Coronavirus latest: US homebuilder confidence climbs to highest since 1998

Coronavirus latest: US homebuilder confidence climbs to highest since 1998

US stocks inch closer to record high

US stocks edged higher and tested their all-time high again on Monday, after Chinese equities rallied on fresh stimulus measures.

Wall Street’s S&P 500 rose 0.3 per cent at the opening bell. The benchmark has struggled to surpass its February record in recent sessions, closing on Friday at 3,372 points or 0.6 per cent off its intraday peak. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite added 0.5 per cent.

Goldman Sachs was confident that US shares would eclipse their record level and keep rising. It raised its end-of-year price target for the S&P 500 from 3,000 to 3,600.

“The S&P 500 level has returned to its pre-pandemic high, but the building blocks supporting the price have shifted dramatically,” said David Kostin, Goldman’s chief US equity strategist. “Share prices reflect not just the expected future stream of earnings but also the rate at which the profits are discounted to present value.”

In China, stocks rose after fresh stimulus measures helped investors put to one side the latest escalation in tensions between Washington and Beijing.

German businesses welcome plan to extend short-time work scheme

Guy Chazan in Berlin

German industry has welcomed a proposal by the country’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, to extend the period that payments are made under the government’s short-time working scheme.

Germany operates a scheme known as Kurzarbeit under which employees are paid when they are forced to work fewer hours or stop work altogether due to an economic crisis.

The programme, which was significantly expanded when the coronavirus pandemic hit, is designed to prevent external shocks causing a big spike in unemployment.

Mr Scholz would like to see it extended to 24 months.

Ralph Wiechers, chief economist of the VDMA, an industry group that represents big engineering companies, said Kurzarbeit was “securing many jobs and proving to be a reliable instrument that safeguards employment”, just as it had during the financial crisis in 2009.

“Therefore finance minister Olaf Scholz is on the right path in seeking to extend the eligibility period for short-time work money to 24 months,” he said.

In arguing for an extension, Mr Scholz had told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday that the coronavirus crisis “won’t just disappear in the next few weeks”. “Companies and their employees need a clear signal from the government: we are going with you all the way through the crisis, so no one will fall by the wayside and be dismissed unnecessarily,” he said.

US homebuilder confidence in August climbs to highest since 1998

US homebuilder confidence in August matched a previous record amid historically low mortgage rates, but a surge in lumber prices could hurt momentum.

The National Association of Home Builders’ housing market index rose 6 points to 78, the highest reading in the 35-year history of the series and matched the record set in December 1998. That also exceeded economists’ expectations for a modest increase to 73.

Housing has recovered faster than other parts of the economy, aided by low interest rates — the US 30-year mortgage rate fell below 3 per cent for first time last month. Demand for single-family homes has also increased as people working from home depart crowded cities and seek to socially distance during the pandemic.

“The demand for new single-family homes continues to be strong, as low interest rates and a focus on the importance of housing has stoked buyer traffic to all-time highs as measured on the HMI,” said NAHB chairman Chuck Fowke.

However, he noted “the V-shaped recovery” in the housing market has driven up lumber prices, which have more than doubled since mid-April. Mr Fowke cautioned that this rise could weigh on housing momentum in autumn.

Lumber has increased to $726.5 per thousand board feet, from about $330 in mid-April, Refinitiv data show.

New York state business activity cools in August

Business activity in New York state eased this month, having picked up significantly in July for the first time since the pandemic.

The headline general business conditions index of the NY Fed’s Empire state manufacturing survey tumbled 14 points to a reading of 3.7 this month.

That missed economists’ expectations for a more modest decline to 15 and followed a sharp increase in July. Any reading below zero suggests business conditions are deteriorating.

Thirty-four per cent of respondents said conditions had improved over the month, while 30 per cent said they had worsened even with the city in phase four of reopening businesses. The report also showed new orders were little changed, while employment edged up and the average work-week declined.

Demand plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic. While conditions have improved since lockdowns have eased, uncertainty around coronavirus and a resurgence in cases in the American south and west have prompted economists to caution that the outlook for US manufacturing remains challenging.

US stocks set to take aim at record as futures tick up

US stocks were poised to edge higher and test their all-time high again on Monday, after Chinese equities rallied on fresh stimulus measures.

Futures markets tipped Wall Street’s S&P 500 to rise 0.3 per cent when US trading begins later in the day. The benchmark has struggled to surpass its February record in recent sessions, closing at 3,372 points on Friday or 0.6 per cent off its intraday peak.

Maya Bhandari, fund manager at Columbia Threadneedle Investments, said that risks of a resurgence in coronavirus, rising US-China tensions and stalling negotiations for fiscal stimulus in the world’s largest economy were weighing on markets.

“Taking some profit in risk markets is prudent . . . at the fringe uncertainties are growing,” she said, adding that the prospect of a swift economic recovery was slim. “As long as the uncertainty over a second wave persists, we don’t see people returning to pre-crisis behaviours or activity anytime soon.”

In China, stocks rose after fresh stimulus measures helped investors put to one side the latest escalation in tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The CSI 300 index of Shanghai and Shenzhen-listed stocks gained 2.4 per cent on Monday after the central bank injected Rmb700bn ($101bn) of liquidity into the financial system through its medium-term lending facility.

The rise came despite US president Donald Trump threatening further action against more companies from the country, including ecommerce group Alibaba.

Ryanair to cut back on number of flights as Covid cases rise in Europe

Philip Georgiadis in London

Ryanair is to cut flight capacity by a fifth over the next two months as it warned that bookings had “noticeably weakened” following a rise in coronavirus cases across many parts of Europe.

The low-cost airline will reduce the number of its flights by 20 per cent in September and October, and said the cuts will focus on countries that had seen worsening outbreaks, including France, Spain and Sweden.

“Forward bookings have notably weakened over the last 10 days, given uncertainty over recent Covid case rates in some EU countries,” Ryanair said.

The resurgence of the virus across parts of Europe is deepening the crisis facing the aviation industry, as increased travel restrictions dash any lingering hopes of a late-summer revival for the industry.

Ryanair shares fell 3.4 per cent on Monday, taking losses since the UK introduced quarantine restrictions on France and the Netherlands late on Thursday to more than 7 per cent.

Bearish US dollar and bullish euro sentiment hit record levels, BofA says

Pessimism towards the US dollar and the allure of the euro have increased to new heights after European leaders clinched a deal on an EU recovery fund.

Sentiment towards the two currencies hit record levels, a Bank of America survey of 89 fund managers showed, while positioning closed the gap with expectations in August as investors shifted out of the dollar and gave greater exposure to the euro in their portfolios.

“The EU recovery fund seems to be the main driver of positivity on the euro,” said Ralf Preusser, rates strategist at Bank of America. “US dollar bearishness can at least partly be explained by expectations of some erosion of the hegemony of the US dollar as a reserve currency.”

The dollar’s dominance has come under scrutiny after falling by the most in a decade in July, but the lack of serious challengers presents a problem in displacing the US currency from its role as the global reserve currency.

For the fund managers surveyed, the biggest risk to the rally in riskier assets such as equities and emerging market currencies was the worsening of the global coronavirus situation.

Maya Bhandari, fund manager at Columbia Threadneedle Investments, said “the dollar was overvalued going into this crisis”.

“The possibility of a Democratic sweep [in the US election] is going to be dollar negative.”

Coronavirus crisis prompts surge in sustainable bond deals

Camilla Hodgson

Sustainable bond issuance could reach $375bn in 2020, as the coronavirus crisis drives demand for responsible investing, Moody’s forecast on Monday.

Global sustainable bond issuance rose to a quarterly record of $99.9bn between April and June, a 65 per cent increase from the first three months of the year, the ratings agency said. Overall in 2020 the combined total of green, social and sustainability bonds could rise to between $325bn and $375bn, compared with $323bn last year, it added.

The jolt of new issuance in social and sustainability bonds has been supported by “coronavirus pandemic response efforts and heightened awareness of social issues related to healthcare and inequality”, said Matthew Kuchtyak, analyst at Moody’s Investors Service.

The second quarter saw a record $33bn in social bonds and $19.1bn in sustainability bonds go to market, but appetite for green bonds — the most mature segment of the ESG market — was more muted than usual. Although green bond volumes rebounded to $47.8bn in the second quarter — a 26 per cent increase compared with the first three months of the year — they remain below their 2019 quarterly average of $65.5bn, Moody’s said.

However, the agency said it expected green bond issuance to pick up in the second half of the year, and to reach between $175bn-$225bn in 2020, compared with $258bn last year.

Italy closes nightclubs on concerns over pick-up in Covid-19 cases

Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli

Italy has clamped down on nightlife and entertainment activities as fears have risen that overly relaxed attitudes, especially among young people, could lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases.

Nightclubs will be closed and face masks required at night even at outdoor venues from Monday until next month, the government said on Sunday. The move comes as nightlife and travel have picked up in July and August. However, Covid-19 cases have doubled to around 500 new daily infections while the average age of those with new infections dropped to below 40 years old.

“Young people must help us; we cannot fail the reopening of schools in September and risk a new lockdown,” said health minister Roberto Speranza.

The minister spoke after holidaymakers and club owners protested against the decision, saying the media and government were discriminating against the sector and the younger population while hospitals were empty and the virus was under control.

Multiple videos from several tourist resorts featuring thousands of crammed partygoers drinking and dancing without face masks sparked outrage among the public last week. Media outlets criticised the government for allowing regional governments to decide autonomously on the reopening of nightclubs and exposing millions of families to health risks.

Nightlife industry associations said Sunday’s decision would lead to €4bn in lost revenue for the sector and demanded public subsidies and tax breaks.

The economies of Italy’s coastal and island regions rely on the tourism industry, with entertainment activities being the most lucrative. Trade associations warned most companies will not be able to survive until next year after this re-imposed shutdown.

Italy’s decision follows a similar one from Spain last week.

Singapore adds $6bn stimulus to prop up businesses in face of Covid

Singapore is set to add S$8bn ($5.8bn) in fiscal stimulus to help support businesses as they face the challenge of a pandemic crisis that has brought the island nation to its first recession in more than a decade.

The government plans to introduce measures to support jobs and create new ones, with a specific emphasis on more mature workers, deputy prime minister Heng Swee Keat said in a speech on Monday. Some earlier measures are due to come to an end this month.

Some industries, such as tourism, aviation and aerospace, have struggled more than others during the crisis, he said.

The deputy prime minister pledged 50 per cent wage support for the next seven months for these industries that have been hardest hit. Arts and entertainment, food services, land transport, marine and offshore, and retail will receive 30 per cent support for seven more months, he said.

“For the majority of remaining sectors that are coping well they will receive 10 per cent for four months for wages up to December 2020,” he said. Most businesses will receive support for 17 months, Mr Heng added.

“I urge all businesses to make full use of this additional support to transform your operations for the post-Covid world,” he said. “This will enable you to spring back faster when the recovery comes.”

Singapore fell into recession for the first time since the global financial crisis, with gross domestic product contracting by 41.2 per cent in the second quarter after the city-state imposed a lockdown to battle coronavirus.

Concerns over jobs intensified against the backdrop of Covid-19, with the resident unemployment rate forecast to jump to 4.2 per cent in 2020. Up to 97,800 residents could lose their jobs by the end of the year, according to DBS, a bank.

Olympique Lyonnais shares rise after Manchester City defeat

Shares in Olympique Lyonnais have gained following the French side’s shock defeat of Manchester City in the Champions League quarter final game in Lisbon at the weekend.

The Lyonnais side beat the pre-tournament favourites 3-1 on Saturday evening at Sporting Lisbon’s José Alvalade stadium in the single-leg final eight round to set up a semi-final against the German side Bayern Munich.

The French football team’s shares rose nearly 6 per cent in Paris on Monday, the first trading day after the victory. Paris St Germain will face RB Leipzig in the other semi-final, the first time two French teams will compete in the final four of the competition.

For City and its manager Pep Guardiola, the defeat signifies the third consecutive season that the English team has gone out in the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier competition.

The pandemic meant the final stages of Europe’s top-flight competition were delayed by almost five months. Rules were amended to set up condensed “Final 8” single-leg games.

The matches are being held at Benfica’s Estádio da Luz and Sporting Lisbon’s José Alvalade. The final, which will take place on August 23, had been due to take place at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium on the outskirts of Istanbul. That venue is scheduled to host the final next year instead.

Covid-19 restrictions mean that the games are being held without spectators but football fans are being encouraged to enjoy the matches in bars round the Portuguese capital.

Cranswick generates ‘robust’ demand as consumers eat at home

Cranswick has reported “exceptionally robust” retail demand and predicts the full year will be better than it initially forecast as many scoop up the food retailer’s pork and chicken to cook at home.

First-quarter like-for-like sales rose 19.2 per cent, excluding contributions from acquisitions in the earlier year, as many households hunkered down in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.

“As a result of the current shift towards greater in-home consumption, retail demand has been exceptionally robust” in the 13 weeks to June 27, the FTSE 250 group said on Monday. “This positive performance has, to date, continued during the second quarter of the financial year.”

The group, which supplies food products to retailers including staple items such as chicken, bacon and sausages, expects retail volumes to normalise through the remainder of the year as consumers return to eating out more.

The pigs-and-poultry group has paid a £500 bonus to employees to recognise their key workers’ “valued contribution throughout the pandemic”.

The board remains cautious about the longer term impact of Covid-19 as well as Brexit and trade negotiations. Still, it expects the financial year ending March 27 will be “ahead of its previous expectations”.

“We have made a strong start to the year,” the chief executive Adam Couch said, adding that the group is “well positioned to address these challenges”.

Getlink carries third more Eurotunnel passengers in quarantine rush 

In the wake of one of the year’s busiest weekends, figures have shown that more than 30,000 passengers crammed on to extra Eurotunnel trains in a rush to avoid the UK government’s deadline for quarantining on return from France.

Getlink, which operates the car-carrying “Eurotunnel Le Shuttle” services, said it had carried 30 per cent more leisure traffic than expected on Friday, and added 22 extra trains to its service.

Downing Street late on Thursday said that anyone arriving in England from France after 4am on Saturday would have to self-isolate for 14 days, prompting a stampede from holidaymakers trying to beat the deadline.  

The announcement provoked a “crazy” rush to hire private jets, said Alain Leboursie, head of sales at broker LunaJets.

Bookings for journeys between France and the UK were “completely booming”, he added, while PrivateFly, a UK-based private jet provider, said it had received three times more inquiries for flights out of countries added to the UK’s quarantine list against the previous day.

India sees surge in demand for rural worker scheme

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India has seen a surge in demand to participate in its rural workfare scheme, as migrants who returned from major cities after the coronavirus lockdown have sought income to support their families in the absence of alternative job opportunities.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, a social welfare programme that guarantees 100 days of paid work to every rural household that participates, has seen involvement reach the highest levels since the scheme began more than a decade ago.

The work typically involves hard physical labour in constructing community infrastructure, such as building roads, ponds or other irrigation works. The scheme is intended to be self-selecting, with only those families in urgent need of income likely to participate.

However, the exodus of migrant workers from coronavirus-hit cities to their native villages has led to a sharp surge in demand from families who have lost all other sources of income.

In the blistering heat of June, when temperatures routinely exceed 40C, more than 38m households sent a family member to participate in the scheme, up from 21m in June of last year.

Total participation in the programme ebbed in July, the start of the monsoon and the annual sowing season, with 27m households participating. That though was still up nearly 80 per cent compared with last year.

Overall, about 55m households have taken up such rural jobs in India in the first 4.5 months of the fiscal year that starts on April 1, equivalent to the number that had taken up such jobs through all of last year.

About $4.7bn has been spent on wages for rural workers under the social welfare scheme.

Asian bank to lend Kyrgyzstan $50m to help small businesses

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank said on Monday it would lend $50m to Kyrgyzstan to help small and medium-sized and micro-enterprises affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project, the bank’s first financing programme in the former Soviet republic, is aimed at helping smaller businesses meet operational expenses and retain employees, the Beijing-based bank said.

“By providing [small businesses] with emergency access to finance during this challenging time, AIIB can help them respond to, and recover from, the pandemic,” Supee Teravaninthorn, the bank’s director-general of investment operations, said in a statement.

Thai economy contracts 12.2% with falls in most sectors

John Reed in Bangkok

Thailand reported a 12.2 per cent drop in its second-quarter gross domestic product on Monday, its worst quarterly contraction in 22 years, as the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown measures took a toll on south-east Asia’s second-largest economy.

Exports, private investment, and consumption all declined in April to June, but government spending and public investment both rose during the quarter, the country’s Office of National Economic and Social Development said.

The government agency cut its growth forecast for the year, and now says it expects the economy to shrink between 7.3 per cent and 7.8 per cent this year, compared with 5-6 per cent before, because of declining tourist numbers and revenues, drought and the impact of the pandemic on the global economy.

Thailand, the first country outside China to report Covid-19 cases, has since the beginning of the outbreak cancelled most incoming commercial flights, keeping new coronavirus infections in check but devastating tourism, which generates about a fifth of GDP.

Fiji opposition legislator acquitted over stockpile post

A Fijian opposition legislator was on Monday acquitted of a public order charge after advising residents to stock up on food due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to state-funded media.

Lynda Tabuya, a leader of the Sodelpa party, was charged on March 27 after posting on her Facebook account, national broadcaster FBC reported. According to the broadcaster, she wrote on March 19 in a now deleted post:

Stock up on food Viti! Have a guaranteed farm supply. It’s about to get real #BeCOVIDready, and let’s just get one thing straight Fiji, the government brought coronavirus into Fiji.

The post was alleged to have the “intention of creating public alarm, anxiety or disaffection”, according to the charges. “Viti” means Fiji in Fijian.

Ms Tabuya said she was vindicated by the Suva Magistrates’ Court decision, FBC reported.

“This freedom for free speech in the country and not only for the media but individual Fijians as well,” she was quoted as saying.

UK reopens support scheme for self-employed workers

Owen Walker in London

The UK government has reopened its support scheme for the millions of self-employed workers who have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

From Monday, sole traders will be able to claim up to £6,570 for lost income since July 14 after an earlier version of the scheme paid out £7.8bn to 2.7m people in May and June.

“It means that people’s livelihoods across the country will remain protected as we continue our economic recovery — helping them get back on their feet as we return to normal,” said Rishi Sunak, the UK’s chancellor of the exchequer.

Read more here

Coronavirus claims cricket star as India toll tops 50,000

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

Former Indian cricket star Chetan Chauhan has died at the age of 73 from complications of coronavirus, as the South Asian nation crossed the grim milestone of more than 50,000 deaths since the pandemic began.

India is now detecting more new infections than any other country in the world, with more than 58,000 new infections confirmed on Sunday.

It has so far recorded more 2.6m, the third highest caseload in the world after the US and Brazil. More than 51,000 Indians have died.

Mr Chauhan, pictured, who was active in Indian test cricket in the late 1970s, is the second member of the Uttar Pradesh state cabinet to die from complications due to coronavirus, which has hit the upper echelons of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party hard.

Among those infected have been three members of prime minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, including home minister Amit Shah, who recently returned home from hospital.

A former president, Pranab Mukherjee, is also in critical condition, battling complications from coronavirus.

UK looks to extend bailout loans to PE-owned groups

Kaye Wiggins, Nicholas Megaw and Daniel Thomas in London

The British government is trying to find a way to offer state-backed loans to debt-laden companies owned by private equity groups, in the hope of rescuing a swath of the British high street.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department wants to help private equity-backed groups that employ large numbers of people, such as PizzaExpress, Prezzo or Merlin, the owner of Legoland, without breaching EU state aid rules, according to four people involved in the process.

They cautioned, however, that there was no guarantee the government would find a solution. PE-backed companies typically carry high levels of debt to reduce their tax bill, resulting in statutory losses even when they are generating cash.

Read more here

Victoria records record daily death toll of 25

The Australian state of Victoria on Monday announced its deadliest day of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 25 more deaths in the preceding 24 hours.

There were 282 new cases of coronavirus detected in the country’s second-most populous state in that time, official data show.

Victoria, with 6.4m people, has nearly 8,000 active cases, and 334 people have died so far.

Monday was the second consecutive day on which new case numbers were under 300.

Victoria’s health department reported 279 new cases and 16 deaths on Sunday, and 303 new cases and four deaths on Saturday.

Majestic and Naked Wines prove critics wrong on split

Jonathan Eley in London

When Majestic Wine announced last year that it would focus on its online subscription business, many longstanding customers feared it marked the end of the warehouse-style retail shops that had brought them the pick of Riojas and Sauvignons since the 1980s.

Many had already grumbled that the company’s offer had been downgraded in an effort to generate cash to fund Naked Wines, whose founder Rowan Gormley was chief executive of the wider group. Investors marked Majestic’s shares down by a fifth in two days.

But last month Majestic, which is now owned by asset manager Fortress, said it had gained 150,000 new customers during the UK’s lockdown, with online sales quadrupling and average bottle prices rising 11 per cent.

Read more here

Japanese economy shrinks 7.8% in second quarter

Robin Harding in Tokyo

Japan’s economy shrank by a record 7.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, putting it around the middle of the international league table for coronavirus impact.

The figure – which equates to a 27.8 per cent decline at an annualised pace – showed the consequences of a nationwide state of emergency over Covid-19 in April and May.

Japan’s voluntary lockdown did not close off all business activity, showing how the effectiveness of a country’s coronavirus response translated into a better or worse economic impact.

The second-quarter decline is comparable with the 9.5 per cent fall in the US or the 10.1 per cent drop in Germany. It is significantly better than the drop of more than 20 per cent in the UK, which was late to act but imposed a severe lockdown.

However, Japan did worse than South Korea, where output fell by 3.3 per cent in the second quarter, and Taiwan, where gross domestic product fell by just 0.7 per cent. Both countries managed to control the virus without extensive lockdowns, allowing their economies to function more normally.

A slump in private consumption accounted for 4.8 percentage points of the decline in Japan’s GDP as the state of emergency reduced spending in shops and restaurants. A large fall in exports accounted for the remaining 3 percentage points.

Business investment was surprisingly strong, however, contributing just 0.2 percentage points to the overall decline in output. If that figure is not revised downwards in later releases, it suggests resilience in the underlying economy.

Japan is suffering an increase in infections, with new cases running at more than 1,000 a day, but it has not imposed a fresh state of emergency.

UK ministers set to scrap Public Health England

Laura Hughes in London

Public Health England is to be scrapped as an independent health agency under government plans to set up a “more agile” body responsible for dealing with pandemics.

Amid fears of an autumn or winter resurgence of coronavirus in the UK, officials confirmed that plans to merge the agency with the NHS test and trace programme would be set out in detail early this week.

As ministers scramble to explain England’s poor response to the virus and high death toll, Boris Johnson’s government has increasingly sought to blame PHE for much of what has gone wrong.

Read more here

Guangdong focuses testing on Alibaba-backed grocery chain

Christian Shepherd in Beijing

The southern Chinese province of Guangdong has launched a coronavirus testing drive tracing the supply chain of an Alibaba-backed groceries and restaurant chain, after an employee contracted the virus.

Guangdong authorities had by Sunday dispatched teams to 36 Fresh Hippo stores as well as 12 warehouses and processing plants across the province, after one sales staff member in Shenzhen, Guangdong’s high-tech hub, tested positive for Covid-19.

The chain of supermarkets and eateries, mostly located in busy shopping malls, is a central part of technology giant Alibaba’s efforts to add bricks-and-mortar stores to its ecommerce empire.

On Saturday, Fresh Hippo announced it was temporarily closing 21 stores across Shenzhen.

Frozen food, especially imported meat and seafood, has become a prime target in China’s attempts to prevent a resurgence of Covid-19.

The provincial capital of Guangzhou has suspended imports of frozen meat and seafood from countries with a high number of coronavirus cases, state media reported on Sunday, adding that the city also requires industry workers to undergo RNA tests for the virus, while it strengthened screening procedures

In recent weeks, Chinese authorities have reported at least 10 incidents of imported goods or their packaging testing positive for coronavirus, although the World Health Organization has said there is “no evidence” of refrigerated food trade being a risk for Covid-19 spread.

Guangdong last week launched a system for tracing imported frozen meat and seafood after a sample from refrigerated chicken wings imported from Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of frozen poultry, tested positive for the virus.

US companies urged to appoint Covid-19 experts to boards

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in New York

Michelle Williams, dean of Harvard’s school of public health, has called on companies to put public health professionals on their boards and in their top executive ranks to manage a pandemic threat that could hang over businesses for years.

“I think what Covid does is lay bare just how essential it is to be prepared for man-made and natural disasters, and our economic resilience depends on being prepared. Public health plays a key role in being prepared,” Prof Williams told the Financial Times.

Her appeal was being heard by the large companies which have sought to tap the university’s public health expertise during the coronavirus crisis, she said: “I think the penny has dropped because unlike some of the other crises we’ve had, this one is enduring.”

Read more here

Indonesians sign up for Chinese vaccine candidate trials

Nearly 2,000 Indonesians have registered to volunteer for the third-phase clinical trials of the Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine candidate, state media reported on Monday.

The trials, to be held at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, need 1,620 people who meet all the required criteria, the Antara news agency reported.

Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech is developing the vaccine in collaboration with Indonesian state-owned drugmaker Bio Farma and other companies around the world.

Wiku Adisasmito, a spokesman for the government’s Covid-19 task force, told Antara that “safety, precision, and speed” would be priorities in domestic production of the vaccine.

Antara said Indonesian scientists were also working on a domestic vaccine, Merah Putih (red and white), named after the country’s flag. It is expected to be available from 2022.

Ecuador battles stubbornly high new caseload

Gideon Long in Bogotá

Ecuador has recorded its 100,000th case of coronavirus and although its Covid-19 crisis has eased since April, when it was one of the worst-hit countries in Latin America, the number of daily new cases is still stubbornly high.

The government said on Sunday it had recorded 101,542 cases and 6,070 deaths since the pandemic began.

Per head, that puts it behind Brazil, Peru and Chile. The government says nearly three-quarters of those who have contracted the virus have recovered.

The country was pummelled by coronavirus in March and April with the second city Guayaquil particularly hard hit. The health system collapsed and in some cases bodies were left in the street as local authorities were unable to collect them.

At the height of the crisis, Ecuador was recording about 2,000 new cases a day.

That figure dropped dramatically in May but has since crept up again and now stands at around 1,000.

The number of deaths per day has dropped from a peak of about 140 in April to 20 now and appears to be on a downward trajectory.

US reinstates restrictions on S Korea bases after surge

By Edward White

The US military has reinstated restrictions on garrisons in South Korea in a precautionary move to protect troops from the country’s worst coronavirus outbreak in five months.

General Robert Abrams, who leads the 28,500 US troops in South Korea, on Monday raised the health protection risk level across the US Forces Korea installations on the peninsula.

That would mean restrictions on travel and only individuals considered “mission essential” reporting for duty, with others working remotely.

“We must protect the force to protect the mission,” said Gen Abrams.

The move comes after South Korea’s government on Saturday reinstituted a suite of measures, including urging Seoul residents to refrain from leaving the sprawling capital as well as limitations on the size of school classes and public gatherings.

“I have complete confidence the [South Korean] government and [Korea Centers for Disease Control] will suppress this outbreak and stop the spread,” added Gen Abrams.

South Korean officials on Monday reported 197 new Covid-19 cases, fewer than the 279 reported on Sunday but still close to the highest levels seen since early March when the country was grappling with a mass cluster linked to a quasi-Christian religious sect in Daegu.

El Al chairman resigns in pandemic downturn

Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem

Israeli national airline El Al’s chairman Eliahu Defes has resigned, citing health reasons.

His resignation comes as the company is struggling in the coronavirus crisis.

At least 95 per cent of El Al staff has been furloughed for months, and although it received a $400m bailout from the Israeli government, the carrier still owes $440m to customers for cancelled flights.

El Al is courting several possible foreign buy-outs, according to Israeli media reports.

Mr Defes joined the carrier’s board in 2015 and became chairman in 2017.

Trump and Biden grapple with pandemic campaigning

Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

Joe Biden will be anointed as the Democrats’ presidential candidate at the party’s
national convention that begins in Minnesota on Monday. But the only high-profile politician to appear before a crowd in the swing state that day will be Donald Trump.

While Mr Biden and top Democrats congregate online at a virtual convention because of coronavirus, the US president has no qualms about trolling Mr Biden by
campaigning live in Minnesota.

Mr Trump, 74, is making much of the fact that his 77-year-old opponent has for months been largely confined to his Delaware home, suggesting such reticence points to Mr Biden’s weakness as a candidate for the White House.

Read more here

US-China trade tensions weigh down Asia-Pacific stocks

Daniel Shane in Hong Kong

Shares across Asia-Pacific slipped as investors weighed up the latest escalation in US-China trade tensions.

Japan’s Topix edged 0.1 per cent lower in early trading on Monday while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.5 per cent.

Futures trading suggested China’s CSI 300 of Shanghai and Shenzhen-listed shares and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng would both open little changed.

Stocks struggled for momentum against a backdrop of fraying relations between Beijing and Washington.

President Donald Trump on Friday unveiled new measures targeting social media company ByteDance and indicated he could consider further actions against Chinese companies.

Gold for immediate delivery was down 0.5 per cent to $1,935.64 per troy ounce as the precious metal peeled back from the all-time highs set earlier this month.

The dollar, as measured against a basket of its trading peers, and the yields on benchmark US Treasuries was flat.

Futures tipped Wall Street’s S&P 500 to rise 0.3 per cent when US trading begins later on Monday. London’s FTSE was set to slide 0.1 per cent.

New Zealand reports 13 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday

New Zealand confirmed 13 new cases of Covid-19 on Sunday, 12 in the community and one in managed isolation.

The isolation case is a child who arrived in New Zealand on August 3 from Afghanistan via Dubai and has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.

From early investigations all 12 community cases have a connection to the existing outbreak as “close contacts of cases already reported”, the health ministry said in a statement.

The 12 are all Auckland-based, the ministry said, adding: “Based on current information none has travelled outside of Auckland recently.”

Fruits of a pandemic in Hong Kong

Hong Kong theatrical costume designer and actor Edmond Kok, pictured, wears a face mask of his own design decorated with fruit.

Mr Kok has created more than 170 face masks inspired both by the pandemic and Hong Kong.

He stresses the masks are works of art, and are not designed to limit the spread of Covid-19.

CDC warns that people are not immune to reinfection

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reaffirmed that people can continue to test positive for coronavirus for up to three months after diagnosis and not be infectious to others, but that does not imply a person is immune to reinfection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

The CDC said in an advisory bulletin late on Friday that the latest data simply suggest that retesting someone in the three months following initial infection is not necessary unless that person is exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 that cannot be associated with another illness.

People with Covid-19 should be isolated for at least 10 days after symptom onset and until 24 hours after their fever subsides without the use of fever-reducing medications, the agency said.

Researchers have found that the amount of live virus in the nose and throat drops significantly soon after Covid-19 symptoms develop.

The duration of infectiousness in most people with Covid-19 is no longer than 10 days after symptoms begin and no longer than 20 days in people with severe illness or those who are severely immunocompromised, CDC noted.

House & Home: Visions of post-pandemic design

Helen Barrett in London

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, designers have been forced to rethink work conceived to tackle the problems of one era to solve the problems of another. The design industry is expected to improve lives, now more than ever.

“We are looking at questions like, how do we make a building healthy? How do we keep a person healthy?” says Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig Architects, the Seattle-based global practice.

But the design world was largely unprepared for the pandemic, says Ashley Hall, professor of design innovation at the Royal College of Art. That should not have been the case.

Read more here

South Korea discourages travel outside Seoul

Edward White and Kang Buseong in Seoul

South Korea’s government has urged residents of Seoul to avoid travelling outside the capital for two weeks as health officials race to suppress the country’s worst coronavirus outbreak in five months.

The restrictions, announced on Sunday, cover about half of the country’s 52m people in Seoul and the surrounding province of Gyeonggi.

They are part of a range of measures that have been reinstituted as new Covid-19 cases linked to markets, churches and retail chains have driven infections to the highest daily rate since the height of the country’s outbreak in March.

The restrictions include the closure of some public spaces and reductions in the size of school classes and religious gatherings.

EmoticonNZ prime minister delays election for a month

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday said the general election scheduled for next month will be delayed until October 17 because of a renewed outbreak of Covid-19.

“The Electoral Commission, via the Ministry of Justice, has advised me that a safe and accessible election is achievable on this date,” she said in a statement.

“This short delay gives the commission more time to prepare including freeing up facilities for early voting during school holidays.”

Ms Ardern said the re-emergence of Covid-19 meant the present was “not ordinary times” and she had consulted with other party leaders before announcing the delay.

She vowed there would not be a second delay to the poll.

Ms Ardern’s Labour party has 46 of parliament’s 120 seats, and governs New Zealand in a coalition government with New Zealand First and the Green Party.

Ms Ardern’s sure-footed handling of the pandemic has helped Labour surge in opinion polls while the opposition National party has struggled prompting the resignation of two party leaders since May.

Last week, National party leader Judith Collins called on Ms Ardern to delay the election until at least November and preferably until 2021.

Covid PTSD rates ‘worse than after terror attacks’: study

The rates of post-traumatic stress disorder in Covid-19 patients appear higher compared with those of emergency service staff after a terrorist attack, according to a new paper.

The survey, of 60 patients admitted to University Hospital of Essen in Germany between March and May, showed a prevalence of significant post-traumatic stress symptoms of 37.9 per cent in all patients and 42.1 per cent in the subgroup of patients with later confirmation of Covid-19.

“Thereby, the rates for PTSD in Covid-19-affected patients appear higher when compared to PTSD rates in the general population (11 per cent) or in emergency service staff after terrorist attacks (25 per cent),” they said.

The researchers, led by Ulrich Wesemann of the Bundeswehr Hospital in Berlin, said they could not replicate the findings of an earlier Chinese study that indicated prevalence rates of “significant post-traumatic stress symptoms” far above 90 per cent.

The German study was published in Psychological Medicine on Friday.

Turkish Covid-19 researchers decry government interference

Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul

Turkish medical professionals called for an end to restrictions on independent research into the coronavirus outbreak, saying an “unprecedented” requirement to first seek government approval had resulted in the rejection of at least one large study.

A regulation introduced in April compels scientists to apply for health ministry permission for pandemic research, a break with the previous practice of applying to independent ethics committees, according to a letter signed by members of the Turkish Thoracic Society and published in The Lancet medical journal on Saturday.

Although the ministry has approved most applications, it rejected the Thoracic Society’s proposal for a large, multicentre observational study, as well as others without saying why, they wrote in the letter. The ministry in May denied obstructing research and said the new measure was meant to ease access to national data.

The researchers also noted that Turkey’s decision not to follow all World Health Organization classifications may have led to undercounting of thousands of deaths from the disease.

Statistics issued by the government of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, pictured in the Black Sea city of Rize on Sunday, include only patients who test positive with a polymerase chain reaction test, which has a significant false-negative rate.

Excess mortality in Istanbul alone was 4,723 deaths between March 11 and July 5, when compared with the average rate of the preceding three years. Of those, Covid-19 deaths in the city were 2,771, meaning 1,952 deaths were unexplained, they said.

“Tension soon started building among the public sector and medical and scientific organisations due to the Ministry of Health’s lack of transparency, its reluctance to share basic data and its refusal to collaborate,” they wrote, adding a shortage of protective equipment for healthcare workers was another source of friction.

The number of new daily cases in Turkey is hovering at its highest level in seven weeks, with 1,192 new cases reported on Sunday, bringing the total to nearly 250,000. Almost 6,000 people have died.

Weekend news you might have missed …

British holidaymakers in France scrambled at the weekend to return to the UK before a newly imposed quarantine order came into effect following a rise in coronavirus infections. London had originally intended to impose the quarantine measures from 4am on Sunday but agreed to introduce them a day earlier following demands from Scotland and Wales.

The pandemic is the most important issue for UK adults, according to an Ipsos/Mori poll released on Friday. Of the 1,018 respondents to a survey conducted from July 31 to August 5, 75 per cent said Covid-19 was an important issue facing Britain. Other responses included the economy (36 per cent), Brexit (30 per cent) and the NHS (21 per cent).

The chiefs of 31 US and European asset management businesses took home combined pay and bonuses that rose 12 per cent to $233m last year, a bumper increase. Large pay growth for chief executives across the corporate landscape over the past decade — at a time when the pandemic has stalled earnings for ordinary workers — has led to public anger and calls for restraint.

Rodrigo Duterte, Philippines president, has ordered that the country’s schools postpone their opening for the new year from August 24 to October 5. The education department said in a statement that it recommended the later opening so schools would have online classes in place. The government has proposed a “blended” programme of in-person and remote teaching.

Rescue talks between Jaguar Land Rover, Tata Steel and the UK government have ended, leaving both companies reliant on private financing. The company took a £500m pre-tax loss in the first quarter of 2020 as the pandemic forced showrooms and factories, including the Castle Bromwich assembly plant, pictured, to shut across the world.

The UK government said schools would be able to appeal against downgraded A-level results for free after a process that downgraded 40 per cent of grades from teacher predictions. The Department for Education said that state schools and colleges in England would be able to claim back the costs of challenging A Levels, AS Levels and GCSEs.

New coronavirus infections in England have “levelled off” following the reopening of pubs in early July, the Office for National Statistics said. The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies estimated that R, the average number of infections generated by an individual with Covid-19, remained close to the tipping point of 1, above which Covid-19 cases would rise.

The sale of the New York Mets baseball franchise has sparked a bidding war from an A-list crowd that spans Hollywood superstar Jennifer Lopez and hedge fund kingpin Steven Cohen. The boardroom action comes as the Mets have started the pandemic-delayed baseball season slowly — once again paling by comparison with their crosstown rival, the Yankees.

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