Markets suffer their worst start to the year since Great DepressionA wave of selling has swept the world’s leading financial centres over the past two weeks, with the value of Britain’s leading companies falling by more than £110 billion since the start of the year the year.
The FTSE 100 index of Britain’s biggest quoted companies fell 114 points, or 2 per cent, to 5,804 yesterday — the lowest close since November 2012. Indices in Europe and America have fared even worse: the Shanghai market was the worst performer, closing down 3.6 per cent, taking its total losses to 18 per cent for 2016. This was prompted by the price of a barrel of Brent crude dipping below the $30 mark, for the third time this week. In America the Dow Jones industrial average closed down 391 points, or 2.4 per cent, at 15,988.
The FTSE 100 index of Britain’s biggest quoted companies fell 114 points, or 2 per cent, to 5,804 yesterday — the lowest close since November 2012. In America the Dow Jones industrial average closed down 391 points, or 2.4 per cent, at 15,988.
The Shanghai market was the worst performer, closing down 3.6 per cent, taking its losses for the year so far to 18 per cent. This was prompted by the price of a barrel of Brent crude dipping below $30 for the third time this week.
David Buik, of Panmure Gordon, the investment bank, suggested that the “financial carnage” in stock markets in the first two weeks of the year was the worst since 1928.
Investors seeking safe havens have turned to gold, sparking a 2 per cent recovery in its price to $1,094 an ounce.
George Osborne underlined the pessimistic mood by warning last week of grave threats to the British economy, the chancellor saying that it could be “the year we look back at the beginning of the decline” if the country abandoned his agenda. Fears of another crash were heightened by a research note by an economist at RBS advising clients to “sell everything except high-quality bonds”.
Some economists have said, however, that the risk of contagion from China has been exaggerated. It is only Britain’s sixth-largest export market, representing no more than 3.6 per cent of overseas sales, behind the Republic of Ireland.
In China, interventions by the Communist party to prop up markets have done little to reassure investors, and the plight of the world’s second-largest economy is gripping markets. There is strong evidence of a slowdown, after an unprecedented boom between 2000 and 2014, when the size of the Chinese economy ballooned by a factor of eight. The Beijing authorities have set a growth target of 6.5 per cent for this year, but scepticism over the accuracy of its economic data is growing.
Fathom Consulting, an economic forecaster, thinks that growth in China could be as low as 2.4 per cent, rather than the official 6.8 per cent. The difference between those figures, in dollar terms, equated to more than the entire economy of the United Arab Emirates, suggesting that a severe jolt is in store for the rest of the world.
The Chinese government’s botched interventions in local stock exchanges have heightened the nervousness, and added to the steep fall in the price of oil. It tumbled to below $29 a barrel yesterday, its lowest since 2004. - The Times.
World's Richest Down $305 Billion as Markets Extend Global RoutPlunging stock markets are exacting a toll on the world’s biggest fortunes.
The 400 richest people have lost $305 billion from their combined net worth this month as global equities tumbled for the worst start to a year on record on mounting concern that worldwide growth is faltering.
The billionaires lost more than $115 billion this week, with 76 taking hits of at least $1 billion in January, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Seven shed more than $1 billion on Friday alone as the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 391 points, European stocks fell into a bear market and the Shanghai Composite Index wiped out gains from an unprecedented state-rescue campaign.
Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos led decliners on the Bloomberg index, losing $8.9 billion since Jan. 1 and $1.9 billion Friday when the Internet retailer declined 3.85 percent. Bill Gates, the world’s richest person, has lost $6.8 billion of his net worth this year and Wang Jianlin, China’s richest person, is down $6.4 billion.
Only nine of the 400 billionaires have increased their net worth in 2016, led by Indian oil billionaire Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Mumbai-based Reliance Industries Ltd., who’s added $620 million.
The combined net worth of the 400 billionaires is $3.6 trillion, a 16 percent decline from their peak of $4.3 billion on May 18, 2015. - Bloomberg.
Retail Sales in U.S. Decrease to End Weakest Year Since 2009
Sales at U.S. retailers declined in December to wrap the weakest year since 2009, raising concern about the momentum in consumer spending heading into 2016.
The 0.1 percent drop matched the median forecast of 84 economists surveyed by Bloomberg and followed a 0.4 percent gain in November, Commerce Department figures showed Friday in Washington. For all of 2015, purchases climbed 2.1 percent, the smallest advance of the current economic expansion.
The slowdown, including electronics stores, clothing merchants and grocers, indicates Americans probably preferred to sock away the savings from cheaper fuel instead of splurging during the holiday season. While hiring has been robust in recent months, faster wage gains remain elusive, one reason household spending may have a tougher time accelerating as the new year gets under way.
“There isn’t anything encouraging in this report,” said Thomas Simons, a money-market economist at Jefferies Group LLC in New York. “It’s very disappointing. The labor market is in good shape, which suggests the outlook is probably better than this.”
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey for retail sales ranged from a decline of 1 percent to a 0.3 percent advance. The November tally was revised up from a previously reported 0.2 percent increase.
Weak 2015The increase for all of 2015 followed a 3.9 percent gain the prior year. It was the smallest advance since demand slumped 7.4 percent in 2009, when the recession ended in June of that year.
A separate report from the Labor Department showed inflation remained contained at the wholesale level. The producer price index decreased 0.2 percent in December from the prior month and was down 1 percent year-over-year.
The retail sales report showed six of 13 major categories showed declines in demand in December from the prior month, with a 1 percent slump at general merchandise stores that was the biggest since February, the report showed.
Receipts at gasoline stations dropped 1.1 percent. The Commerce Department’s retail sales data aren’t adjusted for prices, so lower fuel costs depress filling-station receipts.
Regular gasoline at the pump has dropped to a seven-year low, falling below $2 a gallon this week to reach $1.93 on Thursday, according to AAA, the biggest U.S. motoring group.
Clothing, ElectronicsThe retail report also showed sales decreased 0.9 percent at clothing chains and 0.2 percent at electronics stores.
Automobile dealers’ sales were little changed.
Industry figures earlier this month showed purchases of cars and light trucks came in at a 17.2 million annualized rate in December, the slowest since July, after an 18 million pace the prior month, according to Ward’s Automotive Group. Even so, industry sales data shows 2015 was a record year for automakers.
The figures used to calculate gross domestic product, which exclude categories such as food services, auto dealers, home-improvement stores and service stations, unexpectedly dropped 0.3 percent, the biggest decrease since February, after the prior month’s 0.5 percent increase in the so-called retail control group that was smaller than previously estimated.
Warm DecemberWarmer than usual weather last month probably curtailed purchases of winter gear including clothing. This was the warmest December on record for the contiguous U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Some economists may lower estimates for fourth-quarter gross domestic product and consumer spending following the retail sales results. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey shows household purchases rose at a 2.2 percent annualized rate from October through December, after a 3 percent pace in the prior three months.
Recent reports had signaled the November-December holiday season was a mixed one for retailers. Same-store sales fell in the two months for chains ranging from Macy’s Inc. to Best Buy Co. while those who snagged an increase included J.C. Penney Co. Same-store sales for the industry as a whole account for about 17 percent of total retail sales, which make up almost half of consumer spending.
Beige Book“Growth of consumer spending ranged from slight to moderate in most Districts,” according to the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book economic survey based on reports from late November to early January by regional Fed banks. “Auto sales were somewhat mixed, as activity has begun to drop off from previously high levels in some Districts.”
Employers added 292,000 workers in December and payrolls for the previous two months were revised higher, the Labor Department reported last week. The jobless rate held at a more than seven-year low of 5 percent. Wages stagnated, with average hourly earnings unchanged from November and up 2.5 percent from a year earlier. They’ve been in the 2 percent range since the expansion began in 2009. - Bloomberg.
Wal-Mart to shutter 269 stores, 154 of them in the US
Wal-Mart is doing some rare pruning.
The world's largest retailer is closing 269 stores, including 154 in the U.S. that includes all of its locations under its smallest-format concept store called Wal-Mart Express. The other big chunk is in its challenging Brazilian market.
The stores being shuttered account for a fraction of the company's 11,000 stores worldwide and less than 1 percent of its global revenue. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said the store closures will affect 16,000 workers, 10,000 of them in the U.S. Its global workforce is 2.2 million, 1.4 million in the U.S. alone.
The store closures will start at the end of the month.
The announcement comes three months after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. CEO Doug McMillon told investors that the world's largest retailer would review its fleet of stores with the goal of becoming more nimble in the face of increased competition from all fronts, including from online rival Amazon.com.
"Actively managing our portfolio of assets is essential to maintaining a healthy business," McMillon said in a statement. "Closing stores is never an easy decision. But it is necessary to keep the company strong and positioned for the future."
Michael Exstein, an analyst at Credit Suisse, described the moves as "baby steps" in his report published Friday, but he believes they are positive ones. He noted that this is the first mass closing that Wal-Mart has announced in at least two decades.
"It is a sign that Wal-Mart has begun the process of dealing with unproductive locations in a much more tangible and coherent way," he wrote. "But we continue to believe that Wal-Mart needs a much larger restructuring of its store base in order to narrow its focus as it seeks to improve its sales and returns, especially internationally."
Wal-Mart has seen sales perk up for a key revenue measure for the last few quarters in its U.S. business. But it warned last October that its earnings for the fiscal year starting next month will be down as much as 12 percent as it invests further in online operations and pours money into improving customers' experience in the stores. The company has been building bigger fulfillment centers devoted to e-commerce orders and expanding online services.
Of the 154 store closures in the U.S., 102 of them are under the Wal-Mart Express name, which were opened as a test in 2011. The company operates more than 5,000 stores overall in the U.S.
Wal-Mart Express marked the retailer's first entry into the convenience store arena. The stores, which sold essentials like toothpaste, were meant to be a solution to the threat of the fast-growing dollar stores. Wal-Mart Express intended to be a two-pronged strategy: stores in small towns that aren't big enough to support a full-size Wal-Mart and stores in big cities where building a supercenter was impractical. But the concept never caught on as the stores served the same purpose as Wal-Mart's larger Neighborhood Markets: fill-in trips and prescription pickups.
Also covered in the closures are 23 Neighborhood Markets, 12 supercenters, seven stores in Puerto Rico, six discount stores and four Sam's Clubs.
More than 95 percent of the stores set to be closed in the U.S. are within 10 miles of another Wal-Mart. The Bentonville, Arkansas, company said it is working to ensure that workers are placed in nearby locations.
Wal-Mart will now focus in the U.S. on supercenters, Neighborhood Markets, the e-commerce business and pickup services for shoppers.
The retailer said it also closed 60 loss-making locations in Brazil, which accounts for 5 percent of sales in that market. Wal-Mart, which operated 558 stores in Brazil before the closures, has struggled as the economy there has soured. Its Every Day Low price strategy has also not been able to break against heavy promotions from key rivals.
The remaining 55 stores are spread elsewhere in Latin America.
Wal-Mart said that it's still sticking to its plan announced last year to open 50 to 60 supercenters, 85 to 95 Neighborhood Markets and 7 to 10 Sam's Clubs in the U.S. during the fiscal year that begins Feb. 1. Outside the U.S., Wal-Mart plans to open 200 to 240 stores.
The financial impact of the closures is expected to be 20 cents to 22 cents per share from continuing operations, with about 19 cents to 20 cents expected to affect the current fourth quarter. The company is scheduled to release fourth-quarter and full-year results on Feb. 18.
In a separate move, Wal-Mart said that it's merging its Arkansas-based team that creates technology for its stores with its Silicon Valley team that does the same for e-commerce. The move is expected to help Wal-Mart create a more seamless shopping experience for customers who are jumping back and forth between stores and their mobile phones.
Shares of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. fell $1.13, or 1.8 percent, to close at $61.93 amid a broad market sell-off. - AP.
World Bank issues 'perfect storm' warning for 2016
| Russia’s Vladimir Putin (L), India’s Narendra Modi (3rd L), Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff (4th L), China’s Xi Jinping (4th R) and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma (R). |
Photograph: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images
The risk of the global economy being battered by a “perfect storm” in 2016 has been highlighted by the World Bank in a flagship report that warns that a synchronised slowdown in the biggest emerging markets could be intensified by a fresh bout of financial turmoil.
The Bank said the possibility that Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – the so-called Brics economies – could all face problems simultaneously would put in jeopardy the chances of a pick-up in growth in the coming year.
It added that the impact would be heightened by severe financial market stress of the sort triggered in 2013 by the announcement by the Federal Reserve that it was considering reducing the stimulus it was then providing to the US economy.
Launching its annual Global Economic Prospects, the Bank said activity in 2015 had failed to live up to its expectations – the fifth year in a row that growth has undershot the forecasts made by the Washington-based institution, which lends to the world’s poorest countries.
The Bank said growth had slowed to 2.4% in 2015, from 2.6% in 2014, but added that a stronger performance in developed countries should lead to 2.9% growth this year.
“Downside risks dominate and have become increasingly centred on emerging and developing countries,” it said.
The Bank is predicting that recessions in Brazil and Russia will bottom out in 2016, that China will experience only a modest growth slowdown from 6.9% to 6.7% and that India will continue to expand at a robust pace.
The report said that, in a development unmatched since the 1980s, most of the largest emerging market economies were slowing at the same time. Sharp declines in commodity prices, subdued global trade, weaker capital flows and currency pressures had combined last year to create a “particularly challenging external environment for commodity exporters”, where most of the growth slowdown had occurred.
The Bank has estimated that growth in developing countries reached a post-crisis low of 4.2% in 2015, down from 4.9% in 2014, and warned that 2016 could be another difficult year.
In the event that growth in the Brics economies fell one percentage point short of expectations, the Bank said this would knock 0.8 points off growth in other emerging markets and reduce growth in the global economy by 0.4%.
But the Bank also highlighted the risks of what it called a perfect storm. “Spillovers could be considerably larger if the Brics growth slowdown were combined with financial market stress.
“If, in 2016, Brics growth slows further, by as much as the average growth disappointment over 2010-14, growth in other emerging markets could fall short of expectations by about one percentage point and global growth by 0.7 percentage points.
“If such a Brics growth decline scenario were to be combined with financial sector turbulence, emerging market growth could slow by an additional 0.5 percentage points and global growth by an additional 0.4 percentage points.”
Jim Yong Kim, the Bank’s president, said: “More than 40% of the world’s poor live in the developing countries where growth slowed in 2015. Developing countries should focus on building resilience to a weaker economic environment and shielding the most vulnerable. The benefits from reforms to governance and business conditions are potentially large and could help offset the effects of slow growth in larger economies.”
The Bank said it expected the growth rate in the Middle East and North Africa region to more than double as a result of the ending of sanctions against Iran and an end to declining oil prices. “Growth is forecast to accelerate to 5.1% in 2016 from 2.5% in the year just ended, as the expected suspension or removal of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran will allow that country to play a larger role in global energy markets. Growth is expected to pick up in other oil exporters as well, predominantly on the assumption that oil prices will stabilize.” More stable commodity prices should also help Africa, the Bank added, predicting growth to pick up from 3.4% in 2015 to 4.2% in 2016. - The Guardian.