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Majority of SPD seen backing Angela Merkel

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A leading Social Democrat on Saturday predicted 55 percent or more of SPD members would back a renewed coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, and warned that a’no’ vote would spell disaster for the party, Germany and Europe.

Thomas Oppermann, vice president of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, told Die Welt newspaper that he expected a”clear approval” rate of 55 percent in an SPD postal ballot that ended on Friday, with results to be unveiled on Sunday.

The SPD’s 464,000 members must vote on whether to endorse a decision by party leaders to continue the”grand coalition” with Merkel’s conservative bloc that has ruled since 2013 despite the SPD’s significant losses in the September national election.

Rejection of another tie-up with conservatives”would be a disaster for Germany, the SPD and above all, for Europe,” Oppermann said.

The SPD’s Jusos youth wing has been lobbying party members to vote against a re-run of the grand coalition, arguing they would do better to rebuild in opposition after the party suffered its worst results since 1993 in the September poll.

Oppermann gave the Jusos credit for triggering a big debate in the party, and said he expected its leader, Kevin Kuehnert, to continue to make his mark on the party.

He said the SPD needed to be more”self-confident, cheeky and ready for conflict” in the next coalition government.

“The biggest risk would be that we repeat what we did the last time,” he said, warning that a passive SPD stance could result in even worse election results after four years.

The SPD initially planned to stay in opposition, but agreed to negotiate with Merkel’s conservatives after talks with the pro-business Free Democrats (FD) and the environmentalist Greens on a three-way tie-up collapsed in November.

FDP leader Christian Lindner told the Funke Mediengruppe newspaper chain, that new elections would be the best solution if SPD members voted’no.’ He ruled out revisiting a three-way coalition, given the platforms of the parties involved.

He said the FDP would examine legislative proposals on a case-by-case basis if Merkel was forced to form a minority government, but added:”Such a government would probably only last a few months anyway.”

Manfred Weber, deputy leader of the CSU Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, also backed new elections if SPD members rejected another’grand coalition,’ arguing that a minority government would impair Germany’s standing in Europe.

“Germany would remove itself as a serious factor in Europe and the world,” he said.

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Covid cases are rising again in all 50 states across U.S. as delta variant tightens its grip

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Covid cases are on the rise in all 50 states and the District of Columbia as the delta variant rapidly spreads across the U.S. and the virus once again tightens its grip.

The U.S. is reporting an average of about 43,700 new cases per day over the past week — far below pandemic highs but up 65% over the previous seven days and nearly three times as high as the level two weeks ago, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows. Cases hit a 15-month low in late June before they began to rise yet again as fewer people got vaccinated and the more infectious delta variant took hold in the country.

Vaccination rates peaked in April at more than 3 million shots per day but have dropped off considerably in recent months to around 530,000 a day, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida and Nevada are reporting the highest daily average of new cases per capita over the past week, all of which are at least double the U.S. rate.

Each of those states also have vaccination rates below the nationwide level, with the biggest gap visible in Louisiana, where 47.7% of the eligible age 12-plus population has received one shot or more compared with 65.9% for the country overall.

Hospital admissions of Covid patients are up 32% compared with one week ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The count of daily Covid deaths, which typically lag an increase in case counts by a few weeks or more, has ticked upward but not at the same pace as cases or hospitalizations. Many Americans most vulnerable to the virus also now have some level of protection, as 89% of seniors have received at least one shot.

“Deaths haven’t risen because we have done an incredible job of fully vaccinating the populations most likely to die from Covid-19, especially those over 65 and nursing and assisted home residents,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, infectious disease specialist at the University of California at San Francisco, said in an interview. “Deaths also lag infection rate in a few cases, but I also anticipate the death rate not to budge.”

The overwhelming majority of serious Covid cases — 97% of hospital admissions, and 99.5% of Covid deaths — are occurring among those who are not vaccinated, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told reporters at a White House briefing Thursday.

President Joe Biden and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky have both called the current state of the outbreak “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

U.S. officials are pleading for Americans to get vaccinated against the delta variant, which Walensky said is one of the most infectious respiratory diseases ever seen by scientists. At 68.6% of the adult population at least partially vaccinated, the U.S. has still not reached Biden’s July Fourth goal of getting 70% of Americans aged 18 and older to receive one shot or more.

The variant is highly contagious, largely because people infected with the delta strain can carry up to 1,000 times more virus in their nasal passages than those infected with the original strain, according to new data.

“The delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains,” Walensky told reporters at a briefing Thursday. “It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of, and that I have seen in my 20-year career.”

Local officials across the country are now pleading with Americans to once again wear masks indoors. Several counties in California and Nevada are now advising all residents to wear masks in public indoor settings — whether they are vaccinated or not. Local leaders in at least three more states have reinstated mask mandates, issued facial covering recommendations or threatened the return of strict public health limits for all residents — in defiance of CDC guidelines that say vaccinated people don’t have to follow those protocols in most settings.

“The easiest and best and most effective way that we can prevent the emergence of a new variant and crush the already existing delta variant is to get everyone vaccinated,” said White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci in an interview Wednesday with CNBC.

— CNBC’s Bob Towey contributed reporting.

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China sanctions Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

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China said Friday it has sanctioned seven people, including former Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in response to U.S. penalties imposed on Chinese officials over Beijing’s clampdown on democracy in Hong Kong. 

The reciprocal sanctions were imposed under China’s new Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law, which was passed in June. The sanctions are a response to the United States’ recent warning to companies about the risks of doing business in Hong Kong.

They also came days before Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is to visit China, making her the most senior U.S. official to visit China during the Biden administration. 

In addition to Ross, others sanctioned include Carolyn Bartholomew, chair of the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission; Jonathan Stivers, former staff director of the Congressional Executive Commission on China; and Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s China director. 

Also sanctioned were DoYun Kim at National Democratic Institute for International Affairs; Adam Joseph King, senior program manager of the International Republican Institute and the Hong Kong Democratic Council. 

Ross, a billionaire businessman and investor, has done business in China. As Commerce secretary, he was one of the faces of former President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.

“I would like to stress once again that Hong Kong is China’s Special Administrative Region and its affairs are an integral part of China’s internal affairs,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in a statement. “Any attempt by external forces to interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs would be as futile as an ant trying to shake a big tree.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Friday press briefing that the U.S. is aware of China’s newest sanctions.

“We are undeterred by these actions and we remain fully committed to implementing all relevant U.S. sanctions on authorities,” Psaki said at the briefing. “These actions are the latest examples of how Beijing punishes private citizens, companies and civil society organizations as a way to send political signals and further illustrates the PRC’s deteriorating investment climate and rising political risks.”

Psaki said it follows China’s “baseless sanctioning” of two commissioners from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in March, 28 U.S. officials in January as well as sanctions on U.S. officials and organizations in July 2020. 

The Chinese Embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The State Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Lijian said Friday that China “firmly opposes and strongly condemns” the Biden administration’s issuance of the Hong Kong Business Advisory last week, which warns that U.S. firms are facing several risks posed by China’s sweeping national security law in Hong Kong. 

“These acts gravely violate international law and basic norms governing international relations, and severely interfere in China’s internal affairs,” Lijian said in the statement. 

China’s national security law was passed in June 2020 and has been condemned by Washington for aiming to limit Hong Kong’s autonomy and banning literature that is critical of the Chinese Communist Party. 

A Biden administration advisory, published jointly by the departments of State, Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security, says businesses face risks of warrantless electronic surveillance, surrendering data to authorities and “restricted access to information.”

It also sanctioned several Chinese officials with Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong for limiting autonomy in the territory. 

“Beijing has chipped away at Hong Kong’s reputation of accountable, transparent governance and respect for individual freedoms, and has broken its promise to leave Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy unchanged for 50 years,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement about the advisory. 

The Hong Kong warning came days after the Biden administration issued a similar advisory for firms with businesses and operations in Xinjiang province, where there is growing evidence that the Chinese government has carried out genocide and other human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

The relationship between Beijing and Washington became even more strained under the Trump administration, which provoked a trade war and worked to ban Chinese technology companies from doing business in the U.S. 

Biden has previously said that his approach would differ from his predecessor’s, stating that he would work closely with allies to push back against Beijing.

The Chinese sanctions on Ross came soon after the Department of Justice declined to prosecute him for allegedly misleading Congress about census citizenship questions.

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The rapid growth the U.S. economy has seen is about to hit a wall

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A National Park Service worker replaces a flag at the Washington Monument which reopened today following a six month closure due to COVID-19 safety measures, in Washington U.S., July 14, 2021.

Kevin Lemarque | Reuter

The U.S. economy is expected to post another roaring growth spurt in the second quarter, before a slow and steady dose of reality starts to sink in.

Gross domestic product is projected to accelerate 9.2% for the April-to-June period, according to a FactSet survey.

In a pre-pandemic world, that would have put annualized growth at its fastest level since the second quarter of 1983. However, the current circumstances and the outsized policy response they generated make this merely the third straight quarter of GDP that sits well above the post-Great Recession trend.

Things are about to change, however.

The economy is creeping back towards normal, the open checkbook from Congress is about to get tighter, and millions of sidelined American workers will be returning to their jobs. That means a gradual reversion to the mean for an economy more used to growing closer to 2% than the much stronger levels it has turned in during the reopening.

“Growth has peaked, the economy will slow a bit in the second half of this year, then much more noticeably in the first half of 2022 as fiscal support fades,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics. “The contours of growth are going to be shaped largely by fiscal policy over the next 18 months. The tailwind just blows less strongly, and may stop altogether by this time next year.”

It’s been a long road getting here, but the economy has gotten very close to its pre-pandemic self.

In fact, according to a running gauge that Jefferies keeps, overall output is at 98.6% of its “normal” level before Covid-19 turned everything upside down. The firm uses a slew of indicators to measure then versus now, and finds that while some areas such as employment and air travel are lagging, retail and housing have helped push overall activity to just below the 2019 level, at 98.6%.

“When I look holistically at household income dynamics and balance sheets, I see a very, very positive situation, very healthy fundamentals, and it’s hard to be pessimistic on the outlook,” said Aneta Markowska, chief financial economist at Jefferies.

Indeed, household net worth totaled $136.9 trillion at the end of the first quarter, a 16% increase from its 2019 level, according to the Federal Reserve. At the same time, household debt payments compared to disposable personal income fell to 8.2%, a record low going back to 1980.

But much of that net worth has been driven by increases in financial assets such as stocks, and personal income has swelled due to government stimulus payments that are slowing and eventually will stop.

Demographics holding back growth

Gasoline prices at a Royal Dutch Shell Plc gas station in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, July 7, 2021.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Inflation combined with fading fiscal support also then will serve as a growth limit.

“The economy is facing supply constraints with residential investment likely a drag and the change in inventories remaining negative,” Bank of America U.S. economist Alexander Lin said in a note. “Looking ahead, this is likely the peak, with growth cooling in the coming quarters.”

Capital Economics forecasts a below-consensus 8% GDP figure for the second quarter, then a drop to 3.5% in the following period.

“With surging prices squeezing real incomes we suspect the pace of monthly growth will remain lackluster, setting the stage for a sharp slowdown in consumption and GDP growth in the third quarter,” wrote Paul Ashworth, chief North American economist at Capital Economics.

The pandemic is another wildcard.

Cases of the delta variant are spiking in a handful of states, and health officials worry that the U.S. could face a wave like the one hitting some European and Asian countries. Few if any economists expect another wave of lockdowns or similar constraints in the U.S., but pressure from abroad could hit domestic growth.

“Export platforms like Vietnam are being locked down now,” Brusuelas said. “Vietnam is becoming a more important cog in the global supply chain, so we are watching that closely.

Brusuelas added that the negotiations over the debt ceiling also could shake up things in the U.S. Yellen said Friday that extraordinary measures the U.S. may need to take to continuing paying its debts could hit troubles as soon as October.

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