Powerscourt

By Powerscourt on 09/09/2020

Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 09 September 2020

ANALYSIS

It is a bad news morning with bad vaccine news, a US tech sell-off and a UK government ready to ban most social gatherings of more than six people.

A join enterprise between AstraZeneca and Oxford University, known as the Oxford Vaccine, had appeared to be ahead in the headlong race to find a vaccine before a patient in the UK became severely ill after being injected. The vast stage 2 and 3 trials which were underway in the UK, US, Brazil and South Africa have been halted and AstraZeneca says it is reviewing safety data. The patient is expected to recover and it is not certain that the illness is linked to the trial. Such temporary “holds” are not uncommon but this is a vaccine race like no other. As an example, the US government has invested $11 billion in its Operation Warp Speed to find a solution fast.

The good news is that there are a further 11 vaccines in late stage trials.

Meanwhile a continued sharp rise in UK coronavirus figures is starting to alarm the government.

Not just for the obvious reasons, but because of the worrying suspicion that some of the drives they have recently undertaken to stimulate the UK economy may have fuelled a resurgence of the virus. If this turns out to be the case, it would leave a huge policy conundrum for an economy which is underpinned by consumption.

The latest test data reported nearly 3,000 coronavirus cases on both Sunday and Monday, and 2,420 on Tuesday. The Financial Times points out that the known average incubation period for the virus implies that many of the newly confirmed infections will have been triggered by social activity at the Bank Holiday Weekend, when consumers were taking maximum advantage of the wildly popular Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

While the government is expected to play down the suggestion that its drive to encourage people back to their workplaces and schools and to get them socialising again is behind the recent surge, attributing it more to private mixing of households, it’s difficult to dismiss the possibility of a correlation. The implications for the UK’s battered economy are worrying.

The immediate output of the UK’s rising caseload is that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is today expected to ban gatherings of more than six people from Monday onwards if they are for fun as opposed to work. Some tougher restrictions will be imposed in certain areas of the UK where the prevalence is highest, particularly in the North.

The resurgence is being overwhelmingly fuelled by young people, data suggests, with 25% of new cases being detected in people aged 15-29.

Across Europe, authorities are scrabbling to put the lid back on a social abandon that has characterised the behaviour of many young people over the summer after the months of lockdown.

Young people are being reminded of the need to consider that while their chances of being damaged by the virus are low, they are a hugely effective vector to bring the infection to vulnerable older people.

Spain, which has had one of the sharpest resurgences across Europe, has launched a media campaign, called #EstoNoEsUnJuego (#ThisIsNotAGAme) calling on young people to consider their responsibilities to society. It features a black-and-white video showing young people drinking in the street then cutting to images of people in hospital – including an older woman being treated by a medic in full PPE – and finally to images of people in coffins.

Tech stocks, which soared as investors saw the pandemic accelerating the conversion to a digital world, continued to fall yesterday with the Nasdaq 100 now 11% down in the last three days’ trading. Tesla has fallen 34% in September while Apple, the world’s most valuable business, is down 14% in three days.

The news on the Oxford Vaccine trial halt, along with a continued sell-off of technology stocks, helped drag Asian shares lower into Wednesday with Europe expected to open lower too.

 

WHAT ARE COMPANIES SAYING?

 

Retail & Consumer

AstraZeneca
The pharmaceutical company has temporarily halted its randomised clinical trial of a corornavirus vaccine being developed alongside the University of Oxford, after a volunteer in the UK became unwell. The company said that this must happen “whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials, while it is investigated, ensuring we maintain the integrity of the trials”, adding that “in large trials, illnesses will happen by chance but must be independently reviewed to check this carefully”. 

 

Industrials 

Biffa
The waste management business has issued a trading update for the year to date, announcing that Group revenues recovered to 90% of FY20 levels during August. Trading has remained slightly ahead of the Group’s base case scenario developed at the outset of the pandemic, and underlying profit contribution is continuing to steadily improve month on month. The Group expects to cease furloughing staff at the end of September, and noted that whilst the outlook for the rest of the year is dependent on the pace and shape of the economic recovery, based on the recovery to date, the Board’s expectations for the full year remain unchanged.

 

Financials & Real Estate

Sanne Group
The provider of alternative asset and corporate services has announced its results for the six months ended 30 June. During the period it has seen net revenue growth of 9.5 per cent, and underlying operating profit growth of 14 per cent, with the company noting that the operational platform remains in a good position to overcome any potential future lockdowns. It was also included that signs of market process have been seen during Q3, with the pipeline of new business continuing to grow. 

 

TMT

S4 Capital
The digital advertising and marketing services business has today published its results for the six months ended 30 June 2020, reporting like-for-like gross profit  growth of over 12% with accelerating growth from April through to July. It is included that the company’s prospects for 2021 look strong, “given the organic growth rate, increasing client conversion at scale, significant merger activity and the likely post-covid-19 economic recovery from relatively low levels of covid-19 economic growth”. Executive Chairman Sir Martin Sorrell said: “The tragedy of covid-19 has only accelerated the speed of digital transformation and disruption at consumer, media and enterprise levels”.

Computacenter
The computer services provider has published its half year results for the six months to 30 June 2020, reporting revenue growth of 1.5 per cent during the period as reductions in expenditure from industrial customers were offset by new business within the government and financial services sector. The UK market saw an increase in revenues of 7.2 per cent as Technology Sourcing revenues surged to cope with the demand generated by the COVID-19 crisis. CEO Mike Norris said: “Our markets have proved resilient as our customers have invested in their infrastructure to support their businesses”. 

 

IN THE NEWS

European businesses cut dividends over executive pay – THE FINANCIAL TIMES

Unions and business chiefs call for new furlough plan to avoid mass unemployment – THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

Covid ban on meetings of more than six people – THE TIMES




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