Global Business Trends February 2015

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World Tourism Numbers Top 1.1 Billion
Global international tourist numbers exceeded 1.1 billion in 2014, an increase of 4.7 Per cent on the previous year, according to the UN. The Americas and Asia saw the strongest growth in international visitor numbers. Europe continued to be the most visited region, according to the UN World Tourism Barometer. Visitor numbers to sub-Saharan Africa appear not to have been affected by the Ebola disease outbreak, the UN said. Similarly, the number of international tourists visiting the Middle East also appears to have risen, despite unrest in some countries in the region.
 
However, the UN warned that data for these areas was "volatile". "Over the past years, tourism has proven to be a surprisingly strong and resilient economic activity and a fundamental contributor to the economic recovery by generating billions of dollars in exports and creating millions of jobs," said UN World Tourism Organization secretary-general Taleb Rifai.
 
Ebola in some West African countries failed to make a dent in visitor numbers to Sub-Saharan Africa, which saw a rise of 3 per cent. Europe saw over half of the world's tourists, with northern, southern and Mediterranean countries seeing the most growth in the continent. Visitor numbers to central and Eastern Europe stagnated. The number of people travelling from Russia saw a 6 per cent decline. The Americas saw the most growth, with a 7 per cent rise in tourist numbers. Mexico saw a double-digit increase, and north America saw an 8 per cent increase.
 
Apple Posts the Biggest Quarterly Profit in History
US technology giant Apple has reported the biggest quarterly profit ever made by a public company. Apple reported a net profit of USD 18 billion in its fiscal first quarter, which tops the USD 15.9 billion made by ExxonMobil in the second quarter of 2012, according to Standard and Poor's. Record sales of iPhones were behind the surge in profits. Apple sold 74.5 million iPhones in the three months to 27 December - well ahead of most analysts' expectations. In a conference call with financial analysts Apple's chief executive Tim Cook said that demand for phones was "staggering".
 
However, sales of the iPad continued to disappoint, falling by 18 per cent in 2014 from a year earlier. The demand for Apple's larger iPhone 6 Plus model appeared to help boost profits and increase the iPhone's gross profit margin - or how much Apple makes per phone - by 2 per cent to 39.9 per cent. However, Apple did not give a breakdown of sales for the iPhone 6 and other models.
 
Apple's impressive results represent a significant shift towards the massive untapped potential of China. With a strong line-up of devices entering the final quarter, it was able to reap the fruits of its deal with the world's biggest mobile network, China Mobile. However, the success of its latest big-screen iPhones may have contributed to further cannibalising sales of the iPad.
 
Russia's Net Capital Outflows Hit Highest Level Ever
Net capital outflows from Russia were at their highest level ever in 2014. Net outflows by companies and banks reached USD 151.5 billion in 2014, more than two times as much as in 2013, according to the Russian Central Bank. The last time the level of outflows was this high was during the global financial crisis in 2008, when it reached USD 133.6 billion. The fourth quarter in particular saw a huge spike. Net outflows surged up to USD 72.9 billion, from USD 16.9 billion in the previous quarter, following the drop in oil prices and the ruble's plunge. In dire circumstances like this, a country may choose to implement capital controls in an attempt to curb outflows, and people are worried that Russia is getting to that point.
 
“We now think that Russia is willing to tap more intensively one of the dearest reserves it still has: central bank credibility,” Wolf-Fabian Hungerland, an economist at Berenberg Bank in Hamburg, told Bloomberg. “Should capital outflows not decline, the last option effective in the eyes of the central bank would be capital controls.” "Russia in 2006 became the only one of the biggest emerging economies to allow unrestricted flows of money across borders," Bloomberg reports. But so far, officials have repeatedly insisted that Russia has no plans to limit capital movement. Russia is currently on the edge of its first recession since 2009. Its economy took a serious beating following the sanctions imposed by the EU and US over the country's invasion of Ukraine, along with plunging oil prices worldwide.
 
Premier League Clubs Drive Record Global Transfer Fees
Football clubs around the world spent a record USD 4.1bn on international player transfers during 2014, according to global governing body Fifa. It is the first time spending has risen above USD 4 billion and a 2.1 per cent increase on 2013. England was the world's biggest spender, with its clubs paying USD 1.2 billion during the year. That was more than a quarter of the total spending worldwide, and also 67 per cent higher than the second biggest spender, Spain, which spent USD 700 million. Increasingly lucrative TV deals have given top-flight English clubs the financial muscle to bring in global stars. 
 
Bidding has opened for the next tranche of Premier League live domestic television rights for the seasons from 2016-17 to 2018-19, and that is expected to bring in more than the USD 4.57 billion achieved previously. English clubs also accounted for more than one-third of the USD 236 million paid to agents during the year, handing over USD 87 million to what Fifa calls "intermediaries". The new global figures refer to international transfers and do not cover "domestic" transfers between two clubs in the same country.
 
China Growth Hit 24-Year Low in 2014
China's annual GDP growth slowed to its weakest rate in more than two decades in 2014, according to an AFP survey, projecting further deceleration in the world's second-largest economy this year. The median forecast in a poll of 15 economists saw the Asian giant's gross domestic product (GDP) expanding 7.3 per cent last year, down from 7.7 per cent in 2013. That would be the worst full-year result since the 3.8 percent recorded in 1990. For this year, the economists see growth slowing further to a median 7.0 percent, as Chinese leaders proclaim a "new normal" of slower expansion and emphasize economic reforms. China, a main driver of global growth, was beset last year by problems ranging from weakness in manufacturing and trade to financial worries over rising debt levels and falling real estate prices, which have sent shockwaves through the key property sector.
 
For October to December 2014, the survey saw GDP as having risen a median 7.2 per cent year-on-year. That would be marginally weaker than the third quarter's 7.3 per cent, and the worst quarterly result since the first three months of 2009, when growth logged a 6.6 per cent expansion during the global financial crisis. Authorities appeared to take last year's performance largely in their stride, sticking to a scenario whereby the country's consumers take the lead in underpinning expansion in coming years, emphasizing in public statements the quality of growth rather than its size.
 
World Bank Cuts Global Growth Forecast
The World Bank has cut its global growth forecast, warning the US alone cannot drive an economic recovery. In its bi-annual report, the Bank predicted global growth of 3 per cent this year and 3.3 per cent next year, below its June forecast of 3.4 per cent and 3.5 per cent respectively. "The global economy is running on a single engine...The American one. This does not make for a rosy outlook," chief economist Kaushik Basu warned.
 
However, it said lower oil prices would benefit some countries. "The lower oil price, which is expected to persist through 2015, is lowering inflation worldwide and is likely to delay interest rate hikes in rich countries," said Basu. "This creates a window of opportunity for oil-importing countries, such as China and India; we expect India's growth to rise to 7 per cent by 2016," he added. However, the Bank warned that lower oil prices would hurt growth in countries which export oil, such as Russia, weighing on its global growth predicitions.
 
The World Bank expects the Russian economy to contract by 2.9 per cent this year, and to grow just 0.1 per cent in 2016.
 
In contrast, it said economic activity in the US and the UK was "gathering momentum" as interest rates remain low. But it said the lingering "legacies of the financial crisis' meant the recovery had been "sputtering" in the Eurozone and Japan. The Bank warned low inflation could persist in the Eurozone, and forecast growth of 1.1 per cent in 2015, rising to 1.6 per cent in 2016-17. In Japan, it expects growth to rise to 1.2 per cent in 2015 and 1.6 per cent in 2016.

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