By Twinnie Siu and Clare Jim
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong plans to run a much lower budget deficit in the coming fiscal year as the economy is expected to recover from its longest recession on record, Finance Secretary Paul Chan said on Wednesday.
The Chinese-ruled city’s recovery hopes are now pinned on coronavirus vaccines. Often-violent protests and U.S.-China trade tensions in 2019 had plunged the global financial hub into recession even before the pandemic hit.
Chan told legislators he expected the budget deficit for the upcoming year to hit HK$101.6 billion ($13.10 billion), smaller than the record HK$257.6 billion expected for 2020/21.
The deficits followed a 15-year period of accumulating surpluses.
Kevin Lai, chief economist for Asia ex-Japan at Daiwa Capital Markets, said the budget signalled that Hong Kong was trying to revert to living within its means.
“The overall budget appears generous, but it is tightening in fact,” Lai said. “Overall spending is actually a reduction as compared to last year.”
Pandemic relief measures, including cash handouts to residents and tax breaks and other benefits to businesses, left the city with a much deeper deficit last year than the planned HK$139.1 billion.
“With the epidemic still lingering, our economy is yet to come out of recession,” Chan said in his budget speech. “This year’s budget focuses on stabilising the economy and relieving people’s burden.”
To support a recovery in consumer and business activity, spending in the coming year includes HK$5,000 vouchers to residents, cuts in the profits and salaries tax, and a waiver on business registration fees. The tourism and technology sectors will also receive some support.
On the revenue side, the government will increase the stamp duty for stock trading to 0.13% from 0.1% — a surprise move which has sent the shares of the operator of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange tumbling.
Hong Kong usually runs balanced budgets or surpluses, since its pegged currency system commits it to fiscal prudence. Its fiscal reserves are expected at HK$902.7 billion at the end of March 2021 and fall to HK$775.8 billion by end-March 2026.
The city’s economy was expected to expand by 3.5% to 5.5% this year and run at an average growth rate of 3.3% annually from 2022 to 2025.
Gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 6.1% in 2020, its worst annual performance on record since 1962.
U.S.-China tensions and uncertainty related to how a game-changing national security law introduced last year could affect non-Chinese investment appetite in the global financial hub remain significant risks for the recovery, analysts say.
Hong Kong has allocated HK$8 billion for “safeguarding national security”, more than 10 times as much as the money earmarked for boosting the barely-breathing tourism sector and almost two times the amount to be injected in the Innovation and Technology Fund in the coming year.
There is no breakdown on where the national security money goes or timeframe for spending it.
The city begins its vaccine rollout this week, having secured a total of 22.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Sinovac and AstraZeneca, lagging other developed cities.
(Additional reporting by Donny Kwok, Jessie Pang, Sharon Tam and Anne Marie Roantree; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Kim Coghill)
UK Economy Faces $6.3 Billion Hit From Pingdemic, CEBR Says – BNN
The U.K.’s economy could face a loss of more than 4.6 billion pounds ($6.3 billions) in just four weeks if rules on self-isolation following a “ping” from the NHS app aren’t relaxed, according to data from Centre for Economics and Business Research.
Since July 19 “freedom day,” the surge of Covid cases in the U.K. implies has caused increasing number of people will need self-isolate after being contacted by the NHS app, triggering disruption in supply chains. Figures released this week from the NHS track-and-trace app, covering the period from July 8-14, show a record 607,486 self-isolation pings were sent within a week in England.
The government may need to speed up its overhaul of the NHS App, as exemptions introduced for key workers would reduce the overall cost by only 300 million pounds over the period, CEBR said, whereas more than half could be saved by relaxing isolation for those who have had their second vaccination by at least two weeks, they added.
Britain’s economy already showed signs of slowing in July as euphoria following the easing of coronavirus restrictions eased and a resurgence of the coronavirus caused widespread staff shortages. An index based on a survey of purchasing managers by IHS Markit fell unexpectedly to its lowest since March.
Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan urged Boris Johnson’s government to relax isolation rules for vaccinated people who come into contact with a Covid-19 case, with the U.K. capital facing major disruption.
Politicians and scientists are now concerned that people are deleting the official Covid-19 mobile phone app, or at least switching off its tracing function, to avoid having to self-isolate.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.
Virus resurgence menaces economy just as rescue programs unravel – POLITICO
The resurgence of the coronavirus is threatening to undercut the U.S. economic recovery and upend Americans’ plans to return to work just as the sweeping social safety net that Congress built during the pandemic is unraveling.
That one-two punch — a new wave of cases followed by the looming expiration of enhanced jobless benefits, a ban on evictions and other rescue programs — is sparking concern among lawmakers and economists who say that while widespread business shutdowns are unlikely, renewed fears of the virus alone can slow the economy just as it’s getting back on track.
That could dampen hiring and keep some workers on the sidelines of the job market — stalling or even reversing the labor recovery, the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. New unemployment claims jumped last week to 419,000, well above expectations and the highest since mid-May, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.
Biden — whose Gallup approval rating dropped to 50 percent this week, its lowest yet — is already drawing attacks from Republicans over the issue. Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top GOP tax writer in Congress, said the president has focused too much on pushing his “$4 trillion spending binge” and not enough on the virus.
Jason Furman, a former top economic adviser to President Barack Obama who is close to the current White House economic team, said the West Wing is very aware of the risks to the economy from the spike in Covid cases.
“Any problem that has a 5 to 10 percent chance to derail the economic recovery you are looking at very closely and are worried about,” Furman said.
He said that concern isn’t especially high, however, because even under “the most plausible worst-case scenario,” the risk is that the Delta variant “takes what was a very fast recovery and turns it into just a fast recovery.”
Another person familiar with the economic team’s discussions confirmed that the White House is paying close attention but doesn’t consider the virus a significant threat. Biden has been calling on Americans to get vaccinated, mainly out of concern for people’s safety but also with an eye out for the economy, the person said.
Biden, speaking on Monday after the stock market tumbled as investors braced for a potential rebound of the virus, said, “We can’t let up, especially because of the Delta variant, which is more transmissible and more dangerous.”
Coronavirus cases have been rising nationwide and are back to their highest level since early May as the highly contagious variant spreads across the country. The sharp uptick has reignited fears of the pandemic, particularly as cases rise among young children who are unable to get a vaccine and even among those who have been fully vaccinated.
“If people don’t feel safe, they’re going to close schools. If people don’t feel safe, they’re not going to go back to work,” said Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist. “The recovery — it’s going, but it’s still vulnerable.”
While it’s far too early to gauge the fallout from the increase in cases, any Delta-driven jobs slowdown is likely to be most pronounced in blue states, where higher percentages of residents are vaccinated but where people are also less willing to take risks as coronavirus cases rise. A CBS News poll this week showed that nearly 3 in 4 fully vaccinated Americans are worried about the Delta variant, compared to less than half of those who are not fully vaccinated or who have not received any shots at all.
Those same Democratic-led states also have the most jobs left to recover since they had stricter shutdown orders in place initially and then reopened more slowly. Roughly 8 million of the 10 million jobs that are still missing in the economy from before the pandemic are in blue states, said Arindrajit Dube, a labor economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
The slowdown in jobs growth, then, is likely to be most acute in the states where the need is greatest. And given how much economic activity those states generate, the ripple effects on the macroeconomy will be more severe.
“If you have highly populous parts of the country who have taken Covid seriously the entire time, and those people get afraid, then you have at least a noticeable slowing in the recovery,” said Sahm, now a senior fellow at the Jain Family Institute.
If Delta continues to spread, the economic shock would come as huge swaths of Americans are still struggling to get back on their feet.
While wages have been rising, particularly for low-income workers in leisure and hospitality, those gains have been outpaced by inflation. And more than 1 in 3 American adults have less in emergency savings now than before the pandemic, despite the more than $5 trillion Congress has pumped into the economy since March 2020 in stimulus and relief funds, according to a Bankrate.com survey released on Wednesday.
“That really underscores how much we need to restore jobs,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. “All of those issues that really plague low-income households have not gone away. We bought some time, but the clock is expiring.”
The end of various social safety net programs will affect tens of millions of Americans. Survey data from the Census Bureau shows 3.6 million households say they are somewhat or very likely to face eviction in the next two months as the nationwide moratorium expires at the end of July. More than 12 million Americans continue to receive some form of jobless benefits, which will be slashed or cut entirely by Labor Day.
And some 42 million student loan borrowers will need to resume payments in October unless the Biden administration acts — and 2 in 3 say it will be difficult for them to pay the bill, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts survey this month.
The ultimate risk is if those and other programs run out at the same time that a major coronavirus outbreak leads to a pullback in economic spending, a slowdown in hiring or an increased hesitancy to find work for fear of catching the virus.
“If we are to see a significant wave in the end of summer, early fall, then we are likely to see an environment where the economic impact will be much greater if there isn’t additional fiscal support,” said Gregory Daco, the chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.
Congress has been preoccupied in recent months not with short-term stimulus but longer-term initiatives, namely a bipartisan infrastructure plan and a multitrillion-dollar spending package for child care, health care, education and climate, Daco said. In short order, too, lawmakers will also have to take action on urgent items including the budget and the debt ceiling.
“Those are likely to be the key focus,” he said. “So there might be a significant disconnect between the potential need for additional fiscal stimulus and Congress’ focus on more medium-term plans.”
In the meantime, the Delta variant is giving Republicans fresh ammunition to rail against the multitrillion spending package they have long slammed as an expensive Democratic wishlist. Brady, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said Tuesday he’s hopeful the president will now “turn away from his distraction on another $4 trillion spending binge” to focus on coronavirus and the economy.
“I’m worried that almost since Day One, six months ago, [Biden] took his eye off defeating the virus and rebuilding the economy,” Brady said. “The president is scrambling now to make up for that lack of attention, but I worry that it’s too late.”
A 'delta' chill in the air? The economy is still booming, but it faces new uncertainty – MarketWatch
The U.S. economy caught fire in the spring and it’s still running pretty hot this summer, but a new strain of the coronavirus is threatening to cast a chill over the recovery.
Worries about the so-called delta strain sent a shiver through investors last week after the number of people catching the virus quickly climbed from a pandemic low. The stock market
posted its biggest decline in almost 10 months before recovering and bond yields also fell.
Although the U.S. Covid caseload is still quite low, the delta variant has introduced new uncertainty into the economic outlook and forced households, businesses and government to consider how to respond.
The reaction so far? Not much. Los Angeles County recommended that residents wear masks again, but it’s one of the few governments to do so.
By and large, the delta variant has drawn a wait-and-see reaction. Just look at the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average recovered all of its losses in just a few days and was back at an all-time high.
A chief reason for the optimism, it seems, is that the White House and Federal Reserve will do whatever it takes to keep the economy propped up.
“As long as the government and the Fed keep pumping things up, it is hard to see how the markets can stay down for an extended period,” said chief economist Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors.
Massive government financial stimulus played a huge role in what’s expected to be a very strong U.S. economic performance in the second quarter. Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal estimate that gross domestic product soared at a 9.1% annual rate in the period stretching from April to June.
That would be one of the strongest American growth rates ever and help compensate for the devastating economic losses early in the pandemic. GDP, the official scorecard for the U.S. economy, will be released on Thursday.
More important, of course, is what happens next. GDP is mostly a look in the rearview mirror.
Other reports next week are likely to show the U.S. sustaining its recent momentum. Consumer spending data and orders for manufactured goods in June are also expected to point to underlying strength in the economic recovery.
Households are spending freely and businesses just can’t keep up with demand. One of their biggest problems is finding enough workers.
What about the delta strain?
So far most people who are catching it are unvaccinated. So-called break-though cases among the vaccinated, meanwhile, are not inducing many severe reactions or deaths.
So it seems the prognosis for broader economy — not to mention the health of the public — is still pretty good with more than 68% of the adult U.S. population having received at least one shot.
Yet if there’s one thing that’s been learned during the pandemic, nothing can be taken for granted. The virus could mutate again, for instance, or individuals, businesses and government could adopt defensive measures that take some steam out of the recovery.
Perhaps the most realistic danger for now is that the delta variant will spread more rapidly around the world and further disrupt global suppy chains that have been strained by the pandemic.
These supply-chain problems — a notable example is a shortage of computer chips — could exacerbate the surge in U.S. inflation this year and further raise costs for consumers and businesses alike.
Already higher inflation is hurting Americans financially and undermining confidence in the recovery. A key inflation report next week, known as the PCE price index, due on Friday, is expected to show another large increase.
The Fed, for its part, is likely to try to reassure consumers and investors next week that the spike in inflation is just temporary after its latest big meeting on the economy. That’s been the Fed’s mantra for months.
Yet the central bank badly underestimated how much prices would rise this year and even some top Fed officials are starting to get worried.
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