Brazil’s worst-ever recession likely extended into fourth quarter

Shoppers walk in a mall in Refice, northeast Brazil, May 5, 2010. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s economy probably contracted for an eighth straight quarter at the end of 2016, offering further proof that Latin America’s largest economy has been in its worst recession ever, a Reuters poll showed on Friday.

Gross domestic product probably shrank 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter from the third after seasonal adjustments, according to the median forecast of 16 economists. Brazil’s GDP contracted 0.8 percent in the third quarter.

Brazil’s economy is expected to have contracted 3.5 percent in 2016, after a decline of 3.8 percent in 2015. Brazil has never experienced such a long and deep period of recession, at least since records began more than a century ago.

The recession has left nearly 13 million people unemployed and caused a record number of bankruptcy filings. It also contributed to the ousting of former President Dilma Rousseff last year and to the low approval ratings of her successor, President Michel Temer.

The fourth-quarter GDP numbers will be released on March 7.

Leading indicators have suggested the economy is finally emerging out of recession in the first quarter of 2017, Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles told Reuters earlier this week. The central bank has been cutting interest rates at a rapid pace as inflation falls, which is expected to help boost growth.

The recovery, however, is expected to be very slow. The median expectation of economists in a weekly central bank survey projected a GDP expansion of 0.5 percent in 2017.

Although this recession has been the deepest in Brazil’s history, it has not been as dramatic as other crises in the country’s turbulent economic past. Previous downturns were often marked by debt crises, capital flights, hyperinflation and mass migration, none of which happened during the current recession.

Brazil’s economy probably shrank 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter from a year before, according to the poll.

(Reporting by Silvio Cascione; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Baby traffickers thriving in Nigeria as recession bites

baby grasps hand

By Anamesere Igboeroteonwu and Tom Esslemont

ENUGU, Nigeria/LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As 16-year-old Maria strained under the anguish of labor in southeastern Nigeria, a midwife repeatedly slapped her across the face – but the real ordeal began minutes after birth.

“The nurse took my child away to be washed. She never brought her back,” the teenager said, gazing down at her feet.

Maria said she learned her newborn daughter had been given up for adoption for which she received 20,000 naira ($65.79) – the same price as a 50 kilogram bag of rice.

And Maria is far from alone.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation investigative team spoke to more than 10 Nigerian women duped into giving up their newborns to strangers in houses known as “baby factories” in the past two years or offered babies whose origins were unknown.

Five women did not want to be interviewed, despite the guarantee of anonymity, fearing for their own safety with criminal gangs involved in the baby trade, while two men spoke of being paid to act as “studs” to get women pregnant.

Although statistics are hard to come by, campaigners say the sale of newborns is widespread – and they fear the illegal trade is becoming more prevalent with Nigeria heading into recession this year amid ongoing political turbulence.

“The government is too overstretched by other issues to focus on baby trafficking,” said Arinze Orakwue, head of public enlightenment at the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).

Record numbers of baby factories were raided or closed down in the southeastern states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo this year, NAPTIP said.

A total of 14 were discovered in the first nine months of 2016, up from six in 2015 and 10 in 2014, the data showed.

But despite the growing number of raids, the scam exploiting couples desperate for a baby and young, pregnant, single women continues with newborns sold for up to $5,000 in Africa’s most populous nation where most people live on less than $2 a day.

Cultural barriers are also a factor in the West African nation, with teenage girls fearing they will be publicly shamed by strict fathers or partners over unwanted pregnancies if they do not give up their children, experts say.

“In southeastern Nigeria a woman is deemed a failure if she fails to conceive. But it is also taboo for a teenager to fall pregnant out of wedlock,” said Orakwue.

Maria said in the home in Imo state where she gave birth pregnant teenagers were welcomed by a maternal nurse who liked to be called “mama” but went on to sell the babies they delivered.

“(After I gave birth) somebody told me that mama collected big money from people before giving them other people’s babies,” Maria told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the grounds of a school compound in her village.

“I do not know where my baby is now,” said Maria, using a false name for her own protection.

A lot of the trade is carried out in Nigeria but authorities suspect babies are also sold to people from Europe and the United States because many foreigners continue to seek infants there despite the controversy around Nigerian adoptions.

HIDDEN PROBLEM

The U.S. Department of State alerted prospective adoptive parents to the issue of child buying from Nigeria in June 2014 after Nigerian media warned that people were posing as owners of orphanages or homes for unwed mothers to make money.

“The State Department is aware of a growing number of adoption scams,” an alert on its website read.

Over 1,600 children have been adopted from Nigeria by U.S. citizens since 1999, according to the State Department website, about a third of them aged between one and two years old.

A U.S. official said the State Department facilitates contact between foreign officials and U.S. authorities when foreign governments raise any concerns regarding the welfare of an adopted child.

“To date, we are not aware of any concerns regarding the welfare of a child adopted from Nigeria,” a State Department official told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a statement.

In Britain a couple was found by the High Court to have “fallen under the spell” of an elaborate fraud after paying 4,500 pounds ($5,600) for herbal treatment in Nigeria that caused the woman’s stomach to swell, media reported in 2014.

The couple only realized they had been duped nine months later when presented with a baby in Nigeria that actually was not theirs, the Daily Mail newspaper reported.

Babies, whose biological parents or backgrounds are unknown, are offered to women who have not been able to conceive naturally, according to NAPTIP and interviews with three women.

The British government said it was committed to stamping out what it calls the “miracle babies” phenomenon.

“Specially-trained teams are working at the UK border to identify and safeguard babies and children who may be at risk of trafficking,” said a spokesman for the Home Office (UK interior ministry) in a statement.

Denmark suspended adoptions from Nigeria in 2014 citing concerns over forgery, corruption and lack of control by the authorities.

Apart from the illicit trade in babies, Nigeria also faces the problem of domestic and international trafficking in women and children.

Human trafficking, including selling children, is illegal in Nigeria, but almost 10 years ago a UNESCO report identified the industry as the country’s third most common crime after financial fraud and drug trafficking – and the situation appears to be getting worse, according to campaigners.

The Nigerian government has not ratified an internationally recognized set of rules known as the Hague Adoption Convention which meant the laws governing adoptions remain murky and complicated, campaigners said.

“There is corruption in the adoption process and that is the individual (Nigerian) states’ responsibility,” said NAPTIP’s Orakwue in a phone interview

“But central government should step up its funding to NAPTIP so we can increase support to victims,” Orakwue said.

HERBAL TREATMENT

Sophie, who was not able to conceive, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she started to develop the symptoms of pregnancy after visiting a herbalist in Enugu state in 2014.

However the traditional doctor told Sophie her swollen stomach contained gas resulting from the herbal treatment rather than a fetus – but she could arrange to buy a baby.

“(The herbalist) said that she would bring me a newborn baby, girl or boy, depending on which one I wanted,” she said in the grimy sitting room of her apartment in southeastern Nigeria.

The woman said a girl would cost 380,000 naira ($1,250) while a boy would cost 500,000 naira ($1,645), said Sophie who opted for a girl.

But a sense of obligation to the woman who brought her a child prevented her from reporting the crime, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I considered everything and thought to myself ‘why should I report (the herbalist) to the police?’ She had helped me,” she said.

NAPTIP does not have data on the number of domestic adoptions that have taken place, a figure it says is not held by central government.

“In the southeastern states, the sale of babies is unarguably very prevalent as recorded by the agency,” said Cordelia Ebiringa, NAPTIP’s commander in Enugu state.

DEADLY GAME

Men are also involved in the process of illicit baby trafficking, with sperm donors impregnating surrogate mothers who then sell their babies, according to two Nigerian men.

Surrogacy is illegal in Nigeria.

Jonathan, 33, said he was paid 25,000 naira ($82) by his boss or “madam” every time he helped a client to become pregnant.

“I don’t see it as somebody exploiting me. The madams pay me for my work,” said Jonathan, who withheld his full name.

Jonathan said he did not know whether the women gave their babies away or went on to sell them although he was concerned what he was doing could be illegal.

“I often think ‘what if the police catch me?'”

Nigeria’s anti-human trafficking agency said it did not have data or information on the role of sperm donors, but many women they spoke to did not want to reveal how they fell pregnant.

“NAPTIP has no records of studs that impregnate the women at the baby factories as most of the pregnant women rescued and interviewed in such cases claimed unplanned pregnancies,” said Ebiringa.

Little information was made available by the Nigerian police or authorities in southeastern states about the number or identity of the people who run the “baby factories”.

No data was provided on the number of arrests by police in southern states of Enugu and Abia on baby trafficking offences despite repeated requests by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But the dangers involved, both from the law and from trafficking gangs, are palpable, according to Jonathan, who estimates he has fathered about 15 children as a “stud”.

“These (baby traffickers) can be dangerous,” said Jonathan, who was once threatened by a group of thugs who found out what he was doing. “They are ready to kill anybody if you stand in their way.”

($1 = 304.00 naira)($1 = 0.8042 pounds)

(Reporting By Tom Esslemont and Anamesere Igboeroteonwu, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Nervy global investors revisit 1930s playbook

Unemployed man during the Great Depression

By Mike Dolan

LONDON (Reuters) – Global investors are once again dusting off studies of the 1930s as fears of protectionism, nationalism and a retreat of globalization, sharpened by this week’s Brexit referendum, escalate anew.

With markets on tenterhooks over Thursday’s “too close to call” vote on Britain’s future in the European Union, the damage an exit vote would deal business activity and world commerce is amplified by the precarious state of the global economy and its inability to absorb any left-field political shocks.

As such, the Brexit vote will not be an open-and-shut case regardless of the outcome. Broader worries about global trade, frail growth and dwindling investment returns have festered since the banking shock of 2007/08 and have mounted this year.

Stalling trade growth has already led the world economy to the brink of recession for the second time in a decade, with growth now hovering just above the 2.0-2.5 percent level most economists say is needed to keep per capita world output stable.

Three-month averages for growth of world trade volumes through March this year have turned negative compared with the prior three months, according to the Dutch government statistics body widely cited as the arbiter of global trade data.

And it’s not a seasonal blip. Last year saw the biggest drop in imports and exports since 2009 and their average annual growth of 3 percent over the intervening seven years was itself half that of the 25 years before, according to Swiss asset manager Pictet. 2016 is set to be the fifth sub-par year in row.

A study published by the Centre For Economic Policy Research shows this paltry pace of trade growth is also below the 4.2 percent average for the past 200 years.

Foreign direct investment growth of 2 percent of world output is also at its lowest since the 1990s, while the hangover from the credit crunch has seen annual growth rates in cross-border bank lending grind to a halt from some 10 pct in the decade to 2008.

Parsing the big investment themes of the next five years, Pictet this month highlighted “globalization at a crossroads” – offering both benign and malignant reasoning and implications.

One of these was that trade deceleration was due in part to the inwards reorientation of the world’s two mega economies, the United States and China — the former due to the shale energy boom and the latter’s planned shift to consumption from exports.

Another factor cited was a shift in the world economy towards services and digital activity that is not captured by statistics on merchandise trade.

But Pictet had little doubt about what brewing developments could swamp all that — rising nationalism on the far right and left of the political spectrum in Europe and the United States.

Britain “threatens to drive a fault line” through one of the world’s biggest free trade blocs, it said, and both presumptive candidates for November’s U.S. presidential election have talked of renegotiating the still-unratified Trans Pacific Partnership binding economies making up 40 percent of world trade.

“If the rising tide of nationalism results in greater protectionism, then the decline in international trade the world has experienced so far could well morph into something more pernicious,” the Swiss firm said, adding that multinationals — particularly banks and tech companies — were most vulnerable.

“1937-38 REDUX?”

Against that backdrop, this year’s market wobbles make total sense — especially as near-zero interest rates limit central banks’ ability to insulate against further shocks.

But echoes of the last major hiatus in trade globalization during and between the World Wars has economists looking again to the 1930s for lessons and policy prescriptions.

In a paper entitled “1937-38 redux?”, Morgan Stanley economists detail the mistakes that saw monetary and fiscal policy tightened too quickly once a recovery from the 1929 stock market crash and subsequent Depression started in 1936.

Over-eagerness to reset policy before private sector confidence in future growth and inflation had picked up saw a relapse into recession and deflation by 1938. The devastation of World War Two followed, and with it huge government spending on military capacity, war relief and eventually reconstruction.

Morgan Stanley goes on to draw a parallel with the global response to 2008’s crash and subsequent world recession.

Waves of monetary and fiscal easing by 2009 underpinned economic activity, but government budgets have again tightened quickly and before inflation expectations or private investment spending and capital expenditure have been restored.

The second world recession in a decade is now seen as a threat, but with a heavier starting debt burden, historically low inflation and interest rates, stalled trade and a worsening demographic profile. That could mean another global government spending stimulus is needed to re-energize private firms.

“The effective solution to prevent relapse into recession would be to reactivate policy stimulus,” Morgan Stanley said.

Success in preventing a new recession without the cataclysm of a world war would be a profound lesson learned. Political extremism, isolation and protectionism make the task far harder.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

U.S. CEOs unleash recession fears in earnings calls

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. companies are growing more concerned about the prospects of a recession in the year ahead for the first time since the end of the financial crisis.

So far this year, the number of companies whose executives have mentioned recession concerns to analysts and investors is up 33 percent from the same period a year ago; the first such increase since 2009. Some 92 companies have discussed a U.S. recession in their earnings calls, according to Thomson Reuters data.

That gloomy talk highlights worries that growth in the world’s largest economy may be coming to a halt. Gross domestic product grew 0.7 percent in the final quarter of 2015, down from 2 percent in the third quarter, while double the number of companies are cutting or flat-lining their capital spending in the year ahead, according to Reuters data. The benchmark S&P 500, a leading indicator of economic strength, had its worst January since 2009 as oil tumbled below $30 a barrel and remained near 12-year lows.

While nearly all companies that have discussed recession say that U.S. consumers continue to look healthy, many are growing concerned that the steep declines in energy prices and job cuts in the industry are going to bleed into the larger economy. Overall, economists expect the U.S. economy to grow 2.4 percent in 2016, according to a Dec. 30 Reuters poll.

Richard Fairbank, chief executive of Capital One Financial Co., for example, said he sees a recession as increasingly likely if financial market turmoil spreads into the real economy.

“Obviously, the economy is something of a wild card,” he said.

“Perhaps the consumer economy is doing okay, but there is a depression in the energy economy and it feels like there is a general malaise if not a recession looming in the industrial and manufacturing economies,” David Grzebinski, chief executive of tank barge operator Kirby Co told analysts.

And household hardware maker Stanley Black & Decker Inc chief financial officer Don Allan told analysts that the company was prepared to cut jobs and pullback spending in the event of a slowdown.

Not every company was downcast, however. Trucking operator Swift Transportation Co told analysts that one of its larger customers plans to spend $1.6 billion this year, up from $900 million last year.

“These numbers are not signaling, to us, a consumer recession,” said CEO Jerry Moyes.

(Reporting by David Randall; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

More Children in Poverty Now Than During Recession

A new report shows that more than one in five American children were living in poverty in 2013, the last year that complete data is available.

The number of children in poverty, 22%, is higher than in September 2010 when the New York Times said the Great Recession had brought poverty rates in the U.S. to their highest level in 15 years and greater than the 18% child poverty rate recorded in 2008.

The report also says that almost one-third of American children in 2013 lived in a home where no parent held a steady, full-time job.

The report says with only a “few exceptions”,  “nearly all of the measures that [it] track[s], African-American, American Indian and Latino children continued to experience negative outcomes at rates that were higher than the national average. Overall unemployment rates have fallen, but the unemployment rate for African-Americans is currently 11 percent — 2.4 percentage points higher than where it was prior to the economic crisis. Nearly 40 percent of African-American children live in poverty, compared to 14 percent of white children.”

“The fact that it’s happening is disturbing on lots of levels,” said Laura Speer, the associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation, told USA Today. “Those kids often don’t have the access to the things they need to thrive.” The foundation says its mission is to help low-income children in the U.S. by providing grants and advocating for policies that promote economic opportunity.”

Speer added their is hope for 2014 because the decline in the unemployment rate means more children in a home with at least one adult having stable employment.

Spain Ends Two-Year Recession

Spain showed growth during the third quarter of the year. The rise of 0.1% is the first gain in the country’s GDP since 2011.

The report from the country’s National Statistucs agency confirmed a report released last week from the Bank of Spain predicting an end to the country’s economic slide.

The report from the statistics agency cited a number of reasons for the growth including a boost in tourism due to the instability in north Africa and the Middle East.

The country’s banks needed a bailout from European nations last year to survive the recession sparked by the country’s 2008 property bubble collapse. The country’s unemployment level is still hovering around 26%.

France Economy Back In Recession

France’s economy entered its second recession in four years according to data covering the first quarter of 2013.

The economy shrank two tenths of a percent in the first quarter of 2013 after having the same decline in the last quarter of 2012. President Francois Hollande now predicts zero growth for the country in 2013, less than previous government projections of .1% growth. Continue reading

European Commission Admits Recession To Continue Through 2013

European Commission officials finally admitted what economists have been saying for months: the recession across the eurozone will continue through 2013.

The Commission said the eurozone’s economy is expected to shrink .3% during 2013. The Commission has been holding to a previous published report that the eurozone would see .1% growth during the year. The economy shrank .6% during 2012. Continue reading