Inflation has surged back to levels not seen in many developed economies since the 1970s and 1980s. Economists and central bankers at the European Cental Bank’s conference in Portugal warn it will take time before price rises cool.
– How did we get here? –
For the ECB, established in 1998 to oversee the European single currency, the burst of inflation is without precedent.
“The current levels of food and industrial goods inflation have not been seen since the mid-1980s,” ECB President Christine Lagarde said in her remarks at the conference on Tuesday.
Likewise, the “increase in the relative price of energy in recent months is much higher than the individual spikes that occurred in the 1970s” during the oil shock, Lagarde said.
The take-off in inflation, over eight percent in the eurozone in May, was at the end of a “a sequence that happens in a chaotic world”, Richard Baldwin, an economics professor at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, told AFP.
The supply shock caused by the the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 had been followed by a “demand twist” where people used their money more on goods, Baldwin said.
Instead of seeing this fading, the Russian invasion in Ukraine is causing “a huge spike in fuel and food prices” and heaping pressure on inflation, he said.
But it is not just energy. As health restrictions fall away, consumers are turning back to services, while the pent-up demand for tourism is being released, Lagarde noted.
“There is no playbook for this inflation,” said economist Baldwin.
– How long will it stay like this? –
With no end in sight for the war in Ukraine, the disruptions caused to the supply of energy could keep prices high for some time to come.
Domestic factors could also prop up high inflation rates, with workers demanding higher and higher compensation to make up for the rising cost of living.
Adding to the pressure are low unemployment rates, handing more leverage to workers looking for pay rises.
– What can central banks do? –
The message put out by central banks is one of their most powerful tools to calm markets and control prices.
But the task at hand “has become quite difficult in view of high inflation numbers” and as “people feel high inflation every day when they’re buying food or going to the gas station”, Isabel Schnabel, a member of the ECB’s executive board, told AFP.
“We can do little about current inflation, but we will take decisive measures so that inflation returns to our (two-percent) target over the medium term,” Schnabel said.
“Once inflation is there and it starts to increase the expectations and wages, monetary policy should act,” Sebnem Kalemli-Ozcan, an economic professor at the University of Maryland, told AFP.
That is what the ECB has planned to do, announcing an interest rate hike for July, its first in over a decade. But the Frankfurt-based institution has to be careful not to completely choke off sputtering growth.
“The question is not if the prices will go down after some time, but what will happen to growth,” Kalemli-Ozcan said.
That is why comparisons are being made with the 1970s and the “stagflation type of situation” where inflation persisted while growth rates faltered, she said. “In Europe there is a risk of stagflation.”
Sony trims annual profit forecast after Bungie purchase
Sony trimmed its annual net profit forecast on Friday, partly due to acquisition expenses including the purchase of US game studio Bungie, creator of hits like “Halo” and “Destiny”.
The PlayStation maker announced in February it would buy Bungie for $3.6 billion, weeks after rival Microsoft unveiled a landmark pact to acquire “Call of Duty” maker Activision Blizzard.
Microsoft says its massive merger, valued at around $69 billion, will make it the third-largest gaming company by revenue, behind Tencent and Sony — marking a major shift in the booming gaming world.
Sony Group now predicts net profit for 2022-23 will total 800 billion yen ($6 billion), down from the 830 billion yen previously forecast.
It said the expected increase in acquisition expenses was “mainly due to the acquisition of Bungie, Inc. being completed earlier than the assumed timing”.
Lower sales of games by non-house developers will likely dent its overall sales figures this financial year, it said, but this would be “partially offset” by a weaker yen.
Exchange rates also boosted the conglomerate’s movie segment, chief financial officer Hiroki Totoki told reporters.
Customer traffic at US theatres has returned to pre-pandemic levels in some weeks, and Sony Pictures is hoping to score another box-office win after the runaway success of “Spider-Man: No Way Home”.
“We have high hopes for ‘Bullet Train’ featuring Brad Pitt,” Totoki said.
The movie division expects higher sales for anime streaming, “including the impact of the acquisition of Crunchyroll”, the world’s largest online library of Japanese animation.
– PlayStation 5 sales steady –
In the April to June quarter, the Japanese conglomerate posted a three percent year-on-year rise in net profit to 218 billion yen, with sales up around two percent to 2.3 trillion yen.
Sony has faced challenges rolling out its PlayStation 5 console, which remains difficult to get hold of more than 18 months since its launch in November 2020, in part due to pandemic supply chain disruption and the global chip shortage.
Sony sold 11.5 million PS5s last year, and in May Totoki said the firm was adapting to try and weather ongoing supply chain issues, including Covid-19 lockdowns in China.
For the PS5, “the problem is more about supply than demand. The company is also facing problems transporting its products,” Hideki Yasuda, senior analyst at Toyo Securities, told AFP before the earnings release.
Meanwhile “the yen has turned lower in this quarter. This should be positive for the company,” he said, adding that a US economic slowdown could open up shipping spots, even though it poses risks overall for businesses like Sony.
In the first quarter of this financial year, Sony sold 2.4 million PS5 units, similar to the same period last year when it sold 2.3 million.
Sony also said last month it is launching a new brand that will offer PC gaming gear.
The gaming peripherals market of items used by players was valued at $3.88 billion globally in 2019 according to Grand View Research.
Asian markets rise as US data boosts hopes of slower Fed hikes
Asian stocks rose Friday after data showing another contraction in the US economy boosted hopes that the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest rate hikes.
After an extended period of pessimism on trading floors fuelled by soaring inflation and the central bank’s monetary tightening campaign, investors are beginning to speculate that the market may have reached its nadir.
The world’s top economy shrank 0.9 percent in April-June following a 1.6 percent retreat in the first quarter as it was buffeted by the four-decade spike in inflation and rising borrowing costs.
But the reading was taken as a sign of good news, as it could give the Fed room to take its foot off the pedal, with Treasury yields — considered a barometer of future interest rates — easing.
Officials are expected to continue lifting rates, but analysts estimate they will announce a 50-basis-point rise in September, compared with 75 at the past two meetings.
And analysts said the quick, sharp pace of increases would allow the bank to begin cutting sooner in 2023 while others said any recession would likely only be shallow and short.
The news saw all three main indexes on Wall Street rally more than one percent, with tech firms — which are susceptible to higher rates — leading the way.
The gains extended a rally Wednesday that came after Fed chief Jerome Powell hinted that the bank could start to take it easier in its tightening.
Most of Asia followed suit, with Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Jakarta and Wellington all up. However, Hong Kong dropped and Shanghai struggled.
The prospect of US rates not rising as fast as previously expected hit the dollar, which has soared in recent months against most other currencies.
The greenback dropped below 135 yen Thursday for the first time since July 6, having hit a 24-year high of 139.39 yen just two weeks ago.
A second successive contraction is widely considered a technical recession, though it is not officially considered so in the United States until identified as such by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
But while debate rages over that issue, the general consensus is that the economy is struggling.
“The more important point is that the economy has quickly lost steam in the face of four-decade high inflation, rapidly rising borrowing costs, and a general tightening in financial conditions,” Sal Guatieri, of BMO Capital Markets, wrote.
The retreat in the US economy comes as China also struggles, hit by painful Covid-induced lockdowns in major cities including Shanghai and Beijing that hammered all sectors and supply chains.
On Thursday, the country’s leadership offered a dour assessment of the world’s number two economy but offered no plans to stimulate growth, leaving traders disappointed.
– Key figures at around 0230 GMT –
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.5 percent at 27,944.55 (break)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 1.4 percent at 20,343.08
Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.4 percent at 3,269.18
Dollar/yen: UP at 134.36 yen from 134.25 yen Thursday
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0193 from $1.0197
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2167 from $1.2177
Euro/pound: UP at 83.77 pence from 83.70 pence
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.8 percent at $97.16 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.3 percent at $107.50 per barrel
New York – Dow: UP 1.0 percent at 32,529.63 (close)
London – FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,345.25 (close)
Amazon tops expectations as quarterly sales climb
E-commerce colossus Amazon on Thursday reported that its sales in the recently ended quarter grew more than expected despite inflation and other economic turmoil.
Amazon sales topped $121 billion in the quarter, but the company logged a loss of $2 billion dollars as it continued to work to rein in costs — but its shares still jumped 10 percent in after-hours trading.
A crowded period of earnings from the world’s biggest tech firms has mostly disappointed, but investors have seemed relieved the news was not worse.
Recession fears, a strong dollar, shrinking advertising budgets and inflation — tech companies’ pandemic-era booms have now tipped into a downturn.
Microsoft and Facebook-owner Meta both cited the harm to their business from a strong dollar, with the social media giant pointing to the greenback’s role in the firm’s first year-on-year revenue decline since going public in 2012.
In addition to the generally bumpy economic times, firms such as Netflix and Meta are fighting fierce competition from rivals — and both reported losing some ground.
Meta lost about two million monthly users between quarters, and Netflix shed nearly a million paying customers, which was less than expected.
Yet Netflix stock is up about a percent in the past five days, with investors potentially hopeful after the firm projected a coming rebound in subscribers.
Markets seemed similarly assuaged despite Google parent Alphabet missing on revenue and profit.
The Silicon Valley giant’s bad news was not unexpected, as the flow of online ad dollars that fuels the company’s fortunes has slowed as inflation, war and other troubles vex the overall economy.
“Still, with its tremendous market share in search advertising, Google is relatively well positioned to weather the rough waters that lie ahead,” said analyst Evelyn Mitchell.
As advertisers have tightened their belts, and Apple’s privacy changes have bitten into firms’ sales of costly but highly targeted ads, the damage was uneven.
Meta’s income has taken a beating, and with a share price that has lost about half its value since February, it’s clear that investors are still wary about the company’s future.
Analysts noted Meta’s reported 14 percent drop in average price per ad was a steep change coming on top of the first quarter, when ad prices dipped 8 percent.
“The good news, if we can call it that, is that its competitors in digital advertising are also experiencing a slowdown,” said analyst Debra Aho Williamson.
Snapchat’s parent firm, for example, reported that its loss in the recently ended quarter nearly tripled to $422 million despite revenue increasing 13 percent under conditions “more challenging” than expected.
“We are not satisfied with the results we are delivering, regardless of the current headwinds,” California-based Snap said in a letter to investors last week.
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