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Daily Archives: September 8, 2022

Chart: The Reserve Bank of Australia Raised the Cash Rate by 50bps to 2.35% During Its September 2022 Meeting

Source : Bloomberg

Chart: Chinese Government Bonds Held by Overseas Investors vs. the Yuan/US$ Rate

Source : Japan Forward

Chart: U.S. 30-year Mortgage Rate Blast Back Up Towards Long-term High

Music Video: Joy To The World

Three Dog Night

Watch video at You Tube (3:22 minutes) . . . .

Boris Johnson Is Handing His Successor an Economic ‘Catastrophe’

Julia Horowitz wrote . . . . . . . . .

Across the United Kingdom, businesses and households are warning that they won’t make it through the winter without help from the government. That sets up enormous challenges for Liz Truss, the incoming prime minister.

For months, the United Kingdom has endured a leadership vacuum while the country has skidded toward a recession and a humanitarian crisis triggered by soaring energy bills.

Since Boris Johnson announced he would leave office in July, the outlook for growth has weakened. Annual inflation is running above 10% as food and fuel prices leap. Frustration over the rising cost of living has compelled hundreds of thousands of workers who staff ports, trains and mailrooms to go on strike. The British pound just logged its worst month since the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit referendum, hitting its lowest level against the US dollar in more than two years.

“It’s just one blow after the other,” said Martin McTague, who heads up the UK’s Federation of Small Businesses. “I’m afraid I can’t find any good news.”

The situation could get much worse before it gets better. The Bank of England anticipates that inflation will jump to 13% as the energy crisis intensifies. Citigroup estimates inflation in the United Kingdom could peak at 18% in early 2023, while Goldman Sachs warns it could reach 22% if natural gas prices “remain elevated at current levels.”

A man with a trade union flag awaits the start of the sold-out campaign event "Enough Is Enough." Faith leaders and unions came together to raise support to tackle the cost of living crisis by demanding real pay rises, slashing energy bills and taxing the rich.

A man with a trade union flag awaits the start of the sold-out campaign event “Enough Is Enough.” Faith leaders and unions came together to raise support to tackle the cost of living crisis by demanding real pay rises, slashing energy bills and taxing the rich.

Truss, who had been serving as foreign secretary, now faces calls to announce a swift intervention as she becomes the fourth Conservative leader of the country in a decade.

The most urgent problem she must address is the skyrocketing cost of energy, which could unleash a wave of business closures and force millions of people to choose between putting food on the table and heating their homes this winter. Experts have warned that people will become destitute and cold-weather deaths will rise unless something is done fast.
Truss told the BBC on Sunday that she would make an announcement on the “serious issue of energy” within one week. A broader economic package would follow within a month, she added.

“Everybody is assuming that there will be a swift and decisive announcement that puts this issue to bed, or at least provides people with reassurance,” said Jonathan Neame, who runs Shepherd Neame, Britain’s oldest brewer. “If there’s not, that person will come under very considerable pressure.”

An energy ‘catastrophe’

Energy bills for households will rise 80% to an average of £3,549 ($4,106) a year from October. Analysts say the household price cap could rise to more than £5,000 ($5,785) in January and jump above £6,000 in April ($6,942).

As people are forced to reevaluate their budgets, the boom in consumption that followed the Covid-19 lockdowns is dissipating fast. The Bank of England has warned the UK economy will fall into a recession in the coming months.
“The key challenge that the energy price surge poses is that households that use lots of energy — and in particular poorer households — are going to really struggle to make ends meet,” said Ben Zaranko, senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies. “It’s going to mean really big cutbacks in other areas of spending.”

Meanwhile, Neame, whose portfolio includes about 300 pubs across southern England, said business owners are panicking. They’re getting quoted insane numbers for year-ahead utility bills, if they can find suppliers at all. Nick Mackenzie, the head of the Greene King pub chain, said that one location it works with reported its energy costs had jumped by £33,000 ($38,167) a year.

“It’s really daunting for a lot of businesses, especially the ones who came through Covid in a weakened state,” McTague said. “They’re now struggling to deal with another once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe.”

The crumbling British pound could exacerbate problems, making it more expensive to import energy and other goods, pushing inflation even higher.

Overlapping crises

It’s not the only reason business owners and investors are increasingly anxious. While job vacancies fell between May and July, they remain 60% above their pre-pandemic level. Finding workers to fill open roles has been a particular challenge in the United Kingdom since the country voted to leave the European Union. About 317,000 fewer EU nationals were living in the United Kingdom in 2021 than in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Brexit is also scrambling trade, particularly with the European Union, the UK’s largest trading partner. Exports and imports will be about 15% lower in the long run than they would have been if the United Kingdom stayed in the EU, the Office for Budget Responsibility has projected.

Dean Turner, UK economist at UBS, said it’s up to the new prime minister to try to make the most of the country’s position without creating further disruption. Yet hardline British lawmakers are still pushing to cast aside a key part of the Brexit agreement Johnson signed with the European Union, which could ultimately trigger a trade war with the UK’s biggest export market.

“Brexit’s happened. It is what it is, we’ve all got our own opinions on it,” Turner said. “But we’ve got to work with it to make it better for us, and I just struggle to see if there’s any momentum to do that.”
No easy solutions

Truss, who starts on the job this week, has vowed to jumpstart the economy by slashing taxes. But many economists fear this approach could fan inflation and hurt fragile public finances, while failing to put money in the pockets of those who need it most.

“The benefits of cutting [taxes] would largely flow to the people who pay more tax, which are generally people with more money,” said Jonathan Marshall, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation.

There’s no way for the state to avoid paying huge sums to deal with the energy situation this winter, but targeted measures will be necessary to avoid waste. Freezing gas and electricity prices over the next two winters could cost the government over £100 billion ($116 billion), according to researchers at the Institute for Government.

“Energy is expensive, gas is expensive,” Marshall said. “To avoid people freezing in their houses, that needs to be paid for. But the state doesn’t need to pay for it for people who can afford it.”

There are also questions about how the Truss government will afford a large-scale economic intervention, especially if slashing taxes — and therefore government revenue — remains the priority.

The UK government borrowed heavily to provide support during coronavirus lockdowns. The country’s debts are now almost 100% of its gross domestic product. When interest rates were at rock bottom, and access to cash was cheap, this wasn’t a major issue.

But that’s no longer the case. The Bank of England has been aggressively hiking rates as it tries to put a lid on inflation. That will make it increasingly expensive for the government to service its debt. The United Kingdom also has issued a large number of inflation-linked bonds, adding to its vulnerability.

“It’s almost a perfect cocktail of challenges that make public finances look at risk in a way they haven’t in recent times,” Zaranko of the IFS said.

Kwasi Kwarteng, who is expected to become finance minister, wrote in the Financial Times on Sunday that the Truss government would act in a “fiscally responsible way.”


Source : CNN

Chart: Flights Between China and the Rest of the World

Source : Bloomberg

Can We Save the Planet and Still Eat Meat?

Bob Holmes wrote . . . . . . . . .

As governments drag their feet in responding to climate change, many concerned people are looking for actions they can take as individuals—and eating less meat is an obvious place to start. Livestock today account for about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all the world’s cars and trucks combined.

Those numbers are daunting already, but the situation could grow worse: Our appetite for meat is increasing. The United Nations forecasts that the world will be eating 14 percent more of it by 2030, especially as middle-income countries get wealthier. That means more demand for pasture and feed crops, more deforestation, and more climate problems. For people alarmed about climate change, giving up meat altogether can seem like the only option.

But is it? A growing body of research suggests that the world could, in fact, raise a modest amount of beef, pork, chicken, and other meat, so that anyone who wants could eat a modest portion of meat a few times a week—and do so sustainably. Indeed, it turns out that a world with some animal agriculture in it likely would have a smaller environmental footprint than an entirely vegan world. The catch is that hitting the environmental sweet spot would require big changes in the way we raise livestock—and, for most of us in the wealthy West, a diet with considerably less meat than we eat today.

“The future that sounds sustainable to me is one where we have livestock, but it’s a very different scale,” says Nicole Tichenor Blackstone, a food systems sustainability researcher at Tufts University in Boston. “I think the livestock industry’s going to have to look different.”

One big reason for meat’s outsized environmental impact is that it’s more efficient for people to eat plants directly than to feed them to livestock. Chickens need almost 2 pounds of feed to produce each pound of weight gain, pigs need 3 to 5 pounds, and cattle need 6 to 10—and a lot of that weight gain is bones, skin, and guts, not meat. As a result, about 40 percent of the world’s arable land is now used to grow animal feed, with all the attendant environmental costs related to factors such as deforestation, water use, fertilizer runoff, pesticides, and fossil fuel use.

But it’s not inevitable that livestock compete with people for crops. Ruminants—that is, grazing animals with multiple stomachs, like cattle, sheep, and goats—can digest the cellulose in grass, straw, and other fibrous plant material that humans can’t eat, converting it into animal protein that we can. And two-thirds of the world’s agricultural lands are grazing lands, many of which are too steep, arid, or marginal to be suitable for crops. “That land cannot be used for any other food-growing purpose other than the use of ruminant livestock,” says Frank Mitloehner, an animal scientist at the University of California, Davis.

Of course, those grazing lands could revert to natural forest or grassland vegetation, taking up atmospheric carbon in the process. This carbon-capturing regrowth could be a major contributor to global climate-mitigation strategies aimed at net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, researchers say. But that’s not necessarily incompatible with moderate levels of grazing. For example, some research suggests that replacing croplands with well-managed grazing lands in the southeastern U.S. captures far more carbon from the atmosphere.

Livestock can also use crop wastes such as the bran and germ left over when wheat is milled to white flour, or the soy meal left over after pressing the beans for oil. That’s a big reason why 20 percent of the U.S. dairy herd is in California’s Central Valley, where cows feed partly on wastes from fruits, nuts, and other specialty crops, Mitloehner says. Even pigs and chickens, which can’t digest cellulose, could be fed on other wastes such as fallen fruit, discarded food scraps, and insects, which most people wouldn’t eat.

The upshot is that a world entirely without meat would require about one-third more cropland—and therefore, more energy-intensive fertilizer, pesticides, and tractor fuel—to feed everyone, says Hannah van Zanten, a sustainable food systems researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. But only if we’re talking about meat raised the right way, in the right amounts.

Livestock also bring other benefits. Meat provides balanced protein and other nutrients such as iron and vitamin B12 that are more difficult to get from a vegan diet, especially for poorer people who can’t always afford a variety of fresh vegetables and other nutritious foods, says Matin Qaim, an agricultural economist at the University of Bonn, Germany, who co-authored a look at the sustainability of meat consumption in the 2022 Annual Review of Resource Economics. Livestock, he notes, are the main source of wealth for many otherwise poor people in traditional pastoral cultures. And on small, mixed farms, animals that graze widely and then deposit their manure in the farmyard can help to concentrate nutrients for use as fertilizer in the family’s garden.

Moreover, many of the world’s natural grasslands have evolved in the presence of grazers, which play a key role in ecosystem function. Where those native grazers no longer dominate—think of the vanished bison from the American prairies, for example—domestic livestock can fill the same role. “Grasslands are disturbance-dependent,” says Sasha Gennet, who heads the sustainable grazing lands program for the Nature Conservancy. “Most of these systems evolved and adapted with grazing animals and fire. They can benefit from good livestock management practices. If you’re doing it right, and you’re doing it in the right places, you can have good outcomes for conservation.”

For all these reasons, some experts say, the world is better off with some meat and dairy than it would be with none at all—though clearly, a sustainable livestock system would have to be much different, and smaller, than the one we have today. But suppose we did it right? How much meat could the world eat sustainably? The answer, most studies suggest, may be enough to give meat-eaters some hope.

Interdisciplinary researcher Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba got the ball rolling in 2013 with a back-of-the-envelope calculation published in his book, Should We Eat Meat? Let’s assume, he reasoned, that we stop clearing forest for new pastureland, let 25 percent of existing pastures revert to forest or other natural vegetation, and feed livestock as much as possible on forage, crop residues, and other leftovers. After making those concessions to sustainability, Smil’s best guesstimate was that this “rational” meat production could yield about two-thirds as much meat as the world was producing at the time. Subsequent studies suggest that the real number might be a bit lower, but still enough to promise a significant place for meat on the world’s plate, even as the population continues to grow.

If so, there are several surprising implications. For one thing, the total amount of meat or dairy that could be produced in this way depends strongly on what else is on people’s plates, says van Zanten. If people eat a healthy, whole-grain diet, for example, they leave fewer milling residues than they would on a diet heavy in refined grains—so a world full of healthy eaters can support fewer livestock on its leftovers. And little choices matter a lot: If people get most of their cooking oil from canola, for example, they leave less nutritious meal for feed after pressing out the oil than if they get their oil from soy.

A second surprise is the nature of the meat itself. Sustainability experts typically encourage people to eat less beef and more pork and chicken, because the latter are more efficient at converting feed into animal protein. But in the “livestock on leftovers” scenario, the amount of pork and chicken that can be raised is limited by the availability of milling residues, food scraps, and other food wastes. In contrast, cattle can graze on pasture, which shifts the livestock balance back somewhat toward beef, mutton, and dairy products.

Much would have to change to make such a world possible, van Zanten notes. To maximize the flow of food wastes to pigs and chickens, for example, cities would need systems for collecting household wastes, sterilizing them, and processing them for feed. Some Asian countries are well ahead on this already. “They have this whole infrastructure ready,” van Zanten says. “In Europe, we don’t.” And much of our current animal agriculture, based on grain-fed livestock in feedlots, would have to be abandoned, causing significant economic disruption.

Moreover, people in wealthy countries would have to get used to eating less meat than they currently do. If no human-edible crops were fed to livestock, van Zanten and her colleagues calculated, the world could only produce enough meat and dairy for everyone to eat around 20 grams of animal protein per day, enough for a three-ounce piece of meat or cheese (about the size of a deck of cards) each day. By comparison, the average North American now chows down on about 70 grams of animal protein a day—well above their protein requirement—and the average European on 51.

That’s a hefty reduction in meat—but it would bring significant environmental benefits. Because livestock would no longer eat feed crops, the world would need about a quarter less cropland than it uses today. That surplus cropland could be allowed to regrow into forest or other natural habitat, benefitting both biodiversity and carbon balance.

There’s another dimension to meat’s sustainability, though. The gut microbes that let grazing animals digest grasses and other human-inedible forage release methane in the process—and methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Indeed, methane from ruminants accounts for about 40 percent of all livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions. Animal scientists are working on ways to reduce the amount of methane produced by grazers. At present, however, it remains a serious problem.

Paradoxically, raising cattle on grass—better for other dimensions of sustainability—makes this problem worse, because grass-fed cattle grow more slowly. Grass-fed Brazilian cattle, for example, take three to four years to reach slaughter weight, compared with 18 months for U.S. cattle finished on grain in feedlots. And that’s not all: Because the grain-fed animals eat less roughage, their microbes also produce less methane each day. As a result, grass-fed beef—often viewed as the greener option—actually emits more methane, says Jason Clay, senior vice president of markets for the World Wildlife Fund-U.S.

Even so, raising livestock on leftovers and marginal grazing lands not suitable for crops eliminates the need to grow feed crops, with all their associated emissions, and there will be fewer livestock overall. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions may end up lower than today. For Europe, for example, van Zanten and her colleagues compared expected emissions from livestock raised on leftovers and marginal lands against those from animals fed a conventional grain-based diet. Livestock on leftovers would produce up to 31 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than the conventional approach, they calculated.

Some sustainability experts also argue that as long as grazing herds aren’t increasing, methane may be less of a worry than previously thought. Molecule for molecule, methane contributes about 80 times more warming than carbon dioxide does in the short term. However, CO₂ persists in the atmosphere for centuries, so newly emitted CO₂ always makes the climate crisis worse by adding to the stock of CO₂ in the atmosphere. In contrast, methane lasts only a decade or so in the atmosphere. If livestock levels remain constant over the span of decades, then the rate at which old methane washes out of the atmosphere will be about equal to the rate at which new methane is emitted, so there would be no additional burden on climate, says Qaim.

But with climate experts warning that the world may be fast approaching a climate tipping point, some experts say there’s good reason to reduce meat consumption well below what’s sustainable. Completely eliminating livestock, for example, would allow some of the land now devoted to feed crops and pastures to revert to native vegetation. Over 25 to 30 years of regrowth, this would tie up enough atmospheric CO₂ to completely offset a decade’s worth of global fossil fuel emissions, Matthew Hayek, an environmental scientist at New York University, and his colleagues reported in 2020. Add to that the rapid reduction in methane no longer emitted by livestock, and the gains become even more attractive.

“We need to be moving in the opposite direction than we are now,” says Hayek. “The things that are going to do that are aggressive, experimental, bold policies—not ones that try to marginally reduce meat consumption by 20 or even 50 percent.”


Source: Slate

Low Testosterone Levels Tied to More Severe COVID in Men

Men with low testosterone levels may be more likely to have more severe illness when infected with COVID-19, according to a new study.

Treating men who have low testosterone with hormone therapy may reduce their risk of serious illness from COVID, researchers said, but it comes with other risks that doctors and patients will need to weigh.

The investigators analyzed the cases of more than 700 men who tested positive for COVID — most before vaccines were available.

Men with low testosterone (low-T) who contracted the virus were 2.4 times more likely to require hospitalization than men with normal hormone levels. But men who had been treated successfully for low-T before catching COVID were not more likely to be hospitalized.

“Low testosterone is very common; up to a third of men over 30 have it,” said study co-author Dr. Abhinav Diwan, a professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“Our study draws attention to this important risk factor and the need to address it as a strategy to lower [COVID] hospitalizations,” Diwan said in a school news release.

Researchers had previously found that men hospitalized with COVID had abnormally low levels of the male hormone. But they didn’t know whether low-T is a risk factor for severe COVID or a result of it.

For that, they needed to find out whether men with chronically low testosterone levels — before illness or after recovering — were getting sicker than men with normal levels.

From two hospital systems in the St. Louis area, researchers found 723 men with COVID whose testosterone levels were on record. They identified 427 men with normal testosterone levels; 116 with low levels; and 180 who were being successfully treated for low levels.

They had confirmed cases of COVID in 2020 or 2021 and low-T either before or after their infection.

“Low testosterone turned out to be a risk factor for hospitalization from COVID, and treatment of low testosterone helped to negate that risk,” said co-author Dr. Sandeep Dhindsa, an endocrinologist at Saint Louis University.

Dhindsa noted that the risk “really takes off” when levels of testosterone in the blood are below 200 nanograms per deciliter. The normal range is 300 to 1,000.

“This is independent of all other risk factors that we looked at: age, obesity or other health conditions,” Dhindsa said in the release. “But those people who were on therapy, their risk was normal.”

The study suggests, but doesn’t prove, that low testosterone is an independent risk factor for COVID hospitalization, similar to diabetes, heart disease and chronic lung disease. A clinical trial would be needed to prove this link between low-T and severe COVID-19.

Low testosterone levels can cause sexual dysfunction, depressed mood, irritability, difficulty with concentration and memory, fatigue, loss of muscular strength and reduced sense of well-being.

Some doctors treat the condition only if a man’s quality of life is diminished, because testosterone therapy may increase his risk for prostate cancer risk and heart disease.

“In the meantime, our study would suggest that it would be prudent to look at testosterone levels, especially in people who have symptoms of low testosterone, and then individualize care,” said Diwan, a cardiologist. “If they are at really high risk of cardiovascular events, then the doctor could engage the patient in a discussion of the pros and cons of hormone replacement therapy, and perhaps lowering the risk of COVID hospitalization could be on the list of potential benefits.”

The findings were published in JAMA Network Open.


Source: HealthDay