Ahead of US-Iran match, team faces tense, political press conference

USA’s midfielder Tyler Adams (R) and coach Gregg Berhalter give a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha on November 28, 2022, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football match between Iran and USA.

Patrick T. Fallon | Afp | Getty Images

The U.S. men’s soccer team faces its make-or-break World Cup match Tuesday night against Iran. If it wins, it advances to the next stage – and if it loses, it’s heading home.

But despite needing to focus on the most important game this team of players has ever faced, the lead-up has been fraught with political drama. On Monday, Team USA’s players sat through a surreal and politically-charged press conference, during which they were bombarded with questions and criticism of their country.

In response to months of violent crackdowns on anti-government protests in Iran, the U.S. Soccer Federation over the weekend briefly made an alteration in its social media posts, showing the Iranian flag without its emblem of the Islamic Republic. The change, the federation said, was made for 24 hours to show support for women protesting for their rights in Iran.

Iranian media reacted swiftly, with state media agency Tasnim calling for the U.S. team to be kicked out of the tournament.

Iran’s flag was changed to its current version in 1980, after the 1979 Islamic Revolution ushered in a theocracy led by conservative Muslim clerics. The U.S. and Iran have been ideological foes with severed diplomatic ties since then.

While many Iranians and activists supportive of the protesters welcomed the U.S. Soccer Federation’s move, saying they associate the Islamic Republic’s emblem with oppression and torture, Iran’s state media slammed it, accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy and grilling the team’s players with political questions during the Monday press event.

A reporter from Iran’s state-controlled Press TV criticized U.S. team captain Tyler Adams for mispronouncing Iran, and asked him how he felt about representing a country that the reporter described as being rife with racial discrimination. Adams is mixed race.

“Are you okay to be representing your country that has so much discrimination against Black people in its own borders?” the Press TV reporter asked.

“My apologies on the mispronunciation of your country,” Adams responded. “That being said, there’s discrimination everywhere you go … in the U.S. we’re continuing to make progress every single day … as long as you make progress that’s the most important thing.”

USA leave a team huddle led by Tyler Adams of USA during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between England and USA at Al Bayt Stadium on November 25, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar.

Simon M Bruty | Anychance | Getty Images

Another Iranian state media reporter asked U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter: “What percentage of the world’s population will be happy if Iran wins this match [versus the U.S. team]?”

Berhalter replied, “For us it’s a soccer game against a good team — it’s not much more than that.” 

The coach and players seemed intent on avoiding getting into political topics and keeping the discussion on the game, but their efforts were repeatedly ignored. 

Iranian coach Carlos Queiroz similarly has tried to keep his comments soccer-focused, despite pointed questions from reporters from various nations, including one on whether the flag drama would serve as motivation for his team.

“If after 42 years in this game as a coach, I still believe I can win games with those mental games, I think I’ve learned nothing about the game,” Queiroz, a Portuguese national, said. “This is not the case.”

Players quizzed on U.S. military policy

The political questions continued, however, even going as far as geopolitics and the U.S. military.

One of the Iranian reporters asked Berhalter: “Sport is something that should bring nations closer together and you are a sportsperson. Why is it that you should not ask your government to take away its military fleet from the Persian Gulf?”

The U.S. team coach replied: “I agree, sport is something that should bring countries together… you get to compete as brothers.”

Ahmad Nourollahi of Iran in action during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between England and IR Iran at Khalifa International Stadium on November 21, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

Richard Sellers | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

Berhalter was also asked about the U.S.’s strict laws on visas for Iranian nationals, to which he replied: “I don’t know enough about politics, I’m a soccer coach. I’m not well versed on international politics so I can’t comment on that.”

U.S. team apologizes for Iranian flag change, says it was oblivious

The U.S. team’s coach also apologized for the Iranian flag change, saying that he and his players had no role in the decision and knew nothing about it.

“Sometimes things are out of our control,” Berhalter said. “We’re not focused on those outside things and all we can do is apologize on behalf of the players and the staff, but it’s not something that we were a part of.”

“We had no idea what U.S. Soccer put out. The staff, the players, we had no idea. For us our focus is on this match … Of course our thoughts are with the Iranian people, the whole country, and everyone,” he added.

Protesters gather to demonstrate against the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran on September 23, 2022 in Berlin, Germany.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

U.S. defender Tim Ream said during the conference, “We support women’s rights, and what we’re doing as a team is supporting that while also trying to prepare for the biggest game that this squad has had to date.”

Protests have taken place all over Iran since mid-September, triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody. Amini, a Kurdish Iranian woman, was arrested for allegedly breaking Iran’s strict rules on wearing the hijab, the Islamic head covering for women. 

A picture obtained by AFP outside Iran on September 21, 2022, shows Iranian demonstrators burning a rubbish bin in the capital Tehran during a protest for Mahsa Amini, days after she died in police custody. –

– | Afp | Getty Images

Many Iran analysts are calling the uprising the biggest challenge to the Islamic Republic in decades. Ahead of its first World Cup match on Nov. 21, which was against England, the Iranian team refused to sing their national anthem, standing in stoic silence instead. The team did sing the anthem for their second match on Nov. 25, but reports have emerged that they were forced to do so under threat.

Positive words

The coaches of both teams made references to the last time the U.S. and Iran competed on a World Cup stage, which was in 1998 in France. Iran beat the U.S. 2-1 in a tough game that was dubbed at the time “the mother of all football matches.” The coaches each complimented the other team’s performance. 

Iran’s team coach, Queiroz, also said positive things about the U.S. squad’s performance so far in Qatar, where it tied with both Wales and England. He said that the American team had made a “jump from soccer to football.”

“We play a very, very good team, very well organized with the same dream and same goal in mind,” Queiroz said.

Iran players line up for the national anthem prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between England and IR Iran at Khalifa International Stadium on November 21, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

Julian Finney | Getty Images

“I hope tomorrow my boys will be able to put together their heads, their souls, their skills and the will to win. I hope that they will get the result that gives us a passport for the second round.”

Berhalter similarly praised the Iranian team’s 1998 performance. “Iran wanted to win the game with everything — they played really committed, really focused from the first whistle. For us to win the game tomorrow that’s going to have to be the mindset of our group … We don’t want to make the mistakes of the past.”

As for Tuesday’s match, Berhalter said: “We win or we’re out of the World Cup. Anytime you’re in a World Cup and you get to go into the last group game in control of your own destiny, that’s a pretty good thing.”

UK PM Rishi Sunak says the ‘golden era’ for Britain and China is over

Sunak’s comments come shortly after groups of people across China held public demonstrations to protest the country’s stringent zero-Covid policy.

Daniel Leal | Afp | Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the so-called golden era of relations with China was over, warning that Beijing’s move toward even greater authoritarianism posed a systemic challenge to Britain’s values and interests.

“Let’s be clear, the so-called golden era is over,” Sunak said Monday in his first major foreign policy speech.

His reference to the “golden era” for the U.K.-China relationship echoed comments made by former U.K. Finance Minister George Osborne in 2015, who had claimed Britain could be China’s “best partner in the West.”

Sunak said it had been “naïve” to believe that closer economic ties over the previous decade could lead to social and political reform and accused Beijing of “conspicuously competing for global influence using all of the levers of state power.”

He warned, however, that Britain could not rely on “simplistic Cold War rhetoric.”

China’s Embassy in London was not immediately available to respond to a request for comment.

Read more about China from CNBC Pro

Sunak has faced pressure from Conservative backbenchers to toughen his stance on China since he took over as party leader and prime minister last month.

“We recognize China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests — a challenge that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism,” Sunak said in his speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London.

His comments come shortly after public demonstrations were held across China to protest the country’s stringent zero-Covid policy. A BBC journalist on Sunday was beaten and briefly detained by police while covering an anti-government protest in Shanghai.

“Instead of listening to their people’s protests, the Chinese government has chosen to crack down further, including by assaulting a BBC journalist,” Sunak said.

“The media and our parliamentarians must be able to highlight these issues without sanction, including calling out abuses in Xinjiang and the curtailment of freedom in Hong Kong.”

Sunak said the pace of geopolitical change was intensifying and “short-termism or wishful thinking will not suffice” in the face of challenges posed by Russia and China.

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Russian experts assess Ukraine war

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Leaders meeting in Yerevan on November 23, 2022.

Karen Minasyan | Afp | Getty Images

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, nobody in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle is believed to have expected the war to last more than a few months.

As the weather turns cold once again, and back to the freezing and muddy conditions that Russia’s invading forces experienced at the start of the conflict, Moscow faces what’s likely to be months more fighting, military losses and potential defeat.

That, Russian political analysts say, will be catastrophic for Putin and the Kremlin, who have banked Russia’s global capital on winning the war against Ukraine. They told CNBC that anxiety was rising in Moscow over how the war was progressing.

“Since September, I see a lot of changes [in Russia] and a lot of fears,” Tatiana Stanovaya, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and founder and head of political analysis firm R.Politik, told CNBC.

“For the first time since the war started people are beginning to consider the worst case scenario, that Russia can lose, and they don’t see and don’t understand how Russia can get out from this conflict without being destroyed. People are very anxious, they believe that what is going on is a disaster,” she said Monday.

Putin has tried to distance himself from a series of humiliating defeats on the battlefield for Russia, first with the withdrawal from the Kyiv region in northern Ukraine, then the withdrawal from Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine and recently, the withdrawal from a chunk of Kherson in southern Ukraine, a region that Putin had said was Russia’s “forever” only six weeks before the retreat. Needless to say, that latest withdrawal darkened the mood even among the most ardent Putin supporters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on a screen at Red Square as he addresses a rally and a concert marking the annexation of four regions of Ukraine — Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — in central Moscow on Sept. 30, 2022.

Alexander Nemenov | Afp | Getty Images

Those seismic events in the war have also been accompanied by smaller but significant losses of face for Russia, such as the attack on the Crimean bridge linking the Russian mainland to the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, attacks on its Black Sea Fleet in Crimea and the withdrawal from Snake Island.

Pro-Kremlin commentators and military bloggers have lambasted Russia’s military command for the series of defeats while most have been careful not to criticize Putin directly, a dangerous move in a country where criticizing the war (or “special military operation” as the Kremlin calls it) can land people in prison.

Another Russian analyst said Putin is increasingly desperate not to lose the war.

“The very fact that Russia is still waging this war, despite its apparent defeats in March [when its forces withdrew from Kyiv], indicate that Putin is desperate to not lose. Losing is not an option for him,” Ilya Matveev, a political scientist and academic formerly based in St. Petersburg, told CNBC Monday.

“I think that already everyone, including Putin, realized that even tactical nuclear weapons will not solve the problem for Russia. They cannot just stop [the] military advances of [the] Ukrainian army, it’s impossible. Tactical weapons … cannot decisively change [the] situation on the ground.”

Putin more ‘vulnerable’ than ever

‘Putin will not give up’

While the war has certainly not gone Moscow’s way so far — it’s believed that Putin’s military commanders had led the president to believe that the war would only last a couple of weeks and that Ukraine would be easily overwhelmed — Russia has certainly inflicted massive damage and destruction.

Many villages, towns and cities have been shelled relentlessly, killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure and prompting millions of people to flee the country.

For those that have stayed, the recent Russian strategy of widespread bombing of energy infrastructure across the country has made for extremely hostile living conditions with power blackouts a daily occurrence as well as general energy and water shortages, just as temperatures plummet.

A destroyed van used by Russian forces, in Kherson, Ukraine, on Nov. 24, 2022.

Chris Mcgrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russia has launched more than 16,000 missiles attacks on Ukraine since the start its invasion, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Monday, with 97% of these strikes aimed at civilian targets, he said via Twitter.

Russia has acknowledged deliberately targeting energy infrastructure but has repeatedly denied targeting civilian infrastructure such as residential buildings, schools and hospitals. These kinds of buildings have been struck by Russian missiles and drones on multiple occasions throughout the war, however, leading to civilian deaths and injuries.

As winter sets in, political and military analysts have questioned what will happen in Ukraine, whether we will see a last push before a period of stalemate sets in, or whether the current attritional battles, with neither side making large advances continues.

One part of Ukraine, namely the area around Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where fierce fighting has been taking place for weeks, has recently been likened to the Battle of Verdun in World War I with Russian and Ukrainian troops inhabiting boggy, flooded trenches and the scarred landscape is reminiscent of the fighting on the Western Front in France a century ago.

Putin is unlikely to be deterred by any war of attrition, analysts note.

“As I see Putin, he would not give up. He would not reject his initial goals in this war. He believes and will believe in Ukraine that will give up one day, so he will not step back,” R.Politik’s Stanovaya said, adding that this leaves only two scenarios for how the war might end.

“This first one is that the regime in Ukraine changes, but I don’t really believe [that will happen]. And the second one if the regime in Russia changes, but it will not happen tomorrow, it might take maybe one or two years,” she said.

“If Russia changes politically, it will review and rethink its goals in Ukraine,” she noted.

In the best scenario for Putin’s regime, Stanovaya said Russia will be able “to secure at least a minimum of gains it can take from Ukraine.” In the worst case scenario, “it will have to retreat completely and with all [the] consequences for [the] Russian state and Russian economy.”

China Tesla rival Nio and Tencent partner to work on self-driving tech

Nio is trying to stand out from a wave of Chinese electric vehicle competitors through its technology. The company is hoping its partnership with Tencent can help it boost its tech prowess in areas from mapping to autonomous driving.

Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Chinese electric vehicle maker Nio and tech giant Tencent agreed to work together on areas including autonomous driving and high-definition mapping.

Tencent — a gaming, social media and cloud computing titan — has signed a cooperation agreement with Nio, one of Tesla’s rivals in China, as the firms look to cash in on Beijing’s focus on so-called new energy cars.

The partnership could allow Tencent to do this, while also giving Nio the technology backing of one of China’s biggest firms. Tencent is already a major investor in Nio, which is striving to differentiate itself from a sea of electric car start-ups.

It comes after e-commerce firm Alibaba and Nio rival Xpeng in August opened a computing center to train software for driverless cars.

Nio and Tencent said on Monday they will work together on high-precision mapping systems for drivers. Nio will also be using Tencent’s cloud computing infrastructure for data storage and training for autonomous driving. Driverless cars require huge amounts of real-time data to be processed in order to train algorithms.

Tencent’s partnership with Nio gives the company another opportunity to push into new business areas as its core video gaming business, which has been battered by strict domestic regulation, continues to face headwinds.

Nio meanwhile is facing its own challenges, including widening losses and pressure on margins from higher material costs and supply chain issues.

Still, the company delivered 31,607 vehicles in the third quarter, marking a quarterly delivery record for the start-up.

However, China’s once high-flying EV start-ups have seen their share prices hammered this year as investors turned away from growth stocks and China’s economy faced a slew of problems.

South Africa’s economy at a pivotal point as outlook improves but political, energy risks remain

LONDON – South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during a press conference in central London on November 24, 2022

JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa’s long-awaited economic reforms have begun to improve the country’s outlook, but the age-old problems of political uncertainty and a failing power system still pose significant risks.

The Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan has been a key tenet of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s agenda since he succeeded Jacob Zuma as the country’s leader in 2018. But deep divisions within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and his own cabinet have made for sluggish progress.

The suite of reforms — focused on energy security, infrastructure development, food security, job creation and the green transition — is designed to create a “sustainable, resilient and inclusive economy,” the government says.

And — some at least — appear to be working. S&P Global Ratings earlier this month affirmed its positive outlook on the country, saying that government measures to stimulate private sector activity could boost growth, and the measures had the potential to ease economic pressures.

“There is some hope in the public finances in South Africa, mainly due to the increase in government revenues as a result of higher commodity exports, and also due to the progress made in reducing debt and debt distress, and to ushering a public deficit,” Aleix Montana, Africa analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC last week.

However, political frailties and persistent issues at a state-owned utility continue to pose present economic risks.

Ramaphosa faces a “perfect storm of inflation, electricity cuts and corruption accusations that will continue to deteriorate South Africa’s profile and to pose risk for investments in the country,” Montana said.

A report into an alleged corruption scandal surrounding Ramaphosa is set to be examined by the National Assembly on Dec. 6, just 10 days before the party conference of his ruling ANC (African National Congress).

Energy woes

Though Ramaphosa is expected to secure a second five-year term, Montana said he will have to improve his credibility on economic and anti-corruption reforms in order to continue pushing through his agenda. The economy also remains at risk from persistent disruptions at state-owned companies, such as power utility Eskom.

South Africans have faced rolling blackouts as Eskom — which has long been a thorn in the side of the country’s economy — contends with shortfalls in generation capacity due to equipment failures and diesel shortages.

The company has warned that power outages, known as “load-shedding,” will continue for the next six to 12 months, and recently said it had run out of funds to acquire the diesel needed to run auxiliary power plants that are deployed during periods of peak consumption or emergencies.

Montana said that in order to secure sustained economic growth, the South African government will need to prioritize energy sustainability.

“Energy will require financial assistance from international players, but they will also need to ensure that it doesn’t have a negative impact on South African society,” he said.

Sorting electricity issue in South Africa like 'fixing a plane as it's flying': Cyril Ramaphosa

“Apart from financial challenges, a lot of citizens of South Africa are employed in Eskom or in the fossil fuels sector, so the government will need to ensure that in their plan, they mitigate this potential impact of transitioning from a fossil fuels-based economy to the implementation of renewables in order to sustain electricity stability.”

Asked about this issue on a recent state visit to the U.K., Ramaphosa told CNBC’s Arabile Gumede that the problems at Eskom started long before 2014, when former President Jacob Zuma appointed him to address the country’s energy problems.

“As we are generating electricity, power stations keep breaking — many of them are old — but we are trying with a new boat, the management that’s in place to address this problem,” Ramaphosa said.

“So the problems of Eskom were seeds that were planted many years ago, rather than in 2014, and because we’re dealing with huge, complicated and complex machinery, it’s not a one-day fix, it can never be as these are very complex processes.”

Economic recovery in South Africa exposed to civil unrest, Verisk Maplecroft analyst says

He added that the government was working to reduce load-shedding requirements and to “ensure that the money’s there,” noting that Eskom “used to be the best utility in the world.”

“Do I have confidence that we will solve these problems? Yes, I do. I do have enormous confidence that we will solve them,” he said.

“But I think it’s important to have an appreciation of where we’ve come from, and obviously, it is very easy to put all the blame on the president, to put all the blame on the government, and yet these problems have come way back from the past.”

‘Taming the monster’ of inflation

Along with the domestic issues unique to South Africa, the country also faces the same inflationary pressures that have plagued economies around the world over the past year.

Annual headline inflation rose to 7.6% in October, defying the South African Reserve Bank’s expectations for price pressures to ease. This prompted the bank’s Monetary Policy Committee to hike interest rates by an aggressive 75 basis points last week, taking the benchmark repo rate to 7%.

This marked the seventh consecutive meeting at which monetary policy had been tightened, and central bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago said in a press conference that it must “tame the monster of inflation.”

With prices rising much faster than the central bank’s 3-6% target, Kganyago noted that the SARB needs to see clear evidence that inflation has not just peaked, but begun to sustainably decline toward the midpoint of the range.

But further monetary tightening will place additional pressure on the economy.

“We think that inflation is unlikely to return within the target range (let alone the midpoint) in the coming months, keeping policymakers in tightening mode well into 2023,” said Virág Fórizs, emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.

Difficult to tell if close to the end of the rate hiking cycle, South African Reserve Bank governor says

She flagged that food inflation continues to increase, offsetting some of the effects of softening fuel price pressures, while core inflation is likely to remain high. Capital Economics expects inflation to hover around 7.5% annually until early 2023, before dropping markedly around the middle of the year.

Fórizs said the weakness of the economy is unlikely to prevent further rate hikes, with growth concerns playing second fiddle to inflation worries. South African GDP contracted by 0.7% in the second quarter.

“While the end of the tightening cycle is not yet in sight, we expect the pace of tightening to slow over the next MPC meetings,” she noted.

Three MPC members voted to hike rates by 75 basis points last week, while two voted for 50 basis points. It marked an apparent softening of approach by some who voted for a 100-basis-point rise at the previous meeting.

“All in all, we’ve penciled in 100bp of further increases in the repo rate, to 8.00%, by Q2 2023,” Fórizs said.

How FTX ‘death spiral’ spelled doom for BlockFi, according to filing

The BlockFi logo on a smartphone arranged in the Brooklyn borough of New York, on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.

Gabby Jones | Bloomberg | Getty Images

There was supposedly one man who could save crypto — Sam Bankman-Fried. The former FTX CEO bailed out and took over crypto firms as cryptocurrency markets withered with Terra’s spring crash. In October, FTX won the bidding war for bankrupt crypto firm Voyager Digital in a highly advantageous deal.

With the collapse of FTX, the firms which Bankman-Fried saved now find themselves in an uncertain state. Voyager put itself back up for auction last week. Today, BlockFi filed for bankruptcy in New Jersey, after weeks of speculation that the FTX collapse had fatally crippled it.

The FTX “death spiral,” as BlockFi advisor Mark Renzi put it, has now spread to another crypto entity. BlockFi’s bankruptcy had been anticipated for some time, but in a detailed 41-page filing, Renzi walks creditors, investors, and the court through his perspective at the helm of BlockFi.

According to Renzi, exposure to two successive hedge fund failures, the FTX rescue, and broader market uncertainty all conspired to force BlockFi into bankruptcy.

Renzi is keen to underscore that from his point of view, BlockFi doesn’t “face the myriad issues apparently facing FTX.” Renzi pointed to a $30 million settlement with the SEC and the company’s corporate governance and risk management protocols, writing that BlockFi is “well-positioned to move forward despite the fact that 2022 has been a uniquely terrible year for the cryptocurrency industry.”

The “issues” that Renzi refer to may include FTX’s well publicized lack of financial, risk, anti-money laundering (AML), or audit systems. In a court filing, newly appointed FTX CEO John Ray said he’d never seen “such a complete failure of corporate controls” as in FTX.

Indeed, Renzi is keen to underscore BlockFi’s differences from FTX, and indeed argues that FTX’s intervention in summer 2022 ultimately worsened outcomes for BlockFi. Renzi is a managing director at Berkeley Research Group (BRG), which BlockFi has enlisted as a financial advisor for their Chapter 11 proceedings.

Both BRG and Kirkland & Ellis, BlockFi’s legal advisor, have experience in crypto bankruptcies. Kirkland and BRG both represented Voyager during its failed auction to FTX. Both firms have already collected millions in fees from BlockFi in preparation work for the bankruptcy, according to court filings.

Similarly to filings in Voyager and Celsius Network’s bankruptcies, Renzi points to broader turbulence in the cryptocurrency markets, accelerated by the collapse of crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital, as the driving force behind BlockFi’s liquidity crisis. 

BlockFi, like Celsius and Voyager, offered exceptionally high interest rates on customer crypto accounts. All three firms were able to do so thanks to cryptolending — loaning customer cryptocurrencies to trading firms in exchange for high interest and collateral. Three Arrows, or 3AC was “one of BlockFi’s largest borrower clients,” Renzi said in a court filing, and the hedge fund’s bankruptcy forced BlockFi to seek outside financing.

A new round failed for BlockFi. Traditional third-party investors were scared off by “unfavorable” market conditions, Renzi said in a filing, forcing them to turn to FTX just to make good on customer withdrawals. Unlike Voyager or Celsius, BlockFi had not halted customer withdrawals at that point.

FTX assembled and delivered a pacakge of loans up to $400 million. In return, FTX reserved the right to acquire BlockFi as soon as July 2023, the court filing said.

While FTX’s rescue package did initially buoy BlockFi, dealings with FTX’s Alameda Research Limited further undercut BlockFi’s stability. As Alameda unwound and FTX moved closer to bankruptcy, BlockFi attempted to execute margin calls and loan recalls on their Alameda exposure.

Ultimately, though, Alameda defaulted on “approximately $680 million” of collateralized loans from BlockFi, “the recovery on which is unknown,” the court filing said.

BlockFi was forced to do what it had resisted doing during the Voyager and Celsius meltdowns. On November 10, the day FTX filed for bankruptcy, BlockFi paused customer withdrawals. Investors, like at FTX, Voyager, and Celsius, are now left in limbo, with no access to their funds.

Authorities eyeing bringing Sam Bankman-Fried to the U.S. for questioning: Report

Trump ex-aide Kellyanne Conway deposed by Jan. 6 Capitol riot committee

Outgoing Counselor to US President Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway, addresses the Republican National Convention in a pre-recorded speech at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, DC, on August 26, 2020.

Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

Former top Trump White House aide Kellyanne Conway was questioned for hours Monday by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, NBC News reported.

Conway, who departed a Capitol Hill office building after 3 p.m. ET, spent nearly five hours behind closed doors speaking with the investigators.

After the deposition, Conway told reporters that she did not plead her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to any of the questions.

Conway, an instrumental part of former President Donald Trump’s successful 2016 campaign and one of his closest advisors in office, also said she is not working on Trump’s 2024 White House bid, NBC reported.

“I’m here voluntarily,” Conway told reporters earlier in the day, when she emerged from the deposition room for a brief break, NBC reported.

An ABC News reporter on Monday morning had spotted Conway entering a conference room used by the select committee. The former White House senior advisor did not respond to questions at that time.

She was accompanied by attorney Emmet Flood, who is reportedly also representing former Vice President Mike Pence and other people involved in Trump-related legal matters.

Flood did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment. A spokesman for the Jan. 6 committee did not respond to an inquiry about Conway’s appearance.

Conway left the Trump White House in August 2020, before the November presidential election and Trump’s subsequent efforts to reverse his loss to President Joe Biden. Those efforts came to a head on Jan. 6, 2021, when a violent mob of Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, forcing lawmakers to flee their chambers and disrupting the peaceful transfer of power to Biden.

During the break in Monday’s deposition, Conway told reporters that Trump had called her last week.

Conway’s deposition comes as the select committee is expected to be wrapping up its investigation of the riot and compiling a final report on its findings from the year-and-a-half-long probe.

The nine-member panel, led by Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., says it has interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses and reviewed more than 1 million documents in that time. The committee also held a series of nine public hearings that featured emotional witness testimony, graphic footage of the riot and shocking allegations, many of which were aimed at Trump’s actions and inaction during the insurrection.

The committee subpoenaed Trump for documents and testimony, but the former president filed a lawsuit to avoid cooperating with the panel.

The select committee is set to expire at the end of the current Congress. Republicans, who are set to take over the House from Democrats on Jan. 3 of next year, are expected to disband the committee.

Here’s what Black Friday sales tell us about the retail sector — and our top pick

Customers line up at the cashier area at a Macy’s store during Black Friday sales on November 25, 2022 in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Kena Betancur | Getty Images

The holiday shopping season got off to a solid start over the weekend, as Black Friday’s online sales beat expectations and started to build some much-needed momentum for the retail sector.

Flu hospitalizations increase nearly 30% as U.S. enters holiday season

Susana Sanchez, a Nurse Practitioner, administers a flu vaccination to Loisy Barrera at a CVS pharmacy and MinuteClinic in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Flu hospitalizations have increased nearly 30% in a week as the spread of respiratory illnesses remains high across most of the U.S.

More than 11,200 people were hospitalized with the flu during the week ending Nov. 19, compared to about 8,700 patients admitted during the prior week, according to data from the Health and Human Services Department.

Flu has hit unusually hard and early this season, putting pressure on emergency departments across the nation. Flu activity normally picks up after Thanksgiving, but hospitalizations were already at a decade high in early November.

Scientists and public health experts are worried flu hospitalizations will surge even more after millions traveled to see family and friends for Thanksgiving. Christmas is also just weeks away, giving the flu with another opportunity to spread widely.

About 11 people out of every 100,000 have been hospitalized with the flu since early October, the highest level in a decade. More than 6.2 million people have fallen ill, 53,000 have been hospitalized, and 2,900 have died this season, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The fact that we’re already at this high level going into the holiday season makes me nervous,” said Scott Hensley, a microbiologist and flu expert at the Penn Institute for Immunology.

Hensley said flu is hitting harder earlier this year because population immunity is probably at its lowest level in recent history. Flu basically didn’t circulate for two years due to the masking and social distancing measures put in place during Covid, he said. As a result, large swaths of the population didn’t get an immunity boost from infection so they may be more vulnerable to flu this year than in past seasons.

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Seniors and children under age five are the most vulnerable, with hospitalization rates about double the national average. A flu variant that’s more severe for the elderly is also dominant right now, which means the U.S. could be in for a tough season. More than 60% of flu samples tested by public health labs were positive for the influenza A(H3N2) strain, according to CDC.

“It is a well described phenomenon. H3N2 has a more severe impact on older persons so more hospitalization, ICU admissions and deaths,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

Flu vaccines typically aren’t as effective against H3N2, though there’s hope that this season might prove different. The majority of flu viruses tested are similar to the strains included in this year’s vaccine, according to the CDC.

Vaccine efficacy data hasn’t been published yet, but the shots normally perform better when they are matched well to the circulating variants. Flu vaccine efficacy has ranged widely from 19% to 60% in past seasons depending on how well the shots were matched to the strains circulating.

“From what we can see, it looks like the vaccines are pretty darn good matches to what’s circulating,” Hensley said. “If there’s ever a time to get vaccinated, this is the year to do it,” he said.

Flu activity was highest in the Southeast in past weeks, but most of the country is now seeing high levels of illness, according to CDC.

Flu activity is moderate or low in Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Wyoming.

China’s Covid infections drop for the first time in more than a week

China’s capital city of Beijing is one of the hardest hit in the latest Covid wave. Pictured here is a health worker outside a locked down apartment complex on Nov. 27, 2022.

Kevin Frayer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

BEIJING — Mainland China reported the first decline in daily Covid infections in more than a week on Monday.

The country said local infections, mostly asymptomatic, totaled 38,421, down from a record high of 40,052 reported for Sunday, according to CNBC calculations of Wind Information data.

The last time the daily case count fell from the prior day was on Nov. 19, the data showed.

Local infections fell in Guangdong and Chongqing, two of the hardest-hit regions in the latest Covid wave. No new deaths were reported.

But the capital city of Beijing saw infections rise Monday from a day earlier, as did Shanghai, albeit at a far smaller scale. Shanghai Disneyland said it would suspend operations from Tuesday, after briefly reopening Friday. Universal Beijing Resort remains open.

There was no indication of new protests on Monday. Over the weekend, students and groups of people across China held public demonstrations to protest the country’s stringent zero-Covid policy.

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Security has tightened in areas where protesters had gathered in Beijing and Shanghai, according to social media. Some social media reports said police were checking locals’ phones in Shanghai for foreign apps that can’t be accessed in the mainland without a VPN.

China’s official nightly news broadcast Monday did not mention the unrest, but included a segment calling for unity around the current Covid measures. The broadcast also emphasized how the government was maintaining health services and delivery of daily necessities to people in lockdown.

The purpose of the measures is to minimize Covid’s impact on the economy and society, claimed an op-ed Tuesday in People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper. The article firmly ruled out the idea of relaxing controls.

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Stringent Covid controls this year have weighed heavily on business activity and economic growth in China. As of the third quarter, national GDP had grown by 3% year-on-year, far below the official target of around 5.5% set in March.

As of Monday, 25.1% of China’s GDP was negatively affected by Covid controls, according to a Nomura model. That’s above the prior peak of 21.2% recorded in April during the lockdown in Shanghai.

“The rapid increase in public discontent over the lockdowns over the past weekend may further cloud the road to reopening,” Nomura analysts said.

Policy tweaks loosen and tighten

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Municipal authorities subsequently banned using hard materials to block fire exits, apartment building doors and compound entrances, and noted that short-term lockdowns should not exceed 24 hours.

They also said channels for going out to get medical treatment should remain unimpeded. Previously, anecdotes on social media described how people were denied access to medical care due to supposed Covid controls.

Covid measures and their implementation have varied locally, especially given the scattered nature of outbreaks.

Starting Tuesday, the city of Shanghai tightened restrictions on entering restaurants, shopping malls and other commercial venues. Anyone wanting to enter must now present a negative virus test from within the last 48 hours, down from 72 hours.

And in the wake of the protests, at least Tsinghua University has encouraged students to return home early for the Lunar New Year winter break — more than a month ahead of time.

— CNBC’s Eunice Yoon contributed to this report.

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