Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Upbeat on economy, US Fed holds rates; Deglobalisation may hit world economy; Why FB promotes its video feature

1 Upbeat on economy, US Fed holds rates (BBC) The US central bank remained positive on the economy, as it kept interest rates on hold in its first meeting since President Donald Trump took office. The Federal Reserve ruled unanimously to keep its benchmark interest rate in a range of 0.5% to 0.75%. The jobs market and economic activity had continued to strengthen, it said.

The Fed had raised its benchmark interest rate by 0.25% in December, only the second increase in a decade. President Trump has promised to boost growth through tax cuts, spending and deregulation, raising the prospect of higher inflation. The Fed said inflation "will rise to 2% over the medium term".

Despite being upbeat, the central bank also signalled the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC), the body which sets rates, would still only make "gradual increases". It did not give any update on when the body might next raise rates. Dennis de Jong, managing director at, said that uncertainty about Mr Trump's economic policies could further delay the next rate rise.

2 Deglobalisation may hit world economy (Mohamed El-Erian in The Guardian) The retreat of the advanced economies from the global economy – and, in the case of the UK, from regional trading arrangements – has received a lot of attention lately. At a time when the global economy’s underlying structures are under strain, this could have far-reaching consequences.

Whether by choice or necessity, the vast majority of the world’s economies are part of a multilateral system that gives their counterparts in the advanced world – especially the US and Europe – enormous privileges. Three stand out.

First, because they issue the world’s main reserve currencies, the advanced economies get to exchange bits of paper that they printed for goods and services produced by others. Second, for most global investors, these economies’ bonds are a quasi-automatic component of portfolio allocations, so their governments’ budget deficits are financed in part by other countries’ savings.

The advanced economies’ final key advantage is voting power and representation. They command either veto power or a blocking minority in the Bretton Woods institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank), which gives them a disproportionate influence on the rules and practices that govern the international economic and monetary system.

These privileges don’t come for free – at least they shouldn’t. In exchange, the advanced economies are supposed to fulfil certain responsibilities that help ensure the system’s functioning and stability. But recent developments have cast doubts on whether the advanced economies are able to hold up their end of this bargain.

Perhaps the most obvious example is the 2008 global financial crisis. The result of excessive risk-taking and lax regulation in the advanced economies, the financial system’s near-meltdown disrupted global trade, threw millions into unemployment, and almost tipped the world into a multi-year depression.

It should not be surprising that globalisation and regionalisation no longer command the degree of support they once did. It is not yet clear whether this is a temporary and reversible phenomenon or the beginning of a protracted challenge to the functioning of the global economy.

The Bretton Woods organisations, instituted after world war two to maintain stability, risk losing their influence. If these tendencies continue, developing countries will probably suffer the most; but they won’t be alone. In the short term, the world economy would face slower economic growth and the risk of greater financial instability. In the longer term, it would confront the threat of systemic fragmentation and proliferating trade wars.

3 Why FB promotes its video feature (San Francisco Chronicle) Facebook is furiously promoting its live video feature as it tries to get more users to shoot and watch such videos. But will it be a big business for the social network? The prospects for advertisers are uncertain, and even when users do "go live" — broadcasting their toddler's first steps to family or showing footage from protests around the world, for instance — their friends often don't see it until after the fact, just like any other recorded video.

So why all the big fuss? Some analysts believe it's just another in Facebook's ongoing efforts to keep people attached to its service as long as possible. "It's a usage thing — keeping them engaged, keeping them on Facebook, giving them an avenue to share," says eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson. "As long as Facebook can be successful with that, it can show ads to them."

As is its custom, the company is first pushing the service to as many of its 1.8 billion users as possible. Users get special notifications when their friends go live, and ads prompting them to do the same have been prevalent in the last few weeks.

But making money off live streams isn't easy, starting with the fact that they offer few opportunities to display video ads. But that's OK, Williamson says, arguing that now is the time for marketers to experiment with the feature.

Mobile video, especially live video, is already transforming how we experience the world online. While the company isn't disclosing data on how many users have gone live or watched a live video, anecdotally at least it seems to be catching on — somewhat. The company says people comment more than 10 times more on live videos than on regular ones.

Facebook reported fourth-quarter earnings of $3.56 billion, up sharply from $1.56 billion in the same period a year earlier. The company posted revenue of $8.81 billion, up 51 percent from $5.84 billion a year ago. Facebook's monthly user base, meanwhile, grew 17 percent to 1.86 billion.

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