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Philippines economy in solid shape in Q1, boosts rate hike views

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Vendors wearing face masks for protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) stand by their fruit stalls at a public market in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, February 5, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

By Neil Jerome Morales and Enrico Dela Cruz

MANILA (Reuters) – Newly-elected Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will inherit an economy that has strongly bounced back from the COVID-19 pandemic when he takes office in June, but soaring food and fuel costs will need to be addressed quickly.

The Southeast Asian nation’s economy grew a better-than-expected 8.3% in the first quarter, the government said on Thursday. It was the fastest annual growth since the June quarter of 2021 and exceeded a 6.6% forecast in a Reuters poll.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the economy grew 1.9% in January-March from the previous quarter, with the easing of COVID-19 curbs and election-related spending underpinning domestic demand.

The Philippines thus was the fastest growing economy in the East Asia Region for the period, officials said.

That gives the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) scope to raise interest rates to tackle rising inflation, which threatens to dampen consumer sentiment and derail the economic recovery.

“The BSP stands ready to adjust our monetary policy settings, should we see material risk of these supply-side pressures spilling over to the demand side,” BSP Governor Benjamin Diokno said following the data release.

The BSP holds its next policy meeting on May 19, with some analysts seeing higher chances for an interest rate hike as early as its May 19 meeting.

“With GDP now back to pre-COVID levels and with inflation accelerating, we fully expect BSP to hike policy rates at the May 19 meeting,” said ING senior economist Nicholas Mapa.

Diokno, however, has flagged a possible hike in June, and he said the BSP was looking at raising rates two to three times to bring down inflation by next year.

Economists have raised concerns the BSP, which has kept benchmark interest rates steady since November 2020 at record lows, could fall behind the curve as central banks around the world step up monetary tightening to fight inflation.

“Since we are doing relatively well on the economic opening as evidenced by the Q1 data, the immediate priority is to address inflation, especially those that affected people the most, food prices,” Economic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua told a news conference.

REFORMS AND FISCAL PRUDENCE

To sustain the growth momentum, Chua also urged the next administration to pursue further tax reforms, continue fiscal prudence and boost tax revenues needed to finance infrastructure projects and human capital development.

Boosting tax revenue is crucial as Marcos must tackle the problem of heavy public debt bloated by heavy borrowings to finance the government’s pandemic measures.

“A majority mandate on top of sizable political capital opens the door for opportunities for Marcos to implement substantial economic reforms early on in his single six-year term,” ING’s Mapa said.

Marcos, who clinched a decisive victory in Monday’s election, said he would hit the ground running as president and was looking very carefully at candidates for his economic team, with infrastructure, jobs and energy prices his priorities.

Economy

Best Buy sees lower TV, computer sales as inflation hits shoppers’ wallets

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A person enters a Best Buy store in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

By Uday Sampath Kumar

(Reuters) -Best Buy Co Inc cut its annual profit forecast on Tuesday due to lower demand for TVs and computers, making it the latest major retailer to underline the impact of 40-year high inflation on shoppers’ spending power.

The company’s shares, which fell more than 16% last week in a broader retail selloff, were up about 2%, as the electronics seller reported first-quarter sales that were not as bad as feared.

“We believe investors had anticipated the earnings miss and guidance reduction to a large degree following reports of similar struggles at other retailers,” said Jason Benowitz, senior portfolio manager at Roosevelt Investment Group.

A spike in prices for everything from toothpaste to gas is taking a toll on consumer spending, while driving companies such as Best Buy, Walmart (NYSE:WMT) Inc and Target Corp (NYSE:TGT) to report their worst earnings miss in at least five years.

“Electronics are highly discretionary, big-ticket items. This puts them directly in the firing line of households looking to trim expenditure,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData.

Best Buy reported earnings of $1.57 per share, missing estimates of $1.61, according to Refinitiv IBES data, with the company saying it was forced to discount more than expected in some product categories to clear inventory.

Adjusted earnings forecast for 2023 was cut to a range of $8.40 to $9 per share from a range of $8.85 to $9.15.

Still, even with higher gas and food prices, rising interest rates, and the war in Ukraine all affecting consumer behavior, Best Buy is not currently planning for a full recession, Chief Executive Officer Corie Barry said on an analyst call.

Quarterly comparable sales fell 8%, but beat tempered expectations of a 9.1% drop. It forecast full-year comparable sales to fall 3% to 6% versus its previous outlook of a 1% to 4% drop.

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EU proposes to make seizing assets easier, including of sanctioned oligarchs -document

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s super yacht Solaris is seen at Barcelona Port in Barcelona, Spain, March 3, 2022. REUTERS/ Albert Gea

2/2

By Francesco Guarascio and Jan Strupczewski

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission wants to make it easier to confiscate assets linked to serious illegal activities and suspected criminals, including those evading European Union sanctions against the Kremlin, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

The legislative proposal, due to be published on Wednesday and still subject to changes, is aimed at addressing a longstanding weakness in the EU where many states lack sufficiently robust legal frameworks to seize criminal assets, making it easier for criminals to hide their resources and benefit from illegal activities.

The war in Ukraine further exposed this weakness, as many states are struggling to freeze assets of people sanctioned by the EU for their ties to the Kremlin – and many more lack legal powers to confiscate frozen assets.

The legislative proposal would address these weaknesses by creating a common legal framework.

Crimes for which the new rules would apply are terrorism, participation in a criminal organisation, human trafficking, money laundering, and also the violation of EU sanctions, which under a separate proposal, also to be published on Wednesday, would become a crime across the EU.

Asset seizures would generally require a conviction, but under the draft law, they could be allowed pending trial in some cases for suspected criminals, and also when they are “transferred by a suspected or accused person to third parties,” including family members.

Authorities in EU states have said one of the main obstacles they faced in enforcing the sanctions against Moscow was that affected people had their assets registered under somebody else’s name, or transferred them before sanctions were implemented.

“We are working on a European tool to make confiscations possible everywhere in all EU states”, the EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders said while pre-announcing the incoming measures earlier in May. He said one of the ultimate aims was to redistribute proceeds from these confiscations to Ukraine.

To become law, the proposal needs the backing of EU governments, which have traditionally been cautious about reforms that require changes to their criminal laws.

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Economy

Oh Snap! Social media firms sink after bleak warning from Snapchat parent

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A woman stands in front of the logo of Snap Inc on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, NY, U.S. March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Nivedita Balu and Medha Singh

(Reuters) – Snap Inc (NYSE:SNAP)’s shares plunged nearly 40% on Tuesday after a profit warning from the Snapchat parent signaled tough times ahead for the once-booming digital ad industry, sparking a sector-wide selloff.

The company was on course to erase more than $14 billion in market value, while Meta Platforms, Pinterest (NYSE:PINS), Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Google-parent Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) were altogether set to lose nearly $140 billion if losses hold.

Snap said on Monday it expected to miss quarterly revenue and profits targets that it set just a month earlier and would have to slow hiring and lower spending.

The bleak view from one of the sector’s most known players underlines how the Russia-Ukraine war, surging inflation and rising interest rates are hobbling social media companies at a time when they had just started recovering the impact of changes to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s iOS operating system.

“Snap is a proxy for online advertising and when you see weakness there then you automatically think Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Pinterest and Google,” said Dennis Dick, a trader at Bright Trading LLC in Las Vegas.

“Once you start thinking about Google, that’s when the markets starts to sell off.”

Tuesday’s selloff comes days after a Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) fund managers survey indicated investors are becoming increasingly bearish on tech stocks, a stark reversal to a bullish trend in the past 14 years.

Analysts also said Snap’s outlook for core profit suggested expenses will outpace its revenue growth, given headcount was up 52% in the prior quarter. The company also faces pressure from TikTok and a shift in ad budgets to Google and Facebook, they added.

“There’s a lot to deal with in the macro environment today,” Chief Executive Officer Evan Spiegel said at a tech conference on Monday.

Graphic: Digital advertising stocks this year – https://graphics.reuters.com/DIGITAL%20ADVERTISING-STOCKS/dwpkrnzogvm/Digital%20advertising%20stocks%20this%20year.png cb55bba9-860d-4771-9546-5eaef7b68cf01

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