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Sunday May 26th, 2024

US Fed members ‘more concerned,’ say recession risks rising: minutes

AFP – American central bankers have grown more fearful, saying a global slowdown and President Donald Trump’s trade wars could drag down hiring and the broader economy with it, meeting minutes showed Wednesday.

While the outlook remains good for the moment — with strong jobs markets, historically low unemployment and the general public continuing to loosen purse strings — weaker recent economic data have put clouds on the horizon, the minutes from the Federal Reserve’s September 17-18 meeting showed.

“Participants generally had become more concerned about risks associated with trade tensions and adverse developments in the geopolitical and global economic spheres,” according to the minutes.

Several noted that models gauging recession probabilities had “increased notably in recent months.”

At the September meeting, a majority of Fed policymakers voted to cut interest rates and markets expect them to do so again later this month, acting to cushion the world’s largest economy as exports weaken, industrial costs rise, foreign demand sinks and growth trends downward.

But members of the central bank are grappling with a complex economic picture, the minutes showed, as ominous developments creep into what has otherwise been a sunny vista of steady expansion and job creation.

While some policymakers have grown more anxious, a minority oppose rate cuts, saying the economy’s current health does not justify them.

Economic forecasters expect third quarter GDP growth will prove the slowest of the year so far but remain solid, a view shared by members of the Fed’s interest-rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee, according to the minutes.

– ‘Clearer picture’ –

“Participants agreed that consumer spending was increasing at a strong pace,” they said.

But several noted that skittish companies had stopped investing, which ultimately could cause “slower hiring, which in turn, could damp the growth of income and consumption.”

“Participants generally judged that downside risks to the outlook for economic activity had increased somewhat since their July meeting,” the minutes said.

Indeed, a “clearer picture” was emerging of a drawn-out decline in business spending, a recession in manufacturing and a steep fall-off in exports.

The trade war has left companies and farms uncertain of where they can source products, what prices they will pay, who their customers will be and how much they can sell — causing business investment to tumble this year.

As exports have fallen and factories have entered a prolonged slump, this has left consumer spending as the main pillar supporting growth and made the economy increasingly vulnerable, economists say.

The minutes also made clear that, for policymakers, weakening growth and recession were a far greater concern than inflation, which has run cooler than the Fed would like for much of the past decade.

Top Chinese trade officials on Thursday are due to resume talks with their US counterparts in Washington, with mounting speculation the two sides will strike a partial bargain that averts further escalation without resolving Washington’s extensive grievances.

Following the September Fed meeting, the Commerce Department reported that in August annual growth in consumer spending had been the weakest in nearly a year.

Labor Department figures also released Wednesday showed softening demand for workers that month as well.

Meanwhile, indicators tracking manufacturing and services industries, as well as business and consumer confidence — so-called “soft” indicators often seen as a harbinger for weakness in hiring and spending — continued to worsen.

On the other hand, unemployment in August fell to its lowest level in 50 years, demand for housing is rising and the pace of hiring, while slower, remains more than strong enough to absorb new entrants into the labor market, economists say.

Wall Street appeared unmoved by the news, with stocks closing higher on optimism about this week’s trade talks.

The Fed is next due to meet on October 29-30 and as of Wednesday futures markets put the odds of another 25-basis-point rate cut at 80 percent.

dg/bfm

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Sri Lanka power outages from falling trees worsened by unfilled vacancies: CEB union

HEAVY WINDS: Heavy rains and gusting winds have brought down trees on many location in Sri Lanka.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s power grid has been hit by 300,000 outages as heavy winds brought down trees, restoring supply has been delayed by unfilled vacancies of breakdown staff, a union statement said.

Despite electricity being declared an essential service, vacancies have not been filled, the CEB Engineers Union said.

“In this already challenging situation, the Acting General Manager of CEB issued a circular on May 21, 2024, abolishing several essential service positions, including the Maintenance Electrical Engineer in the Area Engineer Offices, Construction Units, and Distribution Maintenance Units,” the Union said.

“This decision, made without any scientific basis, significantly reduces our capacity to provide adequate services to the public during this emergency.

“On behalf of all the staff of CEB, we express our deep regret for the inconvenience caused to our valued customers.”

High winds had rains have brought down trees across power lines and transformers, the statement said.

In the past few day over 300,000 power outages have been reported nationwide, with some areas experiencing over 30,000 outages within an hour.

“Our limited technical staff at the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) are making extraordinary efforts to restore power as quickly as possible,” the union said.

“We deeply regret that due to the high volume of calls, there are times when we are unable to respond to all customer inquiries.

“We kindly ask consumers to support our restoration teams and to report any fallen live electrical wires or devices to the Electricity Board immediately without attempting to handle them.

The union said there were not enough workers to restore power quickly when such a large volume of breakdowns happens.

“We want to clarify that the additional groups mentioned by the minister have not yet been received by the CEB,” the union said.

“Despite the government’s designation of electricity as an essential service, neither the government, the minister in charge, nor the CEB board of directors have taken adequate steps to fill the relevant vacancies or retain current employees.

“We believe they should be held directly responsible for the delays in addressing the power outages due to the shortage of staff.”

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Melco’s Nuwa hotel to open in Sri Lanka in mid-2025

ECONOMYNEXT – A Nuwa branded hotel run by Melco Resorts and Entertainment linked to their gaming operation in Colombo will open in mid 2025, its Sri Lanka partner John Keells Holdings said.

The group’s integrated resort is being re-branded as a ‘City of Dreams’, a brand of Melco.

The resort will have a 687-room Cinnamon Life hotel and the Nuwa hotel described as “ultra-high end”.

“The 113-key exclusive hotel, situated on the top five floors of the integrated resort, will be managed by Melco under its ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel brand ‘Nuwa’, which has presence in Macau and the Philippines,” JKH told shareholders in the annual report.

“Melco’s ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel and casino, together with its global brand and footprint, will strongly complement the MICE, entertainment, shopping, dining and leisure offerings in the ‘City of Dreams Sri Lanka’ integrated resort, establishing it as a one-of-a-kind destination in South Asia and the region.”

Melco is investing 125 million dollars in fitting out its casino.

“The collaboration with Melco, including access to the technical, marketing, branding and loyalty programmes, expertise and governance structures, will be a boost for not only the integrated resort of the Group but a strong show of confidence in the tourism potential of the country,” JKH said.

The Cinnamon Life hotel has already started marketing.

Related Sri Lanka’s Cinnamon Life begins marketing, accepts bookings

(Colombo/May25/2024)

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Sri Lanka to find investors by ‘competitive system’ after revoking plantations privatizations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will revoke the privatization of plantation companies that do not pay government dictated wages, by cancelling land leases and find new investors under a ‘competitive system’, State Minister for Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has said.

Sri Lanka privatized the ownership of 22 plantations companies in the 1990s through long term leases after initially giving only management to private firms.

Management companies that made profits (mostly those with more rubber) were given the firms under a valuation and those that made losses (mostly ones with more tea) were sold on the stock market.

The privatized firms then made annual lease payments and paid taxes when profits were made.

In 2024 the government decreed a wage hike announced a mandated wage after President Ranil Wickremesinghe made the announcement in the presence of several politicians representing plantations workers.

The land leases of privatized plantations, which do not pay the mandated wages would be cancelled, Minister Siyambalapitiya was quoted as saying at a ceremony in Deraniyagala.

The re-expropriated plantations would be given to new investors through “special transparency”

The new ‘privatization’ will be done in a ‘competitive process’ taking into account export orientation, worker welfare, infrastructure, new technology, Minister Siyambalapitiya said.

It is not clear whether paying government-dictated wages was a clause in the privatization agreement.

Then President J R Jayewardene put constitutional guarantee against expropriation as the original nationalization of foreign and domestic owned companies were blamed for Sri Lanka becoming a backward nation after getting independence with indicators ‘only behind Japan’ according to many commentators.

However, in 2011 a series of companies were expropriation without recourse to judicial review, again delivering a blow to the country’s investment framework.

Ironically plantations that were privatized in the 1990s were in the original wave of nationalizations.

Minister Bandula Gunawardana said the cabinet approval had been given to set up a committee to examine wage and cancel the leases of plantations that were unable to pay the dictated wages.

Related

Sri Lanka state interference in plantation wages escalates into land grab threat

From the time the firms were privatized unions and the companies had bargained through collective agreements, striking in some cases as macro-economists printed money and triggered high inflation.

Under President Gotabaya, mandating wages through gazettes began in January 2020, and the wage bargaining process was put aside.

Sri Lanka’s macro-economists advising President Rajapaksa the printed money and triggered a collapse of the rupee from 184 to 370 to the US dollar from 2020 to 2020 in the course of targeting ‘potential output’ which was taught by the International Monetary Fund.

In 2024, the current central bank governor had allowed the exchange rate to appreciate to 300 to the US dollar, amid deflationary policy, recouping some of the lost wages of plantations workers.

The plantations have not given an official increase to account for what macro-economists did to the unit of account of their wages. With salaries under ‘wages boards’ from the 2020 through gazettes, neither employees not workers have engaged in the traditional wage negotiations.

The threat to re-exproriate plantations is coming as the government is trying to privatize several state enterprises, including SriLankan Airlines.

It is not clear now the impending reversal of plantations privatization will affect the prices of bids by investors for upcoming privatizations.

The firms were privatized to stop monthly transfers from the Treasury to pay salaries under state ownership. (Colombo/May25/2024)

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