Friday, July 3, 2015

Eurozone growth picks up speed; Solar Impulse completes longest non-stop solo flight ever; South Africa consumer confidence at 14-year low

1 Eurozone growth picks up speed (BBC) Eurozone business activity rose at its fastest pace in four years in June, boosted by higher spending by consumers and businesses, a survey has indicated. The final Markit composite eurozone Purchasing Manages' Index (PMI), which combines manufacturing and services activity, rose to 54.2, its highest reading since May 2011. Any reading above 50 indicates growth, while below 50 points to contraction.

It comes despite concerns over the possibility of a messy Greek exit from the euro. Speculation that Athens would miss a €1.6bn repayment to the International Monetary Fund held back manufacturing activity in the month, Markit said.

But the European Central Bank's (ECB) massive €1 trillion bond-buying programme announced in March was beginning to help the service sector, with activity running at its fastest rate since mid-2011. Price discounting helped drive up the PMI covering the service industry, which makes up the bulk of the eurozone economy. It rose to 54.4 from May's 53.8.

2 Solar Impulse completes longest non-stop flight ever (Emma Howard in The Guardian) A solar plane attempting the world’s first flight around the globe has landed in Hawaii, after breaking the record for the longest non-stop solo flight in history.

Solar Impulse 2, piloted by the Swiss pilot André Borschberg, took off from Nagoya in Japan at 3am on Monday, for the five-day crossing of the Pacific Ocean, the riskiest leg of its journey. At 72 hours into the eighth leg of its 22,000-mile circumnavigation, Borschberg broke the endurance record for a solo flight.

“The next leg is what I call the moment of truth,” he said before departing. “The first time we fly many days, many nights with a solar-powered airplane, the first time that we fly over the ocean, the first time that one pilot flies alone for so long. We are exploring new territories.”

Borschberg is sharing the round-the-world attempt, completing alternate legs with his co-pilot Bertrand Piccard, who will now fly the single-seater plane on a 100-hour leg to Phoenix, Arizona, in the US. Saving power is key to the journey’s success, as the plane – fitted with 17,000 photovoltaic solar cells – must reach heights of 9,000 metres during the day so that it can glide through the night. At top speed, it reaches 87mph.

During the 5,079-mile leg, Borschberg has spent about four days, 21 hours and 51 minutes in the air and throughout the journey has only been able to rest in 20-minute intervals. The 62-year-old veteran pilot and engineer has had to endure temperatures close to 37C (100F) in the cockpit. He said that yoga had been a “huge support” for sustaining a positive mindset and helped to keep him alert. Tweeting throughout the journey, Borschberg said that the fourth day of this leg had been tough, after he “climbed the equivalent altitude of Mount Everest four times”.

3 South Africa consumer confidence at 14-year low (Johannesburg Times) Consumer confidence in SA plummeted to a 14-year low in the second quarter of 2015 - thanks to power outages, higher fuel and maize prices, tax hikes and a slowdown in government spending.

Having declined from zero to minus 4 in the first quarter, the First National Bank/Bureau for Economic Research's consumer confidence index declined further to minus 15. A sub-index, measuring sentiment on the future, plunged 14 points to minus 24, the lowest level since the 1992-1993 recession.

Extremely low levels of consumer confidence mean consumer spending will be muted, which in turn knocks economic growth. The minus 15 was not only far lower than the lowest reading of minus 6, recorded during the 2008-2009 recession, but was also only the second time since 1994 that the index had dropped below minus 12.

A change in labour laws at the beginning of the year that made it nearly impossible to hire workers for short periods might also have led to a drop in temporary employment and a decline in take-home pay. Adding to the woes, South Africa's worst drought since 1992 is pushing up grain prices. The rand has weakened 5.6% against the dollar since the start of the year.

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