$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!


China’s Xi Calls for Reform Implementation, Offers No New Measures

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday called for the implementation of reforms but offered no new specific measures in a highly anticipated speech that marked the 40th anniversary of China’s move towards market liberalization.

In a speech lasting nearly an hour-and-a-half, Xi called for support of the state economy while also guiding the development of the private sector, and said China will expand efforts at opening up and ensure the implementation of major reforms.

“We must, unswervingly, reinforce the development of the state economy while, unswervingly, encouraging, supporting and guiding the development of the non-state economy,” Xi said during a speech at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

Xi was speaking on the day China marked as the 40th anniversary of the start of late leader Deng Xiaoping’s campaign of “reform and opening up,” which led to explosive industrial growth that made China’s economy the world’s second-largest.

“Opening brings progress while closure leads to backwardness,” he added.

“Every step of reform and opening up is not easy. In the future, we will be inevitably faced with all sorts of risks and challenges, and even unimaginable tempestuous storms,” said Xi, stressing the role the ruling Communist Party.

Xi was speaking amid mounting pressure to accelerate reforms and improve market access for foreign companies as a bitter trade war with the United States weighs on the Chinese economy.

China’s heavy support of its sprawling state sector has been a point of contention with the United States.

The trade war has spurred some Chinese entrepreneurs, government advisers and think tanks to call for faster economic reforms and the freeing up of a private sector stifled by state controls and struggling to gain access to credit.

Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed early this month to a 90-day truce in the trade dispute, which halted the threatened escalation of punitive tariffs while the two sides continue negotiations.

In his speech, Xi enumerated the accomplishments of China’s development.

“Grain coupons, cloth coupons, meat coupons, fish coupons, oil coupons, tofu coupons, food ticket books, product coups and other documents people once could not be without have now been consigned to the museum of history,” he said. “The torments of hunger, lack of food and clothing, and the hardships which have plagued our people for thousands of years have generally gone and won’t come back.”

Numerous luminaries in attendance were cited for their contributions to China’s economic reforms including the heads of online giants Alibaba, Tencent Holdings and Baidu and car maker Geely Automobile Holdings.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!


China Hopes for ‘Orderly’ Brexit, Calls for More Open EU Economy

China hopes Britain’s exit from the European Union can happen in an orderly way and that the bloc will reduce hurdles to Chinese investment and keep its markets open, China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

China, the world’s second-largest economy, has watched Brexit nervously, worried not only about potential market turmoil from a disorderly departure but about losing Britain’s supportive voice for free trade within the EU.

“China hopes to see Brexit proceed in an orderly fashion and stands ready to advance China-EU and China-UK relations in parallel,” the ministry said in a lengthy policy document on EU ties.

The EU and China are often at loggerheads over trade and other issues, with the EU sharing many of the same concerns as the United States about market access, trade imbalances and intellectual property rights protection.

The bloc is China’s largest trading partner while China is its biggest trading partner after the United States.

The EU has been pressing for better access to the Chinese market for its companies, while China has complained about what it sees as unfair restrictions on Chinese investments in the EU.

Despite events such as Brexit, China said the EU has remained committed to integration, pressed on with reforms and played a major role in regional and international affairs.

Beijing has promised to look at the possibility of reaching a “top notch” free trade deal with Britain post-Brexit.

The Brexit process is currently deadlocked with just over 100 days until Britain is due to leave the EU.

On trade, China’s white paper said the EU should ease high-tech export controls on China and facilitate mutual investment.

The government will significantly ease market access and endeavor to foster a “stable, fair, transparent, law-based and predictable business environment that protects the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investment and treats Chinese and foreign firms registered in China as equals,” it said.

“China hopes that the EU will keep its investment market open, reduce and eliminate investment hurdles and discriminatory barriers, and provide Chinese companies investing in Europe a fair, transparent and predictable policy environment and protect their legitimate rights and interests.”

The EU last month provisionally agreed on rules for a far-reaching system to coordinate scrutiny of foreign investments into Europe, notably from China in the wake of a surge in Chinese investments, to end what a negotiator called “European naivety.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!


Mexico to Raise Base Wage, New Leader Pledges to Lift Buying Power

Mexico’s wage commission said on Monday it planned to hike the country’s minimum wage by 16 percent to around $5 per day and leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledged further increases to keep salaries apace with inflation.

The salary commission, made up of government, business and labor representatives, said the daily minimum wage would rise to 102.68 pesos from 88.36 pesos on Jan. 1, the biggest such hike since 1996.

“During many years the minimum wage has lost its purchasing power. Some say it has lost 70 percent of its purchasing power over the last 30 years,” said Lopez Obrador.

“We’re never going to have wage (increases) below inflation,” said Lopez Obrador, who took office on Dec. 1.

Low wages have helped to attract foreign companies to Mexico and create jobs, but also encourage migration to the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump argues that low wages south of the border kill U.S. jobs.

Lopez Obrador has called for doubling the minimum wage in northern states that border the United States in a bid to reduce inequality with neighboring U.S. areas.

In the area within 25 kilometers (16 miles) from the U.S. border, the minimum wage will be increased to 176.72 pesos per day, Mexican employers’ confederation Coparmex said in a statement.

Lopez Obrador’s maiden budget, delivered on Saturday, was welcomed by markets for pledging to stick to fiscal discipline, but the wage policy raised concerns that it could hit inflation and spark higher interest rates.

Benito Berber, chief economist for Latin America at Natixis, said Lopez Obrador’s new take on wages, including the commitment to keep pace with inflation, could push Mexico’s central bank to raise interest rates on Thursday.

“It seems the government is willing to accept higher inflation and perhaps stickier inflation,” Berber said. “Banxico has been clear that wage increases above productivity would entail tight monetary policy.”

($1 = 20.1160 Mexican pesos)

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!


US, China Trade Barbs at WTO Amid Calls for Reform

The United States said on Monday that China’s “unfair competitive practices” were harming foreign companies and workers in a way that violates World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, but vowed to lead reform efforts.

U.S. trade ambassador Dennis Shea drew fire from Chinese envoy Zhang Xiangchen who said the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum products allowed protectionism under the guise of dubious national security concerns.

The heated words, in texts seen by Reuters, were exchanged at the start of a closed-door review of U.S. trade policies, held every two years at the WTO, which continues on Wednesday.

Shea expressed concern about the WTO dispute settlement system having “strayed far from the system agreed to by members” and said that the Appellate Body had overreached in some legal interpretations.

Zhang countered that by blocking the selection of judges, Washington was putting the system into paralysis.

To force reform at the WTO, Trump’s team has refused to allow new appointments to the Appellate Body, the world’s top trade court, a process which requires consensus among member states. As a result, the court is running out of judges, and will be unable to issue binding rulings in disputes.

Shea described the U.S. economy as “one of the most open and competitive economies in the world,” with among the lowest tariffs globally, rejecting criticism by some of the U.S. approach as “unilateralist and protectionist.”

China has pursued “non-market industrial policies and other unfair competitive practices” aimed at supporting its domestic industries while restricting or discriminating against foreign companies and their goods and services, he said.

“The WTO is not well equipped to handle the fundamental challenge posed by China, which continues to embrace a state-led, mercantilist approach to the economy and trade,” Shea said.

He did not refer to the dispute on steel or automobiles which brought the two powers to the brink of a major trade war but defended the U.S. “Section 301” investigation that found in March that Chinese practices related to technology transfer, intellectual property and innovation were discriminatory.

On Section 301, Zhang said the U.S. measures vastly increased tariffs, “bringing back to life the ghost of unilateralism that has been dormant for decades.”

Shea said the United States was committed to working with like-minded members to address concerns on the functioning of the WTO.  “Reforms are necessary for the continued viability of the institution,” he said.

Zhang echoed his call, but said: “If the roof of this building is leaking, we should work together to fix it, rather than dismantling it and exposing all of us to rains and storms.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!


Guinea Bissau Women Entrepreneurs Share Ideas, Expand Business

A group of young female business owners in Guinea Bissau have banded together to learn more about the business world and increase sales. A year later, their efforts appear to be paying off. Ricci Shryock reports from the west African nation.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!


Debt Threat: Business Debt, Worries About it, Are up

Homeowners appear to have learned the lesson of the Great Recession about not taking on too much debt. There is some concern that Corporate America didn’t get the message.

 

For much of the past decade, companies have borrowed at super-low interest rates and used the money to buy back stock, acquire other businesses and refinance old debt. The vast majority of companies are paying their bills on time, thanks in large part to profits that have surged since the economy emerged from the Great Recession nine and a half years ago.

 

But with interest rates rising and U.S. economic growth expected to slow next year, worries are building from Washington to Wall Street that corporate debt is approaching potentially dangerous levels. U.S. corporate debt has grown by nearly two-thirds since 2008 to more than $9 trillion and, along with government debt, has ballooned much faster than other parts of the bond market. Investors are most concerned about companies at the weaker end of the financial-strength scale _ those considered most likely to default or to get downgraded to “junk” status should a recession hit.

 

“I’ve been more worried about the bond market than the equity market,” said Kirk Hartman, global chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Asset Management. “I think at some point, all the leverage in the system is going to rear its ugly head.”

 

Consider General Electric, which said in early October it would record a big charge related to its struggling power unit, one that ended up totaling $22 billion. Both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s subsequently downgraded GE’s credit rating to three notches above “speculative” grade, which indicates a higher risk of default.

 

GE, with about $115 billion in total borrowings, is part of a growing group of companies concentrated at the lower end of investment-grade. Other high-profile names in this area within a few notches of junk grade include General Motors and Verizon Communications. They make up nearly 45 percent of the Bloomberg Barclays Credit index, more than quadruple their proportion during the early 1970s.

 

Credit-rating agencies say downgrades for GE, GM or Verizon aren’t imminent. But the concern for them, and broadly for this swelling group of businesses, is if profits start falling or the economy hits a recession.

 

If those companies do drop below investment grade, they’d be what investors call “fallen angels,” and they can trigger waves of selling. Many mutual funds and other investors are required to own only high-quality, investment-grade bonds — so they would have to sell any bonds that get cut to junk.

 

The forced selling would lead to a drop in bond prices, which could result in higher borrowing costs for companies, which hurts their ability to repay their debts, which could lead to even more selling.

 

Even the chairman of the Federal Reserve has taken notice of the rise in corporate debt. Jerome Powell said in a recent speech that business borrowing usually rises when the economy is growing. But he said it’s concerning that, over the last year, the companies increasing their borrowing the most are those already with high debt and interest burdens.

 

To be sure, many bond fund managers say companies were smart to borrow hefty sums at low rates. And at the moment, there are no outward signs of danger. The default rate for junk-rated corporate bonds was 2.6 percent last month, which is lower than the historical average, and S&P Global Fixed Income Research expects it to fall in upcoming months.

 

Even if the economy does fall into a recession, fund managers say losses won’t be to the same scale as 2008 when the financial crisis sent the S&P 500 to a drop of nearly 37 percent and the most popular category of bond funds to an average loss of 4.7 percent.

 

In his speech, Powell said he doesn’t see the weaker parts of the corporate debt market undermining the financial system in the event of an economic downturn, at least “for now.”

 

Other investors see the market’s growing worries as premature. Companies are still making record profits, which allow them to repay their debts, and consumer confidence is still high.

 

“There is a story out there that there’s a recession coming very soon, and you had better head for the hills,” said Warren Pierson, deputy chief investment officer at Baird Advisors. “We think that’s a pretty early call. We don’t see recession on the horizon.”

 

That’s why he and Mary Ellen Stanek, who run bond mutual funds at Baird, haven’t given up on corporate bonds, even if they’ve moderated how much they own.

 

But critics see some echoes of the financial crisis in today’s loosening lending standards. Consider leveraged loans, a section of the market that makes loans to companies with lots of debt or relatively weak finances. These loans have been popular with investors in recent years because they often have what are called floating rates, so they pay more in interest when rates are rising.

 

Paul Massaro, portfolio manager for floating-rate strategies at T. Rowe Price, says he’s still positive about this market in general. But his team of analysts has been finding more warning flags in offerings, where the terms of the deal may be overly friendly to borrowers and allow them to amass more debt than they should.

 

It’s gotten to the point where Massaro is participating in about 15 percent of all offerings today, down from 30 percent a few years ago.

 

Investors have largely been willing to stomach higher risk because they’ve been starved for income following years of very low interest rates.

 

As a result, some bonds that by many accounts look like risky junk bonds are trading at prices and yields that should be reserved for higher-quality bonds, say Tom McCauley and Yoav Sharon, who run the $976.3 million Driehaus Active Income fund. To take advantage, they’re increasingly “shorting” corporate bonds, which are trades that pay off if the bonds’ prices fall.

 

They recently began shorting bonds of a packaged goods company with a “BBB” rating that borrowed to help pay for a large acquisition, for example. A “BBB” rating is at the lower end of investment grade, and a drop to “BB” would send it into junk status.

 

With so much debt, McCauley and Sharon believe that it’s at risk of getting downgraded to junk and is not paying enough in yield to compensate for its risk.

 

“As we get into the later stages of the cycle, the sins of the early stages of the cycle tend to start showing up,” said Sharon. “We think that’s where we are today.”

 

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!


Governments Agree on Rules for Implementing Climate Accord

After two weeks of bruising negotiations, officials from almost 200 countries agreed Saturday on universal, transparent rules that will govern efforts to cut emissions and curb global warming. Fierce disagreements on two other climate issues were kicked down the road for a year to help bridge a chasm of opinions on the best solutions. 

 

The deal agreed upon at U.N. climate talks in Poland enables countries to put into action the principles in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

 

“Through this package, you have made a thousand little steps forward together,” said Michal Kurtyka, a senior Polish official chairing the talks. 

 

He said while each individual country would likely find some parts of the agreement it didn’t like, efforts had been made to balance the interests of all parties. 

 

“We will all have to give in order to gain,” he said. “We will all have to be courageous to look into the future and make yet another step for the sake of humanity.” 

 

The talks in Poland took place against a backdrop of growing concern among scientists that global warming on Earth is proceeding faster than governments are responding to it. Last month, a study found that global warming will worsen disasters such as the deadly California wildfires and the powerful hurricanes that have hit the United States this year. 

Overhaul of global economy

 

And a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, concluded that while it’s possible to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times, this would require a dramatic overhaul of the global economy, including a shift away from fossil fuels. 

 

Alarmed by efforts to include this in the final text of the meeting, oil-exporting nations the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked an endorsement of the IPCC report midway through this month’s talks in Katowice. That prompted an uproar from vulnerable countries like small island nations and environmental groups.  

The final text at the U.N. talks omits a previous reference to specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and merely welcomes the “timely completion” of the IPCC report, not its conclusions. 

 

Last-minute snags forced negotiators in Katowice to go into extra time, after Friday’s scheduled end of the conference had passed without a deal. 

 

One major sticking point was how to create a functioning market in carbon credits. Economists believe that an international trading system could be an effective way to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and raise large amounts of money for measures to curb global warming. 

 

But Brazil wanted to keep the piles of carbon credits it had amassed under an old system that developed countries say wasn’t credible or transparent. 

Push from U.S. 

 

Among those that pushed back hardest was the United States, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord and promote the use of coal. 

 

“Overall, the U.S. role here has been somewhat schizophrenic — pushing coal and dissing science on the one hand, but also working hard in the room for strong transparency rules,” said Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Washington think tank. 

 

When it came to closing potential loopholes that could allow countries to dodge their commitments to cut emissions, “the U.S. pushed harder than nearly anyone else for transparency rules that put all countries under the same system, and it’s largely succeeded.”  

“Transparency is vital to U.S. interests,” added Nathaniel Keohane, a climate policy expert at the Environmental Defense Fund. He noted that the breakthrough in the 2015 Paris talks happened only after the U.S. and China agreed on a common framework for transparency. 

 

“In Katowice, the U.S. negotiators have played a central role in the talks, helping to broker an outcome that is true to the Paris vision of a common transparency framework for all countries that also provides flexibility for those that need it,” said Keohane, calling the agreement “a vital step forward in realizing the promise of the Paris accord.” 

 

Among the key achievements in Katowice was an agreement on how countries should report their greenhouses gas emissions and the efforts they’re taking to reduce them. Poor countries also secured assurances on getting financial support to help them cut emissions, adapt to inevitable changes such as sea level rises and pay for damages that have already happened. 

Some not hearing alarms

 

“The majority of the rulebook for the Paris Agreement has been created, which is something to be thankful for,” said Mohamed Adow, a climate policy expert at Christian Aid. “But the fact countries had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the finish line shows that some nations have not woken up to the urgent call of the IPCC report” on the dire consequences of global warming. 

 

But a central feature of the Paris Agreement — the idea that countries will ratchet up their efforts to fight global warming over time — still needs to be proved effective, he said. 

 

“To bend the emissions curve, we now need all countries to deliver these revised plans at the special U.N. secretary-general summit in 2019. It’s vital that they do so,” Adow said. 

 

In the end, a decision on the mechanics of an emissions trading system was postponed to next year’s meeting. Countries also agreed to consider the issue of raising ambitions at a U.N. summit in New York next September. 

 

Speaking hours before the final gavel, Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna suggested there was no alternative to such meetings if countries want to tackle global problems, especially at a time when multilateral diplomacy is under pressure from nationalism. 

 

“The world has changed, the political landscape has changed,” she told The Associated Press. “Still, you’re seeing here that we’re able to make progress, we’re able to discuss the issues, we’re able to come to solutions.”  

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!


Stocks Plunge to 8-month Lows on Growth Fears; J&J Nosedives

Stocks staggered to eight-month lows Friday after weak economic data from China and Europe set off more worries about the global economy. Mounting tensions in Europe over Britain’s impeding departure from the European Union also darkened traders’ moods.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped as much as 563 points. On the benchmark S&P 500 index, health care and technology companies absorbed the worst losses. Johnson & Johnson plunged by the most in 16 years after Reuters reported that the company has known since the 1970s that its talc Baby Powder sometimes contained carcinogenic asbestos. The company denied the report.

China said industrial output and retail sales both slowed in November. That could be another sign that China’s trade dispute with the U.S. and tighter lending conditions are chilling its economy, which is the second-largest in the world. Meanwhile, purchasing managers in Europe signaled that economic growth was slipping.

Running out of steam?

Sameer Samana, senior global market strategist for Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said investors are concerned that weakness will make it way to the U.S. They’re wondering if the U.S. economy is likely to run out of steam sooner than they had thought.

“Market consensus has been that the next recession is probably in 2020 or beyond,” he said. Now, he said, the market is “really testing that assumption and trying to figure out whether it’s sooner.”

The S&P 500 index lost 50.59 points, or 1.9 percent, to 2,599.95, its lowest close since April 2. The Dow retreated 496.87 points, or 2 percent, to 24,100.51.

The Nasdaq composite slid 159.67 points, or 2.3 percent, to 6,910.66. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks fell 21.89 points, or 1.5 percent, to 1,410.81.

December is typically the best month of the year for stocks and Wall Street usually looks forward to a “Santa Claus rally” that adds to the year’s gains. With 10 trading days left this month, however, the S&P 500 is down 5.8 percent. That followed a small gain in November and a steep 6.9 percent drop in October. 

Market value falls

Johnson & Johnson dropped 10 percent to $133 in very heavy trading. Its market value fell by $40 billion.

Reuters reported that court documents and test results show Johnson & Johnson has known for decades that its raw talc and finished Baby Powder sometimes contained asbestos, but that the company didn’t inform regulators or the public. The company called the story “false and inflammatory.”

In July the company lost a lawsuit from plaintiffs who argued that its products were linked to cases of ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. A St. Louis jury awarded plaintiffs $4.7 billion. Johnson & Johnson faces thousands of other lawsuits. 

For more than 20 years, China has been one of the biggest contributors to growth in the global economy, and when investors see signs the Chinese economy is weakening, they expect it will affect other countries like the U.S. that sell things to China. 

Protests hurt France

In Europe, the index of purchase managers fell in France, which is racked by protests, to a level that points toward economic contraction. Germany’s reading still pointed to growth, but it fell to its lowest level in four years.

Those reports canceled out some potential good news on trade: the Chinese government announced a 90-day suspension of tariff increases on U.S. cars, trucks and auto imports. It’s part of a cease-fire that China and the U.S. announced earlier this month to give them time to work on other issues.

Among technology companies, Apple dipped 3.2 percent to $165.48. Adobe skidded 7.3 percent to $230 after its fourth-quarter profit disappointed investors and it also forecast lower-than-expected earnings in the current fiscal year. Industrial companies sank as well. Boeing lost 2.1 percent to $318.75.

Oil prices again turned lower, as a slower global economy would weaken demand for oil and other fuels. Benchmark U.S. crude fell 2.6 percent to $51.20 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, dropped 1.9 percent to settle at $60.28 a barrel in London.

European Union leaders rejected British Prime Minister Theresa May’s request to make changes to their deal covering Britain’s departure from the EU on March 29. British legislators aren’t satisfied with the terms May negotiated, and she canceled a scheduled vote earlier this week because it was clear Parliament wouldn’t approve it. Britain’s economy and financial markets across Europe face severe disruption without an agreement.

European bonds slide

European bond prices rose and yields fell. Both the British pound and the euro weakened. The pound slipped to $1.2579 from $1.2660 and the euro fell to $1.1303 from $1.1367.

Germany’s DAX declined 0.5 percent and the CAC 40 in France declined 0.8 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.5 percent.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index slid 2 percent and the Kospi in South Korea lost 1.3 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was down 1.6 percent. 

Bond prices edged higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.89 percent 2.90 percent.

In other commodities trading, wholesale gasoline lost 3 percent to $1.43 a gallon. Heating oil fell 1.7 percent to $1.85 a gallon and natural gas dropped 7.2 percent to $3.83 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold fell 0.5 percent to $1,241.40 an ounce. Silver dipped 1.5 percent to $14.64 an ounce. Copper was little changed at $2.77 a pound.

The dollar fell to 113.29 yen from 113.60 yen.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!


Nigerian Governor: Buhari Says Economy in ‘Bad Shape’

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said the country’s economy was in “bad shape,” the governor of a northwestern state told reporters Friday after a meeting with governors from across the country. 

Buhari will seek a second term in an election to be held in February in which the economy is likely to be a campaign issue. 

Africa’s top oil producer last year emerged from its first recession in 25 years, caused by low crude prices, but growth remains sluggish. 

“Mr. President, as usual, responded by telling us that the economy is in a bad shape and we have to come together and think and rethink on the way forward,” Abdulaziz Yari, who chairs the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, told reporters when asked how Buhari answered requests for a bailout to some states. 

“Mr. President talked to us in the manner that we have a task ahead of us. So, we should tighten our belts and see how we can put the Nigerian economy in the right direction,” said Yari, governor of Zamfara state. He spoke to journalists in the capital, Abuja. 

The main opposition candidate, businessman and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, has criticized Buhari’s handling of the economy and said that, if elected, he would aim to double the size of the economy to $900 billion by 2025. 

Nigeria’s economy grew by 1.81 percent in the third quarter of this year, the statistics office said Monday. And on Friday, it said consumer prices had risen 11.28 percent in November compared with a year ago. 

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!


US Budget Deficit Hits Record $204.9B for November 

The federal budget deficit surged to a record for the month of November of $204.9 billion, but a big part of the increase reflected a calendar quirk. 

 

In its monthly budget report, the Treasury Department said Thursday that the deficit for November was $66.4 billion higher than the imbalance in November 2017. 

 

But $44 billion of that figure reflected the fact that December benefits in many government entitlement programs were paid in November this year because Dec. 1 fell on a Saturday. 

 

For the first two months of this budget year, the deficit totals $305.4 billion, up 51.4 percent from the same period last year. The Trump administration is projecting that this year’s deficit will top $1 trillion, reflecting increased government spending and the loss of revenue from a big tax cut. 

 

The new report showed that the higher tariffs from President Donald Trump’s get-tough trade policies are showing up in the budget totals. Customs duties totaled $6 billion in November, up 99 percent from November 2017. 

 

Trump has imposed penalty tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from a number of countries and on $250 billion of Chinese imports as the administration seeks to apply pressure to other countries to reduce their barriers to American exports. However, China and other nations have retaliated by imposing penalty tariffs on U.S. exports, sparking a tit-for-tat trade war. 

 

The administration still believes it will prevail and is currently in talks with China over trade practices the administration feels are unfair to American companies and workers. 

Three years of $1 trillion deficits

 

Last year’s budget deficit totaled $779 billion. The administration is projecting that this year’s deficit, for a budget year that runs from October through September, will total $1.09 trillion. The administration sees the deficit remaining above $1 trillion for three straight years. 

 

The only time the government has run deficits of this size was for four years from 2009 through 2012 when the Obama administration was boosting spending to grapple with the 2008 financial crisis and the worst recession since the 1930s. 

 

Trump has said that the new budget he will unveil next February will require 5 percent spending cuts for domestic agencies in a bid to trim future deficits. The administration is also counting on government revenues to be increased by faster economic growth from the $1.5 trillion tax cut passed a year ago. 

 

The $204.9 billion deficit last month was the biggest deficit ever recorded in November, a month when the government normally runs a deficit. Outlays were also a record in the month of November. 

 

Through the first two months of this budget year, revenues total $458.7 billion, 3.4 percent higher than the same period a year ago. Outlays totaled $764 billion, up 18.4 percent from the same period a year ago.