Kitco daily macro-economic/business digest - June 6
Ukraine and Russia Accuse Each Other of Blowing Up Dam; Wheat Futures Surge
World Bank revises global economic growth estimate for 2023 to 2.1%, up from 1.7%
In Today's Digital Newspaper
Nearly $1.5 trillion in commercial mortgages is coming due over the next three years, according to data provider Trepp. More below.
The Reserve Bank of Australia surprised markets for the second month in a row as policy makers raised rates 25 bp to 4.10% as still elevated inflation levels remains a concern.
China asked its biggest banks to lower their deposit rates for at least the second time in less than a year, marking an escalated effort to boost the economy. More in China section.
China-Germany relationship to hit new heights, says Chinese Premier Li Qiang after meeting SDP delegation in Beijing — Premier Li welcomed representatives from the center-left SDP, one-third of Germany's coalition government, to Beijing on Monday. Details in China section.
Chinese biodiesel producers have pledged to enhance compliance and export standards following concerns raised by European rivals about "potentially fraudulent" shipments. More in Energy section.
The Department of Energy released the U.S. National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap. The agency estimates that the U.S. should aim to produce 10 million metric tons of low-carbon hydrogen each year by 2030 to cut the country's greenhouse gas emissions by 10% through 2050, relative to 2005 levels. More in Energy section.
Policy section updates today include:
USTR asks USITC for report on GHG emissions from U.S. steel, aluminum production. Details in Energy & Climate Change section.
USDA is considering lifting the ban on imports of fresh beef from Paraguay, which has been in place due to concerns about the country's cattle herds being affected by Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). More in Trade Policy section.
Equities today: Asian and European stock markets were mixed overnight. U.S. Dow opend up around 25 points lower. In Asia, Japan +0.9%. Hong Kong -0.1%. China -1.2%. India flat. In Europe, at midday, London -0.2%. Paris -0.2%. Frankfurt -0.1%.
U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow ended down 199.90 points, 0.59%, at 33,562.86. The Nasdaq eased 11.34 points, 0.09%, at 13,229.43. The S&P 500 was down 8.58 points, 0.20%, at 4,273.79.
The S&P 500 has climbed 11% this year and is poised to enter a new bull market after rising almost 20% from an October trough. Most major indexes in Europe are up more than 10% in 2023, with France's CAC 40 among those that are hovering near all-time highs.
Market quotes of note:
The World Bank warned of a sluggish global economy in its latest Global Economic Prospects report, highlighting rising interest rates, the aftermath of the pandemic, and ongoing supply chain disruptions due to the war in Ukraine as key contributing factors.
Global growth is predicted to slow to 2.1% this year from 3.1% in 2022, with a slight improvement to 2.4% in 2024. Many economies are experiencing a synchronized slowdown, with debt distress affecting several low-income countries.
Recent banking sector stress in the U.S. and Europe has raised concerns and led to reduced credit for businesses and individuals. Rising borrowing costs, especially in richer countries, increasingly threaten the poorest economies. Factors like rising interest rates, the pandemic, and the Ukrainian conflict have hit global poverty reduction efforts hard, with incomes in the poorest countries estimated to be 6% lower in 2024 than in 2019.
Slowdowns are expected in advanced economies, including the U.S., which is projected to see growth of 1.1% this year and 0.8% in 2024.
China, however, is an exception, with growth of 5.6% anticipated in 2023 and 4.6% in 2024, in part due to the reopening of its economy following strict Covid-19 lockdowns.
Inflation is likely to remain above central bank targets in many countries through to 2024, but the World Bank expects that prices will continue to moderate this year.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) unexpectedly raised its cash rate by 25 basis points to 4.1% in June, following a similar hike in May. This marks a total increase of 400 basis points since May 2022, resulting in the highest borrowing costs since April 2012. This move defied market expectations, which predicted a pause in rate hikes. The RBA attributed the decision to the increased upside risks to inflation, particularly stemming from service price inflation. Policymakers aim to keep the economy stable while moving inflation towards the 2-3% target and are determined to take the necessary steps to achieve that goal. Additionally, the central bank raised the interest rate on Exchange Settlement balances by 25 basis points to 4.0%.
Japanese workers' real wages fell 3% year on year in April, missing estimates and marking the 13th month of declines. The slump is a factor discouraging the Bank of Japan from tightening policy as it lowers the likelihood of achieving sustainable inflation backed by pay increases and growth.
Nearly $1.5 trillion in commercial mortgages is coming due over the next three years, according to data provider Trepp. Many of the commercial landlords who borrowed the money are vulnerable to default in part because the loans are interest-only, with the entire principal due at the end. Typically, owners pay off this debt by getting a new loan or selling the building. Now, steeper borrowing costs and lenders' growing reluctance to refinance these loans are raising the odds that many of them won't be paid back. WSJ.
• Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index was firmer, with the euro and British pound weaker against the greenback. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note was firmer, around 3.71%, with a mixed tone in global government bond yields. Crude oil remains under pressure from economic concerns, with U.S. crude around $70.55 per barrel and Brent around $75.20 per barrel. Gold and silver futures were higher, with gold around $1,977 per troy ounce and silver around $23.66 per troy ounce.
•Crude prices slid Tuesday, erasing gains that followed a Saudi plan to slash oil output, as fears about weak global demand outweighed expectations of a supply shortfall.
• Chinese stimulus hopes lift iron ore. Iron ore prices in China have rebounded to their highest in six weeks, with Dalian prices rising to ¥760 per metric tonne ($107/mt), as market rumors began to emerge that Beijing is considering stimulus measures to support its ailing property market.
•Intermittent disruptions at several key U.S. West Coast ports are now entering their fifth day amid ongoing labor-contracts negotiations between dockworkers and their employers. Pacific Container Terminals at the Port of Long Beach has canceled cargo operations for Tuesday's first shift, with other terminals in the area experiencing various closures and slowdowns. Negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) have been ongoing for over a year.
The latest disruptions have occurred in the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, and Seattle. PMA accuses ILWU of implementing disruptive actions, such as refusing to dispatch workers and intentionally slowing down operations. ILWU's Local 13 chapter stated that its members are expressing their displeasure with ocean carriers' and terminal operators' positions, but cargo operations continue to take place.
These disruptions are driving up costs for truckers and affecting the overall supply chain. With the peak shipping season approaching, the National Retail Federation has called for White House intervention in the contract talks. While the Biden administration is closely monitoring the situation, they've not indicated any direct involvement in the negotiations. ILWU and PMA have been negotiating a new labor contract since May of last year, with the previous contract expiring on July 1, 2022.
•Wheat futures surged in response to a dam destruction in Ukraine, which is expected to impact crop yields. The Kakhovska hydroelectric dam was damaged in a blast, resulting in reduced water supply crucial for agriculture in southern Ukraine. This event not only affects agriculture directly but also increases geopolitical concerns, dampening the chances for Russia to extend their deal for seaborne grain exports from Ukrainian ports. However, the rise in wheat prices is somewhat limited due to increased output elsewhere. For instance, strong harvests in Russia have led to a foreign sales forecast of nearly 50 million tonnes, despite recent hikes in export duties. As a result of the large harvest, sellers in the world's top exporter have lowered their prices to address the unsustainable inventory levels.
• A significant decline in the quality of the U.S. corn crop,with the largest deterioration in almost three years due to insufficient rainfall. USDA rated only 64% of the nation's corn crop as good-to-excellent, which indicates a 5 percentage-point fall. This decline follows weeks of dry weather across the Midwest, which has placed stress on young plants as the sowing season came to an end.
— A major dam in southern Ukraine, the Kakhovska dam, was destroyed today, leading to mass evacuations and concerns about extensive damage. While Ukrainian intelligence officials blame Russian forces for the destruction, Moscow denies any involvement. The act has been characterized as "ecocide" by an official in Kyiv, implying intentional environmental destruction. As floodwaters in the Kherson region rise, hundreds have evacuated, and more are expected to flee. The International Atomic Energy Agency is monitoring the situation but states there is no immediate nuclear safety risk at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which lies upstream from the destroyed dam and is under Russian control.
As previously noted, the destroyed dam helped fuel wheat futures.
—Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine's president, lauded his army after it launched its long-anticipated counter-offensive. In his nightly address, Zelenskyy praised troops for advancing towards Bakhmut, a town in the country's east. On Tuesday Russia claimed that it killed around 1,500 Ukrainian troops in thwarting the attacks. However, the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary outfit, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces had made gains near Bakhmut.
—The EU extended the ability for Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia to restrict imports of certain agricultural products from Ukraine, such as wheat, corn, rapeseed, and sunflower seed, until September 15. This extension was granted in response to the five countries' request, as they argued that the influx of Ukrainian products was making domestic production unprofitable. Although these restrictions were set to expire on June 5, they have now been extended and are expected to be phased out by mid-September, according to European Commission's statement.
—Republicans express concerns about EU's ESG rules. House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) have expressed concern in a letter to the Treasury Department and SEC about the potential impact of EU ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) rules on U.S. companies. They are worried that as the EU's regulations for climate change and global labor standards develop more quickly than those in the U.S., the EU may become the global standard-setter, which could disadvantage U.S. firms. An “EU-style climate regulatory regime" would harm the U.S. energy, agriculture and financial sectors," the lawmakers wrote. Comer and Scott are seeking information on whether the U.S. is coordinating with the EU on ESG matters.
—The White House today launched a new website, Invest.gov, aiming to showcase the impact of its policies on the U.S. economy. The site contains information on about 32,000 infrastructure projects and over $470 billion in investments in various sectors such as electric vehicles, batteries, computer chips, biotech, and clean energy production. The administration hopes to demonstrate how President Biden's policies are reshaping the economy to address climate change and compete with global rivals. The president plans to bring up the site during today's Cabinet meeting.
While Biden's economic leadership has received mixed reviews, this initiative intends to show that his agenda is "underway and working." Users can access a national map or search projects by state to see investments in their local communities. The administration credits these investments to policies enacted by Biden, including a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and other funding for various industries.
The site's launch is part of a broader effort to maintain public attention on the administration's achievements, and will be followed by a second round of the "Investing in America" tour where officials will engage in public outreach and emphasize the positive effects of the administration's policies.
— Chinese Premier Li Qiang expressed his desire for a stronger strategic partnership with Berlin during a meeting with a delegation from Germany's ruling Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Beijing. Li called for increased dialogue and cooperation between the two countries to bring more stability and certainty to the world. Trade and economic cooperation were identified as key foundational aspects of bilateral relations, with Li welcoming more German companies to China and promising a more open and legally secure market environment.
The SDP has historical ties to the Communist Party and is where German chancellor Olaf Scholz began his political career. Scholz, who invited Li to visit following his own trip to Beijing, opposes "decoupling" from China despite pressures from the U.S. and supports "de-risking." Li agreed that decoupling is not an option for the two nations and expressed hope that the SPD would maintain a policy of rationality, dialogue, and cooperation. Both sides are looking forward to a fruitful seventh round of China-Germany intergovernmental consultations, with plans to strengthen strategic communication and trade.
—Chinese authorities asked the nation's biggest banks to lower their deposit rates for at least the second time in less than a year, reports note. Bank of China, ICBC and Bank of Communications were among lenders advised to cut rates on a range of products last week, including on demand deposits and five-year time deposits.
Impact: “Cutting deposit rates could provide incentive and capacity to banks for more credit support. It also means reduced chance of policy-rate cuts in the near term," said Bruce Pang, chief economist for Greater China at Jones Lang LaSalle.
—China tries to boost family growth. China's one-child policy successfully restricted the number of children couples could have through coercion and fines. However, since the policy was abandoned in 2016, the country has struggled to establish a "birth-friendly society." The number of Chinese births has fallen from around 18 million per year in 2016 to below 10 million now — a 46% drop. This decrease is more significant than during the starvation years of the early 1960s when the population was much smaller. In response to these demographics, the Chinese government has launched a campaign to create a "pro-birth" culture and change the attitudes of younger generations towards starting a family. The Family Planning Association, originally established to enforce the one-child policy in 1980, is now at the center of these efforts. Wall Street Journal.
ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE
—Chinese biodiesel producers have pledged to enhance compliance and export standards following concerns raised by European rivals about "potentially fraudulent" shipments. A group representing China's largest producers, affiliated with the technology ministry, has promised to closely monitor the quality and sourcing of biofuels. European producers previously accused Chinese exporters of mixing fuels with cheaper feedstocks and mislabeling them to qualify for EU incentives, causing price depression and threatening local suppliers. Due to the surge in Chinese exports, several European biodiesel plants have halted or curbed their production. The Chinese group expressed willingness to cooperate on certification and compliance and is considering implementing a white list to improve traceability and transparency.
—The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released a hydrogen roadmap, discussing plans for the scaling up of hydrogen use in the country. Concurrently, there is ongoing focus on establishing a production tax credit for hydrogen under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). This tax credit could provide up to $3 per kilogram for hydrogen that meets certain emissions standards. The Biden administration and involved agencies are currently in active conversations about the matter.
A key part of the debate is whether hydrogen producers should be required to source energy from renewable power plants to claim the credits. The DOE's hydrogen roadmap indicates that U.S. hydrogen demand could reach 50 million metric tons by 2050. One main issue is how electricity will be sourced for electrolyzer production. Using power from the traditional grid could increase the carbon intensity compared to producing hydrogen from natural gas. The report also suggests that without tax credits, electrolysis may not reach the necessary learning curves to remain competitive. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has emphasized that the tax credit's structure is a crucial aspect to consider.
—USTR asks USITC for report on GHG emissions from U.S. steel, aluminum production. U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai requested the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) to investigate and produce a public report on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from U.S. steel and aluminum production. This report will inform discussions with the European Union (EU) regarding the Global Arrangement on Sustainable Steel and Aluminum. The arrangement aims to discourage trade in emissions-intensive steel and aluminum products from countries with non-market excess capacity, while promoting domestic policies that reduce the GHG emissions intensity of these industries. The U.S. and EU are the founding members of the Global Arrangement and plan to invite other like-minded economies to participate. Negotiations under this deal are expected to be concluded by October 2023.
—A hearing by the House Agriculture Committee today will focus on digital assets, marking Congress's continued effort to create new legislation for stronger regulatory oversight of cryptocurrencies. Both the House Financial Services Committee Chair, Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), and House Agriculture Committee Chair, G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.), recently introduced a bill that outlines a process for digital assets that start as securities to eventually be regulated as commodities.