Slowest Chinese growth since 2008; Mass anti-govt protests in Brazil; RBS plans to replace staff with ‘robo-advisers’

1 Slowest Chinese growth since 2008 (BBC) China’s industrial output has slowed to its weakest growth since the financial crisis, prompting concerns over the global recovery. Production rose by 5.4% in January and February – the worst since 2008. China is trying to refocus its economy from investment and export-led growth to consumer spending.

UK finance minister George Osborne said China’s slowdown is one of a “dangerous cocktail of risks” hampering recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. Recent data revealed that Chinese exports fell 25.4% in February compared with the same month last year. It was the biggest monthly decline since 2009, and ahead of the 11.2% fall recorded in January.

Zhou Hao, an economist at Commerzbank, said the mix of slower industrial output and retail spending “gives us a worrying picture”. He said: “The overall growth profile remains still gloomy.” However, Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, said that the government would be able to achieve a target of an average 6.5% in GDP growth for the next five years without implementing measures to stimulate the economy.

Writing in the UK’s Sun, Mr Osborne said falling oil prices, interest rate changes elsewhere and political instability in the Middle East meant “hopes of a strong global recovery have evaporated”.

2 Mass anti-government protests in Brazil (Jonathan Watts in The Guardian) More than a million Brazilians have joined anti-government rallies across the country, ramping up the pressure on embattled president Dilma Rousseff. Already struggling with an impeachment challenge, the worst recession in a century and the biggest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history, the Workers party leader was given another reason to doubt she will complete her four-year term.

The demonstrations on Sunday – which reached all 26 states and the federal district – were expected to be bigger than similar rallies last year. Many protesters wore the canary yellow shirts of the national football team, or draped themselves in the national flag. Others carried banners expressing anger at bribery scandals and economic woes.

“She’s a horror,” said Paulo Rodriguez, a 53-year-old businessman who came with his wife and daughter. “The Workers party is a horror. They’re a criminal organisation that is robbing state resources. They are destroying our country.”

Rousseff has not been implicated, but several close aides are either in prison or under investigation. For the protesters, she is tainted by association. Congress is debating whether the president should be removed on a separate allegation, of window-dressing government accounts ahead of the election in 2014. The legal basis for this challenge is weak, however, and the man leading the charge, speaker Eduardo Cunha, is himself under investigation for bribery.

3 RBS may replace staff with ‘robo-advisers (Straits Times) Royal Bank of Scotland plans to cut about 550 jobs as it scales back in-person advice to certain customers seeking investments and insurance, according to a person briefed on the moves. Some clients will be directed to a new online investing platform to keep their business with the bank commercially viable, the person said.

The shift affects people with less than £250,000 to invest and will eliminate about 220 workers who helped provide such advice, the Financial Times Times wrote on Sunday, without saying where it got the information.

“Our customers increasingly want to bank with us using digital technology,” RBS said. “As a result, we are scaling back our face-to-face advisers and significantly investing in an online investing platform that enables us to help a new group of customers with as little as 500 pounds to invest.”

Chief executive officer Ross McEwan has been eliminating thousands of jobs as he cuts expenses and focuses on consumer lending in the UK and Ireland to improve earnings after eight straight annual losses. The bank is scaling back its in-person advice as many younger, cost-sensitive investors already are flocking to automated services, such as so-called robo-advisers that use algorithms to make recommendations.


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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