By Powerscourt on 14/12/2020
Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 14 December 2020
Is Germany the new Lombardy? When the first wave of Covid-19 hit Europe in the spring, Europe’s worst affected region was Italy’s richest region, with the city of Bergamo especially afflicted. As Italy suffered, Germany won praise for its handling of the early outbreak while Chancellor Angela Merkel – a scientist by training – was praised as the voice of reason.
That was then. Now the German picture is grim – and mulled wine is a leading culprit. The country is going into lockdown from Wednesday when schools and shops will close until 10 January, private gatherings of more than five people will be banned, and there will be a clampdown on the sale of alcohol. Political and health leaders are alarmed that large gatherings in city centres enjoying mulled wine at Christmas markets are super-spreader events.
“Corona has got out of control – we are at five minutes to midnight,” Markus Söder, prime minister of Bavaria, said on Sunday. He said the pandemic was “a catastrophe that affects us more than any crisis in the past 50 years” and restrictive measures were essential if Germany was not to become “the problem child of Europe.” He added: “Bergamo is closer than some might believe.” Germany reported 20,200 new infections and 206 new deaths on Sunday.
The other European country in the spotlight is Sweden. Its health ministry and top scientists advised against severe lockdowns and social restrictions to combat the first wave. That raised the hackles of is nearest neighbours, which were following more conventional routes to tackling the virus. Now Sweden is grappling with an increasingly severe second wave, and those neighbours are reaching out with offers of help.
The Financial Times reports that Norway and Finland are ready to send medical aid if the Swedish authorities request it. Sweden has recorded 1,400 deaths in the past month, compared with 100 in Norway and 80 in Finland. Those two countries’ populations are only half the size of Sweden but the difference in mortality is shocking.
The US begins vaccinating its citizens today, after the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use. The FDA’s approval followed that of its UK and Canadian counterparts. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is the only significant western medicines regulator still deciding on whether it should approve that vaccine, and others. It says it will have decided by 29 December.
Pressure is growing on the EMA to move faster. Politico reports that at last week’s EU leaders’ summit, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki demanded that it move more quickly. The EMA’s regulatory approach appears to be more time-consuming and labour-intensive than that of the FDA. Europe is also the world’s most vaccine-sceptical region. Balancing the two is the EMA’s big challenge.
“Approving a coronavirus vaccine is the EMA’s most high-profile test ever, as it tries to strike the perfect balance between politicians’ need for a speedy way out of the pandemic and some of the public’s fear of vaccines,” Politico writes.
WHAT ARE COMPANIES SAYING?
The pharmaceutical company is set to buy US drugmaker Alexion in a £29.5bn ($39bn) cash and share deal, in an official release to accompany the weekend announcement. The acquisition is expected to close in Q3 2021, and upon completion, Alexion shareholders will own circa 15 per cent of the combined company. The move is said to give AstraZeneca greater scientific presence in immunology by adding Alexion’s innovative complement-technology platforms and strong pipeline.
The manufacturer of plastic piping systems, for use in the residential, commercial, civils and infrastructure sectors, issued an updated on recent trading. Group revenue for November was 8.0% higher than the prior year, with residential markets performing particularly well. Consequently, the Board now expects underlying operating profit for the year to 31 December 2020 to be circa £40m, compared to the current consensus range of £35m-37m.
Financial & Real Estate
Scottish Investment Trust
The large self-managed investment trust, based in Edinburgh, has posted its Annual Results for the year to 31 October 2020. Amid the challenging environment, the share price total return was down 12 per cent and the net asset value per share total return (with borrowings at market value) fell by 10.6 per cent. However, regular dividend increased by 1.8 per cent to 23.2p, which was the 37th year of a regular dividend increase.
Schroders AsiaPacific Fund
The fund looking to take advantage of growth opportunities in Asia, has submitted its Annual Report for the year ended 30 September 2020. The pandemic led some companies in the portfolio to cut their dividends, leading to a decrease in the company’s net revenue after taxation of 20.1 per cent. The directors are recommending the payment of a final dividend of 8p per share, representing a decrease of 17.5 per cent over the 9.7p paid in respect of the previous financial year.
IN THE NEWS
UK ‘sleepwalking’ into unemployment crisis, Lords warn – Financial Times
Lockdown savings give households a £7,000 Christmas present – The Times
Why London could be facing Tier 3 lockdown restrictions – The Daily Telegraph