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In the bleak mid-winterThere were some interesting new faces at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. They included Brazil’s controversial President Jair Bolsonaro and the Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte. And, for those sceptical about the Forum’s unrealistic target-setting, magician David Blaine was among the guest speakers. More notable, though, were the absentees. They include PM Theresa May, President Trump, President Xi Jinpin and President Macron, who were not so much keeping the home fires burning but rather, trying to douse the roaring flames.
Back in ice-encrusted Davos, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) set a suitably chilly scene for the week’s proceedings. Cutting its global growth forecasts for this year and next, it cited signs of weakness in Europe and a bigger-than-expected slowdown in China.
Indeed, China ranked high in the headlines this week after data showed its economic growth decelerated to 6.6% per annum. Gloom-mongers gleefully seized on the fact that this is the lowest rate since 1990. However, we would point out the Chinese economy is 13 times larger now than then.
Encouragingly, responding to the weak figures, Chinese trade officials have offered to boost imports from the US to avoid further US tariffs. The US-China trade dispute is starting to take a toll on both companies and countries–- not just in Asia, but in Europe and the US itself. Any sign of reconciliation between the two superpowers bodes well for markets.
Our own analysis indicates that global growth will moderate over the coming year, but we will avoid a recession. Investors’ interest rate expectations have reduced considerably since the US Federal Reserve meeting in December. If the pace of rate rises is indeed slower than previously expected, this could provide a boost to investor confidence.
However, US stocks cooled, with the S&P 500 Index 1.1% lower by Thursday’s close. The ongoing government shutdown has doubtless chilled sentiment. But shares in pawn shops and payday lenders have risen significantly since the shutdown began, as unpaid workers seek alternative sources of funding. For instance, Texas-based pawnshop EZCorp has risen around 20% this year.
HMV- holding out for a high-street hero?
As the inexorable shift to online continues, shoppers are deserting the UK high street in droves. Not, though, Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley. Last year, in his apparent mission to rescue the UK retail sector, Mr Ashley swooped in to save House of Fraser, Debenhams and Evans Cycles. This week, he pedalled to the rescue of music chain HMV.
While footfall is quieting on the UK high street, that heading out of the UK is surely increasing. Fearful of a disorderly Brexit, P&O Cruises announced that, after 182 years in the UK, it will re-register its fleet under the Cypriot flag. Sony is to move its headquarters from London to Amsterdam, joining rival firm Panasonic. Meanwhile, technology company Dyson announced it was moving its corporate base from Wiltshire to Singapore in a move to “future proof” its business.
The UK’s woes manifested in share prices, with the FTSE 100 Index falling 2.1% by close on Thursday. European markets fared better. The FTSE World Europe ex UK index lost 0.2%.
Recent polls indicate sub-30% approval ratings for French president Emmanuel Macron. In his latest effort to stem the wave of unrest that has seized France, the beleaguered Mr Macron has introduced ‘le grand débat’. This is a series of discussions inviting local communities to have their say.
The meetings are small-scale provincial gatherings held in town halls. Accounts suggest the discussions so far have been unruly and unproductive. Nor have they quelled the gilets jaunes movement, as Mr Macron had hoped. Protests erupted again last weekend. Worryingly, they are growing more violent. The fear is that Mr Macron’s great national debate may backfire. One protester defiantly proclaimed, “This will not stop our protests. On the contrary!”
Zoo roo kidnap case
A woman was arrested in Pennsylvania this week, after being caught kidnapping a kangaroo from a petting zoo. Loren McCutcheon broke into the pen using bolt-cutters, grabbed the startled beast and carried it off.
Police arrived to find the 52-year-old skippy-snatcher trying to manhandle the marsupial into her car. Ms. McCutcheon told them she worked for Bucks County Humane Society.
Defending her actions, Ms McC. claimed ownership, insisting she had rented the roo to the zoo. However, this won’t help her case, as kangaroo-possession is illegal in Pennsylvania. Workers at the zoo who saw what happened are said to be hopping mad.