November was a month when supplies of both oil and gas dominated the news, and the threat of inflation was high on the agenda. In many countries, inflation is reaching levels not seen for two or three decades, and the escalating price of oil and gas, and the inevitable supply chain problems, has much to do with it.
At the time of writing, the price of oil is around $70 a barrel. Alarm bells started ringing in the middle of the month, when the Bank of America forecast that it could reach $120 by June of next year, with the consequent knock-on effects on the price of petrol and hence prices in the shops.
The US announced that it was releasing fifty million barrels from its reserves, in an attempt to bring the price down. Several commentators, though, pointed out that in terms of total oil consumption, it would have little or no long-term impact.
Meanwhile, the price of gas was increasing sharply, as German regulators suspended approval for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. As we report below, Germany may well have a new
Chancellor by the time you read this. With Europe getting forty per cent of its gas from Russia, relations with the Kremlin will be at the top of Olaf Scholz’s in tray.
Omicron, the new Covid variant, hit the headlines this month, as it raised concerns over a new wave of infections and potential lockdowns. At the time of writing, there are suggestions that the new German administration could follow Austria’s lead and make vaccinations mandatory.
Away from the virus, tensions between the US and China over Taiwan continued. The US navy once more sailed through the contested Taiwan Strait, in what the US saw as part of its commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and China saw as a provocative action. Matters were not improved when US President Joe Biden invited Taiwan to a Global Democracy Summit, and pointedly did not invite China.
We can expect more of the same in the coming months and, with China due to host the Winter Olympics in February, there will certainly be plenty more diplomatic tensions to resolve.
The UK Government lost their lead in the opinion polls to Labour, following various sleaze scandals, while the Prime Minister made a less than successful speech to the Confederation of British Industry, in which he frequently referenced Peppa Pig. Then a few days later, it was announced that the HS2 rail link to Leeds was to be scrapped in order to save money.
We have mentioned the threat of inflation above, and figures for October saw UK inflation hit 4.2%, the highest figure for ten years, as higher fuel and energy costs pushed up prices. Supermarket price inflation reached its highest level for more than a year, with prices rising 2.1% in the four weeks to 31st October.
UK growth slowed in the third quarter of the year. The Office for National Statistics, reported that consumer spending had continued to increase as the UK emerged from lockdown, but that this was offset by falls in other areas of the economy, leaving growth for the July to September period at 1.3%. That means the economy is currently 2.1% smaller than in the final three months of 2019, before it was impacted by the pandemic.
The ongoing semiconductor shortage has contributed to the economic slump, as this issue was partly behind UK car production falling by forty per cent to its lowest level, for over sixty years.
There were suggestions that the UK/EU trade deal could collapse over the ongoing row over Northern Ireland. Business confidence fell to its lowest level for twelve months as worries about inflation and the global supply chain weighed on company bosses.
Amazon announced aggressive plans to enter the UK supermarket sector, saying that it intends to open two hundred and sixty stores by the end of 2024, and compete directly with the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s. Like Amazon’s existing Fresh stores, the new
supermarkets will not have cashiers, with goods being scanned as customers take them off the shelves and bills being sent straight to their Amazon accounts.
Shell, or Royal Dutch Shell to give the company its full name, announced plans to move its headquarters to the UK as part of plans to simplify the company’s structure. Alongside this, BP said that it would make Teesside the UK’s green hydrogen hub, proposing to build a new, large-scale green hydrogen facility in the region by the end of the decade.
With Christmas approaching, there was good news on the retail front, with early Christmas shopping boosting retail sales in October. There was record spending on Black Friday, with data from banks and credit card companies suggesting the country was on track to spend £9.2 billion by the time the Black Friday weekend had finished.
Job vacancies hit a record in October, with the Office for National Statistics reporting 1.17 million vacancies. However, plenty of employers reported having to offer improved pay and benefits as they struggled to recruit staff.
With worries about inflation, the supply chain, shortages and a possible fourth wave of Covid, November was not a good month for global stock markets. With one exception, all the markets we report on in the Bulletin were down. The FTSE 100 index of leading shares fared better than most, dropping by two per cent in November to end the month at 7,059. The pound declined against the dollar, and ended the month three per cent lower, trading at $1.3249.
The month ended with new lockdowns and restrictions across much of Europe, in the face of increasing numbers of Covid cases. Austria made vaccines mandatory and German Federal Minister of Health, Jens Spahn gave the stark warning that by the end of the winter, German people would be “vaccinated, recovered or dead”.
The big news in Germany was that discussions on forming a new coalition government had finally reached a conclusion, and that Social Democratic Party leader Olaf Scholz will become the next Chancellor. He will head a coalition with the Greens and the Free Democrats, with Greens leader Annalena Baerbock becoming foreign minister. She hailed the new coalition agreement as a “paradigm shift” for German politics.
Economically, Germany is planning to borrow what are described as ‘unprecedented’ amounts, to drive the decarbonisation and modernisation of the country. The end of the coal industry will be brought forward from 2038 to 2030, with the government committing to generating eighty per cent of the country’s electricity from renewables by that date. The sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be banned early in the next decade.
The big worry, like Joe Biden’s giant infrastructure project in the US, is that government spending on the scale that is planned will be inflationary. German inflation reached 4.6% in October and analysts are expecting a rate of 5.2% for November, while the Bundesbank is openly discussing the possibility of it reaching six per cent. As we reported in a previous
Bulletin, Germans have been buying record amounts of gold this year amid worries about rising inflation.
The other big worry for Europe with winter approaching, was its power supplies. Approval for the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, bringing Russian gas into Germany, was suspended by regulators, leading to a spike in gas prices. Many commentators are concerned about energy shortages if Europe has a severe winter. The situation was not helped when Belarus threatened to cut gas supplies into Europe, if the EU imposes further sanctions on the country over its treatment of migrants.
Against this backdrop, Europe’s leading stock markets suffered. The German DAX index fell four per cent to 15,100 while the French market was down two per cent to close November at 6,721.
Figures released in November, showed US inflation for October had jumped to 6.2%, the fastest rate of growth for three decades and well up on the 5.4% recorded in September. This prompted suggestions, notably from Goldman Sachs, that the Federal Reserve could bring forward the date on which it had planned to raise US interest rates, perhaps to the middle of next year. The Federal Reserve, where Jerome Powell will now stay on as Chair, is expected to cut back its economic stimulus measures from this month.
Will that bring inflation under control? Many commentators are sceptical. November saw President Biden sign his $1.2 trillion (£907 billion) ‘once in a generation’ infrastructure bill into law, and there are real worries that this level of government spending could further stoke inflation. There are already supply chain problems, as sceptics worry that more money chasing the same number of goods will simply push up prices.
Figures for October showed strong jobs growth in the US, with firms adding five hundred and thirty-one thousand jobs and the unemployment rate falling slightly to 4.6%. Despite this, the President of the American Truckers Associations, told CNN that the country needed eighty thousand truckers to fix the supply chain problems.
Electric truck maker Rivian, raised more than $11.9 billion (£9 billion) from investors as it floated on the stock market, despite only starting to deliver its electric pick-up trucks to customers in September. The shares jumped thirty per cent on their opening day, making Rivian the second most valuable car company in the US after Tesla.
The American people, though, were not happy in November. The unofficial ‘misery index’ spiked, apparently due to inflation and Covid measures, with Americans described as at ‘their most miserable in decades’.
This was reflected in Wall Street, as the Dow Jones index was down four per cent at 34,484. The more broadly-based S&P 500 index closed November at 4,567, but was still down one per cent.
The month opened with the new Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida describing his plans to redistribute wealth in the country as a new kind of capitalism. Critics were quick to point out the similarities to China’s ‘common prosperity’, with Hiroshi Mikitani, boss of Rakuten complaining about the ‘double taxation’ of the plans, to raise both Capital Gains Tax and profits made from investments.
From a new kind of capitalism to the very old. We have written previously about China’s drive to stockpile energy, with the government having told regional authorities to secure energy supplies no matter what the cost. That was extended to domestic consumers in November, as an unexpected cold snap courtesy of La Nina led to householders being told
to stockpile food and coal. As City AM pointed out, China appears to be ‘addicted to coal’. This year, the number of coal-fired power stations granted approval globally, has risen for the first time since 2015, with China accounting for two-thirds of those approvals.
China’s factory gate prices continued to increase, with November’s figures showing a rise of 13.5%, which meant that producer prices were increasing at their fastest rate since records began in November 1995. Despite this, figures for October showed that China had posted a record trade surplus as exports surged.
Exports were up twenty-seven per cent on the previous year to $300.2 billion (£225 billion), the thirteenth straight month of growth in double figures. Imports increased by just over twenty per cent, leaving China with a trade surplus of $84.5 billion (£63.3 billion).
November brought us Singles’ Day. Traditionally, this has seen a huge leap in sales for China’s online giant Alibaba. This year, sales for the event rose at their slowest rate since its launch in 2009, the first time the company has failed to achieve double digit growth for the eleven-day shopping festival.
Not surprisingly, Alibaba duly warned that its annual revenue, would grow at the slowest pace since its stock market debut in 2014, with the shares falling back by ten per cent on the Hong Kong stock market.
We have written about the Chinese property market in previous bulletins and the huge indebtedness of some of the leading companies. November brought us more of the same, with Evergrande apparently selling two Gulfstream jets to meet repayments to foreign creditors, and subsequently selling a stake in a streaming firm for $273 million (£205 million) for the same reason. Kaisa Group missed a payment to creditors.
Elsewhere in the region, South Korea increased interest rates for the second time this year, amid concerns over escalating prices and rising household debt. In a widely expected move, the Bank of Korea increased rates by 0.25% to one per cent. Meanwhile, Japan’s export growth dropped to just 9.4% in October, the slowest growth for eight months, as car exports to China and the US fell by almost half owing to problems in the supply chain.
On the region’s stock markets, China’s Shanghai Composite Index was the only market on which we report not to lose ground in November. It inched up just seventeen points to close the month at 3,564. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index, in contrast, fell seven per cent to
23,475. The markets in Japan and South Korea were both down by four per cent in the month to 27,822 and 2,839 respectively.
President of El Salvador Nayeb Bukele announced the building of a circular city, representing the shape of a large coin, at the base of the Conchagua volcano. The plan is to use the volcano’s geothermal energy to power bitcoin mining.
India, meanwhile, went in precisely the opposite direction, introducing a bill to ban most cryptocurrencies and bring trading in those that remain under tighter regulatory control. There were suggestions that India might impose some kind of climate lockdown, closing schools and ordering people to work from home, in a bid to beat pollution in New Delhi.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine continued, with news agencies reporting that Russia now has ninety thousand troops stationed on its border with Ukraine. With winter on its way, there are suggestions that Russia could turn off Ukraine’s gas supply, or stop supplying coal,
or both. Ukraine’s power plants use 1.8 million tons of coal per month, with the country importing around six hundred and seventy thousand tons from Russia.
As with virtually all the world’s stock markets, the three major emerging markets on which we report were down in November. Russia led the way, dropping six per cent to end the month at 3,891. The Indian stock market fell four per cent to 57,065 while the Brazilian market was down two per cent at 101,915.