Friday 31 December 2021

Will 2022 Be Better? For Whom?

Baltic Dry Index. 2217 Dec 24.  Brent Crude 79.13

Spot Gold 1819

Coronavirus Cases 02/04/20 World 1,000,000

Deaths 53,100

Coronavirus Cases 31/12/21 World 286,891,918

Deaths 5,446,315

A happy, healthy, prosperous 2022 to all.

Except for the billionaires, few in the global economy will mourn the passing of 2021. But will 2022 be any better?

Much of that outcome depends on what happens next in the omicron covid variant now surging across America and Europe.

Mainstream media are busy hyping that the sky is falling or about to fall. Most government politicians are only to happy to follow the dismal media. 

Yet I remain hopeful that omicron represents the beginning of the end of the Great 2020-2021 pandemic.

Though untested, I can’t get hold of a test kit, my “cold” on Christmas day lasted just two days and was very mild with almost no symptoms. 

Next month will tell if the doomsayers or optimists are right.

Tech stocks in Hong Kong surge in shortened trading day for multiple Asia-Pacific markets

SINGAPORE — Hong Kong stocks led gains among major Asia-Pacific markets on Friday, with Chinese tech stocks in the city soaring.

Markets in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore closed early on Friday for the final trading day of the year. Elsewhere in Asia, markets in Japan and South Korea were closed on Friday.

The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong jumped 1.24% to 23,397.67, paring some losses but still tumbling about 14% for the year.

Shares of Chinese tech firms listed in the city saw big gains on Friday, with Alibaba surging 8.19% and Meituan advancing 3.21% while Tencent rose 3.02%. The Hang Seng Tech index gained 3.57% to 5,670.96.

Mainland Chinese stocks were higher by the afternoon, with the Shanghai composite up 0.36% while the Shenzhen component rose fractionally.

China’s factory activity saw an acceleration in growth during December, with the official manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) coming in at 50.3 for that month from November’s reading of 50.1, according to data released Friday by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics.

That was above expectations of analysts who had expected the reading to fall slightly from the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction, according to Reuters. PMI readings are sequential and represent month-on-month expansion or contraction.

Elsewhere, the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia slipped 0.92% to close at 7,444.60. Singapore’s Straits Times index declined fractionally to finish the trading day at 3,123.68.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares gained 0.43%.

Overnight stateside, the Dow Jones Industrial Average snapped its 6-day winning streak as it fell 90.55 points to 36,398.08. The S&P 500 shed 0.3% to 4,778.73 while the Nasdaq Composite declined 0.16% to 15,741.56.

As businesses wave goodbye to 2021, some fear the worst is yet to come

Thursday 30 December 2021 3:38 pm

After another tough year for business, companies fear that the worst is yet to come, new research has found.

More than a quarter of business owner expected the next 12 months to be ‘horrific’, according to a poll by Business Champion Awards.

With more than 80 per cent also saying that 2022 will be worse than 2021.

The pandemic has not only placed a raft of restrictions on certain business, with hospitality and the high street particularly hard struck – but it has also pushed a penny-pinching culture among Brits.

“There’s clearly huge amounts of concern among the business community about how things will fare in the next 12 months,” Business Champion Awards CEO Richard Alvin said.

“These are times like no other, and the pandemic, and Britain’s response from the top down, has resulted in a crisis of confidence.”

Eight in 10 have lost faith in the prime minister to help them navigate the public health crisis, the poll of 2,000 British businesses also revealed, as resilience in the face of the latest wave of Omicron begins to dwindle towards the turn of the year.

While more than 81 per cent of those polled lack faith in minister for small business Paul Scully.

“Businesses across the UK have suffered like everybody else from Covid over the past two years, from lockdowns to pingdemics – but the last few weeks seem to have been a turning point for businesspeople when it comes to Boris Johnson,” Alvin added.

“Tax and fuel price hikes, supply line shortages, the Peppa Pig World speech to the CBI and accusations of sleaze and unlawful lockdown parties have all taken their toll.”

Despite resilience seemingly wearing thin, the pandemic has made many entrepreneurs and business owners more resilient.

Nearly nine out of 10 of those polled said that the last two years have made them stronger – a silver lining for business going into 2022.

In other news, it’s all about omicron. Mild or not, it’s going to drag on the global economy for some time to come.

U.S. CDC says people should ‘avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status’

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday advised people against going on cruises regardless of their vaccination status after a recent surge in positive Covid cases onboard ships as the highly contagious omicron variant sweeps the world.

The CDC increased its travel warning for cruises to the highest level as the agency is investigating or observing dozens of ships that have had Covid outbreaks.

Cruise ships operating in U.S. waters reported about 5,000 Covid cases to the CDC between Dec. 15 - 29, a major spike compared with the first two weeks of the month when 162 cases were reported.

“It is especially important that travelers who are at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide, regardless of vaccination status,” the agency said.

The CDC guidance is a new blow for an industry that was devastated during the first year of the pandemic. The stocks of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Carnival fell on the news.

The CDC warned that Covid transmits easily between people in close quarters on ships, and the chance of catching the virus on a cruise is very high even for people who are vaccinated and have received a booster dose.

The CDC advised people who decide to go on a cruise to get vaccinated before their trip and receive a booster dose if eligible. Facemasks should also be worn in shared spaces, and passengers who are not fully vaccinated should self-quarantine for five days after travel, according to the agency.

The CDC also said people who go on a cruise should get tested one to three days before departing, and three to five days after their trip, regardless of vaccination status or symptoms.


Virus postpones Westminster Kennel Club’s annual dog show

December 30, 2021

NEW YORK (AP) — The Westminster Kennel Club’s annual dog show has become the latest event to be postponed or canceled in New York as the number of coronavirus cases surges.

The club’s board of governors announced Wednesday it was postponing its 2022 event, scheduled for late January, to later in the year. A new date wasn’t given.

“The health and safety of all participants in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show are paramount,” the group said in a statement. “We appreciate the community’s continued interest and support as we delay the show to a time when we can safely convene.”

First held in 1877, the dog show attracts thousands of competitors from around the U.S. and is normally held in February, with semifinal and final rounds at Madison Square Garden. Last year, it was moved to June and held outdoors at the Lyndhurst estate in suburban Tarrytown, north of New York City. Spectators weren’t allowed, and human participants had to be vaccinated or newly tested.

A Pekingese named Wasabi won best in show, beating out a whippet, a French bulldog, an old English sheepdog, a German shorthaired pointer, a Samoyed and a West Highland white terrier.

With COVID-19 cases now exploding around the U.S., the postponement comes less than two weeks after more than 8,500 canines, owners and handlers converged for another top U.S. dog show, the American Kennel Club National Championship in Orlando, Florida.

JetBlue cuts about 1,280 flights through mid-January on Omicron hurdles

Dec 30 (Reuters) - JetBlue Airways Corp is reducing its schedule through Jan. 13 by about 1,280 flights due to a surge in crew members falling sick from the Omicron coronavirus variant, a spokesperson for the airline told Reuters on Thursday.

Carriers have been canceling hundreds of flights every day in the United States since Christmas Eve as they grapple with staff shortages due to COVID-19 infections and bad weather in parts of the country.

"We expect the number of COVID cases in the northeast – where most of our crewmembers are based – to continue to surge for the next week or two," JetBlue's spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "This means there is a high likelihood of additional cancellations until case counts start to come down."

COVID-19 cases in the United States have been hitting new highs in the past few days, with the average number of daily confirmed cases touching a new record of 258,312 over the past seven days, a Reuters tally showed on Wednesday. read more


Experts, governors warn of U.S. Omicron 'blizzard' in weeks ahead

WASHINGTON, Dec 30 (Reuters) - U.S. health experts on Thursday urged Americans to prepare for severe disruptions in coming weeks as the rising wave of COVID-19 cases led by the Omicron variant threatened hospitals, schools and other sectors impacting their daily lives.

The warning came as the United States reached a record high in COVID-19 cases, while federal officials issued more travel warnings and reportedly prepared to authorize booster shots for 12 to 15-year-olds next week.

For the second day in a row, the United States had a record number of new reported cases based on the seven-day average, with more than 290,000 new infections reported each day, a Reuters tally showed.

At least 18 states and Puerto Rico have set pandemic records for new cases, according to the tally. Maryland, Ohio and Washington, D.C., also saw record hospitalizations as overall U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations rose 27%.

The surge comes amid increased holiday travel, with New Year's celebrations still to come, and as schools grapple with students' return to classrooms following winter breaks.

"We are going to see the number of cases in this country rise so dramatically, we are going to have a hard time keeping everyday life operating," Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told MSNBC.

"The next month is going to be a viral blizzard," he said. "All of society is going to be pressured by this."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease official, on Wednesday said cases will likely rise throughout January, a warning echoed by the governor of Louisiana, where hospitalizations have more than tripled in the past two weeks.

"We are still at the very beginning of this current surge," John Bel Edwards told a news conference on Thursday. "January is going to be very, very challenging."



Global Inflation/Stagflation Watch.

Given our Magic Money Tree central banksters and our spendthrift politicians,  inflation now needs an entire section of its own.

Ikea hikes prices by 10 per cent as supply chain woes continue

Thursday 30 December 2021 11:51 am

Ikea confirmed this morning that it has boosted the average price of products in its UK stores by 10 per cent, as supply chain issues continue to disrupt its operations.

Analysis by the Daily Mail found that some beds, wardrobes and desks have spiked in price by as much as 50 per cent in the past week. For instance, a Malm chest of drawers has gone up from £99 in mid-December to £150 today – a jump of 52 per cent.

Customers took to Twitter to complain about the hike following Christmas, and a spokesperson for the iconic Swedish brand replied that the company had experienced a “significant increase in costs across the supply chain”.

The statement faced some backlash from those on social media, with users pointing out that the flat-pack specialist still made a profit last year, which was €4.5bn (£3.8bn).

The retailer confirmed today that it has been forced to increase prices in the UK by more than the global nine per cent average due to “local market conditions”, including increased HGV and logistics costs.

A spokesman said: “The effects of Covid-19 continue to evolve and impact industries all over the world.

“Since the start of the pandemic, Ikea has managed to absorb the significant cost increases experienced across the supply chain while keeping prices as low and stable as we possibly can.

“Now, like many other retailers, we have had to raise our prices to mitigate the impact on our business.

As prices are influenced not only by the raw material prices but also by transportation, logistical costs and local market conditions, price adjustments differ from country to country.

“Whilst individual price increases vary, the average increase is 10% in the UK, in line with the global average of 9%.”


Economists warn of inflation inequality in 2022

Published Wed, Dec 29 2021 7:53 PM EST

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a new era of inflation inequality, economists warn, in which poor households bear the brunt of rising prices.  

That’s because a bigger portion of their budget goes toward categories that have spiked in cost. Food is up 6.4% over the past year, for example, while gasoline jumped a whopping 58%. And now many people are facing those higher prices as federal stimulus programs fade away.  

“They’re essentially looking to stretch a dollar most days,” said Chris Wimer, co-director of the Center on Poverty & Social Policy at Columbia University. “It’s going to lead to difficult choices between putting gas in the car or paying for your kids’ child care or putting food on the table.” 

This disparity is typical during inflationary periods, said Kent Smetters, who directs the Penn Wharton model. But since the 1980s — the last time prices rose this quickly — higher-income households have shifted more of their spending away from goods and toward services. For example, in 2020, food was 12.7% of the budget for the top 5% of households, compared with 16% of the budget for the bottom 20%.

Meanwhile, pandemic-related production disruptions have driven up the costs of commodities that poor households rely on.  

“What they happen to be buying has been hit harder by the supply crunch,” Smetters said. “It’s broader-based than in the past.” 

The findings dovetail with an analysis of credit and debit card data by Harvard Business School economist Alberto Cavallo at the start of the pandemic. He showed that low-income consumers experienced price increases that were roughly double those of wealthier ones.

In 2019, a joint paper from researchers at Columbia and the London School of Economics estimated that about 3 million more people would qualify as living in poverty if their incomes were adjusted for the inflation rates they experience. 

Experts now fear that poverty will rise in early 2022 as pandemic-related federal benefits phase out and President Joe Biden’s sweeping social spending package languishes in Congress. Of particular concern is the end of monthly payments of the child tax credit, which provided families with $300 a month for each child younger than 6 and $250 for older kids. 


Germany to pull the plug on three of its last six nuclear plants

BERLIN, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Germany will pull the plug on three of its last six nuclear power stations on Friday, another step towards completing its withdrawal from nuclear power as it turns its focus to renewables.

The government decided to speed up its phasing out of nuclear power following Japan's Fukushima reactor meltdown in 2011 when an earthquake and tsunami destroyed the coastal plant in the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years earlier.

The reactors of Brokdorf, Grohnde and Gundremmingen C, run by utilities E.ON (EONGn.DE) and RWE (RWEG.DE), will be shut down on Friday after three and half decades in operation.

The last three nuclear power plants - Isar 2, Emsland and Neckarwestheim II - will be turned off by the end of 2022.

The phase-out of an energy deemed clean and cheap by some is an irreversible step for Europe's biggest economy, facing ambitious climate targets and rising power prices.

"For the energy industry in Germany, the nuclear phase-out is final," said Kerstin Andreae, the head of energy industry association BDEW.

The six nuclear power plants contributed to around 12% of electricity production in Germany in 2021, BDEW preliminary figures showed. The share of renewable energy was almost 41%, with coal generating just under 28% and gas around 15%.

Germany aims to make renewables meet 80% of power demand by 2030 through expanding wind and solar power infrastructure.



Covid-19 Corner

This section will continue until it becomes unneeded.

NJ's Largest Hospital System Expects Hospitalizations to Exceed Worst of 2020 Soon

The chief physician executive of Hackensack Meridian Health says his organization is preparing to implement "crisis standards of care"

By Brian Thompson December 30, 2021 at 2:33 pm

As COVID-19 hospitalizations rise 10% a day in New Jersey, the state's largest hospital system says it is a (short) matter of time until 2020's grim record is broken.

"If you look at what the (health) commissioner and governor are positing relative to their COVID models, sometime in the middle of January we’re likely to see the same level of hospitalization we were seeing back in March, April of 2020," Dr. Daniel Varga, the chief physician executive of Hackensack Meridian Health, told News 4.

HMH has 17 hospitals statewide and thousands of beds, but as more patients come in -- and more staffers get sick too -- the pressure on the system will rise.

"We’re already teeing up our process for how we will manage when we have to go to crisis standards of care, because I just think it's going to get there," Varga said.

As it stands now, there are about 3,600 people in the hospital with COVID in New Jersey, a figure that has doubled in less than two weeks. According to the New Jersey Hospital Association, at the very depths of the pandemic, on April 14, 2020, there were 8,065 people hospitalized with the virus.

Varga said the state's models peak at somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 admissions in the current wave, and he added those would primarily be unvaccinated people between about ages 20 and 60.

Earlier Thursday, the state reported nearly 28,000 new cases of COVID-19, up 35% from the day before and more than 300% higher than the pre-omicron record.

Omicron cannot escape T cells; boosters protect households from Omicron

Wed, December 29, 2021, 8:24 PM

(Reuters) - The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that has yet to be certified by peer review. 

  Omicron cannot escape body's second-line defense 

  A key part of the immune system's second-line defense - its T cells - are highly effective at recognizing and attacking the Omicron variant, thereby preventing most infections from progressing to critical illness, a new study shows. 

  Omicron's mutations help it escape from antibodies, the body's first line of defense against infection. Researchers have speculated that other components of the immune response would still target Omicron, but there has been no proof until now. 

  In test tube experiments, researchers in South Africa exposed copies of the virus to T cells from volunteers who had received vaccines from Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer/BioNTech or who had not been vaccinated but had developed their own T cells after infection with an earlier version of the coronavirus. 

  "Despite Omicron's extensive mutations and reduced susceptibility to neutralizing antibodies, the majority of T cell response, induced by vaccination or natural infection, cross-recognizes the variant," the researchers reported on Tuesday on medRxiv ahead of peer review. 

  "Well-preserved T cell immunity to Omicron is likely to contribute to protection from severe COVID-19," which supports what South African doctors had initially suspected when most patients with Omicron infections did not become seriously ill, they said. 

  The "T" stands for thymus, the organ in which the cells' final stage of development occurs. 

  Boosters reduce risk of Omicron household transmission 

The odds that vaccinated people will catch the virus if a household member becomes infected are nearly three to four times higher with Omicron than with Delta, but booster doses reduce that risk, new findings suggest. 

  Researchers analyzed transmission data collected from nearly 12,000 infected households in Denmark, including 2,225 households with an Omicron infection. Overall, there were 6,397 secondary infections in the week after the first infection in the house. After accounting for other risk factors, the rate of person-to-person spread of the virus to fully vaccinated people was roughly 2.6 times higher in Omicron households than in Delta households, the researchers reported on Monday on medRxiv ahead of peer review. Booster-vaccinated people were nearly 3.7 times more likely to get infected in the Omicron households than in the Delta households, they found. 

  Looking only at Omicron households, however, booster-vaccinated people were 56% less likely to become infected compared to vaccinated people who had not received a booster. And overall, when booster-vaccinated people were the ones who first brought home the virus, they were less likely than unvaccinated and vaccinated-but-not-boosted people to pass it to others.

Next, some vaccine links kindly sent along from a LIR reader in Canada. The links come from a most informative update from Stanford Hospital in California.

World Health Organization - Landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines

NY Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker

Regulatory Focus COVID-19 vaccine tracker

Some other useful Covid links.

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus resource centre

Rt Covid-19

Centers for Disease Control Coronavirus

The Spectator Covid-19 data tracker (UK)


Technology Update.

With events happening fast in the development of solar power and graphene, I’ve added this section. Updates as they get reported.

Researchers use electron microscope to turn nanotube into tiny transistor

Date:  December 23, 2021

Source:  Queensland University of Technology

Summary:  Researchers have used a unique tool inserted into an electron microscope to create a transistor that's 25,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

An international team of researchers have used a unique tool inserted into an electron microscope to create a transistor that's 25,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

The research, published in the journal Science, involves researchers from Japan, China, Russia and Australia who have worked on the project that began five years ago.

QUT Centre for Materials Science co-director Professor Dmitri Golberg, who led the research project, said the result was a "very interesting fundamental discovery" which could lead a way for the future development of tiny transistors for future generations of advanced computing devices.

"In this work, we have shown it is possible to control the electronic properties of an individual carbon nanotube," Professor Golberg said.

The researchers created the tiny transistor by simultaneously applying a force and low voltage which heated a carbon nanotube made up of few layers until outer tube shells separate, leaving just a single-layer nanotube.

The heat and strain then changed the "chilarity" of the nanotube, meaning the pattern in which the carbon atoms joined together to form the single-atomic layer of the nanotube wall was rearranged.

The result of the new structure connecting the carbon atoms was that the nanotube was transformed into a transistor.

Professor Golberg's team members from the National University of Science and Technology in Moscow created a theory explaining the changes in the atomic structure and properties observed in the transistor.

Lead author Dr Dai-Ming Tang, from the International Centre for Materials Nanoarchitectonics in Japan, said the research had demonstrated the ability to manipulate the molecular properties of the nanotube to fabricated nanoscale electrical device.

Dr Tang began working on the project five years ago when Professor Golberg headed up the research group at this centre.

"Semiconducting carbon nanotubes are promising for fabricating energy-efficient nanotransistors to build beyond-silicon microprocessors," Dr Tang said.


“Beyond this, the problem is universal. It is that governments are now held responsible for the welfare of the people. The aspirations of the people can outrun their ability to pay for them, and nobody has yet found a way to create answers to the aspirations out of thin air.”

George Goodman, aka Adam Smith, The Money Game. 1968.

[Until the discovery of the Magic Money Tree forests, March 2020.]