FirstFT: Today’s top stories


China’s economy expanded at a faster rate in the fourth quarter of 2020 than before the coronavirus pandemic and easily outpaced the expected performance of other big countries.

The economy grew by 6.5 per cent in the October-December period, according to official data released on Monday, taking growth for the whole of 2020 to 2.3 per cent. The fourth quarter year-on-year growth figure was the highest of any quarter since 2018 and underlined the rapid turnround in the world’s second-largest economy.

But while China’s 2020 growth will be ahead of global peers, it was still the weakest annual growth figure the country has reported for more than 40 years because of the contraction at the start of the year.

“China’s economy seems to be firing consistently on all cylinders,” said Eswar Prasad, a China finance expert at Cornell University, who added that it was “leaving other major economies in the dust”. (FT)

Coronavirus digest

  • Chinese and Russian vaccines are in high demand as foreign buyers scramble for doses despite lingering concerns over pharmaceutical standards.

  • Dominic Raab, UK foreign secretary, said that restrictions will not start to ease until March.

  • Eurozone nations’ escalating curbs have slowed economic activity, fuelling fears that the bloc faces a double-dip recession.

  • A second wave is threatening to overwhelm fragile healthcare systems across Africa. The continent-wide death rate this month surpassed the global average.

  • California has overtaken New York as the US state with the most coronavirus fatalities. Los Angeles on Saturday became the first county in the US to exceed more than 1m cases. (FT)

In the news

Biden to unwind Trump agenda Joe Biden will move to reverse some of Donald Trump’s most contentious policies — including the Muslim travel ban and withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement — with a number of executive actions in the 10 days after what is expected to be an unorthodox inauguration on Wednesday.

  • Once seen as a potential Republican 2024 presidential candidate, Josh Hawley’s political ascent has stalled since the US Capitol attack.

Putin critic Navalny detained on Russian return Opposition activist Alexei Navalny was detained by police on Sunday evening as he landed in Russia, having returned from Germany, where he had recovered from an assassination attempt blamed on the Kremlin. A number of EU states threatened to impose sanctions on Monday if the Kremlin did not release the 44-year-old campaigner. (FT)

Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia stand in line at the passport control after arriving at Sheremetyevo airport, outside Moscow © AP

ECB threatens banks with capital ‘add-ons’ The European Central Bank is threatening to impose additional capital requirements on banks that continue to ignore requests to rein in risk in the leveraged loan market. A senior eurozone central banker said the issue would be raised as a concern in the ECB’s financial stability review in May.

  • As the ECB reviews its monetary policy framework, Martin Sandbu writes it could explore the idea of “yield curve control” — the policy of directly setting long-term interest rates, which the Bank of Japan has pursued since 2016. (FT)

Armin Laschet wins CDU election The prime minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia has been elected leader of Germany’s governing Christian Democratic Union. His victory puts him in pole position to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor of Europe’s most powerful economy, but saddles him with the daunting task of uniting a divided party. Here’s a profile of the figure long considered the “nearly man” of German politics.

Guatemala launches crackdown on US-bound migrant caravan Guatemalan security forces clashed with thousands of mostly Honduran US-bound migrants on Sunday as they tried to halt the largest caravan in years from reaching the US, where they would present an immediate test for Joe Biden’s immigration policy. (FT)

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan heading to the United States, clash with Guatemalan security forces in Vado Hondo, Guatemala © AFP via Getty Images

Virgin Orbit launches into space Eight months after a previous test ended in failure, Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has put a rocket in space, demonstrating for the first time the feasibility of its “air launch” strategy for space transportation. (FT)

New York in renewable power push New York, which is targeting 70 per cent renewable electricity generation by 2030, is forging ahead with the construction of hundreds of miles of new high-voltage power lines. Almost 90 per cent of the electricity consumed in upstate New York already comes from zero-carbon sources but fossil fuels generate 69 per cent of the city’s electricity. (FT)

The day ahead

Martin Luther King Day Stock markets and most banks in the US will be closed today in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. However, unlike some other federal holidays, national retailers and restaurant chains will be open. (USA Today)

Tougher UK travel restrictions come into force From today all travel corridors to the UK will be closed. Individuals travelling to the UK will need proof of a negative test taken 72 hours before departure and will be required to fill out a passenger locator form. In addition, they will be expected to self-isolate for a 10-day period after their arrival. (FT)

Italian politics Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who is facing a parliamentary vote on his future on Tuesday, will address Italy’s lower house of parliament. Last week, the Italia Viva party, led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, quit the governing coalition, throwing Mr Conte’s future in doubt. (FT)

Join Peter Spiegel and Swamp Notes columnists Rana Foroohar and Edward Luce as they discuss what to expect on Inauguration Day and beyond. Sign up and tune in on January 19.

What else we’re reading

Kristalina Georgieva: We cannot take stability for granted Martin Wolf speaks with Kristalina Georgieva, the IMF’s managing director, on efforts to rebuild the global economy and stem the damaging aftershocks of Covid-19. Her message is optimistic but cautionary: “Vaccines are wonderful, but they are not a magic wand.” (FT)

The IMF chief calls for global co-operation to support health systems and limit the damage of economic scarring
The IMF chief calls for global co-operation to support health systems and limit the damage of economic scarring © Leonie Woods

Turkey pushes into Africa Trade, development aid and even soap operas have been instrumental in cementing Ankara’s influence on the continent. These efforts at soft power, experts say, are aimed at countering the sway of Gulf rivals such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the US, France, China and Russia. This is the latest part of our series exploring Turkey’s geopolitical ambitions. (FT)

Wall Street’s new sheriff is on a mission Joe Biden is expected to pick Gary Gensler to run the Securities and Exchange Commission, the most important market regulator for America but also, arguably, for the wider world. The good news is that Mr Gensler is exactly the right man for the job, writes Rana Foroohar. (FT)

Gary Gensler: a ‘born-again. regulator © Matt kenyon Rana Foroohar

Big Meat: facing up to the demands for sustainability In less than two decades, the spectre of environmental damage has thrown a spotlight on the meat industry, attention for which the world’s leading meat producers were ill-prepared. (FT)

Renault boss eyes electric supremacy When Luca de Meo became chief executive at Renault last summer, he took over a business in a mess. But there was one part of the company that brought a smile to his face: the electric vehicle technology he had just inherited. In other EV news, Apple is reportedly planning to create self-driving electric vehicles. (FT, Nikkei)

Covid-19 tests a generation of graduate trainees For most graduates, the prospect of starting a job after university is exciting yet onerous, with several rounds of interviews, tests and — usually — rejections. This mix of emotions is normal. The pandemic, however, has amplified them. (FT)

For the lucky few who get into schemes, the reality of starting work from home is daunting
For the lucky few who get into schemes, the reality of starting work from home is daunting © NurPhoto/Getty

How lockdown caused a creativity crisis Doomed: that was the prevailing mood at Color, a 50-person creative agency, when the pandemic shut their offices in Seattle and Los Angeles. With the introduction of new lockdowns, there are growing fears that months of virtual work are taking a toll on creativity. (FT)

Lunch with the FT: Sarah Cooper Six years after quitting her tech job to concentrate on comedy, doing stand-up, online sketches, blog posts and books, Sarah Cooper’s future felt unclear. Then Donald Trump changed her life. (FT)

The comedian on the power of satire — and what the president really thinks of her lip-sync TikTok videos
‘Trump is the most dangerous man to ever hold the office’, says the comedian, who discussed the power of satire — and what the president really thinks of her lip-sync TikTok videos © James Ferguson

Video of the day

US Capitol on lockdown ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration Following the assault on the US Capitol, 25,000 National Guard troops have been called to provide security for inauguration day. Katrina Manson met some of the armed forces protecting Washington DC. (FT)

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