Despite worldwide changes, multinationals focus on mobile workforces to support career growth and ensure global competitiveness
Mercer’s annual Cost of Living Survey finds African, Asian, and European cities dominate the list of most expensive locations for working abroad
In a rapidly changing world, mobility has become a core component of multinational organizations’ global talent strategy. To support the growing number of international assignees working in an increased number of locations, organizations are focusing on evaluating assignments from a cultural perspective, preparing for regional and lateral moves, and modifying compensation approaches to stay competitive. As organizations grapple with these challenges, they are working hard to accommodate the needs of their workforce and to support employees’ careers. According to Mercer’s 2017 Global Talent Trends Study, fair and competitive pay as well as opportunities for promotion are top priorities for employees this year – not surprising given the current climate of uncertainty and change.
As a result, multinational organizations are carefully assessing the cost of expatriate packages for their international assignees. Mercer’s 23rd annual Cost of Living Survey finds that factors like instability of housing markets and inflation for goods and services contribute to the overall cost of doing business in today’s global environment.
“Globalization of the marketplace is well documented with many companies operating in multiple locations around the world and promoting international assignments to enhance the experience of future managers,” said Ilya Bonic, Senior Partner and President of Mercer’s Career business. “There are numerous personal and organizational advantages for sending employees overseas, whether for long- or short-term assignments, including career development by obtaining global experience, the creation and transfer of skills, and the re-allocation of resources.”
Mercer’s 2017 Cost of Living Survey finds Asian and European cities – particularly Hong Kong (2), Tokyo (3), Zurich (4), and Singapore (5) – top the list of most expensive cities for expatriates. The costliest city, driven by cost of goods and security, is Luanda (1), the capital of Angola. Other cities appearing in the top 10 of Mercer’s costliest cities for expatriates are Seoul (6), Geneva (7), Shanghai (8), New York City (9), and Bern (10). The world’s least expensive cities for expatriates, according to Mercer’s survey, are Tunis (209), Bishkek (208), and Skopje (206).
Mercer's authoritative survey is one of the world’s most comprehensive, and is designed to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation allowances for their expatriate employees. New York is used as the base city and all cities are compared against it. Currency movements are measured against the US dollar. The survey includes over 400 cities across five continents and measures the comparative cost of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment.
“While historically mobility, talent management, and rewards have been managed independently of one another, organizations are now using a more holistic approach to enhance their mobility strategies. Compensation is important to be competitive and must be determined appropriately based on the cost of living, currency, and location,” said Mr. Bonic.
Cities in the United States are the most expensive locations in the Americas, with New York City (9) ranked as the costliest city, climbing two spots from last year. San Francisco (22) and Los Angeles (24) follow, having climbed four and three spots respectively. Among other major US cities, Chicago (32) is up two places, Boston (51) is down four places, and Seattle is up seven places. Portland (115) and Winston Salem (140) remain the least expensive surveyed cities for expatriates in the US.
Nathalie Constantin-Métral, Principal at Mercer with responsibility for compiling the survey ranking, said, “Overall, US cities either remained stable in the ranking or have slightly increased due to the movement of the US dollar against the majority of currencies worldwide.”
In South America, Brazilian cities Sao Paulo (27) and Rio de Janeiro (56) surged 101 and 100 spots, respectively, due to the strengthening of the Brazilian real against the US dollar. Buenos Aires, the Argentina capital and financial hub ranked 40 followed by Santiago (67) and Montevideo, Uruguay (65), which jumped forty-one and fifty-four places, respectively. Other cities in South America that rose on the list of costliest cities for expatriates include Lima (104) and Havana (151). Dropping from 94th position, San Jose, Costa Rica (110) experienced the largest drop in the region as the US dollar strengthened against the Costa Rican colon. Caracas in Venezuela has been excluded from the ranking due to the complex currency situation. Depending on which exchange rate is being used, the city would arrive at the top or at the bottom of the ranking.
“Inflationary concerns continued to cause some South American cities to rise in the ranking, whereas the weakening of the local currencies in some of the region’s cities caused them to drop in the ranking,” said Ms. Constantin-Métral.
Up thirty-five places from last year, Vancouver (107) has overtaken Toronto (119) to become the most expensive Canadian city in the ranking, followed by Montreal (129) and Calgary (143). Ranking 152, Ottawa is the least expensive city in Canada. “The Canadian dollar has appreciated in value triggering the major jumps in this year’s ranking,” explained Ms. Constantin-Métral.
“Although the cost of living in Vancouver or Toronto may be high for locals, both cities remain attractive destinations for expatriates placed by organizations outside the country,” says Gordon Frost, Partner and Leader of Mercer Canada’s Career business. “Global costs give us some perspective: compared to the rest of the world, even with a strong dollar, Canada remains relatively affordable.”
EUROPE, THE MIDDLE EAST, AND AFRICA
Only three European cities remain in the top 10 list of most expensive cities for expatriates.
Zurich (4) is still the most costly European city on the list, followed by Geneva (7) and Bern (10). Moscow (14) and St. Petersburg (36) surged fifty-three and one hundred and sixteen places from last year respectively, due to the strong appreciation of the ruble against the US dollar and the cost of goods and services. Meanwhile, London (30), Aberdeen (146) and Birmingham (147) dropped thirteen, sixty-one and fifty-one spots respectively as a result of the pound weakening against the US dollar following the Brexit vote. Copenhagen (28) fell four places from 24 to 28. Oslo (46) is up thirteen spots from last year, while Paris fell eighteen places to rank 62.
Other Western European cities dropped in the rankings as well, mainly due to the weakening of local currencies against the US dollar. Vienna (78) and Rome (80) fell in the ranking by 24 and 22 spots, respectively. The German cities of Munich (98), Frankfurt (117), and Berlin (120) dropped significantly as did Dusseldorf (122) and Hamburg (125).
“Despite moderate price increases in most of the European cities, European currencies have weakened against the US dollar, which pushed most Western European cities down in the ranking,” explained Ms. Constantin-Métral. “Additionally, other factors like the Eurozone’s economy have impacted these cities.”
As a result of local currencies depreciating against the US dollar, some cities in Eastern and Central Europe, including Prague (132) and Budapest (176) fell in the ranking, while Minsk (200) and Kiev (163) jumped four and thirteen spots, respectively, despite stable accommodations in these locations.
Ranking 17, Tel Aviv jumped two spots from last year and continues to be the most expensive city in the Middle East for expatriates followed by Dubai (20), Abu Dhabi (23), and Riyadh (52), which have all climbed in this year’s ranking. Jeddah (117), Muscat (92), and Doha (81) are among the least expensive cities in the region. Cairo (183) is the least expensive city in the region plummeting ninety-two spots from last year following a major devaluation of its local currency.
“Egypt’s decision to allow its currency to float freely in return for a 12 billion dollar loan over three years to help strengthen its economy resulted in the massive devaluation of the Egyptian Pound by more than 100% against the US dollar, pushing Cairo down the ranking” said Ms. Constantin-Métral.”
Quite a few African cities continue to rank high in this year’s survey, reflecting high living costs and prices of goods for expatriate employees. Luanda (1) takes the top spot as the most expensive city for expatriates across Africa and globally despite its currency weakening against the US dollar. Luanda is followed by Victoria (14), Ndjamena (16), and Kinshasa (18). Tunis falls six spots to rank 209 as the least expensive city in the region and overall.
Five of the top 10 cities in this year’s ranking are in Asia. Hong Kong (2) is the most expensive city as a result of its currency pegged to the US dollar, which drove up the cost of accommodations locally. This global financial center is followed by Tokyo (3), Singapore (5), Seoul (6), and Shanghai (8).
“The strengthening of the Japanese yen along with the high costs of expatriate consumer goods and a dynamic housing market pushed Japanese cities up in the ranking,” said Ms. Constantin-Métral. “However, the majority of Chinese cities fell in the ranking due to the weakening of the Chinese yuan against the US dollar.”
Australian cities have all experienced further jumps up the global ranking since last year due to the strengthening of the Australian dollar. Sydney (25), Australia’s most expensive city for expatriates, gained seventeen places in the ranking along with Melbourne (46) and Perth (50) which went up twenty-five and nineteen spots, respectively.
India’s most expensive city, Mumbai (57), climbed twenty-five places in the ranking due to its rapid economic growth, inflation on the goods and services basket and a stable currency against the US Dollar. This most populous city in India is followed by New Delhi (99) and Chennai (135) which rose in the ranking by thirty-one and twenty-three spots, respectively. Bengaluru (166) and Kolkata (184), the least expensive Indian cities, climbed in the ranking as well.
Elsewhere in Asia, Bangkok (67) jumped seven places from last year. Jakarta (88) and Hanoi (100) also rose in the ranking, up five and six places, respectively. Karachi (201) and Bishkek (208) remain the region’s least expensive cities for expatriates.
Mercer produces individual cost of living and rental accommodation cost reports for each city surveyed. For more information on city rankings, visit www.mercer.com/col. To purchase copies of individual city reports, visit https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/multinational-approach-cost-of-living-data or call Mercer Client Services in Warsaw on +48 22 434 5383.Mercer Cost of Living Survey – Worldwide Rankings 2017
Source: Mercer’s 2017 Cost of Living Survey
NOTES FOR EDITORS
The list of rankings is provided to journalists for reference and should not be published in full. The top 10 and bottom 10 cities may be reproduced in a table.
The figures for Mercer’s cost of living and rental accommodation costs comparisons are derived from a survey conducted in March 2017. Exchange rates from that time and Mercer’s international basket of goods and services have been used as base measurements.
Governments and major companies use data from this survey to protect the purchasing power of their employees when transferred abroad; rental accommodation costs data is used to assess local expatriate housing allowances. The choice of cities surveyed is based on the demand for data.
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Recent headlines on the oil industry have focused squarely on the upstream side: the amount of crude oil that is being produced and the resulting effect on oil prices, against a backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. But that is just one part of the supply chain. To be sold as final products, crude oil needs to be refined into its constituent fuels, each of which is facing its own crisis because of the overall demand destruction caused by the virus. And once the dust settles, the global refining industry will look very different.
Because even before the pandemic broke out, there was a surplus of refining capacity worldwide. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, global oil demand was some 99.85 mmb/d. However, this consumption figure includes substitute fuels – ethanol blended into US gasoline and biodiesel in Europe and parts of Asia – as well as chemical additives added on to fuels. While by no means an exact science, extrapolating oil demand to exclude this results in a global oil demand figure of some 95.44 mmb/d. In comparison, global refining capacity was just over 100 mmb/d. This overcapacity is intentional; since most refineries do not run at 100% utilisation all the time and many will shut down for scheduled maintenance periodically, global refining utilisation rates stand at about 85%.
Based on this, even accounting for differences in definitions and calculations, global oil demand and global oil refining supply is relatively evenly matched. However, demand is a fluid beast, while refineries are static. With the Covid-19 pandemic entering into its sixth month, the impact on fuels demand has been dramatic. Estimates suggest that global oil demand fell by as much as 20 mmb/d at its peak. In the early days of the crisis, refiners responded by slashing the production of jet fuel towards gasoline and diesel, as international air travel was one of the first victims of the virus. As national and sub-national lockdowns were introduced, demand destruction extended to transport fuels (gasoline, diesel, fuel oil), petrochemicals (naphtha, LPG) and power generation (gasoil, fuel oil). Just as shutting down an oil rig can take weeks to complete, shutting down an entire oil refinery can take a similar timeframe – while still producing fuels that there is no demand for.
Refineries responded by slashing utilisation rates, and prioritising certain fuel types. In China, state oil refiners moved from running their sites at 90% to 40-50% at the peak of the Chinese outbreak; similar moves were made by key refiners in South Korea and Japan. With the lockdowns easing across most of Asia, refining runs have now increased, stimulating demand for crude oil. In Europe, where the virus hit hard and fast, refinery utilisation rates dropped as low as 10% in some cases, with some countries (Portugal, Italy) halting refining activities altogether. In the USA, now the hardest-hit country in the world, several refineries have been shuttered, with no timeline on if and when production will resume. But with lockdowns easing, and the summer driving season up ahead, refinery production is gradually increasing.
But even if the end of the Covid-19 crisis is near, it still doesn’t change the fundamental issue facing the refining industry – there is still too much capacity. The supply/demand balance shows that most regions are quite even in terms of consumption and refining capacity, with the exception of overcapacity in Europe and the former Soviet Union bloc. The regional balances do hide some interesting stories; Chinese refining capacity exceeds its consumption by over 2 mmb/d, and with the addition of 3 new mega-refineries in 2019, that gap increases even further. The only reason why the balance in Asia looks relatively even is because of oil demand ‘sinks’ such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan. Even in the US, the wealth of refining capacity on the Gulf Coast makes smaller refineries on the East and West coasts increasingly redundant.
Given this, the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis will be the inevitable hastening of the current trend in the refining industry, the closure of small, simpler refineries in favour of large, complex and more modern refineries. On the chopping block will be many of the sub-50 kb/d refineries in Europe; because why run a loss-making refinery when the product can be imported for cheaper, even accounting for shipping costs from the Middle East or Asia? Smaller US refineries are at risk as well, along with legacy sites in the Middle East and Russia. Based on current trends, Europe alone could lose some 2 mmb/d of refining capacity by 2025. Rising oil prices and improvements in refining margins could ensure the continued survival of some vulnerable refineries, but that will only be a temporary measure. The trend is clear; out with the small, in with the big. Covid-19 will only amplify that. It may be a painful process, but in the grand scheme of things, it is also a necessary one.
Infographic: Global oil consumption and refining capacity (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019)
|Region||Consumption (mmb/d)*||Refining Capacity (mmb/d)|
*Extrapolated to exclude additives and substitute fuels (ethanol, biodiesel)
End of Article
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Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Bloomberg L.P. data
Note: All prices except West Texas Intermediate (Cushing) are spot prices.
The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) front-month futures contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the most heavily used crude oil price benchmark in North America, saw its largest and swiftest decline ever on April 20, 2020, dropping as low as -$40.32 per barrel (b) during intraday trading before closing at -$37.63/b. Prices have since recovered, and even though the market event proved short-lived, the incident is useful for highlighting the interconnectedness of the wider North American crude oil market.
Changes in the NYMEX WTI price can affect other price markers across North America because of physical market linkages such as pipelines—as with the WTI Midland price—or because a specific price is based on a formula—as with the Maya crude oil price. This interconnectedness led other North American crude oil spot price markers to also fall below zero on April 20, including WTI Midland, Mars, West Texas Sour (WTS), and Bakken Clearbrook. However, the usefulness of the NYMEX WTI to crude oil market participants as a reference price is limited by several factors.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
First, NYMEX WTI is geographically specific because it is physically redeemed (or settled) at storage facilities located in Cushing, Oklahoma, and so it is influenced by events that may not reflect the wider market. The April 20 WTI price decline was driven in part by a local deficit of uncommitted crude oil storage capacity in Cushing. Similarly, while the price of the Bakken Guernsey marker declined to -$38.63/b, the price of Louisiana Light Sweet—a chemically comparable crude oil—decreased to $13.37/b.
Second, NYMEX WTI is chemically specific, meaning to be graded as WTI by NYMEX, a crude oil must fall within the acceptable ranges of 12 different physical characteristics such as density, sulfur content, acidity, and purity. NYMEX WTI can therefore be unsuitable as a price for crude oils with characteristics outside these specific ranges.
Finally, NYMEX WTI is time specific. As a futures contract, the price of a NYMEX WTI contract is the price to deliver 1,000 barrels of crude oil within a specific month in the future (typically at least 10 days). The last day of trading for the May 2020 contract, for instance, was April 21, with physical delivery occurring between May 1 and May 31. Some market participants, however, may prefer more immediate delivery than a NYMEX WTI futures contract provides. Consequently, these market participants will instead turn to shorter-term spot price alternatives.
Taken together, these attributes help to explain the variety of prices used in the North American crude oil market. These markers price most of the crude oils commonly used by U.S. buyers and cover a wide geographic area.
Principal contributor: Jesse Barnett