By Powerscourt on 03/09/2020

Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 03 September 2020


It is starting to look as though the race for an early vaccine and the US general election campaign could be co-terminus. Public health officials in all 50 US states and five of the largest cities were written to in recent days telling them to be ready to distribute a coronavirus vaccine to high-risk groups as early as the end of October. The letters show that in one scenario, up to 45 million doses of two vaccines could be distributed by the end of 2020. We don’t know what will work but hundreds of millions of vaccine doses are being prepared around the world right now. As we said in this wrap previously, September will be the month for vaccine news.

The UK chancellor Rishi Sunak signalled that taxes will have to rise to restore public finances yesterday. He warned the government must be honest about the challenges ahead. There will be no ‘horror show of tax rises with no end in sight’, he said, but some difficult decisions will have to be made.

As he made his warning, French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a €100 billion stimulus plan including wage subsidies, tax cuts for businesses and funding for environmental projects.

A spit test which avoids the need for uncomfortable swabs is to be used as part of a £500 million pilot programme in the UK. Schoolchildren, shoppers and commuters will be tested regularly in an effort to get Britain back to normal.

Standard tests for antibodies may be dramatically underestimating the proportion of people who have been infected with coronavirus according to a paper published in the BMJ. Researchers said there have been inherent flaws in the way antibody test figures have been reported and that parts of the UK may be much closer to herd immunity than previously thought.

Hydrocortisone has become the second drug to be shown to save lives. The low-cost steroid cuts the risk of death of those critically ill by about 20 per cent.

The UK government re-imposed local restrictions on parts of Greater Manchester yesterday – just as they were being lifted. It’s the latest in a series of abrupt reversals and the decision has exposed rifts between local politicians and central government, with the Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham criticising Westminster for imposing decisions on local people.

As universities prepare for the new academic year, the New York Times highlights some extraordinary data from the University of South Carolina’s virus dashboard which shows that 1,172 students and 20 staff have tested positive since August 1. Local media had showed police breaking up a pool party at the weekend where most of the crowd were from USC which has 35,000 students. Incidentally, the dashboard is worth a look: https://www.sc.edu/safety/coronavirus/dashboard/index.php.





Arla Foods
Farmers’ cooperative Arla Foods, one of the world’s biggest dairy firms, said on Thursday first-half revenue rose 3% as higher demand for home-cooking more than offset lower sales to restaurants and catering firms. Arla, owned by around 9,700 farmers in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Britain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium, said revenue stood at 5.4 billion euros (4.80 billion pounds) between January and June, compared with 5.2 billion euros last year.



Japanese automaker Nissan Motor has said its sales in China fell 2.4% in August from a year earlier, while rivals Toyota Motor and Honda Motor sales surged in the world’s biggest auto market. Nissan is determined to boost sales in China as it struggles to fix problems from ousted leader Carlos Ghosn’s aggressive expansion drive. It said it sold 126,592 vehicles in China in August, up 4.7% from the previous month as sales continue to recover from China’s coronavirus lockdown earlier this year. Toyota sold 164,400 vehicles in China last month, up 27.2% from last year. Of the total, 20,700 came from its premium Lexus brand, which showed a 22.3% sales jump compared to a year earlier. Honda sold 148,636 units, up 19.7%.

Melrose Industries 
Melrose Industries has posted a £685m half-year loss and scrapped its latest dividend as the FTSE 100 buyout specialist and owner of car and aircraft parts maker GKN was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Melrose, which purchased GKN in an £8bn hostile takeover in 2018, said its revenues for the six months to July fell by just over a quarter to £4.1bn. The group’s business model is to buy, improve and sell underperforming manufacturing businesses, although the statutory loss of £685m mainly stemmed from asset writedowns, restructuring costs and losses on derivatives contracts. In the same period last year, Melrose lost £109m. Simon Peckham, chief executive, said: “Until March this year, our businesses continued their strong performance from 2019, with significant operational and financial improvement made…Unfortunately this progress was then severely disrupted by the global outbreak of Covid-19.”

Sanofi and Glaxosmithkline
French drugmaker Sanofi and its British peer GSK have started a clinical trial for a protein-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate, as pharmaceutical companies race to develop treatments against the pandemic. Sanofi and GSK said today that they had started the “Phase 1/2” trial for their adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine, which they hope to make available across the world. This vaccine candidate uses the same recombinant protein-based technology as one of Sanofi’s seasonal influenza vaccines with GSK’s established pandemic adjuvant technology.


Financials & Real Estate

Atom Bank
Atom Bank cut its annual losses for the first time despite growth being held back by the collapse of Neil Woodford’s investment business, which had been one of its largest backers. Speaking ahead of the publication of Atom’s latest annual report, chief executive Mark Mullen said the app-based bank expected losses to continue to shrink this year even after coronavirus forced it to temporarily stop most new lending. Atom reported a pre-tax loss of £66.5m in the 12 months to March 31, down from £80.2m the previous year. However, its balance sheet barely grew over the year, with total assets flat at £2.8bn. Mr Mullen said the “distraction” of the Woodford failure limited the amount of capital available for expanding the business.

The Hut Group
E-commerce firm The Hut Group confirmed its intention to float on the London Stock Exchange on Thursday, in potentially the biggest listing of a British company since 2013 and the first major London listing since the pandemic. The £920 million float would value the firm at £4.5 billion and see it list at least 20% of its stock. The company will also sell some existing shares. Blackrock, Henderson Global Investors and funds managed by Merian and the Qatar Investment Authority have agreed to buy 565 million pounds of the shares on offer.



IT services provider Capgemini has said on it expected double-digit revenue growth in 2020 driven by a gradual second-half recovery, crediting diversification for its resilience during the coronavirus crisis. The company said it planned to reach revenue growth at constant exchange rates of between 12.5% and 14.0% this year. “We set objectives for 2020 that illustrate the resilience of our revenues, profitability and organic free cash flow,” Chief Executive Officer Aiman Ezzat said in a statement.



Routine mass coronavirus testing hailed as path to greater freedoms – The Times

Rising euro stokes ECB worries over falling prices – Financial Times

Britain to fund expansion of rapid COVID-19 test trials – Reuters