Saturday, April 1, 2017

China manufacturing picks up pace; UK household savings at record low; Schools urged to teach problem solving

1 China manufacturing picks up pace (Straits Times) Activity in China's manufacturing sector unexpectedly expanded at the fastest pace in nearly five years in March, adding to evidence that the world's second- largest economy has gained momentum early this year.

The official Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) rose to 51.8 in March from the previous month's 51.6, well above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis. Non-manufacturing PMI rose to a two-year high of 55.1 from 54.2 in February, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said.

The new strength follows a factory rebound since mid-2016, while industrial output and private investment also have picked up. Still, the brighter picture has been boosted by surging producer prices that may be close to peaking, and the government will have to deal with the hangover of the investment- driven growth.

China has reported a slew of upbeat data so far this year, even as Beijing tries to rein in speculative bubbles in the red-hot property market and control risks in the broader financial market from years of debt-fuelled stimulus.

A surprise rebound in home sales and stronger infrastructure investment have added fresh impetus to a months-long construction boom that has lifted demand for building materials from cement to steel and helped reflate prices of industrial commodities worldwide.

2 UK household savings at record low (Angela Monaghan in The Guardian) British households ran down their savings to a record low at the end of 2016, raising fears that the UK is on course for a fresh consumer debt crisis in the wake of the Brexit vote.

The saving ratio – which estimates the amount of money households have available to save as a percentage of their total disposable income – fell sharply in the fourth quarter last year to 3.3% from 5.3% in the third.

It was the lowest since records began in 1963, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and suggested that people are increasingly dipping into their savings to maintain spending at a time when prices are rising. A fall in disposable incomes over the fourth quarter also raised concerns that people will increasingly rely on debt-fuelled spending as a squeeze in living standards takes hold.

The Bank of England said rapid growth in consumer credit, underpinned by an acceleration in credit card borrowing, was one of the main threats to the UK banking system. Real household disposable income, which adjusts for inflation, shrank by 0.4% compared with the previous three months, the steepest drop in nearly three years.

3 Schools urged to teach problem solving (Judith Burns on BBC) Schools should focus less on "subjects" and more on teaching problem solving skills, say engineers in a report. A focus on "playful experimentation" could boost learning throughout UK schools, says the Royal Academy of Engineering. It could also instil a passion for engineering and help "overcome our current lack of engineers", it adds.

Co-author Prof Bill Lucas, of Winchester University, said schools "must rethink" the way they teach in order to boost engagement in engineering. Dr Rhys Morgan, director of engineering and education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, said the UK's shortage of skilled engineers was well recognised and that the report's proposals to "fundamentally reframe" the curriculum would help meet the challenges of raising skill levels in the UK.

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