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Jobless Claims in U.S. Decline to Lowest Level in Four Decades

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  • Jobless Claims in U.S. Decline to Lowest Level in Four Decades

The fewest Americans since 1973 filed for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that the U.S. labor market is getting tighter.

Jobless claims dropped by 19,000 to 235,000 in the week ended Nov. 12, which included the Veterans Day holiday, a Labor Department report showed Thursday in Washington. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey called for an increase to 257,000. Continuing claims fell below 2 million to a 16-year low.

The biggest drop in initial claims since June suggests employers are loath to fire workers as the economy continues its modest expansion and the number of experienced applicants available for hiring remains limited. Filings for unemployment benefits have stayed below 300,000 for 89 straight weeks — the longest streak since 1970 and a level typical for a healthy labor market.

“We’re exhausting the pool of workers that we can draw from out of the unemployed,” said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts. “We’re approaching full employment, so we’re seeing really strong job gains, but they can’t continue for very long.”

Estimates for initial claims in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 245,000 to 275,000. The prior week’s reading was unrevised at 254,000.

The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, declined to 253,500 from 260,000 in the prior week.

Continuing Claims

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits dropped by 66,000 to 1.98 million in the week ended Nov. 5. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits fell to 1.4 percent from 1.5 percent. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

No states had estimated claims last week and there was nothing unusual in the data, according to the Labor Department.

Though applications for unemployment insurance are at historic lows, there are other factors that have pushed claims down in recent years, including cuts in the duration of benefits and changes to claim-filing technology.

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

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Crude Oil

Oil Gains on Saudi Arabia Price Increase

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Crude Oil - Investors King

Crude oil rose on the back of Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it has increased January oil prices to Asian and US customers.

Brent crude oil, a global benchmark against which Nigerian oil is priced, appreciated to $71.90 a barrel on Monday at 12:12 pm Nigerian time after plunging to as low as $65.73 a barrel on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia on Sunday announced it had raised January official selling prices for all crude oil grades sold to Asia and the United States by up to 80 cents from the previous month.

This was on the same day reports from South Africa suggested that Omicron was less harsh than previously thought. Still, it was uncertain why one of the world’s leading oil producers raised prices at a time OPEC + is upping production by 400,000 barrels per day and when uncertainty surrounding covid could erode global demand and force existing buyers to embrace competing grades.

“I am struggling to construct a positive narrative out of Saudi Arabia raising prices, especially as it makes competing grades more appealing to their client base. The best I can do is that Saudi Arabia feels confident raising prices despite higher OPEC+ production because it believes omicron is a storm in a test tube and that the global recovery will not be derailed. The South African reports have reinforced that sentiment,” said Jeffrey Halley, Senior Market Analyst, Asia Pacific, OANDA.

US equity and Asian assets responded positively to Omicron’s report this morning, curbing further decline in the global assets from Friday’s decline. However, there is no certainty on the virus given the sample size. More research is needed to better understand the characteristics of the Omicron.

US Fed is now expected to raise interest rates twice in 2022 if it will curtail escalating inflation rate and compel more people to go back to work. Investors are now waiting for Friday’s consumer price report.

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Mild Symptoms….

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By Jeffrey Halley, Senior Market Analyst, Asia Pacific, OANDA

US equity index futures are performing another omicron U-turn this morning, limiting the fallout in Asian markets of another fairly gruesome Wall Street session on Friday. The driver of the whip-saw return of serve omicron headline tennis comes from South Africa, where an article from the South African Medical Research Council, suggests that omicron symptoms were milder than previous incarnations, with hospitalised patients mostly having comorbidities. Of course, the sample size is small, but markets never let “the data” these days get in the way of narrative. Omicron variant milder = U-turn = buy everything.

Asia, having suffered so greatly in the delta wave, is understandably more cautious and now is also coming to grips with the reality of the Federal Reserve taper as well as China’s “shared prosperity,” property sector and tech-saga travails. It is no surprise that regional investors have refused to join in North America’s virus ping pong price action unless you are a retail FOMO-gnome inhabitant of Japan’s Nikkei, and South Korea’s Kospi.

Last Friday’s US Non-Farm Payrolls was dismal, adding just 210,000 jobs with a modest upward revision of 82,000 jobs to the October data. The soft data turned into a nil-all draw for markets though as the household employment data suggested 1.1 million jobs had been added, sending the unemployment rate plunging from 4.60% to 4.20%. There are still 10 million open jobs in America and the National Federation of Independent Business survey shows small businesses are crying out for workers. The participation rate remains a dire 61.80%, even as ISM Non-Manufacturing PMI and Business Activity, Employment sub-indexes outperformed.

The truth about employment clearly lies somewhere between the two headline numbers with the household survey likely more prone to exaggeration. Nevertheless, it seems clear that either the workforce has shrunk dramatically through early retirements for example, or Americans are so much wealthier, thanks to the Federal Reserve pimping up asset prices, that they feel no need to immediately return? In this respect, the Fed may have accidentally shot itself in the foot. Such is life in economics, cause, and effect.

Net-net, the overall data impact on Friday didn’t change the narrative surrounding a fast Fed taper and markets have now priced in two rate hikes by late 2022. Apart from allowing markets to fret over omicron into the end of the week, faster tapering and rate hikes impacted tasty valuations of tech stocks, but also lifted the US Dollar. The US bond market continues to behave interestingly though, with the curve flattening instead of steepening, as bond markets price in faster, but lower terminal rates from the FOMC, and remaining comfortable that the Fed has medium/long-term inflation under control.

Things are going to get very interesting if that narrative changes and its first challenge could come this Friday if US CPI prints at 7.0%+ YoY. Secondly, if more omicron outlooks hit the street this week suggesting it is more contagious but less aggressive, you can reasonably assume we have seen the lows in USD/JPY and USD/CHF and oil, but I suspect technology will still struggle at the expense of the denizens of the Dow Jones and Russel 2000. ASEAN will probably be the winner as well versus North Asia.

Of course, China issues have not disappeared and despite reassuring words from various state organs regarding China company US listing over the weekend, nerves surrounding China big-tech will continue. The property sector faces another reckoning this week as well after Evergrande announced on Friday it had received a $260 million repayment demand, and that it could not guarantee it would be able to meet liabilities going forward. That led to the Guangdong local government “sending in a team” to help manage operations. Evergrande and Kaisa face offshore payment deadlines today and tomorrow as well. There is still plenty of juice in this story into the year-end, with Hong Kong markets probably the more vulnerable. What has likely changed, is that the odds of a RRR cut by the PBOC have ramped up.

The data calendar is mostly second-tier this week in Asia except for the Reserve Bank of Australia and India’s latest policy decisions. Directional moves will be dominated by omicron, Evergrande/Kaisa and Friday’s US CPI data, ahead of a central bank policy decision frenzy around the world next week.

Today’s ANZ Job Advertisements, which rose by 7.40% MoM in November, is unlikely to sway the RBA from its ultra-cautious, release the doves, course. The policy statement will be the more interesting, with markets searching for signs of wavering of that course from the RBA. They are likely to be disappointed with omicron community infections in Australia leaving the central bank’s finger glued to the W for Wimp button. The RBI’s policy decision will be more interesting. Rates will remain unchanged, but with stagflation, I mean inflation, moving higher recently, the RBI may signal a rate hike or two are coming. That will be another headwind for local equities, although the Rupee may gain some support, assuming the RBI doesn’t provoke a stampede of international fast money out of local equities.

Oil is on the move today as well, with Saudi Arabia raising January prices to Asian and US customers by $0.60 a barrel over the weekend, although it cut official selling prices (OSPs) to European customers. Technically, that will make other grades of oil from other producers around the world more appealing to Asian buyers, but Brent crude and WTI are up by 2.0% today anyway. Given that OPEC+ is proceeding with its planned 400,000 bpd increase this month, it appears that Saudi Arabia is taking a punt that omicron is a virus in a teacup. Saudi Arabia’s confidence, along with the South African omicron article over the weekend, is a boost to markets looking for good news in any corner they can find it.

The section where Jeff talks about Bitcoin.

Finally, one “asset class” that didn’t enjoy any good news was the crypto space. Fresh from Singapore banning a local crypto exchange for promoting a coin illegally associated with a South Korean boy band, yep, cryptos are a maturing market with more institutional participants, Bitcoin and Ether slumped by around 20% on Saturday, before recovering over half of those losses. I am at a loss to why this happened, but I’ll take a wild guess. Cryptos trade in little islands of liquidity on centralised exchanges, there is not one venue aggregating liquidity. A large leveraged position or two had margin calls on Saturday, and the resulting selling triggered a perfect storm amongst other long positions in a low liquidity time period in isolated liquidity venues. Arbitrageurs would have had a field day. The automated “market makers” did what they do in any other asset class when the going gets tough, disappeared. (insert flash crash/asset class here)

Because cryptos are a rapidly maturing mainstream asset class, I applied an appropriately scientific approach to the problem. I did a voodoo dance threw chicken entrails into the air. When the chicken entrails landed, otherwise known as technical analysis, it actually suggests Saturday’s sell-off was in fact bullish. Bitcoin’s plummet to $42,000.00 was very near to the 61.80% Fibonacci retracement of the January to November rally. The 200-day moving average at $$46,400.00 also held on a closing basis. I’m not going to say the coast is clear until Bitcoin reclaims $53,000.00, though. It does look like Bitcoin is vulnerable to more downside liquidity events, so approach my voodoo dancing chicken entrails outlook with caution.

I look forward to my email inbox filling up tonight with strange people calling me an idiot and saying they all bought Bitcoin at $1.0. I will receive none from people saying I bought it at $67,000.00 and I wish I’d listened to you, Jeff. For me, I eagerly await the gigantic “institutional players” appearance to “stabilise markets.” Bueller? Bueller? Ferris Bueller?

Weaker omicron hopes lessen Friday fallout on Asian equities.

Asian equities are having a mixed day today after US index futures rallied this morning in hopes that omicron is a milder variant. That came after another torrid Wall Street session, where mixed signals from US employment data led to higher Fed tapering nerves mixed in with negative omicron sentiment. On Friday, the S&P 500 fell by 0.84%, the Nasdaq slumped by 1.92% and the Dow Jones outperformed, falling just 0.19%. A faster Fed taper and early rate hikes clearly benefit value versus growth at the moment, with the US yield curve flattening once again.

An abrupt reversal has occurred on initial reports that omicron is a weaker variant. Dow Jones futures have jumped by 0.65% today, while S&P 500 futures are 0.50% higher, with Nasdaq futures lagging, rising just 0.15%. It seems that positive omicron news will be expressed further by value outperforming growth against the background of a more hawkish FOMC.

That has taken the edge of Asian markets as well with the Nikkei 225 falling just 0.45% today, led by a 9.0% slump by Softbank. South Korea’s Kospi, by contrast, is 0.10% higher. Mainland China is outperforming after comments from officials and press over the weekend raised expectations of an imminent RRR cut and more lending. China’s “national team’ may also be around, “smoothing” markets. That sees the Shanghai Composite rising by 0.65% today, with the CSI 300 climbing 0.35%.

Hong Kong markets are enduring a torrid session with China big-tech stocks being hammered once again on delisting and crackdown nerves. Evergrande’s day of truth sees it trading 10% lower as well. The Hang Seng is down by 1.20%.

Regionally, Singapore is 0.80% higher, whiles Kuala Lumpur has fallen by 0.45% and Jakarta has risen by 0.55%. Taipei is 0.30% lower, with Manila rising by 1.20% and Bangkok falling 0.45%. Australian markets have also edged lower, the ASX 200 easing by 0.15%, and the All Ordinaries moving 0.30% lower.

Hong Kong aside, the positive omicron headlines, have encouraged Asian buy-the-dippers back into the market today, albeit unevenly. European markets are likely to seize on the omicron-is-weaker hopes as well and I expect Europe and the UK to open quite positively this afternoon. As ever, market direction and sentiment remains fragile. Although markets are desperate to grasp at any straws of hope on the virus front, we are one headline away from the straw being taken from our grasp and direction changing abruptly.

The US Dollar maintains its Fed tapering boost.

The US Dollar shrugged of a confused US employment data picture on Friday as markets put omicron to one side and priced in that a faster Fed taper from the FOMC remains on track to be announced next week. Markets have also priced in faster rate hikes as well, supporting the US Dollar even as the US yield curve flattens. The dollar index held steady at 96.15 on Friday, rising 12 points to 96.27 in Asia.

The rise in the dollar index has been driven by a reversal out of the haven Japanese Yen and Swiss France today as omicron worries subside for now. USD/JPY and USD/CHF have risen 0.16% and 0.28% to 113.00 and 0.9205 respectively. If the initial reports from South Africa turn out to be correct globally, markets have seen the lows in both pairs for some time.

Those currencies most associated with risk sentiment are finding very little respite though, namely the commonwealths and Euro. Instead of omicron, sentiment concerns have been replaced with a faster Fed taper and more rapid US interest rate hikes. EUR/SD and GBP/USD have edged lower to 1.1290 and 1.3235 today and remain a sell on any 50 to 100 point rally. AUD/USD has risen 0.30% to 0.7020 on firm ANZ jobs data, but NZD/USD remains stuck around 0.6760. Both remain vulnerable to deeper sell-offs this week and in the case of AUD/USD, it has formed a very negative head-and-shoulders technical pattern targeting a multi-week move to near 0.6000.

The PBOC set a weaker Yuan fixing today but USD/CNY has still eased 0.10% to 6.3685. Other Asian currencies are also enjoying a modest omicron respite, with MYR, KRW, PHP, SGD, and THB between 0.15% and 0.25% higher this morning. The longevity of the rally is entirely dependent on omicron headlines, as it is elsewhere. But being more sensitive as a region to US monetary policy, I believe gains will be limited at best by Asian currencies this week as Fed taper nerves ratchet higher. A higher than expected US CPI on Friday likely sees another wave of selling sweeping Asian FX as well as the Euro and commonwealths.

Saudi Arabia/Omicron lifts oil prices in Asia.

Oil prices eased on Friday on omicron fears, Brent crude falling 0.90% and WTI falling by 1.45%. The falls were modest though by recent standards where the intraday volatility had threatened to make oil almost untradeable. The commitment of traders positioning also shows a massive drawdown in speculative long positioning, making exposure more balanced, also a supportive factor.

Oil prices have rallied sharply in Asia after Saudi Arabia yesterday announced January price increases to Asian and US customers, and weekend reports from South Africa suggested omicron was less harsh than previous variants. Brent crude is 2.10% higher at $71.35 a barrel, and WTI is 2.0% higher at $67.75 a barrel.

I am struggling to construct a positive narrative out of Saudi Arabia raising prices, especially as it makes competing grades more appealing to their client base. The best I can do is that Saudi Arabia feels confident raising prices despite higher OPEC+ production because it believes omicron is a storm in a test tube and that the global recovery will not be derailed. The South African reports have reinforced that sentiment.

Whether that sentiment lasts or not, the relative strength indexes (RSIs) that I mentioned last week remain near oversold suggesting that any oil sell-offs from here will be shallower and shorter in nature. Brent crude needs to reclaim $73.00, and WTI $70.00 a barrel to tentatively say the lows are in place. If omicron is proven over the coming days (or weeks) to be less aggressive, even if it is more contagious, then we can say 100% last weeks lows were the bargain of the quarter, and possibly for H! 2022, for those brave enough to indulge.

Gold remains forgotten.

Gold remains side-lined, trading sideways on a closing basis, despite some decent intraday ranges. On Friday, thanks to a mixed US employment report leading to a flattening yield curve, gold managed to gain 0.88% to $1783.90 an ounce. In Asia, gold is barely changed, easing 0.10% lower to $1781.70 an ounce.

In the bigger picture, gold looks set to trade in a rough $1770.00 to $1800.00 an ounce range this week, unable to sustain momentum above or below those levels. The 50,100 and 200-day moving averages (DMAs), clustered between $1791.00 and $1793.00 provide immediate resistance, followed by $1800.00. Support lies at $1770.00 and $1760.00.

With the omicron outlook looking less bleak, and with longer-dated US yields continuing to fall, gold could well stage a modest recovery this week. However, with the US CPI data on Friday likely to print around 7.0%, gold remains a sell on rallies to $1810.00. A 7.0% print will raise the faster taper and rate hike noise ahead of next week’s FOMC meeting, and longer-dated yields could finally shake off their medium-term inflation lethargy. The balance of risks still favours a move lower towards $1720.00 an ounce.

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Sunna Design Wins A €40 Million Contract to Deploy Solar Street Lighting in Rural Togo

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Renewable Energy - Investors King

 Sunna Design, leader in connected solar lighting solutions, has signed a 40 million euro contract with the Government of Togo for the supply and installation over 24 months, and then maintenance over 12 years, of 50,000 intelligent street lamps. This contract, funded by the General Directorate of the French Treasury, is part of the larger project CIZO (“switch on the light” in mina language), which aims at electrifying 500,000 rural households, about 1.5 million inhabitants in 1,000 villages.

A pillar of Togo’s NDP (National Development Plan) deployed by the Togolese presidency, CIZO aims to speed up the modernization of the country, including ensuring universal access to electricity by 2030.

Connected lighting, a key step for rural development

Public lighting grids have an impact on rural communities’ life conditions and strengthening of the economy, by facilitating passenger and goods transport, pedestrian traffic, night work, as well as drastically reducing road accident rates and insecurity.

Solar street lights are autonomous and resilient energy sources, and the only relevant technical-economic solution to bring appropriate public lighting and connection services to off-grid areas. In Togo – where only 8% of the 8.3 million residents are connected to the grid – access to energy is a key factor for economical development. The challenge is also to promote geographical balance, in response to an unbridled urbanization phenomenon in Sub-Saharan Africa, through a planned deployment of sustainable, decentralized and smart infrastructures.

Mila Aziable, Minister Delegate to the President for Energy and Mines, says: “This partnership is the result of a shared ambition and is right in line with the Head of State’s will to achieve accessibility for all in terms of energy. We want to give a new dynamic to rural areas, make them more attractive through our contribution in all priority sectors and those of the local economy, while betting on innovative technologies adapted to our context, our time and our environment. This partnership clearly projects our country in a new dynamic, in the direction of a universal access to energy.”

Franck Riester, Minister Delegate attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, in charge of Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness: “We are proud to support Sunna Design’s sustainable public lighting project in Togo, for the benefit of more than 1.5 million inhabitants in rural areas. Under the initiative of the President of the Republic, we made Africa a priority of our international action. Central to our strategy is the will to accompany the development of infrastructures and technologies in a sustainable city. In these fields, our SMEs such as Sunna Design have an internationally recognized expertise. It is together, with our African partners, with the support of the private sector, that we must accompany the continent’s economic development.”

“The trust granted by the Togo Government – a visionary, pioneer and highly demanding partner in the fields of electrification and digitization in rural environment – acknowledges the solidity of Sunna Design’s know-how, as well as our capacity to innovate and accompany our clients over time” says Ignace de Prest, Sunna Design CEO. “That also represents a new step in our company’s transformation, now an essential partner for both urban and rural applications. The impact of the project on populations strengthens the teams’ commitment and our company’s project.” 

A sustainable technological solution with a 12-year guarantee

Consisting of 50,000 connected street lights, Sunna Design’s project notably plans for:

  • Solar lighting roll out in priority areas, identified and investigated beforehand via an unprecedented census study of rural infrastructures, ensuring a measurable economic and social impact of each lighting point on people
  • The use of iSSL+ solutions, all-in-one connected street lights with batteries designed to resist high temperatures, produced by Sunna Design at its “Factory of the Future” labeled industrial site, in the Bordeaux region
  • Operation and maintenance services during 12 years, including participation and strengthening of an ecosystem of local operators, promoting local employment
  • Provision of a transparent platform for monitoring implementation and detailed performance of the solar solutions, accessible to public authorities, private and financial partners

The Togolese Agency for Rural Electrification and Renewable Energies (AT2ER), promoter of the project, was able to validate Sunna Design’s technical lead, robust equipment and track record in Sub-Saharan Africa rural areas, and finalize a unique project including performance and guarantee commitments over time.

Solar lighting related (connected) services

Sunna Design’s know-how extends beyond lighting: its solutions can integrate an ecosystem of IoT applications (connected objects), powered by the clean energy provided by Sunna Design’s intelligent solar batteries.

Autonomous and connected, these applications answer several needs in terms of connectivity, telecommunications and safety. They represent a development focus of the digital economy, another pillar of Togo’s NDP.

This innovative application has already been successfully implemented and tested by Sunna Design in Togo, in the frame of a pilot project operational since 2020, financed by the FASEP fund of the General Directorate of the Treasury. This project will allow the continuation of these experiments in some targeted areas, as well as skill improvement on the “WiFi Grid”, to offer Internet access to villages through the solar street lamps.

“This project will combine decentralized energy and broadband connectivity to provide both public lighting and Internet access to the populations. Thus, it complements our vision towards accelerating the convergence between energy and digital technology, which we will initiate by deploying optical fiber on the electric network” says Cina Lawson, Togolese Minister of Digital Economy and Technological Innovation.

A turnkey project with financing at the heart of Sunna Design’s strategy

This exemplary contract is at the core of Sunna Design’s strategy, aiming at bringing answers to its customers’ long-term issues, in the form of services. Three years after being the first company to offer Solar Lighting as a Service (SLaaS) in the United States, Sunna Design replicates the offer in Africa, and works to replicate it again. This project, carried out in Togo and financed by a direct loan from the General Directorate of the Treasury, proves that the company now has the most advanced range of technical solutions on the market, as well as the most comprehensive portfolio of services (installation, maintenance, operations, financing). This contract also marks the achievement, on a large-scale project, of the vision of solar lighting as a lever of economic and social development in rural environments, inspired by Thomas Samuel, Sunna Design’s founder, who also developed the project.

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