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Yen rallies, rand sinks as new COVID variant spurs flight to safety

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The safe-haven yen rallied and the South African rand tumbled on Friday as investors turned cautious after Britain raised the alarm over a newly identified coronavirus variant spreading in the African nation.

The yen leapt as much as 0.56% to 114.68 per dollar, while the rand slumped to a more than one-year trough at 16.17 per dollar as concern flared about the B.1.1.529 variant, which might make vaccines less effective.

The risk-sensitive Australian dollar slid as much as 0.33% to a three-month low of $0.71265, ignoring a much-better-than-expected climb in retail sales.

“COVID worries are definitely playing a role in increasing demand for safe havens including the yen, and because South Africa is the location of this new variant, that’s an obvious reason to avoid the rand,” said Shinichiro Kadota, senior FX strategist at Barclays in Tokyo.

The British pound slipped to a new 11-month low of $1.3305.

Meanwhile, the euro rose 0.12% to $1.12185, stabilising after hitting its lowest level in nearly 17 months earlier in the week at $1.1186. Germany is considering following Austria’s lead and reimposing a COVID-19 lockdown with the continent once again the epicentre of the pandemic.

The dollar index – which measures the greenback against six peers, including the yen, euro and pound sterling – edged further away from Wednesday’s 96.938 – its highest level in nearly 17 months. It last traded at 96.715.

However, it was up 0.73% on the week, still headed for its fifth straight weekly gain.

Traders have ramped up bets that an increasingly hawkish Federal Reserve will lift rates by the middle of next year, while central banks in Europe, Japan and elsewhere stick to more dovish stances.

“If the COVID situation worsens, then dollar-yen could go down further, but otherwise the monetary policy divergence is definitely going to be weighing on the yen in the medium term,” said Kadota, who predicts dollar-yen will strengthen to 116 and beyond by the middle of next year.

On the flip side, 114 should provide a floor for the currency pair in the near term, “unless the world really changes for the worse,” he said.

Last week, Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda reiterated his commitment to massive monetary stimulus, adding that the central bank stands ready to ramp it up further if necessary.

Overnight, minutes from the European Central Bank‘s October meeting showed most policymakers leaning toward continued stimulus and a cautious approach to any policy changes, despite the pressure from heated inflation.

By contrast, money markets are pricing for a Fed rate hike by July, with good odds it could come in June.

A potentially crucial signpost for U.S. policy direction is due next Friday, with the release of monthly payrolls figures.

========================================================

Currency bid prices at 0140 GMT

Description RIC Last U.S. Close Pct Change YTD Pct High Bid Low Bid

Previous Change

Session

Euro/Dollar

$1.1218 $1.1206 +0.11% -8.18% +1.1225 +1.1206

 

Dollar/Yen

114.9400 115.3700 -0.39% +11.26% +115.3150 +114.7050

 

Euro/Yen

128.93 129.29 -0.28% +1.58% +129.3300 +128.6300

 

Dollar/Swiss

0.9344 0.9356 -0.13% +5.62% +0.9359 +0.9334

 

Sterling/Dollar

1.3305 1.3318 -0.10% -2.61% +1.3322 +1.3305

 

Dollar/Canadian

1.2681 1.2646 +0.25% -0.44% +1.2682 +1.2650

 

Aussie/Dollar

0.7158 0.7186 -0.38% -6.95% +0.7190 +0.7158

 

NZ

Dollar/Dollar 0.6828 0.6854 -0.34% -4.89% +0.6856 +0.6830

 

 

All spots

Tokyo spots

Europe spots

Volatilities

Tokyo Forex market info from BOJ

 

(Reporting by Kevin Buckland; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

Economy

Nobody seems to know what's going on with the economy – CNN

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A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.

(CNN)If you’re confused by the US economy, which simultaneously shows signs of strength and cause for concern, you’re not alone.

The economy is on the road to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, reeling from inflation or a source of disappointment on jobs creation, depending on who you’re talking to.
It’s probably all three, and what happens from month to month seems to be something of a surprise. That element of unpredictability might be the most normal possible thing given the shock of the pandemic — the extraordinary government intervention to save the economy is unlike anything anybody alive today has ever seen.
It’s hard to decide how important any single thing is.
Let’s look today at jobs.
Government data released Friday showed the US economy gained 210,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate fell to 4.2%. A low rate traditionally signals full employment, meaning that nearly everyone who wants a job has one.
And yet!
Most stories about the November jobs report described it as “disappointing” in the first sentence, but also proof that the pandemic recovery is moving along.
Why the disappointment? Tappe wrote: “Economists had expected more than double the number of jobs created in November, forecasting a continuation of the buoyant economic recovery over the past two months. Instead, the November jobs gain was more reminiscent of the pre-pandemic economy, when employers added a smaller but steady number of positions, at least on the face of it.”
At the same time, there’s the good news. The jobs report suggests the pandemic recovery is progressing. The country has created more than 6 million jobs this year, and labor force participation increased to 61.8%, the highest level since the pandemic hit.
Much of the disappointment stems from expectations. The jobs report is based on two surveys — one of businesses with payrolls and one of households about their economic situation — that are conducted by the government mid-month and released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in tandem on the first Friday of each month.
“Weird jobs numbers,” tweeted Jason Furman, who led the Council of Economic Advisors during the Obama administration.
“Very strong household survey: unemployment down to 4.2% & labor force participation up as employment up 1.1 million,” he tweeted. “But the normally more reliable payroll survey shows only 210K jobs added.”
He’s not sure what’s going on: “Some explanations may emerge but it may just be measurement error.”
Where do expectations come from? Leading up to the monthly release, economists and banks publish their own expectations for what the surveys will find. If the government data doesn’t hit those expectations, disappointment follows.
I talked to Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, about what we do and do not learn from these reports.
She said they need to be viewed as pieces of information, not the full picture, in part because the surveys can overstate things and miss the changing composition of the workforce.
Revisions to jobs reports from recent months have confirmed stronger job growth than what was shown by the surveys.
Still, it’s best to know the latest information, even if we know it’s likely to change, she said.
Also, the pandemic. There is also the pandemic element to confound economic expectations, just like it has confounded people’s lives.
“Everyone in this economy today and the people that are making these predictions have never lived through a pandemic that hit the labor market so strong,” said Gould. “And so their models are not necessarily capturing the ebbs and flows of the pandemic.”
I asked David Goldman, managing editor of CNN Business, for his thoughts on why these reports seem to confound expectations each month. He came back with three points:
  • This is a particularly unusual environment. It is making predictions really difficult for economists. The labor shortage, supply chain crisis, energy crunch, inflation and Covid-19 situations all wrapped into one make for a delicate balancing act. We should cut economists a break.
  • Right in the long run. Economists actually have been proven correct over the past several months when they initially were thought to be wrong. That’s because the reports keep getting revised higher in subsequent months as Labor Department economists get more data. It’s not only hard for economists at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan to figure out — it’s hard for the government, too.
  • Don’t focus on expectations. The forecasts aren’t the important thing here — it’s the actual data. And one month doesn’t a trend make. We’ve had some shockingly good jobs data in recent months, and November wasn’t all that bad — just not quite as good as we had expected.
There’s uncertainty elsewhere. Leaders at the Federal Reserve, like Chairman Jerome Powell, had been preaching that inflation was temporary — calling it “transitory,” meaning it wouldn’t permanently affect the economy.
But in a signal that inflation may last a little longer than expected, Powell told lawmakers this week the Fed may end some of its pandemic stimulus efforts — they call it “tapering” — earlier than expected.
“At this point the economy is very strong and inflationary pressures are high and it is therefore appropriate in my view to consider wrapping up the taper of our asset purchases … perhaps a few months sooner,” Powell said.
One wrench thrown into the economy has been the resilience of the coronavirus. We may not quite understand how the surge of the Delta variant over the summer and fall arrested progress.
CNN’s Tappe and Nathaniel Meyersohn wrote about the Delta effect back in August.
Now that the Omicron variant is emerging, it, too, could send things in a new direction.

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Omicron Variant May Be Good For Economy – Forbes

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The omicron variant of Covid-19 has sparked great fear. With time, we may find the fear to have been justified, but we may find the opposite: that this is good news for the economy.

It’s still early days for our knowledge of omicron. Waiting to learn more seems to make sense, but consider this: Business decisions are being made every day. Any person who waits for perfect certainty—about the economy, technology or Covid-19—will never make a single decision. In many areas decisions have to be made this week. So it’s worthwhile to consider how omicron may be good for the economy.

Omicron seems to be displacing the delta variant in South Africa. Ted Wenseleers showed that delta’s share of total Covid-19 cases in South Africa has plummeted while omicron has surged. Because the early indications show that omicron was highly transmissible, it could well displace the delta variant around the world.

So far omicron has triggered a surge in infections in South Africa, but not a comparable increase in deaths. There’s good reason for the virus to mutate to be less dangerous. Bugs that kill their hosts don’t replicate as much as bugs that allow their hosts to remain alive. Many viruses in the past have evolved to be milder. We cannot take this idea too far, however.

The omicron virus may have mutated so that it has greater ability to infect those who already had been exposed to earlier variants. That’s no surprise to South African scientists, who have observed a very high past infection rate in their population. The virus could not get ahead by finding people never exposed to any version of Covid-19, so it found a way to infect the previously ill, this theory goes.

BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said recently that current vaccines probably help protect against severe illness from the omicron variant, and that new vaccines are under development that would be more targeted against omicron. Given the speed with which our vaccines were developed, we may have new versions being tested in the lab right now. The question will be how long we have to wait for regulatory approval.

From an economic forecasting viewpoint, business leaders should consider the upside potential of omicron. Although it is way too early to be sure, we may find that the disease becomes dominated by a less dangerous mutation. Illness would continue if this happens, but with fewer deaths and hospitalizations. People would come to feel more comfortable dining out, traveling and seeking routine non-Covid healthcare tests and procedures. The rosy view is far from certain, but current evidence is not more pessimistic.

Companies that that are especially sensitive to the Covid pandemic should try to delay big decisions. We’ll have better information in the coming weeks. But decisions that cannot be delayed should probably consider the possibility of a stronger economy rather than greater Covid problems.

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Can the global economy battle through another COVID-19 setback? – Aljazeera.com

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Video Duration 26 minutes 00 seconds

From: Counting the Cost

A new coronavirus variant has forced governments to impose travel bans just as economies were starting to recover.

Last week, after scientists in South Africa identified a new coronavirus variant, borders were suddenly closed off to passenger travel from Southern African countries, oil prices fell more than 10 percent, and stock markets took a hit.

Markets and economies are expected to face weeks of uncertainty as investors closely watch for updates on Omicron. What comes next largely depends on what scientists discover and how quickly they do so.

Also, green hydrogen has been hailed as the energy of the future; can it help decarbonise economies?

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