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State of the Unions / China’s Real Estate Wobble

Just this week, employees at a Baltimore-area Apple store took a vote that might have profound impacts on the state of labour in the United States and abroad. The employees voted 65-33 to form a union, marking the first time that Apple employees anywhere in the US have successfully formed a union. According to the New York Times, more than twenty Apple stores have expressed interest in forming a union following an Amazon distribution centre’s recent, successful unionization push. Apple, for its part, pushed back hard against the effort. The company argued to employees that it pays more than most retailers and provides substantial benefits, including healthcare and stock options. They even raised starting wages from 20 to 22 USD an hour. They even released a video of the head of retail warning employees could hurt the company’s business. This video did not have the reception that the company had hoped; the company in January became the world’s first company to ever be worth 3 trillion USD.

This trend among America’s biggest companies should be worrying for large employers. Unions used to have strong footholds throughout the United States, but their influence has waned in recent years, as politicians and union-busters have slowly but surely taken them apart and rendered them ineffective. Now that they are becoming more politically and publicly popular, it might be high time for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction.

China’s Real Estate Wobble

China’s economy has been so strong in the last few decades that it is hard for most people to imagine anything but massive growth. But Moody’s has sensed tremendous trouble in the country’s real estate sector, resulting in a new record high in risky ratings and downgrades for China’s real estate developers. The main issue is that China’s property sector has started to wobble under the immense weight of its debts. The Omicron variant only made things worse, as Beijing’s strict zero-COVID policy brought the nation’s economy to a grinding halt. These lockdowns triggered a drop in new home sales and brought real estate prices down for the first time in many years. This process was especially troublesome for China, which has long relied on housing for job growth and business spending. Millions of Chinese families have investment homes, so this occurrence also puts many families on an especially fragile footing.

For its part, Beijing has attempted to save the housing market via lower mortgage rates, easier credit, and subsidies, but these tactics have not had nearly as much of an effect as the government had hoped. Over the last two months, new home prices fell in more than half of China’s biggest cities, and property sales plunged by over 60%.

For these reasons, Moody’s issued 91 downgrades for high-yield Chinese property developers since mid-2021. Considering it only issued 56 such downgrades between 2011 and 2020, this is a great cause for concern, not just for China, but for the global economy.