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US November Job Gains Fall Short of Expectations

U.S. employers added only 210,000 jobs in November, the Labor Department reported Friday, dampening hopes the economy is rebounding from a summer slowdown sparked by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus and supply chain disruptions.

Millions of Americans laid off during the pandemic-induced recession remained without work last month despite employers offering higher wages, expiring unemployment benefits and schools reopening. This has fueled questions among economists about whether some people are willing to reenter the workforce during the ongoing pandemic.

The report fell far short of expectations of about 550,000 new jobs last month, according to economists polled by Reuters. Last month’s 210,000 new jobs were also far fewer than the 546,000 jobs added in October and the year’s monthly average of 555,000. There were 194,000 new hires in September.

The unemployment rate in November fell to 4.2% from 4.6% the month before, inching closer to the pre-pandemic rate of 3.5 percent, the lowest rate in more than 50 years.

“Our economy is markedly stronger than it was a year ago and today the incredible news (is) that our unemployment rate has fallen to 4.2%. At this point in the year, we’re looking at the sharpest one-year decline in unemployment ever. Simply put, America is back to work,” U.S. President Joe Biden said at the White House Friday.

“The unemployment rate has now fallen by more than two percentage points since I took office,” Biden added. “That’s the fastest decline in a single year on record.”  

November’s modest job gains and the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19 could weaken expectations for stronger economic growth in the fourth quarter. The economy is currently expected to grow at a 7% annual rate in the fourth quarter, a strong rebound from the 2.1% pace in the third quarter, when the delta variant stymied growth.

While little is known about the omicron variant, some slowdown in hiring is likely, considering the delta variant triggered the slowest pace of economic growth in more than a year last quarter.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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China Gives Long-Awaited Approval to Boeing 737 MAX After Crashes

Chinese authorities have approved the Boeing 737 MAX to resume service after making a series of safety adjustments, removing a major uncertainty surrounding the American aviation giant’s comeback after a lengthy slump.

A directive from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) deeming the model “airworthy” sets the stage for the jet to return to airline schedules in the country next year, following months of negotiations between Beijing and Boeing.

Shares of Boeing rocketed after the decision, which also clears the way for it to deliver more than 100 MAX aircraft to Chinese carriers that were produced during the more than two years the plane was grounded in China following two deadly crashes.

The CAAC said in a further statement Friday that it expects “commercial operation of the existing domestic fleet will be resumed progressively at the end of this year or early next year.”

News of the decision had initially emerged on Thursday, when AFP saw a government directive showing China was giving the green light to the 737 MAX after taking “corrective actions.” The CAAC statement on Friday confirmed the decision.

The CAAC’s move also confirms a place for the US plane maker in the country — an essential growth market in aviation — despite persistent trade and political tensions between Washington and Beijing.

“This will give Boeing the assurance to begin to ramp plane production back up,” said Michel Merluzeau, an analyst at AIR consultancy, adding that the action amounts to the “light at the end of the tunnel” for the MAX.

Protracted process

China is the last major travel market to bring the MAX back into use after it was grounded globally in March 2019 following two crashes that together claimed 346 lives.

Investigators said a main cause of both tragedies was a faulty flight handling system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).

Boeing won approval from the United States in November 2020 and from most other leading aviation authorities soon after to resume service.

But the process was far more protracted in China, with the CAAC only conducting a test flight of the model in the third quarter of this year.

Analysts said delays may have been a consequence of tensions with Washington.

But on Thursday, Chinese authorities gave the green light after requiring upgrades to planes, including installing new software programs to address the defect and updating the flight manual.

“After conducting sufficient assessment, CAAC considers the corrective actions are adequate to address this unsafe condition,” said an airworthiness directive from the authority.

The directive means there are no remaining regulatory obstacles for the MAX to return to the skies in China, although the aviation authority cautioned that it does not mean the planes will immediately return to use.

“Obtaining airworthiness is just one of the most basic tasks,” said the CAAC on Friday.

It added that domestic airlines will still have to “complete aircraft modification, restoration of parked aircraft, pilot training and so on.”

Symbiotic relationship

Boeing cheered the decision.

“CAAC’s decision is an important milestone toward safely returning the 737 MAX to service in China,” Boeing in China said in a statement to AFP.

“Boeing continues to work with regulators and our customers to return the airplane to service worldwide.”

A Boeing spokesperson said more than 180 countries have now allowed the MAX to return to service, with Indonesia, where the first crash took place, and Russia among those that have yet to do so.

Burkett Huey, an analyst at Morningstar, said Boeing still faces some important hurdles such as restoring deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner plane, its other top-selling aircraft, and beefing up its order book following cancelations and the hit from the COVID-19 aviation downturn.

But Huey called the CAAC move “very good news and very consequential” for Boeing.

Uncertainty about the timing for Beijing to approve the MAX have contributed to the company’s travails in recent months.

China also has high hopes for developing its own aviation industry, with attention focused on Comac’s C919 narrow-body plane, a potential rival to Airbus and Boeing aircraft.

But analysts do not believe Beijing will be able to meet its targets solely with Chinese companies.

“It would be difficult for China to grow as much as it can without Boeing for at least the next 10 years,” Huey said, adding that the CAAC’s action “is unlocking access to a really critical market” for Boeing.

Boeing shares finished with a gain of 7.5% at $202.38, the biggest winner in the Dow.

 

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Didi Global Plans to Delist from New York, Seek Listing in Hong Kong

Ride-hailing giant Didi Global said Friday it will delist from the New York Stock Exchange and pursue a listing in Hong Kong, succumbing to pressure from Chinese regulators concerned about data security.

It ran afoul of Chinese authorities by pushing ahead with its $4.4 billion U.S. IPO in July despite being asked to put it on hold while a review of its data practices was conducted.

The powerful Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) then quickly ordered app stores to remove 25 mobile apps operated by Didi and also told the company to stop registering new users, citing national security and the public interest. Didi remains under investigation.

“Following careful research, the company will immediately start delisting on the New York stock exchange and start preparations for listing in Hong Kong,” Didi said on its Twitter-like Weibo account.

It later said in a separate English language statement that its board had approved the move.

“The company will organize a shareholders meeting to vote on the above matter at an appropriate time in the future, following necessary procedures,” it said.

Sources have told Reuters that Chinese regulators pressed Didi’s top executives to devise a plan to delist from the New York Stock Exchange due to concerns about data security.

“Didi’s plan to delist in the United States and the listing of Hong Kong stocks I believe will have an obvious impact on location decisions for large technology stocks’ future listings,” said Kenny Ng, securities strategist at Everbright Sun Hung Kai in Hong Kong.

“At the same time, this event makes the market believe that the current industry supervision of technology stocks in the mainland will continue, and the decline in the stock prices of technology stocks listed in Hong Kong today also reflects this factor.”

Sources have told Reuters that Didi is preparing to relaunch its apps in the country by the end of the year in anticipation that Beijing’s cybersecurity investigation into the company would be wrapped up by then.

The CAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Didi’s plans to delist from New York.

Didi made its New York debut on June 30 at $14 per American Depositary Share, which gave the company a valuation of $67.5 billion on a non-diluted basis. Those shares have since slid 44% until Thursday’s close, valuing it at $37.6 billion.

Shares in Didi investor SoftBank Group Corp fell more than 2% after the Didi announcement, also hurt by Southeast Asia ride hailing giant Grab’s slump in its Nasdaq debut.

SoftBank’s Vision Fund owns 21.5% of Didi, followed by Uber Technologies Inc with 12.8%, according to a filing in June by Didi. 

 

 

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Experts Say Travel Bans Another Blow to Crippled South African Economy

Sudden travel bans imposed on South Africa in the past week over the omicron variant have dealt a blow to an already struggling economy, experts say. The jobless rate is creeping up to affect half the population and the lost tourism this month will have far-reaching impacts beyond the travel sector. Linda Givetash reports from Johannesburg.

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US Jobless Benefit Claims Remain at Low Level

First-time claims for U.S. unemployment compensation remained at a low level last week as employers retained their workers and searched for more as the United States continues its economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Labor Department said Thursday that 222,000 jobless workers made first-time claims for unemployment compensation, up 28,000 from the revised figure of 194,000 the week before, which was a 52-year low.

Even with the increase in claims last week, the figures from both of the last two weeks were well below the 256,000 total in mid-March 2020 when the pandemic first swept into the country and employers started laying off workers by the hundreds of thousands.  

The declining number of claims for unemployment benefits shows that many employers are hanging on to their workers even as millions have quit jobs to move to other companies offering higher pay and more benefits.  

Many employers are looking for more workers, even as about 7.4 million workers remain unemployed in the United States.

There are 10.4 million available jobs in the country, but the skills of available workers often do not match what employers want, or the job openings are not where the unemployed live. In addition, many of the available jobs are low-wage service positions that the jobless are shunning.  

U.S. employers added 531,000 jobs in October, the biggest monthly gain in three months and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6%. But the U.S. economy is still short more than four million jobs since February 2020. The November jobs figure is set for release on Friday.

The U.S. economic advance is occurring even as President Joe Biden and Washington policy makers, along with consumers, voice concerns about the biggest increase in consumer prices in three decades and supply chain issues that have curtailed delivery of some products to retail store shelves.

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Myanmar’s Coup Economy Is ‘Boom and Bust’ 

Myanmar’s economy is crumbling and experts predict more illegal trade and zero growth in 2022. 

The Southeast Asian country’s economy has been in rapid decline following the chaos of February’s military coup. Thousands of citizens have gone on strike, refusing to work under military rule, including healthcare workers, lawyers, teachers and engineers. 

Days after the coup took place nine months ago, the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), was formed. It is a large-scale labor strike campaign with a mission to resist the junta by denting the military-controlled economy. 

Shortly after the movement began, Myanmar’s bankers joined and refused to go to work. That prompted cash flow problems for the population and businesses, but also the military.

As the year has gone on, any military-owned or affiliated businesses faced large boycotts. Global brands have halted orders with Myanmar’s manufacturing industry, while Chinese-made products have been boycotted amid allegations that China supports Myanmar’s military junta. Beijing had blocked a U.N. Security Council statement condemning the coup. 

Fearing for their lives, thousands of workers fled their rural homes because of the increased fighting between national soldiers and opposition groups. Factories and businesses have also closed, leading to increasing unemployment and lost income. 

Gwen Robinson, an editor at Nikkei Asia, sponsored an event hosted by the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok in November, that outlined some of the economic woes in Myanmar.

“It’s clear we are seeing both boom and bust in Myanmar right now. There is a booming illicit economy… and there are growing perceptions of a collapsing licit or domestic open economy,” she said. 

With a continuing crackdown, Myanmar’s military enterprises have faced heavy trade sanctions by the U.S., Britain and the European Union. It’s put pressure on military leadership. 

“General Min Aung Hlaing [has spoken of] increased self-reliance, urged people use less fuel, increase use of public transport and walking, consume less edible oil, reduce imports and consume less rice. There is a creeping paranoia by the junta that the economy is crumbling around them, and seem powerless to stop the rot,” Robinson said. 

Myanmar’s agricultural, marine, mineral and manufactured exports have slowed, while raw materials and investment imports have also been in decline since 2020. Myanmar business registrations also have fallen by 44% this year, while there have been rapid changes in the valuation of Myanmar’s currency, the kyat, against the U.S. dollar in recent months, Robinson’s researched outlined. 

A report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) states there were 1.2 million job losses in the second quarter of 2021. All sectors of Myanmar’s economy were affected, with the tourist, hospitality, construction and garment sectors hit the worst. 

But the sliding economy has been apparent since the beginning of last year’s COVID-19 pandemic, Robinson said. 

“The economy was beginning to collapse well before the coup due to these very harsh lockdowns that closed businesses and choked the economy. The resurgence of COVID-19 has hit the economy,” she added. 

Myanmar has a population of nearly 55 million. About 25% of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, the country has recorded more than 522,000 cases and 19,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. 

In July the World Bank had forecasted Myanmar’s legitimate economy would decline by 18% in 2021. Fitch Solutions, a U.S. credit rating agency, has revised its growth forecast for Myanmar for 2022 by predicting there will be a -4.4% contraction.

Political analyst Aung Thu Nyein believes any positive recovery of Myanmar’s economy is unlikely. 

“Other neighboring countries show a sign of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. I don’t see a sign of recovery in the coming year for the Myanmar economy. It is very likely to go back to the status of “the last frontier in Asia” as some people claimed Myanmar in its initial opening in 2012. There seems no potential credible investment in 2022,” he told VOA. 

The analyst admitted that a little growth in trade could be possible because borders are expected to open with China and Russia continuing to supply equipment to the military. 

But Jeremy Douglas, the Regional Representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said as the legitimate economy declines, the illicit drug trade among crime groups is growing. 

Also speaking at the FCCT event on November 17, Douglas said the illicit economy, including heroin and methamphetamines, is “diverse.” 

“The synthetic drug economy has proven its ability to expand very fast, so it really ramped up. This is against the background of the conditions on the ground, and these conditions are perfect for these folks to do this business, to grow that illicit economy as the licit declines,” he said. 

Douglas said Myanmar’s Shan state is a production point for illegal drugs being distributed across the Asia Pacific region and added as the market economy declines in Myanmar, those out of work are being lured to work within the drug trade. 

“It is a huge economy already, pre the coup, even after COVID-19, it continued to expand. As the transport connections start expanding, you’re going to see more connection to those markets and the push from supply go further and further from the point of production, which is a concern,” he added. 

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, gained independence in 1948 from Britain but most of its modern history has been governed under military rule. 

In the November 2020 general elections, Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratic government won convincingly, but the military contested the results, claiming widespread electoral fraud without evidence. On February 1, the military removed the government, while arresting Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, who both face mounting criminal charges. 

Anti-coup demonstrations began shortly after, with thousands taking to the streets. But the military has violently cracked down on dissidents, with at least 1,300 killed, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

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Factories Facing Supply Headaches as Omicron Risks Emerge

Global factory activity accelerated in November although crippling supply bottlenecks remained, putting a cap on output and driving up the cost of raw materials, according to surveys published on Wednesday.

Towards the end of the month, the newly-detected Omicron coronavirus variant emerged as a fresh worry for policymakers, who are already trying to pilot recovering economies and tamp-down inflation.

The November surveys likely did not reflect the spread of the variant, which could add further pressure on pandemic-disrupted supply chains, with many countries imposing fresh border controls to seal themselves off.

“The Omicron variant…could be a game-changer: shortages of inputs and labor would worsen for manufacturers if Britain and other countries went into another lockdown,” said Samuel Tombs at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

IHS Markit’s final manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for the euro zone nevertheless nudged up to 58.4 in November from October’s 58.3, shy of an initial 58.6 “flash” estimate but still comfortably above the 50 mark separating growth from contraction.

Supply chain issues have made it a sellers’ market for raw materials and the input prices index was only just below October’s record high and factories in the region passed on the rising costs to customers at the fastest rate in the survey’s history.

That suggests overall inflation in the bloc, which preliminary official data showed on Tuesday was a record high 4.9% last month, will continue to overshoot the European Central Bank’s 2.0% target putting pressure on the bank to act.

In Britain, outside the European Union and euro zone, more manufacturers than at any point in the last 30 years reported rising costs last month, underlining pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates.

The BoE will be the first major central bank to raise interest rates, possibly as soon as this month, a November Reuters poll predicted.

U.S. central bankers will discuss in December whether to end their bond purchases a few months earlier than had been anticipated, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said on Tuesday, leading to a sharp move higher in shorter-dated Treasury yields. 

China breaks

China’s factory activity fell back into contraction in November, the private Caixin/Markit Manufacturing PMI showed, as soft demand and elevated prices hurt manufacturers.

The findings from the private-sector survey, which focuses more on small firms in coastal regions, stood in contrast with those in China’s official PMI on Tuesday that showed manufacturing activity unexpectedly rose in November, albeit at a very modest pace.

“Relaxing constraints on the supply side, especially the easing of the power crunch, quickened the pace of production recovery,” said Wang Zhe, senior economist at Caixin Insight Group, in a statement accompanying the data release.

“But demand was relatively weak, suppressed by the COVID-19 epidemic and rising product prices.”

Beyond China, however, factory activity seemed to be on the mend with PMIs showing expansion in countries ranging from Japan, South Korea, India, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Japan’s PMI rose to a near four-year high while in South Korea’s the PMI edged up.

India’s manufacturing activity grew at the fastest pace in 10 months in November, buoyed by a strong pick-up in demand. Taiwan’s manufacturing activity continued to expand and it was a similar picture in Indonesia.

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Tel Aviv Ranked World’s Priciest City for First Time

Tel Aviv is the world’s most expensive city to live in as soaring inflation has pushed up living costs globally, according to a survey published Wednesday.

The Israeli city climbed five rungs to score top place for the first time in the authoritative ranking compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). 

The Worldwide Cost of Living Index is compiled by comparing prices in U.S. dollars for goods and services in 173 cities.

Tel Aviv climbed the rankings partly due to the strength of the national currency, the shekel, against the dollar, as well increases in prices for transport and groceries. 

Paris and Singapore came in tied for second, followed by Zurich and Hong Kong. New York City was in sixth place, with Geneva in seventh. 

Rounding off the top 10 were Copenhagen in eighth, Los Angeles in ninth and Osaka, Japan, in 10th place. 

Last year, the survey put Paris, Zurich and Hong Kong in a tie for first place. 

This year’s figures were collected in August and September as prices for freight and commodities rose and show that on average prices rose 3.5% in local currency terms – the fastest inflation rate recorded over the past five years.

Social restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic “have disrupted the supply of goods, leading to shortages and higher prices,” said Upasana Dutt, head of worldwide cost of living at the EIU.

“We can clearly see the impact in this year’s index, with the rise in petrol prices particularly stark,” she said, while central banks are expected to raise interest rates cautiously, reducing inflation. 

The average inflation figure does not include four cities with exceptionally high rates: Caracas, Damascus, Buenos Aires and Tehran. 

The Iranian capital rose from 79th to 29th place in the ranking as U.S. sanctions have pushed up prices and caused shortages. 

Damascus was ranked the world’s least expensive city to live in. 

 

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Illegal Child Labor Growing After 20-Year Downward Trend, UN Reports

An estimated 16.6 million children in sub-Saharan Africa alone are forced into illegal labor, according to the U.N. And despite being outlawed, advocates say child labor is on the rise. Globally, 1 in 10 children are now believed to be involved in some form of child labor. In this report from southern Burkina Faso, reporter Henry Wilkins looks at why child labor is such a persistent problem.

Camera: Henry Wilkins

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Biden Heads to Minnesota to Promote Infrastructure Plan

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday visits a Minnesota technical college to sell Americans on his recently approved $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which the administration says will train millions of Americans “for the high-growth jobs of the future” that will build the massive infrastructure Biden says the U.S. needs to compete globally.

This is Biden’s first visit to the state known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” since he was elected president. He plans to visit Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minnesota, to speak to students about the legislation and how it affects them. 

“The majority of jobs supported by the president’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill will not need a four-year college degree,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, ahead of the trip. “And the programs provided by community and technical colleges like Dakota County Technical College will provide the training and skill development needed to help workers access the jobs created.”

The public, two-year technical college serves nearly 13,000 students across multiple disciplines, including construction and manufacturing.

The White House estimates that under the new law, Minnesota will receive $4.5 billion for federal-aid highways; $302 million for bridges; $818 million for public transportation; $680 million to improve water infrastructure; and $100 million that aims to cover every resident with high-speed internet. 

The legislation also will provide about $68 million to expand the state’s electric vehicle charging network, and Minnesota will receive a slice of the $50 billion the law allocates to strengthening infrastructure against the impacts of climate change.

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New Twitter CEO Steps From Behind the Scenes to High Profile 

Newly named Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal has emerged from behind the scenes to take over one of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile and politically volatile jobs. 

But his prior lack of name recognition, coupled with a solid technical background, appears to be what some big company backers were looking for to lead Twitter out of its current morass. 

A 37-year-old immigrant from India, Agrawal comes from outside the ranks of celebrity CEOs, which include the man he’s replacing, Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or SpaceX and Tesla’s Elon Musk. Those brand-name company founders and leaders have often been in the news — and on Twitter — for exploits beyond the day-to-day running of their companies.

Having served as Twitter’s chief technology officer for the past four years, Agrawal’s appointment was seen by Wall Street as a choice of someone who will focus on ushering Twitter into what’s widely seen as the internet’s next era — the metaverse. 

Agrawal is a “‘safe’ pick who should be looked upon as favorably by investors,” wrote CFRA Research analyst Angelo Zino, who noted that Twitter shareholder Elliott Management Corp. had pressured Dorsey to step down. 

Elliott released a statement Monday saying Agrawal and new board chairman Bret Taylor were the “right leaders for Twitter at this pivotal moment for the company.” Taylor is president and chief operating officer of the business software company Salesforce. 

Agrawal joins a growing cadre of Indian American CEOs of large tech companies, including Sundar Pichai of Google parent Alphabet, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and IBM’s Arvind Krishna. 

He joined San Francisco-based Twitter in 2011, when it had just 1,000 employees, and has been its chief technical officer since 2017. At the end of last year, the company had a workforce of 5,500. 

Agrawal previously worked at Microsoft, Yahoo and AT&T in research roles. At Twitter, he’s worked on machine learning, revenue and consumer engineering and helping with audience growth. He studied at Stanford and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. 

While Twitter has high-profile users like politicians and celebrities and is a favorite of journalists, its user base lags far behind old rivals like Facebook and YouTube and newer ones like TikTok. It has just over 200 million daily active users, a common industry metric.

As CEO, Agrawal will have to step beyond the technical details and deal with the social and political issues Twitter and social media are struggling with. Those include misinformation, abuse and effects on mental health. 

Agrawal got a fast introduction to life as CEO of a high-profile company that’s one of the central platforms for political speech online. Conservatives quickly unearthed a tweet he sent in 2010 that read “If they are not gonna make a distinction between muslims and extremists, then why should I distinguish between white people and racists.”

As some Twitter users pointed out, the 11-year-old tweet was quoting a segment on “The Daily Show,” which was referencing the firing of Juan Williams, who made a comment about being nervous about Muslims on an airplane.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a message for comment on the tweet. 

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Cyber Monday Caps Holiday Shopping Weekend as Virus Lingers

Americans are spending freely and going back to store shopping, knocking out some of the momentum in online sales from last year when Americans were making many of their purchases exclusively via the internet.

Shopper traffic roared back on Black Friday, but it was still below pre-pandemic levels, in part because retailers spread out big deals starting in October. The early buying is expected to also take a bite out of online sales on Monday, coined Cyber Monday by the National Retail Federation in 2005.

In fact, Adobe Digital Economy Index said that it was the first time online sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday hadn’t grown, and Cyber Monday could likewise see a decline compared with a year ago. Adobe, which tracks more than one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites, had previously recorded healthy online sales gains since it first began reporting on e-commerce in 2012.

Still, Cyber Monday should remain the biggest online spending day of the year. For the overall holiday season, online sales should increase 10% from a year ago, compared with a 33% increase last year, according to Adobe.

A possible game changer is the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which could put a damper on shopping behavior and stores’ businesses. The World Health Organization warned Monday that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”

Jon Abt, co-president and a grandson of the founder of Abt Electronics, said that holiday shopping has been robust, and so far overall sales are up 10% compared to a year ago. But he said he thinks Cyber Monday sales will be down at the Glenview, Illinois-based consumer electronics retailer after such robust growth from a year ago. He also worries about how the rest of the season will fare given the new variant.

“There are so many variables,” Abt said. “It’s a little too murky.”

Here is how the season is shaping up:

Cyber Monday still king but cooling 

Consumers are expected to spend between $10.2 billion and $11.3 billion on Monday, making it once again the biggest online shopping day of the year, according to Adobe. Still, spending on Cyber Monday could drop from last year’s level of $10.8 billion as Americans are spreading out their purchases more in response to discounting in October by retailers, according to Adobe.

Both Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day online shopping came in below Adobe’s prediction. On Black Friday, online sales reached $8.9 billion, down from the $9 billion in 2020, the second largest day of the year. On Thanksgiving Day, online sales reached $5.1 billion, even from the year-ago period.

Harley Finkelstein, president of Canadian e-commerce platform Shopify, which has 1.7 million independent brands on its site, said that so far, Cyber Monday is off to a strong start. Sales on his platform were up 21% on Black Friday compared with 2020 and more than double compared with 2019. He said he believes that independent brands will see better percentage sales gains online than big national chains, as shoppers gravitate more toward direct-to-consumer labels and look for brands with social conscience. And he says these brands have been able to get the inventory. Among some of the hot items on Shopify are children’s couches from Nugget and luxurious linens from Brooklinen.

“I think it is a tale of two different worlds,” he added.

Black Friday back but not the same 

Overall, Black Friday store traffic was more robust than last year but was still below pre-pandemic levels as shoppers spread out their buying in response to earlier deals in October and shifted more of their spending online. Sales on Friday were either below or had modest gains compared with pre-pandemic levels of 2019, according to various spending measures.

Black Friday sales about 30%, compared with the year-ago period, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks all types of payments, including cash and credit cards. That was above its 20% growth forecast for the day. Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard, said the numbers speak to the “strength of the consumer.” For the Friday through Sunday period, sales rose 14.1% compared with the same period in 2020 and were up 5.8% compared to 2019, Mastercard reported.

Customer counts soared 60.8% on Black Friday compared with a year ago, but were down 26.9% on the same day in 2019, according to RetailNext, which analyzes store traffic with monitors and sensors in thousands of stores. Sales rose 46.4% on Black Friday but were down 5.1% in 2019, according to RetailNext. Sensormatic, another firm that tracks customer traffic, reported a 47.5% surge in traffic on Black Friday compared with a year ago but that number fell 28.3% compared with 2019.

The changing discount landscape 

Unlike in years past, many big box stores like Walmart didn’t market their discounted goods as “doorbusters,” in their Black Friday ads, choosing instead to stretch the deals out throughout the season or even the day. And the discounts are smaller this season as well.

Shoppers were also expected to pay on average between 5% to 17% more for toys, clothing, appliances, TVs and others purchases on Black Friday this year compared with last year, according to Aurelien Duthoit, senior sector advisor at Allianz Research. That’s because whatever discounts are offered will be applied to goods that already cost more.

And for the first time, discounts on Cyber Monday compared with a year ago are expected to be weaker, according to Adobe. Still, Cyber Monday remains the best day to buy TVs with discount levels at 16%, compared with 19% discounts last year. Other categories where consumers will find deals include clothing at a 15% markdown, compared with 20% last year. Computers are being discounted at 14%, compared with 28% last year, according to Adobe.

Overall holiday sales could be record breaking. For the November and December period, the National Retail Federation predicts that sales will increase between 8.5% and 10.5%. Holiday sales increased about 8% in 2020 when shoppers, locked down during the early part of the pandemic, spent their money on pajamas and home goods.

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Biden Meets with CEOs on Supply Chain Issues 

U.S. President Joe Biden met at the White House Monday with chief executives of major retailers to learn about supply chain challenges during the busy holiday season. 

“The business leaders we gathered here today represent a broad swath of American shopping: brick and mortar and online stores, national and local grocery chains, our nation’s largest retailer, and makers and sellers of toys, electronics and health supplies,” the president said. 

“I want to hear from each of you about what you’re seeing this holiday season,” he told the business leaders.

The Biden administration has been struggling to fix supply chain problems, including backlogged ports and a shortage of truck drivers to haul goods across the country. The supply chain issues, fuel prices that rose markedly earlier this year and other factors have contributed to rising U.S. inflation.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said, “While we’re all concerned about the supply chain, we have more inventory than we did a year ago, and we have the inventory that we need to be able to support the business.”

He told the meeting virtually, “We are seeing progress. The port and transit delays are improving.” Walmart has seen a 26% increase in shipping containers getting through U.S. ports in the past month, according to McMillon. 

Food Lion President Meg Ham told the meeting the company’s supply chain “is strong and robust, and we have ample product inside of our stores for customers to choose from during this holiday.” 

The White House said other participants at Monday’s meeting, both in person and virtual, included the CEOs of Best Buy, Samsung North America, Qurate Retail Group, Todos Supermarket, Etsy, Mattel, CVS Health and Kroger. 

Some information in this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

 

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UN: Pandemic to Cost Global Tourism $2.0 Trillion in 2021

The coronavirus pandemic will cost the global tourism sector $2.0 trillion in lost revenue in 2021, the U.N.’s tourism body said Monday, calling the sector’s recovery “fragile” and “slow.”

The forecast from the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization comes as Europe is grappling with a surge in infections and as a new heavily mutated COVID-19 variant, dubbed Omicron, spreads across the globe.

International tourist arrivals will this year remain 70-75% below the 1.5 billion arrivals recorded in 2019 before the pandemic hit, a similar decline as in 2020, according to the body.

The global tourism sector already lost $2.0 trillion (1.78 trillion euros) in revenues last year due to the pandemic, according to the UNWTO, making it one of sectors hit hardest by the health crisis.

While the U.N. body charged with promoting tourism does not have an estimate for how the sector will perform next year, its medium-term outlook is not encouraging.

“Despite the recent improvements, uneven vaccination rates around the world and new Covid-19 strains” such as the Delta variant and Omicron “could impact the already slow and fragile recovery,” it said in a statement.

The introduction of fresh virus restrictions and lockdowns in several nations in recent weeks shows how “it’s a very unpredictable situation,” UNWTO head Zurab Pololikashvili told AFP.

“It’s a historical crisis in the tourism industry but again tourism has the power to recover quite fast,” he added ahead of the start of the WTO’s annual general assembly in Madrid on Tuesday.

“I really hope that 2022 will be much better than 2021.”

While international tourism has taken a hit from the outbreak of disease in the past, the coronavirus is unprecedented in its geographical spread.

In addition to virus-related travel restrictions, the sector is also grappling with the economic strain caused by the pandemic, the spike in oils prices and the disruption of supply chains, the UNWTO said.

Pololikashvili urged nations to harmonize their virus protocols and restrictions because tourists “are confused and they don’t know how to travel.”

International tourist arrivals “rebounded” during the summer season in the Northern Hemisphere thanks to increased travel confidence, rapid vaccination and the easing of entry restrictions in many nations, the UNWTO said.

“Despite the improvement in the third quarter, the pace of recovery remains uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveller confidence,” it added.

Arrivals in some islands in the Caribbean and South Asia, and well as some destinations in southern Europe, came close to, or sometimes exceeded pre-pandemic levels in the third quarter.

Other countries, however, hardly saw any tourists at all, particularly in Asia and the Pacific, where arrivals were down 95% compared to 2019 as many destinations remained closed to non-essential travel.

A total of 46 destinations — 21% of all destinations worldwide — currently have their borders completely closed to tourists, according to the UNWTO.

A further 55 have their borders partially closed to foreign visitors, while just four nations have lifted all virus-related restrictions — Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Mexico.

The future of the travel sector will be in focus at the WTO annual general assembly, which will run until Friday.

The event — which brings together representatives from 159 members states of the U.N. body — was original scheduled to be held in Marrakesh.

But Morocco in late October decided not to host the event due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in many countries.

Before the pandemic, the tourism sector accounted for about 10% of the world’s gross domestic product and jobs.

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US Shoppers Return for ‘Black Friday,’ But Many Have Already Bought

Americans returned to stores for the “Black Friday” kickoff of the holiday shopping season, but online data shows that consumers have been spending big for weeks amid worries over shortages.

The day after the U.S. Thanksgiving celebration is the traditional start to the holiday shopping season, and normally sees Americans line up outside stores before they open to clinch deals on popular items.

After the pandemic kept crowds away last year, many shoppers were out in force Friday, a sign of how COVID-19 vaccines have returned life in the United States to something closer to normal.

“I just wanted to make sure that this Christmas was a good Christmas for all my friends and family,” said a masked Sylvia Gonzalez as she waited in line outside the jewelry chain Pandora in New York.

But even before retailers opened their doors early Friday morning, e-commerce shoppers in the United States had already spent $76 billion since early November, up more than 20% from the year-ago period, according to data from software company Adobe, which has projected somewhat fewer promotions this year in light of rising costs.

The jump has added to companies’ optimism about the season, suggesting some shoppers heeded calls from businesses to purchase items early this year after port backlogs and other logistics problems sparked worries that popular goods would be in short supply.

Toys led the buying spree, with Adobe pointing to actions by “anxious parents increasingly aware of supply chain challenges.”

The National Retail Federation projects overall spending could rise as much as 10.5% to $859 billion.

Nonetheless, out-of-stock listings online are up 261% compared with two years ago, according to Adobe.

Item in hand

Retailers and market watchers are broadly optimistic about the holiday shopping season in light of low unemployment and relatively strong household finances due in part to pandemic stimulus bills enacted by the government.

Countering those positive trends are lingering supply chain problems, spiking consumer prices that have affected household staples such as food and fuel, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still far from over.

On Friday, stock markets worldwide tumbled on worries that the latest strain of the virus found in South Africa could derail the global recovery.

Reminders of the pandemic were visible throughout shopping districts in the New York borough of Manhattan.

Signs at Macy’s reminded customers to keep 2 meters apart, and pop-up COVID-19 testing sites were positioned outside stores where mostly masked crowds were large, but not as sizeable as before the pandemic.

“In 2018, it was more like the New York you heard of,” said German tourist Ilke Zienteck. “Now, it’s a little bit like a small town.”

Still, the hum of customers inside shops suggested that many had adjusted to the “new normal” of pandemic living.

There were obvious gaps at some stores. At a Best Buy near Grand Central Station, a shelf of Apple accessories was almost completely empty, while the camera bags section had few remaining offerings.

Other chains like Victoria’s Secret and Foot Locker have acknowledged shortages of some choice products.

Taylor Schreiner, a digital research expert at Adobe, expects more consumers to order online and pay for expedited shipping, or pick up goods at stores.

“It’s not just because people want it quickly,” he said in an interview. “Having the item in hand is the surest way to have the gift for the person.”

January glut?

An emerging worry in the industry is that retailers will be stuck with goods originally intended for the holidays but that don’t arrive until January.

Macy’s is generally canceling orders for items with a Christmas motif but plans to keep other items if they are cold-weather-oriented and could sell later in the winter, executives said earlier this month.

Gap Chief Financial Officer Katrina O’Connell said the apparel chain was planning to hold some items for next winter.

“If we think items are going to be too late for the holiday season, we won’t put them in stores or online and have them generate markdowns,” she said earlier this week on a conference call with Wall Street analysts. “We’ll hold them for next year.”

Gap has been one of the companies hardest hit by supply chain problems due to lengthy factory shutdowns in Vietnam caused by the country’s COVID-19 restrictions, which contributed to a loss of some $300 million in sales in the most recent quarter. 

 

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