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Charting Global Economy: Soaring Food Costs Risk Destabilization – Financial Post

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Record-high food inflation is tightening its grip on the global economy, most critically in developing nations where financial distress is contributing to increased political instability.

The costs of staples such as wheat and cooking oils continue to accelerate as Russia’s war in Ukraine, a key exporter of commodities, upends trade and fuels concern about shortages. High energy prices are also adding to inflationary pressures. 

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In Sri Lanka, consumer prices accelerated to about 19% — the highest in Asia — and could keep climbing to 25%, according to the central bank, which just increased interest rates by an unprecedented seven percentage points. The soaring costs have sparked street protests calling for the president’s ouster.

An emergency meeting by Pakistan’s central bankers resulted in the biggest rate hike since 1996 as more political chaos and higher oil prices risk developing into a full-blown economic crisis. 

Here are some of the charts that appeared on Bloomberg this week on the latest developments in the global economy:

World

Global food prices are surging at the fastest pace ever as Russia’s war in Ukraine chokes crop supplies, piling more inflationary pain on consumers and worsening a global hunger crisis. The war has wreaked havoc on supply chains in the crucial Black Sea breadbasket region, upending global trade flows and fueling panic about shortages of key staples such as wheat and cooking oils.

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Across Ukraine’s farm belt, silos are bursting with 15 million tons of corn from the autumn harvest, most of which should have been hitting world markets. The stockpiles — about half the corn Ukraine had been expected to export for the season — have become increasingly difficult to get to buyers, providing a glimpse into the war has wrought in the approximately $120 billion global grains trade.

Emerging Markets

Pakistan’s central bank raised interest rates by 250 basis points following an emergency meeting, as escalating political chaos at home and higher global oil prices threaten to spill over into a full-blown economic crisis. The key rate now stands at 12.25%. Central banks in Peru, Uruguay, Romania, Poland and Serbia also tightened policy.

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Sri Lanka’s central bank also raised borrowing costs — by an unprecedented 700 basis points amid economic and political turmoil that has sparked street protests and left President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with a minority in parliament.

Turkish inflation soared to a fresh two-decade high in March, leaving the lira increasingly vulnerable by depriving the currency of a buffer against market selloffs. Turkey’s ultra-loose monetary policy is out of sync with the rising hawkishness of many of the world’s central banks at a time its economy is bracing for commodity shocks unleashed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Europe

European natural gas prices gained after five days of declines on concerns that Russian flows through key transit country Ukraine may be disrupted. Russian military operations are putting the stability of flows to Europe at risk, Gas Transmission System Operator of Ukraine said.

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German factory orders fell for the first time in four months in the runup to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, underscoring concerns over slower growth in Europe’s largest economy. Expectations for Germany’s economic recovery have been slashed after the war in Ukraine sent energy prices higher.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated his opposition to reversing Germany’s exit from nuclear power to help cut reliance on Russian energy, saying the technical challenges would be too great. Germany is rushing to end its heavy dependence on Russian fossil fuels but the process has been complicated by the decision by former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s previous government to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants. 

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U.S.

The U.S. trade deficit held close to a record in February as the merchandise shortfall shrank and the surplus in services declined, partly reflecting the impact of broadcast rights for the Olympics. Services imports increased to a record $51.6 billion, with about half of the rise coming from the biggest monthly increase in charges for use of intellectual property since 2016.

Spot rates for shipping goods in containers to the U.S. from Asia fell for a sixth straight week, the longest skid of the pandemic, as Covid-19 lockdowns disrupt trucking, warehouses and port operations in China. The market for ocean freight is softening partly because that’s what it typically does after Chinese Lunar New Year. There’s also growing uncertainty about U.S. consumer demand for goods given the broader acceleration in inflation and a shift back to services.

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Asia

Containers full of frozen food and chemicals are piling up at China’s biggest port in Shanghai as the lock down of the city and virus testing means truckers can’t get to the docks to pick up boxes. Shanghai is now the epicenter of China’s worst Covid outbreak in two years, with almost 20,000 new cases reported just on Wednesday. 

Japan’s household spending dropped in February for a second straight month amid virus restrictions, adding to evidence that the economy contracted last quarter as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government mulls support measures. Outlays fell 2.8% from January, led by drops in spending on transport, communications and housing.

Japanese households’ inflation expectations climbed to the highest level in more than 13 years as rising energy costs impacted sentiment, even as overall price gains remain well below the Bank of Japan’s target.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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Biden's Burdens Grow: Sagging Global Economy Adds to US Woes – U.S. News & World Report

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Biden’s Burdens Grow: Sagging Global Economy Adds to US Woes  U.S. News & World Report



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How the housing slowdown could hobble Canada's economy – The Globe and Mail

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Home sales fell nationwide by 12.6 per cent in April from March, with even steeper pullbacks seen in Toronto and Vancouver markets.Richard Buchan/The Canadian Press

The housing downturn that’s taking root across Canada will act as a headwind to economic growth this year, following a period in which real estate powered the economic recovery from COVID-19, but was also characterized by fervent speculation and worsening affordability amid ultralow interest rates.

Nationwide home sales fell 12.6 per cent in April from March, with even steeper pullbacks seen in the frothy markets of Toronto and Vancouver. The national home price index, which adjusts for volatility, fell just 0.6 per cent last month, although price drops were larger in some parts of Southern Ontario.

Rising interest rates have put a quick chill on a feverish rally. Given that more rate hikes are on the way, many economists say Canada could be in the early stages of a protracted housing slump, albeit one welcomed by would-be buyers who got priced out.

For an economy that increasingly relies on housing, the downturn will likely weigh on economic growth in the near future – not only through direct channels, such as reduced real estate commissions, but in indirect ways, such as weaker spending from households that gorged on mortgages and now face higher debt-servicing costs.

The pandemic housing boom is winding down. Economists forecast a 10-20% price correction

Toronto housing market ‘suddenly getting into buyers market terrain’: BMO chief economist

“Unfortunately for Canada, we’re in a pretty perilous situation now where our housing activity measures are extremely stretched. … The pandemic basically put what was already stretched on steroids,” said David Doyle, head of economics at Macquarie Group.

As home sales drop and interest rates head higher, “that does create significant downside risks for Canada’s economy,” he added.

Already the largest industry in Canada, real estate became an even bigger chunk of the economy during the pandemic, largely due to record-low mortgage rates that encouraged rabid buying.

Residential investment, as a share of nominal gross domestic product, soared to about 10 per cent at peak times over the past two years, amounting to more than $240-billion in 2021. That’s up from about 7 per cent of GDP before the pandemic – or double the equivalent rate in the United States. For housing bears, it’s a sign that Canadians have become far too infatuated with real estate, and that the country’s economic fortunes are too tied up with those of the sector.

Total residential investment is comprised of three items: new construction, renovations and ownership transfer costs, which include fees to realtors, land transfer taxes and other transaction costs.

This final aspect of investment is most directly exposed to a slump. Mr. Doyle said the April sales drop, if followed by flatter activity in May and June, could curb GDP growth in the second quarter by as much as 1.5 percentage points, on an annualized basis. If sales continue to drop, the drag would be larger.

And that’s before accounting for the potential knock-on effects of weaker home-buying activity, such as fewer renovations and purchases of household appliances.

In its latest forecast, the Bank of Canada estimated the economy would grow by 6 per cent in the second quarter on an annualized basis. “That feels like a stretch to me,” Mr. Doyle said.

Home construction is an aspect of GDP that could hold up well. The federal government wants to double the pace of home building over the next decade, and other levels of government say they also want to add supply. However, Bank of Montreal senior economist Robert Kavcic doubts construction can get much bigger. He pointed to already strong housing starts and a shortage of available workers.

“Physically, there’s no way we can actually double the rate of home construction from what is already the maximum amount of home construction that we can do in this country,” he said.

That said, Mr. Kavcic doesn’t see residential investment, as a percentage of the economy, heading back to the tepid levels of the 1990s. The fundamentals for housing demand are still strong, he said, in part because Canada is targeting a record intake of permanent residents in the coming years.

“I think the issue here is that through 2021, monetary policy was just too easy for too long,” he said. “So, the asset price just ran ahead of what was fundamentally justified.”

The Bank of Canada has raised its policy rate twice this year, taking it to 1 per cent from a pandemic low of 0.25 per cent. Bank officials have said they intend to raise the benchmark rate into a “neutral” range – which neither stimulates the economy nor inhibits it – of 2 per cent to 3 per cent in fairly short order.

The central bank has warned the Canadian economy is likely more sensitive to rising borrowing costs than it used to be. After taking on loads of new mortgage debt over the past two years, the average household now owes a record $1.86 for every dollar of disposable income. During the pandemic, investors have plowed into the housing market, and a growing share of borrowers have steep loan-to-income ratios.

Ultimately, the concern is that debt-addled households will be forced to tighten their belts and drastically reduce their spending.

“Rising interest rates are designed to slow the economy by making borrowing more expensive. That tends to slow sectors like housing,” said Toni Gravelle, a deputy governor at the Bank of Canada, in a speech last week.

“But this slowing might be amplified this time around because highly indebted households will face high debt-servicing costs and will likely reduce household spending more than they would have otherwise. Our base-case scenario includes a slowdown in housing activity. But we could see a larger-than-expected slowdown due to higher indebtedness and unsustainably high housing prices.”

How those financially stretched households react to higher interest rates could force the Bank of Canada to “pause” its rate-hike cycle, Mr. Gravelle noted.

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China calls for urgent boost to virus-hit economy – FRANCE 24 English

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Issued on: 18/05/2022 – 15:36Modified: 18/05/2022 – 15:35

Beijing (AFP) – China’s premier called for greater “urgency” in rolling out measures to support the virus-battered economy, state media reported Wednesday, days after data highlighted the stark impact of Covid-19 restrictions.

China — the last major global economy sticking to a rigid zero-Covid policy — is battling an economic slump due to prolonged virus lockdowns that have constricted supply chains, quelled demand and stalled manufacturing.

“All localities and departments should step up their sense of urgency, and new measures that can be used should be used,” Li Keqiang said at a symposium on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

He added that efforts to support the economy should bring it “back to normal quickly” after admitting that indicators have “weakened significantly” since March, with a particular dip in April.

On Monday, data showed retail sales and factory output last month had slumped the most since the start of the pandemic, while unemployment edged back toward its February 2020 peak.

Beijing’s unrelenting approach to Covid-19 outbreaks has snarled supply chains and locked down tens of millions of people, hitting major financial, industrial and tourist hubs.

The country’s borders also remain closed to most foreign travellers and a slew of international sports events have been scrapped over pandemic concerns.

China has targeted full-year growth of around 5.5 percent, but data published in April showed that first-quarter growth slowed to 4.8 percent after the world’s second-biggest economy lost steam in the latter half of last year.

And the economic targets have a political dimension for Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who is eyeing another term in power.

Xi has pinned his legacy to China’s strong economic growth and winning the “battle” against Covid.

But the current outbreak is the country’s worst since the virus emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, and the economy is beginning to weaken.

Tech support

Li also called Wednesday for backing Chinese tech companies’ bids to list domestically and abroad, a day after Communist Party leaders doubled down on support for the tech sector in a rare meeting with executives.

China’s economic slowdown appears to have motivated a softer approach toward the vast, money-spinning tech sector, after an 18-month clampdown driven by fears massive internet companies control too much data and expanded too quickly.

Vice Premier Liu He and other Communist leaders addressed executives, including Robin Li of Baidu — universally used for its search engine and mapping service — and Zhou Hongyi of internet security firm Qihoo 360, state media reported late Tuesday.

Liu offered support for “the sustainable and healthy development of the platform economy and the private economy,” CCTV said.

During the tech crackdown, overseas IPOs from Alibaba’s Ant Group and Didi Chuxing — China’s Uber — were spiked, while millions of dollars of fines over anti-trust and data breaches were ladled out to tech giants.

Chinese tech shares surged late April after officials pledged support for internet firms at a Politburo meeting.

Tech giants including Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu were marginally lower Wednesday morning, with e-commerce behemoth JD slumping over 4 percent after it recorded a 3 billion yuan ($444 million) loss in first-quarter earnings.

On Wednesday, Tencent reported record-low quarterly revenue growth at nearly zero, reaching the slowest pace since the company went public in 2004.

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