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Updated at 11/23/2020, 4:15:45 PM BST

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The UK government “deliberately stoked up” fear over coronavirus in order to justify lockdown restrictions, a former Supreme Court justice said on Tuesday. Jonathan Sumption attacked the government for imposing draconian restrictions with minimal parliamentary scrutiny.

The UK pensions regulator is to warn trustees of thousands of company final salary-style pension plans to be more alert for signs of employer distress. The action comes as the government is concerned that winding down coronavirus job support schemes will trigger a sharp rise in failures.

Hundreds of frontline doctors and health workers fighting the battle against coronavirus in Delhi have launched an indefinite strike over months of unpaid salaries. Services have been hit at many hospitals run by local authorities since Monday when senior doctors went on a mass leave protest.

US home prices rose at their fastest annual pace in two years, as gains picked up in August amid strong demand in the housing market. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index tracking home prices nationally jumped 5.7 per cent year on year, compared with a 4.8 per cent increase in the prior month.

Tammy Lewis-McCauley injects volunteer Katelyn Evans as part of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center trial of Pfizer’s vaccine

Pfizer’s chief executive has urged patience in the “last mile” of the pharmaceutical company’s Covid-19 vaccine development. Albert Bourla said on Tuesday he was still “cautiously optimistic” about the vaccine, which could be the first submitted for US emergency approval.

Amazon has said it will hire an additional 100,000 seasonal workers in the US and Canada to handle the holiday rush exacerbated by the pandemic. Marc Wulfraat, a logistics analyst, said Amazon was currently adding an average of 2.3m square feet of logistics space every week, “which is astonishing”.

Microsoft on Tuesday reported another strong quarter, as the pandemic boosted demand for its commercial cloud business. Revenue in the latest period jumped by 12 per cent to $37.2bn, 4 per cent above expectations, while earnings per share, at $1.82, rose by 32 per cent and topped forecasts by 28 cents.

Advent International is in talks to buy a key business unit of the data company Nielsen, in a deal that would value it at about $2.9bn. Nielsen shares have tumbled since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, falling from as much as $22 in late February to $13.25.

Melbourne relaxes strict rules from Wednesday

There will be no restrictions on reasons to leave home under a more relaxed regimen in Australia’s second-largest city instituted from Wednesday.

Melbourne residents no longer have to work from home, and restaurants will resume limited indoor as well as outdoor seated dining.

Groups of up to 10 people will be allowed in public, but people can still venture no further than 25km from their home.

Cafes and restaurants will have limits of 20 patrons indoors and 50 outdoors.

Greece reports record single-day rise in cases

Visitors climb the Lykabettos hill overlooking Athens

Kerin Hope in Athens

Greece reported a record single-day number of coronavirus cases on Tuesday, led by a further increase of infections in northern regions of the country.

Health authorities said 1,269 people tested positive, compared with 715 on Monday and 667 last Tuesday.

The northern cities of Ioannina and Serres, where Covid-19 cases have risen steadily this month, will be placed under quarantine from Thursday, Nikos Hardalias, the deputy minister for civil protection, said. Two nearby regions, Kozani and Kastoria, are already in lockdown.

Thessaloniki, the largest city in the north, where a night-time curfew took effect at the weekend, reported a single-day record of 291 cases.

Hong Kong convicts 62 people of quarantine breaches

George Russell in Hong Kong

More than 60 people have been convicted by Hong Kong courts for breaching quarantine orders, the government said on Tuesday.

In the latest cases, a 60-year-old woman and a 47-year-old man were sentenced to 14 days and 20 days of imprisonment respectively for leaving their quarantine locations “without reasonable excuse nor permission given by an authorised officer”.

Breaching a quarantine order is a criminal offence and offenders are subject to a maximum fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,225) and imprisonment for up to six months.

A total of 62 people have been convicted by the courts for breaching compulsory quarantine orders and have received sentences of imprisonment for up to three months or a fine of up to HK$15,000.

UK doctors say their mental well-being is declining

George Russell in Hong Kong

More than 40 per cent of British doctors say the pandemic has worsened their mental health, according to the results of a survey published in the British Medical Journal.

The British Medical Association survey found that 43 per cent of 6,550 doctors who answered a question about their mental well-being said that they were experiencing worse work-related depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or other mental health condition than before the pandemic.

The survey found that 72 per cent of doctors said that they were not confident that the UK could cope with a second wave of Covid-19, while 65 per cent were not confident their own local health care could cope.

Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA council, told the BMJ that the findings showed the scale of the challenges the UK would face in the coming months.

Global stocks extend losses on Covid-19 surge

FT reporters

S&P 500 fell for a second-straight day on Tuesday and shares in Europe closed sharply lower, as concerns grew that the worsening pandemic would stymie business activity.

Wall Street’s benchmark index dropped 0.3 per cent having risen earlier in the trading session and following a 1.9 per cent drop on Monday as coronavirus case numbers in the US surged higher.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite, however, was up 0.6 per cent. In Europe, the stock sell-off gathered pace in afternoon trading with bourses closing sharply lower.

The region-wide Stoxx 600 index, which lost 1.8 per cent on Monday, fell by a further 1 per cent to its lowest point since the end of May. London’s FTSE 100 closed down 1.1 per cent, Frankfurt’s Dax lost 0.9 per cent and the CAC 40 in Paris slid 1.8 per cent.

The falls came as investors digested the implications of further lockdown measures announced by countries including Spain and Italy to stem a surge in infections.

“The reality is that we have Covid-19 spikes in the EU and US and a gap of a few months before vaccines kick in, with Germany mentioning a soft lockdown,” said Sébastien Galy, senior macro strategist at Nordea Asset Management.

The economic recovery from the pandemic is “teetering on the edges of [being] a W-shaped reality”, he added.

Battleground state Pennsylvania reports new surge

Peter Wells in New York

Pennsylvania, one of the battleground states in the upcoming presidential election, reported its biggest one-day increase in coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

A further 2,751 people tested positive, the state's health department revealed this afternoon, up from a one-week low of 1,407 on Monday and compared with 1,557 on Tuesday last week.

Wisconsin reported a record jump in coronavirus cases and deaths on Tuesday, reflecting the political swing state’s weeks-long flare-up.

There were 5,262 confirmed cases revealed by authorities this afternoon, up from 2,883 on Monday and soaring past the previous one-day record of 4,591 on Tuesday last week. The state’s health department attributed a further 64 deaths to coronavirus.

Florida reported nearly 4,300 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, taking its seven-day average to the highest level in just over two months.

Voters stand in line at a polling station in Hialeah, Florida

The Sunshine State has now averaged just over 3,700 new cases a day over the past week, the highest seven-day average rate since August 24.

Arizona's new coronavirus case count ticked back above 1,000 on Tuesday, while deaths rose by the most in nearly a week.

A further 1,157 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, authorities revealed, up from 801 on Monday and compared with 1,040 on Tuesday last week.

California reported new coronavirus cases and deaths on Tuesday that both came in below their respective averages over the past week.

Authorities said 3,188 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, up from 2,981 people on Monday and compared with 3,286 on Tuesday last week. Another 43 deaths were attributed to coronavirus.

US experts urge caution on vaccinating children

Hannah Kuchler in New York

Children should not be given a Covid-19 vaccine until there are more data to ensure it is safe, experts have warned the US regulator, as the first group of American teenagers were dosed with a potential treatment for the disease.

Top vaccine scientists on an advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration said the disease develops so differently in children that any approval should not rely on data from adults.

Most children get no or only mild symptoms, so the risk-benefit calculations of giving them a vaccine are different from those for adults. Yet a small proportion develop a serious condition called multi-inflammatory syndrome, which can be fatal.

Read more here

Singapore announces end to quarantine subsidy

George Russell in Hong Kong

Singapore citizens and permanent residents will have to pay for their own stay-home accommodation and any Covid-19-related treatment from January 1 2021, the government announced on Tuesday.

The government has been bearing the cost since March, but the change reflects that the vast majority of returnees have already been repatriated.

From November 4, arrivals from more countries will be allowed to serve their stay-home notice at their own place of residence.

People who have travelled to Estonia, Fiji, Finland, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Turkey will be exempt from attending dedicated quarantine facilities.

To qualify, they must not have travelled to other countries in the 14 days before entry to Singapore.

They must also be staying in their place of residence alone, or only with household members who are also subject to a stay-home notice and have the same travel history.

Texas reports more than 7,000 new cases

Peter Wells in New York

Texas reported more than 7,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time in more than two months on Tuesday.

A further 7,055 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, authorities revealed this afternoon, up from 4,418 on Monday and compared with 4,856 on Tuesday last week.

It was the biggest daily increase in new cases since the 7,282 reported on August 18. Texas's health department has, for months, been adding older cases from backlogs of tests at commercial laboratories to the statewide total, although these are excluded from the daily tally.

University of Texas at El Paso student Ariona Gill undergoes a swab test

A further 237 historical cases were revealed by authorities, including 129 from the area around Houston and 53 from the region around El Paso.

The number of people currently in Texas hospitals with coronavirus rose to 5,512 from 5,278 on Monday. It was the highest number of patients since the 5,566 reported on August 21.

Authorities attributed a further 81 deaths to coronavirus, up from 10 on Monday and compared with 65 on Tuesday last week.

HIV testing disruption reversed, says UN agency

George Russell in Hong Kong

The disruption to HIV testing services caused by the coronavirus pandemic has largely been reversed, the UN’s agency for HIV/Aids reported on Tuesday.

“Recent data collection has shown that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on HIV testing services,” UNAids said in a statement, adding “the impact on HIV treatment has been less than originally feared”.

The survey focused on “vertical transmission”, the passing of HIV from mother to child.

Most countries experienced a decline in the number of women tested for HIV at their first antenatal clinic visit, but by June that decline had been reversed, the agency said.

UNAids said it worked with the World Health Organization and UN Children’s Fund to collect data from 43 countries.

US 7-day average of new cases tops 70,000 for first time

Peter Wells in New York

The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases in the US topped 70,000 for the first time on Tuesday, with hospitalisations also rising to their highest since mid-August.

A further 73,096 positive tests were reported by states over the past 24 hours, according to Covid Tracking Project data, up from 62,274 on Monday and compared with 60,558 on Tuesday last week.

The latest figure is about 10,000 cases shy of Friday's record one-day increase and has also pulled the national seven-day average of cases to 71,531 a day, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

Texas (7,792, including new and historical cases), Wisconsin (5,501 including confirmed and probable cases) and Florida (4,226) reported the biggest jumps in cases.

Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (2,751) and Colorado (2,211) had single-day record jumps in infections.

A masked woman crosses a street in Denver, Colorado. The state reported a single-day record jump in infections

A record 27 states now have seven-day averages of more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases a day.

A further 931 deaths were attributed to coronavirus, the most since Thursday's one-month high of 1,143. That compared to the 389 fatalities reported on Monday and with 832 on Tuesday last week.

Wisconsin (71, including 64 confirmed fatalities) and Oklahoma (22) were the states to report record single-day jumps in deaths.

Over the past week, the US has averaged 796 deaths a day, having crossed 800 on Sunday for the first time since mid-September.

The number of people currently in US hospitals with coronavirus rose to 44,212 from 42,917 on Monday, the highest level since August 15.

Asia-Pacific stocks dip as US and Europe cases climb

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Asia-Pacific stocks slipped on Wednesday after US and European equities fell on concerns over the economic impact of rising coronavirus cases.

Japan’s Topix fell 0.7 per cent, the Kospi in South Korea dipped 0.3 per cent and the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia edged down 0.1 per cent.

Those moves came after Europe’s Stoxx 600 shed 1 per cent while the FTSE 100 closed down 1.1 per cent following new lockdown measures in Spain and Italy to curb the spread of the virus.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 ended down 0.3 per cent as infections continued to climb and prospects of a fiscal stimulus deal before next week’s election faded.

S&P 500 futures dipped 0.5 per cent.

Countries must help students catch up, says global panel

Andrew Jack in London

Countries should step up efforts to help students catch up on learning they missed while schools were closed, according to an international review released on Wednesday.

The Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel recommended educators adopt more targeted approaches to teaching linked to assessments of their levels of knowledge rather than their age.

The panel said more information should be given to parents on the economic benefits of education, reducing travel time to school and offering structured lesson plans.

It also recommended giving merit-based scholarships to disadvantaged pupils.

The panel highlighted the importance of reducing “learning poverty”, with more than half of children in low and middle-income countries struggling with basic literacy or understanding of maths by the age of 10, without which it was difficult for them to pursue more advanced education.

Svetoslav Koliov, 15, does his homework in a park in Drazhintsi, Bulgaria

More than 1.6bn pupils have been out of school this year because of pandemic-related closures, and there is growing concern about how to raise and better spend funding to mitigate the lost months of learning.

The UK’s special envoy for girls’ education, Liz Sugg, said in a statement: “Coronavirus is not only the biggest global health and economic threat we’ve faced in a lifetime - it is also an unprecedented education crisis.”

She said even before the pandemic struck, nine out of 10 children in low income countries were unable to read a story by age 10.

“Without action, this will get worse,” Baroness Sugg said. “That is why it is more important than ever that we invest wisely to get children learning again.”

UK taskforce chair warns first vaccine may be ‘imperfect’

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

The chair of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has warned that the first generation of Covid-19 vaccines are “likely to be imperfect” if a successful vaccine is developed at all.

Writing in The Lancet, Kate Bingham, who heads efforts to find and manufacture a vaccine for Covid-19, cautioned against “complacency and over-optimism” about the process.

“The first generation of vaccines is likely to be imperfect, and we should be prepared that they might not prevent infection but rather reduce symptoms, and, even then, might not work for everyone or for long,” she said.

Governments around the world have touted a vaccine as the solution to the pandemic, pushing researchers to develop vaccines on a vastly reduced timescale.

The UK has secured access to six vaccine candidates among 240 in development.

A researcher works in an AstraZeneca vaccine lab near Buenos Aires

Older people, those with underlying health conditions and healthcare workers will be given priority for Covid-19 vaccines in the UK.

Two phase 3 vaccine trials are being carried out in the UK – the Oxford AstraZeneca candidate and the Novavax candidate — with further trials expected by US, European and possibly Chinese vaccine developers to come this year and in 2021.

Ms Bingham said the UK must work with other countries to protect the world from the Sars-Cov-2 virus as the pathogen was likely to evolve, and other viruses were likely to jump from animals to humans in the future.

“China, Europe, the US and the UK need to work together,” Ms Bingham said. “If we establish international collaboration right now, then we will be better prepared to control future pandemics without causing the largest global recession in history and the biggest threat to lives in living memory.”

Don’t hold elections, says Malaysia’s top doctor

Malaysia’s top health official has urged that no elections be held in the south-east Asian country to curb a surging Covid-19 outbreak, official media reported on Tuesday.

Director-general of health Noor Hisham Abdullah said if elections couldn't be avoided, postal voting should be encouraged and polling stations made safer, according to the Bernama news agency.

Dr Noor Hisham’s comments come amid reports that the state of Sarawak is likely to schedule an early election, while a by-election is set for the state of Sabah, a coronavirus hotspot, on December 5.

“Our recommendation is not to have an election,” he was quoted as saying at a press conference.

Sabah, on the island of Borneo, saw a surge of infections after its September 26 state election, which spread to Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s largest city, and other areas of the country.

Malaysia reported more than 800 new infections on Tuesday, including a new cluster in Sabah.

US charges man with $1.1m Covid-19 loan fraud

A Washington state man has been charged with fraudulently seeking more than $1.1m in Covid-19 relief, the US justice department said on Tuesday.

Austin Hsu, 46, of Issaquah, about 20 miles east of Seattle, was charged with one count of wire fraud.

The department alleges that Mr Hsu submitted nine fraudulent disaster loan applications on behalf of five different companies and lodged fake tax filings in support of his claims.

Mr Hsu is alleged to have sought loans through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the Paycheck Protection Program, the department said.

China reports 22 Covid-19 cases in Xinjiang

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

China recorded 22 Covid-19 cases in its Xinjiang region amid an outbreak in the city of Kashgar.

A prefecture-wide testing programme was rolled out in Kashgar after a woman tested positive for the virus over the weekend but showed no symptoms.

Testing of her close contacts revealed a cluster of almost 140 infections at the factory where her parents worked.

Health authorities in the city said they had discovered a total of 178 asymptomatic cases up until 5pm on Tuesday. Five previously asymptomatic patients had developed symptoms of Covid-19.

Chinese state media reported on Tuesday that all 4.74m residents in Kashgar prefecture had been tested for the virus.

China has controlled a series of localised outbreaks in cities including Beijing and Qingdao, but has avoided nationwide surges since it removed lockdown measures in the spring.

The country also reported 20 new imported Covid-19 cases, taking its total to 80,936.

Indonesian minister tips vaccine frontrunner

George Russell in Hong Kong

Indonesia expects a locally developed vaccine candidate to be first into use in the populous south-east Asian nation, according to official media on Tuesday.

Bambang Brodjonegoro, technology minister, told the Antara news agency that the Merah Putih (Red and White) vaccine being developed by the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology in Jakarta is furthest into development.

“We hope it will be completed and hopefully the results will be satisfactory by the end of this year,” he was quoted as saying by the agency.

Mr Brodjonegoro said animal tests would begin in October. The state-owned Bio Farma company in Bandung would then produce the vaccine for human trials.

Red and White is named for Indonesia’s national flag.

Five other Indonesian institutions are working on a Covid-19 vaccine: the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, University of Indonesia and Gadjah Mada University, all in Jakarta, as well as the Bandung Institute of Technology and Airlangga University in Surabaya.

The Eijkman Institute, which is developing the frontrunner, is best known for finding the cause of beri beri in the early 20th century. It is named for Christiaan Eijkman, a co-discoverer of vitamins.

UK youth and minorities jobs are hardest hit

Valentina Romei in London

The young and ethnic minorities in the UK are losing their jobs faster than the rest of the population when the government’s financial support comes to an end, a survey has found.

Nearly one in five young people, and just over a fifth of black, Asian and other ethnic minorities who have been furloughed during the coronavirus crisis, lost their jobs in September, according to a study by the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank.

The trend will push youth unemployment to its highest level in four decades, it said.

Read more here

Illinois governor bans indoor dining in Chicago

George Russell in Hong Kong

Illinois state authorities have reimposed restrictions on indoor dining in Chicago, after a renewed surge of coronavirus cases.

Governor JB Pritzker banned all indoor restaurant and cafe service in the city and required bars to close at 11pm. The new rules, in effect from Friday, prohibit more than 25 people to gather at one time.

“[Chicago] is now averaging more than twice as many Covid-related hospital admissions per day as it was a month ago, with a positivity rate that has almost doubled since the beginning of October,” Mr Pritzker said.

People walk by outdoor plastic dining bubbles at Fulton Market in Chicago

The governor’s decision puts him at odds with Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, who oversaw the decision to allow indoor dining.

Ms Lightfoot told the PBS NewsHour programme on Tuesday that she had asked Mr Pritzker to reverse his order.

“We will continue our efforts to engage with the governor ... so that we can forge targeted solutions to address the public health challenges here in Chicago and across the state,” she said.

But the governor said the rising cases gave him no choice. “We can’t ignore what is happening around us — because without action this could look worse than anything we saw in the spring,” Mr Pritzker said.

Delhi reports record new Covid-19 infection tally

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

Delhi has reported a record one-day high of 4,853 new coronavirus cases, raising concerns that the spread of the virus is set to accelerate with the onset of winter.

The Indian metropolis has recorded more than 364,000 coronavirus infections since its first case in early March, and has struggled to bring the virus under control.

The city’s seven-day average positive rate has risen to 7.2 percent, up from 5.3 per cent in the week ending October 8.

The World Health Organization has suggested that communities are carrying out adequate testing – and have the infection under control – when the positivity rate is below 5 per cent for two weeks.

VK Paul, the head of India’s coronavirus task force, had warned that Delhi’s caseload could rise to more than 15,000 a day as winter sets in, and people spend more time in close quarters.

A Delhi resident is tested by a mobile healthcare unit

Pandemic fatigue also appears to be leading many people to be letting down their guard.

The surge in Delhi’s cases coincides with rising air pollution, as the city is engulfed by the burning of agricultural waste in neighbouring states, raising concerns that those who do get infected might suffer far more severe illnesses.

The city’s health care system is also under strain with many doctors from public hospitals on strike over unpaid wages.

While Delhi’s caseload is on the rise, India’s daily new infections have dropped sharply since their peak in mid-September.

India as a whole recorded just about 36,000 new infections on Tuesday, a figure about 30 per cent lower than the previous seven-day rolling average.

However, the sharp one-day drop may be attributed to lower testing on weekends.

Canada's Covid-19 death toll tops 10,000

Canada dropped its guard over its Thanksgiving holiday, allowing coronavirus cases in many areas to surge as the country’s death toll passed 10,000, a top health official said on Tuesday.

Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief health officer, said renewed outbreaks were occurring in long-term care homes and other group living, working and learning environments.

“Public health is focused on detecting these outbreaks, so they can act quickly to control the spread,” he said.

On Tuesday, Canada recorded 2,674 new cases, making a total of 222,887 cases.
The death toll stands at 10,001.

Health officials said celebrations of the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday on October 12 spurred new infections.

“In some areas, we are learning that gatherings during the Thanksgiving weekend contributed to the elevated case counts we are seeing today,” Dr Njoo said. “Our actions matter.”

India and Australia to play cricket in November

George Russell in Hong Kong

Cricket Australia on Wednesday published the schedule for the touring Indian side, which was hurriedly assembled after the cancellation of the short-form Twenty20 World Cup due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The tour will include one-day matches in Sydney and Canberra before a series in the traditional five-day Test format. India and Australia will play their first ever day/night Test match.

The announcement of the schedule was delayed by the New South Wales state government insisting on tighter quarantine arrangements.

The 32-player India squad and Australian players returning from the lucrative Indian Premier League would train while serving their 14-day quarantine period, Cricket Australia said.

The group is expected to arrive from Dubai, where the IPL is being held this season, on November 12 but Australian Border Force is yet to approve the travel plans.

The West Indies cricket team departed from Barbados on Tuesday evening to begin a tour of New Zealand after squad members were tested for Covid-19, Cricket West Indies announced.

US coronavirus deaths rise to summer levels

Peter Wells in New York

Coronavirus-related deaths in the US have begun to rise to levels not seen since the summer outbreak in the American sunbelt, with fatalities reaching a new high on Tuesday in the hard-hit state of Wisconsin.

Health authorities in Wisconsin, which has been among the US states with the most Covid-19 cases per capita since the new surge in infections began this month, confirmed 64 deaths over the past 24 hours, the state’s highest one-day death count since the pandemic began.

A rise in coronavirus deaths historically has followed new outbreaks by two to four weeks, and has been preceded by a surge in hospitalisations. The US reached a new high in daily infections last week and on Tuesday had 44,000 beds occupied by Covid-19 patients, the highest total since mid-August.

Over the past week there have been 11 states whose seven-day average of deaths has reached a record high, the most since early August, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

The seven-day average of coronavirus deaths topped 800 a day on Sunday for the first time since mid-September. On Tuesday, the US recorded 931 fatalities, among the highest tallies since the summer; on Thursday, the death toll hit 1,143, the biggest daily jump during the most recent outbreak.

Despite the rise in fatalities, the rate of Covid-19 victims who are dying is generally lower than in the early stages of the pandemic, thanks to more knowledge about the disease as well as better treatment and preparation. The US also has vastly increased its testing capacity, meaning daily case rates may not be directly comparable with earlier outbreaks.

Barcelona chief quits over Covid-19 and Messi crises

Murad Ahmed in London

Josep Maria Bartomeu has resigned as the president of FC Barcelona, following a breakdown in relations with its star player, Lionel Messi, and a wider leadership crisis that has engulfed the world’s highest-earning football club.

Mr Bartomeu and the rest of the board at the Catalan club announced their departure on Tuesday night. The move came before a looming vote of no confidence from club members and following weeks of pressure from fans and commentators.

Barcelona have suffered humiliating defeats on the pitch in recent months, while the club’s finances are under strain because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read more here

Seoul vows carbon neutrality as part of Covid-19 stimulus

Edward White and Song Jung-a in Seoul

South Korea president Moon Jae-in has promised his country will be carbon neutral by 2050, marking a victory for environmentalists after decades of pressure on one of Asia’s biggest polluters.

Mr Moon, who was speaking to the National Assembly in Seoul on Wednesday, pledged Won8tn ($7bn) to green-focused growth as part of the country’s unprecedented financial stimulus to combat the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will move toward the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 by actively responding to climate changes together with the international society,” he said, adding: “We will replace coal power with renewable energy and create a new market, industry and jobs.”

The shift away from fossil fuels poses a serious challenge for Asia’s fourth-biggest economy which remains heavily reliant on coal to power its energy-intensive high-tech manufacturers.

South Korea derives just 5 per cent of its electricity from renewable resources – the lowest proportion of any OECD country, according to International Energy Agency data.

The country has the 12th-largest economy, according to World Bank data, but is the seventh-largest emitter.

Asia-Pacific air travel demand shows little sign of recovery

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

International travel on Asia-Pacific airlines showed little sign of improvement in September as borders in the region remained closed in efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Airlines in the region carried 1.1m international passengers last month, down more than 96 per cent from the same time last year, according to preliminary figures from the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines.

“Airlines are struggling to survive as international air travel remains severely curtailed by onerous travel restrictions,” said Suhas Menon, director general of AAPA. “Without recapitalisation or fund injections, several of the region’s carriers face an existential threat.”

International passenger numbers fell 77.6 per cent from January to September compared with the same period in 2019, as the pandemic hit demand and countries sealed their borders to outsiders.

Mr Menon described recent travel bubble agreements between countries as a “positive first step”, but cautioned that the requirements involved will limit uptake.

Hong Kong and Singapore are set to establish a travel bubble as early as next month allowing travel between the two destinations without the need for quarantine.

Singapore Airlines and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, both of which have no domestic routes, have been forced to slash jobs in efforts to weather the pandemic.

Air cargo demand was also weak with freight tonne kilometres down 17.5 per cent year on year, AAPA said.

Pandemic hits Hong Kong business courses

Primrose Riordan in Hong Kong

Hong Kong business school courses, including two top-ranked executive MBAs, have delayed their start dates until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic and student objections to online learning.

The delays show how steep the challenge is for universities in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, which has already been rocked by political crises, to maintain their position as a regional business education hub.

The Asian financial centre has banned most non-residents from coming to Hong Kong and imposed a two-week quarantine on the vast majority of newly arrived residents, making it difficult for students and faculty to attend classes in person.

Read more here

UK retailers lower prices to attract shoppers

Valentina Romei in London

UK shops lowered prices in October to support demand as new restrictions choked activity and consumer confidence, industry data showed.

Shop prices fell 1.2 per cent in October compared with the same month last year, a sharper decline than the 1.1 per cent of the average of the past 12 months, according to data from the British Retail Consortium and the consultancy KPMG.

The contraction was driven by non-food prices, which fell 2.7 per cent in October.

Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at Nielsen said “to help sales volumes, non-food retailers are limiting any price increases coming through the supply chain and food retailers are continuing with the lower prices introduced in recent weeks”.

Falling shop prices add pressure to retailers that have seen footfall drop again in the autumn.

Pedestrians walk along a high street in the London neighbourhood of Croydon

Consumers benefit from falling shop prices as they can buy more with their money, but the food sector bucked the trend with prices rising 1.2 per cent in October.

Food prices are supported by strong grocery demand as visits to restaurants and pubs are limited by new restrictions and fear of contagion.

Shop prices are expected to continue to be depressed in the months ahead as a possible rise in unemployment is set to damp demand.

However, Helen Dickinson, chief executive at the British Retail Consortium, warned that unless the UK can sign a trade agreement with the EU in the next few weeks “retailers will be unable to provide the same value to their customers after January 1”.

Australia returns to inflation on rising child-care costs

George Russell in Hong Kong

Australian consumer prices rose 1.6 per cent in the September 2020 quarter, following a record fall in the previous three-month period, according to official data released on Wednesday.

The return of annual inflation — at 0.7 per cent — followed a minus 0.3 per cent reading in the June quarter, which was only the third decline in annual inflation in the 72-year history of the consumer price index.

“In the September quarter child-care fees returned to their pre-Covid-19 rate, having been free during the June quarter,” said Andrew Tomadini, head of prices at the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“This was the largest contributor to the CPI rise in the September quarter. Excluding the impact of child care, the CPI would have risen 0.7 per cent,” he added.

Significant rises were also recorded in petrol, and pre-school and primary education, Mr Tomadini said.

Other notable increases included furniture (6.4 per cent), major appliances (5.3 per cent) and small appliances (5.8 per cent).

“Strong demand and supply shortages led to price rises and less discounting for many household durable goods,” Mr Tomadini said.

UK homebuyers’ queue lengthens over stamp duty

James Pickford and George Hammond in London

Surging demand in the UK housing market has left an extra 140,000 buyers in the queue to finalise their home purchase, as the rush to beat the deadline on a temporary stamp duty holiday causes bottlenecks in the buying process.

The relaxation of pandemic restrictions brought the housing market roaring back to life in May, as people sought to move to properties more suitable for lockdown living.

About 418,000 sales are in the pipeline — compared with 280,000 at this point last year — for homes worth £112bn, according to Zoopla, the property website.

Read more here

Hawaii offers pre-departure test to Japan arrivals

The US state of Hawaii plans to allow Japanese arrivals to avoid a 14-day quarantine if they have taken a Covid-19 test in Japan, the governor announced on Tuesday.

Travellers would have to submit a negative test result no more than 72 hours before departure from a list of trusted testing agencies in Japan.

“Many of Hawaii’s residents trace their ancestry back to Japan and welcoming our Japanese guests back ... is an important step in maintaining the close relationship between our two regions,” said governor David Ige.

Singapore recovery ‘gradual and uneven’, says central bank

George Russell in Hong Kong

Singapore can expect a “gradual but uneven recovery path”, the city-state's de facto central bank said in a report released on Wednesday.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore said in its twice-yearly Macroeconomic Report: “Some pockets of the economy may not recover to pre-pandemic levels even by the end of next year.”

It said tourist arrivals will stay depressed and heightened economic uncertainty will continue to cap discretionary spending by households.

Construction, which relies heavily on foreign workers, is expected to see a more significant pick up in the fourth quarter, owing to thorough quarantine procedures enabling most projects to resume.

However, most companies and households would continue to be restrained by loss of income and increased uncertainty, MAS forecast.

Singapore’s economy recorded an unprecedented contraction in the second quarter

The authority said the Covid-19 pandemic had caused a greater effect on domestically oriented sectors than previous crises.

“These sectors have stronger interlinkages with firms and households within the domestic economy, thus amplifying the negative shock,” the report said.

Singapore’s economy recorded an unprecedented contraction in the second quarter of 2020, shrinking 13.2 per cent on a quarter-on-quarter, seasonally adjusted basis.

Although the number of new Covid-19 infections in Singapore has fallen substantially, and the economy rebounded in the third quarter, MAS said growth will “taper off” in the quarters ahead.

“The consumer-facing sector was the first to recover as social-distancing measures were eased,” the central bank noted in the report. “However, this initial boost in Q3 is expected to wane in Q4.”

PlayStation 5 boosts Sony revenue forecast

Kana Inagaki in Tokyo

Sony has raised its annual profit guidance by 13 per cent as the Covid-19 boost to its PlayStation games business has helped to offset a slowdown in smartphone camera sensors caused by the US-China trade dispute.

For the full year to the end of March 2021, the Japanese entertainment and technology group said it expected an operating profit of ¥700bn ($6.7bn) compared with a profit of ¥620bn it projected in August.

That was above analysts’ forecasts for a profit of ¥662bn, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

It also lifted its annual revenue forecast by 2 per cent to ¥8.5tn and its net profit outlook by 57 per cent to ¥800bn, although that was mainly due to one-off tax factors.

The upward revision on Wednesday came as the $145bn global gaming industry has benefited from people spending more time at home because of coronavirus lockdowns, creating a strong tailwind for Sony as it prepares to launch its new PlayStation 5 console in mid-November.

The bullish outlook for its gaming business came even as the company lowered its operating profit guidance for its image sensor business by 38 per cent.

For the July to September quarter, Sony saw its operating profit increase 14 per cent from a year earlier to ¥317.8bn.

The success of its PlayStation business has become pivotal for Sony with the gaming business generating 42 per cent of its operating profits in the first six months of its financial year.

Elsewhere, shutdowns of cinemas have hurt its film division while profitability has sharply declined for image sensors used in smartphones and digital cameras.

Deutsche Bank receives boost from bond-trading surge

Olaf Storbeck in Frankfurt

Deutsche Bank reported its highest profit in six quarters as Germany’s largest lender was boosted by a 47 per cent surge in bond trading revenue and falling provisions for credit losses that both beat analyst expectations.

After years of losing ground to Wall Street rivals, Deutsche Bank’s investment bank won back market share in the third quarter as its five largest US rivals on average reported only a 26 per cent rise in fixed income trading revenue.

“While we benefited from some market tailwinds, the key driver of our outperformance has been the changes we have made to our business over the past year,” Ram Nayak, Deutsche’s head of fixed income and currency sales and trading, told the Financial Times.

Total revenue at Deutsche’s investment bank increased by 43 per cent year-on-year and at €2.4bn was even higher than in the first quarter, which traditionally is the strongest quarter in investment banking.

The Frankfurt-based bank on Wednesday morning reported €182m in profit attributable to shareholders, compared with a loss of €942m in the same period a year ago. Analysts had expected a loss of €26m.

In the third quarter, Deutsche Bank earmarked €273m for credit losses compared with €761m in the second quarter, which was 20 per cent lower than expected by analysts, as coronavirus-related headwinds abated quicker than anticipated over the summer.

Car sales return to growth at PSA

David Keohane in Paris

France’s PSA, the owner of Peugeot, said that car sales started to rise again in the third quarter after slumping in the first half in the face of falling demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

PSA's overall third quarter revenues fell 0.8 per cent from the same period last year to €15.5bn. However, sales at the core automotive division were up 1.2 per cent at €12bn, driven by a “strong product mix and pricing policy.”

Revenues fell sharply in the first half, with the automotive division down 35.5 per cent as PSA, along with peers, was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. The carmaker had managed to eke out a small profit in the first half but its shares are still down 24 per cent so far this year.

Sales are starting to grow at car groups across Europe as economies and dealerships have opened. But with countries such as France considering fresh restrictions such as national lockdowns, analysts are warning that the coming months could be rough.

PSA and Italian-American rival FCA agreed last year a merger to create the world’s fourth-largest carmaker. EU competition authorities are likely to allow the deal to complete in the first quarter of next year.

The two groups had already agreed to amend the terms of their €50bn merger to preserve more cash within the combined business - by cutting expected payouts to shareholders - to help the carmakers weather the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

London Heathrow loses title to Paris as Europe's busiest airport

Philip Georgiadis in London

London's Heathrow airport has lost its crown as Europe's busiest airport to Charles de Gaulle in Paris as quarantine restrictions hamper the industry's efforts to restart mass travel.

The boss of Heathrow warned ministers that Britain "is falling behind" other European countries in reopening its borders and said the government has been "too slow" to introduce passenger testing.

"European leaders acted quicker and now their economies are reaping the benefits," John Holland-Kaye said on Wednesday.

Between January and the end of September, 19.3m passengers used the Paris airport, about 300,000 more than those who passed through Heathrow, the airport's figures showed.

The UK government has introduced a taskforce to review the practicalities and effectiveness of testing returning passengers, with a view of using a single test taken about a week after arrival to cut the current 14-day quarantine period.

The warning came as Heathrow reported its losses had grown to £1.5bn in the first nine months of the year. Passenger numbers have fallen nearly 80 per cent. Heathrow revised its forecast for passenger numbers this year down to 22.6m.

The airport said its cash reserves were sufficient for the next 12 months "even under an extreme scenario with no revenue".

Consumer rebound boosts sales at Carrefour

Leila Abboud in Paris

Carrefour, Europe’s biggest food retailer, benefited from a rebound in consumer spending over the summer in France, its largest market, allowing it to deliver forecast-beating sales growth in the third quarter.

The group posted an 8.4 per cent increase in like-for-like sales to €19.7bn, which it called its “best performance in at least 20 years”. Analysts at Société Générale had predicted like-for-like sales growth of 4.9 per cent, and the performance was also an improvement on the 6.3 per cent growth posted in the second quarter.

The French company also said on Wednesday that was on track to hit the targets in its latest strategic plan, which aims to boost earnings and sales by 2022.

"Carrefour's sales in the third quarter reflect the excellent momentum under way in the group, confirming the success of the Carrefour 2022 transformation plan," said chief executive Alexandre Bompard in a statement.

Food retailers have been hit with higher costs on everything from staff to tightened cleaning processes during the Covid-19 pandemic, and at times have struggled with supply chains.

Carrefour’s large hypermarkets have also lost popularity among some French consumers this year as they preferred to order online or visit smaller convenience stores closer to home.

Since taking over as chief, Mr Bompard has made reviving flagging sales at hypermarkets a priority, and recently named a new executive to run the business in France where it has 248 hypermarkets out of 5,439 stores.

Sales at Carrefour's French hypermarkets rose 2.5 per cent in the third quarter after a 3.6 per cent decline in the second quarter.

Next upgrades forecasts again after jump in online sales

Jonathan Eley in London

Next upgraded its full-year profit forecast for the third time this year, after sales grew in the third quarter.

The UK fashion chain said it now expected pre-tax profit to be about £365m, up from the £300m forecast at the time of its half-year results in September and ahead of analysts' expectations of £347m.

The forecast is still less than half the £750m of profit made in its last financial year, but well above the gloomy forecasts made at the peak of the pandemic. In April, even the company’s most optimistic scenario had sales falling 30 per cent; Next is now budgeting for a 17 per cent decline over the full year.

Product sales in the third quarter were up 4.8 per cent. Because Next made the majority of its sales online even before the pandemic, a 23 per cent rise in online sales more than offset a 18 per cent contraction in store sales.

Despite the increase in sales, the company’s projections for the fourth quarter remain conservative — its central scenario entails sales falling 8 per cent, and even its most optimistic scenario has them flat.

It has factored in local lockdowns reducing footfall to stores, increasing levels of staff absence due to self-isolation in its distribution facilities and shopper wariness as stores become more crowded in the run-up to Christmas.

Heineken plans job cuts as bar closures cut into profit

Judith Evans in London

Heineken is to cut jobs in its head and regional offices after restaurant and bar closures in the pandemic cut sharply into profits for the first nine months of the year.

The Dutch brewer said it would “streamline its head office and regional offices with an expected reduction of around 20 per cent in related personnel costs”, starting in the first quarter of 2021, as part of a broader strategic review to deal with the consequences of the coronavirus crisis.

The brewer of Amstel, Tiger and Moretti said reported net profit for the first three quarters of 2020 was €396m, down 76 per cent from last year’s €1.7bn.

Beer volumes fell 1.9 per cent, calculated on an organic basis, in the third quarter, a stronger figure than analysts had expected.

That followed a 16.4 per cent decline in the first half, along with a €550m writedown to the value of its assets.

Heineken had committed to avoiding “structural” job cuts during 2020, but said it expected a further impact on its business from fresh waves of coronavirus infection alongside the deepening economic toll of the pandemic.

Many European countries have once again closed bars and restaurants to combat the second wave, it said.

Puma posts strong quarterly recovery yet warns of Covid sales hit

Harry Dempsey in London

Puma bounced back quicker than expected from a pandemic-induced sales slump in the third quarter but the German sportswear company struck a cautious note on trading to the end of the year as countries reimpose restrictions to combat the fast-spreading virus.

Sales rose to €1.58bn, from €831m in the second quarter and better than analysts’ expectations of €1.56bn, the group said on Wednesday. The Americas and the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions led the strong recovery, while sales in Asia-Pacific slipped.

"The third quarter developed much better than I expected. Retail stores reopened, sports events resumed, consumer confidence improved and our sales increased week by week,” said Bjørn Gulden, chief executive of Puma.

However the strong third quarter was overshadowed by uncertainty triggered by a sharp rise in coronavirus cases that has put much of Europe on the edge of a crisis, leading the company to say it could not provide an outlook for the full year.

“October started well, but the recent development of Covid-19 and the number of infections we are seeing globally make us cautious for the rest of year,” Mr Gulden said.

Shares in Puma fell about 2 per cent in early Frankfurt trading.

Elections under way in Indian state of Bihar amid Covid fears

Jyotsna Singh in Delhi

Voters go to the polls on Wednesday in Bihar, one of India's poorest and most populous states, as fears of infection accelerate ahead of the country's first major election since the coronavirus pandemic began.

More than 20m voters, including those living in some of Bihar's most affected districts, are expected to queue up at polling stations on Wednesday, amid warnings from health experts over a likely surge in coronavirus infections.

"Maintain a distance of two yards and wear a mask mandatorily," prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted while urging people to turn up to vote .

The election commission responsible for organising the polls has ordered extensive measures to ensure voters' safety, including allowing an extra hour for voting.

Facilities have been provided to those with special needs and people above 80 years to cast their ballots at home, under strict observation by election officials.

But health experts have warned that mass gatherings and election rallies pose a serious challenge to efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

At a number of election rallies in recent weeks people have turned up without masks in huge numbers.

Most of the millions of migrant labourers who fled big cities after Mr Modi's government enforced the world's strictest lockdown, came from Bihar.

Unemployment has emerged as a key election issue in the state riven by caste and identity politics. The polls are being seen as a first electoral test for Mr Modi's popularity since the pandemic hit India. The country has the second most coronavirus infections in the world, with a caseload about to reach 8m.

Pakistan to make face masks mandatory in public places

Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad

The Pakistan government is preparing to make it mandatory for all citizens to wear face masks when stepping out of their homes, according to a senior health ministry official.

“The decision has been made. An announcement will be made any time soon” the official told the Financial Times.

The decision follows warnings by health experts about the arrival of a second surge in coronavirus cases across the south Asian country, after Europe was caught off guard having relaxed restrictions over the summer.

On Tuesday, Faisal Sultan, a leading expert on infectious diseases appointed earlier this year as the de facto health minister, said: “A few weeks ago we were getting 400 to 500 cases per day but now it has increased to 700 to 750 cases”.

Earlier this year, international agencies recognised the first signs of Pakistan’s success in slowing down the pace of coronavirus transmissions, by enforcing tight controls on commercial activities and restricting attendance at educational institutions. But the partial relaxation of such controls appears to have aided the resurgence in the virus.

Economists have warned that the resurgence could further hit Pakistan’s weak economy. The country signed up to a $6bn IMF loan programme in 2019 but senior government officials have told the FT that the country has been unable to meet the targets agreed with the Washington-based lender.

European stocks slide to four-month low on mounting Covid fears

Adam Samson in London

European stocks dropped for the third day in a row, knocking the regional benchmark to its lowest level since June, on mounting expectations of stricter government measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The Stoxx 600 index fell 1.3 per cent after the open on Wednesday and has shed 4 per cent since the end of last week as bourses in Frankfurt, Paris and London have endured bouts of selling.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and French President Emmanuel Macron are expected to unveil on Wednesday tighter restrictions to curb the second wave of the pandemic that is worsening across the continent.

The spectre of tougher coronavirus-related rules, which weighed on economic output during the initial wave of the pandemic this spring and summer, has “severely soured” market sentiment, strategists at Italian bank UniCredit have said.

France’s CAC 40 fell 2.1 per cent in early trade on Wednesday, with the German DAX off 1.9 per cent and the FTSE 100 in London down 1.2 per cent.

US stock-index futures came under selling pressure during the European morning, suggesting the gloomy sentiment could spill over to Wall Street. Futures tracking the S&P 500 index were down around 1 per cent in recent dealings.

Kaz Minerals shareholders offer £3bn to take copper miner private

Henry Sanderson in London

The largest shareholders of London-listed copper miner Kaz Minerals have made a £3bn all-cash buyout offer for the company.

The miner said Oleg Novachuk and Vladimir Kim offered 640p per share for the 61 per cent of the company that they do not already own.

The deal comes following a 10 per cent rise in copper prices this year. Shares in Kaz Minerals, which produces from two mines in Kazakhstan, have risen by 15 per cent in the year-to-date to 630p.

The shareholders said they believed the company's strategy of long-term growth “may be misaligned with the preference of many investors in the mining sector”.

The development of the Baimskaya mine in Russia, which Kaz Minerals bought in 2018, will “be best undertaken away from public markets as a private company”, they said.

Sales improve at Nivea maker Beiersdorf but outlook remains shaky

Sarah Provan in London

Nivea maker Beiersdorf showed “significant improvement” in the third quarter when the skin care specialist clawed its sales back into growth, as its shower products fared less badly than before.

The Hamburg-based maker of plasters and suncare products revealed a glimmer of hope among the coronavirus-induced global gloom as it generated 0.2 per cent growth in organic sales for the quarter to €5.2bn, compared with the same period a year earlier. That is an improvement on the first half, when sales dropped 10.7 per cent.

However, the German group was unable to give much further guidance.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has large parts of the world firmly in its grip,” said Stefan De Loecker, chief executive of Beiersdorf. “It is still not possible to predict when the situation will improve sustainably.”

The group's shares fell more than 6 per cent in early Frankfurt trading. They are down 12 per cent this year.

The drop in sales of Nivea eased to 1 per cent in the third quarter, as customers began to shower more after weeks of staying at home during stiff lockdown measures during the first wave of coronavirus at the beginning of the year. Nine-month sales dropped 6.2 per cent.

Its dermocosmetics brands, such as Eucerin and Aquaphor, accelerated their growth to rise 15.5 per cent in the three months to September, driven by a strong performance in North America.

Sales of La Prairie creams were particularly hit by coronavirus-induced lockdown measures and a decline in international travel retail business, diving 16.9 per cent in the third quarter.

The spectre of lockdowns in many countries, especially in Europe, is not far away though as Covid-19 cases and deaths have surged again in a second wave that promises to be more devastating than the first.

Bulgaria's central bank governor joins prime minister in testing positive

Kerin Hope in Athens

Bulgaria's central bank governor has tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating, a bank spokesman said on Wednesday.

Dimitar Radev, the governor, will work from his home in Sofia for two weeks while he is in quarantine, while other central bank officials will take over some operations, the spokesman said.

Prime minister Boyko Borisov is also self-isolating after testing positive at the weekend. His office said he was feeling unwell but would continue to be treated at home.

The government has unveiled stricter restrictions that include shutting high schools, universities and night clubs following a jump in Covid-19 cases this month. Eighteen of Bulgaria's 28 regions are included in the high-risk "red zone".

Health authorities' latest daily figures of Covid-19 cases, out on Tuesday, revealed a single-day record of 2,569. Bulgaria has recorded 42,701 confirmed cases since the pandemic began.

Record Polish and Czech cases show second-wave devastation

James Shotter in Warsaw

Poland and the Czech Republic have posted record daily numbers of coronavirus cases as the spread of infection wreaks more devastation in central Europe second time round.

Within the past 24 hours, Poland reported 18,820 cases and 236 Covid-19 deaths, its highest single day toll since the start of the pandemic. The Czech Republic reported 15,663 cases and 98 deaths and, in per capita terms, has the fastest growing outbreak in the EU after Belgium.

Both countries came through the first wave of the pandemic relatively unscathed, as did central Europe, after locking down rapidly when the virus arrived in Europe in March. But during the second wave they have been unable to prevent a surge in cases that has put their health systems under intense pressure.

Hospitals have run out of capacity and Poland and the Czech Republic are building field hospitals to ease the strain on their health systems.

The Czech Republic last week reintroduced a partial lockdown to try and regain control of the pandemic. Poland has also tightened restrictions, closing restaurants and bars, and switching most school children to remote learning.

In total the Czech Republic, with a population of 10.7m, has recorded 284,033 cases of Covid-19 and 2,547 deaths. Poland, with a population of 38m, has recorded 299,049 cases and 4,851 deaths.

Crime in England and Wales plummets during lockdown

Harry Dempsey in London

The coronavirus lockdown and closure of nightlife in spring prompted a sharp reduction in crime across England and Wales, as police took advantage of the empty streets to crack down on drug crime.

Theft and robbery offences fell the most, dropping by almost half during the April to June quarter given the lower number of opportunities on offer to steal from vacant houses and from people out in public, data from the Office for National Statistics showed.

“Decreases in crime levels during the year ending June 2020 were mainly driven by changes in society after coronavirus lockdown restrictions were put in place,” said Billy Gazard from the ONS centre for crime and justice. However, he added that crime levels appeared to be moving back towards pre-pandemic levels in June.

The strict nationwide Covid-19 restrictions helped the police to crack down on drug related offences, which rose 30 per cent in the quarter, as most of the general public stayed indoors for long stretches of time and the police were freed from dealing with other crimes.

The police recorded 5.8m crimes in England and Wales in the year ending June, down 4 per cent on the previous year thanks to the fall in offences in the spring months.

For violation of lockdown rules such as meeting in large groups or refusing to wear a face mask on public transport, the police issued 18,656 penalties between late March and early July.

There was evidence of a rise in demand for services related to domestic abuse, reported by charities including Refuge, but the ONS said that policing data would be put together with other sources for a publication later this year.

South African president Ramaphosa quarantines after charity dinner

Joseph Cotterill in Johannesburg

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa has gone into quarantine after a guest at a dinner that he attended tested positive for coronavirus.

Mr Ramaphosa is showing no symptoms after he attended the charity fundraising event of 35 guests on Saturday, the South African presidency said in a statement on Wednesday.

The dinner held at a Johannesburg hotel “adhered stringently to Covid-19 protocols and directives on screening, social distancing and the wearing of masks”, it added.

South Africa has recorded about 717,000 cases to date, including more than 647,000 recoveries and over 19,000 deaths.

The country has largely ended a lockdown that was one of the world’s most restrictive, after a first wave peaked in recent months. Hotels and other social gatherings are still subject to strict rules on overall capacity, mask-wearing and distancing.

This week Mr Ramaphosa denied that a second lockdown was imminent after an increase in cases in some areas.

“I don’t want to be alarmist," he told MPs "If we ever get there, I will be the one to advise the nation where we are, and where we are going to."

Rouhani urged to allocate funds for food as crisis in Iran escalates

Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Iran's parliament has urged the government of Hassan Rouhani to allocate its income from privatisation to pay most Iranians staple food vouchers as the Covid-19 daily death toll surpassed 400.

The health ministry on Wednesday reported 415 deaths over the past 24 hours after more than a week of record numbers. Authorities had said before that the official number only covers those who tested positive while the real number could be up to two-and-a-half times as much.

Iran has the highest fatality rate in the Middle East with a total of 33,714 deaths, with officials blaming a combination of US sanctions and the pandemic. Mr Rouhani reiterated on Wednesday that the two factors had put the country in a war-like situation.

The majority of the legislative body voted on Wednesday in favour of the plan to help feed people, which covers 60m Iranians out of an 83m population, until the end of this Iranian year on March 20.

Inflation, economic contraction and currency devaluation have fuelled poverty while Iran’s middle class worries about making ends meet if the sanctions and the pandemic persist.

The capital has to be shut down for at least two weeks to slow the spread of the disease, Mohsen Hashemi, head of Tehran City Council, said on Wednesday.

But the government is unable to do so on concerns of fueling economic woes, he added.

GE beats expectations despite sharp drop in orders

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in New York

Industrial conglomerate GE beat expectations for revenues and profitability in a quarter in which the coronavirus pandemic continued to weigh on its core markets.

The group’s shares rallied by almost 7 per cent in pre-market trading after third quarter adjusted earnings of 6 cents per share exceeded Wall Street’s expectations of a 4 cent adjusted loss, and revenues of $19.4bn beat consensus forecasts of $18.7bn. 

Margins improved in every business except aviation.

The stock had fallen 40 per cent since the start of the year as the Covid-19 crisis upended core businesses from aircraft engines to power turbines, and the third quarter figures showed a 31 per cent year-on-year drop in orders to $15.5bn. 

Larry Culp, chairman and chief executive, said GE’s order book remained “under pressure” but added that the group was on track to cut costs by $2bn and improve its cash position by $3bn over the full year. 

“While our work continues, GE’s transformation is accelerating,” he said. Industrial free cash flow, which reached $514m in the third quarter, would be at least $2.5bn in the fourth quarter and positive in 2021, he said. 

GE also recorded a $100m reserve in the period to cover “legacy matters” being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. It revealed earlier this month that it faced possible action by the US regulator over its past accounting of insurance liabilities.    

UPS earnings rise with surge in home deliveries

Matthew Rocco

United Parcel Service’s quarterly profit increased nearly 12 per cent during a surge in home deliveries, as more consumers shopped online during the coronavirus pandemic.

Its US business increased 13.8 per cent year-on-year in average daily package volume, boosted by “elevated residential demand”. Domestic revenue rose 15.4 per cent to $13.2bn.

Overall, revenues for the third quarter climbed $21.2bn, up 16 per cent and topping analysts’ forecast of $20.2bn.

Carol Tomé, chief executive, said the September quarter was “fuelled by continued strong outbound demand from Asia and growth from small and medium-sized businesses”.

UPS earned $2bn in net income, up from $1.75bn a year ago. On an adjusted basis, earnings of $2.28 per share eclipsed the consensus estimate of $1.90.

The company did not provide earnings guidance, citing uncertainty over the timing and pace of the economic recovery.

Package volumes for UPS and its rival FedEx have swelled since the start of the pandemic, with coronavirus-related shutdowns for retail stores and concerns over the spread of the virus prompting consumers to have more items shipped to their homes.

UPS said last month it was preparing for a record-setting holiday season. It plans to hire more than 100,000 seasonal employees to “support the anticipated annual increase in package volume”.

Its shares, which were down fractionally in pre-market trading, have gained 45.9 per cent year-to-date.

European Commission to extend EU-wide testing and tracing

Michael Peel in Brussels

Brussels has unveiled plans to improve EU-wide coronavirus testing and tracing as part of a package of measures triggered by alarm at the pandemic’s resurgence in Europe.

The European Commission wants to extend the linked network of national contact tracking apps launched by Germany, Italy and Ireland last week to as many of the EU’s other 24 states as possible.

Ursula von der Leyen, commission president, on Wednesday called the Covid-19 situation “very serious”, which demanded a stronger EU response.

“Courageous steps taken now will help save lives and protect livelihoods,” she said. “No member state will emerge safely from this pandemic until everyone does.”

The commission said 17 national Covid-19 contact tracing apps were based on decentralised systems that could be made to become interoperable, with others in the pipeline.

“All member states should set up effective and compatible apps and reinforce their communication efforts to promote their uptake,” it said.

The commission proposed that member states should co-ordinate strategies for rapid testing, vaccination and travel around the bloc.

Eni records second quarterly loss as pandemic drags on oil prices

Anjli Raval in London

Italy's Eni reported a second consecutive net loss as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on oil company finances.

The refining, marketing and chemicals division booked a 90 per cent drop in earnings while profits in the oil exploration and production business fell by 76 per cent.

The adjusted net loss of €153m in the three months to September 30 compares with a profit of €776m in the same period a year ago. Analysts had predicted a loss of €180m.

Production fell by 10 per cent year over year, while crude prices dropped 30 per cent leading to net cash from operations falling by a third.

Boeing to cut another 7,000 jobs

Claire Bushey in Chicago

Boeing is planning additional lay-offs and voluntary departures to shrink its workforce nearly 19 per cent by the end of next year as the pandemic blunts demand for aircraft.

The Chicago company had said it would cut 19,000 jobs by the end of 2020, the bulk of them in the commercial planes division. Now it will cut another 7,000 positions through lay-offs, voluntary and involuntary. Combined with natural attrition, the jetmaker expects its workforce to go from 160,000 at the start of 2020 to 130,000 by the end of 2021.

Boeing said in the first quarter that it would reduce its workforce by 10 per cent, then said last quarter deeper cuts were coming.

“The deep impacts of Covid-19 on the commercial aviation market and our business are reflected in lower revenue, earnings and cash flow compared to this time last year,” chief executive David Calhoun said in a memo to employees. “As we align to market realities, our business units and functions are carefully making staffing decisions to prioritise natural attrition and stability in order to limit the impact on our people and our company.”

Boeing reported a net loss of $401m for the third quarter compared with a profit of $1.3bn for the same period last year. Revenue fell 29 per cent to $14bn. Free cash flow, an important metric for the company that subtracts capital expenditures from operating cash flow, was a negative $5.1bn, compared with $2.9bn in the third quarter of 2019.

Boeing has been dealing with Covid-19 for seven months and the 737 Max crisis for 19. Demand for air travel collapsed as governments issued stay-at-home orders to combat the pandemic, and it has only recovered to a fraction of 2019 levels. Meanwhile, the 737 Max remains grounded following two fatal crashes, though regulators in the US and Europe have signalled that in November they will allow the jet to fly again.

Scottish study distances hospital discharges from care home outbreaks

Mure Dickie in Edinburgh

The size of a care home appears to be a much bigger factor in how vulnerable it was to a coronavirus outbreak than whether it took in patients discharged from hospital, according to a study by government agency Public Health Scotland published on Wednesday.

The study follows pressure on Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, over revelations that some people were transferred from hospitals to care homes in the early stages of the pandemic despite having tested positive for Covid-19.

Many other patients were discharged to care homes during the early stages of the pandemic without having been tested for the virus, with some in the sector blaming such transfers for the high numbers of Covid-19 deaths in homes.

The PHS study did not find statistical evidence that hospital discharges of any kind were associated with care home outbreaks between March and May this year. It did find that the risk of an outbreak was bigger the larger a care home was.

“In this analysis the risk of an outbreak associated with care home size is much larger than any plausible risk from hospital discharge,” the study said.

GSK sales fall as vaccinations return to pre-pandemic levels

Donato Paolo Mancini in London

GlaxoSmithKline said on Wednesday overall vaccinations have returned to pre-pandemic levels, after warning this summer that a prolonged slump in uptake could hit earnings.

The UK pharmaceuticals company said sales for the quarter came in at £8.6bn, down 5 per cent pro-forma at constant exchange rates, while earnings per share dipped 9 per cent to 25p. Analysts had forecast sales of £8.7bn and earnings per share of 30.4p, respectively, according to consensus estimates compiled by the company.

London-listed shares ticked 0.3 per cent higher in early afternoon trading after results were released.

Emma Walmsley, the company’s chief executive, said growth was underpinned by “disciplined cost control” and sales growth in a number of products. She said improving vaccination rates also helped GSK be on track again to deliver within its earnings guidance range for the year, with adjusted earnings per share expected to diminish between 1 and 4 per cent at constant currencies.

GSK is currently involved in research for vaccines and therapeutics to be deployed against coronavirus, having signed supply agreements with the US, the EU, the UK and Canada for the vaccine it is developing with France’s Sanofi. The company had warned this summer of a potential hit to its business unless vaccination rates resumed, saying the pandemic had dented uptake, especially in the US.

Earlier on Wednesday, the drug maker said it would make 200m doses of the vaccine it is developing with Sanofi available to Covax, a World Health Organization-led effort to ensure access to any potential vaccine is broad and equitable. Covax is also supported by Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Mastercard users spend more in early sign of recovery

Robert Armstrong

Spending on Mastercard’s payments network returned to growth in the third quarter, signalling a tentative recovery from the worst of the Covid-19 crisis.

Spending volume rose 1 per cent from the year before after falling 10 per cent in the second quarter. The US drove the improvement, with a 4 per cent rise, while the rest of the world was flat.

But a 36 per cent decline in cross-border transactions, which carry high profit margins, drove revenues down to $3.8bn, 14 per cent lower than in the year-ago quarter, and below analysts’ expectations of $3.95bn.

Earnings per share of $1.60, adjusted for currency and investment gains, were also just short of Wall Street’s expectations of $1.66, and were 26 per cent lower than the year before. A higher tax rate also hurt net profits, relative to 2019.

Mastercard shares fell 5 per cent in pre-market trading on Wednesday morning. Futures indicated the broader market, shaken by a spike in Covid-19 cases worldwide, would fall 1.5 per cent.

US trade deficit in goods shrinks in September

Mamta Badkar in New York

The US goods trade deficit narrowed last month but remained near record levels, as economists cautioned exports remain sharply lower than a year ago as other countries have been less aggressive in their monetary and fiscal response to the pandemic.

The US goods deficit, the difference in exports and imports, narrowed to $79.4bn in September from $83.1bn in August, according to data released on Wednesday by the US Census Bureau.

The 4.5 per cent month-on-month drop marked the first decrease in three months as exports were $122bn, up $3.2bn from August, while imports slid by $500m to $201.4bn.

"Imports have recovered fully from their Covid hit — September imports ex-industrial supplies were 3 per cent above their Q4 2019 level — while exports remain depressed, down 8.7% on the same basis," said Ian Shepherdson, economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

"The huge burst of fiscal policy support in the US triggered a rapid and complete recovery in demand for goods, but other countries were less aggressive with their policy responses so demand for US exports has not fully rebounded, despite the weaker dollar," he added.

Economists at Oxford Economics noted that as the global economic recovery slows US trade volumes are expected to drop by a record 13 per cent this year.

S&P 500 drops 2% joining global stock sell-off amid rising Covid worries

Adam Samson and Camilla Hodgson

Wall Street stocks opened sharply lower after a broad sell-off in Europe triggered by mounting expectations of new government measures to slow the rapid spread of coronavirus.

The US benchmark S&P 500 fell 2 per cent. The decline came after Europe’s Stoxx 600 slid 2.8 per cent by lunchtime, leaving it down 5 per cent since the end of last week and at the lowest level since May. German and French markets were among the worst hit across the region.

Wednesday’s selling, which ricocheted into the oil market, was prompted by growing anxieties about the increase in infections globally, and investor jitters less than a week before the US presidential election.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and French president Emmanuel Macron are both expected to announce on Wednesday new restrictions to curb the second wave of the pandemic, which is worsening across the continent. In the UK, data released by the government this week showed that coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and daily deaths are all rising.

Alexis Gray, investment strategist at Vanguard, said it had become clear that new restrictions imposed in Europe to quash another outbreak of the virus had been insufficient, meaning more curbs were likely as a result, “the economic outlook has dimmed”, she said.

“We’re facing unprecedented uncertainty and that’s what the market is struggling with,” added Ms Gray. 

Read more here

US online festive sales to surge to record $189bn, Adobe says

Alistair Gray

US consumers are poised to splash out $189bn on online shopping this festive season, a third more than a year ago, as the ecommerce boom during the pandemic gathers pace.

Adobe, which analysed more than a trillion visits to US retail websites to come up with its predictions and whose data are watched closely in the industry, said spending over November and December was forecast to smash all previous records.

The predicted surge is the latest sign that consumers remain willing to spend despite economic uncertainty, but the shift of yet more shopping online is another blow to struggling bricks and mortar stores that are relying on a pick-up during the Christmas season to stave off bankruptcy.

While sales are traditionally focused on big days during the season such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, retailers are planning to spread promotions over several weeks this year — in part to reduce the strain on delivery networks.

Items in particular demand include Rainbocorns plush animals, Star Wars toys and Lego sets, Adobe said. Video games including Cyberpunk 2077 and Mario Kart Home Circuit are also expected to be popular, along with a new generation of consoles.

Canada lowers 2021 growth forecast as Covid woes to persist

Joshua Oliver in London

Canada's central bank has lowered its predictions for economic growth next year as it cautioned that the economic effects of the pandemic will be long lasting.

The Bank of Canada projected real gross domestic product to expand 4.2 per cent next year, from the 5.1 per cent it modelled in July. The bank's forecasts came as it held its benchmark interest rate at the “effective lower bound” of 0.25 per cent.

However, its expectations for 2020 improved following stronger performance than anticipated over the summer as the economy entered the “recuperation” phase. The drop in this year’s GDP is projected to come in at 5.5 per cent, better than the previous 7.8 per cent estimate.

Growth is likely to “slow markedly” in the fourth quarter, the bank said, partly due to rising Covid-19 case numbers. Several regions of Canada have tightened their coronavirus restrictions in recent weeks as a second wave of infections gathers pace.

Consumer price inflation languished at 0.5 per cent in September. In the central bank's July decision, the first under governor Tiff Macklem, it committed to keep rates at rock bottom until “the 2 per cent inflation target is sustainably achieved”, which is not expected until 2023, the bank said on Wednesday.

The bank plans to “recalibrate” its quantitative easing programme to purchase more longer-term bonds, which it said “have more direct influence on the borrowing rates that are most important for households and businesses”. The purchase programme will shrink gradually from the current level of at C$5bn per week to $C4bn.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau on Monday refused to commit to a “fiscal anchor” that would constrain government borrowing to fund his plans for post-pandemic recovery and green economic transformation.

The federal government is expected to give an economic update in coming months to put a price tag on Mr Trudeau's ambitious policy plan outlined in September.

Rise in crude stocks adds to pressure on oil price

Myles McCormick in New York

Oil prices came under pressure after reports showed US inventories last week grew by a greater level than expected, adding to fears over demand.

Crude stocks rose by 4.3m barrels in the week to October 23, the US Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday, higher than the 1.2m barrel rise expected in a Reuters poll.

Worries around a second wave of coronavirus pushed oil prices lower early on Wednesday. They fell further in the wake of the EIA report, leaving US benchmark West Texas Intermediate down 4.7 per cent, to trade just above $37 a barrel following the announcement.

US production, meanwhile, rose significantly, adding 1.2m barrels a day, according to the EIA, to hit 11.1m b/d.

Despite the rise in crude stocks, however, EIA data indicated a pick-up in gasoline demand, which rose 7 per cent on the previous week.

Switzerland to impose limited set of new Covid rules

Sam Jones in Zürich

Switzerland’s government agreed limited new restrictions to public life on Wednesday - including mask-wearing outdoors - but ruled out harsher restrictions, including a lockdown, as it sticks to its plans to prioritise the economy and social wellbeing in the coming months.

"With the new measures, we want to prevent further closures," Simonetta Sommaruga, president of the governing federal council, said at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. "Nobody wants a second lockdown."

The council’s limited decision on further restrictions follows warnings from public health authorities in the country in recent days and sets Switzerland apart from many of its European neighbours, who are now introducing sweeping new measures to contain the virus.

As elsewhere in Europe, Switzerland has been hit hard and suddenly by rising cases. On Tuesday, the country's Covid-19 advisory taskforce warned it only had 11 days of intensive care capacity left in hospitals, if infections continued at their current rate.

The country recorded 8,616 new cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours.

Despite the worsening situation, there is widespread opposition to enforcing new curbs on public life across the country. There have been no nationwide restrictions in place since mid-June.

The federal council said the new measures to mitigate the second wave would include a requirement to wear masks in the immediate area outside offices and buildings and in crowded streets in city shopping districts. Masks will not be required outdoors in the countryside.

Additionally, gatherings between people will be limited to 10. And restaurants may only seat up to four people together at the same table unless they are immediate relatives.

All hospitality venues will have their business hours limited to between 6am and 11pm. Clubs and discos must close until further notice.

With the exception of political events, all public events are limited to a maximum of 50 people.

Bern also tweaked its border restrictions. In some cases, travel to the country may now be easier. A new rule will enforce quarantines only on travellers arriving from countries with cases per 100,000 people of 60 above the level in Switzerland.

South Africa bails out grounded national airline

Joseph Cotterill

South Africa’s finance minister approved a bailout of nearly $650m for its grounded flag carrier even after he warned that fiscal crisis is looming for Africa’s most industrialised economy after the pandemic.

South African Airways will receive 10.5bn rand to fund a planned restructuring to take it out of business administration, Tito Mboweni said in a medium-term budget statement on Wednesday. According to budget documents, money for the bailout will be culled from government departments including education and the police at a time when the pandemic has badly hit public finances under President Cyril Ramaphosa.

SAA was close to bankruptcy even before the pandemic largely halted air travel in Africa. It failed to make a profit for most of the last decade and only survived because of cash infusions and guarantees on its debt that are difficult for the state to abandon.

“You cannot run away from your obligations,” Mr Mboweni said as he announced the new SAA bailout, but added that “the continuous funding of inefficient, non-functional state-owned enterprises has to be reconsidered.”

SAA entered administration almost a year ago. Mr Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Congress backed saving the airline but the opposition, business leaders and Mr Mboweni himself have cast doubt on its future.

South Africa has reopened its borders to international air travel after closing them in March to control the spread of infection but SAA commercial flights remain halted.

The South African Treasury is battling to keep a lid on debts that are expected to hit close to 100 per cent of GDP in the years to come. The economy will only regain pre-pandemic levels of output in 2024, the treasury said in budget forecasts.

The latest funds are on top of a three-year 16bn rand bailout that was approved earlier this year in order to prevent SAA defaulting on its debts.

Italy posts record daily rise in coronavirus cases

Miles Johnson in Rome

Italy has reported a fresh daily record increase in coronavirus cases as the country hit first by the pandemic continues to succumb to a rapidly spreading second wave.

The total number of new Covid-19 cases diagnosed over the last 24 hours in Italy was 24,991, while 205 people were declared to have died from the virus, according to official government statistics.

The number of Italians in intensive care for the virus rose by 125 to 1,536, a level still sharply lower than the peak of the first wave earlier this year. Scientific experts have cautioned against making direct comparisons between the daily case numbers from earlier this year and now because of the significantly higher amounts of testing occurring.

On Wednesday, prime minister Giuseppe Conte defended his decision on Sunday to close bars and restaurants from 6pm for a month, telling lawmakers that the economic damage would be even greater if the virus was not stopped. “Preserving the public’s health also preserves the productive fabric of our citizens,” he said.

Germany to shut parts of economy after record rise in Covid cases

Erika Solomon

Germany's federal and state governments agreed on Wednesday to shut down parts of the economy and toughen restrictions on social contact, in a bid to stem a record rise in coronavirus infection rates.

The new regulations will be imposed as of Monday and last until the end of November, in what some local media described as an attempt by officials to curb infection rates ahead of the Christmas season.

The new regulations will require all restaurants, bars, and most public entertainment to be closed. The Bundesliga and other professional sports games will be held without spectators. Schools, daycare centres, hair salons and retailers can remain open.

Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with the regional heads of state again in two weeks, a statement released after the meeting said, in order to evaluate the efficacy of the measures and make necessary adjustments.

To help affected businesses cope with the shutdown, the new decision also pledged a €10bn aid package that can provide business up to 75 per cent compensation for their losses, depending on the size of the company.

Europe's largest economy has been struggling to rein in a second wave now infecting more people than its first, with the Robert Koch Institute registering another record number of infections on Wednesday, with 14,964 new cases in the last 24 hours.

Ms Merkel has sought for weeks to reach consensus with Germany's 16 state governments on tackling the second wave — a necessity in its decentralised federal system, where health policies are largely decided by the states. The Wednesday decision signals a breakthrough in regaining a unified approach.

On Tuesday, German economy minister Peter Altmaier warned that rates were rising exponentially and could reach 20,000 cases per day by the end of the week. The caseload, he said, has risen 70 to 75 per cent each week.

Rising infection rates, alongside new regulations, could make an economic rebound in Germany as well as Europe more difficult than previously expected, Mr Altmaier warned.

Olaf Scholz, Germany's finance minister, may propose a new €10bn aid package to help compensate badly hit businesses, Reuters news agency reported.

Pemex swings to net profit on rebound in production

Jude Webber in Mexico City

Mexico’s state oil company Pemex made it back into the black in the third quarter and with production nudging 1.7m barrels per day in September, said it was on the road to increased output after 14 years of declines although sales and exports were hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The former monopoly reported a net profit of 1.4bn pesos in the three months from June to September, compared with a loss of nearly 88bn pesos in the same quarter last year and a loss of more than 44bn pesos in the second quarter.

However, after taking into account benefits to employees, it posted an overall net loss of 1.86bn pesos, down from 158.7bn in the third quarter last year.

Total sales were down 21.8 per cent in the quarter reflecting a 40.7 per cent drop in domestic sales and an 18.6 per cent drop in exports as a result of lower economic activity because of Covid-19.

Octavio Romero, Pemex chief executive, made a surprise appearance on an earnings call with investors to stress that Pemex had received 46.2bn pesos in state aid this year but that was far overshadowed by its contributions to state coffers.

Pemex calculates that for every peso the government has invested in the company in the first nine months of this year, it has received 10.6 pesos from Pemex in return.

Production in the quarter averaged 1.658m barrels per day, without counting partnerships with the private sector, and in September hit 1.698m. The company said that was a gradual return to levels before the pandemic and before the May-July production cut agreed with Opec and allied nations. Mr Romero said 15 new Pemex fields were now producing 139,000 barrels per day.

But refining output, at 605,000 barrels per day, was 8 per cent lower than in the third quarter last year, and refinery capacity fell to 37 per cent from 40 per cent in the same 2019 period.

The company is pursuing a policy of not increasing its debt. However, it acknowledged that its total financial debt increased 25 per cent compared with the end of last year because it had used credit lines and because of the depreciation of the peso. Total debt stood at $110.3bn at the end of the quarter.

New York becomes fourth state to top 500,000 Covid cases

Peter Wells and Matthew Rocco in New York

New York became the fourth US state to confirm 500,000 coronavirus infections, with a tick-up in cases over the past month helping accelerate its path toward the half-million threshold.

Neighbouring New Jersey also reached a milestone on Wednesday, reporting that hospitalisations rose above 1,000 for the first time since early July, as the state faces a new uptick in daily cases after a slowdown in the summer.

In New York, a further 2,031 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, governor Andrew Cuomo revealed this morning, up from 1,991 on Tuesday and compared with 2,026 on Wednesday last week. That takes the state's seven-day average to 1,739, a five-month high.

The latest batch of infections pushed the total number of confirmed cases in the Empire State to 500,677. Only California, Texas and Florida — the most populous US states — have reported more.

Hit hard during the early stage of the pandemic, a statewide mask mandate and the gradual reopening of its economy alongside neighbouring states like New Jersey and Connecticut helped New York "flatten" its coronavirus curve. 

As such, New York has taken 110 days to go from 400,000 cases to 500,000, nearly 10 times the amount of time California, Florida and Texas took to bridge that gap, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

Nearly all US states have experienced an uptick in cases in autumn, a possible combination of travellers returning from summer holiday, the resumption of the academic year, colder weather and the easing of economic restrictions. As of Tuesday, 49 states and the District of Columbia had a seven-day average higher than four weeks ago, according to FT analysis of Covid Tracking Project data, a proportion previously seen in April.

Adjusted for population, New York has had about 2,563 cases per 100,000 people, ranking 26th among all states. On that same metric, California ranks 33rd with 2,288, Texas is 19th with 3,015 and Florida eighth with 3,614.

In New Jersey, the number of confirmed and suspected Covid-19 patients in hospital rose to 1,010, up from 957 a day earlier. Hospitalisations related to coronavirus in the state have steadily climbed in recent weeks since reaching lows of around 200 patients in September. Out of those currently in hospital, 194 patients are in intensive care and 80 are on ventilators.

New Jersey reported 1,692 new positive tests for coronavirus, bringing the state’s tally to 231,331 cases since the pandemic began. The positivity rate recently edged above 5 per cent, even as the number of tests processed each day reached its highest levels of the pandemic.

Florida's Covid case tally closes in on 800,000 mark

Peter Wells in New York

Florida is closing in on the 800,000 confirmed-case mark after reporting more than 4,000 new cases on Wednesday.

A further 4,115 positive tests were revealed by the state's health department earlier today, down from 4,226 on Tuesday and compared with 2,106 on Wednesday last week.

The Sunshine state has confirmed 790,426 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, the third-highest tally among US states.

Authorities attributed a further 66 deaths to coronavirus, the highest in four days. That compared to 57 on Tuesday and 105 on Wednesday last week.

Testing volumes reached a four-day high of 80,753, up from nearly 73,800 yesterday. The percentage of people who tested positive for coronavirus for the first time eased to 5.44 per cent from Tuesday's six-day high of 6.29 per cent.

California reports small rise in new Covid cases and deaths

Peter Wells in New York

California reported a daily rise in coronavirus cases and fatalities slightly above recent averages on Wednesday.

A further 4,515 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, up from 3,188 on Tuesday and compared with 3,707 on Wednesday last week.

Authorities attributed a further 75 deaths to coronavirus, up from 43 on Tuesday and compared with 35 a week ago.

Over the past week, California has averaged about 4,418 new cases and 64 deaths a day.

Testing volumes over the past 24 hours dropped to 96,547 from 144,220 on Tuesday.

The 14-day average of positivity edged back up to 3 per cent, from 2.9 per cent. The metric had been at an historic low of 2.5 per cent earlier this month.

Nottinghamshire set to enter tier 3 of Covid rules

Jim Pickard and Chris Tighe

The county of Nottinghamshire is set to enter England’s toughest “tier 3” restrictions at midnight on Thursday night as infection rates continued to rise around the country.

More English regions were braced for further restrictions as the British government announced 310 deaths from Covid-19 the previous day. With Downing Street scientific advisers arguing for the whole country to enter tougher restrictions by December, one aide said: “We are seeing the data every day and the last couple of days in particular have been looking increasingly concerning.”

Nottinghamshire will see the closure of auction houses, betting shops, saunas, car boot sales and tattoo parlours. The sale of alcohol will be banned from 9pm in shops although it will be served until 10pm if with a “substantial meal” in a pub or restaurant. Gyms, leisure centres, libraries and hotels can remain open as well as swimming pools and fitness studios.

Days of talks between government ministers and council leaders in West Yorkshire will resume again tomorrow as the two sides discuss further restrictions which could affect up to 2.5m people. Leaders in West Yorkshire, which includes Leeds and Bradford, said tonight they were discussing steps to control rising Covid-19 infection rates across their area and also a package of measures to support the economy should a move into tier 3 be necessary.

Council leaders in Cumbria, in tier 1 except for Barrow-in-Furness in tier 2, will also hold discussions with ministers on Thursday. Friday is the turn of north-east England leaders who have already said they will resist any attempt by government to move their area from the present tier 2 to 3.

France announces new nationwide lockdown to stop virus surge

Victor Mallet in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a new, one-month nationwide lockdown to try to curb a rapid rise in coronavirus infections and hospitalisations that threatens to overwhelm the country’s intensive care units with Covid-19 patients.

“Like all our neighbours we are submerged by the acceleration in the circulation of the virus,” Mr Macron said in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday night, warning that the “second wave” would “probably be harder and more murderous than the first”.

Mr Macron said the lockdown — involving travel restrictions, the closure of borders to non-EU travellers and the closure of all bars and restaurants — would be different from the first because schools, factories and companies would stay open while visits to old people’s homes and funerals would be permitted. “The economy must not stop nor collapse,” he said.

The lockdown would apply from Thursday midnight to at least the beginning of December. The spring lockdown lasted from mid-March to mid-May and sharply reduced the spread of coronavirus until the upsurge of the past few weeks.

Illinois reports second-biggest jump in Covid cases on record

Peter Wells in New York

Illinois reported its second-biggest one-day jump in coronavirus infections on Wednesday, with several other nearby states in the Midwest also revealing near-record increases in cases.

A further 6,110 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, authorities revealed this afternoon, up from 4,000 on Tuesday and compared with 4,342 on Wednesday last week.

The latest increase ranks second to Saturday's record one-day jump of 6,141 new cases.

Illinois' recent rise in coronavirus cases has prompted city and state officials to reintroduce restrictions on economic activity. Surging cases in Chicago prompted governor Jay Pritzker on Tuesday to ban indoor dining and bar services, as well as limit the number of people attending gatherings, in the state's most populous city. The rules take effect on Friday.

Illinois' health department attributed a further 51 deaths to coronavirus on Wednesday, up from 46 yesterday and compared with last Wednesday's four-month high of 67.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, Wisconsin's health department reported 3,815 new confirmed cases and 45 deaths, down from records on Tuesday of 5,262 and 64, respectively.

Ohio revealed a further 2,607 cases and 17 fatalities. The state — which, like Wisconsin is one of the key battleground states in the upcoming presidential election — reported a record 2,858 infections on Saturday.

Indiana's health department said a 2,587 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, up from 2,062 yesterday and compared to a record 2,850 on Thursday last week. Deaths rose by 33, down from Tuesday's four-month high of 51.

S&P 500 ends 3.5% lower as Covid concerns grow

Adam Samson, Colby Smith and Eric Platt

Wall Street ended sharply lower on Wednesday with the S&P notching its biggest one day drop in more than four months as coronavirus cases soared across the US and Europe.

The S&P 500 fell 3.5 per cent, its biggest one-day loss since June 11, putting the index on course for its worst weekly performance since the market ructions in March. More than 95 per cent of the stocks that make up the index declined. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropped 3.7 per cent.

Europe’s Stoxx 600 closed down 3 per cent, leaving it nearly 6 per cent below its level at the end of last week and at its lowest since May. German and Italian markets were among the worst hit across the region, each falling more than 4 per cent, while London’s FTSE 100 declined 2.8 per cent.

Wednesday’s selling, which ricocheted into the commodities market, was prompted by an increase in infections globally as well as the lingering disappointment in the US after lawmakers in Washington failed to strike a deal on stimulus, said BlackRock portfolio manager Russ Koesterich.

“If people aren’t mobile because restrictions have been put in place or they decide to stay home more, that will impact economic activity,” he said. “And that point is important . . . people nervous of catching Covid are less likely to go out for dinner and get on a plane.”

Alexis Gray, investment strategist at Vanguard, said it had become clear that restrictions imposed in Europe to quash another outbreak of the virus had been insufficient, meaning stricter curbs were likely. As a result, “the economic outlook has dimmed”, she said.

“We’re facing unprecedented uncertainty, and that’s what the market is struggling with.”

Read more here

Gilead racks up $900m sales from Covid drug

Hannah Kuchler in New York

Gilead generated almost $900m from sales of its Covid-19 drug in the third quarter, helping the biotech company beat expectations despite the pandemic weighing on sales of key products for HIV and Hepatitis C.

Remdesivir — now known by its brand name Veklury — generated $873m in sales, predominately in the US, where it became the first drug to receive full regulatory approval as a treatment for Covid-19 last week.

Gilead has been substantially expanding manufacturing capacity of the drug and is now signing deals with governments of other countries. But it warned that there was “significant volatility and uncertainty” around remdesivir sales in the pandemic environment.

Shares in Gilead rose 0.4 per cent to $58.95 in after hours trading in New York, even though the company reduced full forecasts to the lower end of its previous guidance. Gilead now expects product sales of between $23bn and $23.5bn, compared with a projection in July of between $23bn and $25bn. It predicts adjusted earnings of between $6.25 and $6.60 a share, rather than $6.25 to $7.65.

In the third quarter, Gilead reported revenue of $6.6bn, up 17 per cent year-on-year, and higher than the consensus forecast for $6.4bn. Diluted adjusted earnings per share soared 29 per cent to $2.11, higher than the average analyst estimate for $1.95. Net income was $360m.

Fitch cuts Chicago's outlook to 'negative' citing pandemic hit

Colby Smith in New York

Fitch Ratings revised down its outlook for Chicago, citing concerns about the economic damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak and the city's ability to narrow its budget shortfall.

On Wednesday, the ratings agency lowered its outlook for Illinois's largest city to "negative" from "stable", but affirmed its BBB- rating, which is one notch above junk territory.

"Economic implications of the pandemic and related public health measures remain significant for Chicago as is the case across many high-density U.S. cities," said Fitch. "The pandemic and related public health measures have significantly affected the city's economy, which had posted relatively modest job growth relative to the U.S. in the years preceding the outbreak."

Fitch raised specific concerns about Chicago's "significant" budget gap, which swelled to $798m during the 2020 fiscal year. While the city has considered raising property taxes and additional personnel reductions, among other measures, the ratings agency flagged "execution risk" in achieving a more balanced budget.

"The effectiveness of recurring budget measures is critical to the rating outlook and the city's prospects for returning to structural balance in the post-pandemic period," Fitch said.

It is not the first time Chicago has faced scrutiny over its financial standing. In 2015, Moody's stripped the city of its investment grade rating owing to its pension plan deficit. Illinois more broadly has also struggled. In June, it became the first state to tap the Federal Reserve's municipal lending facility, which was rolled out after strains emerged in the $4tn market used by governments and public organisations to raise funds.

Texas Covid deaths jump by the most in a week

Peter Wells in New York

Texas reported its biggest one-day jump in deaths in a week on Wednesday, with hospitalisations climbing again and to their highest level in almost two and a half months.

The state's health department attributed a further 105 fatalities to coronavirus, up from 81 and compared with 114 on Wednesday last week.

A further 5,175 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, down from a two-month high on Tuesday of 7,055 and compared with 4,991 on Wednesday last week.

Texas continues to add older cases stemming from backlogs of tests at commercial laboratories to its statewide total, although these are excluded from the daily figures. There were 452 such historical cases, revealed by authorities this afternoon, from six counties, including 239 from the region around El Paso and 175 from the area around Houston.

Hospitalisations rose to 5,650 from 5,512 yesterday and to the highest level since August 19.

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