U.S. Housing Starts Tumble in August
U.S. housing starts fell more than expected in August likely as bad weather disrupted building activity in the South, but a solid increase in permits for single-family dwellings suggested demand for housing remained intact.
Tuesday’s weak housing report came as officials from the Federal Reserve were due to gather for a two-day meeting to assess the economy and deliberate on monetary policy.
It joined a stream of recent soft economic data such as retail sales, nonfarm payrolls and industrial production, which, together with low inflation are expected to encourage the U.S. central bank to leave interest rates unchanged on Wednesday.
Groundbreaking decreased 5.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 1.14 million units after two straight months of strong gains, the Commerce Department said.
Single-family housing starts in the South, which accounts for the bulk of home building, tumbled 13.1 percent to their lowest level since May 2015. Economists said flooding in Texas and Louisiana was probably behind the drop in starts last month.
“We believe that the slowdown in August starts likely owes to a temporary weather effect rather than a substantive shift in the underlying trend,” said Rob Martin, an economist at Barclays in New York. “Excluding the South, housing starts increased a robust 4.2 percent.”
Permits for future construction slipped 0.4 percent to a 1.14 million-unit rate last month as approvals for the volatile multi-family homes segment tumbled 7.2 percent to a 402,000 unit-rate. Permits for single-family homes, the largest segment of the market, surged 3.7 percent to a 737,000-unit pace.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast housing starts falling to a 1.19 million-unit pace last month and building permits rising to a 1.17 million-unit rate.
U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data as investors awaited Wednesday’s outcome of the Fed’s meeting. The broader PHLX housing index .HGX, which includes builders, building products and mortgage companies, fell 0.76 percent.
STRONG HOUSING FUNDAMENTALS
Last month’s decline in starts was largely anticipated as groundbreaking activity has been running well ahead of permits approvals over the past several months, especially in the single-family housing segment.
The drop left starts just below their second-quarter average, suggesting little or no contribution from residential construction to economic growth in the third quarter.
Spending on home building was a small drag on output in the April-June period. Following the report, the Atlanta Fed trimmed its third-quarter gross domestic product estimate by one-tenth of a percentage point to a 2.9 percent annual rate. The economy grew at a 1.1 percent rate in the second quarter.
Demand for housing is being driven by a tightening labor market, which is lifting wages. A survey of homebuilders published on Monday showed confidence hitting an 11-month high in September, with builders bullish about current sales now and over the next six months, as well as prospective buyer traffic.
Housing market strength boosted Lennar Corp’s (LEN.N) profits in the third quarter. Lennar, the second-largest U.S. homebuilder, said it sold 6,779 homes in the three months ended Aug. 31, up 7.3 percent from a year earlier, while its average sales price rose more than 3 percent.
“Conditions seem well aligned for strong new home building. Borrowing costs remain low, the inventory of homes for sale, both new and existing, are relatively low and failing to make meaningful progress,” said Kristin Reynolds, a U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Groundbreaking on single-family homes dropped 6.0 percent to a 722,000-unit pace in August, the lowest level since last October. But with permits for the construction of single-family homes rising last month, single-family home building could rebound in the months ahead.
The single-family housing market is being supported by a dearth of previously owned homes available for sale.
Housing starts for the volatile multi-family segment fell 5.4 percent to a 420,000-unit pace. The multi-family segment of the market has been buoyed by strong demand for rental accommodation as some Americans shun homeownership in the aftermath of the housing market collapse.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)
Brent Crude Oil Crosses $75 Per Barrel as Global Demand Recovers
Crude oil prices sustained bullish runs amid rising demand for global oil and likely delay in Iranian crude supply to global oil market.
Brent crude oil, global benchmark for Nigerian oil, rose above $75 a barrel for the first time since 2019 on Tuesday as global investors remained bullish across the board.
Brent crude rose 26 cents or 0.4 percent to $75.16 a barrel as of 7 am Nigerian time on Tuesday.
The rebound has pushed up spot premiums for crude in Asia and Europe to multi-month highs.
“The market sentiment stays strong with improved outlook for global demand,” said Satoru Yoshida, a commodity analyst with Rakuten Securities, adding that a rally in Asian stock markets is also helping boost risk appetite among investors.
Global shares extended their recovery on Tuesday, with Asian markets bouncing from four-weeks lows as investor focus on economic growth partly offset worries about the U.S. Federal Reserve raising rates sooner than expected.
BofA Global Research raised its Brent crude price forecasts for this year and next, saying that tighter oil supply and recovering demand could push oil briefly to $100 per barrel in 2022.
Investors are looking to weekly U.S. inventory data as crude oil stockpiles have fallen for four weeks, said Toshitaka Tazawa, analyst at commodities broker Fujitomi Co.
U.S. crude stocks were expected to drop for the fifth consecutive week, while distillate and gasoline were seen rising last week, a preliminary Reuters poll showed on Monday.
“The oil prices are expected to hold a firm tone amid expectations that fuel demand will pick up quickly along with economic recovery in Europe and the United States,” Tazawa said.
The price gap between the world’s two most actively traded oil contracts narrowed to its lowest in more than seven months, demonstrating that U.S. oil output is still in the COVID-19 doldrums with the market likely to remain undersupplied.
Negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear deal took a pause on Sunday after hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi won the country’s presidential election.
Raisi on Monday backed talks between Iran and six world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal but flatly rejected meeting U.S. President Joe Biden, even if Washington removed all sanctions.
“The lower probability of Iranian crude oil returning to the market due to the new hardline president is also supporting the market,” Fujitomi’s Tazawa said.
Majority of New Renewables Undercut Cheapest Fossil Fuel on Cost
The share of renewable energy that achieved lower costs than the most competitive fossil fuel option doubled in 2020, a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows. 162 gigawatts (GW) or 62 per cent of total renewable power generation added last year had lower costs than the cheapest new fossil fuel option.
Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2020 shows that costs for renewable technologies continued to fall significantly year-on-year. Concentrating solar power (CSP) fell by 16 per cent, onshore wind by 13 per cent, offshore wind by 9 per cent and solar PV by 7 per cent. With costs at low levels, renewables increasingly undercut existing coal’s operational costs too. Low-cost renewables give developed and developing countries a strong business case to power past coal in pursuit of a net-zero economy. Just 2020’s new renewable project additions will save emerging economies up to USD 156 billion over their lifespan.
“Today, renewables are the cheapest source of power,” said IRENA’s Director-General Francesco La Camera. “Renewables present countries tied to coal with an economically attractive phase-out agenda that ensures they meet growing energy demand, while saving costs, adding jobs, boosting growth and meeting climate ambition. I am encouraged that more and more countries opt to power their economies with renewables and follow IRENA’s pathway to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.”
“We are far beyond the tipping point of coal,” La Camera continued. “Following the latest commitment by G7 to net-zero and stop global coal funding abroad, it is now for G20 and emerging economies to match these measures. We cannot allow having a dual-track for energy transition where some countries rapidly turn green and others remain trapped in the fossil-based system of the past. Global solidarity will be crucial, from technology diffusion to financial strategies and investment support. We must make sure everybody benefits from the energy transition.”
The renewable projects added last year will reduce costs in the electricity sector by at least USD 6 billion per year in emerging countries, relative to adding the same amount of fossil fuel-fired generation. Two-thirds of these savings will come from onshore wind, followed by hydropower and solar PV. Cost savings come in addition to economic benefits and reduced carbon emissions. The 534 GW of renewable capacity added in emerging countries since 2010 at lower costs than the cheapest coal option are reducing electricity costs by around USD 32 billion every year.
2010-2020 saw a dramatic improvement in the competitiveness of solar and wind technologies with CSP, offshore wind and solar PV all joining onshore wind in the range of costs for new fossil fuels capacity, and increasingly outcompeting them. Within ten years, the cost of electricity from utility-scale solar PV fell by 85 per cent, that of CSP by 68 per cent, onshore wind by 56 per cent and 48 per cent for offshore wind. With record low auction prices of USD 1.1 to 3 cents per kWh today, solar PV and onshore wind continuously undercut even the cheapest new coal option without any financial support.
IRENA’s report also shows that new renewables beat existing coal plants on operating costs too, stranding coal power as increasingly uneconomic. In the United States for example, 149 GW or 61 per cent of the total coal capacity costs more than new renewable capacity. Retiring and replacing these plants with renewables would cut expenses by USD 5.6 billion per year and save 332 million tonnes of CO2, reducing emissions from coal in the United States by one-third. In India, 141 GW of installed coal is more expensive than new renewable capacity. In Germany, no existing coal plant has lower operating costs than new solar PV or onshore wind capacity.
Globally, over 800 GW of existing coal power costs more than new solar PV or onshore wind projects commissioned in 2021. Retiring these plants would reduce power generation costs by up to USD 32.3 billion annually and avoid around 3 giga tonnes of CO2 per year, corresponding to 9 per cent of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2020 or 20 per cent of the emissions reduction needed by 2030 for a 1.5°C climate pathway outlined in IRENA’s World Energy Transitions Outlook.
The outlook till 2022 sees global renewable power costs falling further, with onshore wind becoming 20-27 per cent lower than the cheapest new coal-fired generation option. 74 per cent of all new solar PV projects commissioned over the next two years that have been competitively procured through auctions and tenders will have an award price lower than new coal power. The trend confirms that low-cost renewables are not only the backbone of the electricity system, but that they will also enable electrification in end-uses like transport, buildings and industry and unlock competitive indirect electrification with renewable hydrogen.
Increased Demand Paves The Way for Expansion of Africa’s Sugar Industry
Africa, June 2021: A new focus report produced by the Oxford Business Group (OBG), in partnership with the International Sugar Organization (ISO), explores the potential that Africa’s sugar industry holds for growth on the back of an anticipated rise in regional demand. The report was presented to ISO members during the MECAS meeting at the Organization’s 58th Council Session, on June 17th 2021.
Titled “Sugar in Africa”, the report highlights the opportunities for investors to contribute to the industry’s development by helping to bridge infrastructure gaps in segments such as farming and refining and port facilities.
The report considers the benefits that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could deliver by supporting fair intra-African sugar trade efforts and bringing regulatory frameworks under a common umbrella, which will be key to improving competitiveness.
The increased international focus on ESG standards is another topical issue examined. Here, the report charts the initiatives already under way in Africa supported by green-focused investment with sustainability at their core, which will help to instil confidence in new investors keen to adhere to ESG principles in their decision-making.
In addition, subscribers will find coverage of the impact that Covid-19 had on the industry, with detailed analysis provided of the decrease in both worldwide sugar production and prices, as movement restrictions and social-distancing measures took their toll on operations.
The report shines a spotlight on sugar production in key markets across the continent, noting regional differences in terms of output and assessing individual countries’ roles as net exporters and importers.
It also includes an interview with José Orive, Executive Director, International Sugar Organisation, in which he maps out the particularities of the African sugar industry, while sharing his thoughts on what needs to be done to promote continental trade and sustainable development.
“The region is well advanced in terms of sugar production overall, but several challenges still hinder its full potential,” he said. “It is not enough to just produce sugar; producers must be able to move it to buyers efficiently. When all negotiations related to the AfCFTA have concluded, we expect greater investment across the continent and a clearer regulatory framework.”
Karine Loehman, OBG’s Managing Director for Africa, said that while the challenges faced by Africa’s sugar producers shouldn’t be underestimated, the new report produced with the ISO pointed to an industry primed for growth on the back of anticipated increased consumption across the continent and higher levels of output in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Regional demand for sugar is expected to rise in the coming years, driven up by Africa’s population growth and drawing a line under declines triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said. “With sub-Saharan Africa’s per capita sugar consumption currently standing at around half of the global average, the opportunities to help meet increasing domestic need by boosting production are considerable.”
The study on Africa’s sugar industry forms part of a series of tailored reports that OBG is currently producing with its partners, alongside other highly relevant, go-to research tools, including a range of country-specific Growth and Recovery Outlook articles and interviews.
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