South Korea exports fall for 8th month but pace eases for chip, China shipments

South Korea exports fall for 8th month but pace eases for chip, China shipments

South Korea's exports fell for an eighth straight month in May in annual terms, but the pace was slower than expected with signs that the worst had passed for chip and China-bound shipments, as per Reuters.

Overseas sales by Asia's fourth-largest economy fell 15.2% year-on-year to USD52.24 billion in May, trade ministry data showed on Thursday, compared with a drop of 14.3% in April and a 16.8% decline tipped in a Reuters survey.

The down streak is the longest run of year-on-year decline since January 2020 and has been mostly caused by weak demand for semiconductors, for which the main customer is China.

Despite one less working day in May, the total value of exported goods was higher than the previous month's USD49.58 billion. Compared with a year earlier, there were 1.5 less working days, setting unfavourable base effects.

"We believe South Korea's exports have already hit the bottom in the second quarter and will swing to growth from the third quarter, albeit not dramatically with the Chinese economy recovering more slowly than previously thought," said economist Chun Kyu-yeon at Hana Securities.

We remind, South Korea's petrochemical exports fell by 26.3% year on year in May on the back of weaker prices, weighing on overall shipments abroad. The country's overall exports fell by 15.2% year on year to $52.2bn in May, while imports were down by 14% to USD54.3bn, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) said in a statement. This resulted in a trade deficit of USD2.1bn for May, marking the 15th month in a row that the country has posted a trade deficit but the smallest amount since May 2022.

Nigeria's main labor union to strike over tripling of fuel prices

Nigeria's main labor union to strike over tripling of fuel prices

Nigeria's main labor union said on Friday it plans to go on strike from Wednesday to protest against a tripling of fuel prices in the country after new president Bola Tinubu scrapped a costly subsidy, said Reuters.

The government hopes the lifting of the fuel subsidies - which caused prices to rise to 557 naira per liter from 189 naira at the petrol pumps - will help alleviate a funding crisis in Africa's biggest economy.

Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) Joe Ajaero made the announcement after an emergency meeting of the union's executive council in Abuja.

"The Nigeria Labour Congress decided that if by Wednesday next week that NNPC, a private limited liability company that illegally announced a price regime in the oil sector, refuses to revert itself for negotiations to continue, that the Nigeria Labour Congress and all its affiliates will withdraw their services and commence protests nationwide until this is complied with," Ajaero said.

A wave of strikes ensued the last time Nigeria tried to introduce a similar measure in 2012, with authorities eventually reinstating some subsidies.

We remind, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari will commission the multi-billion dollar Dangote oil refinery in two weeks, a presidency spokesperson said on Sunday, setting up the plant for its first production since construction started in 2016. Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer, sees the 650,000 barrels-per-day refinery - being built by billionaire industrialist Aliko Dangote's Dangote Group - as a solution to ending the country's reliance on imports for nearly all of its refined petroleum products.

China's factory activity swings to surprise growth in May

China's factory activity swings to surprise growth in May

Caixin’s China manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) picked up from 49.5 in April to 50.9 in May, marking the first expansion in three months, the Chinese media firm said on Thursday, as per Reuters.

A PMI reading below 50 indicates contraction in the manufacturing economy, while a higher number denotes expansion. The Caixin PMI figure stood in contrast with China's official manufacturing PMI for May which fell deeper into contraction mode at 48.8, marking a five-month low.

The Caixin PMI surveys small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and export-oriented enterprises located in eastern coastal regions while the official PMI is tilted toward larger state-owned enterprises. Production expanded at the quickest rate in nearly a year, supported by a fresh rise in overall new business amid reports of firmer client demand, Caixin said in a statement.

The rate of output growth picked up from April's three-month low and was the best seen since June 2022. "The subindex for total new orders recorded its second-highest reading since May 2021 as surveyed businesses reported more clients and demand, even though demand remained a bit weaker than supply," said Wang Zhe, a senior economist at Caixin Insight Group.

External demand remained stable, with the gauge for new export orders rising marginally within expansionary territory, Wang said. Overseas shipments of intermediate goods significantly outperformed shipments of consumer and investment products, according to Wang.

Average delivery times for inputs at Chinese factories shortened again in May due to increased capacity at suppliers and improved material availability. However, business confidence around the 12-month outlook for output slipped to a seven-month low in May amid concerns over lingering global economic uncertainty, Caixin said.

We remind, Caixin’s China manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for April slipped to 49.5 from the neutral 50.0 mark in March amid subdued domestic demand conditions. A PMI reading above 50 indicates expansion in the manufacturing economy, while a lower number denotes contraction. The weaker Caixin PMI mirrors China’s official manufacturing PMI released earlier this week which hit its lowest level since January 2023, contracting to 49.2 in April from 51.9 in March.

U.S. lawmakers say Brazil low-carbon fuel program blocks U.S. companies

A group of U.S. congressmen have formally complained about what they call unfair ethanol trade practices by Brazil that includes a blockade of U.S. companies seeking to take part in the Brazilian low-carbon biofuel program RenovaBio, said Reuters.

The bipartisan group of 21 members of the U.S. Congress are asking Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai to address the Brazilian tariffs on U.S. ethanol and the non-tariff barrier created by the biofuel program implemented in 2020.

RenovaBio is a carbon market that gives Brazilian biofuel producers an additional revenue source. Companies such as ethanol makers generate carbon credits, called CBios, from the lower emissions of biofuels when compared to oil-derived fuels such as gasoline.

Those carbon credits are sold to fuel distributors in Brazil who have targets to cut emissions, or in a secondary market at Brazil's B3 exchange.

The lawmakers in a letter to the USTR complained about the implementation in Brazil in February of an import tariff of 16% on U.S. ethanol. That import tax will increase to 18% in 2024.

They also complained about the lack of approval from Brazilian authorities of U.S. companies' applications to take part in RenovaBio to be able to generate and sell carbon credits.

"Brazilian ethanol producers have access to our Renewable Fuel Standard and California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard program, which recognize the inherent value of low-carbon biofuels," the letter said. "This treatment is not reciprocated by Brazil, where U.S. ethanol producers, after two years, have yet to be approved for Brazil's biofuel program."

The U.S. government has said in the past that it was working with Brazilian officials to get certificates for U.S. ethanol plants.

Brazil's oil and biofuels regulator ANP, who is in charge of RenovaBio certification, did not immediately answer a request for comment.

We remind, Oil prices rose about 2% on Friday after the U.S. Congress passed a debt ceiling deal that averted a government default in the world's biggest oil consumer and jobs data fed hopes for a possible pause in interest rate hikes ahead of a meeting of OPEC and its allies this weekend. Brent futures rose USD1.36, or 1.8%, to USD75.64 a barrel by 11:46 a.m. EDT (1546 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose USD1.28, or 1.85, to USD71.38.

Germany's conundrum: Energy transition goals increase chemical sector's challenges

Germany's conundrum: Energy transition goals increase chemical sector's challenges

Europe's largest economy is also one of the region's most aggressive advocates for shifting energy systems away from fossil fuels, and leads the continent in emissions reduction targets and investments in renewable energy supplies, said Reuters.

However, Germany is also home to Europe's largest chemicals sector which churns out plastics, paints, acids and other key inputs that are critical to manufacturers and heavy industries that form the backbone of the German economy.

And as most chemical plants run off natural gas or coal, and use crude oil as a major feedstock, Germany's plans to phase out use of fossil fuels over the coming decades represent a potential existential threat to the entire chemical sector.

Ensuring the continuing viability of such an important segment of the German economy even as the country's energy system is retooled will be a key test for policymakers and business planners over the coming years.

An ill-managed collapse of the chemicals supply chain could deal a heavy blow to the rest of Germany's manufacturing economy, which relies on an abundant array of affordable inputs to generate its own products.

The sector is also a major employer that sustains large raw material and end-product supply chains, so any downturn could pose significant unemployment risks across Europe.

That said, a successful shepherding of the chemicals industry through the country's energy transition, including enabling chemical producers to decarbonize their own energy supplies and outputs, would sustain a vital competitive advantage for Germany's overall economy.

In addition, an updated and low-emitting chemicals sector that generates suites of critical products for other industries could become a vital export earner for Germany, which has ambitions to develop global leaders across the energy transition spectrum, including in the recycling of plastic waste.

We remind, Germany's chemicals sector must first recover from a torrid 2022, when surging power costs caused chemicals output to drop by 10%, petrochemical production to fall 15.5%, and for one in every four firms in the sector to incur losses, according to the German Chemicals Association (VCI). Sharply lower business activity also caused a drop in chemicals consumption last year, but as economic activity recovered in 2023 a lingering shortage of key chemical products has pushed German chemicals prices to near record premiums over those supplied by other producers.