Thursday, March 16, 2017

UK interest rates stay at 0.25%; Greece unemployment up at 24%; Venezuela's 'bread war'

1 UK interest rates stay at 0.25% (BBC) UK interest rates have been kept unchanged at 0.25% by the Bank of England's rate setting committee. However, one of the nine who sit on the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), Kristin Forbes, expressed concern about inflation and voted to raise rates.

It was the first time since July last year that the vote to maintain rates had not been unanimous. Analysts said it indicated the Bank of England could be closer to raising interest rates than they had thought.

The Bank of England, led by governor Mark Carney, expects the UK economy to grow fairly briskly this year, at a rate of 2%. However, it then predicts a slowdown amid uncertainty surrounding the conditions of the country's withdrawal from the European Union. Against that uncertain background, many economists have predicted that the Bank will leave rates unchanged until at least 2019.

2 Greece unemployment up at 24% (San Francisco Chronicle) Greece's unemployment rate is rising again, reaching 23.6 percent in the last quarter of 2016 — up one percentage point on the quarter.

Greece's statistical authority said that the number of jobless was 1.12 million in October-December, compared with 1.09 million in the third quarter of 2016. Greece's unemployment rate is the highest in the European Union and hit record levels during the country's seven-year financial crisis, reaching 27.8 percent in early 2014.

The economy has suffered amid long delays in the government's talks with international creditors on getting the latest batch of bailout loans. Economic output fell 1.2 percent on the quarter in October-December. The statistical authority said 72 percent of Greece's jobless have been out of work for at least a year.

3 Venezuela’s ‘bread war’ (The Guardian) Venezuela this week arrested four bakers making illegal brownies and other pastries as President Nicol├ís Maduro’s socialist government threatens to take over bakeries in Caracas as part of a new “bread war”.

Maduro has sent inspectors and soldiers into more than 700 bakeries around the capital this week to enforce a rule that 90% of wheat must be destined to loaves rather than more expensive pastries and cakes. It was the latest move by the government to combat shortages and long lines for basic products that have characterised Venezuela’s economic crisis over the last three years.

The ruling Socialist party says pro-opposition businesses are sabotaging the nation’s economy by hoarding products and hiking prices. Critics say the government is to blame for persisting with failed polices of price and currency controls. Breadmakers blame the government for a national shortage of wheat, saying 80% of establishments have none left in stock.

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