Europe, Middle East and Africa
The U.K. ended a tumultuous 2016 on a strong note, France closed the year with a boost to employment and Middle Eastern business leaders looked to the future at the World Economic Forum.
Unemployment reached its lowest level in 11 years in the U.K. at the close of 2016, according to the BBC. The jobless rate held at 4.8 per cent in the three months to November, with 52,000 fewer people out of work compared to the previous three-month period.
A wage boost accompanied this rise in employment, with average weekly earnings excluding bonuses up 2.7 per cent compared to last year, marking the largest increase since August 2015, the Telegraph noted.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her post-Brexit plan for the U.K. at the World Economic Forum, held in Davos, Switzerland. She called Britain "a hub for foreign investment" and assured political and business leaders that the country would continue to be "open for business," the Independent reported.
The Davos conference also played a major role for the Middle East and North Africa, where a six-point reform plan was presented by business leaders from the regions, Arab News reported. The report proposes new policies that address the labour market, including those that would make it easier for employees to quickly and cheaply move from one job to another, and ways to streamline the process for individuals to create companies.
In France, the public is gearing up for the presidential primary on January 29. One candidate, Benoit Hamon, is calling for the institution of a universal basic income of between 750 and 800 euros a month, according to French 24. The income would be given to every French citizen aged 18 and over, whether they are employed or unemployed.
The French unemployment rate dropped for the first time since 2008, according to figures released late last month by the Ministry of Labour, Europe Online Magazine reported.
France made a move to protect work-life balance by passing a "right to disconnect" law which went into effect on Jan. 1. Under the new law, organisations with more than 50 employees will have to come up with guidelines that allow employees to turn off their phones during non-work hours without repercussions, according to The Local France.
With the promise of forward momentum in the new year, both Japan and Thailand are hoping to make big changes to their economies and labour practices.
The jobless rate in Japan increased 0.1 point in November to reach 3.1 per cent, Shanghai Daily reported. Household spending also fell during the month, marking a 1.5 per cent drop over the year.
A major topic of discussion for the new year in Japan is likely to be labour reform, as the country grapples with a series of employment issues. Unions have been increasingly vocal about combating wage disparity between regular and irregular workers, expressed through the principle, "same work, same pay," according to an editorial piece in The Japan Times. Irregular workers receive a salary that is less than 60 per cent of the pay that regular employees earn.
Another big labour issue that the country hopes to address is overworking. The Japanese government recently put forward a proposal for a cap to the amount of overtime hours that can be worked, with the limit ranging from 60 to 80 hours each month, according to the Nikkei Asian Review. The reforms are hoped to counter previous laws that permit companies to allow their employees to work indefinite overtime. The council will hold its first meeting on the proposals on Feb. 1.
Another labour law was recently changed. The government decided to lower residency requirements for foreign workers in Japan from 10 years to three years, according to The Filipino Times. In addition, individuals with the required qualifications will go through a one-year process for gaining residency, instead of the current five years.
Over in Thailand, metrics point to an economic recovery, with some reservations, Frontera reported. Employment increased in November, lowering the national unemployment rate, while exports were up.
Business and political leaders are pushing for the "Thailand 4.0 plan" that will boost the economy of the nation through growth driven by technological innovation, the Bangkok Post reported. However, some analysts have noted that there must be an increase in skilled workers and educational reform for this new phase to become a reality.
After a strong December jobs report that helped end 2016 on a high note, economic growth in the U.S. has continued steadily, aided by climbing wages and an increase in manufacturing, according to Bloomberg Markets. The Latin American economy is forecast to make a comeback this year, with Panama and the Dominican Republic remaining the strongest. And though the economic future of the Mexican economy remains to be seen, car sales for the country were record-breaking in December.
According to The Washington Post, the U.S. added only 156,000 jobs in December, less than in November. Despite the drop, and an increase in the unemployment rate to 4.7 per cent, the job market has held steady and the economy has nearly reached full employment.
Wages saw the strongest increase in seven years, rising 2.9 per cent from last December.
On a call with reporters, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, Mark Zandi, noted that the U.S. remains on pace to create 1.25 million jobs annually through 2021 or 2022, reported Reuters.
"Job growth remains strong but is slowing," said Zandi in a statement. "The gap between employment growth in the service economy and losses on the goods side persists. Smaller companies are struggling to maintain payrolls while large companies are expanding at a healthy pace."
Overall, many industry experts are expecting a stronger economic showing this year than compared to 2016. As Rick Rieder explained in Nasdaq News, continued innovation in tech as well as an evolving demographic are forecast to keep growth steady. Moreover, confidence among both c-level executives and consumers has continued to rise since November.
Rieder also cited a recovery of the manufacturing industry toward the end of 2016, as the goods-producing sectors of the labour market recorded an uptick in hiring during quarter four when compared to the rest of the year. Growth in the service sector is also expected to push the economy forward.
According to a press release from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean the region is predicted to revert to positive growth in 2017. Following a contraction of 1 per cent last year, the region is expected to grow 1.3 per cent this year and 2.1 per cent in 2018. These figures come from the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2017 Report by the United Nations.
In Mexico, 2016 closed with record-high earnings for auto manufacturers as December locked in sales of 192,307 light-vehicles to beat top figures from December 2015 by 19.8 per cent, according to the Mexican Automotive Industry Association. As a whole 2016 was successful for light-vehicle sales, beating the previously forecast figure for the year - 1,350,099 units - by 18.6 per cent with 1,601,826 units sold.