Friday, July 29, 2016

US economy inches ahead; Eurozone growth halves; World is still wild about Harry Potter

1 US economy inches ahead (Jana Kasperkevic in The Guardian) The US economy grew at an annual rate of just 1.2% from April to June, as cut backs by businesses wiped out a rise in consumer spending.

The lower-than-expected figure is the latest in a series of disappointing economic numbers attributed to growing uncertainty among consumers and businesses, both of whom are keeping a tighter rein on spending. The economy has now grown at an annual rate of less than 2% for three straight quarters.

Growth in the US economy, according to Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, is “being driven largely by the consumer”. Earlier this week, the US central bank held off on raising interest rates for the fifth time this year. The Federal Reserve was originally expected to raise interest rates four times this year after it did so in December for the first time in almost a decade.

In its latest statement the Fed cited a lack of business investment as one of the reasons for its decision to hold off on a rate rise. Businesses are not spending money in part because earlier this year customers were also not spending money. That trend has become evident over the past week as US public companies have reported their second quarter earnings.

Ford reported flat sales in the US. Apple reported that it sold over 40m iPhones, down from 48m a year ago. Companies including Chipotle and McDonald’s have also reported lower-than-expected sales. Consumers were spending less because they are unsure about their financial security, the US elections and overall global events, said Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s chief executive officer.

2 Eurozone growth halves (BBC) Eurozone economic growth halved in the second quarter, but the 19-nation single currency area moved away from deflation. GDP rose by 0.3% between April and June, in line with expectations but below 0.6% growth in the first quarter.

France, the eurozone's second-largest economy, saw no growth after expanding by 0.7% in the first quarter. Eurozone inflation rose to 0.2% in July from 0.1% in June as a result of higher food, alcohol and tobacco prices. Data also revealed that the eurozone jobless rate remained at 10.1% in June.

The economic growth figures are the first to be published since Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU). Peter Vanden Houte, chief economist at ING Bank, said: "The good news is that the economy still has some momentum, though there is little acceleration to be expected as long as the Brexit story continues to inject some uncertainty into the external environment."

3 World is still wild about Harry Potter (San Francisco Chronicle) Nine years after JK Rowling's final novel about the boy wizard, Harry has returned, on the stage and the page — and he's still producing commercial alchemy.

"Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," a two-part stage drama that picks up 19 years after the novels ended, has its gala opening Saturday at London's Palace Theatre. It's already a hit. Although producers won't release ticket sales figures, the show is largely sold out through December 2017; another 250,000 tickets will go on sale Aug. 4.

It is not just the theater that is seeing a Potter-related boom. Booksellers expect a bonanza when the script is published Sunday. Thousands of bookstores around the world are holding midnight Potter parties Saturday, and are reporting advance sales not seen since the 2007 publication of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the final novel in Rowling's seven-book series.

Rowling has long insisted there will be no new Harry Potter novels, so excitement about the new stage story is stratospherically high. She created the story for the drama alongside Thorne and director John Tiffany, who helmed the Tony Award-winning musical "Once."

Last seen as a teenage wizard, Harry is now an overworked civil servant at the Ministry of Magic, while his son Albus is a pupil at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The producers' synopsis says that "while Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted."

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