Closed Coronavirus: WHO warns of ‘concerning’ transmissions in Europe — as it happened

FILE PHOTO: Foxconn employees wearing masks attend the company's year-end gala in Taipei

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China coronavirus cases pass 40,000

China reported 908 deaths from coronavirus to the end of Sunday, with 40,171 confirmed cases in the country of which 6,484 were described as seriously ill.

The number of deaths exceeded that of the 2002-2003 Sars outbreak over the weekend. Sars killed 774 people.

Many businesses will remain closed on Monday after an extended Lunar New Year break designed to limit the spread of the virus. Critical industries such as aviation have been permitted to restart while workers in Shanghai and Beijing have been asked to work from home.

Read our full coverage of the restarting the Chinese economy here


WHO chief warns of ‘tip of the iceberg’ for cases outside China

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation, said in a series of tweets that the spread of coronavirus outside China appeared to be slow but countries must be prepared as the virus’s spread could accelerate.

“There’ve been some concerning instances of onward #2019nCoV spread from people with no travel history to [China],” he said. “The detection of a small number of cases may indicate more widespread transmission in other countries; in short, we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

Cases of coronavirus identified in the UK, Malaysia and South Korea have been linked to a business meeting in Singapore in January attended by more than 100 guests

Dr Tedros last month heaped praise on China’s handling of the outbreak but his comments have split opinion. He said the WHO has sent an advance team for an international expert mission to China.

Read our full coverage of the response to Dr Tedros here


Global recovery delayed but not derailed by coronavirus – Morgan Stanley

Morgan Stanley views the coronavirus outbreak as a potential obstacle to global economic recovery because of disruption to supply chains from the delayed return to work for factories.

If work resumes on February 10, the hit to global growth is forecast at around 15 to 30 basis points during the first quarter. A gradual return to work as migrant workers and logistics face challenges could limit growth by 35 to 50bp and an extended disruption where the outbreak does not peak until April, could see a 50 to 75bp hit for the first quarter and a 35 to 50 basis point hit for the first half of 2020.

“In the near term, there are still uncertainties as to how quickly the coronavirus situation will be brought under control and when production and goods transportation services will be ramped up to normal levels,” the bank said.


Coronavirus pushes up China consumer prices

Consumer prices in China recorded their biggest year-on-year jump since 2011 on the effects of coronavirus and the lunar new year holiday.

Prices rose 5.4 per cent in January compared to a year earlier with food prices up 20.6 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Producer prices rose 0.1 per cent year on year.


UK evacuates second batch of citizens from Wuhan

Yuan Yang reports from Beijing

The UK has evacuated British families from the coronavirus-stricken Chinese city of Wuhan, the second charter flight since the outbreak started last month.

The UK conducted its first evacuation late last month. Diplomats said there were roughly 300 British citizens in the city. Of these, 150 registered for the flight but only 83 boarded.

The reason for the discrepancy and need for a second evacuation was uncertainty over whether children who are “dual nationals”, those who are born in China to a Chinese and foreign parent, would be allowed to leave with their families.

Beijing does not allow its citizens to hold more than one nationality. China’s policy had been that only foreign nationals could be evacuated, posing a particular challenge for foreign governments.

“[We were given] no guarantees we would be allowed on the plane or what would happen if we were denied boarding,” wrote Natalie Francis, a British mother, on Facebook, ahead of the first evacuation flight. She said she was given no guarantee that she could bring her three-year-old son.

Ms Francis and her child were eventually allowed on the flight and are now in quarantine in the UK.


Asia stocks slip as China returns to work

Hudson Lockett reports from Hong Kong

China’s efforts to get its economy back online brought little cheer to markets on Monday, as equities benchmarks across the region sank.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was the worst of the lot, down 0.8 per cent, while Tokyo’s Topix dropped 0.6 per cent. Sydney’s S&P/ASX 200 fell just 0.1 per cent but that was enough to bring it 5 per cent lower for the year to date.

Among major indices only China’s CSI 300 has fared worse in 2020, with a drop of 0.4 per cent on Monday taking it down 5.2 per cent this year.

In currency markets the Australian dollar, which is viewed by investors as a proxy for China’s economy, enjoyed a bounce of 0.4 per cent to almost $0.67, but was still down 4.6 per cent year to date.


Coronavirus could tip Asian economies into more ‘pernicious downturn’ – AXA Investment Managers

Small, open economies such as Hong Kong and Singapore are most at risk from the spillover effects from coronavirus in China in Asia with tourism, trade, domestic consumption and financial markets expected to register the biggest hits, according to AXA Investment Managers.

Travel bans and suspension of flights by a series of airlines to China has seen the number of trips by Chinese tourists drop sharply, which will in turn hit the economies most reliant on Chinese visitors in Asia, the report said.

The number of Chinese tourists to Asian countries has increased since the Sars outbreak in 2003, with visitors from mainland China accounting for 80 per cent of Hong Kong’s tourists and 30 per cent for Thailand and South Korea.

Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore can also expect to feel the effects of a slowdown in Chinese economic growth on their exports to the country. AXA IM forecasts GDP growth will slow to 4 to 4.5 per cent in the first quarter from 6 per cent at the end of 2019.

“At a time when Asia is already struggling to recover from the soft patch last year, a vicious epidemic could be the last straw that tips the economies into a more pernicious downturn in 2020,” AXA IM economists Aidan Yao and Shirley Shen said.


Hot pot stocks dip after Hong Kong coronavirus cases

Shares in Hong Kong-listed Chinese hot pot stocks fell on Monday after the latest cases of coronavirus in the territory were linked to a private family dinner of hot pot.

Hong Kong health authorities said on Sunday that it was investigating a series of cases linked to a dinner on January 26 where 19 members of a family ate hot pot in a rented “party room”. Nine members of the family have tested positive for coronavirus.

Hot pot involves cooking meat and vegetables in a communal pot of broth.

Shares in Xiabuxiabu Catering fell as much as 10.3 per cent and Haidilao International slipped as much as 7.3 per cent. The Hang Seng index was down 0.6 per cent.

Hong Kong has reported 36 cases of coronavirus.


Stocks slip as virus fears reappear

European stock markets were set for modest losses when they open, after shares slipped in Asia on fresh concerns over the impact of the outbreak of coronavirus.

Global markets enjoyed a strong rebound last week as investors banked that the economic damage from the virus would be limited and that any ensuing shock would be contained by central bank stimulus.

“Sentiment has been a little more mixed over the weekend relative to last week as there are some concerns about the spread of the coronavirus outside of China,” said Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation, warned overnight that “we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg” in international infections.

Mainland Chinese stocks were a rare bright spot in Asia. The CSI 300 index in Shanghai rose 0.4 per cent as some businesses returned to work. The has urged critical industries such as aviation to resume operations as soon as possible, but government many remained closed on Monday. Alibaba, one of China’s biggest technology companies, said in a memo seen by the Financial Times that it would delay its plan to open tomorrow by “at least a week”.


Emoticon UK declares ‘serious and imminent threat’

Britain has declared the outbreak of coronavirus a “serious and imminent threat to public health”, in a move that gives the government expanded powers in containing the disease.

The Department for Health and Social Care said in a statement:

The Secretary of State declares that the incidence or transmission of novel Coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health, and the measures outlined in these regulations are considered as an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus.

The new regulations, which apply in England only, allow the government to keep individuals in isolation if public health officials consider them at risk of spreading the virus to other members of the public.

“This measure will rightly make it easier for health professionals to help keep people safe across the country,” a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said.

“Our infection control procedures are world leading and the NHS is well prepared to deal with novel coronavirus.”

The UK has reported four cases of the coronavirus, with the latest announced on Sunday.


Malaysia confirms new case

Stefania Palma in Singapore reports:

Malaysia has reported a new confirmed case, taking the total to 18. It involves a 31 year old local citizen who was working in Macau and traveled to mainland China before returning to Malaysia on February 1. The ministry of health said three previously confirmed cases have been discharged after recovering fully.

Elsewhere, Reuters, citing local media, has reported there are now 60 more coronavirus cases on board the cruise ship Diamond Princess which is currently moored in quarantine off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, taking the total number of infected on the ship to 130.


Sony joins Ericsson and Amazon in withdrawing from trade show

Sony has become the latest technology group to pull out of the world’s largest telecoms trade show, due to take place at the end of the month in Barcelona, Reuters reported on Monday.

The Japanese group, which reportedly had been planning to unveil its new phone at the event, joins Amazon, LG, Ericsson and Nvidia in not attending the show.

Mobile World Congress attracts more than 100,000 global attendees every year including tens of thousands from Asia. It imposed stronger restrictions to attendees, saying in the latest update on its site on February 9, that anybody from the Hubei province, where the coronavirus was first detected, will not be permitted access to the event. Congress officials added that any travellers to China will need to show proof they have been outside China 14 days before the event.

In its weekend update, MWC reported Catalonia’s health minister Alba Vergès as saying that Catalonia is not a public health risk zone. At a news conference on Friday the minister said:

The Catalan health system is prepared to detect and treat coronavirus, to give the most appropriate response, and this must be clear to those attending MWC Barcelona.


South Korean manufacturers set to restart after virus disruption

Edward White reports from Seoul:

South Korean manufacturing groups, including electronics producer Samsung and carmaker Hyundai, are seeking to restart operations after being hit by disruptions from the coronavirus.

Hyundai Motor and affiliate Kia Motor, which have seen shortages of supplies of China-made electronic components, are planning to bring two of around 20 factories in South Korea back online from Tuesday. A spokesperson said its local factories would be “flexibly” operated in line with the status of parts supplies.

Samsung Electronics said its appliance factory in Suzhou near Shanghai, restarted operations on Monday.

However, the country, which has 27 confirmed cases of the virus, remains under pressure with high levels of public angst over the outbreak spreading.

The South Korean government has airlifted more than 700 people out of Wuhan and is organising a third flight to evacuate a further 150 citizens this week.

International cruise liners have been temporarily banned from South Korea, health and maritime officials announced on Monday, in a move that results in the cancellation of entry permits for two ships scheduled to arrive in Busan this week.

And defence officials confirmed that as many as 1,100 soldiers have been quarantined in what a spokesperson described as a “preventative” move despite no confirmed or suspected cases reported at military barracks.


UK government: Risk to public has not changed

The UK’s health department has moved to reassure the public that the risk from the coronavirus outbreak has not changed, despite the declaration of a “serious and imminent” threat.

“This is a legal term which we announced this morning as part of changes to make it easier for health professionals to do their job,” the ministry said in a statement.

The new regulations, which apply in England only, allow the government to keep individuals in isolation if public health officials consider them at risk of spreading the virus to other members of the public.


News roundup

• China officially returned to work on Monday after the coronavirus outbreak prompted the authorities to delay the end of the lunar new year holiday. However, many businesses have further extended the holidays in a blow to government efforts to get the economy back up and running.

• The number of cases of coronavirus confirmed broke 40,000 over the weekend, with the figure this morning standing at 40,484 according to World Health Organisation data.

• The number of deaths has reached 910, exceeding the 774 killed by the Sars outbreak in 2002-03.

• WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that these numbers may only be the “tip of the iceberg”. In a series of tweets overnight, he said: “There’ve been some concerning instances of onward [coronavirus] spread from people with no travel history to China. The detection of a small number of cases may indicate more widespread transmission in other countries.”

• The UK has declared the outbreak of coronavirus a “serious and imminent threat to public health”, in a move that gives the government expanded powers in containing the disease.

• The resurgent fears over the spread of the disease prompted global stocks to slip today, with European equities following their Asian counterparts lower.


Emoticon Four new cases in UK

Four more patients in England have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to eight.

The new cases are all contacts of a previously confirmed British case, and the virus was passed on in France, according to Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England.

Prof Whitty said:

Experts at Public Health England continue to work hard tracing patient contacts from the UK cases. They successfully identified these individuals and ensured the appropriate support was provided.

The patients have been transferred to specialist NHS centres at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and The Royal Free hospitals, and we are now using robust infection control measures to prevent further spread of the virus.


China’s president makes a rare public appearance

President Xi Jinping on Monday made his first public appearance outside the confines of government and Chinese Communist party meeting halls since the outbreak erupted in mid-January, Tom Mitchell writes.

State media ran pictures of Mr Xi wearing a mask and getting his temperature checked as he toured a residential area in eastern Beijing to “investigate and guide” epidemic control work.

The president’s relatively few public appearances over recent weeks have been limited to formal receptions of visiting foreign dignitaries and official government meetings.


UK beefs up quarantine powers

The UK government on Monday set out regulations to allow it to keep individuals in isolation if public health officials consider them at risk of spreading the coronavirus to other members of the public.

Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral and Kents Hill Park in Milton Keynes have been designated “isolation” facilities.

According to the PA news agency, one of those in quarantine at Arrowe Park was “threatening to abscond” from the isolation unit, despite signing a contract agreeing to a 14-day quarantine period after returning from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak was first detected.


Eurozone investor sentiment hit by virus spread

Martin Arnold reports from Frankfurt:

Sentiment among eurozone investors worsened in February for the first time in four months as concerns about the outbreak of coronavirus in China weighed on the economic outlook, according to a survey.

However, the fall in the German-based Sentix survey of investors from 7.6 in January to 5.2 in February was less than expected by most economists surveyed by Reuters.

A positive score indicates a larger proportion of institutional and private investors reported a good economic situation than those who said it was bad.

“The outbreak of the coronavirus and the subsequent drastic measures taken by the Chinese government cast a shadow over the economic outlook,” said Manfred Hübner, the head of Sentix. “Fortunately, so far the effect is limited.”

Economists worry that the disruption caused by the coronavirus will hit not only the Chinese economy, but also global supply chains. Executives at carmakers and motor parts suppliers have already warned that plants in Europe and the US are only weeks away from being forced to close because of the coronavirus disruption.

“Together with recent weak data from the manufacturing sector, the slide in confidence confirms that the eurozone’s economic outlook is set to remain subdued in the short-term, and vulnerable to further fallout from the outbreak,” said Maddalena Martini, eurozone economist at Oxford Economics.

Neil Shearing, chief economist at Capital Economics, cut his forecast for first-quarter Chinese growth from 5 per cent to 3 per cent. “The inherent uncertainty surrounding the spread of the virus makes it virtually impossible to quantify the wider impact on the world economy,” said Mr Shearing.

“But China’s role at the centre of global supply chains increases the likelihood that the disruption spreads to other countries,” he said. “Economies in Emerging Asia look most vulnerable, as do firms operating in both the tech and electronics sectors.”


Two cases emerge in Singapore’s financial district

Stefania Palma in Singapore writes:

Two employees working in Singapore’s financial district have tested positive for the coronavirus. They work at one of the district’s signature towers, the Marina Bay Financial Tower 1, and at Clifford Centre, a building owned by United Industrial Corporation, a Singaporean property developer.

Raffles Quay Asset Management, manager of the Marina Bay Financial Tower, said in a statement that an employee of one of its tenants was diagnosed with the virus on Saturday.

It said:

The affected office space, lifts and ground floor common area have been deep cleaned and disinfected in accordance with [ministry of health] guidelines.

Standard Chartered is the anchor tenant of the 620,000 square feet tower. Baker McKenzie and Wellington Management are also in the building.

The confirmed case at Clifford Centre is a UIC employee who has not been in the premises since January 23, said a UIC spokesperson. His condition was announced on Friday, after which UIC disinfected affected areas, they added.

Both buildings have implemented measures including temperature screening, increased cleaning of common areas and toilets as well as distribution of hand sanitisers.

Singapore has reported 43 confirmed cases and on Friday raised the virus’s risk assessment from yellow to orange.


Shortages prompt Nissan to halt production at Japanese plant

Kana Inagaki reports from Tokyo:

Nissan will temporarily suspend production at a Japanese plant due to a shortage in car components, deepening the turmoil in global supply chains caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Japan’s second largest carmaker said production will be adjusted on Friday and February 17 at its Kyushu plant in southwestern Japan, which produces the Serena van for the domestic market and the Rogue sport utility vehicle for the North American market.

It will be the first time for car production in Japan to be halted due to the widening epidemic, which has killed more than 900 people in China.

Nissan’s move came after Hyundai last week said it would shut all its car factories in South Korea after running out of components from China. Fiat Chrysler has also warned that one of its European plants could be forced to halt production in a matter of weeks for similar reasons.

Earlier in the day, Nissan said it plans to restart production at its Chinese venture with Dongfeng sometime after Feb 17.


China struggles to return to work after shutdown

Ryan McMorrow reports from Beijing:

China officially returned to work today but any hopes its stricken economy would quickly come back to life were disappointed as businesses extended holidays or implemented work-from-home arrangements to contain the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

In Beijing, white-collar workers trickled back into office buildings while authorities in Shanghai encouraged people to continue working from home. In areas that had not extended the February 10 deadline to return to work, many factories and businesses remained closed for lack of manpower.

“Most of our factory’s workers are from Henan Province. They haven’t returned yet,” said one worker at an electronics components factory in Suzhou, near Shanghai, who asked not to be named.

China’s tech titans such as ByteDance, Tencent, Alibaba and Meituan have extended their work from home policies for at least another week. Foxconn, the maker of Apple’s iPhone and China’s largest employer, was not immediately available for comment.

The country’s supreme decision-making body, the state council, is pushing to get the world’s second-largest economy back to work and avoid prolonging the shutdown, which started more than three weeks ago. But many local governments continued to restrict the movement of their workers.

Click here for more on this story


Investors ‘walk a tightrope’ as they bet on global growth continuing

Global markets were stable around lunchtime in Europe, with few sharp moves as investors weighed the economic implications of the virus outbreak.

In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600 was down 0.1 per cent, while on Wall Street futures pointed to a flat open for the S&P 500.

The narrative in global markets that has played out over the past few weeks “is now familiar”, said Neil Shearing, chief economist at Capital Economics, a consultancy.

The global economy experiences a growth shock, risky assets sell off, investors anticipate that central banks will respond by loosening policy, market interest rates and bond yields fall, and this helps to put a floor under risky assets.

Mr Shearing said the narrative that markets are “hooked on cheap money” carries two risks: that interest rates rise unexpectedly, or that bubbles inflate in some parts of the market.

He continued:

Viewed this way, we’re walking a tightrope between interest rates remaining low enough to support current asset valuations and economic growth on the one hand, and markets being able to allocate capital efficiently in a world of continued low rates on the other. The longer it goes on, the more difficult the balancing act will become.


Opinion: Xi Jinping faces China’s Chernobyl moment

Jamil Anderlini writes:

Throughout Chinese history, the reign of an imperial line was believed to follow a pattern known as the dynastic cycle. A strong, unifying leader establishes an empire that would rise, flourish but eventually decline, lose the “mandate of heaven” and be overthrown by the next dynasty.

Similar to Europe’s “divine right of kings”, the mandate of heaven differed in that it did not unconditionally entitle an emperor to rule the Celestial Empire. While on the dragon throne, the “son of heaven” had total power over his subjects. But he did not have to be of noble birth and he could lose his heavenly mandate for being unworthy, unjust or plain incompetent.

Since taking power in 2012, President Xi Jinping has encouraged a revival of some ancient traditions and beliefs. But he has studiously avoided mention of the dynastic cycle and the mandate of heaven, especially as traditional omens have piled up over the past year.

A trade war with China’s biggest trade partner, open rebellion in the former British colony of Hong Kong and pork shortages caused by the devastating spread of African swine fever would all be traditionally regarded as ominous portents that the end of the dynasty is near. But each of these pales in comparison to the unfolding coronavirus pandemic that began late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The fact that China’s authoritarian system is particularly poor at dealing with public health emergencies that require timely, transparent and accurate information makes this far more significant than any other challenge Mr Xi has faced.

If the virus can be contained in the coming weeks, then it is still possible Mr Xi could emerge relatively unscathed after blaming provincial officials for the crisis. Having shut down swaths of the economy to contain the outbreak, he may even be able to argue for greater surveillance and control of Chinese society.

But if the virus cannot be contained quickly, this could turn out to be China’s Chernobyl moment, when the lies and absurdities of autocracy are laid bare for all to see.

Read Jamil’s full column here.


Number of Singapore cases rises to 45

Stefania Palma reports from Singapore:

Singapore has reported two new confirmed cases, taking the total to 45.

They include two Singapore citizens: a two-year-old girl who was evacuated from Wuhan and a 37-year-old man with no recent travel history to China.

The man works at a security services company and had served quarantine orders to two people from Wuhan, who became confirmed cases, before testing positive.

Seven confirmed cases in the country have fully recovered and have been discharged while a further seven are in critical condition. Most of the remaining cases are stable or improving.


Taiwan bans entry to Hong Kong and Macau citizens

Taiwan is barring Hong Kong and Macau citizens from entry as of Tuesday in response to the spread of novel coronavirus infections in southern China, writes Kathrin Hille in Taipei.

Entry to Taiwan for Hong Kong and Macau passport holders would be suspended except for people on business trips agreed earlier, spouses of Taiwan citizens who hold Taiwan resident status, and their underage children, Taiwan’s Epidemic Management Centre said.

Hong Kong has reported 38 cases of the virus so far while Macau has ten. But Guangdong province has reported 1159, according to data released by the Hong Kong health authority.

The Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s cabinet-level body in charge of relations with China, said the decision had been taken because the epidemic was getting more serious in several cities in Guangdong, the province adjacent to Hong Kong and Macau.

It added that because risk of community transmission in the two semi-autonomous Chinese territories could not be excluded, there were doubts over whether Taiwan’s medical resources could cope with the growing number of people whose health would need to be monitored after entry.

Those Hong Kong and Macau citizens who are allowed in have to self-quarantine for 14 days after entry. Taiwan’s restrictions on cross-border travel are among the strictest taken in response to the coronavirus outbreak. It was the first country to stop accepting Chinese visitors, and last week also stopped accepting foreign nationals with a history of recent travel to mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau.


Investors ‘should consider shoring up defences’

How worried should investors be about the outbreak of coronavirus?

Stock markets stuttered in January as investors feared a dent to global economic growth, but have largely recovered those losses. On Wall Street, the S&P 500 hit records last week.

“There’s hope the coronavirus will be contained and that stimulus measures will mitigate the economic damage. But there’s no question the outbreak will take a toll on global growth,” said Robert Carnell, Asia Pacific chief economist at ING.

Luca Paolini, chief strategist at Pictet Asset Management, think that investors “should consider shoring up their near term defences.”

The Swiss wealth manager, which is neutral on equities, has increased its weightings in more defensive assets and turned neutral — from underweight — on bonds.

Tactically, our defensive hedges include gold, Swiss francs – which usually appreciate whenever economic conditions deteriorate, and US Treasuries – additional insurance against the fallout from coronavirus.


Analysts turn to blue sky thinking to gauge virus’s impact

Investors and analysts have been scrambling to quantify the novel coronavirus’s economic impact on Chinese economic growth. Absent concrete data, some have found unusual metrics to use as proxies for economic output.

“How to track the resumption of production in China is probably the most asked question among investors these days as they try to gauge the economic impact from the coronavirus,” Morgan Stanley Asia-Pacific strategist Min Dai said in a note to client on Monday.

Sitting on a high floor in the International Commerce Center does give us the advantage of monitoring air pollution in Hong Kong, which has improved significantly in the past three weeks due to the suspension of traffic and industrial production in the Great Bay Area. This gives us the idea of whether we are able to monitor air pollution in China to gauge the resumption of production.

The analysis found that air pollution is running at between 20 and 50 per cent of its historical average in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chengdu.

This could imply that human activities such as traffic and industrial production within/close to those cities are running 50-80% below their potential capacity.

Morgan Stanley’s team think the numbers for Beijing – which is running at closer to its historical average for air pollution – are less reliable given winter time heating.

Let us know if you see any other left-field ways to monitor the Chinese economy. One other suggestion has been using TomTom data to gauge traffic. Leave a comment or email philip.georgiadis@ft.com


Hong Kong banks roll out debt relief to borrowers

Standard Chartered has joined Hong Kong banks including HSBC in rolling out temporary relief to borrowers, as government officials warned of the impact of the coronavirus on local business and employment, writes Primrose Riordan in Hong Kong.

The move comes after the Hong Kong Monetary Authority called on lenders to “adopt a sympathetic stance” in dealing with customers under financial stress due to the virus. Meanwhile Hong Kong financial secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said he expected a further rise in unemployment in the recession-hit economy due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Standard Chartered said on Monday it would give clients with good credit histories a six-month mortgage principle payment holiday, and offer similar principle payment moratoriums for some commercial loans. Among other measures, the bank said it would waive service charges on online local fund transfers for a few months, “to reduce the need to visit a bank branch”.

On Sunday HSBC said it would provide over HK$30bn in liquidity relief for a number of businesses, including HK$10 million in cash flow support for its trade finance customers. It also announced an extension of principal moratoriums for those with property-secured commercial loans and tax operators.

The Bank of East Asia said it would be allowing some customers to make interest-only payments, and would make other offers on a “case by case” basis.

Hang Seng bank said it would arrange for interest only repayments for some commercial customers.


WHO warns France and UK virus cases could be ‘spark that becomes bigger fire’

The World Health Organization has said instances of onward transmission of the coronavirus from people with no travel history to China is “concerning”, following recent cases in France and the UK. He warned these cases could be the “spark that becomes a bigger fire”.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, said:

In recent days we have seen some concerning instances of onward [coronavirus] transmission from people with no travel history to China, like the cases reported in France yesterday and the UK today.

The detection of this small number of [coronavirus] cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire. But for now, it’s only a spark. Our objective remains containment. We call on all countries to use the window of opportunity we have to prevent a bigger fire.

As of this morning there were 40,235 confirmed coronavirus cases and 909 deaths in China, WHO said. Outside China, there are 319 cases in 24 countries, with one death. 168 countries around the world are now equipped with the right technology to diagnose the coronavirus.


US stocks advance to buck weakness overseas

The S&P 500 is up 0.3 per cent in lunchtime trading in New York, as US traders continued to gauge the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite touched an intraday record high and was recently up 0.6 per cent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.2 per cent.

Wall Street is coming off its best week since June, with equities receiving support from strong corporate earnings and upbeat readings on the US economy.

Brent crude is down 1.8 per cent at $53.47, after earlier hitting its weakest mark since January 2019.


Moncler withholds revenue outlook due to uncertain impact of virus

Luxury winterwear maker Moncler said it had postponed some projects and investments owing to the coronavirus and the uncertain impact it would have on its full-year results.

The Milan-based company, known for its down jackets, said the outbreak of the disease “is having a significant impact on footfall and revenues in all shopping malls in China where Moncler is present and on tourism around the world.”

“At the date of writing this document, it is not possible to forecast the duration of this situation and its impact on full year results,” the company said as it reported its financial year 2019 results on Monday.

Moncler generated about 44 per cent of its €1.63bn revenues for 2019 from Asia and Rest of the World, a geographic grouping that excludes its home market of Italy, Emea countries and the Americas.

Management said it had already taken measures to protect the group and mitigate possible negative effects on the results. “In this regard, actions have been taken to postpone some projects and investments while focusing only on those essentials to continue strengthening the Brand.”

Moncler is not alone among luxury retailers to warn on the impact of the virus. Canada Goose, another maker of expensive puffer jackets, on Friday said fallout from the disease “is having material negative impact” on its performance in its current, fourth quarter, prompting it to cut its earnings and revenue forecasts for the financial year.

Moncler’s net income rose 9 per cent in the fiscal year ended December 31 on a 13 per cent rise in revenues, the company reported on Monday.


British Airways cancels more flights to mainland China

British Airways said it has cancelled all of the carrier’s flights to mainland China until the end of March, after the UK foreign office advised against all but essential travel to the country.

Flights to Beijing and Shanghai have been cancelled until March 31, British Airways said in an updated travel alert on its website. All service out of Beijing and Shanghai have been cancelled until April 1. Hong Kong flights will continue.

“This situation will remain under review and we will continue to provide regular updates,” British Airways said.

British Airways previously announced in January that it would suspend flights to and from mainland China until at least the end of February.


Co-Diagnostics shares jump on sales of coronavirus test

Shares in Co-Diagnostics surged 32 per cent after the molecular diagnostics company announced sales of a screening test designed to identify the presence of the novel coronavirus.

The Utah-based company with a market capitalisation of $85.2m said the devices are immediately available on a research-use-only-basis to thousands of laboratories globally.

The company’s chief executive officer, said: “We are pleased to be able to offer a product to this market that excels in being both sensitive and specific, the two benchmarks for accuracy in molecular diagnostics.”


Coronavirus sparks hectic trading among investors

Investors are helping boost shares of companies that are trying to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak including biotechs working to develop treatments like vaccines as well as telemedicine companies catering to those seeking medical attention from home, the FT’s Jenn Ablan and Hannah Kuchler report.

“There has been an incredible amount of interest in the biotech industry in the wake of the coronavirus,” said Thomas Hayes, chairman of Great Hill Capital, the New York-based hedge fund.

“The market is pouncing on the most likely beneficiaries even though the process of developing a vaccine doesn’t happen overnight.”

Read the full story here.


Half of Burger King’s China restaurants are closed

Burger King has temporarily closed about half of its restaurants in China due to the spread of coronavirus.

A spokesperson for the American burger chain confirmed the move and said the number “is constantly changing as the situation develops.” Burger King has approximately 1,300 locations in China.

“Our immediate focus is the health and wellbeing of our partners and guests, and cooperating with local and government officials working to contain the coronavirus,” Restaurant Brands International chief executive José Cil said on an earnings call with analysts.

Mr Cil added that Burger King China accounted for 2 per cent of the parent company’s overall sales in 2019. “While it’s too early to say how long the impact on our business there will last, we’re monitoring the situation very closely.”

In addition to Burger King, RBI’s portfolio includes Tim Hortons and Popeyes. Tim Hortons has about 30 stores in China, while Popeyes has yet to open its first location there.

The impact of the coronavirus outbreak has been felt across the retail industry. Several major chains including Starbucks and Apple have closed stores in China. Last week, Yum China – the owner of Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell restaurants in the country – said it had closed 30 per cent of its stores and warned the outbreak could wipe out its 2020 operating profits.


Wall Street posts fresh record highs

US stocks advanced to record highs, maintaining momentum after notching their best week since the summer.

The S&P 500 rallied 0.7 per cent to close at a record high. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite also hit a fresh peak, jumping 1.1 per cent. The Dow gained 0.6 per cent.

Traders have been weighing strong US economic data and corporate earnings against concerns about coronavirus, which has killed more than 900 people.

Energy shares were the only laggard in the S&P 500, mirroring weakness in oil prices. Brent crude fell more than 2 per cent to $53.27 a barrel, its weakest mark since December 2018.


Golf club maker Callaway expects virus to weigh on sales in Asia

Golf club maker Callaway issued a weaker outlook for the 2020 financial year after warning that the coronavirus would weigh on its sales in Asia.

The company said it expected net sales to rise between 3 per cent and 5 per cent in 2020 from the $1.7bn it reported for 2019. The higher end of that forecast range barely scrapes past what analysts have pencilled in, according to a Refinitiv survey. Earnings are forecast to come in between 82 cents and 84 cents a share this year, from 82 cents in 2019.

“The coronavirus will impact our business with regard to sales in Asia and on the supply side,” Chip Brewer, chief executive, said in a statement accompanying the company’s full-year earnings.

“The financial guidance we provided today reflects our best estimate of the impact of this outbreak on our business. It is very difficult, however, to provide an estimate with any degree of certainty given the dynamic nature of this crisis.”

After the closing bell on Monday, Callaway reported a 37 per cent rise in revenues for its 2019 financial year, and a 24 per cent drop in earnings to 82 cents a share, owing to $30m of accounting adjustments and costs related to acquisitions.

“While the coronavirus, tariffs and foreign currency rates will provide headwinds in 2020, we are looking forward to another strong year of operational performance with growth in both our golf equipment and soft goods segments,” Mr Brewer said.