Eurozone inflation stays at 0.2%; Biggest economies face $7trn debt refinancing tab in 2016; Why Zuckerberg’s challenge might work

1 Eurozone inflation stays at 0.2% (BBC) Inflation in the eurozone remained at 0.2% in December, unchanged from November, official statistics show. Price growth in food, alcohol and tobacco slowed slightly compared with November, while the drop in energy prices was also smaller, according to Eurostat estimates. The rate was lower than the 0.3% rise expected by economists.

The data will put pressure on the European Central Bank to act further to boost the struggling European economy. The central bank disappointed market hopes last month with its attempts to revive the economy, which were less dramatic than analysts had expected.

The inflation figures are an early, flash estimate from Eurostat and so are not broken down by member states. It does give broad indications of which groups of products have gone up or down.

2 Biggest economies face $7trn debt refinancing tab in 2016 (Khaleej Times) The amount of debt that the governments of the world’s leading economies will need to refinance in 2016 will be little changed from last year as nations make strides in cutting budget deficits to a third of the highs seen during the financial crisis.

The value of bills, notes and bonds coming due for the Group-of-Seven nations plus Brazil, China, India and Russia will total $7.1 trillion, compared with $7 trillion in 2015 and down from $7.6 trillion in 2012. Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada will all see redemptions fall, while the US, China and the UK face increases.

The amount of maturing debt has gradually fallen since Bloomberg began collating the data in 2012. The decline may bring some support to the bond market as the US Federal Reserve gradually raises interest rates, pushing yields up from record lows. Budget deficits are forecast by economists to narrow for a seventh straight year in 2016 as governments extend the maturity of their outstanding debt and continue to cut back on the extra spending put in place to combat the global financial meltdown.

While the decline shows there’s less pressure on governments to borrow, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will issue less – that depends on their overall funding requirements. Germany plans to boost its bond and bill sales to $221 billion this year, partly to finance expenses caused by a record influx of migrants.

Government bonds eked out a 1.2 per cent gain for investors in 2015, compared with 8.4 per cent in 2014 and an average 4.4 per cent return over the past five years, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes. Yields, which move inversely to prices, are now starting to rise as the fallout from recession fades, reducing demand for the securities as a haven, and as the US central bank predicts four rate increases before the year is out.

In the US, the world’s largest debtor nation with $13.1 trillion of marketable debt obligations, the amount of government securities coming due will rise 14 per cent from last year to $3.5 trillion. China faces the biggest percentage increase in refinancing needs in 2016, with a 41 per cent jump to $254 billion.

3 Why Zuckerberg’s challenge might work (Jena McGregor in Sydney Morning Herald) Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook page that his personal goal for 2016 “is to build a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work”. Comparing it to the digital butler who assists Tony Stark with his superhero life, Zuckerberg wrote, “you can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man.”

He’ll start by looking into existing technology, then teach it to use his voice to control his home, let in friends the system recognises when they ring the doorbell, monitor his infant daughter’s room, and see work-related data in virtual reality. “This should be a fun intellectual challenge to code this for myself,” he wrote.

Zuckerberg’s ambitious “personal challenge,” as he calls it, is an annual tradition for the Facebook wunderkind, who sets public goals for himself each year that range from the lofty to the quirky. Last year, he said he wanted to read a book every two weeks. Other goals have included learning to speak Mandarin (2010), only eating meat from animals he’d personally killed (2011) and meeting someone new each day–in person, not on social media (2013).

Knowing very little about artificial intelligence, I can’t predict just how probable Zuckerberg’s challenge to himself really is. But if the technological possibility is indeed within reach, it seems likely he’ll reach it.

That’s not just because he has massive resources to put toward it: Even after he said he’d donate 99 percent of his Facebook stock last month, Zuckerberg would still have some $450 million leftover. Nor is it simply due to his record of following through on past challenges. Rather, it’s also because he makes his personal challenges so public.

Research has shown that a person’s commitment to difficult goals is much higher when the goals are made public rather than kept private. In Zuckerberg’s case, millions will know if he doesn’t reach it–or at least put forth a worthy effort. There are few greater fuels toward our goals than overt failure, and public accountability is a powerful force.



About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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