UK jobs growth surges as labor market defies Brexit nerves

The number of people in work surged by 222,000, helping to push down the unemployment rate to 3.9 percent. (Reuters)
Updated 19 March 2019

UK jobs growth surges as labor market defies Brexit nerves

  • With the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU still unclear, many businesses have cut long-term investment in equipment
  • The strength of the labor market is pushing up wages more quickly

LONDON: British employers ramped up their hiring at the fastest pace in more than three years in the three months to January as the country’s labor market defied the broader weakness in the overall economy as Brexit approached.
The number of people in work surged by 222,000, helping to push down the unemployment rate to 3.9 percent, its lowest since the start of 1975, official data showed.
A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to a rise in employment of 120,000.
With the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union still unclear, many businesses have cut long-term investment in equipment, potentially making them more likely to hire workers who can be sacked if the economy sours.
The strength of the labor market is pushing up wages more quickly.
Total earnings, including bonuses, rose by an annual 3.4 percent in the three months to January, the Office for National Statistics said, stronger than a median forecast of 3.2 percent in the Reuters poll.
Wage growth for the three months to December was revised up slightly to 3.5 percent, its highest since mid-2008.
Average weekly earnings, excluding bonuses, also rose by 3.4 percent on the year, in line with the Reuters poll.


Oil-rich wealth funds seen shedding up to $225 billion in stocks

Updated 30 March 2020

Oil-rich wealth funds seen shedding up to $225 billion in stocks

  • Risking more losses is not an option for some funds from oil-producing nations

LONDON: Sovereign wealth funds from oil-producing countries mainly in the Middle East and Africa are on course to dump up to $225 billion in equities, a senior banker estimates, as plummeting oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic hit state finances.

The rapid spread of the virus has ravaged the global economy, sending markets into a tailspin and costing both oil and non-oil based sovereign wealth funds around $1 trillion in equity losses, according to JPMorgan strategist Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou.

His estimates are based on data from sovereign wealth funds and figures from the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, a research group.

Sticking with equity investments and risking more losses is not an option for some funds from oil-producing nations. Their governments are facing a financial double-whammy — falling revenues due to the spiraling oil price and rocketing spending as administrations rush out emergency budgets.

Around $100-$150 billion in stocks have likely been offloaded by oil-producer sovereign wealth funds, excluding Norway’s fund, in recent weeks, Panigirtzoglou said, and a further $50-$75 billion will likely be sold in the coming months.

“It makes sense for sovereign funds to frontload their selling, as you don’t want to be selling your assets at a later stage when it is more likely to have distressed valuations,” he said.

Most oil-based funds are required to keep substantial cash-buffers in place in case a collapse in oil prices triggers a request from the government for funding.

A source at an oil-based sovereign fund said it had been gradually raising its liquidity position since oil prices began drifting lower from their most recent peak above $70 a barrel in October 2018.

In addition to the cash reserves, additional liquidity was typically drawn firstly from short-term money market instruments like treasury bills and then from passively invested equity as a last resort, the source said.

It’s generally a similar trend for other funds.

“Our investor flows broadly show more resilience than market pricing would suggest,” said Elliot Hentov, head of policy research at State Street Global Advisers. “There has been a shift toward cash since the crisis started, but it’s not a panic move but rather gradual.”

The sovereign fund source said the fund had made adjustments to its actively managed equity investments due to the market rout, both to stem losses and position for the recovery, when it comes.

Exactly how much sovereign wealth funds invest and with whom remain undisclosed. Many don’t even report the value of the assets they manage.

On Thursday, the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund said it had lost $124 billion so far this year as equity markets sunk but its outgoing CEO Yngve Slyngstad said it would, at some point, start buying stocks to get its portfolio back to its target equity allocation of 70 percent from 65 percent currently.

Slyngstad also said that any fiscal spending by the government this year would be financed by selling bonds in its portfolio.