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Drought hits Italy’s hydroelectric plants

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The Po River is suffering its worst drought for 70 years. 
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Hydroelectric power in Italy has plunged this year thanks to a drought that has also sparked water restrictions and fears for agriculture, industry sources said Friday.

Hydropower facilities, mostly located in the mountains in the country’s north, provide almost one fifth of Italy’s energy demands.

But the lack of rain is causing problems, at a time when Rome is desperately trying to wean itself off its dependence on Russian gas due to the war in Ukraine.

“From January to May 2022, hydro production fell by about 40 percent compared to the corresponding period in 2021,” a spokesman for Utilitalia, a federation of water companies, told AFP.

“Hydro production has been steadily decreasing since July 2021,” he said, blaming “the severe shortage of water even at high levels”.

An industry source told AFP that while the situation was constantly changing, estimates for the first six months of 2022 suggest nationwide hydroelectric generation will be almost half the equivalent period of 2021.

One small plant near Piacenza, southeast of Milan, was shut indefinitely on June 21 due to low levels on the River Po that feeds it, the Enel energy company said.

“Considering the current drought situation, other hydro plants are not operating at full capacity,” a spokesman added, without giving further details.

The Po River is Italy’s largest reservoir of fresh water. Much of it used by farmers, but is suffering its worst drought for 70 years. 

Italy’s largest agricultural association, Coldiretti, said the drought is putting over 30 percent of national agricultural production and half of livestock farming in the Po Valley at risk.

In the northwest region of Piedmont, water is being rationed in more than 200 municipalities, according to the ANSA news agency.

The Maggiore and Garda lakes are both far lower than usual for this time of year, while further south, the level of the River Tiber that runs through Rome has also dropped.

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African economies see reasons for optimism despite crises

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Africa already showed resilience during the pandemic as its economic contraction was less severe than the rest of the world
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From Covid-19 to the war in Ukraine, external crises have put pressure on African economies, but many on the continent see opportunities to undertake radical reforms.

Africa already showed some resilience during the pandemic as its economic contraction was less severe than in the rest of the world, shrinking by two percent compared to 3.3 percent globally in 2020.

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is weighing on the world economy, Africa faces a better outlook again in 2022.

“Africa is headed towards growth of around 3.7 percent, while in North America and Europe there is a real risk of recession”, said economist Lionel Zinsou, formerly prime minister of Benin.

“We haven’t been the biggest victims of the pandemic, and we won’t be the biggest victims of the collateral consequences of the war in Ukraine”, added Zinsou.

The conflict in Europe has fuelled a surge in global inflation, but Zinsou said growing prices for raw materials will compensate for the higher costs of imports in Africa.

Another positive signal is that investor confidence in Africa is up to a higher level than that before the pandemic.

Of 190 business owners in Africa who were questioned, 78 percent voiced confidence about their development prospects — compared to 61 percent before the Covid crisis, according to a report by the Deloitte accountancy firm.

– ‘Opportunity to transform’ –

The fallout from the war in Ukraine, however, remains a threat as it has driven up prices for wheat and other key agricultural products, sparking fears of famine in some countries.

“We are concerned about the slowdown in global growth and the availability for Africa of certain products such as wheat or fertilisers”, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said during the Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan this month.

Makhtar Diop, general director of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a branch of the World Bank, said African economies “have taken a hit and haven’t regained their pre-2019 growth rates”.

“The situation remains particularly difficult with inflation which disproportionally affects the poorest populations,” he added.

But some see the situation as a chance for African countries to map out new strategies. 

“We lose a good part of our crops each year due to lack of electricity and cold chain,” said Zinsou, referring to the transport of goods that need to be kept cool across the supply chain.

These losses could be reduced through infrastructure investment, he added.

For Diop, “every crisis is an opportunity to transform the situation structurally. There is potential for the economic transformation of African countries by increasing the added value created on the continent.”

– ‘Gain independence’ –

Some countries have stepped up the pace in recent years. Ivory Coast has built new cashew processing plants, while Nigeria is building a major oil refinery in Lagos. 

In Guinea, foreign companies have recently been tasked with building bauxite processing plants. 

“One of the consequences of the pandemic is that many groups wanted to depend less on foreign imports,” said Emmanuel Gadret, head of Deloitte in francophone Africa. 

Georges Wega, deputy director of international banking networks for the Africa region at France’s Societe Generale financial group, believes that Africa has “a lot of potential” to finance its essential projects.

“This is the time for Africa to gain its independence in many aspects. We need to rely more on funds raised on the continent versus external debt,” he said. 

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which aims to harmonise customs tariffs across the continent, which is gradually happening, holds out hopes of boosting intra-African trade.

“Africa has been extraordinarily responsive (to the pandemic), financially and technically, and it will be again,” said Zinsou. 

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Asian markets rise as recession talk tempers rate hike expectations

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Growing talk of a recession has led investors to temper their expectations for central bank rate hikes
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Stocks rose in Asia on Friday following another rally on Wall Street as investors try to process central bank moves to fight soaring inflation with the growing possibility that those measures will induce a recession.

Global markets have been thrown into turmoil for months by a perfect storm of crises that have left observers predicting a sharp contraction, including the Ukraine war, China’s lockdown-induced economic troubles, supply chain snarls and spiking energy costs.

Expectations that the Federal Reserve and other central banks will have to keep lifting rates have left many traders fretting that the pain could go on for some time, with sovereign bond yields — key gauges to future rates — continuing to climb.

This week Fed boss Jerome Powell told lawmakers a recession was “certainly a possibility” and suggested officials were ready to press on with big rate hikes, following a three-quarter point lift this month.

However, analysts said speculation that a recession is on the way has helped push yields down in recent days and led traders to scale back their expectations for the length of rate hikes.

Demand concerns have also helped send oil prices — a key driver of inflation — lower with both main contracts around 15 percent over the past week.

Added to the mix this week are comments from President Xi Jinping suggesting an end to China’s tech crackdown as well as possible new measures aimed at boosting the economy.

“As we have been saying for some time now, for stocks to return to any semblance of form, it would likely require an unlikely upbeat mix of a seamless China growth recovery, a top in US bond yields, and much softer oil prices,” said Stephen Innes at SPI Asset Management.

“While a tall order and still a near-term unlikely combination scenario, the fall in commodity prices, especially oil, should be music to the Fed’s ears, so some could be ticking one or two of those boxes off.”

In early Asia trade investors took their cue from Wall Street, where all three main indexes closed with healthy gains, including a more than one percent advance on the Nasdaq.

Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Manila and Jakarta were well up.

Markets are negotiating “a fraught transition from ‘front-loaded’ synchronised tightening towards demand destruction and peak ‘price-pressure’,” Citigroup Inc. strategists William O’Donnell and Edward Acton wrote in a note.

– Key figures at around 0230 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 26,362.24 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: UP 1.1 percent at 21,499.82

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.7 percent at 3,343.83

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 134.84 yen from 134.94 yen late Thursday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2277 from $1.2259

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0533 from $1.0526

Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.78 pence from 85.80 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.1 percent at $104.34 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.1 percent at $110.05 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.6 percent at 30,677.36 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 1.0 percent at 7,020.45 (close)

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Major US banks can weather severe economic downturn: Fed

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The largest banks operating in the US market have sufficient resources to withstand a severe economic downturn, the Federal Reserve says
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The largest banks operating in the US market have sufficient resources to withstand a severe economic downturn and continue providing financing to American families and firms, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

The Fed subjected 33 banks to its annual “stress test” exercise, to gauge whether they would be able to weather a steep global recession.

In the hypothetical crisis, financial markets plummet, commercial real estate and corporate debt markets face substantial strain, US unemployment reaches 10 percent and the economy contracts by 3.5 percent.

The results “showed that banks continue to have strong capital levels, allowing them to continue lending to households and businesses during a severe recession,” the Fed said. 

The scenario for this year’s test was even bleaker than the one used last year, but the outcome was the same, showing all the banks would maintain a sufficient “cushion” despite total projected losses of $612 billion, according to the report.

“Despite the larger post-stress decline this year… capital ratios remain well above the required minimum levels throughout the projection horizon” of nine quarters, the report said.

The stress tests, implemented in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, apply to banks with at least $100 billion in total assets, including the top tier designated as “global systemically important banks.”

Smaller banks are only subjected to the stress tests every two years, so the results are not directly comparable to 2021, which tested 23 institutions.

Among the banks examined in both years, there were an additional $50 billion in losses under the tougher scenario, a Fed official told reporters.

However, the official stressed that the dire case applied is only hypothetical and not a forecast.

With the results in hand, banks can announce any plans for dividend payments and share buybacks starting Monday at 2030 GMT, the official said.

The Fed ordered limits to such distributions in June 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic caused a sharp economic downturn, but relaxed the restrictions in December 2020 before removing them following last year’s tests.

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