Australian PM says no evidence coronavirus originated in China laboratory, urges inquiry

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has angered Beijing by calling for a global inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak, said he had no evidence to suggest the disease originated in a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was confident the coronavirus may have originated in a Chinese virology lab, but declined to describe the evidence he said he had seen.

Morrison said on Friday that Australia had no information to support that theory, and said the confusion supported his push for an inquiry to understand how the outbreak started and then spread rapidly around the world.

“What we have before us doesn’t suggest that that is the likely source,” Morrison told a news conference in Canberra when asked about Trump’s comments.

“There’s nothing we have that would indicate that was the likely source, though you can’t rule anything out in these environments,” he said.

“We know it started in China, we know it started in Wuhan, the most likely scenario that has been canvassed relates to wildlife wet markets, but that’s a matter that would have to be thoroughly assessed.”

The Wuhan Institute of Virology , based in the city where the disease was first identified, has rejected suggestions the coronavirus came from its laboratory.

Most scientists now say the virus originated in wildlife, with bats and pangolins identified as possible host species.

Relations between Australia and China have been strained since the government began canvassing support in mid-April for an international inquiry into the outbreak.

Beijing sees the inquiry call as part of U.S.-led propaganda against China, while Morrison says the world needs to understand exactly what happened to prevent a repeat of an outbreak that has so far killed more than 200,000 people and shut down much of the global economy.

GBP/USD hits 7 week low amid Brexit uncertainty, USD strength

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

GBP/USD has resumed its falls and hit the lowest since mid-December after the EU and the UK laid out different views for post-Brexit relations, raising the odds of no deal. The US dollar is gaining amid upbeat data.

On its way down, pound/dollar fell below the 50, 100, and 200 Simple Moving Averages on the four-hour chart. Moreover, it dropped below the uptrend support line that had accompanied it since mid-January and momentum turned positive.

However, the Relative Strength Index is close to 30 – near oversold conditions. This development implies that an upside correction may be coming soon. A correction could be temporary.

GBP/USD continues battling 1.2955, the low point in January. Further down, 1.29 is a round level and also worked as support in mid-December. It is followed by 1.2875, 1.2820, and 1.2775.

Looking up, resistance awaits at 1.2975, which was a cushion in late January. Next, 1.3010 is a veteran resistance line, and it is followed by 1.3035, which held GBP/US down in late January. 1.3075, 1.3110, and 1.3175 are next.

RBI seen holding rates, retaining dovish stance

By Ritu

Capital Sands

The Reserve Bank of India is likely to keep monetary policy accommodative without cutting interest rates at a policy meeting on Thursday, economists said, as inflation is above target and the economy has shown possible signs of recovery from its worst slowdown in more than a decade.

The central bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) cut rates by 135 basis points over five straight meetings last year, before surprising markets in December by holding the policy repo steady at 5.15% due to growing concerns over inflation.

A Reuters poll of economists, conducted before the federal budget on Feb. 1, showed the central bank is expected to keep the repo rate unchanged until at least October, when it is seen resuming its easing path.

The RBI is now forecast to next cut rates by 25 basis points to 4.90% in the October-December quarter, though some analysts reckon the central bank will keep rates on hold for longer.

Data released after the MPC’s December meeting fuelled even more concern as annual retail inflation surged to 7.35% in December, mainly driven by food prices, its highest level in more than five years.

The RBI is mandated to keep the headline inflation rate within the broad range of 2%-6% while it targets medium term inflation at 4% levels.

For all the gloom over India’s economy, a private survey released on Monday showed manufacturing activity expanded at its quickest pace in nearly eight years in January with robust growth in new orders and output.

The government’s budget gave only limited support to a recovery in economic growth, with proposals got only moderate spending increases and small cuts in personal taxes.

World’s richest 2000 people hold more than poorest 4.6 billion combined: Oxfam

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

The world’s richest 2,153 people controlled more money than the poorest 4.6 billion combined in 2019, while unpaid or underpaid work by women and girls adds three times more to the global economy each year than the technology industry, Oxfam said on Monday.

The Nairobi-headquartered charity said in a report released ahead of the annual World Economic Forum of political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland, that women around the world work 12.5 billion hours combined each day without pay or recognition.

In its “Time to Care” report, Oxfam said it estimated that unpaid care work by women added at least $10.8 trillion a year in value to the world economy – three times more than the tech industry.

It is important for us to underscore that the hidden engine of the economy that we see is really the unpaid care work of women. And that needs to change,” Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India, told in an interview.

To highlight the level of inequality in the global economy, Behar cited the case of a woman called Buchu Devi in India who spends 16 to 17 hours a day doing work like fetching water after trekking 3km, cooking, preparing her children for school and working in a poorly paid job.

“And on the one hand you see the billionaires who are all assembling at Davos with their personal planes, personal jets, super rich lifestyles,” he said.

Behar said that to remedy this, governments should make sure above all that the rich pay their taxes, which should then be used to pay for amenities such as clean water, healthcare and better quality schools.

Sensex gained 1,000 points in 36 sessions to scale Mt 42K; over 300 stocks up 10-100%

By Ritu

Capital Sands

The Sensex crossed 42,000 for the first time as it touched 42,059 in the morning trade on January 16. It took 36 sessions for the index to make the journey from 41,000 (first hit on November 26) to 42,000, but the big movers were the small & midcap stocks.

The Sensex added 1,000 points, rising 2.4 percent, but the BSE Midcap index rose 4.8 percent and the BSE Small-cap index rallied by more than 8 percent in the same period.

The rally can be attributed to positive global cues, reforms initiated by the government to combat falling growth and expectations of reforms from the Budget that will be presented on February 1.

Small & midcaps seem to be getting the maximum attention as most of the stocks in the broader market space have been giving double-digit returns from November 26, 2019.

The global investment bank Morgan Stanley said in a report the trend could well favour quality midcaps in 2020.

Morgan Stanley said it was backing three themes for 2020:

a) domestic cyclical outperform defensives,

b) value and growth stocks beat quality stocks,

c) mid-caps lead the largecaps.

Investor wealth soared by over Rs 6 lakh crore in a buoyant equity market. The market capitalisation of BSE-listed firms soared from Rs 153.70 lakh crore on November 26 to Rs 159.74 lakh crore on January 15, 2020.

Trump ratings highest ever over economics despite impeachment proceedings

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

 

Strong economic figures have helped US President Donald Trump to his highest approval ratings ever, despite impeachment, a new poll found Monday.

Although the Quinnipiac University survey said Trump has a high of 43 per cent for his job approval, that is still far below nearly all previous presidents in modern times at the same point in their administration.

According to the poll, carried out December 11-15, 52 per cent of Americans still disapprove of Trump’s job performance.

The House of Representatives could vote to impeach for abuse of office and obstruction of Congress as early as this Wednesday.

A Quinnipiac poll earlier in December had 41 per cent approval and 55 per cent disapproval, while an October poll, done before impeachment hearings began, put those figures at 38 and 58 per cent.

Much of the support for Trump appears to be linked to positive feelings about the economy, which is in a period of strong growth, with record low unemployment.

“That view of a strong economy seems to be helping President Trump match his highest job approval rating since being elected, despite facing becoming the third president in US history to be impeached,” said Quinnipiac polling analyst Mary Snow.

The poll found little changed figures on impeachment, with 45 per cent backing Trump’s impeachment and removal from office and 51 per cent opposing. Support for impeachment and removal back in October was at 45-48 per cent.

Pound Gains on Brexit Optimism as Focus Shifts to Trade Talks

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

 

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The pound rallied for a second day amid optimism a speedy resolution to the Brexit deadlock is in store after the Conservative Party’s election victory.

Sterling advanced against all its major peers after Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak said the government plans to put its Brexit legislation before Parliament ahead of Christmas to ensure the country will leave the European Union as planned at the end of January.

“With the Tories’ decisive victory, U.K. markets should quickly shift focus to the coming trade negotiations and spending priorities,” Audrey Childe-Freeman and Tim Craighead, strategists at Bloomberg Intelligence, wrote in a research note. “Sterling has room to keep running.”

The pound climbed 0.6% to $1.3415 as of 7:11 a.m. in London after surging as much as 2.7% on Friday to $1.3514, the strongest since May 2018. Sterling advanced 0.5% to 83.05 pence per euro.

The U.K. currency is being pushed higher by hedge funds, according to an Asia-based currency trader, who asked not be named because the person is not authorized to speak publicly. Most clients are confident U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will successfully execute Brexit with the EU and reach a free-trade agreement with the U.S., the trader said.

A Citigroup Inc. index indicated currency funds have almost completely unwound their bearish bets on sterling.

Asian Markets Mixed as Lighthizer Says No Date is Set for Phase Two Talks

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

Asian markets were mixed on Monday morning in Asia as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizersaid the phase one Sino-U.S. trade deal is “totally done,” but no date is set for the next phase two talks.

China’s Shanghai Composite slipped 0.1% by 11:35 PM ET, while the Shenzhen Component gained 0.6%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped 0.3%.

The phase one deal was agreed on Friday and the two nations are expected to official sign the partial accord in the first week of January,

On the data front, China’s industrial output rose 6.2% in November from a year earlier, versus a median estimate of 5.0%. Retail sales expanded 8.0% during the month, compared to a projected 7.6% increase. Fixed-asset investment was unchanged at 5.2% in the first eleven months, the same as forecast.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 traded 0.1% lower. The Jibun Bank Flash Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) edged down to a seasonally adjusted 48.8 in December from a final 48.9 in the previous month.

The index stayed below the 50.0 threshold that separates contraction from expansion for an eighth month.

South Korea’s KOSPI was little changed.

Down under, Australia’s ASX 200 surged 1.7% even after the country lowered its forecasts for wage increases, economic growth and budget surplus.

Brexit relief for UK economy might not last long

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

 

Britain’s economy will cast off some of the Brexit uncertainty that has held it back since 2016 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s election triumph, but the risk remains of another “cliff-edge” showdown with Brussels in a year’s time.

With Britain’s exit from the European Union on Jan. 31 now a foregone conclusion, the question for investors is whether Johnson will stick to his campaign promise not to delay the end-of-2020 deadline for a new EU trade deal.

That deadline is widely seen as tough to meet, given the scale of issues to be resolved.

In the short term, the biggest election victory for Johnson’s Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 triumph removes a major brake on growth: the deadlock in parliament over how, or even whether, to proceed with Brexit.

Johnson said in a victory speech on Friday that Britain would leave the EU on Jan. 31 “no ifs, no buts, no maybes.”

His election win also banishes the prospect of a sharp shift to the left under the Labour Party which promised nationalizations, more power for trade unions and a much bigger role for the state, which had worried many business leaders.

“But more importantly, it could give the prime minister the political breathing room to ask for an extension to the transition period.”

Investors pared back their bets on the Bank of England cutting interest rates as the uncertainty about the way ahead for Britain’s economy lifted, at least in the short term.

The world’s fifth-biggest economy has slowed since voters decided to take Britain out of the EU nearly 3-1/2 years ago.

Leaving the bloc, which accounts for nearly half the country’s exports, is seen as a drag on its economic growth over the long term.

But the new sense of clarity about Brexit, at least in the short term, is likely to lead to a pick-up in the pace of growth in the coming quarters, economists said.

British government bond prices fell sharply as trading in London’s gilt markets opened, helped not only by the conclusive election result but also by signs of an end to the U.S-China trade deal that has weighed on the global economy.

But economists turned their attention quickly to what the election result meant for Johnson’s longer-term Brexit plans.

He promised during the election campaign not to extend a Brexit transition period beyond Dec. 31 2020.

That raises the prospect of tariffs and other barriers coming into force for Britain’s trade in goods and services with the EU in just over a year’s time.

Economists at RBC Capital Markets said the new government would probably try to keep a no-deal Brexit on the table for as long as possible to maintain leverage with the EU in the trade talks.

“However, with such a comfortable winning margin Johnson is not reliant on any faction of his party, in particular the hard-Brexiteers who might have tried to steer him toward a hard Brexit at the end of the transition period,” they said.

“Some form of extension now looks more likely even if some effort will be made to give the impression that is not the transition period that the Conservative Party promised not to extend in its manifesto.”

But economists at Citi said they thought Johnson would not try to delay the transition phase because he won support from voters who backed the Conservatives for the first time because of the party’s tough stance on Brexit.

“In this scenario, when the UK exits the EU Single Market and Customs Union on 31 December 2020, we expect a mild recession to follow in 2021 as divestment among exporting sectors accelerates,” they said.

Sterling sparkles after election poll, Yuan up on trade deal reports

By Ritu

Capital Sands

The pound rose to a three-and-a-half year high versus the euro and the highest in more than a year versus the dollar after exit polls suggested a win for the Conservatives, which should help ensure the UK’s smooth exit from the European Union.

The Chinese yuan rose in offshore trade and the Japanese yen fell after a source told Reuters that the United States and China have agreed some tariff reductions and a delay on tariffs set to go effect on Dec. 15.

The early results suggest the election will relieve almost four years of uncertainty about when Brexit would take place, which should be supportive of the pound.

A successful scaling back of trade tension would relieve one major headwind to economic growth, which suggests lower demand for the safe-haven yen. Avoiding new tariffs should also be a boost to China’s slowing economy, which should draw more investors to the yuan.

Against the euro, sterling  rose around 2% to as high as 82.80 pence, the highest since July 2016, which is shortly after the Brexit referendum that hammered the currency.

The pound surged by 2.2% to $1.3474, reaching the highest since May 2018.

The pound plunged more than 10% in the immediate aftermath of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in June 2016, while $2 trillion was wiped off world markets.

The exit poll, which suggested UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson would get a majority of 86 – the largest of any Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher won in the 1980s – should empower him to deliver Brexit on Jan. 31.

Official results will be declared over the next seven hours.

In the offshore market, the Chinese yuan rose 0.33% to 6.9273 per dollar, after surging on Thursday to the highest since Aug. 1 due to relief about a resolution to trade friction.

The yuan rallied and the yen fell late on Thursday after Bloomberg News reported that U.S. President Donald Trump signed off on a trade deal with China that will delay a new round of tariffs scheduled for Dec. 15.

The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies fell 0.35% to 96.736, approaching the lowest since July this year.