Global shares, oil prices falter as US stimulus buzz fades

US President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled a stimulus package. (AFP/Getty Images)
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Updated 16 January 2021

Global shares, oil prices falter as US stimulus buzz fades

LONDON: Global shares stumbled on Friday as hopes of a fiscal boost from a $1.9 trillion US stimulus plan were smothered by the prospect of stricter lockdowns in France and Germany and a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in China.
European stocks followed Asian markets lower, with the pan-European STOXX 600 down 0.8 percent and London’s FTSE 100 0.8 percent weaker, with the latter clobbered by data showing Britain’s economy shrank in November for the first time since the initial COVID-19 lockdown last spring.
The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 49 countries, was 0.3 percent lower. S&P 500 e-mini futures shed 0.3 percent to 3,779.
Oil prices, which had risen on a weak dollar and strong Chinese import data, dropped as COVID-19 concerns in China hit sentiment.
Brent was down $1.33, or 2.3 percent, after gaining 0.6 percent on Thursday. US West Texas Intermediate crude was down $1.17, or 2.1 percent at $52.44 a barrel, having risen more than 1 percent the previous session.
Brent and US crude were heading for their first weekly declines in three weeks.
Spot gold rose 0.1 percent to $1,847.00 per ounce.
While oil producers are facing unparalleled challenges balancing supply and demand equations with calculus involving vaccine rollouts versus lockdowns, financial contracts have been boosted by strong equities and a weaker dollar, which makes crude cheaper, along with strong Chinese demand.
“The recent resurgence in coronavirus infections, appearance of new variants, delayed vaccine rollouts and renewed lockdown measures in most major OECD economies has clouded the economic and demand recovery,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.
“Simply put, near-term demand expectations aren’t too promising.”
Earlier on Friday, an Asian regional share index had edged near record highs after US President-elect Joe Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan to jump-start the world’s largest economy and accelerate its response to the coronavirus.
In prime time remarks on Thursday, Biden outlined a proposal that includes $415 billion aimed at the COVID-19 response, some $1 trillion in direct relief to households, and roughly $440 billion for small businesses and communities hard hit by the pandemic.
But that initial boost later faded as risk appetite waned, lifting bond prices and the dollar, and hitting equities.
“People are saying it’s a big number but markets are almost acting like its a disappointment,” said James Athey, investment director at Aberdeen Standard Investments.
“I think maybe the market was pricing an additional $2,000 cheque going to the US population, but what’s being proposed is a top-up of $1,400 to take the total to $2,000 because $600 has already been agreed.”
Investors also digested the prospect of rising taxes to pay for the plan.
“The concern is what it’s going to mean from a tax stand point,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York.
“Spending is easy to do but the question is how are you going to pay for it? Markets often ignore politics but they don’t often ignore taxes.”
Biden’s comments came after US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell struck a dovish tone in comments at a virtual symposium with Princeton University.
Powell said the US central bank is not raising interest rates anytime soon and rejected suggestions the Fed might start reducing its bond purchases in the near term.
Investor concerns over the prospects for a global economic recovery were raised after France strengthened its border controls and brought forward its night curfew by two hours to 6 p.m. for at least two weeks to try to slow the spread of infections.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for “very fast action” to counter the spread of variants of the coronavirus.
Chinese blue chips eased 0.2 percent, snapping a four-week winning streak, after the country on Friday reported the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in more than 10 months.
US earnings season kicked into full swing with results from JPMorgan, Citigroup and Wells Fargo.
JPMorgan Chase reported a much better-than-expected 42 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit on Friday, driven by the release of some of the reserves it had built up against coronavirus-driven loan losses.
Investors will be looking to see if banks are starting to take down credit reserves, resume buybacks, and provide guidance that shows the economy is improving, said Thomas Hayes, chairman of Great Hill Capital in New York.
In the currency market, the US dollar rose.
The dollar index was at 90.407 versus a basket of currencies, up 0.2 percent on the day.
It was on track for a weekly gain of around 0.4 percent, making this its strongest week since November.
Against the stronger dollar, the euro was down 0.2 percent at $1.21325.
US yields stepped back as risk appetite waned. Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes yielded 1.1039 percent, down from a US close of 1.129 percent on Thursday, while the 30-year yield dipped to 1.8451 percent from 1.874 percent.
In Europe, Italy’s bond market was poised to end the week calmer, as 10-year bond yields were down 2 basis points at 0.59 percent.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resisted calls to resign on Thursday after a junior coalition party led by former premier Matteo Renzi pulled out of the government on Wednesday and stripped it of its majority.


IMF chief warns pandemic leaving some countries behind

Updated 24 February 2021

IMF chief warns pandemic leaving some countries behind

WASHINGTON: The crisis caused by the pandemic is leaving many economies lagging behind, increasing the plight of the poor, a problem made worse by “uneven” access to vaccines, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said Wednesday.
In a message to the Group of 20 meeting on Friday Georgieva urged governments to increase vaccine distribution, ensuring Covid-19 is brought under control.
“The economic arguments for coordinated action are overwhelming,” she said in a blog post.
“Faster progress in ending the health crisis could raise global income cumulatively by $9 trillion over 2020-25. That would benefit all countries.”
She said that should include financing for vaccinations, reallocation of excess supply to countries with a shortage, and scaling up of production.
The global pandemic death toll is approaching 2.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, and the shutdowns forced to control infections have devastated economies.
And while vaccine rollouts are raising hopes for a recovery this year, the IMF forecasts job losses in the G20 alone to total more than 25 million this year.
By the end of 2022, emerging market and developing nations — excluding China — will see per capital incomes 22 percent below pre-crisis levels, compared to just 13 percent lower for advanced economies, which will throw millions more into extreme poverty, Georgieva warned.
“That is why we need much stronger international collaboration to accelerate the vaccine rollout in poorer countries,” she said.
G20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs led by Rome will meet by videoconference to discuss the state of the recovery and how best to attack the problem.
The Washington-based crisis lender estimated more than half of the world’s 110 emerging and developing countries will see their incomes fall further behind advanced economies through the end of next year.
And the virus-driven economic crisis also will widen income gaps within developing nations, especially as millions of children are still facing disruptions to education.
“Allowing them to become a lost generation would be an unforgiveable mistake. It would also deepen the long-term economic scars of the crisis,” she warned.


Moody’s revises up US and emerging markets forecasts, cuts Europe

Updated 24 February 2021

Moody’s revises up US and emerging markets forecasts, cuts Europe

  • Emerging market growth moved up to 7 percent from 6.1 percent, led by upward revisions to China, India and Mexico

LONDON:Credit ratings firm Moody’s revised upwards on Wednesday its economic forecasts for the year for the United States and emerging markets, but cut Europe’s following the region’s tough COVID-19 lockdowns.
Moody’s pushed up its US growth forecast to 4.7 percent, from the 4.2 percent it had expected in November.
Emerging market growth moved up to 7 percent from 6.1 percent, led by upward revisions to China, India and Mexico, while the euro zone and Britain saw their respective projections cut to 3.7 percent and 4.7 percent, from 4.7 percent and 5.2 percent previously.
“The effects on individual businesses, sectors and regions continue to be uneven, and the COVID-19 crisis will endure as a challenge to the world’s economies well beyond our two-year forecast horizon,” Moody’s said in a report on its new forecasts.

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SoftBank-backed Berkshire Grey to go public via $2.7bn SPAC deal

Updated 24 February 2021

SoftBank-backed Berkshire Grey to go public via $2.7bn SPAC deal

SoftBank-backed robotics firm Berkshire Grey said on Wednesday it has agreed to go public through a merger with blank-check firm Revolution Acceleration Acquisition Corp. in a deal valuing the equity of the combined company at $2.7 billion.

Food and drinks group Agthia eyes acquisitions to become big regional player

Updated 24 February 2021

Food and drinks group Agthia eyes acquisitions to become big regional player

  • Agthia’s products include bottled water, dairy products and baked goods

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi-listed food and drinks group Agthia Group is looking into making more acquisitions to turn the company into one of the region’s top players in the food and beverage industry, its chief executive said on Tuesday.
After doing a number of deals already Agthia has a “pipeline of ideas” for additional targets to strengthen its position at home and abroad.
“Certainly we want to be a big regional player in the F&B business and more in the consumer space, so we want to move into that branded space where we can start building master brands across the region,” CEO Alan Smith said.
Agthia’s products include bottled water, dairy products and baked goods.
Smith did not rule out entering new markets, though he said a number of factors would come into play, including whether the company could enter at a large enough scale.
He said Agthia has had conversations with Israeli parties on potential cooperation, but no agreements have been finalized.
Smith also said Agthia had some sub-scale assets that the company was currently reviewing.
Abu Dhabi state-owned holding company ADQ, the corporate structure where Agthia sits, in November signed an agreement to acquire an indirect 45% stake in Louis Dreyfus Co., the first outside investment in the family-owned commodity merchant’s 169-year-old history.
“To be honest the Dreyfus transaction is fairly recent and I think we have had some initial conversations just in terms of the commodities space. But at the moment there’s no plans to have a conversation with them about (consumer packaged goods) products.”
Smith said Agithia, which reported a fall in net profit for 2020, had a strong balance sheet and was comfortable with its debt levels. It has no current plans to tap international debt markets, but may need to in the future, he said.


Britain’s Heathrow sinks to $2.8bn loss during pandemic

Updated 24 February 2021

Britain’s Heathrow sinks to $2.8bn loss during pandemic

  • Heathrow called on the government to agree a common international travel standard to allow passengers to start flying again in the summer

LONDON: Britain’s Heathrow Airport plunged to a 2 billion pound ($2.8 billion) annual loss after passenger numbers collapsed to levels last seen in the 1970s during the pandemic.
Heathrow called on the government to agree a common international travel standard to allow passengers to start flying again in the summer and to provide business tax breaks for airports to help them ride out the crisis.
The airport, west of London, is hopeful that travel markets will reopen from mid-May after a government announcement on easing lockdown on Monday.
Still Britain’s biggest airport, Heathrow last year lost its title as the busiest in Europe to Paris as its flight schedules contracted more than its rival’s.
The airport said on Wednesday that during 2020 passenger numbers shrunk 73% to 22 million people, with half of those people having traveled during January and February before COVID-19 shut down global travel.
The airport sunk to a 2 billion loss before tax on revenues which were down 62% to 1.18 billion pounds, but Heathrow said it had 3.9 billion pounds of liquidity and that could keep it going until 2023.
The airport is owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, the Qatar Investment Authority and China Investment Corp, among others.