Thursday, October 1, 2015

Global investors brace for China crash; Saudi Arabia faces changes as oil wealth dwindles; More professionals turning freelancers

1 Global investors brace for China crash (Heather Stewart in The Guardian) Global investors will suck capital out of emerging economies this year for the first time since 1988, as they brace themselves for a Chinese crash, according to the Institute of International Finance.

Capital flooded into promising emerging economies in the years that followed the global financial crisis of 2008-09, as investors bet that rapid expansion in countries such as Turkey and Brazil could help to offset stodgy growth in the debt-burdened US, Europe and Japan.

But with domestic investors in these and other emerging markets squirrelling their money overseas, at the same time as international investors calculate the costs of a sharp downturn in Chinese growth, the IIF, which represents the world’s financial industry, said: “We now expect that net capital flows to emerging markets in 2015 will be negative for the first time since 1988.”

Unlike in 2008-09, when capital flows to emerging markets plunged abruptly as a result of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis, the IIF’s analysts say the current reversal is the latest wave of a homegrown downturn. The IIF expects “only a moderate rebound” in 2016, as expectations for growth in emerging economies remain weak.

“The slump in private capital inflows is most dramatic for China,” the institute says. “Slowing growth due to excess industrial capacity, correction in the property sector and export weakness, together with monetary easing and the stock market bust have discouraged inflows.”

This warning echoed a one from the International Monetary Fund last week, that rising US interest rates could unleash a new financial crisis, as firms in emerging economies find themselves unable to service their debts.

2 Saudi Arabia faces change as oil wealth dwindles (AP/Yahoo News) At a gas station in Saudi Arabia's second largest city of Jiddah, drivers are fueling up their cars at just 45 cents a gallon — four times less than the price of water. To make that possible, the kingdom spends up to $10.7 billion per year on gasoline subsidies.

It also offers a range of perks and welfare support to its citizens such as free healthcare and education, including thousands of scholarships to expensive Western universities. Such largesse, however, is likely to be rolled back as the world's largest oil exporter looks to curb spending for the first time in years due to a plunge in the price of crude, which accounts for 90 percent of government revenue.

While the country's $656 billion in currency reserves will help it avoid a brutal shift in lifestyles and policies, the kingdom is starting to be more careful with its finances. That will likely mean less investment in new infrastructure projects but also possibly, down the line, less welfare spending, smaller wage increases, and less construction of much-needed housing and roads.

Saudi Arabia starts losing money when the price of oil drops below $70 a barrel, experts say. If the price hovers around the current level of about $50 a barrel, the country can continue spending at its current pace until 2020. "That's when things get bad," said Karen Young, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington DC.

Alternatively, it can start cutting spending on infrastructure now to free up money for social welfare for another 30 years or so. Many Saudis are already complaining on social media that salaries, which sometimes average just $300 a month, are not enough to cover basic costs of living. Housing is out of reach for many.

Young couples are also finding it harder to marry due to the high cost of dowries and apartments, both prerequisites for a traditional marriage. Dowries and wedding celebrations can cost tens of thousands of dollars. One sign that times are changing is the largely debt-free Saudi government is issuing bonds to ensure it has a steady supply of cash. Fahad Alturki, chief economist at Saudi-based Jadwa Investment, estimates the kingdom will issue as much as $53.5 billion in debt through next year.

3 More professionals turning freelancers (Kia Croom in San Francisco Chronicle) Freelance work is on the rise, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reports more than 15.5 million people in the US are self-employed and working independent contractors.

The Bureau anticipates that by 2020 more than 40 percent of American workers (60 million people) will follow suit. Workers across the country are leaving and even turning down corporate jobs to become entrepreneurs.

A Harvard Business Review report from 2012 cites growing employee dissatisfaction and the removal of barriers that once made independent contracting challenging. New online marketplaces are making it easier for consultants to find work. Additionally, contractors are finding jobs that permit them to work remotely. Plus, companies are seeking contractors with competitively priced fees for services.

The rise of co-working spaces has also proven to be a catalyst for freelancing. Contractors are turning to co-working spaces like WeWork for office spaces and small business development resources.

While self-employment comes with perks, such as flexibility, contractors are often challenged with business development or “finding work.” In a recent survey by Contently 35 percent of respondents said the single most challenging aspect of being self-employed is securing work.

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