statute that could freeze a lot of healthy crypto behavior (like Defi).”
The new law also contains a provision that would expand the definition of “broker” under the law to include cryptocurrency brokers, which some in the industry—including a group called the Crypto Council for Innovation—have feared would rope in coin miners and developers involved in building and maintaining crypto systems. Brokers are also required to report many transactions to the IRS.
Bloomberg reported earlier this year that the Treasury Department, which is ultimately responsible for putting out regulations saying how the new provisions will actually work in practice, is likely to exempt organizations and people that aren’t brokers in the usual sense. Since getting the law itself amended seems difficult with a fiercely divided Congress, it’s likely that the Treasury Department will see furious lobbying by the crypto industry to make sure it doesn’t interfere too much with their operations.