By Powerscourt on 06/11/2020
Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 06 November 2020
As the US election count continues into a third nerve-rattling day and with tempers souring, the virus has scaled new peaks in America.
Whether the frenzied campaigning activity on both sides in the run-up to the vote has fuelled infection numbers isn’t yet clear, but the virus is tearing through the US. The bellwether Johns Hopkins tracker reported more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day for the first time on Thursday. Hospitals in the South and Midwest are beginning to approach capacity due to COVID-19 cases, the Wall Street Journal reported.
We told you that the vote seemed to show that blue collar US voters cared more about holding on to their jobs rather than closing the economy to stop the virus. An extraordinary analysis by the Associated Press news agency shows a twist on that: in places where the virus is most rampant now, Trump enjoyed enormous support.
An AP analysis shows that in 376 counties with the highest number of new cases per capita, the overwhelming majority – 93 per cent of those counties – went for Trump, a rate above other less severely hit areas.
Meanwhile, a frightening development has emerged in the battle against coronavirus in Europe: a new COVID-19 mutation that originated in Denmark’s mink population has spread beyond the region in which it was first discovered to the eastern part of the country. Health officials say the mutation affects the spike protein of coronavirus – the genetic “warhead” of the virus – which could make it particularly hard for a vaccine to target, a development which has clearly alarmed the Danish government. Denmark is now culling its entire mink population – up to 17 million animals – in order to eradicate this mutation.
There are 12 known cases of humans affected by this new strain. Danish health officials have imposed a strict lockdown on the area of western Denmark where the strain appeared. The UK will remove Denmark from its “travel corridor” from Friday.
In the UK fresh doubt has been cast on the government’s latest efforts to get on top of COVID-19 testing, a persistent source of embarrassment. A rapid test which is planned for national rollout provided just 50% accuracy in a pilot in Greater Manchester, the Guardian reports. Officials managing the testing programme raised questions about the accuracy of the OptiGene test, demanding it not be used in care home settings until further testing has been concluded.
As Lockdown 2.0 gets underway in England, there’s more evidence of the dramatic way coronavirus has reshaped consumer habits – and more short-term pain for retailers. Grocer J Sainsbury said it would close most Argos outlets in response to changing shopping patterns and an increasing shift towards online shopping. The John Lewis Partnership has also culled 1,500 jobs, though it says on a net basis it will replace these roles.
There is some encouraging news on virus immunity though. Researchers at Rockefeller University in New York have published a paper providing evidence that the human immune system mounts a strong response to the virus and antibodies that “remember” it, enabling protection. One of the biggest questions facing scientists developing vaccines and therapies has been how immunity against COVID-19 lasts, and this data provides grounds for optimism.
US markets have been on a tear this week, up almost 7%, but a closely watched Labor Department report on jobs due Friday, combined with growing anxiety about the outcome of the election, may take the shine off this.
WHAT ARE COMPANIES SAYING?
Morgan Advanced Materials
Specialist product manufacturer Morgan Advanced Materials, announced today its third quarter trading update, reporting a 9.8% drop in sales compared to Q3 2019. Sales have improved since reporting at half year, and actions have been taken to reduce costs, improve cash flow and increase liquidity. Chief Executive Officer Pete Raby said “Whilst the current environment remains challenging, we are focused on protecting our colleagues, serving our customers and preserving our strong financial position.”
James Fisher and Sons
The UK’s leading marine services company, announced this morning its third quarter trading update. Trading continued to be challenging resulting in a revenue drop of 17%, compared to Q3 2019. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, particularly in the UK, Middle East and southern Africa, revenue in Marine Support continues to be affected by project delays and cancellations. Offshore oil remained resilient this quarter and fleet utilisation has recovered to just below 90% in September, recovering from a sharp drop in April due to lockdown.
The British airline group has announced the sale and leaseback of a further eleven aircraft this morning, generating total cash proceeds of £130.7m. On completion of these sale and leaseback transactions, easyJet now retain 141 fully owned aircraft, representing 41% of the fleet. New lockdowns in England, Germany and France have put further pressure on the airline’s finances, resulting in easyJet to fly no more than approximately 20% of planned capacity for Q1 of the 2021 Financial Year.
Financials & Real Estate
British developer and manager of residential for rent and purpose built accommodation reports a trading update for the year ended 30 September 2020. Watkins Jones delivered seven new developments and have nine new development sites secured. All £0.8 million of Covid-19 government financial assistance has been repaid, due to a positive recovery in performance. CEO Richard Simpson commented “I am really encouraged by our ability to adapt and overcome the numerous challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic.”
The Co-Operative Bank
The Co-Operative Bank provides today a third quarter trading update, reporting resilient performance despite the challenging environment. Performance shows a loss before tax of £68.1m, which is in line with expectations. The Bank granted approximately 20,000 payment deferrals across mortgages, loans and credit cards to support customers through the Covid-19 pandemic. Nick Slape, Chief Executive Officer said “This is a challenging time for all banks, given the uncertain economic outlook and continuing low base rate, but whilst we remain loss making as anticipated in our plan, the results also show our resilience as we continue to make significant progress in our turnaround.”
The British parent company of specialist insurance businesses, announced today a trading update for the nine months ended 30 September 2020. Gross premiums written have increased 16% with premium rates on renewal business increasing by 14%. The political, accident & contingency division has remained steady due to Covid-19. The property division has seen a 5% increase in premiums due to the hardening of the global property market bolstered by the effects of Covid-19.
International technology-led services and payments specialist, has issued today a trading update for the fourth quarter period lasting from 1 July 2020 to 5 November 2020. The Group has maintained a strong financial position maintaining liquid resources in excess of £175m, despite the challenging external environment result from the Covid-19 pandemic. Commenting on this latest update, Guy Wakeley Chief Executive stated “current trading continues to be difficult, although we are seeing the usual acceleration into Q4.”
IN THE NEWS
Mass testing offers quicker way out from isolation, PM promises – THE TIMES
In Covid’s shadow, another health crisis looms – FINANCIAL TIMES
Exclusive: ‘Covid graphs were wrong in suggesting daily deaths would soon surpass first wave’ – THE TELEGRAPH