US Budget Deficit Hits Six-Year High

The U.S. government’s budget deficit hit $779 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, while spending increased and tax revenues remained nearly flat, the Treasury said Monday.

It was the biggest deficit since 2012, and $113 billion more than the figure a year ago. The 2018 deficit amounted to 3.9 percent of the country’s more than $18 trillion annual economy, up from 3.5 percent last year.

The government’s deficit spending boosted the country’s long-term debt figure to more than $21 trillion, forcing the government to pay an extra $65 billion last year in interest on money the government has had to borrow to run its programs.

In all, government spending rose by $127 billion last year, while tax collections increased by $14 billion.

The Treasury said the annual deficit rose partly because corporate tax collections dropped by $76 billion after Congress approved cuts in tax rates for both businesses and individuals that were supported by President Donald Trump.

Mick Mulvaney, the government’s budget director, said the country’s “booming economy will create increased government revenues — an important step toward long-term fiscal sustainability. But this fiscal picture is a blunt warning to Congress of the dire consequences of irresponsible and unnecessary spending.”


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Zimbabwe’s Government Says Worst of its Economic Woes is Over

Zimbabwe’s government says the country is emerging from a recent economic meltdown that saw shops run out of goods and motorists spend long hours in lines at gas stations. Economists say Zimbabwe’s crisis is not over, as people have no confidence in the currency or in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

For weeks now, there have been long and winding queues at most fuel stations in Zimbabwe, as the precious liquid has been in short supply. Lameck Mauriri is one of those now tired of the situation.

“We are really striving but things are tough to everyone,” said Mauriri. “I do not know how those in rural areas, how they are surviving, especially if in Harare it is like this. We are sleeping in fuel queues. There is not fuel, there is no bread, there is no drink. There is no everything. No cash, no jobs.”

For a decade, the country has been without an official currency and relied on U.S. dollars, the British pound and South African rand to conduct transactions. In the past three years, however, all three currencies have been hard to find, paralyzing the economy.

The introduction of bond notes — a currency Zimbabwe started printing two years ago to ease the situation — has not helped.

The bond notes were supposed to trade at par with the U.S. dollar; but, on the black market, a dollar now is now equal to close to three bond notes.

Prosper Chitambara, an economist of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe says the bond notes are partly to blame for the price increases and shortages in the country.

“What is lacking in the economy, in the market is confidence. There is a distrust of the formal economic system,” said Chitambara. “The bond notes have definitely contributed a great deal to the current economic situation, a fallacy economic situation. What they have done is for example to increase money supply in the economy. And that money supply is not actually backed by significant productivity in the economy. That actually gives rise to general of inflationary pressures.”

He said the government’s recent introduction of a 2 percent tax on all electronic transactions pushed prices even higher and caused some shops to close.

Ndabaningi Nick Mangwana, Zimbabwe’s secretary in the Ministry of Information and Publicity, says the situation in the country is normal and there is no need for alarm.

“There is no shortage to oil itself, there is no challenge in terms of production of all these essential services,” said Mangwana. “That is why they are there if you go. There were a few people who panicked, closed a couple of shops, but those opened within hours. There was fake news and people panicked, but it is all under control.”

That is not exactly what seems to be the case on the ground. Some shops remain closed and prices continue rising. Long fuel lines remain the order of the day. 


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Market Can Cope with Push for Zero Iranian Oil Sales, Says US Envoy

The United States still aims to cut Iran’s oil sales to zero and does not expect restored oil sanctions against Tehran to have a negative impact on a market that is well-supplied and balanced, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.

U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, was talking to reporters after a visit to India, a major importer of Iranian oil, and talks with officials from France, Britain and Germany before the start of a new round of U.S. sanctions on Nov. 4.

The three European countries have been trying to save the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and multiple global powers since U.S. President Trump announced in May that the United States would withdraw from the pact.

In a conference call from Luxembourg, where Hook was meeting European officials, he said that Iran uses oil revenue to support and fund terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East and that the U.S. goal is for countries to cut Iranian oil imports to zero as quickly as possible.

“We are working with countries that are reducing their imports to ensure that this happens,” he said.

Hook declined to answer questions on possible waivers on sanctions for countries that are reducing their imports but said the U.S. is confident that energy markets will remain stable.

“We are seeing a well-supplied and balanced oil market right now. We should focus on these fundamentals and not be distracted by the emotional and unbalanced claims coming from Tehran.”

Iran, OPEC’s third-largest producer, has repeatedly said that its oil exports cannot be reduced to zero because of high demand in the market.

Washington, meanwhile, plans to continue coordinating with oil producers and maintain U.S. supply.

“Our crude oil production increased by 1.65 million barrels in August compared to one year ago and that is expected to continue rising by as much as 1 million barrels a day within the next year,” he said.

Hook also said that European efforts to create a special purpose vehicle for trade with Tehran would find no demand because more than 100 foreign firms have indicated that they would be leaving the country.


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Why More Americans Are Moving to Smaller Cities

More Americans are moving to smaller cities in search of a better quality of life.

They’re leaving places like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York for mid-sized cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A huge draw for these second-tier cities is that the cost of housing consumes a much smaller chunk of people’s salaries. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of the people who move do so for housing-related reasons. They’re looking for a new or better home, cheaper housing, or to buy a home rather than rent.

It costs about $4,100 a month to rent a place in Manhattan. That’s almost two-thirds of New York City’s median household income of $83,500. Buying a home is even more out of reach. The average cost of a home in the area is $1.1 million.

More than half a million people left the New York boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens over a five-year period between 2012 and 2017.

In Los Angeles, the metropolitan county with the largest outbound net domestic migration, rent costs about $2,100 a month — about 38 percent of average income. Houses cost around $630,000, almost 10 times the average annual salary of $66,000.

LA County lost about 381,000 people over a five-year period.

According to the report, the cost of living can be a lot less expensive in the Phoenix area, which welcomed more net domestic newcomers over the past five years — 221,000 people — than any other part of the country.

The average household income in Phoenix is about $63,000, rent is about $1,100 a month, and the median price of a house is $280,000 — that’s $350,000 less than in the LA metropolitan area.

In the Las Vegas area, the rent ($1,000) will only consume 21 percent of the average salary ($57,000) and purchasing a house would set a buyer back about $273,000.

 

The analysis found that housing is about two times cheaper in the top markets that attracted people than in the areas that are losing the most in terms of population.

Chicago appears to be an exception. People are leaving the Windy City to get away from high taxes. Property taxes are higher there than almost anywhere else in the United States.

It is not as though the places that are losing people are suffering due to the exodus. Eight of the 10 counties with the biggest net population losses are still growing overall because of births and immigration.


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Global Stocks Climb Following Two Days of Sharp Losses

World stocks are climbing Friday after two days of sharp losses. Major U.S. stock indexes are up more than 1 percent, but they’re still on track for their biggest one-week loss since late March.

Technology and internet companies were some of the hardest hit over the last two days and they led the market higher Friday. Apple climbed 2.7 percent to $220.18. Consumer-focused companies also rallied, as Amazon jumped 3.8 percent to $1,783.96 and Netflix surged 4.7 percent to $336.30.

The S&P 500 index climbed 37 points, or 1.4 percent, to 2,766 at 9:45 a.m. Eastern time. The benchmark index tumbled 5.3 percent over the past two days and as of Thursday it had fallen for six consecutive days. The S&P is down 5.6 percent from its latest record high, set Sept. 20.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 305 points, or 1.2 percent, to 25,358. The Nasdaq composite surged 138 points, or 1.9 percent, to 7,467. The Russell 2000 index gained 17 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,563. That index, which is made up of smaller and more U.S.-focused companies, has fallen into a 10 percent “correction” since reaching a record high at the end of August.

On the New York Stock Exchange, winners outnumbered losers eight to one.

Stocks in Europe and Asia also recovered some of their recent losses. The French CAC 40 and the DAX in Germany both rose 0.8 percent while Britain’s FTSE 100 was 0.7 percent higher. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index gained 0.5 percent after sinking early in the day and following a nearly 4 percent loss on Thursday. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng surged 2.1 percent and the Kospi in South Korea rose 1.5 percent.

The market’s recent losing streak started when strong economic data and positive comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell helped set off a wave of selling in the bond market. Investors were betting that the U.S. economy would keep growing at a healthy pace. The sales pushed bond prices lower and yields higher. That drove interest rates sharply higher, which worried investors who felt that a big increase in interest rates could eventually stifle economic growth. Higher yields also make bonds more appealing to investors versus stocks.

The worst losses went to stocks that have led the market in recent years, including technology companies, as well as companies that do better when economic growth speeds up, like industrial firms.

Banks rose as they began to report their third-quarter results. Citigroup jumped 2.4 percent to $70.04. Last year’s corporate tax cut and rising interest rates have helped banks make more money.

Bond prices turned lower as the stock market stabilized. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.16 percent from 3.13 percent.

High-dividend stocks lagged the rest of the market, and utilities and household goods makers were little changed. Those stocks held up a bit better than the rest of the market over the last six days. Investors view them as relatively safe, steady assets that look better when growth is uncertain and the rest of the market is in turmoil.

U.S. crude oil added 0.6 percent to $71.43 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, was up 0.6 percent to $80.77 a barrel in London.

The dollar rose to 112.17 yen from 111.94 yen. The euro fell to $1.1548 from $1.1594.


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‘Winter Is Coming’: Indonesia Warns World Finance Leaders Over Trade War

Just in case any of the global central bankers and finance ministers gathered in Indonesia missed the message delivered repeatedly this week, the host nation said it again Friday: Everyone stands to lose if trade wars are allowed to escalate.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo didn’t mention the United States or China, the world’s two largest economies, but it was clear who he was talking about in an address to the plenary session of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings on the island of Bali.

“Lately it feels like the relations among the major economies are becoming more and more like Game of Thrones,” Widodo said in a speech peppered with references to the HBO series about dynasties and kingdoms battling for power.

“Are we so busy fighting with each other and competing against each other that we fail to notice the things which are increasingly threatening, all of us alike, rich and poor, large and small,” he said.

Poorer and populous emerging market countries like his are among the most vulnerable to the fallout from the ongoing U.S.-Sino tariff war, and rising U.S. interest rates that are drawing investors away and driving down currencies.

“All these troubles in the world economy, are enough to make us feel like saying: ‘Winter is coming,'” Widodo said, using a phrase that characters in the popular fantasy series constantly repeat to refer to spectral dangers that could destroy them all.

With rivalry growing in the world economy, Widodo said “the situation could be more critical compared to the global financial crisis 10 years ago.”

The market ructions have now cascaded through to developed markets with Wall Street extending a slide into a sixth session on Thursday amid the trade war fears.

The United States and China have slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s goods over the past few months.

The tariffs stem from the Trump administration’s demands that China make sweeping changes to its intellectual property practices, rein in high-technology industrial subsidies, open its markets to more foreign competition and take steps to cut a politically sensitive U.S. goods trade surplus.

Rubbing salt in U.S. wounds, China reported on Friday an unexpected acceleration in export growth in September and a record $34.13 billion trade surplus with the United States.

Mnuchin: China trade talks must include yuan

In an interview with Reuters, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he told China’s central bank chief that currency issues need to be part of any further U.S.-China trade talks and expressed his concerns about the yuan’s recent weakness.

Mnuchin also said that China needs to identify concrete “action items” to rebalance the two countries’ trade relationship before talks to resolve their disputes can resume.

The U.S. Treasury chief and People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang extensively discussed currency issues on the sidelines of the meetings in Bali.

Mnuchin’s comments on China’s currency come ahead of next week’s scheduled release of a hotly anticipated Treasury report on currency manipulation, the first since a significant weakening of yuan began this spring.

Mnuchin said re-launching trade talks would require China to commit to taking action on structural reforms to its economy.

If the relationship could be rebalanced, he said the U.S.-China total annual trade relationship could grow to $1 trillion from $650 billion currently, with $500 billion of exports from each country.

G-20 members and trade issues

Meanwhile, the chairman of a meeting of finance leaders from the Group of 20 leading industrialized and emerging economies admitted that the trade tensions within the group could only be solved by the countries directly involved.

“The G-20 can play a role in providing the platform for discussions. But the differences that still persist should be resolved by the members that are directly involved in the tensions,” Nicolas Dujovne, Argentina’s Treasury Minister, told a news conference after chairing the G-20 meeting in Bali.

More than 19,000 delegates and other guests, including ministers, central bank heads and some leaders, were attending the IMF-World Bank meetings, and Widodo asked them to “cushion the blows from trade wars, technical disruption and market turmoil.”

“I hope you will each do your part to nudge our various leaders in the right direction,” Widodo said, adding that “confrontation and collision impose a tragic price.”

The IMF’s twice-yearly report on the Asia Pacific region, released Thursday, warned that the market rout seen in emerging economies could worsen if the Federal Reserve and other major central banks tightened monetary policy more quickly than expected.

At Friday’s plenary, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde estimated that the escalation of current trade tensions could reduce global GDP by almost one percent over the next two years.

IMF forecasts of global economic growth for both 2018 and 2019 were cut to 3.7 percent, from 3.9 percent in its July forecast.

“Clearly, we need to de-escalate these disputes,” Lagarde told the plenary session.


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Experts: Urbanization Will Spread Housing Crisis Worldwide

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, according to United Nations figures.  By the middle of this century, 68 percent of the world will be urbanized, adding 2½ billion people to global cities.  The growth will bring problems, including lack of housing, and,  as Mike O’Sullivan reports, some ballooning urban regions already face a housing crisis.


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US Companies Affected by Trump Tariffs Grapple With Uncertainty

The trade war between the United States and China has made for a nerve-wracking summer of uncertainty in Wisconsin, where manufacturing has long been in decline yet remains a vital part of the state’s economy.

At Johnson Level and Tool in suburban Milwaukee, the Trump administration’s thrust-and-parry trade moves with China and other countries have left the company bracing for up to $3.7 million in extra costs annually because of higher tariffs on imports, including some of its levels that are made in China.

The company has a range of options to try to blunt its higher costs — from raising prices on the levels it sells to big box stores to potentially moving some of its manufacturing now done in China to another country to avoid tariffs.

But as companies across America struggle to adapt to the higher prices from import taxes, the options that officials at Johnson Level and Tool face underscore there are no easy answers — and no surefire way to avoid paying more for indispensable imports. As Trump’s tariffs on countless U.S. imports take root, some of the largest U.S. corporations have warned that higher prices are coming.   

For many such companies, a key internal question is whether to absorb the higher costs themselves, at least temporarily, to avoid losing customers — or raise prices immediately. Johnson Level has chosen to raise its prices for the stores that buy its products by 8 percent to 10 percent to match its higher costs imposed by the tariffs.

Levels are a basic tool essential for things like getting doorways square and hanging pictures straight. Though Johnson manufactures some of its levels in Mequon, it imports others that are cheaper to make in China because their tooling machines cost just one-tenth what they do in the U.S., said Paul Buzzell, the company’s chief financial officer. About half of the levels the company sells are imported from China.

The uncertainty over how long the tariffs will remain in place has made it harder to find a solution, Buzzell said. He said he always assumed that if the U.S. increased tariffs, it would give businesses a year or two to prepare by making adjustments with their suppliers.

That was the assumption, he said, when the company “started investing in our suppliers and relationships in China.”

“We have this uncertainty, and almost overnight our business really has changed and so the competitive landscape is different,” Buzzell said.

The first tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum in June didn’t affect Johnson Level; the company doesn’t import those raw materials. But in July, a second round of tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports covering hundreds of items, including all the levels and laser levels the company imports, meaning they were now paying 25 percent more for those.

Despite its decline over the years, manufacturing still plays a central role in Wisconsin’s economy, making the survival of companies like Johnson Level essential to the state.

About 16 percent of Wisconsin’s workforce is in manufacturing — second only to Indiana, according to the National Association of Manufacturers . And global trade — whether involving manufacturing, farming or other industries — supports about 800,000 jobs in the state, according to the advocacy group U.S. Chamber of Commerce . That’s roughly a quarter of the state’s total workforce.

In business since 1947, Johnson Level and Tool sells levels and measuring tools to stores nationwide, including Home Depot, Menards, Lowe’s and Ace Hardware.  

Buzzell said some of his customers, whom he declined to name, have already balked at suggested price increases. One business customer that he said accounted for about $2 million in Johnson’s annual sales found another supplier shortly after Johnson raised its prices, Buzzell said.

Margaret Smith, a spokeswoman for Home Depot, said the company works “with suppliers to mitigate impact on customers.” She said she couldn’t elaborate.

Buzzell said the company, which employs about 100 people, has no plans to reduce staff. He wouldn’t disclose Johnson Level’s annual revenue, saying only that it’s under $50 million. Buzzell said one option likeliest to succeed — but also the costliest — would be for the company to find another country not subject to tariffs that can manufacture what it needs. Johnson Level has discussed that possibility, including making in the U.S. what it now imports from China, but it would entail a complex and time-consuming process.

‘Uncertainty’ reigns

“This is a classic example of uncertainty,” Buzzell said. “We’re questioning, should we treat these tariffs as a long-term thing that’s never going away.”

On the other hand, he said, the company must make pivotal decisions even knowing that the Trump administration could rescind its tariff increases at any time.

“You don’t really know what to do,” Buzzell said.

The uncertainty over how long the tariffs will stay is making decisions difficult for other companies that import products from China as well.

“The big question is, nobody knows how long they’ll be in place, so it’s hard making changes,” Austin Ramirez, the CEO of Husco International, said in an interview.

The Wisconsin-based Husco makes hydraulic and electro-mechanical components for cars and uses machines and metal from China.

“This is costing us a fortune,” Ramirez told U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson at a meeting with business leaders in July. Ramirez said the company was incurring about a million dollars a month more in expenses because of the Trump tariffs. Husco International makes roughly a half-billion in total revenue, Ramirez said.   

Husco International does about half its business overseas, with plants in Asia and Europe. The company also has about 100 manufacturing jobs in the U.S. for exports to other countries, but retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports means those jobs could move elsewhere, Ramirez said.

“Those jobs are at risk because I can move them to overseas plants that aren’t subject to these tariffs,” Ramirez told Johnson.

At Regal Ware, a company that makes pots, frying pans and cast aluminum cookware, $2 million in profits could vanish if tariffs remain in place this year, said Doug Reigl, a vice president at the Wisconsin-based company.

Reigl said the company will consider moving production overseas “or look for ways to take costs out of operations here in the U.S.” if the tariffs stay.  

While layoffs may not be imminent at manufacturing companies, hiring could face a slowdown, said Dr. Joseph Daniels, chairman of the economics department at Marquette University.

“I would say what’s at risk is actually job creation,” Daniels said.

That’s a concern Buzzell shares.

“It’s not going to shut us down,” he said of the tariffs. “But what it does, it theoretically takes away money to invest in long-term projects.”

 

 


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As Markets Swoon, Finance Chiefs Urge US, China to Cool It

The heads of the World Bank and IMF appealed Thursday to the U.S. and China to cool their dispute over technology policy and play by world trade rules, as tumbling share prices drove home potential perils from a clash between the world’s two biggest economies.

Global economic growth is slowing but remains strong, Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said on the sidelines of the IMF-World Bank annual meeting, being held this week on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Countries are mostly in a “strong position,” she said, “which is why we believe we are not seeing what is referred to as ‘contagion.”‘

But the gyrations that rocked Wall Street the day before and Asia and Europe on Thursday, taking the Shanghai Composite index down 5.2 percent and Japan’s Nikkei 225 nearly 4 percent, do partly reflect rising interest rates in the U.S. and some other countries and growing uncertainty over trade, she said.

“It’s the combination of the two that is probably showing some of the tensions that we see in terms of indices, short-term indicators as well as possibly market volatility,” Lagarde said.

The U.S. and Chinese exchanges of penalty tariffs in their dispute isn’t helping, she said.

Her advice was threefold: “De-escalate. Fix the system. Don’t break it.”

She acknowledged that the World Trade Organization, based in Geneva, has made scant headway in recent years toward a global agreement on trade rules that can address issues like complaints over Chinese policies that U.S. President Donald Trump says unfairly extract advanced technologies and put foreign companies at a disadvantage in a quest to dominate certain industries.

“Our strong recommendation is to escalate work for a world trade system that is stronger, that is fairer and is fit for the purpose,” she said in opening remarks. 

‘More trade not less’

Somewhat obliquely, she said policies aimed toward an excessively “dominant position” were not compatible with free and fair trade.

The IMF has downgraded its forecast for global economic growth to 3.7 percent this year from its earlier estimate of 3.9 percent. It also issued reports this week on government finance and financial stability that warn of the risks of disruptions to world trade.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said the World Bank is working with developing countries to brace for a further deterioration.

“Trade is very critical because that is what has lifted people out of extreme poverty,” Kim said. “I am a globalist. That is my job. That is our only chance of ending extreme poverty. We need more trade not less trade,” he said.

Kim said the World Bank has launched a “human capital index” to help rank countries by the level of their investments in such areas as education and health care.

Policies to build such human capital are among the “smartest investments countries can make,” he said.

He praised host country Indonesia, a democratic, Muslim-majority country of 260 million, for fostering strong growth but noted there was much room for improvement. The country is ranked 87th of 150 countries in the list.

Indonesia has endured a slew of disasters in recent months. Before dawn on Thursday, an earthquake collapsed homes on Indonesia’s Java island, killing at least three people just two weeks after a major quake and tsunami disaster in a central region of the archipelago killed more than 2,000 people and left perhaps thousands more buried deeply in mud.

Thursday’s magnitude 6.0 quake offshore north of Bali shook the area where the IMF-World Bank delegates are meeting, but there were no signs of significant damage.

The annual financial meetings take place at a time of growing concern over trends other than trade, such as moves to raise borrowing costs in the U.S. and some other regions to help cool growth and keep inflation in check. Rising interest rates are drawing investment flows out of emerging markets in Asia and Latin America at a time when growth in their exports is likely to slow.

Rising debts

Argentina and Pakistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe are among countries grappling with crises. Concerns are growing, also, over slowing growth in China and rising debts among some developing countries resulting from projects associated with Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative” to develop ports, roads and other infrastructure. 

Lagarde said the IMF will send a team to Pakistan in the coming weeks after a meeting with its finance minister, Asad Umar, in which he requested emergency bailout loans.

The IMF chief did not say how much Umar had requested. Analysts say Pakistan is seeking $8 billion in loans to deal with a balance of payments crisis. Pakistan’s currency plunged by around 7 percent earlier this week after word of the loan request was made public.

Asked whether IMF help might amount to a “bailout” for Chinese loans, Lagarde said any such help would have to be completely transparent.

“In whatever work we do we need a complete understanding and complete transparency about the nature of a debt that is bearing on a country,” she said.

The annual summit for global finance brings together central bankers and finance ministers, development experts and civil society groups from across the globe.

Bali has suffered terrorist bombings in the past, and the event was being held amid tight security. A convoy of armed personnel carriers was lined up alongside a beach path and access to the area was tightly controlled. 

Still, about a dozen activists concerned with land grabs and other issues sometimes associated with World Bank-sponsored projects staged a brief, peaceful protest over the cancellation by local authorities of a conference they were to hold in the nearby city of Denpasar.

“If they don’t want to ever hear our voices, what kinds of projects are we expecting?” said Joan Salvador, a member of a Philippine women’s group.

Those involved had badges allowing them to enter the tightly guarded venue, and an IMF official said she would convey their concerns “to the highest levels.”


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Losses on Wall Street Rip Through Asian Financial Markets

A stock market rout that started on Wall Street rolled through Asia, driving China’s benchmark to a four-year low Thursday and knocking down indexes in Japan, Korea and Australia.

The Shanghai Composite index plunged 5.2 percent to its lowest level since November 2014, and Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell by an unusually wide margin of almost 4 percent. Markets across Southeast Asia recorded similar declines.

“Equity markets were pulverized today,” with investors in “full out retreat,” Stephen Innes of OANDA said in a commentary. The “latest sneeze” from Wall Street “could morph into a global markets pandemic,” he added.

​Interests rates worry investors

Investors are wary of possible further U.S. interest rate hikes, which will raise the cost of corporate borrowing and weigh on economic growth.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said the Federal Reserve “is making a mistake” with its campaign of rate increases. “I think the Fed has gone crazy,” he charged.

“Equity investors are surprised by the pace at which rates have risen,” said Marcella Chow, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management in a report.

Tariff fight, too

Sentiment also has been dampened by the spreading U.S.-Chinese tariff fight over Beijing’s technology policy. The International Monetary Fund cut its outlook for global growth this week, citing interest rates and trade tensions.

The U.S. Treasury is to release a currency report that some analysts suggest might change the official stance on China’s exchange rate policy. Chow said it was unclear whether the Treasury might label Beijing a “currency manipulator,” a status that could trigger penalties, or whether it could be “another pre-text for the next round of tariffs.”

Adding to potential U.S.-China tensions, the Justice Department announced Wednesday it arrested an official of China’s Ministry of State Security on charges of trying to steal trade secrets from U.S. aerospace companies.

The numbers

Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 gave up 3.9 percent to 22,590.86 and the Shanghai Composite index lost 5.2 percent to 2,583.46. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index shed 3.7 percent to 25,220.67. The Kospi in South Korea fell 4.4 percent to 2,129.67. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 slipped 2.7 percent to 5,883.80. Stocks plunged in Taiwan and fell across Southeast Asia.

On Wednesday, U.S. stocks slumped as concerns over rising interest rates and trade tensions caused a sell-off in technology and internet stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its worst loss in eight months, falling 3.1 percent to 25,598.74.

The S&P 500 index sank 3.3 percent to 2,785.68. The Nasdaq composite, which has a large contingent of technology stocks, was 4.1 percent lower at 7,422.05. It has fallen 7.5 percent in just five days. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks shed 2.9 percent, to 1,575.41.

Apple and Amazon, the two most valuable companies in the S&P 500, each had their worst day in 2½ years. Apple slipped by 4.6 percent while Amazon lost 6.2 percent.

Amazon has soared 50 percent this year, but its stock has fallen 14 percent from its all-time high in early September.


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