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Fed on track to slow aid for economy later this year – Investment Executive

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The Fed has been buying US$120 billion a month in mortgage and Treasury bonds to try to hold down longer-term loan rates to spur borrowing and spending. Powell’s comments indicate the Fed will likely announce a reduction — or a “tapering” — of those purchases sometime in the final three months of this year.

Powell stressed that the Fed’s tapering of its bond purchases does not signal that it plans soon to start raising its benchmark short-term rate, which it’s kept near zero since the pandemic tore through the economy in March 2020. Rate hikes won’t likely begin until the Fed has finished winding down its bond purchases, which might not occur until mid-2022. Powell said the Fed would need to see much further economic improvement before it would begin raising its key rate, which influences many consumer and business loans.

In his remarks, Powell further underscored his view that much of the current spike in inflation is temporary. He warned that history shows that raising rates too soon, in response to temporary price increases, can weaken hiring and hurt the unemployed.

Such comments bolstered the notion that the Fed is still a long way off from raising its benchmark short-term rate.

“If anything this was a calming speech,” said Brian Bethune, an economist at Boston College. “There’s nothing here in the short run that will stampede interest rates higher.”

Over time, the end of the Fed’s bond-buying could put upward pressure on borrowing costs for mortgages, credit cards, and business loans. As Powell spoke Friday, though, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which closely influences the 30-year mortgage rate, declined to 1.32% from 1.34% Thursday.

Stock investors, too, appeared to welcome Powell’s message of a gradual withdrawal of the Fed’s economic support and his view that surging inflation pressures will likely prove temporary. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose a sharp 250 points, or 0.7%, a few hours after the Fed chair spoke.

“Markets appreciate that there is a different test for raising rates than there is for tapering, and any communications on tapering don’t have any direct effect on raising rates,” said Steve Friedman, an economist at asset manager MacKay Shields and a former senior staffer at the New York Fed.

That marks a sharp contrast with 2013, when Ben Bernanke, then the Fed chair, triggered what came to be known as the “taper tantrum” by unexpectedly suggesting that the Fed would soon reduce its bond purchases — a remark that sent longer-term rates spiking. The jump in rates occurred partly because investors thought the beginning of a taper meant that rate hikes were close behind, which turned out not to be true.

On Friday, Powell said inflation has risen enough to meet the test of “substantial further progress” toward the Fed’s goal of 2% annual inflation over time, which was necessary to begin tapering. There has also been “clear progress,” he said, toward the Fed’s goal of maximum employment. He spoke via webcast to the Jackson Hole Economic Symposium, which is being held virtually for a second straight year because of Covid-19.

But Powell suggested that while inflation has surged, causing difficulties for millions of Americans, the price acceleration should ease once the economy further normalizes from the pandemic and supply shortages abate.

If the Fed were to reduce its stimulus “in response to factors that turn out to be temporary,” the Fed chair cautioned, “the ill-timed policy move unnecessarily slows hiring and other economic activity and pushes inflation lower than desired.”

Powell also noted that while average wages have risen, they haven’t increased enough to raise fears of a “wage-price spiral,” as occurred during the ultra-high-inflation 1970s.

“Today,” he said, “we see little evidence of wage increases that might threaten excessive inflation.”

If anything, Powell said, the factors that helped keep inflation super-low for years before the pandemic — the growth of online retail, lower-cost goods from overseas, slowing population growth — could re-emerge as the pandemic fades.

Yet Powell’s comments served to underscore what looks like a divide on the Fed’s policymaking committee between himself, along with other officials such as Fed Governor Lael Brainard, who favor patience in reversing the low-rate policies, and other policymakers who are pushing for a taper to begin soon so that a rate hike could quickly follow, if needed.

“Let’s start the taper, and let’s do it quickly,” Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said early Friday on CNBC before Powell’s speech. Bostic said he expects the central bank to raise rates in late 2022 — earlier than the average among all Fed policymakers, who project the first rate hike in mid-2023.

A sharp jump in inflation has put the Fed’s ultra-low-rate policies under growing scrutiny, both in Congress and among ordinary households that are being squeezed by surging prices for items ranging from food and hotel stays to new and used vehicles. Inflation, according to the Fed’s preferred gauge, rose 3.6% in July compared with a year earlier, the biggest increase in three decades. The month-to-month increase slowed from 0.5% to 0.3%.

Complicating the Fed’s decision-making, the resurgence of the pandemic, led by the delta variant, has confounded the Fed’s expectations that the economy and job market would be on a clear path to improvement by this fall. The delta variant could slow spending in such areas as air travel, restaurant meals and entertainment.

In his remarks Friday, Powell didn’t outline any specific timetable for the Fed to begin slowing its bond purchases. Many economists say one or two more strong monthly jobs reports would likely trigger the start of a pullback before year’s end.

“Even if we see another big gain in payroll employment in August, we suspect that the delta variant threat means the majority of officials will want to wait until the November meeting to give the green light,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

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Guinean Business Leaders Pledge to Support Economy Despite Coup – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — An association of banks, insurance companies and microfinance institutions operating in Guinea pledged on Saturday to support the West African nation’s economy following the Sept. 5 military coup that overthrew President Alpha Conde.

“We are servants of the Republic, that is why we solemnly wish to reiterate our commitment to support and finance all economic players and in an inclusive way,” said Guy Laurent Fondjo, head of the Business Science Institute, at a meeting with the leader of the junta Colonel Mamady Doumbouya.

The meeting was part of national consultations started by the military group that began on Sept. 14 aimed at achieving an inclusive transition in the country. Doumbouya earlier urged the lenders to facilitate access to credit to help revive economic activity.

“We are committed to continuing our work of supporting the Guinean economy for the well-being of Guineans and for the sustainable development of our dear country,” said Fondjo, who is also chief executive officer of Afriland First Bank Guinea.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Teetering property developer Evergrande sparks contagion fears for China's economy – CBC.ca

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Property developer China Evergrande Group is teetering on the brink of collapse, weighed down by a giant debt load and billions of dollars of real estate it can’t sell as quickly or as profitably as anticipated.

While trouble has been brewing for a year, it’s coming to a head now, as the conglomerate missed one loan payment in June and more are expected. The company’s offices were the site of angry protests this week, and things could get even uglier on Monday when the company is likely to miss another key interest payment to its increasingly concerned financiers.

Evergrande’s possible collapse is sparking fears that it could take other parts of China’s housing market down with it — and impact business interests outside China, too.

Here’s a brief explainer of what you need to know about the story.

What is Evergrande?

Founded in 1996 in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong, Evergrande is mostly a property developer, whose core business is buying up land and turning it into residential real estate. Company founder Hui Ka Yan is a former steel worker who rode China’s 21st century real estate boom to a fortune that was at one point last year worth $30 billion US, good enough for the title of third-richest man in China. 

The company has built more than 1,300 housing developments in 280 cities in China, with plans for another 3,000 projects underway in various cities across the country.

But like any good conglomerate, it has expanded into all sort of other businesses, including bottled water and food, electric vehicles, theme parks, a Netflix-like streaming service with almost 40 million customers — and even a professional soccer team.

Why are they in trouble?

Debt — and lots of it. The company has almost two trillion yuan of debt on its books, the equivalent of more than $300 billion US. The company aggressively borrowed money to buy more land to develop, and sold apartments quickly at low margins to raise enough cash to start the cycle up again. Which works fine as a business model — until it doesn’t.

In late 2020, new rules brought more scrutiny to the company’s finances, which revealed higher-than-expected debt loads. That, coupled with mounting construction delays spooked buyers, setting up a vicious cycle. The company began its descent to pariah status as lenders and buyers lost their nerve in lockstep with each other.

Every attempt by the company since then to distract from its problems only served to draw more attention to them. Lenders got more and more unsettled. Existing owners got upset. New sales slowed, which created a feedback loop that got lenders even more jittery.

WATCH | Investors angrily protest at Evergrande offices:

Chinese real estate jitters

18 hours ago

Buyers at Chinese property developer Evergrande are demanding answers from the company management, as fears mount that the company may collapse under its debt load. (David Kirton/Reuters) 0:34

In June, the company admitted it missed payment on a loan. The next month, a Chinese court froze a $20 million bank deposit at the request of one its lenders. At least one creditor, a paint supplier, is reportedly being paid in apartments that won’t be ready until 2024.

According to data compiled by Bloomberg, on the 19th of July, presales at two projects in Hunan were halted. Three days later, Hong Kong banks stopped offering mortgages on any incomplete projects by the company in the city. On August 9, two more projects in Kunming stopped construction due to missed payments, followed by similar halts at projects in Nanjing and Chengdu. Things have snowballed ever since. The company’s stock price has cratered by 90 per cent in the past year, and most of their bonds are in junk status.

The company is behind on its obligations to more than 70,000 investors. More than one million buyers of unfinished projects are in limbo. And the pace of problems is picking up. “Sales could slump further as the developer may struggle to restore potential homebuyers’ confidence,” said Lisa Zhou, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

Monday figures to be an inflection point for the company as Evergrande is supposed to make an $80 million interest payment on one of its many loans, and there’s next to no chance it will pay that, which could start the clock ticking toward some undesirable outcomes.

So what could happen?

A number of bleak B words are on the table — bankruptcy, breakup, buyout, or bailout — and none of them are ideal.

The first option would be the most painful. 

“If, as expected, Evergrande is defaulting on its debt and goes through a restructuring, I don’t see why it would be contained,” Michel Lowy of distressed debt investment firm SC Lowy, told Reuters.

The Emerald Bay residential project in Hong Kong has been beset by delays, and spooked buyers. ( Lam Yik/Bloomberg)

But because of the Chinese government’s long-standing desire for stability, that’s also the least likely outcome. The company owes money to 128 different banks, and was behind almost one out of every 20 property sales in China in the past five years. Evergrande permanently employs almost 200,000 people, but hires almost four million people a year to work on various projects.

With a reach that wide, analysts who cover the sector are confident that Beijing won’t let the company simply collapse. “Evergrande’s escalating crisis may prompt government action to prevent social instability,” Zhou said.

More likely is some version of the next two options, a breakup or buyout, where the company sells assets to raise cash and help is brought in to run things. “State-owned enterprises or other developers may also take over Evergrande’s projects, after Chinese officials sent accounting and legal experts to examine the company’s finances,” Zhou said.

A full government bailout, however, is just as unlikely. China has been cracking down on its high-flying technology sector, trying to regulate and ban cryptocurrencies and reining in excesses in all sorts of sectors. Evergrande’s problems may be a test case in Beijing’s desire and ability to manage every facet of the growing economy.

A man walks past a banner promoting the Emerald Bay residential project in Hong Kong, amid news that the developer is teetering on the brink of collapse. (Lam Yik/Bloomberg)

Economist Art Woo with Bank of Montreal said in a note on Friday that he also doubts a bailout is coming. “As for who could bear the losses, that’s frankly tricky to predict, but we think it’s reasonable to believe that the authorities are unlikely to bail out equity holders or creditors in an effort to prevent moral hazard from increasing and improve financial discipline,” he said.

More likely is some sort of organized wind down, to keep damage to a minimum. “We do not believe the government has an incentive to bail out Evergrande (which is a private-owned enterprise),” Nomura analyst Iris Chen said in a note to clients.

“But they will also not actively push Evergrande down and will supervise a more orderly default, if any, in our view.”

WATCH | CBC reported on China’s ‘ghost cities’ of empty towers nearly a decade ago:

China’s ghost cities

9 years ago

CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault explains how empty skyscrapers are casting shadows on the Canadian economy. 2:31

Is there an impact outside China?

Not much, directly, although the company does have assets in Europe and North America — including the ritzy Château Montebello resort in Quebec — but the company’s woes are nonetheless a cautionary tale for people everywhere.

China has been in a housing boom for more than two decades now, as more and more people put money into residential real estate — almost regardless of the price and demand for the underlying asset.

Video went viral on social media this month of a 15-tower condo development in Kunming being dynamited to the ground because it was a ghost city with no actual residents, eight years after being built.

While that wasn’t an Evergrande project, the worry is that there are many others out there like it.

China’s Lehman Brothers moment?

The 2009 financial crisis was sparked by the failure of two investment banks, Bear Stearns and then Lehman Brothers, which exposed just how much bad debt there was in the system, and caused a chain reaction of worry down the line 

That may be far fetched for the economy as a whole this time around, but it’s certainly on the table for China’s housing market at least.

“Lehman (was) very different as it went across the financial system, freezing activity,” said Patrick Perret-Green, an independent London-based analyst.

“Millions of contracts with multiple counterparties, everyone was trying to work out their exposure,” he said. “With Evergrande it depresses the entire real estate sector.”

“There are other developers that are suffering from the same problem of no access to liquidity and have extended themselves too much,” Lowy said.

Simon MacAdam, an economist with Capital Economics, says the Lehman parables are unwarranted.

“The China’s Lehman moment narrative is wide of the mark,” he said. “Even if it were the first of many property developers to go bust in China, we suspect it would take a policy misstep for this to cause a sharp slowdown in its economy.”

Regardless, the Evergrande saga is a cautionary tale about the down side of unrestrained real estate speculation anywhere.

As Woo put it: “A default or bankruptcy does not pose a Lehman-type threat … but it’s still bad news for the economy.”

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A downturn in the global industrial economy is already underway, currency chart confirms – CNBC

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One economic forecaster predicted a slowdown in global industrial activity earlier this summer.

Lakshman Achuthan, co-founder of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, says the currency markets are now confirming his call.

“We made that earlier global Industrial downturn call, and that meant that you were going to see this slowdown in industrial materials price inflation, industrial commodity price inflation and the top line of the chart shows that,” Achuthan told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Thursday.

ECRI’s industrial materials price index shows the growth rate at its lowest level in around a year after a sharp runup from mid-2020 to early 2021.

“That weakness in industrial materials inflation, commodity price inflation, is also negative for commodity currencies like the Canadian dollar or the Australian dollar because those are commodity-exporting countries and they rely more on commodity exports,” said Achuthan.

The Canadian and Australian dollar, both commodity currencies, are closely tied to commodity price inflation, and the fact they have begun to roll over confirms the downturn in industrial price inflation, he said. The Canadian dollar is closely tied to oil prices, while the Aussie dollar has a high correlation with oil and gold.

That could portend trouble for the commodity trade as well as other areas of the market, Achuthan said.

“A lot of people are excited about the runup in commodities. We’re saying directionally you got to look the other way. It has knock-on effects to commodity currencies vis-a-vis the dollar. And that has knock-on effects I think for other asset classes — what’s going on with some of those currencies can obviously impact commodities themselves, bonds, even stocks,” he said.

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