- China Roars Back to Lift Global Outlook as U.S. Consumer Weakens
China’s economy stormed back in the first quarter, clocking its first back-to-back acceleration in seven years and bolstering the global growth outlook just as signs of subdued consumer spending have surfaced in the U.S.
The Chinese economy accelerated to a better-than-expected 6.9 percent, powered by strength in housing, infrastructure investment, exports and retail sales. And it looks to have done so without worsening credit risks, a welcome development for economists worried about the nation’s towering debt burden.
The world’s second-biggest economy accounted for about one-third of global growth last year and, given the strong first quarter data, is on track to contribute at least as much in 2017, according to Rob Subbaraman, chief economist for Asia ex-Japan at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Singapore.
“China, at least in the near term, is in a sweet spot with growth momentum strong and inflation pressures easing,” said Subbaraman. “Whichever way you dice it, the first quarter was a strong set of numbers.”
The robust economic showing is an auspicious start to a politically eventful year for President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, whose government has set a growth target of 6.5 percent or above. Policymakers are bent on steady growth to ensure a smooth leadership reshuffle expected later this year.
The Chinese economy is in the midst of a major structural shift away from its past reliance on heavy manufacturing and export-led growth toward services and consumer demand. Officials are also trying to avert a trade war with the U.S., manage capital outflows amid depreciation pressure on the yuan, and slow the growth of household, corporate and government debt.
For the world economy, the Chinese rebound may deliver positive second-round effects.
“Emerging markets will benefit from this strength in Chinese growth firstly through commodities demand and support for commodity prices,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit in Singapore. “Secondly, the whole Asian manufacturing supply chain will get a boost from stronger Chinese growth.”
China’s imports from the Association of Southeast Nations surged 22.7 percent in March from a year earlier while those from Singapore were up 41.5 percent. From commodities exporter Australia, imports jumped almost 75 percent.
The first-quarter expansion came as the real estate market shrugged off policy constraints, exports surged and retail sales rebounded. Economic growth in March from a year earlier jumped to 7.6 percent, up from 7 percent in February, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence gauge.
Financial risks also were contained as nominal growth rose at the fastest pace since 2012 — 11.8 percent in current-price terms — making the problem of excess leverage look a little more manageable, according to Tom Orlik, chief Asia economist at Bloomberg Intelligence in Beijing. Total credit reached about 258 percent of economic output last year, up from 158 percent in 2005, according to Bloomberg Intelligence estimates.
Debt financing expanded about 12 percent, roughly on par with nominal GDP growth, said William Adams, senior international economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh, who previously worked for the Conference Board in Beijing. In recent years, overall debt growth had been expanding faster than the overall economy.
“This is a big deal,” he said. “The gap between nominal GDP growth and credit growth was often cited as the strongest quantitative argument that China’s growth model is unsustainable. If credit growth remains moderate as it has been since mid-2015, and nominal GDP growth continues at its current pace or picks up, this vulnerability in China’s growth model will seem less urgent.”
China’s acceleration comes as U.S. inflation took a surprising step back in March at the same time as retail sales dropped for a second month, according to reports Friday. While the pullback at retailers underscored a weak first quarter for consumer spending that economists had already penciled in, the inflation data are what surprised given recent signs that businesses had been able to regain pricing power.
A further cooling of price pressures and modest household demand would raise questions about whether the economy could withstand a mid-year move by the Federal Reserve to lift borrowing costs.
Not all the news is good. The downside to China’s acceleration is its reliance on an old formula: growth driven largely by credit-fueled investment in infrastructure and property.
“The first quarter figure is undoubtedly upbeat and encouraging and it seems to have changed the short-term sentiment substantially,” said Zhu Ning, author of “China’s Guaranteed Bubble” and deputy director of the National Institute of Financial Research at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “But a large part of growth is achieved by another unprecedentedly large fiscal stimulus, infrastructure investment, and debt escalation, which is currently being camouflaged by increasing housing prices and land values,” he said.
Trade tensions with the U.S. under President Donald Trump may also deteriorate again if a “100-day plan” to discuss trade fails to yield results.
Though global demand will remain conducive and infrastructure investment will be robust in this political year, domestic momentum overall will ease in the second half, said Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics in Hong Kong. That’s because measures to curb house purchases in many large cities will start to weigh on real estate investment.
For now though, China’s expansion is a welcome boost for a global economy that’s still navigating a fragile recovery as it shakes off a hangover from the global financial crisis.
“The upturn in Chinese growth is a very positive indicator for the Asia Pacific and world growth in 2017, as well as underpinning the near-term outlook for global commodities,” said Biswas with IHS Markit.
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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