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CEOs: Post-Covid changes are permanent and there are more to come

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The need for business leaders and policy makers to fundamentally rethink the way they plan, invest and operate in the future is underlined in a new survey of 699 global CEOs released by PwC.

The survey shows the majority of CEOs believe that COVID-19 pandemic driven shifts towards remote collaboration (78%), automation (76%) and fewer people working from offices (61%), are here to stay. Overall, 61% say their business model will be more digital in the future – a change accelerated by the pandemic. 

Responses show digital infrastructure, flexible working and employee well-being will top their boardroom agendas as they reconfigure business operations to secure growth in the next 12 months and beyond. Fifty-eight percent of CEOs say ensuring supply chain safety will remain a focus, driving technology investments to enable tracking of products from production to delivery, and to ensure their suppliers and partners are resilient during crises.

“Business leaders need to simultaneously keep their company running today and fundamentally rethink their strategy for tomorrow, so they come out of the pandemic ready to reconfigure their business to thrive in a very different world. And they need to do that, thinking not just about the COVID-19 acceleration of change in society and the rising expectations of their broader stakeholders, but also the other issues that are going to fundamentally reshape the future of business – from climate change to populism,” says Bob Moritz, Global Chairman, PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited.

In a challenge to decades of increased globalisation, almost two in five (39%) of CEOs believe there will be a permanent shift towards onshoring and insourcing, and a similar share expect an enduring increase in nationalism.

Kristin Rivera, Global Leader, Forensics & Crisis, PwC US, comments:“The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded CEOs of the importance of building resilience into their operating model. Firms that were able to quickly adopt digital working practices or switch their supply chains were better able to withstand the shock. CEOs now need to simultaneously contend with the unfolding pandemic and to rethink how they operate in the future. Not every innovation developed in a crisis is right for the long term, but there is much to learn.”

CEOs are naturally cautious on their own revenue growth prospects in the year ahead (45% somewhat confident, 15% very confident). 65% are predicting a decline in global growth. Concern about the global economy is highest in Africa, Central & Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Business leaders also believe the pandemic increased the importance of responding to a wider range of stakeholder issues, particularly employees. Employee support measures included health and safety (92%), well-being (61%) and financial support (24%). Forty-two percent made contributions to community organisations and almost a third (32%) of business leaders reduced their own pay. Those CEOs who maximised retention (36%) and protected employee health and safety (92%) believe it will have a positive impact on their organisation’s long-term reputation. 

Bhushan Sethi, Joint Global Leader, People and Organisation, PwC US, comments: “The accelerated shift to flexible working has been valuable for many companies. Whatever new models emerge, it’s clear that employee-oriented policies that invest in safety, protection and well-being could become the new differentiator for recruitment, retention and company reputation.”

The changes driven by COVID-19 add significantly to an already full agenda for CEOs. Climate change remains an influential trend for consumers and businesses alike. When asked if the shift to climate change mitigation would endure, the majority of business leaders (47%) said it would. Business leaders believe short term increases in disposables (including sanitizers, masks) and decreases in the use of the sharing economy would only be temporary. 

Limited retreat from cities

While the majority of CEOs (61%) believe that there will be lower workplace density than before, they remain divided about what role cities will play in the future: 34% believe the shift towards de-urbanisation will continue; 38% believing it is temporary. 

Divided about the role of government

Business leaders are not expecting extended government support, with the majority (57%) believing state intervention to be a temporary feature, despite the potential for governments to use the support to influence COVID-19 recovery and policies impacting business. Less than one in three (30%) believe government support will be sustained, despite a gloomy outlook for global and organisational growth prospects in the next 12 months. One in five respondents say they declined government backed support for their business during the pandemic.

Bob Moritz comments:“Some CEOs may feel like they’ve passed a critical test. What’s critical now is that they use the important knowledge they’ve gained about their organisations effectively for business and society. The most enduring shift in this pandemic is the reality that it can no longer be a choice between the long and the short term. We need to address both.”

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Defying Predictions, Remittance Flows Remain Strong During COVID-19 Crisis

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Despite COVID-19, remittance flows remained resilient in 2020, registering a smaller decline than previously projected. Officially recorded remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries reached $540 billion in 2020, just 1.6 percent below the 2019 total of $548 billion, according to the latest Migration and Development Brief.

The decline in recorded remittance flows in 2020 was smaller than the one during the 2009 global financial crisis (4.8 percent). It was also far lower than the fall in foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to low- and middle-income countries, which, excluding flows to China, fell by over 30 percent in 2020. As a result, remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries surpassed the sum of FDI ($259 billion) and overseas development assistance ($179 billion) in 2020.

The main drivers for the steady flow included fiscal stimulus that resulted in better-than-expected economic conditions in host countries, a shift in flows from cash to digital and from informal to formal channels, and cyclical movements in oil prices and currency exchange rates. The true size of remittances, which includes formal and informal flows, is believed to be larger than officially reported data, though the extent of the impact of COVID-19 on informal flows is unclear.

“As COVID-19 still devastates families around the world, remittances continue to provide a critical lifeline for the poor and vulnerable,” said Michal Rutkowski, Global Director of the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank. “Supportive policy responses, together with national social protection systems, should continue to be inclusive of all communities, including migrants.”

Remittance inflows rose in Latin America and the Caribbean (6.5 percent), South Asia (5.2 percent) and the Middle East and North Africa (2.3 percent). However, remittance flows fell for East Asia and the Pacific (7.9 percent), for Europe and Central Asia (9.7 percent), and for Sub-Saharan Africa (12.5 percent). The decline in flows to Sub-Saharan Africa was almost entirely due to a 28 percent decline in remittance flows to Nigeria. Excluding flows to Nigeria, remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 2.3 percent, demonstrating resilience.

The relatively strong performance of remittance flows during the COVID-19 crisis has also highlighted the importance of timely availability of data. Given its growing significance as a source of external financing for low- and middle-income countries, there is a need for better collection of data on remittances, in terms of frequency, timely reporting, and granularity by corridor and channel.

The resilience of remittance flows is remarkable. Remittances are helping to meet families’ increased need for livelihood support,” said Dilip Ratha, lead author of the report on migration and remittances and head of KNOMAD. “They can no longer be treated as small change. The World Bank has been monitoring migration and remittance flows for nearly two decades, and we are working with governments and partners to produce timely data and make remittance flows even more productive.” 

The World Bank is assisting member states in monitoring the flow of remittances through various channels, the costs and convenience of sending money, and regulations to protect financial integrity that affect remittance flows. It is working with the G20 countries and the global community to reduce remittance costs and improve financial inclusion for the poor.

With global growth expected to rebound further in 2021 and 2022, remittance flows to low- and middle-

income countries are expected to increase by 2.6 percent to $553 billion in 2021 and by 2.2 percent to $565 billion in 2022. Even as many high-income nations have made significant progress in vaccinating their populations, infections are still high in several large developing economies and the outlook for remittances remains uncertain.

The global average cost of sending $200 remained high at 6.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, more than double the Sustainable Development Goal target of 3 percent. Average remittance costs were the lowest in South Asia (4.9 percent), while Sub-Saharan Africa continued to have the highest average cost (8.2 percent). Supporting the remittance infrastructure and keeping remittances flowing includes efforts to lower fees.

Regional Remittance Trends

Formal remittance flows to the East Asia and Pacific region fell by an estimated 7.9 percent in 2020 to around $136 billion due to the adverse impact of COVID-19. Positive growth in remittances from the United States and Asia helped to mostly offset declines from the Middle East and Europe, which fell by 10.6 percent and 10.8 percent respectively in 2020. The top recipients in terms of the share of remittances in GDP in 2020 include many smaller economies such as Tonga (38 percent), Samoa (19 percent), and Marshall Islands (13 percent). For 2021, a modest growth of about 2.1 percent is expected due to anticipated recovery in major host economies such as Saudi Arabia, the United States and the United Arab Emirates. Remittance costs: According to the World Bank Remittances Prices Worldwide, the average cost of sending $200 to the region fell slightly to 6.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020. The lowest-cost corridors in the region averaged 3 percent for transfers primarily to the Philippines, while the highest-cost corridors, excluding South Africa to China, which is an outlier, averaged 13 percent.

Remittances to Europe and Central Asia fell by about 9.7 percent to $56 billion in 2020 as the global pandemic and weak oil prices had a significant impact on migrant workers across the region. The economic crisis of 2020 was not unprecedented compared to the past crises of 2009 and 2015, which saw remittances to the region fall by 11 and 15 percent, respectively. Nearly all the countries in the region experienced declines in remittances in 2020. The depreciation of the Russian ruble significantly lowered the US dollar value of remittance flows to the region. For 2021, remittance flows are estimated to fall further by 3.2 percent as the region’s economies are expected to recover from the crisis slowly. Remittance costs: The average cost of sending $200 to the region fell modestly to 6.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020. Russia remained the lowest-cost sender of remittances globally, with the cost of remitting from the country falling from 2.1 percent to 1 percent. Within the region, the differences in costs across corridors are substantial: the highest costs for sending remittances were from Turkey to Bulgaria, while the lowest costs for sending remittances were from Russia to Georgia.

Remittances flows to Latin America and the Caribbean grew an estimated 6.5 percent to $103 billion in 2020. While COVID-19 caused a sudden decrease in the volume of remittances in the second quarter of 2020, remittances rebounded during the third and fourth quarters. The improvement in the employment situation in the United States, although not yet to pre-pandemic levels, supported the increase in remittance flows to countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras and Jamaica, for whom the bulk of remittances originate from migrants working in the United States. On the other hand, the weaker economic situation in Spain negatively affected remittance flows to Bolivia (-16 percent), Paraguay (-12.4 percent) and Peru (-11.7 percent) in 2020. In 2021, remittance flows to the region are expected to grow by 4.9 percent. Remittance costs: The cost of remittance transfers to the region was 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020. In many smaller remittance corridors, however, costs continue to be exorbitant. For example, the cost of sending money to Cuba exceeds 9 percent. Sending money from Japan to Brazil is also expensive (11.5 percent).

Remittance flows to the Middle East and North Africa region rose by 2.3 percent to about $56 billion in 2020. The growth is largely credited to strong remittance flows to Egypt and Morocco. Flows to Egypt increased 11 percent to a record high of nearly $30 billion in 2020, while flows to Morocco rose 6.5 percent. Also registering an increase was Tunisia (2.5 percent). In contrast, other economies in the region experienced losses in 2020, with Djibouti, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan posting double-digit declines. In 2021, remittances to the region is likely to grow 2.6 percent due to moderate growth in the euro area and weak outflows from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Remittance costs: The cost of sending $200 to the region fell slightly in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 6.6 percent. Costs vary greatly across corridors: the cost of sending money from high-income countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to Lebanon remained very high, mostly in the double digits. On the other hand, sending money from GCC countries to Egypt and Jordan costs around 3 percent in some corridors.

Inward remittance flows to South Asia rose by about 5.2 percent in 2020 to $147 billion, driven by surge in flows to Bangladesh and Pakistan. In India, the region’s largest recipient country by far, remittances fell by just 0.2 percent in 2020, with much of the decline due to a 17 percent drop in remittances from the United Arab Emirates, which offset resilient flows from the United States and other host countries. In Pakistan, remittances rose by about 17 percent, with the biggest growth coming from Saudi Arabia followed by the European Union countries and the United Arab Emirates. In Bangladesh, remittances also showed a brisk uptick in 2020 (18.4 percent), and Sri Lanka witnessed remittance growth of 5.8 percent. In contrast, remittances to Nepal fell by about 2 percent, reflecting a 17 percent decline in the first quarter of 2020. For 2021, it is projected that remittances to the region will slow slightly to 3.5 percent due to a moderation of growth in high-income economies and a further expected drop in migration to the GCC countries. Remittance costs:The average cost of sending $200 to the region stood at 4.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, the lowest among all the regions. Some of the lowest-cost corridors, originating in the GCC countries and Singapore, had costs below the SDG target of 3 percent owing to high volumes, competitive markets, and deployment of technology. But costs are well over 10 percent in the highest-cost corridors.

Remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa declined by an estimated 12.5 percent in 2020 to $42 billion. The decline was almost entirely due to a 27.7 percent decline in remittance flows to Nigeria, which alone accounted for over 40 percent of remittance flows to the region. Excluding Nigeria, remittance flows to Sub-Saharan African increased by 2.3 percent. Remittance growth was reported in Zambia (37 percent), Mozambique (16 percent), Kenya (9 percent) and Ghana (5 percent). In 2021, remittance flows to the region are projected to rise by 2.6 percent, supported by improving prospects for growth in high-income countries. Data on remittance flows to Sub-Saharan Africa are sparse and of uneven quality, with some countries still using the outdated Fourth IMF Balance of Payments Manual rather than the Sixth, while several other countries do not report data at all. High-frequency phone surveys in some countries reported decreases in remittances for a large percentage of households even while recorded remittances reported by official sources report increases in flows. The shift from informal to formal channels due to the closure of borders explains in part the increase in the volume of remittances recorded by central banks. Remittance costs: Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most expensive region to send money to, where sending $200 costs an average of 8.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020. Within the region, which experiences high intra-regional migration, it is expensive to send money from South Africa to Botswana (19.6 percent), Zimbabwe (14 percent to), and to Malawi (16 percent).

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Clean energy demand for critical minerals set to soar as the world pursues net zero goals

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Supplies of critical minerals essential for key clean energy technologies like electric vehicles and wind turbines need to pick up sharply over the coming decades to meet the world’s climate goals, creating potential energy security hazards that governments must act now to address, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency. 

The special report, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, is the most comprehensive global study to date on the central importance of minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements in a secure and rapid transformation of the global energy sector. Building on the IEA’s longstanding leadership role in energy security, the report recommends six key areas of action for policy makers to ensure that critical minerals enable an accelerated transition to clean energy rather than becoming a bottleneck.

“Today, the data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realising those ambitions,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA. “The challenges are not insurmountable, but governments must give clear signals about how they plan to turn their climate pledges into action. By acting now and acting together, they can significantly reduce the risks of price volatility and supply disruptions.”

“Left unaddressed, these potential vulnerabilities could make global progress towards a clean energy future slower and more costly – and therefore hamper international efforts to tackle climate change,” Dr Birol said. “This is what energy security looks like in the 21st century, and the IEA is fully committed to helping governments ensure that these hazards don’t derail the global drive to accelerate energy transitions.”

The special report, part of the IEA’s flagship World Energy Outlook series, underscores that the mineral requirements of an energy system powered by clean energy technologies differ profoundly from one that runs on fossil fuels. A typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a similarly sized gas-fired power plant.

Demand outlooks and supply vulnerabilities vary widely by mineral, but the energy sector’s overall needs for critical minerals could increase by as much as six times by 2040, depending on how rapidly governments act to reduce emissions. Not only is this a massive increase in absolute terms, but as the costs of technologies fall, mineral inputs will account for an increasingly important part of the value of key components, making their overall costs more vulnerable to potential mineral price swings.

The commercial importance of these minerals also grow rapidly: today’s revenue from coal production is ten times larger than from energy transition minerals. However, in climate-driven scenarios, these positions are reversed well before 2040.

To produce the report, the IEA built on its detailed, technology-rich energy modelling tools to establish a unique database showing future mineral requirements under varying scenarios that span a range of levels of climate action and 11 different technology evolution pathways. In climate-driven scenarios, mineral demand for use in batteries for electric vehicles and grid storage is a major force, growing at least thirty times to 2040. The rise of low-carbon power generation to meet climate goals also means a tripling of mineral demand from this sector by 2040. Wind takes the lead, bolstered by material-intensive offshore wind. Solar PV follows closely, due to the sheer volume of capacity that is added. The expansion of electricity networks also requires a huge amount of copper and aluminium.

Unlike oil – a commodity produced around the world and traded in liquid markets – production and processing of many minerals such as lithium, cobalt and some rare earth elements are highly concentrated in a handful of countries, with the top three producers accounting for more than 75% of supplies. Complex and sometimes opaque supply chains also increase the risks that could arise from physical disruptions, trade restrictions or other developments in major producing countries. In addition, while there is no shortage of resources, the quality of available deposits is declining as the most immediately accessible resources are exploited. Producers also face the necessity of stricter environmental and social standards.

The IEA report provides six key recommendations for policy makers to foster stable supplies of critical minerals to support accelerated clean energy transitions. These include the need for governments to lay out their long-term commitments for emission reductions, which would provide the confidence needed for suppliers to invest in and expand mineral production. Governments should also promote technological advances, scale up recycling to relieve pressure on primary supplies, maintain high environmental and social standards, and strengthen international collaboration between producers and consumers.

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Global e-commerce jumps to $26.7 trillion, fuelled by COVID-19

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Parts of the online economy have boomed since COVID-19 began, while some pre-pandemic big-hitters have seen a reversal of their fortunes in the last year, amid widespread movement restrictions, UN economists have found.

According to UN trade and development experts UNCTAD, the e-commerce sector saw a “dramatic” rise in its share of all retail sales, from 16 per cent to 19 per cent in 2020.

The digital retail economy experienced most growth in the Republic of Korea, where internet sales increased from around one in five transactions in 2019, to more than one in four last year.

“These statistics show the growing importance of online activities”, said Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics. “They also point to the need for countries, especially developing ones, to have such information as they rebuild their economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

The UK also saw a spike in online transactions over the same period, from 15.8 to 23.3 per cent; so too did China (from 20.7 to 24.9 per cent), the US (11 to 14 per cent), Australia (6.3 to 9.4 per cent), Singapore (5.9 to 11.7 per cent) and Canada (3.6 to 6.2 per cent).  

Online business-to-consumer (B2C) sales for the world’s top 13 companies stood at $2.9 trillion in 2020, UNCTAD said on Friday.

Bumpy ride

UNCTAD also said that among the top 13 e-commerce firms – most being from China and the US – those offering ride-hailing and travel services have suffered.

These include holiday site Expedia, which fell from fifth place in 2019 to 11th in 2020, a slide mirrored by travel aggregator, Booking Holdings, and Airbnb.

By comparison, e-firms offering a wider range of services and goods to online consumers fared better, with the top 13 companies seeing a more than 20 per cent increase in their sales – up from 17.9 per cent in 2019.

These winners include Shopify, whose gains rose more than 95 per cent last year – and Walmart (up 72.4 per cent). 

Cashing-up

Overall, global e-commerce sales jumped to $26.7 trillion in 2019, up four per cent from a year earlier, the UN number-crunchers noted, citing the latest available estimates.

In addition to consumer online purchases, this figure includes “business-to-business” (B2B) trade, which put together was worth 30 per cent of global gross domestic product two years ago.

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