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Coronavirus Hits Hong Kong as Economy Reels From Protests – The Wall Street Journal

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Residents in Hong Kong protest over plans for an empty housing estate to become a temporary quarantine camp for frontline medical staff and patients with coronavirus.


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philip fong/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

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Hong Kong banned visitors from the Chinese province at the center of a new virus epidemic as echoes of SARS send panic through the community, threatening more misery for an economy already in recession after months of protests battered tourism and retail sales.

Many people in the city donned masks as local authorities confirmed at least eight cases of infection by the deadly pathogen from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicenter. Disneyland shuttered, Lunar New Year festivities were scrapped and schools will remain closed until Feb. 17.

As fear of the coronavirus spreading rises, consumer spending is set to be a casualty as people stay away from restaurants, malls and crowded places. A similar strain known as SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, engulfed Hong Kong from the mainland in 2003, killing nearly 300 people in the city and sending its economy into a three-month tailspin.

Hong Kong was among the worst hit by SARS, with sales in restaurants and retail outlets dropping by some 50% according to a University of Hong Kong report, before bouncing back quickly. As stock markets swooned and people pared travel plans recently, Hong Kong is bracing for a more severe replay of such economic turbulence.

This time, Hong Kong is already in recession. Seven months of street protests, slower Chinese economic growth—a key engine of Hong Kong’s economy—and U.S.-China trade tensions combined to shrink gross domestic product by 2.9% in the third quarter, the territory’s first year-over-year contraction since the global financial crisis in 2009.

The losses from tourist spending, as virus-hit China locked down many cities ahead of the Lunar New Year, are just the top of a fresh set of economic worries for Hong Kong. Professional unions have threatened strikes to protest the government’s handling of the crisis, amid fear among the public of a looming crush of mainland visitors seeking medical resources.

Police on Sunday used tear gas to break up protesters who had blocked roads and built barricades outside a housing estate that the government wanted to turn into a quarantine camp for infected people. Officials later halted the plan.

Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, where attendance in recent months has already been battered by protests, said it would shut from Sunday until it could work out with health authorities when to reopen. The city’s official Lunar New Year celebrations have been scrapped.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd.,

Hong Kong’s flagship carrier, has suspended flights to and from Wuhan through the end of February and offered refunds on all mainland China routes as virus cases crop up around the country. “We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to coordinate with the health authorities,” it said in a statement.

Tour operators including industry major Hong Thai Travel Services Ltd. canceled all group tours to mainland China for at least the rest of January. Hong Kong’s Travel Industry Council said Friday that about 2,600 group tours to the mainland through mid-February had been canceled. Hong Kong’s high-speed rail operator has indefinitely suspended trains to and from Wuhan.

Compounding these pressures, a federation of medical staff unions along with other professional trade unions have threatened strikes if the government doesn’t escalate efforts to contain the disease, including turning back all visitors from mainland China. The government since Monday barred entry to visitors from Hubei, China’s most virus-affected province.

Neighboring Macau also began a similar ban Monday, posting its sixth confirmed infection as its casino-focused economy too faces pressure from a drought of mainland holidaymakers.

Also Monday, the dean of the University of Hong Kong’s medical school, Gabriel Leung, estimated some 44,000 people in Wuhan alone could be infected—far higher than the official mainland tally—and urged “draconian measures” to check the outbreak. He said cases, if unhindered, would likely double every six days. China health officials didn’t immediately respond.

The Hong Kong government has also expanded visitor health declaration requirements, and are looking for more remote sites for quarantine camps. Of nearly 400 suspected cases of infection in Hong Kong, nearly half have been hospitalized.

Chinese authorities are urging the public to remain calm as they try to contain a mysterious, fast-spreading coronavirus that has killed dozens of people and infected thousands. However, millions have already left Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak. Photo: Associated Press

Chinese health authorities have confirmed dozens of infections in Shenzhen, the megacity north of Hong Kong, and hundreds more suspected in nearby cities. The as-yet-unnamed coronavirus has killed at least 80 people on the mainland and infected almost 3,000 by official tallies. The outbreak has also reached the U.S. and Europe, and spread across Asia.

Hong Kong’s economy is heavily dependent on individual and household spending, and has become more so since the SARS era. Private consumption last year accounted for 65% of the territory’s economic output, up from 58% in 2002, official data show.

The high level of dependence on private consumption amplifies any hit to the tourism, hotel, and related industries. Tourism contributes about 5% of gross domestic product—mostly from inbound visitors—and employs more than 250,000 people. Officials deem the sector one of “four pillars” of Hong Kong’s economy, alongside financial services, logistics, and professional services.

SARS arrived in Hong Kong in early 2003 as the city grappled with a housing market slump and the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis. The outbreak lasted some three months and Hong Kong rode a broad-based recovery in the second half of 2003, posting 3.1% growth that year.

The new coronavirus is flourishing amid grimmer economic conditions. Even before the outbreak, tourist arrivals in November had fallen 56% year-over-year, nearing the 60% declines in April and May 2003 during SARS. Arrivals last year fell 14% from 2018, driven by a decline that sharply accelerated after June, official data show.

Commuters wear face masks in Hong Kong’s subway Sunday.


Photo:

jerome favre/Shutterstock/european pressphoto agency

Private spending fell 4.8% in the third quarter, the latest available data—a sharp reversal from 3.3% growth in the April-to-June period, the government said.

Visitors from mainland China account for most of Hong Kong’s tourists, reaching 84% of total arrivals at its peak in February 2015. The measure fell to 72% in November, its lowest since March 2017.

Hotel occupancy rates in November were 66%, compared with 95% a year earlier, official data show. Restaurants are struggling to attract diners, with some putting staff on leave.

“As the SARS outbreak infected more than 8,000 people and killed over 700 people across Asia in 2002 and 2003, there is now greater awareness of how contagious diseases can have a crippling effect on businesses,” said

Patrick Zeng,

Hong Kong and Greater China chief executive for the global insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty.

Write to Chuin-Wei Yap at chuin-wei.yap@wsj.com and Joyu Wang at joyu.wang@wsj.com

Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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Surprise Growth Makes South Africa’s Economy Bigger Than Before Pandemic Struck – BNN Bloomberg

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(Bloomberg) — South Africa’s economy is bigger than before the coronavirus pandemic struck, after growing faster-than-expected in the third quarter on increased farm output.

Gross domestic product expanded 1.6% in the three months through September, compared with a contraction of 0.7% in the previous quarter, Statistics South Africa said Tuesday in a report released in the capital, Pretoria. The median of 12 economists’ estimates in a Bloomberg survey was for growth of 0.4%. The economy grew 4.1% from a year earlier.

Full-year growth may also surprise on the upside. The central bank forecasts an expansion of 1.8% and the National Treasury 1.9%. For the nine months through September, an early indicator of where full-year growth may land, GDP grew by 2.3% from last year.

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The 2.3% expansion in the first three quarters is a “reasonable indicator” of the annual number, said Joe de Beer, deputy director-general of economic statistics at the agency. “I can’t see it differing by more than” half a percentage point “from just a mathematics point of view,” he said.

“After taking into account the firmer-than-expected third-quarter figure, we expect growth to average closer to 2.5% in 2022, before slowing to just above 1% next year,” said Sanisha Packirisamy, an economist at Momentum Investments.

At an annualized 4.6 trillion rand ($265 billion) in the third quarter, GDP is about 53 billion rand bigger than the fourth quarter of 2019, before the pandemic struck. A contraction in the prior three months had reversed gains made in the first quarter that made it bigger.

The quarterly expansion comes even after Africa’s most-industrialized economy experienced record power cuts because state electricity utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. couldn’t keep pace with demand from its old and poorly maintained plants. Industries behind the better-than-expected growth were agriculture and transport, which grew 19.2% and 3.7% quarter-on-quarter respectively.

Strong exports of mineral, vegetable and paper products also contributed.

Still, South Africa’s economy remains stuck in its longest downward phase since World War II and hasn’t grown by more than 5% annually in 15 years. The government’s National Development Plan, a 2012 economic blueprint co-authored by President Cyril Ramaphosa, says that level of expansion is needed for sustainable job creation in a nation where almost a third of the workforce is unemployed.

Slow structural reforms, political uncertainty and high levels of crime continue to weigh on fixed-investment spending in South Africa, with private companies wary of committing large sums of money to domestic projects. Gross fixed capital formation climbed 0.3% from the previous quarter.

Household spending, which comprises about two-thirds of GDP, declined 0.3% in the third quarter. It’s likely to come under further strain from high inflation and interest rates that are at a level last seen more than five years ago.

Weak growth is forecast for the final quarter because of continued rolling blackouts and a strike over wages that took place at Transnet SOC Ltd., South Africa’s state-owned logistics company that operates most of the harbors in the nation, in October. The central bank forecasts expansion of 0.1% this quarter.

Lackluster economic growth and mounting price pressures pose a threat to social stability in one of the world’s most unequal societies and may stymie efforts to reduce fiscal deficits and debt.

–With assistance from Simbarashe Gumbo and Rene Vollgraaff.

(Updates with economist comment in paragraph five. An earlier version corrected household spending figure in paragraph 11)

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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World Economy Heads for One of Its Worst Years in Three Decades – BNN Bloomberg

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(Bloomberg) — The world economy is facing one of its worst years in the three decades as the energy shocks unleashed by the war in Ukraine continue to reverberate, according to Bloomberg Economics.

In a new analysis, economist Scott Johnson forecasts growth of just 2.4% in 2023. That’s down from an estimated 3.2% this year and the lowest — excluding the crisis years of 2009 and 2020 — since 1993.

However, the headline figure is likely to mask diverging fortunes, with the euro area starting 2023 in recession and the US ending the year in one. By contrast, China is projected to expand more than 5%, boosted by a faster-than-expected end to its zero-tolerance Covid strategy and support for its crisis-hit property market.  

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Differences will also be on display when it comes to monetary policy after a year in which central banks “dashed toward restrictive territory in a pack,” Johnson wrote.

“In the US, with wage gains set to keep inflation above target, we think the Fed is headed toward a terminal rate of 5%, and will stay there till 1Q24. In the euro area, meanwhile, a more rapid decline in inflation will mean a lower terminal rate and the possibility of cuts at the end of 2023.”

In China, where authorities are torn between a desire to support the recovery and concern about the weakness of the currency, “limited” rate cuts are on the cards.

Read more: Global Growth Set to Slow From 3.2% in 2022 to 2.4% in 2023

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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Securing good jobs, clean air, and a strong economy – Prime Minister of Canada

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Autoworkers have been a keystone of the Canadian economy for generations. By investing in the future of the auto industry, we are not only securing good middle-class jobs, we are fighting climate change, and building an economy that works for generations to come. 

Since January alone, Canada has secured several historic manufacturing deals for electric vehicles (EVs), hybrids, and batteries – deals that will create and secure thousands of good, middle-class jobs and provide the world with clean vehicles. Today, we are seeing the results of one of those deals start to roll off the line.

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was joined today by Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, to open Canada’s first full-scale EV manufacturing plant, General Motors of Canada Company’s (GM) CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ontario. Starting today and going forward, the plant will build fully electric delivery vans – the BrightDrop Zevo 600 – which will help cut pollution and keep our communities healthy for our children and grandchildren.

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Thanks in part to a $259 million investment from the Government of Canada, GM’s CAMI assembly plant was able to retool its operations to build these electric vans. By 2025, the plant plans to manufacture 50,000 EVs per year. This investment has helped secure thousands of well-paying, high-quality jobs across GM facilities, and is helping advance the electrification of Canada’s automotive sector.

The Government of Canada will continue to work to attract investment from companies around the world as we build our EV supply chain – from mining critical minerals to manufacturing batteries, and vehicles. By taking action today, we are positioning Canada as a global leader in EVs, fighting climate change, securing good jobs, and building an economy that works for all Canadians – now and into the future.

Quotes

“When we invested in GM’s project to build Canada’s first full-scale electric vehicle manufacturing plant in Ingersoll, we knew it would deliver results. Today, as the first BrightDrop van rolls off the line, that’s exactly what we’re seeing. This plant has secured good jobs for workers, it is positioning Canada as a leader on EVs, and will help cut pollution. Good jobs, clean air, and a strong economy – together, that’s the future we can build.”

The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

“Today is proof that our historic investments in EV manufacturing are paying off. With the first BrightDrop vans coming off the assembly line, we’re seeing the skill of Canadian workers making a huge difference as the world moves to EVs. Our government, in partnership with GM, is cementing Canada’s leadership in the EV supply chain.”

The Hon. François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

“This milestone represents GM at our best – fast, flexible and first in the industry. The BrightDrop Zevo is a prime example of GM’s flexible Ultium EV architecture, which is allowing us to quickly launch a full range of electric vehicles for our customers. And, as of today, I am proud to call the CAMI EV Assembly team the first full-scale all-electric manufacturing team in Canada.”

Mark Reuss, President, General Motors

“This is a very exciting moment – a revolution in the way we transport people and goods. Today marks a huge day for BrightDrop, as we expand our footprint and begin producing the Zevo electric vans at scale, and a huge milestone for Canada on the road to a brighter future. Opening the CAMI plant is a major step in providing EVs at scale and delivering real results to the world’s biggest brands, like DHL Express, who will be our first Canadian customer.”

Travis Katz, President and CEO, BrightDrop

Quick Facts

  • The Government of Canada’s $259 million investment supports GM’s more than $2 billion project to reignite production at its Oshawa assembly plant, after operations stopped in 2019, and transform its CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll.
  • The investment is being made through both the Strategic Innovation Fund and its Net Zero Accelerator Initiative.
  • The Government of Ontario made a matching contribution of up to $259 million toward the project.
  • Founded in 1918, General Motors of Canada Company (GM) is one of the largest automotive manufacturers worldwide. It is headquartered in Oshawa, Ontario, and is one of Canada’s largest automotive manufacturers.
  • GM is planning to introduce 30 new electric vehicles by 2025, eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035, and become carbon neutral in its global products and operations by 2040.
  • The automotive sector contributes $16 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product and is one of the country’s largest export industries.
  • The automotive sector supports the employment of nearly 500,000 Canadians.
  • The 2030 Emissions Reductions Plan, released in March, puts Canada on track to achieving our goal of cutting emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 while continuing to build a strong economy.
  • To make zero-emission vehicles more affordable and accessible, the Government of Canada offers incentives of up to $5,000 off the purchase or lease of a light-duty zero-emission vehicle through the Incentives for Zero-Emission Vehicles (iZEV) Program. Since May 2019, close to 176,000 Canadians have taken advantage of this program.
  • Since 2015, the Government of Canada has invested $400 million in building approximately 35,000 zero-emission vehicle charging stations across the country.

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