Ping An Insurance, also known as Ping An of China, logo seen on a skyscraper in Shanghai. A Chinese holding conglomerate. (Photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Alex Tai | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images
“This virus actually, it’s been particularly helpful because we’ve suddenly had requests you know, (from) over 30 over banks and … 20 over insurers whereby we provide our technology to help of them to get up back to work very quickly,” Jessica Tan, co-CEO of Ping An, a Chinese insurance firm listed in Hong Kong.
Speaking to CNBC on Friday, Tan said: “What we see about the impact in virus, particularly in the first half, will definitely impact the economy. Of course, the financial services industry is less hit by the virus.”
The global outbreak of COVID-19, most keenly felt in China and its Hubei province where most of the deaths and cases have occurred, has so far claimed more than 2,000 lives. It has impacted economies, especially those in Asia, as well as the outlook for large companies such as Apple.
Investors are still struggling to grapple with the potential impact of the mysterious disease as China locked down cities and extended the Lunar New Year holiday for factories and schools, in order to limit the spread of the pneumonia-like virus.
In a separate interview with Reuters, Tan appeared less upbeat and acknowledged that the current coronavirus situation is “very challenging” as the bulk of Ping An’s business is driven “primarily by agents.”
“There are guidelines that they can’t visit customers,” Tan told Reuters. “We, as well as the rest of the industry, are trying to accelerate the transition to work in a new model whereby the agents are unable the visit the customers and yet you able to maintain your business.”
During her interview with CNBC, Tan said Ping An was “one of the few financial institutions that were able to get 1.4 million of our people, employees and agents, completely working online on 3rd of February,” referring to the extended holiday period in China. “That’s something that very few people can do and we’ve been offering that to our financial services partners as well.”
She also said that services in areas such as the firm’s health technology and smart city businesses have seen “huge demand” during this period.
Tan’s comments came a day after Ping An posted earnings that missed expectations despite a more 39% surge in its 2019 net profit. The firm saw a net profit attributable to shareholders of the parent company of about 149.4 billion yuan (approx. $21.27 billion) in the year ended Dec. 31, 2019. That compared to a figure of about 107.4 billion yuan (approx. $15.29 billion) the previous year.
Still, that was lower than expectations of 157.6 billion yuan in a Refinitiv-compiled SmartEstimate based on a survey with analysts, according to Reuters.
Ping An said in its 2019 annual report the virus has had “certain impacts on the business operation and overall economy” in certain areas or industries, including in Hubei province where the disease was first reported.
“This may affect the quality or the yields of the credit assets and investment assets of the Group in a degree, and the degree of the impact depends on the situation of the epidemic preventive measures, the duration of the epidemic and the implementation of regulatory policies,” the report said.
Speaking with CNBC on Friday, Tan said a recovery was expected in the second half of the year and the outbreak will likely pan out positively in the longer-term for Ping An’s health insurance and tech businesses.
Analysis | Industrials' Long Coattails Can Carry the US Economy – The Washington Post
If the US avoids a recession, or at least a deep one, it will most likely be able to thank industrial companies.
While demand on the consumer side of the economy is weakening, it remains solid in the manufacturing sector and, more important, appears to be sustainable even if shoppers cut back further. Consider the outlook from a few companies most people pay little attention to.
Eaton Corp. Chief Executive Officer Craig Arnold said variations of “strong” and “strength” more than 45 times during a conference call with analysts on Aug. 2, and that’s not counting references to the dollar. “It feels positive, in some cases, too positive,” Arnold, whose company makes electrical gear for construction, power, autos and aerospace, among other goods. With a market value of about $60 billion, Eaton isn’t small.
Illinois Tool Works Inc., which is even larger than Eaton, said its organic sales were up 18% in July from a year earlier, the highest monthly growth rate all year. The company makes all kinds of products for the food service, test and measurement, welding, construction and auto industries, and most of those areas are “off to a really strong start in Q3.”
Companies as diverse as chemical maker DuPont de Nemours Inc., industrial distributor W.W. Grainger Inc. and a metal-bender like Arconic Corp. are saying the same thing: The manufacturing economy is sizzling.
“The industrial parts of the economy are certainly growing faster for us than the non-industrial parts right now,” said DG Macpherson, CEO of Grainger, which sells just about any industrial-related part or gadget you can think of.
While the strength of the industrial economy isn’t new, its ability to power through a downturn in consumer spending is a change from past cycles.
“We strongly believe that the industrial economy will decouple from the consumer economy,’’ Scott Davis, an analyst with Melius Research, said in an email. “There’s just too much pent-up demand for projects and megaprojects that are based more on secular changes than cyclical.”
The reasons for this decoupling are multifold. An obvious one is the recovery of investment in the oil and gas industry. Although some industrial companies pulled back exposure to energy, especially in activity closer to the wellhead, after oil prices sank in mid-2014, the increase in drilling reverberates broadly through the industrial economy with increased demand for steel, construction, trucks and safety equipment.
Another is that the makers of autos and heavy trucks are still struggling to keep up with demand and have huge holes in their inventories that will take a while to rebuild. There were 95,000 cars in inventory in June, down from a monthly average of 660,000 in 2019, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The number of Class 8 trucks, as the big rigs are known, in backlog as a ratio of the build rate was about 10 for the first six months this year, which is lower than last year when the computer-chip shortage was at its peak, but still higher than 6.6 in 2019, according to FTR Associates data. It’s the opposite problem from large retailers, which are grappling with too much inventory.Makers of commercial and private jets also have big backlogs to fill as people, restless from the Covid-19 shut-ins, are on the move again. Construction projects are moving forward, and even consumer-facing companies are continuing with projects to improve their logistics, an area where costs jumped during the pandemic.
The transition to cleaner energy also is also feeding the fire of industrial demand, and the climate change bill passed by the Senate over the weekend would keep those flames burning for some time — perhaps even through a consumer recession.
Eaton’s Arnold has positioned his company to ride the wave of electrical power demand as economies wean themselves off oil. The company has a long history of selling transformers and circuit breakers for power generation and transmission and recently made a push to become a key supplier to electric vehicle manufacturers. The company boosted its 2002 earnings-per-share guidance by 4 cents to a midpoint of $7.56 and increased its forecast for annual organic sales growth to as much as 13% from 11%.
“So despite all the talk about potential slowdown and downturn in the market, and we’ll be ready if we have one, we’re focused on investing to capitalize on what we see as the super growth cycle, driven by favorable trends in the recovery and some of our other end markets,’’ Arnold said on the call.
Eaton, DuPont and ITW, which raised its guidance in May, called out international weakness from the China lockdowns and Europe’s difficulties with soaring energy prices. Still, there are no signs the international weakness is bleeding over to the US. The year-over-year increase in US industrial production in June was more than 4%, a solid pace, and that comes on top of the big rebound of more than 9% in June last year.Ironically, the same supply chain snags that stoked inflation because demand wasn’t being met also kept a lid on the overbuilding of vehicles, homes, electronics and other goods that normally would occur and then cause a pullback in output. The trucking industry, for example, is notorious for the boom-and-bust cycles because companies buy too many trucks when freight demand is strong and then have too much capacity when cargo cools. Those truckers were never able to purchase all the trucks they wanted. There will be no big bust this cycle.
Add it all up, and it makes sense that the manufacturing industry can buoy the economy through a downturn in consumer spending.
More From Other Writers at Bloomberg Opinion:
• It’s (Still) Going to Be Hard to Get a Car: Anjani Trivedi
• Customer Demand Is There. Supply Still Isn’t: Brooke Sutherland
• New Chips Act Could Become a $280 Billion Boondoggle: Editorial
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Thomas Black is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering logistics and manufacturing. Previously, he covered U.S. industrial and transportation companies and Mexico’s industry, economy and government.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com/opinion
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
Statistics Are Mixed But On Balance Say The Economy Is Weak – Forbes
If you listen to the White House, you hear that the economy is strong. Others will tell you that it has already sunk into recession. Such “analytical” differences are common at almost all times and almost always reflect the speaker’s political agenda more than any straightforward reading of the statistical evidence. These days things look more ambiguous than usual. Statistics offer ammunition for both views. The president can point, and he does, to the robust growth in payrolls. Those with a less sanguine view of things can point to among other things two consecutive quarterly declines in the nation’s real gross domestic product (GDP). Although the balance of the evidence points clearly toward a weakening economy, it is also fair to admit that the statistics paint a strangely mixed picture.
The Labor Department’s monthly employment report illustrates. On the positive side, the July survey of employers showed a striking expansion in payrolls, a gain of 528,000 positions. Private payrolls expanded by 471,000 positions. Though these are not record increases, they are nonetheless beyond most historical experience and far beyond where consensus expectations were. But in the same report, the survey of households showed July jobs up only 179,000. This tells quite a different story from the employers’ tally. The jobs gain was not only much smaller but was insufficient to overcome the June decline in jobs so that over the two months June and July the nation by this measure shed some 136,000 jobs.
Despite this contrast – still unexplained by the Labor Department – what tips the balance to the negative side is the flow of information from elsewhere and from the rest of the department’s monthly report. True, the unemployment rate dipped slightly from 3.6% of the workforce in June to 3.5% in July, but department also reported that some 538,000 people dropped out of the workforce in July. Since they are neither working nor seeking work, this movement more than accounts for the fall in the unemployment rate. What is more, the average weekly hours worked remained unchanged in July at 34.6, still down from April’s measure.
Outside the Labor Department’s accounting, there are of course the first and second quarter declines in real GDP, precipitous declines in consumer confidence, and reporting by the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) of slowing overall and an outright decline in the new orders part of the measure. This list of negatives is of course far from complete, but it is nonetheless indicative.
Apart from the current statistics that point to economic decline, two other considerations weigh heavily on the economy’s prospects. One is the ongoing inflation. At last measure, for June, the consumer price index (CPI) rose 9.1% from year-ago levels. This kind of price pressure seems likely to last. Even if it abates some — say to 8% or 7% — it will remain sufficient to impair economic growth prospects by eroding business and consumer confidence and discouraging the saving and investment on which economic growth ultimately depends. These effects could bring on recession all on their own. It certainly would not be the first time in history that inflation did so.
A still more potent recessionary threat emerges from the Federal Reserve’s (Fed’s) fight against inflation. The Fed began this effort last March. Before then, it had pursued a pro-inflationary monetary policy. It had kept short-term interest rates near zero and poured new money into financial markets buying bonds directly – mostly treasuries and mortgages – a practice the Fed refers to as “quantitative easing.” But since the March policy shift, the Fed has drained money from financial markets by selling from the hoard of bonds it had previously acquired and by pushing up short-term interest rates some 1.75 percentage points. While these are standard anti-inflation moves, they also restrain economic activity. What is more, the Fed seems determined to take further steps along these lines in coming weeks and months – a pattern that will make recession still more likely.
If this assessment is correct – and it does seem likely – then the statistics on which the optimists rely – including the White House – will turn negative in coming months. The evidence of economic weakness, if not outright recession, will become overwhelming. Whether this resolution of the economic picture takes place in the next month or two remains uncertain, but it is hardly likely that the ambiguities will remain in place very much longer.
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