FirstFT: Today’s top stories | Financial Times

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Democrats on Sunday insisted Congress must pass a rescue package to help Americans weather the economic storm from the pandemic, dismissing President Donald Trump’s executive action on aid as “weak and unconstitutional”.

The president on Saturday bypassed lawmakers and signed orders to help the economy following the collapse of talks with Democrats over the contours of a fifth congressional rescue package

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, want Mr Trump to back a $3.4tn package that the Democratically controlled House passed in May. But Mr Trump wants to keep the price tag closer to $1tn and has accused the Democrats of playing politics to dent his odds of re-election.

Employment data released on Friday showed the rate at which companies are hiring new employees slowed in July, compared with June, following a resurgence in coronavirus cases in the south and west of the country earlier in the summer.

The total number of cases in the US has now risen above 5, according to the Covid Tracking Project, and deaths are nearing 155,000. A total of 51,291 new cases were recorded on Sunday and 616 additional deaths. But tropical storm Isaias caused a fall in testing earlier in the week and technical issues in other states could also explain the increase on Sunday.

There was better news from New York, where state governor Andrew Cuomo has given the greenlight for schools to reopen in the autumn.

Coronavirus digest

  • Brazil’s former health minister tells the FT that President Jair Bolsonaro is in “denial” about Covid-19. Beijing’s “mask diplomacy” is boosting trade in Latin America, a traditional US zone of influence. Bolivia postpones its presidential election due to Covid-19, prompting protests.

  • The coronavirus crisis has ushered in a “dramatic” shift in the world’s largest bond market, according to a JPMorgan report. Western Union, one of the largest digital platforms for money movement in the world, is planning to use opportunities arising from the pandemic to buy smaller rivals.

  • Sweden is no longer an outlier as cases fell and its economy suffered less than the European average. These are Europe’s new Covid-19 hotspots.

  • New Zealand has marked 100 days without a locally transmitted case and is to set up a travel corridor with the Cook Islands.

  • South Africa’s central bank governor defended its “aggressive” response as Africa’s most industrialised nation faces its biggest downturn in 90 years. (FT, AP, BBC)

China’s military has taken a central role in the country’s vaccine offensive. Follow our live coverage here.

In the news

Megadeals lead M&A revival A series of blockbuster deals has led a resurgence in M&A since the start of July, with companies dusting off deals that were shelved by the pandemic. According to Refinitiv data it has been the fastest start to the second half for megadeals since 2007 when there was an M&A boom before the financial crisis. (FT)

China imposes sanctions on US citizens Beijing will impose sanctions on 11 US citizens, including senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, in retaliation to similar measures by Washington. The escalation in tit-for-tat sanctions came as Hong Kong police arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai on Monday under the territory’s new national security law. Global stock markets are down in response to the rising tensions. (FT)

Berkshire Hathaway profits surge Warren Buffett’s conglomerate reported a surge in profits in the second quarter, offsetting a near $10bn writedown on its largest manufacturing business and a slide in operating earnings. The company’s cash pile climbed to a record $146.6bn in the second quarter. (FT)

Protests in Belarus Riot police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters on Sunday night as an official exit poll put President Alexander Lukashenko on course to win 79.7 per cent of the votes in a contentious presidential election. The vote was overshadowed by the detention of several opposition figures. (FT)

Saudi Aramco sticks to dividend The Saudi state-owned energy group pledged to pay $75bn in dividends this year despite reporting a 73 per cent income drop, betting on an oil sector rebound. Meanwhile, petrol station forecourts have become an unlikely target for one of the year’s biggest takeovers. (FT)

Singapore charges Wirecard agent A Singaporean businessman suspected of being a key figure at Wirecard’s alleged fraud has been charged with falsification of accounts, the first such charges in the city-state. German prosecutors suspect Wirecard was looted of $1bn before its collapse, the FT reported. (FT)

Lebanon aid French president Emmanuel Macron warned that the future of Lebanon was at stake as international donors agreed on Sunday to fund €252.7m in emergency aid. Protests turned violent at the weekend after Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun rejected calls for an international inquiry into an explosion of chemicals that devastated Beirut. (FT)

Emmanuel Macron during Sunday’s donor videoconference to co-ordinate aid for Lebanon © ANP/AFP via Getty

Deforestation accelerates Forest loss alerts, a warning system, have increased 77 per cent since the start of the pandemic, compared with the average from 2017 to 2019, as environmental law enforcement is sidelined and villagers turn to logging. Oliver Stuenkel, associate professor of international relations at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, has some advice on how to save Brazil’s Amazon from the destructive environmental policies of President Jair Bolsonaro. (FT)

Ex-Green Berets jailed for 20 years for Venezuela ‘plot’ Two former US special forces soldiers who were arrested in Venezuela during an alleged plot to invade the country by sea and topple President Nicolás Maduro have each been sentenced to 20 years in jail. (FT)

The days ahead

Earnings Covid-19 travel disruption is expected to weigh on earnings from Marriott International and Royal Caribbean on Monday. Occidental Petroleum also reports, facing falling energy demand, as does Eastman Kodak, which recently saw its share price surge 1,500 per cent. (FT)

Biden’s VP announcement A decision is expected this week from the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Democrats have challenged rapper Kanye West’s attempt to get on the presidential ballot in Wisconsin. US intelligence warned that China, Russia and Iran are seeking to influence November’s poll, and we recently added historical state results data to our poll tracker.

Keep up with the important business, economic and political stories in the coming days with the FT’s Week Ahead. Subscribe here. And don’t miss our FT News Briefing audio show — a short daily rundown of the top global stories.

What else we’re reading

Banks face their biggest test since the financial crisis For the smallest and weakest lenders, coronavirus could prove fatal; for the biggest, it portends a period of hand-to-mouth survival amid large-scale bankruptcies. Six months into Covid-19, the numbers are already staggering. (FT)

How will Lebanon feed itself? Lebanon was already plagued by soaring food prices and shortages before last week’s explosion at Beirut’s port, the artery for 80 per cent of its imports. David Gardner writes that it took 15 years to rebuild Beirut after the sectarian carnage of 1975-90 — and barely 15 seconds to lay it to waste. (FT)

Zhang Yiming, tech baron in a bind Over the past decade, Zhang Yiming built ByteDance into a formidable challenger of social media giants from China’s Tencent to the US’s Facebook. Now, he faces attacks on all fronts. A US-China uncoupling would cause huge economic pain to tech companies, writes Tom Braithwaite, while Rana Foroohar says commerce patterns have not shifted much recently but that is about to change dramatically. (FT)

Lunch with the FT As a bibliophilic clinical psychologist, Mary Trump seems to have no overlapping traits with her uncle. How did she emerge from her family? Edward Luce asks over a videochat with the US president’s niece, now a best-selling author. Henry Mance offers a guide to interviewing Donald Trump. (FT)

The president’s niece talks about fear and greed in the Trump family © James Ferguson

Spies, lies and LinkedIn The professional networking site is coming into its own, with users rising by 16m to 706m in the past quarter — but it is also subject to Chinese espionage. LinkedIn is a vital tool for many, but treat it with care, Andrew Hill writes. (FT)

In Tim Cook’s image Many expected Apple to falter after Steve Jobs’s death. Instead, its shares are at record highs, a testament to how an industrial engineer turned Jobs’s creation into a corporate colossus and delivered one of the most lucrative business successions in history. (WSJ)

Britain’s disappearing coastline The UK has some of the fastest-eroding cliffs in Europe, with land disappearing at a rate of four metres a year in Yorkshire. Yet the government lacks a coherent action plan, critics say. The picturesque Chalke Valley of Wiltshire is the unlikely setting for a mobile technology revolution. (FT)

Coastal erosion animation at Happisburgh 1999 to 2019

Spare the city-dweller’s rural dreams Now that we work from home (ie live at work), why stick with the city? A bucolic idyll is tempting — unless, Katie Martin writes, you grew up in the back end of nowhere. A mansion overlooking Regent’s Park is listed at £185m, making it the UK’s second most expensive home. (FT)

Video of the day

Trump pile pressure on TikTok-Microsoft deal Kiran Stacey analyses the US group’s potential purchase of the video app, after Mr Trump issued executive orders targeting Chinese tech companies. (FT)

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