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Soaring gasoline, food prices boost U.S. inflation; labor market tightening

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November 10, 2021

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. consumer prices accelerated in October as Americans paid more for gasoline and food, leading to the biggest annual gain in 31 years, suggesting inflation could stay uncomfortably high well into 2022 amid snarled global supply chains.

Inflation pressures are also brewing in the labor market, where an acute shortage of workers is driving wages higher. The number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits fell to a 20-month low last week, other data showed on Wednesday.

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High inflation is eroding the wage gains, adding to political risk for President Joe Biden, whose approval rating has been falling as Americans grow more anxious about the economy. The White House and the Federal Reserve, which views high inflation as transitory, have maintained that prices will fall once supply bottlenecks start easing.

“There is increasing evidence that inflationary pressures are broadening out, underlining that inflation will remain elevated for much longer than Fed officials expect,” said Andrew Hunter, a senior economist at Capital Economics.

The consumer price index jumped 0.9% last month after climbing 0.4% in September, the Labor Department said on Wednesday. The largest gain in four months boosted the annual increase in the CPI to 6.2%. That was the biggest year-on-year rise since November 1990 and followed a 5.4% increase in September.

The broad-based increase in prices last month was led by gasoline prices, which surged 6.1% after rising 1.2% in September. Food prices advanced 0.9%, with meat, eggs, fish, vegetables, cereals and bakery products becoming more expensive. But prices for alcoholic beverages declined. Rents increased a solid 0.4% and prices for both new and used motor vehicles rose.

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI gained 0.6% after climbing 0.2% in September. The so-called core CPI jumped 4.6% on a year-on-year basis, the largest increase since August 1991, after being steady at 4.0% for two straight months. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the overall CPI shooting up 0.6% and the core CPI rising 0.4%.

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U.S. stocks opened lower. The dollar rose against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury yields rose.

WORKER SHORTAGES

Inflation is heating up again as the economic drag from the summer wave of COVID-19 infections, driven by the Delta variant, fades and supply bottlenecks persist. Trillions of dollars in pandemic relief from governments across the globe fueled demand for goods, leaving supply chains overstretched.

The nearly two-year long pandemic has upended labor markets, causing a global shortage of workers needed to produce raw materials and move goods from factories to consumers. The government reported on Tuesday that producer prices increased strongly in October, reversing a slowing trend in the monthly PPI that had become entrenched since spring.

Though the Fed last week restated its belief that current high inflation is “expected to be transitory,” most economists are skeptical, also noting that wages are rising strongly as companies scramble for workers.

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The U.S. central bank this month started reducing the amount of money it is injecting into the economy through monthly bond purchases. The Fed’s preferred inflation measure for its flexible 2% target increased 3.6% year-on-year in September.

With labor scarce, companies are holding on to their workers. In another report on Wednesday, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 267,000 for the week ended Nov. 6.

That was the lowest level since the middle of March in 2020, when the economy almost ground to a halt under the onslaught of mandatory business closures aimed at slowing the first wave of COVID-19 infections. Claims, which have now declined for six straight weeks, are within striking distance of their pre-pandemic level.

The report was published a day early because the federal government is closed on Thursday for the Veterans Day holiday.

The government reported last Friday that the economy added 531,000 jobs in October, with annual wage growth the largest in eight months. The labor force is down 3 million from its pre-pandemic level, making it harder to fill the 10.4 million job openings as of the of August.

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“Businesses facing labor shortages are likely retaining rather than laying off workers,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in White Plains, New York. “Even so, for the labor market, supply remains a constraint that is a headwind for the recovery for now.”

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani;Editing by Dan Burns and Andrea Ricci)

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Alibaba overhauls e-commerce businesses, appoints new CFO

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December 6, 2021

(Reuters) -Alibaba Group Holding Ltd said on Monday it was reorganising its international and domestic e-commerce businesses and would appoint a new chief financial officer.

The changes come as Alibaba faces headwinds on multiple fronts, including increased competition, a slowing economy and a regulatory crackdown.

The e-commerce giant’s Hong Kong-listed shares slid 8% in early morning trade.

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Alibaba said it would form two new units to house its main e-commerce businesses – international digital commerce and China digital commerce, in a bid to become more agile and accelerate growth.

The international digital commerce unit will house Alibaba’s overseas consumer-facing and wholesale businesses, and include AliExpress, Alibaba.com and Lazada. The unit will be headed by Jiang Fan, whose past roles include president of the Taobao and Tmall marketplaces.

Alibaba will house its domestic commerce businesses in the China digital commerce unit which be led by Trudy Dai, a founding member of Alibaba, it said.

The company’s deputy chief financial officer, Toby Xu, will succeed Maggie Wu as the company’s chief financial officer from April, it said, describing his appointment as part of the company’s leadership succession plan.

Xu joined Alibaba from PWC three years ago and was appointed deputy CFO in July 2019.

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Wu, who helped lead three Alibaba-related company public listings as CFO, will continue to serve as an executive director on Alibaba’s board.

Last month the company slashed its forecast for annual revenue growth to its slowest pace since its 2014 stock market debut and saw sales at its banner event, online shopping festival Singles Day, grow at their slowest rate ever.

(Reporting by Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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China Evergrande shares hit 11-year low after firm says no guarantee it can meet repayments

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December 6, 2021

By Clare Jim

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Shares of China Evergrande Group tumbled 12% to an 11-year low on Monday after the firm said there was no guarantee it would have enough funds to meet debt repayments, prompting Chinese authorities to summon its chairman.

The shares fell as a 30-day grace period on a coupon payment of $82.5 million due on Nov. 6 comes to an end on Monday.

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Evergrande, once China’s top-selling developer, is grappling with more than $300 billion in liabilities. A collapse could send shockwaves through the country’s property sector and beyond.

In a filing late on Friday, Evergrande, the world’s most indebted developer, also said it had received a demand from creditors to pay about $260 million.

That prompted the government of Guangdong province, where the company is based, to summon Evergrande Chairman Hui Ka Yan, and it later said in a statement it would send a working group to the developer at Evergrande’s request to oversee risk management, strengthen internal controls and maintain normal operations.

In a series of apparently coordinated statements late in the evening, China’s central bank, banking and insurance regulator and its securities regulator sought to reassure the market that any risks to the broader property sector could be contained.

Short-term risks caused by a single real estate firm will not undermine market fundraising in the medium and long term, the People’s Bank of China said, adding that housing sales, land purchases and financing “have already returned to normal in China”.

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Evergraned’s stock fell more than 12% to HK$1.98, its lowest since May 2010.

(Reporting by Clare Jim; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Christopher Cushing)

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Oil gains more than $1/bbl after Saudi price hike

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December 6, 2021

By Florence Tan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices rose by more than $1 a barrel on Monday after top exporter Saudi Arabia raised prices for its crude sold to Asia and the United States, and as indirect U.S.-Iran talks on reviving a nuclear deal appeared to hit an impasse.

Brent crude futures for February gained $1.69, or 2.4%, to $71.57 a barrel by 0033 GMT while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for January were at $67.92 a barrel, up $1.66, or 2.5%.

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On Sunday, Saudi Arabia raised January official selling prices for all crude grades sold to Asia and the United States by up to 80 cents from the previous month.

The price hikes were implemented despite a decision last week by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+, to continue increasing supplies by 400,000 barrels per day in January.

Prices were also buoyed by diminishing prospects of a rise in Iranian oil exports after indirect U.S.-Iranian talks on saving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal broke off last week. European officials voiced dismay on Friday at sweeping demands by Iran’s new, hardline government. The talks are expected to resume middle of this week.

Both benchmarks rebounded after falling last week for their sixth week in a row for the first time since November 2018 on concerns that the new coronavirus variant Omicron could impact global economic growth and fuel demand.

In another sign of the turmoil unleashed by the ever-changing pandemic, the head of International Monetary Fund said the global lender is likely to lower its global economic growth estimates because of the new variant.

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Omicron has spread to about one-third of U.S. states as of Sunday.

(Reporting by Florence Tan; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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