Monday, December 28, 2015

Oil and Asian stock markets fall again; UK young home ownership at record low; Cow dung patties sell online in India

1 Oil and Asian stock markets fall again (The Guardian) Shares in Europe and Asia fell on Monday in trade thinned by holidays in a number of financial centres, hit by slumping oil prices and concerns over Chinese growth and finances - two of the year’s major factors.

Prices of both Brent and US crude fell 1.8%, reversing a brief rebound that helped shares in the Middle East over the weekend, while Chinese stocks fell almost 3% after a weak batch of industrial profits data.

While most bank dealing rooms in Europe were on skeleton staffing, and London markets shut, that had repercussions for a range of assets, driving the Australian and Canadian dollars down about a third of a percent and pushing bond yields lower. Profits at Chinese industrial companies in November fell 1.4% from a year earlier, the sixth consecutive month of decline and another sign that the world’s chief engine of growth for the past decade is sputtering.

“Over-capacity and declines in producer prices are hurting the Chinese government efforts and if the government cannot come up with a solution to stop this, the picture will keep on worsening,” retail brokerage AvaTrade chief market analyst, Naeem Aslam, said.

Brent crude traded at $37.26 a barrel, just over a cent above 11-year lows hit before Christmas. The fall in oil prices has depressed inflation globally, in turn reducing long-term expectations for price growth that drive longer-dated bond yields. That tends to draw investors back into bond markets at the expense of stocks and pushes up the price of longer-dated government bonds.

2 UK young home ownership at record low (BBC) The percentage of young people in the UK who own their own home is at its joint lowest level since 1996, according to data obtained by Labour. It suggests 44.9% of 20 to 30-year-olds are homeowners - the last time it fell to this level was in 2013.

It comes as economists predict strong property price growth in 2016. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors expects prices to increase by around 6%, while rents will see a 3% annual rise. The rises are being driven by demand for new homes outstripping supply, Rics said, with other experts predicting even bigger rises in certain property hotspots outside London.

Labour's figures, which include shared ownership and are based on analysis by the House of Commons Library, suggest home ownership among the young is at its joint lowest since records began in 1996.

3 Cow dung patties go on sale online in India (San Francisco Chronicle) Like consumers around the globe, Indians are flocking to the online marketplace in droves these days. But there's one unusual item flying off the virtual shelves: Online retailers say cow dung patties are selling like hot cakes.

The patties — cow poop mixed with hay and dried in the sun, made mainly by women in rural areas and used to fuel fires — have long been available in India's villages. But online retailers including Amazon and eBay are now reaching out to the country's ever-increasing urban population, feeding into the desire of older city folks to harken back to their childhood in the village.

"Cow dung cakes have been listed by multiple sellers on our platform since October and we have received several customer orders" since then, said Madhavi Kochar, an Amazon India spokeswoman. The orders come mostly from cities where it would be difficult to buy dung cakes, she said.

In India, where Hindus have long worshipped cows as sacred, cow dung cakes have been used for centuries for fires, whether for heating, cooking or Hindu rituals. Across rural India, piles of drying cow dung are ubiquitous.

Radhika Agarwal of ShopClues, a major online retailer in India, said demand for the cow dung cakes spiked during the recent Diwali festival season, a time when Hindus conduct prayer ceremonies at their homes, factories and offices. On a recent day, ShopClues' website showed that the patties had sold out.

Online retailers said people were also buying the dung cakes to light fires for ritual ceremonies to mark the beginning of the new year and for the winter festival known as Lohri, celebrated in northern India. The cakes are sold in packages that contain two to eight pieces weighing 200 grams (7 ounces) each. Prices range from 100 to 400 rupees ($1.50 to $6) per package.

Dung cakes are also used as organic manure, and some sellers are marketing them for use in kitchen gardens.

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