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Labour v capital in the post-lockdown economy



As prices and wages rise, are workers or firms winning?

“A good compromise”, the saying goes, “is when both parties are dissatisfied.” Dissatisfaction rages in the post-lockdown economy.

Households say that price-gouging companies are jacking up prices, contributing to an inflation rate across the rich world of 6.6% year on year.

Companies bat such accusations aside, believing that they are the truly wronged party. They complain that staff has become work-shy ingrates who demand ever-higher wages.

Earlier this month Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, courted controversy by suggesting that workers should moderate their wage demands—even as he failed to tell companies not to raise their prices.

A “battle of the markups”, between higher wages and higher shop prices, is underway. And there can only be one winner, all else being equal.

Broadly speaking, the economic output must flow either to owners of capital, in the form of profits, dividends, and rents, or to labor, like wages, salaries, and perks.

Economists refer to this as the “capital” or “labor” share of GDP. Which of the two has the upper hand in the post-lockdown economy?

First, we calculate a high-frequency measure of the capital-labor share across 30 of most rich countries. In 2020 the aggregate labor share across this group soared.

This was largely because firms continued to pay people’s wages—helped, in large part, by government-stimulus programs—even as GDP collapsed. Advantage, labor.

More recently, however, the battle seems to have shifted in favor of capital. Since reaching a peak in 2020 the rich-world labor share has fallen by 2.3 percentage points.

Frustratingly, the data only go up to September 2021—and most economists anyway argue that labor’s share is not a perfect gauge of economic fairness, since it is devilishly hard to measure.

The evidence since then suggests that countries fall into one of three buckets, depending on how the battle of the markups is playing out.

In the first camp is Britain. There, underlying wage growth is in the region of 5% a year, unusually fast by rich-world standards.

But corporations seem not to have a great deal of pricing power, meaning that they are struggling to fully offset higher costs in the form of higher prices.

Digging into Britain’s national accounts, we estimate that the nominal profit in pounds per unit of goods and services sold is only roughly as high as it was in early 2019, even as unit labor costs are rising by about 3% per year.

Labour seems to be winning out at the expense of capital.

The second group consists of most other rich countries outside America. There, neither labor nor capital seems able to triumph.

After correcting for pandemic-related distortions Japan’s pay growth appears to be slowing to below 1% a year, suggest data from Goldman Sachs, a bank.

Pay settlements in Italy and Spain are treading water, while wage growth in Australia, France, and Germany remains well below where it was before the pandemic.

Workers in these places are not really joining in with the inflationary party.

But businesses are not soaring either. In Europe pre-tax profit margins, as measured in the national accounts, have risen in recent months but remain below where they were just before the pandemic.

In Japan, the “recurring” profits before tax of large and medium-sized companies recently returned to pre-pandemic levels. The profits of smaller companies remain well below, however.

In the third group sits America. Here wage growth is rapid, at about 5% a year. But as shown in their most recent financial results, big listed American companies are doing a better job of protecting margins than analysts had expected.

A series of unusually large stimulus payments may mean that households are able to absorb the higher prices that companies impose.

In early February Amazon said it would increase the price of its Prime membership package by 17% in its home market—even as it chose not to announce price rises in other parts of the world.

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Some firms are increasing their margins despite soaring costs. Tyson, an American meat producer, reported an 18% jump in the costs of its inputs in the most recent quarter compared with a year earlier, a 19.6% increase in its average selling prices, and a 40% rise in its adjusted operating profits.

It says that rising meat prices have not slowed demand.

An economy-wide measure of corporate margins is rising fast. Dario Perkins of ts Lombard, a financial-services firm, breaks down America’s rise in unit prices since the start of the pandemic into companies’ labor costs, non-labor costs, and profits.

Wages are rising, but nonetheless, markups are responsible for more than 70% of inflation since late 2019, he finds.

In a recent report, analysts at Bank of America argue that greater pricing power helps explain why American equities have a higher price-earnings ratio than European ones.

The story is not over yet. Some economists wonder if workers will before long demand even higher wages to compensate for higher prices in the shops.

There is some evidence of this in America and Britain, where wage growth seems to be accelerating. Businesses’ expectations for future wage settlements remain fairly conservative, though that could soon change.

If wages do start to grow more quickly, the cycle of price rises, and compensating wage demands might start up all over again.

Before long the post-lockdown economy could look like the ultimate compromise—where nobody is satisfied.

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Three Global Firms Signed By Nairobi Financial Hub On Its Launch




Three companies were signed by Nairobi’s international financial centre on the day of its launch. The three include Prudential plc, ARC Ride Kenya and AirCarbon Exchange (ACX).

The Nairobi International Financial Centre (NIFC) is a special economic zone for financial firms.

Prudential, one of the world’s biggest insurers and asset managers, became the first firm to formally join the NIFC.

Singapore-based global carbon exchange ACX came along with Prudential. It seeks to set up a carbon exchange in Kenya.

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NIFC has also admitted ARC Ride Kenya. It is a new start-up that is going to establish an electric vehicle assembly plant in Nairobi. The plant will produce two and three-wheeled electric bikes and scooters.

Also, the Financial Centre is determined to bolster the manufacturing sector in the country. It has signed an MoU with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), to help increase financing and investment in the sector.

NIFC authority has hinted at being in discussion with other participants seeking to join it and will give official news soon.

“Last year Prudential Plc, one of the world’s biggest insurers and asset managers, made a commitment to relocating their Africa headquarters from London to Nairobi and join the Centre. Today we are proud to announce that Prudential becomes the first firm to formally join the Nairobi International Financial Centre,” Vincent Rague, Chairman NIFC Authority.

After many years of waiting, the hub will eye large foreign firms, boosting capital flows to Kenya and the region.

The authority has singled-out four sectors that it will prioritise for growth: financial technology, green finance, investment funds, and becoming a hub for regional multinationals.

The NIFC general regulations have been enacted, as the initial set of tax incentive proposals have been passed.

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Certification from the NIFC Authority must be applied by Firms considering conducting business through the NIFC.

A 15% corporate tax will benefit firms operating a carbon market exchange or emission trading system under the NIFC. The 15% advantage will happen for the first 10 years of operation.

Companies certified by the NIFC Authority and have invested a minimum of Sh5 billion will benefit from the certainty that, the Capital Gains Tax applicable at the time they make their investments will remain unchanged during the lifetime of the investments.

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Hackers Make Tactical Change, Now Targeting Small Businesses




Traditionally, cybercriminals have been targeting big companies with aim of demanding ransoms running into millions. Nonetheless, the trend no longer holds, as new studies have shown the shift in hackers’ interest from big companies to small and medium ones.

Studies have shown that hackers are shifting their focus to small online businesses which they believe are more vulnerable.

Experts have warned that these SMEs and payment portals, especially those relying on mobile payment solutions, are now facing high risks of cyber attacks coordinated by these hackers.

Speaking during the inaugural Africa Cybersecurity Congress held in Nairobi, Hadi Maeleb, Agora Group co-founder and CEO said the threats to online businesses were growing at a high rate.

Further, he stated that more than 90% of business owners are unaware that their enterprises are at risk, despite the high growth rate of the attacks.

“Cybercriminals are now targeting small businesses more as they have realized that these enterprises do believe they would be exposed due to their comparatively low turnovers until they lose their data and payments are compromised,” said Mr Maeleb.

With the adoption of e-commerce platforms, State agencies, financial institutions, healthcare, energy and utilities have persistently faced cyber-attacks in the recent past.

According to CAK- Communications Authority of Kenya’s first-quarter data (between January to March 2022), a total of 79.2 million cyber-attacks were reported. This has prompted the government to issue 28,848 advisories in an attempt to fight the rising attacks.

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Mr Maeleb noted that business owners should invest in cybersecurity tools as there is no magical solution to cybercrime.

“This ‘democratization’ of cyberattacks is expected to push losses due to business interruption, financial theft, personal data breaches and even ransom payments over the Sh4 trillion mark by end of 2022,” he said.

At the peak of the pandemic, several states adopted tough lockdown measures such as social distancing, working from home, and online learning.

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Hackers shifting focus to small businesses.

This adoption of digital solutions such as e-commerce, remote working and banking went up as Kenyans turned to online platforms to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“Unfortunately for them, the business of cybercrime has evolved to a point where attacks like ransomware are now sold as a service,” he added.

Even though these measures triggered the adoption of digital platforms, they also increased vulnerability such as ransom, data breaches, harassment, cyberbullying, and data breaches.

Kenya’s ICT Policy which came into effect in 2006, is credited for creating an enabling environment for the growth and usage of technology.

Kenya’s ICT Policy which came into effect in 2006, is credited for creating an enabling environment for the growth and usage of technology.

To achieve Kenya’s Vision 2030 goal of a regional ICT hub, the tech sector was expected to contribute directly and indirectly to an additional 1.5% of Kenya’s GDP by 2017/2018.

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Why Buyers Are Now Running Away From Popular Used Toyota Cars




As it has been noted that Kenyans are now running away from the popular used Toyota car models, contrary to what has been a tradition in the country. The rise in their costs has seen even dealers cut down on imports of these vehicles due to decreased demand.

Traditionally, popular models such as Toyota Premio and RAV4 have been synonymous with middle-income earners over the years. However, this is no longer the trend.

Car dealers say more Kenyans are now going for vehicles such as Nissan Sylphy and Mazda, which cost less compared with popular Toyota models.

Toyota Vs Nisaan and Mazda models

According to Charles Munyori, the secretary-general of Kenya Auto Bazaar Association, Nissan Sylphy and Mazda’s CX5 and Axela, are quickly gaining popularity among Kenyans.

Mr Munyori said the price of a Toyota RAV4 has short up to Sh3 million currently from Sh2.8 million in February while a Premio is going for Sh2.2 million from Sh2 million four months ago.

On the contrary, Mazda Axela is now selling for Sh1.6 million with Nissan Sylphy (Blue Bird) going for at least Sh1.5 million.

Currently, consumers find these brands to be the best alternatives to their preferred models, as they are relatively cheaper and good.

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With the rising household costs, these car prices are making them affordable to most Kenyans as they struggle to balance the high cost of living.

“We are seeing a shift where Kenyans are now moving from the popular brands such as Toyota Premio and RAV4 to other models. This shift has been occasioned by the high cost that these cars are now fetching at the market,” said Mr Munyori.

“In fact, most of the car dealers are hardly bringing in Premio and RAV4 models because they are not moving and they will tie up money that they would need for importation of more vehicles,” he said.

Ex-Japanese vehicles

Ex-Japan vehicles dominate the Kenyan second-hand sector with a more than 80% market share.

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The buyers in the sector prefer these cars as their spare parts are easier to obtain locally compared to other brands. Additionally, buyers believe that the resale value of Toyota vehicles are higher than that of other brands like mazda or Nissan.

Reasons for risisng vehicle cost

The rising cost of vehicles in the country has been linked to the unavailability of dollars locally, a shortage of electronic chips in Japan, and a weakening shilling against the dollar.

The country is currently experiencing extreme dollar shortage, that one has to wait for at least three days to get $20,000 or $25,000 from the banks.

“We have to wait for like nine days in order to accumulate $80,000, and this has seen car dealers delay in making their orders. We are really feeling the impact of the dollar shortage in the market,” Mr Munyori said.

banks have imposed regulations on dollar purchase. This has forced traders to face difficulty in meeting their obligations.

Industrialists are forced to start seeking dollars in advance. The shortage puts a strain on supplier relations and the ability to negotiate favourable prices in gap markets.

On the other hand, Semiconductors are used in making electronic devices. Their shortage has forced the vehicle manufacturers to scale down the production. The quantity and quality cannot be maintained with decrease in one of the crucial raw material.

Finally, the shilling has persistently remained weak against the dollar. this has made it costly for importers shipping in goods.

The shilling has hit a record low trading at of Sh 117.06 against the dollar. This predicts a continued rise in imported goods, and signifies a further dollar shortage crisis.

The continuous depreciation in shilling stability is attributed to increased demand for dollars from importers. This highly arises on importaion of crude oil and merchandised goods.

It should be noted that most external debt is repaid in the dollar. Therefore, a weakened shilling increases prices of imported goods, and puts pressure on the country’s debt repayment.

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