Chinese factory output rebounds after stimulus

Updated 12 December 2015

Chinese factory output rebounds after stimulus

BEIJING: China’s activity data was stronger than expected in November, with factory output growth picking up to a five-month high, signalling that a flurry of stimulus measures from Beijing may have put a floor under a fragile economy.

Still, analysts believe more policy steps are needed to weather nagging headwinds from a cooling property market, risks from high domestic debt levels, and weak global demand as financial markets brace for interest rate rises by the US Federal Reserve.
“Real interest rates are still high due to falling producer prices,” Wang Jun, senior economist at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), a Beijing-based think-tank.
“It’s still necessary to cut interest rates to support economic growth and combat deflation.”
Factory output grew an annual 6.2 percent in November, data from the National Bureau of Statistics(NBS) showed, quickening from October’s 5.6 percent and beating expectations of 5.6 percent.
Growth in China’s fixed-asset investment, one of the main drivers of the economy, rose 10.2 percent in the first 11 months, unchanged from the gain in January-October, and higher than an expected 10.1 percent rise.
Retail sales grew an annual 11.2 percent in November — the strongest expansion this year — compared with 11.0 percent in October. Analysts had forecast 11.1 percent growth in November.
“While low base could be the factor driving the headline growth, we still have to acknowledge that China’s data are illustrating signs of stabilization, albeit at a low level,” said Zhao Hao, senior economist at Commerzbank in Singapore.
The data came after weak trade and inflation readings earlier this week, which underscored the persistent slack in the economy.
The world’s second-biggest economy has been hit by weak demand at home and abroad, factory overcapacity and challenges posed by its transition to a consumption-led growth model from one reliant on investments.
With the Fed poised to raise interest rates for the first time in almost a decade at next week’s review, the risk of intensifying capital outflows has added to Beijing’s policy challenge.
Premier Li Keqiang has recently pledged to step up “supply-side” reform to generate new growth engines in the economy while tackling factory overcapacity and so-called zombie firms.
With its trade sector ailing, there are also signs China is ramping up efforts to send more excess production abroad with tax cuts for the export sector.
China’s output of key industrial commodities including coal and steel remained weak in November amid chronic oversupply as slowing construction demand took its toll.
Over the past year Chinese authorities have launched the most aggressive policy stimulus since the 2008/09 global financial crisis, including cutting interest rates six times since late 2014 and lowering bank reserve requirements.
They have also taken other steps, including an announcement on Friday to lock-in more investments as Beijing tries to put a floor under the economy.
But the government has been struggling to reach its economic growth target of around 7 percent this year, which would be the weakest pace in a quarter of a century. Many analysts suspect actual growth is lower than official figures suggest.
A cooling property market has weighed heavily on China’s economy over the past year. Home sales and prices have increased in bigger cities over recent months, helped by a barrage of government measures.
Data issued by the statistics bureau on Saturday showed property investment grew 1.3 percent in the first 11 months of 2015 from a year earlier, slowing from 2.0 percent rise in January-October and hitting the weakest pace since early 2009.


With many vaccinated, Israel reopens economy before election

Updated 12 min 8 sec ago

With many vaccinated, Israel reopens economy before election

JERUSALEM: Israel reopened most of its economy Sunday as part of its final phase of lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions, some of them in place since September.
The easing of restrictions comes after months of government-imposed shutdowns and less than three weeks before the country’s fourth parliamentary elections in two years. Israel, a world leader in vaccinations per capita, has surged forward with immunizing nearly 40% of its population in just over two months.
Bars and restaurants, event halls, sporting events, hotels and all primary and secondary schools that had been closed to the public for months could reopen with some restrictions in place on the number of people in attendance, and with certain places open to the vaccinated only.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government approved the easing of limitations Saturday night, including the reopening of the main international airport to a limited number of incoming passengers each day.
Netanyahu is campaigning for reelection as Israel’s coronavirus vaccine champion at the same time that he is on trial for corruption.
Israel has sped ahead with its immunization campaign. Over 52% of its population of 9.3 million has received one dose and almost 40% two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, one of the highest rates per capita in the world. After striking a deal to obtain large quantities of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines in exchange for medical data, Israel has distributed over 8.6 million doses since launching its vaccination campaign in late December.
While vaccination rates continue to steadily rise and the number of serious cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, drops, Israel’s unemployment rate remains high. As of January, 18.4% of the workforce was out of work because of the pandemic, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
At the same time that it has deployed vaccines to its own citizens, Israel has provided few vaccines for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a move that has underscored global disparities. It has faced criticism for not sharing significant quantities of its vaccine stockpiles with the Palestinians. On Friday, Israel postponed plans to vaccinate Palestinians who work inside the country and its West Bank settlements until further notice.
Israeli officials have said that its priority is vaccinating its own population first, while the Palestinian Authority has said it would fend for itself in obtaining vaccines from the WHO-led partnership with humanitarian organizations known as COVAX.
Israel has confirmed at least 800,000 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and 5,861 deaths, according to the Health Ministry.

Escalating violence ups pressure for Myanmar sanctions

Updated 07 March 2021

Escalating violence ups pressure for Myanmar sanctions

  • The UN special envoy urged the Security Council to act to quell junta violence that this week killed about 50 demonstrators
BANGKOK: The escalation of violence in Myanmar as authorities crack down on protests against the Feb. 1 coup is raising pressure for more sanctions against the junta, even as countries struggle over how to best sway military leaders inured to global condemnation.
The challenge is made doubly difficult by fears of harming ordinary citizens who were already suffering from an economic slump worsened by the pandemic but are braving risks of arrest and injury to voice outrage over the military takeover. Still, activists and experts say there are ways to ramp up pressure on the regime, especially by cutting off sources of funding and access to the tools of repression.
The UN special envoy on Friday urged the Security Council to act to quell junta violence that this week killed about 50 demonstrators and injured scores more.
“There is an urgency for collective action,” Christine Schraner Burgener told the meeting. “How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?“
Coordinated UN action is difficult, however, since permanent Security Council members China and Russia would almost certainly veto it. Myanmar’s neighbors, its biggest trading partners and sources of investment, are likewise reluctant to resort to sanctions.
Some piecemeal actions have already been taken. The US, Britain and Canada have tightened various restrictions on Myanmar’s army, their family members and other top leaders of the junta. The US blocked an attempt by the military to access more than $1 billion in Myanmar central bank funds being held in the US, the State Department confirmed Friday.
But most economic interests of the military remain “largely unchallenged,” Thomas Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on the rights situation in Myanmar, said in a report issued last week. Some governments have halted aid and the World Bank said it suspended funding and was reviewing its programs.
Its unclear whether the sanctions imposed so far, although symbolically important, will have much ímpact. Schraner Burgener told UN correspondents that the army shrugged off a warning of possible “huge strong measures” against the coup with the reply that, “‘We are used to sanctions and we survived those sanctions in the past.’”
Andrews and other experts and human rights activists are calling for a ban on dealings with the many Myanmar companies associated with the military and an embargo on arms and technology, products and services that can be used by the authorities for surveillance and violence.
The activist group Justice for Myanmar issued a list of dozens of foreign companies that it says have supplied such potential tools of repression to the government, which is now entirely under military control.
It cited budget documents for the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Transport and Communications that show purchases of forensic data, tracking, password recovery, drones and other equipment from the US, Israel, EU, Japan and other countries. Such technologies can have benign or even beneficial uses, such as fighting human trafficking. But they also are being used to track down protesters, both online and offline.
Restricting dealings with military-dominated conglomerates including Myanmar Economic Corp., Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise might also pack more punch, with a minimal impact on small, private companies and individuals.
One idea gaining support is to prevent the junta from accessing vital oil and gas revenues paid into and held in banks outside the country, Chris Sidoti, a former member of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said in a news conference on Thursday.
Oil and gas are Myanmar’s biggest exports and a crucial source of foreign exchange needed to pay for imports. The country’s $1.4 billion oil and gas and mining industries account for more than a third of exports and a large share of tax revenue.
“The money supply has to be cut off. That’s the most urgent priority and the most direct step that can be taken,” said Sidoti, one of the founding members of a newly established international group called the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar.
Unfortunately, such measures can take commitment and time, and “time is not on the side of the people of Myanmar at a time when these atrocities are being committed,” he said.
Myanmar’s economy languished in isolation after a coup in 1962. Many of the sanctions imposed by Western governments in the decades that followed were lifted after the country began its troubled transition toward democracy in 2011. Some of those restrictions were restored after the army’s brutal operations in 2017 against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s northwest Rakhine state.
The European Union has said it is reviewing its policies and stands ready to adopt restrictive measures against those directly responsible for the coup. Japan, likewise, has said it is considering what to do.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, convened a virtual meeting on March 2 to discuss Myanmar. Its chairman later issued a statement calling for an end to violence and for talks to try to reach a peaceful settlement.
But ASEAN admitted Myanmar as a member in 1997, long before the military, known as the Tatmadaw, initiated reforms that helped elect a quasi-civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Most ASEAN governments have authoritarian leaders or one-party rule. By tradition, they are committed to consensus and non interference in each others’ internal affairs.
While they lack an appetite for sanctions, some ASEAN governments have vehemently condemned the coup and the ensuing arrests and killings.
Marzuki Darusman, an Indonesian lawyer and former chair of the Fact-Finding Mission that Sidoti joined, said he believes the spiraling, brutal violence against protesters has shaken ASEAN’s stance that the crisis is purely an internal matter.
“ASEAN considers it imperative that it play a role in resolving the crisis in Myanmar,” Darusman said.
Thailand, with a 2,400 kilometer (1,500-mile)-long border with Myanmar and more than 2 million Myanmar migrant workers, does not want more to flee into its territory, especially at a time when it is still battling the pandemic.
Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior fellow at Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Security and International Studies, also believes ASEAN wants to see a return to a civilian government in Myanmar and would be best off adopting a “carrot and stick” approach.
But the greatest hope, he said, is with the protesters.
On Saturday, some protesters expressed their disdain by pouring Myanmar Beer, a local brand made by a military-linked company whose Japanese partner Kirin Holdings is withdrawing from, on people’s feet — considered a grave insult in some parts of Asia.
“The Myanmar people are very brave. This is the No. 1 pressure on the country,” Chongkittavorn said in a seminar held by the East-West Center in Hawaii. “It’s very clear the junta also knows what they need to do to move ahead, otherwise sanctions will be much more severe.”

China exports soar to highest level in decades after COVID-19 hit

Updated 07 March 2021

China exports soar to highest level in decades after COVID-19 hit

  • Exports were boosted by electronics and mask shipments

BEIJING: China's export growth jumped to the highest in over two decades, official data showed Sunday, with imports also surging in a sharp bounceback from the coronavirus outbreak that had brought activity to a near halt.
Exports spiked 60.6 percent on-year in the January-February period, above analysts' expectations and boosted by electronics and mask shipments, while imports rose 22.2 percent, official data showed Sunday.


California theme parks, stadiums to reopen soon

Updated 07 March 2021

California theme parks, stadiums to reopen soon

  • Parks initially will be open only to state residents amid safety precautions

LOS ANGELES: California health officials on Friday gave Walt Disney Co.’s Disneyland and other theme parks the go-ahead to reopen at limited capacity from April 1, after a closure of almost a year due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Capacity will be limited to between 15 percent and 35 percent, the California Department of Health said in an update. Masks and other safety measures will be required and the parks initially will be open only to state residents.

Outdoor stadiums and ball parks will also be allowed to reopen at reduced capacity, starting April 1.

Ken Potrock, president of the Disneyland Resort, said in a statement that the decision meant “getting thousands of people back to work and greatly helping neighboring businesses and our entire community.”

“With responsible Disney safety protocols already implemented around the world, we can’t wait to welcome our guests back,” Potrock said.

He did not give a date for the reopening of Disneyland in the southern California city of Anaheim.

Disney shares were trading at $195.10 after hours, after closing at $189.99.

Disney in September said it was furloughing some 28,000 workers, mostly across its US theme parks in California and Florida. Walt Disney World in Florida reopened in July last year, with limited capacity.

Friday’s announcement follows a decline in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in California and the rollout of vaccines. A parking lot at Disneyland is currently being used as a mass vaccination site.

Theme parks like Disneyland, Universal Studios, Legoland and Knott’s Berry Farm protested strongly last October when California health officials ruled out any quick reopening of their attractions.

The California Attractions and Parks Association called Friday’s announcement “encouraging news.”

“Parks now have a framework to safely and responsibly reopen ... putting people safely back to work and reinvigorating local economies,” the association said in a statement.


US economy likely to grow between 5-6% in 2021

Updated 07 March 2021

US economy likely to grow between 5-6% in 2021

  • The US economy could grow between 5 percent and 6 percent this year

ATLANTA: The US economy could grow between 5 percent and 6 percent this year, Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said on Friday.

He said the economy is still under “considerable distress” and the Federal Reserve will continue to provide support until the labor market is stronger and average inflation is on track to meet the US central bank’s long-term target.

“We’re ready and able … to support the recovery as long and as strongly as necessary,” Bostic said during a virtual event organized by Stanford University.

The US economy could grow between 5 percent and 6 percent this year, Bostic said. But he cautioned that the labor market could face structural changes as a result of the pandemic that may require some laid-off service-sector workers to train for jobs in new industries.

A decline in business travel and increased use of automation could mean that some of the jobs lost during the pandemic will not return, Bostic said.

“We need to do all we can to minimize the long-term damage from the pandemic crisis and to make sure that the recovery is as broad-based and as inclusive
as possible.”

Asked if he thought the Fed needs to take action to respond to rising bond yields, which could be a sign that investors are raising their inflation expectations, Bostic said high inflation is not a concern right now.

“Inflation has not been a real stress point in terms of the economic performance for quite a long time,” Bostic said, adding that the Fed will continue to monitor for signs of stronger price growth.