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Latest news

  • Sweden has introduced its toughest coronavirus restrictions to date

  • The UK has set an ‘aggressive’ accuracy bar for coronavirus tests to halve travel quarantine

  • The EU is hopeful of reaching a deal to secure doses of Moderna’s vaccine

Japan exits recession as China continues successful path out of pandemic

For the second time in a week, encouraging news of a vaccine breakthrough, this time from US biotech Moderna, is driving investors’ hopes of an earlier than expected recovery from the pandemic. 

The American company said its jab was 94.5 per cent effective in clinical trials and could survive for longer periods than the Pfizer-BioNTech candidate at more manageable temperatures.

The announcement counters some of the gloom from analysts warning that rising infections threaten to choke off economic optimism. 

In the US, for example, which has already gone beyond 1m new infections this month, and with Congress still unable to agree on a new stimulus package, the mood is downbeat. “From a health perspective and as a result from an economic perspective, we’re really not in a good place, there’s really no way to sugarcoat it. We have essentially a fairly long winter ahead of us,” said one. “The vaccine news [from last week], the pent-up savings, the possibility of coming back to a new normal in six months’ time are all very encouraging, and a source of optimism, but they do nothing for us today.”

In some parts of the world, the prospects of any kind of recovery, let alone a swift one, are fragile. In Sicily, a part of Italy with huge reliance on an informal economy, we report today of how the pandemic has pummelled those already in a precarious situation, “stuck between the impossibility of finding any work and the fear of the virus, in a land that had already been forgotten way before the pandemic”.

Germany, in contrast, thanks to the innovative role played by its backbone of small businesses — the Mittelstand — is well placed to take advantage of a vaccine-led recovery. In the UK, meanwhile — where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been forced into his own personal lockdown — there are signs, from unofficial data at least, that the latest restrictions are having less of an economic impact than those in the spring. 

There was positive news from Asia today, too. Japan officially exited recession as it recorded 5 per cent GDP growth in the third quarter with brighter hopes for the fourth — as long as the recent rise in coronavirus cases can be kept in check. China, meanwhile, continued its successful path out of the pandemic with new data showing retail sales rising at the fastest rate this year as consumer demand picked up.

One final clue on the speed of global recovery, albeit somewhat of a “Mickey Mouse” measure, comes from our Alphaville team. Its Disney Park indicator, which assesses how long before the company’s theme park revenues get back to normal, shows it is still a good five years away. With today’s vaccine news, writes Jamie Powell, that does seem, however, a tad too pessimistic.

Markets

News of the Moderna breakthrough, echoing the effect of last week’s announcement from Pfizer, boosted travel, leisure and retail stocks while knocking back those deemed to be winners from the pandemic such as Zoom, the video conferencing company.

The investment chief of bond fund manager Pimco warned that the huge pile of debt taken on by companies and governments to help them through the crisis would leave an inherent fragility in the global financial system.

Saudi Aramco, the state energy company, plans to sell billions of dollars in international bonds in a bid to repair its pandemic-damaged balance sheet. Saudi Arabia-led Opec and allies are due to discuss oil production policy at the end of the month.

Business

Even the most stubborn holdouts in Europe against online banking are shifting as the pandemic forces a change in habits, fuelling the decline of local bank branches. “Now everybody is doing this all day long. Grandma is doing it! That’s a game-changer,” said one McKinsey analyst.

Bank branches across Europe have fallen at an alarming rate

Between Black Friday at the end of November and Christmas last year, non-food retail sales were worth £23.3bn — twice the amount in most other months of the year. We examine how UK retailers are gearing up for a digital festive period.

Line chart of Parcel delivery index showing Carriers prepare for seasonal rush

Watch: The pandemic has turbocharged the process of industrial change: Our Lex team surveys the new business landscape.

Global economy

City transport chiefs around the world are asking the same question: what if the passengers never come back? With fewer customers and fares, they face an unenviable choice of cutting services — never popular with customers — or asking governments for more subsidies. Here’s our Big Read on the future of mass transit. Register for the FT Live event: The future of mobility.

Bar chart of When the Covid-19 crisis ends, where would you prefer to work? (average response, %) showing The appeal of working from home takes hold

US consumers — thanks to boosts from government stimulus cheques and mortgage payment holidays — are fast paying off credit card debt. This, however, leaves banks suffering from the loss of one of their most profitable activities, at least until federal aid expires, when balances — at least those of poorer customers — are expected to increase.

Read a summary of what world leaders in business, politics and economics had to say at our FT Global Boardroom event last week about building back after the pandemic.

Get in touch

How is your workplace dealing with the pandemic? How are you dealing with it as a professional or a manager? And what do you think business and markets — and our daily lives — will look like after we eventually emerge? Also — tell us what you think about this newsletter and how we can make it more useful to you. Email us at covid@ft.com. We may publish your contribution in an upcoming newsletter. Thanks.

MarkDoc comments on Shopping malls need to travel back to the future

The difference is that if you visit any big mall in an Asian city, it is almost certain to be located in the city, not in the outskirts and customers come mostly by foot from the street, or by public transport straight into it. Unlike US malls, Asian malls are mostly not designed primarily with car drivers in mind. A big Asian mall is essentially a shopping district in the city, not a standalone destination in the outskirts.

This is not a trivial distinction, because in the US, the mall's decline started in the early 1990s — long before Amazon, and before the internet had any real commercial presence. What started the boom in US malls was the hollowing out of US city centres in the 1960s and 70s and what started their decline was the revival of city centres in the late 80s and 90s. It's also why the mall model transferred only with some difficulty to European cities, which mostly retained liveable city centres.

The essentials

Claer Barrett, the FT’s consumer editor, will talk to Andy Bounds, the FT’s enterprise editor, about the future of high-street retail in the UK and policy changes such as reforms to taxation in a live discussion from noon tomorrow (November 17). You can watch and participate via the video link or on the FT’s YouTube and LinkedIn channels.

Final thought

Looking for distraction or some early Christmas present ideas? Our comprehensive books of the year list begins today with management editor Andrew Hill’s choice of business tomes.

Best Books of the Year 2020

All this week, FT writers and critics share their favourites. Some of the highlights are:

Tuesday: Economics by Martin Wolf
Wednesday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Thursday: History by Tony Barber
Friday: Critics’ choice
Saturday: Crime by Barry Forshaw


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