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Improving productivity key to unleashing sustainable growth in Central America

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The six Central American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama) can increase the productivity of their economies and workforce and recover from the largest economic recession in their history —caused by the pandemic and exacerbated by hurricanes Eta and Iota— and move towards a strong and sustainable economic growth, according to a new World Bank study.

The report Unleashing Central America’s Growth Potential released today, highlights that these countries can boost their economies through a series of reforms in key areas. These include reducing costs and barriers to trade; boosting investment in human capital, innovation, and physical and digital infrastructure; attracting private investment through improving business environment and the quality of institutions, and a greater inclusion of women and young people in the labor market.

The study reviewed the performance of Central America during the last three decades and found that, although between 1991 and 2017 the region’s economy grew 4.5% per year on average —besting the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean—, this economic growth was achieved with little productivity growth.

Due to rapid growth of the working-age population during that period, the increased number of workers accounted for two-thirds of the economic growth achieved. Given that a steep decline in the growth of the working-age population is expected, a further increase in productivity (defined as a greater ability of firms and the workforce to produce more and better goods and services) will be essential to sustain strong growth going forward.

“Now is the moment to rethink the future of Central America and introduce strategic reforms to benefit current and future generations with more economic opportunities and prosperity,” said Michel Kerf, World Bank Director for Central America and the Dominican Republic. “The pandemic has significantly affected economic growth and reduced fiscal space in the region. However, the resumption of global trade and the recovery of the United States and China create opportunities to attract new domestic and foreign investments and increase the volume and value of Central American exports, which can boost sustainable and inclusive growth, with greater creation of good jobs and poverty reduction.”

The pandemic pushed Central America into its greatest economic contraction. However, global trade of goods has recovered, prices of commodities are stable, remittances are higher than a year ago and the regionalization of global value chains towards North America is accelerating, which bodes well for the Central American economies.

Key areas for policy reforms identified in the study include:

Reducing costs and barriers to intraregional trade and with Mexico: trade costs are high in Central America, with tariff-equivalent trade costs at 74%. Transportation costs are also high, at US$0.17 per ton-kilometer, above those of US$0.06-0.11 in sub-Saharan Africa and US$0.02-0.05 in advanced economies. It is estimated that full implementation of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement can reduce trade costs by 15.5%, increasing intraregional trade by 61% and the region’s GDP by 4.3% by 2030. Extending these reductions to Mexico would increase trade between Central America and Mexico by 130% and Central America’s GDP by 6.7% by 2030.

Investing in human capital and in coverage and quality of physical and digital infrastructure: reducing knowledge and skills gaps will strengthen the workforce’s productivity, flexibility, and innovative capacity. It will also allow modern industries intensive in high-skilled workers such as information and communication technology to grow, as well as less skill-intensive industries such as tourism. It is also necessary to boost investment to close gaps in coverage and quality of physical and digital infrastructure, as poor infrastructure hinders economic growth, exacerbates poverty and inequality, and exposes some countries to natural disasters.

Attracting private investment through improving the business environment and the quality of institutions: large investment projects are needed, but these require clear rules, capable institutions, fiscal availability, and partnerships with the private sector.

Modernizing labor laws to adapt them to hybrid situations in the post-pandemic era and attract the jobs of the future, facilitating mobility between companies and sectors and labor formalization, and promoting greater participation of women and young people in the labor force are also needed.

The study includes six reports that analyze the growth factors, constraints, and opportunities for each country and a regional report that examines themes common to Central America.

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Renewable Energy Jobs Reach 12 Million Globally

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Renewable energy employment worldwide reached 12 million last year, up from 11.5 million in 2019, according to the eighth edition of Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2021. The report was released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) at a high-level opening of IRENA’s Collaborative Framework on Just and Inclusive Transitions, co-facilitated by the United States and South Africa.

The report confirms that COVID-19 caused delays and supply chain disruptions, with impacts on jobs varying by country and end use, and among segments of the value chain. While solar and wind jobs continued leading global employment growth in the renewable energies sector, accounting for a total of  4 million and 1.25 million jobs respectively, liquid biofuels employment decreased as demand for transport fuels fell. Off-grid solar lighting sales suffered, but companies were able to limit job losses.

China commanded a 39% share of renewable energy jobs worldwide in 2020, followed by Brazil, India, the United States, and members of the European Union. Many other countries are also creating jobs in renewables. Among them are Viet Nam and Malaysia, key solar PV exporters; Indonesia and Colombia, with large agricultural supply chains for biofuels; and Mexico and the Russian Federation, where wind power is growing. In Sub-Saharan Africa, solar jobs are expanding in diverse countries like Nigeria, Togo, and South Africa.

“Renewable energy’s ability to create jobs and meet climate goals is beyond doubt. With COP26 in front of us, governments must raise their ambition to reach net zero,” says Francesco la Camera, IRENA Director-General. “The only path forward is to increase investments in a just and inclusive transition, reaping the full socioeconomic benefits along the way.”

“The potential for renewable energies to generate decent work is a clear indication that we do not have to choose between environmental sustainability on the one hand, and employment creation on the other. The two can go hand-in-hand,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.

Recognising that women suffered more from the pandemic because they tend to work in sectors more vulnerable to economic shocks, the report highlights the importance of a just transition and decent jobs for all, ensuring that jobs pay a living wage, workplaces are safe, and rights at work are respected. A just transition requires a workforce that is diverse – with equal chances for women and men, and with career paths open to youth, minorities, and marginalised groups. International Labour Standards and collective bargaining arrangements are crucial in this context.

Fulfilling the renewable energy jobs potential will depend on ambitious policies to drive the energy transition in coming decades. In addition to deployment, enabling, and integrating policies for the sector itself, there is a need to overcome structural barriers in the wider economy and minimise potential misalignments between job losses and gains during the transition.

Indeed, IRENA and ILO’s work finds that more jobs will be gained by the energy transition than lost. An ILO global sustainability scenario to 2030 estimates that the 24-25 million new jobs will far surpass losses of between six and seven million jobs. Some five million of the workers who lose their jobs will be able to find new jobs in the same occupation in another industry. IRENA’sWorld Energy Transition Outlook forecasts that the renewable energy sector could employ 43 million by 2050.

The disruption to cross-border supplies caused by COVID-19 restrictions has highlighted the important role of domestic value chains. Strengthening them will facilitate local job creation and income generation, by leveraging existing and new economic activities. IRENA’s work on leveraging local supply chains offers insights into the types of jobs needed to support the transition by technology, segment of the value chain, educational and occupational requirements.

This will require industrial policies to form viable supply chains; education and training strategies to create a skilled workforce; active labour market measures to provide adequate employment services; retraining and recertification together with social protection to assist workers and communities dependent on fossil fuels; and public investment strategies to support regional economic development and diversification.

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In highly uneven recovery, global investment flows rebound

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After a big drop last year caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, global foreign direct investment (FDI) reached an estimated $852 billion in the first half of 2021, showing a stronger than expected rebound.  

That’s according to the latest Investment Trends Monitor, released this Tuesday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  

It shows the increase in the first two quarters in FDI, recovered more than 70 per cent of the losses stemming from the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. 

For the UNCTAD‘s director of investment and enterprise, James Zhan, the good news “masks the growing divergence in FDI flows between developed and developing economies, as well as the lag in a broad-based recovery of the greenfield investment in productive capacity.” 

Mr. Zhan also warns that “uncertainties remain abundant”. 

Global outlook  

The duration of the health crisis, the pace of vaccinations, especially in developing countries, and the speed of implementation of infrastructure stimulus, remain important factors of uncertainty. 

Other important risk factors are labour and supply chain bottlenecks, rising energy prices and inflationary pressures.  

Despite these challenges, the global outlook for the full year has improved from earlier projections. 

The growth in the next few months should be more muted than the in the first half of the year, but it should still take FDI flows to beyond pre-pandemic levels. 

Uneven recovery 

Between January and June, developed economies saw the biggest rise, with FDI reaching an estimated $424 billion, more than three times the exceptionally low level in 2020. 

In Europe, several large economies saw sizeable increases, on average remaining only 5 per cent below pre-pandemic quarterly levels.  

Inflows in the United States were up by 90 per cent, driven by a surge in cross-border mergers and acquisitions. 

FDI flows in developing economies also increased significantly, totalling $427 billion in the first half of the year.  

There was a growth acceleration in east and southeast Asia (25 per cent), a recovery to near pre-pandemic levels in Central and South America, and upticks in several other regional economies across Africa and West and Central Asia. 

Of the total recovery increase, 75 per cent was recorded in developed economies. 

High-income countries more than doubled quarterly FDI inflows from rock bottom 2020 levels, middle-income economies saw a 30 per cent increase, and low-income economies a further nine per cent decline.  

Mixed picture for investors 

Growing investor confidence is most apparent in infrastructure, boosted by favourable long-term financing conditions, recovery stimulus packages and overseas investment programmes. 

International project finance deals were up 32 per cent in number, and 74 per cent in value terms. Sizeable increases happened in most high-income regions and in Asia and South America. 

In contrast, UNCTAD says investor confidence in industry and value chains remains shaky. Greenfield investment project announcements continued their downward path, decreasing 13 per cent in number and 11 per cent in value until the end of September.  

Agenda 2030 

After suffering double-digit declines across almost all sectors, the recovery in areas relevant to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in developing countries remains fragile. 

The combined value of announced greenfield investments and project finance deals rose by 60 per cent, but mostly because of a small number of very large deals in the power sector.  

International project finance in renewable energy and utilities continues to be the strongest growth sector. 

The investment in projects relevant to the SDGs in least developed countries continued to decline precipitously. New greenfield project announcements fell by 51 per cent, and infrastructure project finance deals by 47 per cent. Both had already fallen 28 per cent last year.

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Capabilities fit is a winning formula for M&A: PwC’s “Doing the right deals” study

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Ensuring there is a capabilities fit between buyer and target is key to delivering a high-performing deal, according to a new PwC study of 800 corporate acquisitions. . The study finds that capabilities-driven deals generated a significant annual total shareholder return (TSR) premium (equal to 14.2% points) over deals lacking a capabilities fit.

The “Doing the right deals” study looks at the 50 largest deals with publicly-listed buyers in each of 16 industries and evaluates the characteristics that delivered superior financial outcomes for the buyers, as measured by annual TSR.

A capability is defined as the specific combination of processes, tools, technologies, skills, and behaviours that allows the company to deliver unique value to its customers.

Two types of deals were found to outperform the market: capabilities enhancement deals – in which the buyer acquires a target for a capability it needs — and capabilities leverage deals – in which the buyer uses its capabilities to generate value from the target. These represent a true engine of value creation, delivering average annual TSR that was 3.3% points above local market indices. Deals without these characteristics – limited-fit deals – had an average annual TSR of -10.9% points compared to the local market indices.

While 73% of the largest 800 deals analysed sought to combine businesses that did fit from a capabilities perspective, 27% were limited-fit deals. The analysis shows that for every dollar spent on M&A, roughly 25 cents were spent on such limited-fit deals that in many cases destroyed shareholder value.

Alastair Rimmer, Global Deals Strategy Leader, PwC UK said: “Our analysis confirms that deals where the buyer is focused on enhancing its own capabilities or leveraging its capabilities to improve the target can result in a substantial TSR premium. Whether a deal creates value depends less on whether it is aimed at consolidation, diversification or entering new markets. What matters is whether there is a solid capabilities rationale between the buyer and the target.”

Capabilities fit delivers shareholder value across industries

The capabilities premium was found to be positive across all of the 16 industries studied. The share of capabilities-driven deals was highest in pharma & life sciences (92%), an industry where deals often combine one company’s innovation capabilities with another’s strength in distribution.  Other leading industries in capabilities fit deals were health services and telecommunications (both with 90% capabilities-driven deals) and automotive (86%).  Limited fit deals were found to be most prevalent in the oil & gas industry (62%), where asset acquisition can play an important role in addition to capabilities fit.

The analysis shows that the stated strategic intent of a deal, as defined in corporate announcements and regulatory filings, has little to no impact on value creation. Whether a deal fits or not depends less on stated goals of consolidation, diversification or entering new markets. What matters is whether there is a capabilities fit between the buyer and the target.  Deals aiming for geographic expansion notably stood out as performing less well than others, largely because many of them (34%) were limited-fit deals.

The M&A playing field has shifted due to COVID-19

More than ever, companies must be clear in defining which capabilities they can leverage to succeed, and which capabilities gaps they need to fill.

Hein Marais, Global Value Creation Leader, PwC UK added: “Deal rationales have shifted in a COVID context, reflecting the heightened need for new and different capabilities if an enterprise is to generate value and create sustained outcomes.  The need to move quickly increases the pressure to do deals at pace – and thereby the risk of failing to evaluate capabilities fit with enough care. Ensuring such capabilities fit, however, dramatically increases the chances of your deal creating value.”

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