(Bloomberg) — The U.S. economy is showing some scattered signs of picking up from an end-of-year slowdown, muddying President Joe Biden’s efforts to win congressional passage of a $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
New claims filed for unemployment benefits have fallen for two straight weeks, while January payrolls are forecast to rebound from a December swoon in data out on Friday. Managers in charge of buying supplies for U.S. companies reported increased business last month and homebuilders said demand remained robust.
Selected high frequency data, such as weekly consumer confidence readings and restaurant bookings, also point to some strengthening, as virus infections ebb and business restrictions are eased.
“We’re seeing percolating growth underneath the surface,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.
The tentative improvement comes as Biden’s mammoth package runs into opposition from some lawmakers who question whether that much support is needed on top of the more than $3 trillion the federal government has already delivered or committed.
Read More on Stimulus: Biden, Yellen Tell Democrats GOP Plan Too Small
The next major update on the economy comes on Friday with the Labor Department’s release of monthly jobs numbers for January. Economists’ estimates for the change in non-farm payrolls vary widely — from a decline of 250,000 to an increase of 400,000.
The median forecast in the Bloomberg survey calls for a 70,000 gain after December’s 140,000 drop. In November, employment increased 336,000.
Wrightson ICAP LLC chief economist Lou Crandall said the data could be skewed higher by seasonal factors that take account of normal January layoffs of retail workers hired for the end-year holidays — a development that didn’t occur at the same pace because of the pandemic.
“To the extent that job creation looks stronger it could take out some of the urgency” for passage of a broad-based stimulus plan as opposed to a more targeted one, said Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America Corp.
She cautioned though that the near-term path of the economy will be determined by the country’s progress in getting the virus under control, especially now that new, more contagious variants have shown up in the U.S.
The economy looks to be already benefiting from the $900 billion aid package Congress approved in late December, with credit and debit card data compiled by Bank of America showing a pickup in consumer spending.
Jefferies LLC economists Aneta Markowska and Thomas Simons see February as an “inflection point” with growth picking up steam after slowing to an annualized rate of 4% in 2020’s fourth quarter from a record 33.4% pace in the third.
Read More: Bloomberg Economics Tracks Recovery in High-Frequency Dashboard
The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that it sees the nation’s gross domestic product recovering from the coronavirus pandemic much faster than previously expected — even before any further stimulus from the federal government. It forecast that GDP will expand 4.6% this year — the fastest pace since 1999 — after contracting by 3.5% in 2020.
If Biden’s package is approved in its entirety, federal government assistance to the economy during the pandemic will clock in at around 25% of annual GDP of almost $21.5 trillion. That compares with the roughly 10% hole the virus tore into the economy at the height of its impact.
“Economists are saying there is room for additional support,” said Peter Hooper, global head of economic research for Deutsche Bank. “The argument is how much do you want to overshoot.”
Biden administration officials tout the advantages of going big. They point to the ravages caused by Covid-19 — about 10 million fewer Americans are employed since the pandemic began a year ago — and argue that now is not the time for the government to hold back.
“We have a real urgency to act and to act comprehensively,” Brian Deese, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said in a Jan. 31 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” news show. “A piecemeal approach, where we try to tackle one element of this and wait and see on the rest, is not a recipe for success.”
Proponents of the package also maintain that it will help limit long-term damage to the economy by returning GDP and the jobs market back to their pre-pandemic heights more quickly.
In making the case for a smaller plan, former CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin said that what’s holding back the economy is the virus, not a lack of money in consumers’ pockets. The personal saving rate stood at 13.7% in December, more than double its average since 2000.
“If we get another jump in the savings rate what are they going to do with it?” asked Holtz-Eakin, who’s now president of the American Action Forum and served as an adviser to the late Republican Senator John McCain. “Are they going to go out and buy GameStop?”
After skyrocketing on heavy retail purchases and short-covering by hedge funds, shares of video-game retailer GameStop Corp. plunged on Tuesday as the buying evaporated.
Most Wall Street economists are betting that Biden will get some, but not all, of the extra spending he’s seeking. But that will still be enough to substantially lift GDP in the coming quarters.
“The economy will be fueled by a one-two punch of virus containment and stimulus support,” Meyer said. She sees GDP rising at a 7.5% clip in the second quarter and 10% in the third on the back of another $1 trillion in stimulus.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.
Xi resets policy priorities to boost economy – The Tribune India
China’s Central Economic Work Conference (CEWC), held at Beijing from December 8 to 10, 2021, decided that all stakeholders should work actively to maintain stability in the macro-economy in view of new challenges as the country holds the Winter Olympics from February 4 to 20, 2022, and the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) later this year. What made the economic planners to rethink the policy direction was the sharp dip in China’s GDP growth rate from 18.3% in Quarter 1 of 2021 to 7.9% in Q2, 4.9% in Q3 and 4% in Q4.
Structural changes ordered by President Xi Jinping such as reducing loans to the real estate sector, lower emission targets resulting in power cuts and the zero tolerance to Covid-19 had played an important role in decelerating the economic growth. Xi is personally involved in directing the real estate policies as he considers the unchecked growth of this sector as posing a threat to China’s economic stability.
New measures undertaken by the Xi regime included severe restrictions on giving bank loans, allow hugely indebted developers to default to rein in large unproductive expenditure and announcement of a property tax on a trial basis in certain provinces to discourage the purchase of multiple properties to curb speculation. Given that the real estate sector accounts for 29% of the Chinese economy, these measures, according to some economists, may reduce China’s GDP growth by about 0.5% in 2022 and thereafter. These restrictions have strained the local government’s finances, as selling land is an important source of revenue. Several local governments slashed the salaries of their staff, weakening the consumption.
In the last two years, China has undertaken several measures to reduce its greenhouse emissions, including controlling of its coal-fired power plants to meet its targets of peaking carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, lower the carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by over 65% (from 2005 level) by 2030, increase the share of non-fossil fuels and forest stock. Decrease in power generation by coal-fired plants and rationing since September 2021 disrupted industrial production in many provinces as several industries were forced to cut production and reduce jobs. Recurrent outbreaks of Covid in some areas and China’s zero tolerance approach again forced several businesses to close and confined about 20 million people at home. The working of several companies in technology, education and gaming sectors was adversely impacted due to the regulatory actions, resulting in lower earnings and loss of jobs.
At the CEWC, it was felt that new external challenges had arisen as President Biden had not only continued the policies of his predecessor but also taken a harder line with his allies towards China. The Comprehensive Investment Agreement with the EU had remained frozen and China’s relations with Australia and Japan had deteriorated. These countries had become more vociferous in criticism of China’s human rights record and applied a number of sanctions against the Chinese companies and individuals for investments and exports. Several Chinese leaders appeared nervous about the slowing of economic growth in 2022 as Xi is expected to seek an unprecedented third term as President. They advised him that priority should shift to maintaining growth and stability so that the Chinese economy could convey a picture of strength.
Amid deterioration in China’s external environment, the conference identified securing supplies of primary products such as food, soybean, minerals and energy as a priority to prepare for the post-Covid world. “The Chinese people’s rice bowl must be firmly held in their own hands at all times,” Xi emphasised. He underlined the need to establish a strategic materials reserve to secure minimum needs at critical moments and work on a comprehensive conservation strategy. Other four priorities agreed were “common prosperity, capital regulation, defusing major financial risks and carbon neutrality. Concerns were expressed at the high level of unemployment among the migrants, the youth and possible outflow of foreign exchange as the US dollar strengthened following rise in the interest rates.
In view of these reasons, it was agreed that the government would have to give bigger policy support to the economy. China’s central bank had also conveyed dovish signals, cutting the reserve requirement ratio to the banks in a departure from central banks in the developed countries. Though the policymakers remained committed to structural reforms, it was agreed to slow down the regulatory crackdown and provide targeted support to SMEs, first time homebuyers, more funding for technology innovation and green investments.
China’s foreign trade made impressive gains in 2021, reaching $6.05 trillion as it functioned as a supply house to the rest of the Covid-stricken world. Trade with the US soared by 28.7% ($755.6 billion) and India by 43.3% (total $125.66 billion, Indian exports $28.14 billion, imports $97.52 billion). The increased global demand was chiefly responsible for 8.1% growth of China’s economy in 2021.
Chinese leaders are worried that external demand may not sustain as other major economies come out of Covid and start exporting this year. Consumption in China has not moved beyond 55% of the GDP (54.3% in 2020) in recent years due to the saving habits of the Chinese people for expenditure on health, education and old age. The government is, therefore, forced time and again to resort to big investments to drive up the growth rates.
It is now trying to increase investments in research and innovation (its R&D expenditure reached 2.4% of GDP in 2020), adoption of intelligent technologies and digital economy. While these technologies will yield efficiencies and mitigate to some extent the adverse impact of declining workforce, these will not lessen the latter’s adverse impact on lowering consumption. China will, therefore, be forced to accept sub-5% economic growth in the coming years as it rebalances its economy away from non-productive expenditures and starts experiencing the negative effects of population decline.
The so-called 'gig economy' is on the rise — here's what that means for Alberta workers – CBC.ca
They’re the people who pick you up in an Uber or deliver groceries to your door — so-called gig workers, referred to as “independent contractors” by the companies for which they work — and across Canada, there’s an ongoing debate about the future of their industry.
Last month, a report from the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee recommended that those who work in the “gig economy” — for example, working for apps such as Uber and Skip The Dishes — should be guaranteed a minimum wage, along with some other protections.
No exact analog to that committee currently exists in Alberta. A spokesperson for Tyler Shandro, Alberta’s minister of labour and immigration, said the provincial government’s primary commitment is to support workers as the economy continues to recover.
“Alberta’s government continues to monitor the gig economy, as it is an evolving sector with unique needs,” said Joseph Dow in an email.
According to a study released by Statistics Canada in 2019, around eight per cent of all workers in Canada participated in gig work in 2016, up from 5.5 per cent in 2005.
Efforts to update laws around how gig workers are paid and what benefits they are entitled to has been a contentious issue over the past few years.
During the last federal election campaign, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said that the 1.7 million Canadians working in the gig economy were “left behind” during the pandemic.
An Alberta labour leader says despite the same issues existing for those participating in Alberta’s gig economy — low wages, insecurity and lack of benefits — no conversation is being had provincially about the supports available for these workers.
“I’m profoundly concerned about the shift towards gig work,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
“It’s bad for individual workers. But I would argue that it’s just as bad for the economy, because when people are faced with that kind of insecurity, they can’t participate in the economy in the same way as workers in other sectors.”
Brandon Mundy is a delivery worker with Instacart, a grocery delivery service.
He previously delivered with food delivery platform DoorDash, but said he stopped working for that service due to long periods of delays between orders.
“It can get incredibly competitive these days, because of how saturated the delivery driver industry is right now,” he said.
Even though Mundy said he tends to make more working with Instacart, he’s noticed smaller payouts recently. Plus, he’s been putting significant wear and tear on his vehicle.
“I would sure hope [Alberta] introduces support for gig workers,” Mundy said. “Especially with how popular it is now, especially through COVID.”
Efforts to unionize and departures of platforms
Those gig workers completing tasks for apps like Uber and Lyft are considered independent contractors by the companies.
Therefore, the company isn’t obliged to pay minimum wage or other protections — but that is a “smoke screen,” said Jim Stanford, economist and director of the Vancouver-based Centre for Future Work.
“Courts and labour regulators in many countries around the world are recognizing that and saying, no, just because you assign the work over a smartphone doesn’t mean they’re not your effective employee,” Stanford said.
Uber Canada previously referred CBC News to a proposal that would provide a benefit fund to workers, adding that the company attempts to prioritize “what drivers and delivery people want: flexibility plus benefits.”
Efforts by workers to secure more benefits have also led to certain app-based platforms reconsidering their availability within Canada.
In 2020, food delivery service Foodora announced it would leave Canada in the wake of workers attempting to unionize.
Stanford said such moves suggested that business models of gig platforms depended on the “exploitation of gig workers.”
“That should really be a warning sign for us that this is not a business model that we should encourage in Canada. We have to make sure that they’re subject to the same rules and responsibilities as any other employer,” he said.
“Otherwise, this cancer, which is spreading through the labour market, will continue to undermine wages and working conditions in all kinds of industries.”
Ontario’s recent proposal did not include everything the union-backed group Gig Workers United called for, including for gig workers to receive full employee protections.
In early December, the European Union announced draft legislation that would provide employee rights to gig economy workers, a move that would affect millions of workers.
'Throwaway economy' thwarting climate goals: report – Phys.org
Countries are neglecting the massive impact of the “throwaway” economy on planet-warming emissions, according to research published Wednesday that calculated more than half a trillion tonnes of virgin materials have been consumed since the 2015 Paris climate deal.
From clothing to food, planes to buildings, research by the organisation Circle Economy estimates that 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are linked to the manufacturing and use of products.
But in its annual report on the state of the world’s use of materials, researchers said national climate pledges to reduce emissions focus narrowly on fossil fuel use and ignore the mounting global appetite for stuff.
Matthew Fraser, head of research at Circle Economy, said the report aimed to look beyond just fossil fuel use and the transition to green energy and ask about the emissions implications of using fewer resources.
“What if we reimagine our relationship with stuff, what would that bring us? Actually, it is quite significant,” he told AFP.
The report estimates that if the economy were more circular, reducing resource extraction and consumption by 28 percent, then the world could meet the Paris warming target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
But only a third of nations’ climate pledges mention the circular economy as part of their emissions goals, the report said.
It warns that humanity is consuming 70 percent more virgin materials than the world can safely replenish.
The analysis looks at global material flows based on national import and export figures and translates them into estimates of materials used—and reused.
It calculates annual resource use has grown from 89.8 billion tonnes in 2016 to more than 100 billion tonnes in 2019 and estimated it at 101.4 billion last year.
Circle Economy found that almost all of the materials extracted go to waste, with just 8.6 percent of materials recycled in 2020, what they call the circularity gap.
That is an even lower proportion than in 2018, when reused materials were 9.1 percent of the total, as the global demand for more things surges.
“Even though we are getting more efficient with how we use materials—computers are getting smaller, cars are becoming lighter, recycling is getting better—these micro gains in efficiency just aren’t stacking up relative to the total increasing demand,” said Fraser.
The report identified a number of practices across sectors from food production to transportation that it said could help rein in the ever-expanding use of virgin materials.
Fraser said the model that enables people in richer countries to buy products from all over the world to be delivered within hours and days “will inevitably have to change”.
The report also weighed strategies like enabling electrical goods—which contain critical raw materials including gold, silver and cobalt—to be repaired, redesigning items to be easier to recycle, restricting single-use plastics and renting items like cars rather than buying them.
One sector it identified as having a significant opportunity to reduce its materials footprint was buildings and construction, where Fraser said current practices were far from sustainable.
He said government policy would be needed occasionally to reconfigure the economic incentives that make reusing resources more expensive than using new ones—stressing that this should be seen as an integral part of efforts to curb global warming.
But Fraser said for now the issue remains a significant blind spot for governments, which he said do not pull together data of their countries’ materials footprint.
He added that people in the future may ask tougher questions about whether materials can be recycled before they are even used.
“I think in the future that could become more and more prominent.”
© 2022 AFP
‘Throwaway economy’ thwarting climate goals: report (2022, January 19)
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