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Thursday 31st October 2019

 

Friday 27th March 2020  
Start Your Day With A Medley Of Financial News From Sources Around The World Courtesy First Citizens Investment Services
Caribbean Editorial / Commentary
International Weird News

Financial Indicators At A Glance

  TTD/US$ (First Citizens) Yen/US$ US$/EUR Crude Oil WTI(US$/bbl) Natural Gas Henry Hub (US$/ mmbtu) US 10 Yr Treasury Yield (%) US 90 Day T-Bill Yield (%) 3 month Libor (%) London FTSE 100 US S&P 500 Japan Nikkei TTSE Composite
26-Mar-20 6.7993 109.84 1.09 23.54 1.64 0.78 -0.041 - 5,573.10 2,630.07 18,664.60 1,361.21
25-Mar-20 6.7993 111.21 1.08 24.49 1.65 0.86 -0.043 - 5,688.20 2,475.56 19,546.60 1,363.75

First Citizens Bank Ltd.

Symbol Open Price ($) High ($) Low ($) O/S Bid ($) O/S Bid Vol. O/S Offer ($) O/S Offer Vol. Last Sale Price ($) Last Sale Date Volume Traded Close Price ($) Change ($)
FIRST 39.50 39.25 39.00 38.50 1,100 39.00 18,342 39.00 26-Mar-20 15,659 39.01 -0.49
 

We won't tolerate foolishness

Trinidad & Tobago Express - 27 March 2020

YOU are ordered to stay at home.

From Sunday midnight until April 15, unless you are deemed to be involved in 'essential operations' of the country, you are to 'separate, isolate and quarantine (SIQ)'.

'The (COVID-19) virus demands that we do more.... We are at the stage now where joke is joke, but this ain't no joke,' Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said yesterday as he announced stringent new measures in the context of the critical need to contain the spread of the dangerous coronavirus.

The Prime Minister said while the list of non-essential activities would be specified today, some examples of some of the essential activities included workers in the health sector (both public and private), the social support sector and its related institutions, public utilities (T& TEC, WASA, TSTT), health delivery and supply sector, airport, seaports, Customs and Immigration. He said the food and market sector is also included as is the banking sector.

'There is a huge chunk of the country that still has to function as a response to the virus,' he said. In response to a question, he added media workers. Others are to be at home, except those going to do business with these essential sectors.

For those who violate this 'stayat- home order', the Prime Minister had a stern warning.

'You see the liming and the congregating, the police will enforce the law. You see the lack of common sense or the 'doh-give-ah-damn' (attitude), the police will enforce the law, with the full support of the Defence Force.

Expect that!' he said.

Saying his Government was not prepared to tolerate 'foolishness' and 'irresponsibility', the Prime Minister added: 'If you have no other business out there other than congregating, liming or just trying to give trouble, we will respond,' He appealed to citizens 'not to be a problem by causing the police to have to act against you'.

No to state of emergency

The Prime Minister was adamant that Government had not declared a state of emergency nor was it a lockdown (as called for by the Opposition Leader).

'So this locking down of the country-which is a fashion statement- might be a fashion statement for some who want to get in on the act, but for the Government, we are not dealing with a fashion statement, we are dealing with well-thought-out, well-organised responses, understanding that some people are required to be out and some are required to be in,' he said.

'Those that are required to be out would be deemed the essentials. Because we still have to produce,' he said.

'It is an upgrade of the stay at home,' which previously recommended if you were sick, stay away. 'We have gone further now,' he said. He said the first order was for the sick, the second order is 'SIQseparate, isolate and quarantine'.

'Come out only for essential activity,' he reiterated.

The Prime Minister said his Government was sufficiently convinced the country was at the stage which required further enforcement to keep ahead of the curve. Saying the 'muscle of the law' would be used, he added the Attorney General and National Security Minister would elaborate on what laws would be enforced.

He added the Commissioner of Police and the Police Service were standing by to enforce the quarantine law and all other laws. The penalties under the Quarantine Act include a $6,000 fine and six months imprisonment.

He said there would be costs and consequences to the actions which Government had taken. He said too that Government did not know how long the pandemic would last and was doing the best it can with what it knew.

As he called on the population to be responsible, the Prime Minister said if the country exercised the same discipline in this matter as it does with the steelbands at Panaroma, it would succeed.

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$157m more to deal with COVID-19

Trinidad & Tobago Express - 27 March 2020

FOUR regional health authorities (RHAs) in Trinidad will receive an additional $157 million to deal with COVID-19.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said yesterday the allocation will take place over the next three to six months to increase capacity at the four RHAs.

The Tobago Regional Health Authority will be dealt with separately.

The money will be used for consumables, human resources, infrastructure .

and equipment like ventilators. Speaking at the post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann's, Deyalsingh said the money allocated to the Eastern Regional Health Authority will include expenditure incurred to quarantine returning cruisers at Camp Balandra.

This is costing $85,000 a month.

Camp Balandra is owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Deyalsingh said the RHAs have been spending money from their budgetary allocations to treat with the coronavirus so these funds will replace what has been spent and provide finances to ramp up their responses.

Deyalsingh said he instructed the Urban Development Corporation (UDeCOTT) to reprogramme works for the Arima and Point Fortin hospitals to be used for COVID-19 care if necessary.

He noted that the lion's share of the money will go to the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) which is in charge of the Caura and Couva hospitals. 'This folks is going to be a marathon. So this initial injection is not the final sum, however things like infrastructure and equipment will be a one-time cost,' he told reporters. Deyalsingh said the variable cost that will change over time will involve consumables. 'I have been given the order by the Cabinet if and when we need more funding, especially for the variable expenses like consumables, I will come back in but this is going to be a marathon, this is going to cover for the first few miles of that marathon and we will come back to the Cabinet if and when circumstances dictate that we need an increase in something,' he said.

Deyalsingh also announced that he placed a purchase order for an additional 15,000 COVID-19 test kits from China.

He reminded that the Chinese government had donated 4,000 COVID- 19 test kits and 15 thermal scanners. These will be deployed at ports in the country.

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Central Bank relaxes 'bad loan' treatment for 90 days

Trinidad & Tobago Express - 27 March 2020

THE Central Bank is relaxing its regulatory treatment of restructured loans due to 'skipped payments' or rate reductions offered by local financial institutions, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most local commercial banks and nonbank financial institutions have offered their customers the possibility of skipping payments for three months in the first instance and up to six months.

Those offers followed last week's decision by the Central Bank to reduce the repo rate by 1.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent and the reserve requirement to 14 per cent from 17 per cent.

In a circular letter to all commercial banks and financial institutions issued on Wednesday, the Inspector of Financial Institutions, Patrick Solomon, noted that such proposed payment deferrals would normally result in credit facilities becoming past due in the context of the Central Bank's guidelines.

However, Solomon said: 'The Central Bank considers the current circumstances to be extenuating and notes that the proposed measures will provide flexibility to customers of financial institutions affected by the COVID- 19 pandemic and assist also in maintaining financial institutions' soundness.'

As a result of the extenuating circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Central Bank said it is prepared to relax its regulatory treatment of past-due credit facilities for three months starting on March 31, subject to the following: '1) Treatment-payment deferrals or rate reductions shall apply only to those performing loans and loans past due up to 89 days as at March 1, 2020. Non-perfonning loans, that is, loans in the 90 days and over category and classified as sub-standard, doubtful or loss as at March 1, 2020 will not qualify for this treatment; 2) Reporting-Credit facilities which have been afforded 'skipped payments' or rate reductions, should NOT be reported as 'Restructuring or Rescheduled' on the CB20 report or as 'Past Due' subject to the some conditions.'

The new arrangement envisages a new special report by the Central Bank on the skipped payments. It also requires financial institutions to provide borrowers with accurate disclosures when offering 'skipped payments' and/or rate reductions, which will alleviate any misunderstandings relative to the changes in the terms and conditions of the loan contract.

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Stock Market report for 26th Mar, 2020

Trinidad & Tobago Stock Exchange - 27 March 2020

Overall Market activity resulted from trading in 14 securities of which 4 advanced, 6 declined and 4 traded firm.

Trading activity on the First Tier Market registered a volume of 131,162 shares crossing the floor of the Exchange valued at $4,790,722.48. TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO NGL LIMITED was the volume leader with 42,085 shares changing hands for a value of $775,131.89, followed by GUARDIAN HOLDINGS LIMITED with a volume of 36,153 shares being traded for $647,488.70. REPUBLIC FINANCIAL HOLDINGS LIMITED contributed 17,778 shares with a value of $2,515,942.56, while FIRST CITIZENS BANK LIMITED added 15,659 shares valued at $610,853.50.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO NGL LIMITED registered the day's largest gain, increasing $1.38 to end the day at $18.42. Conversely, THE WEST INDIAN TOBACCO COMPANY LIMITED registered the day's largest decline, falling $0.95 to close at $33.80.

CLICO INVESTMENT FUND was the only active security on the Mutual Fund Market, posting a volume of 69,301 shares valued at $1,490,329.56. CLICO INVESTMENT FUND declined by $0.13 to end at $21.51. CALYPSO MACRO INDEX FUND remained at $14.00. EPPLEY CARIBBEAN PROPERTY FUND LIMITED SCC - DEVELOPMENT FUND remained at $0.67. EPPLEY CARIBBEAN PROPERTY FUND LIMITED SCC - VALUE FUND remained at $1.70. PRAETORIAN PROPERTY MUTUAL FUND remained at $3.05.

The Second Tier Market did not witness any activity. MORA VEN HOLDINGS LIMITED (SUSPENDED) remained at $12.00.

The SME Market did not witness any activity. CINEMAONE LIMITED remained at $5.97. ENDEAVOUR HOLDINGS LIMITED remained at $12.60.

The USD Equity Market did not witness any activity. MPC CARRIBEAN CLEAN ENERGY LIMITED remained at $1.08.

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Revised CXC examinations strategy explained

Barbados Advocate - 27 March 2020 

Recognising the impact of COVID-19 on the education system in general, more specifically on the schedule of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) regional examinations, the council has proposed a revised examinations strategy starting with all components of the exams being moved back by one month.

Speaking at the press briefing held at the Caribbean Examinations Council Headquarters yesterday was Dr. Wayne Wesley, Registrar and CEO of CXC. Wesley announced that the exams, deadlines for submissions of School-Based Assessments (SBAs) and deadlines for the submissions of additional components, would all be pushed back by one month to July 2020. The original dates for exams were set for May 4th to June 12th, but Wesley explained that the council revised the overall strategy to yield valid grades and minimise the disruption to the education system during the unprecedented situation of COVID-19.

“We do understand and appreciate what is happening in the region and we are flexible enough to respond and entertain the requisite dialogue with our local registrars to ensure that our students, which are the primary concern to us here, are not disenfranchised and are afforded the best opportunity to demonstrate their potential," said Wesley.

The modified examination process will be the administration of at least one common paper (Multiple Choice Assessment), SBAs and Paper 032s (alternative to SBA) for private candidates and will award final grades based on the moderated SBAs and Multiple Choice Papers. There are exceptions to the modifications as candidates for Modern Languages (French, Spanish and Portuguese) will have to complete an oral component and profile assessments. Also those sitting Human and Social Biology will have a Paper 2 component as that subject is without an SBA option and for Visual Arts, the submitting of journals is required. The territories are at various stages of SBA completion and Wesley outlined that the council is working towards the best dates for the submissions of the SBAs, taking all affected into consideration. Also for those situations where, because of COVID-19 students could not reach the laboratories to complete the SBAs, a solution would be found.

The strategy will employ the e-Testing modality in order to reduce the examinations administration processing time, which will give the shortest turn-around time for marking and release of examination results. Nicole Manning, CXC Director of Operations highlighted the fact that electronic marking was not new. “Marking is usually done electronically, there are very few subjects that are not. It is not something that we have to put in place,” stated Manning.

For those countries who may not have the best internet access, besides online modality, the council is working with the island registrars to facilitate offline processes. Through this, the disruption to the 2020/2021 academic year should be minimal especially as it relates to student applications to various universities in the region or internationally.

The seriousness of the COVID-19 situation facing the region has also pushed the council to prepare for any case including if the pandemic worsens. This has caused the CXC to gather protocols which would help prepare the students for the occasion where exams could not be held in the same building due to social distancing or further country shut downs. Diane Medford, Senior Manager for Examinations, CXC, emphasised the fact that the council was working with the local registrars.

"We are working with the local registrars and they would have been guided by their ministries of education and of course by the national protocols. So our response time is better in terms of what is happening on the ground, to make the requisite decisions and coming back to the media where that is concerned. Be rest assured we are working very closely with all our territories."

The affected candidate population registered for CAPE this year as stated by Medford was 30,016 while for CSEC was 120,380 students. Wesley noted that the council had also considered the situation where conditions had deteriorated so badly that exams could be cancelled for 2020 but stated that it was a last resort.

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Coronavirus attacks tourist industry

Barbados Today - 26 March 2020

Several of Barbados’ best known tourists attractions have closed their doors temporarily, as the pandemic COVID-19 causes a drastic fall off in business leaving the industry almost stagnant.

Harrison’s Cave, the Atlantis Submarine and the relatively new Nicholas Abbey Heritage Railroad have fallen victim to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, closing their doors for the coming weeks.

Atlantis Submarines Barbados indicated that effective Saturday, March 20 it was closing for the first time in 33 years. “Our focus will be on keeping the submarine business ‘afloat’ rather than ‘sinking’ to ensure we rise again,” Atlantis said.

“We at Atlantis Submarines Barbados though impacted, are optimistic in our view of the future as we will pull together as a family to help each other through it. We encourage you to do the same in your communities across Barbados and the world,” the company said.

St Nicholas Abbey said: “Due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic we have made a decision to close St Nicholas Abbey and the St Nicholas Abbey Heritage Railway until further notice”.

The board of directors and management of Caves of Barbados Limited said they have taken the decision to close the hugely popular Harrison’s Cave to the public from Monday March 23 until April 30.

“All existing bookings for the period, signature tram tour, walk-in tour, eco-adventure tour and Jack-in-the-box Gully hike, will be cancelled until further notice,” it added.

Calling on the public to adhere to protocols announced by authorities, Caves of Barbados Limited said it would continue to assess developments and noted that all subsequent updates will be made via their social media channels.

The increasingly popular Animal Flower Cave in St Lucy said on Saturday “It is with a heavy heart that we must announce that in light of the recent upgrade to stage 2 of this disease in Barbados we have no option but to close our business with immediate effect.”

With only a small fraction of flights now coming to the destination and the cruise industry at a standstill, and with the island recording 18 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday and Barbadians staying indoors, the closure of these attractions has left hundreds out of work.

A few places of interest however, are keeping their doors open. These include the tranquil Andromeda Botanic Gardens in St Joseph.

Manager Anna-Lisa Alleyne told Barbados TODAY that prior to the coronavirus outbreak the location was not overwhelmed with visitors, and she expected things to stay the same.

“We don’t really get a big fraction of people throughout the day. So basically, we stay open. Even if coronavirus was not here it would stay the same, not a big crowd coming. And this is air conditioned free. It is a big open area so that is part of the reason why we stay open,” said Alleyne.

She said should the St Joseph attraction start to get an influx of visitors the plan would be to limit the number of people to a maximum of up to 25 at a time while ensuring good hygiene practices.

She said while there was no immediate plan to close, officials were monitoring the development and that step would be taken if necessary.

Also still open is the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. Officials there indicated that galleries are limited to 20 persons at a time and all guests must comply with the museum’s sanitation regulations by using the provided units to sanitize their hands.

“We have also increased our cleaning procedures to the galleries and surrounding areas,” it added in its notice.

Meanwhile, the Barbados National Trust, in a notice under the signature of Executive Director Miguel Pena, said effective Monday, March 23, 2020 for a period of one month, it would close the Arlington House in Speightstown, St Peter, Morgan Lewis Windmill in St Andrew, the Gun Hill Signal Station in St George and Tyrol Cot in St Michael.

“This decision has been taken in an effort to prevent any possible spread of the COVID-19 virus that is impacting Barbados,” it said.

Senator Rudy Grant, Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA), said earlier this week in the Senate that he was very concerned for all workers across the tourism industry.

“The truth is that the hotels, the restaurants, the attractions, none of them can properly achieve any commercial benefits unless good service is provided by the workers,” he said, as he lauded government for the assistance to be provided for those affected by layoffs.

Government has announced a $20 million survival plan to help those directly impacted by layoffs and job loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, Grant said the BHTA was putting various measures in place to assist in the form of training.

“We are seeking to ask of our members who can assist a little bit more to do that,” he added.

He said early discussions were held with the Barbados Workers’ Union to communicate with them what we are thinking. “They are always kept up-to-date as the workers’ representatives.”

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BOJ announces eight-point pre-emptive COVID-19 monetary strategy

Jamaica Observer - 27 March 2020

THE Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) has announced an eight-point pre-emptive monetary strategy to assure financial institutions and the public that there will be adequate access to both Jamaican dollar and foreign currency liquidity in wake of the escalating COVID-19 pandemic.

BOJ Governor Richard Byles, who announced the measures in a virtual press briefing with journalists yesterday, disclosed that three relate to the foreign currency (FX) market and five have to do with Jamaica dollar liquidity.

While announcing the measures, Byles also disclosed that the BOJ estimates a contraction in the Jamaican economy in the order of three per cent next year and inflation being on the lower end of the 4.0 per cent to 6.0 per cent range over the fiscal year.

He pointed out that the eight-point measures have already seen some $57 billion in liquidity being pumped into the money market.

EIGHT-POINT MONETARY STRATEGY

Byles disclosed that the first measure with respect to the FX market will see the BOJ placing a halt on investment transactions that require the purchase of foreign exchange, whilst continuing to support the foreign exchange needs of businesses in the real sector through direct sales to authorised dealers and cambios, as needed.

The second measure, which took effect on March 19, has resulted in the BOJ temporarily increasing the limit on the foreign currency net open positions (FXNOP) of authorised dealers by five percentage points. This “effectively raises the limit on the positions of these institutions (either long or short) to 25 per cent of regulatory capital and allows authorised dealers to provide more foreign currency to their clients”.

INCREASED VOLUME ON FX SWOP ARRANGEMENTS

According to the BOJ governor, “We stand ready to expand the volume of foreign currency swop arrangements with authorised dealers, thereby providing them with more FX liquidity,” which forms the third measures in the FX market. As at March 24, 2020, the stock of outstanding swop contracts totalled US$86 million.

In relation to Jamaican dollar liquidity measures, the BOJ will facilitate expanded access through the following channels:

1. The bank has commenced a bond-buying programme where it will purchase Government of Jamaica (GOJ) securities on the secondary market from financial institutions which hold these instruments. The bank is also prepared to early redeem BOJ securities. At March 25, the nominal value of GOJ instruments purchased by BOJ and the early encashment of BOJ instruments amounted to $26.3 billion.

2. With effect from March 18, the bank removed the limit on the amounts that deposit-taking institutions (DTIs) can borrow overnight without being charged a penal rate. Liquidity support to DTIs will therefore be made available on demand at the prevailing rate of 2.5 per cent, limited only by collateral.

3. Effective yesterday, March 26, 2020, the BOJ reintroduced a longer-term lending facility, whereby Jamaican dollar liquidity will be made available to DTIs for periods of up to six months. This enhances the ability of these institutions to secure their liquidity needs over a longer horizon.

4. The bank will reactivate an intermediation facility where BOJ will use its balance sheet to facilitate transactions between holders of liquid balances and others who require liquidity if needed. This facility should support a more even distribution of liquidity in the financial system in a context where institutions, which could not access interbank loans because of the limits placed on them by lenders, can now do so indirectly with the central bank standing in the middle of the transaction.

EMERGENCY LIQUIDITY FACILITY REACTIVATED

The BOJ governor also disclosed that the central bank has taken steps to reactivate the Emergency Liquidity Facility that was established in 2015 upon application by any financial institution. As at March 25, the total value of liquidity assistance provided by the BOJ to the market via its short-term lending facilities and its asset purchase programme amounted to $57 billion.

Governor Byles declared, “We believe that these measures will help to facilitate the smooth functioning of the credit market, support inflation remaining within the inflation target of 4.0 per cent to 6.0 per cent over the ensuing eight quarters and will augment the fiscal measures already put in place by the Government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He said the BOJ will continue to closely monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and stands ready to deploy additional measures, including a reduction of the policy rate and the cash reserves requirement, to ensure the continued smooth flow of liquidity to all participants in the Jamaican financial system and to maintain orderly conditions within the foreign exchange market.

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COVID-19 break for Jamaicans facing deportation from the UK

Jamaica Observer - 27 March 2020

THE British Government has put a hold on the deportation of Jamaicans who have run afoul of the law in that country, as COVID-19 spreads across the United Kingdom (UK).

On February 11, almost 20 Jamaicans, with a combined sentence of 75 years and one life sentence, were deported from the UK to Jamaica on a charter flight.

More than 30 other Jamaicans were being held in detention centres awaiting deportation as they appealed the decision to send them home.

But yesterday, British High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad hinted that there will be no deportations in this time of crisis.

“For now, there will be no charter flights coming to Jamaica. Anyone who needs to regularise their immigration status should contact the [British] Home Office,” said Ahmad.

He also urged Jamaicans in the UK, who may require an extension of stay, to contact the Home Office.

Ahmad was commenting on a statement by the British Home Office that individuals in the UK on visas would be able to extend their visas because of the novel coronavirus.

The Home Office said this will last until May 31, but will be kept under regular review in case further extensions are needed.

The extension, announced on Tuesday by Home Secretary Priti Patel, will apply to anyone whose visa expired after January 24, and who cannot leave the country because of travel restrictions or self-isolation.

Patel stressed that the UK continues to put the health and well-being of people first, and that nobody will be penalised for circumstances outside of their control.

“By extending people's visas, we are giving people peace of mind and also ensuring that those in vital services can continue their work,” said Patel.

A dedicated COVID-19 immigration team has been set up within UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to make the process as straightforward as possible.

The Home Office said anyone who is in the UK and their visa has expired, just needs to contact UKVI, through the e-mail address CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk, to let them know their problem and they will be issued with an extension.

To help those who want to apply for visas to stay in the UK long term, the Home Office is also temporarily expanding the in-country switching provisions.

This will mean people can apply to switch routes, such as from Tier 4 (student) to Tier 2 (general worker), while remaining in the UK.

UKVI will also continue to process applications as quickly as possible. However, some applications may take longer than usual due to COVID-19-related operational pressures.

According to Ahmad, the decision is welcome in a time of global uncertainty.

At midday yesterday, the number of people who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK stood at 11,658 based on figures released by the British Department of Health.

A total of 104,866 people were tested with 93,208 negative results as of 9:00 am British time.

Just over 46 people have died from the virus in the UK, with London making up a third of the total.

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In Cayman computers have become the new toilet paper

Loop Cayman - 26 March 2020

With the overwhelming demand for toilet paper being heavily documented across the local media, there has been one glaringly overlooked “essential” commodity. With workers in Cayman have been forced to work, play and school from home— computers have become the new toilet paper.

The coronavirus pandemic has spurred purchases of computer monitors, keyboards and webcams at unprecedented levels as overwhelming numbers have been forced to convert their domestic space into home offices, schools and primary social communities.

With the most recent lockdown, most employees are working from home, and all schools have transitioned to online learning. This has caused a rush on home office equipment, faster computers and the requisite office supplies.

“As a small, local business, business continuity is vital to our survival. When I recognized that Cayman was not immune to the effects of this global pandemic (Covid-19), I reached out to our local office supplier, Office Supply, and organized laptops for all staff immediately,” explained Cynthia Hew, owner of Bon Vivant at Camana Bay.

When Loop contacted Office Supply Ltd, one of Cayman’s major suppliers of computers and home office equipment, General Manager Glen Merren confirmed that they had almost completely sold out of their computer stock.

“There are a lot of people working from home and there are returning students. Demand for home furniture, monitors, laptops and supplies is high,” Merren added.

According to Market Researcher, search term “Computer monitor” has risen 410 spots and “webcam” is up 1,297 places on the most widely used search terms list. Docking stations have become best-sellers in Amazon’s electronics categories.

“I knew that if there was going to be a mandatory shut-down of non-essential businesses, I would still need to be a resource for my staff, clients and our community,“ said Hew, of the importance of staying connected.

Many homes have also been simultaneously converted into home schools and home offices, with family members sharing workspace and with additional demands being placed on home wifi. This has also made it more difficult for multiple family members to share computers.

"As a mom and business owner, computers and connectivity have been integral in maintaining my children’s homeschooling and my communication with clients," said Dr DaSilva of Tropical Optical. "Each of us has our own computer and wifi has been more central to our daily lives than ever before."

Connectivity and online productivity tools such as Zoom, Skype and Google Docs have been invaluable.

“A simple tool has kept us all together, connected,” said Hew. “While we are closed, I still have regular staff meetings with my team, client meetings via Zoom and our entire team is able to securely log in to our server remotely. In a time of such uncertainty, something as small as a laptop brings some assurance that we can remain connected and play an active part in our community.”

Arthur Bogle, Chief Executive Officer of Bogle Insurance Brokers has found connectivity to be paramount for business continuity. "We are very fortunate that our computer system is cloud-based, which allows all our staff to continue to service our clients," he said.

Jermaine Perkins, owner of Computer Geekz, IT support and repair centre believes that this transition will impact the way Cayman does business in the future.

“With companies setting up remote working environments, there have been warranted concerns around security and we have been working on this— the demand has increased. I believe that home offices are the wave of the future in Cayman. This adds to the model of the Cayman lifestyle. This might also be the answer to Cayman’s traffic problem.”

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LIAT to cut staff due to COVID-19 pandemic

Antigua Observer - 27 March 2020

The management of the regional carrier LIAT, representatives of shareholder governments and trade union bodies began talks on Thursday aimed at streamlining the operations of the Antigua-based carrier in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which has forced several countries worldwide to restrict travel and close their borders.

The high level talks came days after staff from all levels received an email from the Corporate Communications Department outlining how the current crisis has impacted the company.

One such fallout is that the company will be reducing staff in all departments and levels in a bid to avoid a temporary closure.

The communicated brief, dated March 23, said that over the past few weeks, eight of the airline’s destinations have closed borders, resulting in more than half of LIAT’s destinations being closed to passenger traffic.

The company said the reality at this point is that the airline can no longer sustain a commercial schedule with a reduction in flights of more than 55 percent.

“The Chief Executive Officer Julie Reifer-Jones has been engaged in discussions with shareholders and other governments on this rapidly developing situation. At this point, the company has no choice but to reduce its staffing complement to reflect a drastically reduced network. Management does not take this action lightly, but this step cannot be avoided at this stage,” the email read.

It further stated that, “The Director of HR has also been asked to meet with union representatives to discuss proposals in relation to temporary layoffs and reduced work hours across the network. We will also schedule discussions with the non-unionised staff as the changes will affect the entire company.”

The company also said that the current discussions with shareholders will seek to maintain a minimum schedule which will require financial support from said shareholders.

“The present revenues being generated cannot sustain the operations even at minimum level. Our main objective is to maintain a minimum schedule rather than to face temporary shutdown. This will put us in a position to continue operations in the period of post-Covid-19.”

LIAT’s management said it was aware that this current position would bring hardships to workers, however, the approach would save some jobs rather than losing all.

Staff members were also advised that contacts were also made with CIBC First Caribbean International Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Nova Scotia, and Antigua Commercial Bank to arrange for waivers on their loans and mortgage payments for three to six months.

Corporate Communications Manager, Shavar Maloney, confirmed that talks are ongoing with all stakeholders, including trade union bodies.

He also acknowledged that a memo had been sent out to workers to educate them on the current situation brought on by the pandemic.

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Battle against COVID-19 the Third World War?

Jamaica Observer - 26 March 2020

Editorial

Rarely has a United Nations secretary general sounded a more urgent and chilling alarm than Mr Antonio Guterres as he launched a US$2-billion global humanitarian response plan yesterday to fight the devastating 2019 novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

The UN was founded 75 years ago to engender international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, and promote social progress, better living standards and human rights after two devastating wars.

But Mr Guterres was not concerned about countries fighting against countries, as in World Wars I and II, which led to its establishment, but a common enemy that is ravaging the inhabitants of the world's 195 countries.

Do we exaggerate in likening it to the Third World War?

With COVID-19 figures standing at 462,781 confirmed cases and 20,877 deaths globally at Jamaica Observer press time yesterday, the UN secretary general summoned the world to fight the disease together, saying: “A global approach is the only way to fight COVID-19.”

The UN chief especially highlighted vulnerable countries with weak health systems and warned that failing “to help them fight the coronavirus now could place millions at risk and leave the virus free to circle back around the globe”.

He suggested that the $2-billion global humanitarian response was needed mostly in 51 countries across South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Coincidentally, the UN was launched on October 24, 1945 by 51 countries.

Mr Guterres urged developed countries to give full support to the global humanitarian response plan, but not to cease funding for existing humanitarian appeals related to conflicts, natural disasters, and climate change.

Specifically, he called for:

• essential laboratory equipment to test for the virus, and medical supplies to treat people;

• hand-washing stations in refugee camps and settlements;

• public information campaigns on how to protect yourself and others from the virus; and

• airbridges and hubs across Africa, Asia, and Latin America to move humanitarian workers and supplies to where they are needed most.

“COVID-19 is menacing the whole of humanity, and so the whole of humanity must fight back. Individual country responses are not going to be enough,” Mr Guterres implored.

“We must come to the aid of the ultra-vulnerable millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves. This is a matter of basic human solidarity. It is also crucial for combating the virus. This is the moment to step up for the vulnerable,” he said.

His desperate appeal was joined by Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, who said: “COVID-19 has already upended life in some of the world's wealthiest countries. It is now reaching places where people live in war zones, cannot easily access clean water and soap, and have no hope of a hospital bed if they fall critically ill.

“To leave the world's poorest and most vulnerable countries to their fate would be both cruel and unwise… Countries battling the pandemic at home are rightly prioritising people living in their own communities.

“But the hard truth is they will be failing to protect their own people if they do not act now to help the poorest countries protect themselves.”

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Virus leaves all landlords under same leaky roof

Reuters - 26 March 2020

By: Aimee Donnellan

Holding back rent is normally a sure-fire way to get evicted. Not so for large retailers like Primark, who have been forced to shut their doors as a result of a government-imposed lockdown caused by the coronavirus. With major tenants withholding rent, landlords as diverse as private equity giant Blackstone, UK real estate investment trust British Land and its troubled domestic peer Intu Properties may soon find they have limited bargaining power.

The trio have different approaches to the current crisis. Heavily indebted Intu can do little more than offer a cut in service charge fees, but that’s slightly beside the point given it revealed on Thursday it only received 29% of rent due despite having profitable tenants like Inditex-owned Zara and H&M. Blackstone is giving tenants the chance to defer payment for three months and has created a 10 million pound support fund for those who need it. British Land is giving smaller players full rent holidays and allowing bigger ones to defer.

This approach has a limited shelf life. Blackstone, which rents out retail space in Victorian railway arches, and British Land, a major office and shopping centre landlord, are both hoping that draconian measures confining the public to their homes will end by early July. But if the crisis goes on longer or restrictions are simply eased rather than scrapped altogether, tenants will need more relief.

Perversely, this gives renters the upper hand. With the majority of businesses from mechanics to restaurants forced to down tools, tenants can feel safe that there is little chance of being replaced. Hence the more aggressive approach to rent negotiations and withholding payments displayed by Primark.

Landlords have little interest in bringing about large-scale insolvencies. But their enforced largesse could well find them sharing such assistance with tenants who are far from needy. That sad reality for their investors explains why Intu’s 2022 bond is yielding 60% of par, according to Refinitiv. And why British Land shares slumped 7% on Thursday after it felt the need to “temporarily” suspend its dividend, which had already been yielding over 8% – levels last seen in 2009. At least for the time being, they are all in it together.

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Global economic policy response to the coronavirus pandemic

Reuters - 27 March 2020

Governments and central banks around the world have unleashed unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus and other support over the past month for national economies reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

The G20 said on March 26 it would inject over $5 trillion into the global economy to limit job and income losses from the coronavirus and “do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic”.

Following is a summary of the main policy steps so far.

UNITED STATES

MONETARY STIMULUS - The Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a total of 150 basis points in two emergency meetings on March 3 (50 basis points) and March 15 (100 bps), taking the federal funds rate to 0-0.25%, along with $700 billion in asset purchases, or quantitative easing (QE).

It also cut the discount window rate by 150 basis points. The Fed followed on March 23 with unlimited and open-ended QE, planned purchases of corporate, municipal government bonds.

LIQUIDITY OPERATIONS AND FUNDING - Trillions of dollars in repurchase agreements, flooding the markets with cash; swap lines with other major central banks to provide dollar funding; program to support money market funds; various easing of bank capital buffers; funding backstop for businesses to provide bridging loans of up to four years; funding to help credit flow in asset-backed securities markets; also plans to extend credit to small- and medium-sized businesses.

FISCAL STIMULUS (FEDERAL) - The U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion stimulus package on March 25 including a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families. The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on Friday.

EURO ZONE

MONETARY STIMULUS - The European Central Bank on March 12 added 120 billion euros ($132.2 billion) to its existing asset-purchase program of 20 billion a month. On March 19, the ECB added another 750 billion euros in QE, taking the total to about 1.1 trillion euros this year, and added Greece to the portfolio of bonds it would purchase. On March 26, it eliminated a cap on how many bonds it can buy from any single euro zone country.

LIQUIDITY OPERATIONS AND FUNDING - The ECB cut the interest rate on its Targeted Long-Term Refinancing Operations (TLTROs), cheap loans to banks, by 25 basis points to -0.75% on March 12. It provided additional LTROs to bridge bank funding through to June and relaxed capital rules.

FISCAL/OTHER: Suspension of limits on EU government borrowing; considering allowing a precautionary credit line worth 2% of national GDP from the ESM bailout fund.

GERMANY

FISCAL STIMULUS - Agreed a package worth up to 750 billion euros on March 23; 100 billion euros for an economic stability fund that can take direct equity stakes in companies; 100 billion euros in credit to public-sector development bank KfW for loans to struggling businesses; stability fund will offer 400 billion euros in loan guarantees to secure corporate debt at risk of defaulting.

FRANCE

FISCAL STIMULUS - 45 billion euros of crisis measures on March 17 into the economy to help companies and workers; guaranteed up to 300 billion euros of corporate borrowing from commercial banks on March 16.

ITALY

FISCAL STIMULUS - Emergency decree worth 25 billion euros on March 16, which suspends loan and mortgage repayments for companies and families and increases funds to help firms pay workers temporarily laid off.

SPAIN

FISCAL STIMULUS - A 200 billion-euro package announced on March 17; half of the economic assistance measures are state-backed credit guarantees for companies and the rest include loans and aid for vulnerable people.

UNITED KINGDOM

MONETARY STIMULUS - The Bank of England cut interest rates by a total of 65 basis points in two emergency meetings on March 11 (50 bps) and March 19 (15 bps); took the bank rate to a record low of 0.10%; announced 200 billion pounds ($244.8 billion) of bond purchases.

LIQUIDITY OPERATIONS AND FUNDING - The BoE also introduced a new program for cheap credit and reduced a capital buffer to help banks lend. A BoE corporate financing facility will buy commercial paper with a maturity of up to 12 months from businesses that had an investment-grade credit rating or similar pre-crisis.

FISCAL STIMULUS - A 30 billion-pound stimulus plan on March 11; 330 billion pounds in loan guarantees to businesses; offered to pay 80% of wage bills if staff put on leave up to a maximum of 2,500 pounds a month each if firms kept them on. Businesses also allowed to temporarily hold on to 30 billion pounds in value-added tax (VAT).

CANADA

MONETARY STIMULUS - The Bank of Canada cut rates by 100 basis points in two emergency meetings on March 4 (50 bps) and March 13 (50 bps), taking the overnight interest rate to 0.75%.

LIQUIDITY OPERATIONS AND FUNDING - eligible collateral for term repo operations expanded; C$50 billion ($34.6 billion) insured mortgage purchase program; C$10 billion credit support program for businesses.

FISCAL STIMULUS - C$55 billion in tax deferrals for businesses and families; C$27 billion aid package for workers and low-income households.

JAPAN

MONETARY POLICY - The Bank of Japan eased monetary policy by ramping up purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and other risky assets, including corporate bonds. The central bank also decided to create a new loan program to extend one-year, zero-rate loans to financial institutions.

FISCAL STIMULUS - Japan’s government will soon kick off work on a stimulus package that could be worth 10% of the country’s economic output, joining global efforts to combat the hit to their economies from the coronavirus pandemic.

The government announced 430.8 billion yen ($4.1 billion) of extra spending, much aimed at supporting affected small and medium-sized businesses. The government will also fund upgrades to medical facilities, and subsidize working parents forced to go on leave because of closed schools.

AUSTRALIA

MONETARY STIMULUS - The Reserve Bank of Australia cut rates by a total of 50 basis points in two decisions (25 bps at the March 3 meeting and another 25 bps at a March 19 emergency meeting), taking the cash rate to 0.25%; introduced the first use of quantitative easing, setting a target of around 0.25% for bond yields.

LIQUIDITY OPERATIONS AND FUNDING - A$90 billion ($53.3 billion) funding facility to banks at fixed rate of 0.25%; A$15 billion purchase program of residential mortgage-backed and other asset-backed securities; A$715 million support program for airlines.

FISCAL STIMULUS - A$66.1 billion in assistance for companies and additional welfare payments; A$17.6 billion package in subsidies for apprentices, small businesses, pensioners and others.

SOUTH KOREA

MONETARY STIMULUS - Bank of Korea cut interest rates by 50 basis points to 0.75% on March 16.

FISCAL STIMULUS - Supplementary budget of 11.7 trillion won; 50 trillion won in emergency financing for small businesses; further loosened key capital flow rules temporarily to encourage local financial institutions to supply more dollars.

CHINA

MONETARY STIMULUS - People’s Bank of China cut its one-year Loan Prime Rate, first introduced in August, by 10 basis points to 4.05% on Feb 20, following various liquidity injections and other mild policy easing. The PBOC cut the cash banks must hold as reserves for the second time this year on March 13, releasing 550 billion yuan ($79 billion).

LIQUIDITY AND FUNDING - China offered easier funding for small- and medium-sized businesses, increasing yuan re-lending and re-discount quotas by 500 billion yuan on Feb 25. Also increased policy banks’ loan quota by 350 billion yuan to make loans targeting these businesses.

FISCAL STIMULUS - China is set to unleash trillions of yuan of fiscal stimulus. The ramped-up spending will aim to spur infrastructure investment, backed by as much as 2.8 trillion yuan ($394 billion) of local government special bonds, according to sources on March 19. The national budget deficit ratio could rise to record levels, sources added.

Various small measures and fiscal expenditure such as tax breaks, reduced power charges and fee reductions.

BRAZIL

MONETARY STIMULUS - Central Bank of Brazil cut interest rates by 50 basis points to 3.75% and eased capital requirements for financial institutions.

LIQUIDITY OPERATIONS AND FUNDING - 1.2 trillion reais ($233.8 billion) central bank program to inject liquidity through purchases of bank loan portfolio packages; new rules allowing banks to offer firms and households increased loans and better terms; central bank intervention in FX markets and repurchases of dollar-denominated sovereign bonds.

FISCAL STIMULUS - 150 billion reais budget boost to support most vulnerable population and jobs; presidential decree declaring national emergency over the coronavirus passed in Congress, allowing the government to waive fiscal targets and free up budget resources.

INDIA

MONETARY STIMULUS - The Reserve Bank of India slashed its benchmark repo rate by 75 basis points to 4.40% in an emergency meeting held on March 27.

FISCAL STIMULUS - The Federal government announced on March 26 a 1.7 trillion rupee ($22.6 billion) economic stimulus plan providing direct cash transfers and food security measures.

SOUTH AFRICA

MONETARY STIMULUS - The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) cut its main lending rate by 100 basis points to 5.25% on March 19.

LIQUIDITY OPERATIONS AND FUNDING - The SARB announced on March 25 a program to buy bonds of varying maturities on the secondary market, but it did not give further details.

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Mini-bull, tired bear, or something in-between

Reuters -  27 March 2020

Investors could be forgiven for doing a double-take: Wait, we’re back in a bull market?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average’s surge of over 20% from its coronavirus-induced recent low this week, by one definition used on Wall Street, suggests a new bull market. The surge came on hopes a $2 trillion stimulus measure would flood the country with cash in a bid to counter the economic impact of the intensifying pandemic.

But that definition should be treated with a large piece of caution. The very definition of bull market is debatable, and given the market’s volatility on news about the pandemic, some said that calling the move upwards a “bull market” was tantamount to missing the forest for the trees.

“Labeling it a bull market when it fits a definition of being up 20% kind of removes any perspective from where we have been over the past month, and more importantly, where we might be going over the next few months,” said Willie Delwiche, an investment strategist at Robert W. Baird.

Other definitions say the index should crest the previous high and that a bull market can only be identified a long time after the event.

For example, a mini-bull market has occurred previously during a bear market - providing a false hope of relief. The S&P 500 logged a gain of 24% over a period of 30 trading days starting on Nov. 20, 2008, even as the bear market continued during the height of the financial crisis, and the index did not bottom till March 9, 2009, marking the start of the bull market.

Ed Yardeni, president and chief investment strategist at Yardeni Research, said that while there is consensus about the definition of a bear market - a 20% decline from a peak - the definition of a bull market is less widely agreed upon.

“Bull markets occur between bear markets,” Yardeni said.

Part of the confusion about whether the Dow is indeed out of the bear market is because while one group is widely recognized for determining U.S. economic cycles - the National Bureau of Economic Research - no such body is uniformly accepted for defining bull and bear markets.

Analysts warn against putting too much stock in strict definitions of market cycles. Factors like the velocity of the market’s rise or fall, how much average stocks have changed, and the reasons behind the moves also contribute to whether investors view a major move as a turning point in sentiment or a short-term interruption to an existing bull or bear market.

Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices in New York, said he still sees the Dow in a bear market. The Dow would need to hit 29,551.42, the high of Feb. 12, to be technically in a bull market, he said.

“If we keep going up, eventually we could have a bull, but until it hits the record, it’s a bull run in a bear market,” Silverblatt said.

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British PM Boris Johnson self-isolates after testing positive for coronavirus

Reuters - 27 March 2020

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday he had tested positive for coronavirus and was self-isolating at Downing Street but would still lead the government’s response to the accelerating outbreak.

Johnson, 55, experienced mild symptoms on Thursday - a day after he answered at the prime minister’s weekly question-and-answer session in parliament’s House of Commons chamber.

“I’ve taken a test. That has come out positive,” Johnson said in a video statement broadcast on Twitter. “I’ve developed mild symptoms of the coronavirus. That’s to say - a temperature and a persistent cough.

“So I am working from home. I’m self-isolating,” Johnson said. “Be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus.”

It was not immediately clear how many Downing Street staff and senior ministers would now need to isolate given that many have had contact with Johnson over recent days and weeks.

His finance minister, Rishi Sunak, was not self-isolating, a Treasury source said.

When Britain clapped health workers on Thursday evening, Johnson and Sunak came out of separate entrances on Downing Street and did not come into close contact, according to a Reuters photographer at the scene.

Nor was it immediately clear whether Johnson’s 32-year-old partner, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, had been tested.

ISOLATING IN DOWNING STREET

Previously the government has said that Johnson had the option to delegate to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab if needed.

“The prime minister was tested for coronavirus on the personal advice of England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

“The test was carried out in No 10 by NHS staff and the result of the test was positive,” the spokesman said.

So far, 578 people in the United Kingdom have died after testing positive for coronavirus and the number of confirmed cases has risen to 11,658. The UK toll is the seventh worst in the world, after Italy, Spain, China, Iran, France and the United States, according to a Reuters tally.

Britain’s Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week but is in good health and is now self-isolating at his residence in Scotland with mild symptoms along with his wife Camilla, who tested negative, his office said.

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China's auto industry wastes no time coaxing drivers back to showrooms after lockdownd

Reuters - 27 March 2020

China’s auto industry has gone from zero to sixty in its post-pandemic campaign drive, with manufacturers and dealers quick to woo back lockdown-weary consumers through campaigns as unusual as a makeup-promoting personality touting car leasing.

Social media celebrity Lipstick King urged millions of fans on a live-streamed shopping show to sign up to a lease deal for General Motors Co’s (GM.N) Cadillac CT4 compact sedan.

“This color has the sense of ‘I’m in charge’ independence,” he said, displaying a scale model of a chocolate-colored car.

The plug is just one part of an eruption of promotional campaigns featuring steep discounts, cold-calling and gimmicks, from an industry obliterated by government restrictions on movement imposed in January to curb the spread of a virus which in China has infected 81,000 people and caused 3,300 deaths.

The economy shrank 21% in January-February with sales in the world’s biggest vehicle market last month plunging 79%. Retail sales of passenger cars dropped 45% in the first three weeks of March, and the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers does not expect demand to normalize until the third quarter.

With authorities gradually easing restrictions, automakers and dealers have started the engines on their promotional machinery to undo what consulting firm IHS Markit described as an “unprecedented and almost instant stalling of demand”.

U.S. electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) has launched test-drive and delivery services involving no staff contact, while Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co Ltd is delivering disinfected cars and dropping off keys with drones.

The EV unit of Guangzhou Automobile Group Co Ltd (601238.SS) is even testing a system to perfume its Aion LX SUV with the aroma of traditional Chinese medicine.

FREE MASKS

SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW) - a venture between SAIC Motor Corp Ltd (600104.SS), U.S. maker GM and a local partner - on Feb. 25 started offering up to 11,000 yuan off purchases of its Wuling and Baojun brand vehicles, until the total discounts given reach 1 billion yuan ($141.69 million). Buyers also get medical masks.

Seeing the promotion, restaurateur Wang Zhiyuan, 37, visited an SGMW dealership in Beijing earlier this month and received a 2,000 yuan discount on a Wuling Hongguang commercial minivan.

Family sauna equipment supplier Mo Xiufeng, 40, was at the same dealership viewing the same vehicle to make a purchase he had been chewing over since before the lockdown.

“I haven’t been able to come in the meantime because, fearing the virus, I didn’t want to leave my home,” he said.

The dealership sold just 20 vehicles in February. It targets March sales of 100, versus an average of 500 before the virus.

Due to the campaign, SGMW’s nationwide is a picture of even quicker recovery. A spokeswoman said March registered at least five days of sales surpassing 5,000 vehicles, with one day reaching 6,000, exceeding last year’s daily average. At the beginning of February, sales were around 200.

NO INVENTORY

Still, industry bodies have called for government help including purchase tax cuts on small vehicles, support for sales in rural areas and eased emission rules. The China Automobile Dealers Association has lobbied for loans to dealerships and temporary liquidity support such as credit lines.

Local authorities in cities that rely heavily on vehicle manufacturing, such as Guangzhou in the south and Ningbo in the east, have also started to offer purchase incentives.

Visits to showrooms by a Reuters reporter and telephone interviews with 50 dealerships across China indicate the campaigns are indeed bringing shoppers back.

A Beijing dealership for a joint venture between Dongfeng Motor Group Co Ltd (0489.HK) and Japan’s Honda Motor Co Ltd (7267.T), however, has a problem beyond footfall that is likely to leave March sales in “single digits” versus the usual 100.

“The problem now is we don’t have enough cars in inventory,” the sales manager told Reuters.

Dongfeng Honda is based in the city of Wuhan where the virus was first reported at the end of last year, and where business activity has been restricted for two months. A Honda spokesman said production at the venture was gradually increasing.

“The manufacturer said new cars would not arrive until mid-April,” the sales manager said, standing in a deserted showroom.

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Oil mixed on stimulus hopes and demands fears

Reuters - 26 March 2020

Oil prices were mixed on Friday as the market weighed the potential benefits of stimulus efforts by policymakers around the world against the demand destruction caused by fallout from the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Brent crude was on track for its fifth consecutive weekly drop. By 1029 GMT, it was down 39 cents, or 1.5%, at $25.95 a barrel.

U.S. crude was up 12 cents, or 0.5%, at $22.72.

Both of the benchmarks are down nearly two-thirds this year and the slump in economic activity and fuel demand because of the coronavirus crisis has forced massive retrenchment in investment by oil and other energy companies.

“Unlike the financial markets, the oil market is apparently finding it difficult to look beyond the current crisis,” Commerzbank analyst Eugen Weinberg said.

Oil requirements around the world may drop by 20% as 3 billion people are in lockdown, the head of the International Energy Agency Fatih Birol said as he called on major producers like Saudi Arabia to help to stabilize oil markets.

Analyst Weinberg said “We have our doubts about whether Saudi Arabia will allow itself to be persuaded so easily to return from the path of revenge that it only recently embarked upon.”

The Group of 20 major economies pledged on Thursday to inject more than $5 trillion into the global economy to limit job and income losses from the coronavirus and “do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic.”

Leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives are determined to pass a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill on Friday, or at the very latest on Saturday, hoping to provide the quickest help possible as deaths mount and the economy reels.

With 84,946 infections and 1,259 deaths, the United States faces the prospect of becoming the next global epicenter of the pandemic.

Mainland China reported its first locally transmitted coronavirus case in three days and 54 new imported cases, as Beijing ordered airlines to sharply cut international flights, for fear travelers could reignite the coronavirus outbreak.

As global oil demand plummets, Saudi Arabia is struggling to find customers for its extra oil, undermining its bid to seize market share from rivals by expanding production.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its de facto leader Saudi Arabia failed earlier this month to reach an agreement with other producers, including Russia (known as OPEC+), to curb oil production to support prices.

But the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund Kirill Dmitriev told Reuters a new OPEC+ deal to balance oil markets might be possible if other countries join in.

“It does not seem as though there is anything the Saudis or the broader OPEC+ group can do to push the market significantly higher,” said ING analyst Warren Patterson.

“The demand destruction we are seeing does mean the level of cuts that would be needed by the group would be just too much to stomach,” he said.

Algerian oil minister called for an extraordinary meeting of OPEC’s economic panel via teleconference to assess current oil market conditions and immediate prospects.

Oil and gas research group JBC Energy said in a note it had “drastically” reduced its oil demand forecast for 2020, expecting a decline by above 7.4 million barrel per day on average.

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Effects of the crisis on the banking sector

Central America Data - 26 March 2020

Increased demand for loans and more requests for loan restructuring is part of what the covid crisis19 has brought to the banking sector in Guatemala.

According to representatives of the Guatemalan Banking Association (ABG ), the spread of covid19 and the restriction measures that have been enacted in the country is affecting the liquidity of companies, many of which do not have income and must resort to loans to pay your returns.

Regarding loan restructuring, Luis Lara Grojec, president of ABG, explained to Prensalibre.com that " ... There are already several requests from customers, a factor that is good and it was logical. There are normal doubts of the clients of the terms that are going to have or how to make the arrangements, but the request will depend on each institution and it is something very basic. "

In relation to the projections of economic growth for Guatemala at the end of 2020, the director said that " ... Before, the perception of GDP growth was 3.1% to 4.1%, but he projected that the Guatemalan economy could be between 1 % or less. There will definitely be a negative effect on production, but it will be little compared to other countries, since it acted very quickly here. "

According to reports from CentralAmerica Data , it is forecast that the impact of the crisis in the covid19 in the financial sector in Central America will mainly feel, in the services related to stock brokerage and investment advice, where a drop is expected.

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Price of the dollar rises to ₡ 581.8

Central America Data - 26 March 2020

In the last 15 days the price per dollar in the Monex wholesale market has risen ₡ 16, which is explained by the economic uncertainty and the preference of people for the purchase of dollars.

According to data from the Central Bank of Costa Rica (BCCR), an upward trend has been reported in recent weeks, since between March 11 and 26 the price has risen from ₡ 565.69 to ₡ 581.77, which is equivalent to a variation of 3%. See complete figures . Jose Luis Arce, director of FCS Analysis and Strategy , told Nacion.com that this upward behavior was to be expected, since at this juncture " ... 'there is uncertainty and people are dollarizing and because there is an external shock affecting to the economy, which strongly hits two of the channels through which foreign currency enters the country: tourism and external financing flows (loans, etc.) '. " See"

For the economist Norberto Zúñiga,". .. the upward pressure on the price of the dollar is a reflection of the effects of the pandemic, but also of the fragility of our economy and the impact on exports of goods and services . "

Experts agree that the BCCR has sufficient reserves and tools to cushion the variations in the foreign exchange market .

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Brazil headed for 'whatever it takes' QE as coronavirus crash looms

Reuters - 26 March 2020

Brazil’s central bank could soon be forced to fire up the money printing presses if the coronavirus-fueled recession facing Latin America’s largest economy is as devastating as some economists fear.

Hopes for any growth this year have all but evaporated. Many observers expect Brazil’s $1.8 trillion economy to post its first annual contraction since 2016. Some are predicting the biggest crash in decades, with a slide of up to 6%.

With President Jair Bolsonaro’s government keen to reduce a substantial deficit, it may fall to the central bank to fire the financial “bazooka” required to prevent recession from turning into depression, economists say.

That could mean taking a leaf out of major central banks’ post-2008 crisis playbook and embracing “quantitative easing,” or QE: buying government bonds with newly-created money to lower long-term interest rates and flooding the financial system with cash.

Brazil’s central bank President Roberto Campos Neto sidestepped the question on Thursday, saying his preference was to provide the banking system with liquidity. With interest rates at 3.75%, there is room for more conventional action, but many economists see QE as increasingly likely.

“It will end up happening,” said Jose Francisco Goncalves, chief economist at Banco Fator in Sao Paulo. “We’re going to do it. There’s no other way.”

“Campos Neto is extremely competent: he has a world view, and is aware of the consequences of the central bank’s actions. This could be his Mario Draghi moment,” Goncalves said.

At the height of the euro zone crisis in July 2012, Mario Draghi, then president of the European Central Bank, uttered his now famous remark that the ECB would do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. It was the turning point of the crisis.

Leaders of the G20 group of rich nations on Thursday echoed Draghi with a pledge to inject $5 trillion in fiscal spending into the global economy and “do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic.”

The ECB, U.S. Federal Reserve, Bank of England, and Bank of Japan have already pumped trillions into their financial systems, often leaning on deft legal and political guidance to overcome domestic opposition.

This week, the central banks of Australia and New Zealand took their first forays into the world of QE and Israel’s central bank resumed bond-buying for the first time since 2009.

“It’s happening all around the world. It’s not just the big central banks like the Fed,” said Carlos Kawall, director at Asa bank in Sao Paulo and a former treasury secretary.

“I don’t see why we wouldn’t be doing that. It’s time to look for unconventional policies,” he said.

A spokesman for the central bank was unavailable for comment.

FLATTEN THE CURVE

Like many central banks, Brazil’s is prevented by law from buying bonds at government debt auctions - so-called monetary financing - but is allowed to buy them on the secondary market to support money supply or monetary policy management.

Inflation is undershooting the central bank’s target and inflation expectations continue to decline, despite a 20% depreciation in the exchange rate this year.

A significant tightening of Brazilian financial conditions from plunging stock prices, a record low exchange rate and widening credit spreads has rung alarm bells for market stability and future growth prospects.

The difference between short-dated and long-dated interest rates has widened sharply, a sign of extreme risk aversion and a dysfunctional market, analysts say. The spread between January 2021 and January 2029 rates futures hit a record 600 basis points.

To be sure, the central bank has already shown itself to be flexible, under former trader Campos Neto’s guidance.

It has ramped up foreign exchange intervention, opened a bond “repurchase” program, and taken a range of steps to inject liquidity into the financial system to free up banks’ funds for lending and ease companies’ and individuals’ debt burdens.

In the bank’s own words, it has pledged to “deploy its arsenal of monetary, exchange rate and financial stability policies to fight the current crisis.”

The central bank has room to maneuver, even though its balance sheet is already one of the largest among emerging economies at around 50% of GDP, roughly evenly split between FX and bond assets. But not everyone regards QE as necessary.

Sergio Goldenstein, former head of open market operations at the central bank, agreed it must bring down longer-dated interest rates and flatten the curve. But without expanding the monetary base.

“The question is not QE, but alleviating financial tensions,” Goldenstein said, noting that the central bank could buy longer-dated securities and sell short-dated ones, or buy long-dated securities and sterilize excess liquidity with repurchase operations.

He also noted that Brazilian interest rates are not at the lower bound, that is at, or close to, zero, usually a pre-cursor for QE. But if the coronavirus shock is big enough, it may not be long before they are there.

Asa bank’s Kawall reckons the central bank’s benchmark Selic interest rate will be cut to 2% this year from the current 3.75%. In Brazil, with its history of hyperinflation and high interest rates, 2% is practically zero.

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Man in coronavirus self-isolation sends dog to shop with list and money attached to collar

Mirror UK - 25 March 2020   

Antonio Muñoz from Mexico was just three days into coronavirus self-isolation when he got a craving for some crisps - so he turned to his pet chihuahua for help.

People around the world are being told to stay at home in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Although many of us are still allowed out to pick up essentials, those in self-isolation are often left relying on others for help.

But what about those non-essentials, the treats we get a craving for which won't go away until it's been satisfied - important things like crisps?

One man who developed a serious hankering for some Cheetos devised a plan to turn his dream into reality, with a little help from a self-isolating man's best friend.

Antonio Muñoz from Mexico was just three days into his stint at home when he enlisted the help of his pet chihuahua to run him an errand.

Tucking money into the dog's collar, he attached a note which read: "Hello Mr Shopkeeper. Please sell my dog some Cheetos, the orange kind, not the red ones, they’re too hot.

"She has $20 attached to her collar. WARNING: She will bite if not treated right. Your front neighbour."

The chihuahua, looking visibly nervous on its first day in a new job, was sent out and, somehow, returned with a packet of orange Cheetos held between its little gnashers.

Antonio captured the incredible moment his pet trotted back down the street clutching a bag of crisps almost bigger than itself, and uploaded the story on Facebook with the caption: "Day three of quarantine. I wanted my Cheetos."

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