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Across the road from the Chelsea Football Club’s stadium in west London, the Gfinity Arena is the UK’s first dedicated esports arena. With three separate stages and seats for 240 spectators, it specialises in holding competitions for the world’s most popular video games such as League of Legends. In late October, the arena hosted a very different event — a digital Formula One race that allows the drivers to rev their engines from home. With fans also prevented from attending by the pandemic, the venue had been turned into a production studio that allowed 20 drivers to compete in a virtual Grand Prix that was broadcast live on Sky, the dominant sports broadcaster in the UK.  Popular sports such as football or Formula One once looked on esports as a parallel world — a niche form of entertainment that did not impinge on their own franchises. But they have watched anxiously as esports has grown rapidly into a formidable new force: one that is able to retain the attention of millennials and Generation Z — those born after 1995. Now they are looking to get in on the act. F1, the global racing series owned by US billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Media and the organiser of the event at the Gfinity Arena, is among the established sports groups that are leading a charge into professional video gaming. They are competing for the next wave of consumers, who increasingly look to esports for their entertainment.  At stake are potentially billions of dollars in broadcasting and sponsorship, generated by a growing global audience for competitive gaming. Roughly 443m people watched esports in 2019, a 12 per cent increase on 2018, according to data provider Newzoo, the large majority of whom are under the age of 35. Esports athletes’ exploits are streamed by Amazon’s Twitch and Google’s YouTube, among other platforms, direct to consumers’ phones. Participants compete in the 2017 F1 Esports Pro Series at the Gfinity Arena in London © Joe Brady/Getty Julian Tan, head of esports at F1, says: ‘The very core of why we're doing this [expanding into esports] is really about reaching out to a younger audience’ © Youtube/Formula 1 The pandemic has given traditional sports an even greater incentive to tap the potential of esports. Not only has the absence of fans from stadiums damaged their business models and left them searching for new revenue, but broadcasters such as Sky, which have been deprived of many of the sporting events they usually rely on, have been eager for fresh content.  “One of the biggest barriers to gaming going mainstream has been the reluctance of broadcasters to put it on air. Covid-19 and the lockdown blew this sentiment out of the water,” says John Clarke, chief executive of Gfinity. “If you are a sports rights holder, you have a choice. Embrace the gaming culture and find a way to play in it authentically, or watch your audience get older and older.” That message is echoed by some of the most powerful players in traditional sports. Andrea Agnelli, president of the Italian football club Juventus and chair of the powerful European Club Association, which represents the continent’s top clubs, warned last year that the sport had to evolve in order to compete with video games such as Fortnite. “If we are not progressive, we are simply protecting a system that is no longer there, a system that is made of domestic games that will have little interest for our kids,” he said.  The International Olympic Committee has also established relationships with the esports and gaming industries and has raised the prospect of esports becoming part of the games in the future. Fans cheer at the 2019 Fortnite World Cup in New York. aXiomatic was among the investors which injected $1.25bn into Epic Games, the creator of the game © Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty With many competitions temporarily brought to a halt by national lockdowns in March, some traditional sports instead began to stage virtual tournaments.  F1 has held virtual Grands Prix featuring former drivers, including 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg, and celebrities such as Liam Payne, a former member of the band One Direction. The English Premier League, the richest domestic football competition in the world, held an esports tournament in April, which was won by Diogo Jota, the real-life striker who now plays for Liverpool. The National Basketball Association, the North American league, hosted its own competition for real players.  Investment is also flooding into esports teams and leagues from wealthy former athletes. Jakob Lund Kristensen, founder and chief commercial officer of Astralis, an esports team that floated on Nasdaq’s exchange for smaller companies in December 2019, disputes the perceived competition between sports and esports. Instead he sees a wider battle that also draws in video streaming companies such as Netflix and music platforms including Spotify. “We’re all fighting for leisure time,” he says. “We went from having cooking shows to MasterChef, we went from having dancing shows to Dancing With the Stars. Everything pinnacles to something competitive.” ‘Investing in generational change’ David Beckham is among the group of sporting stars to have moved from the pitch to the business world. The former England and Manchester United footballer is a part-owner of Inter Miami, the Major League Soccer team, having negotiated an option to buy a franchise for $25m when he joined LA Galaxy as a player in 2007. He is also a 5 per cent shareholder in Guild Esports, a London-based start-up company that floated on the London Stock Exchange in October, raising £20m to fund the recruitment of professional gamers and teams.  Juventus FC president Andrea Agnelli: 'If we are not progressive, we are simply protecting a system that is no longer there, a system that is made of domestic games that will have little interest for our kids' © Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Players are seen on a TV screen during the 2019 Fortnite World Cup in New York. One of the problems for potential investors in esports is that it is hard to quantify the size of the market © Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty “[Esports] is a sector I’ve been monitoring for a while,” he said in October. “We are committed to nurturing and encouraging youth talent through our academy systems . . . and we want to be the number one esports team in the business.” Institutional investors also believe in the business. Soros Fund Management, the investment company of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, bought a 3.6 per stake in Guild. Mr Beckham, is the face of the company. Under his “influencer” agreement, he will promote Guild on social media and the company can use his name to build a global following in a deal that could net the ex-player a minimum of £15.25m over five years. “If you have the right pipeline of talent, that brings the tribal loyalty that you have within a team,” said Mr Beckham, explaining his role in the venture.  The idea is that esports teams will build the same level of loyalty among viewers as traditional sports clubs enjoy from their fans to attract revenues from sponsorship, merchandising and broadcasting rights. “This audience is an advertiser’s dream,” says Carleton Curtis, executive chairman of Guild. “It is by far the most concentrated composition of Gen Z and millennials that most brands these days are going after.” Mr Beckham is far from the first former athlete to invest in esports. Michael Jordan, who became a global brand thanks to his exploits leading the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships in the 1990s, has bought a stake in aXiomatic, which holds a variety of esports investments, including games publishers, teams and coaching businesses.  David Beckham, the former England and Manchester United footballer, says of esports: ‘If you have the right pipeline of talent, that brings the tribal loyalty that you have within a [football] team’ © Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Michael Jordan during his heyday with the Chicago Bulls. The team's former star has bought a stake in aXiomatic, which holds a variety of esports investments © John Swart/AP Axiomatic’s backers also include Peter Guber, who co-owns the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team and the Golden State Warriors in basketball, and billionaire Ted Leonsis, who owns the Washington Wizards, a rival NBA team, and the Capitals in the National Hockey League. The company was among investors, including private equity firm KKR, which in 2018 injected $1.25bn into Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite.  Still, revenues remain small compared to sport’s big leagues. Team Liquid’s revenues are in the “double-digit millions”, according to Victor Goossens, co-chief executive of the esports gaming team, who moved to South Korea after finishing high school in 2002, slept on floors and lived on $300 a month to compete professionally in the StarCraft video game.  These days, Liquid is owned by aXiomatic. “To invest in esports. You need to be willing to look a little bit beyond just the fundamentals of a company,” Mr Goossens says. “To invest in esports is to invest in generational change.” ‘Humans are fickle sometimes’ According to F1, the average age of its fans is 40. Only 14 per cent are under the age of 25, with another 30 per cent coming from the 25-34 bracket. “The very core of why we're doing this [expanding into esports] is really about reaching out to a younger audience,” says Julian Tan, head of esports at F1. “The reality is that the younger generation are spending more time gaming.” F1 is “very strategically positioned to exploit certain elements like the blurring of lines with reality”, Mr Tan adds, pointing out that a small number of esports gamers have transitioned into real racing. That cohort includes Igor Fraga, who has raced in esports and in Formula 3, one of the stepping stones towards an F1 career. In October, Fifa, football’s world governing body, outlined plans for esports competitions with $4.4m in prize money up for grabs to “engage deeper with football’s next generation”. The Premier League has continued to arrange virtual tournaments. However, some investors are wary about the rush to invest in esports teams, questioning their ability to build loyalty. Football players hold an exhibition match to promote a new version of the EA Sports Fifa video game in Hollywood, California © Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Damir Becirovic of Index Ventures, the venture capital firm, says the real prize would be finding the next top game publisher and developer. In esports, unlike the real world, it is possible to own the game itself. “We want to back companies that have technology at the core [and] when we think about a team it’s really humans at the core,” he says. “Humans are fickle sometimes.” Established sports have built their intense followings over decades, proving the investment case in teams and leagues. By contrast, Fortnite, for example, was released just over three years ago. “Will fans permanently transfer their allegiance and their dollars to the virtual teams [or the players who compete in these tournaments]?” asked Nick Train, co-founder of UK fund manager Lindsell Train, a major shareholder in Manchester United and Juventus, in a note to investors in August. “No.” Industry experts believe there is only limited potential in promoting esport versions of traditional sports. According to Remer Rietkerk, head of esports at Newzoo, League of Legends, which is published by Riot Games, along with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2 — both the work of Seattle-based Valve — are the three most watched live competitive esports on YouTube and Twitch, with a combined 845m hours watched in 2019. Fifa 19 languished in 19th with just 8m hours, with Fifa 20 adding just another 3m. Those numbers exclude well over 1bn hours of views for non-competitive gaming. “Fifa is a good game, many people play the game but no hardcore esports fan will tell you, ‘I’ve been watching Fifa for years’,” says Carlos Rodriguez, a former League of Legends gamer and founder of the G2 Esports team, which counts McLaren F1 racing chief Zak Brown as a shareholder. “[Established sports teams] are used to buying LeBron James or Cristiano Ronaldo and automatically selling millions of jerseys,” he says. “They’re not used to having to relate to the people.” Mike Sepso, the esports veteran and co-creator of Major League Gaming, which is now owned by gaming company Activision Blizzard, says that younger fans want different types of content that is more digital and usable on mobile phones. The reliance of sport on television broadcasting is “not going to satisfy the incoming demand . . . for more content,” he adds. Yet, says Doug Harmer, a partner at Oakwell Sports Advisory, it would be a mistake for sports to forget the lessons of the pandemic and cut spending on digital gaming to cope with the economic downturn. He says one of the advantages for traditional sports of investing in digital gaming is that it allows organisations to collect data about their audience that they can use to attract commercial partners. The basketball simulation video game NBA 2K21 © 2K21 Diogo Jota, the real-life striker who now plays for Liverpool, won the English Premier League's esports tournament in April © Premier League “I can definitely see a long-term rationale for keeping up with esports initiatives and the crossover [with] traditional sports . . . whether that actually happens now or not remains to be seen,” says Mr Harmer. One of the problems for potential investors in esports is that it is hard to quantify the size of the market. Some analysts warn that there is an element of hype in some of the statistics that are sometimes used by boosters — such as the claim that League of Legends viewership is bigger than the Super Bowl.  “That was the big, headline-grabbing stat but when you get down to it they were comparing the average audience of the Super Bowl in the US versus total unique viewers of League of Legends around the world,” says Nicole Pike, YouGov’s head of esports and gaming. “It’s just apples to oranges completely.” Newzoo estimates esports’s annual revenues globally at $1bn, but that does not include revenue made by platforms such as Amazon’s Twitch and Google’s YouTube from streaming esports. It is also hard to distinguish publishers’ gaming revenues from esports revenues, making it difficult to properly assess the industry’s size. Esports insiders say some gaming companies run their competitive gaming activities as a marketing cost to sell more titles. Nicolo Laurent, chief executive of Riot Games, says that traditional sports have been too slow to see the potential in esports. He likens it to the so-called “innovator’s dilemma”, a reference to the influential book by Clayton Christensen, who described the risk to incumbents from failing to recognise threats to their established products. “The incumbent is a little bit arrogant towards the newcomer, the insurgent,” he says. “When you realise the insurgent is actually doing something great, it’s too late.”
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For a brief spell on Wednesday afternoon, the political divide tearing America ran through Peddler’s Village, a twee ramble of gift shops in bucolic New Hope, Pennsylvania, where Christmas wreaths are always in season and scented candles are abundant. There, Frank Behlert, 71, diabetic and enraptured with Donald Trump, was blaming the liberal media’s hateful treatment of the president for the country’s polarisation as he tended his memorabilia store, Colt’s Sports Collectibles.  Why wouldn’t they — the media — publish stories about what he alleged was the Biden family’s corruption, he demanded? He turned to Marcos Carballal, 21, a University of Pennsylvania student who had wandered into the shop and had the temerity to express sympathy for Joe Biden: didn’t universities teach students these days about the dangers of socialism, Mr Behlert asked? “I’m not here to invalidate anyone’s opinion or their lived experience,” Mr Carballal replied in campus patois. But he saw things differently: “It’s a growing populist movement, and Trump is kind of an opportunist.” They parted soon after, two more Americans not merely engaged in a disagreement about politics but seemingly inhabiting two different worlds, separated by age, education and their attitudes about social justice, the economy, race, patriotism and much else. After the most bitter US presidential contest in recent memory — one that featured claims of voter suppression and voter fraud and is now headed for litigation — those divides appear deeper than ever.  In Philadelphia and other cities up and down the country the vote has divided the population © KyodoNewscom/Avalon In urban centres including New York City, enraged demonstrators confronted police on Wednesday night as they demanded that all votes be counted. In Arizona, a crowd of more than a hundred Trump supporters — some armed — surrounded a voting centre, prompting police to send reinforcements to protect election workers. The opposing sides came face to face on Thursday morning outside the Philadelphia Convention Center, where workers were toiling to count a haul of mail ballots that might decide the White House. “Count every vote!” screamed Biden supporters. “We want a tax cut!” a Trump woman hollered back. So enraged was Laura Keane, a mother of three and Biden voter, that she looked ready to charge the Trump crowd even though she was — incongruously — clad in the workout attire of the middle-aged jogger. “There’s moral values at stake in this election,” Ms Keane said, trying to explain the depth of her feelings. The mood deteriorated as the day dragged on, with a beefy Trump supporter at one point leaning over a barricade and daring a reedy voting rights activist to punch him. Such scenes renew the same question that social scientists, politicians, the media and ordinary Americans have struggled to answer at least since Mr Trump’s surprise election victory four years ago: what accounts for the country’s rancorous tribal divisions? And is there any leader who would be able to heal those divisions in order to govern effectively? Heading into election day, Democrats drew encouragement from opinion polls predicting a rising blue tide that would soon give them control of the government and validate their world view after four years under Mr Trump. They were stunned on Wednesday morning to learn otherwise.  “It’s astounding, it’s disappointing, it’s infuriating — it’s all that,” Michael Nutter, the former mayor of Philadelphia said of the reality that so many of his fellow citizens had voted for a president whom he accused of inflaming racial tensions and neglecting Americans — particularly poorer and blacker ones — in the pandemic.  Mr Nutter had hoped that the trauma of coronavirus would instil some sense of national solidarity — a feeling that “we have to look out for one another.” Instead, he concluded: “The blue wave can’t overcome white supremacy and racism.” For a President Biden to govern, he argued, it would require not merely reaching across the aisle but “across the culture”.  Trump supporters, who were generally less concerned about coronavirus than Democrats, were more likely to vote in person than by mail © Bryan R Smith/AFP/Getty While Mr Trump ran a campaign that was unapologetically focused on his base, Mr Biden tried to present himself as a leader of the entire nation. His success in Georgia offered some encouragement. Still, much of it appeared to be built on increased turnout in urban areas. In the Trump heartlands, few voters were persuaded to change their minds. The two tribes even placed their votes differently. “If you think coronavirus was the biggest issue, you asked for a mail ballot. If you thought it was the economy, you went in person,” said Robin Kolodny, chair of the political science department at Temple University in Philadelphia. Should Mr Biden prevail — as looked increasingly likely by Friday — she predicted he would appoint a few prominent Republicans to his cabinet. With time, that might ease the rancour, she said. William Rosenberg, a political scientist at Drexel University, was less hopeful. “We have to recognise that about 45 per cent of the American public supports — and even really loves — Donald Trump,” he said. With those voters’ representatives gaining seats in the House and the Senate, he did not expect the levers of government would be geared for compromise.  “What happened to American politics over the last 20 to 30 years is it’s become much more liberal and much more conservative, with fewer people in the middle,” Prof Rosenberg said. Mr Trump, he observed, had revelled in divisiveness. As ever in America, race is entwined in the story. It was at the forefront of the contest in Philadelphia — even more so after Walter Wallace, a black man with mental health issues, was shot dead by police a few days before the vote, igniting protests across the city. As people streamed to the polls on Tuesday, several black voters in the city insisted it was their enmity for Mr Trump — not the appeal of Mr Biden — that brought them. But in Bucks County, where Peddler’s Village is located, race was in the background. The overwhelmingly white county is an hour’s drive from Philadelphia and features commuters as well as country roads that wind around postcard-worthy horse farms. Its voters seemed more inclined to talk about the economy and the plight of small business. Democrats celebrated outside the Philadelphia Convention Center as the counting of ballots continued on Friday with Joe Biden edging closer to victory © Spencer Platt/Getty When Mr Behlert at Colt’s Sports Collectibles spoke of race, it was in the context of the economy. “What the heck more can he do?” he said of Mr Trump, noting his success at lowering unemployment rates for black men. “I don’t know what’s wrong with the Democrats,” he pleaded. “They’re anti-bible, anti-religion, anti-police — anti-everything that’s American.” On the patio at the Free Will tap room, a short stroll from Colt’s, a trio of young women despaired that the binary politics on offer this election season failed to accommodate the contradictions and complexities of their own lives.  “Politics has become black and white and yet our lives [are not],” said Danielle Bloomfield, 30, a first-generation Colombian American who works at insurer GEICO. Her friend and co-worker, Brandi Beuschel, 36, noted that her husband was a policeman as she justified her support for the president. “I do agree with the wall,” she added in an almost apologetic tone, referring to the president’s proposed wall on the southern border that is the bane of progressives. The women seemed to appreciate Mr Trump’s raw style but also wished that he would occasionally “shut up,” as Ms Beuschel put it. They credited him with supporting small business but, somewhat confusingly, viewed Mr Biden as a better steward of the economy. Their fellow Americans, they agreed, seemed to be losing the ability to tolerate disagreement.  “Before the pandemic, society was in a better place,” Ms Van Sciven offered. How does the country move forward from here? How would a leader bind up the wounds? Is this a fever that will eventually run its course — or something more fundamental? Like others, they had few clear answers — only a conviction that America needed to be healed. “Whatever happens,” Ms Bloomfield said, “we have some recovering to do.”
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Millions of mail-in ballots and extraordinarily narrow margins in several battleground states mean the results of the 2020 presidential election remain in the balance. To further complicate the outcome, there are open legal challenges in some of the states, and President Donald Trump said he is taking his case for stopping the count to the nation’s courts — meaning a final resolution may still be days away. Here is the state of play in the swing states that could still decide who is sworn in as president on January 20. 2016 winner: Donald Trump 2020 STATUS: Ballots still being counted The Trump campaign on Wednesday laid the groundwork for a multipronged legal battle in Pennsylvania, one of the states that remains critical to the president’s re-election chances. The campaign said on Wednesday it was suing to halt the counting of votes in Pennsylvania, even as it claimed that Mr Trump would win the state when all the ballots were tallied. It also sought permission to take part in pending Supreme Court litigation concerning mail-in ballot deadlines in the state. The US high court has previously declined to strike down an extension of the deadline for such ballots, although the case remains live. Mr Trump has made clear that he intends to use legal actions to secure his re-election and that he expects the Supreme Court to ultimately rule in his favour in any dispute. “As the president has rightly said, the Supreme Court must resolve this crucial contested legal question,” said Justin Clark, deputy campaign manager, in a statement. He added that the campaign was seeking in its new lawsuit to “temporarily halt counting until there is meaningful transparency and Republicans can ensure all counting is done above board and by the law”. While the president has maintained a lead throughout the day in the state, vote counters were still tallying hundreds of thousands of ballots, particularly mail-in ballots in the urban centres of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where Mr Biden is expected to perform better. Late-arriving ballots, combined with Pennsylvanian rules that prevented authorities from tabulating early votes before election day, are the main reason for the delay, which could stretch for days. Republicans thwarted efforts to change the rules in a way that would have allowed for the early counting of votes. “We are exactly where we said we would be,” Kathy Boockvar, the Pennsylvania secretary of state, said on Wednesday morning, adding that about half of the mail-in ballots remained to be counted. Video: US election 2020: Donald Trump claims early victory The FT’s final look at Mr Trump’s eleventh-hour push in Pennsylvania, and why it has became pivotal to his re-election chances, can be found here. 2016 winner: Donald Trump 2020 status: Possible recount Election officials in Wisconsin, another one of the Democrats’ once-invincible “blue wall” in the industrial north, have said their count is complete, and the Associated Press has called the state for Mr Biden with a 20,517-vote margin. But even before the vote was complete, Bill Stepien, Mr Trump’s campaign manager, said in a statement that the president’s team would immediately request a recount, arguing that the “razor thin” margin “is well within the threshold to request a recount”. Scott Walker, the former Republican governor of Wisconsin, wrote on Twitter that 20,000 votes may be a “high hurdle”, noting that previous recounts in the state had changed the final tally by, at most, a few hundred votes. Video: US election 2020: Joe Biden urges supporters to 'keep the faith' Wisconsin was always expected to take a while to finish its count because, like Pennsylvania, election rules meant that it could not process early ballots before election day. Ballot deadlines were also put in place in Wisconsin, but by a federal judge rather than state authorities. The US Supreme Court last week rejected a request from Democrats to allow the extension to stand after an appeals court blocked it. An FT look at voter turnout in Wisconsin, and how Democrats tried to boost African-American participation in Milwaukee and other cities, can be found here. 2016 winner: Donald Trump 2020 status: CALLED FOR BIDEN Before Michigan was called for Mr Biden on Wednesday evening, the Trump campaign said on Wednesday that it had filed a lawsuit to halt the counting of votes in the state, alleging it had not been given “meaningful access” to observe the count in several locations. Mr Stepien said in a statement that the lawsuit filed in state court sought to halt the count until they were given access, as well as a “review” of ballots already counted. The lawsuit asked specifically to stop counting absentee ballots, which were believed to favour Democrats. Like other big industrial states in the Midwest, election rules prevented election officials from processing early ballots before election day, creating big shifts in the margin between Mr Biden and Mr Trump as the count proceeded throughout Wednesday. 2016 winner: Donald Trump 2020 status: ballots still being counted The pattern that emerged across the sunbelt was particularly notable in the “new South” state of North Carolina, which was always seen as a bit of a long shot for Mr Biden. The former vice-president outperformed 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton significantly in suburban counties, such as Wake, home to the state’s famed “research triangle”. Mrs Clinton won by almost 20 percentage points in Wake county, but Mr Biden, with nearly 95 per cent of the vote counted, was up by closer to 27 points. Mr Biden’s strength in the suburbs has put him within striking distance of Mr Trump, but it may simply narrow the losing margin to Mr Trump, who was ahead statewide by about 1 percentage point with 95 per cent of the vote counted. The question of ballot deadlines is also being contested in North Carolina, where the state elections board in a court-approved settlement said that mail-in ballots could arrive up to six days after November 3. The US Supreme Court last week declined to issue an injunction against the extension, but the case remains live in the lower courts. An FT look at the changing demographics of the “new South” and how it put North Carolina in play can be found here. 2016 winner: Hillary Clinton 2020 status: Ballots still being counted Nevada was slow to get its vote counting started on Tuesday night after a state judge kept 30 polling locations in predominantly Democratic Clark county, which includes Las Vegas, open for an extra hour. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit from the Trump campaign that cited delays in opening the polling locations on Tuesday morning. Democrats had also asked for some of the sites to be kept open for longer. Mr Biden was ahead on Wednesday morning, but his margin of victory was gradually narrowing as new votes were tallied, keeping the state — the only one still in question that went for Mrs Clinton in 2016 — too close to call. Nevada election officials said on Wednesday that they had completed counting all in-person ballots, both those cast on election day and in early voting, but were still working their way through late-arriving postal votes. The state elections division announced it would not be releasing new data on the count until Thursday. Clark county, by far the state’s largest, will be the focus going forward. There were still tens of thousands of votes to count there on Wednesday and a handful of outstanding court cases. In the run-up to election day, Mr Trump’s legal team had sought to halt the processing of some mail-in ballots in Clark in an emergency appeal to the state’s supreme court. A lower state court on Monday rejected the campaign’s challenge of how the county verifies signatures on postal ballots, as well as the “duplication” process it uses to ensure ballots can be fed into counting machines. Clark county uses machines to verify signatures, and when ballots have issues that make it difficult to feed into automated counting machines, election officials create a duplicate. The Trump campaign claimed these processes meant they were unable to properly monitor the count, and that the machine signature verification was unlawful under Nevada law. 2016 winner: Donald Trump 2020 status: Ballots still being counted Although Mr Trump has maintained a lead in Georgia into Wednesday morning, observers have held off from calling the state because of ballots still to be counted in what has emerged as one of Mr Biden’s strongest demographics: the suburbs. DeKalb and Clayton counties, vote-rich suburban areas around Atlanta, still had thousands of votes to tabulate on Wednesday morning. In addition, Dougherty County, a heavily African-American region in the south-west of the state, was also far behind in completing its count. Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, said at midday on Wednesday that about 200,000 absentee ballots remained uncounted, as well as 40,000 to 50,000 votes cast before election day in early voting. Live updates Follow the latest US election news here.
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Democrat Joe Biden has won the critical swing state of Wisconsin but Donald Trump’s campaign said it would request a recount as the tabulation of votes in the US presidential election stretched into Wednesday. The Associated Press said Mr Biden had won the Midwestern state, which became increasingly important after Mr Trump had taken Florida and Ohio. Mr Biden also leads in Nevada and Michigan but lags the president in Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina. With millions of absentee ballots still to be counted, neither candidate had secured the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidency. Mr Biden could reach the threshold by maintaining his leads in Nevada and Michigan, assuming that any recount upheld his victory in Wisconsin. Shortly before the Wisconsin race was called, the Trump campaign said it would request a recount, which would be automatic in such a narrow race. With 98 per cent of the vote counted, Mr Biden had won 49.4 per cent of the state’s ballots. Mr Trump had secured a narrow victory in Wisconsin in 2016. Bill Stepien, the Trump campaign manager, said there had been reports of “irregularities” in some Wisconsin counties that raised “serious doubts” about the validity of the result. “The president is well within the threshold to request a recount and we will immediately do so,” he said. Live updates Follow the latest US election news here. Americans had woken on Wednesday to uncertainty over results in several states, with Mr Trump and Mr Biden both claiming that they would emerge victorious. Mr Trump defied polls that had shown him trailing significantly heading into election day, as his conservative base of supporters turned out in big numbers. In addition to winning Ohio and Florida, as he did in 2016, the president took Texas, which had emerged as a battleground for the first time in decades. Mr Trump made gains among Hispanic voters, a crucial voting bloc for Democrats, in some states, but particularly in Florida. The AP declared Mr Biden the winner in Arizona, a swing state that Mr Trump won in 2016. But media groups that rely on data from Edison Research to call race winners said there had been an error in the state. The New York Times said only 86 per cent of the vote had been counted, and not the 98 per cent that had been projected early on Wednesday morning. The news agency has kept Arizona in Mr Biden’s column despite the data error and it was unclear what impact it would have on the final result there. Mr Biden also won traditional Democratic strongholds such as California and New York, which award a total of 84 electoral college votes. Trump vs Biden: who is leading the 2020 election polls? Use the FT’s interactive calculator to see which states matter most in winning the presidency The Trump campaign on Wednesday intensified its efforts to cast aspersions on mail-in ballots, with the president writing on Twitter that he was “leading, often solidly” in key battlegrounds. He added that his lead “started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted”. Mr Trump has tried to paint the huge number of postal ballots as unanticipated. However, the state authorities that administer US elections have known for weeks that an unprecedented number of Americans planned to vote early, by mail or in person, because of the pandemic. According to the US Elections Project at the University of Florida, more than 100m Americans voted before Tuesday, putting the US on course for a record turnout when all the ballots are counted. Many states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan, did not begin processing early ballots until Tuesday, leading to a delay in the counts of mail-in votes. The Biden campaign on Wednesday said Republicans had been hypocritical by taking measures to block votes from being counted earlier, before then casting doubts on those very votes. The Biden campaign said it was confident that the former US vice-president would win in states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania because a majority of the uncounted ballots were from heavily Democratic areas. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign on Wednesday maintained that the president would be re-elected. Mr Stepien said: “We are confident in our pathway. We are confident in our math.” Mr Stepien repeated spurious claims that ballots counted after election day were not legally valid, saying: “The Democrats are pushing to count late ballots. Why are they pushing to count late ballots? Because they know and we know that if we count all legal ballots, we win, the president wins.” Mr Biden can afford to lose more of those battleground states than Mr Trump and still win the White House. The Democratic nominee could lose Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia and still prevail by clinching Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Nevada. If Mr Trump loses Pennsylvania, he can only afford to also lose Nevada, which Hillary Clinton won in 2016, if he is to still triumph in the election. Despite fears that the election could be marked by voter intimidation and disputes over vote tallies, there were no reports of chaos or violence. Video: US election 2020: Donald Trump claims early victory But tensions could rise as the outcome remains unclear. Speaking from the White House early on Wednesday, Mr Trump prematurely claimed he had won the election and threatened to go to the Supreme Court to stop votes being counted, asserting without support that counting votes after election day was a “major fraud”. “It’s a very sad moment,” he said at the White House. “We will win this, and as far as I am concerned we already have.” Mr Biden accused Mr Trump of making an “outrageous” statement that was a “naked effort to take away the democratic rights of American citizens”. “If the president makes good on his threat to go to court to try to prevent the proper tabulation of votes, we have legal teams standing by ready to deploy to resist that effort,” he said. “And they will prevail.” Video: US election 2020: Joe Biden urges supporters to 'keep the faith' Even if Mr Biden defeats Mr Trump, hopes of sweeping gains for Democrats in Congress were dashed. Democrats are expected to keep control of the House of Representatives, but were in danger of failing in their bid to regain control of the Senate from Republicans. This would limit Mr Biden’s ability to deliver large-scale fiscal stimulus to the US economy as it grapples with fallout from the pandemic. Additional reporting by Courtney Weaver, Aime Williams and Kiran Stacey in Washington .
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Presidential results based on0 out of 538 electoral college votes called0Joe BidenDEMOCRAT0Donald TrumpREPUBLICAN270 to win Electoral college votes by state MEVTNHNYMAWACTMTNDMNMIWIRIORSDIDPAWYOHNJNVNEIAILINMDUTCOKSMODEWVAZOKDCARKYCAVANMNCTNGALAALSCAKMSTXHIFLBiden winTrump winYet to be called In most states, electoral votes are distributed on a winner-takes-all basis. In Maine and Nebraska, the electoral votes can be split between candidates. House of Representatives 232Outgoing House1970DEMOCRATS1REPUBLICAN021801 out of 435 races called 47Outgoing Senate5335DEMOCRATS30REPUBLICANS35seats not up for election5030seats not up for election0 out of 35 races called Latest news you need to know: Are the candidates performing as expected? Electoral votes by state Expected Biden Solid Democrat (203 electoral votes in total) caCalifornia Not yet calledctConnecticut Not yet calleddcWashington DC Not yet calleddeDelaware Not yet calledhiHawaii Not yet calledilIllinois Not yet calledmaMassachusetts Not yet calledmdMaryland Not yet calledmeMaine (Statewide) Not yet calledme1Maine (District 1) Not yet callednjNew Jersey Not yet callednmNew Mexico Not yet callednyNew York Not yet calledorOregon Not yet calledriRhode Island Not yet calledvaVirginia Not yet calledvtVermont Not yet calledwaWashington Not yet called Leaning Democrat (23 electoral votes in total) coColorado Not yet calledmnMinnesota Not yet callednhNew Hampshire Not yet called Toss-up (187 electoral votes in total) azArizona Not yet calledflFlorida Not yet calledgaGeorgia Not yet callediaIowa Not yet calledme2Maine (District 2) Not yet calledmiMichigan Not yet calledncNorth Carolina Not yet calledne2Nebraska (District 2) Not yet callednvNevada Not yet calledohOhio Not yet calledpaPennsylvania Not yet calledtxTexas Not yet calledwiWisconsin Not yet called Expected Trump Leaning Republican (48 electoral votes in total) akAlaska Not yet calledinIndiana Not yet calledksKansas Not yet calledmoMissouri Not yet calledmtMontana Not yet calledscSouth Carolina Not yet calledutUtah Not yet called Solid Republican (77 electoral votes in total) alAlabama Not yet calledarArkansas Not yet calledidIdaho Not yet calledkyKentucky Not yet calledlaLouisiana Not yet calledmsMississippi Not yet calledndNorth Dakota Not yet calledneNebraska (Statewide) Not yet calledne1Nebraska (District 1) Not yet calledne3Nebraska (District 3) Not yet calledokOklahoma Not yet calledsdSouth Dakota Not yet calledtnTennessee Not yet calledwvWest Virginia Not yet calledwyWyoming Not yet called Key presidential races calculator Joe Biden and Donald Trump each need 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. As results are coming in, many key states have not yet been called. Which way do you think they will vote? Select a winner in each state to see the potential paths to victory for Biden or Trump You have not selected an outcome in enough states for either Biden or Trump to secure an electoral college majority. Please choose a winner in more states to see which candidate will get to 270 electoral votes. 0Biden 0Joe BidenDEMOCRAT0Trump 0Donald TrumpREPUBLICAN270 to win Reset my state selections Toss-up states not yet called 2020 polls Trump +0.1 2016 result Trump +9.4 2012 Obama +5.8 SelectBidenas winner of Iowa SelectTrumpas winner of Iowa 2020 polls Trump +0.2 2016 result Trump +5.1 2012 Romney +7.8 SelectBidenas winner of Georgia SelectTrumpas winner of Georgia 2020 polls Trump +0.7 2016 result Trump +8.1 SelectBidenas winner of Ohio SelectTrumpas winner of Ohio 2020 polls Biden +1.4 2016 result Trump +3.7 SelectBidenas winner of North Carolina SelectTrumpas winner of North Carolina 2020 polls Biden +1.8 2016 result Trump +3.5 2012 Romney +9.1 SelectBidenas winner of Arizona SelectTrumpas winner of Arizona 2020 polls Biden +1.9 2016 result Trump +10.3 2012 Obama +8.6 SelectBidenas winner of Maine (District 2) SelectTrumpas winner of Maine (District 2) 2020 polls 2016 result Trump +1.2 2012 Obama +0.9 SelectBidenas winner of Florida SelectTrumpas winner of Florida 2020 polls Trump +2.1 2016 result 2012 Romney +15.8 SelectBidenas winner of Texas SelectTrumpas winner of Texas 2020 polls Biden +3.2 2016 result Clinton +2.4 2012 Obama +6.7 SelectBidenas winner of Nevada SelectTrumpas winner of Nevada 2020 polls Biden +4.2 2016 result Trump +2.2 2012 Romney +7.1 SelectBidenas winner of Nebraska (District 2) SelectTrumpas winner of Nebraska (District 2) 2020 polls Biden +4.9 2016 result Trump +0.7 2012 Obama +5.4 SelectBidenas winner of Pennsylvania SelectTrumpas winner of Pennsylvania 2020 polls Biden +7.4 2016 result Trump +0.2 2012 Obama +9.5 SelectBidenas winner of Michigan SelectTrumpas winner of Michigan 2020 polls Biden +7.5 2016 result Trump +0.8 2012 Obama +6.9 SelectBidenas winner of Wisconsin SelectTrumpas winner of Wisconsin Other states not yet called Methodology The FT 2020 results page displays US presidential, Senate and House races as called by the Associated Press. We categorise states into “expected” categories based on pre-election polls. States where the difference in poll numbers between Biden and Trump is more than 10 percentage points are classified as states we expect to be solidly in favour of one candidate. States where the race is within 5 percentage points and states that Trump won by less than a percentage point in 2016 are classified as expected ‘toss-up’ states. If a state had less than two polls in the 60 days prior to election day, we use the Cook Political Report Electoral College Ratings to assign it a rating. We consider Cook’s ‘likely’ and ‘lean’ states ‘leaning’. Party breakdown numbers for the outgoing Senate include two Independents who caucus with Democrats as Democrats. Party breakdown numbers for the outgoing House of Representatives do not include five vacant seats and one Libertarian. Historical presidential results data comes from the Federal Election Commission and Daily Kos.
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In the dramatic run-up to Tuesday’s US presidential election, Chinese coverage and commentary in state and social media has been relatively restrained. But that could change if disorder and a disputed election result offer up an easy propaganda victory for China, which has been crowing about the advantages of its political system in light of the successful containment of the Covid-19 pandemic within its borders. Over the weekend China’s tightly controlled state-media outlets began to pick up on US reports about both surging gun sales and business owners boarding up their shops in anticipation of election-related unrest. That contrasted with earlier coverage that was dominated by low-key and factual accounts — typically produced by the official Xinhua news agency’s US bureau — even for sensational developments such as Donald Trump’s Covid-19 infection last month. Analysts and Chinese media professionals said Beijing’s cautious handling of American election coverage reflected the Communist party’s appreciation of just how sensitive an issue China was in the US — as well as its determination not to pour any more oil on the fire. “China has a huge amount at stake but they’re playing it pretty straight,” said Doug Young, an expert on Chinese state media and author of The Party Line, a book on how the CCP controls public opinion. “If there’s the slightest hint that China is favouring one candidate, the other candidate will jump all over it. It’s a no-win situation for the Chinese.” Chinese journalists who had hoped to do more reporting on the election confirmed that they have been told to stand down — for now. “There is no question that the outcome of the US presidential election will have a huge impact on China,” a producer at a large provincial broadcaster told the Financial Times. “But my supervisor has turned down my request to work on an election series. It is difficult to take sides and we were told to wait for the final outcome before doing a story.” The producer added that such top-level caution would quickly fade if the presidential election gave way to chaotic scenes across the US. “My friends at other TV networks will air stories that focus on social chaos no matter who wins the election.” the producer said. “That's the best we can do.” Social media interest in the US election has also been relatively muted — something that could reflect the influence of official media. “Usually the talk on social media is in response to [state media] news and there haven’t been that many news articles on the election,” says Mr Young. According to Sina, which runs China’s censored Twitter equivalent, over the past week there has been more online interest in a cold front in northern China than in US politics. Last week’s scripted annual gathering of the party’s central committee was also rated as a hotter topic than the US election. Election commentaries in the party’s biggest media outlets — Xinhua, the People’s Daily newspaper and China Central Television — have focused on negative aspects of US democracy, such as the nexus between money and politics. “The votes go where the money goes,” Xinhua said last week.  But there is also a risk for Beijing in being too critical ahead of Tuesday’s election, especially if a convincing victory for Mr Biden is followed by the usual peaceful transfer of power in Washington. As Bill Bishop, editor of the influential Sinocism China newsletter, said in a tweet last month, “China has had bad leaders too [but I] don’t remember any of them getting voted out”. Additional reporting by Xinning Liu and Emma Zhou
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Jack Dorsey has been reaffirmed as the chief executive of Twitter after a board committee including representatives from activist hedge fund Elliott Management examined the social media group’s leadership structure.  Elliott took a 4 per cent stake in the company in February, agitating for management changes to improve its performance. The formation of a “management structure committee” to review Mr Dorsey’s leadership was part of a ceasefire agreement with the hedge fund. A central point of concern for Elliott has been Mr Dorsey’s split responsibilities, since he is also the boss of Square, the payments company he co-founded. It also expressed dissatisfaction at his leadership style and his plans — later cancelled — to spend at least half this year in Africa exploring opportunities in cryptocurrencies, according to people familiar with the situation.  After initially looking to oust Mr Dorsey, Elliott agreed that he stay in place on the condition that he lived up to challenging performance targets. According to a regulatory filing published late on Monday, the management structure committee “expressed its confidence in management and recommended that the current structure remain in place”.  The company said that the committee — which includes Elliott partner Jesse Cohn and Silver Lake co-chief executive Egon Durban — assessed the “current management structure, new operating plan and procedures put in place by the company’s CEO, as well as the company’s significantly improving product, operational and financial performance through the most recently reported quarter”. Shares in Twitter are up nearly 20 per cent since Elliott disclosed its stake in the company on February 28, giving the hedge fund a paper profit of about $200m since then. The board did agree governance changes designed to make it more responsive to shareholder concerns. Directors will be elected for annual terms, rather than multiyear terms, according to the filing, and the company has also “updated the CEO succession plan in line with best practices”. A Twitter spokesperson would not share further details about the succession plan. The public expression of support for Twitter’s management comes after a bruising year for Mr Dorsey, who has come under fire for the company’s decisions around moderating content on the platform. The chief executive faced a barrage of accusations from Republicans on a Senate panel last week that his company was suppressing conservative voices, as well as complaints from Democratic senators that it does not adequately police misinformation and hate speech on the platform. Separately, Twitter’s cyber security practices were called into question when it suffered a high-profile hack in July that affected many celebrity users. While Twitter posted a strong financial performance in its third-quarter results last week, user growth fell short of expectations in the quarter and it warned of further delays to the introduction of a long-awaited new advertising system — sending its share price down 17 per cent on that news. Twitter shares fell 4.6 per cent on Monday, but were 1.4 per cent higher in after-hours trade. Additional reporting by Sujeet Indap in New York Daily newsletter #techFT brings you news, comment and analysis on the big companies, technologies and issues shaping this fastest moving of sectors from specialists based around the world. Click here to get #techFT in your inbox.
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The London Metal Exchange is facing pushback against its plans to launch a “green aluminium” platform to trade the metal from some of the world’s largest producers. Norwegian group Norsk Hydro and India’s Hindalco Industries said they both opposed proposals by the LME to allow aluminium with a lower carbon footprint to be traded separately from the standard metal. Their comments are a blow to efforts by the LME, the world’s centre for industrial metals trading, to establish a separate price for low-carbon aluminium in order to encourage the metal to be produced more sustainably. The LME said in August that it would launch a separate spot exchange for trading low-carbon metal next year, marking the first time it would be traded based on its environmental footprint in the exchange’s 143-year history.  Most of the world’s aluminium is produced using coal-fired power or natural gas. Its production is responsible for about 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions making it a critical sector in global efforts to combat climate change. Climate Capital Where climate change meets business, markets and politics. Explore the FT’s coverage here  The LME hopes that a separate trading venue just for low-carbon aluminium could help determine whether customers are willing to pay a premium for greener metal. That would in turn incentivise the industry to lower its carbon footprint.  But Hilde Merete Aasheim, chief executive of Norsk Hydro, told the Financial Times that a separate contract for low-carbon aluminium risked weakening standards and its own efforts to decarbonise the energy-intensive industry. “We are a little bit afraid you will commoditise a specialised product,” Ms Aasheim said. “There are a number of green products out there — you have to be precise about what is your [carbon] content, it’s not one standard calculation.” Ms Aasheim said Norsk Hydro worried that the LME’s exchange would “bundle” multiple low-carbon standards together and set a threshold for “green aluminium” that was too low. Norsk Hydro sells aluminium with a carbon footprint of less than 4 kilogrammes of CO2 per kg of aluminium because of its use of hydropower, compared to an average of 8.6kg CO2 for aluminium consumed in Europe and 20kg in China. Meanwhile, Satish Pai, managing director of Hindalco Industries, said a potential focus on the energy used to produce aluminium ran the risk of overlooking other issues in the supply chain, such as the mining of bauxite. Twice weekly newsletter Energy is the world’s indispensable business and Energy Source is its newsletter. Every Tuesday and Thursday, direct to your inbox, Energy Source brings you essential news, forward-thinking analysis and insider intelligence. Sign up here. “The concept of green aluminium is being hijacked for economic benefits by a few companies,” Mr Pai said. “It’s a concept that needs to be looked at from a holistic environmental and sustainability point of view across the whole value chain.” “The LME is a place to bring buyers and sellers together [and] they should stick to their mandate,” he added. The two companies’ positions are at odds with those of En+, the hydropower and metals group formerly controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The group said last month that the LME should go further and require every aluminium producer to disclose its carbon footprint to the exchange. “We welcome all views in respect of our proposed sustainability strategy and are considering the feedback we’ve received as part of the discussion paper process,” the LME said.
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Keeping up with demand during the Christmas period will be “tight”, Amazon has warned, advising shoppers to buy early in what it predicts will be yet another record-breaking quarter. The company said it expected sales in the year’s all-important fourth quarter to comfortably surpass $100bn, in what would be the first time in the company’s history. It offered guidance to investors of between $112bn and $121bn. “We’ll all be stretched,” said Brian Olsavsky, Amazon’s chief financial officer. “It’s advantageous to the customer, and probably to the companies, for people to order early this year.” Amazon gave a broad range of possible profit outcomes for the period, estimating operating income between $1bn and $4.5bn. Wall Street had hoped income will surpass $5bn, according to FactSet. In its third-quarter earnings, published on Thursday, Amazon said it recorded net income of $6.3bn between July and September, up from $2.1bn in the same period last year and beating Wall Street expectations by 71 per cent. Revenues of $96.1bn — boosted by the effects of the pandemic, which has pushed consumers into online shopping — also came in comfortably over estimates. But its stock fell by almost 2 per cent in after-hours trading, a possible result of mounting shipping costs and a further increase in Covid-19-related spending. The stock is up 66 per cent since the beginning of this year. The company confirmed that it now employs more than 1m people worldwide, up 50 per cent this year — not including contractors, such as delivery drivers, or seasonal workers. Shipping costs increased by $1.4bn during the quarter, up more than $5bn compared to the same period last year, growing at a rate faster than the increase in revenue. “The expenses are going to be the key,” said Charlie O’Shea, a Moody’s analyst. “I don’t think 20 per cent of sales for Q4 in shipping is out of the question. That’s a big number.” Big Tech’s big earnings day Apple beats revenue expectations despite iPhone 12 delay Google bounce back sharply from pandemic slump Facebook revenues up more than 20% despite ad boycotts Twitter shares fall as much as 17% as user growth disappoints Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, said the company was staffing up for the season. “We’re seeing more customers than ever shopping early for their holiday gifts, which is just one of the signs that this is going to be an unprecedented holiday season,” he said. Speaking to investors on Thursday, Mr Olsavsky said its capacity, and that of its delivery partners, would come under strain. “We rely on third-party shippers,” Mr Olsavsky said. “We know that their capacity will be tight, as will ours. It’s been very tight this year. As we get into Q4 and everything is stepping up, we're adding [capacity] and using it simultaneously.” The company said it would incur $4bn in costs related directly to Covid-19 measures, up from $2.5bn in the third quarter, a rise Amazon attributed to a larger number of employees, new warehouses and productivity losses related to social distancing and other measures.* Its Covid-19 testing capabilities for employees would reach 50,000 tests a day by November, it said. By the end of the year, Amazon predicted, the company will have spent more than $10bn handling Covid-19. The predictability of revenues from Amazon’s cloud computing business AWS has cushioned the blow from steadily growing costs. There, revenue grew 29 per cent in the third quarter, in line with its annual growth rate over the past few quarters. Previously the company’s major growth engine, Amazon now faces stronger competition. Microsoft’s cloud business, Azure, grew by 48 per cent in the same period. The third quarter also saw Amazon increase its “other” revenue, which mostly consists of advertising, by just under 50 per cent to $5.4bn. It was the second successive quarter in which Amazon made more money from selling advertising than it did from Whole Foods and other bricks and mortar stores. “We just had a lot more traffic,” Mr Olsavsky said of the advertising growth. “We do a good job of turning that traffic into valuable real estate.” *An earlier version of this story included an estimated figure for third-quarter costs related to Covid-19, and has been updated with the disclosed figure
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Google’s advertising business staged a much stronger rebound from its coronavirus slump than expected in the latest quarter, boosting revenue and earnings of parent Alphabet well above what analysts had expected. Earnings from the search giant — which came just days after it was hit with a landmark antitrust lawsuit from the US government — showed that its core search business had returned to growth after the pandemic led the company to report its first-ever business contraction. Alphabet shares rose as much as 9 per cent higher in after-market trading. Along with a 3 per cent rally in earlier trading, the surprise recovery added more than $100bn to Alphabet’s stock market value on the day. Sundar Pichai, chief executive, sought to play down the scale of Google’s outperformance, suggesting that it was only growing in line with the broader internet economy as more people go online to work, shop and entertain themselves. As a result, the company enjoyed “a strong quarter, consistent with the broader online environment”, he said. While Google had been expected to benefit from stronger advertising demand as merchants shifted more of their ad budgets online to support sales during the pandemic, the strength of the recovery outpaced most analysts’ expectations. Ruth Porat, chief financial officer, said it reflected “broad-based increases in advertiser spending”. Virtually all categories of search advertising started to rebound in August, she said, singling out home and garden, computers and work from home. Brand advertising on YouTube — which had dried up as advertisers turned to direct response formats after the coronavirus crisis hit — also staged a recovery. Alphabet’s earnings in the latest quarter were lifted by an uncharacteristically slow increase in operating costs, which rose only 5 per cent, after deducting the cost of a legal settlement in the previous quarter. The third quarter normally brings a boom in hiring as Google picks up students graduating over the summer. After freezing all but the most essential hires when the coronavirus hit, Google said it had added 4,623 people in the last quarter, around 30 per cent fewer than the same period the year before. Most of the new hires were focused in the cloud computing division, which Ms Porat said would remain a significant focus of investment as Google tried to overcome a late start and catch up with Amazon and Microsoft. The spending showed further signs of paying off in the latest period, with cloud revenue jumping 45 per cent to $3.4bn. The greater level of disclosure about Google’s different divisions, which began at the start of this year, along with signs that it has been more disciplined about controlling operating costs, have brought a thaw in the company’s sometimes frosty relationship with analysts. Ms Porat indicated the company would go further in its next set of earnings, disclosing the operating profits of its divisions for the first time. Advertising revenue in the latest quarter grew 10 per cent, after falling 8 per cent in the preceding quarter. Search advertising recovered from the 10 per cent fall in the second quarter to edge up 6 per cent, while advertising on YouTube bounced back strongly, rising 32 per cent compared to a 6 per cent gain in the second quarter. Overall, Alphabet reported revenue of $46.2bn, up 14 per cent from the previous year, after a decline of 2 per cent in the second quarter. Earnings per share rose 62 per cent, to $16.40. Wall Street had been expecting revenue of $42.8bn and earnings per share of $11.18.
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Twitter’s user growth fell short of expectations as it warned of further delays to the introduction of a long-awaited new advertising system, sending its shares down more than 14 per cent. The social media group put in a stronger financial performance in the third quarter thanks to the return of live sports and other events, driving sales up 14 per cent to $936m, compared with analysts’ expectations for $778m.  However, the revenue beat failed to offset disappointing user numbers. Twitter’s average monetisable daily active users grew 29 per cent year on year to 187m, compared with the 195m Wall Street had expected. MDAU is Twitter’s unique metric for counting users to whom it shows advertising, leaving out people who use more limited versions of its app or visit the site without logging in.  Twitter’s net income in the quarter fell by 22 per cent year on year to $28.7m, as costs and expenses rose 13 per cent.  It did not provide any revenue guidance for the coming quarter, setting political uncertainty against the upsurge in ecommerce.  “On the positive side, October looks a lot like September with events and product launches coming back,” it said in its letter to shareholders, adding that the online shopping season “may be accelerated and even more digital than ever before”.  However, it sounded a cautious note ahead of the US election, after many advertisers pulled back during the widespread civil rights protests in the US earlier this year.  Investors had been hoping that Twitter’s usage would benefit from surging chatter around the US elections and Covid-19, as well as the resumption of many sporting events that had been shuttered earlier in the year, including Premier League football and NBA basketball in the US.  Shares in Twitter dropped more than 14 per cent in after-hours trading to around $44.66, more than erasing gains of 8 per cent during regular trading on Thursday.  Twitter said it had “made progress” on developing its direct response advertising products. Technical challenges in that area had resulted in it missing out on an upswing in performance-driven online ads from games developers and online retailers that had boosted its rivals earlier in the year.  However, it said it would further delay a big advertising system upgrade, called MAP, until next year, citing “new industry standard privacy requirements”. Facebook and several big advertising groups have complained in recent months about Apple’s plan to remove an ad tracking system from its operating systems, a change the iPhone maker was forced to delay.  Twitter’s mixed bag of results follow a strong performance from Snap and Pinterest, both of which blew past Wall Street’s revenue projections. 
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A US federal judge has temporarily halted the extradition of two US citizens accused of orchestrating Carlos Ghosn’s daring escape from Japan last year, shortly after the US government approved their removal. Lawyers for Michael Taylor, a former Green Beret, and his son Peter said in a court filing on Thursday they had been informed by Japanese media that the two men were set to be removed from the US as soon as Thursday at 1pm. The US state department had approved the extradition on Tuesday and informed lawyers for the two men on Wednesday, according to the filing. The Taylors’ lawyers urged the court to intervene, warning that the men were due to be sent to Japan as early as that day. A federal judge in Boston, Indira Talwani, subsequently issued an emergency order halting their removal until she could fully review the request. Japanese authorities have issued an arrest warrant for the Taylors for allegedly helping Mr Ghosn, the former Nissan chief executive, flee the country when he was on bail for an array of alleged financial crimes. The state department did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, was in Indonesia on Thursday during a tour of Asia. Stephen Biegun, the deputy secretary of state, authorised the extradition, lawyers for the Taylors said. The US decision to extradite the two men drew criticism from Roger Wicker, the Republican senator from Mississippi, who said he was “outraged” that the state department had approved Japan’s request to extradite the pair. “This former Special Forces member and his son will not be treated fairly,” Mr Wicker warned on Twitter, adding that Japan’s hostage justice system was “not interested in justice, just retribution”. Mr Ghosn, who is currently in Lebanon, has consistently denied any wrongdoing. In the Thursday filing, the Taylors’ lawyers argued that the US “should not surrender [them] to face a dubious prosecution with a minimal potential punishment”.
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Oil prices slumped on Thursday to the lowest level since May as new coronavirus restrictions in Europe brought back memories of March and April, when the industry was decimated by the pandemic. Brent crude oil, the international benchmark, dipped below $37 a barrel on Thursday, with the $2 fall taking losses for the week to more than 10 per cent, the worst weekly performance in more than six months. While traders said the hit to fuel demand is not expected to be as large as this spring, when strict lockdowns curbed global consumption by more than a quarter, France and Germany together still account for around 4 per cent of pre-pandemic consumption. Both countries have announced this week new measures aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus. Tighter restrictions in other European countries now seem likely, traders say, as cases of Covid-19 continue to rise rapidly. “Oil demand will lose ground as a result of the new lockdowns, with [motor vehicle] fuels taking a significant hit as transport will be curtailed to minimum again,” said analysts at Rystad Energy, a consultancy. Brent had recovered from below $20 a barrel in April to trade steadily between $40-$45 a barrel for much of the summer, as the Opec+ group cut production and travel — with the exception of air travel — rebounded back close to pre-pandemic levels. Traders fear the recovery is now being derailed. Analysts estimate that the additional hit to demand in Europe from lockdowns could be at least 1m barrels a day next month — or roughly 1 per cent of pre-pandemic global consumption of 100m barrels a day. Supply is also rising following the end of an oil export embargo in Libya this month, which is now expected to bring an additional 1m b/d of supplies back — something that few in the market had been anticipating. Martijn Rats at Morgan Stanley said that the combination of lower demand and higher supply marked a “huge swing” of roughly 2m b/d for the market to absorb in such a short space of time. “Oil prices are very sensitive to small changes,” Mr Rats said, adding that a 2m b/d shift during the 2008 financial crisis knocked prices from a record $147 a barrel to near $30 in a matter of months. “Surplus inventories of oil had been drawing down by roughly 1m b/d globally since June, which had helped the market recover. But quickly we could go back to building 1m b/d instead.” Mr Rats cautioned, however, that the challenge facing the oil market was unlikely to be as tough as March and April, when lockdowns were more widespread and Saudi Arabia and Russia were initially raising production as part of a price war. Many analysts are now betting that Opec and its allies will need to delay their plans to start returning barrels to the market in January, as market conditions have worsened. Traders said strength in the US dollar was also contributing to oil’s sell-off, with dollar-priced commodities like crude becoming more expensive for holders of other currencies. “Instead of a Covid vaccine a lethal dose of bearish infusion is being administered to the financial and oil markets,” said Tamas Varga at oil brokerage PVM in London. “One can only wonder how long until Opec+ announces the rollover of the current output ceiling.” 
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It is an awkward fact that Joe Biden owes much, if not all, of his poll lead to Donald Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. It would be good to say that America had soured on Mr Trump after having weighed his overall record since 2017: the Ukraine pay-for-play schemes that resulted in his impeachment last year; the wrecking ball Mr Trump has taken to US alliances; his stoking of white nationalist militias; his withdrawal from the Paris accord on climate change; his corrupt misuse of the presidential pardon; and his self-harming trade war with China. Yet until early spring, Mr Trump’s chances of being re-elected were close to even. This was mostly because the US economy was in reasonable shape, which coronavirus then destroyed. Even today, and in spite of Mr Trump’s refusal to agree a federal plan to flatten the infection curve, most Americans still trust him more on the economy. Should Mr Biden win next week, he would be wise to acknowledge that the frustrations that propelled Mr Trump to the presidency have not vanished. Should Mr Trump scrape through to a second term, he should remember his own vows to focus on the forgotten American. America’s middle class remains beleaguered. Distrust of institutions hovers at all-time highs. The ingredients for another populist backlash — more menacing still than Mr Trump’s — are still in place. Mr Trump’s disregard for science during this pandemic tops the charge sheet against him. Even today, three weeks after having been hospitalised, the president holds unmasked rallies in which he dismisses Covid-19 as an exaggerated threat. The infection curves tell the opposite story. If Americans wore masks, some community spread and deaths could be prevented. Yet Mr Trump still mocks social distancing. By election day, almost a quarter of a million Americans will have died. This is the greatest failure in US governance since at least the Vietnam war. Mr Biden has made it clear he will appoint experienced people who will draw up a plan to flatten the curve. In today’s America, the promise of managerial competence is revolutionary. Nothing else Mr Biden aims to do would be possible until the pandemic is under control. Even then, the complexities of how to distribute and price what are likely to be competing vaccines in 2021 would tax the capacity of the best-intentioned administration. America’s first priority is to elect a president who takes that job seriously. Although he is a centrist, Mr Biden’s economic plans are to the left of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — the last two Democratic presidents. That is partly circumstantial. Covid-19 has exposed the raw deficiencies in US capitalism. They include a deteriorating infrastructure, weak social protections, poor skills training, and near historic levels of inequality. The price tag for Mr Biden’s plans are high. But the cost of inaction is higher. Independent economic models show they would result in markedly higher growth than a continuation of Trumpenomics, which consists of more tax cuts and little else. Jay Powell, the Trump-appointed head of the US Federal Reserve, is calling for fiscal stimulus on a similar scale to Mr Biden. Mr Biden’s foreign policy appeal is a more conservative one — to do no harm. Undoing Mr Trump’s actions, such as withdrawal from the World Health Organization, the Paris accord, and the Iran nuclear deal, would be relatively simple. So too would improving relations with America’s allies. But if Mr Biden were elected president, he would find a different world to the one he left as vice-president. He cannot just set the clock back to 2016. Tackling China will be much harder. The worst that can be said is that he is unlikely to make as many unforced errors as Mr Trump. China’s power has extended considerably over the past four years. Ending America First, as Mr Biden promises, is a precondition for a more effective US-China policy. America’s rivalry with China is not just about trade or technology. It is also ideological. Mr Trump’s attack on the fairness of America’s voting system is a windfall to China. If the leader of the world’s largest democracy thinks the system is corrupt, as Mr Trump repeatedly claims, all Beijing need do is amplify the message. There is no basis to Mr Trump’s claim that postal balloting is fraudulent. Roughly 60m Americans have already mailed their votes. In some swing states, such as Florida, they can be counted as soon as they arrive. But in others, such as Pennsylvania, that process can only begin after polling stations have closed. Trump vs Biden: who is leading the 2020 election polls? Use the FT’s interactive calculator to see which states matter most in winning the presidency Therein lies a deep threat to US democracy. Mr Trump has made it clear he will contest postal ballot counting that stretches on after polling day. Under the skewed US electoral college, that means Mr Trump could lose the popular vote by millions yet use his office’s legal muscle to game the system. US constitutional law is distressingly fungible on which body would ultimately settle a dispute between competing slates of electors. In practice, the sitting president has vastly more levers at his disposal than his opponent. There is also the question of whether a strongly conservative 6-3 Supreme Court — bolstered by Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation this week — would intervene to halt voting, as it did in Florida in 2000. It is possible Mr Biden’s popular margin next week will be so wide that Mr Trump would be unable to carry out his threats. Failing that, US democracy confronts an acute stress test. As Americans weigh their vote, they should recognise that more than pandemic management is at stake next week. The system itself is on the ballot. America’s voters face a momentous enough choice as it is. A constitutional crisis triggered by a spurious attempt to stop America’s votes from being counted would only benefit those who wish ill of US democracy.
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Amy Coney Barrett is set to be confirmed by the US Senate on Monday evening, giving President Donald Trump his third Supreme Court justice just a week before election day. The conservative jurist will give the court a 6-3 majority of Republican-appointed justices just in time to rule on election-related cases that could be pivotal to the outcome of the race. Ms Barrett is likely to be installed by a largely party-line vote later on Monday in the Senate, which Republicans control with a slim 53-47 majority. “We expect for a swearing in to happen later this evening if all goes well,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, told reporters on Monday morning. Mr Trump has made clear his desire for Ms Barrett to be in place on the Supreme Court to rule on any disputes that arise during the election. The potential impact of her vote was evident last week when the court split 4-4 in a case regarding ballot deadlines in Pennsylvania, a critical swing state. In that case, Chief Justice John Roberts broke with the conservative wing of the court to join the three liberals and deliver the deadlock. As a result, a three-day extension to Pennsylvania’s deadlines for mail-in ballots remained in place. Ms Barrett’s views on election law are unclear, and her record as a federal appeals court judge does not include any election-related decisions. At her confirmation hearings this month, Ms Barrett said she had not accepted the nomination to do Mr Trump’s bidding. However, it is widely believed that she will act as a reliable conservative vote on the Supreme Court, and her confirmation is set to shift the court’s dynamics by sharply curtailing Mr Roberts’s ability to determine the outcome of close cases by joining with the liberal wing. Some Democrats have argued that the party should add new Supreme Court seats in response to Ms Barrett’s confirmation. Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, has said he is “not a fan” of court packing but said last week he would set up a bipartisan panel to examine reforming the Supreme Court. Democrats, who are in the minority in the Senate, have lacked any real procedural tools to block Ms Barrett’s ascension to the court. Indeed, opinion polling has indicated that public support for her confirmation has grown, rather than shrunk, since Mr Trump nominated her. Only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, is expected to vote against Ms Barrett. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, had previously said she opposed confirming a justice so close to an election but on Saturday said she would vote for Ms Barrett. Ms Barrett’s relatively smooth confirmation process has come despite the unprecedented nature of her installing so close to the presidential election, and an apparent outbreak of coronavirus tied to the White House event where her nomination was announced. In 2016, Republicans had blocked Barack Obama from filling a vacant Supreme Court seat because it was an election year, arguing that voters should have a say. Ms Barrett will fill the vacant seat left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, replacing a stalwart liberal with a conservative cheered by anti-abortion activists as the justice who might finally herald the end of Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that recognised a constitutional right to abortion. In addition to abortion rights, Ms Barrett’s confirmation is expected to swing the Supreme Court further to the right on issues such as gun control and the government’s regulatory powers. One of the most high-profile cases she will hear in the near term is a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, Mr Obama’s signature healthcare law. Arguments in that case are scheduled for November 10.
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Several thousand Thais marched on the German embassy in Bangkok on Monday to press Berlin to start an investigation into King Maha Vajiralongkorn on the grounds that he had conducted state affairs from German soil. A crowd of anti-government protesters carrying signs, some in German and many making satirical reference to the Thai king’s spending habits, marched to the German compound and presented the embassy with an open letter. “We request the German government to conduct an investigation and disclose King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s entry and departure records, in order to determine whether His Majesty has exercised the sovereignty on German soil,” said the letter, signed “Fellow Thai Citizens”. The protesters also circulated an online petition, endorsed by more than 210,000 people despite being blocked in Thailand, that claimed the king had violated Germany’s law and constitution. Before the demonstration began the embassy released a statement saying that it recognised the right of Thai citizens to assemble peacefully, including near its building. The billionaire king’s residence abroad has moved to the forefront of a youth movement against the Thai establishment which has gained momentum since July. Police guard the German embassy in central Bangkok, on Monday © Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP The king’s sojourn in Germany has also become a diplomatic problem for Berlin. This month, in response to a parliamentary question from opposition Greens, foreign minister Heiko Maas said the king should not conduct affairs of state while in Germany. On Monday, Mr Maas said the king’s activities in Germany were under “continuous” scrutiny. “I am also keeping an eye on the activities of the Thai king in Germany,” he told a press conference. “If there are things there that we consider illegal, then there will be immediate consequences.” The foreign ministry later declined to specify what such consequences might be. The Thai king has spent most of the past year in Germany, only returning to Thailand for short visits. However, most Thai media avoid mentioning the fact that he lives abroad because of self-censorship or to avoid violating the kingdom’s draconian lèse majesté law.  According to Bavarian MPs from the opposition Green party who probed the king’s tax status this year, the king was living a villa in Tutzing near Munich at the time of his late father Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death in 2016. Recently German press have reported that he and members of his household were living in a hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps.  On Monday, Thai protesters demanded “clarification on this matter”, and asked how much the king would be required to pay if he owed German inheritance tax. The anti-government movement is calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the writing of a new constitution, and limits on the powers of the monarchy, the last of which is a demand rarely heard in the kingdom until this year.  In an extraordinary session of parliament on Monday, Mr Prayuth said the government supported amending the constitution.  After remaining publicly silent about the protests, the king last week praised Thitiwat Tanagaroon, a royalist who held up a portrait of his late father King Bhumibol and his mother Queen Sirikit at an anti-government rally, saying: “Very brave, Very good, thank you” in filmed remarks shared widely online. The comments angered anti-government Thais who believed they showed the king, who officially sits above politics, as having taken sides. One sign held by a protester quoted the king’s remarks in German: “Sehr mutig, sehr gut, danke!”  Additional reporting by Ryn Jirenuwat in Bangkok and Erika Solomon in Berlin
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