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Asia markets mostly higher; banking stocks gain ground across the region (CNBC) Asia markets traded mostly higher Thursday, tracking gains in the U.S. where the Dow Jones industrial average closed above 21,000 and the dollar rose amid growing expectations for an interest rate hike in March. The dollar index rose to 101.85 at 4:17 p.m. HK/SIN, climbing from levels near 100.8 earlier in the week. Oil prices declined Thursday, with U.S. crude down 0.45% at $53.59 a barrel at 4:22 p.m. HK/SIN and the global benchmark Brent declined 0.25% to $56.22. Gold prices also fell on the back of a stronger dollar, with spot gold down 0.28% at $1,245.42 an ounce.
Asia's Fastest Growing Economies Have the Fastest Growing Slums (Bloomberg) Fast-growing emerging economies in Asia are grappling with the conundrum that a boom brings: hordes of villagers flocking to cities only for many of them to end up living in slums. About 55% of the urban population live in shantytowns in Cambodia, 43% in Mongolia, 41% in Myanmar, and 38% in the Philippines, according to World Bank data that covers East Asia and the Pacific. The ratio is more than 20% in Vietnam, China and Indonesia, which are among the fastest-growing economies in the world.
World’s Biggest Banks Fined $321 Billion Since Financial Crisis (Bloomberg) Banks globally have paid $321 billion in fines since 2008 for an abundance of regulatory failings from money laundering to market manipulation and terrorist financing, according to data from Boston Consulting Group. That tally is set to increase in the coming years as European and Asian regulators catch up with their more aggressive U.S. peers, who have levied the majority of charges to date, BCG said in its seventh annual study of the industry published Thursday. Banks paid $42 billion in fines in 2016 alone, a 68% rise on the previous year, the data showed.
Sessions twice met with Russian ambassador in 2016 despite denial (ABC News) Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice with Russia's ambassador to the United States during the 2016 presidential election season, the Department of Justice confirmed, at a time when he was a close adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump. Sessions later did not disclose those discussions when questioned under oath during his confirmation hearing. The revelations, first reported by The Washington Post, sparked immediate calls for Sessions' resignation as well as fierce pushback from a White House official, who called them a "attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats."
Trump trade policy expected to seek smaller WTO role in the U.S. (The Wall Street Journal) Hat tip to Sanjeev Kulkarni. The Trump administration is developing a trade policy that seeks to diminish the influence of the World Trade Organization in the U.S. and champion U.S. law as a way to take on trading partners it blames for unfair practices, according to a draft document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Only $20m in existing funds found to pay for Mexico wall, document says (The Guardian) Donald Trump’s promise to use existing funds to begin immediate construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border has hit a financial roadblock, according to a document seen by Reuters. The rapid start of construction, promised throughout Trump’s campaign and in an executive order issued in January on border security, was to be financed, according to the White House, with “existing funds and resources" of the Department of Homeland Security. But so far, the DHS has identified only $20m that can be redirected to the multibillion-dollar project, according to a document prepared by the agency and distributed to congressional budget staff last week.
Atlanta Fed Lowers First Quater GDP Growth Forecast (Confounded Interest) The GDPNow model forecast for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the first quarter of 2017 is 1.8% on March 1, down from 2.5% just two days earlier (27 February). The forecast for first-quarter real personal consumption expenditures growth fell from 2.8% to 2.1% after this morning’s personal income and outlays release from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The reason? Mostly it was a decline Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE).
Harvard Economists Face Modi's Censure on India GDP Surprise (Bloomberg) Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a dig at critics of his cash ban after government data showed surprisingly strong growth that helped India retain its position as the world’s fastest-growing big economy. Modi said at a campaign speech Wednesday:
"Well known intellectuals from Harvard and Oxford, who have been at key positions in the Indian economic system, had said the GDP would go down by 2 percent, some others said it would go down by 4 percent."
China's coal consumption falls for 3rd year in a row (ABC News) China's consumption of coal fell in 2016 for a third year in a row, official data showed Tuesday, as the world's top carbon polluter has emerged as a global leader in addressing global warming. The National Bureau of Statistics said the consumption of coal, a major source of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, fell by 4.7% last year, according to preliminary calculations. The bureau said the share of coal in China's total energy consumption mix fell to 62% in 2016 from 64% the year before.
China is now calling the shots in metals pricing (CNBC) When iron ore futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange (DCE) surged to a record high last week on expectations about Beijing's infrastructure plans, spot prices in Australia jumped soon after. This pattern demonstrates China's growing clout in commodity price setting - even when analysis of the market says price should move in the opposite direction. Prices of the steel-making material have since come off, but China-originating global price gyrations underscore how far the country has come in pricing power on both the spot and in the futures market, particularly for heavily-traded products like copper, which is regarded as a barometer of economic health.
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