Europe, Middle East and Africa
The latest round of talks between the U.K. and European Union regarding the impending separation from one another came to a close 21 February, without the sides agreeing on a deal that would more easily facilitate trade between British businesses and EU member states. According to Bloomberg, while EU officials say talks will continue next week, there is a great deal of discontent on both sides of the matter regarding the possibility of a deal before 29 March, the date of formal separation. The current Withdrawal Agreement stipulating this process provides for a transitional period in which existing trade agreements will remain intact, but this would end on New Year's Eve of 2020.
Controversy over management of the Brexit process has dogged the administration of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May for months, and according to the Guardian, it reached a fever pitch on the same date the latest U.K.-EU discussions failed: Members of May's own Conservative Party issued an ultimatum saying they'd vote to delay Brexit on 27 February unless the PM succeeds in negotiating a new deal before then. Their reasons for rebellion center around the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which remains in the EU): Under the Withdrawal Agreement terms, the U.K. and EU must remain in a customs union to prevent a hard Ireland-U.K. border that would require customs checks for incoming and outgoing goods. Those favouring Brexit strongly oppose the customs union requirement.
The economy of Ireland has been the fastest-growing in the EU for the last four years, with a gross domestic product of $334 billion in 2017 - twice the size of per-capita GDPs in both France and Spain. While some concerns about the sustainability of such robust growth still exist in a nation that hasn't forgotten the economic distress after the unstable "Celtic Tiger" boom of the early 2000s, the struggles currently seen in the U.K. over Brexit could help Ireland reach new (and long-lasting) economic heights.
According to Fortune magazine, numerous multinational financial giants have moved their England headquarters to Ireland or expanded existing Irish operations to avoid Brexit-related disruptions, including Barclays, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Tech is also a burgeoning presence in the Republic, with tech giants like Google and Apple experiencing considerable successes alongside ambitious startups. Ireland has already added 12,000 jobs to its labour force that were once in the U.K., and that trend shows little immediate signs of slowdown.
Arguably, Japan has seen more adverse economic consequences from the U.S.-China trade disputes than any other Asian economy. This continued as 20 February, Reuters, citing data from the Flash Markit/Nikkei Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index, reported a decline in Japanese manufacturing activity for the first time in two and a half years. Also, according to Nikkei Asian Review, the Japanese government downgraded its assessment of national industrial output for the first time in three years two days later.
On the other hand, Bloomberg columnist Daniel Moss pointed out Japan still has a number of economic positives on its side, including 2.5 per cent unemployment and a 2.4 per cent uptick in business investment in 2018's fourth quarter. It remains to be seen if these will be enough to stave off a Japanese recession.
The GDP of Thailand rose 3.7 per cent year-over-year in Q4 of 2018 in a notable increase from the previous quarter's year-over-year expansion total, rounding out what was an undeniably positive year for the Thai economy. Growth also increased on a quarter-to-quarter basis by 0.8 per cent, beating the expectations of a Bloomberg economists' survey, according to The Star. Perhaps most remarkable is that this expansion took place despite slowdown in the tourism and export sectors that have historically been Thailand's bread and butter. It's unclear whether the Thai economy can maintain such a pace, but there's no doubt that the nation's markets are in good shape right now.
In a reprise of the robust job growth that the U.S. saw to bring 2018 to an end, American nonfarm payroll organizations added 304,000 new jobs in January 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly Employment Situation Survey. CNBC, citing a survey conducted by Dow Jones, stated that this figure absolutely blew Wall Street economic experts' expectations out of the water - they had predicted an addition of just 170,000 positions.
Businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector saw the most gains from January's job growth, adding 74,000 new positions during the month. Construction came in at a distant second place with 52,000 jobs added, while healthcare, still one of the best-performing American industries even after two years of consistent growth, brought 42,000 new workers into the fold.
While the nation's unemployment rate rose slightly between December and January - from 3.9 to 4 per cent - the BLS viewed it as the result of an uptick in American individuals actively looking for work again. Additionally, the Labor Department agency said that the government shutdown that lasted several weeks through December and January did not significantly affect U.S. jobs. (That said, the BLS acknowledged that it counted furloughed federal workers as "employed" due to their receipt of paychecks during the survey period, so it's not yet entirely clear how much the shutdown affected the U.S. economy as a whole.)
During the past year, both Central and South America saw a great deal of political change take place, with presidential elections having occurred in five nations: Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and Cuba. As noted by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in a post on its Knowledge @ Wharton blog, all of them face considerable challenges in 2019 and beyond - a host of factors that could all have significant effects on these countries' economies.
Venezuela has the biggest problems on its horizon: it is not only in the midst of economic difficulties (largely centered around its once-profitable energy sector) but also opposition to the second term of President Nicolas Maduro, stemming from questions of his re-election's legitimacy. Cuba, which elected its first non-Castro president in 50 years in Miguel Diaz-Canel, faces somewhat similar difficulties: Despite Diaz-Canel holding more moderate stances than the Cuban establishment on issues ranging from gay rights to engagement with outside investors - he's in favor of both, per The New York Times - the U.S. under President Donald Trump is backing away from the diplomatic relations reopened between the nations under President Barack Obama, discouraging the Western investment Cuba hopes to court.
Mexico, by contrast, may be best equipped to enter the foreseeable economic future. The successful renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement bodes well for the country as long as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador can ensure it protects the Mexican automobile industry and other manufacturing concerns. There remains, however, tensions between Mexico and the U.S. regarding migrants from other Central American nations seeking asylum, who are crossing through the former nation in hopes of reaching the latter, as well as the ongoing border-wall dispute.