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IS STERLING THE DARLING OF EUROPE?

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Ronnie Chopra

Economic data out today in the UK shows that the little island is recovering much stronger than expected and is now forecast to be among the fastest growing economies in the western world in 2014. Data due out earlier today showed that Britain’s services sector increased in October at the fastest rate since 1997. Purchasing managers’ index (PMI) rose to 62.5 in October from 60.3 in September which was far higher than the forecast of 59.8 thus increasing growth forecasts for the UK.

Ronnie Chopra

Ronnie Chopra

Manufacturing, services and construction have continued to expand at a much faster rate than expected in recent months demonstrating that the UK is one of the better placed economies in Europe. The UK has performed far better than the euro zone where unemployment figures released last week showed that unemployment was at another peak and inflation was far below expectations raising concerns about deflation and a possible interest rate cut may be imminent. UK employment prospects are brighter but the unemployment level is still 7.7 per cent. However, employers in the services sector were hiring staff at the fasted rate since 1997. One drawback is that higher salaries were raising employment costs and subsequently inflation may become an uncomfortable issue thus raising the prospects of higher interest rates sooner than previously expected in the UK.

Today’s economic figures gave a boost to Sterling against both the Euro and US dollar with the pound gaining 100 points against the Euro (and now trading above 1.19) and 80 points at 1.6050 against the greenback. With economic concerns surrounding the euro zone expect Sterling to continue to gain ground against the Euro as UK’s prospects continue to gather momentum and outperform its European peers.

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U.S. oil industry lobby weighs support of carbon pricing – source

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U.S. oil industry lobby weighs support of carbon pricing - source 1

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The American Petroleum Institute (API) is weighing endorsing a price on carbon emissions, a major shift after long resisting mandatory government climate policies, a source familiar with the decision making said.

The API, the main U.S. oil industry lobby group that includes most of the world’s biggest oil companies, is considering carbon pricing “among other policy solutions to reduce emissions and reach the ambitions of the Paris Agreement,” the source said, confirming a report about the policy shift by the Wall Street Journal.

The group is confronting its previous resistance to regulatory action on climate change amid a shift in industry strategy on the issue and the new U.S. presidency.

European member Total quit the group because of disagreements over API’s climate policies and support for easing drilling regulations and the Biden administration is pursuing a policy agenda that would shift the United States from fossil fuels.

A draft statement of the policy shift reviewed by the Wall Street Journal said the group does not endorse a specific carbon pricing tool such as a tax on carbon emissions or emissions trading scheme. The source said, however, that the group’s State of American Energy report released in January was supportive of a market-based carbon pricing policy.

The API did not comment on whether or when the group would formally endorse a price on carbon but said it has been working for nearly a year on an industry-wide response to climate change.

“Our efforts are focused on supporting a new U.S. contribution to the global Paris agreement,” said API spokeswoman Megan Bloomgren.

Within API, there has been a widening rift between Europe’s top energy companies https://www.reuters.com/article/us-total-api/frances-total-quits-top-u-s-oil-lobby-in-climate-split-idUSKBN29K1LM, which over the past year accelerated plans to cut emissions and build large renewable energy businesses, and their U.S. rivals Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp that have resisted growing investor pressure to diversify.

Other major industry groups like the U.S Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-business-carbonpricing/u-s-ceo-group-says-it-supports-carbon-pricing-to-fight-climate-change-idUSKBN2672W4, which includes Chevron, over the last year have endorsed market-based carbon pricing.

Chevron said it has engaged those groups and API “to support well-designed carbon pricing.”

“We support economy-wide carbon pricing as the primary policy tool to address climate change, applied across the broadest possible area to maximize environmental and economic efficiency and effectiveness,” Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said in an e-mailed statement.

BP and Shell declined to comment.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Christian Schmollinger)

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Australian economy storms ahead as COVID recovery turns ‘V-shaped’

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Australian economy storms ahead as COVID recovery turns 'V-shaped' 2

By Swati Pandey

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s economy expanded at a much faster-than-expected pace in the final quarter of last year and all signs are that 2021 has started on a firm footing too helped by massive monetary and fiscal stimulus.

The economy accelerated 3.1% in the three months to December, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed on Wednesday, higher than forecasts for a 2.5% rise and follows an upwardly revised 3.4% gain in the third quarter.

Despite the best ever back-to-back quarters of growth, annual output still shrank 1.1%, underscoring the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic and suggesting policy support will still be needed for the A$2 trillion ($1.57 trillion) economy.

The Australian dollar rose about 10 pips to a day’s high of $0.7836 after the data while bond futures nudged lower with the three-year contract implying an yield of around 0.3% compared with the official cash rate of 0.1%.

“The ‘V-shaped’ nature of the recovery is everywhere to see – economic growth, the job market, retail spending and the housing market,” said Craig James, Sydney-based chief economist at CommSec.

James expects the economy to rebound 4.2% in 2021.

Data on credit and debit card spending by major banks as well as official figures on retail sales, employment and building activity point to a strong start for this year.

Marcel Thieliant, economist at Capital Economics, expects GDP growth of 4.5% in 2021, “which implies that allowing for the slump in net migration due to the closure of the border, the economy will suffer no permanent drop in output as a result of the pandemic.”

SUPPORT STILL NEEDED

Australia’s economy has performed better than its rich-world peers thanks to very low community transmission of COVID-19 together with massive and timely fiscal and monetary stimulus.

Its economic output declined 2.5% in 2020, far smaller than a 10% drop in United Kingdom, falls of 9% in Italy, 5% in Canada and more than 3% in the United States.

“Our economic recovery plan is working, and today’s national accounts is a testament to that fact,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a news conference. “The job is not done,” he added.

“There are challenges ahead. But you wouldn’t want to be in any other country but Australia as we begin 2021.”

To help blunt the economic shock from the pandemic-driven shutdowns, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) slashed interest rates three times last year to a record low 0.1% and launched an unprecedented quantitative easing programme. The government announced a wage subsidy scheme to keep people in jobs while banks deferred payments on home loans and cut borrowing rates to help boost credit growth.

On Tuesday, the RBA re-committed to keep three-year yields at 0.1% until its employment and inflation objectives are met, which policymakers don’t expect until 2024 at the earliest.

Indeed, Wednesday’s data showed there was barely any domestic-driven inflation in the economy with the biggest price rises coming from commodity exports.

The RBA has repeatedly said the unemployment rate must fall to around 4% from above 6% now to help drive wages growth above 3% and for inflation to pop back into its 2-3% target band.

“Stimulus and support measures are still very much required,” CommSec’s James said. “Spare capacity will remain in the job market for a few more years, keeping the cash rate anchored at 0.1%.”

($1 = 1.2780 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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Oil rises on demand hopes after days of sell-off

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Oil rises on demand hopes after days of sell-off 3

By Shu Zhang

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices rose on Wednesday, boosted by demand hopes on progress made in U.S. vaccine rollouts, while uncertainty over how much supply OPEC+ will restore to the market at its Thursday meeting and a big build in U.S. crude stocks capped gains.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 18 cents, or 0.3%, to $59.93 a barrel by 0356 GMT, recovering from three days of losses.

Brent crude futures rose 29 cents, or 0.46%, to $62.99 a barrel, up from four days of losses.

Both futures had dipped in Asia’s early morning trading.

Demand recovery hopes thanks to the rollouts of vaccine kept oil prices supported, analysts said.

The U.S. will have enough COVID-19 vaccine for every American adult by the end of May, President Joe Biden said on Tuesday after Merck & Co agreed to make rival Johnson & Johnson’s inoculation.

Meanwhile, the market’s attention is on a forthcoming Thursday meeting by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies, together called OPEC+, at a time when they are generally positive on the oil market outlook compared with a year ago when they slashed supply to boost prices.

The market widely expects them to ease production cuts, which were the deepest ever, by about 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd), with OPEC’s leader, Saudi Arabia, ending its voluntary production cut of 1 million bpd.

However, a JTC document, seen by Reuters, called “for cautious optimism,” citing “the underlying uncertainties in the physical markets and macro sentiment, including risks from COVID-19 mutations that are still on the rise”.

Reinforcing concerns of potential oversupply, the American Petroleum Institute industry group reported U.S. crude stocks rose by 7.4 million barrels in the week to Feb. 26, in stark contrast to analysts’ estimates for a draw of 928,000 barrels. [API/S]

“The recent selloff may help reinforce Saudi’s cautious stance and delay any production increase,” said Stephen Innes, global market strategist at Axi.

“It’s probably something that could sway the OPEC+ increase more back toward the 500,000 bpd as opposed to the 1.5 million bpd,” he said.

(Reporting by Shu Zhang and Sonali Paul; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Gerry Doyle)

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