World’s Major Economies Fall Behind U.S. - Kanebridge News
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World’s Major Economies Fall Behind U.S.

By JOSHUA KIRBY
Fri, Feb 16, 2024 10:04amGrey Clock 3 min

Economies in the U.K. and Japan shrank at the end of last year, underlining the widening gulf between robust growth in the U.S. and more anaemic conditions in the rest of the world.

The decline in activity in Japan came as a surprise to economists and meant that it has slipped in the global rankings of the world’s largest economies behind Germany and into fourth place.

In the U.K., the economy shrank for the second consecutive quarter, the shorthand definition of a recession. The U.K.’s statistics agency Thursday said gross domestic product fell at an annualized rate of 1.4% in the final three months of 2023, compared with a 3.3% increase in the U.S. over the same period.

U.K. consumer spending, the main driver of the U.K. economy, fell over the second half of 2023 even as wage growth outpaced inflation for the first time in two years, boosting consumers’ purchasing power. Japanese consumers, who are still seeing prices rise faster than wages, also cut their spending in the final quarter.

The growth numbers from the U.K. and Japan mirror similarly weak conditions in much of continental Europe and China .

The divergence between the U.S. and the rest of the rich world is in large part a story of surprising U.S. strength . The U.S. grew much faster than economists had expected it would at the start of 2023, while Europe was badly hit by high energy prices from the Ukraine war and rising interest rates. Economists forecast the growth gap will narrow somewhat over the course of the year, but remain wide.

U.S. consumer spending has been more resilient in the face of rising interest rates than in other parts of the world. Government spending in the U.S. has also remained at historically high levels for periods outside of recessions, giving the economy an added boost.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development earlier this month said it expects the U.S. economy to grow by 2.1% this year, while it sees the U.K.’s economy growing by 0.7% and Germany’s economy by 0.3%.

To be sure, the declines in activity in Europe and Japan have been relatively modest and are a reflection of slow-growing economies that by nature fall into contraction more often than those that have a higher sustained level of growth.

And while economic output declined in a number of rich countries as 2023 drew to a close, job markets in Europe and Japan remained tight, as they were in the U.S. As a result, many economists hesitate to describe the U.K. and Japanese downturns as full-blown recessions.

Policymakers expect economies to pick up as inflation ebbs in the months ahead.

“We’re seeing some signs of a pickup,” Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey told lawmakers Wednesday.

Japan’s unemployment rate fell to an 11-month low in December, and the Bank of Japan ’s Tankan survey “showed that business conditions across all industries and firm sizes were the strongest they’ve been since 2018.”

Many economists expect the Bank of Japan to end its policy of negative short-term interest rates in either March or April, although the bank hasn’t confirmed that.

“We doubt that today’s GDP figures will prevent the Bank [of Japan] from ending negative interest rates in April,” said Marcel Thieliant , head of Asia-Pacific at Capital Economics.

The decline in its GDP during the second half of the year, and the yen’s weakness relative to the euro, meant that Japan dropped from third place in the global rankings of economic heft when measured in U.S. dollars.

Germany takes over the third-place spot behind the U.S. and China, despite Europe’s largest economy contracting during 2023.  Japan lost its second-place spot to China in 2010 .



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Some chocolatiers and coffee makers say they will have to pass on the extra cost to consumers

By JOSEPH HOPPE
Sun, Apr 14, 2024 4 min

Global prices for cocoa and coffee are surging as severe weather events hamper production in key regions, raising questions from farm to table over the long-term damage climate change could have on soft commodities.

Cultivating cocoa and coffee requires very specific temperature, water and soil conditions. Now, more frequent heat waves, heavy rainfalls and droughts are damaging harvests and crippling supplies amid ever growing demand from customers worldwide.

“Adverse weather conditions, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, have played an important role in sending several food commodities sharply higher,” said Ole Hansen , head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank.

The spikes in prices are a threat to coffee and chocolate makers across the globe.

Swiss consumer-goods giant Nestlé was able to pass only a fraction of the cocoa price increase to customers last year, and it may need to adjust pricing in the future due to persistently high prices, a spokesperson said.

Italian coffee maker Lavazza reported revenue of more than $3 billion for last year, but said profitability was hit by soaring coffee bean prices, particularly for green and Robusta coffee, and its decision to limit price increases.

Likewise, chocolatier Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Spruengli said in its 2023 results that weather and climate conditions played a major role in the global shortage of cocoa beans that led to historically high prices. The company had to lift the sales prices of its products and said it would need to further raise them this year and next if cocoa prices remain at current levels.

Hershey ’s chief executive, Michele Buck , said in February that historic cocoa prices are expected to limit earnings growth this year, and that the company plans to use “every tool in its toolbox,” including price hikes, to manage the impact on business.

In West Africa, where about 70% of global cocoa is produced, powerhouses Ivory Coast and Ghana are facing catastrophic harvests this season as El Niño—the pattern of above-average sea surface temperatures—led to unseasonal heavy rainfalls followed by strong heat waves.

Extreme heat has weakened cocoa trees already damaged from heavy rainfall at the end of last year, according to Morningstar DBRS’s Aarti Magan and Moritz Steinbauer. The rain also worsened road conditions, disrupting cocoa bean deliveries to export ports.

The International Cocoa Organization—a global body composed of cocoa producing and consuming member countries—said in its latest monthly report that it expects the global supply deficit to widen to 374,000 metric tons in the 2023-24 season, from 74,000 tons last season. Global cocoa supply is anticipated to decline by almost 11% to 4.449 million tons when compared with 2022-23.

“Significant declines in production are expected from the top producing countries as they are envisaged to feel the detrimental effect of unfavourable weather conditions and diseases,” the organisation said.

While the effects of climate change are severe, other serious structural issues are also hitting West African cocoa production in the short- to medium-term. Illegal mining poses a significant threat to cocoa farms in Ghana, destroying arable land and poisoning water supplies, and the problem is becoming increasingly relevant in the Ivory Coast, according to BMI.

The issues are being magnified by deforestation carried out to increase cocoa production. Since 1950, Ivory Coast has lost around 90% of its forests, while Ghana has lost around 65% over the same period. This has driven farmers to areas less suited to cocoa cultivation like grasslands, increasing the amount of labor required and bringing further downside risks to the harvest, the research firm said.

The Ivory Coast’s cocoa mid-crop harvest—which officially starts in April and runs until September—is expected to fall to 400,000-500,000 tons from 600,000-620,000 tons last year, with weather expected to play a crucial role in shaping the market balance for the season, ING analysts said, citing estimates from the country’s cocoa regulator. Ghana’s cocoa board also forecasts a slump in the harvest for this season to as low as 422,500 tons, the poorest in more than 20 years, according to BMI.

Neither regulator responded to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, extreme droughts in Southeast Asia—particularly in Vietnam and Indonesia—are resulting in lower coffee bean harvests, hurting producers’ output and global exports. Coffee inventories have recovered somewhat in recent weeks but remain low in recent historical terms. Robusta coffee has seen a severe deterioration in export expectations, while Arabica coffee is expected to return to a relatively narrow surplus this year, said Charles Hart, senior commodities analyst at BMI.

The global coffee benchmark prices, London Robusta futures, are up by 15% on-month to $3,825 a ton. Arabica coffee prices have also surged 17% over the last month to $2.16 a pound in lockstep with Robusta—its highest level since October 2022. Cocoa prices have more than tripled on-year over these supply crunch fears, and risen 49% in the last month alone to $10,050 a ton.

“Cocoa trees are particularly sensitive to weather and require very specific conditions to grow, this means that cocoa prices are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as drought and periods of intense heat, as well as the longer-term impact of climate change,” said Lucrezia Cogliati, associate commodities analyst at BMI.

Cogliati said global cocoa consumption is expected to outpace production for the third consecutive season, with intense seasonal West African winds and plant diseases contributing to significant declines.

Consumers hoping for a return to cheaper prices for life’s little luxuries in the midterm may also be in for a bitter surprise.

“There is no sugarcoating it—consumers will ultimately be faced with higher chocolate prices, products that contain less chocolate, and/or shrinking product sizes,” Morningstar’s Magan and Steinbauer said in a report.

“We anticipate consumers could respond by searching widely for promotional discounts, trading down to value-based chocolate and confectionary products from premium products, switching to private-label from branded products and/or reducing volumes altogether.”

The record-breaking rally for cocoa and coffee is likely more than just a flash in the pan, according to Citi analysts, as adverse weather conditions and strong demand trends are likely to support prices in the months ahead. The U.S. bank estimates Arabica coffee futures in a range of $1.88-$2.15 a pound for the current year, but said projections could be lifted if the outlook for 2024-25 tightens further.

At the heart of it all, climate change is set to play a major role, as the impact of extreme weather events could exacerbate the pressure on cocoa and coffee supplies, according to market watchers.

“I don’t expect prices to remain at these levels, but if we continue to see more unusual weather as a result of global warming then we certainly could see more volatility in terms of cocoa yields going forward, which could impact pricing,” said Paul Joules, commodities analyst at Rabobank.