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Britain's Battered Economy Is Sliding Toward a Breaking Point – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — Britain under Prime Minister Boris Johnson is running into the biggest headwinds it’s faced since the 1970s, heaping pain on an economy still reeling from Brexit and the pandemic.

After suffering from unprecedented shocks in recent years, the nation is succumbing to more intractable problems marked by plodding growth, surging inflation and a series of damaging strikes.

The result is a plunge in consumer confidence that analysts warn may lead to a recession. Railway workers walked off the job in anger that their living standards are slipping, and teachers, doctors and barristers may be next.

The malaise is a far cry from the boom and “cool Britannia” reputation that Tony Blair’s government enjoyed through the early part of this century.

The headline figures make grim reading. The economy is on track to shrink in the second quarter, raising the possibility that the UK is already in a recession. Even when the outlook appeared brighter, officials estimated that growth would settle at a below-par 1.8% a year, with no end in sight to the feeble productivity that has blighted the country for over a decade.

While growth is on track to lag most major economies next year, inflation is also on the rise. Consumer prices surged by 9.1% in the year through May, the most for 40 years. 

The Bank of England expects inflation to accelerate again when energy bills are allowed to rise in the autumn, reaching more than 11%. 

It’s a blow for the UK, which led the world in growth after the pandemic, and recalls the dark days of the 1960s and 1970s when commentators and politicians identified Britain as the “sick man of Europe” because of its performance.

Those figures overshadow deeper structural problems hobbling the UK. Chief among them is productivity growth, which slowed to a crawl after the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. Only Italy put in a worse performance.

How much a worker can produce is important because it drives the long-term potential of the economy. Low productivity limits the pace at which output can grow and depresses wage packets. Real wages took years to recover to their 2007 levels after the financial crash.

An hour of work in the UK generates around $60, according to the OECD. The figure is over $70 in the US and about $67 in France and Germany. Economists and policy makers debate the causes of the malaise but say that fixing it is crucial if Britain is to get out of the slow lane.

The gaps in performance within the UK are equally stark, with London consistently outpeforming other regions, in part due to the concentration of financial services in the capital city. Johnson came to to power in 2019 on a pledge to “level up” poorer parts of the country, but there are few signs that the policy is working.

One explanation for the productivity gap is a lack of investment. British companies spend less on things like plant, machinery and technology than those in most other major economies.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak says the tax system is one of the problems and is working on a way to improve allowances companies can claim for making investments. 

Brexit uncertainty also seems to have unsettled executives, with investment flat-lining since the 2016 public vote to leave the European Union. Had they continued to spend as they did before the referendum, investment would be around 60% higher today.

Life outside the EU has also had an impact on trade as importers and exporters contend with higher trade barriers.  Despite a sharp fall in the pound since the vote, there is little evidence to suggest the external sector has benefited from increased competitiveness. 

Analysis by Bloomberg Economics shows the UK lagged behind the trade performance of other big nations before the pandemic, and has failed to fully share in the global trade rebound since then.

What Bloomberg Economics Says:

“It’s been six years since the UK voted to leave the European Union and more than one since it established a new relationship with its main trading partner. From a 16% devaluation of the pound to an eye-watering slide in trade and investment, Brexit’s impact is plain to see. The data have only reinforced our view that life outside of the EU would leave the UK worse off.”

–Ana Luis Andrade, Bloomberg Economics. Click for the INSIGHT. 

The housing market is another constraint. Prices have risen almost without break since 1995, straining affordabilty for first-time buyers. Properties are in short supply in places like London that’s long been the engine driving the national economy. 

The expense and difficulty of moving limit labor mobility, depriving companies and public services of key workers, and leave consumers channeling more wealth into the property market than their peers abroad.

Housing is the most visible drain on consumers, but wages are lagging too. Real wages adjusted for inflation are now falling at the fastest pace in 20 years. In 2019, wages in the UK trailed far behind those in the US and Canada.

Workers are rebelling, with rail unions embroiled in the biggest work stoppage since 1989 and teachers, doctors and barristers are threatening to walk off the job. 

The strife recalls the 1970s, when Harold Wilson’s Labour government put industry on a three-day week because of an energy crisis and strikes by coal miners.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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Euro-Zone Economy Grew Less Than Estimated in Second Quarter – BNN Bloomberg

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(Bloomberg) — Sign up for the New Economy Daily newsletter, follow us @economics and subscribe to our podcast.

The euro-area economy grew slightly less than initially estimated in the second quarter as signs continue to emerge that momentum is unraveling.

Output rose 0.6% from the previous three months between April and June, compared with a preliminary reading of 0.7%, Eurostat said Wednesday. Employment, meanwhile, climbed 0.3% during that period.

While the data still suggest Europe’s economy was on a relatively firm footing coming into the summer, analysts worry that energy shortages will drive record inflation higher still, tipping the continent into a recession. A downturn lasting two quarters is now more likely than not, according to a Bloomberg survey, which puts the probability at 60%.

Inflation is expected to average almost 8% in 2022 — about four times the European Central Bank’s goal. Officials have stressed the importance of reacting forcefully to prevent expectations of higher inflation from becoming entrenched, though some economists question how far interest rates can be lifted if there’s a recession.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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B.C.’s export economy continues to cash in on its Cascadian connections – Business in Vancouver

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It is well known that the United States is British Columbia’s largest export market and number one international commercial partner.

Even if the specific details of export magnitudes are not widely known, most people recognize that being physically adjacent to the world’s largest economy means B.C.’s trade will invariably be tilted to the south. A common language, similar business and legal environments, and previous trade agreements further augment this powerful cross-border trade orientation.

In a typical year, B.C. sends about half of its merchandise exports stateside. In 2021, the share was even higher: 55 per cent. China, a distant second, accounts for 15 to 16 per cent of the province’s international merchandise exports, followed by Japan at around 10 per cent.

Less well known is that the distribution of B.C.’s exports within the U.S. is similarly shaped by geography and the size of the various state economies. In particular, the three West Coast states – Washington, Oregon, and California – collectively absorb 45 to 46 per cent of the province’s U.S.-bound merchandise exports. We estimate that, if services are included, these three states buy more than half of everything the province sells to the giant American market.

When it comes to cross-border trade, geography and size matter – a lot. The I-5 highway, connecting coastal cities from San Diego through California to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, with arteries extending into northern B.C., has long supported economic activity along the west coast of North America. It has also enabled steady trade growth. The built-up networks of railways, pipelines, electricity transmission lines and seaports and airports – and the sharing of a common time zone – all serve to reinforce the pattern and depth of commerce along the west coast.

Underscoring the point that geography matters, last year B.C. exported $9 billion in goods to next-door Washington state, equal to 30 per cent of U.S.-bound merchandise exports. In fact, exports to Washington state match the value of B.C.’s exports to China, the world’s second largest economy.

The size of the individual state economies is also a key factor shaping cross-border trade. California is the largest economy in the U.S., and one of the biggest in the world. So, it’s not surprising that California ranks as B.C.’s second largest individual state export market, taking nearly 12 per cent of our U.S.-bound goods.

Broadening the picture to include services, California stands out even more, given that it boasts world-class advanced technology and film and entertainment industries. California is also important as a source of international visitors to B.C. When service exports are included, our research suggests that California accounts for about one-fifth of the value of British Columbia’s U.S.- bound exports.

California is unique among the province’s trading partners in that service exports exceed merchandise exports in dollar terms. B.C.’s exports of film and television productions have increased sharply and are now close to $2.5 billion annually; the bulk of this involves business done with California. Also, California accounts for a disproportionate share of B.C.’s exports of scientific, technical and professional services and of technology-based services, and the state is also a leading supplier of international tourists to the province. In total, once tourism activity fully resumes, we project that B.C.’s service exports to California will soon exceed $6 billion, almost twice the value of our merchandise exports to the Golden State.  

In sum, international goods exports to B.C.’s three neighbouring coastal states amounted to almost $14 billion in 2021. With some educated guesswork, and assuming tourism fully recovers, service exports to these three states should soon reach $12 billion annually. Thus, the combined value of goods and services sold to California, Oregon and Washington amounts to almost $26 billion, equal to 55 per cent of B.C.’s total goods and services exports to the United States.    

An updated and more complete look at the direction of provincial exports and the role of the three coastal states in B.C.’s global trade underscores the significance of the “Cascadia” region in shaping the province’s economy. When services are counted, this dynamic U.S. region purchases an eye-popping 30 to 33 per cent of B.C.’s international exports.  And these are not stagnant markets; all three states have diverse, growing economies. This means there is scope to further deepen B.C.’s already substantial commercial ties with our West Coast neighbours.

Jock Finlayson is the Business Council of British Columbia’s senior adviser; Ken Peacock is the council’s senior vice-president and chief economist.

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Chipmakers Are Flashing More Warnings on the Global Economy – BNN Bloomberg

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(Bloomberg) — Mounting concern over semiconductor demand is sending shudders through North Asia’s high-tech exporters, which historically serve as a bellwether for the international economy.

South Korean behemoths Samsung Electronics Co. and SK Hynix Inc. have signaled plans to dial back investment outlays, while across the East China Sea, the world’s biggest contract chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. indicated a similar expectation.

Fading tech demand highlights a darkening picture as Russia’s war on Ukraine and rising interest rates damp activity. The following charts look at the chip industry and its implications for the world economy.

In recent weeks, major chip manufacturers Micron Technology Inc. Nvidia Corp., Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. have warned of weaker export orders. 

Gartner Inc. predicts an abrupt end to one of the industry’s biggest boom cycles. The research firm slashed its outlook for revenue growth to just 7.4% in 2022, down from 14% seen three months earlier. Gartner then sees it falling 2.5% in 2023.

Memory chips are among the most vulnerable segments in the $500 billion semiconductor market to global economic performance, and Samsung and SK Hyinx’ sales of dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, a chip that holds bits of data, are central to Korean trade.

Next year, demand for DRAM is likely to rise 8.3%, the weakest bit growth on record, says tech researcher TrendForce Corp., which sees supply climbing 14.1%. Bit growth refers to the amount of memory produced and serves as a key barometer for global market demand.

South Korea’s exports are bolstered when demand outpaces supply in bit growth. But with supply likely to expand at almost twice the pace of demand next year, exports may be headed for a major downturn.

Signs are rising that trade is already starting to deteriorate. Korea’s technology exports slipped in July for the first time in more than two years, with memory chips leading the falls. Semiconductor inventories piled up in June at the fastest pace in more than six years.

Among potential victims will be Samsung, the world’s biggest memory-chip producer and a linchpin of Korea’s trade-reliant economy.

Samsung recorded rapid sales growth when demand was strong relative to supply. As the chip outlook turns gloomy, shares of Samsung have been declining this year, with occasional rebounds on better-than-expected profits.

Samsung and SK Hynix control roughly two thirds of the global memory market, meaning they have the power to narrow the gap between supply and demand. 

Memory is loosely tied to other types of semiconductors, built by firms such as TSMC that produces chips in iPhones, and Nvidia, whose graphics cards are used in everything from games to crypto mining and artificial intelligence. 

The Philadelphia Semiconductor Index, which includes these firms, has ebbed and flowed together with memory demand in recent years.

Korean exports have long correlated with global trade, meaning their decline will add to signs of trouble for a world economy facing headwinds from geopolitical risks to higher borrowing costs.

Micron Technology, the world’s third-largest memory maker, last week issued a warning about deteriorating demand, triggering a selloff in global chip stocks.

Korea’s stock market has been among leading indicators of the country’s trade performance, with investors dumping shares well before exports slump.

“The trend is important for Asia as its economic cycle is very dependent on tech exports,” said Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief economist for Asia Pacific at Natixis SA. “Fewer new orders and the large inventory pile-up mean Asia’s tech sector will see a long destocking cycle and a shrinking profit margin.”

The International Monetary Fund last month downgraded its global growth forecast and said 2023 may be tougher than this year. 

Deutsche Bank AG sees a U.S. recession starting in mid-2023 and Wells Fargo & Co. expects one in early 2023. A Bloomberg Economics model sees a 100% probability of a US recession within the next 24 months.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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