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Retailers lose love for Asia: Snarled supply chains force manufacturing exodus to Balkans, LatAm

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November 9, 2021

By Siddharth Cavale and Corina Pons

(Reuters) – Major clothing and shoe companies are moving production to countries closer to their U.S. and European stores, smarting from a resurgence in cases of the Delta variant of the coronavirus in Vietnam and China that slowed or shut down production for several weeks earlier this year.

The disclosures come amid a massive shipping logjam that is driving up costs and forcing companies to rethink their globe-spanning supply chains and low-cost manufacturing hubs in Asia..

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The latest example is Spanish fashion retailer Mango, which told Reuters on Friday it has “accelerated” its process of increasing local production in countries such as Turkey, Morocco and Portugal. In 2019, the company largely sourced its products from China and Vietnam. Mango told Reuters that it would “considerably” expand the number of units manufactured locally in Europe in 2022.

Similarly, U.S. shoe retailer Steve Madden on Wednesday said it had pulled back production in Vietnam and had shifted 50% of its footwear production to Brazil and Mexico from China, while Rubber clogs maker Crocs said last month it was moving production to countries including Indonesia and Bosnia.

Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Czech Republic, Morocco and Turkey were some of the countries drawing new interest from clothing and shoe producers, though China continues to produce a large share of the apparel for U.S. and European clothing chains.

“We are seeing a lot of growth in freight and trucking activity in the former Soviet Republics … a big rise in Hungary and Romania,” said Barry Conlon, chief executive of Overhaul, a supply chain risk management firm.

In Turkey, apparel exports are expected to reach $20 billion this year, an all-time high, driven by a spike in orders from the European Union, Turkey’s Union of Chambers Clothing and Garment Council data showed. In 2020, exports totaled $17 billion.

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In Bosnia & Herzegovina, exports of textiles, leather and footwear amounted to 739.56 million marka ($436.65 million) in the first half of 2021, which was higher than for all of 2020.

“Many companies from the European Union, which is our most important trading partner, are looking for new suppliers and new supply chains in the Balkan market,” said Professor Muris Pozderac, secretary of the association of textile, clothing, leather and footwear in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

In Guatemala, where Nordstrom significantly shifted its private-label volume production in 2020, clothing exports were a touch over $1 billion as of the end of August this year, up 34.2% from 2020 and even 8.8% higher than in 2019.

To be sure, many companies are also still heavily reliant on Vietnam, where recent production stoppages have caused significant disruptions. Vietnam’s government said in October that it will fall short of its garment exports target this year, by $5 billion in a worst-case scenario, due to the impacts of coronavirus restrictions and a shortage of workers.

Factory inspections in Vietnam – a proxy for retailer manufacturing orders – fell 40% in the third quarter versus the second quarter, with production during those months quickly moving to Bangladesh, India and Cambodia. Inspection rates in Vietnam were still hovering at lower levels in the fourth quarter, with a small uptick seen in late October, said Mathieu Labasse, vice president of QIMA, a supply-chain quality control and auditing firm that represents more than 15,000 brands.

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Apparel maker VF Corp and outdoor gear maker Columbia Sportswear were among companies that warned that there would be delays in fall and spring collections and in some cases insufficient size assortments.

Michael Kors handbags maker Capri Holdings said on Wednesday that it would not have the inventories it wanted for the holiday season, while athletic gear maker Under Armour said on last Tuesday it was canceling purchase orders from Vietnam just to help get “the factories get back up and caught up.”

($1 = 1.6937 marka)

(Additional reporting by Ceyda Caglayan in Istanbul and Diego Ore in Mexico City; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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Yen shines, Aussie sags as Powell turns hawk despite Omicron uncertainty

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December 1, 2021

By Kevin Buckland

(Reuters) – The safe-haven yen held steady on Wednesday, while the risk-sensitive Australian dollar languished near a one-year low after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell signalled a faster taper of stimulus despite the risks around the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Investors fear that hasty monetary tightening could choke off the nascent economic recovery, with little still known about Omicron’s potential to evade current vaccine protection or how deadly it might be.

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“Investors are staying cautious,” said Shusuke Yamada, chief Japan FX strategist at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch.

“It’s very difficult to make a judgement about the impact of Omicron when we don’t have a lot of information.”

Global markets fell sharply on Tuesday after the head of drugmaker Moderna said existing COVID-19 vaccines would be less effective against the new variant, although BioNTech’s chief executive struck a cautiously positive note, saying the vaccine it makes with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

The Aussie weakened 0.12% to $0.71245 after dipping as low as $0.7063 of Tuesday for the first time since Nov. 3, 2020. The New Zealand dollar was largely flat at $0.68195 after also touching the lowest since early November of last year at $0.6773 in the previous session.

The greenback ticked 0.09% higher to 113.26 yen, but still within sight of an overnight low of 112.535, a level not seen since Oct. 11.

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Powell said in testimony to Congress on Tuesday that Fed officials will discuss at their Dec. 14-15 policy meeting whether to end bond purchases a few months earlier than had been anticipated. The Fed chief finally did an about face on a long-held contention that inflation would be “transitory.”

Powell expressed confidence that the impact from Omicron will be far less than in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic erupted.

In response, traders wound up interest rate hike expectations, with money markets now almost fully priced for tightening at the June meeting.

Powell’s testimony continues later Wednesday.

“Powell’s unexpectedly hawkish tone overnight, essentially asserting that inflation risk has primacy over growth/Omicron risks, should leave the (dollar index) forging ahead,” Westpac strategists wrote in a client note.

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The index, which measures the dollar against six major peers, traded at 95.921 after sliding to 95.544 on Tuesday for the first time since Nov. 18, weighed down largely by an unwinding of bearish bets on the euro, the most heavily weighted component in the basket.

Westpac recommends buying dips in the index down to the mid-95 level.

The single currency slipped 0.04% to $1.1331, down from a two-week high of $1.1387 overnight.

Sterling traded not far from an 11-month low of $1.31945 reached overnight, last changing hands at $1.32955.

(Reporting by Kevin Buckland; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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OPEC+ begins two days of talks amid oil rout

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December 1, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – OPEC and its allies begin two days of meetings on Wednesday to decide whether to release more oil into the market or restrain supply amid an oil price rout and fears the Omicron coronavirus variant could weaken global energy demand.

Oil prices fell to near $70 a barrel on Tuesday from as high as $86 in October, posting their biggest monthly decline since the outset of the pandemic, as the new variant raised fears of a supply glut.

For November, Brent fell by 16.4%, while WTI fell 20.8%, the biggest monthly fall since March 2020.

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“The threat to oil demand is genuine,” said Louise Dickson, senior oil markets analyst at Rystad Energy. “Another wave of lockdowns could result in up to 3 million bpd (barrels per day) of oil demand lost in the first quarter of 2022.”

Also pressuring prices, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the U.S. central bank likely will discuss speeding its reduction of bond purchases amid a strong economy and expectations that a surge in inflation will persist.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will meet on Wednesday after 1300 GMT, followed by a meeting on Thursday of OPEC+, which groups OPEC with allies including Russia.

Several OPEC+ ministers, including from Russia and Saudi Arabia, have said there was no need for a knee-jerk reaction from the group.

But some analysts have suggested OPEC+ might put plans to add 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) to supply in January on hold.

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The group was already weighing the effects of last week’s announcement by the United States and other countries to release emergency crude reserves to temper energy prices.

OPEC+ has been gradually winding down record supply cuts of 10 million bpd implemented last year and currently has some 3.8 million bpd of reductions still in place.

The increase in OPEC’s oil output in November has again undershot the rise planned under a deal with allies, a Reuters survey found.

(Reporting by OPEC team, writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov, editing by Richard Pullin)

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New York accuses Amazon of backsliding over worker safety, seeks monitor

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December 1, 2021

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -New York state’s attorney general on Tuesday asked a state judge to appoint a monitor to oversee worker safety at an Amazon.com Inc fulfillment center in New York City, citing the retailer’s alleged rollbacks of COVID-19 safety measures that were “already inadequate.”

Letitia James, the attorney general, also wants a court order requiring the rehiring of Christian Smalls, who Amazon fired for allegedly violating a paid quarantine by leading a March 2020 protest over conditions at the Staten Island facility.

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James, a Democrat running to become New York governor, sued https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-complaint/new-york-attorney-general-sues-amazon-over-covid-19-shortfalls-idUSKBN2AH0C2 Amazon in February in a New York state court in Manhattan over its safety protocols for thousands of workers at the Staten Island facility and a distribution center in the New York City borough of Queens.

She said Amazon is valuing profit over safety and “acting as if the pandemic is over” by rolling back safety protocols even as the Omicron variant https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/omicron-variant-could-outcompete-delta-south-african-disease-expert-says-2021-11-30 of the COVID-19 virus threatens to increase transmission rates.

The alleged rollbacks include making the Staten Island facility “mask-optional” for vaccinated workers while not requiring masks for unvaccinated workers, and failing to enforce social distancing.

In her motion for a preliminary injunction, James said the proposed monitor would oversee upgraded cleaning, hygiene and social distancing procedures.

“While case rates, hospitalizations, and deaths rise, Amazon rescinds protections and packs in more workers for its holiday rush,” James said in her motion. “Amazon’s ongoing – and worsening – failure to protect workers must be halted.”

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Amazon said in a statement it has taken a “comprehensive approach” to COVID-19 safety.

“It’s disappointing that the Attorney General is seeking to politicize the pandemic by asking for ’emergency’ relief now despite having filed this lawsuit nine months ago,” Amazon said.

The Seattle-based company is appealing a judge’s refusal in October to dismiss James’ lawsuit.

Amazon on Nov. 15 reached a separate settlement with California https://www.reuters.com/legal/government/amazon-settles-california-claims-it-concealed-covid-19-cases-workers-2021-11-15 over claims it violated a state “right-to-know” law by concealing from warehouse workers and local health agencies the numbers of workers being infected with COVID-19.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)

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