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US Labour Market, Stormont, and Middle East Tensions in Focus

Macro Monday, US labour market numbers higher than forecasted, Rishi Sunak travels to meet Northern Ireland's newly appointed First Minister, further strikes carried out in Yemen bu US Central Command, and Chinese markets shocking start to last week.

Macro Monday

In 2022 global expenditure on defence was a record 2.25 trillion dollars. This is likely to have increased again in 2023, with all major nations increasing their military budgets in response to various conflicts. If this were $100 bills it would be stacked 2,440 Km high.

US Labour Market

The US economy continued to stamp its authority on Friday, as non-farm payrolls numbers showed more than 350,000 jobs created in January, more than double what the market had been forecasting. This data came hot on the heels of IMF forecasts that predict the US will grow by 2.1 percent in 2024, more than double that of the Euro area and more than three times the growth expected of the UK.

The New York Times has a look at the reasons why and surmised that though it’s easy to attribute it all to Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and the vast sums the US government is spending, that can’t explain away everything.

They point to a couple of other factors; the age demographic, where the US’ median age is 38.5, compared to 46.7 in Germany – though it is only slightly younger than the UK’s 40.1 – with the argument that a younger workforce makes a more dynamic economy.

Perhaps the more interesting argument is that when the world went into lockdown, Europe and the UK paid people to stay in jobs with furlough schemes, whereas the US paid people to stay at home with one-time checks and unemployment insurance. This meant that as the workforce returned from lockdown it reorganised itself to a more productive workforce, whereas in Europe and the UK we largely just picked up where we left off. This was seen as a risk at the time but could well be paying dividends now.

 

Northern Ireland

Yesterday evening, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrived in Northern Ireland ahead of his visit to Stormont later today where he will visit Northern Ireland’s newly appointed First Minister, Michelle O’Neill. The two will also meet the Deputy First Minister, Emma Little-Pengelly along with Ireland’s Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar in the wake of the resumption of power sharing in Stormont.

This follows the Northern Ireland Assembly appointing Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, marking the first nationalist First Minister in the Assembly’s history.

The resumption of power sharing came a week after the Democratic Unionist Party agreed to return to power sharing in the Northern Ireland Assembly after almost two years of deadlock. The DUP had boycotted Stormont in opposition to the post-Brexit trading relations, with the Unionist party rejecting certain aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol and Stormont Brake section of the Windsor Framework. However, it is understood that the DUP agreed to return to Stormont after Westminster offered a £3.3bn financial package, needed to fund essential services and public sector pay.

The resumption of power-sharing in Stormont comes at a tumultuous time with funding crises in Northern Ireland’s education sector and police force as well as strikes across the public sector and soaring hospital waiting lists.

Middle East

The US Central Command has detailed that it carried out further strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen yesterday, as Washington ramps up its operations in the region. This follows strikes conducted by the US and UK on Saturday which targeted Houthi infrastructure used to attack vessels in the Red Sea.

Headlines over the weekend were dominated by the US’ strikes on 85 sites in Iraq and Syria which targeted militias with links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. US Central Command General, Michael Erik Kurilla stated in a tween that “Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militia groups continue to represent a direct threat to the stability of Iraq, the region, and the safety of Americans. We will continue to take action, do whatever is necessary to protect our people, and hold those responsible who threaten their safety.”

The latest set of strikes follow three US troops being killed in an American base in Jordan, close to the Syria border just over a week ago. President Joe Biden indicated that the attack was carried out by Iranian backed militants in Syria and speculation subsequently mounted on what form Washington’s response would take.

With the Biden Administration indicating that further strikes will take place in the region, attention turns to how this will impact tensions in the region, not least between Washington and Tehran.

China

China’s vow of “forceful” measures to calm the stock market sell-off last week seem to have fallen on deaf ears, as the market has had a shocking start to the week. 30 percent of all stocks in China have been halted and the CSI 1000 index is down 8%. The fall comes off the back of more losses last week and a slide from its peak in 2021 of six trillion dollars’ worth of value!

Chinese New Year holidays begin at the end of this week and for many that week off and a closed market can’t come quickly enough. Many will be looking at these levels and finding it hard to resist buying stocks that look so valuable, but with the government not putting much action behind their words and the Evergrande property developer liquidation event only just getting started, it would certainly be a gutsy move.

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