Coronavirus latest: Bitcoin rallies above $10,000

7/27/2020, 10:58:50 AM

New: FT global economic recovery tracker

The world is slowly emerging from the coronavirus pandemic that has resulted in the most severe global economic contraction since at least the 1930s.

Where lockdowns have eased and the virus is under control, economic activity is starting to recover — but because there is a lag of weeks to months between when official economic data is produced and the period of time it covers, it is out of date before it is published.

The FT will be tracking the most relevant alternative indicators to provide a first snapshot of changes in activity as they happen across key sectors and countries.

Below are some of today’s charts.

Open the tracker here.

7/27/2020, 10:54:11 AM

UK defends Spain quarantine as industry warns of ‘hammer blow’

The travel industry and business lobby groups have criticised the British government’s decision to impose new travel restrictions on Spain, measures which have dealt a significant blow to hopes of a late-summer revival for the tourism industry.

About 600,000 British tourists are due to fly into Spain this week, according to estimates based on flight-tracking data from the PC Agency, a travel PR group.

The British Chambers of Commerce said the “abrupt” decision to impose quarantine measures on anyone returning from Spain “will be yet another hammer blow for the fragile travel and tourism industries”.

Tui, Europe’s largest tourism group, said it would not cancel holidays to the Balearic or Canary Islands, and called for a more “nuanced” policy allowing quarantine-free travel to some parts of Spain.

The UK has defended the imposition of quarantine rules without warning over the weekend, saying it had been forced to act “quickly” after seeing data at the end of last week showing a rapid rise in infections in parts of Spain. The decision led to an angry response from Madrid, which has insisted the pandemic is under control.

7/27/2020, 9:28:56 AM

Hong Kong to implement new safety and distancing measures

Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has banned gatherings of more than two people, stopped people dining in restaurants and made face coverings mandatory in all public places after a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

The local government announced the safety and distancing measures as total confirmed cases of the virus in the Chinese territory topped 2,700.

Hong Kong moved swiftly and aggressively to contain Covid-19 in January, and with its continued efforts to prevent the spread of the virus only 20 local lives have been lost to the pandemic.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said on Monday that dining-in will be banned for seven days, wearing masks will be mandatory for indoor and outdoor public places, and sports premises and swimming pools will be temporarily closed.

He added that Chief Executive Carrie Lam had made a request to the central government in Beijing to help boost Hong Kong’s testing capacity and assist with setting up a mobile hospital.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said the sources of many recent infections remained unknown and the government would expand voluntary virus testing to about 500,000 people from high-risk groups in the community, including minibus drivers and wet market stallholders.

7/27/2020, 9:18:30 AM

Bitcoin rises to highest level since February

Cryptocurrency bitcoin has hit its highest level against the dollar since February,

A single bitcoin now trades at $10,177, according to Refnitiv data, a level it has not reached since February 14.

The cryptocurrency, which is often volatile, has rallied in the past two weeks, tracking a similar run-up in the gold price and after trading in a tight range since late May.

Fans of bitcoin believe investing in the cryptocurrency provides a haven against market volatility and the effect on fiat currencies such as the dollar and the euro from central banks’ stimulus efforts.

As our colleagues on FT Alphaville pointed out in this March article however:

Whereas other safe havens tend to show negative correlations with so-called risk assets like stocks or oil or high-yield bonds, bitcoin tends to show no correlation to anything (apart from other cryptocurrencies).

On March 9, a day when stock markets fell sharply, US government bonds rallied and gold hit a seven-year high, the price of bitcoin fell by almost 10 per cent, Alphaville reported.

7/27/2020, 9:15:21 AM

Pandemic leads to wave of litigation in US

Oliver Ralph in London

Covid-19 has unleashed a wave of litigation across the US, with shareholders, employees and customers all suing companies over their response to the pandemic.

According to data from Praedicat, a risk analysis company, more than 200 complaints have already been filed in US courts over coronavirus. More than half of the complaints come from cruise ship passengers and care home staff and residents. Hospitals, warehouses, restaurants and meat packing facilities are also the targets of legal action.

“Already, we are seeing that nursing home complaints are accelerating while cruise line complaints are levelling off,” said David Loughran, chief economist at Praedicat.
Praedicat’s data does not include disputes over insurance coverage, which have led to hundreds more cases in front of US courts.

7/27/2020, 9:14:22 AM

Airline shares tumble following travel restrictions

Shares in Europe’s biggest travel companies tumbled on Monday as newly imposed travel curbs raised fears over the pandemic’s lasting impact on the industry.

Low-cost carrier easyJet led the declines among major airlines with a fall of more than 13 per cent, while British Airways owner IAG lost 9 per cent. Tour operator Tui slid more than 15 per cent. 

Ryanair slipped 8 per cent, having posted a big loss earlier on Monday and warned that a new wave of infection in the autumn was “our biggest fear right now”. 

7/27/2020, 8:36:55 AM

German business confidence climbs out of doldrums

Federica Cocco in London

German business confidence has increased sharply, a survey has shown, although optimism among the nation’s companies remains below pre-pandemic levels.

The Ifo Institute’s business climate index rose to a reading of 90.5 in July from 86.2 in June. This was its highest level since February and topped economists’ expectations. Before coronavirus spread across the globe, the index had been above 95.

The Ifo survey showed a considerable improvement in the business climate in the manufacturing sector, although sentiment remains depressed. The manufacturing section of the index hit a reading of minus 12, compared with minus 22.7 in June.

Capacity utilisation increased from 70.4 per cent to 74.9 per cent, but remained below its long-term average of 83.5 per cent.

In Germany’s service sector, the business climate index rose strongly into positive territory, rising to 2 from minus 6 in June.

“The German economy is recovering step by step,” said Clemens Fuest, president of the Ifo Institute, adding that companies were considerably more satisfied with the current business situation than in previous months.

7/27/2020, 7:03:12 AM

European corporate news round-up

Rating agency Moody’s cut engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce’s credit rating to junk status on the negative outlook for the commercial aerospace industry over the next 12 to 18 months. It follows a similar move by S&P two months earlier, which downgraded the group to below investment grade.

Ryanair suffered a €185m loss in the three months to June, compared with a net profit of €243m a year earlier, as the coronavirus pandemic forced airlines to ground their fleets and caused passenger numbers to fall 99 per cent.

French clinical diagnostics group Novacyt, whose shares have increased more than 19 times this year, revealed plans to launch a range of products to test and detect Covid-19. The products include mobile testing kits, an antibody test and a respiratory testing panel to distinguish between coronavirus and other diseases such as influenza.

Amigo Loans has secured an extension to the waiver on covenant tests for its securisation facility from July 24 to August 14. The securitisation will move into gradual amortisation if amendments are not agreed by that date.

Oil producer Cairn Energy sold its 40 per cent stake in Senegalese assets to Russia’s Lukoil for a cash consideration of up to $400m, following a collapse in oil prices due to the pandemic and price war. Cairn Energy will be reimbursed for capital expenditure on the oilfields since the start of the year and it intends to pay investors $250m in a special dividend.

7/27/2020, 6:42:28 AM

Ryanair slides to €185m loss as passenger numbers collapse

Bethan Staton in London

Ryanair’s profits plummeted in its most recent quarter, as the coronavirus pandemic forced airlines to ground their fleets and caused passenger numbers and revenues to slump.

The budget carrier’s first-quarter results released on Monday showed a net loss of €185m in the first quarter of this fiscal year, compared with a net profit of €243m in the same period the previous year.

“The past quarter was the most challenging in Ryanair’s 35-year history,” the carrier said in a statement.

More than 99 per cent of flights were grounded and the number of passengers fell from 42m to 500,000 in April-June as the lockdown took hold. Revenue fell by almost €2.2bn, to €125m.

“A second wave of Covid-19 cases across Europe in late autumn (when the annual flu season commences) is our biggest fear right now,” the airline said in a statement.

7/27/2020, 6:34:15 AM

Top medic urges delay to Sydney Black Lives Matter march

Australian health officials have urged Black Lives Matter organisers to call off a march scheduled for Tuesday in Sydney.

Nick Coatsworth, Australia’s deputy chief medical officer, said on Monday that the protest, expected to draw at least 4,000 people, should be postponed.

“Our activities have had to be put on hold for Covid-19,” he said on Monday. “It’s definitely not the time now.”

He urged organiser Paddy Gibson to schedule the march for after the pandemic.

On Sunday, the New South Wales Supreme Court banned the march, but Mr Gibson said it was “critical” the rally went ahead as scheduled.

But Dr Coatsworth noted there were unlinked cases of community transmission in New South Wales. “It’s not our view that gathering together can be done safely.”

He told Mr Gibson he would be part of the protest held at a future date. “When it can be done safely, I’ll be out there with you, Paddy.”

7/27/2020, 6:18:57 AM

Modi stumbles: India’s deepening Covid-19 crisis

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India’s draconian lockdown — imposed with no warning, no planning and no transparency into the policy deliberations or scientific advice behind it — fit perfectly with prime minister Narendra Modi’s highly personalised, muscular leadership style.

Virtually all economic activity — including logistics, manufacturing, public transport and most healthcare — came to a near total standstill. About 140m vulnerable workers were thrust into crisis as their earnings collapsed.

Yet for all the human suffering and economic damage it inflicted, India’s lockdown failed to flatten — or even slightly bend — the country’s coronavirus curve.

Read more here

7/27/2020, 6:00:24 AM

Coronavirus turns the City into a ghost town

Daniel Thomas, Stephen Morris and Oliver Ralph in London

A week after prime minister Boris Johnson announced he would relax lockdown rules to allow workers to return to offices, the City’s largest employers show little sign of accelerating plans to get staff back at their desks.

Coronavirus is threatening to permanently transform the traditional workplace and with it London’s semi-autonomous financial centre, which traces its roots back to 1376.

Many of the executives who spoke to the Financial Times said some staff would not return at all given the success of working at home during the lockdown.

Read more here

7/27/2020, 5:45:40 AM

North Korea defector coronavirus-free says Seoul

Edward White in Wellington

A defector blamed by Pyongyang for potentially spreading coronavirus inside North Korea after apparently swimming across the border from South Korea does not appear to have been infected, Seoul said on Monday.

The statement from health officials in Seoul, which comes two days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un moved to lock down the border city of Kaesong in response to the potential Covid-19 outbreak, raises further questions about the veracity of Pyongyang’s claims over the source of transmission.

“The [defector] is neither registered as a Covid-19 patient nor classified as a person who came in contact with virus patients,” said Yoon Tae-ho, a health ministry official.

7/27/2020, 5:30:45 AM

Pandemic drives boom in ‘air button’ technologies

Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan in London

The coronavirus pandemic is driving a boom in “air button” technologies that allow users to operate devices without physically touching them, as concerns persist over the spread of the virus through contact with surfaces.

This week, Jaguar Land Rover announced that it was trialling a contactless movement-tracking system — dubbed “predictive touch” — for its dashboard control panel.

“Predictive touch technology eliminates the need to touch an interactive display and could therefore reduce the risk of spreading bacteria or viruses on surfaces,” said Lee Skrypchuk, a human-machine interface technical specialist at JLR.

Read more here

7/27/2020, 5:16:15 AM

China’s industrial profits rise at fastest rate in over a year

Chinese industrial companies’ profits grew at the fastest pace in more than a year in June, suggesting signs of recovery following the Covid-19 outbreak.

Profits grew by 11.5 per cent year on year in June, up from a 6 per cent expansion in May. That was the strongest increase since March 2019.

“The acceleration of monthly industrial profit growth in June further confirms that the economic recovery was still on track,” economists at Citi said in a note.

“Looking ahead, we see a continuation of economic recovery driven by investment and a further easing of industrial deflation.”

China has managed to largely control the pandemic following strict lockdowns in the spring. Health officials are now quick to reimpose restrictions and roll out mass testing when localised outbreaks are discovered in a bid to contain the virus.

Iris Pang, chief China economist at ING, said profit growth was concentrated in “stimulus driven industries”, such as steel and non-ferrous metals used in infrastructure projects.

Technology-related industries also recorded growth, which was “most likely due to domestic 5G infrastructure developments”, Ms Pang said.

7/27/2020, 4:56:17 AM

Swedish companies reap benefits of Covid-19 approach

Richard Milne in Stockholm

As a debate rages in Sweden over whether its lighter-touch approach to managing coronavirus has been the correct course, most European analysts were braced for dreadful quarterly earnings from the Scandinavian country during the height of the pandemic.

But every day for the past two weeks, Swedish companies— from telecoms equipment maker Ericsson to consumer appliances manufacturer Electrolux via lender Handelsbanken and lockmaker Assa Abloy — have delivered profits well above what the market was expecting.

The bumper crop begs the question of how many of the positive surprises are due to Sweden’s more controversial approach to managing coronavirus.

Read more here

7/27/2020, 4:36:23 AM

New cases in India threaten fragile rural healthcare

Stephanie Findlay in New Delhi

India has reported almost 50,000 new coronavirus cases in each of the past four days, as the virus spreads from urban areas to rural villages where the healthcare systems are ill-equipped to handle a surge in infections.

The world’s second-most populous country has more than 1.3m coronavirus cases and more than 32,000 deaths, with no sign that the spread of Covid 19 is slowing as it rages across cities and into the countryside.

State governments have been forced to reimpose lockdowns to try to contain Covid 19 infections, but the closures have come at a massive cost to economic growth.

The states of Bihar, Karnataka, West Bengal, pictured, and Andhra Pradesh are emerging as the new hotspots of the virus, recording a surge of cases that threaten to overwhelm underfunded hospitals.

In contrast with Delhi and Mumbai — which have a high concentration of private and government-run hospitals — these states do not have the same resources, with staff shortages already an issue.

7/27/2020, 4:16:11 AM

Ben Sherman owner plans closures to avoid collapse

Patricia Nilsson in London

The owner of UK menswear retailer Ben Sherman has entered last-resort negotiations with creditors with a plan to close more than a third of its stores and renegotiate rent with remaining landlords.

Baird Group, which also owns Suit Direct and Jeff Banks, has filed for a so-called company voluntary agreement, an insolvency proceeding that allows businesses to renegotiate debts with creditors while they continue trading.

The Leeds-based company has been hit particularly badly during the pandemic, with insolvency and closures at department store chain Debenhams, through which it runs 87 concessions, making up 60 per cent of third-party retail outlets.

Read more here

7/27/2020, 3:56:09 AM

China’s Xi to address virtual AIIB annual meeting

The China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank said it would hold a virtual annual meeting on Tuesday.

Chinese president Xi Jinping will give the opening address to representatives of the lender’s 102 members.

The meeting, the fifth since the bank launched in 2016, would be the first to be held online, due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Finance ministers of China, Iceland and Myanmar — all AIIB vice-governors — would also speak, the bank said in a statement on Monday.

AIIB said it had approved about $19.6bn for 87 projects in 24 countries and territories since it began operations.

7/27/2020, 3:35:31 AM

Food box provider Gousto seeks 1,000 extra staff

Daniel Thomas in London

UK-based Gousto is planning to recruit an extra 1,000 staff as demand for its online meal kits soars during the pandemic.

The company, which made as much revenue in the first half of the year as in all of 2019, wants to take its workforce above 2,000 across sites in London and Lincolnshire.

Gousto provides pre-packaged meal kits for more than 50 recipes, from chilli paneer masala to pesto chicken caprese salad. The group delivered 5m meals in June, up from 2.5m in January 2020.

Read more here

7/27/2020, 3:15:37 AM

Gold hits record high as dollar weakens amid US-China tensions

Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong

Gold rose to its highest level on record and the dollar weakened as concerns over the US economic outlook and deteriorating relations between Beijing and Washington weighed on investor sentiment.

The price of the precious metal, often viewed by investors as a haven in times of uncertainty, gained as much as 1.1 per cent to a record $1,923 per troy ounce in Asian trading on Monday.

The gains for the yellow metal came as doubts mounted about the prospects for a smooth economic recovery in the US after states including Florida, Tennessee and Arizona recorded a total of 62,000 new coronavirus cases on Sunday.

Tensions between the US and China also continued to ratchet up with the arrest of a Chinese researcher US authorities said had been hiding in the country’s San Francisco consulate.

The jump for gold came as the dollar lost ground to a broad swath of global currencies. The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of peers, was down 0.3 per cent on the day.

Japan’s yen, also viewed as a haven in periods of uncertainty, touched a four-month high against the dollar, rising 0.5 per cent to ¥105.60. The pound and euro both rose 0.5 per cent to $1.2847 and $1.1706, respectively.

In equities markets most Asia-Pacific bourses notched decent gains aside from Japan, where the benchmark Topix index dipped 0.5 per cent on return from a long weekend. China’s CSI 300 index of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed stocks climbed 0.8 per cent while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.5 per cent.

Futures markets tipped US stocks to climb at the open on Wall Street, with the S&P 500 set to rise 0.5 per cent after finishing Friday’s session down 0.6 per cent. The FTSE 100 was expected to gain 0.3 per cent.

7/27/2020, 3:00:25 AM

US oil production wells up after Covid-19 price crash

Derek Brower in New York and Myles McCormick in London

US oil companies have increased production by 1.2m barrels a day over the past six weeks, as they restore wells shut earlier this year and start producing from others they left unfinished as prices sank.

Output bottomed out at 9.7m b/d in the second week of June but has since risen to 10.9m b/d as activity starts to pick up in the big shale fields of Texas, according to Genscape, a division of consultancy Wood Mackenzie that monitors energy flows.

US production should now stabilise at about 11m b/d through to the end of 2020, analysts said. That is well below the 13m b/d in March before the Saudi-Russian price war and coronavirus pandemic devastated US oil prices.

Read more here

7/27/2020, 2:40:25 AM

Online junk food ads face total ban in Britain

Laura Hughes and Sarah Neville in London

The UK unveiled a number of sweeping curbs on the sale of unhealthy foods in Britain on Monday as well as a consultation on banning all online advertising for them.

Large restaurants, cafés and takeaways with more than 250 employees will be required to put calorie labels on menus under the government’s plans, which include tough limits on promotions by price.

The Food and Drink Federation’s chief operating officer, Tim Rycroft, denounced the proposals. “The UK’s food and drink manufacturers and the half a million people we employ — so recently the heroes heralded by the government for feeding the nation during the Covid-19 crisis — will be reeling today from this punishing blow,” he said.

Read more here

7/27/2020, 2:20:49 AM

Philippine police suspect 2,657 officers have Covid-19

The Philippine National Police reported on Sunday that more than 2,500 of its 205,000 officers are confirmed or probable coronavirus cases.

Most of the 1,932 confirmed cases in the force are asymptomatic, PNP spokesman Brigadier General Bernard Banac told a radio programme, adding that 10 cases have been fatal.

Brig Gen Banac said the police health service is also monitoring 725 probable cases. He said most of the officers affected by Covid-19 had been assigned to quarantine checkpoints.

7/27/2020, 2:00:55 AM

Victoria reports another record number of new cases

Health officials in the Australian state of Victoria reported 532 new Covid-19 cases overnight, a daily record, as nursing homes threatened to be overwhelmed by the pandemic.

The state government has already taken over one elderly care centre in Melbourne, St Basil’s Homes for the Aged, where several patients have died of coronavirus in recent days.

Victoria has faced a surge of thousands of new cases since the second half of June, which prompted a lockdown of 5m residents in and around Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city.

“We now have a challenge that is very different from what we had in the first wave,” said Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, on Monday.

Mr Andrews said one of the main drivers of the surge was people continuing to go to work while having symptoms of Covid-19.

Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison said his government was working with state authorities to bring the aged homes outbreaks in Victoria under control. “This is a reminder that when community transmission occurs with Covid-19 the aged care sector will always be impacted,” he said.

He added that the federal government has sent 1.5m masks into care homes and dozens of patients had been transferred from aged care facilities into hospitals.

New South Wales reported 17 new cases on Monday, with premier Gladys Berejiklian saying her government was “increasingly optimistic” the state would be able to contain community transmission.

Western Australia on Monday launched the country’ first state economic recovery package in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Premier Mark McGowan said the A$5.5bn (US$3.9bn) plan would focus on creating jobs, waiving many government fees and investing in renewable energy.

7/27/2020, 1:40:53 AM

Hong Kong records another 261 Covid-19 cases over weekend

An abattoir, a police station and a university hall of residence are among sites that recorded cases of coronavirus for the first time in Hong Kong, as the city announced 261 new cases at the weekend.

The city’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said two people in a slaughterhouse in Sheung Shui, near the boundary with Guangdong province, preliminarily tested positive for Covid-19. A spokesman said meat from the facility is fit for consumption.

Among other confirmed cases is a student living in a University of Hong Kong hall of residence. One of the affected student’s roommates tested preliminary positive for the virus, while another with symptoms is pending testing, the government announced.

“For the University of Hong Kong residential hall, because they are living on the same floor, they share bathrooms and toilets, there are around 10 to 20 students there, so we plan to put them under quarantine,” said Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of communicable diseases at the Centre for Health Protection.

A 48-year-old policeman also tested positive, authorities said.

Hong Kong reported 128 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday following a daily record 133 on Saturday.

A 76-year-old woman died in Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Sunday evening. A 92-year-old man died in the same hospital on Monday, bringing Hong Kong’s Covid-19 death toll to 20.

Passenger ship crews will have to remain on board their vessels during shift changes under new quarantine rules announced at the weekend.

Crew members leaving ships will no longer be permitted to go ashore in Hong Kong. They will have to stay on board until transport is arranged to take them to the airport “to avoid contact with the local community”, the government announced.

Incoming crew members arriving at the airport must be able to prove a negative result of a nucleic acid test for Covid-19. They will have to travel directly to their vessel and cannot mix with the public.

7/27/2020, 1:34:07 AM

China reports 57 new local Covid-19 cases

Health officials in China reported 57 new locally transmitted cases of Covid-19 as outbreaks in Xinjiang and Liaoning continued to grow.

The western region of Xinjiang reported 41 new cases, its highest one-day tally since an outbreak was discovered in mid-July. The new infections take its total over an 11-day period to 178.

Liaoning province reported a further 14 cases of Covid-19 in Dalian on Sunday, taking the total since the outbreak was first discovered to 39.

Twelve people also tested positive for the virus but showed no symptoms. China does not include asymptomatic cases in its official tally.

Officials in the northern port city of Dalian announced a city-wide testing programme following an outbreak that has been linked to a seafood processing plant. The city has a population of about 6m.

Authorities in Dalian said early detection of cases would allow early treatment and early isolation to allow a speedy return to normal economic activity.

Jilin province, which neighbours Liaoning, reported two new cases.

The new local cases and four imported infections take China’s Covid-19 tally to 83,891.

7/27/2020, 1:20:23 AM

Malaysia warns of reimposition of movement restrictions

Malaysia’s cabinet may decide as early as Monday to reimpose movement control orders in the face of rising coronavirus cases, official media reported on Sunday.

The government would consider bringing back MCOs if the daily number of new Covid-19 cases reaches three digits, the Bernama news agency quoted senior defence minister Ismail Sabri Yaacob as saying.

The country recorded 23 new cases on Saturday, according to the health ministry, the highest daily toll since the MCOs were relaxed from June 10.

“The report from the health ministry is that cases are increasing due to our complacency,” Mr Sabri said.

He said cabinet would be likely to make an announcement on Monday on a proposed interstate travel ban and arrangements for Eid al Adha, an important Muslim holiday that begins on the evening of July 30.

Malaysia has reported 8,884 cases of Covid-19, including 123 deaths.

7/27/2020, 1:00:22 AM

UK consumer confidence inches up from record low: Deloitte

The second quarter saw UK consumer confidence climb just one percentage point, to minus 17 per cent, from a record low in the first quarter, a survey by Deloitte published on Monday shows.

While sentiment around the state of the British economy fell a further 17 percentage points from the previous quarter, to minus 88 per cent, consumers hinted at a third-quarter bounceback with a net intent to spend rising across every discretionary category.

The Deloitte Consumer Tracker, which measures UK consumer confidence quarterly, saw UK consumers in a “cautious but slightly more positive mood”, following a record decline in consumer confidence in the first quarter of the year.

“Following a huge contraction in March and April, activity is seeing a post-lockdown bounce,” said Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte UK. “However, with confidence about the economy at record lows and high levels of concern about jobs and health, consumer spending is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels until next year at best.”

Deloitte surveyed more than 3,000 UK consumers from June 19-23, as some lockdown measures were lifted and non-essential shops reopened.

7/27/2020, 12:40:38 AM

Resort fund raises €680m in show of faith in tourism

Alice Hancock in London

A Spanish real estate company once backed by George Soros has raised €680m for a new €1.5bn fund to invest in “sun and beach” hotels around the Mediterranean, in a sign of confidence that Europe’s struggling tourism sector will soon recover from the pandemic.

Madrid-based Azora raised €80m more than its initial goal from investors including Asian and Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds and other large institutional funds.

The fund is one of only a few in Europe to specifically target hotels and the only one focused solely on leisure travel.

Read more here

7/27/2020, 12:20:40 AM

Topps issues baseball card marking Fauci pitch

The US baseball commemorative card maker Topps issued a special card at the weekend to mark the ceremonial opening pitch by immunologist Anthony Fauci at the Washington Nationals-New York Yankees game on July 23.

In the season opener, which the Walt Disney Co. said drew a record 4m viewers on its ESPN channel, Dr Fauci threw a wild pitch. However the New York-based Topps diplomatically describes his throw on the card as “a strong effort to the plate”.

The 79-year-old Brooklyn native, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, wore a Nationals hat, jersey and matching facemask. Dr Fauci has become a public face of the science-led approach to the pandemic in the US.

7/27/2020, 12:06:15 AM

Asia-Pacific equities fall while gold climbs above $1,900

Stocks in Asia-Pacific were broadly lower on Monday and gold prices climbed to a record high amid mounting US-China tensions.

In Japan, the Topix fell 1.2 per cent, South Korea’s Kospi added 0.3 per cent and the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia slipped 0.1 per cent.

Gold, which is seen as a haven in times of geopolitical uncertainty, rose 0.7 per cent to $1,914 an ounce. Concerns over the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic also helped drive prices higher.

Those moves came after the US last week ordered China to shut its Houston consulate over spying allegations with China in turn demanding Washington shut its base in Chengdu.

Chinese stocks fell sharply on Friday on the news of Beijing’s decision to close the US consulate.

The negative reaction rippled through to Wall Street with the S&P 500 closing down 0.6 per cent.

S&P 500 futures fell 0.1 per cent.

7/27/2020, 12:01:06 AM

Lack of childcare a factor in redundancy, say UK mothers

Nearly half of UK mothers who have lost or are about to lose their jobs say a lack of childcare played a role in their redundancy.

Of the employed mothers surveyed, 81 per cent of said they need childcare to be able to work, but 51 per cent do not have the necessary provision to enable them to do their job.

The survey polled 19,950 pregnant women and mothers across the UK online from July 16-18 2020 on behalf of Pregnant Then Screwed, an activist group of working mothers.

It found that 72 per cent of mothers have had to work fewer hours because of childcare issues, and 65 per cent of mothers who have been furloughed say a lack of childcare was the reason.

“This lack of childcare is destroying women’s careers,” said Joeli Brearley, founder of PTS. “They are being made redundant, they are cutting their hours, and they are being treated negatively all because they are picking up the slack.”

Ms Brearley criticised the UK government for reopening workplaces from August 1 just as schools break for summer holidays, drawing criticism from both the opposition and his own party.

7/26/2020, 11:41:58 PM

US reports 62,000 new coronavirus cases

US states reported 62,000 new coronavirus cases on Sunday as Florida, Tennessee and Arizona recorded the highest number of new cases per million people.

There were 558 new deaths reported, down from the 1,037 deaths reported across the country a day earlier, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Figures released on Sundays are often lower than the rest of the week because of the weekend effect.

Florida recorded 435 cases per million inhabitants with Tennessee adding 460 and Arizona reporting 455. Louisiana reported two days of cases at once, resulting in 826 infections per million.

The surge in infections in Florida this month pushed its overall infection tally above that of New York at the end of last week.

7/26/2020, 11:25:42 PM

UK small businesses cut jobs as furloughs wind down

Daniel Thomas in London

Almost a quarter of small UK businesses have cut jobs in the past few months despite the government’s furlough scheme that has helped pay the wages of more than 9m workers.

Larger companies have unleashed a savage round of job cuts in recent weeks, with hundreds of employees losing their jobs at household names such as Marks and Spencer, John Lewis and Dyson.

From next week, the Treasury is starting the gradual winding down of the furlough scheme, which has partly covered small-business wages.

Read more here

7/26/2020, 11:07:18 PM

New York governor asks Republicans to press for federal aid

The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, on Sunday called for Republicans in Congress and the state legislature to press for more federal aid to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Cuomo, a Democrat, said the state was facing a $14bn loss of revenue this fiscal year, including $5bn spent directly on combatting the pandemic.

“We know that we’d have to have drastic budget cuts if we don’t get aid,” he said. “If we don’t get state aid from Washington it’s going to be a very bad situation for this state and the people in this state.”

Mr Cuomo, pictured, announced 536 new cases on Sunday, bringing the statewide total to 411,736. There were new cases in 50 of New York’s 62 counties.

7/26/2020, 10:45:20 PM

IBRD lends Belarus €90m to buy medical equipment

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development will lend Belarus €90m to finance equipment for intensive care departments and ambulance services as well as coronavirus testing kits and other services, official media reported at the weekend.

The equipment will include 20 computerised tomography scanners, 460 ventilators, 200 continuous positive airway pressure machines, 800 patient monitors, 30 mobile X-ray machines and 22 renal replacement therapy machines, according to the Belta news agency.

The loan would also be used to buy 50 intensive-care ambulances equipped with ventilators, defibrillators and monitoring devices for the eastern European country of 9.5m people, Belta added.

7/26/2020, 10:30:34 PM

Singapore ‘on track’ to clear dormitories of virus

Health officials in Singapore say they are on target to eliminate Covid-19 from foreign worker dormitories by next month.

Hundreds of new cases are found daily in crowded workers’ accommodation, but the health ministry said its Covid-19 task force is “on track to clear all the dormitories by the beginning of August 2020”.

However, that would exclude 17 standalone blocks of flats used as quarantine facilities for 28,000 workers still serving out their isolation period.

“This last batch of workers come from dormitories with a relatively high prevalence of Covid-19, and will be subject to a final test before they complete their isolation periods,” the ministry said in a statement at the weekend.

“We therefore expect the daily case counts to be high for the coming two weeks, before tapering down thereafter,” the statement added.

7/26/2020, 10:11:28 PM

Toronto enforces Covid-19 rules at ‘cooling centres’

Canada’s largest city, which endured a weekend heatwave, ordered masks to be worn and physical distancing limits enforced at its “emergency cooling centres”, where residents can escape high temperatures.

The Environment and Climate Change Canada agency last week issued a heat warning for Toronto from Saturday to Monday, when it forecast days with daytime maximum temperatures of 31°C (88°F) or warmer.

The centres offer air-conditioned spaces for residents likely to be affected by heat and provide liquids and paramedic services. Visitors include the homeless and those unable to afford air conditioning.

The heatwave is expected to snap late on Monday, when temperatures are expected to fall.

7/26/2020, 9:40:52 PM

Cyber-attacks on maritime installations soar during pandemic

Operators of ships, oil rigs and seaports are facing a huge rise in cyber-attacks during the coronavirus pandemic, as employees working from home expose installations to outside penetration, computer security experts say.

While cyber-attacks in all sectors have increased during the pandemic — a June survey by cybersecurity company McAfee indicated that remote attacks on cloud services have risen 630 per cent, while the US Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had received as many cyber-attack reports by the second week of June as it had in all of 2019 — the shipping and logistics businesses are especially vulnerable.

Most vessels lack any inbuilt encryption or authentication codes for the critical systems used for navigation. “Shipping could be seen as a soft target,” a recent industry survey by Marsh & McLennan noted.

A July report issued by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, an insurer, said there had been 400 per cent increase in attempted cyber-attacks on the maritime sector since the coronavirus outbreak.

“Consequences of coronavirus and a sustained economic downturn could threaten long-term safety improvement and trigger an uptick in losses from cost-cutting measures, fatigued crew, idle vessels and weakened emergency response,” said Baptiste Ossena, Allianz’s head of hull insurance.

Robert Rizika, head of North America operations at Naval Dome, a marine cybersecurity consultancy, said the global maritime industry expected more than 500 “major cybersecurity breaches” to be reported this year, compared with 310 last year and 120 in 2018.

“The fact that people can’t travel and are not getting together physically, has forced them to connect … remotely, opening more of these systems to cyber attack [and] attacks are on the rise,” he said.

Mr Rizika said quarantine requirements for technicians — 14 days before boarding a ship or oil rig and potentially another 14 days when returning — was “too long to address problems with critical infrastructure”. Accommodation charges meant a visit from a technician now costs 14-28 times the pre-pandemic price.

“In addition, personnel working from home use their own PCs and own home networks that are not properly protected, causing vulnerabilities,” he said. “Often other family members, with no cyber knowledge use the same computer and network enabling more vulnerabilities.”

So far this year, a US gas pipeline operator and Swiss-Italian shipping company MSC have been hit by malware. US-based cargo facilities, including New Orleans, have been subjected to ransomware attacks, while hackers have targeted ports in Iran and Israel. In June, systems at Shahid Rajaee port in Bandar Abbas were hacked, restricting movements and creating a miles-long backlog of ships.

7/26/2020, 9:35:05 PM

UK field hospital budget ‘better invested in community care’

Sarah Neville in London

England’s NHS would have been in far better shape to cope with the coronavirus crisis if the £1.5bn spent on creating the Nightingale field hospitals and discharging people into care homes to clear space for Covid-19 patients, had instead been invested earlier in community care, a think-tank has argued.

The Institute for Public Policy Research said the taxpayer-funded health service had entered the pandemic in a deeply fragile condition, after years of cuts that prioritised efficiency over resilience.

A hasty search for extra beds as the virus took hold, meant the government had to provide more than £1.5bn in emergency funding to create the Nightingales, and discharge patients into the community. Many who left wards for care homes unwittingly spread the virus.

Read more here

7/26/2020, 9:33:11 PM

Trump attempts shift in tone on gloomy election polls

Lauren Fedor in Washington

With just over three months to go until November’s presidential election, Donald Trump is trying a new tactic: humility.

With more national opinion polls giving Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, a widening lead over Mr Trump, the president returned to the White House podium last week for his first coronavirus press briefing in nearly three months with a markedly different tone.

Mr Trump, who has repeatedly downplayed the severity of Covid-19, said on Tuesday that the outbreak, which has already killed more than 140,000 Americans, would “get worse before it gets better”, and encouraged people to wear face masks if they were unable to socially distance.

Read more here

7/26/2020, 9:32:37 PM

Bundesbank chief criticises €750bn EU recovery package

The head of Germany’s central bank criticised the EU’s €750bn coronavirus recovery package approved last week in an interview published on Sunday, describing joint debt for wide-ranging transfers as “dubious”.

Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann said the rescue package needs stronger oversight, warning against it becoming a regular form of budget financing.

In an interview with newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe, which include the Berliner Morgenpost and the Hamburger Abendblatt, Mr Weidmann said the package needed controls that would ensure funds “are used sensibly and efficiently”.

The package, agreed to on July 21 after a marathon summit of EU leaders, Wwill involve the European Commission undertaking massive borrowing on the capital markets for the first time.

Mr Weidmann, pictured, has long opposed the package’s joint borrowing scheme that would allow poorer EU countries to take out cheap loans guaranteed by richer member states.

7/26/2020, 9:31:46 PM

UK’s record spending on PPE comes under growing scrutiny

Gill Plimmer in London

The British government spent more on personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and hand sanitiser in the past three months than any EU country.

Faced with a public outcry over the lack of PPE for front-line healthcare staff, the government scrambled in March to purchase supplies, much of it at inflated prices.

As a result it spent £3.2bn (€3.4bn) on medical and protective equipment — far more than Germany, the next biggest buyer of PPE, which published contracts worth €2.3bn between March 1 and July 20.

Read more here

7/26/2020, 9:31:04 PM

UK Treasury and banks in talks to tackle bad-debt wave

Daniel Thomas, Stephen Morris and George Parker in London

The UK Treasury is in talks with Britain’s largest banks about an industry-wide plan to help tackle the tens of billions of pounds of bad debts expected under the government’s light-touch coronavirus “bounce back” loans scheme.

More than 1m of the UK’s smallest companies have borrowed £33bn in just two months under the bounce back loan scheme, which offers state-guaranteed, six-year facilities of up to £50,000 with only minimal checks on the borrower’s ability to repay.

The scheme was designed to allow banks to lend quickly to businesses struggling to survive lockdown, but bankers and officials predict many loans will never be repaid.

Read more here

7/26/2020, 9:30:49 PM

Hiring in a pandemic not always as easy as it looks

“There was a moment on Wednesday morning last week when it looked as if something remarkable might happen,” Pilita Clark writes in her latest Work and Careers column.

“For a brief few hours, the flood of headlines from around the world about yet more Covid-related job losses slowed to a trickle. Had it stopped altogether, it would have been the first weekday this month with no word of any more cuts.

“It did not stop of course. Reports soon came of 400 jobs going in Berlin airports; up to 200 at an Australian university and nearly 660 at a Quebec restaurant chain.

“Another tsunami of losses looms once governments stop paying the wages of workers furloughed in the outbreak. Against this gloom, it was mildly jolting last week to see a LinkedIn list of dozens of companies that are hiring rather than firing.”

Read more here

7/26/2020, 9:29:51 PM

Driving the UK’s industry effort to fight Covid-19

Michael Pooler in London

Before they emerged as one of the most valuable tools for treating acute Covid-19 patients, Dick Elsy admits he knew “little or nothing” about mechanical ventilators.

As coronavirus began to take hold, the 60-year-old engineering veteran was invited to a conference call on March 16, where senior UK minister Michael Gove urged dozens of manufacturers, including Dyson, JCB and McLaren, to fill an expected shortage of the life-saving machines.

“Gove right at the end said, ‘Well there’s a specification, over to you, industry’. And I thought to myself  . . .  how on earth is that going to bring companies together to deliver this in the sort of timeframes involved,” recalls Mr Elsy, head of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a network of independent research centres funded by the public and private sectors.

Read more here

7/26/2020, 9:20:48 PM

News you might have missed …

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has moved to isolate the border city of Kaesong from the rest of the country because of a possible coronavirus case, marking the first time the secretive state has admitted the global pandemic is inside its borders. State news agency KCNA indicated on Sunday that a North Korean who returned to the country on July 19 from South Korea has tested positive for Covid-19.

More than a third of patients who tested positive for coronavirus had not returned to their usual state of health when interviewed two to three weeks after testing, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a telephone survey, 35 per cent had not returned to normal health. “Among persons aged 18–34 years with no chronic medical conditions, one in five had not returned to their usual state of health”, a CDC report noted.

The US recorded two coronavirus milestones at the weekend, with deaths increasing by more than 1,000 for the fifth day in a row and Florida overtaking New York to become the state with the second-highest number of confirmed infections. The 1,037 fatalities registered, down from 1,178 on Friday, marked the first time since May 23 that the death toll has risen by more than 1,000 for five consecutive days.

The Australian state of Victoria recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic on Sunday, with 10 fatalities, the government announced. The victims included a man aged in his 40s, the youngest person to die from Covid-19 in the state. Victoria reported a record 459 new cases. Pedestrian movement in Melbourne, the state capital, is just 13 per cent of normal activity, according to analyses by Citymapper and The Age, a local newspaper.

New Zealand has experienced its first July weekend with no new imported cases. There have been 25 new cases discovered among arriving passengers at the country’s airports this month, but no locally sourced infections have been recorded in nearly three months. Just 21 coronavirus-positive people are being quarantined and no one is receiving hospital care for Covid-19. There have been a total of 1,206 cases in the country since the pandemic began.

India plans to take its model for digital payments global as online transactions thrive in an economy among the hardest hit by coronavirus. Since 2016, India’s Unified Payments Interface has helped propel the growth of online payments in the country of 1.4bn people. Transaction volumes rose to a record 1.34bn in June as Covid-19 raged, prompting Indians to socially distance and avoid cash.

The Australian government has sent 100 ventilators to Indonesia as part of a critical medical and laboratory equipment package to help the country fight the Covid-19 pandemic, official media reported. Antara, the state-run Indonesian news agency, reported that Australia is spending A$21m (US$15m) on Jakarta’s efforts to combat coronavirus, as part of its A$298.5m total aid to the south-east Asian archipelago during this financial year.

Debenhams, the British department store chain, is seeking buyers in an effort to secure the business and prevent it going into liquidation. The retail group has appointed the investment bank Lazard to oversee an attempted sale that is expected to start this week. It is the third time that the struggling retailer has gone through some form of insolvency process in a year. The coronavirus lockdown forced it to close all 142 of its stores.