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    G20 finance meeting to set aside geopolitics, focus on economics

    SAO PAULO/BRASILIA/TOKYO (Reuters) -With their countries deeply divided over Israel’s attacks on Gaza, finance officials from the Group of 20 major economies are poised to set aside geopolitics and focus on global economic issues when they meet in Sao Paulo, Brazil this week.Brazil, keen to ensure a productive session that delivers consensus on key economic priorities, has proposed a much shorter closing statement than seen in recent years – a move already negotiated with other members, according to a Brazilian government source and two sources familiar with the draft.The South American country is the current G20 president.The latest draft, still being finalized, mentions the risks of global fragmentation and conflicts in general terms but omits any direct reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or the Israel-Gaza war, the sources said.Finance officials and central bankers from the U.S., China, Russia and the world’s other largest economies will meet in Sao Paulo to review global economic developments at a time of slowing growth, the growing strains of record debt burdens, and worries that inflation may not yet be tamed, which are keeping interest rates high.The International Monetary Fund last month said the chance of a “soft landing” in which inflation falls without triggering a painful global recession had increased, but warned that overall growth and global trade remained lower than the historical average.Russia’s invasion of Ukraine almost exactly two years ago roiled the G20, exposing long-simmering fault lines within the group and thwarting efforts by G20 officials to reach consensus on a final statement, or communique, after their meetings.India and Indonesia, which held the G20 presidency before Brazil, opted for chair statements summarizing areas of agreement and noting dissenting voices – namely Russia – but even that could prove difficult given the bitter divisions over the four-month war in Gaza. The war erupted when the ministers last met in Marrakech, Morocco in October, intensifying divisions between the United States and its Western allies, and non-Western countries in the G20.Brazil, Saudi Arabia and South Africa have been outspoken critics of Israel’s relentless assault on Gaza since the Oct. 7 surprise attack in which Palestinian Islamist group Hamas killed around 1,200 people and seized 253 hostages, one G7 source said. The retaliatory attacks have killed more than 29,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry.The U.S., meanwhile, last week vetoed a draft United Nations Security Council resolution on the Israel-Hamas war, blocking a demand for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and pushing instead for a temporary ceasefire linked to the release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas.The deep differences over Gaza necessitated a different approach this year, the Brazilian official said, adding, “If the topic is included, there will be no consensus.”To prevent differences over Gaza from derailing progress on economic issues, Brazil proposed a shorter statement with no specific mention of either war. Washington argued against language holding Israel accountable, which South Africa and others had argued was needed if the statement mentioned and condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine, a G7 source said.G7 finance officials, also meeting in Sao Paolo, will be forceful in their condemnation of Russia and its war, a second G7 source said.’BROADER ETHOS’Brazil wants to focus this week’s discussions on ending inequality and hunger, reforming international taxation, addressing sovereign debt distress and working toward sustainable development. Reforms of multilateral banks and climate finance will feature more prominently at the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington in April, the Brazilian source and a G20 source said.Mark Sobel, the U.S. chair of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF), said stripping geopolitics from the communique made sense for a group that had historically focused on economic and financial issues.”Yes, it reflects fractiousness, but it also reflects this broader ethos of the finance ministers and central bankers to focus on economic and financial matters in a technical way,” he said. One G7 official said the statement would likely be “concise and ambiguous, only mentioning issues where there’s no contention.”U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen plans to underscore the importance of the G20 body, highlighting collaborative efforts to address global challenges such as sovereign debt and the COVID-19 pandemic, a senior U.S. official said.Yellen will meet with Brazilian Finance Minister Fernando Haddad to celebrate 200 years of U.S.-Brazil relations, an event the Brazilian official said was designed to highlight the South American country’s “interest in not embracing a divisive approach, but focusing on constructive efforts.”One unresolved issue is to what extent the U.S., Japan and Canada will prevail in demanding a mention of the economic impacts of geopolitical conflicts in the communique, the first Brazilian official said. But the failure of G20 foreign ministers to include the issue sent a strong signal, the official said.”The outcome of the sherpas meeting strengthens our understanding that the topic (of geopolitics) should not be included in the communique.”Eric Pelofsky, a former senior U.S. official now with the Rockefeller Foundation, said there was value in meeting in configurations like the G20, despite clear differences.”Sometimes talking without success is still talking. Maybe that means that at the end of the day, somebody has a coffee that they weren’t supposed to have and they find a bit of common ground that they weren’t supposed to know existed.” More

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    The case for the WTO. (No, really.)

    Unlock the Editor’s Digest for freeRoula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.This article is an on-site version of our Trade Secrets newsletter. Sign up here to get the newsletter sent straight to your inbox every MondayThis may be an improbable thought for my regular readers, but people sometimes tell me I’ve got a downer on the World Trade Organization. A WTO grouch, they call me. “Alan, you’re such a grouchy old WTO grouch,” they say. OK. For one newsletter only, ahead of the Abu Dhabi ministerial meeting this week, I’ll give prime position to the positive case for the WTO and relegate the negatives to second place. Yes, this is genuine. No, I haven’t been taken prisoner. No, this isn’t a hostage statement. Yes, I’m feeling fine. Never better. Charted Waters is on Chinese trade with south-east Asia.Get in touch. Email me at alan.beattie@ft.comThe good stuffSo here’s my attempt to get myself excommunicated from the Order of WTO Sceptics, possibly even spark a full-on Inquisition. There are two categories of solid pro-WTO argument I’ll look at.One: it doesn’t look like much but you’d miss it if it went.Two: it does a vital thing (decreasingly well, but it still does it).On the first: WTO types say a lot of its really valuable work is stuff the outside world never really sees — one country identifying a potential problem in another’s trade policy, bringing it up in committee and defusing it through negotiation before it gets to litigation or a big diplomatic row. The foremost proponent of this view is former WTO staffer Peter Ungphakorn. His case is here: he reckons that only 2 per cent of new trade measures are flagged as problematic and only 0.07 per cent end up in formal dispute settlement. He probably has a point. Most disputes would probably anyway have been cleared up without actual exchanges of artillery, but it very likely reduces the friction involved.Also on the first: the WTO might well affect trade even if it’s not immediately apparent. This recent paper looks at trade policy uncertainty, taking as its example China’s supply chains before and after joining the WTO in 2001 and particularly its companies enhancing their competitiveness by importing more intermediate inputs. China cut tariffs during the 1990s before joining, but there appears to be an extra effect from the actual impact of accession, presumably through reducing the probability of the tariffs being raised in the future. So limited though the rules might seem, they do appear to give companies some confidence in trading.On the second category, the vital thing I’m thinking of is dispute settlement and especially one particular upcoming issue that might be the most important thing the DS system — maybe even the WTO itself — will ever do. What’s surprising about dispute settlement isn’t that it’s under pressure but that it’s survived as long as it has. A sage and talented FT world trade editor called Alan was writing back in 2007 about the risk of judicial over-reach eroding support for the system, and quoting some dude called Robert Lighthizer to that effect. The Curse of Lighthizer eventually descended and the US crippled the Appellate Body. But the workaround version, dreamt up mainly by the EU, now has 53 members and seems to be functioning — issuing rulings on vital issues such as Belgian frites and so on.Just as well. There’s one overwhelming issue that trade needs to address: the environment, and particularly carbon emissions. As I’ve written before, there’s only one way the world is going to get anywhere near a global carbon price, and it’s not through negotiations at the OECD or the UN COP process or in the IMF or indeed at any other institution that fancies itself as a forum for global environmental governance. (Nor is it going to happen through voluntary corporate or investor-driven ESG-type carbon standards, the PR gunk for which clogs up my email inbox on a daily basis.)The only game in town is internationalising the EU’s emissions pricing through its carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) by trading partners adopting it in order to get access to the EU market. CBAM is pretty clearly going to be challenged in the WTO dispute settlement mechanism by India or other big middle-income countries. Maybe it will come through unscathed, maybe the EU will have to tweak it. Maybe there’ll be some elements it can’t adjust and will have to compensate elsewhere.But what emerges will have at least some degree of legitimacy from being thoroughly chewed over in various WTO committees and other conversations and tested through dispute settlement. The best way to do global carbon pricing? Hell no. The only currently feasible one? Yes. Heavily dependent on the WTO to stress-test it? You bet.What else can we say for the WTO? It’s still alive. No one else is doing much of the trade work it does. Almost every country in the world has joined. (The mighty nations of Comoros and Timor-Leste, combined population just over 2mn, are joining at this week’s ministerial.) No member has left. It does some good research and surveillance of members’ trade policy. It puts on a good public discussion event each year. It’s got a better logo than most international organisations. Its HQ is in a lovely location by Lake Geneva and has a restful Chinese garden in front, fabulous Socialist Realist ceramics and murals in the entrance hall and a nice atrium with a tree in it. I’ve seen worse.The bad stuffSo, the negatives. The WTO has existed since 1995 and never signed a significant multilateral agreement, while preferential bilateral and regional deals have proliferated; its dispute settlement system is stricken (though not killed) by US disapproval; India (with some assistance from South Africa) is threatening to end a 26-year moratorium on trying to tax digital flows, insisting on retaining large loopholes that weaken a deal on fisheries subsidies and refusing to negotiate or even constructively discuss environmental issues in the WTO; its subsidy rules have notably failed to constrain China’s massive trade-distorting state interventions, and its consensus-based decision-making system, described by a former director-general as “medieval”, makes all progress hostage to obstructionism. Finally, Lake Geneva is nice in summer but the rest of the WTO’s home city (compared with, say, the OECD’s Paris or UNDP’s New York City) is a bit dull. So there are the pros and cons. And on to Abu Dhabi.Charted watersAmid Washington’s trade hostility to China, more Chinese exports now go to south-east Asian countries than to the US. (Of course, quite a lot of them go on to the US after that.)Trade linksHarvard economist Gordon Hanson and the aforementioned Robert Lighthizer debate the latter’s recent book in the pages of Foreign Affairs.My FT colleague Soumaya Keynes looks at what might happen with tariffs under a second Trump presidency. (Spoiler: it’s not pretty.)Further to my column last month on governments being performatively vile to asylum-seekers as a cover for letting in other immigrants, it turns out Fabrice Leggeri, former head of the EU border agency Frontex, will be standing for the far-right National Rally in the European elections. Leggeri was forced to resign from Frontex in 2022 after an investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud agency Olaf found credible evidence of the agency undertaking illegal pushbacks of migrants. After years of negotiating and China refusing to accept a writedown equivalent to that of other creditor countries, Zambia says it has reached an agreement on sovereign debt restructuring with China and India.A paper by the European Centre for International Political Economy argues that the “Brussels Effect”, whereby the EU exports its regulations abroad, is leading to market fragmentation and protectionism.Trade Secrets is edited by Jonathan MoulesRecommended newsletters for youBritain after Brexit — Keep up to date with the latest developments as the UK economy adjusts to life outside the EU. Sign up hereFree Lunch — Your guide to the global economic policy debate. Sign up here More

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    TSX sees downbeat start to the week as commodity prices trend lower

    March futures on the S&P/TSX index were down 0.1% at 6:59 a.m. ET (11:59 GMT).The energy sector could pare its gains from the last week, as oil prices lost on market views that higher inflation could delay cuts to interest rates, which have capped growth in global fuel demand. [O/R] Materials-linked shares were set to reverse their upward march as copper prices lost ground weighed on by a firmer dollar, while gold prices slipped on paring market expectations of an early interest rate cut. [GOL/] [MT/L] A January reading of personal consumption expenditures price index (PCE) in the United States and gross domestic product (GDP) data in Canada is due later in the week. Investors will monitor these datasets for more insights into inflation in the economies and for any clues that could influence the Federal Reserve and Bank of Canada’s policies on interest rate cuts in the year. Among corporate earnings, all eyes will be on the big banks, including Bank of Montreal, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Royal Bank of Canada that will report their quarterly numbers this week.The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index ended 0.45% up on Friday, bolstered by gains in material and tech stocks. (TO)The index hit its highest level since April 2022 and posted a weekly gain after a tech-fuelled rally on Thursday. In other corporate news, air cargo service provider Cargojet reported its fourth-quarter revenue below analysts’ estimates. Carrier Air Canada said on Friday that it will cap fares and add more than 6,000 seats in some markets operated by Lynx Air in light of the imminent suspension of operations by the troubled Canadian budget airline.COMMODITIES AT 6:59 a.m. ETGold futures: $2,030.6; -0.4% [GOL/]US crude: $76.3; -0.3% [O/R]Brent crude: $81.36; -0.3% [O/R] More

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    Funds’ short yen bets to test Japan’s intervention resolve: McGeever

    ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) -Hedge funds are wagering one of their biggest bets against the Japanese yen in years, pushing Japanese authorities’ tolerance of the currency’s slide towards new 34-year depths to the limit.Although Tokyo has cranked up the warnings recently that “rapid” moves in the exchange rate are “undesirable”, there are reasons to believe there may be less appetite to carry out large-scale yen-buying intervention than there was in 2022.Speculative market positioning, however, is one variable that could push Tokyo to act. And speculators have the bit between their teeth.The latest Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show that funds increased their net short yen position to more than 120,000 contracts in the week ending Feb. 20 from just over 111,000 the week before.That’s a $10 billion, leveraged bet on the yen weakening. A short position is essentially a wager an asset’s price will fall, and a long position is a bet it will rise. Hedge funds often take directional bets on currencies, hoping to get on the right side of long-term trends.And the yen has weakened substantially. It has shed 6% of its value against the dollar so far this year, falling below 150.00 per dollar to within sight of its post-1990 lows around 152.00 per dollar.The yen is the worst-performing major currency this year as funds and others have traded on the huge U.S.-Japan interest rate and bond yield gap and bet that it will persist. Either the Bank of Japan will be slow to ‘normalize’ policy or the Federal Reserve won’t cut rates as much as many people expect. Or both.However the policy mix plays out, it has been a winning trade for hedge funds so far. The latest CFTC net short yen position is the biggest since November and the second largest in six years, and there have only been three periods since yen futures contracts were launched in the late 1980s where funds have been more bearish on the yen. Perhaps more importantly, it is larger now than September and October 2022, when Japan intervened in the FX market buying yen for the first time since 1998, spending a record $60 billion in total to stem the bleeding. Hedge funds have doubled their net short position since the start of the year, probably a major driver of the yen’s renewed slump towards fresh 34-year lows.The yen is flirting with historic lows against other major currencies, and on a trade-weighted basis is also on the brink of printing fresh multi-decade lows.Japan has just registered a technical recession and interest rates are still negative, while rates across most of the rest of the developed world are their highest in decades. Maybe the yen’s weakness is justified? Regardless of the ‘fundamentals’, authorities in Tokyo are unlikely to want speculators to continue the rapid expansion of their short yen position. (The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.) (By Jamie McGeever; Editing by Christopher Cushing) More

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    New money advice from Wyclef Jean just dropped – and it’s a rap

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – As any parent will tell you, teenagers and young adults do not really listen to what you have to say.Nor do they pay much attention to financial firms and their earnest charts and graphs about how much people should be saving for retirement.But here are folks they might listen to: Wyclef Jean, Pusha T, Lola Brooke, Capella Grey and Flau’jae. Those rappers have more cultural influence over younger generations than mom, dad or the local bank and brokerage.That is why financial giant TIAA is trying out a new avenue to reach Millennials and Gen Z: a record.Called “Paper Right,” it is a collaboration between TIAA and Jean – famed co-founder of the Fugees – to get younger demographics to start thinking about long-term issues like generational wealth“How do you reinvent a topic, and make it cool to new generation?” asks Jean. “How do you get young kids to think about retirement?The backdrop here is the dire state of retirement saving. In fact, 54% of Black Americans don’t have enough saved to maintain their current standard of living in retirement, according to data from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. You can’t talk about statistics and expect to make a good record, though. That is why Jean and his collaborators paint pictures in their own words, to tell their own stories of starting from little and building wealth. BEHIND THE MUSICAs the producer, Jean came up with the beat and the chorus. A sample (all lyrics from the site Genius.com):“Drinks on me, got my paper right/ You can hustle too, get your paper right/ Long before that diamond, I was in the dark/ Graveyard shift, had to double up.”Then Jean invited collaborators Pusha T, Lola Brooke, Capella Grey and Flau’jae to add their own verses. So far, it has added up to more than 600,000 streams since its release in January.Proceeds from thee streams have led to more than $100,000 in donations to a nonprofit called First Generation Investors, which teaches principles of financial literacy and investing to underserved populations in the nation’s high schools.“The only way this is believable is if everyone on the record is spitting their truth,” Jean says. He offers up Lola Brooke’s line about living in Section 8 public housing as an example: “I’m just comin’ off of Section 8, it cut deeper than a razor blade … Financial freedom is so fulfillin’/ Generational wealth is what you show the children.”Also talking about generational wealth is Pusha T (“Rather build a legacy for my son, that’s important for him / Real estate just rewardin’ him / Generational wealth, when I’m gone, he’s still flourishin’.”)“Then my verse is about the American Dream,” says Jean, who teases that he plans to release a full-length reggae album later this year. “The message is, make sure you are saving and that you start early, so your later years will be much better.”TIAA Chief Brand Officer Zara Mirza, one of the key people behind the project, hopes that the record helps shock younger generations into action, since 40% of U.S. households currently risk running out of money in retirement, according to the TIAA Institute.If it continues to stream well, she hints that more music could be on the way. Mizra expects other financial firms might follow suit in trying out more innovative ways to reach Gen Z.Mirza herself even streams “Paper Right” all the time, as the intro music for all her meetings.“Just look at the lyrics,” she says. “Every word counts. They’re so meaningful – and really inspiring.” More

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    Fed rate cuts likely coming by middle of the year – Citi

    Price gains are set to be a key focus for markets this week, particularly when January’s personal consumption expenditures price data is released on Thursday.Recent figures pointed to sticky inflation in the world’s largest economy in January, a prospect that has all but extinguished bets that the Fed will move imminently to bring interest rates down from more than two-decade highs. The central bank previously embarked on a tightening campaign designed to ease inflation back down to its 2% target, but prices are still well above this mark.Meanwhile, in an interview published on Friday, New York Fed President John Williams sounded some caution around the possibility of early rate cuts, saying that the Fed is on track to reduce borrowing costs “later this year.”In a note to clients dated on Friday, the Citi analysts said that a cut in June is their “base case.””Fed officials reiterated that rate cuts will be done ‘carefully’ and seem to be taking January inflation data seriously but not literally,” the analysts noted. More

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    Japan ex-cabinet advisor opposes early end to negative rates

    TOKYO (Reuters) – A former adviser to late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday voiced opposition to ending negative interest rates any time soon, saying premature action by the central bank would push the economy back into deflation.Speculation is rife that the Bank of Japan may ditch negative rates as early as March or April given expectations that major firms will offer higher pay rises at annual spring labour-management talks due to wrap up March 13.However, small firms, which conclude wage talks by June, have a high ratio of workers’ share of corporate profits, making it difficult to raise wages further.”While uncertainty is high, (I) oppose (ending negative rates.) It’s too early,” Etsuro Honda (NYSE:HMC), former special advisor to the cabinet, told Reuters.”Negative rates are used for inter-bank operations, which apply risk premiums when it comes to corporations where no one’s asking for borrowing with negative rates,” he said. Honda still wields influence with policymakers and lawmakers.Last week, he was invited to lecture a gathering of lawmakers led by Sanae Takaichi, a former policy affairs chief at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and seen as potentially Japan’s first female prime minister. Honda was an architect of the stimulus policy dubbed ‘Abenomics’ – a mix of bold monetary easing, flexible fiscal policy and reform, which helped the economy escape more than a decade of deflation. However, the policy has failed to achieve the central bank’s 2% inflation target. More

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    Israel-Hezbollah strikes cloud Lebanon’s economy, minister says

    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Lebanon’s long-troubled economy is shrouded in uncertainty by conflict on its southern border between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants, Lebanon’s economy minister said on Monday.Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam told reporters in Abu Dhabi that Lebanon would miss an annual growth forecast of 2-4% this year as a direct result of the cross-border strikes.”Lebanon is in a state of lot of questions now but definitely things are declining in a negative way,” he said on the sidelines of a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting.He said it was unclear if visitors from the Lebanese diaspora and other tourists, who he said injected about $5-7 billion into the economy last summer, would come to the country this season.The recent winter season had seen fewer overseas visitors than expected after a strong summer season before the war, he said. The U.S., Brazil, and Australia, home to many Lebanese, are urging their citizens to reconsider travelling to Lebanon.”We don’t know really if in the next few months we can look at a summer season that will pump back billions of dollars into the economy,” he said, uncertain if the diaspora will stay away.Israeli forces and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have for months traded fire across Lebanon’s southern border, which the Iran-backed group says is in support of its Palestinian ally Hamas.Hamas launched a cross-border attack on Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7 that left around 1,200 people dead, with more than 200 taken hostage, of which around 100 have been released.In retaliation, Israel has bombed and invaded Gaza with the aim, its government says, of destroying the Iran-backed Hamas, which rules the coastal enclave of some 2.5 million people. The military operations have killed more than 29,000 Palestinians.”Lebanon is not just affected by the war in Palestine and Gaza. Lebanon is in a state of war. We are losing our land,” Salam said. Salam said the southern border fighting had weakened Lebanon’s exports with about $2.5 billion in agricultural land, trees and goods damaged or destroyed so far in the strikes.He said the government was seeking international assistance to rehabilitate farmland damaged by the fighting.”It will take years and it will take a lot of money, so definitely we will be seeking international community to aid us in rehabilitating all the areas,” Salam said.Lebanon’s economy began to unravel in 2019 after decades of profligate state spending and corruption. More