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Opinion: Waves of sanctions were supposed to crush the Russian economy, but it is still showing signs of resilience – The Globe and Mail

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Valves near a drilling rig at a gas processing facility on the Arctic Yamal peninsula, Russia, on May 21, 2019.MAXIM SHEMETOV/Reuters

Near the start of the war, as the sanctions piled up, the Russian economy was thought to be doomed, possibly forcing President Vladimir Putin to sue for early peace. Almost three months later, there is no sign that a peace deal is about to be negotiated, nor is there much sign that the Russian economy is collapsing. The two may be related.

Yes, the Russian economy is hurting and no doubt in recession. But the economy is also showing annoying signs of resilience, in good part because oil and natural gas revenues are climbing even as Europe tries to wean itself off Mr. Putin’s hydrocarbons as punishment for having launched an unprovoked war that is killing an alarming number of civilians and triggering war crimes investigations.

Last week, the International Energy Agency said that Russia’s oil revenues are up 50 per cent this year even though some refiners are refusing to take Russian shipments. But other refiners are buying as much as they can – China and India are gobbling up the cargoes no longer wanted in Europe and North America. Moscow has been earning about US$20-billion this year – money that is used to fund the war – from the sale of crude and refined products.

At the same time, the sanctions, coupled with the proposed embargo on Russian oil exports to Europe, are putting the Europeans into a low-grade panic that is intensifying by the day as energy prices soar and across-the-board inflation takes off – always a popularity-shredding recipe for any ruling politician.

This week Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, calling for a ceasefire and the start of peace talks, indicated that the country’s support for the war is waning. Italy was one of the European countries most dependent on Russian energy and one of the biggest exporters to Russia – until the war began. Recent polls say nearly half of Italians now oppose sending arms to Ukraine and a similar proportion say that Russia should be handed Crimea and the eastern parts of Ukraine it now occupies, if doing so is what it takes to end the war. The figure is double the level of those who think Ukraine should fight to reclaim the territories lost to the Russians.

Sanctions and embargoes are tricky, often hazardous, pursuits. The working idea is that those on the receiving end should suffer far more than those delivering them. In this case, the pain is shared by both sides, though Russia is suffering more. Still, as energy writer Irina Slav points out, Europe’s assumption – that Russia needs to sell Europe its hydrocarbons more than Europe needs to buy them – may not hold true.

Take Hungary. The European Union is struggling to ban oil imports from Russia because Hungary is completely dependent on Russian oil; its economy would shut down without them, all the more so since most of its refineries are incapable of processing non-Russian oil. About two-thirds of Hungary’s oil, and more than 80 per cent of its gas, come from Russia.

And because much of the rest of Europe is addicted to Russian hydrocarbons too, the sanctions are taking on a two-sided flavour. Finland revealed Friday that Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas giant that holds a monopoly on Russian gas exports, will cease gas supplies to Finland on Saturday (since Russia supplies only 5 per cent of Finnish gas, the move won’t hurt much but will act as a warning to the European heavyweight economies far more reliant on Russian gas, notably Germany and Italy).

The sanctions and embargo wars, like the war in Ukraine itself, are getting ugly, with no obvious winners or losers. The West is still waiting for the Russian economic implosion.

In March, shortly after war started, JPMorgan predicted a 35 per cent fall in second-quarter Russian GDP over the same period in 2021. Earlier this month, the Wall Street bank said the GDP hit would likely be less severe than it had forecast. They wrote that the data “do not point to an abrupt plunge in activity, at least for now.”

One of the reasons for Russia’s relative rude health is the country’s oil and gas export revenues are not only intact – they’re rising – even as the EU tries to curtail, and ultimately stop, imports of those fuels (the United States and Canada have already banned Russian oil and refined oil products).

Russia was making fortunes from oil and gas revenues even before the war started as global demand rose. Oil began to surge about this time last year as pandemic restrictions eased off and economies bounced back to life. Brent crude, the international benchmark, is up 73 per cent in a year; OPEC undershooting its oil production target is certainly adding to the upward price pressure, much to the irritation of the Americans. Mr. Putin is not complaining.

As Russia’s hydrocarbon revenues rise, its current-account surplus, which includes trade and some financial flows, is hitting record levels. The Institute of International Finance recently estimated that Russia’s surplus could hit US$250-billion this year, about double the figure recorded in 2021. Meanwhile the Russian ruble, which got slaughtered in the early days of the war, has rallied and is one of the top performing currencies in the world, in part due to capital controls and Moscow’s insistence that Gazprom be paid in rubles, not dollars or euros.

To be sure, Russia is suffering. Various Russian and international forecasts predict Russian GDP will shrink by 10 per cent this year. Russia’s central bank is hobbled by the sanctions on its foreign exchange reserves and Western companies are leaving in droves (though Russian companies are picking up some of those discarded assets at fire sale prices). But the country is not suffering enough to be motivated to end the war to save its economy. That may change, but probably not anytime soon.

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Charting the Global Economy: Factories Slow Down From US to Asia – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — Sign up for the New Economy Daily newsletter, follow us @economics and subscribe to our podcast.

Manufacturing from the US to Asia is very much in a slowdown as factories continue to struggle with supply snarls, labor shortages and elevated materials costs.

A measure of US manufacturing activity weakened in June to a two-year low, and several regional Federal Reserve surveys indicated business activity shrank. Factory purchasing managers’ gauges across Asia eased, with South Korea, Thailand and India among those showing the biggest declines, according to S&P Global.

Similar indexes in Poland, Spain and Italy also showed weaker activity compared to May.

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

US

Consumer spending fell in May for the first time this year and prior months were revised lower, suggesting an economy on somewhat weaker footing than previously thought amid rapid inflation and Fed interest-rate hikes.

Regional Fed manufacturing surveys have taken on a grimmer tone, with four of five indicating business activity shrank in June. Separately, a measure of overall manufacturing slid to a two-year low as new orders contracted, restrained by lingering supply constraints and some softening in demand.

The pandemic housing boom is careening to a halt as the fastest-rising mortgage rates in at least half a century upend affordability for homebuyers, catching many sellers wrong-footed with prices that are too high.

Europe

Confidence in the euro-area economy slipped as households become more pessimistic amid fears a Russian energy cutoff will spark a recession. At the same time, they’re less worried about inflation than they were a month ago, though there’s a split between core and peripheral euro-area countries.

After suffering from unprecedented shocks in recent years, the UK is succumbing to more intractable problems marked by plodding growth, surging inflation and a series of damaging strikes.

Asia

China’s economy showed some improvement in June as Covid restrictions were gradually eased, although the recovery remains muted. That’s the outlook based on Bloomberg’s aggregate index of eight early indicators for this month. The overall gauge returned to the neutral level after deteriorating for two straight months.

Japan’s factory output shrank at the fastest pace since the height of the pandemic as the lagged impact of China’s virus lockdowns continued to disrupt supply chains and economic activity in the region. The weakness in manufacturing extended across Asia, particularly in South Korea, Thailand, India and Taiwan.

Emerging Markets

Colombia’s central bank delivered its biggest interest rate increase in over two decades. Policy makers are bracing for another spike in annual inflation that’s already above 9%. 

Two years after Argentina emerged from its latest default, a debt crisis in brewing once again. This time, the immediate trouble is in the local bond market, where creditors have become reluctant to roll over maturing government bonds.

Zambia’s inflation rate dropped below 10% for the first time in almost three years in June, bucking a global trend of record consumer-price growth. Optimism over the nation’s economy since the election of Hakainde Hichilema as president in August, a potential debt restructuring and a $1.4 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund has seen a rally in the local currency, which has helped contain prices.

World

Differences in underlying inflation trends call for different policy outlooks among the world’s top central banks, according to Bloomberg Economics. The Fed will have to go well into restrictive territory, the Bank of England may go a little above neutral and the European Central Bank might not even get that far.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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Quarterly Investment Guide 3Q 2022: US economy on shaky ground – CNBC

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Minister Of The Economy Franz Fayot On Luxembourg’s Transition Towards A Green Economy – Forbes

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Just last week, Luxembourg’s Minister of the Economy, Franz Fayot, came to the cities of Toronto and Montreal as part of an economic mission organized by the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in close cooperation with the Ministry of the Economy. I had the opportunity to sit down with Minister Fayot at the InterContinental Toronto Centre, and get some insights into the Grand-Duchy’s economic transition towards sustainability.

A transitioning economy

With up to one-third of its GDP related to the finance sector, Luxembourg’s economy is widely dominated by the financial sector. However, the past 20 years have been characterized by a push for economic diversification, and increased transparency and regulations following the financial crisis, said Minister Fayot.

“What we are trying to do is diversify [the economy] even more into new sectors to make us less dependent on the financial sector and adaptable to new circumstances,” he said. “We are also more and more developing a green finance sustainable finance sector, which is doing very well.”

A green state responsibility

Minister Fayot, whose guiding principles are a strong welfare state and sustainability, firmly believes that the government must assume its pivotal role in shifting the economy towards sustainability — “both in terms of environmental sustainability, but also social sustainability,” he added.

In June 2020, an international consultation was launched to gather strategic spatial planning project ideas considering the climate-related challenges and social issues, and support for the country’s ecological transition towards a zero-carbon territory by 2050.

“We need to understand that we have to help businesses innovate, and invest in the future,” said Minister Fayot.

A rising startup ecosystem

Luxembourg has seen a steady growth in startups over the past decade.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of the Economy launched a strategic initiative aimed at providing a thorough understanding of the startup ecosystem based on data analysis and interviews with key stakeholders.

Luxinnovation, the national innovation agency, identified over 500 active startups offering innovative digital and data-driven solutions in its latest mapping.

These assessments will also provide relevant comparisons with international markets, and aim to identify the necessary next steps for development opportunities in the upcoming years.

“Our innovation agency is there to guide startups, but also other more established businesses, to get access to grants,” explained Minister Fayot. “We have a state aid framework in Europe which we have to comply with, but the main message is that there is an obvious need to co-finance innovation, particularly in times when we are in this transition towards a more green economy.”

Going above the limits of territory

Surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany, Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in the world — slightly smaller than Rhode Island. Yet, despite its dependence on its neighboring countries’ energy supplies, it is making continuous efforts to increase its share of renewable energy by also investing in projects across its borders, said Minister Fayot.

“We don’t have that much sun in Luxembourg, and we don’t have an unlimited space to build wind power,” he said. “It’s a bit of a limiting factor, but it shouldn’t excuse anything.”

“We are investing a lot into energy efficiency,” he added. “We are trying to get people to e-mobility and pushing for geothermal heating and energy in new constructions.”

A growing space sector

Luxembourg might not be the first to come to mind when we think of space, but, the country owns one of the world-leading satellite operators, and is increasing its investment into space resources.

“The SpaceResources.lu is an initiative that we launched about six years ago, and it is very much focused on the space resources segment of the space industry,” he said. “We are not launching anything in space out of Luxembourg, but focusing on services like space traffic management.”

As part of the economic mission, a group of space companies participated in a distinctive program set up by the Luxembourg Space Agency in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency. This included on-site company visits, workshops and B2B opportunities that led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two national space agencies.

Stephanie Ricci contributed to this story.

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