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Latest news

  • Texas becomes first US state to report 1m cases

  • Ukraine has banned weekend shopping and dining as infections mount

  • Pharma company GlaxoSmithKline is promising not to profit from supplying boosters for a potential Covid-19 drug

Animal spirits are back

Although some of the initial exuberance is wearing off, Monday’s announcement of a potential vaccine that might provide a pathway out of the pandemic has galvanised global business and markets desperate for a return to some kind of “normal”.

US Treasury yields, oil prices and emerging market currencies all received a boost following the news from Pfizer and BioNTech. In equities markets, at least initially, “recovery” stocks benefited at the expense of shares in companies that had done well out of the Covid-19 crisis.

From US banks, suddenly in line for a windfall following the dramatic move in bond markets, to office landlords in the City of London dreaming of commuters returning to work, the news was a shot in the arm to wide swaths of the business world.

Companies particularly badly hit by the pandemic, including airlines such as American and Lufthansa and cruise ship operator Carnival, hope to take advantage of the markets’ mojo to raise billions of dollars.

Some analysts advised caution, suggesting many of the business changes such as the move to homeworking and the huge reduction in international travel, were here to stay.

But, as investment editor Michael Mackenzie writes, the vaccine announcement marks a fundamental shift in outlook.

The best-case hopes for investors, he says, had been based on more government spending and central banks keeping interest rates ultra-low for an indefinite period. 

“Now, science stands to shift investors from crowding into tech shares and low-yielding bonds and focus on a broader range of opportunities across financial markets that will benefit from a full restoration of economic activity in 2021. Investors have their bull case thanks to a vaccine.”

Markets

Market turmoil created by the pandemic should have been the perfect moment for “active” (human) management of money, writes global finance correspondent Robin Wigglesworth in his Big Read. Results, however, have been mostly mediocre and could “further accelerate the demise of traditional active management”, according to one chief investment officer.

Line chart of Cumulative net inflows over the past decade, bonds and equities ($tn) showing Passive aggressive

EU banks need to prepare for the effect of waves of bad loans — potentially worse than the impact of the 2008 financial crisis and the sovereign debt crisis that followed — according to the head of the EU agency that deals with winding down failing lenders. The prospects for loan defaults in the US are also high, with many borrowers still taking payment holidays.

Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman told an FT conference that markets were too complacent about the effect of the pandemic as he revealed a new bet that companies would struggle to pay their debts. The billionaire investor profited from a similar move early in the crisis, pocketing $2.6bn.

Business

Sweden could be the first country in Europe to allow banks to restart paying dividends. Regulators across the EU had discouraged the practice early in the coronavirus crisis to make banks focus on preserving capital in the event of a huge downturn.

Australian companies such as shellfish exporters are starting to suffer from the country’s spat with China — the country’s largest trading partner — over Canberra’s call for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

Hygiene mania prompted by the pandemic has led to soaring sales for companies such as Reckitt Benckiser. Consumer industries correspondent Judith Evans examines whether rocketing sales of Dettol and Lysol may be masking other problems at the company.

Line chart of Share prices rebased, local currency showing Pandemic spurs boost for makers of hygiene products

Global economy

The idea of a “V-shaped” EU recovery was an illusion, said Paolo Gentiloni, the bloc’s economics commissioner, warning that the current suspension of its budget rules might need to be extended for another year. Separately, the European Central Bank said many companies — especially in Spain — faced collapse, despite government support. An analysis of alternative economic data suggests, however, that the latest round of coronavirus restrictions has been less damaging than the lockdowns of spring.

Bar chart of as % of employment in non-financial companies, depending on labour policy* showing European jobs at risk

The strong pandemic bounceback in China, with GDP growth of 2 per cent expected this year, is partly due to a booming property market. The sector’s reliance on huge levels of debt is, however, beginning to bring fears of financial instability. New official data, meanwhile, suggest a period of deflation could be on the way.

Bar chart of % change in commercial and residential new builds since 2015 (selected cities) showing Property prices have risen sharply in Chinese cities

UK unemployment hit 4.8 per cent, with young people particularly badly affected. Economists are optimistic, however, that the government’s decision to extend its furlough job protection scheme can limit further damage. Brits, though, are still spending — retail sales increased in October for the fifth consecutive month.

Line chart of UK redundancies, total over previous three months (000s) showing Redundancy levels now rival those at the peak of the financial crisis

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 fears that corners may be cut to rush through the new vaccine in EU to buy up to 300m doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine

Any company that rushed a vaccine to market without being certain of safety and effectiveness would be on a one-way trip to bankruptcy if issues subsequently arose — and if there were any issues, they would become very obvious as you vaccinated millions of people. And heads would roll at any approval body that was thought to have approved a vaccine without sufficient safety data. Self-interest alone is enough to ensure these vaccines will undergo rigorous safety analysis.

The essentials

How does it work? Is it safe? How will it be distributed? Science editor Clive Cookson and Frankfurt correspondent Joe Miller dig into the detail of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Infographic showing how the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine works

Singapore and Hong Kong are setting up a “first-of-its-kind” travel bubble allowing flights between the cities from November 22. The arrangement goes beyond other more restrictive attempts in the region to open up travel.

Our Money Clinic podcast talks to a young entrepreneur about overcoming the problems of lockdown.

Final thought

Africa editor David Pilling experiences the new world of the socially distanced safari in Rwanda. “The porcine grunting of hippos,” he writes, “is a sleep therapy that I swear is more effective than any crashing waves or New-Age tinkling bells”.

Bisate Lodge, opened in 2017 by Wilderness Safaris, is built in the style of Rwanda’s royal palaces, and situated 2,400 metres above sea level © Crookes &Jackson


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