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Canadian inflation hits 30-year high as Omicron threat looms – The Globe and Mail

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A man shops at Iqbal Halal grocery store, in Toronto, May 7.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Canadian inflation hit a three-decade high in November as the economy now deals with rapidly increasing infections tied to the Omicron variant of COVID-19, threatening to exacerbate supply disruptions that have pushed up prices and become a top concern for households.

The consumer price index (CPI) rose 4.7 per cent in November from a year earlier, matching October’s rate, which was the highest in 18 years, Statistics Canada said Wednesday. However, at the second decimal place, inflation of 4.72 per cent was the highest since September, 1991.

The result met expectations on Bay Street. Excluding gasoline, inflation held steady at 3.6 per cent. Prices rose in all eight major components of CPI, paced by transportation costs. Inflation has exceeded the Bank of Canada’s target range of 1 to 3 per cent since April.

Canada’s inflation explained: How the surge affects you and what you can do about changing prices

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation is perhaps the hottest topic of discussion – and debate – in the field of economics. The U.S. and Europe are similarly dealing with their loftiest price increases in decades, piling pressure on policy-makers to respond.

The Bank of Canada has long maintained that steeper inflation is largely driven by temporary factors related to COVID-19, such as supply-chain issues. However, bank officials have acknowledged that supply woes are dragging on longer than expected. Now, the Omicron variant – which has already led to travel restrictions – poses another threat to supply chains.

“Worries about Omicron have contributed to lower oil prices, but beyond that the restrictions on mobility necessary to fight the rapidly-spreading variant will do little to help on the inflation front and may exacerbate price pressures in some areas,” James Marple, senior economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, wrote in a note to clients.

“Supply chain disruptions are likely to be prolonged. Demand may take a hit, but with people staying home, it will be redirected toward goods, keeping upward pressure on already-elevated prices.”

Wednesday’s report showed price pressures on a number of fronts. Notably, inflation has accelerated for groceries, reaching 4.7 per cent in November (from October’s 3.9 per cent). It was the largest annual increase since the outset of 2015. Prices for fresh or frozen beef rose 15.4 per cent, owing to drought conditions that made it more expensive to feed livestock.

Statscan on Wednesday noted that inflation is running higher than average wage growth, which means the purchasing power of Canadians has diminished.

As inflation persists, the messaging at central banks has shifted.

The Bank of Canada dropped a reference to inflationary pressures being temporary in last week’s rate decision, which kept its benchmark lending rate at 0.25 per cent. Similarly, U.S. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell recently said it was time to retire “transitory” as a description of high inflation, because it has “different meanings to different people.”

Regardless, the Bank of Canada still expects inflation to ease in 2022, ebbing to around 2 per cent by the end of the year. It has signalled rate hikes could start as early as April.

Bank officials have said they’re watching for signs that lofty inflation becomes entrenched.

“If supply disruptions and related cost pressures persist for longer than expected and strong goods demand continues, this would increase the likelihood of inflation remaining above our control range,” deputy governor Toni Gravelle explained in a speech last week.

“This could feed into inflation expectations and contribute to wage pressures, leading to a second round of price increases,” he added.

Mr. Gravelle was alluding to a wage-price spiral. In that scenario, workers demand higher wages to counteract price increases. Faced with higher labour costs, companies raise prices to protect their margins. Then, workers push for higher wages again, creating a vicious cycle.

Despite those concerns, bank officials say inflation expectations aren’t troubling over the mid- to long-term, based on surveys of businesses and consumers.

There are, however, signs of pressure in the short term. Small businesses plan to raise prices by an average of 4.3 per cent over the next year, the highest in more than a decade of records, according to survey results from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Nearly one-third of companies are planning to hike prices by 6 per cent or more.

Canada’s inflation rate hit 4.4 per cent in September. Personal finance columnist Rob Carrick answers questions about some of the factors driving inflation and how people can reduce its impact on their household budget.

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China cuts rates on policy loans for first time since April 2020 – CNBC

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A woman walks past the headquarters of the People’s Bank of China in Beijing, China.
Jason Lee | Reuters

China’s central bank on Monday cut the borrowing costs of its medium-term loans for the first time since April 2020, defying market expectations, to cushion any economic slowdown.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said it was lowering the interest rate on 700 billion yuan ($110.19 billion) worth of one-year medium-term lending facility (MLF) loans to some financial institutions by 10 basis points to 2.85% from 2.95% in previous operations.

Thirty-four out of the 48 traders and analysts, or 70% of all participants, polled by Reuters last week predicted no change to the MLF rates, although a rising number of market participants start to forecast a rate cut.

With 500 billion yuan worth of MLF loans maturing on Monday, the operation resulted a net 200 billion yuan of fresh fund injections into the banking system.

The central bank also lowered the borrowing costs of seven-day reverse repurchase agreements, or repos, by the same margin to 2.10% from 2.20%, when it offered another 100 billion yuan worth of reverse repos into the banking system on the day, compared with 10 billion worth of such short-term liquidity tool due on Monday.

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Credit Suisse chairman resigns after company probe – BBC News

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Antonio Horta-Osorio, former chairman of Credit Suisse.

Reuters

The chairman of global banking giant Credit Suisse, Antonio Horta-Osorio, has resigned with immediate effect after an internal company probe.

He was reportedly found to have broken the UK’s Covid-19 quarantine rules.

The former boss of Lloyds Banking Group joined Credit Suisse after a series of scandals at the Swiss bank.

Now, Mr Horta-Osorio, who was the chairman of Credit Suisse for less than a year, has been replaced by board member Axel Lehmann.

“I regret that a number of my personal actions have led to difficulties for the bank and compromised my ability to represent the bank internally and externally,” Horta-Osorio said in a statement issued by the bank.

“I therefore believe that my resignation is in the interest of the bank and its stakeholders at this crucial time,” he added.

Last month, it was reported by the Reuters news agency that a preliminary investigation by Credit Suisse had found that Mr Horta-Osorio had breached Covid-19 rules.

He reportedly attended the Wimbledon tennis finals in July at a time when the UK’s Covid-19 rules required him to be in quarantine.

Speaking to the BBC, a spokesperson for Credit Suisse said that the bank would give no further details on Mr Horta-Osorio’s resignation other than those in its statement.

They also said that there were no plans to release the findings of the investigation.

Before joining Credit Suisse Mr Horta-Osorio was chief executive of British lender Lloyds Banking Group.

He was brought in to lead Switzerland’s second-largest bank to help clean up a corporate culture marred by its involvement with collapsed investment company Archegos and insolvent supply chain finance firm Greensill Capital.

In February 2020, then-Credit Suisse chief executive Tidjane Thiam resigned after a scandal revealed the bank had spied on senior employees.

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UK government to cut funding for BBC – Mail on Sunday report

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Britain’s government will cut the BBC’s funding by ordering a two-year freeze on the fee that people pay to watch the broadcaster, the Mail on Sunday reported.

The future of the licence-payer funded British Broadcasting Corporation is a perpetual topic of political debate, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government most recently suggesting its funding needs to be reformed.

Set against an inflation rate expected to reach a 30-year high of 6% or more in April, freezing the licence cost at its current 159 pounds ($217.40) would provide some relief to consumers battling sharply rising costs of living.

But it would also be a large blow to the BBC’s finances as it tries to compete with privately funded news outlets and the likes of Netflix and other entertainment streaming services funded by consumer subscriptions.

In November, the government launched negotiations to agree how much the TV licence would cost, part of a five year funding settlement due to begin in April 2022.

The Digital, Media, Culture and Sport department declined to comment when asked about the Mail on Sunday report.

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries said that the licence fee settlement would be the last such agreement and tweeted a link to the Mail on Sunday article.

“Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content,” she said on Twitter.

The BBC declined to comment on Dorries’ tweet or the Mail on Sunday report.

The opposition Labour Party said the funding cut was politically motivated.

“The Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary seem hell-bent on attacking this great British institution because they don’t like its journalism,” said Lucy Powell, Labour lawmaker and culture policy chief.

The BBC’s news output is regularly criticised by UK political parties. Its coverage of Brexit issues – central to Johnson’s government – has long been seen as overly critical by supporters of leaving the European Union.

Last week, one Conservative lawmaker said BBC coverage relating to parties in Johnson’s Downing Street residence during coronavirus lockdowns amounted to a “coup attempt” against the prime minister.

($1 = 0.7314 pounds)

 

(Reporting by William James. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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