Welcome to this week’s edition of top stock market highlights.
China’s factory activity
Manufacturers in China must have breathed a collective sigh of relief as the country ended its draconian COVID-zero policy.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported that the country’s manufacturing purchasing manager’s index (PMI) rose to 52.6 in February, up from 50.1 in January.
Not only did the PMI for February beat the median economists’ estimate of 50.6 by a long shot, but it was also the highest reading since April 2012.
This near decade-high reading signalled a strong economic recovery for the Middle Kingdom as people returned to work after the Lunar New Year break and normalcy returned.
Road congestion in major cities has increased as more people go about their business, while restaurant and mall spending both rose.
This is good news for companies that have suffered from snarled supply chains as China remained shut off from the world for most of last year.
The reopening and increase in factory activity should also benefit China-based REITs such as CapitaLand China Trust (SGX: AU8U).
Meanwhile, companies such as Nike (NYSE: NKE) and Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) that earn a chunk of their revenue from China should also be rejoicing.
United Overseas Bank Ltd (SGX: U11)
United Overseas Bank, or UOB, announced that it has completed the acquisition of Citigroup’s (NYSE: C) consumer banking business in Vietnam on 1 March.
It is yet another milestone for the bank after the announcement of this nearly S$5 billion acquisition to accelerate its retail banking business growth in the ASEAN region.
The acquisition covered four countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
UOB had already announced the completion of its acquisition in both Malaysia and Thailand on 1 November last year.
The bank had originally planned for the acquisitions of Vietnam and Indonesia to be completed by the end of 2023.
Around 575 Citigroup-related staff were also transferred to UOB Vietnam, and the consumer business comprises the American bank’s unsecured and secured lending portfolios, wealth management, and retail deposit businesses.
With the addition of both Malaysia and Thailand, UOB has expanded its retail customer base to almost seven million within the ASEAN region.
Once all the acquisitions are completed, the lender expects to double its existing retail base and add 5,000 staff to its team.
In line with the completion of the Vietnamese acquisition, UOB has also announced senior appointments to drive its business there.
Mr Fred Lim will head the retail transformation, channels and digitalisation division along with business banking in UOB Vietnam while Mr Paul Kim will serve as the head of personal financial services.
Meta Platforms (NASDAQ: META)
Meta Platforms is moving away from being a pure social media and communications company.
The company announced that it will create a new product group focused on generative artificial intelligence (AI).
Generative AI comprises a set of machine learning techniques that will allow computers to generate text, pictures or other media that resembles human output.
This new unit will combine several teams across Meta Platforms and be headed by current Chief Product Officer Chris Cox.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg sounded excited when he touted the promise of generative AI as he is confident that this new team can build “creative and expressive” tools to be used in Meta’s products WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram.
This announcement came after Meta Platforms announced that it had developed its in-house large language model called LLaMA.
Technology companies have been racing with one another to come up with new AI models after the success of ChatGPT, a product of OpenAI in which Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) took a stake.
Meanwhile, Alphabet’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) Google is also working on a chatbox named Bard, while Snap (NYSE: SNAP) has incorporated a ChatGPT bot into its Snapchat app.
Raffles Medical Group (SGX: BSL)
Raffles Medical Group, or RMG, has announced an impressive set of earnings for 2022.
The integrated healthcare player saw its revenue inch up by 5.9% year on year to S$766.5 million.
Operating profit shot up 61.4% year on year to S$195.8 million while net profit surged by 70.5% year on year to S$143.5 million.
On top of this good result, the group also generated a positive free cash flow of S$170.9 million, 59.3% higher than the prior year’s S$107.3 million.
In line with the robust results, RMG has declared a first and final dividend of S$0.038, 35% higher than the S$0.028 paid out in 2021.
The better performance came about as borders reopened and the group saw a return of foreign patients seeking medical treatment in Singapore.
RMG’s three China hospitals also supported the Chinese government in COVID-19 initiatives during China’s strict COVID-zero period.
Revenue from RMG’s healthcare division rose 8.6% year on year to S$498.3 million, reflecting the return of patients to the group’s clinics.
However, the increase was offset by an 8.6% year on year decline in the Hospital Services division’s revenue to S$316.3 million as the group wound down its COVID-19 PCR tests.
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Disclosure: Royston Yang owns shares of Meta Platforms, Nike, Starbucks and Raffles Medical Group.