Wednesday, March 8, 2017

China's first trade deficit since 2014; Oil tumbles over 5% to 2017 low; Iceland asks firms to prove equal pay

1 China’s first trade deficit since 2014 (BBC) China has reported its first monthly trade deficit in three years, after imports surged and a slowdown during the Lunar New Year holidays hit output. 
Higher commodity prices and domestic demand were credited with pushing February's imports up 38.1% on a year earlier. But exports unexpectedly fell 1.3%, giving a trade deficit of $9.2bn for the month.

China's monthly imports last exceeded exports in February 2014. The country's economic data from January and February can be distorted by the long holidays, which see businesses slowing down and often cutting back operations or closing completely. And most analysts agree that the latest data is just a blip, with a surplus inevitable again once the impact of the holidays tails off.

With the Chinese economy expanding at its slowest pace in 26 years in 2016, Beijing is likely to be heartened by the latest import figures, as it looks for signs of improvement. Leaders are trying to rebalance the economy, reducing reliance on state investment and exports, and growing more through domestic consumption.

2 Oil tumbles over 5% to 2017 low (Straits Times) Oil prices slumped to their lowest level of 2017 on March 8 following a bearish US supply report that also dented American petroleum-linked shares. The US oil benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, slid more than five per cent to $50.28 a barrel, its lowest price since December. International oil benchmark Brent also ended the day at a low for 2017.

The retreat in oil prices came on a choppy day for global stocks, with US equities finishing mostly lower, Asian markets mixed and European equities close to flat. US investors also have questions about an expected Federal Reserve interest rate hike next week, and doubts about whether President Donald Trump can rapidly enact tax cuts and other key aspects of his agenda.

Oil prices have held solidly above $50 a barrel throughout the first part of 2017, a move that has incentivized US shale producers begin to ramp production back up after a two-year slump in oil prices. But US Energy Department's inventory report showed a hefty increase of eight million barrels in petroleum stocks in the latest week.

3 Iceland asks firms to prove equal pay (San Francisco Chronicle) Iceland will be the first country in the world to make employers prove they offer equal pay regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality, the Nordic nation's government said on the International Women's Day.
The government said it will introduce legislation to parliament this month, requiring all employers with more than 25 staff members to obtain certification to prove they give equal pay for work of equal value.

While other countries, and the US state of Minnesota, have equal-salary certificate policies, Iceland is thought to be the first to make it mandatory for both private and public firms. The North Atlantic island nation, which has a population of about 330,000, wants to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022. Social Affairs and Equality Minister Thorsteinn Viglundsson said "the time is right to do something radical about this issue."

Iceland has been ranked the best country in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum, but Icelandic women still earn, on average, 14 to 18 percent less than men. In October thousands of Icelandic women left work at 2:38 p.m. and demonstrated outside parliament to protest the gender pay gap. Women's rights groups calculate that after that time each day, women are working for free.

Iceland has introduced other measures to boost women's equality, including quotas for female participation on government committees and corporate boards. Such measures have proven controversial in some countries, but have wide support across Iceland's political spectrum.

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