Federal Reserve Policymakers See Rate Hikes Ahead, Note Worries

Federal Reserve policymakers on Friday signaled further interest rate  increases ahead, but raised relatively muted concerns over a potential global  slowdown that has markets betting heavily that the Fed’s rate hike cycle will soon peter out.

The widening chasm between market expectations and the rate path the Fed laid out just two months ago underscores the biggest question in front of U.S. central bankers: How much weight to give a growing number of potential red flags, even as U.S. economic growth continues to push down unemployment and create new jobs?

“We are at a point now where we really need to be especially data dependent,” Richard Clarida, the newly appointed vice chair of the Federal Reserve, said in a CNBC interview. “I think certainly where the economy is today, and the Fed’s projection of where it’s going, that being at neutral would make sense,” he added, defining “neutral” as interest rates somewhere between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent.

But that range that implies anywhere from two more to six more rate hikes, and Clarida declined to say how many more increases he would prefer.

He did say he is optimistic that U.S. productivity is rising, a view that suggests he would not see faster economic or wage growth as necessarily feeding into higher inflation or, necessarily, requiring higher interest rates. But he also

sounded a mild warning.

“There is some evidence of global slowing,” Clarida said. “That’s something that is going to be relevant as I think about the outlook for the U.S. economy, because it impacts big parts of the economy through trade and through capital markets and the like.”

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Robert Kaplan, in a separate interview with Fox Business, also said he is seeing a growth slowdown in Europe and China.

“It’s my own judgment that global growth is going to be a little bit of a headwind, and it may spill over to the United States,” Kaplan said. .

The Fed raised interest rates three times this year and is expected to raise its target again next month, to a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. As of September, Fed policymakers expected to need to increase rates three more times next year, a view they will update next month.

Over the last week, betting in contracts tied to the Fed’s policy suggests that even two rate hikes might be a stretch. The yield on fed fund futures maturing in January 2020, seen by some as an end-point for the Fed’s current rate-hike cycle, dropped sharply to just 2.76 percent over six trading days.

At the same time, long-term inflation expectations have been dropping quickly as well. The so-called breakeven inflation rate on Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, or TIPS, has fallen sharply in the last month. The breakeven rate on five-year TIPS hit the lowest since late 2017 earlier this week.

Those market moves together suggest traders are taking the prospect of a slowdown seriously, limiting how far the Fed will end up raising rates.

But not all policymakers seemed that worried. Sitting with his back to a map of the world in a ballroom in Chicago’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans downplayed risks to his outlook, noting that the leveraged loans that some of his colleagues have raised concerns about are being taken out by “big boys and girls” who

understand the risks.

He told reporters he still believes rates should rise to about 3.25 percent so as to mildly restrain growth and bring unemployment, now at 3.7 percent, back up to a more sustainable level.

Asked about risks from the global slowdown, he said he hears more talk about it but that it is not really in the numbers yet.

But the next six months, he said, bear close watching.

“There’s not a great headline” about risks to the economy right now, Evans told reporters. “International is a little slower; Brexit — nobody’s asked me about that, thank you; [the slowing] housing market: I think all of those are in the mix for uncertainties that everybody’s facing,” he said.

“But at the moment, it’s not enough to upset or adjust the trajectory that I have in mind.”

Still, Evans added, the risks should not be counted out: “They could take on more life more easily because they are sort of more top of mind, if not in the forecast.”

Hosting

South Africa Cannabis Ruling Leads to Pot-Themed Products

Now that South Africa’s highest court has relaxed the nation’s laws on marijuana, local entrepreneurs are trying to cash in on the popular herb. Among the latest entries to the market: several highly popular cannabis-laced alcohol products, which deliver the unique taste, though without the signature high. Marijuana activists say this could just be the beginning and that the famous plant could do much more for the national economy. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

Hosting

Experts: Without Proof of Ownership, Land Laws Worthless

Land laws mean nothing unless communities can prove their ownership, researchers said Thursday, calling for better tools to map the land and stave off conflict over property.

From South Africa to the Amazon rainforest, battles over land and who owns it are unleashing unprecedented conflict and labyrinthine legal cases as governments and companies seek to exploit ever more of the world’s natural resources, from trees to minerals to rubber.

With an estimated 70 percent of the world unmapped, more than 5 billion people lack proof of ownership, according to the Lima-based Institute for Liberty and Democracy.

Laws no safeguard

Speaking at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual two-day Trust Conference, which focuses on a host of human rights issues, experts said the existence of laws in itself was no safeguard against abuse.

South Africa enshrines security of tenure in its constitution but the government rides roughshod over locals by promoting controversial mining deals, said Aninka Claassens, director of the University of Cape Town’s Land and Accountability Research Center.

More than two decades after the end of apartheid, whites still own most of the land in resource-rich South Africa and ownership remains a highly emotive subject ahead of next year’s national election.

“Our constitution means nothing unless people affected can prove their land rights, that’s why recorded rights are so important,” she said. “Mining is destroying livelihoods and land.”

Who owns what, where

Mapping property rights is crucial to understand “who owns what, where and how,” said Anne Girardin, land surveyor at the Cadasta Foundation, which develops digital tools to document and analyze land and resource rights information.

“That allows you to monitor changes in land resources, but also to better protect them,” she added.

More than 200 activists protecting their land and environment were killed in 2017, according to a survey of 22 countries by Global Witness, marking the deadliest year since the human rights group began collecting data.

Better and more coordinated information is needed to ward off more deadly conflicts, the experts said, citing satellite images and smartphones as tools that could document land.

Technology is plentiful but resources are scattered, Girardin said.

“It would take all the land surveyors we have 200-300 years to map the world’s undocumented land, so we need to be more pragmatic and work together,” she said.

Communities document land

Rampant deforestation means communities should rush to document their own land rather than wait for governments to act, said Nonette Royo, executive director of the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, which helps indigenous people.

“In the world, forest area the size of Belgium disappears every year,” she said.

For Claassens, land rights should be mapped and recorded in accordance with who uses land as well as who actually owns it.

“Who uses the land? Most often, it’s women,” she said, adding that women were often excluded from property records.

Women are key in the fight for land rights from Brazil to Cambodia, often deployed at the frontline to ward off development and protect family plots, fields and villages.

Hosting

Report: China Appears to Ease North Korea Sanctions

A U.S. congressional commission said Wednesday that China appears to have relaxed enforcement of sanctions on North Korea and called on the Treasury Department to provide a report on Chinese compliance within 180 days.

In its annual report, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said the Treasury report should include a classified list of Chinese financial institutions, businesses and officials involved in trading with North Korea that could be subject to future sanctions.

The bipartisan commission said China had appeared to enforce sanctions on North Korea more thoroughly than in the past in 2017 and in early 2018.

But this effort appeared to have relaxed since a thaw in relations between China and North Korea as the long-time ally of Beijing began to engage with the United States this year.

Key lifelines

“China appears to have eased off sanctions enforcement, despite its promises to keep sanctions intact until North Korea gets rid of its nuclear weapons,” the report said.

“North Korean workers have returned to jobs in northeast China, economic activity and tourism have picked up in border towns, flights in both directions have resumed, and the two countries have conducted high-profile official exchanges to discuss economic development,” it said.

It said China always left “key lifelines” in place for North Korea and there were “holes” in enforcement that included “ship to ship” transfers of goods.

The report said the Treasury Department, in recommending Chinese sanctions targets, should also “explain the potential broader impacts of sanctioning those entities.”

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for its weapons programs. The United States has imposed sanctions in the past on Chinese and other foreign firms for violating those steps.

Reward Pyongyang?

China and Russia have said the Security Council should reward Pyongyang for “positive developments” after U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in June and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization.

China’s top diplomat and politburo member Yang Jiechi said after talks in Washington last week that China would “continue to enforce strictly relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Trump has suggested China may be exerting negative pressure on U.S. efforts to press North Korea to denuclearize in response to U.S. trade measures on Beijing.

The U.S. Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the commission report, but the State Department said it expected all U.N. states to implement sanctions resolutions until North Korea gave up its nuclear weapons.

Hosting

Poll: Safety, Time Are Women’s Biggest Transportation Concerns

Safety is the biggest concern for women using public and private transport in five of the world’s biggest commuter cities, according to a global poll released Thursday as improving city access for women becomes a major focus globally. 

A Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of 1,000 women in London, New York, Mexico City, Tokyo and Cairo found 52 percent of respondents overall cited safety as their main worry, with women in Mexico City the most fearful about safety. 

Almost three in every four women in Mexico City lacked confidence they could travel without facing sexual harassment and abuse or sexual violence, with Cairo coming a close second. 

The ratio was one in four women in the other three cities. 

The time it took to travel around the city — with studies showing women often take more complex routes with more stops than men because of household and child care duties — was named as the second-biggest concern, cited by 33 percent of women. 

Time was the biggest worry for women in New York, with two-thirds saying it influenced their decision to take or stay in a job, while the cost of transport concerned women in London most, with nearly three in four women saying it was expensive. 

The poll came as city authorities have been looking at ways to ensure women have safe, efficient transport to reach jobs, education and health care. The cities are seeking to tackle inequality and poverty and boost their economies by getting more women into the workforce. 

The poll also came amid growing concern in the #MeToo climate that transport networks are magnets for sexual predators who use rush-hour crushes to hide behavior and as an excuse if caught. 

“It is very rare to find a group of women in any city who don’t have concerns about safety, and it is important for planners to think about that when designing a transport system,” said Jemilah Magnusson, spokeswoman for the U.S.-based Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. 

“Most transport systems focus on the solo male commuter traveling at peak hours from home and work, but women have different trip patterns. … Women must be involved in planning transit to meet their needs.” 

Laws and smartphones 

The survey, conducted Aug. 13-24 and supported by Uber, asked 200 women in each of five of the world’s largest commuter cities with underground train networks in different cultural regions about safety, time spent traveling and cost, among other issues. 

A recent International Labor Organization study said limited access to and safety of transport were estimated to be the greatest obstacles to women’s role in the labor force in developing countries, reducing probable participation by 16.5 percent. 

Transport authorities and experts said moves to improve transport for women had become a major issue in recent years because of safety concerns and congestion. 

World Bank reports have stressed that improving transport can have immediate positive results on women’s lives, be it through adding safety laws, including women in planning, or offering alternative transport, such as ride-hailing apps or bikes. 

The World Bank introduced gender as an issue for the first time this year at an annual conference on transforming transportation. 

Magnusson said including the issue of women and transport exploded into a major issue after the 2012 fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in Delhi shocked the world. 

“This was one story that brought out lots of other horror stories from women and really galvanized people,” said Magnusson, whose group promotes environmental and livable transport. 

This has led to a surge in women-only train carriages and taxi services, but just 47 percent of the women in the poll said this would improve women’s safety. 

Maria Jose Bermudez, 45, a cook who commutes three hours a day using public transport in Mexico City, said more needs to be done instead to educate men about women’s rights generally. 

“Women-only carriages don’t really solve the problem because the issue has to do with Mexico’s culture and how men treat women,” Bermudez told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

Coping with congestion 

Steve Swasey, spokesman for public transit app Moovit, said smartphones had triggered a “revolution” in mass transit with the emergence of ride-hailing apps and apps to use transport more efficiently by cutting wait times and avoiding bottlenecks. 

The Inter-American Development Bank found the higher the compliance with a transport schedule or the less congested, the lower the probability that a woman will be a crime victim. 

The Thomson Reuters Foundation poll found that 56 percent of women globally said ride-hailing apps had improved their ability to get around their cities. More than half of women in every city but Tokyo said these new forms of transport were helpful. 

“City roads are at full capacity, and there is not one major city where congestion is not a major concern,” Swasey said. “You can’t easily or quickly put more lanes on a bridge or rails in a tunnel … but you can use data to regulate the influx of traffic and change the way people use transport.” 

Magnusson said most cities were aware they should make transport more efficient and faster — but this could be a very politically unpopular move as it means cutting back on cars. 

“Taking lanes from cars to make bus lanes and bike lanes, and introducing new parking and restriction schemes, can stop cars going into cities and help speed up transport,” she said. 

 

“It is not about just one thing, but it is about creating a transport system that is fair and allows women to fully participate in society, but that in itself can be very threatening to many people.” 

Hosting

Slave-Free Jeans Get Boost from ‘Markle Sparkle’ But Can Companies Back Ethical Vows?

When Meghan Markle wore a pair of “slave-free” jeans on a royal tour of Australia last month, she sparked a sales stampede and shone a spotlight on the growing number of companies aiming to meet public demand for products untainted by modern-day slavery.

Australia-based Outland Denim employs dozens of survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery and other vulnerable women in Cambodia to make its $200 (150 pounds) jeans that are stamped as ethically sourced and produced, and environmentally friendly.

Founder James Bartle said his social enterprise — a business seeking to make profit while doing good — set out from day one in 2011 to know exactly where their materials and workforce came from — which had meant limited quantities and higher prices.

But he said today’s more educated and demanding consumers were happy to spend more on goods that were not damaging the planet or fueling slavery, and the unexpected publicity from Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, could hugely boost this trend.

He said the company was totally surprised when the duchess stepped off a plane in the rural Australian city of Dubbo wearing their jeans which all contain a written thank-you message from the seamstress on an internal pocket.

“[She] made it OK to wear an ethically-made brand to the world … we can’t put a value on that,” Bartle said at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference on Wednesday.

“Every brand must stand for something. The public are sick and tired of marketing,” he said. “We wanted to create a sustainable model — to give genuine power to people to change their future through employment.”

Hard to prove

More companies are not only striving to clean up their supply chains but stamping their goods as slave-free.

Yet labor activists and academics say it is very difficult for any company to prove that its supply chain is entirely free of forced labor or abuses, and the public should be wary.

Dutch chocolate-maker Tony’s Chocolonely, stamps its goods with the slogan “100 percent slave-free” — despite sourcing cocoa beans from West Africa where two million children are estimated to work and reports of forced labor are rife.

The firm said it deals directly with local farming groups rather than international traders, and traces its supply chain fully, from the beans it buys to the finished product on sale.

“Unfortunately, too many companies only pay lip service in their strife to end abuses in their supply chain, instead of really making it part of their core business” said Arjen Boekhold, a “cocoa game changer” at Tony’s Chocolonely.

“Consumers will not pay extra for products which are not genuine in quality … or in efforts to end abuses or slavery,” added Boekhold, also a speaker at the London-based conference.

“People try to push us into an ethical corner … but we are the new normal,” he told a panel discussion on slave-free goods.

‘Seismic shift’ needed

About 25 million people are estimated to be trapped in forced labor, according to the United Nations, which in 2015 agreed to a global target of ending slavery in all forms by 2030.

While more companies are going public with their anti-slavery efforts, few can categorically say their products are untainted, said Andrew Crane, an academic at Bath University.

“This is very hard to prove, any such claims cannot be trusted by consumers,” the labor issues expert added. “Maybe we don’t need companies to say they are slave-free … but that they are trying to be and doing everything they can to achieve that.”

Many companies sign up to anti-slavery schemes or codes of conduct instead of directly dealing with their workers, yet such initiatives often fail to stop abuses, experts say.

A study by Sheffield University, revealed exclusively by Reuters in May, found some Indian tea plantations stamped slavery-free by groups including Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance were abusing and underpaying workers.

“There is no doubt that low prices and cheap products are driving a race to the bottom on labor standards,” said Cindy Berman of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), an alliance of trade unions, companies and charities promoting workers’ rights.

“But getting consumers to pay more for products will only scratch the surface of the problem unless it’s part of a seismic shift in the way goods and services are traded globally.”

Hosting

May’s Brexit ‘Moment of Truth’

Britain’s Theresa May scrambled Wednesday to sell to her Cabinet a draft Brexit divorce agreement British negotiators concluded after months of wrangling with their European Union counterparts.

But the 500-page draft remains a source of deep dispute within Britain’s ruling Conservative party and also in the country’s parliament, which will have the final say on whether to approve it.

As news emerged Tuesday that a text had been agreed, hardline Brexiteers lined up to attack the proposed agreement with former British foreign minister Boris Johnson, who resigned earlier this year, urging other ministers to join him in opposing the terms of the deal. Britain’s main opposition parties also announced their disapproval of the deal, which has not even been published yet. 

The agreement, if approved by the Cabinet and subsequently the British parliament, would see Britain remaining in a customs union for several years with the EU after it formally exits the bloc in March, but with an unclear legal path to quitting the customs arrangement while a fuller trade deal is negotiating.

Remaining in a customs union allows Britain and the EU to avoid introducing customs checks along the border separating Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and would also allow “frictionless trade” between Britain and its erstwhile partners in the EU.

Tough sell

But critics say it would reduce Britain to the status of a “vassal state” by requiring it to accept EU rules and regulations without having any say about them. It would also block Britain from signing trade deals with other countries while a trade agreement is concluded with the EU, which itself could take three or four years or even longer. Reaching trade deals independently with non-EU countries was a key selling point of Brexit for many who voted nearly two years ago in a referendum to relinquish EU membership.

“This is just about as bad as it could possibly be,” Johnson fumed Tuesday to reporters in the corridors of the British House of Commons. Other Brexiteers joined him to denounce the proposed deal, one they are determined to sabotage and which runs, they say, contrary to the Conservative Party manifesto they fought an election on a year.

“For the first time in a thousand years this place, this parliament will not have a say over the laws which govern this country. It is quite an incredible state of affairs,” Johnson added.

“She hasn’t so much struck a deal as surrendered to Brussels… the UK will be a slave state,” said Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Conservatives’ future at stake

The stakes couldn’t be higher for Theresa May. The draft agreement, May’s fate as Prime Minister and the longevity of the Conservative government are all hanging in the balance. The consequences of the process to get the draft agreement approved are difficult to guess and could end up sinking May, the Conservative government and even Brexit itself. “I don’t think anyone knows, to be truthful,” said Labour lawmaker Chuka Umunna.

May’s minority government relies on the votes in the House of Commons on a handful of lawmakers from a quirky Protestant-based Unionist party, which is also opposed to the draft deal.

Without the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party, and faced with an inevitable revolt by dozen of Conservative lawmakers, May will need to persuade opposition lawmakers to break with their party leaderships by arguing her deal is the best Britain can get.

Second vote?

But an increasing number of opposition lawmakers are jumping on the bandwagon of the People’s Vote movement, which is calling for a second Brexit referendum. Recent opinion polls suggest a majority of voters now, especially in traditional Labour heartlands, many of which voted in June 2016 for Brexit, now want Britain to retain EU membership, fearing the economic fallout from departure.

But even before seeking next month parliamentary backing for the draft customs union deal, May has to persuade her cabinet to back her — and that is not even a sure thing. On Tuesday — ahead of a full cabinet meeting called for Wednesday afternoon — May took a leaf out of the playbook of her Conservative predecessor Margaret Thatcher, who in 1990 called in ministers one by one to place them on the spot and demand their support. However, the tactic backfired on Thatcher and she was forced to resign. 

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith predicts May’s days will be numbered if she fails to reverse course and decides not to pursue a cleaner break from the EU. “If the cabinet agrees it, the party certainly won’t,” he said. Conservative lawmakers who want Britain to remain in the EU are also publicly opposing the draft agreement, placing May in a tight political vice.

Leave-supporting ministers were coming under intense pressure from hardline Brexiteers in the hours leading up to the cabinet meeting to reject the deal. They pointed to a leaked EU document outlining a strategy to force Britain to accept an almost permanent alignment with its rules and regulations governing state aid, environmental protection and workers’ rights.

In a note to EU ambassadors, Sabine Weyand, a deputy EU negotiator, said the customs union will form the basis for Britain’s future trade deal with the bloc. “They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls. UK wants a lot more from the future relationship, so EU retains leverage,” she wrote. 

 

 

 

 

 

Hosting

Inside the FedEx Hub: How Packages Arrive at Your Door

Several hundred private cargo planes in the United States deliver millions of packages per year. The FedEx superhub in Memphis Tennessee works around the clock to get parcels delivered to customers and hopefully – on time. VOA’s Lesia Bakalets traveled to Memphis to learn what part of day is the busiest for the FedEx team and how quickly they can load a plane.

Hosting

Ocean Shock: In Land of Sushi, Squid Moves Out of Reach

This is part of “Ocean Shock,” a Reuters series exploring climate change’s impact on sea creatures and the people who depend on them.

Takashi Odajima picked up a cracked and faded photograph and dusted it off with his sleeve. He smiled a little sadly at the image from long ago, back when he was a baby boy.

In the photo, he sits on his uncle’s lap as his family poses at a nearby dock, squid heaped in the background. In another, his uncle dries rows of squid, carefully folded like shirts over a clothesline on the roof of their house.

Odajima’s family has lived for generations in Hakodate, on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. It’s a city steeped in squid, a place where restaurants outside the local fish market advertise the start of the squid-fishing season with colorful banners.

When Odajima’s father returned home from World War II, he supported his family by driving a truck for a local seafood company. He was paid in salt, a valuable commodity at the time.

Using the salt, his family began making and selling shio-kara, a fermented squid dish that derives its name from its taste: “salty-spicy.” Because it keeps for days without refrigeration, it was an important source of protein for Japan’s starving population after the war.

Seven decades later, most Japanese bars still serve it as an appetizer, and small bottles are sold in supermarkets as a condiment to be eaten with rice.

“Someone once asked me what squid means to people in Hakodate, and I told him that it was our soul. I was half-joking at the time,” Odajima, 66, said. “But squid was always the main dish, long before we started eating rice.”

Out of more than a dozen types of squid eaten here, the Japanese flying squid, or Todarodes pacificus, is so central to the national cuisine, it’s sometimes referred to as maika, or the true squid.

But now, fluctuations in ocean temperatures and years of overfishing and lax regulatory oversight have drastically depleted populations of the translucent squid in waters around Japan. As recently as 2011, fishermen in Japan were hauling in more than 200,000 tons of flying squid a year. That number had fallen by three-quarters to 53,000 tons last year, the lowest harvest since Japan’s national fisheries cooperative started keeping records more than 30 years ago. Japanese researchers say they expect catches of flying squid to be even smaller this year.

That such a ubiquitous creature could disappear has shaken a country whose identity is intertwined with fish and fishing, a nation where sushi chefs are treated like rock stars and fishermen are the heroes of countless TV shows. The shortage of flying squid, an icon of the working and middle classes, has dealt a hard blow to the livelihoods of not only fishermen, but everyone from suppliers to traders at Tokyo’s famous fish market.

The fate of the flying squid is a microcosm of a global phenomenon that has seen marine life fleeing waters that have undergone the fastest warming on record. Reuters has spent more than a year scouring decades of maritime temperature readings, fishery records and other little-used data to create a portrait of the planet’s hidden climate change — in the rarely explored depths of the seas that cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.

Fish have always followed changing conditions, sometimes with devastating effects for people, as the starvation in Norwegian fishing villages in past centuries when the herring failed to appear one season will attest. But what is happening today is different: The accelerating rise in sea temperatures, which scientists primarily attribute to the burning of fossil fuels, is causing a lasting shift in fisheries.

In Japan, average market prices of the once-humble squid have nearly doubled in the past two years, quickly putting the dish out of reach for many blue-collar and middle-class Japanese families that grew up eating it.

A Town’s Identity Threatened

Here in Hakodate, the squid shortage threatens the very culture and shared history of the town. One of the country’s first ports to open for trade with the outside world in the 19th century, it has the look of a Japanese San Francisco, with gingerbread Victorians and tram lines that slope down to the waterfront.

Odajima’s earliest memory is of his mother buying squid from a neighbor’s cart piled high with the morning’s catch. Now, fishermen barely have enough squid to sell to traders, much less to neighbors. A festival celebrating the start of the squid season in a nearby town has been canceled two years in a row.

Odajima still works in the family compound, a collection of deteriorating buildings near the Hakodate docks. Walking through a cluttered storage shed, he shows off the factory floor where he keeps his family treasure: dozens of 60-year-old barrels made of Japanese cedar. He’s one of the last local manufacturers still using wooden barrels to ferment and age his product.

Odajima also refuses to use cheaper imported squid, saying it would harm the brand’s locally sourced appeal.

But with costs skyrocketing, he isn’t sure about the future of his family business. His 30-year-old son quit his office job to help out after Odajima failed to find new workers. “I wanted to be able to hand it to him in better shape,” he said, “but now…”

One morning in June, Odajima joined a huddle of men at the docks for one of the first squid auctions for the season.

They looked over three neat piles of white Styrofoam boxes, comforting one another that it was still early in the squid season.

“Shit, they’re all tiny,” one buyer said. His friend walked away without waiting for the bidding to start.

At exactly 6.20 a.m., men in green jackets tipped their hats and began the auction. Once an event that used to attract dozens of buyers and take as long as an hour, this one took less than two minutes.

A gruff buyer supplying local restaurants that cater mostly to tourists strode to the front of the pack and bought all 11 boxes without looking. The rest of the group, including Odajima, hung back and shook their heads.

In the month of June, just 31 tons of fresh squid ended up at Hakodate’s main market, 70 percent less than the previous year. A typical squid caught in the Sea of Japan now weighs a third less than it did 10 years ago, according to surveys by Takafumi Shikata, a researcher at the Ishikawa Prefecture Fisheries Research Center.

An Early Warning on Squid

The squid shortage has become so dire, anxious bankers with outstanding loans to those in the industry have started showing up at the annual seminars held by Yasunori Sakurai, one of Japan’s foremost experts on cephalopods.

Sakurai, the chair of the Hakodate Cephalopod Research Center, began warning fishermen and other researchers about the effects of climate change on Japan’s squid population nearly two decades ago.

The flying squid gains its name from the way it can spread its mantle like a parachute to draw in and eject water, using propulsion to fly above the waves. The squid spend their short life — just over a year — migrating thousands of miles between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, mating, then returning to lay eggs in the same area where they were born.

Sakurai blames climate change for recent fluctuations in ocean temperatures — a cold snap in waters where the squid spawn and steadily warming waters in the Sea of Japan where they migrate. These changes mean that fewer eggs laid in the colder-than-average waters in the East China Sea survive, and those that do hatch are swimming northward to avoid unnaturally warm waters in the Sea of Japan.

The Sea of Japan has warmed 1.7 degrees Celsius (around 3 degrees Fahrenheit) in the past century, making it one of the fastest-warming areas in the seas surrounding the archipelago.

Based on predictions by Sakurai’s former students now at Japan’s Fisheries Research and Education Agency, surface temperatures in these waters may rise an additional 3.7 degrees Celsius over the next century.

These changes have taken a toll on squid.

“It’s something that’s always been eaten on the side, and now it’s just gone. Everyone is asking why,” Sakurai said.

Others, like retired regulator and researcher Masayuki Komatsu, argue that although Japanese officials and fishermen are loath to admit it, the country’s rampant overfishing and lax regulatory oversight are also to blame for the shortage.

“They all blame it on climate change, and that’s the end of the discussion for them,” said Komatsu, who served as a senior official in Japan’s fisheries agency until 2004.

Since Japan started setting catch limits for the flying squid 20 years ago, fishermen have never come close to hitting the limit of the quotas. This year, the fisheries agency said it will allow fishermen to catch 97,000 tons of squid, a third less than the government’s limit for last year, but nearly double what fishermen actually caught during the same period.

The ministry acknowledges that flying squid, particularly those born in winter months, are rapidly declining. But officials say the catch limits are appropriate given the scientific evidence available. They say it is especially hard to study the elusive creature, which travels long distances over a short lifespan and is more susceptible to environmental changes than many other marine species.

“It isn’t scientific to simply say that because squid isn’t being caught, we need to lower the catch limits, when we don’t have the scientific backing to justify that,” said Yujiro Akatsuka, assistant director of the agency’s resources management promotion office.

A Fishing Town on the Rocks

Ripped curtains and fraying bits of cardboard cover windows of the empty storefronts along the main shopping street in Sakata, a town on the northwestern coast of Japan that once thrived as a major trading hub for rice and later as a fishing port. Old signs for grocery stores, camera shops and beauty parlors are barely visible through a thicket of vines.

Wooden warehouses that once stored the region’s rice are one of the few reminders of the town’s prosperous past. They were turned into souvenir stores after the buildings were featured in a popular television drama series.

On an early summer day, the docks were deserted except for a group of young Indonesian men living in shared rooms next to the port. They’re Japan’s answer to an aging industry, part of an army of young foreign men brought into the country to take fishing jobs spurned by Japanese men.

Shigeru Saito was 15 when he boarded his first fishing boat.

By the time he was 27, he was at the helm of his own ship. He never questioned his path. Both his father and grandfather, born on a small island off Sakata’s coast, had been fishermen.

Now 60, Saito has steered dozens of ships all over Japan.

When Saito started fishing, Japan had a fleet of more than 400 ships harvesting squid. He now captains one of the 65 remaining ships specially kitted with powerful light bulbs that lure squid from dark waters.

Until recently, his crew could return to port in two weeks after the start of the squid-fishing season in early June with their ship’s hold full of flying squid. Now, it takes them almost 50 days to catch that much.

“We’re having to travel farther and farther north to chase squid, but there are limits,” he said, pausing his round of checks to sit in the captain’s room of his ship, the Hoseimaru No. 58, where he sleeps in a tiny cot under boxes of equipment.

As competition intensifies for an ever-dwindling catch, fishermen have begun blaming trawlers from China, South Korea and Taiwan for overfishing in nearby waters. In recent years, fishermen from North Korea have also joined the competition.

Japan says North Koreans are illegally poaching squid in the Yamato Shallows, a particularly abundant area in the Sea of Japan.

Saito’s fishing lines got tangled in a net set by a North Korean boat there last year. Cautious about any confrontation with North Koreans, he and other Japanese fishermen abandoned the area early in the squid season.

“We can’t fish in these conditions,” he said.

Young Japanese men like Saito’s son are reluctant to join the industry, with its long months away from home and physically grueling labor. His crew is already half Indonesian. Soon, he said, only the captain will need to be Japanese.

In the last decade, the number of fishermen in Japan has declined by more than a third to fewer than 160,000. Of those left, an average fisherman earns about $20,000, not even half of Japan’s national median income.

“My son is a salaryman in the city,” Saito said. “I couldn’t recommend this to him – how could I? We’re away a third of the year,” and, with North Korean poachers on the prowl, “the waters are more dangerous now.”

The next day, men set up folding chairs and tents on Sakata’s dock for a ceremony marking the start of the fishing season. Saito joined other captains in the front row, bowing his head with his baseball cap in his hands. Young Indonesian men fidgeted in the back of the crowd. Melodic chants of Buddhist monks filled the salty air.

“We know we are powerless before the might of nature,” one monk said as the captains fixed their eyes on the ground. “We cannot go against the power of the sea. But we pray for a bountiful harvest and safe passage over the seas.”

Anxiety in Tokyo

Several weeks had passed since Japan’s squid-fishing fleet left port. But in Tokyo, near the Tsukiji fish market, Atsushi Kobayashi was waiting anxiously. The specialist wholesaler still hadn’t received a single shipment of flying squid from northern Japan. His driver sat on the concrete curb next to Kobayashi’s truck smoking in the midday sun.

In the past, each week Kobayashi would unload three to four shipments of 1,200 squid, to be dispatched to high-end sushi restaurants around Tokyo.

“Last year, the fishing season ended in November because the squid disappeared” — two months earlier than usual. He unlocked his phone to message another customer that he had nothing to sell that day.

Elsewhere in Tsukiji, the largest wholesale seafood exchange in the world, hundreds of other family-run fish traders were also awaiting this season’s catch. But by the time cases of squid finally began to arrive later in the summer, many of the traders were preparing to close their stalls to abandon the 80-year-old market.

In October, hundreds of fishmongers moved to a gleaming new market on the waterfront that cost more than $5 billion. But others, their businesses already failing from a drop in consumer demand, higher operational costs and a lack of interest from the families’ younger generation, didn’t make the move.

Those who left felt a powerful sense of loss about a place that has been a colorful symbol of the country’s fishing industry.

Masako Arai was one of them. Her husband’s family started their wholesale fish trading business 95 years ago, first in Nihonbashi, where the previous market was destroyed in a massive earthquake and fire in 1923, and later in Tsukiji.

“Our families have lived here and protected this place for generations,” the 75-year-old grandmother said.

Near Arai’s store were empty spaces where families had tended shop for generations; more than a hundred businesses have closed in the past five years. Nearly a third of the remaining 500 fish traders at the market were losing money.

“It feels like we’re always on shifting sand, and we don’t know what the future holds,” Arai said.

Nor do the chefs who create Japan’s signature cuisine.

Kazuo Nagayama has visited Tsukiji most mornings for the past 50 years to buy fresh fish. Once back at his sushi bar in the Nihonbashi district, he changes into his white uniform to write out the day’s menu with an ink brush.

For the past few years, the 76-year-old chef has found it harder to list local fish he deems decent enough to serve to his customers. On this summer day, the first item on his handwritten menu was yellowfin tuna shipped from Boston.

“I’m worried that people won’t know what it’s like to taste truly delicious fish,” he said. “Fishermen feel they have no future, and fisherfolk are disappearing. Our culture surrounding fishing is disappearing, and our culinary culture is also fading.”

Nagayama doesn’t allow anyone else to handle fish behind the counter, where customers pay up to $300 each for the chef’s nightly omakase course. Although his tiny bar is usually fully booked, he doesn’t see a future for it — he has no children and no heir.

“We’ll have to close in the next four to five years,” he said. “I’ll be the last one here.”

‘Everyone’s Raising Prices’

At Nabaya, a dark bar across the street from his Tokyo office, Hiroshi Nonoyama sipped a beer after another long day at work.

“It’s all depressing news, not a great topic of conversation over drinks,” he said. Nonoyama manages a trade group overseeing 79 companies that manufacture everything from squid-flavored potato chips to squid jerky. They’ve been some of the hardest hit by the recent run of poor harvests, Nonoyama said.

“A lot of these guys are old school. They haven’t diversified beyond using flying squid, you see? And when that becomes too expensive? Boom!” he said, crashing his hand on the bar counter.

Already this year, two of his companies had gone out of business because of the rising cost of squid.

“I only heard about one of them because I got a call from the tax office about unpaid taxes,” he said, sighing. The owner, who had employed 70 workers for half a century, was now on the run from his creditors.

“Everyone’s raising prices, but how much are customers willing to pay?” Nonoyama asked.

It’s the same question that Odajima, the Hakodate squid merchant, asks himself every day. He has nearly doubled prices in the past two years to 700 yen per bottle.

“Buyers are telling me that if I raise prices again, they won’t be able to sell it as a side dish or condiment — consumers just won’t buy it,” he said.

His factory’s yearly output is almost half of what it was 10 years ago. Looking for ways to survive, Odajima is now courting boutique supermarkets and upscale restaurants.

Recently, Odajima flew to Tokyo to pitch his product. By the time he arrived at Ginza Six, a shimmering luxury mall in the city’s posh shopping district, he was already sweating in his oversized pinstripe suit. He adjusted his tie and patted down his freshly cut hair in front of Imadeya, a premium liquor store on the basement floor of the mall.

Two Chinese women sampled glasses of Japanese wine under a pair of Edison bulbs at the shop counter. Shohei Okawa, the store’s 36-year-old manager, waited patiently as Odajima pulled several jars of shio-kara out of a cooler he had carried on the plane from Hakodate. Folded copies of Tokyo’s subway map peeked out of his large duffel bag.

“As you know, prices are getting higher, particularly for squid,” he said, suddenly sounding formal and looking anxious.

“Which is part of the reason why we’d love to sell in a higher-end store like yours.”

“What other stores carry this in Tokyo?” Okawa asked. “And is this rare? Is it authentic?”

Odajima quickly added that his product was handmade with no artificial coloring.

Satisfied, Okawa said he would send in orders for a few cases.

Outside, leaning against the mall’s glass façade, Odajima was happy — for the moment, at least.

“I wonder what my father would think, selling it at a place like this,” he said. “It’s a little unbelievable. We had so much squid we didn’t know what to do with it. Now, it’s become a delicacy.”

Hosting

Study: Millions of Small Asian Farmers Miss Out on Seeds Resilient to Climate Change

Millions of smallholder farmers in South and Southeast Asia are missing out on new, resilient seeds that could improve their yields in the face of climate change, according to an index published Monday.

The 24 top seed companies fail to reach four-fifths of the region’s 170 million smallholder farmers for reasons such as poor infrastructure, high prices and lack of training, the Access to Seeds Index found.

Access to seeds bred to better withstand changing weather conditions such as higher temperatures is vital as farmers battle loss of productivity due to climate change, said Ido Verhagen, head of the Access to Seeds Foundation, which published the index.

“We see increasing demands for new varieties, because [farmers] are affected by climate change,” Verhagen told Reuters.

“If we want to feed a growing population, if we want to tackle climate change, if we want to go towards a more sustainable food system, we have to start with seeds,” he said.

Smallholder farmers managing between one to 10 hectares of land provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in Asia, said the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

But traditional methods of preserving seeds from harvests are not always sufficient to cope with a changing climate.

About 340 million people were hungry in 2017 in South and Southeast Asia, a number that has barely changed since 2015, according to latest figures from the United Nations.

“The question is how to get markets to provide the varieties [of seeds] that farmers want, at prices that they’re able to pay,” said Shawn McGuire, agricultural officer at the FAO.

Some smaller companies are leading the way in helping smallholders access more resilient seeds, Verhagen said, such as Thailand-based East-West Seed which topped the index ahead of global giants Bayer and Syngenta, which ranked second and third.

East-West Seed has built a successful business focusing purely on smallholders, he said, while Indian companies Acsen HyVeg and Namdhari, ranked sixth and seventh respectively, have also reached small-scale farmers with seeds.

The index, funded by the Dutch government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ranks companies based on seven areas including strategies to help small farmers and supporting conservation.

Hosting

Tech Giants Slide, Pulling US Stock Market Sharply Lower

A broad sell-off in technology companies pulled U.S. stocks sharply lower Monday, knocking more than 600 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

 

The wave of selling snared big names, including Apple, Amazon and Goldman Sachs. Banks, consumer-focused companies, and media and communications stocks all took heavy losses. Crude oil prices fell, erasing early gains and extending a losing streak to 11 days.

 

The tech stock tumble came followed an analyst report that suggested Apple significantly cut back orders from one of its suppliers. That, in turn, weighed on chipmakers.

 

“With the news out of the Apple supplier this morning, you have the market overall questioning the growth trajectory as we look out to 2019,” said Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA. “We continue to like tech going into next year, but we think it could be a little bit of a rocky period for the group as we continue through the last two months of the year.”

 

The market’s slide came after a two-week winning streak.

 

The S&P 500 index dropped 54.79 points, or 2 percent, to 2,726.22. The Dow fell 602.12 points, or 2.3 percent, to 25,387.18. It was down briefly by 648 points.

 

The Nasdaq composite slid 206.03 points, or 2.8 percent, to 7,200.87. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 30.70 points, or 2 percent, to 1,518.79.

Bond trading was closed for Veterans Day. Stocks in Europe also suffered losses.

 

Apple tumbled 5 percent to $194.17 after Wells Fargo analysts said the iPhone maker is the unnamed customer that optical communications company Lumentum Holdings said was significantly reducing orders. Shares in Lumentum plunged 33 percent to $37.50.

 

Several chipmakers also fell. Advanced Micro Devices gave up 9.5 percent to $19.03, while Nvidia lost 7.8 percent to $189.54. Micron Technology gave up 4.3 percent to $37.44.

 

Amazon slid 4.4 percent to $1,636.85.

 

Banks and other financial companies also took heavy losses Tuesday. Goldman Sachs slid 7.5 percent to $206.05.

“Expectations are really that the deregulation process that has benefited banks up to this point is going to be slowed down with the Democrats in charge,” Bell said.

 

Stocks appeared to have regained their footing after a skid in October snapped a six-month string of gains for the S&P 500. Stocks rallied last week after the U.S. midterm elections turned out largely as investors expected, with a divided Congress promising legislative gridlock in Washington the next couple of years.

 

While the market has typically thrived in periods of divided government, investors continue to grapple with uncertainty over the U.S.-China trade dispute and the potential impact of increased oversight of Corporate America by Democrats, who will be taking over leadership in the House of Representatives in January.

 

In addition, some companies have recently reported third-quarter earnings and outlooks that have stoked investors’ worries about the future growth of corporate profits.

 

While companies got a boost this year from the lower tax rates put in place by President Donald Trump and the GOP last December, several companies have recently warned about the impact of higher costs related to tariffs and rising interest rates.

 

“The bull market is not over, the economic expansion is not over, but things are starting to wind down,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading & derivatives at Charles Schwab. “We’re clearly getting into the late innings of the ball game.”

 

British American Tobacco, which makes Newport cigarettes, plunged 8.8 percent to $38.08 on reports that regulators were considering a ban on menthol cigarettes.

 

PG&E tumbled 17.4 percent to $32.98 after the electric utility told regulators that a high-voltage line experienced a problem near the origin of one of the major California wildfires before the blaze started.

 

Investors bid up shares in Athenahealth after the struggling medical billing software maker said it received a $5.7 billion cash buyout offer. The stock jumped 9.7 percent to $131.97.

 

About 90 percent of S&P 500 companies have reported third-quarter results so far, with some 51 percent of those posting earnings and revenue that topped Wall Street’s forecasts, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Several big retailers are due to deliver results this week, including Walmart, Home Depot, Williams-Sonoma, Nordstrom and J.C. Penney.

 

“That could actually probably boost the market,” Bell said.”Retailers are going to have a better third quarter than most people expect. A lot of them ordered goods ahead of the tariffs going into place, so they’re not going to have to pass on higher prices on to the consumer this holiday season.”

 

Benchmark U.S. crude gave up an early gain, sliding 0.4 percent to settle at $59.93 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, dipped 0.1 percent to close at $70.12 per barrel in London. Oil futures rose earlier on news that Saudi Arabia and other major producers planned to reduce output.

 

The dollar strengthened to 113.86 yen from 113.80 yen on Friday. The euro fell to $1.1240 from $1.1336. The British pound weakened to $1.2853 from $1.2975 amid concerns that Britain’s government is struggling to find unity on a Brexit deal.

 

Gold fell 0.4 percent to $1,203.50 an ounce. Silver lost 0.9 percent to $14.01 an ounce. Copper slid 0.3 percent to $2.68 a pound.

 

In other energy trading, heating oil fell 0.8 percent to $2.16 a gallon and wholesale gasoline gained 0.9 percent to $1.64 a gallon. Natural gas rose 1.9 percent to $3.79 per 1,000 cubic feet.

 

Major stock indexes in Europe also ended lower Monday. Germany’s DAX lost 1.8 percent and France’s CAC 40 fell 0.9 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 shed 0.7 percent.

 

In Asia, markets finished mixed. Japan’s Nikkei 225 added 0.1 percent, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.1 percent. Australia’s S&P-ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent. The Kospi in South Korea dipped 0.3 percent.

Hosting

Japan’s Abe Calls for Public Works Spending to Help Economy 

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Monday for a new public works spending program to stimulate the economy amid growing concerns about global risks. 

The spending, which is expected in the first half of next fiscal year starting in April, will focus on strengthening infrastructure to withstand earthquakes and frequent flooding, according to a presentation made at the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy (CEFP). 

Some of Japan’s top government advisers also called for stimulus to offset a decline in consumption expected after an increase in the nationwide sales tax in October next year. 

The rush to approve public works spending and other measures to support consumption highlights growing concern among policymakers about the economy. 

“The prime minister asked me to take firm measures to ensure that our economic recovery continues,” Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said at the end of the CEFP meeting. “He also said the public works spending program expected at the end of this year should be compiled with this point in mind.” 

Japan’s economy is forecast to contract in July-September, and a recent slump in machinery orders suggests any rebound in the following quarters is likely to be weak if exports and business investment lose momentum. 

Government ministers will compile a preliminary public works plan by the end of this month and then submit a final version of the plan by year’s end, according to documents used at the CEFP meeting. 

Urgent matter

Members of the CEFP did not say how large the spending program should be or how the government should fund the package. At the meeting, Abe said compiling the package has become an urgent matter, according to a government official. 

Japan’s government is considering a 10 trillion-yen ($87.77 billion) stimulus package to offset the impact of a sales tax hike next year, sources told Reuters last week, as concerns about consumer spending and the global economy grow. 

Increasing spending on public works started to gain support after a strong earthquake in September caused a blackout in the northern island of Hokkaido and a series of typhoons damaged transport infrastructure in western Japan. 

The advisers on the CEFP are academics and business leaders who are considered close to Abe, so their recommendations often influence policy decisions. 

The CEFP met earlier Monday to debate consumer prices and fiscal policy, which is where the advisers made their recommendations. 

The advisers did not lay out the specific steps the government should take to stimulate consumption, but government officials have previously said they are considering shopping vouchers for low-income earners and more spending on public works. 

The nationwide sales tax is scheduled to rise to 10 percent in October 2019 from 8 percent currently. The government already plans to exempt food and some daily goods from the tax hike to soften the blow, but there is still a lot of concern that the tax hike will wreck consumer spending and sentiment. The economy was tipped into a recession the last time the tax was raised in 2014. 

Advisers at the CEFP meeting also threw their support behind the government’s plan to encourage mobile phone carriers to lower smartphone fees, saying they hoped the move would increase households’ disposable incomes. 

Hosting