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Coronavirus: Trump makes new push to expand US testing — as it happened – Financial Times

Impact team
Written by Impact team

Coronavirus: Trump makes new push to expand US testing — as it happened  Financial Times


Airbus is ‘bleeding cash’, says chief executive

Claire Bushey in Chicago

Chief executive Guillaume Faury told Airbus employees in a letter that the company was rapidly “bleeding cash”, which threatens the manufacturer’s existence.

The plane maker said on April 8 that it would slash production by a third, but Mr Faury told the workforce of 133,000 on Friday that the production cuts were not the worst-case scenario for the company. Airbus has lost a third of its business in a matter of weeks, as the coronavirus pandemic has hammered airlines’ revenue and made them reluctant to accept new jets.

“We’re bleeding cash at an unprecedented speed, which may threaten the very existence of our company,” Mr Faury wrote. “We must now act urgently to reduce our cash-out, restore our financial balance and, ultimately, to regain control of our destiny.”

Mr Faury wrote that the company had moved quickly to secure credit lines to adapt and resize the business.

Airbus declined to comment on the internal communication.

Qatar sovereign wealth fund seeks health and tech deals

Andrew England

Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund will remain “very active” through the coronavirus pandemic as the oil-rich Gulf investor searches for deals in the health and technology industries.

Ali Sharif al-Emadi, the country’s finance minister, said the $320bn Qatar Investment Authority’s “main focus” would be on its international investments as it used the market volatility and plunging asset prices to identify buying opportunities.

“The QIA is looking to invest in various sectors, specifically in the health and tech industries,” Mr Emadi, who is on the QIA’s board, told the Financial Times.

“We are looking at businesses that we believe will prove resilient over the long term, despite some negative effects resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read the full article here.

US records lowest daily death toll since April 6

The US on Sunday recorded its lowest daily death toll in three weeks even as the total number of fatalities from the coronavirus pandemic neared 50,000.

The death count climbed by 1,184 to 49,164, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking project. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases rose by 27,358 to 959,056.

New York, which has been the epicentre of the US outbreak, reported 367 deaths taking its death toll to 16,966. While that marked the biggest one-day increase of any state in America, the number of deaths was actually lower than in previous days and Andrew Cuomo, New York governor, on Sunday outlined a phased reopening of the state.

Massachusetts recorded the second-highest death toll in the 24 hour period, reporting 169 fatalities taking its total to 2,899.

Scientists tracking the pandemic use different sets of data for recording the impact of the disease. Unlike the Covid Tracking Project, Johns Hopkins University counts so-called presumptive deaths in New York City, which puts its total death count at more than 54,000. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the death toll in the US at 52,459 — a figure that includes 5,402 probable deaths.

Death and infections rates tend to be lower on weekends due to a lag in reporting the data.

Asia-Pacific stocks kick off the week with gains

Asia-Pacific stocks rose on Monday ahead of a meeting for the Bank of Japan later in the day, and the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank this week.

Japan’s Topix was up 0.5 per cent in early trading, the Kospi in Seoul was 0.3 per cent higher and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 nudged up 0.1 per cent.

The S&P 500 ended Friday up 1.4 per cent after President Donald Trump signed the latest stimulus package into law, which included extra funds for small businesses, in a bid to support the US economy through the pandemic.

S&P 500 futures pointed to a 0.4 per cent fall when US markets reopen for the week.
Brent crude was 0.9 per cent higher at $21.64 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate, the US oil marker, slipped 2.3 per cent to $16.55 after historic falls in the price of oil last week.

National Australia Bank to raise $2.2bn as pandemic hits economy

Jamie Smyth in Sydney

National Australia Bank is raising A$3.5bn ($2.2bn) in capital and slashing its dividend by almost two thirds to enable it to survive a Covid-19 related hit to the economy.

Ross McEwan, NAB chief executive, told investors on Monday the bank was taking proactive steps to manage the “rapid and unprecedented upheaval” caused by the pandemic, which has already contributed to a 51 per cent drop in first half 2020 profit compared to last year.

“Measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 have had a sudden and materially negative impact on economic activity,” said Mr McEwan, who presented his first results since joining NAB in December.

“For Australia, we expect GDP to decline 8.4 per cent by September 2020 compared to December 2019 and not return to pre-Covid19 levels until early 2022, while unemployment is expected to peak at 11.7 per cent in mid 2020.”

The bank expects house prices to plummet by 10 per cent this year.

NAB, which is Australia’s second largest bank by market capitalisation, reported a 158 per cent increase in credit impairment charges to A$1.1bn in the six months to end March, including A$807m directly related to losses linked to Covid-19. Net profit fell to A$1.3bn in the six months to end March, down from A$2.6bn in the same period a year earlier.

NAB will pay an interim dividend of 30 cents per share, down from 83 cents per share a year earlier.

China reports 3 new coronavirus cases, no new deaths

Health authorities in China reported three new coronavirus cases to the end of Sunday, with no new deaths linked to the virus.

There were two imported cases of the virus in mainland China as well as one locally transmitted infection in Heilongjiang. The northern province that borders Russia has seen a spike in coronavirus cases as Chinese nationals returned home over a now-closed land border.

The new cases take China’s reported total to 82,830, with 4,633 deaths.
China’s national health commission said on Sunday that all Covid-19 patients had been discharged from hospitals in Wuhan, the origin of the outbreak, after the remaining 12 people were allowed to leave hospital. That takes the number of coronavirus patients discharged from Wuhan hospitals to 46,464.

Hong Kong’s hidebound brokers face coronavirus reckoning

Primrose Riordan in Hong Kong

For more than a century, Hong Kong’s legion of stock brokerages have traded through world wars, epic market busts and the former British colony’s handover back to China. But the coronavirus pandemic could pose the gravest threat yet.

The freewheeling Asian finance hub — home to legendary brokers such as “Cigar King” David Tung Wai, who traded into his eighties — is known for hanging on to traditions that have disappeared from other large financial centres. While much trading in New York and London has moved online or been automated, Hong Kong’s brokers have fiercely resisted changes.

But the Covid-19 outbreak, which has confined many traders and their often elderly clients to their homes, has hit an industry that has long relied on personal connections.

Read the full report here.

News you might have missed

America’s biggest banks will each be able to access just 10 per cent of the cash from the government’s total $660bn small business rescue scheme, new guidance issued on Sunday said, reducing the risk of mega banks claiming a disproportionate share of the cash.

The Inter-American Development Bank and top businesses have teamed up on a programme to extend $12bn in credit lines to help 30,000 small companies in Mexico that are deemed too big to access government loans.

Houston’s Diamond Offshore Drilling filed for bankruptcy on Sunday, citing the “unprecedented” impact of plunging oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic.

Egypt has requested financial assistance from the IMF as its economy grapples with the impact of coronavirus.

Italy has outlined the shape of its so-called “phase 2” of the coronavirus lockdown as the country prepares to reopen parts of its economy in the first week of May.

Bank of America boss Brian Moynihan has called on the US government to give unlimited funding for small businesses stricken by the coronavirus, condemning the first-come-first-served aspect of the Paycheck Protection Program ahead of its re-opening on Monday morning.

France reports the lowest increase in deaths in at least a month ahead of the government’s plan to unveil its plan to allow the country to progressively exit its lockdown on May 11.

Saudi Arabi has unveiled plans to ramp up coronavirus testing as the kingdom re-opens parts of the economy and eases restrictions on movement.

Coronavirus has been detected at two mink fur farms in the Netherlands, according to the country’s agriculture ministry.

Chinese industrial company profit plunges 35% in March

Don Weinland in Beijing

Profits for industrial companies in China plummeted 34.9 per cent in March compared to a year earlier, in a sign that the country’s economy has struggled to recover in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

The gloomy figures, released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Monday, came after China reported its first contraction in economic growth since the 1970s. China’s gross domestic product shrank by 6.8 per cent in the first three months of the year.

Authorities shut down factories across China from January and continued restrictions on movements have made it difficult for workers to return to their posts. Now that the crisis has been brought under control in the country, economists worry that Covid-19 outbreaks across Europe and the US will hurt demand for China’s factory products.

The drop in profits showed that pressures eased only slightly in March compared to January and February, when industrial profits fell 38.3 per cent.

Pandemic accelerates shift to meat substitutes

Emiko Terazono in London and Gregory Meyer in New York

The coronavirus pandemic is reshaping the US meat market, with sales of plant-based substitutes surging while closures of slaughterhouses and processing plants threaten production of the real thing.

US sales of plant-based meat substitutes jumped 200 per cent in the week ending April 18, compared with the same period last year, and surged by 265 per cent over an eight-week period, according to consumer data group Nielsen. This compares with jumps of 30 per cent and 39 per cent respectively over the same periods for fresh meat.

Though plant-based meat still accounts for a small portion of the US protein market, it has been rapidly growing in popularity in recent years — a trend that has been accelerated by the crisis, said Bruce Friedrich at the Good Food Institute.

Read the full report here.

BoJ pledges unlimited government bond buying as it steps up stimulus

Robin Harding in Tokyo

The Bank of Japan has promised unlimited buying of government bonds, a sharp increase in its purchases of corporate debt and easier financing for banks as it stepped up its response to Covid-19.

The changes, announced after a rare single-day meeting of the central bank’s policy board on Monday, will allow the BoJ to soak up many of the new bonds issued by the government to finance its coronavirus response.

However, with little BoJ buying needed to keep 10-year bond yields close to its target of “around zero per cent”, the corporate bond buying may have a bigger effect. The central bank will quadruple its maximum purchases of corporate paper to ¥20tn ($186bn) until September 2020.

The BoJ will also make it cheaper and easier for commercial banks to borrow. It will expand the range of eligible collateral for central bank loans to include private debt in general, including household debt; expand the range of eligible counterparties to include small co-operatives; and apply a positive interest rate of 0.1 per cent to some of their balances instead of minus 0.1 per cent.

“Japan’s economy has been in an increasingly severe situation due to the impact…of the novel coronavirus,” said the BoJ in a statement. “Financial conditions have been less accommodative in terms of corporate financing, as seen in the deterioration of firms’ financial positions.”

El Salvador’s president authorises lethal force against gangs

Jude Webber in Mexico City

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele has responded to an upswing in violence during the coronavirus crisis by authorising the use of lethal force against gangs.

“The gangs are taking advantage of the fact that almost all of our security forces are controlling the pandemic,” Mr Bukele said on Twitter, adding that the police and armed forces “must prioritise protecting their lives, those of their colleagues and of honourable citizens”.

“The use of lethal force is authorised for self-defence or the defence of the lives of Salvadorans,” he added.

Almost a month ago, Mr Bukele said that Central America’s smallest country — and one of the most violent in the world — had registered an entire day without murders.

But after 24 homicides on Friday — the worst single day’s toll since Mr Bukele took office last June, notwithstanding the strict lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus — he ordered prisons where gang members were incarcerated to tighten restrictions.

El Salvador has nearly 13,000 jailed gang members.

Under the new measures, members of rival gangs will be put in mixed cells in a bid to disrupt communications, and gang leaders have been isolated. Jail activities have been halted and gang prisoners put under full lockdown.

Violence continued to climb over the weekend and by Sunday night, 52 murders had been reported since Friday. El Salvador has been wracked for years by violence between the two main MS 13 and Barrio 18 gangs, and their offshoots.

The health ministry has confirmed 298 Covid-19 cases, of whom 84 have recovered, and eight deaths.

Asia stocks rise as traders bet on new measures to fight coronavirus

Thomas Hale in Hong Kong

Stock markets across Asia Pacific gained ground ahead of a series of central bank meetings as investors bet on new support measures to tackle the global economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, oil prices fell on persisting concerns over a global crude glut as the Covid-19 crisis hits energy demand.

Japan’s Topix benchmark added 0.9 per cent on Monday morning, while South Korea’s Kospi index rose 1.6 per and Australia’s S&P 200/ASX added 0.6 per cent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng climbed 1.7 per cent, and China’s CSI 300 index of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed stocks moved up 0.7 per cent.

Traders said the moves showed investor optimism ahead of a series of big central bank policy decisions this week. The Bank of Japan met on Monday and promised unlimited buying of government bonds.

US, China researchers collaborate in hunt for virus origin

Katrina Manson in Washington and Sun Yu in Beijing

US scientists are working with China to investigate the origin of coronavirus, despite criticism from the Trump administration that Beijing is failing to co-operate with outsiders to stem the disease.

Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, said he was working with a team of Chinese researchers to determine whether coronavirus emerged in other parts of China before it was first discovered in Wuhan in December. The effort relies on help from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The China CDC is interested in learning as much as it can about the origins [of] these types of viruses,” said Prof Lipkin, a virologist who worked on the 2003 Sars and 2012 Mers coronavirus outbreaks and advised on the 2011 pandemic film Contagion, told the Financial Times. “We share whatever we learn with the entire scientific community.”

Prof Lipkin, who has developed longstanding relationships with Chinese officials since he helped develop rapid testing for Sars in 2003, visited China earlier this year to discuss responses to Covid-19. He met premier Li Keqiang, and also received an award, his second from China.

Read more here

How Danone kept making yogurt in the pandemic

From deploying sales staff to work in warehouses to meet a jump in demand as consumers stockpiled food to setting aside three-year plans, Danone has adapted to the challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic.

Leila Abboud spoke to executives and workers to find out how the food manufacturer took lessons from its Chinese operation, adapted factories to social distancing, stockpiled masks and expanded remote working.

Read the full story here.

Dubai eases restrictions as coronavirus cases dwindle

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

Dubai has eased a total lockdown on Al Ras and Naif, allowing movement in and out of these densely-populated districts between 6am and 10pm.

The decision to unseal the area and end the 24-hour curfew from Monday was made after no new coronavirus cases were uncovered around the city’s historic gold souk for two days. Around 6,000 Covid-19 tests were administered there in less than a month.

The authorities thanked residents for their cooperation, saying it “contributed considerably to efforts to combat the virus”.

Dubai eased a 24-hour curfew on residents last week as the holy fasting month of Ramadan began, allowing residents to leave their homes between 6am and 10pm.

Stock futures point to gains as traders bet on measures to fight virus

Futures for European and US stocks picked up to indicate equities will open higher, following gains across the Asia-Pacific region, on investor optimism over the latest measures from central banks to tackle the global economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Oil prices fell as concerns grow of the crisis hitting energy demand and sparking a global crude glut. Brent crude, the European benchmark, fell 3.5 per cent at $20.69 a barrel while West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, shed more than a tenth of its price: down 10.7 per cent at $15.13.

Futures trading in London pointed to gains of 1.9 per cent on Europe’s composite index Stoxx 600, while the FTSE100 was tipped to open 1.3 per cent higher. Frankfurt’s Dax futures was 2.2 per cent higher.

US futures signal the S&P 500 will rise 1 per cent when the US market opens on Monday. On Friday, the S&P 500 rose 1.4 per cent after President Donald Trump signed the country’s latest, $484bn stimulus bill into law.

Stock futures point to gains as traders bet on measures to fight virus

Futures for European and US stocks picked up to indicate equities will open higher, following gains across the Asia-Pacific region, on investor optimism over the latest measures from central banks to tackle the global economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Oil prices fell as concerns grow of the crisis hitting energy demand and sparking a global crude glut. Brent crude, the European benchmark, fell 3.5 per cent at $20.69 a barrel while West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, shed more than a tenth of its price: down 10.7 per cent at $15.13.

Futures trading pointed to gains of 1.9 per cent on Europe’s composite index Stoxx 600, while the FTSE 100 was tipped to open 1.3 per cent higher. Frankfurt’s Dax futures rose 2.2 per cent.

US futures signal the S&P 500 may rise around 1 per cent when the US market opens on Monday. On Friday, the S&P 500 rose 1.4 per cent after President Donald Trump signed the country’s latest $484bn stimulus bill into law.

Hotel chain InterContinental strikes pact for debt covenant waiver

Alice Hancock

InterContinental, the hotel group behind the Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn brands, has agreed a waiver of its debt covenants and extra financing through the UK’s government-backed loan scheme.

The UK-based company said that it now has access to $1.35bn cash and around $600m of undrawn bank facilities after the Bank of England approved its eligibility for the government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility.

Many smaller companies have struggled to access such a scheme as they have failed to meet the investment grade standard required by the central bank.

IHG said that 12 out of its 470 hotels were still closed in China and that in the US only 10 per cent were closed “demonstrating the resilience of our mainstream, franchised business”. In Europe and Africa, around 50 per cent of hotels are closed and of those open around the world, occupancy was in the low to mid 20 per cent range it said.

In order to see out the shutdown in global travel, the company has also agreed a waiver of its existing covenants until the end of 2021 provided that it meets a minimum liquidity test of $400m applied at the half and full year.

Revenue per available room for the first quarter of the year until the end of March is expected to have declined around 25 per cent overall with a 55 per cent decline in March.

Adidas warns it may slump to loss in second quarter

Olaf Storbeck

Adidas has warned it may swing to a loss in the second quarter after it missed earnings expectations in the first three months of the year.

The world’s second largest sportswear maker on Monday said that it expects its first quarterly loss in more than four years for the second quarter after a 93 per cent year-on-year drop to €65m between January and March.

More than 70 per cent of the brand’s global stores are closed due to the global lockdowns in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a 19 per cent fall year-on-year in revenue in the first quarter. Between April and June, the company is expecting that sales will decline at more than twice that rate. Adidas also said that it was unable to give any guidance for the rest of the year as the uncertainty was just too great.

Adidas’ net cash position deteriorated by more than €1.4bn over the first three months of the year as revenue fell much faster than costs. By the end of March, the company was sitting on €570m of net debt, compared to €908m of net cash three months earlier.

“Despite the current situation, I am confident about the attractive long-term prospects this industry provides for Adidas,” chief executive Kasper Rorsted said in a statement, adding that consumers “want to stay fit and healthy through sports.”

European corporate news round-up

Adidas said that 70 per cent of its stores are still closed and group sales were down 19 per cent in the first quarter due to lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19. E-commerce sales rose 35 per cent as consumers switched to ordering more products from home.

Redrow said that it plans to remobilise on May 11 and recommence construction at its sites on May 18, later than planned by fellow housebuilders Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey.

InterContinental Hotels Group, owner of Holiday Inn, amended its revolving credit facility to replace its debt covenants with a requirement for minimum liquidity of $400m until the end of 2021. The group said that it has access to $1.35bn of cash and $660m of undrawn bank facilities.

German pharmaceutical group Bayer reported that group sales increased by 6 per cent, partly due to coronavirus-induced stockpiling, but warned that the net effect of the pandemic on the business for the year is unclear.

Insurer Admiral will recommend the suspension of its special dividend of 20.7p per share, while maintaining its stance to pay the normal dividend of 56.3p per share in June.

Industry equipment rental company Ashtead said that it expects underlying profit before tax for the year ending in April 2021 to be £1.05bn, as the uptick in demand for rentals related to its speciality service business mitigated reduced general tools renting.

UK insurer Admiral suspends special dividend plans

Oliver Ralph in London

Admiral has become the latest UK insurer to change its dividend plans, suspending a special dividend that it had announced.

Rivals including Aviva, Direct Line and RSA had already ditched or suspended their dividends, as regulators have pressured the industry to cut payouts to shareholders because of the crisis.

Admiral has not gone as far as the others. It is still planning to pay its 56.3p final dividend, but it has suspended plans to pay a 20.7p final dividend and will review the decision later in the year.

Chief executive David Stevens said that it had been “a very difficult decision to suspend the special dividend as we are aware of the importance and impact to our shareholders and staff”.

But he added that it was “the prudent and right thing to do at this time”.

Admiral last week became the first UK motor insurer to offer a refund to all customers because driving has fallen sharply during the lockdown. It will give customers £25 back for each vehicle insured, costing a total of £110m.

Norwegian Air warns fleet likely to remain grounded for a year

Richard Milne in Oslo

Norwegian Air Shuttle has warned that both its short-haul and long-haul airplanes are likely to remain grounded for the next 12 months and that a full recovery would not take place until 2022, laying bare the scale of the crisis facing the airline industry.

As part of a plan for a massive $1.2bn debt-for-equity swap to try to ensure the embattled low-cost airline’s survival, Norwegian said on Monday that its base case was that its fleet would remain fully grounded until April 2021 apart from the seven aircraft currently flying in Norway.

It would then begin a gradual ramp-up of both its European short-haul and long-haul operations to the US and Asia over the rest of 2021 before normal activity returns in January 2022.

Norwegian also warned existing shareholders that they will be all but wiped out by its planned debt-for-equity swap and a fourth rights issue in two years.

Norwegian said that it was hoping to convert up to $1.2bn of debt into equity, which would leave current shareholders with 5.2 per cent of the share capital before a NKr400m ($40m) rights issue.

The dramatic restructuring is Norwegian’s attempt to unlock NKr2.7bn ($250m) of loan guarantees from Norway’s government to rescue one of the world’s most leveraged airlines in the biggest crisis ever to face the industry.

Less than a fifth of Hong Kong companies have cut executive pay

Primrose Riordan and Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong

Only 15 per cent of companies in Hong Kong have cut executive pay as a result of the financial trouble created by the coronavirus outbreak, revealed a survey of 140 companies in the region.

The survey by consultancy Comptify Analytics found that among those which reduced executive pay, it was most common for a company to cut between 20 to 30 per cent over a three month period.

Logistics and retail companies were more likely to institute staff cut backs, and financial services were the least likely among the group of companies.

“Property and financial [companies] have deeper pockets and are not at the first line of impact so are at the bottom of the list,” Comptify Analytics said.

The company’s managing consultant Vincent Fung said he was surprised by the result and said news reports of big companies slashing pay had given the “illusion” it was more widespread.

European stocks rise on optimism over central bank action

European stock markets took their cue from Asian gains after the latest indications of measures central banks are willing to take to tackle the global economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, concerns of the Covid-19 crisis hitting global energy demand to spark a crude glut pushed oil prices lower.

The Stoxx 600, Europe’s composite index, rose 1.4 per cent in early Monday trading, while in London the FTSE 100 gained 1.4 per cent. Frankfurt’s Dax rose 2.2 per cent.

Japan’s Topix benchmark added 1.8 per cent on Monday after the country’s central bank pledged to buy an unlimited quantity of government bonds as part of efforts to support the world’s third-largest economy. The Bank of Japan said it would quadruple its limit on corporate debt purchases to ¥20tn ($186bn).

China’s CSI 300 index of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed stocks moved up 0.7 per cent, shaking off figures that showed profits for industrial companies fell by a third during March.

Traders said the gains for equities showed investor optimism around central bank policy decisions this week. The European Central Bank, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan meet to set policy this week. 

The West Texas Intermediate, the US oil marker, on Monday fell more than 8 per cent to $15.50 per barrel while Brent crude, the international benchmark, slid 5.4 per cent to $20.29. 

Fears over the global economic hit from the Covid-19 pandemic have pummelled demand for crude, with prices for WTI last week turning negative for the first time in history.

It is too early to consider lifting lockdown, says UK health minister

George Parker in London

Edward Argar, health minister, insisted on Monday that it was too early to consider easing Britain’s coronavirus lockdown, saying the “focus has to be on the health impact”.

Mr Argar pointed to the May 7 legal deadline for reviewing the lockdown as an important moment, as the government played down suggestions there would be any relaxation of restrictions this week.

“If we let up too soon and saw a further spike, that would be far more damaging to our economy than a continuation of where we are now ,” Mr Argar told the BBC’s Today programme.

What you may have missed

UK prime minister Boris Johnson returns to work after he was struck by coronavirus. He faces pressure to define a strategy for ending the country’s lockdown and opening up the economy.

The Bank of Japan has promised unlimited buying of government bonds, an increase in its purchases of corporate debt and easier financing for banks in response to Covid-19.

Profits for industrial companies in China plummeted 34.9 per cent in March compared with a year earlier, in a sign that the economy has struggled to recover from the virus outbreak.

US scientists are working with China to investigate the origin of coronavirus, despite criticism from the Trump administration that Beijing is failing to co-operate with outsiders to stem the disease. The US on Sunday recorded its lowest daily death toll in three weeks.

Norwegian Air Shuttle warns its fleet is likely to remain grounded for the next 12 months and that a full recovery would not take place until 2022.

Meanwhile, Airbus chief executive, Guillaume Faury, told employees in a letter that the company was rapidly “bleeding cash”, threatening the manufacturer’s existence.

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele has responded to an upswing in violence during the coronavirus crisis by authorising the use of lethal force against gangs.

Germany reports lowest rise in cases in six weeks

Tobias Buck in Berlin

Germany reported just 1,018 new coronavirus cases on Monday, the lowest number since the early days of the outbreak more than six weeks ago.

According to official data from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, the number of Covid-19 fatalities recorded over the past 24 hours rose by 110 to 5,750. The total number of detected infections has increased to 155,193, though close to 115,000 of those patients have already made a full recovery.

As in past weeks, the sharp decline in daily cases and daily fatalities on Sunday and Monday is likely to reflect at least in part reporting delays over the weekend. However, Monday’s tally of new cases is also significantly below the corresponding number from last week.

New global cases reach a 12-day low

Steve Bernard in London

The worldwide death toll rose by 3,751 on Sunday, according to data from Worldometers. Figures at the weekend tend to be lower due to late reporting, but yesterday’s data represents the lowest increase on a Sunday since the end of March.

New daily cases of Covid-19 around the globe also rose by the lowest amount in 12 days as 73,858 diagnoses were confirmed on Sunday, bringing the total to 2.93m.

UK, Italy, Spain, France and Germany all reported their lowest daily death toll in several weeks, raising hopes that the peak has passed. Several European countries will be outlining plans to ease their lockdowns this week, as they look to navigate their way out of the economically damaging measures brought in to tackle Covid-19.

Russia continues to struggle to contain the spread of coronavirus, adding a record 6,361 cases yesterday, despite the country having been in lockdown since late March.

The number of recovered cases globally rose by 40,799 yesterday, leaving a total of 877,411 free from the virus.

European Commission secures German airline’s future with loan

Joe Miller in Frankfurt

The European Commission has approved a €500m loan from the German government to the ailing airline Condor, after a takeover by Polish airline Lot fell through earlier this month.

“The company was operationally healthy and profitable in normal times and has good prospects for the future,” said economics minister Peter Altmaier.

The airline received a €380m bridging loan from the German government and the federal state of Hesse last year, after its parent company Thomas Cook went into administration.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the airline, which has almost 5,000 staff, to ground almost all its flights since March 19.

Daily cases in Russia rise by about a tenth over past week

Henry Foy in Moscow

Russia reported 6,198 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 47 new deaths from the virus, similar to the record increase reported on Sunday.

Russia has recorded a total of 87,147 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infections and 794 deaths. Each day the total number of cases has grown by about 9 per cent over the past week, close to the end of a five-week national holiday that most analysts expect to be extended into May.

Russia’s outbreak is “due to reach a plateau by mid-May. And then, in [June] the situation will probably become easier,” Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said in an interview published on Monday.

The situation would return to normal “in a couple of months”, Mr Peskov told the Arguments and Facts newspaper.

Emoticon

Johnson says it is too soon to loosen lockdown even as outbreak eases

George Parker

Boris Johnson has declared that Britain has “so very nearly succeeded” in winning the first phase of what he called “the biggest single challenge this country has faced since the war”.

But the prime minister warned that it was not yet time to launch the “second phase” in the fight against coronavirus, arguing that to lift the lockdown now would be to invite “a new wave of death” and “economic disaster”.

Mr Johnson, returning to work after suffering a serious bout of coronavirus, used a speech on the steps of Downing Street to urge the country to stick with the lockdown for a while longer.

He also confirmed that when restrictions are lifted it would be done in a gradual way, so that “one by one we will fire up the engines of this vast British economy”.

Italian bonds rally after S&P’s decision to hold country’s credit rating

Tommy Stubbington in London

Italian bonds are rallying after a decision late on Friday not to downgrade the country’s credit rating by Standard & Poor’s.

Some investors had expected the rating agency to cut Italy to BBB-, just a single notch above the “junk” status that would force many investors to sell their holdings of Italian bonds.

But S&P said Rome’s creditworthiness was unchanged despite forecasting a surge in debt levels to more than 150 per cent of gross domestic product, saying that the European Central Bank’s asset purchases are “backstopping this additional public borrowing”.

Italy’s 10-year yield fell 0.15 percentage points to 1.75 per cent, having hit a one-month high of 2.2 per cent last week. Greek bond yields also fell after S&P kept Greece’s credit rating on hold at BB-.

Oil prices fall as supply glut outweighs production cuts

Oil prices fell during early trading on Monday as the lack of storage and the crude supply glut due to restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus outweighed the production cuts beginning to take place.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, dropped to $20.86 per barrel, down 2.7 per cent. West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, tumbled 12.9 per cent to $14.76 a barrel, with the larger losses attributable to the acute storage problems at Cushing, Oklahoma, a key oil tank storage hub for US shale.

Producers in the US have begun cutting supply to the market. Drillers cut 60 operating oil rigs in the week to April 24, reducing the total count to 378, the lowest since July 2016, according to a regular report released by energy services firm Baker Hughes on Friday.

Saudi Arabia is also reported to be slashing output, ahead of the cuts by Opec and its fellow producers that are due to begin on May 1.

Analysts say that the fledgling cuts to productions are not enough to compensate for the massive hit to oil consumption from measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Demand for oil is estimated to have fallen as much as 30 per cent since some of the world’s largest economies have effectively shut down.

“The reason why oil prices are down is related to the fact that the oil market still remains strongly oversupplied, “ said Giovanni Staunovo, commodity analyst at UBS. “There are more reports of inventories increasing. With that, more places are running out of storage, so we need to see production shut-ins.”

Singapore now has third most coronavirus infections in Asia

Stefania Palma in Singapore

Singapore has reported a fresh daily rise of 799 cases after the city state surpassed Japan to become the Asian country with the third highest number of infections, after China and India.

The health ministry said most of Monday’s new patients were linked to foreign worker dormitories, where individuals tend to live in cramped conditions. This community has come to account for about three quarters of Singapore’s 14,423 cases.

UK is ‘pushing through peak of virus’, says Johnson

George Parker in London

Boris Johnson used a speech on the steps of Downing Street to claim that Britain was “pushing through the peak of the virus”, adding: “We are beginning to turn the tide”.

But the UK prime minister, who returned to work on Monday after suffering a serious bout of coronavirus, quashed suggestions that any easing of restrictions was imminent; ministers are required by law to review the lockdown by May 7. Some expect the first relaxation could be announced next week.

Mr Johnson said the virus was like an invisible mugger that was being wrestled to the floor. He said the first phase of the fight with coronavirus was almost complete and that the National Health Service had not been overwhelmed.

The second phase would see a gradual lifting of the restrictions but it was vital that measures remained in place to avoid a second peak in the disease, which would force the government to “slam on the brakes across the whole country and economy”.

“I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can”, he said, but said restrictions would only be eased when the government was sure infections were on a sustainable downward path and a second peak could be avoided.

Mr Johnson spoke of the need to secure the “biggest possible consensus across party lines” as the country moved into “phase II”, with the economy gradually opening up. “I’ve absolutely no doubt we will beat it”, he said.

France’s Grand Prix cancelled

Samuel Agini in London

The French Grand Prix will no longer go ahead this year, becoming the tenth race of the delayed Formula One season to be cancelled or postponed.

The French government’s decision to ban all major events until mid July had already led to the delay of the Tour de France, the elite cycling contest, and the motorsport calendar has become the latest to suffer from disruption.

Chase Carey, chief executive of F1, which is controlled by US group Liberty Media, said he is still “increasingly confident” of starting the season this summer.

He said F1 is aiming to hold the first race in Austria over the first weekend of July, with the goal of ending the season in Abu Dhabi in December. In total F1 is aiming to complete between 15 and 18 races.

Stuart Pringle, managing director of Silverstone, has said the British Grand Prix will not be able to take place in front of fans if it goes ahead this year. Silverstone is in talks with the UK government and F1 about when to host the race, which had been due to take place in July.

India promises to repatriate stranded citizens

Stephanie Findlay in New Delhi

India’s ministry of external affairs said on Monday it is working to bring home thousands of Indians who have been stranded around the world by the country’s travel ban on all incoming passengers since March 18.

New Delhi moved swiftly to impose aggressive travel bans that barred even its own citizens from returning home, one of the few countries in the world to take such strict action to avert a surge in coronavirus cases.

“The MEA is in consultation with Indian states to see what kind of necessary preparations are required to bring back Indians,” a ministry source told the FT.

Our embassies and missions abroad are actively in touch with stranded Indians and are providing all necessary assistance to them as of now,” said the source, “the process of return of the stranded Indians will only commence after the lockdown has lifted.

India’s lockdown is in place until May 3, but with rising numbers of coronavirus infections in major cities many states are mulling an extension.

Local councils say Whitehall aid is seriously lacking

Andy Bounds in Huddersfield

English local government needs at least £10-£13bn from central government to survive the coronavirus pandemic because of falling income and rising costs, a parliamentary committee has heard.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, said the £3.2bn promised by Whitehall was not enough.

James Jamieson, chairman of the LGA, said that while the money provided a “breathing space”, the need “could be three of even four times that amount” based on recent financial surveys from councils.

Local authorities are responsible for essential services such as waste collection, housing rough sleepers, shielding vulnerable people, assisting public health and channelling support to businesses.They are spending more on caring for the elderly and disabled while revenue is falling.

They have lost income from parking charges, leisure centres, property and council tax and been unable to implement planned savings this year after losing £15bn of government funding over the last decade. By law local authorities must run a balanced budget.

Eurozone to contract by nearly 11 per cent in 2020, says Morgan Stanley

The eurozone economy is likely to contract by nearly 11 per cent, more than twice as bad as the 5 per cent previously envisaged, the latest Morgan Stanley forecasts show, as lockdowns last longer and hit economies harder than expected.

The recovery is likely to be more gradual than previously anticipated, the economists noted, as European countries lift restrictions gradually and large scale events remain banned.

Investment and consumption are likely to take time before they pick up again, causing a “deeper initial fall”.

We continue to believe that the recovery will depend on significant government stimulus, but to that end we see a good chance of EU leaders agreeing on a recovery fund.

The bigger hit predicted by the Wall Street bank was reflected by ECB President Christine Lagarde’s estimate that every month of full lockdown costs 2-3 per cent of annual GDP.

Morgan Stanley has the most bearish view on eurozone economy among Wall Street banks, with JP Morgan forecasting a a 9 per cent contraction and UBS forecasting it will shrink by 4.5 per cent.

Central banks to unveil more measures to prop up their economies

The US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank are to meet this week to set their policies, joining the Japanese central bank, which met on Monday.

The Bank of Japan plans to buy an unlimited number of government bonds and to quadruple its purchases of corporate debt in an escalation of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, it said on Monday, when it revealed it is keeping its overnight interest rates at minus 0.10 per cent.

The Fed is unlikely to announce a move in interest rates when it concludes its two-day meeting on Wednesday. The US central bank said at its last meeting that it would maintain rates at near zero until it was “confident that the economy has weathered recent events”.

With economic and policy rate forecasts unlikely, investors will look for guidance as to where the Fed sees signs of strain. Some are eager for the Fed to intervene more aggressively in the $4tn municipal bond market, where states and cities raise cash. Others are calling for more support to credit markets, specifically for high-yield borrowers.

The ECB meets on Thursday, after last month increasing its quantitative easing programme with an announcement of a further €750bn of bond-buying. It loosened many of the restrictions previously governing such purchases.

Nevertheless, many economists expect the ECB to increase the scale of its bond-buying. Investors can expect renewed calls by the ECB for eurozone governments to spend more to kick-start their economies.

Spain’s Covid-19 death toll shows signs of easing

Daniel Dombey in Madrid

Spain has reported an uptick in its coronavirus death toll, but the most recent number still represents the second lowest in over a month, according to government figures released on Monday. The data also showed that over 100,000 people have now recovered from Covid-19.

The ministry of health said that in the most recent 24-hour period, 331 people had died after contracting coronavirus. This compares with Sunday’s toll of 288 people – the lowest such total since March 20 – but is below all the other daily totals recorded for the past five weeks.

According to the ministry of health statistics, which include proven but not probable cases of coronavirus, the cumulative death toll is 23,521 people.

The figures indicated that the increase in coronavirus cases remained below 1 per cent a day, with 209,465 cases, although this includes only people who have taken the relatively reliable but slow PCR test. At times last month, cases were increasing by 30 per cent and more each day.

New data highlight broad range in rigour of global lockdowns

To track what people actually get up to rather than what they are allowed to do, economists have started looking at real-time data, and have found wide disparities in activity around the world.

Deutsche Bank, which has collated mobility data from Google to create a heatmap which charts the severity of the virus lockdown, found that at the moment Scandinavia, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea stand out for having remained relatively open during the crisis.

Japan is gradually tightening its measures, which is likely to have a knock-on impact on mobility.

Across the globe, New Zealand has come closest to a complete halt, according to Deutsche Bank’s analysis. Mobility is down 85 per cent from normal and shows no signs of recovering.

Mobility is down 60 per cent across the eurozone, ranging from 50 per cent in Germany and the Netherlands to 70 per cent in Italy and Greece and even 80 per cent in France and Spain.

Northern Asia is seeing the mildest mobility slowdown in the world. Mobility dropped earlier than elsewhere in February but has remained stable around 30 per cent below normal.

Robin Winkler, strategist at Deutsche Bank, wrote:

To be sure, not any type of mobility maps onto economic activity in a straightforward way. For example, while the media are obsessed with tracking activity in parks as a proxy for ‘lockdown compliance’, it is not obvious whether normalization would imply people spending more or less time in parks.

Deutsche Bank used data on retail and recreation, transit stations, and workplaces, while discarding data on parks, residences, and groceries and pharmacies.

China’s biggest bank seeks to limit new client exposure to oil

Thomas Hale

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China plans to suspend new positions in products linked to oil and other commodities, after a week that roiled the markets and sent the US oil marker into negative territory.

“The international commodity market is currently at higher risk,” China’s biggest bank by assets said in a statement on Monday.

The suspension will come into place from 9am Beijing time on Tuesday, the ICBC said, and will include new positions in products for natural gas, copper and soyabeans.

Banks worldwide have rushed to limit access to oil products following last week’s market turbulence, when the May contract for West Texas Intermediate, the US benchmark, crashed below zero.

The Bank of China had marketed a product called “crude oil treasure”, which it also suspended last week amid estimates of significant losses for retail investors, who had been caught out by the moves in the oil market.

WTI traded as low as -$40.32 a barrel last week. Negative prices meant that some producers were actually paying buyers to take oil off their hands. On Monday it was trading at $15.49 a barrel. Brent crude, the international marker, last week dropped to its lowest level since mid-1999. It was recently trading at $20.64 a barrel.

More than 2m Australians download contact tracing app

Jamie Smyth in Sydney

More than 2m Australians have put a Covid-19 contact tracing app on their mobile phones within the first 24 hours of its release, far exceeding the government prediction of taking up to five days to attract 1m downloads.

The COVIDSafe app uses Bluetooth wireless technology to log the details of people using the app who come within 1.5 metres of another user’s mobile phone. Users will be notified if they have 15 minutes or more of close contact with another user who tests positive for the virus.

The app, which is based on technology developed by the Singapore government, had provoked privacy concerns among civil liberty groups and some backbench MPs, who had said they wouldn’t download the technology.

Canberra attempted to allay their concerns by determining that information provided through the app will only be accessible for use by health officials. The government said early lifting of social distancing restrictions is dependent on the app’s success.

Australia reported nine new cases of coronavirus on Monday, its lowest number in more than a month. It has had 6,720 cases, of which 5,586 have recovered. Some 83 people have died.

Assange extradition hearing is delayed due to pandemic

Jane Croft in London

A court hearing that will decide on whether Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, can be extradited from Britain to face trial in the US on spying charges has been adjourned because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Assange’s extradition hearing at Woolwich Crown Court was due to continue on May 18 but will now take place later this year.

Mr Assange faces one charge of computer hacking and 17 charges of violating the US’s 1917 Espionage Act brought by the US, which wants him to be sent from Britain to stand trial.

The US has accused him of working with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning over the leak of hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010.

Mr Assange is fighting extradition and is being held in London’s Belmarsh prison, a high-security jail.

Spain expands testing while UK lags behind

Spain and Italy are among the top 10 countries testing for Covid-19 globally while the UK continues to fall behind other nations, according to data from the OECD.

Angel Gurría, OECD general secretary, tweeted that it was “good to see Spain among the top ten” on Monday, adding: “Increasing testing capacity is crucial for deconfinement strategies and to reduce risks of new outbreaks.”

Iceland led the rankings with 134 tests per thousand people in the population, according to the Our World in Data tracker. Luxembourg, Estonia, Lithuania and Israel followed in carrying out the greatest number of tests, suggesting that countries with smaller populations and lower transmission rates have been faster to implement effective testing regimes.

The European countries worst hit by the pandemic – including Spain and Italy – have “significantly” expanded their testing capacity as they each announced plans to gradually lift their confinement restrictions.

Italy is testing 29 people per thousand and Spain 28, both ahead of Germany with 25 tests, which was praised for its focus on testing early on in the crisis.

The UK ranked 29th in the list with nine tests per 1,000 people, behind Turkey and the US. It was one place ahead of Sweden which has taken a notable non-interventionist approach to implementing lockdown measures.

The British government has three days to meet its target of 100,000 tests a day, which it is unlikely to reach.

UK government to release partial list of scientific advisory group

Camilla Hodgson in London

A partial list of the government’s top scientific advisory group, and some of the evidence that it based recent recommendations for the UK’s Covid-19 response on, will be published “soon”, the group’s chair said on Monday.

About 100 names out of an unknown number of members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and its subcommittees will be published in due course, though individuals are being asked for permission and anything that is made public must go through Whitehall first, said Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientist.

Minutes of meetings are unlikely to be published until after the pandemic, as is standard.

Some of the evidence that the group based recent recommendations on, as well as a list of the evidence they intend to publish in the near future, will also be made publicly available, he said.

“We are trying to get that out as soon as we can,” he said, adding that some papers required authors’ permission before they could be published. “I am absolutely determined to get them out.”

Mr Vallance said it was “normal practice” for SAGE membership to be published only after an emergency is over, and the group had been “very strongly advised” that members’ independence and security could be jeopardized if their identities were made public.

However, echoing what England’s chief medical officer said on Friday, he added that he was “in favour of getting those names out.”

India’s medical body cancels orders for testing kits from China

Stephanie Findlay in New Delhi

India’s medical body handling the coronavirus outbreak announced it has cancelled orders for rapid antibody tests from two Chinese companies citing accuracy concerns.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said on Monday that states were advised not to use kits from Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech and Zhuhai Livzon Diagnostics because of “performance” issues.

“The results have shown wide variation in their sensitivity, despite early promise of good performance for surveillance purposes,” said the ICMR in a statement. “In view of this, states are advised to stop using these kits procured from the above mentioned companies and return them to be sent back to the suppliers.”

Rapid antibody tests are quick tests that reveal who has been infected with coronavirus and developed antibodies to it. Governments around the world are hoping the tests will help provide information to determine when it is safe to lift lockdowns, however accuracy problems have been reported worldwide.

The move by the ICMR comes as questions are being raised over the cost of the testing kits after a dispute erupted between an importer and distributor in the Delhi High Court.

“That any human being would try & profiteer from the immeasurable suffering of millions of his brothers & sisters, is beyond belief & comprehension. This scam is an insult to every Indian. I urge the PM to act swiftly to bring the corrupt to justice,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the opposition party the Indian National Congress.

What you may have missed

The worldwide death toll showed the lowest increase on a Sunday since the end of March, while new global cases hit a 12-day low. Steve Bernard in London illustrates with his maps

Economies
Central banks: The Bank of Japan plans to buy an unlimited number of government bonds and to quadruple its purchases of corporate debt in an escalation of its response to the pandemic, it said on Monday. It revealed it is keeping its overnight interest rates at minus 0.10 per cent. The US Federal Reserve is to meet on Tuesday and the European Central Bank two days later.

Morgan Stanley becomes the most bearish of Wall Street banks on the eurozone economy, predicting the single-currency area will probably contract by nearly 11 per cent, more than twice as bad as the 5 per cent previously envisaged.

UK update
Boris Johnson, on his first day at the office since suffering from a bout of Covid-19, declared that Britain has “so very nearly succeeded” in winning the first phase of what he called “the biggest single challenge this country has faced since the war”. The UK prime minister said it is too soon to loosen the lockdown even as the outbreak eases. George Parker reports from London

Testing and case counts
Spain has increased its Covid-19 testing to be, along with Italy, among the top 10 countries for tests. The UK however is behind other nations, OECD data show. Spain’s latest coronavirus death toll figures suggest signs of easing as it reports the second lowest increase in more than a month. Daniel Dombey in Madrid

Germany reported its lowest rise in cases in six weeks, with just over 1,000 recorded on Monday. Tobias Buck in Berlin

Singapore has the third most coronavirus infections in Asia, writes Stefania Palma in Singapore

More than 2m Australians have put a Covid-19 contact tracing app on their mobile phones within the first 24 hours of its release, far exceeding the government prediction of taking up to five days to attract 1m downloads. Jamie Smyth in Sydney

Sport
France’s Grand Prix has become the 10th race of the delayed Formula One to be cancelled or postponed. Samuel Agini in London reports

UK insists it will take time to know if Covid-19 testing target is reached

Laura Hughes

Downing Street has insisted it may not be immediately clear if ministers have reached their target of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April.

The UK’s testing capacity stood at 53,000 as of Saturday morning; however, the number of tests carried out was still just 29,058.

Playing down expectations of hitting the pledge, a No 10 spokesman cautioned that there could have been a “significant time lag” in reflecting the most recent numbers, after a new online booking site for home tests and drive-through tests was launched on Friday.

“We are not going to be able to tell on Thursday of this week whether or not we have met the 100,000 target”, the spokesperson said. “It will take a little while longer for that to be clear”.

“Home testing kits can take up to 72 hours to get the results for and therefore show up in the numbers”, they said.

Downing Street said all 10,000 home-testing kits made available on Monday were ordered within the first hour of the website page going live. A total of 18,000 of the 22,000 available bookings for Monday appointments at drive-through testing centres were also taken up as of 11:30am.

General Motors halts dividends as auto market sputters

Claire Bushey

General Motors has halted dividends and share buybacks as the automaker shores up its balance sheet in response to the coronavirus-fuelled collapse in car demand.

The Detroit-based automaker has been forced to take these actions, along with other “austerity measures”, as the Covid-19 pandemic shut down factories across the world and caused a sharp pullback in spending on vehicles.

GM had initially been planning to purchase $2bn to $3bn worth of its shares this year. It paid just less than $2.4bn in dividends last year, and has paid out $19.6bn over the past decade.

The group said on Monday it had also extended a $3.6bn revolving credit facility to April 2022 in order to “further strengthen its liquidity position”. It also extended a $2bn revolving borrowing facility to April 2021, the group said.

“We continue to enhance our liquidity to help navigate the uncertainties in the global market created by this pandemic,” said GM chief financial officer Dhivya Suryadevara. “Fortifying our cash position and strengthening our balance sheet will position the company to create value for all our stakeholders through this cycle.”

Analysis: Disney and the unequal reality of coronavirus America

Alex Barker in London and Anna Nicolaou in New York

There has perhaps been no blow as sudden or debilitating for Walt Disney’s empire as coronavirus.

Disney is an almost peerless family entertainment group, but its parks are empty, its blockbusters shelved. More than half its workforce are on unpaid leave. Security guards still keep the Victorian lamp alight in Walt’s Disneyland apartment in California, but Mickey is literally on furlough.

At the eye of the storm is Bob Iger, Disney’s all-powerful leader for close to 15 years, who moved to the role of executive chairman in February. For his sharp business instincts and clean-cut style, Mr Iger has been lauded as one of corporate America’s superheroes.

The question is whether he can ride out this financial tempest — and its ethical traps — while staying true to Walt’s vision, and Disney’s wholesome family brand.

Read the article here

Brazil’s Embraer launches arbitration proceedings against Boeing

Andres Schipani in São Paulo

Brazil’s Embraer said on Monday it has launched an arbitration process against Boeing over the US company’s decision to walk away from a $4.2bn deal.

The Brazilian aircraft maker is claiming it has suffered substantial damages as a result of the collapse of the deal. It did not specify the jurisdiction or the court it has chosen for the “arbitration proceedings”.

The deal collapsed on Saturday after the US aircraft maker said it had tried for two years to finalise the deal before the termination date, which fell on Friday, but ultimately negotiations were unsuccessful.

Embraer charged back accusing Boeing of making false claims to justify walking away from the agreement to acquire the Brazilian group’s regional jet business. The Brazilian company said Boeing had “manufactured false claims as a pretext to seek to avoid its commitments to close the transaction”.

As the Brazilian jet maker seeks damages, the US group countered it was within its rights to terminate the deal. Under the agreement, Boeing would have taken an 80 per cent stake in Embraer’s jet business, which would have enabled the Brazilian company to boost sales.

Embraer said on a conference call on Monday that it expects a recovery in the regional aviation industry – which has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis – would be favourable to its product range of narrow body jets for short-distance travel.

The company said it had identified cash savings of $1bn this year, contributing to total liquidity of $3bn.

US crude prices tumble as world’s largest oil ETF dumps June contract

US oil prices fell heavily on Monday as the world’s largest oil-backed exchange-traded fund said it would sell off all futures contracts for June by the end of the month amid a deep crude supply glut.

West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, tumbled 24.4 per cent to $12.80 a barrel, following a regulatory filing by the United States Oil fund, or USO, that said it would eliminate the WTI futures contract for delivery in June from 20 per cent of its portfolio over a four day period.

“By selling shorter-dated future contracts and investing into longer-dated contracts, they are putting pressure on the front WTI contract,” said Giovanni Staunovo, commodity analyst at UBS.

The fund said that it made the move due to “evolving market conditions, regulatory accountability levels and position limits being imposed on USO with respect to oil futures contracts.” Last week, it began exiting June contracts and exchange operator CME Group ordered USO not to “exceed accountability levels” for the June contract, defined as holding in excess of 10,000 lots.

The acute storage problems at Cushing, Oklahoma, a key oil tank storage hub for US shale, put further pressure on the US marker, oil analysts said. By comparison, Brent crude, the international benchmark, dropped to $20.03 per barrel, only down 6.6 per cent.

US stocks join global rally and open higher

US equities rose in early trading on Monday, joining a global rally spurred by stimulus measures from Japan’s central bank that highlighted the lengths policymakers are willing to go in their efforts to shore up the world economy.

The S&P 500 was up 0.8 per cent, although its energy sector was kept in check by a slide in oil prices.

The Nasdaq Composite rose 0.9 per cent.

The yield on 10-year US Treasuries edged up 0.03 percentage point to 0.62 per cent.

The June futures contract for West Texas Intermediate was down 37.8 per cent at $12.30 a barrel after the world’s largest oil-backed exchange-traded fund, the United States Oil fund, said it would cut its holdings of that particular contract to zero from 20 per cent of its portfolio by the end of April.

Chesapeake Energy shares drop one-third before trading halt

Chesapeake Energy shares were down by about one-third in morning trading before being placed in a trading halt.

The Oklahoma City-based company’s shares were down 33.8 per cent on Monday, with the producer halted for volatility.

The energy sector was the worst performer in the S&P 500, nursing a 1.9 per cent drop versus a 1 per cent advance for the overall benchmark.

Oil prices took a hit today. The June futures contract for West Texas Intermediate was down 35.4 per cent at $12.50 a barrel after the world’s largest oil-backed exchange-traded fund, the United States Oil fund, said it would cut its holdings of that particular contract to zero from 20 per cent of its portfolio by the end of April.

Greece lays out plans for relaxation of lockdown measures next week

Kerin Hope in Athens

Greece will begin to lift a six-week lockdown on May 4, allowing small retailers and hairdressing salons to re-open in the first stage of a gradual process expected to take at least two months, a government spokesman said.

Greek public health experts have said the impact of each round of measures to re-open the economy will be assessed after two weeks, before the next one is implemented.

Schools will resume classes later in May, while medium-sized and larger businesses will start operating provided “the public health situation is satisfactory”, the spokesman said.

Cafés, bars, restaurants and city hotels are set to open by early June, followed by tourist resorts at the beginning of July.

Health authorities said on Monday the death toll from Covid-19 had risen to 136, while the number of confirmed cases stood at 2,517.

UK to ban gambling adverts during lockdown

Alice Hancock, Leisure Industries Reporter

The UK’s biggest gambling operators have agreed to stop all TV and radio advertising during the coronavirus lockdown as fears mount around an increase in problem gambling.

The Betting and Gaming Council, which represents the industry, said that the volume of TV sport and casino advertisements had already dropped by up to 10 per cent since the lockdown started on March 23 but that the remaining adverts for gambling products would be removed and instead replaced with safer gambling messages while the UK public remained at home.

BGC members account for about 90 per cent of the UK’s regulated gambling industry and about 50 per cent of the gambling advertising spend. GVC, William Hill, Bet365, Sky Bet, Flutter, Gamesys and BetVictor are among the operators that have agreed to the pledge.

The BGC added that it hoped that the remaining operators, which include the National Lottery and bingo operators would follow its lead.

Operators including the online gambling company 888 and GVC, owner of Ladbrokes Coral, have already reported an uptick in use of casino products as customers search for something to gamble on while almost all sport fixtures have been cancelled.

The commitment will remain in force for six weeks and at least until June 5 2020.

UK to fully guarantee ‘micro loans’ for small businesses

Jim Pickard in London

Rishi Sunak has announced a new “micro-loan scheme” under which companies will be able to borrow up to £50,000 with the government underwriting the entire loan.

The new “Bounce Back Loans” will help struggling small companies currently struggling to access credit, the chancellor told the House of Commons. “If we want to benefit from their dynamisms and entrepreneurial spirit they will need extra support to get through this crisis.”

The loans will be free of interest, fees and payments for 12 months, the government said. Mr Sunak said the loans would be available from 9am next Monday with companies asked to fill in a “quick standard form” – with the first loans likely to arrive within 24 hours.

The chancellor has been under pressure to change the rules for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), a programme that offers interest-free loans of up to £5m that are 80 per cent guaranteed by the government. Many companies have called for the state to give 100 per cent backing to CBILS.

But Mr Sunak said that would be a mistake because it would mean “the taxpayers of today or tomorrow” having to underwrite “unlimitless sums”.

Iran reopens borders for trade

Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Iran’s borders with neighbouring states have been reopened for trade after more than one month of closure.

“Now, all our borders are open,” Ali Rabiei, the government spokesman, said on Monday. “Only the border with Turkmenistan — which has closed all its borders — remains closed.”

Tehran conducts about 60 per cent of its trade with neighbouring nations — mostly with Iraq, Turkey, UAE and Afghanistan — which is crucial to its economic survival while it struggles with US sanctions and limited access to western markets.

Iran’s neighbours were quick to shut down their borders in March when the country became the second epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak after China.

“We are now moving to allow imports of goods and services… and let businessmen commute between countries,” Mr Rabiei said. “In the next phase, we will allow passengers to travel with permission from the health ministry.”

UK Chancellor insists lockdown will remain to prevent second spike

George Parker in London

Rishi Sunak, chancellor, has insisted that Britain is right to retain its lockdown for now, arguing that the best way to protect the economy is to “protect our people”.

Speaking to MPs on the economic impact of coronavirus, Mr Sunak said: “If we lost control of the virus it would risk seeing a second spike, which we all want to avoid.”

Mr Sunak summed up the economic impact of the virus, saying up to 4m jobs had been furloughed and some 1.5m claims for universal credit had been made. He cited survey evidence that one quarter of businesses had stopped trading.

The chancellor said that when the virus was brought under control the government would “refine public health restrictions”, reinforcing the message that there would be no dramatic single lifting of the lockdown.

Announcing a new 100 per cent guarantee to banks lending up to £50,000 to the smallest companies, he said: “I believe our response has been one of the most comprehensive of any country anywhere in the world.”

Pelosi floats the idea of basic income for the US

James Politi in Washington

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, floated the idea of a basic income as way to help the American economy weather the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Pelosi’s comments in an interview with MSNBC on Monday morning highlight the growing attractiveness of income support among mainstream Democrats, who have traditionally been sceptical of the policy.

“We may have to think in terms of some different ways to put money in people’s pockets,” Ms Pelosi said. “Others have suggested a minimum income, a guaranteed income for people. Is that worthy of attention now? Perhaps so,” she added.

Andrew Yang, the former Democratic presidential candidate, championed the policy during his lapsed bid for the White House, and other liberal Democrats have backed the idea in the past. But guaranteed income is increasingly seen more broadly within the party as a potential solution to the economic disruption, which has already led 26m Americans to file for unemployment benefits. The White House and Congress have agreed to send up to $1,200 per adult, and $500 per child, to help families cope with the pandemic, but that is a one-off payment that will only plug a temporary gap in income.

Free to read: Singapore struggles to reduce coronavirus infections

Stefania Palma in Singapore

Singapore has overtaken Japan to become the Asian country with the third highest number of coronavirus infections, recording a daily triple-digit rise in the number of new cases.

The city-state recorded 799 new cases on Monday, taking its total to 14,423. The sharp increase in a country that won plaudits for seemingly keeping the pathogen under control has highlighted the difficulty in fighting the disease.

In response to the outbreak, the government has moved about 10,000 healthy migrant workers out of dormitories, and deployed teams to help deliver meals and medical support at the community isolation buildings.

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Jails free 33 prisoners but are ‘coping well’ with virus threat – UK justice secretary

Robert Wright in London

An early-release scheme that was expected to free up space in crowded prisons to manage the threat from Covid-19 has so far led to the freeing of just 33 prisoners in England and Wales, the justice secretary has told parliament.

Robert Buckland revealed the figure while answering a question in parliament from David Lammy, his new Labour shadow. When it was announced on April 4, the scheme was expected to lead to the release of up to 4,000 prisoners who represented a low risk and were towards the end of their sentences. The scheme also covers some pregnant women and women in prison with babies.

There were more than 85,000 people in prison in England and Wales when the scheme was announced and prisons were operating at 99.5 per cent of their maximum operational capacity.

Mr Lammy expressed incredulity at the low number and warned there could be “rising tensions” if high numbers of prisoners continued to be kept locked in their cells for 23 hours a day.

Mr Buckland insisted that a decline this month in the number of people in prison in England and Wales, to 81,124 on Friday, was helping to produce the kind of easing of overcrowding that the early release scheme was meant to produce. He also pointed out that extra, temporary prison spaces were being built. Prisoner numbers have declined without releases thanks to factors like the decline in many crimes during the pandemic lockdown.

The justice secretary also confirmed to parliament that 15 prisoners and five prison staff had died of Covid-19 but insisted the situation was nothing like as bad as had initially been feared.

“Whilst we are not out of the woods, we are coping and dealing well with the threat of Covid-19,” Mr Buckland told MPs.

López Obrador’s plan to spurn additional debt backed by 70% of Mexicans

Jude Webber in Mexico City

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s refusal to take on more debt to help mitigate the coronavirus shock is backed by 70 per cent of Mexicans and 73 per cent believe he is handling the crisis well or very well, according to a new survey by Buendía y Laredo.

Respondents also found 82 per cent backed steps the populist leader has taken to slow the spread of the virus and 77 per cent approved of economic measures to help affected families. Nevertheless, 70 per cent of respondents expected their family income to fall in the coming month and 69 per cent believed they or someone in their family would lose their jobs

Mr López Obrador said earlier on Monday Mexico was “taming” Covid-19, which health experts say will not peak until mid-May in Latin America’s second biggest economy. He has declared – but not enforced – a nationwide quarantine until the end of May and is betting on social programmes and 3m small loans, in part financed by voluntary pay cuts from senior officials, to weather a crisis that economists fear could push Mexico’s GDP into a contraction of as much as 12 per cent this year.

The president has refused to give businesses and people more time to pay their taxes, but 65 per cent believed he should. Asked what should be the priority given scant resources, 71 per cent favoured aid for small and mid-sized firms to save jobs while only 24 per cent believed continuing with the president’s controversial Dos Bocas refinery should come first. Mr López Obrador says his signature infrastructure projects are vital as they will generate jobs after the pandemic is over.

While 53 per cent of respondents said the pandemic was under control in Mexico, 42 per cent said the government was overwhelmed. Buendía y Laredo polled 549 people nationwide by cellphone.

Airbus to make furloughs at largest UK factory

Peggy Hollinger in London

Airbus is furloughing more than half the workers at its wing factory in Wales in a sign of the deep job cuts to come as aircraft demand plummets in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Just a day after chief executive Guillaume Faury warned staff in an internal letter that the group’s survival could be at stake from the global aviation downturn, the European aircraft maker has agreed with unions to put 3,200 of 6,000 production employees at the Broughton site on leave for at least three weeks.

Airbus will take advantage of a government scheme that pays 80 per cent of wages, and top up salaries to between 85 and 90 per cent.

However, the scheme only lasts until June and speculation is mounting that if it is not extended those jobs could be permanently cut.

“We can kick the can down the road as far as possible,” said one person with knowledge of the situation. “And when we can’t we will have to take a decision.”

Broughton, which makes the wings for all Airbus aircraft, is the biggest of the group’s sites in the UK, where it has some 13,000 employees.

The furloughing of UK workers follows similar moves in France to lay off 3,000 commercial aerospace employees, roughly 20 per cent of that division’s workforce, according to unions.

Germany and Spain are expected to see similar furlough schemes once negotiations with unions are completed. While these are not yet permanent, it is difficult to see these jobs retained once government support ends, the person said.

Airbus earlier this month slashed production rates by a third as airlines around the world seek to defer or cancel aircraft orders. The company will report first-quarter earnings on Wednesday and is expected to give more detail on its outlook for future demand. Mr Faury has not ruled out further production cuts, and the group is consulting with unions about the scale of permanent job cuts to meet lower demand. Airbus employed 81,000 people in its commercial aircraft division last year.

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UK coronavirus deaths climb to 21,092

The number of people to have died from coronavirus in UK hospitals has reached 21,092, as of 5pm on Sunday, said health secretary Matt Hancock at the Downing Street briefing on Monday.

The death count rose by 360 from 20,732 yesterday, showing a slight decline in the rate of deaths, down from 413 the previous day.

The health minister said there had been 719,910 tests for coronavirus in total, including 37,024 yesterday. This still leaves the government well short of the 100,000-tests-a-day target it had promised to meet by the end of the month.

He added that the number of Covid-19 sufferers currently in UK hospitals had fallen to 15,051 from 15,239 on Sunday.

Turkey to send shipment of masks and protective equipment to the US

Laura Pitel in Ankara

Turkey will send a shipment of masks, overalls and other protective equipment to the US, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced.

Mr Erdogan said a Turkish military plane would set off with the cargo on Tuesday.

Turkey has sent support to 55 other countries in total, according to the Turkish president. They include the UK, Spain, Italy and several Balkan nations.

Turkey has a large textiles industry, which has turned its attentions to producing vast quantities of protective equipment in recent months.

That has enabled Ankara to use aid as a gesture of goodwill towards western nations. It comes as Turkey is searching for swap lines from global central banks as it grapples with the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Erdogan has also used aid shipments to underline his narrative that Turkey, which he has long sought to cast as a rising global power, has mounted a better response to the pandemic than countries in the west.

Italy has lowest daily increase in deaths since nationwide lockdown began

Miles Johnson in Rome

Italy’s total number of new Covid-19 cases on Monday was the lowest daily increase since the week in March when the country first introduced its nationwide lockdown, bolstering efforts by Rome to reopen parts of the economy by early next month.

Official statistics released on Monday showed that 333 people died from the coronavirus over 24 hours, an increase from the 260 recorded on Sunday, but that the total number of new cases was 1,739, the lowest since the day national lockdown measures were imposed on March 10.

Italy’s total number of cases rose by 0.9 per cent to 199,414, while the number of recovered patients rose by 2.6 per cent, by 1,696, to 66,624.

On Sunday evening Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister, announced plans to allow Italians to visit their immediate families, and for certain types of businesses and factories to reopen on May 4.

UK pledges £60,000 to families of NHS and social care workers who die

Laura Hughes in London

Families of National Health Service and social care workers who die on the frontline of the coronavirus crisis will receive £60,000 under a new “life assurance scheme”.

Matt Hancock, health secretary, made the pledge as he revealed that 82 NHS workers and 16 social care staff have so far died while responding to the pandemic.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing, Mr Hancock said: “I feel a deep personal sense of duty that we must care for their loved ones.

“Of course, nothing replaces the loss of a loved one but we want to do everything we can to support families who are dealing with this grief.”

He said the scheme would be made available to frontline staff working in the NHS and the government was looking at other groups of key workers who don’t have such a scheme already in place.

As the number of hospitalisations from coronavirus starts to decline, Mr Hancock said the NHS would start to see the restoration of cancer care and mental health support services from Tuesday.

He also urged the public to use the NHS if they were unwell, after figures showed A&E attendance had more than halved to 221,000 in the last week, compared with 477,000 in the period in 2019.

“Some of this drop is due to lower road traffic and people following the social distancing rules,” he said. “Some of it will be due to people accessing the NHS in ways that work better for them, like online or through pharmacies, and that’s a good thing.

“But in some cases we know that the drop is due to people not coming forward and using the NHS for critical things that matter.

“Our message is that the NHS is open. Help us to help you.”

Uefa extends €237m in funds to support European soccer bodies

Samuel Agini in London

European football’s governing body has moved to support its 55 member associations through the coronavirus pandemic with the extension of €236.5m of funding.

The funds being extended by Uefa, which organises the elite club-level Champions League tournament, are usually earmarked to cover operating costs incurred by national football associations.

However, Uefa said on Monday that it would allow each football association to decide how to spend the funds. Many clubs have been left struggling without the ability to sell tickets, while broadcasting revenue is at risk if leagues fail to complete their seasons.

The pandemic has brought football to a standstill, with major leagues still unable to return to the pitch to complete league and cup competitions. In March, Uefa postponed Euro 2020, in which the region’s top footballing countries compete until next year.

“Our sport is facing an unprecedented challenge brought about by the Covid-19 crisis. Uefa wants to help its members to respond in ways that are appropriate to their specific circumstances,” Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin said.

“As a result, we have agreed that up to €4.3m per association, paid for the remainder of this season and next, as well as part of the investment funding, can be used as our members see fit to rebuild the football community.”

New York lockdown extended beyond May 15

Joshua Chaffin in New York

Governor Andrew Cuomo said he planned to extend lockdown measures in parts of the state beyond May 15 as he released new test results on Monday showing that nearly one-in-four New York City residents carry antibodies for coronavirus.

By contrast, the infection rate was as low as 1.2 per cent in other parts of the state. Citing the discrepancy, Mr Cuomo said: “In some regions of the state you could make the case that you could [reopen].”

New Yorkers have become increasingly focused on the looming May 15th date, when restrictive measures imposed to halt the spread of coronavirus are set to lapse unless Mr Cuomo decides otherwise. The state’s hospitalisations and death toll have steadily declined in recent days, although it is still recording roughly a thousand new coronavirus cases each day.

As the pandemic has eased, Mr Cuomo has begun to discuss how and when businesses could reopen and economic life could resume in parts of the state. Doing so would require a drop in cases for 14 days in a particular area, the ability to test and trace residents, sufficient hospital capacity and well-developed plans from businesses to demonstrate that their employees can work safely.

The governor also noted the risk that a second wave of coronavirus could hit during flu season in the autumn.

New York cancels its Democratic presidential primary

Lauren Fedor in Washington

Officials in New York have cancelled the state’s Democratic presidential primary, planned for June 23, in an unprecedented decision after more than a dozen other states delayed their primaries amid concerns about the spread of Covid-19.

The move drew criticism from the camp of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, with one of his advisors branding it “a blow to American democracy” and for the decision to be overturned by Democratic National Convention.

Democratic members of the state’s board of elections voted on Monday to cancel the primary, with Andrew Spano, a commissioner on the board, saying it did not make sense to “have anyone on the ballot just for the purposes of issues at a convention”.

Joe Biden, the former US vice-president, is the Democratic party’s presumptive presidential nominee, having secured the most delegates in early primary contests and caucuses. While he is the only Democrat still in the race, Mr Biden will not formally become the party’s nominee until the Democratic National Convention, which has been delayed from July to August in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Biden became the party’s presumptive nominee this month, when Vermont senator Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign. Mr Sanders later endorsed Mr Biden, but had said he intended to remain on the ballot in the remaining primary contests in order to exercise influence over the Democratic party platform at the convention.

Jeff Weaver, an advisor to Mr Sanders, said in a statement that New York’s decision was an “outrage”.

“Just last week Vice-President Biden warned the American people that President Trump could use the current crisis as an excuse to postpone the November election. Well, he now has a precedent thanks to New York state,” he said.

“New York has clearly violated its approved delegate selection plan. If this is not remedied, New York should lose all its delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention and there should be a broader review by the Democratic Party of New York’s checkered pattern of voter disenfranchisement.”

Ireland not ready to ease lockdown despite ‘encouraging’ trends, health official says

Arthur Beesley in Dublin

Ireland reported 18 further coronavirus deaths as a top health official said conditions were not yet right to ease the country’s lockdown, despite some “encouraging” trends.

Severe restrictions that have closed large parts of the economy remain in place until May 5 but Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, said it was still too early to say whether any of the measures could then be loosened. “It is down to the wire so I haven’t made my mind up,” he told reporters.

The latest fatalities have taken the overall number of lives lost to 1,102, with 19,648 confirmed infections.

Mr Holohan said a further easing was needed in the rate at which the disease is spreading in the population at large and in nursing homes before the government could start to lift some restrictions. The number of hospitalisations and intensive care admissions remain a concern, he added.

“We’re still reporting a significant number of cases. We still have a significant challenge in terms of the numbers of healthcare facilities, particularly community residential facilities that are reporting cases. We’d like to see further improvements in all those indicators.”

Nearly a third of US finance executives expect to make layoffs

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in New York

Almost one in three finance executives in corporate America is expecting to make layoffs over the coming month, up from about a quarter two weeks ago, suggesting more pain to come for a US workforce that has already witnessed a historic surge in unemployment since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The finding, in a survey of 305 US chief financial officers and finance leaders conducted by PwC last week, shows that companies are scrambling to contain costs as more of them conclude that they will not bounce back quickly from the upheavals the coronavirus has caused to their businesses. Almost half of those polled now think it will take at least three months for demand to return, up from 39 per cent two weeks ago.

Many executives had tried to avoid job cuts earlier in the crisis, hoping for a quick return to their former levels of revenues and profits, but as it progresses “this is becoming more challenging for companies,” said Tim Ryan, chairman of PwC US.

Expectations of layoffs varied between sectors, however, said Amity Millhiser, PwC’s chief clients officer. Just 15 per cent of CFOs in financial services expected to make such cuts in the coming month, compared with 49 per cent of their peers in industrial products companies where it is often impossible for staff to continue working productively from home.

The survey also showed wide variations in companies’ planning for bringing employees back to their workplaces. While two-thirds of finance executives expect to reconfigure their work sites to allow staff to work at a distance from one another and half plan to make remote work a permanent option for roles that can be done from home, less than a quarter are considering implementing contact tracing.

Nigeria to extend lockdowns for Lagos and Abuja

Neil Munshi in Lagos

Nigeria will extend the lockdown of its commercial centre Lagos and capital Abuja for another week, President Muhammadu Buhari announced in a national address Monday night.

Mr Buhari also introduced a number of new nationwide measures to counter the coronavirus pandemic, including an 8pm-6am curfew, a ban on non-essential inter-state passenger travel, and the mandatory use of face masks or coverings in public.

The lockdown of Lagos, Africa’s biggest city, adjacent Ogun state, and Abuja will continue until May 4 when a “phased and gradual easing” of such measures will begin.

“This will be followed strictly with aggressive reinforcement of testing and contact tracing measures while allowing the restoration of some economic and business activities in certain sectors,” he said.

Mr Buhari also announced a two-week lockdown of Kano, northern Nigeria’s biggest city, which has in recent weeks seen a sharp increase in unexplained deaths, which authorities are investigating for possible links to coronavirus.

The president said the past few weeks of full lockdown in major cities and varying degrees in most of Nigeria’s 36 states had contributed to slowing the spread of the disease. But he noted the severe economic toll they have taken on a country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty – 87m – in the world.

“Such lockdowns have also come at a very heavy economic cost. Many of our citizens have lost their means of livelihood. Many businesses have shut down,” he said. “No country can afford the full impact of a sustained lockdown while awaiting the development of vaccines.”

The country, Africa’s most populous with 200m people, has recorded more than 1,200 confirmed cases, up from 323 two weeks ago. The country has conducted just over 10,000 tests, lagging some of its smaller neighbours in sub-Saharan Africa.

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US stocks climb in stimulus-inspired rally for global equities

US stocks joined in a global rally on Monday, with investors processing Japan’s plan to launch a new round of stimulus and the reopening plans of a handful of US states.

The S&P 500 closed 1.5 per cent higher, helped by energy stocks overcoming early weakness. The Nasdaq Composite finished 1.1 per cent higher.

Oil prices were weaker. West Texas Intermediate settled lower by about one-quarter to $12.78 a barrel. The June contract had been off more than 40 per cent earlier in the day after the world’s largest oil-backed exchange-traded fund said it would completely sell its holdings of June contracts – 20 per cent of its portfolio – by the end of April.

Government bonds were weaker, with yields rising. The yield on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury was up 0.06 percentage points to 0.67 per cent.

Mexico’s state comptroller in good health after coronavirus diagnosis

Jude Webber in Mexico City

Mexico’s state comptroller, a close ally of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has tested positive for coronavirus but is in good health with only mild symptoms, the government said.

Irma Eréndira Sandoval, public function minister whose job includes stamping out corruption in the state bureaucracy, “is in excellent health and with no serious symptoms despite having tested positive … last Monday, April 20”, the government said in a statement.

She is the highest-ranking Mexican official to date to test positive for Covid-19 and the only known member of the cabinet to do so.

She has remained in isolation since first noticing symptoms but has continued to work remotely, the statement said.

Mr López Obrador has boasted that Mexico has “tamed” coronavirus, even though health experts say the virus has yet to peak. There were 14,677 confirmed cases as of Sunday night, and 1,351 deaths, but health officials say the reported numbers are at least eight times too low. Even so, the number of deaths has virtually doubled in a week.

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Fed makes more US cities and counties eligible for lending facility

James Politi in Washington and Colby Smith in New York

The Federal Reserve has expanded the eligibility criteria for a lending facility set up to backstop municipal bond markets, in a move that will allow smaller US cities and counties to access liquidity from the US central bank.

The Fed said on Monday that the $500bn programme would now be open to US counties with at least 500,000 residents and US cities with at least 250,000 residents, as well as all US states and the District of Columbia.

The Fed had faced criticism for its initial plan to shore up the $4tn municipal bond market, with analysts and investors pushing back on its decision to support only counties with at least 2m residents and cities with a population of 1m or more. Just 16 counties and 10 cities were eligible for the direct purchases under those terms, according to data from Bank of America, with cities such as Baltimore, Maryland, and counties such as Westchester, in the New York suburbs, left out.

“The new population thresholds allow substantially more entities to borrow directly from the MLF than the initial plan announced on April 9,” said the Fed in its statement.

The Fed also said it would expand the type of securities that would be considered eligible for the programme, agreeing to buy up short-term notes that mature in 36 months or less. Previously, the Fed had agreed to buy notes maturing in 24 months or less – parameters that had been called “short-sighted” by critics. In its statement, it said eligible issuers must have an investment grade rating as of April 8.

The move by the Fed – on the eve of a meeting of its monetary policy makers – comes as state and local governments have emerged as some of the biggest economic casualties of the coronavirus pandemic, because of big revenue losses and higher spending needs.

Texas and Ohio take steps to restart economies

Texas will not renew its stay-at-home order after it expires on Thursday, adding to a growing list of US states that have taken steps to relax coronavirus-related shutdowns.

The state – whose economy ranks second among the largest in the US behind California – will allow businesses to reopen in stages beginning on Friday, when restaurants, bars, retail stores and movie theatres can open with occupancy initially capped at 25 per cent. Occupancy will expand to 50 per cent on May 18 in the second phase of the state’s reopening plan.

State-licensed health care professionals will be allowed to reopen their offices at the start of May with certain precautions. Hospitals must reserve at least 15 per cent of their capacity for Covid-19 patients.

“We’re not just going to open up and hope for the best,” governor Greg Abbott said on Monday. “Opening Texas must occur in phases.”

During the first phase of the plan, seniors and other “vulnerable populations” should remain home as much as possible, he said.

The moves detailed on Monday came after Texas reopened state parks and allowed retailers to offer curbside pick-up last week.

Ohio governor Mike DeWine also announced a plan to gradually restart the state’s economy.

General offices, manufacturers, distribution centers and construction companies will be able to open on May 4. Retail stores and other consumer businesses, such as barber shops and salons, can open on May 12. Dine-in service at restaurants and bars will remain closed.

Medical facilities can resume elective procedures on Friday if patients do not need to stay overnight.

Mr DeWine noted that employers must maintain social-distancing protocols and sanitise workplaces. The state will make face coverings for employees mandatory.

White House makes new push to expand coronavirus testing

James Politi in Washington

Donald Trump is making a new push to expand coronavirus testing alongside US retailers such as Walmart and CVS, after facing criticism that the current testing capacity was insufficient for many states to feel comfortable lifting restrictions on economic activity.

“We want to get our country open and testing is not going to be a problem at all,” the president said at a news conference on Monday afternoon.

Lacklustre testing has dogged the Trump adminstration’s response to the pandemic from the beginning of the outbreak, but has become an even more urgent priority to address as the White House pushes state governors to safely begin to reopen their economies.

Previous attempts to encourage pharmacy groups and retailers to set up drive-through testing in parking lots have had a very limited impact, but the Trump administration and industry executives, including commercial labs, held a meeting on Monday afternoon after which they pledged to sharply ramp up their efforts and make testing more widely available over the coming months.

“We’re going with maximum testing,” Mr Trump said, adding that US testing capacity would be doubled shortly. Mike Pence, the vice-president, said more than 5m tests had already been completed since the start of the pandemic.

Source: ft.com

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