Coronavirus latest: US food and DIY retailers reap benefits from Americans stuck inside

Mamta Badkar 8/18/2020, 1:53:41 PM Emoticon
US stocks hit record high after rebound from March low Adam Samson and Harry Dempsey in London

Wall Street's benchmark stock index has struck an all-time intraday high after rallying more than 50 per cent from the bear-market low hit during the darkest days of the coronavirus crisis.  The S&P 500 index rose 0.3 per cent in early trading on Tuesday to a high of 3395, eclipsing the previous record that was reached in February, before the pandemic slammed Wall Street and global financial markets. The barometer has soared 54 per cent since the low that was struck on March 23, with the gains being led by America's biggest technology companies including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet.

The rise has prompted concerns among some investors that these stocks are vulnerable to a crash reminiscent of the early 2000s dotcom bust. "Fortunately, [valuations are] not at similar nosebleed levels, which prevents the market meltdown scenario of 2000-02," said Tobias Levkovich, chief US equity strategist at Citi. "But we still worry that investors have crowded into one area that might be ripe for some pitfalls."

Sarah Provan 8/18/2020, 12:56:36 PM Pandemic-related depression rises among young Britons

Andrew Whiffin The coronavirus pandemic is severely debilitating the mental health of young Britons as cases of depression are on the rise, official figures show. About one in five adults in the UK experienced either moderate or severe depressive symptoms in June this year, almost double the level recorded before the pandemic, data from the Office for National Statistics revealed on Tuesday.

The increase was more dramatic for people aged between 16 and 34, with one-third experiencing symptoms in June, compared with one in nine before the outbreak. "Young people across the UK have had their lives turned upside down by the pandemic," said Tom Madders of mental health charity YoungMinds. "Almost every young person has had to adjust to dramatic changes in their education or employment, routine and home life. Many will have struggled to cope with social isolation, anxiety, a loss of structure and fears about their future."

Depression remained a bigger issue for women during the pandemic, as almost a quarter reported symptoms in June as opposed to 10 per cent of men.

Mamta Badkar 8/18/2020, 12:52:59 PM US housing starts back at pre-pandemic levels after July surge The rate of new home construction in the US climbed for the third consecutive month in July and was back at pre-pandemic levels.

New housing starts jumped 22.6 per cent month-on-month to a seasonally adjusted rate of 1.496m, according to data from the Census Bureau. That was an increase from June's upwardly-revised 1.22m (previously 1.19m) and eclipsed the median forecast among economists for 1.32m. It was also the highest level for housing starts since February before coronavirus lockdowns began.

Meanwhile, building permits for new homes -- considered to be a leading indicator of the property market -- rose 18.8 per cent to 1.495m. That was also ahead of economists' expectations and at the highest level in six months. The US residential property market has been one of the bright spots of the US economy from the coronavirus crisis as historically low mortgage rates have helped drive a recovery in housing.

However, economists cautioned that higher lumber and home prices, driven by a demand for homes, could sap some of the momentum in the housing market.

Sarah Provan 8/18/2020, 11:53:47 AM France orders mask-wearing in workplaces Victor Mallet in Paris

The wearing of protective masks against coronavirus will be required in all enclosed and shared workplaces in France by the end of this month, the country's labour minister said. "We need systematically to enforce the wearing of masks, as recommended by the High Council of Public Health, in all work spaces that are enclosed or shared," Elisabeth Borne told AFP on Tuesday after a meeting with employers and trade unions. The restrictions, under which employers must supply the necessary masks, will apply in meeting rooms, corridors, changing rooms and open spaces but not in individual private offices.

France has recorded an upsurge in confirmed Covid-19 infections in recent days. Masks are already required in enclosed public spaces such as shops, and local authorities have begun imposing the rule outdoors in busy streets, markets and town centres.

Mamta Badkar 8/18/2020, 11:52:16 AM Kohl's reports narrower than expected quarterly loss

US department store chain Kohl's reported a smaller than expected second quarter loss and sales decline and said it expects customers to begin their holiday shopping earlier this year. The Wisconsin-based company said net sales fell 23 per cent year-on-year to £3.2bn ahead of Wall Street expectations, although its digital sales jumped 58 per cent as shoppers turned online. Retailers closed their stores in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus and reopened with more limited hours.

Kohl's said its stores operated with about 25 per cent fewer days in the second quarter than it did last year. However, higher shipping costs and increased discounting to lure customers weighed down on the company's gross margin, which fell to 33.1 per cent from 38.8 per cent in the same quarter a year earlier. Net income fell sharply to £47m or 30 cents a share in the three months ending August 1, compared with £241m or £1.51 a share in the same period a year ago.

Adjusting for one-time items the company reported a loss of 25 cents a share, which was smaller than expectations for an 83 cent loss. Shares rose 4 per cent in pre-market trade. The company expects Covid-19 to continue to affect its business, but said it is "prepared to chase any demand upside as it unfolds".

"We are well-positioned to capitalise on evolving customer behaviours and the retail industry disruption, which we believe will drive long-term growth and increased market share," said chief executive Michelle Gass.

Sarah Provan 8/18/2020, 11:42:39 AM Walmart sales push ahead to make retailer a pandemic beneficiary Alistair Gray

Walmart has reinforced its position as one of the corporate winners from the pandemic as the world's biggest retailer reported a jump in grocery sales and a surge in online orders. Shares in Walmart, already at all-time highs, rose 5.4 per cent in pre-market trading after the company said it generated net income of £6.48bn in the three months to the end of July, up from £3.61bn the same period one year earlier. Americans have kept shopping at Walmart as they emerge from a coronavirus-induced lockdown, helping like-for-like US sales rise 9.3 per cent year on year.

In a sign the company is starting to close the online shopping gap with Amazon, US ecommerce sales almost doubled to an undisclosed level. The strength in Walmart's domestic business offset pressure overseas due to foreign exchange. Sales at Walmart's international business dropped 6.8 per cent.

The results follow strong numbers from home improvement retailer Home Depot earlier on Tuesday and stand in contrast to weakness at discretionary non-food retailers. Department store chain Kohl's on Tuesday reported a 23 per cent slide in comparable sales.

Sarah Provan 8/18/2020, 10:54:01 AM Home Depot sales soar as Americans turn to DIY

Home Depot generated a larger than expected 23.4 per cent rise in same-store sales as the do-it-yourself retailer reaped the benefit of many Americans being stuck at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. A £480m quarterly bonus to staff raised the total for the year to about £1.3bn in enhanced pay and benefits to offset the damage wreaked by Covid-19. The world's largest home improvement retailer reported second-quarter sales of £38.1bn compared with a year ago.

Analysts in a Bloomberg poll estimated the comparable sales figure would rise 11.4 per cent. Net earnings for the three months to August 2 rose about 27 per cent to £4.3bn, or £4.02 per diluted share. Home improvement has become a rare bright spot in the US retail sector, with Home Depot and its rival Lowe's reaping the benefits of a coronavirus-enforced extended time at home for many Americans.

Harry Dempsey 8/18/2020, 10:44:08 AM

French football league's opening match postponed over Covid-19 cases Victor Mallet in Paris France's professional football league has postponed Friday's opening match of the season for Ligue 1 after Olympique de Marseille reported four Covid-19 cases among its players.

The match between Marseille and Saint-Etienne, provisionally postponed until mid-September, is the latest event to fall foul of the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, the planned Chalons-en-Champagne agricultural fair -- normally one of the biggest in France -- was cancelled after the authorities refused permission for a gathering of more than 5,000 people. Confirmed coronavirus infections in France, especially in and around Paris and Marseille, have risen sharply in recent days, with more than 3,000 new cases a day reported over the weekend.

President Emmanuel Macron called for caution and a sense of responsibility on Monday. "In the coming weeks we have to confront a health crisis that is taking a different form: the virus is accelerating, so we have to be very vigilant," he said.

Sarah Provan 8/18/2020, 9:30:14 AM Pandemic is far from being tamed, says Norwegian oil fund executive The coronavirus pandemic is far from being under control, the deputy head of the world's largest sovereign wealth fund said.

"It doesn't seem to be under control in any shape or form," said Trond Grande, deputy chief executive of Norges Bank Investment Management, which manages Norway's £1tn oil fund. He was speaking on the day the wealth fund booked the second-best quarter in its history. "The sharp stock market decline of the first quarter was limited by a massive monetary and financial policy response," Mr Grande said on Tuesday as the oil fund reported its latest figures. "Even though markets recovered well in the second quarter, we are still witnessing considerable uncertainty."

However some fund managers have countered the pessimistic view and bet that the virus has largely been tamed in certain corners of the world. Fears of a second wave in Europe are "not a massive worry", Jeremy Gatto, multi-asset manager at Unigestion, has said. He added though that it is worth monitoring the situation.

"There is more testing being done," he said. "We are a lot better equipped to deal with it." Norway's sovereign wealth fund lost 3.4 per cent of its value over the first six months of 2020 but returned 13.1 per cent in the second quarter. With reporting from Richard Milne in Oslo and Harry Dempsey in London

Sarah Provan 8/18/2020, 7:29:15 AM

Norway's sovereign oil fund rebounds to post one of its best quarters Richard Milne in Oslo Norway's £1tn oil fund had the second-best quarter in its 24-year history as rebounding stock markets overcame fears about Covid-19 to boost the world's largest sovereign wealth fund.

The oil fund returned 13.1 per cent in the second quarter, following its worst percentage fall in the previous three months when it dropped 14.6 per cent. The rebound was led by the fund's equity investments, which returned 18.1 per cent, while fixed-income assets also did well, returning 3.8 per cent. For the first half as a whole, the world's largest sovereign wealth fund had a negative return of 3.4 per cent.

"The sharp stock market decline of the first quarter was limited by a massive monetary and financial policy response," said Trond Grande, deputy chief executive of the fund's manager. "Even though markets recovered well in the second quarter, we are still witnessing considerable uncertainty." The oil fund is in the middle of the biggest storm in its history over the botched appointment of a new chief executive. Norway's parliament is considering whether to try to block Nicolai Tangen, a former hedge fund manager, from becoming chief executive.

All the opposition leftwing parties have come out against Mr Tangen as long as he retains ownership of AKO Capital, the London-based hedge fund he founded.

Sarah Provan 8/18/2020, 7:24:30 AM Oil price drop and Covid-19 almost wipe out energy group Wood's profits Nathalie Thomas in Edinburgh

The sharp fall in oil prices and coronavirus-related lockdowns almost wiped out pre-tax profits at Wood, the UK energy services group, in the first half of the year. Adjusted earnings, however, came in at the upper end of the group's guided range as it highlighted swift action to cut costs. The Aberdeen-based company, which has been diversifying away from its North Sea oil and gas roots since its 2017 takeover of engineering group Amec Foster Wheeler, eked out a pre-tax profit of just £900,000 for the six months to June 30, a sharp fall from £62.2m a year earlier, as revenues dropped nearly 15 per cent to £4.1bn.

But the company said its adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation, which strip out a range of factors including exceptional costs, were at the upper end of guidance at £305m. This was nevertheless down more than a fifth year-on-year. The company pushed through actions such as redundancies, placing staff on furlough and voluntary salary cuts for directors in the first half to reduce its costs by more than £200m and try to protect margins.

Robin Watson, chief executive of Wood, said the company had benefited from its "broader market exposure" beyond upstream oil and gas and its objective is to "maintain full year margins in line with 2019". Nevertheless, the company has said there remains a risk of projects being deferred or cancelled in the second half of the year.

Harry Dempsey 8/18/2020, 7:01:42 AM US dollar sell-off accelerates as Treasury yields slip

The dollar extended its fall for a fifth consecutive day as yields on US Treasuries ticked lower and concerns are growing about the pace of recovery in the world's biggest economy. The US currency fell to a fresh two-year low against a basket of half a dozen peers on Tuesday, shedding 0.3 per cent. Japan's yen strengthened to JPY105.49 per dollar, while the euro and pound both were up against the dollar.

A drop in Treasury yields lowered the appeal of the dollar. The yield on US 10-year Treasury notes dropped 0.013 percentage points to 0.6704 in its third daily move lower following a sell-off in early August that pushed it above 0.7 per cent. Meanwhile, traders are growing increasingly worried about the pace of the US economic recovery.

The latest trigger for those concerns was a manufacturing survey on Monday showing that activity in New York state eased in August, having picked up significantly last month for the first time since the pandemic. Global stocks struggled for direction after US shares came within striking distance of a record high, while new sanctions on Chinese telecoms group Huawei hit Asia's chipmakers. London's FTSE 100 fell 0.6 per cent in early dealings, while futures for the S&P 500 were little changed.

Sarah Provan 8/18/2020, 6:28:55 AM

M&S to cut 7,000 jobs over next three months in business overhaul Marks and Spencer has said it will cut 7,000 jobs over the next three months as the UK retailer overhauls its business in the latest sign of how the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the high street.

The FTSE 250 group said many of the reductions will be made through voluntary redundancies and early retirement as M&S cuts jobs in its support centre, regional management and in its UK stores. M&S said the plans are part of a strategy to "streamline the business both at stores and management level" as it contends with the changes to the industry caused by the pandemic. "These proposals are an important step in becoming a leaner, faster business set up to serve changing customer needs," said chief executive Steve Rowe.

George Russell 8/18/2020, 6:00:39 AM

Europe confronts changing climate amid pandemic Victor Mallet in Paris and Martin Arnold in Frankfurt Desiccated pastures in France's Loire valley, campsites near Marseille destroyed by a forest fire, hosepipe bans in western Germany and fish farms in Saxony running short of fresh water: parts of continental Europe have been struck by drought for the third year in a row.

While summer thunderstorms have provided sporadic relief for parched fields in the past week, farmers, scientists and politicians say global warming is triggering multiyear droughts and changing the climate of continental Europe. French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said an official economic recovery plan to be unveiled in Paris next week in response to the coronavirus crisis would include measures "to adapt our farms to the effects of climate change". Read more here

George Russell 8/18/2020, 5:40:21 AM

Chinese economy's two-speed recovery from Covid-19 Sun Yu in Beijing China appears to be making an unbalanced two-speed economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

While the nation's wealthier citizens have so far emerged largely unscathed, many on low incomes are struggling. The uneven recovery in consumer spending has raised questions from low-income workers to economists and analysts about the way the Chinese government has responded to Covid-19. While many countries have tried to directly transfer cash to consumers to protect businesses, Beijing has focused much of its effort on stimulating investment and construction.

Read more here

George Russell 8/18/2020, 5:20:38 AM UK commercial leases shorten as tenants win concessions George Hammond in London

Commercial leases in the UK are becoming shorter and more flexible as property owners are forced to make concessions to hard-hit tenants, underlining how the coronavirus crisis has upended the industry. The average length of a lease for commercial tenants, which include retailers and companies taking office space, tumbled by 10 months between February and June to 27 months, according to property data group Re-Leased. The reduction offers greater leeway for tenants, many of which have been hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic.

But for property groups, shorter leases mean less certainty over the future income stream that they -- and their investors -- rely on. Read more here

George Russell 8/18/2020, 5:00:50 AM Seoul weighs tougher response as outbreak gains pace

Edward White and Kang Buseong South Korea is considering reinstating tougher virus response measures as health officials struggle to contain the country's worst coronavirus outbreak in five months. The Korea Centers for Disease Control reported 235 new local infections on Tuesday, marking the fifth-straight day of new cases in triple digits as transmission, which has mostly been centred on the sprawling capital Seoul, continued to spread at the highest pace seen since early March.

The government in Seoul, which on Saturday moved to tighten social distancing rules and restrict travel in and out of Seoul, also signalled tougher measures may soon be needed if the situation deteriorates. Kim Gang-lip, the vice health minister, said this week was "critical" as cluster infections in the greater Seoul area "are on the brink of spreading nationwide". Officials are racing to trace and test hundreds of people linked to a conservative church group following demonstrations in Seoul over the weekend at which church followers contravened distancing guidelines.

Coronavirus cases among followers of the controversial Sarang Jeil Church rose to 383, the KCDC said. The involvement of church groups in mass protest rallies, pictured, has already drawn a sharp response from President Moon Jae-in who said on Sunday they had put the country at risk.

South Korea won international praise for its rapid deployment of a high-tech contact tracing system and mass testing in its handling of the pandemic, which ultimately meant the country avoided a crippling nationwide lockdown. But the latest spike in cases highlights the continued risk from new waves of Covid-19, even in countries with efficient systems for monitoring and suppressing outbreaks.

George Russell 8/18/2020, 4:40:36 AM AIIB lends Uzbekistan £100m to build pandemic defences

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank said on Tuesday it would make a £100m loan to Uzbekistan to upgrade disaster preparedness, as the country reported an 88 per cent recovery rate from coronavirus. The project would fund surveillance, diagnostic testing and treatment for Covid-19 and future disease outbreaks. "Addressing emergency healthcare needs to combat Covid-19 and prevent its spread is the immediate priority," said Supee Teravaninthorn, AIIB's director general, investment operations.

Uzbekistan, with 21m people, has reported more than 35,000 Covid-19 cases, with 236 deaths, according to World Health Organization data. The official news agency, UzA, said on Tuesday that 88 per cent of the country's Covid-19 cases had recovered. On Monday, UzA reported that 40 Russian and 10 Chinese doctors had arrived in the country to help with Covid-19 management and treatment.

George Russell 8/18/2020, 4:20:27 AM

Largest US mall owner gets new tenant: itself Alistair Gray in New York Simon Property Group became one of America's largest shopping mall landlords under Mel and Herb Simon, brothers and co-founders.

Under Mel's son, David, it is also becoming a sizable tenant. Through a series of unconventional deals that show how an unfolding crisis in bricks and mortar retail is transforming old business models, the real estate company is helping to salvage big names in the US clothing sector. A Delaware judge has given the green light to Simon to become part-owner of Brooks Brothers, the-two centuries-old menswear retailer that was tipped into bankruptcy last month by the coronavirus pandemic.

Read more here

George Russell 8/18/2020, 4:00:35 AM Global stocks struggle as Huawei ban hits chipmakers Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong

Global stocks struggled for direction after US shares came within striking distance of a record high, while new sanctions on Chinese telecoms group Huawei hit Asia's chipmakers. Japan's Topix index fell 0.5 per cent in early trading on Tuesday, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.1 per cent. In Seoul, the Kospi inched up 0.1 per cent.

China's CSI 300 index of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed stocks fell 0.2 per cent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.2 per cent. Shares in regional companies that make computer chips were hit hard after the US commerce department announced on Monday that companies would have to obtain a licence to sell Huawei any chip that has been made using US equipment or software. Taiwan's MediaTek fell 9.6 per cent while Hong Kong-listed hardware makers Sunny Optical and AAC Technologies dropped 10.7 and 4.7 per cent, respectively.

Overnight, Wall Street's S&P 500 climbed 0.3 per cent but again failed to surpass its pre-coronavirus February peak. The tech-focused Nasdaq, which has been hitting new highs for two months, climbed 1 per cent.

The rise in US tech shares has prompted concerns among some investors that these stocks, which now dominate the American market, are vulnerable to a crash reminiscent of the early 2000s dotcom bust. "Fortunately, [valuations are] not at similar nosebleed levels, which prevents the market meltdown scenario of 2000-02," said Tobias Levkovich, chief US equity strategist at Citi. "But we still worry that investors have crowded into one area that might be ripe for some pitfalls". S&P 500 futures were little changed while those for London's FTSE 100 fell 0.5 per cent.

George Russell 8/18/2020, 3:40:57 AM

China confirms 22 new cases but all are imported China reported 22 new confirmed cases on Tuesday, all of which were imported, indicating the country has seized control of the outbreak in its restive western Xinjiang region. There were 14 cases recorded in Shanghai, as well as three in Jiangsu, two each in Tianjin and Shaanxi and one case in Guangdong province.

State media said it was the 15th consecutive day that Shanghai had reported imported cases. The English-language Global Times reported that city authorities might consider a new range of restrictions to act as a "circuit breaker" to curb new infections. The National Health Commission said in a statement that there were a total of 213 confirmed cases imported from abroad, with none in severe or worse condition.

George Russell 8/18/2020, 3:20:45 AM

Coles supermarket chain posts first profit growth in 4 years Australian supermarket chain Coles posted its first full-year profit growth in four years on Tuesday, partly due to coronavirus-induced panic buying. Coles recorded earnings before interest and tax of A£1.76bn (US£1.27bn), up from A£1.32bn in 2019, which was an 8.3 per cent decline on the previous year.

Net profit after tax for the full year grew 7.1 per cent to A£951m using comparable accounting measures. Sales rose 6.9 per cent to A£37.4bn, with those from supermarkets climbing 6.8 per cent to £33bn, faster than the sector average of 5.9 per cent. Coles' results came in higher than estimates.

Analysts expected revenue of A£37.1bn and earnings before profit and tax of A£1.56bn. The company said sales growth was driven by "Covid-19 related pantry stocking and strong basket size growth" in the latter part of the financial year.

"There has, and will be, much to learn from Covid-19," said Steven Cain, Coles chief executive. "Our purpose of sustainably feeding all Australians to help them lead healthier, happier lives is now more relevant than ever." The company expects a broadly similar outlook for the first quarter of 2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to escalate costs. Coles, with 807 stores and another 706 smaller Coles Express outlets, said it planned to open 15-20 new stores in 2021, including five delayed by Covid-19.

The company's shares inched up 0.6 per cent to A£19.05 in morning trading on Tuesday.

George Russell 8/18/2020, 3:00:38 AM Indigenous Amazonians face ravages of 'invader' virus Andres Schipani in Brasilia

More than 17,000 indigenous Amazonians have been infected with Covid-19 since the pandemic arrived in Brazil in late February, and almost 600 have died. Mortality rates are estimated at over twice that of the wider population and many experts and locals fear for the worst. "The risk of the pandemic ... is very serious and could spell the end of indigenous culture if it is not stopped," Carlos Nobre, a leading climate scientist, said.

Read more here

George Russell 8/18/2020, 2:40:21 AM New Zealand finds mystery case in hotel worker New Zealand health officials said on Tuesday they are investigating how a maintenance worker at the Rydges Hotel isolation facility in Auckland who does not have any routine contact with guests tested positive for Covid-19.

The health ministry said results of genome testing indicate his case is not linked to the community cluster that has gripped the country and postponed its general election by a month. Genome sequencing showed that a person who returned from the US and was in isolation at Rydges from July 28-31 had the same sequence as the maintenance worker. However, it is believed the returnee and the maintenance worker had no physical contact.

"At this stage there is no obvious person-to-person connection between the worker and the returnee from the US but investigations continue," the ministry said in a statement. "Initial reviews of CCTV footage and swipe card movements so far show no interaction between the two people, including no entry to physical locations occupied by the returnee from the US."

George Russell 8/18/2020, 2:38:14 AM Australian state of Victoria records lower new case toll

The Australian state of Victoria on Tuesday recorded 222 new cases of coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, the lowest daily count for a week. The state also recorded 17 deaths, down from the record 25 on Monday. On Monday, a commission of inquiry into breaches of hotel quarantine heard that 99 per cent of Victoria's second wave of Covid-19 can be traced to two Melbourne hotels, the Rydges on Swanston and the Stamford Plaza.

Streets in Melbourne, the state capital, remained deserted on Tuesday as a lockdown continues.

George Russell 8/18/2020, 2:20:25 AM Cave-in over UK school grades prompts concern Chris Giles, Peter Foster and Bethan Staton in London

A U-turn by ministers over secondary school pupils' results in England may well defuse a public outcry over iniquities in grading but education leaders warned it would create problems in the system for years to come. After resisting calls for a rethink despite mounting public anger, education secretary Gavin Williamson finally caved on Monday and apologised for the "distress" he had caused to students and their parents. In the latest of a series of policy blunders by the government during the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Williamson announced England would follow the lead of Scotland and move to restore downgraded results to those based on teacher assessments.

Read more here

George Russell 8/18/2020, 2:00:35 AM Canadian finance minister quits over pandemic tensions

Aime Williams in Washington Bill Morneau on Monday resigned as Canadian finance minister and stepped down from the country's parliament. Mr Morneau and his prime minister, Justin Trudeau, have been at odds over Ottawa's fiscal response to the coronavirus crisis, according to Canadian media.

Mr Morneau said he would put his name forward as the next secretary-general of the Paris-based OECD, with the backing of Mr Trudeau. Read more here

George Russell 8/18/2020, 1:40:25 AM BHP confirms thermal coal exit as investor pressure builds

Neil Hume in London BHP, the world's biggest mining group, has confirmed plans to exit thermal coal as pressure builds from investors to ditch the polluting fossil fuel. The company announced flat full-year profits as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic was offset by a powerful performance from its flagship iron ore business.

In the year to June, BHP reported underlying attributable profit of £9.1bn on revenue of £42.9bn, a result that was lower than analysts' forecasts. Pre-tax profit was £13.5bn, down from £15bn a year earlier. Read more here

George Russell 8/18/2020, 1:20:38 AM

ADB funds online learning scheme in Armenia The Asian Development Bank said it would issue a grant to Armenia to help it develop online learning programmes for students trapped at home during the coronavirus pandemic. The £750,000 grant is designed to improve infrastructure around distance learning, and support a training of trainers scheme for the platform.

"Providing access to quality and continuous education for all students nationwide is a key goal for the government," said Paolo Spantigati, ADB's Armenia country director.

George Russell 8/18/2020, 1:00:43 AM China's share of global exports falls Kathrin Hille in Taipei

China's share of global exports has been hit by its trade dispute with the US which -- together with the pandemic, corporate governance demands and the rise of artificial intelligence -- is pushing multinational companies to reduce their dependence on the Asian powerhouse. Last year Chinese exports of 1,200 products accounted for 22 per cent of the world's exports, 3 percentage points down on the previous year, according to a new study by Baker McKenzie, the law firm, and Silk Road Associates, an economic consultancy. The findings come as Washington targets China with wide-ranging measures aimed at weaning itself off China-based supply chains and hobbling Beijing's ambitions to become a global tech power.

Read more here

George Russell 8/18/2020, 12:22:30 AM NYC neighbourhood under scrutiny 'not a cluster'

An area of New York City's Brooklyn borough that has been the subject of intense testing in recent weeks is not a new coronavirus cluster, according to the mayor. Health workers have performed more than 5,200 tests, pictured, in an attempt to control outbreaks in Sunset Park, a diverse lower-middle-class neighbourhood. "We do not see a cluster situation at this point in Sunset Park, based on the information we gleaned over the last few days from this intensive testing," mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday.

"We do see individual households with specific problems and those households are being engaged intensely to ensure that they quarantine, that they safely separate," he said. New York established a city Test and Trace Corps to saturate neighbourhoods. "There's been a massive outreach effort" in Sunset Park, Mr de Blasio said, adding that there have been "7,300 doors ... knocked, 77,000 robocalls, 35,000 live calls talking to residents". The concentration on Sunset Park followed a similar operation in the Tremont section of the Bronx borough last month.

George Russell 8/18/2020, 12:01:29 AM

Impossible allows HK restaurants to sell uncooked product US plant-based burger and sausage manufacturer Impossible Foods said it would allow Hong Kong restaurants to resell their inventory directly to their customers to prepare at home. The company said the move was a response to Covid-19 restrictions that limit dine-in services to two people per table and allow only takeaway after 6pm.

The measures were extended on Monday for another week. Impossible Foods has made similar concessions to restaurants in the US and Singapore. "The programme is designed to help provide restaurants with an additional revenue stream for takeout orders and enable fans to cook Impossible meat at home for the first time," a company spokesperson said.

George Russell 8/17/2020, 11:41:02 PM

Hospital admissions in US sunbelt states ease Matthew Rocco in New York Hospital admissions for Covid-19 have been on the decline in Florida, California and other states that experienced a jump in cases this summer, one sign that outbreaks in the US sunbelt have eased.

Florida reported that 5,665 people with a primary diagnosis of Covid-19 were hospitalised on Monday morning, reflecting a decline of 41 in the last 24 hours and more than 1,000 in less than a week. California's active hospitalisations, which peaked at 7,170 on July 21, have dropped to 5,027 patients who tested positive for coronavirus, according to the latest state figures released on Sunday. There were 5,636 people admitted to hospital a week earlier.

Texas and Arizona have also seen their hospital cases drop. Texas said on Sunday that hospitals in the state were treating 6,267 Covid-19 patients, the 13th straight day in decline. That compared with 7,437 patients one week ago and a high of more than 10,800 in July.

George Russell 8/17/2020, 11:40:17 PM

New Zealand detects 9 new Covid-19 cases in community New Zealand's health ministry said nine new confirmed cases of Covid-19 had been detected in the community on Monday, as the country sought to battle a resurgence that has delayed the general election scheduled for next month. Officials said seven of the new cases are linked to previous cases in an Auckland cluster, and two cases remain under investigation but are "strongly believed to be linked to the same cluster".

There are now 86 people linked to the cluster who have been moved into quarantine, comprising 36 people who have tested positive as well as their contacts.

George Russell 8/17/2020, 11:39:59 PM California reports smallest new case rise in a month Peter Wells in New York

California reported its smallest daily rise in deaths from coronavirus in nearly a month and its smallest jump in new cases since early August. Fatalities related to the disease rose by 18 on Monday, down from 77 on Sunday, and marking the state's smallest rise since July 20. Florida reported its smallest increase in new coronavirus cases in two months, but its level of testing tumbled to the lowest since late June.

A further 2,678 people in the state tested positive for Covid-19 over the past day, Florida's health department revealed, down from 3,779 on Sunday. Texas reported among its smallest daily increases in new coronavirus infections and deaths in weeks, but authorities warned that they would be working through a backlog of tests that mean the state has under-counted Covid-19 cases. The state's health department on Monday reported 2,713 new Covid-19 infections over the previous 24 hour period, down from 6,744 on Sunday.

Deaths rose by 51, fewer than the 143 reported yesterday. The new infections excluded a backlog of 5,195 confirmed cases from Dallas county that had been added to the statewide total, taking the latter to 542,950. Gyms in New York state will begin to reopen next week, ending a five-month shutdown, while University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will shift all its undergraduate classes online from Wednesday following a "significant rise" in positivity to 13.6 per cent from 2.8 per cent after the college's first week.

George Russell 8/17/2020, 11:39:42 PM

Toronto recruits nursing team to monitor schools return Canada's largest city said on Monday that a team of 70 nurses would monitor students when the new school year began next month. The nurses, employed by the city of Toronto, would also provide education and training sessions to school staff and parents to promote infection prevention and control measures, the city council said.

The province of Ontario, of which Toronto is the capital, runs education through local school boards. Mayor John Tory said Toronto Public Health, a city agency, would provide "guidance to Toronto school boards". "As parents get ready to send their kids back to school, our city is working with the school boards and the government of Ontario to do everything possible to reassure parents," Mr Tory said.

George Russell 8/17/2020, 11:37:29 PM

News you might have missed ... Bolivia has recorded its 100,000th case of coronavirus and health officials say the pandemic is unlikely to peak until September -- a month before the country holds presidential elections. The government said on Monday that the total number of cases had risen to 100,344, with 4,058 deaths.

Bolivia is recording about 1,400 new cases a day on average. The Nasdaq Composite registered a fresh all-time high, and the S&P 500 inched closer to its own record with technology shares kicking off the week with solid gains. The S&P 500 was up 0.3 per cent to about 3,382, bringing the benchmark index within five points of its closing high set in February.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq jumped 1 per cent. German industry has welcomed a proposal by the country's finance minister, Olaf Scholz, to extend the period that payments are made under the government's short-time working scheme. Germany operates a scheme known as Kurzarbeit under which employees are paid when they are forced to work fewer hours or stop work altogether because of a crisis.

Italy clamped down on nightlife and entertainment as fears rose that relaxed attitudes, especially among young people, could lead to a surge in Covid-19 cases. Nightclubs are closed and face masks required at night, even outdoors, from Monday until next month.

Municipal police patrolled Rome landmarks, pictured, to tell people to wear masks. Singapore is set to add S£8bn (US£5.8bn) in fiscal stimulus to help support businesses as they face the challenge of a pandemic crisis that has brought the island nation to its first recession in more than a decade. The government plans to introduce measures to support jobs and create new ones, with a specific emphasis on more mature workers, deputy prime minister Heng Swee Keat said on Monday.

Sustainable bond issuance could reach £375bn in 2020, as the coronavirus crisis drives demand for responsible investing, Moody's forecast on Monday. Global sustainable bond issuance rose to a quarterly record of £99.9bn between April and June, a 65 per cent increase from the first three months of the year, the ratings agency said.

George Russell 8/17/2020, 11:36:00 PM Company news you might have missed ...

Shares in Olympique Lyonnais have gained following the French side's shock defeat of Manchester City in the Champions League quarter final game in Lisbon at the weekend. Olympique Lyonnais beat the pre-tournament favourites 3-1 on Saturday evening at Sporting Lisbon's Jose Alvalade stadium to set up a semi-final against Bayern Munich. Retail trading app Robinhood has raised new equity that gives it a valuation of more than £11bn, up by nearly one-third from a previous injection of funds just one month ago, as the privately-owned platform benefits from a surge in activity through the coronavirus pandemic.

New York-based hedge fund D1 Capital Partners invested £200m in Robinhood. Carlyle has told its London employees to avoid public transport on their commute to work because of concerns about coronavirus, as the £221bn private equity manager prepares to reopen its office in the city next month. The global policy also requires staff who use public transport at weekends to stay away from the office for 14 days.

Ryanair is to cut flight capacity by a fifth over the next two months as it warned that bookings had "noticeably weakened" following a rise in coronavirus cases across many parts of Europe. The low-cost airline will reduce the number of its flights by 20 per cent in September and October, focusing on countries that had seen worsening outbreaks.

Tencent has taken a stake in French mobile games company Voodoo, as the Chinese internet group looks to step up its investments in Europe. The investment gives Voodoo an enterprise value of £1.4bn, making it the first "unicorn" company in the fast-growing "hyper casual" gaming market. Tencent has said it expects gaming to help it weather the coronavirus crisis.

JD.com, China's largest online retailer by revenue, reported accelerating sales growth and increasing profitability. Net profits rose to Rmb16bn (£2.3bn) from Rmb600m a year earlier. Revenue jumped 34 per cent to Rmb201bn as its self-run logistics network powered it through the Covid-19 lockdown.

JD.com gained users as rivals struggled to deliver goods.

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