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Updated at 10/24/2020, 2:57:10 PM BST

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California reported its biggest one-day jump in deaths in five weeks on Thursday. Authorities attributed a further 162 deaths to coronavirus, up from 35 on Wednesday.

France announced a record 41,622 confirmed cases of coronavirus for the previous 24 hours on Thursday, shortly after Prime Minister Jean Castex extended a night-time curfew that will now cover two-thirds of the population.

Mattel has produced its biggest increase in quarterly sales in a decade as parents buy housebound children Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels cars and other toys to keep them entertained during the pandemic.

Greece has announced a night-time curfew in 17 regions, including Athens and Thessaloniki, the two largest cities, following another record daily increase in cases.

Southwest Airlines said it would stop blocking middle seats on December 1, leaving Delta Air Lines as the only major US carrier to continue the practice.

Record levels of new cases in Illinois and Ohio on Thursday again highlighted the continued spread of the virus through the US Midwest. In Illinois, a further 4,942 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, up from 4,342 on Wednesday. Ohio reported 2,425 new cases, surpassing the previous record on Wednesday of 2,366.

Accor, Europe’s largest hotel company, has said the worst of the crisis was behind it despite sharp rises in coronavirus cases across Europe, its main market.

The UK chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson were forced on Thursday to defend newly announced support measures against accusations that they were belated and excessively focused on London and the south-east.

Moderna has become the first western company to complete enrolment of its phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial, recruiting 30,000 participants including thousands of healthcare workers, those from ethnic groups and older people.

Covid-19 hospital deaths have quadrupled in northern England over a fortnight as the afflicted regions go under heavier restrictions in the UK government’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

Kimberly-Clark has disappointed Wall Street with weaker than forecast quarterly earnings, showing that a pandemic-induced boom for makers of cleaning and hygiene products has its limits.

Sales of previously owned homes in the US rose for the fourth consecutive month in September, hitting the highest level in more than 14 years as low interest rates and remote working continued to fuel demand for homes.

Consumer confidence has dropped in the eurozone as rising infections and stricter government restrictions erode optimism that the region’s economy can make a swift recovery from the pandemic.

More than £62bn has been borrowed by 1.4m UK businesses under the state-backed coronavirus business loan scheme as companies continue to seek support to survive the second wave of the pandemic.

American Airlines said on Thursday it would authorise issuing up to $1bn in shares to shore up its liquidity as the pandemic continued to weigh on revenue and profitability.

Gilead’s remdesivir becomes first FDA approved Covid-19 drug

Hannah Kuchler in New York

Gilead has received the first US regulatory approval for a Covid-19 drug, after the Food and Drug Administration approved its antiviral remdesivir for patients hospitalised with the disease.

Shares in Gilead rose 4.2 per cent to $63.18 in extended trading after the FDA approved remdesivir, now known by the brand name Veklury, and originally developed to treat Ebola.

The antiviral was already being used to treat patients under an emergency use authorisation and it was one of the drugs Donald Trump, president, was given when he had Covid-19. Trials have shown that remdesivir can speed up recovery but it has shown little effect on mortality.

Daniel O’Day, Gilead chief executive, said the pharmaceutical group has worked “relentlessly” to help find solutions for the pandemic.

“The speed and rigor with which Veklury has been developed and approved in the US reflect the shared commitment of Gilead, government agencies and clinical trial investigators to advance well-tolerated, effective treatment options for the fight against Covid-19,” he said.

Intel earnings fall by nearly a quarter sending shares down 10%

Patrick McGee in San Francisco

Intel reported a decline in data centre revenues and said its earnings fell nearly a quarter from a year ago because of the pandemic, sending its shares down 10 per cent in after-hours trading.

The US semiconductor giant reported earnings per share of $1.02 in the three months ending September 26, down 24 per cent from last year and two cents lower than forecasts compiled by Bloomberg.

Intel, which was overtaken by Nvidia as the world’s most valuable chipmaker in July, touted that it beat total revenue forecasts, albeit slightly, earning $18.3bn, which is four per cent less than a year ago.

Over the first nine months of 2020, Intel managed to pull in $1.8bn more in revenue than it had expected in January, before coronavirus disrupted the global economy. The shelter-at-home orders been a “catalyst” for the sale of notebook computers and cloud offerings, it said.

However, Intel’s data centre group, which sells chips and processors to enterprise clients, reported a 7.5 per cent decline in revenue to $5.9bn. The Santa Clara-based company said its cloud-related business was bolstered 15 per cent thanks to the “work and learn-at-home environment,” but it blamed Covid-19 for a weak economy that resulted in a 47 per cent revenue drop in its enterprise and government market segment.

The fast-growing segment had previously seen two quarters of more than 30 per cent growth.

“The pandemic also weighed on third-quarter data-centric results in the internet of things group and the memory business,” said Intel, which agreed this month to sell its Nand memory and storage business to Korean rival SK Hynix for $9bn.

"Our teams delivered solid third-quarter results that exceeded our expectations despite pandemic-related impacts in significant portions of the business," Bob Swan, chief executive, said.

He added: We remain confident in our strategy and the long-term value we’ll create as we deliver leadership products and aim to win share in a diversified market fueled by data and the rise of AI, 5G networks and edge computing.

The after-hours share price drop placed Intel’s value at a one-month low, below $49 a share.

Texas new Covid cases and hospitalisations hit highest since August

Peter Wells in New York

The coronavirus in Texas is increasingly resembling that of late summer, with the state reporting on Thursday its biggest daily jump in new infections since late August and the highest level of hospitalisations in two months.

A further 5,917 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, up from 4,717 on Wednesday and compared with 4,615 on Thursday last week.

It was the biggest one-day jump since the 6,091 new cases reported on August 25.

Authorities have for months been adding older cases stemming from backlogs of tests at commercial laboratories to the statewide total, although these are excluded from the daily numbers. There were 333 such historical cases, including 206 from the region around Houston and 104 from the area surrounding El Paso, added to the statewide tally on Thursday.

The number of people currently in Texas hospitals with coronavirus rose to 4,931 from 4,782 on Wednesday, the highest level since August 24, when there were just over 5,000 hospitalisations. The number of hospitalisations is up by about 47 per cent so far in October, and compares with the three-month low hit on September 20 of 3,081 patients.

Authorities attributed a further 85 deaths to coronavirus, down from 114 yesterday and compared with 95 on Thursday last week.

US averaging more than 60,000 new coronavirus cases a day in echo of summer surge

Peter Wells in New York

The similarities between the latest stage of the coronavirus pandemic in the US and its surge over the summer are mounting up, with the country now averaging more than 60,000 cases a day for the first time since early August, and the highest level of hospitalisations in two months.

States reported 76,560 cases, according to Covid Tracking Project data, up from 57,294 on Wednesday and compared with 63,172 on Thursday last week.

The latest rise in infections ranks as the biggest since a record 76,588 cases were reported on July 17, however this ranking comes with a major caveat. Wednesday data from Alabama, Florida and Georgia "were not available" before Covid Tracking Project's cut-off time for reporting that day, and therefore were not included in yesterday's report.

These older cases were included in today's figures, thereby boosting the most recent tally.

Rankings aside, the trend in the US remains clear. Over the past week, the country has now averaged 60,951 cases a day, the most since August 1.

Among those that reported the biggest one-day increases were Texas (6,291 including new and historical cases), Illinois (4,942), Wisconsin (3,632, including confirmed and probable cases). Indiana (2,850), Ohio (2,425), Utah (1,543), Montana (928) and New Mexico (819) had record increases, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

There are 41,010 people currently in US hospitals with coronavirus, the highest level since August 20, when 41,988 hospitalisations were reported. Eight states reported record levels of hospitalisations on Thursday.

Deaths are also experiencing an upward trend. A further 1,173 fatalities were attributed to coronavirus, up from 994 on Wednesday and compared with 951 on Thursday last week.

This would rank as the biggest increase in deaths since 1,200 on September 16 but, again, the absence of Wednesday data from Alabama, Florida and Georgia in Covid Tracking Project's snapshot means Thursday's figure is probably boosted by these delayed numbers.

Over the past week, the US has averaged about 755 deaths a day, the highest level in a month.

Drop in UK consumer confidence fuels double-dip recession fears

Valentina Romei in London

UK consumer confidence, spending and mobility dropped in October as coronavirus infections rose and restrictions tightened across the country, fuelling fears of a double-dip recession.

Data from research company GfK showed that the UK consumer confidence index tumbled 6 percentage points to minus 31 in the first half of October.

This is the lowest reading since May, with consumers becoming more pessimistic about both the general economic situation and their personal financial conditions.

“There’s a worrying threat of a double-dip in consumer confidence,” said Joe Staton, GfK’s client strategy director. With the data collected before the new round of Covid-19 restrictions, “expect the autumn chill to give way to much stormier conditions”, Mr Staton added.

Read more here

Furlough fraudsters stole as much as £3bn, says UK spending watchdog

Daniel Thomas in London

More than £3bn might have been stolen in furlough money by criminal gangs and fraudulent employers, according to estimates used by parliament’s spending watchdog in a report into the government’s flagship jobs protection scheme.

The National Audit Office said there was evidence of “significant levels of furlough fraud” from both organised gangs “hijacking” claims and employers taking money collected on behalf of staff. More money will be lost through staff working hours that they were claiming for, the NAO added.

“HMRC has paid out billions of pounds to fraudsters. Most of this is likely to be gone for good,” said Meg Hillier, who chairs the public accounts committee.

Read more here

Asia-Pacific equities follow Wall Street higher

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Asia-Pacific stocks rose on Friday following gains on Wall Street as optimism over a US stimulus package returned.

Japan’s Topix was up 0.3 per cent and the Kospi in Seoul added 0.2 per cent, while the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia slipped 0.2 per cent.

The S&P 500 ended 0.5 per cent higher on Thursday and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite added 0.2 per cent.

Those gains came after Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, said she was hopeful of reaching an agreement with the White House for a package to support the US economic recovery.

S&P 500 futures were flat ahead of the final presidential debate.

WHO and Wikipedia to boost public access to trusted Covid-19 information

Gary Jones in Hong Kong

The World Health Organization and the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that administers Wikipedia, announced a collaboration on Thursday to expand public access to the latest and most reliable information on Covid-19.

The partnership will make such information available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence, permitting users around the world to freely share WHO infographics, videos and other public health assets on Wikimedia Commons, a digital library of free images and other multimedia.

Wikipedia currently holds more than 5,200 coronavirus-related articles in 175 languages. The WHO content will also be translated across national and regional languages through Wikipedia’s vast network of global volunteers.

“Equitable access to trusted health information is critical to keeping people safe and informed during the Covid-19 pandemic," said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Our new collaboration with the Wikimedia Foundation will increase access to reliable health information from WHO across multiple countries, languages, and devices."

Japanese flash manufacturing PMI remains weak in October

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Japan’s manufacturing sector contracted in October, although at a slower pace than in the previous month, as the country’s economy remains vulnerable to a resurgence of infections overseas.

The flash au Jibun Bank manufacturing purchasing managers’ index showed a slight improvement for the sector, with the reading rising to 48 from 47.7 previously, the slowest deterioration in conditions since January. It remained below the 50-point level which signifies expansion.

“The recovery is slow-going and could remain so in the coming months as a global resurgence of Covid-19 cases could weigh on Japanese economic activity, particularly in the external-facing sectors,” said Bernard Aw, principal economist at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey.

The flash services PMI fell back to 46.6 from 46.9 in September, resulting in a composite PMI of 46.6, putting the Japanese private sector on a weak footing at the start of the fourth quarter.

The early readings are based on 85 to 90 per cent of the total PMI survey responses.

Action needed to avert ‘generational catastrophe’ in education, says UN chief

Gary Jones in Hong Kong

The world is at risk of suffering “a generational catastrophe” as Covid-19 wreaks havoc on global education, the UN chief said on Thursday.

In a video message to the Unesco Global Education Meeting, secretary-general António Guterres said the pandemic had had a “disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable and marginalised children and youth”.

According to deputy UN chief Amina Mohammed, at least one-third of the world’s students have been deprived of any form of learning since the pandemic hit, close to half a billion pupils are still affected by school closures and the most marginalised — including at least 11m girls — are at high risk of never returning to school.

Ms Mohammed said the pandemic had clearly highlighted “the vital linkages between education, nutrition, gender equality, health and social protection”.

“The progress we have made, especially for girls and young women, is under threat,” Mr Guterres said. “We now need to support the learning recovery in low and middle-income countries – and to factor education into every stimulus package.”

To successfully avert a crisis, Mr Guterres said it was crucial that governments recognise education as “a common global good”, with teachers, safe schools, digital technologies and those at greatest risk in need of greater investment. “Financing and political will are critical,” he said.

Qantas blames Australian state border closures for hit to airline's domestic recovery

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Qantas has said state border closures in Australia have hit the airline’s recovery, keeping capacity below 30 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Alan Joyce, chief executive of Qantas, said the airline had expected capacity on domestic routes to return to about 60 per cent by now, but its recovery has stalled amid ongoing border closures.

That has resulted in a A$100m (US$71m) hit to revenues for the first quarter of its financial year, with the impact of closures expected to continue into the second quarter.

Some states, such as Western Australia, continue to limit arrivals from outside, restricting travel to essential workers and requiring quarantine. Those who have visited or live in Victoria are particularly tightly controlled as the state battles a coronavirus outbreak.

Qantas suspended international flights after the pandemic hit travel demand and the Australian government imposed strict rules on entry into the country.

The airline has cut the chief executive’s salary and slashed jobs in efforts to weather the pandemic.

Posco profits beat estimates as steel production returns to pre-pandemic levels

Song Jung-a in Seoul

Posco, the world’s fifth-largest steelmaker, reported a 36 per cent drop in third-quarter operating profit, but the results were better than expected as steel production recovered to levels seen before the coronavirus pandemic.

The South Korean company expects sales and earnings to improve in the fourth quarter as steel prices began to recover from August on the back of global economic reopening and unprecedented stimulus measures.

“A global economic recovery will increase our operating ratio and sales while higher prices will enable us to secure higher profitability,” said a company executive during a conference call with analysts on Friday.

The South Korean company reported Won667bn ($588m) in operating profit for the July to September quarter, compared with Won1tn a year earlier and a Won521bn Refinitiv estimate. Sales fell 11 per cent to Won14.3tn.

How much will a Covid-19 vaccine cost?

Michael Peel in Brussels, Donato Paolo Mancini and Clive Cookson in London and Stephanie Findlay in New Delhi

The race for a coronavirus vaccine has stoked a debate on how much the jabs will cost and who will pay for them, as prices range from $3 to more than $30 a dose and public health advocates including Bill Gates call for a price cap for poor countries.

Even as billions of dollars of public money has been poured into vaccine development, drugmakers have been reluctant to discuss how they will price a shot. They say it is the result of many factors including efficacy, trial results, development and manufacturing costs, competition, demand and whether the buyers are private groups — such as insurers — or state bodies.

The pandemic’s urgency and global spread has added layers of intricacy. In the rush to develop the right vaccine, companies are experimenting with different technologies. In an unprecedented move, some drugmakers are then planning to allow other companies to manufacture their doses, further complicating cost calculations.

Read more here

Mitsubishi Heavy looks into pausing regional jet project

Kana Inagaki in Tokyo

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is discussing the option of freezing its long-delayed project to develop a regional jet as the pandemic deals a blow to the civil aerospace industry.

The Japanese group’s share price rose 5 per cent on the news as investors cheered a move that could save the conglomerate money as it seeks to weather the downturn.

In a statement on Friday, MHI said it was studying various options for the future of the Mitsubishi SpaceJet, but denied earlier reports in the Japanese media that it had already decided to suspend the programme.

The company added that it planned to announce its future strategy for SpaceJet when it releases its second-quarter results next week.

MHI’s project to develop a regional jet — an airliner with fewer than 100 seats — has strained the finances of a company with more than 80,000 employees and sprawling interests ranging from forklifts, shipbuilding and turbochargers to space rockets, coal power stations and the defence industry.

ADB boosts Philippine military's Covid-19 testing capacity

Gary Jones in Hong Kong

The Asian Development Bank has donated two coronavirus testing machines, which can each test nearly 100 people an hour, to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to support the country’s response to the pandemic.

The real-time polymerase chain reaction testing machines will be installed in the Philippine Army's molecular laboratory in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, and support the testing of military personnel in Metro Manila.

“We have seen military personnel in action on the frontline from the beginning of the pandemic and we hope the new testing machines will help ensure the safety of AFP’s essential workers,“ said ADB director-general for Southeast Asia, Ramesh Subramaniam.

The military forces have played a key role in implementing control measures across the country for more than seven months, operating checkpoints, distributing food and managing quarantine regulations.

The government is seeking to raise its daily testing capacity to about 50,000 by the end of the year, compared with nearly 31,000 as of August 15.

India eases restrictions on entry of foreigners as infection numbers continue to fall

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India has further eased restrictions on the entry of foreigners, permitting all visitors but tourists to come to the country, as it seeks a return to normalcy despite the continued spread of coronavirus.

New Delhi said students, business visitors, researchers, patients seeking medical treatment, all foreign nationals of Indian origin and some other categories of visa holders will be permitted to enter the country.

The daily number of reported infections, which had peaked at an average of 93,000 a day in mid-September, has continued to fall. India reported 54,000 new cases on Thursday, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 7.7m, more than any country in the world except the US. India recorded 683 new coronavirus deaths on Thursday for a confirmed total of 117,000.

However, epidemiologists warn that official figures underestimate the true magnitude of contagion in the country.

Visas that were effectively suspended as India locked down in March will now be valid again, and foreigners whose visas have expired can reapply, India’s home ministry said.

However, India will remain closed to foreign tourists, meaning tough times for the tourism industry as it heads into winter, which traditionally is peak season in the country.

Authorities have given no indication of when they might reopen to tourism. Flights in and out of India remain limited. The country is negotiating bilateral agreements with various other nations, leading to complicated rules about who can fly on which airlines.

European rebound boosts Renault even as sales fall

David Keohane in Paris

Revenues at French carmaker Renault dropped 8 per cent in the third quarter as a rebounding European market helped to mitigate the pain it suffered elsewhere as the Covid-19 pandemic bites.

Renault's quarterly sales fell 8.2 per cent at €10.4bn compared with the same three months a year ago, the carmaker said on Friday. The group sold 806,320 vehicles in the quarter, down 6.1 per cent.

After a disastrous first half, when it fell to a record €7.3bn loss after revenues fell 35 per cent, Renault said that “September showed a positive momentum, particularly in Europe”.

Group sales were up 8 per cent in Europe, more than the overall market, and its electric Zoe car performed well. Outside Europe, sales were down 9 per cent, mainly as a result of a 50.9 per cent drop in sales in Brazil.

Renault said it “should achieve a positive automotive operational free cash flow for the second half of the year” unless there is a new lockdown. It also said its results had been helped by better a better pricing policy, something that has been pushed by new chief executive Luca de Meo.

The group is in the midst of a turnround plan led by Mr de Meo. Renault had already unveiled a three-year, €2bn cost-cutting initiative in May but the new boss has said it might need to go further.

The pandemic hit Renault particularly hard, compounding existing issues, including its troubled relationship with Japanese partner Nissan. Renault’s share price is down more than 40 per cent so far this year, and its market capitalisation is now just €7.4bn, according to Reuters data.

The group has taken on a €5bn state-backed loan to get through the crisis, of which it has drawn down €3bn so far. Its largest shareholder is the French state.

Clotilde Delbos, Renault's chief financial officer, said on Friday that the group's net liquidity position was €15.2bn at the end of September, compared with €16.8bn at the end of June.

India's BJP accused of politicising vaccine access in state going to polls

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party has been accused of politicising coronavirus vaccine distribution, after it pledged that residents of the poll-bound state of Bihar will receive such a jab for free.

Bihar residents are due to elect a new state government in coming weeks, and Nirmala Sitharaman, the finance minister, released a manifesto highlighting the BJP’s promise to the state if it wins.

“As soon as Covid-19 vaccine will be available at a mass scale, every person in Bihar will get free vaccination,” Ms Sitharaman said. “This is the first promise mentioned in our poll manifesto.”

The pledge led to protests from opposition parties, who said the move was a “degeneration of politics".

In an editorial on Friday, the Indian Express newspaper accused the BJP of “an attempt to manipulate the anxieties caused by the most lethal pandemic to have ravaged the world in more than a century".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly indicated that New Delhi plans to roll out a large-scale vaccine campaign once a vaccine is available. India has yet to sign any advance deals for vaccine procurement, however, opting to wait for completion of clinical trials.

That has raised concerns about India’s future ability to source vaccines once proven effective, given the massive global demand expected.

Home furnishing and food propel UK retail sales to fifth monthly rise

Valentina Romei in London

Spending in home furnishing stores and supermarkets boosted UK retail sales in September to grow quicker than expected, suggesting that consumers continued to support the economy at the end of the third quarter.

The volume of UK retail sales rose 1.5 per cent in September compared with the previous month, the fifth consecutive expansion after the record contraction in April, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

This is a much faster rate than the 0.4 per cent forecast by economists polled by Reuters.

The monthly growth pushed the volume of retail sales in September to 4.7 per cent above the level in the same month last year, the fastest pace since April 2019.

"Food stores and online retailers have fared particularly well in recent months, and most other store types have now recovered to pre-pandemic levels too after being subject to temporary closures during restrictions in the spring," said Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics. “Spending on home improvement and gardening items in particular have boosted sales.”

Sales of household goods increased to 11 per cent above February's volumes. The ONS reported that sales of home improvement products from DIY and electrical goods stores did well in recent months and helped with the recovery of sales.

Resilient growth in retail sales suggests consumers continued to support the UK’s fragile economic recovery in September, ahead of the new round of Covid-19 restrictions.

However, the trend in retail sales might over-estimate the strength of the consumer sector as it benefits from shoppers substituting services, such as dining out, with goods, such as buying food and drinks.

“Fresh lockdowns across the country mean that many consumers will tighten their purse strings, even in the lead up to Christmas,” said Duncan Brewer, retail expert at the consultancy Oliver Wyman. He added that there would also be “affluent shoppers, flush with savings from months of working from home, who will treat themselves”.

Holiday Inn owner IHG faces uneven recovery as Covid stalks hotel trade

Alice Hancock in London

InterContinental Hotels Group, the owner of the Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn brands, has said that, despite a summer boost from domestic breaks, it faces an uneven recovery across different regions as coronavirus infections start to spread again.

Europe showed the worst performance of all the hotel company’s markets as revenue per available room - the favoured industry metric - fell 72 per cent in the three months to the end of September, compared with the same period last year.

China showed a much stronger recovery with revpar down 23 per cent in the quarter, thanks to the country's relative control of the disease.

Keith Barr, IHG’s chief executive, said on Friday that inexpensive domestic leisure travel had been most “resilient” and that the company’s Holiday Inn brand “positions us well to meet that demand as it slowly returns”.

Overall, the group reported that revpar was down 53 per cent, a less precipitous drop than its rival Accor, which reported figures for the third quarter on Thursday, thanks to IHG’s greater share of hotels in America and China where travel had a more steady return.

Accor said revpar across its hotels, about half of which are in Europe, was 63 per cent below last year’s levels.

InterContinental noted a marked slowdown in the number of new hotel contracts it signed between July and September, saying it had agreed contracts for 14,000 new rooms, just over half of the number it signed in the same period in 2019.

More than a quarter of the new signings were conversions from independents and other brands, a trend that analysts expect to increase as smaller owners seek to benefit from the security of joining big hotel companies as government support measures end.

At the end of September, IHG said it had $2.9bn liquidity after issuing a series of new bonds that mature in 2024 and 2028.

It said that it was on track to reduce overhead costs by $150m this year and that capex had been reduced by about $100m compared with 2019.

Barclays recovers as bad debt charges fall

Stephen Morris in London

Barclays reported a big drop in provisions for bad loans in the third quarter as the initial economic shock from the coronavirus crisis subsided, while revenue at its trading arm surged in turbulent markets.

The bank took £608m of credit impairment charges in the quarter. Although that was higher than the same period last year, it was well below the £3.7bn set aside in the first half of 2020 and less than the £1bn that analysts had forecast.

On Friday, chief executive Jes Staley said it had been a “historically challenging year” and warned that “income headwinds in the UK are expected to persist into 2021 including the low interest rate environment".

Quarterly net profit rose to £611m from a loss of £292m last year, when there were £1.6bn of litigation and misconduct charges, largely related to the payment protection insurance scandal. Analysts had estimated Barclays’ net profit would be £201m. Revenue fell 6 per cent to £5.2bn, beating expectations of £4.8bn.

The majority of charges for potential loan losses came in the consumer and credit card businesses in the UK and the US. However, the bank did return to profit in that area in the third quarter as consumer spending recovered.

For the third quarter in a row, the pandemic-related pain in the retail and commercial units was offset by big jumps in trading income, as the investment bank once again benefited from heightened client activity in choppy markets.

Fixed-income revenue surged 23 per cent - similar to the increases recorded by Wall Street rivals such as JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley last week.

Elsewhere in the investment bank, equity trading revenue rose even further - by 40 per cent, beating the average 15 per cent rise from US banks - but fees from M&A advisory plunged as few acquisitions were sealed during global lockdowns.

Overall pre-tax profits at the investment bank rose 13 per cent to £1bn. UBS reported similarly buoyant performance at its securities unit earlier in the week.

The performance will bolster Mr Staley’s strategy to maintain Barclays’ trading arm, which he has long argued is a necessary counterbalance to its traditional British retail and credit card businesses that are more vulnerable in recessions.

Barclays shares rose 4 per cent in early trading.

US private equity firm Lone Star bids £630m for McCarthy & Stone

George Hammond in London

US property investor Lone Star has bid to buy retirement housebuilder McCarthy & Stone, becoming the latest private equity firm looking to take advantage of discounts to listed UK property companies during the pandemic crisis.

The offer of £630m values McCarthy & Stone at £1.15 a share, a premium of 39 per cent to Thursday’s closing price of 83 pence, but still well below its pre-pandemic share price. In mid-February, the housebuilder’s shares were trading at £1.58.

Lone Star is the latest in a series of major US investors to have capitalised on tumbling share prices by snapping up portions of, or entire, companies.

Brookfield, the Canadian asset manager, has been building a stake in British Land, one of the UK’s largest commercial landlords. Last month, KKR, the private equity firm, took a 5 per cent stake in Great Portland Estates, a FTSE 250 landlord.

McCarthy & Stone directors are unanimously recommending shareholders vote in favour of the bid.

“The all-cash offer represents a compelling and attractive opportunity for shareholders to realise and crystallise their investment in McCarthy & Stone in the near term,” said Paul Lester, chairman of McCarthy & Stone.

France's services sector crimped by stricter Covid restrictions

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

French services activity declined for the second consecutive month, as tighter measures to contain record rises in coronavirus infections weighed on the eurozone’s second-largest economy.

Activity in French manufacturing slowed but remained in positive growth territory, underlining how the rise in new Covid-19 infections has hit the services sector hardest.

The IHS Markit French flash services purchasing manager index fell to a five-month low of 46.5 in October, down from 47.5 in the previous month. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a fall to 46.8.

“The rate of private sector output contraction accelerated in October, with service providers posting another marked reduction,” said Eliott Kerr, economist at IHS Markit. “Meanwhile, although manufacturers managed to record a rise in production, growth momentum faltered and the latest increase was only marginal overall.”

IHS said new orders for French companies fell for the second month running and at the quickest pace since May.

Jean Castex, the prime minister, announced on Thursday an extension of a night-time curfew to cover an additional 38 of the country’s administrative districts, after the number of daily cases reported in France rose above 40,000 for the first time.

“The coming weeks will be hard and the number of deaths will continue to rise,” Mr Castex said, after France reported 162 deaths due to the virus in the past day. “If we fail to stop the pandemic, we will be facing a dire situation and we will have to consider much tougher measures.”

October's fall in the PMI score for services indicates that the nascent recovery in the French economy since initial lockdowns were lifted in May has run out of steam.

A reading below the 50 mark indicates a majority of businesses reporting a contraction in activity from the previous month.

The PMI index for French manufacturing remained in growth territory at 51, down slightly from 51.2 in September and in line with economists’ expectations. The composite PMI score for France was at a five-month low of 47.3, down from 48.5 the previous month.

The national statistics agency this week reported a sharp fall in its business climate indicator for the services sector in October, warning: “The business climate in services is deteriorating significantly, interrupting the rebound that began in May.”

Flash PMI estimates are published one week before the final results and are based on about 85 per cent of the typical responses.

German services activity falls for the first time in four months

Valentina Romei in London

Activity in the German services sector contracted in October for the first time in four months as the country faced a surge in new infections and tightening restrictions, while growth in the export-led manufacturing sector accelerated.

The IHS Markit flash Germany purchasing manager index for services fell to 48.9 in October, down from 50.6 in the previous month and the lowest since June.

The reading was marginally below the 49.2 forecast by economists polled by Reuters. It was also below the 50 mark, which indicates a majority of businesses reporting a deterioration in activity compared with the previous month.

Flash estimates for the German services sector, based on data collected between October 12 and 22, showed a less severe contraction than in France, where the index fell to 46.5, reflecting tighter Covid-19 restrictions.

While services bear the brunt of the rising restrictions and social-distancing measures, activity in the manufacturing sector continued to expand with the corresponding index rising to 58 in October, up from the 56.4 in the previous month.

Phil Smith, associate director at IHS Markit, said “it’s increasingly looking like a two-speed economy. Manufacturing businesses have been able to continue operating with less disruption from any new restrictions than many of their service sector counterparts, whilst at the same time reaping the benefits of a resurgence in global goods trade."

The export-led manufacturing sector has been supported by a rebound in global trade and growth in Asian imports. Strength in the sector particularly benefits Germany, by far the largest eurozone manufacturing producer. In Germany, industry accounts for about 27 per cent of GDP compared with 17 per cent for France.

As a result, the composite PMI index, an average of the two sectors, was largely unchanged at 54.5 in October, only marginally down from 54.7 in September.

Deaths after flu jabs in South Korea raise vaccine safety fears

Song Jung-a in Seoul

Concerns over seasonal flu shots have intensified after 36 people died after vaccinations over the past week in South Korea, although health authorities denied any direct links between the deaths and the vaccines.

Despite growing fears over vaccine safety, health authorities have continued with the state-run free vaccination programmes for the elderly and teenagers. “The reported tally just counts deaths after vaccinations and it does not mean the deaths were caused by flu shots,” the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said on Friday.

Although health officials said no toxic substances were uncovered from the vaccines, the increasing fatalities are likely to deter people from getting flu shots at a critical time in the government's efforts to prevent a potential “twindemic” of coronavirus and the flu in the winter.

Nearly 13m South Koreans have received flu shots so far this year, with about two-thirds of them for free as part of the government programmes.

But the anti-vaccine sentiment has increased in recent weeks after two vaccine recalls. About 5m doses were exposed to room temperature while being transported and some vaccines were found to contain white particles, although no serious harm has been reported from either of those lots.

Health officials plan to procure 20 per cent more flu vaccines for this winter than last year to inoculate up to 30m people out of the country’s 50m population. The Korea Medical Association, an influential group of doctors, urged the government to suspend all inoculation programmes until the vaccines are proven safe.

This came as South Korea reported a surge in new coronavirus infections due to clusters at homes for the elderly and other risk-prone facilities. The country added 155 more Covid-19 cases on Friday, the highest in over a month, increasing the total caseload to 25,698, according to the KDCA.

Dishwashers and cars in demand as European groups upgrade outlooks

Harry Dempsey in London

Shares in many European companies showed a robust performance as groups such as Nordea Bank reported estimate-beating earnings on Friday and revised their guidance. Demand for dishwashers, escalators and cars — led by the Chinese market — buoyed sales. However, the coronavirus pandemic darkens the economic outlook as services activity in Germany and France, the eurozone's power economies, drooped after they showed some recovery over the summer.

Beats estimates: Nordea Bank reported a forecast-beating 24 per cent rise in operating profit to €1.08bn in the third quarter, supported by a low volume of loan losses and increased levels of customer activity at the Nordic region’s largest lender. Its shares gained 4.6 per cent in early trading in Europe, pushing it close to the top of Stoxx Europe 600 gainers. Provisions for bad loans at London-based Barclays fell and revenue at its trading arm surged. Shares rose 6 per cent in early trading.

Growth return: Shares in L’Oréal, the French cosmetics group, edged up 1.1 per cent after like-for-like sales returned to growth in the third quarter, as department stores and salons reopened, while online sales powered ahead. The company reported its earnings on Thursday after markets had closed.

China boost: Daimler, the Mercedes-Benz car manufacturer, raised its profit forecast, driven by a third-quarter record 23 per cent jump in auto sales in China and cost-cutting initiatives beginning to pay off. The German carmaker expects earnings before interest and tax to hit the same level as the previous year, better than the previous guidance to come in lower. Shares in Daimler added 2.1 per cent in early European trading.

Elevators wanted: Shares in Swiss escalator and elevator maker Schindler rose more than 4 per cent, after raising its full-year revenue and net profit guidance off the back of strong demand in China.

Homebound demand: Electrolux, the household appliances manufacturer, revised its market outlook upwards and reinstated its dividend for 2019, as consumers snapped up its dishwashers and washing machines. Sales grew 6 per cent in the third quarter, helping operating income to triple to SKr3.22bn ($370m). Shares in the Swedish group fell as much as 3 per cent before trimming some of its losses. They were recently down 1 per cent yet traded close to their high for 2020.

Europe's services sector slumps as virus takes toll

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

A second monthly drop in eurozone services activity has added to concerns that rising coronavirus infections and tighter restrictions are weighing on the region’s economy, raising the pressure on the European Central Bank to consider more monetary stimulus.

While the sharper than expected fall in services activity was offset by resilience in manufacturing, economists said it added to signs that the eurozone’s recent economic rebound was losing steam and the bloc risked a double-dip recession.

The IHS Markit flash eurozone purchasing managers' index for services fell to a five-month low of 46.2 in October, down from 48 in the previous month. This was lower than forecasts by economists polled by Reuters, who had expected a reading of 47.

The PMI reading below the 50 mark for the services sector is the second consecutive month that a majority of businesses have reported a contraction compared with the previous month.

“The eurozone is at increased risk of falling into a double-dip downturn as a second wave of virus infections led to a renewed fall in business activity in October,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

“The survey revealed a tale of two economies, with manufacturers enjoying the fastest growth since early-2018 as orders surged higher amid rising global demand, but intensifying Covid-19 restrictions took an increasing toll on the services sector, led by weakening demand in the hard-hit hospitality industry,” added Mr Williamson.

The weaker than expected figures will increase pressure on the ECB to consider more monetary stimulus when its top policymakers meet next week. Its president Christine Lagarde said this week that the resurgence of the pandemic was “a clear risk” for the economy. However, the central bank is expected to wait until December before expanding its bond-buying plans.

PMI indices for services activity fell in both Germany and France, the eurozone’s two largest economies, as the sector bore the brunt of the new restrictions and of weak consumer confidence as job losses continue to rise.

In contrast, activity continued to expand among the eurozone’s manufacturers and the corresponding PMI index for the sector rose more than expected to 54.4, up from 53.7 in the previous month.

European bank shares bounce as Barclays results lift sector

Naomi Rovnick

European bank shares bounced higher on Friday after Barclays reported better than expected quarterly earnings and investors judged they had been slightly too harsh on the region’s beleaguered lenders during the pandemic.

The regionwide Stoxx bank sector rose almost 3 per cent, having fallen almost 40 per cent over the year. Barclays was the top performer, gaining almost 6 per cent.

London-based Lloyds Bank was the second-best performer in the sector on Friday, with its shares rising 5 per cent.

European banks have been grappling with negative interest rates in the eurozone, which makes it harder for them to make profits on loans, a pandemic-induced recession in Britain and an uncertain economic growth outlook clouded by the virus.
Investors therefore remain uncertain that shares in the sector will keep rising.

“It’s too early to make a long-term investment case for European banks,” said Georgina Taylor, multi-asset fund manager at Invesco.

Ms Taylor added that the sector is “one part of the value space”, referring to businesses whose fortunes are correlated with economic growth, that needs "more value drivers to come in."

Recovery in UK business activity stumbles on tougher restrictions

Valentina Romei in London

The UK recovery lost steam in October as tightening Covid-19 restrictions limited activity more than expected in both the manufacturing and services sectors, prompting businesses to initiate a new round of job cuts.

The IHS Markit flash UK purchasing managers' index for services fell to 52.3 in October, down from 56.1 in the previous month and the lowest since June.

The reading was below the 54 forecast by economists polled by Reuters, but it remained above the 50 mark which indicates a majority of businesses reporting improving activity compared with the previous month.

Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, said “the pace of UK economic growth slowed in October to the weakest since the recovery from the national Covid-19 lockdown began".

The services sector accounts for about 80 per cent of the UK economy and it is bearing the brunt of the tightening restrictions and social-distancing measures. The weakening was most pronounced in the hospitality and transport sectors.

The report said: “October data indicated a steep fall in employment numbers, with another month of deep job cuts signalled in both the manufacturing and service sectors.”

The index for the manufacturing sector also slowed more than expected to 53.3 in September, from 54.1 in the previous month, suggesting slowing growth. The composite index, an average of the two sectors, was down to 52.9, from 56.5 in September.

The PMIs show resilience in the UK economy compared with the eurozone, where the services PMI fell to 46.2, indicating widespread contractions, but the difference largely reflects an earlier resurgence of infections in France and Spain.

Poland to shut restaurants and switch to remote learning to tame virus

James Shotter in Warsaw

Poland is to introduce a range of sweeping restrictions on public life in an effort to stem a dramatic rise in coronavirus infections which has put the country's health system under intense pressure.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said public gatherings would be limited to a maximum of five people, restaurants, bars and cafés would have to close for two weeks except for takeaways, and that all pupils above the third grade, aged 8, would have to switch to remote learning.

The new restrictions come as Poland is in the throes of a sharp acceleration in coronavirus infections. On Friday, the country reported 13,632 new cases, its worst day of the pandemic so far, and 153 deaths. Almost three-fifths of Poland's 228,318 total cases have come since the start of October.

The swelling number of cases has been matched by a jump in the number of people hospitalised and on ventilators. The health ministry said on Friday that 10,788 of the 18,432 beds and 851 the 1,393 ventilators available for Covid-19 patients were now occupied.

"There is still a buffer, but we are very worried by the speed of increase in cases," Mr Morawiecki said, adding that if the new rules did not slow the exponential rise in cases, the government would have to consider more drastic actions, such as closing Poland's borders.

England's Covid-19 mortality rate rises for first month since April

Anna Gross in London

For the first time since April, the Covid-19 mortality rate increased significantly in September compared with the previous month in England, reaching 12.6 per 100,000 from 7.2 per 100,000 in August, the latest analysis by the Office for National Statistics showed.

There were about 2,500 more deaths from all causes than the five-year average last month, reaching a monthly total of 39,827 deaths.

However, coronavirus did not feature in the top 10 leading causes of death in September for the second consecutive month in England or Wales, where it came 19th and 24th, respectively.

In January to September, Covid-19 was listed as the underlying cause of death in 11.5 per cent of all deaths that occurred in England and 9 per cent of all deaths in Wales, according to the report.

Warrington in northern England to enter strictest band of Covid restrictions

Andy Bounds in Huddersfield

Warrington in northern England has agreed with the UK government to enter the highest tier 3 level of coronavirus restrictions after mounting numbers of cases.

The town lies between Liverpool city region and Greater Manchester, which entered tier 3 on Friday.

Under tier 3 restrictions, pubs that cannot function as restaurants must close, along with betting shops, adult gaming centres, casinos and soft play centres.

People must not socialise with anybody not in their support bubble indoors, in any private garden or at most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events. The town had 365 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the week to October 18.

The local authority is expected to get £1.6m for enforcement and improving local test and trace systems, and £4m to support businesses, based on its population of 200,000.

The government also provides grants to companies forced to shut and provides 67 per cent of the wages of affected workers.

With Lancashire and South Yorkshire also in tier 3, some 7.4m people in England will soon be under the tightest lockdown restrictions.

Czech PM calls for health minister to resign for visiting closed restaurant

James Shotter in Warsaw

Czech prime minister Andrej Babis said that he would sack the country's health minister Roman Prymula unless he resigned, after he held a meeting in a restaurant that had been closed as part of the government's efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.

"Our government cannot afford to lose further trust... He is undoubtedly an expert and I thank him for his work, but this should not have happened," Mr Babis told reporters, according to the website Hospodarske Noviny.

Mr Prymula, who was photographed leaving the restaurant and getting into a car without a mask, said in an interview with the magazine Rezpekt before Mr Babis's intervention that the restaurant had been closed and that he had not been there to eat.

He added that he had received an address for the meeting without knowing the location was a restaurant, and that he had put on his mask once he was inside the car. However, he said that if the public wanted him to, he would resign.

The furore around Mr Prymula, an epidemiologist who has been one of the key figures in the Czech Republic's battle with the pandemic, comes amid a huge surge in coronavirus infections that has put the health system under intense pressure.

Mr Prymula only took over as health minister last month, after his predecessor Adam Vojtech stepped down as the pandemic took a turn for the worse over autumn in the central European nation.

On Friday the Czech Republic reported 14,151 daily cases, only marginally fewer than the record 14,968 it reported on Thursday. In total, the country of 10.7m people has recorded 223,065 Covid-19 cases and 1,845 deaths.

England's male cricket team players agree 15% pay cut

Sarah Provan

England’s male cricket players have agreed a 15 per cent pay cut from the governing body after the coronavirus pandemic squeezed the game's revenues this year.

Men with central contracts with England’s board will have their pay, which comprises upfront fees, match fees and win bonuses, revised retrospectively from October 1 for 12 months, the England and Wales Cricket Board said on Friday.

The agreement was struck between the ECB and Team England Player Partnership, which represents male cricket players who hold a contract to represent England.

"These are unprecedented times and once again the players have shown that they fully appreciate the important role they play in helping cricket emerge from this pandemic in as strong a position as possible,” said Richard Bevan, chairman of the partnership. “In agreeing to this revised remuneration package, they have shown great responsibility and unity with the wider game.”

Pakistan's Asad Shafiq catches England's Dominic Bess during the England-Pakistan Test match at Old Trafford in August

Recipients of central contracts who play regularly in five-day Test series and one-day matches have their salaries paid in full by the ECB. Pay depends on rankings that are based on their performance between the wickets, off-field contribution, fielding and fitness.

The ECB does not disclose the contract figures, or the rankings achieved by the players.

However, the Guardian has said England players earn between £44,100 and £176,400 per Test win. The England cricket board has generated £100m of losses this year and expects more to come next year due to the pandemic crisis. The pay cut would be the first reduction in money since the system was introduced two decades ago.

The ECB last month unveiled the players who were awarded deals for the coming season, with 12 receiving central contracts. Kent’s Zak Crawley, Surrey’s Ollie Pope and Warwickshire’s Dom Sibley were signed up for the first time after maiden Test centuries.

London's FTSE 100 on track for best day in more than 6 weeks

Naomi Rovnick in London

The FTSE 100 was on course for its best day since early September, driven higher by banking and energy stocks that had been heavily sold off throughout the pandemic.

By midday in London, the blue-chip index had gained 1.7 per cent, heading towards its best performance since September 7.

Energy and financials led the charge, thanks to better than expected results from Barclays and a 4 per cent rise in the share price of large constituent Royal Dutch Shell, despite the price of Brent crude only gaining 0.4 per cent.

The exporter-heavy FTSE 100, which is sensitive to currency fluctuations, also rose while sterling was trading flat against the dollar.

Banks and energy companies' shares fit into the “value” category, which offer higher dividend yields but are more sensitive to economic growth prospects. The gap between valuations of value shares and their “growth” counterparts — businesses such as technology companies that offer high earnings growth and pay lower dividends, if any — is at its widest for at least two decades.

This, according to fund managers, is a trend that has become stretched, with some now hunting for value shares that have strong recovery prospects once a Covid-19 vaccine is proven and distributed.

“We are looking at growth potential within the value category,” said Colin McLean, and managing director of Scottish investment house SVM Asset Management.

He added, however, that the valuations of technology stocks, from consumer electronics to cyber security, would “remain quite high” as companies and employers would want to retain home working after a Covid-19 vaccine was available.

England's infection rate rises to hit teenagers and young adults most

Anna Gross in London

About 433,300 people in England had coronavirus in the week to October 16, equating to 1 in 130 people, the latest analysis by the Office for National Statistics showed. This is up from 1 in 160 people a week earlier.

Infection rates have risen across all age groups in the latest two-week period, with the highest rates seen in older teenagers and young adults.

The ONS estimated 35,200 cases a day in England, based on more than 500,000 swab tests taken over the latest six-week period

The North West, Yorkshire and The Humber, and the North East still had the highest rates. About one in 100 people had Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, the estimates revealed.

Spain's 'grave' situation warrants stricter rules, says prime minister

Daniel Dombey in Madrid

Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s prime minister, has warned his country that it needs to “intensify” restrictions if it is to avoid another punishing lockdown.

“The situation is grave,” Mr Sánchez said on Friday, a day after Spain recorded another daily record of almost 21,000 infections. “We have doubled the number of cases recorded on the worst day of the first wave.”

Spain’s real number of coronavirus cases to date is not the official total of 1m but above 3m, the prime minister said, since most infections at the onset of the pandemic went undetected.

Mr Sánchez set out a “traffic lights” system of escalating restrictions agreed by his government and the regions on Thursday. Under Spain's decentralised form of government, it will be up to the regions to implement them.

At least seven of the 15 regions are at the highest “extreme” level of the four-stage system, a level the prime minister said warranted “exceptional measures”.

Several regions are planning to impose curfews, which could require Mr Sánchez’s government to invoke emergency powers to serve as a legal basis.

The prime minister argued that Spain’s current travails did not compare with the worst days of March and April, when detection rates were much lower.

But after several weeks in which the infection rate appeared to stabilise, the number of cases has risen in recent days, as they have in many other countries in Europe.

Mr Sánchez set out the goal of reducing Spain’s infection rate to below 25 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days, compared with its current level of 348.

Belgium and the Czech Republic are recording infection rates of more than 1,000, while rates have risen to more than 600 in the Netherlands, almost 500 in France, more than 200 in Italy and more than 100 in Germany, as shown in the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, an EU agency.

UK's R number eases slightly but rates highest in south of England

Anna Gross in London

The rate at which coronavirus is spreading across the UK population appears to have slowed, according to government scientists, with estimates suggesting that 10 people infected with Covid-19 will infect on average 12 to 14 people.

The latest estimate for the R value — the average number of new cases generated by an infected individual — is 1.2 to 1.4 over the past few weeks, according to the latest report by the Government Office for Science, down from 1.3 to 1.5 the week before.

The R number was found to be highest in the south-west of the country, at 1.3 to 1.6, followed by the South East and the East of England.

The growth rate — the speed at which new infections are rising — was estimated to be between 3 per cent and 6 per cent, down from 4 per cent to 7 per cent the week before. This was also found to be highest in the south-west of the country, at 5 per cent to 9 per cent.

Scotland to impose five-tier system of Covid restrictions

Robert Wright in London

Scotland’s first minister outlined plans for a five-tier system of coronavirus alerts, along with support for businesses forced either to close or curtail their activities because of the restrictions.

However, Nicola Sturgeon said she could not guarantee the business support indefinitely without a commitment from the UK Treasury.

She gave no indication about which parts of Scotland – where cases are rising fast in the central belt around Glasgow and Edinburgh but remain low in other, more rural areas – will face which level of restrictions when the system comes into operation on November 2.

The system imposes restrictions ranging from level 0 to level 4, with levels 1, 2 and 3 broadly corresponding to England’s tiered system.

Ms Sturgeon said she believed Scotland needed two extra levels – one less strict than the lowest level in England and one more stringent than the highest level.

Ms Sturgeon said level 0 was “broadly comparable” to the situation Scotland reached in August when the virus was “very suppressed” but a threat. Under that level, up to eight people, from three different households, will be able to meet indoors.

Scotland introduced tier 4 – higher than the highest English level – in light of the warning from England’s chief medical officer that the three-tier set-up might not be tough enough to drive down infections in the worst-hit places.

Scotland would avoid using level 4 “unless absolutely necessary”. Under level 4, non-essential shops will close.

“We do not envisage returning to a situation as severe as the first lockdown imposed back in late March,” she said. “We are not back at square one.”

Businesses that the restrictions forced to close would be eligible for grants of either £2,000 or £3,000 for every four weeks they are shut, Ms Sturgeon said.

Ministers from 70 countries make education spending pledge

Andrew Jack in London

Ministers from 70 countries have pledged to maintain the share of spending on education, as they seek to limit the damage to budgets and the effects of lost learning on children whose schooling has been disrupted by coronavirus.

The promise comes in the wake of estimates that education and training has received less than 2 per cent of stimulus packages set up by countries to support recovery from Covid-19, with the vast majority in Europe and North America.

In a declaration co-ordinated by Unesco, the Paris-based UN organisation, the ministers committed to respecting international benchmark spending levels of at least 4 per cent of gross domestic product or 15 per cent of public expenditure.

However, a number of countries already fail to reach these proportions, while the cash amounts the targets represent are also set to fall as world economic growth drops sharply in the wake of the pandemic.

Wales set to go under 17-day lockdown to break coronavirus spread

Sarah Provan

The UK's devolved nation of Wales will go into a 17-day lockdown from 6pm local time on Friday, with people being told to stay at home to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Pubs, restaurants, hotels and non-essential shops will close, while meeting up with other households will be forbidden until November 9. Secondary schools will deliver lessons online for the week after half-term, except for children in years seven and eight. Primary schools and other childcare places will remain open.

Face coverings will still be obligatory in indoor public spaces, including on public transport and in taxis.

Anyone breaking the rules faces a fixed penalty notice of £60, which is doubled if they are breached a second time.

The "firebreak" restrictions have been put in place to save lives not Christmas, the first minister Mark Drakeford said at his briefing on Friday.

Governments of the UK's devolved nations have been in charge of imposing their local coronavirus restrictions according to how swiftly infection has spread.

Cases in Wales have increased. From October 9-15, the public health authorities confirmed 4,127 cases, based on positive test results, but added that "the real level of infections will be much higher".

The reproduction rate, or R number, in Wales is between 1.1 and 1.4, meaning the infection is spreading "exponentially" while the seven-day rolling rate for Wales has risen to more than 130 cases per 100,000 population.

World trade growth slows in August

Chris Giles

World trade grew 2.5 per cent in August, posting another strong month of recovery after a precipitous fall in the spring, according to the latest figures from the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.

The bureau, which specialises in collating trade statistics globally, said that the recovery in trade levels had slowed with growth down from 5 per cent in July and the quantity of trade between countries was still between 3 per cent and 4 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

The data chime with the latest IMF global economic forecasts that showed the global economy, particularly in the goods sector, growing rapidly during the summer months.

The latest PMI indicators in Europe on Friday further showed recoveries in manufacturing while the less-traded services sector was struggling to maintain momentum as a second wave of Covid-19 spread across Europe.

Intel and American Express shares fall after Covid hit

Naomi Rovnick in London

Shares in Intel and American Express fell on Friday as both US corporations revealed that their businesses had taken a hit from the coronavirus pandemic.

Intel’s stock dropped more than 10 per cent after the provider of chips for PCs and data centres said profit margins had been dented by home-working trends.

American Express fell by as much as 4 per cent after the credit card provider said lower spending by card holders during the pandemic had pushed its quarterly earnings down almost 40 per cent.

In quarterly results released after markets closed on Thursday, Intel said that while its cloud computing business had been boosted by people working and teaching their children at home, spending on data services by governments and businesses had fallen 47 per cent, year on year. The group’s gross margin fell almost 6 percentage points to 53.1 per cent.

Amex, which is viewed as a barometer for the borrowing and spending habits of affluent consumers, said net income fell 39 per cent to $1.07bn in the quarter to September 30, year-on-year. Earnings per share fell 38 per cent to $1.30, missing analysts’ expectations.

A revenue slump of 20 per cent during the period, compared with the same time last year, “reflected declines in card member spending", said chief executive and chairman Stephen Squeri.

Researchers believe universal mask use could save 130,000 US lives

Hannah Kuchler in New York

Universal mask use could save 130,000 US lives in the coming months, according to new forecasts which warn that a total of half a million Americans could die from Covid-19 by the end of February.

In a paper published in Nature, researchers said states that have already suffered considerably — including California, Texas and Florida — will face particularly high levels of disease and death.

Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and an author of the paper, said masks were an “easy win” to save lives and delay the imposition of other restrictions.

“We are heading into a very substantial fall, winter surge. So the idea that the pandemic is going away, of course, we do not believe is true,” he said. “We are heading towards quite high levels of daily death in late December, January, leading to very considerable cumulative deaths in the United States.”

The paper was published the day after President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden clashed over whether Covid-19 would bring a “dark winter” to the US. Mr Biden forecast a surge and recommended increasing mask use, while Mr Trump insisted it would not be a dark winter and said the country was opening up again.

The US reported 76,560 coronavirus cases and 1,173 deaths on Thursday. The forecasts include the current death toll of 214,845, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Florida's new Covid cases pull back from multi-week high

Peter Wells in New York

The number of new coronavirus cases in Florida pulled back on Friday from a multi-week high, while the state's positivity rate hovered around its lowest level in at least a fortnight.

A further 3,689 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, authorities revealed, down from 5,557 on Thursday and compared with 3,449 on Friday last week.

That is still slightly higher than the 3,335 cases a day the Sunshine State has averaged over the past week.

The latest batch of infections came from about 100,200 tests reported to the health department over the past day, down from about 106,000 on Thursday. This would rank as the first time in at least two weeks Florida has had back-to-back days of more than 100,000 tests, according to state data, and compared with the daily range over the past 10 days of about 34,000 to 85,000.

Within the most recent daily lot of tests, the percentage of people who tested positive for the first time dropped to 4 per cent from 5.59 per cent on Thursday, the lowest level in more than two weeks, putting aside a sub-4 per cent reading from about a fortnight ago that was affected by what the health department described as a "data dump" which prevented the normal processing of its reporting system.

Authorities on Friday attributed a further 74 deaths to coronavirus, up from 57 yesterday and compared with 98 on Friday last week.

France surpasses 1m coronavirus cases

David Keohane in Paris

France has crossed the symbolic line of 1m cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, after another 42,032 cases were reported on Friday.

With about two-thirds of the country already under curfew to try to stem the spread of the resurgent virus, France has now seen a total of 1,041,075 cases.

A further 298 people died in French hospitals over the past 24 hours owing to Covid-19, bringing the total number of fatalities to 34,508.

The number of people in intensive care climbed by 122 to 2,441 amidst widespread warnings that the country risks overloading its hospital capacity if it does not get the spread of Covid-19 under control.

French president Emmanuel Macron said on Friday it was "too early" to predict if the country was heading towards stricter lockdowns on a local or wider level.

The president added that "in the middle of next week we will have a clearer vision of the measures we have taken and we will have decisions to take in the coming weeks to adjust things".

Several Midwest states report near-record jumps in new cases

Peter Wells in New York

States across the Midwest continued to report among their biggest one-day jumps in coronavirus cases on Friday.

Ohio, one of the battlegrounds in the presidential election, reported a record number of new cases for the third day running, with the state health department revealing a further 2,518 cases, up from 2,425 on Thursday and 2,366 on Wednesday. Authorities attributed a further 23 deaths to coronavirus, nearly double the 12 reported on Thursday.

Illinois reported 3,874 new cases, down from the 4,942 on Thursday that public officials have classified as the state's biggest one-day increase on record. (Health department data show a one-day jump of nearly 5,400 on September 4, but authorities said at the time the figure was boosted by a backlog of cases following a jump in statewide testing that week.)

New restrictions on bars and a curfew on non-essential businesses in Chicago came into effect from Friday owing to a surge in cases in Illinois' most populous city. Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the measures on Thursday, pointing to a more than 50 per cent increase this month in the city's average daily case rate.

Like its neighbour to the west, Indiana also reported that daily cases pulled back from a record level. The state's health department revealed 2,519 new infections over the past 24 hours, down from Thursday's record of 2,842. This brought Indiana's seven-day moving average of new cases to a record 2,013 on Friday.

Wisconsin confirmed a further 4,378 infections, up from 3,413 on Thursday. Today's figure ranks as the state's second-biggest one-day increase in confirmed cases, trailing the 4,591 authorities reported on Tuesday.

Similarly, deaths had the second-biggest daily jump on record, with a further 42 reported today. That was up from 22 on Thursday and compared with the record of 48 on Wednesday, according to health department data.

All 12 states in the Midwest region have reported their highest rolling seven-day averages of new cases during the pandemic just this week, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

Colombia's vice-president tests positive for Covid-19

Gideon Long in Bogotá

Colombia's vice-president Marta Lucía Ramírez has tested positive for coronavirus as the country inches towards its one millionth confirmed case.

The 66-year-old took a routine test before travelling to a meeting in the city of Manizales and the result confirmed she had the virus. Her office said she was asymptomatic and was isolating.

The mayor of Medellín and the country's former president Álvaro Uribe are among other Colombian politicians to have caught the virus.

Colombia has registered 990,000 cases of Covid-19 — the eighth highest total in the world — and nearly 30,000 deaths. Although the number of new daily cases has fallen slightly since its peak in August the country is still recording around 8,000 a day.

California reports biggest one-day jump in cases in two months

Peter Wells in New York

California reported its biggest one-day jump in coronavirus cases in two months on Friday, while the state's positivity rate hit its highest in about three weeks.

A further 6,141 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, up from 2,940 on Thursday and compared with 3,075 on Friday last week.

It was the biggest one-day increase in cases since the 6,777 reported on August 23. The Golden State has now averaged 3,627 new infections a day over the past week, its highest rate since just after the Labor Day public holiday in early September.

Authorities attributed a further 73 deaths to coronavirus, down from a five-week high on Thursday of 162 and compared with 73 on Friday last week. Over the past week, California has averaged 62 deaths a day, the highest rate in nearly a fortnight.

The state health department reported 124,523 coronavirus tests over the past 24 hours, nearly double Thursday's volume of about 65,600.

California's 14-day positivity rate edged up to 2.8 per cent, the highest since early October, and compared with a historical low of 2.5 per cent on Friday last week.

AstraZeneca to restart US vaccine trial

Hannah Kuchler in New York

AstraZeneca will be able to restart its US Covid-19 vaccine trial after the regulator concluded it was safe to resume despite a participant falling sick with neurological symptoms.

The US Food and Drug Administration spent weeks reviewing safety data for the vaccine, developed with Oxford university, after the clinical trial was paused on September 6. Studies in other countries including the UK had already restarted.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive at the UK-based drugmaker, said "we should be reassured by the care taken by independent regulators to protect the public”.

“The restart of clinical trials across the world is great news as it allows us to continue our efforts to develop this vaccine to help defeat this terrible pandemic,” he said.

US bonds rally and stocks edge higher on stimulus talks

Camilla Hodgson and Naomi Rovnick in London and Richard Henderson in New York

US stocks, government debt and high-grade corporate bonds rose on Friday after weathering mixed messages on negotiations between Republicans and Democrats for a stimulus deal.

The S&P 500 index of blue-chips closed the day 0.3 per cent higher, but finished the week down 0.5 per cent, the worst week since September. Friday’s gains followed an afternoon rally helped along by comments from Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff, who told reporters that a deal could emerge as soon as the next day or two. The comments came after Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, said hurdles remained in reaching an agreement with Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite slid 0.4 per cent, weighed down by Intel, the US chipmaker, which was 10.6 per cent lower after reporting a decline in data centre revenues. Its earnings fell nearly a quarter from a year ago.

The yield on the US 10-year government note, which moves inversely to prices, fell nearly 2 basis points to 0.838 per cent, a reversal from selling on Thursday. BlackRock’s $57bn investment-grade corporate bond exchange traded fund LQD, which acts as a proxy for the corporate bond market, rallied 0.3 per cent.

South Dakota reports record jump in Covid cases

Peter Wells in New York

South Dakota reported its biggest one-day jump in coronavirus cases on Friday, punctuating a surge in infections that has made it one of the new hotspots for the pandemic in the US.

The health department revealed 1,185 new infections, including 53 probable cases, up from 973 on Thursday and compared with 793 on Friday last week.

Adjusted for population, South Dakota has one of the highest rates of coronavirus cases among all states at any point during the pandemic. The state's seven-day rolling average sits at more than 80 cases per 100,000 people a day, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project and US Census Bureau data. 

That is exceeded only by North Dakota, which is averaging more than 100 cases per 100,000 people a day. The two states, alongside Montana and Wisconsin, have set peak population-adjusted, seven-day averages for cases that top rates earlier hotspots such as Florida, Arizona and New York experienced during the worst of their crises.

Kristi Noem, South Dakota's Republican governor, said in a message on Twitter: "If folks want to wear a mask, they are free to do so. Those who don’t want to wear a mask shouldn’t be shamed into it, and govt should not mandate it."

That echoed comments she made in an op-ed piece earlier this week in a local newspaper, where she said she was "going to continue to trust" residents of the state to make "wise and well-informed decisions" for themselves and their families. The health department reported a positivity rate among tested individuals of 21.9 per cent on Friday and a seven-day average of 15.9 per cent.

Authorities attributed a further nine deaths to coronavirus, down from a record 14 on Thursday and compared with three on Friday last week.

Texas hospitalisations top 5,000 patients for first time in two months

Peter Wells in New York

The number of people currently in Texas hospitals with coronavirus topped 5,000 for the first time in two months on Friday.

The state's health department revealed there were 5,065 such patients across the state, up from 4,931 on Thursday, and the highest level since August 23.

A further 5,760 people in Texas tested positive for coronavirus over the past 24 hours, down from Thursday's two-month high of 5,917 new cases and compared with 5,682 on Friday last week.

Authorities have for months been adding older cases stemming from backlogs of tests at commercial laboratories to the statewide total, although these are excluded from the daily count. There were just over 700 such historical cases revealed in today's update, including 427 from the region around Houston and 269 from the area around El Paso. 

A further 89 deaths were attributed to coronavirus, up from 85 yesterday and compared with 91 on Friday last week.

US reports record increase of more than 83,000 new Covid cases

Peter Wells in New York

The US reported its biggest one-day jump in coronavirus cases of the pandemic on Friday, with the increase of more than 83,000 new infections streaking past the previous record set during the summer outbreak.

States reported a total of 83,010 cases, according to Covid Tracking Project data, up from 75,248 on Thursday and compared with 68,124 on Friday last week.

That surpassed the previous one-day record of 76,842 infections on July 17, when states in the southern US sunbelt were dealing with the worst of their outbreaks. 

Covid Tracking Project said Friday's figures came with a caveat. Alabama reported a record 3,852 cases "due to a backlog of antigen tests", while about 2,000 of the 6,141 cases from California today were also from backlogs.

Regardless, national trends in the US for cases, hospitalisations and deaths are rising and to their highest levels in weeks. The latest data mean the US has averaged 63,077 cases a day over the past week, the highest rate since late July. The number of people currently hospitalised with coronavirus, at 41,485, is the highest since August 20, while the seven-day average of fatalities sits at 786, the highest since September 20.

On Friday Texas (6,472 new and historical cases), California and Illinois (5,000) had the largest one-day increases, as per Covid Tracking Project data. 

Among the nine states to report record one-day increases were: Tennessee (3,606),  Pennsylvania (2,219), Utah (1,960) Colorado (1,373) and Wyoming (426).

Authorities attributed a further 916 deaths to coronavirus, down from 1,143 on Thursday and compared with 877 on Friday last week.

Texas (89), Florida (74) and California (73) reported the largest daily increases in deaths. Tennessee (65) was the only state to report a record jump in fatalities.

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