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KFC's Parent Company Opens Premium Sandwich Spot in Texas


Yum! Brands has opened Super Chix in Arlington

Super Chix will offer premium sandwiches, tenders, and fries.

After losing some of its chicken mojo to Chik-fil-A over the past few years, KFC owner Yum! Brands appear to be striking back. According to Ad Age, Yum is opening a premium chicken sandwich shop Super Chix in Arlington, Texas this week.

Super Chix is being introduced with little fanfare — there’s no mention of KFC or Yum! Brands on the restaurant’s website and only a small social media presence for advertising. The restaurant offers a limited menu that features customizable chicken sandwiches, tenders, and fries, with custards for desert. The website’s language emphasizes quality, boasting that their chicken is “hand-breaded and cooked in 100% refined peanut oil” with “No MSG, HFCS, or phosphates.”

In an email to CNBC, Yum spokesperson Virginia Ferguson stated that Super Chix will test the waters for an international chain, but the restaurant isn’t designed to go toe-to-toe with other prominent United States chains. It would be surprising, however, if the reigning premium chicken sandwich champions at Chik-fil-A weren’t taking note.

Adam D'Arpino is the Restaurants Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDArpino.


Taco Bell's New Sister Restaurant Apologizes for 'Communist' Logo

Opening a Vietnamese sandwich shop as fast casual chains are booming is a smart idea. Not looking into the potential Communist symbolism of your logo? Less intelligent.

Fortunately, Yum Brands is quick on the uptake when it comes to apologizing and making changes.

Yum Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, opened a "banh mi" (a type of Vietnamese sandwich) concept named Banh Shop in Dallas last week. Banh mi has been rising in popularity, and testing the concept allows Yum Brands to dabble in the profitable and growing fast-casual business. While the location is only a test, early reviews of the menu have been positive.

The logo for Banh Shop was a five-pointed red star. Red and yellow stars, especially in relation to Vietnam, carry some extremely unfortunate symbolism of the Vietnamese Communist regime that forced thousands of refugees to flee the country.

Since Dallas has the fourth largest Vietnamese population of any city in the U.S., the matter hits close to home for many of Banh Shop's potential customers. In the last few days, Banh Shop's relatively minor social media presence has been overrun by individuals calling for a logo change.

"[W]e are hurt and offended by your chosen logo, a red star, which is a symbol of communism and will offend thousands of South Vietnamese refugees in my community," reads an online petition started by Thanh Cung, the president of the Vietnamese-American Community of Greater Dallas. "The heavy majority of Vietnamese living in the Dallas area are political and religious refugees who fled Vietnam when North Vietnamese communist rule started in 1975."

On Thursday afternoon, Yum Brands issued an apology and announced plans to immediately change Banh Shop's logo.

"It was never our intent to offend anyone, but we see we have made a mistake and in hindsight, we should have recognized this logo could be offensive," Jonathan Blum, Yum Brands senior vice president wrote in an email to Cung, the petition writer. "Therefore, and effective immediately, we are changing the logo and removing the red star from all materials and signage at the restaurant."

Blum says the red star will be gone by the end of the day today and that a new logo is in development. Moving forward, Blum states that Yum Brands would greatly appreciate if Cung would be willing to review the new logo and other aspects of the restaurant that could be perceived poorly.

Yum Brands has never tried to sell the most "authentic" food from other countries. In an interview with Entrepreneur.com, Taco Bell President Brian Niccol said, "we've got to make sure no one believes our food is too spicy or 'too Mexican.'" Similarly, Yum Brands doesn't necessarily have to make sure that Banh Shop exactly reproduces traditional Vietnamese sandwich recipes. However, it does need to invest time in researching the culture that is inspiring the menu.

Fortunately for Yum Brands, the Dallas Banh Shop is still a testing ground for the company to see what works and what doesn't in the fast-casual Vietnamese market. Now, it looks like the concept may be able to turn critics into advisors as the restaurant moves forward – an important lesson for any entrepreneur on how to take criticism and learn from mistakes.

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China Braces for $1.3 Trillion Maturity Wall as Defaults Surge

(Bloomberg) -- Even by the standards of a record-breaking global credit binge, China’s corporate bond tab stands out: $1.3 trillion of domestic debt payable in the next 12 months.That’s 30% more than what U.S. companies owe, 63% more than in all of Europe and enough money to buy Tesla Inc. twice over. What’s more, it’s all coming due at a time when Chinese borrowers are defaulting on onshore debt at an unprecedented pace.The combination has investors bracing for another turbulent stretch for the world’s second-largest credit market. It’s also underscoring the challenge for Chinese authorities as they work toward two conflicting goals: reducing moral hazard by allowing more defaults, and turning the domestic bond market into a more reliable source of long-term funding.While average corporate bond maturities have increased in the U.S., Europe and Japan in recent years, they’re getting shorter in China as defaults prompt investors to reduce risk. Domestic Chinese bonds issued in the first quarter had an average tenor of 3.02 years, down from 3.22 years for all of last year and on course for the shortest annual average since Fitch Ratings began compiling the data in 2016.“As credit risk increases, everyone wants to limit their exposure by investing in shorter maturities only,” said Iris Pang, chief economist for Greater China at ING Bank NV. “Issuers also want to sell shorter-dated bonds because as defaults rise, longer-dated bonds have even higher borrowing costs.”The move toward shorter maturities has coincided with a Chinese government campaign to instill more discipline in local credit markets, which have long been underpinned by implicit state guarantees. Investors are increasingly rethinking the widely held assumption that authorities will backstop big borrowers amid a string of missed payments by state-owned companies and a selloff in bonds issued by China Huarong Asset Management Co.The country’s onshore defaults have swelled from negligible levels in 2016 to exceed 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) for four straight years. That milestone was reached again last month, putting defaults on track for another record annual high.The resulting preference for shorter-dated bonds has exacerbated one of China’s structural challenges: a dearth of long-term institutional money. Even before authorities began allowing more defaults, short-term investments including banks’ wealth management products played an outsized role.Social security funds and insurance firms are the main providers of long-term funding in China, but their presence in the bond market is limited, said Wu Zhaoyin, chief strategist at AVIC Trust Co., a financial firm. “It’s difficult to sell long-dated bonds in China because there is a lack of long-term capital,” Wu said.Chinese authorities have been taking steps to attract long-term investors, including foreign pension funds and university endowments. The government has in recent years scrapped some investment quotas and dismantled foreign ownership limits for life insurers, brokerages and fund managers.But even if those efforts gain traction, it’s not clear Chinese companies will embrace longer maturities. Many prefer selling short-dated bonds because they lack long-term capital management plans, according to Shen Meng, director at Chanson & Co., a Beijing-based boutique investment bank. That applies even for state-owned enterprises, whose senior managers typically get reshuffled by the government every three to five years, Shen said.The upshot is that China’s domestic credit market faces a near constant cycle of refinancing and repayment risk, which threatens to exacerbate volatility as defaults rise. A similar dynamic is also playing out in the offshore market, where maturities total $167 billion over the next 12 months.For ING’s Pang, the cycle is unlikely to change anytime soon. “It may last for another decade in China,” she said.More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Zara owner Inditex to close all stores in Venezuela, local partner says

Inditex, owner of brands including Zara, Bershka and Pull & Bear, will close all its stores in Venezuela in coming weeks as a deal between the retailer and its local partner Phoenix World Trade has come under review, a spokesperson for Phoenix World Trade said. Phoenix World Trade, a company based in Panama and controlled by Venezuelan businessman Camilo Ibrahim, took over operation of Inditex stores in the South American country in 2007. "Phoenix World Trade is re-evaluating the commercial presence of its franchised brands Zara, Bershka and Pull&Bear in Venezuela, to make it consistent with the new model of integration and digital transformation announced by Inditex," the company said in response to a Reuters request.

Summers Says Crypto Has Chance of Becoming ‘Digital Gold’

(Bloomberg) -- Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said cryptocurrencies could stay a feature of global markets as something akin to “digital gold,” even if their importance in economies will remain limited.Speaking at the end of a week in which Bitcoin whipsawed, Summers told Bloomberg Television’s “Wall Street Week” with David Westin that cryptocurrencies offered an alternative to gold for those seeking an asset “separate and apart from the day-to-day workings of governments.”“Gold has been a primary asset of that kind for a long time,” said Summers, a paid contributor to Bloomberg. “Crypto has a chance of becoming an agreed form that people who are looking for safety hold wealth in. My guess is that crypto is here to stay, and probably here to stay as a kind of digital gold.”If cryptocurrencies became even a third of the total value of gold, Summers said that would be a “substantial appreciation from current levels” and that means there’s a “good prospect that crypto will be part of the system for quite a while to come.”Comparing Bitcoin to the yellow metal is common in the crypto community, with various estimates as to whether and how quickly their total market values might equalize.Yassine Elmandjra, crypto analyst at Cathie Wood’s Ark Investment Management LLC, said earlier this month that if gold is assumed to have a market cap of around $10 trillion, “it’s not out of the question that Bitcoin will reach gold parity in the next five years.” With Bitcoin’s market cap around $700 billion, that could mean price appreciation of around 14-fold or more.But Summers said cryptocurrencies do not matter to the overall economy and were unlikely to ever serve as a majority of payments.Summers is on the board of directors of Square Inc. The company said this month that sales in the first quarter more than tripled, driven by skyrocketing Bitcoin purchases through the company’s Cash App.Summers’ comments were echoed by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, who doubted crypto’s value as a medium of exchange or stable purchasing power, but said some forms of it may continue to exist as an alternative to gold.“Are cryptocurrencies headed for a crash sometime soon? Not necessarily,” Krugman wrote in the New York Times. “One fact that gives even crypto skeptics like me pause is the durability of gold as a highly valued asset.”Summers also said that President Joe Biden’s administration is heading in the “right direction” by asking companies to pay more tax. He argued policy makers in the past had not been guilty of pursuing “too much antitrust” regulation although he warned it would be “badly wrong” to go after companies just because of increasing market share and profits.Returning to his worry that the U.S. economy risks overheating, Summers said the Federal Reserve should be more aware of the inflationary threat.“I don’t think the Fed is projecting in a way that reflects the potential seriousness of the problem,” he said. “I am concerned that with everything that’s going on, the economy may be a bit charging toward a wall.”(Adds Summers is on Square’s board in 8th paragraph)More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Hong Kong Exchange’s New CEO Is Put on Cleanup Duty

(Bloomberg) -- The veteran JPMorgan Chase & Co. banker who’s taking the helm at Hong Kong’s exchange has been put on cleanup duty.Chairman Laura Cha has handed Nicolas Aguzin, who takes charge Monday, the task of reviewing the exchange’s practices after a bribery scandal and censure from the regulator, according to people familiar with the matter. The 52-year-old former head of JPMorgan’s international private bank is seen by Cha as having the experience to force a cultural shake-up given his background at a heavily regulated bank, said the people, asking to remain anonymous discussing sensitive issues.Aguzin takes over as the bourse is delivering record earnings. His predecessor, Charles Li, oversaw a doubling of revenue during his decade in charge through acquisitions, loosened listing rules and, most importantly, trading links with mainland China. The easier oversight allowed the listing of Chinese technology giants such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and positioned it as the exchange-of-choice for mainland firms amid tensions with the U.S.But there has also been criticism that investor protections were sacrificed to win business. Over the past years, there has been a steady stream of flareups between the bourse and the regulator over IPO quality, the proliferation of shell companies and whether to allow dual class shares.“The HKEX has done a great job in market development, and has introduced measures to improve investor protection,” Sally Wong, CEO of Hong Kong Investment Funds Association, said in an email. “But it seems that issuers’ voices tend to prevail over that of the investors. We very much look forward to working with the new CEO to see how to strike a more appropriate balance to better safeguard investor interests.”Spokespeople for the exchange and the Securities and Futures Commission as well as Aguzin declined to comment.In a review released last year after the former IPO vetting co-head was arrested for bribery, the SFC discovered “numerous ambiguities” in the Chinese Wall between its listing and business divisions. Other issues highlighted last year include keeping track of share options and following up on complaints on withdrawn IPO applications.Cha had begun to tighten internal checks and balances for senior managers toward the end of Li’s tenure as well as assert more board control over hiring, people familiar have said. The exchange has halted the interactions between its listing and business units, according to the SFC review. Last week, in a joint statement with the SFC, the bourse vowed to better police its frothy IPO market, citing concerns about companies inflating their values, market manipulation and unusually high underwriting fees.Aguzin is expected by the board to prioritize the exchange’s role as a regulator alongside its growth ambitions, people familiar said.David Webb, a former HKEX director, investor and corporate governance activist, is skeptical the bourse will institute any meaningful reforms. “HKEX has, with government approval, lowered its standards to attract business, for example, by listing second-class shares with weak voting rights,” he said in an email. “It shows no sign of raising them again.”Investors have also urged the exchange to set rules requiring company boards to have a lead outside board member or an independent chair, according to Wong. “But it seems that the HKEX is not ready to even bring them up for market consultation.”The government is on board with Aguzin’s appointment, which comes at a fraught time after Beijing has tightened its grip on the city, raising questions about its continued status as an international financial hub.Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Christopher Hui said the three-tiered regulatory system comprising his department, the SFC and HKEX has worked well. Aguzin’s appointment embodies the city’s openness and its role as a gateway between China and the world, he said. “This is exactly what we will pursue.”Further deepening connections to China is seen as key to growth for the bourse, which also faces stiffer competition from mainland exchanges as China opens its financial markets.While Aguzin has worked in Asia for the past decade -- also serving as JPMorgan’s CEO of Asia Pacific from 2013 to 2020 -- he will be the first non-Chinese CEO of a bourse that often needs to deal with Beijing.Cha is well connected in China, having served as vice chairman of China Securities Regulatory Commission. She has signaled that she sees the bourse’s role as serving Beijing’s interests and avoiding competition with the mainland, a person said familiar with the matter said last year.The push toward the mainland is not all welcome in China. Expanding the link to include several benchmark stocks has proved difficult, with one sticking point being whether to include shares like Alibaba Group, which are dual listed and with weighted voting rights.Even so, Cha said at the time of the appointment that Aguzin’s remit will include further strengthening the link to the mainland.Another board member, Fred Hu, said in an interview that “Aguzin is well positioned to take HKEX into the future, to further deepen the connectivity with China but also connectivity with the rest of the world.”More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Huobi Scales Back Due to China Crackdown Bitcoin Falls Below $32K, Ether Past $2K

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(Bloomberg) -- A bear market in Bitcoin. A bull market in Bitcoin. Taper talk, or talk thereof. The biggest pop for meme stocks of the season. A lot just happened, and yet when the history of this week is written, it’s possible a much quieter development will be the lead.After intensifying earlier this month, inflation anxiety appears to be easing. Rates on 10-year breakevens dropped by the most on a weekly basis since September, capping any rise in Treasury yields. Meanwhile, a surge in raw materials continued to sputter, with the Bloomberg Commodity Spot Index sinking for a second straight week.That was enough to comfort investors in big tech. The Nasdaq 100 posted its first weekly gain in over a month, after being rattled by warnings that soaring prices would eat into future cash flows and shine a harsh light on expensive valuations. And while minutes from the Federal Reserve’s April meeting signaled an openness to discussing a scaling back of asset purchases, comments that it would “likely be some time” until the economy recovers to that point helped prevent any knee-jerk reactions.“Inflation is really only a problem for stocks if it’s going to bring the Fed off the sidelines,” said Brian Nick, chief investment strategist at Nuveen. “If you see interest rates falling, if you see inflation expectations receding, if you see the Fed continuing to come out with overall dovish minutes, it tends to be a pretty friendly environment for tech.”Whether or not the U.S. economy has seen peak growth, a series of weaker-than-expected reports have helped quell inflation fears. Last month’s housing starts were lower than anticipated, while the pace of mortgage applications slowed from the prior month. On Thursday, data from the Philadelphia Fed showed manufacturing activity in the region eased in May from a 48-year high the prior month.As a result, Citigroup Inc.’s economic surprise gauge -- which measures the magnitude to which reports either beat or miss forecasts -- briefly dropped into negative territory for the first time since June 2020 this week.The Nasdaq 100 held onto a 0.1% gain this week as inflation expectations ebbed, snapping a four-week losing streak. Tech eked out a gain as cryptocurrencies ricocheted, with Bitcoin dropping 12% on Friday alone after China reiterated its intent to to crack down on mining.Still, some warn that it’s too early to signal the all-clear on inflation risks. Anxiety around price pressures in the coming months should be a boon for defensive sectors and particularly favor financials, while eating into growth stocks with duration-sensitive cash flows, according to State Street Global Advisors.“Because there’s so much disagreement on how inflation may unfold, that disagreement in the market will inevitably lead to volatility,” said Olivia Engel, chief investment officer of SSGA’s active quantitative equity team. “If you look at the aggregate market, it’s hiding some of that market rotation -- that’s where you can see much bigger moves.”(Updates Bitcoin price in seventh paragraph.)More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Inside the Race to Avert Disaster at China’s Biggest ‘Bad Bank’

(Bloomberg) -- It was past 9 p.m. on Financial Street in Beijing by the time the figure inside Huarong Tower there picked up an inkbrush and, with practiced strokes, began to set characters to paper.Another trying workday was ending for Wang Zhanfeng, corporate chairman, Chinese Communist Party functionary—and, less happily, replacement for a man who very recently had been executed.On this April night, Wang was spotted unwinding as he often does in his office: practicing the art of Chinese calligraphy, a form that expresses the beauty of classical characters and, it is said, the nature of the person who writes them.Its mastery requires patience, resolve, skill, calm—and Wang, 54, needs all that and more. Because here on Financial Street, a brisk walk from the hulking headquarters of the People’s Bank of China, a dark drama is playing out behind the mirrored façade of Huarong Tower. How it unfolds will test China’s vast, debt-ridden financial system, the technocrats working to fix it, and the foreign banks and investors caught in the middle.Welcome to the headquarters of China Huarong Asset Management Co., the troubled state-owned ‘bad bank’ that has set teeth on edge around the financial world.For months now Wang and others have been trying to clean up the mess here at Huarong, an institution that sits—quite literally—at the center of China’s financial power structure. To the south is the central bank, steward of the world’s second-largest economy to the southwest, the Ministry of Finance, Huarong’s principal shareholder less than 300 meters to the west, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, entrusted with safeguarding the financial system and, of late, ensuring Huarong has a funding backstop from state-owned banks until at least August.The patch though doesn’t settle the question of how Huarong makes good on some $41 billion borrowed on the bond markets, most incurred under Wang’s predecessor before he was ensnared in a sweeping crackdown on corruption. That long-time executive, Lai Xiaomin, was put to death in January—his formal presence expunged from Huarong right down to the signature on its stock certificates.The bigger issue is what all this might portend for the nation’s financial system and efforts by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to centralize control, rein in years of risky borrowing and set the nation’s financial house in order.“They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” said Michael Pettis, a Beijing-based professor of finance at Peking University and author of Avoiding the Fall: China’s Economic Restructuring. Bailing out Huarong would reinforce the behavior of investors who ignore risk, he said, while a default endangers financial stability if a “chaotic” repricing of the bond market ensues.Just what is going on inside Huarong Tower? Given the stakes, few are willing to discuss that question publicly. But interviews with people who work there, as well as at various Chinese regulators, provide a glimpse into the eye of this storm.Huarong, simply put, has been in full crisis mode ever since it delayed its 2020 earnings results, eroding investor confidence. Executives have come to expect to be summoned by government authorities at a moment’s notice whenever market sentiment sours and the price of Huarong debt sinks anew. Wang and his team must provide weekly written updates on Huarong’s operations and liquidity. They have turned to state-owned banks, pleading for support, and reached out to bond traders to try to calm nerves, with little lasting success.In public statements, Huarong has insisted repeatedly that its position is ultimately sound and that it will honor its obligations. Banking regulators have had to sign off on the wording of those statements—another sign of how serious the situation is considered and, ultimately, who’s in charge.Then there are regular audiences with the finance ministry and the other powerful financial bureaucracies nearby. Among items usually on the agenda: possible plans to hive off various Huarong businesses.Huarong executives are often kept waiting and, people familiar with the meetings say, tend to gain only limited access to top officials at the CBIRC, the banking overseer.The country’s apex financial watchdog—chaired by Liu He, Xi’s right-hand man in overseeing the economy and financial system—has asked for briefings on the Huarong situation and coordinated meetings between regulators, according to regulatory officials. But it has yet to communicate to them a long-term solution, including whether to impose losses on bondholders, the officials said.Representatives at the People’s Bank of China, the CBIRC, Huarong and the Ministry of Finance didn’t respond to requests for comment.Focus on BasicsA mid-level party functionary with a PhD in finance from China’s reputed Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Wang arrived at Huarong Tower in early 2018, just as the corruption scandal was consuming the giant asset management company. He is regarded inside Huarong as low-key and down-to-earth, particularly in comparison to the company’s previous leader, Lai, a man once known as the God of Wealth.Hundreds of Huarong staff, from Beijing division chiefs to branch employees in faraway outposts, listened in on April 16 as Wang reviewed the quarterly numbers. He stressed that the company’s fundamentals had improved since he took over, a view shared by some analysts though insufficient to pacify investors. But he had little to say about what is on so many minds: plans to restructure and shore up the giant company, which he’d pledged to clean up within three years of taking over.His main message to the troops: focus on the basics, like collecting on iffy assets and improving risk management. The employees were silent. No one asked a question.One employee characterized the mood in his area as business as usual. Another said co-workers at a Huarong subsidiary were worried the company might not be able to pay their salaries. There’s a widening gulf between the old guard and new, said a third staffer. Those who outlasted Lai and have seen their compensation cut year after year have little confidence in the turnaround, while new joiners are more hopeful about the opportunities the change of direction offers.Others joke that Huarong Tower must suffer from bad feng shui: after Lai was arrested, a bank that had a branch in the building had to be bailed out to the tune of $14 billion.Dark humor aside, a rough consensus has begun to emerge among senior management and mid-level regulators: like other key state-owned enterprises, Huarong still appears to be considered too big to fail. Many have come away with the impression—and it is that, an impression—that for now, at least, the Chinese government will stand behind Huarong.At the very least, these people say, no serious financial tumult, such as a default by Huarong, is likely to be permitted while the Chinese Communist Party is planning a nationwide spectacle to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding on July 1. Those festivities will give Xi—who has been positioning to stay in power indefinitely—an opportunity to cement his place among China’s most powerful leaders including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.What will come after that patriotic outpouring on July 1 is uncertain, even to many inside Huarong Tower. Liu He, China’s vice premier and chair of the powerful Financial Stability and Development Committee, appears in no hurry to force a difficult solution. Silence from Beijing has started to rattle local debt investors, who until about a week ago had seemed unmoved by the sell-off in Huarong’s offshore bonds.Competing InterestsHuarong’s role in absorbing and disposing of lenders’ soured debt is worth preserving to support the banking sector cleanup, but requires government intervention, according to Dinny McMahon, an economic analyst for Beijing-based consultancy Trivium China and author of China’s Great Wall of Debt.“We anticipate that foreign bondholders will be required to take a haircut, but it will be relatively small,” he said. “It will be designed to signal that investors should not assume government backing translates into carte blanche support.”For now, in the absence of direct orders from the top, Huarong has been caught in the middle of the competing interests among various state-owned enterprises and government bureaucracies.China Investment Corp., the $1 trillion sovereign fund, for instance, has turned down the idea of taking a controlling stake from the finance ministry. CIC officials have argued they don’t have the bandwidth or capability to fix Huarong’s problems, according to people familiar with the matter.The People’s Bank of China, meantime, is still trying to decide whether to proceed with a proposal that would see it assume more than 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) of bad assets from Huarong, those people said.And the Ministry of Finance, which owns 57% of Huarong on behalf of the Chinese government, hasn’t committed to recapitalizing the company, though it hasn’t ruled it out, either, one person said.CIC didn’t respond to requests for comment.The banking regulator has bought Huarong some time, brokering an agreement with state-owned lenders including Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. that would cover any funding needed to repay the equivalent of $2.5 billion coming due by the end of August. By then, the company aims to have completed its 2020 financial statements after spooking investors by missing deadlines in March and April.“How China deals with Huarong will have wide ramifications on global investors’ perception of and confidence in Chinese SOEs,” said Wu Qiong, a Hong Kong-based executive director at BOC International Holdings. “Should any defaults trigger a reassessment of the level of government support assumed in rating SOE credits, it would have deep repercussions for the offshore market.”The announcement of a new addition to Wang’s team underscores the stakes and, to some insiders, provides a measure of hope. Liang Qiang is a standing member of the All-China Financial Youth Federation, widely seen as a pipeline to groom future leaders for financial SOEs. Liang, who arrived at Huarong last week and will soon take on the role of president, has worked for the three other big state asset managers that were established, like Huarong, to help clean up bad debts at the nation’s banks. Some speculate this points to a wider plan: that Huarong might be used as a blueprint for how authorities approach these other sprawling, debt-ridden institutions.Meantime, inside Huarong Tower, a key item remains fixed in the busy schedules of top executives and rank-and-file employees alike. It is a monthly meeting, the topic of which is considered vital to Huarong’s rebirth: studying the doctrines of the Chinese Communist Party and speeches of President Xi Jinping. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Exxon Activist Battle Turns Climate Angst Into Referendum on CEO

(Bloomberg) -- An unprecedented fight over who should sit on the board of Exxon Mobil Corp. is turning into a referendum on Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods as a decades-long struggle by climate campaigners comes to a head.Activist investor Engine No. 1 LLC wants to replace one-third of Exxon’s board in an effort to force the Western world’s largest oil explorer to embrace a transition away from fossil fuels and end a decade of what it calls “value destruction.” Shareholders are set to gather — virtually — for their annual meeting on May 26.The stakes are high. Under Exxon’s bylaws, a victory for any dissident director would mean an incumbent must step down, equating to a zero-sum proxy contest: of 16 candidates, only 12 will prevail. Any dilution of Woods’s influence over the board could derail his long-term plans and force strategic and tactical changes he has previously rejected.Although Engine No. 1 hasn’t targeted Woods for removal, even a partial victory for the activist would be a serious, and perhaps fatal, blow to his leadership, according to Ceres, a coalition of environmentally active investors managing $37 trillion.“I don’t see how Darren Woods remains as CEO if one of the dissidents, let alone all four, are elected,” said Andrew Logan, director of oil and gas at Ceres. “It would be such a sign of fundamental dissatisfaction with the status quo that something would have to change. And that starts with the CEO.”Exxon's engagement with environmental activists was once characterized by a sense of bemusement — under former CEO Lee Raymond, Greenpeace protesters outside its annual meetings were offered donuts. But as worries about climate change have gone mainstream in the investment world, the clash has evolved into a confrontation over boardroom seats.In other corners of the commodities sector, shareholders this year have already shown frustration with executives’ reluctance to embrace tough environmental goals. DuPont de Nemours Inc. suffered an 81% vote against management on plastic-pollution disclosures, while ConocoPhillips lost a contest on adopting more stringent emission targets.Exxon’s meeting this year threatens to be one of the stormiest on the U.S. corporate calendar, made all the more remarkable for being instigated by a newly formed fund that only has a $54 million, or 0.02%, stake in the oil behemoth. Investor dissatisfaction with the company largely centers on two issues that are becoming more interlinked: climate change and profits. The oil giant envisages a profitable, long-term future for fossil fuels, but sees no point in investing in traditional renewable energy businesses. It also refuses to commit to a net-zero emissions target, unlike European rivals.Climate concerns are are resonating more deeply with investors at the same time that Exxon’s status as a financial powerhouse crumbles after multiple corporate missteps, some of which preceded Woods’s elevation to CEO in 2017. Returns on invested capital are a fraction of what they were in Exxon’s heyday a decade ago and debt ballooned 40% last year as Covid-19 paralyzed economies and energy demand around the world. Under mounting pressure and concerns over Exxon’s ability to pay the S&P 500’s third-largest dividend, the CEO slashed an ambitious $200 billion expansion program by a third late last year. It was a relief to some investors who had questioned both the cost and the need for such projects at a time when policymakers — and even rivals like BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc — are planning for the twilight of the petroleum era.Still, Engine No. 1 says Exxon needs higher-quality directors who are willing to challenge management. Exxon missed key industry trends such as the shale revolution, “the shift to focusing on project returns over chasing production growth, and the need to gradually prepare for rather than ignore the energy transition,” according to the San Francisco-based activist.After receiving early backing from major state pension funds, Engine No. 1’s campaign gathered momentum this month as two prominent shareholder-advisory firms, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. and Glass Lewis & Co., threw their partial support behind the activist’s efforts. ISS wrote a scathing rebuke of Exxon’s climate strategy, saying the company had only taken “incremental steps to prepare for the inevitable.”Top 20 shareholder Legal & General Investment Management, a previous critic of Exxon, is also backing Engine No. 1 and has pledged to vote against Woods. However, the voting intentions of some other major investors, such as Vanguard Group, BlackRock Inc. and State Street Corp. aren’t clear — all three declined to comment when contacted by Bloomberg News. Norway’s giant sovereign wealth fund said late last week that it would support the reelection of most Exxon directors, but not Woods, part of its long-standing push to separate the roles of CEO and chairman at Exxon.With such animosity brewing, the usual course of action would be for Exxon’s board to meet with the activists and hash out a compromise. But that has yet to happen, and both sides appear to be entrenched.Exxon said in a May 14 letter to shareholders its board “listens and responds to shareholder feedback,” but that Engine No. 1, founded only a few months ago, wasn’t interested in engaging and “is trying to replace four of our world-class directors with unqualified nominees.'' The company added that the activist fund's plans would “derail our progress and jeopardize your dividend.”For its part, Engine No. 1 said Exxon refused to meet its nominees: Gregory Goff, former CEO of refiner Andeavor environmental scientist Kaisa Hietala private equity investor Alexander Karsner and Anders Runevad, ex-CEO of power producer Vestas Wind Systems A/S.Exxon did talk with another investor, hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co., which built a stake in an effort to push for change. Those discussions led to the appointment of the new directors, including activist investor Jeff Ubben. The oil company has also announced new emissions targets, started a low-carbon business, and supported policies that will help technological innovations like carbon capture.In some respects Exxon is in a better position that it was at the start of 2021. Its stock has rallied more than 40% as oil prices rebounded and lockdowns are eased. Engine No. 1 points to its involvement as the turning point, while Exxon claims the market is rewarding prudent cost cutting and high-return investments made over the last couple of years. The forthcoming vote will help to determine which side of the debate other investors lean toward.“There’s a governance challenge at Exxon,” said John Hoeppner, head of U.S. sustainable investments at Legal & General. “How seriously is the current board questioning management’s business model? It’s important to add urgency to the debate.”More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Bitcoin Volatility Puts Weekend Traders on Stomach-Churning Ride

(Bloomberg) -- Bitcoin’s extreme volatility carried into the weekend as the world’s largest cryptocurrency continued to whipsaw investors with double-digit percentage moves.Bitcoin traded at $33,052, down 13%, as of 3:45 p.m. in New York, holding below its 200-day moving average other cryptocurrencies, including Ethereum and Dogecoin, also slumped, according to CoinGecko.com. Earlier in the weekend, Bitcoin had climbed more than 8% to move back above $38,000 following a tweet from Elon Musk.A measure of implied volatility on Bitcoin comparable to the U.S. equity market’s VIX indicator sits above 130, higher than the stock version has ever gotten in 30 years. Thirty-day historical volatility in the coin is about 100, some seven times more than the S&P 500 and surpassing the comparable measure in lumber futures, and an ETF designed to pay twice the daily return in crude oil.Investors in Bitcoin are experiencing one of its rockiest weeks ever after a string of negative headlines, with prices swinging as much as 30% in each direction Wednesday alone, when it fell as low as $30,016, the least since January. Even with the gyrations, Bitcoin is still up more than 250% in the past year.The turbulent stretch began after Musk said Tesla would no longer accept Bitcoin as payment for its electric vehicles, citing the coin’s intensive energy use. Another blow came Friday when China reiterated a warning that it intends to crack down on cryptocurrency mining as part of an effort to control financial risks.“Bitcoin has two problems, ESG and decreasing reliance on China, both of which could take some time” Edward Moya, senior market analyst with Oanda Corp., wrote in a note.Other cryptocurrencies also slumped on Sunday, with Ethereum briefly trading below $1,900 and satirical token Dogecoin dropping more than 16%, according to Coinmarketcap.com.Read more: Musk Tweets He Supports Crypto in Battle Against Fiat CurrenciesThe latest warning from Beijing followed a statement earlier in the week disseminated by the People’s Bank of China that financial institutions weren’t allowed to accept cryptocurrencies for payment.China has long expressed displeasure with the anonymity provided by Bitcoin and other crypto tokens. The country is home to a large concentration of the world’s crypto miners who use vast sums of computing power to verify transactions on the blockchain.“It is no surprise that governments are not inclined to give up their monetary monopolies. Throughout history, governments first regulate and then take ownership,” Deutsche Bank macro strategist Marion Laboure wrote in a May 20 report titled “Bitcoin: Trendy Is the Last Stage Before Tacky.” “As cryptocurrencies begin to seriously compete with regular currencies and fiat currencies, regulators and policymakers will crack down.”‘Higher Stakes’A mid-week report from blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis showed over half of the $410 billion spent on acquiring current Bitcoin holdings occurred in the past 12 months. About $110 billion of that was spent on buying it at an average cost of less than $36,000 per coin. That means the vast majority of investments aren’t making a profit unless the coin trades at $36,000 or higher.“The stakes are much higher now than they were in the past,” Philip Gradwell, chief economist at Chainalysis, said in an email. “This week’s price fall means that a lot of investments are now held at a loss. This is going to be a serious test for recent investors, but so much is at stake now that there is the incentive and resources to address the problems in crypto that prevent it from becoming a mature asset.”Weekends tend to be particularly volatile for crypto assets which -- unlike most traditional assets -- trade around the clock every day of the week. Before this weekend, Bitcoin’s average swing on Saturdays and Sundays this year comes in at 5.14%.That type of volatility is owing to a few factors: Bitcoin’s held by relatively few people, meaning that price swings can be magnified during low-volume periods. And the market remains hugely fragmented with dozens of platforms operating under different standards. That means cryptocurrencies lack a centralized market structure akin to that of traditional assets.“When noise is accompanied by a huge amount of speculation and the noise can be interpreted negatively, you get these huge swings,” said Eric Green, chief investment officer of equity at Penn Capital. “What goes straight up is going to come down at some point.”More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

How much money should you have to buy your first home?

One of the biggest surprises that homebuyers face when house hunting is how much it costs to really buy a house.

Global Rebound Euphoria Tests Central Bankers’ Nerves on Risk

(Bloomberg) -- With the world barely through the worst of an unprecedented crisis, central bankers are already wondering if the next one is around the corner.From Washington to Frankfurt, what began months ago as a murmur of concern has morphed into a chorus as officials ask if a risk-taking binge across multiple asset markets might presage a destabilizing rout that could derail the global recovery.Just last week, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Canada cited mounting threats, cognizant of the retrenchment that ensued during the 2008 financial crisis. Meanwhile Bitcoin’s dramatic swings after a warning about cryptocurrencies from the People’s Bank of China showcased how sensitive some markets have become.Pessimists at global monetary institutions can find bubbles almost anywhere they look, from equities to real estate, while officials such as Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell argue any threats remain contained.Central banks bear some responsibility for financial-market fervor after huge doses of stimulus and liquidity injections to keep economies afloat. The resulting buoyancy is at least partly a euphoria effect, applauding a snap back in growth whose scope can only be guessed at -- with eventual repercussions judged to range from a benign boom to an inflationary spiral.“Where we do see more exuberance is around growth expectations,” Max Kettner, a strategist at HSBC Holdings Plc, told Bloomberg Television. “Particularly in the U.S. they’ve been raised to an enormous degree. So that is, I think, the exuberance.”Market speculation has led to heavy volatility of late, including wild girations and drops in Bitcoin from an all-time high above $60,000 in April. More traditional assets are struggling too, with rates on haven German bonds, for example, climbing around 50 basis points this year, closing in on breaking into positive territory for the first time in more than two years.Kettner’s mention of “exuberance” followed the European Central Bank’s use of similar words on Wednesday, echoing former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s 1996 observation of “irrational exuberance” before the dotcom bubble.The euro-zone institution observed the threat of economic spillovers from, for example, a U.S. equity-market correction. Bank of Canada officials voiced similar concerns a day later, and highlighted the housing market as expectations of continuing price increases fuel purchases.Three weeks earlier, a Fed policy meeting veered into a debate on stability, where participants observed “elevated” risk appetite and discussed dangers posed by hedge fund activity. In a subsequent report, they warned of “vulnerabilities” and “stretched valuations,” exacerbated by high corporate debt.Meanwhile Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey recently wondered aloud if speculation in stocks and Bitcoin might themselves be a “warning sign.” And a Norwegian official said that cryptocurrency volatility could threaten lenders if their exposures keep rising.Central banks have had nagging concerns for a while. Already in January, ECB markets chief Isabel Schnabel told colleagues that stocks could become vulnerable to “more broad-based repricing.”In China, with a recovery cycle more advanced than the U.S.’s, the top banking regulator revealed in March that he was “very worried” about bubbles, specifying “very dangerous” real-estate investing.That might be partly what UBS AG Chief Executive Officer Ralph Hamers had in mind in late April with his own alarming view. Noting “bubbles in some asset classes,” including real estate, he told Bloomberg Television that “we are getting close to the peak of things.”Some senior central bankers are trying to be sanguine despite flashing warning lights. After the Fed decision in April, Powell insisted that “the overall financial stability picture is mixed but on balance, it’s manageable.”ECB Vice President Luis De Guindos -- whose job includes preparing his institution’s threat assessment -- dialed down from its worried tone last week by saying economic risks are “much more balanced than in the past.”The difficulty for central banks is in managing the consequences for asset prices of their monetary policies, a challenge that has bedeviled them since the 2008 calamity. Periodically, that makes institutions such as the Fed the target of criticism.“Central banks are desperately wanting to make sure, be certain,” said James Athey, investment director at Aberdeen Asset Management Plc. “It also means they keep policy way too easy for way too long.”The alternative officials face is to dare to wind down stimulus, taking on the risk of choking an economic recovery with a corresponding cost to livelihoods.Iceland took that plunge last week, delivering the first policy tightening in Western Europe with an interest-rate increase to contain inflation and a rampant housing market.The larger euro area, whose constituent regions vary from some of the world’s most prosperous to examples of perennial malaise, can’t be so nimble. That’s why the ECB recommends “more targeted” fiscal support for companies while avoiding stimulus withdrawal.Similarly, the Fed cited use of macroprudential tools as important to allow monetary policy to take its course. JPMorgan economists wrote this month that they anticipate Australia’s banking regulator will “formalize” debt and loan-to-income restrictions soon.However central banks and financial regulators respond to ebullience, they know the stakes are as high as ever, with the need to cement a rebound from a severe crisis in a world which will struggle to tolerate another one.At least officials can take comfort in recognizing a more familiar pre-pandemic environment: The last time their worries about risk were so synchronized was in November 2019, just weeks before the coronavirus began to cripple the global economy.More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

As mortgage rates hit 3% again, expert predicts we'll see 4% rates this year

Though rates have inched up, it’s not too late to get a low rate to buy or refinance.

First Warning Sign in the Global Commodity Boom Flashes in China

(Bloomberg) -- One pillar of this year’s blistering commodities rally -- Chinese demand -- may be teetering.Beijing aced its economic recovery from the pandemic largely via an expansion in credit and a state-aided construction boom that sucked in raw materials from across the planet. Already the world’s biggest consumer, China spent $150 billion on crude oil, iron ore and copper ore alone in the first four months of 2021. Resurgent demand and rising prices mean that’s $36 billion more than the same period last year.With global commodities rising to record highs, Chinese government officials are trying to temper prices and reduce some of the speculative froth that’s driven markets. Wary of inflating asset bubbles, the People’s Bank of China has also been restricting the flow of money to the economy since last year, albeit gradually to avoid derailing growth. At the same time, funding for infrastructure projects has shown signs of slowing.Economic data for April suggest that both China’s economic expansion and its credit impulse -- new credit as a percentage of GDP -- may already have crested, putting the rally on a precarious footing. The most obvious impact of China’s deleveraging would fall on those metals keyed to real estate and infrastructure spending, from copper and aluminum, to steel and its main ingredient, iron ore.“Credit is a major driver for commodity prices, and we reckon prices peak when credit peaks,” said Alison Li, co-head of base metals research at Mysteel in Shanghai. “That refers to global credit, but Chinese credit accounts for a big part of it, especially when it comes to infrastructure and property investment.”But the impact of China’s credit pullback could ripple far and wide, threatening the rally in global oil prices and even China’s crop markets. And while tighter money supply hasn’t stopped many metals hitting eye-popping levels in recent weeks, some, like copper, are already seeing consumers shying away from higher prices.“The slowdown in credit will have a negative impact on China’s demand for commodities,” said Hao Zhou, senior emerging markets economist at Commerzbank AG. “So far, property and infrastructure investments haven’t shown an obvious deceleration. But they are likely to trend lower in the second half of this year.”A lag between the withdrawal of credit and stimulus from the economy and its impact on China’s raw material purchases may mean that markets haven’t yet peaked. However, its companies may eventually soften imports due to tighter credit conditions, which means the direction of the global commodity market will hinge on how much the recovery in economies including the U.S. and Europe can continue to drive prices higher.Some sectors have seen policy push an expansion in capacity, such as Beijing’s move to grow the country’s crude oil refining and copper smelting industries. Purchases of the materials needed for production in those sectors may continue to see gains although at a slower pace.One example of slowing purchases is likely to be in refined copper, said Mysteel’s Li. The premium paid for the metal at the port of Yangshan has already hit a four-year low in a sign of waning demand, and imports are likely to fall this year, she said.At the same time, the rally in copper prices probably still has a few months to run, according to a recent note from Citigroup Inc., citing the lag between peak credit and peak demand. From around $10,000 a ton now, the bank expects copper to reach $12,200 by September.It’s a dynamic that’s also playing out in ferrous metals markets.“We’re still at an early phase of tightening in terms of money reaching projects,” said Tomas Gutierrez, an analyst at Kallanish Commodities Ltd. “Iron ore demand reacts with a lag of several months to tightening. Steel demand is still around record highs on the back of the economic recovery and ongoing investments, but is likely to pull back slightly by the end of the year.”For agriculture, credit tightening may only affect China’s soaring crop imports around the margins, said Ma Wenfeng, an analyst at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant Co. Less cash in the system could soften domestic prices by curbing speculation, which may in turn reduce the small proportion of imports handled by private firms, he said.The wider trend is for China’s state-owned giants to keep importing grains to cover the nation’s domestic shortfall, to replenish state reserves and to meet trade deal obligations with the U.S.No DisasterMore broadly, Beijing’s policy tightening doesn’t spell disaster for commodities bulls. For one, the authorities are unlikely to accelerate deleveraging from this point, according the latest comments from the State Council, China’s cabinet.“Internal guidance from our macro department is that the country won’t tighten credit too much -- they just won’t loosen further,” said Harry Jiang, head of trading and research at Yonggang Resouces, a commodity trader in Shanghai. “We don’t have many concerns over credit tightening.”And in any case, raw materials markets are no longer almost entirely in thrall to Chinese demand.“In the past, the inflection point of industrial metal prices often coincides with that of China’s credit cycle,” said Larry Hu, chief China economist at Macquarie Group Ltd. “But that doesn’t mean it will be like that this time too, because the U.S. has unleashed much larger stimulus than China, and its demand is very strong.”Hu also pointed to caution among China’s leaders, who probably don’t want to risk choking off their much-admired recovery by sharp swings in policy.“I expect China’s property investment will slow down, but not by too much,” he said. “Infrastructure investment hasn’t changed too much in the past few years, and won’t this year either.”Additionally, China has been pumping up consumer spending as a lever for growth, and isn’t as reliant on infrastructure and property investment as it used to be, said Bruce Pang, head of macro and strategy research at China Renaissance Securities Hong Kong. The disruption to global commodities supply because of the pandemic is also a new factor that can support prices, he said.Other policy priorities, such as cutting steel production to make inroads on China’s climate pledges, or boosting the supply of energy products, whether domestically or via purchases from overseas, are other complicating factors when it comes to assessing import demand and prices for specific commodities, according to analysts.More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Is Buying Bitcoin Right Now a Smart Idea?

It’s no longer news that Bitcoin’s dramatic fall on Thursday weighed on market sentiments relatively but Willy Woo a top crypto analyst, still believes the curtain call for Bitcoin’s overall upward rally has not occurred yet.

Bubble Risks Test China’s Commitment to No Sharp Turn in Policy

(Bloomberg) -- Despite Beijing’s best efforts, asset bubbles are forming in China.Home prices are soaring, prompting officials to revive the idea of a national property tax. A surge in raw material prices spurred pledges to increase domestic supply, toughen market oversight, and crack down on speculation and hoarding.The rapid gains are challenging the central bank’s ability to restrain inflation without hiking borrowing costs or making a sharp turn in monetary policy -- something the People’s Bank of China has said it will avoid. The risk is the government’s attempts to curb price increases won’t be enough, forcing the central bank’s hand at a vulnerable time for domestic consumption.That would be a shock to the nation’s financial markets, which are pricing in a relatively benign scenario. The 10-year government bond yield has fallen to the lowest level in eight months, while the stock benchmark CSI 300 Index is the least volatile since January. The calm contrasts with the rest of the world, where investors are becoming increasingly obsessed with how central banks may react to the threat of an overheating global economy.“How to mitigate the boom in property and commodities without tightening macro policy -- it’s a real challenge for the Chinese government,” said Zhou Hao, an economist at Commerzbank AG in Singapore.More than 15 months after the pandemic first forced China to cut rates and inject trillions of yuan into the financial system, policy makers in Beijing are -- like many others across the world -- dealing with the aftermath. As the global economic recovery accelerates, some are being forced to act because of inflation: Brazil in March became the first Group of 20 nation to lift borrowing costs, with Turkey and Russia following suit. Even Iceland hiked a short-term rate in May.Others, like the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, have insisted spikes in prices are only temporary. The PBOC also downplayed inflation worries in its first-quarter monetary report, published shortly after data showed factory prices surged 6.8% in April -- the fastest pace since 2017.What Bloomberg Economists Say. “It will be a challenge for China to contain rising producer prices because few commodities are priced within the country. There’s not much China can do, and even tightening monetary policy will not be able to change the situation,” said David Qu, China economist at Bloomberg Economics.-- Bloomberg Terminal subscribers can access more insight HEREWhile the rapid increase in commodity prices moderated in recent days, a continuation of gains could pressure companies to pass on rising costs to consumers, who are already spending less than expected. Analysts at Huachuang Securities Co. said in a May 9 report that prices of consumer goods, like home appliances and furniture, as well as electric vehicles and food, are rising. Still, there’s little evidence of demand-driven pressures, with core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy costs, fairly subdued.The threat of inflation -- coupled with a fragile economy -- tends to be bad news for stocks because of how it erodes corporate profits, and for bonds it reduces the value of future cash flows. Accelerating prices walloped China’s bond market in 2019, and contributed to a steep selloff in stocks in early 2016.In a sign of how seriously that threat is being taken, China’s cabinet said Wednesday more effort needs to be taken to tackle rising commodity prices. A PBOC official said China should allow the yuan to appreciate to offset the impact of rising import prices, according to an article published Friday. The currency is trading near an almost three-year high against the dollar.Imported inflation is a headache for China’s leaders already dealing with risks caused by a surge in capital inflows. In recent years Beijing opened investment channels to allow more funds into its financial system. The goal was to use foreign institutions’ heft to anchor its markets and stabilize its currency, but the record liquidity unleashed by global central banks in the wake of the pandemic is now pressuring prices in China.That’s prompted some strong language from senior officials. Top securities regulator Yi Huiman said in March large flows of “hot money” into China must be strictly controlled. The same month, banking regulator Guo Shuqing said he was “very worried” that asset bubbles in overseas markets would burst soon, posing a risk to the global economy.Deciding whether recent spikes in prices are temporary or a permanent shift toward sustained inflation is something Chinese policy makers have to grapple with. For now, Beijing’s current approach of jawboning, boosting supply and penalizing speculation appears to be targeted at the former.“It’s still too early to tell if China can contain the surge in producer prices, and if it can’t, whether that will have large-scale impact on consumer prices,” said Raymond Yeung, chief economist for Greater China at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. “This inflation is largely imported -- it’s not something that can be solved by the PBOC.”More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

ɺ hot market': Demand for office maintenance workers growing at rapid clip

Even with staggered and limited reopenings, the demand for in-person support roles is growing at a rapid clip. The heightened awareness and focus on hygiene reflects how the coronavirus may be a tailwind for the foreseeable future.


Contents

The idea for Wendy’s “old fashioned” hamburgers was actually inspired by Dave Thomas’s trips to Kewpee Hamburgers in his home town of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Kewpee sold square hamburgers and thick malt shakes, much like the well-known restaurant that Thomas eventually founded in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969. Within a year, Thomas opened a second restaurant in Columbus, featuring what Wendy’s claims in its corporate history was “the first modern-day, drive-thru window,” added in 1971. [5] The Columbus location later added a Tim Hortons and was closed on March 2, 2007 after 38 years of business due to declining sales. [6] [7] Thomas named the restaurant after his fourth child Melinda Lou “Wendy” Thomas. [8] Photographs of her were on display at the original Wendy’s restaurant until it closed.

In 1979, Wendy’s was the first fast-food chain to introduce the salad bar. Garden Sensations salads were added in 2002. [9]

In response to a 1986 slowdown in the chain’s performance, Wendy’s restructured its cleanliness standards, menu and other operational details to ensure that stores met the goals and standards of the parent company so that its franchises would be more competitive in the market. [4]

On April 24, 2008, the company announced a merger with Triarc, the parent company of Arby’s. Despite the new ownership, Wendy’s headquarters remained in Dublin. [10] Previously, Wendy’s had rejected more than two buyout offers from Triarc Companies Inc. Following the merger, Triarc became known as Wendy’s/Arby’s Group, a publicly traded company. [citation needed] The merger was not a success and Arby’s was sold in summer 2011. [11]


Ranking Fast Food’s Fried Fish Sandwiches From Worst To First

In the six decades since McDonald’s invention of the Filet-O-Fish, fried fish sandwiches have become big business in fast food. But which chain does it best? We tried all of the major chains to find out..
#FishSandwich #FastFood #FiletOFish.
10. Dairy Queen | 0:12.
9. Sonic Drive-In | 0:44.
8. Wendy’s | 1:22.
7. Hardee’s & Carl’s Jr. | 1:51.
6. Burger King | 2:19.
5. Long John Silver’s | 2:51.
4. Arby’s | 3:22.
3. White Castle | 4:04.
2. McDonald’s | 4:40.
1. Popeyes | 5:36

Video taken from the channel: Mashed


These 38 retailers and restaurant companies have filed for bankruptcy or liquidation in 2020

The entire fleet of Papyrus stores was slated to shut down when the chain's parent company, The Schurman Retail Group, filed for bankruptcy in January.

After Kroger announced it would divest its stake in Lucky's Market in December, grocery industry observers wondered whether the regional chain might be in jeopardy. The following month, Lucky's filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Organic grocer Earth Fare filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on February 4. The chain's 50 natural foods stores were set to shut down, but some locations have been acquired by new owners.

Noah's Event Venue, a chain offering spaces for various gatherings, technically filed for bankruptcy in May 2019. However, in February 2020, a federal judge ordered the remaining Noah's locations closed, leaving engaged couples around the country scrambling.

Home goods retailer Pier 1 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on February 17. In May, the Texas-based company said it would shut down its business after failing to find a buyer.

Michigan-based chain Art Van Furniture filed for Chapter 11 on March 8.

Modell's Sporting Goods filed for Chapter 11 on March 11. The family-owned sporting goods chain will liquidate its remaining stores after failing to find a buyer.

FoodFirst Global Restaurants, the parent company of the Brio Italian Mediterranean and Bravo Fresh Italian restaurant chains, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 10. The company said that 71 of its 92 restaurants had temporarily closed amid the coronavirus outbreak.

True Religion filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on April 13. It had previously filed for bankruptcy in 2017 but emerged from proceedings four months later.

J. Crew filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 4. It emerged from proceedings in August.

Neiman Marcus filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 7, citing "inexorable pressure" from the coronavirus pandemic. Its reorganization plan was approved by the bankruptcy court at the beginning of September.

Stage Stores, which owns Goody's, Palais Royal, Bealls, Peebles, and Gordmans, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 10, saying that coronavirus-related closures exacerbated a "challenging market environment." The company said it would start winding down operations while seeking a buyer for part or all of its business.

Garden Fresh Restaurants, owner of the buffet chains Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on May 14, choosing to close its doors for good.

JCPenney filed for bankruptcy on May 15, saying in court documents that pandemic-related disruptions pushed it over the edge. On September 9, it announced it had reached a tentative deal with its landlords to save it from liquidation. The deal was signed on October 28.

On May 27, off-price retailer Tuesday Morning filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and announced plans to close approximately 230 stores.

The US arm of Le Pain Quotidien filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 27. It sold all of its 98 locations to Aurify Brands, which reportedly plans to reopen at least 35 restaurants.

GNC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on June 24, announcing it planned to close between 800 and 1,200 stores while it looked for a buyer. In September, a judge approved GNC's sale to China-based Harbin Pharmaceutical Group for $770 million.

CEC Entertainment, the parent company of Chuck E. Cheese, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on June 25. Its finances had been in freefall since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Reuters reported that Lucky Brand Dungarees filed for Chapter 11 on June 3. In August, the jeans brand reached a $140 million acquisition deal with Sparc Group, a joint venture between Simon Property Group and Authentic Brands Group.

Brooks Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 8, citing disruption from the pandemic. It said it planned to close 51 stores. In August, Sparc acquired Brooks Brothers for $325 million.

Sur La Table filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 8. It later sold for $89 million to a joint venture between CSC Generation and Marquee Brands LLC, which plans to keep at least 50 stores open.

Japanese lifestyle brand Muji plans to close struggling stores after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on June 10. Reuters reported that the chain's filing will "not affect its operations in other markets."

RTW Retailwinds, the parent company of New York & Co. and Fashion to Figure, filed for bankruptcy on July 13. In October, it sold its e-commerce business and intellectual property to Saadia Group in a plan to be an online-only retailer.

The Paper Store, a specialty gift store with 86 locations in the Northeast, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 14 and said it was seeking a sale.

Ascena Retail, operator of Ann Taylor, LOFT, Lane Bryant, Lou & Grey, Justice, Catherines, and Cacique, filed for bankruptcy on July 23. It said it would close a number of stores, including all of its Catherines stores.

California Pizza Kitchen filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 30 after permanently closing an undisclosed number of restaurants due to the pandemic.

Lord & Taylor parent company Le Tote filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 2 and said it would seek a buyer. On August 27, it said it was beginning the process of liquidating all of its stores.

Tailored Brands, owner of Men's Wearhouse, Jos. A. Bank, Moores Clothing for Men, and K&G Fashion Superstore, also filed for bankruptcy on August 2.

Off-price apparel and home goods retailer Stein Mart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 12. The next day, it said it would close all of its stores.

Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, a chain with four company-owned restaurants and 21 franchised locations, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 12, saying that it was "entirely brought on by the unprecedented and the sudden impact of COVID."

KB US Holdings, parent company of the grocery chains Kings Food Markets and Balducci's, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 23 and said it had accepted a $75 million buyout offer from TLI Bedrock.

Century 21, the off-price department store, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on September 10 and said it would close all 13 of its stores.

Sizzler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on September 21 and said it would need to negotiate leases on its company-owned locations.

It'Sugar, the candy store chain with about 100 locations, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on September 22. It said sales were hurt by declining tourism due to the pandemic.

Ruby Tuesday filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on October 7. It had already closed 150 of its roughly 450 restaurants in 2020.

Rubio's, the Mexican fast-casual chain with locations in California, Arizona, and Nevada, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on October 26. It had permanently closed more than 20 restaurants due to the pandemic.

Friendly's filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on November 1. It also announced it had reached an agreement to be acquired by restaurant investor group Amici Partners Group, LLC for just under $2 million.

Guitar Center, the largest retailer for musical instruments in the US, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on November 22, citing "the economic upheaval created by the persistence of the Covid-19 pandemic."


Why Chick-fil-A is still winning

(YouTube/The Texting Yoga Pants)
Chick-fil-A recently debuted a valet service in an effort to better serve busy parents.

While buckets of Original Recipe chicken can be prepared perfectly in KFC's test kitchen, ensuring that chicken is made "the hard way" at every KFC location is a much more difficult task. Unlike reheating frozen food (like McNuggets) or preparing food (like a Subway sandwich) in front of customers, there's a much wider margin for error when cooking is put in the hands of employees.

"Operations, quite frankly, has been broken for a long time," Hochman said.

KFC's difficulties in maintaining quality are complicated by its biggest fried-chicken competitor. Chick-fil-A has some of the highest ratings for taste and customer service in the business — a fact analysts say allows its locations to make triple the revenue of KFC restaurants.

Chick-fil-A's dominance on a restaurant-by-restaurant basis can be traced in part to the chain's peculiar business model. The company accepts just 0.4% of franchisees, making it one of the most selective chains in the industry. Operators do not own or receive any equity in their business and can open only one location.

(Kate Taylor)
The kitchen of a remodeled KFC location.

"I don't necessarily subscribe to their religious beliefs, or their beliefs about the world, but I think they find owners that are religious bent [who] tend to be more conservative," Hochman said. "They can make sure that procedures get followed. I think that's a competitive advantage for them. I don't know if it's an advantage I would want, but it's certainly working for them from a business standpoint."

Today, Chick-fil-A is pushing a more apolitical, inclusive message than it has in the past. F ranchisees are still encouraged, however, to become "entrenched" in their communities, including involvement in local churches — a strategy that has helped build up the chain's loyal fan base over the years.

It's difficult to pin down what sets Chick-fil-A employees apart (their pay is roughly equivalent to other chains' employees), though the company attributes its success to investing in training employees. With only one location per franchisee and a strongly cultivated company culture, that training may come more easily than at chains like KFC.

In essence, Chick-fil-A has developed a reputation for customer-service excellence. KFC has developed the opposite, with even the company acknowledging that customers no longer trust restaurants to delivery quality food, sparking Re-Colonelization.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Maryland Is a State of Mind

Ain't nobody in Maryland but us chickens.

As a Detroit transplant, I’ve come to embrace many of my adopted home’s delicacies. I’m always down for shawarma from any of the numerous local Middle Eastern restaurants. If I don’t have at least one Greek salad and/or omelette at one of the many independent “Coney Island” diners around the city it throws off my whole week. I’ll occasionally enjoy a nice square Detroit style pan pizza with the sauce on top of the cheese, though that’s something I typically have to be in the mood for. Simultaneously, my Kentucky upbringing, has biased me against other local foods. I’m not a massive fan of Detroit Coney dogs, which come smothered in a thick meaty sauce, not dissimilar from chili, topped with mustard and minced onions. Instead I prefer my Greek-influenced chili dog in the Cincinnati style with a thinner chili sauce with a strong cinnamon flavor and a big pile of shredded cheddar. (Spaghetti with the same sauce and cheese, plus onions and beans is pretty good too.) The Cincinnati chili chain, Gold Star Chili, has long had a presence where I grew up in Central Kentucky, and their main competition, Skyline, has locations not too far away, as well as a line of grocery items. I’ll enjoy the occasional Detroit Coney, but the Cincinnati style ones are my preference, and probably always will be.

Vernor’s, a brand of ginger ale born in Detroit with a devoted following in southeast Michigan is another matter. I can’t stand the stuff. It has an excessive amount of carbonation and an odd metallic flavor. Maybe it’s a product of my youth drinking Ale8-1, Kentucky’s local ginger ale, or memories of an unpleasant childhood vacation in Northern Ohio where I fell ill and was force fed Vernor’s by my mother in an attempt to settle my churning gut. Either way, I flat out refuse to drink Vernor’s, or anything containing it, including the Boston Cooler, a mixture of Vernor’s ginger ale and vanilla ice cream, blended into an unholy float/milkshake abomination. No one knows why it’s called a Boston Cooler, as it originated in Detroit and is virtually unknown outside of the Detroit area, including Boston, where locals have no idea what a Boston Cooler is.

This phenomenon isn’t unusual in the food world. Hawaiian pizza was invented in Canada. German chocolate cake isn’t from Germany. (It’s named for its creator, a British-American chef named Sam German.) I was therefore unsurprised when I learned that the chain, Maryland Fried Chicken, originated in, you guessed it, Florida.

It was the early sixties in Orlando when restaurateur Albert Constantine saw early Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises opening nearby and noted their popularity. In response, he developed his own pressure fried chicken and signature seasoning blend with 21 herbs and spices, because if you’re going to imitate Colonel Sanders, you’ve got to outdo him with regard to the number of spices in your signature recipe. When it came time to pick a name for the restaurant chain that would sell his chicken, Constantine settled on Maryland Fried Chicken, in an attempt to attract workers in a nearby aircraft plant, many of whom had moved to Florida from Baltimore. His plan worked, and Maryland Fried Chicken was an overnight hit in Orlando.

Franchising grew MFC into a relatively expansive chain by the time Constantine cashed out in 1975. I can’t find a location count of the chain at its peak, but the Florida chain at one time had locations as far away as Pennsylvania, and presumably Maryland at some point. Some unknown hardship brought about the chain’s decline, resulting in locations outside of the core market closing. Today, around twenty MFC locations are open in Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia. They seem to be loosely affiliated, connected by little more than name these days, with different owners operating their own websites and Facebook pages. Most surviving locations use the same decades-old signs or modern imitations thereof, remnants of an era when franchisees had more support from a corporate entity.

Weirdly, the lone surviving Maryland Fried Chicken outside of the south is open for business in Imlay City, Michigan, over 800 miles from the next nearest MFC in Florence, South Carolina. With the final vestige of MFC’s northern presence so close to me, I couldn’t resist making the 90 minute drive up to Imlay City to check it out.


The Imlay City location bears the surname of (presumably) the original franchisee, and plays it fast and loose with the word "fried."

That confusing drive thru sign makes more sense when you're there. I promise.

I arrived a few minutes before the restaurant’s 11 AM opening time, despite a stop a few miles south to get a picture of a billboard advertising the Imlay City MFC. I take a minute to appreciate the small, house-like building that houses the business, as well as a few curiosities in the parking lot. There’s the rectangular main sign that contains the chain's signature yellow chicken characters over a red backdrop with a convex top edge, meant to evoke the shape earlier MFC signs, a few of which are still standing down south. There’s also a photo opportunity in the form of a larger than life image of the same chicken characters with holes for you, your children, and your elderly relatives to stick their heads through for a whimsical family photo. My favorite feature of the grounds, though, was the drive thru sign affixed to a living tree, which really sold the rustic vibe of the place.

Chicken joint or grandma's house?

Fun for the whole family.

Drive thru's over yonder, y'all!

I walked in, the first customer of the day, and ordered a three piece mixed fried chicken meal from one of the two women who were running the place. I picked homemade chips and coleslaw as my sides. As I sat down and awaited my order, I heard the telltale high frequency whirring of some esoteric commercial appliance freshly spiral cutting the potatoes that would become my chips. With a few minutes before my order came up, I looked around.


I kind of want to go back, and just order all of the sides.
Basically the entire dining area.
The dining area is on the small side, but feels reasonably spacious thanks to judicious table placement and large windows with more solid yellow chickens. Decor is decidedly rustic and very chickeny, with many small chicken knickknacks on every available surface. It makes for a mom and pop feel in what is barely a chain restaurant. Given its distance from other units in the same chain it seems unlikely that the locals, or even some employees know that there are other Maryland Fried Chicken locations hundreds of miles away.

So.

. many.

. chickens!
I don’t get to ponder the decor for more than a couple of minutes before my order is brought to my table. What sits before me is a mound of fried goodness, with my chicken buried underneath a mantle of special cut potato chips fresh from the fryer. I sample the chips first, because they’re on top and find them to be crispy and warm. They’re seasoned with a tangy, smoky powder that adds a slight barbecue flavor. I’m instantly a fan.


It was necessary to eat most of the chips to allow for optimal chicken access.

With the chips out of the way, it was chicken time.
Once I’ve depleted most of the chips, I find a fried chicken breast, wing, and thigh. They appear to have been cooked to order and have a thick crispy coating, roughly comparable in texture to KFC’s extra crispy breading. Unlike KFC, you can definitely tell the seasoning is there. There are hints of sage and paprika present when you bite into the chicken. It’s definitely a unique and pleasant flavor without being overwhelming, and it compliments the flavor of the chicken well. The coleslaw is nondescript, but acceptable, as most coleslaw tends to be. My meal also came with bread, which to by surprise tasted freshly baked, far exceeding my expectations of a factory-made roll from a plastic bag. Instead, the bread was dense and flavorful. I suspect it came from a local bakery.

As I finished up my meal and gave the place a last look. I was glad to have experienced it. As the final location of the chain’s ill-fated northern expansion, the Imlay City Maryland Fried Chicken is a unique site in the local fast food landscape. While I’m often biased against out of state analogs of the food I grew up with in Kentucky, I feel no such bias against Michigan’s only location of the Florida-based chain that sells chicken allegedly related Maryland. I can honestly say that I prefer the experience and food at Maryland Fried Chicken to that of my local KFC. Then again, my dirty secret is that as a person from Kentucky, I generally prefer Popeye’s To KFC, so my preference of Albert Constantine’s chicken over Harland Sanders' chicken shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.


The QSR 50

There's an age-old saying woven into kids' vernacular, a commandment of sorts underlying playground activities the world over: "First is the worst, second is the best, third is the one with the hairy chest" (third, depending on your playground, may also have a treasure chest).

While McDonald's executives are unlikely to complain that nearly $36 billion in U.S. sales is the "worst," they probably don't love that being the benchmark for the quick-service restaurant industry for decades has painted an enormous target on their backs, or that the post-recession foodservice climate has equipped competitors big and small with the kind of market-grabbing ammo they need to finally make a dent in the Golden Arches' long-impenetrable armor.

It's not to say McDonald's is faltering. Business continues to grow, and the company's stranglehold on Americans' wallets—especially in rural and other non-urban markets—is firm its brand affinity is deeply embedded in our culture. But these days, there's a growing hint of urgency flowing from Oak Brook. Recent high-profile menu adds like the Premium Chicken McWrap and Mighty Wings were non-starters, while the Dollar Menu & More value menu drummed up more debate about the relationship between discounting and franchisees' profitability than it did consumer excitement. Meanwhile, comparable sales have been a roller coaster, the waves of the nation's wage debate have been lapping at headquarters' doors, and competitors like Taco Bell are throwing down the gauntlet in the breakfast daypart, threatening to stake a long-term claim in a space McDonald's has long dominated.

All of this has squeezed McDonald's between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, pressure is on to enhance food and service to compete with fast casuals on the other, failed menu extensions seem to have proved that the brand might be better off sticking with the traditional burgers and fries value that made it so successful in the first place. Will customizable burgers, seasoned fries, a rejuvenated Ronald McDonald, a commitment to purchase more sustainable beef, and mobile ordering help find the right balance between the two? McDonald's hopes so, as all have either been teased, tested, or tweeted this year as the company strives for something, anything, that will finally stick in today's crowding industry playground.

Novelty has always found its place in the quick-service industry, an industry in which consumer trends change at the drop of a dime and getting the customer's attention in an increasingly noisy field requires a little bit of showboating. Even Subway, the largest restaurant chain in the world and as sure a bet as there is when it comes to brand exposure, has twirled its toes in the pool of novelty, this year throwing some Fritos on a sandwich (the Fritos Chicken Enchilada Melt) to see what happened and crashing New York Fashion Week with "Project Subway," a contest to see what kind of outfits designers could come up with using only Subway packaging products.

Mostly, though, Subway has used the last year to fortify its position as a company committed to a healthy, active lifestyle. The brand expanded its athlete spokesperson campaign through a partnership with former soccer mega-star Pele, who will serve as a "global brand ambassador," and it teamed up with First Lady Michelle Obama in her Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), which aims to improve childhood nutrition. The latter move made Subway the first quick serve to team up with PHA and saw the brand commit to its first kid-focused marketing campaign.

Howard Schultz is on a warpath. The Starbucks CEO, who rescued the brand from oversaturation and dilution in the mid-2000s when he returned from an eight-year retirement, has the coffee giant on the straight-and-narrow, a path clearly defined by a company culture rooted in creativity, sustainability, and social consciousness.

But the real trick up Schultz's sleeve is in the brand diversification strategy he's masterminded at Starbucks. The acquisitions of La Boulange, Teavana, and Evolution Fresh have given Starbucks skin in the food, tea, and juice games, respectively, while also providing the opportunity to proliferate the company culture in new ways Oprah, for example, became a new brand partner by developing the Teavana Oprah Chai Tea, which debuted this year in Starbucks and Teavana stores nationwide, as well as in the Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar units the company opened in Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

While Starbucks is busy rolling La Boulange and Evolution Fresh products out to more of its company-operated stores, Schultz and company are already moving on to their next diversification phase: The brand's new craft soda line, Fizzio, debuted this summer in Golden Ginger Ale, Spiced Root Beer, and Lemon Ale flavors.

Perhaps no other quick-service limited-time offer has drummed up as much buzz in the last 18 months as Wendy's Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger did when it debuted in July 2013. The pretzel-bunned burger unleashed a widespread pretzel trend last year and led to a 3.2 percent comparable same-store sales increase in 2013's third quarter. But Wendy's wasn't done in what it called the "Year of the Bun" brioche and ciabatta burgers followed soon after the mega success that was the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger, all in an effort to enhance Wendy's menu to more of a fast-casual quality. For more on how Wendy's used the last year to give its menu, store, and brand a premium spin, click here.

When Burger King announced the launch of its Satisfries in September 2013, it was a welcome change of pace for a brand that had spent the preceding three or four years rolling out massive LTO menus and novelty products that didn't seem to have much promise for long-term success. The Satisfries, though, gave Burger King a new kind of weapon in its menu arsenal: The french fries were the first significant healthier fry product among major quick-serve players and gave Burger King a major selling point in the ongoing nutrition conversation.

But where the Satisfries were a proactive move to get ahead of the industry in the fries department, much of the rest of Burger King's moves in the last year seem to have been reactive. In response to the "breakfast wars" between McDonald's and Taco Bell, Burger King inserted itself by announcing it would make burgers available during the morning daypart. After McDonald's revamped its value menu with the Dollar Menu & More, Burger King renamed its own dollar menu the King Deals Value Menu. And to combat McDonald's signature Big Mac, Burger King re-released its Big King burger, which had originally been discontinued in the '90s.

With unit counts and systemwide sales both down over 2012, Burger King may want to consider its own advice found in its brand-new tagline—which replaced the 40-year-old "Have It Your Way" in May—if it wants to climb back into the top-five competition: "Be Your Way."

There's no shortage of news flowing out of Taco Bell's Irvine, California, headquarters these days blink and you might miss an announcement of another transformative LTO, industry-resonating menu shift, or cheeky marketing campaign aimed snugly at the brand's chief demographic of young, hungry men.

Whereas a product launch like Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Taco (DLT) would give most other brands enough street cred to coast for a year or two in the innovation department—the DLTs reportedly sold about a billion units in their first year after debuting in the summer of 2012, and now come in four flavors—the folks at Taco Bell didn't rest on their laurels. First they ditched the kids' menu, shedding it in favor of an increased investment in the coveted Millennial demographic. Then they expanded the beverage menu, adding six new soft drinks developed in partnership with PepsiCo. There was also the announcement that Taco Bell would open a fast-casual extension brand, U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom, that features higher-quality fusion items in a more casual setting.

The biggest news from Taco Bell in the last year, though, was its first national foray into the breakfast daypart. The breakfast menu—Waffle Taco, A.M. Crunchwrap, A.M. Grilled Taco, Breakfast Burrito, and Cinnabon Delights—offered an innovative spin on the morning meal that played well across social media channels, while the brand's major marketing push, which included shots fired at breakfast king McDonald's, ensured that the menu rollout was buzzed about in consumer media for weeks.

Dunkin' Donuts is keeping apace with snack and beverage leader Starbucks, boosting its net unit count by 371 to Starbucks' 329, growth that has included a steady march across the West Coast. Similar to Starbucks, Dunkin' has focused much of its growth strategy on diversification, especially in the food department. The Boston-based brand ran off a string of LTOs, including the Chicken Apple Sausage, Eggs Benedict, Spicy Smoked Sausage, and Angus Steak Big N' Toasted breakfast sandwiches, as well as the Angus Steak & Cheese Wrap. It also added permanently the Barbecue Chicken, Bacon Ranch Chicken, and Grilled Chicken Flatbread sandwiches, and expanded its nutrition-focused DDSmart menu with a Sliced Turkey breakfast sandwich and a Whole Wheat Bagel.

The brand's next play for out-and-about customers? Rolling out a new store design. Dunkin' introduced its first redesign in seven years last summer, an upgrade that includes cozier furniture and lighting, more electrical outlets, TVs, and bar-top seating, a package intended to invite customers to sit and stay a while.

The pizza leader and Yum! Brands outfit had dabbled with novelty pies the last few years, but lately, it seems Pizza Hut has caught on to the tsunami of fast-casual pizza joints crashing across the U.S. Last summer, the brand released its Firebaked Flatbread Pizzas, which were "wood-fire style" and came six to a box, and earlier this year it stepped up its premium pizza offerings with the Hand-Tossed Crust, a lighter crust more akin to the Neapolitan style so popular at those fast casuals. Whether the premium, build-your-own pizza brands make a dent in Pizza Hut's sales remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure: Pizza Hut should be fine in the online-ordering department, where it recently surpassed the $1 billion sales mark and which now accounts for one-third of all of the brand's orders.

Enjoying its newfound spot as the ruler of the chicken category roost, Chick-fil-A cruised through another super-successful year in 2013, padding its systemwide sales by $400 million (crossing the $5 billion threshold in the process) and bumping its unit count by 92 units. This year's introduction of a new grilled chicken recipe—which, according to the company, took seven years and $50 million to develop—could give the ardent fan base another reason to swing into a Chick-fil-A, and should be attractive to new markets outside the Southeast that the brand is just now starting to tap into, including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Having ceded chicken dominance to Chick-fil-A—which it continued to do this year, as it fell in both unit counts and systemwide sales—KFC seems to be grasping for the next big idea to ruffle some feathers in the quick-serve industry. The Original Recipe Boneless Chicken last year didn't do the trick, nor did the Go Cups, which were designed for easy on-the-go snacking. With its new ideas failing to catch on with the public, KFC resorted this year to bringing back one of its most buzzed about—and novel—menu items: the Double Down.

The one new idea that could have some legs at KFC is KFC eleven, an upgraded, fast-casual version of the concept that features some of KFC's chicken items, along with flatbreads and more high-quality sandwiches. One unit is open, near the company's Louisville, Kentucky, headquarters, but apparently it's not inspired much confidence among the leadership at parent company Yum! Brands just yet Yum opened Super Chix, another chicken fast-casual prototype, in Dallas this year.

The No. 1 fast casual inched closer to the QSR 50's top 10, at least as far as sales go Panera's $400 million-plus boost to its systemwide sales over 2012, coupled with KFC's tumble, has positioned the former to be a scant $16 million away from leap-frogging the latter into the industry's most elite fraternity. CEO Ron Shaich hopes a new initiative that the company is calling "Panera 2.0" will be enough to help cover that spread. The initiative will see Panera completely reimagining its ordering process and throughput, using touch-screen stations, menu customization, mobile ordering, and a revised store layout to streamline the Panera experience.

Four years after Domino's Pizza shocked the industry with its pronouncement that its pizza was no good and that it would start over with a new recipe, the delivery kings are continuing to ride high, having boosted both store counts and systemwide sales. While the brand had focused on menu diversification after the new pizza recipe debut, lately it's been tightening the screws on the broader brand experience, slowly rolling out its new "Pizza Theater" store prototype and tinkering with its ordering capabilities, which in the last year included new iPad and Windows Phone 8 apps.

Not one to sit back and let the top 10 players have all the fun with consumer trends, Sonic unveiled its own series of menu additions that played well among the buzzword-happy social media generation. Soon after Wendy's launched its popular Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger LTO, Sonic added its own Pretzel Dogs, which came in Original, Cheesy Bacon, and, later, Chili Cheese varieties. The brand also followed the leaders toward the "natural" sandbox with its Natural-Cut Fries, and it played up its leadership in the beverage space, using this summer to hype the fact that it had 50 different shake and slush options. All that menu innovation should give Sonic a leg up in future endeavors, which, it announced, will include opening 1,000 units in the next 10 years.

You have to figure that Carl's Jr. and Hardee's parent company, CKE Restaurants, has embedded the mantra "Go big or go home" deep into its brand strategy. From its LTO burgers, like the X-Tra Bacon Thickburger and Super Bacon Cheeseburger, to its permanent additions, like the recent Big Chicken Fillet Sandwich, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's focus as much on quantity as they do quality in their menu and messaging. The company even claimed that the chicken in the Big Chicken Fillet Sandwich was, at 5 ounces, the biggest in quick service, using its advertising to say it has the biggest… well, birds in the business. But CKE isn't forgetting the quality component in its strategy. Having successfully rolled out Hardee's Made from Scratch biscuits to all Carl's Jr. locations, the company leveraged the oven technology to introduce Fresh Baked Buns to the system.

Maybe the biggest news at CKE last year, though, was its acquisition by Atlanta-based Roark Capital, which acquired the company in late 2013 for $1.7 billion. (Editor's note: While Carl's Jr. and Hardee's have historically been listed as separate entries in the QSR 50, this year we at QSR decided to combine the two brands as one entry to recognize CKE's efforts to bring the two more closely in harmony in both their marketing and menu efforts.)

In a world where premium quality, customization, and brand culture are collectively fueling the limited-service restaurant industry's push into the future, Chipotle is in the driver's seat. The fast-casual brand, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2013, is rooting itself into customers' collective consciousness as much as McDonald's did in the '50s and '60s, becoming the benchmark against which consumers and media alike compare the rest of the industry.

With its menu mix firmly established, Chipotle is planting creative new touch points through which it can interact with its loyal consumer base. Its "Scarecrow" video and mobile game were instant hits in the fall of 2013, following in the footsteps of Chipotle's popular 2012 "Back to the Start" video, which similarly raised questions on the subject of factory farming. Shortly after, Chipotle debuted a show on Hulu.com, "Farmed and Dangerous," to continue that conversation. This year's "Cultivating Thought" initiative, which recruited popular authors, actors, and other artists to create content for Chipotle's packaging, follows in the same vein, encouraging customers to engage not only with creative thought and progress, but also with the Chipotle brand.

Well, you can't say Jack in the Box doesn't know its audience. The California-based brand made waves last October when it announced, as part of an ongoing brand facelift, its Munchie Meals, a late-night menu aimed at Millennials and composed of more, let's say, unique menu items. The menu includes the Cheesy Chicken sandwich, topped with Mozzarella sticks and white cheese sauce the Stacked Grilled Cheese Burger, made with a sourdough grilled cheese sandwich as the top bun the Loaded Nuggets, drizzled with two types of melted cheese, ranch dressing, and bits of bacon and the Brunch Burger, a cheeseburger with a fried egg and hash browns served on a croissant. Munchie Meals are part of a broader late-night shift in which Jack in the Box restaurants become de facto nightclubs at 9 p.m., loud electronic music dancing through the restaurants.

The Jack in the Box corporate team went through its own transition in the last year. Long-time CEO Linda Lang retired, replaced by company veteran Leonard Comma.

It's taken Arby's a long time to climb back from the recession, but it's getting there. The roast beef sandwich chain, which peaked in systemwide sales in 2009 before being set back by the Great Recession, has slid down the QSR 50 ranks as brands like Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread, Jack in the Box, and Chipotle have blown past. But Arby's seemed to stabilize the business in the last year, helped along by good mojo from moves like its Share Our Strength commitment—in which it is the biggest quick-serve contributor to the childhood hunger charity, its total donations now totaling more than $5 million—and the buzz it created when it teased musician Pharrell Williams via Twitter for the hat he wore to the Grammy Awards, which looked awfully similar to the Arby's logo.

Little Caesars keeps cruising along by doing much of the same, crossing the $3 billion sales mark and growing its unit count by 217 stores mostly on the back of its incredibly popular Hot 'n Ready pizzas. This year, though, it's throwing its weight into the lunch daypart with its $5 Lunch Combo, which comes with four slices of DEEP! DEEP! Dish pizza and a 20-ounce Pepsi product.

A steady string of seasonal LTOs helped Dairy Queen maintain its dessert dominance in 2013, even as frozen-yogurt concepts continued to spoon into its market share. The brand's introduction to New York City this year, with its first location opening in Manhattan, introduced ice cream treats to millions of people who might have experienced fro-yo overload.

Sports continue to be Papa John's primary calling card, as the Louisville, Kentucky–based brand that is celebrating its 30th year in 2014 weaves the nation's three most popular professional leagues—the NFL, NBA, and MLB—into its promotional efforts. In baseball, Papa John's became the official pizza of the most popular team, the New York Yankees, while in the basketball world, the company bumped its exposure during the playoffs with a commercial featuring Indiana Pacers star Paul George. But it's football that really makes Papa John's tick, and after NFL MVP Peyton Manning joined the company as a franchisee in the spring of 2013, retired superstar and fellow Papa John's spokesman Jerome Bettis followed suit, purchasing three restaurants in the Pittsburgh market.

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

At Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, it's all Southern and Cajun favorites all the time, and that's continued to inform its limited-time and permanent menu offers that corner a unique niche within the industry. When the brand celebrated Mardi Gras this year, it did so with the Butterfly Shrimp Tackle Box and Cajun Surf & Turf meals, while at the same time adding a host of permanent menu options, including Cajun Fish, Catfish, Spicy Tenders, and Cajun Rice. The company's most successful LTO, however, proved to be something inspired by a dish whose heritage has long been debated. Popeyes' Chicken Waffle Tenders, which fried the chicken in waffle batter, were so successful that the brand brought them back this summer.

No one ever said a chain serving up a taste of the Far East couldn't mix in some trends from the West in the meantime. That's exactly what Panda Express has been doing with its latest LTOs, which have included the Orange Chicken with Bacon, Shiitake Kale Chicken Breast, and Sriracha Shrimp entrées. The brand is also offering a safe haven for Americans looking for a quick but healthy bite Panda Express features a host of Wok Smart items with 250 calories or less per serving.

Better-burger brands may be all the rage, but regional titans like Whataburger prove that customers are still footin' it to the traditional joints they grew up with. Whataburger, though, doesn't always show its age while old-school dishes like the Monterey Melt proved popular enough to join the permanent menu, the brand also scored with last summer's trend-happy Avocado Bacon Burger LTO.

In traditional Jimmy John's fashion, the brand made zero waves in the last 18 months, instead putting the proof in the pudding, increasing its store count by almost 250 units and bumping its systemwide sales by another $200 million, one year after it crossed the $1 billion milestone for the first time.

It's fitting that Five Guys and Jimmy John's are a pair on the QSR 50, as each seems to have studied the same playbook: keep to the menu you've got, put your head down, make money. And that's exactly what Five Guys did, too, building both its sales and store counts over 2012.

The Southeast fast-casual staple is slowly spreading its wings, moving the brand westward into states like Utah and Washington. Last year's partnership with 28 Division I college football and basketball programs helped put Zaxby's more on the national map, and it invested in those partnerships with its Fan Special, which included four signature Chicken Fingerz, Crinkle Fries, Texas Toast, Zax Sauce, and a Large Beverage. The chain also drummed up social buzz with its Check-In for Chicken mobile app and rewards program, which doled out points to members who engaged with the brand on social media. All of it helped push Zaxby's across the $1 billion threshold for the first time.

Another fixture in the Southeast, Bojangles' is following in Zaxby's footsteps and approaching $1 billion in systemwide sales for the first time. The company's hints earlier this year that it would move into new territories, including the Midwest and up the East Coast, suggested Bojangles' is ready for prime time. Click here for more.

With the burger and fro-yo crazes raging up and down both coasts, Culver's is banking on its down-home Midwest favorites, the Butter Burger and frozen custard, to play well in new markets. The Wisconsin-based brand is slowly expanding into states like South Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Arizona, and this year crossed the 500-unit mark for the first time.

Steak 'n Shake is ringing in its 80th anniversary this year, a significant achievement for a brand that's seen its fair share of burger competitors come and go and for a corporate team that has faced upheaval in the last decade or so. CEO Sardar Biglari has made more headlines for his contested attempts at taking control of casual chain Cracker Barrel, but his efforts at Steak 'n Shake shouldn't be missed: The company added nearly $40 million in sales last year over 2012 and bumped its unit count by 22 stores.

Some CEOs take their brands to the top of the industry, others to the top of the world. Church's CEO Jim Hyatt served as the ultimate brand ambassador when he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania last fall and posed for a picture with a Church's Chicken flag. Now that he's made it to the top of the highest freestanding mountain in the world, though, he has some work to do with the brand. Church's slid down the QSR 50 rankings as it lost about $15 million in sales from 2012 and four net units.

The master of the take-and-bake pizza art gave its concept a fresh spin in 2013, debuting the "CREATE" store prototype that features an open kitchen layout to put the ingredient prep process on display, digital menuboards, and more opportunity for guest customization. The new prototype, which has been incorporated into a handful of locations around the country, dressed up Papa Murphy's for the national spotlight, which it earned when it filed for its initial public offering in March.

The sister double drive-thru chains managed to jump a few spots up the QSR 50 rankings, even with a meager $27 million systemwide sales increase. All the same, it's impressive for a brand that almost exclusively has no dining rooms and that has been forced to get creative with its beef purchasing to manage value in an age of rising commodity costs.

Seafood is enjoying a limited-service renaissance, with its nutritious profile and sustainability message increasingly resonating with the consuming public. So far, though, it seems to be rooted mostly in the fast-casual space, with traditional brands like Long John Silver's still struggling to maintain relevance. But Long John Silver's is actively reasserting itself, having removed trans fats from its menu late last year and using the rollover into 2014 to introduce a big new marketing campaign, "Think Fish," that encourages folks who would otherwise eat chicken or beef to give seafood another shot.

What do coffee, pie, red velvet cake, brownie batter, and salted caramel all have in common? They've all found their way into Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the last year and a half, joining a long roster of specialty flavors that cycle through the menu throughout the year. Between those menu LTOs and free-doughnut promotions like those surrounding "Talk Like a Pirate Day" and "National Doughnut Day," Krispy Kreme knows how to get fans' attention.

Fifty years in and Del Taco's still holding its own as the No. 3 limited-service brand in the Mexican category. A 2013 brand refresh—which included two new menus, Buck & Under and New Tastes, as well as a new "UnFreshing Believable" tagline—ushered in a slew of new menu items, including the Crunchtada Tostada and Crunchtada Pizzas the Epic Burritos, which strayed from the brand's cheaper-price point stance at $4.99 and were between 14 and 18.5 ounces Turkey Tacos and the Breakfast Tacos, which debuted shortly after Taco Bell launched its first breakfast menu.

It may not top the burger category in sales, nor in AUV, unit counts, or social media. But White Castle is the only burger concept that now lays claim to the title "Most Influential Burger Ever," a title bestowed upon it by Time magazine. Now the Columbus, Ohio–based chain hopes to impart some of its influence in other parts of its concept Grilled Chicken Sliders and Belgian Waffle Sandwiches joined the menu, and the corporate team unveiled a new store prototype that leverages touch-screen kiosks where customers can design and order their meals.

The flame-grilled chicken chain cruised a few spots up the QSR 50 thanks to a series of limited-time offers, including the Chicken Mexican Cobb, Chicken Ranchero, Chicken Mole, and Ultimate Double Chicken Pollo Bowls Puffy Shell Chicken Tacos and shredded-beef Torta, Grande Tacos, and Stuffed Quesadilla entrées.

Quiznos can't seem to stanch the bleeding, still suffering after the dive that began some time around the recession. LTOs like the Toasty Pastas, Bourbon Steak Sub, and Surf 'n' Turf Salads couldn't stop Quiznos' systemwide sales from falling $237 million over 2012, or its unit count from dropping by another 531 units. For those keeping score at home, that's a $1.23 billion sales drop and 3,232-unit loss since Quiznos peaked in 2008, when it was No. 18 on the QSR 50. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.

Not necessarily an obvious destination for healthier eating, Boston Market is doing its darndest to attract customers mindful of what they eat. The brand continued in its mission to cut sodium across its menu by 15 percent by the end of this year, while it also rolled out the new "Meals Under 550 Calories" menu, which hosts several low-calorie entrées and sides.

Qdoba gave its fans the ability to engage with its loyalty program while they're on the go, developing a mobile-optimized version of the Qdoba Rewards program that allows guests to access, manage, and redeem rewards from any smartphone.

The Canadian brand is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but still keeping young. Tim Hortons has been rolling out a mobile payment program on smartphone devices, giving customers the ability to pay through the brand's TimmyMe smartphone application.

The Texas-based fast casual kept to its winning ways, once again slowly building its sales and unit count through a calculated growth strategy that includes embedding the restaurants in each community and serving health-minded meals.

Making a big leap from top Contender in last year's QSR 50 to No. 43 this year, Einstein Bros. found success in taking its concept to the nontraditional channels. It spent 2013 opening restaurants in college campuses, airports, medical centers, hospitals, train stations, and a casino.

No matter how strong the better-burger winds blow, In-N-Out, with its crazed fan base and deep-seeded brand affinity, keeps chugging along. The uber-popular burger joint tallied an 11-unit bump and $30 million systemwide sales climb in 2013.

Wingstop celebrates its second year on the QSR 50, and it might just be getting started. The Dallas-based brand enjoyed its best-ever year in 2013, and closed the year with development agreements in place for another 182 stores. This year marks its 20th anniversary, and Wingstop is using the year to focus more on East Coast expansion, including in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Seasonal flavor and product LTOs were the name of the game at Baskin-Robbins last year, helping the brand to slight bumps in systemwide sales and unit count. This year, the Dunkin' Brand partnered with Boardwalk Frozen Treats to put 16 flavors of packaged ice creams and ice cream bars on the shelves of retailers across the U.S.

Having used the last few years to diversify its menu mix, including with food options, Jamba Juice is now doubling down on its core smoothie and juice offerings. It launched a new line of Whole Food Nutrition smoothies, which are made with ingredients such as kale, carrots, chia seeds, and Greek yogurt, and expanded its fresh-squeezed juice to more than 500 stores.

Moe's is shifting into the next growth strategy gear, having launched its first national media campaign in 2013 and following it up with a website refresh and enhanced digital platform. The fast-casual Mexican brand is banking on the national exposure to help it build off 2013's success, which included a $46 million bump in systemwide sales and 45-store climb in overall unit count.

The 45-year-old, Nashville-based seafood chain is ready for a fresh start. Captain D's launched a new growth strategy this year that will increase its corporate-owned locations and further incorporate its "Beach Design" store prototype, which includes new menuboards, dinnerware, and equipment. The new stores will also highlight Captain D's new Fire-Grilled menu, which rolled out earlier this year and includes Shrimp Skewers, Wild Alaskan Salmon, Seasoned Tilapia, and Surf and Turf.

Pulling up the QSR 50 rear is first timer McAlister's Deli, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and has deals in place for 63 additional stores, including in new markets like New Jersey Buffalo, New York Orlando Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho. Partnerships with lenders First Franchise Capital, Balboa Capital, and Franchise America Finance will help the company fund the growth.


Where to find great Korean fried chicken in Chicago

Fried chicken is a food that is is enjoyed all around the world. A South Korean varient of fried chicken has become hugely popular and although it is not found as commonly as American fried chicken, Korean fried chicken is just as delicious if not more so. The difference between Korean fried chicken and the American versions is that it is often known for its signature crunchy crust and covered with Asian inspired sauces like soy sauce or spicy glazes.

This type of fried chicken can be consumed as an entire meal, an appetizer or just as a drinking snack. This type of fried chicken is also commonly served with a few side dishes that can also be found alongside many more traditional korean meals such as kimchi or pickled radishes. Many bars around South Korea also serve Korean fried chicken as it has become a very popular food to eat while drinking.

Historically, Koreans prepared chicken dishes by steaming the meat which resulted in the protein being included in primarily just soup or stew dishes. This concept changed after the Korean War as African American military were also stationed within South Korean and brought with them the concept of fried chicken. Shortly after, Korea made their own take on the classic fried chicken dish and soon enough, Korean fried chicken restaurants were appearing all over South Korea in cities like Seoul and Busan.

When looking for Korean fried chicken around Chicago, there is one restaurant that stands out from the crowd and that is Choong Man Chicken which can be found in a few states across the country. This chain is a staple for any Korean fried chicken lover and consistently delivers a delicious experience time and time again. Choong Man Chicken is popular for their take on fried chicken. They offer a version of Korean fried chicken where they take the entire bird and cut it into manageable pieces and then fried two times for the absolutely amazing crunch that they are well known for. They also offer a variety of sauces that are a must try as well.

For every order Choong Man also includes complimentary cubes of pickled radish that are a great palatte cleanser for what would otherwise be a heavy meal.What brings Choong Man to rise above many other Korean fried chicken restaurants is the amount of care and effort they put into their chicken. All the chicken is bathed in a house special marinade for at least twenty four hours prior to being fried. In addition to the deep flavor imparted from the marination process, the establishment also has a secret sauce which was originally sourced from South Korea and completely covers the chicken with that sauce. The delightful crunch that is found in Choong Man's fried chicken is also the result of their proprietary blend of batter creating an impossibly fun and crispy exterior to their chicken. Another key step in the process of preparing the chicken is to fry the chicken to develop an amazing exterior crunch but also to have the chicken roast for a secondary step in a hardwood charcoal oven which truly keeps all the flavor and textures intact during the entire eating experience.

Aside from just ordering fried chicken, Choong Man also has other options for those that also enjoy eating their chicken in the form of sandwiches, rice bowls, or salads.

Currently the only Midwest location, Choong Man Chicken can be found located at 9850 N Milwaukee Ave in Glenview. This establishment can also be found in a few other states across the country like Virginia, Texas, or Georgia.


Mario Lopez to play KFC's Colonel Sanders in Lifetime romance movie

LOS ANGELES, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Mario Lopez will play KFC's longtime mascot Colonel Sanders in a steamy Lifetime channel holiday romance, the companies said on Monday, as marketing and entertainment converge to boost sales of the chain's fried chicken.

"A Recipe for Seduction" tells the story of a young chef with a secret fried chicken recipe who disrupts a woman's plan to marry off her heiress daughter to a handpicked suitor.

Lopez, known for his role in the TV series "Saved by the Bell" and as a host of entertainment news show "Extra," is featured in the film poster clad in Sanders' trademark white shirt, black tie, glasses and goatee and clutching a young woman in a red dress.

KFC, a unit of Yum! Brands Inc, urged viewers to curl up with a bucket of chicken to watch the 15-minute film, which will debut on the Lifetime cable network on Dec. 13.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine Editing by Richard Chang)

Asia shares cautious ahead of U.S. inflation test, Bitcoin slides

China reports 18 new COVID-19 cases on May 23 vs 19 a day earlier

GLOBAL MARKETS-Asia shares cautious ahead of U.S. inflation test, Bitcoin slides

ɺ lot to lose': SoftBank's CEO speaks out against Games

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China Braces for $1.3 Trillion Maturity Wall as Defaults Surge

(Bloomberg) -- Even by the standards of a record-breaking global credit binge, China’s corporate bond tab stands out: $1.3 trillion of domestic debt payable in the next 12 months.That’s 30% more than what U.S. companies owe, 63% more than in all of Europe and enough money to buy Tesla Inc. twice over. What’s more, it’s all coming due at a time when Chinese borrowers are defaulting on onshore debt at an unprecedented pace.The combination has investors bracing for another turbulent stretch for the world’s second-largest credit market. It’s also underscoring the challenge for Chinese authorities as they work toward two conflicting goals: reducing moral hazard by allowing more defaults, and turning the domestic bond market into a more reliable source of long-term funding.While average corporate bond maturities have increased in the U.S., Europe and Japan in recent years, they’re getting shorter in China as defaults prompt investors to reduce risk. Domestic Chinese bonds issued in the first quarter had an average tenor of 3.02 years, down from 3.22 years for all of last year and on course for the shortest annual average since Fitch Ratings began compiling the data in 2016.“As credit risk increases, everyone wants to limit their exposure by investing in shorter maturities only,” said Iris Pang, chief economist for Greater China at ING Bank NV. “Issuers also want to sell shorter-dated bonds because as defaults rise, longer-dated bonds have even higher borrowing costs.”The move toward shorter maturities has coincided with a Chinese government campaign to instill more discipline in local credit markets, which have long been underpinned by implicit state guarantees. Investors are increasingly rethinking the widely held assumption that authorities will backstop big borrowers amid a string of missed payments by state-owned companies and a selloff in bonds issued by China Huarong Asset Management Co.The country’s onshore defaults have swelled from negligible levels in 2016 to exceed 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) for four straight years. That milestone was reached again last month, putting defaults on track for another record annual high.The resulting preference for shorter-dated bonds has exacerbated one of China’s structural challenges: a dearth of long-term institutional money. Even before authorities began allowing more defaults, short-term investments including banks’ wealth management products played an outsized role.Social security funds and insurance firms are the main providers of long-term funding in China, but their presence in the bond market is limited, said Wu Zhaoyin, chief strategist at AVIC Trust Co., a financial firm. “It’s difficult to sell long-dated bonds in China because there is a lack of long-term capital,” Wu said.Chinese authorities have been taking steps to attract long-term investors, including foreign pension funds and university endowments. The government has in recent years scrapped some investment quotas and dismantled foreign ownership limits for life insurers, brokerages and fund managers.But even if those efforts gain traction, it’s not clear Chinese companies will embrace longer maturities. Many prefer selling short-dated bonds because they lack long-term capital management plans, according to Shen Meng, director at Chanson & Co., a Beijing-based boutique investment bank. That applies even for state-owned enterprises, whose senior managers typically get reshuffled by the government every three to five years, Shen said.The upshot is that China’s domestic credit market faces a near constant cycle of refinancing and repayment risk, which threatens to exacerbate volatility as defaults rise. A similar dynamic is also playing out in the offshore market, where maturities total $167 billion over the next 12 months.For ING’s Pang, the cycle is unlikely to change anytime soon. “It may last for another decade in China,” she said.More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Credit card debt has plunged — but what if you're still up to your neck?

If your finances are being hit hard by the pandemic, you may need to get creative.

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Zara owner Inditex to close all stores in Venezuela, local partner says

Inditex, owner of brands including Zara, Bershka and Pull & Bear, will close all its stores in Venezuela in coming weeks as a deal between the retailer and its local partner Phoenix World Trade has come under review, a spokesperson for Phoenix World Trade said. Phoenix World Trade, a company based in Panama and controlled by Venezuelan businessman Camilo Ibrahim, took over operation of Inditex stores in the South American country in 2007. "Phoenix World Trade is re-evaluating the commercial presence of its franchised brands Zara, Bershka and Pull&Bear in Venezuela, to make it consistent with the new model of integration and digital transformation announced by Inditex," the company said in response to a Reuters request.

Summers Says Crypto Has Chance of Becoming ‘Digital Gold’

(Bloomberg) -- Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said cryptocurrencies could stay a feature of global markets as something akin to “digital gold,” even if their importance in economies will remain limited.Speaking at the end of a week in which Bitcoin whipsawed, Summers told Bloomberg Television’s “Wall Street Week” with David Westin that cryptocurrencies offered an alternative to gold for those seeking an asset “separate and apart from the day-to-day workings of governments.”“Gold has been a primary asset of that kind for a long time,” said Summers, a paid contributor to Bloomberg. “Crypto has a chance of becoming an agreed form that people who are looking for safety hold wealth in. My guess is that crypto is here to stay, and probably here to stay as a kind of digital gold.”If cryptocurrencies became even a third of the total value of gold, Summers said that would be a “substantial appreciation from current levels” and that means there’s a “good prospect that crypto will be part of the system for quite a while to come.”Comparing Bitcoin to the yellow metal is common in the crypto community, with various estimates as to whether and how quickly their total market values might equalize.Yassine Elmandjra, crypto analyst at Cathie Wood’s Ark Investment Management LLC, said earlier this month that if gold is assumed to have a market cap of around $10 trillion, “it’s not out of the question that Bitcoin will reach gold parity in the next five years.” With Bitcoin’s market cap around $700 billion, that could mean price appreciation of around 14-fold or more.But Summers said cryptocurrencies do not matter to the overall economy and were unlikely to ever serve as a majority of payments.Summers is on the board of directors of Square Inc. The company said this month that sales in the first quarter more than tripled, driven by skyrocketing Bitcoin purchases through the company’s Cash App.Summers’ comments were echoed by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, who doubted crypto’s value as a medium of exchange or stable purchasing power, but said some forms of it may continue to exist as an alternative to gold.“Are cryptocurrencies headed for a crash sometime soon? Not necessarily,” Krugman wrote in the New York Times. “One fact that gives even crypto skeptics like me pause is the durability of gold as a highly valued asset.”Summers also said that President Joe Biden’s administration is heading in the “right direction” by asking companies to pay more tax. He argued policy makers in the past had not been guilty of pursuing “too much antitrust” regulation although he warned it would be “badly wrong” to go after companies just because of increasing market share and profits.Returning to his worry that the U.S. economy risks overheating, Summers said the Federal Reserve should be more aware of the inflationary threat.“I don’t think the Fed is projecting in a way that reflects the potential seriousness of the problem,” he said. “I am concerned that with everything that’s going on, the economy may be a bit charging toward a wall.”(Adds Summers is on Square’s board in 8th paragraph)More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Hong Kong Exchange’s New CEO Is Put on Cleanup Duty

(Bloomberg) -- The veteran JPMorgan Chase & Co. banker who’s taking the helm at Hong Kong’s exchange has been put on cleanup duty.Chairman Laura Cha has handed Nicolas Aguzin, who takes charge Monday, the task of reviewing the exchange’s practices after a bribery scandal and censure from the regulator, according to people familiar with the matter. The 52-year-old former head of JPMorgan’s international private bank is seen by Cha as having the experience to force a cultural shake-up given his background at a heavily regulated bank, said the people, asking to remain anonymous discussing sensitive issues.Aguzin takes over as the bourse is delivering record earnings. His predecessor, Charles Li, oversaw a doubling of revenue during his decade in charge through acquisitions, loosened listing rules and, most importantly, trading links with mainland China. The easier oversight allowed the listing of Chinese technology giants such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and positioned it as the exchange-of-choice for mainland firms amid tensions with the U.S.But there has also been criticism that investor protections were sacrificed to win business. Over the past years, there has been a steady stream of flareups between the bourse and the regulator over IPO quality, the proliferation of shell companies and whether to allow dual class shares.“The HKEX has done a great job in market development, and has introduced measures to improve investor protection,” Sally Wong, CEO of Hong Kong Investment Funds Association, said in an email. “But it seems that issuers’ voices tend to prevail over that of the investors. We very much look forward to working with the new CEO to see how to strike a more appropriate balance to better safeguard investor interests.”Spokespeople for the exchange and the Securities and Futures Commission as well as Aguzin declined to comment.In a review released last year after the former IPO vetting co-head was arrested for bribery, the SFC discovered “numerous ambiguities” in the Chinese Wall between its listing and business divisions. Other issues highlighted last year include keeping track of share options and following up on complaints on withdrawn IPO applications.Cha had begun to tighten internal checks and balances for senior managers toward the end of Li’s tenure as well as assert more board control over hiring, people familiar have said. The exchange has halted the interactions between its listing and business units, according to the SFC review. Last week, in a joint statement with the SFC, the bourse vowed to better police its frothy IPO market, citing concerns about companies inflating their values, market manipulation and unusually high underwriting fees.Aguzin is expected by the board to prioritize the exchange’s role as a regulator alongside its growth ambitions, people familiar said.David Webb, a former HKEX director, investor and corporate governance activist, is skeptical the bourse will institute any meaningful reforms. “HKEX has, with government approval, lowered its standards to attract business, for example, by listing second-class shares with weak voting rights,” he said in an email. “It shows no sign of raising them again.”Investors have also urged the exchange to set rules requiring company boards to have a lead outside board member or an independent chair, according to Wong. “But it seems that the HKEX is not ready to even bring them up for market consultation.”The government is on board with Aguzin’s appointment, which comes at a fraught time after Beijing has tightened its grip on the city, raising questions about its continued status as an international financial hub.Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Christopher Hui said the three-tiered regulatory system comprising his department, the SFC and HKEX has worked well. Aguzin’s appointment embodies the city’s openness and its role as a gateway between China and the world, he said. “This is exactly what we will pursue.”Further deepening connections to China is seen as key to growth for the bourse, which also faces stiffer competition from mainland exchanges as China opens its financial markets.While Aguzin has worked in Asia for the past decade -- also serving as JPMorgan’s CEO of Asia Pacific from 2013 to 2020 -- he will be the first non-Chinese CEO of a bourse that often needs to deal with Beijing.Cha is well connected in China, having served as vice chairman of China Securities Regulatory Commission. She has signaled that she sees the bourse’s role as serving Beijing’s interests and avoiding competition with the mainland, a person said familiar with the matter said last year.The push toward the mainland is not all welcome in China. Expanding the link to include several benchmark stocks has proved difficult, with one sticking point being whether to include shares like Alibaba Group, which are dual listed and with weighted voting rights.Even so, Cha said at the time of the appointment that Aguzin’s remit will include further strengthening the link to the mainland.Another board member, Fred Hu, said in an interview that “Aguzin is well positioned to take HKEX into the future, to further deepen the connectivity with China but also connectivity with the rest of the world.”More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Huobi Scales Back Due to China Crackdown Bitcoin Falls Below $32K, Ether Past $2K

The exchange made the move on the heels of a series of crackdown notices from Bejing in recent weeks.

Away From the Big Crypto Blaze, Another Market Tension Eases

(Bloomberg) -- A bear market in Bitcoin. A bull market in Bitcoin. Taper talk, or talk thereof. The biggest pop for meme stocks of the season. A lot just happened, and yet when the history of this week is written, it’s possible a much quieter development will be the lead.After intensifying earlier this month, inflation anxiety appears to be easing. Rates on 10-year breakevens dropped by the most on a weekly basis since September, capping any rise in Treasury yields. Meanwhile, a surge in raw materials continued to sputter, with the Bloomberg Commodity Spot Index sinking for a second straight week.That was enough to comfort investors in big tech. The Nasdaq 100 posted its first weekly gain in over a month, after being rattled by warnings that soaring prices would eat into future cash flows and shine a harsh light on expensive valuations. And while minutes from the Federal Reserve’s April meeting signaled an openness to discussing a scaling back of asset purchases, comments that it would “likely be some time” until the economy recovers to that point helped prevent any knee-jerk reactions.“Inflation is really only a problem for stocks if it’s going to bring the Fed off the sidelines,” said Brian Nick, chief investment strategist at Nuveen. “If you see interest rates falling, if you see inflation expectations receding, if you see the Fed continuing to come out with overall dovish minutes, it tends to be a pretty friendly environment for tech.”Whether or not the U.S. economy has seen peak growth, a series of weaker-than-expected reports have helped quell inflation fears. Last month’s housing starts were lower than anticipated, while the pace of mortgage applications slowed from the prior month. On Thursday, data from the Philadelphia Fed showed manufacturing activity in the region eased in May from a 48-year high the prior month.As a result, Citigroup Inc.’s economic surprise gauge -- which measures the magnitude to which reports either beat or miss forecasts -- briefly dropped into negative territory for the first time since June 2020 this week.The Nasdaq 100 held onto a 0.1% gain this week as inflation expectations ebbed, snapping a four-week losing streak. Tech eked out a gain as cryptocurrencies ricocheted, with Bitcoin dropping 12% on Friday alone after China reiterated its intent to to crack down on mining.Still, some warn that it’s too early to signal the all-clear on inflation risks. Anxiety around price pressures in the coming months should be a boon for defensive sectors and particularly favor financials, while eating into growth stocks with duration-sensitive cash flows, according to State Street Global Advisors.“Because there’s so much disagreement on how inflation may unfold, that disagreement in the market will inevitably lead to volatility,” said Olivia Engel, chief investment officer of SSGA’s active quantitative equity team. “If you look at the aggregate market, it’s hiding some of that market rotation -- that’s where you can see much bigger moves.”(Updates Bitcoin price in seventh paragraph.)More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Bitcoin down almost 50% from year's high

Bitcoin fell to $32,601 at 1800 GMT (2 p.m. ET), losing $4,899.54 from its previous close. Bitcoin markets operate 24/7, setting the stage for price swings at unpredictable hours. "Many point to bitcoin's volatility as untenable," wrote RBC Capital Markets' Amy Wu Silverman in a research note published on Saturday.

Bitcoin, Ether Now Down 50% From Last Month’s ATHs as Rout Resumes

Even if Huobi is the specific catalyst for today's plunge, it's just the latest negative news in the sector that has been battered in the last few weeks.

Inside the Race to Avert Disaster at China’s Biggest ‘Bad Bank’

(Bloomberg) -- It was past 9 p.m. on Financial Street in Beijing by the time the figure inside Huarong Tower there picked up an inkbrush and, with practiced strokes, began to set characters to paper.Another trying workday was ending for Wang Zhanfeng, corporate chairman, Chinese Communist Party functionary—and, less happily, replacement for a man who very recently had been executed.On this April night, Wang was spotted unwinding as he often does in his office: practicing the art of Chinese calligraphy, a form that expresses the beauty of classical characters and, it is said, the nature of the person who writes them.Its mastery requires patience, resolve, skill, calm—and Wang, 54, needs all that and more. Because here on Financial Street, a brisk walk from the hulking headquarters of the People’s Bank of China, a dark drama is playing out behind the mirrored façade of Huarong Tower. How it unfolds will test China’s vast, debt-ridden financial system, the technocrats working to fix it, and the foreign banks and investors caught in the middle.Welcome to the headquarters of China Huarong Asset Management Co., the troubled state-owned ‘bad bank’ that has set teeth on edge around the financial world.For months now Wang and others have been trying to clean up the mess here at Huarong, an institution that sits—quite literally—at the center of China’s financial power structure. To the south is the central bank, steward of the world’s second-largest economy to the southwest, the Ministry of Finance, Huarong’s principal shareholder less than 300 meters to the west, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, entrusted with safeguarding the financial system and, of late, ensuring Huarong has a funding backstop from state-owned banks until at least August.The patch though doesn’t settle the question of how Huarong makes good on some $41 billion borrowed on the bond markets, most incurred under Wang’s predecessor before he was ensnared in a sweeping crackdown on corruption. That long-time executive, Lai Xiaomin, was put to death in January—his formal presence expunged from Huarong right down to the signature on its stock certificates.The bigger issue is what all this might portend for the nation’s financial system and efforts by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to centralize control, rein in years of risky borrowing and set the nation’s financial house in order.“They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” said Michael Pettis, a Beijing-based professor of finance at Peking University and author of Avoiding the Fall: China’s Economic Restructuring. Bailing out Huarong would reinforce the behavior of investors who ignore risk, he said, while a default endangers financial stability if a “chaotic” repricing of the bond market ensues.Just what is going on inside Huarong Tower? Given the stakes, few are willing to discuss that question publicly. But interviews with people who work there, as well as at various Chinese regulators, provide a glimpse into the eye of this storm.Huarong, simply put, has been in full crisis mode ever since it delayed its 2020 earnings results, eroding investor confidence. Executives have come to expect to be summoned by government authorities at a moment’s notice whenever market sentiment sours and the price of Huarong debt sinks anew. Wang and his team must provide weekly written updates on Huarong’s operations and liquidity. They have turned to state-owned banks, pleading for support, and reached out to bond traders to try to calm nerves, with little lasting success.In public statements, Huarong has insisted repeatedly that its position is ultimately sound and that it will honor its obligations. Banking regulators have had to sign off on the wording of those statements—another sign of how serious the situation is considered and, ultimately, who’s in charge.Then there are regular audiences with the finance ministry and the other powerful financial bureaucracies nearby. Among items usually on the agenda: possible plans to hive off various Huarong businesses.Huarong executives are often kept waiting and, people familiar with the meetings say, tend to gain only limited access to top officials at the CBIRC, the banking overseer.The country’s apex financial watchdog—chaired by Liu He, Xi’s right-hand man in overseeing the economy and financial system—has asked for briefings on the Huarong situation and coordinated meetings between regulators, according to regulatory officials. But it has yet to communicate to them a long-term solution, including whether to impose losses on bondholders, the officials said.Representatives at the People’s Bank of China, the CBIRC, Huarong and the Ministry of Finance didn’t respond to requests for comment.Focus on BasicsA mid-level party functionary with a PhD in finance from China’s reputed Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Wang arrived at Huarong Tower in early 2018, just as the corruption scandal was consuming the giant asset management company. He is regarded inside Huarong as low-key and down-to-earth, particularly in comparison to the company’s previous leader, Lai, a man once known as the God of Wealth.Hundreds of Huarong staff, from Beijing division chiefs to branch employees in faraway outposts, listened in on April 16 as Wang reviewed the quarterly numbers. He stressed that the company’s fundamentals had improved since he took over, a view shared by some analysts though insufficient to pacify investors. But he had little to say about what is on so many minds: plans to restructure and shore up the giant company, which he’d pledged to clean up within three years of taking over.His main message to the troops: focus on the basics, like collecting on iffy assets and improving risk management. The employees were silent. No one asked a question.One employee characterized the mood in his area as business as usual. Another said co-workers at a Huarong subsidiary were worried the company might not be able to pay their salaries. There’s a widening gulf between the old guard and new, said a third staffer. Those who outlasted Lai and have seen their compensation cut year after year have little confidence in the turnaround, while new joiners are more hopeful about the opportunities the change of direction offers.Others joke that Huarong Tower must suffer from bad feng shui: after Lai was arrested, a bank that had a branch in the building had to be bailed out to the tune of $14 billion.Dark humor aside, a rough consensus has begun to emerge among senior management and mid-level regulators: like other key state-owned enterprises, Huarong still appears to be considered too big to fail. Many have come away with the impression—and it is that, an impression—that for now, at least, the Chinese government will stand behind Huarong.At the very least, these people say, no serious financial tumult, such as a default by Huarong, is likely to be permitted while the Chinese Communist Party is planning a nationwide spectacle to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding on July 1. Those festivities will give Xi—who has been positioning to stay in power indefinitely—an opportunity to cement his place among China’s most powerful leaders including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.What will come after that patriotic outpouring on July 1 is uncertain, even to many inside Huarong Tower. Liu He, China’s vice premier and chair of the powerful Financial Stability and Development Committee, appears in no hurry to force a difficult solution. Silence from Beijing has started to rattle local debt investors, who until about a week ago had seemed unmoved by the sell-off in Huarong’s offshore bonds.Competing InterestsHuarong’s role in absorbing and disposing of lenders’ soured debt is worth preserving to support the banking sector cleanup, but requires government intervention, according to Dinny McMahon, an economic analyst for Beijing-based consultancy Trivium China and author of China’s Great Wall of Debt.“We anticipate that foreign bondholders will be required to take a haircut, but it will be relatively small,” he said. “It will be designed to signal that investors should not assume government backing translates into carte blanche support.”For now, in the absence of direct orders from the top, Huarong has been caught in the middle of the competing interests among various state-owned enterprises and government bureaucracies.China Investment Corp., the $1 trillion sovereign fund, for instance, has turned down the idea of taking a controlling stake from the finance ministry. CIC officials have argued they don’t have the bandwidth or capability to fix Huarong’s problems, according to people familiar with the matter.The People’s Bank of China, meantime, is still trying to decide whether to proceed with a proposal that would see it assume more than 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) of bad assets from Huarong, those people said.And the Ministry of Finance, which owns 57% of Huarong on behalf of the Chinese government, hasn’t committed to recapitalizing the company, though it hasn’t ruled it out, either, one person said.CIC didn’t respond to requests for comment.The banking regulator has bought Huarong some time, brokering an agreement with state-owned lenders including Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. that would cover any funding needed to repay the equivalent of $2.5 billion coming due by the end of August. By then, the company aims to have completed its 2020 financial statements after spooking investors by missing deadlines in March and April.“How China deals with Huarong will have wide ramifications on global investors’ perception of and confidence in Chinese SOEs,” said Wu Qiong, a Hong Kong-based executive director at BOC International Holdings. “Should any defaults trigger a reassessment of the level of government support assumed in rating SOE credits, it would have deep repercussions for the offshore market.”The announcement of a new addition to Wang’s team underscores the stakes and, to some insiders, provides a measure of hope. Liang Qiang is a standing member of the All-China Financial Youth Federation, widely seen as a pipeline to groom future leaders for financial SOEs. Liang, who arrived at Huarong last week and will soon take on the role of president, has worked for the three other big state asset managers that were established, like Huarong, to help clean up bad debts at the nation’s banks. Some speculate this points to a wider plan: that Huarong might be used as a blueprint for how authorities approach these other sprawling, debt-ridden institutions.Meantime, inside Huarong Tower, a key item remains fixed in the busy schedules of top executives and rank-and-file employees alike. It is a monthly meeting, the topic of which is considered vital to Huarong’s rebirth: studying the doctrines of the Chinese Communist Party and speeches of President Xi Jinping. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Exxon Activist Battle Turns Climate Angst Into Referendum on CEO

(Bloomberg) -- An unprecedented fight over who should sit on the board of Exxon Mobil Corp. is turning into a referendum on Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods as a decades-long struggle by climate campaigners comes to a head.Activist investor Engine No. 1 LLC wants to replace one-third of Exxon’s board in an effort to force the Western world’s largest oil explorer to embrace a transition away from fossil fuels and end a decade of what it calls “value destruction.” Shareholders are set to gather — virtually — for their annual meeting on May 26.The stakes are high. Under Exxon’s bylaws, a victory for any dissident director would mean an incumbent must step down, equating to a zero-sum proxy contest: of 16 candidates, only 12 will prevail. Any dilution of Woods’s influence over the board could derail his long-term plans and force strategic and tactical changes he has previously rejected.Although Engine No. 1 hasn’t targeted Woods for removal, even a partial victory for the activist would be a serious, and perhaps fatal, blow to his leadership, according to Ceres, a coalition of environmentally active investors managing $37 trillion.“I don’t see how Darren Woods remains as CEO if one of the dissidents, let alone all four, are elected,” said Andrew Logan, director of oil and gas at Ceres. “It would be such a sign of fundamental dissatisfaction with the status quo that something would have to change. And that starts with the CEO.”Exxon's engagement with environmental activists was once characterized by a sense of bemusement — under former CEO Lee Raymond, Greenpeace protesters outside its annual meetings were offered donuts. But as worries about climate change have gone mainstream in the investment world, the clash has evolved into a confrontation over boardroom seats.In other corners of the commodities sector, shareholders this year have already shown frustration with executives’ reluctance to embrace tough environmental goals. DuPont de Nemours Inc. suffered an 81% vote against management on plastic-pollution disclosures, while ConocoPhillips lost a contest on adopting more stringent emission targets.Exxon’s meeting this year threatens to be one of the stormiest on the U.S. corporate calendar, made all the more remarkable for being instigated by a newly formed fund that only has a $54 million, or 0.02%, stake in the oil behemoth. Investor dissatisfaction with the company largely centers on two issues that are becoming more interlinked: climate change and profits. The oil giant envisages a profitable, long-term future for fossil fuels, but sees no point in investing in traditional renewable energy businesses. It also refuses to commit to a net-zero emissions target, unlike European rivals.Climate concerns are are resonating more deeply with investors at the same time that Exxon’s status as a financial powerhouse crumbles after multiple corporate missteps, some of which preceded Woods’s elevation to CEO in 2017. Returns on invested capital are a fraction of what they were in Exxon’s heyday a decade ago and debt ballooned 40% last year as Covid-19 paralyzed economies and energy demand around the world. Under mounting pressure and concerns over Exxon’s ability to pay the S&P 500’s third-largest dividend, the CEO slashed an ambitious $200 billion expansion program by a third late last year. It was a relief to some investors who had questioned both the cost and the need for such projects at a time when policymakers — and even rivals like BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc — are planning for the twilight of the petroleum era.Still, Engine No. 1 says Exxon needs higher-quality directors who are willing to challenge management. Exxon missed key industry trends such as the shale revolution, “the shift to focusing on project returns over chasing production growth, and the need to gradually prepare for rather than ignore the energy transition,” according to the San Francisco-based activist.After receiving early backing from major state pension funds, Engine No. 1’s campaign gathered momentum this month as two prominent shareholder-advisory firms, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. and Glass Lewis & Co., threw their partial support behind the activist’s efforts. ISS wrote a scathing rebuke of Exxon’s climate strategy, saying the company had only taken “incremental steps to prepare for the inevitable.”Top 20 shareholder Legal & General Investment Management, a previous critic of Exxon, is also backing Engine No. 1 and has pledged to vote against Woods. However, the voting intentions of some other major investors, such as Vanguard Group, BlackRock Inc. and State Street Corp. aren’t clear — all three declined to comment when contacted by Bloomberg News. Norway’s giant sovereign wealth fund said late last week that it would support the reelection of most Exxon directors, but not Woods, part of its long-standing push to separate the roles of CEO and chairman at Exxon.With such animosity brewing, the usual course of action would be for Exxon’s board to meet with the activists and hash out a compromise. But that has yet to happen, and both sides appear to be entrenched.Exxon said in a May 14 letter to shareholders its board “listens and responds to shareholder feedback,” but that Engine No. 1, founded only a few months ago, wasn’t interested in engaging and “is trying to replace four of our world-class directors with unqualified nominees.'' The company added that the activist fund's plans would “derail our progress and jeopardize your dividend.”For its part, Engine No. 1 said Exxon refused to meet its nominees: Gregory Goff, former CEO of refiner Andeavor environmental scientist Kaisa Hietala private equity investor Alexander Karsner and Anders Runevad, ex-CEO of power producer Vestas Wind Systems A/S.Exxon did talk with another investor, hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co., which built a stake in an effort to push for change. Those discussions led to the appointment of the new directors, including activist investor Jeff Ubben. The oil company has also announced new emissions targets, started a low-carbon business, and supported policies that will help technological innovations like carbon capture.In some respects Exxon is in a better position that it was at the start of 2021. Its stock has rallied more than 40% as oil prices rebounded and lockdowns are eased. Engine No. 1 points to its involvement as the turning point, while Exxon claims the market is rewarding prudent cost cutting and high-return investments made over the last couple of years. The forthcoming vote will help to determine which side of the debate other investors lean toward.“There’s a governance challenge at Exxon,” said John Hoeppner, head of U.S. sustainable investments at Legal & General. “How seriously is the current board questioning management’s business model? It’s important to add urgency to the debate.”More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Bitcoin Volatility Puts Weekend Traders on Stomach-Churning Ride

(Bloomberg) -- Bitcoin’s extreme volatility carried into the weekend as the world’s largest cryptocurrency continued to whipsaw investors with double-digit percentage moves.Bitcoin traded at $33,052, down 13%, as of 3:45 p.m. in New York, holding below its 200-day moving average other cryptocurrencies, including Ethereum and Dogecoin, also slumped, according to CoinGecko.com. Earlier in the weekend, Bitcoin had climbed more than 8% to move back above $38,000 following a tweet from Elon Musk.A measure of implied volatility on Bitcoin comparable to the U.S. equity market’s VIX indicator sits above 130, higher than the stock version has ever gotten in 30 years. Thirty-day historical volatility in the coin is about 100, some seven times more than the S&P 500 and surpassing the comparable measure in lumber futures, and an ETF designed to pay twice the daily return in crude oil.Investors in Bitcoin are experiencing one of its rockiest weeks ever after a string of negative headlines, with prices swinging as much as 30% in each direction Wednesday alone, when it fell as low as $30,016, the least since January. Even with the gyrations, Bitcoin is still up more than 250% in the past year.The turbulent stretch began after Musk said Tesla would no longer accept Bitcoin as payment for its electric vehicles, citing the coin’s intensive energy use. Another blow came Friday when China reiterated a warning that it intends to crack down on cryptocurrency mining as part of an effort to control financial risks.“Bitcoin has two problems, ESG and decreasing reliance on China, both of which could take some time” Edward Moya, senior market analyst with Oanda Corp., wrote in a note.Other cryptocurrencies also slumped on Sunday, with Ethereum briefly trading below $1,900 and satirical token Dogecoin dropping more than 16%, according to Coinmarketcap.com.Read more: Musk Tweets He Supports Crypto in Battle Against Fiat CurrenciesThe latest warning from Beijing followed a statement earlier in the week disseminated by the People’s Bank of China that financial institutions weren’t allowed to accept cryptocurrencies for payment.China has long expressed displeasure with the anonymity provided by Bitcoin and other crypto tokens. The country is home to a large concentration of the world’s crypto miners who use vast sums of computing power to verify transactions on the blockchain.“It is no surprise that governments are not inclined to give up their monetary monopolies. Throughout history, governments first regulate and then take ownership,” Deutsche Bank macro strategist Marion Laboure wrote in a May 20 report titled “Bitcoin: Trendy Is the Last Stage Before Tacky.” “As cryptocurrencies begin to seriously compete with regular currencies and fiat currencies, regulators and policymakers will crack down.”‘Higher Stakes’A mid-week report from blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis showed over half of the $410 billion spent on acquiring current Bitcoin holdings occurred in the past 12 months. About $110 billion of that was spent on buying it at an average cost of less than $36,000 per coin. That means the vast majority of investments aren’t making a profit unless the coin trades at $36,000 or higher.“The stakes are much higher now than they were in the past,” Philip Gradwell, chief economist at Chainalysis, said in an email. “This week’s price fall means that a lot of investments are now held at a loss. This is going to be a serious test for recent investors, but so much is at stake now that there is the incentive and resources to address the problems in crypto that prevent it from becoming a mature asset.”Weekends tend to be particularly volatile for crypto assets which -- unlike most traditional assets -- trade around the clock every day of the week. Before this weekend, Bitcoin’s average swing on Saturdays and Sundays this year comes in at 5.14%.That type of volatility is owing to a few factors: Bitcoin’s held by relatively few people, meaning that price swings can be magnified during low-volume periods. And the market remains hugely fragmented with dozens of platforms operating under different standards. That means cryptocurrencies lack a centralized market structure akin to that of traditional assets.“When noise is accompanied by a huge amount of speculation and the noise can be interpreted negatively, you get these huge swings,” said Eric Green, chief investment officer of equity at Penn Capital. “What goes straight up is going to come down at some point.”More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

How much money should you have to buy your first home?

One of the biggest surprises that homebuyers face when house hunting is how much it costs to really buy a house.

Global Rebound Euphoria Tests Central Bankers’ Nerves on Risk

(Bloomberg) -- With the world barely through the worst of an unprecedented crisis, central bankers are already wondering if the next one is around the corner.From Washington to Frankfurt, what began months ago as a murmur of concern has morphed into a chorus as officials ask if a risk-taking binge across multiple asset markets might presage a destabilizing rout that could derail the global recovery.Just last week, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Canada cited mounting threats, cognizant of the retrenchment that ensued during the 2008 financial crisis. Meanwhile Bitcoin’s dramatic swings after a warning about cryptocurrencies from the People’s Bank of China showcased how sensitive some markets have become.Pessimists at global monetary institutions can find bubbles almost anywhere they look, from equities to real estate, while officials such as Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell argue any threats remain contained.Central banks bear some responsibility for financial-market fervor after huge doses of stimulus and liquidity injections to keep economies afloat. The resulting buoyancy is at least partly a euphoria effect, applauding a snap back in growth whose scope can only be guessed at -- with eventual repercussions judged to range from a benign boom to an inflationary spiral.“Where we do see more exuberance is around growth expectations,” Max Kettner, a strategist at HSBC Holdings Plc, told Bloomberg Television. “Particularly in the U.S. they’ve been raised to an enormous degree. So that is, I think, the exuberance.”Market speculation has led to heavy volatility of late, including wild girations and drops in Bitcoin from an all-time high above $60,000 in April. More traditional assets are struggling too, with rates on haven German bonds, for example, climbing around 50 basis points this year, closing in on breaking into positive territory for the first time in more than two years.Kettner’s mention of “exuberance” followed the European Central Bank’s use of similar words on Wednesday, echoing former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s 1996 observation of “irrational exuberance” before the dotcom bubble.The euro-zone institution observed the threat of economic spillovers from, for example, a U.S. equity-market correction. Bank of Canada officials voiced similar concerns a day later, and highlighted the housing market as expectations of continuing price increases fuel purchases.Three weeks earlier, a Fed policy meeting veered into a debate on stability, where participants observed “elevated” risk appetite and discussed dangers posed by hedge fund activity. In a subsequent report, they warned of “vulnerabilities” and “stretched valuations,” exacerbated by high corporate debt.Meanwhile Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey recently wondered aloud if speculation in stocks and Bitcoin might themselves be a “warning sign.” And a Norwegian official said that cryptocurrency volatility could threaten lenders if their exposures keep rising.Central banks have had nagging concerns for a while. Already in January, ECB markets chief Isabel Schnabel told colleagues that stocks could become vulnerable to “more broad-based repricing.”In China, with a recovery cycle more advanced than the U.S.’s, the top banking regulator revealed in March that he was “very worried” about bubbles, specifying “very dangerous” real-estate investing.That might be partly what UBS AG Chief Executive Officer Ralph Hamers had in mind in late April with his own alarming view. Noting “bubbles in some asset classes,” including real estate, he told Bloomberg Television that “we are getting close to the peak of things.”Some senior central bankers are trying to be sanguine despite flashing warning lights. After the Fed decision in April, Powell insisted that “the overall financial stability picture is mixed but on balance, it’s manageable.”ECB Vice President Luis De Guindos -- whose job includes preparing his institution’s threat assessment -- dialed down from its worried tone last week by saying economic risks are “much more balanced than in the past.”The difficulty for central banks is in managing the consequences for asset prices of their monetary policies, a challenge that has bedeviled them since the 2008 calamity. Periodically, that makes institutions such as the Fed the target of criticism.“Central banks are desperately wanting to make sure, be certain,” said James Athey, investment director at Aberdeen Asset Management Plc. “It also means they keep policy way too easy for way too long.”The alternative officials face is to dare to wind down stimulus, taking on the risk of choking an economic recovery with a corresponding cost to livelihoods.Iceland took that plunge last week, delivering the first policy tightening in Western Europe with an interest-rate increase to contain inflation and a rampant housing market.The larger euro area, whose constituent regions vary from some of the world’s most prosperous to examples of perennial malaise, can’t be so nimble. That’s why the ECB recommends “more targeted” fiscal support for companies while avoiding stimulus withdrawal.Similarly, the Fed cited use of macroprudential tools as important to allow monetary policy to take its course. JPMorgan economists wrote this month that they anticipate Australia’s banking regulator will “formalize” debt and loan-to-income restrictions soon.However central banks and financial regulators respond to ebullience, they know the stakes are as high as ever, with the need to cement a rebound from a severe crisis in a world which will struggle to tolerate another one.At least officials can take comfort in recognizing a more familiar pre-pandemic environment: The last time their worries about risk were so synchronized was in November 2019, just weeks before the coronavirus began to cripple the global economy.More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

As mortgage rates hit 3% again, expert predicts we'll see 4% rates this year

Though rates have inched up, it’s not too late to get a low rate to buy or refinance.

First Warning Sign in the Global Commodity Boom Flashes in China

(Bloomberg) -- One pillar of this year’s blistering commodities rally -- Chinese demand -- may be teetering.Beijing aced its economic recovery from the pandemic largely via an expansion in credit and a state-aided construction boom that sucked in raw materials from across the planet. Already the world’s biggest consumer, China spent $150 billion on crude oil, iron ore and copper ore alone in the first four months of 2021. Resurgent demand and rising prices mean that’s $36 billion more than the same period last year.With global commodities rising to record highs, Chinese government officials are trying to temper prices and reduce some of the speculative froth that’s driven markets. Wary of inflating asset bubbles, the People’s Bank of China has also been restricting the flow of money to the economy since last year, albeit gradually to avoid derailing growth. At the same time, funding for infrastructure projects has shown signs of slowing.Economic data for April suggest that both China’s economic expansion and its credit impulse -- new credit as a percentage of GDP -- may already have crested, putting the rally on a precarious footing. The most obvious impact of China’s deleveraging would fall on those metals keyed to real estate and infrastructure spending, from copper and aluminum, to steel and its main ingredient, iron ore.“Credit is a major driver for commodity prices, and we reckon prices peak when credit peaks,” said Alison Li, co-head of base metals research at Mysteel in Shanghai. “That refers to global credit, but Chinese credit accounts for a big part of it, especially when it comes to infrastructure and property investment.”But the impact of China’s credit pullback could ripple far and wide, threatening the rally in global oil prices and even China’s crop markets. And while tighter money supply hasn’t stopped many metals hitting eye-popping levels in recent weeks, some, like copper, are already seeing consumers shying away from higher prices.“The slowdown in credit will have a negative impact on China’s demand for commodities,” said Hao Zhou, senior emerging markets economist at Commerzbank AG. “So far, property and infrastructure investments haven’t shown an obvious deceleration. But they are likely to trend lower in the second half of this year.”A lag between the withdrawal of credit and stimulus from the economy and its impact on China’s raw material purchases may mean that markets haven’t yet peaked. However, its companies may eventually soften imports due to tighter credit conditions, which means the direction of the global commodity market will hinge on how much the recovery in economies including the U.S. and Europe can continue to drive prices higher.Some sectors have seen policy push an expansion in capacity, such as Beijing’s move to grow the country’s crude oil refining and copper smelting industries. Purchases of the materials needed for production in those sectors may continue to see gains although at a slower pace.One example of slowing purchases is likely to be in refined copper, said Mysteel’s Li. The premium paid for the metal at the port of Yangshan has already hit a four-year low in a sign of waning demand, and imports are likely to fall this year, she said.At the same time, the rally in copper prices probably still has a few months to run, according to a recent note from Citigroup Inc., citing the lag between peak credit and peak demand. From around $10,000 a ton now, the bank expects copper to reach $12,200 by September.It’s a dynamic that’s also playing out in ferrous metals markets.“We’re still at an early phase of tightening in terms of money reaching projects,” said Tomas Gutierrez, an analyst at Kallanish Commodities Ltd. “Iron ore demand reacts with a lag of several months to tightening. Steel demand is still around record highs on the back of the economic recovery and ongoing investments, but is likely to pull back slightly by the end of the year.”For agriculture, credit tightening may only affect China’s soaring crop imports around the margins, said Ma Wenfeng, an analyst at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant Co. Less cash in the system could soften domestic prices by curbing speculation, which may in turn reduce the small proportion of imports handled by private firms, he said.The wider trend is for China’s state-owned giants to keep importing grains to cover the nation’s domestic shortfall, to replenish state reserves and to meet trade deal obligations with the U.S.No DisasterMore broadly, Beijing’s policy tightening doesn’t spell disaster for commodities bulls. For one, the authorities are unlikely to accelerate deleveraging from this point, according the latest comments from the State Council, China’s cabinet.“Internal guidance from our macro department is that the country won’t tighten credit too much -- they just won’t loosen further,” said Harry Jiang, head of trading and research at Yonggang Resouces, a commodity trader in Shanghai. “We don’t have many concerns over credit tightening.”And in any case, raw materials markets are no longer almost entirely in thrall to Chinese demand.“In the past, the inflection point of industrial metal prices often coincides with that of China’s credit cycle,” said Larry Hu, chief China economist at Macquarie Group Ltd. “But that doesn’t mean it will be like that this time too, because the U.S. has unleashed much larger stimulus than China, and its demand is very strong.”Hu also pointed to caution among China’s leaders, who probably don’t want to risk choking off their much-admired recovery by sharp swings in policy.“I expect China’s property investment will slow down, but not by too much,” he said. “Infrastructure investment hasn’t changed too much in the past few years, and won’t this year either.”Additionally, China has been pumping up consumer spending as a lever for growth, and isn’t as reliant on infrastructure and property investment as it used to be, said Bruce Pang, head of macro and strategy research at China Renaissance Securities Hong Kong. The disruption to global commodities supply because of the pandemic is also a new factor that can support prices, he said.Other policy priorities, such as cutting steel production to make inroads on China’s climate pledges, or boosting the supply of energy products, whether domestically or via purchases from overseas, are other complicating factors when it comes to assessing import demand and prices for specific commodities, according to analysts.More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Is Buying Bitcoin Right Now a Smart Idea?

It’s no longer news that Bitcoin’s dramatic fall on Thursday weighed on market sentiments relatively but Willy Woo a top crypto analyst, still believes the curtain call for Bitcoin’s overall upward rally has not occurred yet.

Bubble Risks Test China’s Commitment to No Sharp Turn in Policy

(Bloomberg) -- Despite Beijing’s best efforts, asset bubbles are forming in China.Home prices are soaring, prompting officials to revive the idea of a national property tax. A surge in raw material prices spurred pledges to increase domestic supply, toughen market oversight, and crack down on speculation and hoarding.The rapid gains are challenging the central bank’s ability to restrain inflation without hiking borrowing costs or making a sharp turn in monetary policy -- something the People’s Bank of China has said it will avoid. The risk is the government’s attempts to curb price increases won’t be enough, forcing the central bank’s hand at a vulnerable time for domestic consumption.That would be a shock to the nation’s financial markets, which are pricing in a relatively benign scenario. The 10-year government bond yield has fallen to the lowest level in eight months, while the stock benchmark CSI 300 Index is the least volatile since January. The calm contrasts with the rest of the world, where investors are becoming increasingly obsessed with how central banks may react to the threat of an overheating global economy.“How to mitigate the boom in property and commodities without tightening macro policy -- it’s a real challenge for the Chinese government,” said Zhou Hao, an economist at Commerzbank AG in Singapore.More than 15 months after the pandemic first forced China to cut rates and inject trillions of yuan into the financial system, policy makers in Beijing are -- like many others across the world -- dealing with the aftermath. As the global economic recovery accelerates, some are being forced to act because of inflation: Brazil in March became the first Group of 20 nation to lift borrowing costs, with Turkey and Russia following suit. Even Iceland hiked a short-term rate in May.Others, like the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, have insisted spikes in prices are only temporary. The PBOC also downplayed inflation worries in its first-quarter monetary report, published shortly after data showed factory prices surged 6.8% in April -- the fastest pace since 2017.What Bloomberg Economists Say. “It will be a challenge for China to contain rising producer prices because few commodities are priced within the country. There’s not much China can do, and even tightening monetary policy will not be able to change the situation,” said David Qu, China economist at Bloomberg Economics.-- Bloomberg Terminal subscribers can access more insight HEREWhile the rapid increase in commodity prices moderated in recent days, a continuation of gains could pressure companies to pass on rising costs to consumers, who are already spending less than expected. Analysts at Huachuang Securities Co. said in a May 9 report that prices of consumer goods, like home appliances and furniture, as well as electric vehicles and food, are rising. Still, there’s little evidence of demand-driven pressures, with core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy costs, fairly subdued.The threat of inflation -- coupled with a fragile economy -- tends to be bad news for stocks because of how it erodes corporate profits, and for bonds it reduces the value of future cash flows. Accelerating prices walloped China’s bond market in 2019, and contributed to a steep selloff in stocks in early 2016.In a sign of how seriously that threat is being taken, China’s cabinet said Wednesday more effort needs to be taken to tackle rising commodity prices. A PBOC official said China should allow the yuan to appreciate to offset the impact of rising import prices, according to an article published Friday. The currency is trading near an almost three-year high against the dollar.Imported inflation is a headache for China’s leaders already dealing with risks caused by a surge in capital inflows. In recent years Beijing opened investment channels to allow more funds into its financial system. The goal was to use foreign institutions’ heft to anchor its markets and stabilize its currency, but the record liquidity unleashed by global central banks in the wake of the pandemic is now pressuring prices in China.That’s prompted some strong language from senior officials. Top securities regulator Yi Huiman said in March large flows of “hot money” into China must be strictly controlled. The same month, banking regulator Guo Shuqing said he was “very worried” that asset bubbles in overseas markets would burst soon, posing a risk to the global economy.Deciding whether recent spikes in prices are temporary or a permanent shift toward sustained inflation is something Chinese policy makers have to grapple with. For now, Beijing’s current approach of jawboning, boosting supply and penalizing speculation appears to be targeted at the former.“It’s still too early to tell if China can contain the surge in producer prices, and if it can’t, whether that will have large-scale impact on consumer prices,” said Raymond Yeung, chief economist for Greater China at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. “This inflation is largely imported -- it’s not something that can be solved by the PBOC.”More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

ɺ hot market': Demand for office maintenance workers growing at rapid clip

Even with staggered and limited reopenings, the demand for in-person support roles is growing at a rapid clip. The heightened awareness and focus on hygiene reflects how the coronavirus may be a tailwind for the foreseeable future.


Watch the video: Βαρυμπόμπη: Ηλικιωμένη αρνείται να φύγει από το καμένο σπίτι της. Ώρα Ελλάδος 2482021. OPEN TV (November 2021).