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Updated at 3/3/2021, 10:28:34 AM BST

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More than 4m people across the UK have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, health secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday asked Pfizer if the state could purchase Covid-19 vaccines directly from the pharmaceutical giant.

The head of the World Health Organization warned that “the world is on the brink of catastrophic moral failure” as poor countries fall behind richer ones in accessing vaccines to protect their populations.

Ireland has reported a sharp rise in the number of jobless workers claiming special coronavirus benefits, after it shut most of the construction sector this month in its latest national lockdown.

Spain has reported some of the highest coronavirus infection rates since the beginning of the pandemic, as the country continues to resist calls for a new lockdown.

Norway became one of the first European countries to loosen coronavirus-induced restrictions from the second wave of Covid-19 as the Nordic country reaps the rewards of having one of the continent's lowest infection rates.

Pandemics and business interruption hit the top of risk list

Oliver Ralph

Pandemics and business interruption have shot to the top of an annual survey of business risks compiled by insurer Allianz, as companies around the world brace themselves for another difficult year.

Covid-19 has pushed the risk of business interruption — such as threats to supply chains — into the top spot in the survey of 2792 business people in 92 countries for Allianz’s annual Risk Barometer. It was in second place last year.

Pandemics came in at number two. The threat of a pandemic has not always figured highly on the list — over the past three years it was at number 16, number 17 and number 19 as businesses worried more about natural catastrophes, climate change and new technology.

Cyber threats are down from the top spot to number three. Climate change, technology, and reputational risks also slipped down the rankings.

“The Allianz Risk Barometer 2021 is clearly dominated by the Covid-19 trio of risks. Business interruption, pandemic and cyber are strongly interlinked, demonstrating the growing vulnerabilities of our highly globalized and connected world,” said Joachim Müller, CEO of Allianz’s Global Corporate and Specialty division, which put the survey together.

“While the pandemic continues to have a firm grip on countries around the world, we also have to ready ourselves for more frequent extreme scenarios, such as a global-scale cloud outage or cyber-attack, natural disasters driven by climate change or even another disease outbreak,” he added.

Pandemic creates ‘unprecedented’ backlog for crown court

Jane Croft

The backlog of crown court cases is causing “grave concerns” amongst the government inspectors who monitor the justice system, a new report has found.

The study which looked at the impact of the pandemic on the Criminal Justice System has concluded that the greatest risk to criminal justice in England and Wales comes from the “unprecedented and very serious” backlog in court cases which is having a ripple impact on all parts of the justice system.

The case backlog predates the coronavirus pandemic but the situation has been exacerbated by Covid-19 after crown courts were closed and jury trials were temporarily suspended for two months last year. Since then numbers of hearings have fallen because two or three video-linked courtrooms are now needed for each trial due to social distancing measures.

The number of outstanding cases in crown courts in England and Wales rose from 39,318 in early March to 53,318 in late November, according to HM Courts and Tribunals Service which has opened a number of new temporary “Nightingale” courts to help ease pressure on the system.

The government’s four chief justice inspectors — who monitor the probation service, police, prison and the Crown Prosecution Service—- have united in the latest report to express “grave concerns” about the impact of Covid-19-related court backlogs across England and Wales.

The chief inspectors, who will testify before lawmakers at the justice committee on Tuesday, point to difficulties and lengthy waits at all stages of the criminal justice process that “benefit no one and risk damage to many”.

Justin Russell, chief inspector of probation, said: “Crown Courts deal with the most serious cases, so this backlog concerns us all. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant severe delays and numerous cancellations throughout 2020, and this has had a negative impact on everyone involved."

David Lammy, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, called the report “damning” and said the government had “dithered” allowing the backlog to grow.

The Crown Prosecution Service said: “Safely reducing the backlog of court cases is vital so we can ease pressure on prosecutors and continue to deliver justice. We are working urgently with partners to achieve this.”

The Ministry of Justice said: “In recognition of the scale of the challenge we face, the government is investing £450m to boost recovery in the courts and deliver swifter justice, and this is already yielding results — the magistrates’ backlog continues to fall and Crown Courts cases reached pre-pandemic levels last month.”

Asia-Pacific equities rise after muted European session

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Asia-Pacific stocks rose on Tuesday ahead of Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration and bank earnings in the US.

The Topix in Japan was up 0.4 per cent, the Kospi in South Korea added 0.8 per cent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 climbed 1 per cent.

Bank of America and Goldman Sachs are set to report earnings for the three months to December on Tuesday, along with Netflix.

Moves in European equities were muted on Monday and US markets were closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax closed 0.4 per cent higher, while the FTSE 100 in London dipped 0.2 per cent following stronger than expected economic data from China.

S&P 500 futures were up 0.4 per cent.

US hospitalisations fall for 6th straight day

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

The number of people receiving hospital treatment for Covid-19 in the US fell to 123,848 on Monday, dropping for the sixth consecutive day.

Figures from the Covid Tracking Project showed the number of hospitalisations for the disease had fallen from 124,387 a day earlier, while the seven-day average nudged lower to 127,468.

The number of people receiving hospital treatment for the virus has fallen in recent days after climbing above 130,000 in early January.

States reported a total of 1,393 deaths, down from 2,044 a day earlier. The daily tally of fatalities climbed above 4,000 in early January, but this has also slowed in recent days.

The US is approaching 400,000 Covid-19 fatalities, with the Covid Tracking Project recording 390,262 total deaths in the country.

But the number of new cases also fell on Monday, coming in at 150,385, compared with 185,518 a day earlier.

Figures for weekends and public holidays tend to be lower than those during the week because of disruptions to record taking.

Colombian defence minister moved to critical care unit

Gideon Long in Bogotá

Colombia’s defence minister is receiving permanent medical attention in a critical care unit in Bogotá’s military hospital after contracting coronavirus, the presidency said on Monday.

Carlos Holmes, who is 69 and suffers from high blood pressure, tested positive for Covid-19 last week.

He initially received treatment in a hospital in Barranquilla but was flown to the capital when his condition worsened. The government said the head of the armed forces, General Luis Fernando Navarro, would run the ministry in Mr Holmes’s absence.

Colombia is tackling a particularly virulent second wave of Covid-19. Financial Times analysis shows that on a seven-day rolling average, the country has notched more cases per capita than Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru or Chile.

On Friday, it recorded over 21,000 new cases in a single 24-hour period — its highest daily total yet.

The country of 50m people has registered more than 1.9m cases — the 11th highest total in the world — and more than 49,000 deaths.

Last week, foreign minister Claudia Blum became the latest high-ranking politician to test positive.

Vice-president Marta Lucía Ramírez, the mayor of Medellín, the country’s second-largest city, and former president Álvaro Uribe are among other politicians who have caught the virus.

Parts of Bogotá and other cities have returned to strict lockdowns in recent weeks after several months of more relaxed rules.

Biden pledges to keep bans on travellers from UK and Europe

Aime Williams in Washington

The Trump administration moved to lift its travel ban on people arriving from the UK and much of Europe, but a spokesman for Joe Biden said the president-elect would keep the restrictions in place to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The White House said on Monday night it would lift bans on non-US citizens arriving from the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the 26-nation Schengen common visa area and Brazil that have been in force since early last year.

However, the new rules would go into effect on January 26, six days after Mr Biden’s inauguration, and a spokesman for the president-elect said he planned to keep the travel bans in place.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” Jen Psaki, Mr Biden’s incoming White House press secretary, wrote on Twitter.

Read more here

Hong Kong to extend mandatory testing after outbreak

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said the city will expand mandatory coronavirus testing within a neighbourhood that has recorded an outbreak in a series of buildings and will extend social distancing measures.

The city reported 102 locally-transmitted infections on Monday, its highest single-day tally since early December. Ms Lam said the recent increase in daily infections had raised concerns.

Authorities will impose mandatory testing on residents of a “core zone” in the Jordan and Yau Ma Tei areas of Kowloon following a cluster of cases in the neighbourhood.

Ms Lam said mandatory testing for the affected buildings had been helpful in catching asymptomatic cases, with up to 40 per cent of those testing positive reporting no symptoms of Covid-19.

Social distancing measures, set to expire on Thursday, will also be extended citywide.

Ms Lam said the government has received “strong views” from different sectors of the economy and will examine whether measures can be more targeted.

Chinese broadcaster sues Premier League in escalation of Covid dispute

Samuel Agini

A Chinese broadcaster has retaliated against England’s Premier League, escalating a legal feud over the collapse of their $700m contract during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Premier League sued a streaming service owned by Chinese retail conglomerate Suning for $215m last year for failing to make payments for the rights to screen live matches and highlights.

PPLive Sports International is now countersuing, claiming at least $116.8m from the Premier League.

The dispute relates to payments for the live transmission of matches in the Premier League — the world’s richest domestic football competition — after the pandemic forced scheduling changes on broadcasters.

Read more here

Suspicion, tech glitches hamper India vaccine rollout

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India’s Covid-19 vaccination rollout continues to be hampered by public suspicion and technical difficulties, with only about half of those designated to receive the jab turning up to get it.

On Monday, 148,266 Indians received the first dose of the vaccine. That is far short of the more than 3m daily jabs that analysts say is necessary to fulfil the government’s ambitious target of vaccinating 300m Indians by the end of August.

In total, 381,305 people in India have received a first dose of vaccine since Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the vaccination campaign on Saturday.

The programme has been hit by a lack of public confidence in Covaxin, a domestically-developed vaccine that Indian regulators approved for use in “a clinical trial mode” despite the lack of any phase three efficacy studies.

Many frontline health workers, who have been given priority access, have balked at taking the Bharat Biotech-developed vaccine and instead requested access to Covishield, a locally produced version of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.

In India’s capital New Delhi, less than half of the 8,100 healthcare workers slated for vaccination on Monday turned up to receive the jab.

The drive has also been hit by glitches with the government’s IT platform, CoWIN, which is supposed to send text messages to those chosen for vaccination and then authenticating recipients ahead of their jabs.

Authorities say some people appear not to be receiving text messages advising them when to turn up for their shots.

Officials are now working to create more flexibility in the IT system by next week.

The sluggish start to the vaccination campaign comes as India’s new coronavirus caseload continues to drop, with less than 10,000 new cases confirmed nationwide on Monday, though that partly reflects the low levels of testing on a Sunday.

Stocks rise ahead of Yellen call for US to ‘act big’ on stimulus

Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong

Global stocks rose ahead of Treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen’s confirmation hearing in Washington, where she will make the case for large-scale fiscal stimulus to cushion the economic blow from Covid-19.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 2.2 per cent in early trading in Asia on Tuesday to touch a 20-month high while South Korea’s Kospi added 2.3 per cent. Japan’s benchmark Topix climbed 0.6 per cent.

Prepared remarks obtained by the Financial Times show Ms Yellen will voice strong support for President-elect Joe Biden’s $1.9tn relief package on Tuesday, arguing that “with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big”.

“In the long run, I believe the benefits will far outweigh the costs, especially if we care about helping people who have been struggling for a very long time,” the former Federal Reserve chair will tell the Senate finance committee.

Futures for Wall Street’s S&P 500 were 0.5 per cent higher during Asian trading, with the US market set to resume trading on Tuesday following Martin Luther King Day. Futures for London’s FTSE 100 gained 0.6 per cent.

Read more here

Australia’s borders to remain shut despite vaccine rollout

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Australia’s chief medical officer has said the country will return to ‘some sort of normal’ this year following its Covid-19 vaccination programme, but international travel is still some time away.

Paul Kelly said the vaccine effort would not allow Australia to reopen its borders, as other parts of the world were still experiencing high infection levels.

“There will be a process through 2021 of returning to some sort of normal,” he said. “We’re in such an envious position at the moment compared to the rest of the world . . . unfortunately international border changes will be one of the last things to change, not the first.”

Mr Kelly said Australia was assessing countries that might be suitable for travel bubbles, such as New Zealand and Pacific islands.

Separately on Tuesday, Daniel Andrews, Victoria’s premier, said a number of people arriving on flights for the Australian Open who tested positive for coronavirus may be reclassified as cases of viral shedding.

A handful of people who landed in the country for the tennis tournament in Melbourne tested positive for the virus, sending all other passengers on their flights, including more than 70 tennis players, into strict quarantine.

Mr Andrews said the new classifications might allow authorities to loosen the quarantine rules for people on those flights. However, he reiterated that the tournament participants would not receive special treatment.

“They knew what they were travelling into, and we’re not cutting corners, we’re not making special arrangements,” he said.

Confined to their rooms, some professional tennis players demonstrated on social media how they’ve adapted objects in the hotels, such as mattresses and windows, as training equipment.

Tripling of China-Europe shipping costs threatens goods supply

George Steer and Valentina Romei in London

The cost of shipping goods from China to Europe has more than tripled in the past eight weeks, hitting record highs as a shortage of empty containers stemming from the pandemic disrupts global trade.

The cost of shipping a 40ft container from Asia to northern Europe has increased from about $2,000 in November to more than $9,000, according to shippers and importers.

Lars Jensen at consultancy SeaIntelligence said: “It’s a bottleneck problem . . . These rates are being driven by customers fighting over a limited resource — containers.”

Thousands of empty containers were left in Europe and the US in the first half of 2020 when shipping lines cancelled hundreds of sailings as coronavirus lockdowns caused a sudden slowdown in global trade.

When western demand for Asian-made goods rebounded in the second half of the year, competition among shippers for available containers sent freight rates soaring.

Read more here

UAE accelerates vaccine campaign as it inoculates a fifth of population

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

The United Arab Emirates is accelerating the rollout of its coronavirus vaccines as the Gulf federation seeks to overtake its newfound ally Israel as the world’s most inoculated nation.

The UAE, which has vaccinated around 20 per cent of the population, is starting to catch up with Israel, which leads with a 29 per cent rate.

“We are just behind Israel in terms of vaccination,” Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said earlier this month. “Our intention is to surpass Israel.”

Dubai this week has widened the provision of its batch of the BioNtech-Pfizer vaccine, opening a new 4,000-a-day vaccination facility at an office block in the emirate’s financial district.

Workers at government departments, including the utilities company and municipality, were being inoculated on Sunday and Monday. Over the past few weeks, Dubai has reserved the Pfizer vaccine for nationals and expatriates over the age of 60 or with medical conditions.

This week, expatriates of all ages were offered the jab at the new facility - when there was spare capacity. However many were being turned away on Monday afternoon. “We aren’t doing any more walk-ins for now,” said one official. “We just had too many people.”

Emirates, the state-owned airline, this week also launched a programme offering both Pfizer and Sinopharm shots to its employees, prioritising frontline staff such as cabin crew and pilots. Employees are to be offered the jab at the company’s medical facilities across the country, including at Dubai airport.

The ramp-up in Dubai has been complemented by the UAE federal authorities and the capital of Abu Dhabi, which have been providing the Chinese-produced Sinopharm jab across the UAE.

Shopping centre owner Hammerson collects 41% of rent from retailers

George Hammond

Shopping centre owner Hammerson has collected less than half the rent it is owed by retailers in its malls, adding to pressure on the pandemic-hit company.

Hammerson, which owns malls including the Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham and Brent Cross in London, said on Tuesday that it has received 41 per cent of the rent owed for the first three months of the year, which tenants typically pay in advance.

The landlord has agreed to defer £12.9m in payments to a later date, and has collected £19.8m of the £48.6m it was due for the period.

Restrictions imposed to contain the virus have forced all but essential shops in its malls to close. The group’s unpaid rent bill has edged up thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, with £72.5m in arrears built up since the start of 2020. The latest lockdown means that only a quarter of Hammerson’s UK tenants are permitted to open, and its French malls are subject to a 6pm curfew.

“Market conditions have remained challenging since our last update in October," the company said in a statement on Tuesday, "with national lockdowns introduced in the UK, Ireland, and France in November, and significant restrictions in place across the portfolio through December."

Hammerson has been among the landlords hardest hit by coronavirus, which has battered the retail sector and added to the pressure on shopping centres, which were already suffering from the loss of customers to online rivals prior to the pandemic.

Electricals retailer AO World’s sales boom in UK and Germany

Sarah Provan

Online electrical retailer AO World maintained its strong 2020 momentum as it enjoyed its best ever trading period in the run-up to Christmas, buffeted by booming sales in the UK and Germany.

The group however incurred “significantly higher costs” from changes to comply with coronavirus regulations while the impact of the pandemic on consumers drove a “slightly increased” rate of cancellation of long-term contracts in mobile and warranties, its update on Tuesday said.

UK third-quarter sales at the European white goods retailer shot 67.2 per cent higher to £457.3m and rose 77.4 per cent to €73.6m in Germany compared with the same period a year earlier.

"We've seen 10 years of change in 10 months, and experienced our strongest ever peak trading period,” John Roberts, AO founder and chief executive, said in the group’s latest update that covers the three months to December 31.

“One of our biggest achievements this period is to have our German business profitable throughout the third quarter.”

The group swung to a profit in the first half and said in November that it expected its German unit to become profitable next year.

Shares in the online retailer have more than quadrupled over the past 12 months.

“We look forward to the last quarter and the next financial year with confidence,” Mr Roberts said. The group expects to benefit from people using their electrical products more as they work from home.

Superdry extends losses as pandemic forces prolonged store closures

Patricia Nilsson

Coronavirus-induced lockdowns that forced it to close its stores have caused losses at Superdry to balloon, with the clothes retailer expecting "prolonged store closures and subdued footfall" in the next few months.

The clothes retailer lost £18.9m before tax in the 26 weeks to October, compared with a £4.2m loss in the same period last year, it said on Tuesday.

Lockdowns have cost it 23 per cent of trading days in the period, with nearly three-quarters of Superdry's stores closed as of January 9.

The Covid-19 pandemic meant it will "take time to see the benefits of all our hard work flow through to the results", said Julian Dunkerton, Superdry’s co-founder and chief executive.

Sales dropped 23 per cent to £282.7m in the period, but online sales increased 50 per cent year on year to make up half its revenue.

A recent marketing partnership with Brazilian football player Neymar Jr showed it was making "great progress with our influencer-led digital marketing strategy".

IEA cuts estimate of 2021 oil demand as lockdowns hit energy use

David Sheppard, Energy Editor

Global oil demand will be lower in 2021 than previously expected, the International Energy Agency said on Tuesday, as renewed lockdowns to contain the coronavirus pandemic hit consumption.

The IEA said oil demand would be 600,000 barrels a day lower than previously forecast in the first quarter of 2021 and 300,000 b/d lower for the year as a whole, although it still expects a strong recovery in the second half of the year as vaccinations accelerate.

“It will take more time for oil demand to recover fully as renewed lockdowns in a number of countries weigh on fuel sales,” the IEA said in its closely watched monthly report.

“[But] the global vaccine rollout is putting fundamentals on a stronger trajectory for the year.”

Overall global oil demand is now expected to rise by 5.5m b/d in 2021 to 96.6m b/d after falling by 8.8m b/d in 2020. But it is not expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels of around 100m b/d until 2022 at the earliest.

By the fourth quarter of this year demand is forecast to reach just 99m b/d, although this does imply a recovery between now and March of roughly 5m b/d.

Hong Kong's unemployment rises to 16-year high as pandemic strikes

Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s unemployment rate hit a 16-year high as the territory’s economy was battered by the coronavirus epidemic.

The jobless figure for October to December rose to 6.6 per cent, a 0.3 per cent increase from the previous three months. The retail, accommodation and food sectors suffered from stringent social distancing measures introduced by the government.

"As the fourth wave of the local epidemic continues to weigh on local consumption sentiment and disrupt economic activities, the labour market will remain under notable pressure in the near term,” said Law Chi-kwong, the secretary for labour and welfare.

A government employment support scheme that expired towards the end of November is also believed to be one of the main factors behind the rising number.

“At the moment I understand we have no plans to extend the Employment Support Scheme and hence, I can foresee that the unemployment figures that the government is going to announce this afternoon will be bad.” said chief executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday.

Confirmed cases in Asia’s financial hub hit almost 10,000, with 164 deaths.

Virus causes European banks to pull back on lending

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

Banks are squeezing the supply of loans to European businesses and households in expectation of higher bad loans due to the impact of fresh coronavirus lockdowns, a European Central Bank report showed.

The ECB's quarterly survey of banks found a growing proportion of them are tightening their lending conditions - particularly in France - in a worrying sign for the pandemic-stricken eurozone economy and for the central bank's efforts to avoid a credit crunch.

“The tightening was driven mainly by banks’ heightened risk perceptions, reflecting uncertainty around the economic recovery and concerns about borrowers’ creditworthiness in the context of renewed coronavirus-related restrictions,” the ECB said.

A growing number of banks said they had tightened their internal guidelines or borrower approval criteria for new loans to businesses, mortgages to households and credit to consumers.

The pull-back by banks will be a concern for ECB officials as they meet to discuss monetary policy on Thursday. They are expected to keep it unchanged and to underline their determination to maintain “favourable financing conditions” to support an expected economic recovery this year.

UK excess deaths hit worst weekly total since last spring

Chris Giles

The severity of the UK's coronavirus crisis deepened over the Christmas and early January period as the country recorded the worst weekly total since the spring while estimates showed that one in eight people in England last month tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies.

The Office for National Statistics recorded 5,576 excess deaths in the week ending January 8, the worst weekly total since last spring.

December's antibody test results, which indicate that one in eight people in England had had Covid-19, showed the highest rate estimated since the ONS began its survey.

The UK has registered almost 95,000 excess deaths since the middle of March last year with the total almost certainly now above 100,000. Covid-19 was recorded as the most common cause of death.

Excess deaths rose in all areas in England and Wales as the wave of infections worsened, but were highest in London where they were 84.8 per cent above the five-year average for the first week in January.

The ONS cautioned, however, that the figures might have been distorted by registration delays from the Christmas and New Year period.

For most of the second wave of coronavirus, excess deaths have been lower than the daily reported figure, suggesting some of those dying after testing positive would have died anyway. But this trend weakened during December and excess deaths rose to the levels seen in the daily data as infection rates increased.

Positive antibody rates were highest in Yorkshire and London at over 16 per cent and lowest in the South West of England at just under 5 per cent.

Pandemic brings mixed fortunes for chocolate retailers

Harry Dempsey

Chocolatiers have experienced diverging fortunes in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, trading updates from two leading producers showed on Tuesday.

Sales for Hotel Chocolat jumped 11 per cent in the second half of 2020 as consumers bought treats and gifts online, boosting the Aim-traded group's shares in early London trading by 2 per cent. Travel restrictions, store closures and fewer festive gatherings, however, dented Lindt & Sprüngli’s business.

The final three months of the year, including the run-up to Christmas, was particularly strong for the British luxury chocolate retailer Hotel Chocolat, with sales 19 per cent higher in the 13 weeks to December 27 compared with a year earlier, according to its trading update.

In the UK, online growth was greater than expected and more than offset the blow from closures of its brick-and-mortar retail stores due to lockdown restrictions, while sales grew in the US and Japan.

However, Lindt, which owns the Ghirardelli brand in the US, fared less well. Organic sales dropped 6.1 per cent to SFr4.02bn (€3.7bn) in 2020, which resulted in an almost 11 per cent year-on-year decline accounting for the stronger Swiss franc during the period.

Global chocolate markets grew steadily after a pandemic-induced Easter slump last year, the Swiss chocolatier said. It reported sales growth for its chocolate bars given high demand for personal consumption, as well as a doubling of online sales.

But ultimately strict travel restrictions, government-mandated store closures and fewer gift opportunities as families stayed apart during events such as Christmas and Easter caused a sales decline.

Lindt confirmed its 5 to 7 per cent annual sales growth target in the medium to long-term and was confident of returning to 15 per cent operating profit margin by 2022, up from 10 per cent in 2020, assuming a significant improvement in the pandemic.

Shares in Lindt dropped 2 per cent on Tuesday and remained 8 per cent off their pre-pandemic peak.

UK health secretary to self-isolate until Sunday

Harry Dempsey

Matt Hancock, who is leading the UK’s coronavirus response, has said he will self-isolate until Sunday after coming in close contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19.

The health secretary was alerted late on Monday by the NHS test and trace app with the news he had been in close contact with a confirmed positive case, requiring him to quarantine.

“I’ll be self-isolating at home, not leaving the house at all until Sunday,” he said in a recorded message posted on Twitter.

It is unclear when they were in contact. The rules in England require self-isolation on the day you were last in contact with the person who tested positive and the next 10 full days, making it likely that the contact took place around Thursday last week.

Mr Hancock previously tested positive for coronavirus in March at the same time as prime minister Boris Johnson who was hospitalised with the virus in the subsequent days.

Investors look beyond lockdowns with bet on recovery

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

Investors are becoming more upbeat about the prospects for the German economy, looking beyond recent coronavirus lockdowns and betting that widespread vaccinations will trigger an economic resurgence.

The Zew survey of 198 analysts and investors last week found sentiment about the German economic outlook improved for the second consecutive month, gaining 6.8 points to 61, while their assessment of the current situation brightened slightly.

The outlook for the eurozone economy also rose, but investors’ assessment of current conditions in the 19-country bloc declined, reflecting the tighter restrictions imposed in many countries in response to rising coronavirus infections, the survey published on Tuesday showed.

“Despite the uncertainty about the further course of the lockdown, the economic outlook for the German economy has improved slightly,” said Zew president Achim Wambach, pointing to a significant increase in export expectations.

The findings mirror a similarly upbeat result of the Sentix survey of investors, which was published last week and went into positive territory for the first time in almost a year, boosted by rising expectations for the eurozone economy.

LME moves to close historic ‘Ring’ metals trading floor for good

Henry Sanderson

The London Metal Exchange is set to propose permanently shutting its Ring, where metals have been traded since its founding in 1877, a move that would mark the end of in-person trading of commodities in Europe.

The exchange’s decision, which a person familiar with the matter said would be formally announced later on Tuesday, comes after it temporarily halted trading in the Ring last year because of the pandemic.

If the LME’s members agree to its closure, it would mark the end of an era for the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing-owned exchange. The red sofa Ring is the last open-outcry trading venue in Europe and began when metals merchants would draw a circle on the sawdust floor of a City of London coffee house in the 19th century. 

Tuesday’s move by the LME is also a belated acceptance of the dominance of electronic trading that has led to many futures exchanges shutting their trading floors over the past decade. The New York Mercantile Exchange’s last traders departed in 2016.  

The LME’s Ring is known for its sharp-suited men and its strict rules on dress code and conduct, a breach of which could lead to fines. The prices set by the Ring are used as the official LME daily price, which is key to buyers and sellers across the globe.

Read more here.

Markets anticipate Yellen call for US to ‘act big’ on stimulus

Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong and Leke Oso Alabi in London

European equity markets rose ahead of Treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen’s confirmation hearing in Washington, where she will make the case for large-scale fiscal stimulus to cushion the economic blow from Covid-19.

In Europe, the continent-wide Stoxx 600 index rose 0.1 per cent, Germany’s Xetra Dax climbed 0.2 per cent and London’s FTSE 100 benchmark gained 0.2 per cent.

Prepared remarks obtained by the Financial Times show Ms Yellen will voice strong support for president-elect Joe Biden’s $1.9tn relief package on Tuesday, arguing that “with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big”.

“In the long run, I believe the benefits will far outweigh the costs, especially if we care about helping people who have been struggling for a very long time,” the former Federal Reserve chair is set to tell the Senate finance committee.

Despite moderate stock gains in anticipation of a large US stimulus package, the pandemic continues to loom large over markets. “We’ve seen a shift in perception from the glass is half full, to the glass is half empty,” said Armin Peter, global head of debt syndicate at UBS, as the uneven roll out of Covid-19 vaccinations continues to weigh on investor confidence.

Martin Luther King Jr Day in the US led to a subdued start to the week with Wall Street closed, but “investors will now look forward to earnings season gathering momentum and the arrival of the Biden administration tomorrow”, said Jim Reid, a strategist at Deutsche Bank.

Futures tracking the blue-chip S&P 500 rose about 0.8 per cent, while those for the Nasdaq 100 gained 1 per cent.

Read more here.

BofA profits driven by release of loan loss reserves

Robert Armstrong

Bank of America's fourth-quarter net income rose by almost $600m, driven by the release of loan loss reserves, capital markets revenues, and net interest income that climbed for the first time in more than a year. 

The bank’s quarterly net income rose to $5.5bn from the previous three-month period. Earnings per share, at 59 cents, were slightly better than the 54 cents Wall Street analysts had expected. Total revenue, at $20.1bn, fell short of expectations of $20.5bn. 

“In the fourth quarter, we continued to see signs of a recovery, led by increased consumer spending, stabilising loan demand by our commercial customers, and strong markets and investing activity,” said chief executive Brian Moynihan. 

Capital markets revenues rose 7 per cent, led by a 30 per cent increase in equity trading revenue. Fixed income revenue fell by 5 per cent. Last week, JPMorgan and Citibank reported 32 and 57 per cent increases in fourth quarter equity trading revenues, respectively. 

BofA released $828m of loan reserves in the fourth quarter, less than JPMorgan Chase or Citibank, which released $3bn and $1.5bn in reserves, respectively. Bank of America had put aside over $10bn in additional reserves since the Covid-19 crisis began. 

The company said it plans to repurchase $2.9bn in shares by the end of the first quarter, the maximum amount permitted by the Federal Reserve under new guidelines.

BofA shares fell 1.4 per cent in pre-market trading on Tuesday.

Halliburton signals oil industry set to recover from 2020 crash

Derek Brower

Halliburton, one of the world’s top three oilfield services companies, reported a fourth-quarter decline in income but pointed to a pick-up in activity in North America, suggesting the industry is emerging from its worst price crash in decades.

The group expects activity to bottom out internationally in the first three months of 2021.

Fourth-quarter net income attributable to the group fell to $160m, or 18 cents per share, from $285m a year ago, Halliburton said on Thursday. That marked a 60 per cent rise from the previous three months, when oilfield activity in the company’s key US market remained depressed.

Halliburton’s North America revenue rose 26 per cent to $1.2bn from the third quarter, reflecting more fracking in US shale areas. International revenue of $2bn in the fourth quarter was flat compared with the previous three months.

“I am optimistic about the activity momentum I see in North America,” said Jeff Miller, Halliburton’s chief executive. He said he expected international activity to bottom in the current quarter.

“I am also encouraged by the growing pipeline of international customer opportunities and the unfolding global activity recovery,” Mr Miller added.

Total revenue in the fourth quarter was $3.2bn, down from $5.2bn a year earlier, but 9 per cent above revenue in the third quarter of 2020. Total revenue in 2020 was $14.4bn, down 36 per cent on 2019.

Excluding impairments, such as $446m relating to real estate transactions, and other charges, adjusted operating income for 2020 was $1.4bn, down from $2.1bn in 2019.

Pandemic cuts number of French marriages by third in 2020

Victor Mallet in Paris

The number of marriages celebrated in France fell by a “historic” 34.1 per cent last year to 148,000 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the national statistics institute Insee said on Tuesday.

Marriages were forbidden during the first nationwide lockdown in the spring, and since then the number of guests allowed at weddings has been strictly limited.

In a demographic assessment of 2020, Insee also said deaths rose 7.3 per cent from 2019 to reach 658,000, with the increase again due largely to coronavirus.

French life expectancy at birth fell by 0.4 years for women to 85.2 and by 0.5 for men to 79.2, the first decline in five years and a much sharper fall than during the deadly winter flu epidemic of 2015.

The French population on January 1 this year was 67.4m, Insee said, and the fertility rate of 1.84 children per woman was slightly lower than in 2019, but the latest data showed France remained the most fertile country in the EU.

Trading boom drives record revenues at Goldman Sachs

Laura Noonan in New York

Goldman Sachs more than doubled profits in the final three months of 2020 as a trading and investment banking bonanza catapulted revenues to record fourth-quarter levels.

The Wall Street investment bank posted net income of $4.5bn for the quarter, up 135 per cent year-on-year, as revenue rose 18 per cent to $11.7bn, the highest ever for a fourth quarter. 

Return on equity for the quarter was 22.5 per cent, far better than the medium-term target of 14 per cent Goldman promised under a strategic plan laid out a year ago and reaffirmed on Tuesday.  

Comparisons with 2019 are flattered by the sharp fall in litigation charges, which took a $1bn chunk out of fourth-quarter earnings a year ago, as the bank set aside money to deal with the 1MDB money laundering and bribery scandal. 

Equities trading was the biggest contributor to the fourth quarter’s improved performance, with revenues rising 40 per cent versus a year earlier to almost $2.4bn. The figures lagged behind the 57 per cent rise reported by rival Citigroup but beat the 32 per cent increase at JPMorgan Chase.

Axis joins other insurers in pushing up Covid claim estimates

Oliver Ralph

Bermuda-based Axis has become the latest insurance company to increase its estimate for claims arising from the pandemic.

Insurers are facing coronavirus claims on a range of policies, from business interruption and event cancellation to travel and health. According to some estimates, the industry as a whole could end up paying out about $100bn.

Axis, a commercial insurance specialist, on Tuesday added $125m to its estimate for Covid-19 claims. That is on top of the $235m that it had already set aside for such payments.

The company said that it had completed “an extensive review of potential exposures to the Covid-19 pandemic”, including the impact of the latest global lockdowns and last week’s Supreme Court judgment in the UK, which said that many companies could claim on their business interruption insurance for losses caused by coronavirus.

Axis is not the only insurer to increase its claims estimate this month. On Monday Australia-based QBE added $185m to its Covid-19 allowance, bringing it to $785m. And on Friday Hiscox, one of the defendants in the UK Supreme Court case, increased its provision for business interruption claims by $48m.

UK hits daily record number of Covid deaths

Harry Dempsey

The UK recorded its highest number of daily coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began, with a further 1,610 fatalities taking the total to more than 90,000.

Tuesday’s daily figure was higher than the previous record of 1,564 deaths in one day reached on Wednesday last week and is far higher than the peak number of daily deaths during the first wave of coronavirus in the spring last year. The UK recorded 599 deaths a day earlier.

Britain's worst day of the pandemic so far comes as FT’s coronavirus tracker shows the country to have the highest death rate in the world at 1.7 fatalities per 100,000 people in the past seven days.

The spread of the virus has shown signs of slowing down in the UK as lockdown measures take effect, despite the challenge posted by the discovery of a new, more transmissible virus variant.

But hospitals continue to be overwhelmed by patient numbers and the country is pinning its hopes on a speedy vaccination rollout to help overcome its pandemic woes.

US hospitalisation and new case trends continue to ease

Peter Wells in New York

The US has gone three days without a single state reporting a record level of coronavirus hospitalisations, adding to encouraging trends of declining numbers of patients and new infections.

There are 123,848 people currently in US hospitals with coronavirus, according to the most recent data on Monday from Covid Tracking Project. That is the lowest number of patients since January 2 and represents a decline of 6.5 per cent from the January 6 record of 132,474.

On Saturday, for the first time since mid-September, no state was revealed to have reported a record number of hospitalisations, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data. This lull continued through the long weekend, and the US has reached three days without a single state or the District of Columbia reporting a record number of patients, which is a streak that most recently occurred in late March of last year.

The trend of lower numbers being reported at the start of the week due to weekend delays in reporting will probably last a little longer than usual, due to Monday's public holiday. Still, there are some other trends that may stir hope the pandemic in the US may have reached a plateau at the national level, even as the national death toll closes in on the grim milestone of 400,000.

An additional 150,385 coronavirus cases were reported by states, according to data on Monday, which was the smallest daily increase since December 25. That brought the average over the past week to 207,808 a day, which is the lowest daily rate since January 2, and is down 15 per cent from its peak almost a week ago.

Authorities attributed a further 1,393 deaths to coronavirus, according to Monday's data from Covid Tracking Project, which was the smallest daily increase since mid-December.

The country has averaged about 3,268 fatalities a day over the past week, down from a record rate of 3,335 on January 13.

The US has recorded 390,108 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to Covid Tracking Project data on Monday. Johns Hopkins University, which uses an alternate methodology, puts the tally at 399,500 as of 1pm eastern time on Tuesday, out of about 2.04m globally.

California just shy of 3m cases after smallest daily increase since December

Peter Wells in New York

California on Tuesday reported its smallest daily increase in cases in six weeks, putting it on the cusp of becoming the first US state to confirm 3m infections since the start of the pandemic.

An additional 23,794 positive cases were reported over the past 24 hours, down from 30,699 on Monday, the state health department revealed. That is the fewest number of cases in a single day since early December.

The most populous state in the US is now about 3,000 cases shy of becoming the first to confirm 3m infections since the start of the pandemic.

Over the past week, California has averaged 35,669 new infections a day, which is the lowest the seven-day average has been this year.

Authorities attributed a further 146 fatalities to coronavirus, down from 201 on Monday, and compared to the average over the past week of 461 a day.

California's death toll now stands at 33,739, the highest in the US having surpassed New York's tally on Saturday, according to state data.

Hospitalisations continue to trend lower. The number of people in California hospitals with coronavirus fell by a net 26 patients to 20,942, the lowest level in about three weeks.

Figures may be lower than might be expected for a typical Tuesday, owing to delays in reporting over the long weekend.

US coronavirus death toll tops 400,000 – Johns Hopkins data

Peter Wells in New York

The US coronavirus death toll topped 400,000 as the country continues to weather the effects of a weeks-long surge in cases and hospitalisations.

Since the start of the pandemic, authorities in the US have attributed 400,022 fatalities to coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins data, more than any other country. The most recent figures on Monday from Covid Tracking Project, which the Financial Times uses for analysis, put the death toll at 390,262, although the data aggregator uses an alternate methodology to Johns Hopkins.

The grim milestone comes less than a day before president-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, which will see his administration take control of the federal response to the pandemic. There are signs, though, that new infections and hospitalisations at the national level are trending downward.

Mr Biden last week pledged to have 100m Americans vaccinated within 100 days of taking office. About 10.6m people in the US have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, out of 31.1m shots distributed, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The US has confirmed 24.1m cases since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins data, or almost 23.8m based on Covid Tracking Project figures from Monday.

Netflix signals stock buybacks to come as subscribers hit 200m

Anna Nicolaou in New York

Netflix will no longer raise debt to fund its spending spree on television shows and films and may begin returning money to shareholders through buybacks, marking a milestone in the company’s evolution as it said it had passed 200m subscribers. 

Since 2011 when Netflix leapt into original programming with House of Cards, the streaming pioneer has funded content through high-yield bonds, as it sought to outspend Hollywood studios and build an enticing catalogue. 

Netflix’s latest quarterly figures on Tuesday underscored how successful that strategy had been: it had nearly 204m subscribers at the end of 2020, it said, having added 37m new paying customers during the year. 

Some 8.5m of those were added in the quarter to the end of December, eclipsing analyst forecasts of 6m.

“We believe we no longer have a need to raise external financing for our day-to-day operations,” Netflix said in a letter to investors, adding that it will explore stock buybacks.

Shares jumped around 10 per cent in after-hours trade.

Wall Street rises as Yellen urges Congress to ‘act big’ on stimulus

Colby Smith, Hudson Lockett and Leke Oso Alabi

US stocks closed higher on Tuesday after Treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen made the case for large-scale fiscal stimulus to cushion the economic blow from Covid-19 during her confirmation hearing in Washington.

The benchmark S&P 500 index gained 0.8 per cent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 1.5 per cent.

Ms Yellen voiced strong support for US president-elect Joe Biden’s $1.9tn relief package, arguing that “with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big”.

“In the long run, I believe the benefits will far outweigh the costs, especially if we care about helping people who have been struggling for a very long time,” the former Federal Reserve chair told the Senate finance committee.

Ms Yellen also underscored the need for targeted aid to small businesses, as well as direct support for state and local governments. She added that she would support the Treasury department looking into issuing longer-dated debt in order to take advantage of historically low borrowing costs.

US government bonds edged lower on Tuesday, sending 10-year yields 0.01 percentage points higher at one point to 1.1 per cent. The yield on 30-year notes steadied at 1.8 per cent. Yields rise as prices fall.

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Germany extends lockdown and tightens mask rules

Guy Chazan in Berlin

Germany is to extend the current lockdown until mid-February, and to require people to wear FFP2 masks in shops and on public transport, with Angela Merkel warning of the "serious danger" posed by the new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus.

Ms Merkel said there was "still time to contain the danger", but this required immediate action — otherwise the infection numbers will start to rise again.

"It's hard what we are asking people to do again," she said after a video conference with the leaders of Germany's 16 regions. But it was necessary as a "precaution", she said.

The number of infections remains high in Germany, but is beginning to fall. The Robert Koch Institute, the country's main public health agency, recorded 11,369 new cases of coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, compared to 12,802 a week ago. But experts say the numbers are still too high to justify relaxing the lockdown.

Restaurants, bars, theatres, cinemas and most shops will remain closed until mid-February. People will only be allowed to meet one person from another household. Schools and kindergartens will also stay shut, although the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said it would gradually reopen primary schools and kindergartens from February 1 if the situation with infections allowed for it.

In addition, companies are to allow employees to work from home wherever possible, so as to reduce contacts at people's place of work and in public transport. The German labour ministry is currently drafting a "right to home office" which would require employers to allow their workers to work from home as soon as the number of new cases per 100,000 people over seven days exceeds 50.

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