Israel-Gaza conflict may hike commodity prices - Business Guardian
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Israel-Gaza conflict may hike commodity prices

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The enduring conflict between Israel and Hamas, spanning over seven decades, continues to cast a profound and lasting impact across the Middle East. In recent times, heightened hostilities have led to significant casualties on both sides, triggered by a series of assaults initiated by Hamas on Israeli towns on October 7. This has resulted in a robust military response from Israel, exacerbating the devastation. However, the repercussions of this conflict have reverberated globally, sparking protests in several Western nations and carrying substantial economic implications.

The World Bank has cautioned that the escalating Israel-Gaza conflict may disrupt crude oil supplies, potentially pushing oil prices to an unprecedented peak of $157 per barrel. This prediction mirrors the 1973 Arab oil embargo crisis, suggesting a potential global supply shrinkage of six to eight million barrels per day. Such a cut in supply could trigger a significant surge in prices, impacting economies worldwide.

Under a moderately severe “medium disruption” scenario similar to the impact of the 2003 Iraq war, the reduction in supply might range from three to five million barrels per day, driving prices to hover between $109 and $121 per barrel. Despite these concerning scenarios, the World Bank’s baseline forecast is somewhat more optimistic, projecting oil prices to average $90 per barrel this quarter, declining to $81 next year in the event of a global economic downturn. Investment banks like Goldman Sachs and UBS anticipate stable oil prices ranging from $90 to $100 per barrel over the next twelve months.

Beyond oil, other commodities are also affected. In times of conflict, gold, often considered a safe-haven asset, garners increased interest among traders seeking to capitalize on its appeal, despite the inherent riskiness of CFD trading. However, heightened attention from traders can lead to increased volatility, diminishing its status as a safe-haven asset.

The conflict has had dire repercussions on local businesses in Gaza, where employment has plummeted by 61% since the hostilities began, resulting in a loss of approximately 182,000 jobs, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The economic fallout extends to the occupied West Bank, experiencing a 24% job loss, equating to about 208,000 jobs, due to the conflict’s spillover effects. Daily income losses in these territories amount to an estimated $16 million, painting a grim outlook for their economies.

Conversely, in the Israeli town of Sderot near the Gaza Strip, businesses persist despite the conflict. However, they face the arduous task of repairing war damages and protecting their workforce. While both economies are affected, the economic toll in Gaza is significantly more severe.

Examining another geopolitical event, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 caused substantial disruptions in global commodity markets. The conflict led to immediate interruptions in oil and gas supplies, notably impacting Europe, heavily reliant on Russian energy. This situation heightened tensions in energy markets, causing prices to rise as countries sought alternative sources.

The conflict in Ukraine also severely affected grain markets, given Ukraine’s significant role as a major exporter of wheat and corn. Blockages at Ukrainian ports by Russian forces resulted in price spikes and concerns over global food shortages, impacting industries reliant on agricultural commodities.

Furthermore, prices of metals like aluminium and palladium surged due to Russia’s key role as a producer. Sanctions and logistical challenges further constrained their global supply.

While Israel’s exports differ from those of Russia or Ukraine, with tech startups being more adaptable, the Middle East was poised for normalization and improved relations before the recent conflicts. The disruptions have further destabilized regional markets.

In essence, conflicts like the Israel-Gaza clash and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine serve as poignant reminders of how geopolitical tensions can reverberate through economies, affecting commodity prices and straining global markets. The resilience of businesses amid such tumult emphasizes the intricate interplay between conflict, commerce, and speculation that shapes our world.

The escalating conflict between Israel and Gaza has stirred profound concerns beyond the immediate region. The potential disruptions to crude oil supplies and the resultant fluctuations in oil prices have sparked worries about broader economic impacts globally. The World Bank’s cautionary predictions paint a stark picture of the vulnerabilities faced by economies worldwide in the face of geopolitical tensions.

This conflict-induced volatility doesn’t confine its impact to the oil market alone. The escalation often triggers a ripple effect across various commodity markets, influencing not just prices but also market sentiments and investment behaviours. Gold, historically sought after as a safe-haven asset in times of unrest, becomes subject to increased speculation and trading activities, potentially compromising its perceived stability.

The implications of the Israel-Gaza conflict on local economies are distressingly tangible. The catastrophic loss of jobs in Gaza and the economic ripple felt in the West Bank underscore the humanitarian toll. The region’s economic struggles, compounded by pre-existing challenges like high unemployment rates, paint a daunting trajectory for recovery.

Turning to the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the impact on commodity markets serves as a stark illustration of the domino effect in global economics. The conflict’s disruptions, particularly in oil and grain markets, highlight the vulnerabilities of a globally interconnected trade system and the cascading effects of conflicts on essential commodities. As these conflicts unfold, the intricate web of interdependencies across various markets becomes increasingly apparent, underscoring the fragility of global economic stability in times of strife.

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Homes priced above INR 1 cr corner highest share ever in total sales, says report

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Sales of properties priced below Rs 50 lakh record dip in sales in the January-March quarter, according to Knight Frank.

According to a report released on Thursday by real estate consultancy Knight Frank, homes priced above Rs 1 crore commanded their largest-ever share of total sales, reaching 40 percent in the quarter ending on March 31. This marks a significant increase from the previous quarter’s 39 percent. The trend of such high-end homes gaining market share has been consistent, with their proportion steadily rising from 29 percent in Q1 2023 to 35 percent in Q3 of the same year.

The report, titled ‘India Real Estate: Office and Residential Report,’ highlights that between January and March 2024, a total of 34,895 homes priced above Rs 1 crore were sold, marking a substantial 51 percent increase compared to the same quarter in 2023. This surge in sales contributed to the overall growth in the residential market, with a total of 86,345 units sold in this price category, representing a 9 percent increase from Q1 2023 and the second-best quarter on record, following closely behind Q4 2023.

Shishir Baijal, chairman and managing director at Knight Frank India, commented on this trend, stating, “This not only demonstrates a strong demand trajectory but also reflects buyers’ confidence in making long-term commitments.”

Conversely, homes priced below Rs 50 lakh and between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 1 crore experienced a decline in sales volume. Sales of homes below Rs 50 lakh dropped from 25,714 units in Q1 2023 to 23,026 units in Q1 2024, accounting for 27 percent of total sales, significantly lower than its peak of 41 percent in Q1 2022. Similarly, homes priced between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 1 crore saw a 6 percent decrease in sales during the quarter, with 28,424 units sold, representing 33 percent of total sales, down from 38 percent last year.

The report also highlighted regional trends, indicating that the majority of homes priced above Rs 1 crore were sold in the National Capital Region (NCR), totaling 10,558 units, followed by Mumbai (7,401) and Hyderabad (6,112). In the NCR specifically, these high-end homes accounted for 68 percent of the total sales volume.

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WHO reports 8.6% surge in TB deaths in South-East Asia in 2021

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The tuberculosis mortality rate in the Southeast Asia region saw a rise of 8.6 percent in 2021 as compared to 2015, according to an official release from the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the release, the regional director of WHO, South-East Asia Region, Saima Wazed, said, “The TB mortality rate in the region increased by 8.6 percent in 2021 compared to 2015. The probability of death between the ages of 30 and 70 from four major diseases—cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases—is still unacceptably high at 21.6 percent.”

She added that the poorest and groups with vulnerabilities face the greatest barriers to accessing needed healthcare, often with catastrophic consequences for their health and well-being.

“Poor quality care accounts for more diseases and deaths than lack of access to care,” she said. The Regional Director stated further that gender inequality affects equitable access to diagnosis and treatment of non-communicable health conditions.

The WHO will focus the spotlight on the theme ‘My Health, My Right’ on World Health Day this year on April 7. According to an official press release from WHO, South East Asia, “In a world witnessing multiple crises, from diseases to disasters to conflicts and climate change, realizing people’s right to health is now more important than ever. To mark the foundation of the World Health Organization, the spotlight this year is on ‘My Health, My Right’, on World Health Day, celebrated on April 7.”

Wazed also expanded on the significance of acknowledging the ‘Right to Health’ for all. “Realizing the right to health for all means creating conditions where everyone, everywhere, can access high-quality health facilities, services, and goods that prioritize people’s needs, understanding, and dignity,” Wazed said. “It also means a full set of rights that enable people to live healthily, such as education, safe water and food, nutritious food, adequate housing, good working and environmental conditions, and information—or the underlying determinants of health,” she added. “To fulfill the right to health, both health services and the underlying determinants should be available, accessible, acceptable, and of adequate quality,” she said.

The right to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health—or the right to health—has been core to the WHO’s mission, globally and in the region. It is enshrined in the WHO’s Constitution.

As WHO marks its seventy-sixth year on April 7, the Southeast Asia Region has seen many gains and has much to celebrate about the right to health. “The Universal Health Coverage Service Coverage Index has improved from 47 in 2010 to 62 in 2021. The average density of medical doctors, nurses, and midwives in the region stands at 28.05 per 10,000 population, up by 30.5 percent since 2015,” she said. “The region achieved a 68.5 percent reduction in the maternal mortality ratio between 2000 and 2020. The under-five mortality rate declined significantly from 84 per 1000 live births in 2000 to 29 per 1000 live births in 2021, and the neonatal mortality rate declined from 41 per 1000 live births in 2000 to 17 per 1000 live births in 2021. Between 2015 and 2021, new HIV infections declined by 25 percent and malaria incidence by 62 percent,” she added.

However, despite progress, we still have a considerable way to go to make the right to health a reality for all in the WHO South-East Asia Region, the Regional Director said. She added that despite global commitments to the right to health, nearly 40 percent of the region’s people lack coverage of essential health services. Investment in health by national governments, which is the foundation of advancing the right to health, is unacceptably low, which has resulted in high out-of-pocket expenditures, according to the release. The proportion of households experiencing financial hardship in accessing basic health care has been rising.

“Violence against women and girls—a violation of their human rights and a priority public health issue—remains pervasive. More than one in every three women in the region has experienced intimate partner violence at least once in their lifetime, with rural and uneducated women and those from the poorest households facing a significantly higher risk,” she said.

“Too many still face stigma related to certain health conditions, such as TB, HIV/AIDS, disability, or mental illness. They also face discrimination in the health system based on their gender, class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or other characteristics,” the Regional Director said.

Wazed stated that equality and non-discrimination are core to a human rights-based approach to health. “A human rights-based approach also entails adherence to the principle of participation. For example, by ensuring that those most affected by certain health conditions or health policies and decisions have a say in how these decisions are made,” she said.

“Accountability is also integral to a human rights-based approach. For example, reporting back to affected groups and communities about the performance of the health system or health programs to address their needs,” she said.

All governments and other duty-bearers must respect, protect, and fulfill the right to health and other human rights, and to ensure their progressive realization, the WHO release went further, adding, “Governments need to increase investments in health—especially to advance universal health coverage grounded in a primary health care approach.

“Good laws can lay the foundation for more effective tobacco control, environmental protection, better nutrition, control of obesity and cardiovascular diseases, fair and equal working conditions, and much more. Health services need to be made more available, accessible, acceptable, and of better quality for all,” Wazed said.

“WHO is committed to advancing the right to health and other human rights. Let’s make the right to health a reality for all,” she added.

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Lanka Economy Records 4.5% Surge in Q4 2023: Central Bank

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Sri Lanka’s bankrupt economy is expected to grow by 4.5 per cent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2023, following six consecutive negative quarters. In February, the Central Bank reported a decrease in headline inflation to 5.9 per cent from 6.4 per cent in January. The gross official reserves improved to 4.5 billion dollars by the end of February 2024. This includes a swap facility from the People’s Bank of China.

The Central Bank announced on Tuesday that Sri Lanka’s economy, which had been experiencing six successive quarters of negative growth, is estimated to have recorded a growth of 4.5 per cent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2023. Positive growth was only seen in the third quarter of 2023, following six successive quarters of negative growth experienced by the cash-strapped economy.

The headline inflation, as measured by the year-on-year change in the Colombo Consumer Price Index, had decelerated to 5.9% in February from 6.4% in January. The gross official reserves improved to 4.5 billion dollars by the end of February 2024, which includes the swap facility from the People’s Bank of China. Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said the reserve buildup was better than the Central Bank’s expectations. “The reserve buildup was supported by considerable net purchases by the Central Bank from the domestic foreign exchange market amidst increased foreign currency inflows compared to outflows,” Weerasinghe said. “The Sri Lankan rupee, which appreciated by 12.1% against the US dollar in 2023, continued to show an appreciation of 6.7% thus far in 2024,” he said.

Governor Weerasinghe said the agreements on debt restructuring with sovereign bond-holders could be completed by June in time for the next review of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout programme. Governor said despite the sovereign default, the commercial loans granted by India along with currency swaps with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) continue to be serviced. In early 2022, amidst the onset of the economic crisis, India’s provision of a 4 billion USD assistance package served as a vital lifeline for Sri Lanka, enabling the importation of fuel and essential goods.

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Exploring How Japan’s Medical Technology Fuels India’s Healthcare Landscape

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Statistics suggest that India has approximately 2.8 million hospital beds, including both private and public. Therefore, there are 1.7 beds per 1,000 people in comparison with developed nations that have around 2.5 to 3.

Amidst the escalating global disease burden, healthcare providers worldwide are intensifying efforts to expedite delivery systems and implement more precise treatment therapies, aiming for swifter patient recovery outcomes. Correspondingly, healthcare stakeholders in India are actively enhancing procedures for high-risk treatments, striving for greater precision and efficacy.

Concurrently, the Indian government’s successful efforts in attracting major global medical device players from countries like Japan, Germany, and the USA have facilitated the introduction of advanced devices and therapies, revolutionizing treatment methodologies and improving treatment outcomes for high-risk diseases. Medical Technology Association of India (MTaI) has earlier recommended Japan as the preferred choice for medtech imports instead of China. Notably, India’s policy allowing 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) under automatic routes for both Greenfield and Brownfield setups has encouraged global investors to participate in the healthcare sector.

The burgeoning adoption of Japanese medical technology in India marks a significant shift in the nation’s healthcare landscape, promising ground breaking innovations and collaborations that stand to revolutionize healthcare delivery nationwide. This trend is propelled by Japan’s renowned expertise in precision engineering and advanced medical devices, with Japanese companies leading the development of cutting-edge technologies in areas like diagnostic imaging, surgical robotics, and regenerative medicine. Collaborations between Japanese and Indian firms have played a pivotal role.

These collaborations facilitate technology and knowledge transfer, empowering Indian healthcare providers to leverage Japanese expertise while tailoring solutions to local needs. The contribution of Japan also extends notably to advancing cardiovascular treatment methodologies in India. One of the noteworthy instances of investment involves Terumo India’s introduction of Ultimaster Nagomi, a Drug Eluting Stent (DES) for treating coronary artery disease, reflecting their commitment to investing in next-generation stents to enhance the safety and efficacy of coronary artery treatments in India. Additionally, Terumo India recently unveiled innovative therapies like B-TACE for managing liver cancer in India. Through Occlusafe, Terumo’s B-TACE device offers patients a more precise and targeted delivery of chemotherapy drugs to the tumour, while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues.

Numerous other investments are made in India, such as Omron Healthcare’s manufacturing unit launch in Tamil Nadu and the collaboration between Japan Lifeline and Meril Sciences to promote medical devices or therapies. Statistics suggest that India has approximately 2.8 million hospital beds, including both private and public. Therefore, there are 1.7 beds per 1,000 people in comparison with developed nations that have around 2.5 to 3. Despite India’s cadre of proficient doctors and expanding healthcare infrastructure, comprehensive coverage remains elusive, hindering healthcare accessibility for many.

Addressing this challenge is crucial for optimizing the country’s healthcare resources and ensuring equitable access to healthcare opportunities. Further, the country needs to reduce the cost of healthcare and invest in technology to create better patient experience and clinical outcomes. As India grapples with healthcare challenges amid rapid urbanization, demographic shifts, and the burden of non-communicable diseases, the influx of Japanese medical technology offers hope.

By embracing innovation and forging strategic partnerships, India stands to leverage Japanese expertise for a healthier and more prosperous future. The surge of Japanese medical technology in India signifies not only technological advancement but also the power of collaboration and shared vision in driving positive change in healthcare delivery, promising transformative impacts across the Indian subcontinent.

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NHAI completes largest monetisation of over Rs16,000 cr through InvIT

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National Highways Infra Trust (NHIT) has successfully concluded fundraising for national highway stretches of aggregate length of 889 kilometres. The NHIT is the infrastructure investment trust (InvIT) by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and serves like a mutual fund, which enables direct investment of money from individual and institutional investors in infrastructure projects to earn a portion of the income as return. The largest ever by NHAI monetisation of over Rs 16,000 crore has been caried out through Round 3 ’InvIT and is one of the largest transactions in the history of Indian road sector.

The Letter of Acceptance (LOA) to raise the highest ever concession value through ’InvIT Round-3’ was issued last month in February 2024. Since November 2021, NHIT has cumulatively raised around Rs.12,000 crore through first two rounds of monetisation for acquisition of eight operating road assets with an aggregate length of 636 km from NHAI. Historically, units of NHIT were issued at a price of Rs 101 in November 2021 and were listed on both BSE and NSE. According to Anurag Jain, Secretary, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, the NHIT is a successful example of public private partnership in which it has played a very important role in supporting national monetisation pipeline. While doing that NHIT has established itself as a leading player in the InvIT space, playing a critical role in channelising financial capital into the further development of Indian roads sector.

In the third round of monetisation, NHIT has raised unit capital of around Rs 7,272 crore from marquee domestic and international investors and debt of around Rs 9,000 crore from Indian lenders, to fund the acquisition of National Highway stretches, at a base concession fee of around Rs 15,625 crore, and additional concessional fees of Rs 75 crore. The units were subscribed by investors through a book build process at a cut off price of Rs 124.14 per unit, at a premium over the current NAV of Rs 122.86 per unit.

The units witnessed strong demand from both existing and new investors, including foreign pension funds viz. Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, which are existing unitholders and subscribed to the maximum limit of 25 per cent each. The other investors included domestic pension/provident funds (IOCL Employee’s PF, L&T Staff PF, Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Karamchari Pension Fund, SBI Pension etc.), insurance companies (Tata AIG, SBI Life, HDFC Life), mutual funds (SBI, Nippon India), banks and few others. NHAI also subscribed to its share of ~15% of the units at the same price.

With completion of the third round of monetisation the total realised value of all three rounds of InvIT stands at Rs 26,125 crore and holds a diversified portfolio of fifteen operating toll roads with an aggregate length of about 1,525 km spread across the 9 states of Assam, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, with concession periods ranging between 20 to 30 years. The National Highways Infra Trust (NHIT), the Infrastructure Investment Trust sponsored by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), was set up in 2021 to support Government of India’s National Monetization Pipeline.

Santosh Kumar Yadav, NHAI Chairman expects the successful completion of the largest monetisation of roads for NHAI to continue to play a stellar role in the monetisation and development of the Indian roads sector.

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India’s smartphone exports to US soar to $3.53B in Apr-Dec FY24

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India’s smartphone exports to the US witnessed a substantial surge, reaching USD 3.53 billion from April to December in this fiscal year, in stark contrast to USD 998 million during the same period the previous year, as per data from the Commerce Ministry.

The data further reveals that this surge in outbound shipments propelled the market share of Indian smartphones to 7.76% during April-December in the current fiscal year, a significant rise from 2% during the same period last year. With this notable increase, India has secured its position as the third-largest smartphone exporter to the US.

Officials attribute this surge to the overall growth in smartphone production, which has subsequently fuelled exports. During the nine-month span of the fiscal year, both China and Vietnam experienced a decline in their market share.

Additionally, US imports of smartphones from the top five suppliers saw a decrease, dropping from USD 49.1 billion in FY’23 to USD 45.1 billion in April -December. China’s smartphone exports to the US decreased to USD 35.1 billion, down from USD 38.26 billion the previous year.

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s shipments declined to USD 5.47 billion from USD 9.36 billion in the corresponding period. Other significant contributors to the US smartphone market include South Korea and Hong Kong. South Korea’s exports to the US surged to USD 858 million from USD 432 million, while Hong Kong’s sales dropped to USD 112 million from USD 132 million in April-December 2022-23.

The entry of smartphones into India’s export basket began in 2022-23, with shipments reaching USD 10.95 billion. Riding on this momentum, exports surged to USD 10.5 billion in April-December 2023-24.

India’s emergence as a key production hub for smartphones gained traction following the announcement of the Product Linked Incentives (PLI) scheme and the entry of US-based iPhone maker Apple into domestic manufacturing.

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