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Economics

Why a new eurozone crisis now looks a distinct possibility

As the European Central Bank announces its first increase in interest rates, investors are getting very nervous.

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The European Central Bank (ECB) has confirmed speculation that it will become the latest central bank to start raising headline interest rates to try to ward off inflation. The bank is to raise rates by 0.25 points to 0.25% for lending and -0.25% for deposits, with plans for another rise at the next meeting in September. It will also curtail its programme for buying the government bonds of countries like Italy and Greece by not increasing purchases every month overall.

All major economies are struggling with the difficulties of trying to deal with inflation by raising interest rates in the knowledge that it will drive up borrowing costs for consumers and businesses and potentially bring about a recession.

But for the eurozone, the situation is complicated by the fact that it has been propping up indebted countries who can’t deflate their currencies to get through economic turbulence. If the ECB now gets too tough on inflation, it could create a market panic that might revive the eurozone crisis of the 2010s.

Stagflation is back

The global outlook for inflation and global economic stability has significantly deteriorated in the last few months. In 2021 inflation headed upwards as global demand recovered after the pandemic but supply chains couldn’t keep up – not least because of China’s zero COVID policy. Rising energy prices were a major part of the problem.

Many central bankers thought this was temporary, and indeed when inflation started to ease in most developed economies in the second half of 2021, this seemed right. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has both broken the decades-long peace in Europe, and brought three decades of a “great moderation” in prices to an end. Thanks to the extra pressure on oil and energy prices, inflation is many countries is now rising ahead of economic growth.

Inflation is also starting to weigh on the global economy in various ways. People have less money, so they can’t buy as much. And investors are more worried about the outlook, so they are more reluctant to invest. The prospects for global economic growth have significantly slowed since February. For example, the World Bank has just downgraded its forecast for the third time in six months, and currently predicts 2.9% growth in 2022.

The effect on government bonds

In view of this situation, investors have also been offloading corporate and government bonds. They fear that the prospects for debt defaults are higher than before, and the returns (yields) on bonds look even worse than before now that inflation is so high. Bond prices have duly been falling, which means that yields (interest rates) have been rising because they are inversely related.

The yields on eurozone countries’ debt have been rising sharply, meaning it is becoming more expensive for them to borrow. Just like in the 2010s, the most pressure is on the countries whose public finances are the most unwieldy, such as Italy and Greece. But even Germany, which has been the bedrock of eurozone fiscal prudence and has enjoyed negative yields (also known as free borrowing) for most of the last three years, has also seen a significant rise.

Eurozone sovereign bond yields 2012-22

10-year bond yields: Germany = yellow; Greece = turquoise; Italy = blue; Portugal = indigo; France = purple; Spain = orange. Trading View

The eurozone crisis was caused in the early 2010s when investor fears about the solvency of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland drove their bond yields to levels where they needed ECB support – otherwise, their debts would have become unmanageable and they would likely have had to exit the euro.

This support came in the form of loans; bond-buying programmes from the European Central Bank (ECB) to prop up prices; negative interest rates; “creating” euros via quantitative easing (QE); and reassurances from then president Mario Draghi that the ECB would do “whatever it takes” to prevent a collapse.

These measures are the main reason why bond yields have remained below ruinous levels since the 2010s, with bond-buying support and QE most recently provided early in the pandemic as countries had to borrow even more to cope. The ECB is currently sitting on government bonds from member states worth around €5 trillion (£4.3 trillion), and is currently making net purchases of over €30 billion a month.

Now that yields are surging again, one solution is for the ECB to buy even more bonds from these countries. However, it is not that simple because bond-buying underpinned by QE is another reason for inflation rising. Indeed, one of the other arguments in favour of these moves in the 2010s was to ward off deflation, which is not a valid justification now that inflation is so high. Bond-buying now would be a violation of the ECB’s strategy aiming for 2% inflation.

Were it to drive up inflation, that would make the economic outlook even worse. This could cause further sell-offs in bonds that would push yields higher.

Instead, the ECB is following the likes of the US Federal Reserve and Bank of England and doing the opposite. The danger with increasing interest rates and ending bond-buying is that it will hurt the economy, which could make investors more worried about the outlook and force bond yields even higher. Indeed, yields have just surged after the ECB signalled that it was potentially open to doing a 0.5 percentage points hike in rates in September, in a sign of how precarious this situation is.

In sum, the ECB is facing a strange dilemma, where every policy choice will potentially raise the risks of a repeat of the eurozone crisis of the 2010s. Inflation is a delicate business, which is why the Austrian economist Fridrich von Hayek compared it to trying to “catch a tiger by its tail”.

If inflation starts to fall as growth deteriorates, the eurozone may somehow avoid another crisis because it will then be easier to do more QE and buy more bonds. But in the meantime, all eyes will be on the bond yields of countries like Italy and Greece to see how high they rise.

Muhammad Ali Nasir does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Economics

Reduced myocardial blood flow is new clue in how COVID-19 is impacting the heart

Patients with prior COVID may be twice as likely to have unhealthy endothelial cells that line the inside of the heart and blood vessels, according to…

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Patients with prior COVID may be twice as likely to have unhealthy endothelial cells that line the inside of the heart and blood vessels, according to newly published research from Houston Methodist. This finding offers a new clue in understanding covid-19’s impact on cardiovascular health.

Credit: Houston Methodist

Patients with prior COVID may be twice as likely to have unhealthy endothelial cells that line the inside of the heart and blood vessels, according to newly published research from Houston Methodist. This finding offers a new clue in understanding covid-19’s impact on cardiovascular health.

In a new study published today in JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging, Houston Methodist researchers examined the coronary microvasculature health of 393 patients with prior covid-19 infection who had lingering symptoms. This is the first published study linking reduced blood flow in the body and COVID-19.

Using a widely available imaging tool, called positron emission tomography (PET), researchers found a 20% decrease in the ability of coronary arteries to dilate, a condition known as microvascular dysfunction. They also found that patients with prior COVID-19 infection were more likely to have reduced myocardial flow reserve – and changes in the resting and stress blood flow – which is a marker for poor prognosis and is associated with a higher risk of adverse cardiovascular events.

“We were surprised with the consistency of reduced blood flow in post covid patients within the study,” said corresponding author Mouaz Al-Mallah, M.D., director of cardiovascular PET at Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center, and president elect of the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology. “The findings bring new questions, but also help guide us toward further studying blood flow in COVID-19 patients with persistent symptoms.”

Dysfunction and inflammation of endothelial cells is a well-known sign of acute Covid-19 infection, but little is known about the long-term effects on the heart and vascular system. Earlier in the pandemic, research indicated that COVID-19 could commonly cause myocarditis but that now appears to be a rare effect of this viral infection.

A recent study from the Netherlands found that 1 in 8 people had lingering symptoms post-covid. As clinicians continue to see patients with symptoms like shortness of breath, palpations and fatigue after their recovery, the cause of long covid is mostly unknown.

Further studies are needed to document the magnitude of microvascular dysfunction and to identify strategies for appropriate early diagnosis and management. For instance, reduced myocardial flow reserve can be used to determine a patient’s risk when presenting with symptoms of coronary artery disease over and above the established risk factors, which can become quite relevant in dealing with long Covid.

Next steps will require clinical studies to discover what is likely to happen in the future to patients whose microvascular health has been affected by COVID-19, particularly those patients who continue to have lingering symptoms, or long COVID.

This work was supported, in part, by grants from the National Institutes of Health under contract numbers R01 HL133254, R01 HL148338 and R01 HL157790.

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For more information: Coronary microvascular health in patients with prior COVID-19 infection. JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging. (online Aug. 16, 2022) Ahmed Ibrahim Ahmed, Jean Michel Saad, Yushui Han, Fares Alahdab, Maan Malahfji, Faisal Nabi, John J Mahmarian, John P. Cook, William A Zoghbi and Mouaz H Al-Mallah. DOI: www.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcmg.2022.07.006

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War, peace and security: The pandemic’s impact on women and girls in Nepal and Sri Lanka

The impacts of COVID-19 must be incorporated into women, peace and security planning in order to improve the lives of women and girls in postwar countries…

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Nepalese girls rest for observation after receiving the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 in Kathmandu, Nepal. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Attention to the pandemic’s impacts on women has largely focused on the Global North, ignoring countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka, which continue to deal with prolonged effects of war. While the Nepalese Civil War concluded in 2006 and the Sri Lankan Civil War concluded in 2009, internal conflicts continue.

As scholars of gender and war, our work focuses on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. And our recently published paper examines COVID-19’s impacts on women and girls in Nepal and Sri Lanka, looking at policy responses and their repercussions on the women, peace and security agenda.

COVID-19 has disproportionately and negatively impacted women in part because most are the primary family caregivers and the pandemic has increased women’s caring duties.

This pattern is even more pronounced in war-affected countries where the compounding factors of war and the pandemic leave women generally more vulnerable. These nations exist at the margins of the international system and suffer from what the World Bank terms “fragility, conflict and violence.”

Women, labour and gender-based violence

Gendered labour precarity is not new to Nepal or Sri Lanka and the pandemic has only eroded women’s already poor economic prospects.

Prior to COVID-19, Tharshani (pseudonym), a Sri Lankan mother of three and head of her household, was able to make ends meet. But when the pandemic hit, lockdowns prevented Tharshani from selling the chickens she raises for market. She was forced to take loans from her neighbours and her family had to skip meals.

Some 1.7 million women in Sri Lanka work in the informal sector, where no state employment protections exist and not working means no wages. COVID-19 is exacerbating women’s struggles with poverty and forcing them to take on debilitating debts.

Although Sri Lankan men also face increased labour precarity, due to gender discrimination and sexism in the job market, women are forced into the informal sector — the jobs hardest hit by the pandemic.

Two women sit in chairs, wearing face masks
Sri Lankan women chat after getting inoculated against the coronavirus in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in August 2021. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

The pandemic has also led to women and girls facing increased gender-based violence.

In Nepal, between March 2020 and June 2021, there was an increase in cases of gender-based violence. Over 1,750 incidents were reported in the media, of which rape and sexual assault represented 82 per cent. Pandemic lockdowns also led to new vulnerabilities for women who sought out quarantine shelters — in Lamkichuha, Nepal, a woman was allegedly gang-raped at a quarantine facility.

Gender-based violence is more prevalent among women and girls of low caste in Nepal and the pandemic has made it worse. The Samata Foundation reported 90 cases of gender-based violence faced by women and girls of low caste within the first six months of the pandemic.

What’s next?

While COVID-19 recovery efforts are generally focused on preparing for future pandemics and economic recovery, the women, peace and security agenda can also address the needs of some of those most marginalized when it comes to COVID-19 recovery.

The women, peace and security agenda promotes women’s participation in peace and security matters with a focus on helping women facing violent conflict. By incorporating women’s perspectives, issues and concerns in the context of COVID-19 recovery, policies and activities can help address issues that disproportionately impact most women in war-affected countries.

These issues are: precarious gendered labor market, a surge in care work, the rising feminization of poverty and increased gender-based violence.

A girl in a face mask stares out a window
The women, peace and security agenda can help address the needs of some of those most marginalized. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Policies could include efforts to create living-wage jobs for women that come with state benefits, emergency funding for women heads of household (so they can avoid taking out predatory loans) and increasing the number of resources (like shelters and legal services) for women experiencing domestic gender-based violence.

The impacts of COVID-19 must be incorporated into women, peace and security planning in order to achieve the agenda’s aims of improving the lives of women and girls in postwar countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Luna KC is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Research Network-Women Peace Security, McGill University. This project is funded by the Government of Canada Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program.

Crystal Whetstone does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Economics

Target Sets Sights on Holiday Season, Has Plan for High Inventory

Target said that it still expects spillover from inventory rightsizing to the tune of $200 million in the third quarter.

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Target said that it still expects spillover from inventory rightsizing to the tune of $200 million in the third quarter.

Target's  (TGT) - Get Target Corporation Report strategy is paying off as the company's stock falls on heavy volume following its earnings release. 

Normally, a profit miss as wide as Target's, 39 cents per share vs. expectations of 72 cents per share, would result in a bigger drop than Target's, but the retailer has been prepping the market for this miss all summer. 

The inventory the company built up during the height of the pandemic, as Americans shopped more from home, needs to go, and the only way get rid of the excess product is deep discounts. 

"Back in June, we announced that our team would be undertaking a bold effort to rightsize our inventory position in the categories for which demand patterns have radically changed," CEO Brian Cornell said during the company's earnings call. "While this decision had a meaningful short-term impact on our financial results, we strongly believe it was the best path forward."

Now, looking forward the company sees some overhang for the third quarter, but expects a big holiday season ahead. 

While some fear a recession and what it might do to the economy, Target is convinced that the holiday season will be strong.

Image source: John Smith/VIEWpress.

Target Aims for Holiday Season

While Target is focused on the back-to-school season currently underway, the company expects "spillover" from its inventory issues to be present during the third quarter to the tune of $200 million. 

But the company's own checks suggest that its shoppers are excited about the holiday season. 

"The one thing that seems to be very consistent is a guest and consumer who says they want to celebrate the holiday seasons so we certainly expect that they are going to be celebrating Halloween this year and actively trick or treating and hosting parties with friends and family," Cornell said.

"We know they're looking forward to Thanksgiving and they're going to look forward to celebrating the Christmas holidays and that comes down each and every week as we survey consumers and talk to our guests so that gives us great optimism for our ability to perform during these key holiday seasons"

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Not only does Target expect a strong quarter, but the company also expects favorable comps as fourth quarter headwinds from a year ago aren't present this time around. 

"Guests already have their sights set on upcoming holidays and seasonal moments in Q3 and beyond," Cornell said.

Target's Q2 Collapse

Target said adjusted earnings for the three months ending in July were pegged at 39 cents per share, down 89% from the same period last year and well shy of the Street consensus forecast of 72 cents per share.

Group revenues, Target said, rose 3.5% to $26 billion, essentially matching analysts' estimates of a $26.04 billion tally. Target said same-store sales rose 2.6%, again shy of the Refinitiv forecast of 3.2%, while operating margins fell to 1.2%, below the group's July guidance of a 2% level. 

Earlier this summer, Target cautioned that its bigger-than-expected 35% build-up in overall inventories over the first quarter would trigger price cuts, adding that deeper discounts would be needed to shift the excess goods onto a customer base that was already pulling back on discretionary spending.

Walmart  (WMT) - Get Walmart Inc. Report, Target's larger big box rival, said Tuesday that improving spending trends, as well as actions the group has taken to shift excess inventory, will ease some of the pressures it expects to face in terms of overall profits over the back half of the year.

Walmart said adjusted earnings for the three months ended in July came in at $1.77 per share, down one penny from the same period last year but well ahead of the Street consensus forecast of $1.62 per share.

Group revenues, the company said, were tabbed at $152.9 billion, an 8.4% increase from last year that topped analysts' estimates of $150.81 billion. U.S. same-store sales rose 6.5% from last year, the company said, firmly topping the Refinitiv forecast. 

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