The blog.


Piraeus Bank Is Said to Explore Bid for HSBC’s Greek Operations

(Bloomberg) — Piraeus Bank is exploring a bid for the Greek operations of HSBC Holdings Plc, according to people familiar with the matter. 

The two banks have held talks, but no decision has been made, said the people, who declined to speak publicly as the information is private. 

HSBC has 15 branches in Greece and has operated in the country since 1981, according to its website. Under Chief Executive Officer Noel Quinn, the London-headquartered lender is pushing through a global restructuring that has already seen it offload retail operations in both France and the U.S. as it streamlines its operations outside Asia.

A spokesperson for Piraeus declined to comment. A spokeswoman for HSBC said in a statement the bank was conducting a strategic review of its Greek business. “No final decision has been taken and all options are being considered,” she said.

Piraeus is the second-biggest bank by assets in Greece and has reduced its non-performing exposure ratio to 16% at the end of September, down from 46% six months ago. The aim is to further cut the soured debt to lower than 3% in the medium term.

In April, Piraeus concluded a 1.4 billion-euro ($1.6 billion) share capital increase to boost its capital buffers. Billionaire investor John Paulsonsignificantly increased his holding through the capital hike, while the country’s bank recapitalization fund reduced its stake.

–With assistance from Paul Tugwell.


France’s Power Price Cap Will Cost EDF up to $9.6 Billion 

(Bloomberg) — The French government will ask Electricite de France SA to sell more power at a deep discount to protect households from surging wholesale electricity prices, a measure that will cost the state-controlled utility as much as 8.4 billion euros ($9.6 billion).

The unprecedented move, announced by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in an interview with Le Parisien published Thursday, is the latest decision by President Emmanuel Macron to tackle inflation and gain support of voters ahead of April’s presidential election as an energy crisis threatens to create havoc across Europe.

In a separate development, EDF said late Thursday that several of its nuclear power plants in France would be down longer than expected for repairs, prompting the company to slash its output forecast from reactors by 8%. The move threatens to drive up power prices as Europe is already facing a historic energy crisis.  

Also See: EDF Trims Nuclear Power-Output Forecast 8%, Citing Repairs   

The increase in electricity bills for households and very small businesses will be capped at 4% this year, when including 8 billion euros of tax cuts on electricity consumption, the minister said. Without the moves, prices would rise by 35% from Feb. 1.

Rivals of Paris-based EDF, which are already entitled by law to buy 100 terawatt-hours of the energy giant’s annual power output at a steep discount to current market prices, will be given the opportunity to buy another 20 terawatt-hours on the cheap, Le Maire told the newspaper. That will cost EDF between 7.7 billion euros and 8.4 billion euros, depending on market prices, the minister said.

The financial consequences for EDF Group can’t be precisely determined at this stage, and will depend on the market prices over the implementation period, the energy giant said in a Thursday statement.

‘Appropriate Measures’

EDF said it “will consider appropriate measures to strengthen its balance sheet structure and any measure to protect its interests.” The company withdrew its guidance for 2022 indebtedness, and said it will communicate again by Feb. 18 at the latest when it releases annual results.

The government decision means EDF, which tends to sell its power in advance, will have to buy back power at high prices to sell it back at discount to rivals. It’s even more costly, because an unusually high number of its nuclear reactors are halted for long maintenance or repairs. In its statement Thursday, EDF said it was cutting its 2022 forecast for French nuclear output by 30 terawatt-hours to between 300 and 330 terawatt-hours.

EDF will sell 20 terawatt-hours of electricity at 46.2 euros per megawatt-hour to rivals this year, on top of the 100 terawatt-hours it’s selling at 42 euros, according to details disclosed by the government after Le Maire’s interview.

That compares with a day-ahead price of French baseload power that closed at 228 euros per megawatt-hour in Paris Thursday.

France’s plan needs to be approved by the European Commission, since it may impact competition within the European Union. Le Maire told the newspaper he has an agreement on the measure with Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner.

To achieve the 4% cap — a pledge made three months ago when market prices much were lower — the government will also postpone a portion of the 2022 tariff increase over a 12-month period starting February next year, EDF said.


Europe Seeks Green Label for Certain Gas and Nuclear Projects

  • European Commission is designing sustainable investment rules
  • Draft EU taxonomy proposal sparks criticism from the Greens 

By Ewa Krukowska

(Bloomberg) — The European Union is planning to allow some natural-gas and nuclear energy projects to be classified as sustainable investments in a proposal that sparked immediate criticism from the Greens. 

The European Commission wants to give a temporary green label to gas projects that replace coal and emit no more than 270 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour, according to a draft regulation seen by Bloomberg News. Such plants would have to obtain construction permits before the end of 2030, and have plans to switch to renewable or low-carbon gases by the end of 2035.

Nuclear energy could be classified as sustainable as long as new plants that are granted construction permits by 2045 meet a set of criteria to avoid significant harm to the environment and water resources, according to the draft, sent on Friday to EU national governments for review. 

“The Commission considers there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as a means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future,” the EU executive arm said in a statement on Saturday.

The design of the EU investment classification system, known as taxonomy, is closely watched by investors worldwide and could potentially attract billions of euros in private finance to help the green transition. The challenge is to ensure the decision on nuclear and gas gets political support, while avoiding the risk of greenwashing, or overstating the significance of emissions cuts.

Europe wants to reach carbon neutrality by the middle of the century under the Green Deal, a sweeping overhaul that aims to accelerate pollution cuts in all areas, from energy production to transport.

Yet for some lawmakers, investors and activists, classifying gas or nuclear projects as green would harm the entire sustainable investment rulebook.  

“Including nuclear power and gas in the EU taxonomy is like labeling a caged egg as organic,” said Michael Bloss, a German member of the Green group in the European Parliament. “Instead of channeling money into investments in the solar and wind industries, old and extremely expensive business models can now be continued under false guise.”

The taxonomy aims to guide investors to clean projects. The decision on whether it should include gas and nuclear power was delayed in April following criticism that such an addition could undermine the credibility of the system.

Giving a temporary green label to certain gas projects gas projects could facilitate investments in cleaning up coal-based heating systems in countries such as Poland. That’s an argument often raised by East European politicians.  

The inclusion of some nuclear energy projects would help attract private finance in nations from France to the Czech Republic, which plan to rely on atomic power in their transition to net-zero emissions.

The Commission is also planning to ensure a high degree of transparency to investors concerning gas and nuclear energy, introducing specific disclosure requirements for non-financial and financial undertakings. 

Member states and the Platform on Sustainable Finance have until Jan. 12 to provide feedback. The Commissions will then adopt the delegated act later this month. In the next step, it will be sent to EU nations and the European Parliament for scrutiny.


H Tesla σημειώνει τη μεγαλύτερη πτώση από τον περασμένο Μάρτιο μετά τα σχόλια του Michael Burry

(Bloomberg) — Οι μετοχές της Tesla υποχωρούν έως και 11% την Τρίτη μετά τα σχόλια στο Twitter του πασίγνωστου Μάικλ Μπέρι από την ταινία “The Big Short” , ότι ο Elon Musk μπορεί να θέλει να πουλήσει κάποια μετοχές της Tesla για να καλύψει τα προσωπικά του χρέη.


  • Η TΕSLA έκλεισε -4,8% τη Δευτέρα, αφότου ο Musk διεξήγαγε μια δημοσκόπηση στο Twitter το Σαββατοκύριακο σχετικά με το αν έπρεπε να πουλήσει το 10% της εταιρείας


  • Ο Burry έκανε επίσης μια σύγκριση μεταξύ του τρέχοντος χρηματιστηρίου και της ολλανδικής φούσκας της τουλίπας


  • Νωρίτερα, Ο αδελφός του Μασκ, Κίμπαλ πούλησε 88.500 μετοχές στις 5 Νοεμβρίου, πριν από τη δημοσκόπηση στο Twitter

Ex-Barclays Trader Banned for Life After Euribor Conviction

(Bloomberg) — A former Barclays Plc trader convicted of helping rig a key benchmark rate was banned from working in the finance industry for life.

Colin Bermingham, who was sentenced to five years in prison in 2019, was not “fit and proper” to take on any regulated role, the Financial Conduct Authoritysaid. The ruling comes after the former trader lost an attempt to overturn his guilty finding last year.

“His conviction demonstrates clear and serious dishonesty and a lack of integrity,” the FCA said in a statement Monday.

Bermingham agreed to resolve the matter with the lifetime ban, the FCA said. A  lawyer who previously represented Bermingham at trial didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

The 2019 convictions of Bermingham and another trader Carlo Palombo were part of the U.K. Serious Fraud Office’s probe into efforts to manipulate the Euro interbank offered rate, which is related to trillions of dollars worth of loans and derivatives.


G-20 Leaders Strike Climate Deal With Little Progress on Warming

(Bloomberg) — Negotiators reached agreement on the climate section of the Group of 20 summit’s final conclusions, giving leaders something to take onto the COP26 summit in Glasgow this week.

The language largely mirrors prior pledges made in the 2015 Paris climate accord, however.

Leaders said they “remain committed to the Paris Agreement goal to hold the global average temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”

As expected, the communique agrees to phasing out investment in new offshore coal power plants, something China already said it would do. “We will put an end to the provision of international public finance for new unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021.”

In terms of domestic coal, the statement only contains a general pledge to supporting those countries that commit to “phasing out investment in new unabated coal power generation capacity to do so as soon as possible.”


Euro-Area Inflation Breaches 4% as Lagarde Fails to Sway Markets

(Bloomberg) — Euro-area inflation accelerated more than expected to breach 4% for only the second time ever, adding to the European Central Bank’s challenge in battling increasingly aggressive market bets for interest-rate hikes.

Consumer prices rose 4.1% in October, compared with the median of economist estimates at 3.7%, according to figures released by Eurostat on Friday. A measure stripping out volatile components such as food and energy climbed to 2.1%, a rate not seen in nearly two decades. 

On the eve of the data, ECB President Christine Lagarde attempted to pushed back on investor bets that her institution will have to raise interest rates next year, declaring such pricing at odds with its own analysis and policy guidance. 

That left investors unimpressed. On Friday, they started to price in 20-basis points of rate hikes by October 2022, even sooner than before Lagarde tried to convince them that their expectations are off the mark. 

“Without a doubt, investors have a different take on inflation to the ECB,” said Rishi Mishra, an analyst at Futures First.
Lagarde acknowledged that faster price increases will stick around for longer than the ECB previously anticipated, but also stuck to the view that it will ease through 2022. 

Her attempt to counter investor speculation stopped short of saying markets are wrong to bet on rate hikes next year. That reflected an agreement among Governing Council members that such a move could backfire, officials familiar with the matter said.

Based on market pricing, investors are expecting the ECB to raise borrowing costs for the first time in more than a decade to bring the deposit rate to minus 0.3% within a year.

Global Shift

The shift in markets comes amid a global inflation surge that’s seen some central banks — including the Bank of England and the Bank of Canada — shift tack already. 

Businesses are struggling to deal with the fraying of global supply chains, which has caused the costs of parts, raw materials and shipping to soar. Energy prices in the euro area, meanwhile, rose 23.5% in October, up from 17.6% a month earlier, amid a natural-gas crunch. 
Anticipation of higher borrowing costs is also being felt in European bond markets. The 10-year yields on Italian and Greek debt — often regarded as the riskiest in the region — jumped 22 basis points and 11 basis points, respectively, to 1.29% and 1.17%. That’s pushed Italy’s benchmark borrowing costs to the highest since July last year.
Professional forecasters polled by the ECB also ramped up their inflation outlook for the period through 2023, though they continue to see a sharp slowdown in 2022 from the current level, according to report on Friday. The respondents expect price growth of 1.9% in 2022 and 1.7% in 2023, below the ECB’s 2% target.


The Vaccinated Are Worried and Scientists Don’t Have Answers

By Kristen V. Brown and Rebecca Torrence

(Bloomberg) — Anecdotes tell us what the data can’t: Vaccinated people appear to be getting the coronavirus at a surprisingly high rate. But exactly how often isn’t clear, nor is it certain how likely they are to spread the virus to others. And now, there’s growing concern that vaccinated people may be more vulnerable to serious illness than previously thought.

There’s a dearth of scientific studies with concrete answers, leaving public policy makers and corporate executives to formulate plans based on fragmented information. While some are renewing mask mandates or delayingoffice reopenings, others cite the lack of clarity to justify staying the course. It can all feel like a mess.

“We have to be humble about what we do know and what we don’t know,” said Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the head of the nonprofit Resolve to Save Lives. “There are a few things we can say definitively. One is that this is a hard question to address.”

Absent clear public health messaging, vaccinated people are left confused about how to protect themselves. Just how vulnerable they are is a key variable not just for public health officials trying to figure out, say, when booster shots might be needed, but also to inform decisions about whether to roll back reopenings amid a new wave of the virus. On a smaller scale, the unknowns have left music lovers unsure if it’s OK to see a concert and prompted a fresh round of hang-wringing among parents pondering what school is going to look like.

In lieu of answers, what has emerged is a host of case studies providing somewhat different pictures of breakthrough infections. Variables including when the surveys were conducted, whether the delta variant was present, how much of the population was vaccinated and even what the weather was like at the time make it hard to compare results and suss out patterns. It’s difficult to know which data might ultimately carry more heft.

“It’s quite clear that we have more breakthroughs now,” said Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco. “We all know someone who has had one. But we don’t have great clinical data.”

One of the best known outbreaks among vaccinated people occurred in the small beach town of Provincetown, Massachusetts, as thousands of vaccinated and unvaccinated alike gathered on dance floors and at house parties over the Fourth of July weekend to celebrate the holiday — and what seemed like a turning point in the pandemic. About three-fourths of the 469 infections were among vaccinated people.

Authors of a CDC case study said this might mean that they were just as likely to transmit Covid-19 as the unvaccinated. Even so, they cautioned, as more people are vaccinated, it’s natural that they would also account for a larger share of Covid-19 infections and this one study was not sufficient to draw any conclusions. The incident prompted the CDC to reverse a recommendation it had issued just a few weeks earlier and once again urge the vaccinated to mask up in certain settings.

Still, the particular details of that cluster of cases may have made that outbreak especially bad, according to Gandhi.

“The rate of mild symptomatic outbreaks in this population was higher because of a lot of indoor activity (including intimacy), rain that weekend, not much outside time and mixture of people with different vaccination status,” she said in an email.

A newly released, far larger CDC case study of infections in New York state, meanwhile, found that the number of breakthrough infections has steadily ticked up since May, accounting for almost 4% of cases by mid-July. Those researchers cautioned that factors such as easing public health restrictions and the rise of the highly contagious delta variant might impact the results.

Yet another CDC case study, in Colorado, found that the breakthrough infection rate in one county, Mesa, was significantly higher than the rest of the state, at 7% versus about 5%. The report suggested it was perhaps because the delta variant was circulating more widely there, but also noted the ages of patients in Mesa and the lower vaccination rate may have played a role.

Research out of Israel seems to back the idea that protection from severe disease wanes in the months after inoculation, and more recently, that breakthrough cases may eventually lead to an uptick in hospitalizations. The information is preliminary and severe breakthrough cases are still rare, but it bolsters the case that some people will need booster shots in coming months.

Case studies and data from some states in the U.S. have similarly shown an increase in breakthrough cases over time. But with the delta variant also on the rise, it’s difficult to tell whether waning immunity to any type of coronavirus infection is to blame, or if the vaccinations are particularly ineffective against the delta variant. It could be both, of course. Changing behavior among vaccinated people could be a factor, too, as they return to social gatherings and travel and dining indoors.

All that said, some facts are well established at this point. Vaccinated people infected with the virus are much less likely to need to go to the hospital, much less likely to need intubation and much less likely to die from the illness. There’s no doubt that vaccines provide significant protection. But a large proportion of the nation — almost 30% of U.S. adults — have not been vaccinated, a fact that has conspired with the highly contagious delta variant to push the country into a new wave of outbreaks.

“The big picture here is that the vaccines are working and the reason for the spike in the U.S. is we have too little vaccine uptake,” Frieden said.

To a certain extent, breakthrough cases of any virus are expected. In clinical trials, no Covid vaccine was 100% effective — even the best vaccines never are. The more the virus is in circulation, the greater the risk of breakthrough cases. It’s also common for some aspects of viral immunity to naturally wane over time.

For the time being, there are simply more questions than answers. Are breakthrough infections ticking up because of the delta variant, waning immunity or a return to normal life? Are vaccinated people more vulnerable to severe illness than previously thought? Just how common are breakthrough infections? It’s anyone’s guess.

“It is generally the case that we have to make public health decisions based on imperfect data,” Frieden said. “But there is just a lot we don’t know.”


Delta Variant Threatens to Destroy Another European Summer


Saturday, June 26, 2021 07:00 AM

A month ago, hotel manager Hugo Goncalves was gearing up for a bustling summer with almost all rooms at the Tivoli Marina de Vilamoura Resort in the Algarve fully booked.

Goncalves hired new staff and stocked up the bar and kitchen to be ready for an influx of visitors, particularly British travelers, after a disastrous 2020. That was before Portugal was abruptly taken off the U.K.’s green list of countries, meaning those returning would need to quarantine, and the country started to look like a hotspot for the highly contagious delta strain of the coronavirus.

Then the Portuguese government imposed travel restrictions on Lisbon residents during weekends, making it harder for locals to travel to the warmer beaches — and hotels such as the Tivoli Marina — in southern Portugal.

“Four weeks ago, we had more than 90% of our rooms booked but now it’s just over 30%,” said Goncalves. “I don’t understand how Portugal stopped being safe from one day to the next.”

A worker disinfects sun loungers at Quarteira Beach in the Algarve region, Portugal.

Just as the northern hemisphere summer season kicks off and the European Union’s Covid-19 travel certificates become available, Portugal’s path back to normality — along with the rest of the region’s — is at risk of being upended by the delta strain.

There’s a race to administer vaccines and limit the fast-spreading mutation, with countries trying to avoid the prospect of a summer with only light restrictions escaping their grasp. While some governments desperately want to put out the “Open for Business” sign, there was a gloomy assessmentthis week from the EU’s disease prevention agency.

It said a fast relaxation of restrictions could cause a “significant increase in daily cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.” Right now, Europe isn’t seeing that, and the number of new cases has plunged, but pressure on governments to relax measures, along with complacency, could set back the virus battle.



Covid Is Airborne, Scientists Say. Now Authorities Think So, Too

By Jason Gale

(Bloomberg)– A quiet revolution has permeated global health circles. Authorities have come to accept what many researchers have argued for over a year: The coronavirus can spread through the air.

That new acceptance, by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comes with concrete implications: Scientists are calling for ventilation systems to be overhauled like public water supplies were in the 1800s after fetid pipes were found to harbor cholera.

Cleaner indoor air won’t just fight the pandemic, it will minimize the risk of catching flu and other respiratory infections that cost the U.S. more than $50 billion a year, researchers said in a study in the journal Science on Friday. Avoiding these germs and their associated sickness and productivity losses would, therefore, offset the cost of upgrading ventilation and filtration in buildings.

“We are used to the fact that we have clean water coming from our taps,” said Lidia Morawska, a distinguished professor in the school of earth and atmospheric sciences at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, who led the study. Likewise, “we should expect clean, pollutant- and pathogen-free air” from indoor spaces, she said over Zoom.

The study’s authors, comprising 39 scientists from 14 countries, are demanding universal recognition that infections can be prevented by improving indoor ventilation systems. They want the WHO to extend its indoor air quality guidelines to cover airborne pathogens, and for building ventilation standards to include higher airflow, filtration and disinfection rates, and monitors that enable the public to gauge the quality of the air they’re breathing.

A “paradigm shift is needed on the scale that occurred when Chadwick’s Sanitary Report in 1842 led the British government to encourage cities to organize clean water supplies and centralized sewage systems,” they wrote.

“No one takes responsibility for the air,” Morawska said. “It’s kind of accepted that the air could be of whatever quality — containing viruses and pathogens.”

Speaking, Singing

SARS-CoV-2 multiplies in the respiratory tract, enabling it to spread in particles of varying sizes emitted from an infected person’s nose and throat during breathing, speaking, singing, coughing and sneezing.

The biggest particles, including visible spatters of spittle, fall fast, settling on the ground or nearby surfaces, whereas the tiniest — aerosols invisible to the naked eye — can be carried farther and stay aloft longer, depending on humidity, temperature and airflow.
It’s these aerosol particles, which can linger for hours and travel indoors, that have have stoked controversy.

Although airborne infections, like tuberculosis, measles and chickenpox are harder to trace than pathogens transmitted in tainted food and water, research over the past 16 months supports the role aerosols play in spreading the pandemic virus.

That’s led to official recommendations for public mask-wearing and other infection-control strategies. But, even those came after aerosol scientists lobbied for more-stringent measures to minimize risk.

Morawska and a colleague published an open letter backed by 239 scientists last July requesting authorities endorse additional precautions, such as increasing ventilation and avoiding recirculating potentially virus-laden air in buildings.

WHO guidance has been amended at least twice since, though the Geneva-based organization maintains that the coronavirus spreads “mainly between people who are in close contact with each other, typically within 1 meter,” or about 3 feet.

‘Nothing Magic’

Morawska, who heads a WHO collaborating center on air quality and health, says that’s an oversimplification. “There’s nothing magic about this 1 meter,” Morawska said. The closer to an infected person, the higher the concentration of infectious particles and the shorter the exposure time needed for infection to occur. “As you are moving away, the concentration decreases,” she said.

Infectious aerosols remain concentrated in the air longer in poorly ventilated, confined indoor spaces, according to Morawska.

Although a high density of people in such settings increases the number of people potentially exposed to an airborne infection, enclosed indoor areas that aren’t crowded may also be hazardous — a distinction Morawska says the WHO should make clearer.

“The WHO, step by step, is modifying the language,” she said.

Morawska, a Polish-born physicist who was previously a fellow of the International Atomic Energy Agency, can take credit  for the WHO’s changing stance, said Raina MacIntyre, professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

“Professor Morawska’s contribution, on the background of world-leading expertise in aerosol science, made a real impact by forcing WHO’s hand,” MacIntyre said in an email.

‘Hygiene Theater’

The role of airborne transmission “has been denied for so long, partly because expert groups that advise government have not included engineers, aerosol scientists, occupational hygienists and multidisciplinary environmental health experts,” MacIntyre wrote in The Conversation last week.

“A false narrative dominated public discussion for over a year,” she said. “This resulted in hygiene theater — scrubbing of hands and surfaces for little gain — while the pandemic wreaked mass destruction on the world.”

Some people working in infection prevention and control and related fields have stuck rigidly to beliefs that minimized aerosol transmission, despite evidence challenging their views because “they do not want to lose face,” said Julian Tang, a clinical virologist and honorary associate professor in the department of respiratory sciences at England’s University of Leicester.

“We all have to adapt and progress as new data become available,” Tang said. That’s especially true in public health, where official policies and guidance based on “outdated and unsupported thinking and attitudes can cost lives,” he said.

Morawska said she hopes the attention that the pandemic has drawn to face masks and the risks associated with inhaling someone else’s exhaled breath will be a catalyst for cleaner indoor air.

“If we don’t do the things we are saying now, next time a pandemic comes, especially one caused by a respiratory pathogen, it will be the same,” she said.



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