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Todd Haselton | CNBC

Apple’s highest-profile launch this year hasn’t been a new phone or tablet — it’s been a credit card. Investors and analysts have placed a lot of hope in the card as a high-profile new product in Apple’s online services business that management has highlighted as a growth engine for the company.

But the Apple Card could end up being a smashing success even if it doesn’t contribute a meaningful amount to the company’s services revenue or end up being Apple’s beachhead in the financial industry.

Rather, the Apple Card is all about keeping users glued to Apple’s most important product: the iPhone.

The Apple Card can only be signed up for on an iPhone. Sure, there’s a metal card, but the primary interface for the credit card is on your iPhone — and that includes for paying bills.

If you lose your iPhone, you have to pay your bill from another iOS device, or you can call an Apple support phone number, which will connect you to Goldman Sachs to pay your bill, according to Buzzfeed. There’s no web portal on Apple’s website.

All this means is that if you have an Apple Card, it’s going to be hard to switch to Android, at least before you pay off your balance. The credit card makes the phone much stickier.

And people with iPhones are much more likely to buy AirPods, Apple Watches and apps for their devices, all of which essentially require an iPhone to work properly, and all of which feed back into the cycle — when the person with all those Apple products wants a new phone, they’ll buy an iPhone, because it works with all of their Apple products.

Tracking switchers

Apple’s leadership used to make a big deal about “switchers. ” From time to time, Apple CEO Tim Cook would drop nuggets of information in earnings calls or interviews that suggested that Apple was having a lot of success getting people to move from an Android phone to Apple’s ecosystem.

Switchers are important to Apple because 81% of Americans own smartphones, according to a Pew study, with similar rates of penetration in other rich markets. Many people in the market for a new smartphone either had an iPhone or Android phone before.

Getting Android users to switch is a big enough priority for Apple that some Apple advertisements last year focused on it. Apple has also released software to help people easily transfer data from an Android phone to a new iPhone.

The other side of that coin is that people who have iPhones might want to buy an Android phone when it’s time to upgrade. The latest generation of Android phones are thin, light and powerful, and some are significantly less expensive than the $999 starting price for an iPhone XS.

That’s where the card comes in: as a way to reduce iPhone churn.

Lots of financial details about the relationship between Goldman Sachs and Apple aren’t public, like if Apple is getting a bounty for sign-ups or whether it gets a cut of transactions. But even if those sums aren’t material to Apple, the number of iPhone users who stick in the Apple ecosystem because of their shiny titanium credit card will be.

Goldman Sachs is even approving customers with low credit scores, CNBC previously reported. Even someone with a low FICO score needs to buy a new smartphone eventually.

Apple not a financial company

For what it’s worth, Apple’s leadership pointed to the card last month as a part of its services business, a catch-all line item including App Store fees, search engine fees from Google, AppleCare warranties, and subscriptions to iCloud and Apple Music.

But although the card is a financial product, Apple’s not really transforming into a regulated financial company. Goldman Sachs is providing backend API services to Apple, whose Apple Pay team is in charge of the user interface and product, CNBC previously reported. When you sign up for the card, fine print makes it very clear that the lending and payment aspects are being handled by Goldman Sachs.

This means that Apple can focus on the user experience, which is where its strengths lie. The Apple Card has a lot of nice user interface features. It tracks your spending, charts it, and you can even visualize where you bought things on a map. Apple frames the software as a way to improve your personal finances and as a secure way to pay for things in person and online.

It’s not the most groundbreaking stuff, but if you’re comfortable with Apple software and hardware, it’s nice to have. And in exchange, it will make Apple hardware and software something current iPhone users need to have.

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NYSE owner ICE launches deliverable bitcoin futures contracts

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Intercontinental Exchange, the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, launched its bitcoin futures contracts late Sunday, in a move aimed at enticing investors who have hesitated about trading the cryptocurrency.

The first trade in the new contracts was executed on ICE’s futures exchange at 8:02 p.m. ET at a price of $10,115, Bakkt, the firm behind the contracts, said in a Twitter post. Bakkt is an ICE-backed venture which aims to make trading and paying with cryptocurrencies viable for retail and institutional investors alike.

The futures are physically deliverable, meaning they pay out in bitcoin upon settlement. That’s different to ICE competitor CME Group, which introduced its own futures contracts for the digital currency in 2017 which paid out in cash. Physical settlement is used for other markets like bonds, oil, cattle and metals.

Cryptocurrency fans will hope ICE’s bitcoin futures, which are federally regulated, can provide some much-needed legitimacy to an asset class that has been mired in controversy following illicit activity in the still nascent industry.

Bitcoin is also known for its wild volatility — for example, a late 2017 bubble which saw prices rise close to $20,000 burst the following year. Since then, the cryptocurrency has been on the rise this year, with experts attributing the price jump to big firms like ICE and Facebook, with its planned libra cryptocurrency, getting involved in the space.

Futures contracts, legal agreements to buy or sell a commodity at a certain price and time, are a way for investors to bet on whether the underlying asset’s value will rise or fall. In the ICE’s case, investors can trade in daily or monthly futures, according to its website.

Bakkt, which partnered with ICE to launch the derivatives, also counts Microsoft venture arm M12 and Boston Consulting Group as investors. The company teamed up with coffee chain Starbucks last year to allow people and institutions to buy, sell, store and send cryptocurrencies.

Attempts at launching bitcoin futures have been faced with problems in the past. Cboe Global Markets, which launched its own contracts in late 2017, said earlier this year that it would stop adding new ones. Meanwhile, U.S. firm LedgerX was forced to backtrack from a launch of physically settled bitcoin futures after a key markets regulator said it had “not yet been approved.”

ICE’s move was met with a mostly tepid reaction in spot markets, with bitcoin’s price rising just 0.5% higher to about $9,950.

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‘Disaster’ for Hong Kong if it loses status as financial center: China Citic Capital

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If Hong Kong loses its status as one of Asia’s top financial centers, it would be disastrous for the Asian financial hub, said the founder and chief executive officer of Citic Capital.

There is “no lack of competition for financial centers,” said Zhang Yichen, who is also chairman at the investment firm — a Hong Kong-based alternative investment arm of the Chinese financial conglomerate Citic Group.

Investors can turn to other cities like Singapore, Tokyo and Shanghai to access global capital markets, he told CNBC’s Amanda Drury at the Singapore Summit on Saturday.

“I think if Hong Kong doesn’t shape up, you shouldn’t have a sense of entitlement (that) it has to be the financial center,” he said. If the territory should lose that status, it “spells disaster because that’s the only industry these days that’s competitive.”

Protests in Hong Kong erupted more than three months ago over a now-withdrawn extradition bill, which would have paved the way for suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial. While the pro-democracy protests started out as relatively peaceful in June, they have since turned increasingly violent.

Hong Kong protestors on Sunday trampled on a Chinese flag, vandalized a subway station and set fire across a wide street, the Associated Press reported.

I don’t believe Shanghai and other Chinese cities can actually replace Hong Kong … If (Hong Kong) squanders that on its own, it’ll be a shame.

Zhang Yichen

Citic Capital

Formerly a British colony, Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It is one of China’s special administrative regions and is governed under the “one country, two systems” principle, which gives its citizens certain economic and legal freedoms not given in mainland China.

Zhang said the city has its advantages over other Chinese cities like Shanghai because of the “one country, two systems” policy.

Hong Kong’s legal system is similar to what is followed in a lot of countries around the world, which gives investors a certain level of comfort, he said. In addition to that, its proximity to the Chinese mainland is another plus point for investors, he added.

“From that perspective, I don’t believe Shanghai and other Chinese cities can actually replace Hong Kong,” he said. “If (Hong Kong) squanders that on its own, it’ll be a shame.”

However, the violence and chaos have crippled the city and disrupted daily life, and in turn, hurt businesses and dented investor sentiment.

Zhang said the protests have not affected Citic Capital’s business since it invests mostly either in China or around the world. “Hong Kong is just a base for us where a lot of our senior colleagues live and work,” he added.

Citic Capital says on its website it manages more than $26 billion of capital. Last month, the firm said it raised $2.8 billion in its fourth China buyout fund and would look at China-focused investment opportunities in sectors such as consumer, health care and technology.

Reuters and CNBC’s Grace Shao contributed to this report.

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‘Game of Thrones’ ends run with best drama award, 59 total Emmy Awards

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D. B. Weiss (C, speaking), David Benioff (3rd L) and cast and crew of ‘Game of Thrones’ accept the Outstanding Drama Series award onstage during the 71st Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 22, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.

Kevin Winter | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Despite mixed fan and critic reactions to the final season of “Game of Thrones,” the eight-season epic took home the top prize in the drama category at the Emmy Awards on Sunday.

Closing out the 71st annual television awards ceremony, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss thanked creator George R. R. Martin for entrusting his book series to the young producers more than a decade ago and praised the cast and crew for their work on the program.

Since 2011, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” has garnered 160 Emmy nominations and taken home 59 prizes for everything from acting and editing to special effects and sound mixing.

On Sunday, the program earned two Emmys, one for outstanding supporting actor, which went to Peter Dinklage for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister, and one for outstanding drama.

Earlier in the month, “Game of Thrones” won 10 additional awards during the Creative Arts Emmy ceremony.

“Game of Thrones” final award tally falls short of the 67 Emmys that “Saturday Night Live” has accrued over its 44 seasons. “SNL” earned two statues on Sunday, one for outstanding variety sketch series and one for outstanding directing.

The final season was widely criticized by fans who felt the pacing and its treatment of previous character developments were not up to par. Still, the show continued to have record-breaking viewership.

Each episode, save for one, topped viewer counts from the season seven finale, which was the series high prior to season eight’s release.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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