Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Eurozone inflation at three-year high; UK credit binge approaches 2008 levels; Chinese renewable energy company turns global giant

1 Eurozone inflation at three-year high (BBC) Eurozone inflation has surged to its highest rate in more than three years, driven by increased prices for energy, food, alcohol and tobacco. The annual inflation rate hit 1.1% last month, according to official statistics agency Eurostat, a sharp jump from November's rate of 0.6%. The rate is the highest since September 2013, when inflation was also 1.1%.

The higher-than-expected increase brings inflation closer to the European Central Bank's target of just below 2%. ECB chief Mario Draghi has said he expects inflation to reach the target by 2018 or 2019.

The rise will help to allay fears that the eurozone could slip into deflation, weakening economic growth. However, while the headline rate of inflation increased sharply in December, the core rate - which excludes prices of items such as energy and food which are driven by world markets - increased only slightly from 0.8% to 0.9%. The small rise could mean the jump in inflation is short-lived, analysts suggested.

2 UK credit binge approaches 2008 levels (Phillip Inman in The Guardian) A credit boom that is close to levels not seen since the 2008 financial crash should set alarm bells ringing in Theresa May’s government, debt charities have warned.

The latest figures from the Bank of England show unsecured consumer credit, which includes credit cards, car loans and second mortgages, grew by 10.8% in the year to November to £192.2bn, picking up pace on the previous month to grow at its fastest rate in more than 11 years.

In September 2008, the month that Lehman Brothers collapsed and the banking crash triggered a worldwide recession, the level of UK consumer credit debt hit a peak of £208bn. Credit card debts, which accounted for £66.7bn of the total, hit a record high last month as Britons used the plastic to fund shopping as never before in the run-up to Christmas.

The debt charity StepChange said the rise in debt levels would leave thousands of families vulnerable to higher levels of inflation and changes in income from wage cuts, divorce or redundancy.

Research conducted for National Debtline by YouGov found that one in three British adults bought Christmas food or presents on credit this year. Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said there had been a spike in calls to its helpline.

3 Chinese company turns global renewable energy giant (San Francisco Chronicle) Other investors are wary of Brazil, but when Duke Energy wanted to sell 10 hydroelectric dams there, a Chinese utility shrugged off the country's economic turmoil and paid $1.2 billion to add them to an energy empire that stretches from Malaysia to Germany to the Amazon.

State-owned China Three Gorges Group is spending heavily to buy or build hydro, wind and solar projects at a time when Western utility investors are pulling back and President-elect Donald Trump's pledge to revive coal use has raised doubt about US support for renewables.

"They're happy to invest wherever they see value or they can gain a foothold," said Andrew Shepherd, who follows the global utility industry for BMI Research. Flush with cash and willing to tolerate risks that put off older rivals, CTG and other state-owned utilities including State Grid Corp., the world's biggest power supplier, are expanding abroad in search of new revenue sources as economic growth and electricity demand at home cool.

A decade ago, they built dams and power plants in Asia and Africa. Now, they also are taking on a longer-term role as operators of power companies in Europe and Australia and are looking at the US market. They are providing welcome investment in troubled markets such as Brazil and southern Europe.

Set up in 1993 to run the vast Three Gorges Dam in central China, CTG is unusual in its status as a national-level Chinese power company with global ambitions but a reliance on non-fossil-fuels sources. CTG, which says it is active in 40 countries, starting investing in wind power in 2007 and solar in 2011 — projects that are easier and more politically attractive.

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