Author: anavaladm

23
Jun

Spain Weighs Major Boost to $113 Billion Loan Guarantee Plan

(Bloomberg) —
Spain is weighing plans to significantly increase the size of its 100 billion-euro ($113 billion) loan guarantee fund after the program attracted huge demand from businesses struggling to weather the pandemic, according to people familiar with the matter.Officials are considering pledging as much as 50 billion euros in additional guarantees, one person said. Others said the ultimate size depends on how the negotiations unfold. They all spoke on condition of anonymity because the details aren’t public.

A spokesman for the Economy Ministry, which oversees the program, declined to comment.

The state-backed loan guarantees are a key feature in the global response to the economic fallout from the pandemic. Spain and other European governments have pledged trillions of euros to help keep businesses afloat.

Europe’s fourth-largest economy had one of the continent’s strictest lockdowns in response to a deadly outbreak of the virus. The economy is also greatly dependent on the floundering tourism industry and its long-troubled labor market means the jobless rate could spike as high as 24% this year, according to central bank forecasts. In a worst-case-scenario, the Bank of Spain expects the economy to contract by as much as 15% in 2020.

Since Spain launched its program on March 17, banks have financed around 70 billion euros worth of loans –- about 54 billion of which are state-backed. That’s a much greater deployment of loan guarantees than in other European countries.

The loans are funneled through Spain’s Instituto de Credito Official, known as ICO, a state finance agency. Most of the guarantees have been deployed to help finance small and medium-sized companies. Some large businesses have also tapped the program. British Airways owner IAG SA borrowed around 1 billion euros through ICO to help its Spanish units Iberia and Vueling weather the collapse in travel demand.

In the event of a default, the Spanish government has pledged to back 80% of a loan to an SME and 70% for a large company.

When Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez first rolled out the program, some companies complained that banks were requiring them to purchase other products in order to secure financing, something known as cross-selling.

Other business people said banks required them to personally guarantee the loans, pledging their own homes, for instance. And some executives said the interest rates that banks were charging on the loans was unnecessarily high and not in line with the government’s guidelines.

Those complaints from borrowers have, for the most part, quieted down. One reason, according to officials, is that the government has rolled out the program in increments of around 20 billion euros each. That has allowed them to make tweaks along the way, detecting initial problems and then admonishing some banks to avoid cross-selling, for instance, in the following tranche.

Spain rolled out the final increment of the 100 billion euro program last week, accelerating the conversations to bolster the size of one of the country’s most significant responses to the coronavirus crisis.

 

14
Jun

Italy Urged by EU Leaders to Use Recovery Plan for Reforms

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are among leaders urging Italy to take advantage of the region’s proposed 750 billion-euro ($844 billion) recovery plan to speed up structural reforms.

The so-called Next Generation EU plan is a “unique opportunity for Italy,” Von der Leyen said in a video message to a closed-door forum in Rome hosted by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, posted on the prime ministry’s website.

Lagarde encouraged leaders “not to let this crisis go to waste,” while the central bank will do its part. EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs Paolo Gentiloni said that while the spending plan is designed to avoid counter-cyclical recessions, it must ultimately bring Italy’s 2.43 trillion-euro debt into a “credible downward path.”

Conte on Saturday kicked off the nine-day marathon session of closed-door talks between ministers and leaders from the business, finance, labor and other sectors. The Italian premier is facing internal opposition, even in the governing coalition, on stimulus measures tied to the EU recovery plan as the economy struggles to emerge from a national lockdown to counter the coronavirus.

Italy’s Canceled Crisis Risks Moral Hazard for Euro Laggard

Conte welcomed participants by mapping out Italy’s plan for the recovery, which will include investments to digitize the economy and the public administration, green spending and ways to boost social inclusion, according to the premier’s office.

“We know our public finance limits, the need to keep our finances in check,” Conte told the forum held in Villa Pamphili. “That’s why we can’t miss the chance to revamp productivity in our country.”

Not Easy

European Council President Charles Michel warned that talks over the EU recovery plan won’t be easy as there are “significant divergences,” adding that Italy’s effort to produce a plan of investments and reforms is fundamental for Europe.

Conte, at a press conference later, also said more time is needed to reach a consensus and he invited Italian opposition parties to work with their European counterparts for the common goal.

Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco asked Italian leaders to “make the most of the opportunities offered by the new European programs,” according to the text of his speech.

“The sustainability of the public debt is not in doubt, but its high ratio to GDP is being maintained by the low growth potential of the country and is, at the same time, an obstacle to economic growth,” he said.

— With assistance by John Follain

(Adds comment from Premier Conte in seventh paragraph.)
20
May

Mohegan Sun Tribal Owners Get Pushback on 14% Casino Rescue Loan

(Bloomberg) —  Entertainment is trying to hammer out an agreement to borrow another $100 million to keep its shuttered casinos afloat after missing a self-imposed deadline last week to get a loan.Some investors pushed back on the company’s efforts to borrow earlier this month, citing concerns including the casino operator’s ability to raise all the money it needs to repay maturing debt next year and to fund ambitious planned expansion. A group of Mohegan lenders tapped investment bankers at Rothschild & Co. as financial advisers while negotiations continue, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Representatives for Credit Suisse Group AG, which is leading the loan offering, and for Rothschild declined to comment, while Mohegan didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The company had offered to pay a yield of over 14% for a new loan maturing in October 2021, according to the people with knowledge. It also sought to change lending agreements known as covenants on its existing loans to give it more flexibility to navigate a period with lower revenue. It is an extension of the Mohegan tribe in Connecticut and operates the Mohegan Sun in that state as well as other casinos in North America.

The pushback helped prevent the company from getting the loan commitments and the amendments to lending agreements that it was seeking by May 11. The gambling business in the U.S. has largely ground to a halt amid the Covid-19 pandemic, although the casino that Mohegan operates in Louisiana is reopening on Wednesday. As of the end of December, the company had around $400 million of debt due next year.
Delayed Payment
An added concern for at least a subset of investors in Mohegan’s loans is just how much the collateral backing the debt will be worth to them. The loans have first claim on the company’s assets if it fails.

Some of Mohegan’s casinos are on Native American tribal land, and it’s not clear if investors will be able to fully exercise their rights as creditors, such as seizing and liquidating assets.

Those concerns are common among investors for companies that operate casinos on Native American land, but have become more acute as shutdowns triggered by the Covid-19 outbreak have weighed on revenue and focused more attention on other investor protections.

In April, Mohegan delayed a $19.7 million interest payment that was due for its bonds maturing in 2024 to preserve its cash. But the company ultimately delivered the funds within a 30-day grace period, according to filings.

Mohegan has ambitious plans to expand its footprint across the globe and will likely need to maintain good relationships with lenders and access to the capital markets to fund those projects. Its international expansion plans include a luxury hotel and casino in Athens as well as a resort at South Korea’s Incheon International Airport that is scheduled to open in 2022.

17
May

Take the Money Before Things Get Worse, Junk Bond Salesmen Say

(Bloomberg) — 
If there’s one lesson from the great financial crisis that applies to the current market turmoil, Todd Rothman argues, it’s this: take the money when it’s there.The managing director in JPMorgan & Chase’s high yield and leveraged loan capital markets team in London believes that with the future so uncertain, now is a good time for Europe’s high-yield borrowers to raise cash.

“Can the market get a little bit better from here?” he said in a phone interview. “Sure it can, but the risk is asymmetric right now in terms of things turning and getting much wider quickly.”

Some clearly agree. Appetite for refinancing the debt from European diagnostics firm Synlab Bondco Plc was so strong this week that the company doubled its bond issue.

Meanwhile demand for American IT firm BMC Software Inc.’s euro notes also exceeded the amount it planned to raise, according to people familiar with the matter.

Even theme park operator Merlin Entertainments, which has shut most of its 130 attractions, increased its offering and priced it at the lower end of initial guidance.

As countries around the world slowly reopen their economies and as support from central banks ramps up, Europe’s high-yield bond market has begun to function again after shutting in February.

By waiting for better conditions, companies run the risk that a deluge of weak second-quarter results or a resurgence of infections could depress investors’ appetite again.

In a change from just a few weeks ago when arrangers were only advising companies with urgent financing needs to tap the market, investors have seen major cash inflows. On the back of this companies are raising funds for liquidity, to refinance existing debt, and also for acquisitions as in the case of BMC.

“The market is open,” said Diarmuid Toomey, co-head of EMEA leveraged capital markets syndicate at Deutsche Bank. “There have been encouraging developments, with recent issues well subscribed and the buyside are telling us they are keen to put money to work.”

Buyer Beware

Investors are, however, still focused on quality and want to see more lender-friendly terms that not all borrowers may agree to. Fallen angels and investment grade bonds trading at depressed levels are also offering buyers alternatives.

Tatjana Greil Castro, a portfolio manager at Muzinich & Co. Ltd., sympathizes with the argument that conditions could easily deteriorate in future. But, she cautions, buyers may still prove picky.

“Do we really need to jump into the market now? Investors won’t buy whatever lands in front of them. They have a lot of choice,” she said.

Paper producer Sappi Ltd offers a cautionary tale. The company scrapped plansto issue 250 million euros ($271 million) of senior notes on Friday, citing unsatisfactory pricing.

Still, if demand remains healthy for now, arrangers may get the chance to sell down some of the M&A financings worth more than $13 billion that are waiting to come to market. Those deals include the private equity buyout of Thyssenkrupp AG’s elevator unit, Europe’s largest in a decade.

5
May

Markets Worry Ruling May Lead to Doubts About Other ECB Programs

(Bloomberg) — 
The wrist slap given to the European Central Bank by the German constitutional court over its quantitative easing program had strategists pondering what this means for the market.

The euro slid, as did German and Italian bonds, on the prospect that the ECB may soon be prevented from exercising the full might of its asset-purchase program.

Germany’s top judges gave the ECB three months to fix its 2.7 trillion-euro ($2.95 trillion) asset purchase program after a seven-to-one ruling stating that some parts of the quantitative-easing program aren’t backed by European Union treaties.

“It’s my understanding that it doesn’t apply to PEPP, but if this proves a serious challenge to PSPP, the same argument could be made in courts against PEPP,” said Antoine Bouvet, a senior rates strategist at ING Groep NV. “This is not the sort of doubt you want to instill in the market.”

It prompted traders to add to bets the euro may fall further. The Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) is a 750 billion euro scheme that runs out at the end of the year. The ECB started the public sector purchase programme in 2015, which buys assets on the secondary market.

“It looks like the euro-zone is shooting itself in the foot,” said Lee Hardman, a currency analyst at MUFG who sees the euro falling through March lows if this isn’t resolved in a market-friendly manner. “The risk of another euro-zonedebt crisis would be significantly higher without ongoing support from the ECB. Those are the risks the market is weighing up in light of today’s decision.”

The currency fell as much as 0.7% to $1.0826. The yield on Italy’s 10-year bonds climbed as much as 11 basis points, widening its spread over bunds, a gauge of risk, to 241.

Here’s what strategists said:

Nomura International (Potentially big)

  • “What matters in FX is that it causes uncertainty and with it we’ll likely see this move in EUR continue,” says Jordan Rochester, a Group-of-10 FX strategist
  • “The Bundesbank is in a rough place. If in three-months’ time the court is not convinced, clearly PSPP could enter a transitional period and they buy less bunds”
  • Market is selling off “due to what this ‘could’ mean for PEPP – not today, but down the line (months/more likely years) – to comply with the German monetary prohibition, issuer limits and capital keys are essential to the courts view”
  • In FX, “we remain short and look for 1.06 in the month to come,” referring to euro-dollar

Danske Bank (GCC barks, not bites)

  • “In practice, this means the purchase programmes can continue – both APP and PEPP, but ECB needs to ensure that this is temporary,” says strategist Piet Christiansen
  • He adds that “‘PEPP is not up for trial – hence no impact on markets”
    • “I don’t think we should read too much” into the three-month deadline, he added, noting other central banks would still be able to buy bonds

Commerzbank (Edge taken out of ‘whatever it takes’)

  • “The ECB now has to do some due diligence on ‘proportionality’ over next three months together with the Bundesbank and the Bundestag — but this should pose no problem,” says head of rates strategy Michael Leister
    • “The GCC is taking the edge out of “‘whatever it takes’”
  • “Even for bunds it’s not positive to have the ECB potentially constrained”
  • “It increases pressure on politicians to provide a common backstop if the ECB is (potentially) constrained”

ING (Not the sort of doubt you want)

  • “The knee-jerk market reaction should be a sell off in both core (e.g. bund) and peripheral (e.g. BTP) assets,” says Bouvet
  • “But should this prove a more serious challenge to the ECB’s ability to carry out QE, then portfolio reallocation flow away from risk assets should keep German yields low, and widen spreads to other issuers”

Credit Agricole (It’s all bad for the euro)

  • “While we doubt that the decision will stop the ECB from easing further, the monetary policy process could become more cumbersome,” says Valentin Marinov, head of G-10 FX research
  • “It underscores the difficulty faced by the euro zone governments in their fight against Covid-19”
    • “This much warrants cautiousness on the EUR outlook from here”
  • “As the news keeps coming, it’s all bad for the euro I am afraid”

 

8
Apr

Covid-19 hits Greece even harder than the rest of the euro zone

At the start of this year it seemed as if Greece might have turned a corner. After a downturn that lasted longer than America’s Great Depression, its economy was growing again. Market capitalisation at the Athens Stock Exchange rose by 47% in 2019, the sharpest increase in the world. Tourism was booming, consumers were spending and Greek banks were reducing their burden of non-performing loans.

Business confidence at the start of this year was at an all-time high, bolstered by the election last July of a pro-business conservative prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who promised to sweep away obstacles to business. The Harvard-trained former banker started well. He cut Greece’s labyrinthine red tape to make it easier to start a new business. He reformed labour laws, reducing the cost of firing an employee. He lowered taxes on corporations from 28% to 24%. Last September he fully lifted capital controls for individuals and companies. In November he signed off on a €600m ($650m) investment by China Ocean Shipping Company in Piraeus, Greece’s largest port.

That cheery mood seems like ancient history. Greece faces some of the severest disruption of any euro-zone economy, says Jakob Suwalski of Scope, a credit-rating agency, who predicts a fall of anything from 7% to 18% in gdp this year. No country in the euro zone other than Cyprus depends more than Greece on tourism, which has practically ceased to exist. The sector accounted for half of economic growth in 2018, more than 20% of gdp (90% in some parts of the southern Aegean) and a quarter of the country’s jobs. Now the tourists have stopped coming. On March 19th the government ordered hotels across Greece to close from March 23rd until April 30th, a date that will surely be extended. The Hellenic Chamber of Hotels estimates that the loss of profits thanks to cancellations has already exceeded half a billion euros.

In mid-March the Greek government restricted public gatherings to ten people. It also banned arrivals of non-European Union residents and travel to and from Albania, Italy, North Macedonia and Spain. And it ordered the closure of all retail businesses other than supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, pet shops, food-delivery companies, groceries, bakeries, kiosks and banks. Greece is a nation of small businesses, most of which have scant resources to weather hard times. On March 23rd the government further tightened restrictions by imposing a national lockdown.

On top of an emergency boost of €10bn, Mr Mitsotakis insists that the country has “more weapons” to protect the economy, after around €12bn of its paper was declared eligible for inclusion in a €750bn bond-purchasing programme that has been launched by the European Central Bank. That should help to hold down the risk premium on Greek government debt. It is also, perhaps, a signal that the eu is prepared to believe in Greece’s recovery—once the virus is tamed.

 

Source: link

21
Mar

Germany to raise €356bn in new borrowing to fight coronavirus impact

Germany is set to abandon six years of fiscal restraint with a blowout budget designed to save its economy from the brutal effects of the coronavirus pandemic and protect thousands of businesses from imminent ruin.

Angela Merkel’s cabinet is meeting on Monday to approve new borrowing of €356bn — equivalent to nearly 10 per cent of Germany’s gross domestic product — marking a new era in fiscal policy and a radical departure from Berlin’s long-held aversion to debt.

It reflects growing alarm in government circles at the profound impact the epidemic is having on the eurozone’s largest economy as big industrial companies shut down production, the service sector is disabled and economic activity melts away.

Ministers will consider plans for a €156bn supplementary budget for 2020, including a €50bn hardship fund to help small businesses and freelancers whose revenues are collapsing as the virus spreads.

They will also approve a €100bn economic stabilisation fund that will be used to take stakes in companies crippled by the fallout from the pandemic, according to a person familiar with the plans, paving the way for a radical state intervention in the workings of the market economy.

The blueprint also envisages a €100bn loan from the new stabilisation fund to the KfW, Germany’s state development bank, which is providing unlimited loans to firms facing a cash crunch under a programme announced by the finance minister Olaf Scholz earlier this month.

The stabilisation fund will also be equipped with €400bn in guarantees to underwrite the debts of companies affected by the turmoil.

The fund is a reactivation of Soffin, a government-backed vehicle set up in 2009 to bail out troubled banks. It will not only underwrite debts but also be able to inject fresh capital into stricken companies, effectively paving the way for a wave of partial state takeovers.

Just as the state helped the banks after the financial crisis, “we are now prepared to provide equity for the real economy,” Mr Scholz told German radio on Friday. The state had to help companies “that employ an incredible number of men and women and which all of a sudden have no business”.

The moves represent an extraordinary intervention by the state in the private sector. “We will not allow a bargain sale of German economic and industrial interests,” said economy Peter Altmaier. “There should be no taboos. Temporary state aid for a limited period, up to and including shareholdings and takeovers, must be possible.”

The huge increase in spending marks a radical break from the “schwarze Null” or black zero, the policy of balanced budgets and no new borrowing that has been part of German economic orthodoxy for years and has helped to deliver six consecutive annual surpluses.

The policy has become increasingly controversial in recent months, with leading economists both at home and abroad urging the government to take advantage of low interest rates to assume new debt and invest in Germany’s crumbling infrastructure.

But the black zero is now a thing of the past. Angela Merkel, chancellor, made it clear at the start of the coronavirus crisis that she was prepared to set it aside in order to ensure the survival of the German economy.

“We’re doing whatever is necessary,” she said on March 11. “And we won’t be asking every day what it means for our deficit.”

The new fiscal policy came as a number of German regions imposed a lockdown on their citizens and closed all restaurants, bars and beer-gardens. Bavaria said people would only be allowed to leave their homes to go to work, buy food or visit the doctor: they could exercise in the open air but only alone or with close family members. The German foreign ministry has also advised against any tourist travel abroad until the end of April.

As well as passing the supplementary budget and reactivating Soffin, ministers will also be asked to loosen one of the country’s most important fiscal rules — the constitutional debt brake. Introduced in 2009 it limits any new government borrowing to just 0.35 per cent of GDP, adjusted for the economic cycle.

But exceptions are allowed. Germany’s constitution says the Bundestag can relax the debt brake when Germany is hit by emergencies such as natural catastrophes that “significantly impact the government’s fiscal position”. Coronavirus is a clear example of such an eventuality. A Bundestag vote is expected in the next few days.

“This essentially paves the way for unlimited borrowing,” said the person familiar with Mr Scholz’s plans. He said it fitted in with the European Central Bank’s announcement last week that it would buy an extra €750bn of bonds in a bid to calm markets thrown into turmoil by the pandemic. “The ECB’s message to the EU member states was clear,” he said. “Fill your boots with debt.”

Though the proposals being put before the cabinet on Monday mark an extraordinary volte-face in policy terms, officials stress that Germany was only able to adopt such expansionary measures thanks to the budgetary restraint of the past few years.

“Even a few weeks ago people were saying we’d gone too far, that we were too focused on husbanding our resources,” Mr Scholz said on Friday. “Now you can see we acted correctly.”

Germany’s “economising” over the past few years had brought its debt-to-GDP ratio to below 60 per cent, he said. The equivalent figure in France is 98.9 per cent and 134.8 per cent in Italy.

Meanwhile, the public finances have rarely been in such robust health. There are reserves of €55bn in the federal budget, of €26bn in the federal labour office, which dispenses unemployment benefit, of €103in the social security system, and of nearly €20bn in the health service — the statutory “Krankenkassen”.

Jens Weidmann, head of the Bundesbank and a member of the ECB’s governing council, said that until recently there had been “passionate debate” in Germany about the wisdom of sound public finances. “Now we can see very clearly: it was exactly right that Germany consolidated its budget when the economy was doing well,” he told Die Welt on Saturday. “Now we have the latitude to deal with this crisis. Our starting position is advantageous.”

Source: link

19
Mar

ECB Announces 750 Billion Euro Pandemic Bond-Buying Program

ECB Announces 750 Billion Euro Pandemic Bond-Buying Program

Thursday, March 19, 2020 01:16 AM
  • Decision taken in emergency meeting Wednesday evening
  • Policy makers will consider raising self-imposed QE limits

The European Central Bank launched an extra emergency bond-buying program worth 750 billion euros ($820 billion) to calm a worsening financial crisis and protect the economy through the coronavirus epidemic.

The decision in an unscheduled meeting on Wednesday evening came less than a week after a policy session in which officials agreed to pump more liquidity into the financial system. Despite that step and stronger measures by other central banks, markets are in freefall, prompting a new set of measures.

  • A temporary asset purchase program to buy public and private-sector securities, worth 750 billion euros and running until at least the end of 2020
  • Program will cover all assets eligible under current quantitative-easing program, and will be extended to commercial papers of sufficient credit quality
  • Greek government debt will be included in the program under a waiver from current rules
  • Collateral standards will be eased by adjusting some risk parameters
  • Program will continue until ECB judges the crisis phase of the pandemic to be over, but not before the end of this year
  • The ECB will consider raising its self-imposed limits on QE holdings, and stands ready to increase the size of its asset purchase programs

The euro and U.S. equity futures rose after the stimulus measures. S&P 500 futures reversed losses and the single currency edged higher to trade around $1.0950.

Investors are pushing up bond yields as they fret about the cost of the massive fiscal response to the pandemic. Italy, which already has the euro zone’s second-biggest debt burden after Greece and is the worst-affected by the disease, is especially hard hit.

ECB President Christine Lagarde inadvertently worsened the problem last week when she said the central bank’s job is not to close the spreads between safer and riskier government debt yields.

In its statement, the central bank said it “will not tolerate any risks to the smooth transmission of its monetary policy in all jurisdictions of the euro area.”

Christine Lagarde

@Lagarde

Extraordinary times require extraordinary action. There are no limits to our commitment to the euro. We are determined to use the full potential of our tools, within our mandate.
European Central Bank

@ecb

Press release: ECB announces €750 billion Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) ecb.europa.eu/press/pr/date/…
7
Mar

What You Need to Know About the Spreading Coronavirus: QuickTake

Friday, March 6, 2020 07:11 PM

By Jason Gale and John Lauerman

(Bloomberg) —

The newly identified virus that emerged late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan has quickly spread worldwide, with the number of infections topping 100,000. The contagiousness of the so-called coronavirus, which causes a lung illness dubbed Covid-19, has health experts worried it could become a pandemic to rival some of the most devastating in recent decades. Meanwhile, the outbreak is causing turmoil in the global economy and financial markets.

(This story updates with new infection toll and fresh details on what authorities are doing in section 10 and economic impact in section 12.)

1. What makes this virus so worrying?

It has been described as “insidious” because many infected people are well enough to go about their daily business, unwittingly spreading it to others. As of March 3, the fatality rate was about 3.4% based on globally reported cases, the World Health Organization said. Such numbers are unreliable in the early stages of an outbreak, however. Some disease-modeling experts project as many as hundreds of thousands of people are actually infected, most of whom don’t even know they have it. One study published Feb. 10 estimated a mortality rate of 1% once all cases, including those with no or only mild symptoms, are counted.

2. How does this compare with other outbreaks?

A related coronavirus killed 9.5% of patients in the 2002-2003 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and another known as MERS-CoV has led to death in 34% of the 2,499 cases recorded since 2012. In those outbreaks, however, the viruses didn’t transmit from one person to another as efficiently as this new one appears to do. Certainly, they didn’t spread as widely as fast. In the worst pandemic in recent history, an estimated 50 million people died in the 1918 influenza pandemic that had a case-fatality ratio of about 2% but infected as much as a third of the world’s population.

3. What does the virus do?

Symptoms begin to appear on average five to six days after infection. Infections appear to cause a mild illness lasting about two weeks in children, adolescents and younger adults in most cases, and potentially more severe disease lasting three to six weeks in older people. Frequently reported early signs are fever, dry cough, tiredness and sputum production. In severe cases, studies suggest the virus invades cells in the lower respiratory tract, causing difficulty breathing and the inflammation and congestion associated with pneumonia. In an early study, more than a quarter of hospitalized patients developed a complication known as acute respiratory distress syndrome.

4. Who’s most at risk for complications?

It appears to be the elderly and those with other serious health issues. Many of the fatalities have been in patients with underlying illnesses such as cardiovascular disease. A Chinese study of 72,000 cases found most deaths occurred in patients over 60 years old. Of all confirmed cases, 81% were mild, 14% were severe and 4.7% critical. The last pandemic, an outbreak of a new strain of H1N1 flu in 2009, infected an estimated 61 million people in the U.S. alone and may have killed as many as 575,000 people worldwide in the first year it circulated — with about 80% of them younger than 65, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

5. How do people contract it?

By coming into contact with virus-containing droplets that are emitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the WHO’s first comprehensive report on Covid-19. These droplets can be transferred directly to someone else in close proximity or via hands and surfaces. How long it survives on surfaces is still not known, but preliminary studies suggest coronaviruses may remain infectious from a few hours to a few days. Simple disinfectants kill it. There’s a theoretical risk the virus can spread through feces or fartherthrough the air in tiny particles known as aerosols. People who are still incubating the virus and show no symptoms may spread it. Health authorities are concerned about what’s known as community spread, where the virus begins circulating freely among people outside of known contacts with other patients.

6. How contagious is it?

Epidemiologists try to gauge contagiousness by estimating the number of additional people a person who is infected is likely to infect. That measurement, called a basic reproduction number or r0 (pronounced “r naught”), is one indicator of how difficult an epidemic is to control. A study of an outbreak aboard a cruise ship estimated that the r0 for Covid-19 was 2.28 during the early stages. That would make it more infectious than seasonal flu, which has an r0 of about 1.3 and killed an estimated 61,000 people in the U.S. in the 2017-18 season.

6. Could warming weather help combat it?

The viruses responsible for influenza spread more easily during cold weather because they survive longer in cold, dry air. But there’s no evidence to suggest the Covid-19 virus would be affected by weather.

7. What’s a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are named for their crown-like shape. There’s a large family of them, responsible for diseases that range in severity from the common cold to MERS. Some transmit easily from person to person, while others do not. The WHO says that new strains emerge periodically around the globe, and several known versions are circulating in animals and haven’t infected humans.

From the black death to the coronavirus, this is what we need to think about in order to tackle pandemics. (

8. Where did it come from?

The virus emerged in early December in Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million and capital of Hubei province. Early attention focused on a seafood market where live animals were also sold, but about a third of the first 41 cases were found to have no link to it. The viral genome is closely related to several coronaviruses found in bats. Diseases transmissible from animals to humans, sometimes referred to as zoonoses, comprise a large percentage of all newly identified infectious diseases.

9. How alarming is a new virus?

There is always concern when a new human pathogen emerges because people typically lack immunity to it and there usually aren’t specific treatments or vaccines available. Novel coronaviruses — those unseen in humans before — represent a particular concern because they have been known to spark complicated outbreaks that have sickened thousands of people, as SARS did as it swept across the globe from southern China.

10. What are authorities doing?

China’s government imposed a quarantine on Wuhan and more than a dozen other cities in the region that’s keeping some 60 million people sealed off. New hospitals were built from the ground up in days, and the production of medical equipment was ramped up. (Some makeshift centers in stadiums, hotels and office buildings have started to fold up as patients have recovered.) The WHO declared a global health emergency, a designation that can help mobilize international responses. The World Bank has allocated $12 billion in virus aid for developing economies. Many countries are denying or restrictingentry for non-citizens arriving from China and other especially affected areas. With Covid-19 showing up in more places, officials began to switch their goal from stopping its spread to preparing for it amid shortages of testing kits, face masks and other equipment. U.S. President Donald Trump appointedVice President Mike Pence to lead the federal response as local governments stepped up readiness efforts. Globally, governments are using a mix of cash handouts, tax breaks and transfers to counter the virus’s impact.

11. How are they faring?

Early praise for China’s response has ebbed. The country did not immediately release genetic information about the virus and has struggled to explain changes in the way it counts new cases. In a nation where the internet is heavily censored, there was a rare outpouring of social media fury over the death from the virus of a Chinese doctor who had waved an early red flag about the outbreak but was silenced by police. The top officials in Wuhan and Hubei were later removed from their posts. But China’s strict quarantine likely bought the rest of the world two to three weeks to prepare for the virus and averted many infections, according to the WHO.

12. What about the economy?

Reductions in travel, work-from-home orders and disruptions in supply chains have slowed economic activity, especially in China and among its many trading partners. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that the Covid-19 crisis posed the “greatest danger” to the world economy since the financial crisis more than a decade ago. Global stock markets have been volatileand the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates in its first emergency move since the 2008 financial crisis. Group of Seven finance chiefs pledged to use “all appropriate policy tools” to safeguard economic growth.

The Reference Shelf

  • Related QuickTakes on efforts to contain the virus, how it spreads, the effectiveness of travel bans, efforts to develop treatments and a vaccine, the meaning of a “pandemic,” and the reallocation of capital into haven assets.
  • The WHO’s first comprehensive report on the crisis.
  • Doubts persist about whether China’s statisticson the outbreak show the full picture.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a coronavirus web page, and the Journal of the American Medical Association offers advicefor clinicians.
  • Bill Gates offers proposals for combating Covid-19 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
  • A top airline doctor says forget face masks, wash your hands.
26
Feb

World’s Best Stocks of 2019 Are Already Europe’s Worst This Year

World’s Best Stocks of 2019 Are Already Europe’s Worst This Year
  • Greek stocks wipe out about a third of last year’s advance
  • Concerns grow that coronavirus may hit tourism industry
By Tugce Ozsoy and Filipe Pacheco(Bloomberg) —

Investors who made a killing betting on Greek stocks last year are rushing for the exit amid concern the spread of coronavirus could dent the country’s tourism industry.The exodus from the Athens Stock Exchange has already wiped out about a third of its world-beating advance in 2019 and dragged the index down more than 10% this year. It’s now the worst-performing equity gauge in Europe. On Wednesday, a 38-year old woman was hospitalized in the northern city of Thessaloniki, the first confirmed case of the virus in Greece.

While the trajectory of the epidemic remains uncertain, the knee-jerk reaction for investors who flocked into Greek equities last year has to been to take some risk off the table. Tourism and travel receipts account for a fifth of the Mediterranean country’s economic output, according to latest data from the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The Athens stock index posted a 49% surge in 2019, fueled by one of the most attractive valuations in emerging markets and the promise of tax cuts and pro-business policies by a new government. Greece still faces major challenges, including a weak banking sector, high unemployment and a large stock of public debt, the European Commission warned on Wednesday.

“Given the performance that we had last year, it is pretty easy to lock in some profit taking,” said Dimitri Dardanis, the head of institutional equities at Piraeus Securities in Athens. “You can’t escape what is happening elsewhere. You have to ride the wave and, at the moment, there is not much to do.”

The Athens bourse was the second worst-performing equity index in February among 94 gauges tracked by Bloomberg, outstripped only by Lebanon. The losses this week were led by Piraeus Bank, which retreated 16%, followed by Coca-Cola HBC, Titan Cement International SA and Hellenic Telecommunications Organization SA.

“The fact that this is an unfolding story that people are being surprised by, it is not easy to predict what it is going to do to tourism,” Dardanis said. “Globally there is an issue that people do not want to fly. When that is going to impact us is still unknown.”

 

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