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U.S. Housing Starts Fall to One-year Low

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  • U.S. Housing Starts Fall to One-year Low

U.S. home building fell to a one-year low in September as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma disrupted the construction of single-family homes in the South, suggesting that housing probably remained a drag on economic growth in the third quarter.

Housing starts decreased 4.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.127 million units, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. That was the lowest level since September 2016 and followed August’s upwardly revised pace of 1.183 million units.

Groundbreaking tumbled 9.3 percent in the South to the lowest level since October 2015, with single-family homebuilding in the region tumbling 15.3 percent to more than a one-year low. The South accounts for almost half of the nation’s homebuilding.

Building permits fell 4.5 percent to a rate of 1.215 million units in September.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast housing starts falling to a rate of 1.175 million units last month and building permits falling to a rate of 1.250 million units.

Even before the storms struck, residential construction had almost stagnated this year amid shortages of land and skilled labor as well as rising costs of building materials.

Investment in homebuilding contracted at a 7.3 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, the steepest drop in nearly seven years. As a result, housing subtracted three-tenths of a percentage point from gross domestic product in the April-June quarter.

While economists expect housing starts to rebound in the fourth quarter, they caution that rebuilding in the areas devastated by the hurricanes could pull scarce labor away from other parts of the country and limit gains. The reconstruction effort is also pushing up prices of building materials.

Single-family homebuilding, which accounts for the largest share of the housing market, fell 4.6 percent to a rate of 829,000 units in September. Single-family starts rose in the Northeast, Midwest and West.

Groundbreaking on single-family housing projects has slowed since vaulting to near a 9-1/2-year high in February.

Last month, starts for the volatile multi-family housing segment fell 5.1 percent to a rate of 298,000 units. Single-family home permits rose 2.4 percent, while permits for the construction of multi-family homes dropped 16.1 percent.

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Businessinsider, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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Energy

Egypt Increases Fuel Prices by 15% Amid IMF Deal

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Petrol - Investors King

Egypt has raised fuel prices by up to 15% as the country looks to cut state subsidies as part of a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The oil ministry announced increases across a variety of fuel products, including gasoline, diesel, and kerosene.

However, fuel oil used for electricity and food-related industries will remain unaffected to protect essential services.

This decision comes after a pricing committee’s quarterly review, reflecting Egypt’s commitment to align with its financial obligations under the IMF pact.

Egypt is in the midst of recalibrating its economy following a massive $57 billion bailout, orchestrated with the IMF and the United Arab Emirates.

The IMF, which has expanded its support to $8 billion, emphasizes the need for Egypt to replace untargeted fuel subsidies with more focused social spending.

This is seen as a crucial component of a sustainable fiscal strategy aimed at stabilizing the nation’s finances.

Effective immediately, the cost of diesel will increase to 11.5 Egyptian pounds per liter from 10.

Gasoline prices have also risen, with 95, 92, and 80-octane types now costing 15, 13.75, and 12.25 pounds per liter, respectively.

Despite the hikes, Egypt’s fuel prices remain among the lowest globally, trailing only behind nations like Iran and Libya.

The latest increase follows recent adjustments to the price of subsidized bread, another key staple for Egyptians, underscoring the government’s resolve to navigate its economic crisis through tough reforms.

While the rise in fuel costs is expected to impact millions, analysts suggest the inflationary effects might be moderate.

EFG Hermes noted that the gradual removal of subsidies and a potential hike in power tariffs could have a relatively limited impact on overall consumer prices.

They predict that the deceleration in inflation will persist throughout the year.

Egypt’s efforts to manage inflation have shown progress, with headline inflation slowing for the fourth consecutive month in June.

This trend offers a glimmer of hope for the government as it strives to balance economic stability with social welfare.

The IMF and Egyptian officials are scheduled to meet on July 29 for a third review of the loan program. Approval from the IMF board could unlock an additional $820 million tranche, further supporting Egypt’s economic restructuring.

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Crude Oil

Oil Prices Rise on U.S. Inventory Draws Despite Global Demand Worries

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Oil

Oil prices gained on Wednesday following the reduction in U.S. crude and fuel inventories.

However, the market remains cautious due to ongoing concerns about weak global demand.

Brent crude oil, against which Nigerian crude oil is priced, increased by 66 cents, or 0.81% to $81.67 a barrel. Similarly, U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude climbed 78 cents, or 1.01%, to $77.74 per barrel.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a substantial decline in crude inventories by 3.7 million barrels last week, surpassing analysts’ expectations of a 1.6-million-barrel draw.

Gasoline stocks also fell by 5.6 million barrels, while distillate stockpiles decreased by 2.8 million barrels, contradicting predictions of a 250,000-barrel increase.

Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group, described the EIA report as “very bullish,” indicating a potential for future crude draws as demand appears to outpace supply.

Despite these positive inventory trends, the market is still wary of global demand weaknesses. Concerns stem from a lackluster summer driving season in the U.S., which is expected to result in lower second-quarter earnings for refiners.

Also, economic challenges in China, the world’s largest crude importer, and declining oil deliveries to India, the third-largest importer, contribute to the apprehension about global demand.

Wildfires in Canada have further complicated the supply landscape, forcing some producers to cut back on production.

Imperial Oil, for instance, has reduced non-essential staff at its Kearl oil sands site as a precautionary measure.

While prices snapped a three-session losing streak due to the inventory draws and supply risks, the market remains under pressure.

Factors such as ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas, and China’s economic slowdown, continue to weigh heavily on traders’ minds.

In recent sessions, WTI had fallen 7%, with Brent down nearly 5%, reflecting the volatility and uncertainty gripping the market.

As the industry navigates these complex dynamics, analysts and investors alike are closely monitoring developments that could further impact oil prices.

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Commodities

Economic Strain Halts Nigeria’s Cocoa Industry: From 15 Factories to 5

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Once a bustling sector, Nigeria’s cocoa processing industry has hit a distressing low with operational factories dwindling from 15 to just five.

The cocoa industry, once a vibrant part of Nigeria’s economy, is now struggling to maintain even a fraction of its previous capacity.

The five remaining factories, operating at a combined utilization of merely 20,000 metric tons annually, now run at only 8% of their installed capacity.

This stark reduction from a robust 250,000 metric tons reflects the sector’s profound troubles.

Felix Oladunjoye, chairman of the Cocoa Processors Association of Nigeria (COPAN), voiced his concerns in a recent briefing, calling for an emergency declaration in the sector.

“The challenges are monumental. We need at least five times the working capital we had last year just to secure essential inputs,” Oladunjoye said.

Rising costs, especially in energy, alongside a cumbersome regulatory environment, have compounded the sector’s woes.

Farmers, who previously sold their cocoa beans to processors, now prefer to sell to merchants who offer higher prices.

This shift has further strained the remaining processors, who struggle to compete and maintain operations under the harsh economic conditions.

Also, multiple layers of taxation and high energy costs have rendered processing increasingly unviable.

Adding to the industry’s plight are new export regulations proposed by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

Oladunjoye criticized these regulations as duplicative and detrimental, predicting they would lead to higher costs and penalties for exporters.

“These regulations will only worsen our situation, leading to more shutdowns and job losses,” he warned.

The cocoa processing sector is not only suffering from internal economic challenges but also from a tough external environment.

Nigerian processors are finding it difficult to compete with their counterparts in Ghana and Ivory Coast, who benefit from lower production costs and more favorable export conditions.

Despite Nigeria’s potential as a top cocoa producer, with a global ranking of the fourth-largest supplier in the 2021/2022 season, the industry is struggling to capitalize on its opportunities.

The decline in processing capacity and the industry’s current state of distress highlight the urgent need for policy interventions and financial support.

The government’s export drive initiatives, aimed at boosting the sector, seem to be falling short. With the industry facing over N500 billion in tied-up investments and debts, the call for a focused rescue plan has never been more urgent.

The cocoa sector remains a significant part of Nigeria’s economy, but without substantial support and reforms, it risks falling further into disrepair.

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