News updates from December 2: Opec+ strikes deal to keep boosting oil output, Germany moves towards mandatory Covid vaccination, US imposes new sanctions on Belarus over migrant crisis

New York confirms its first five cases of Omicron variant

New York has identified five cases of the Omicron variant, among the first reported instances of the new coronavirus strain in the US.

The update follows an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday morning that a Minnesota resident, who was identified as the second reported case of Omicron in the US, had attended an anime convention in New York City from November 19 to 21.

New York governor Kathy Hochul said it was unclear whether the five cases were directly related to the anime convention, but that contact tracing had only commenced today.

Two people are from the New York City borough of Queens, while one is from Brooklyn, Hochul said during a joint press conference on Thursday evening with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. Another, who is the only one known to be vaccinated, is from Suffolk county on the eastern portion of Long Island and tested positive for Covid-19 on November 30.

Symptoms experienced by at least one of the five were “very mild”, Hochul said. The individual in Minnesota and another in San Francisco, who became the first reported case of Omicron in the US, also had very mild symptoms, the CDC said.

“We don’t have a lot of information,” Hochul conceded, but the decision at this early stage was to share what they knew with the public.

New York’s health department revealed on Thursday a further 11,300 new Covid-19 cases had been reported over the past day, the biggest one-day jump since late January.

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Fitch cuts outlook on Turkey to ‘negative’

Fitch Ratings downgraded its outlook on Turkey to “negative” from “stable” owing to the country’s worsening currency crisis in the wake of the resignation of its finance minister. 

The lira has been in freefall in recent months after the central bank made a succession of rapid cuts to interest rates. The lira has shed about 40 per cent of its value since the beginning of September as investors questioned the independence of the central bank. Finance minister Lutfi Elvan was seen as the last guardian of that independence in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s cabinet.

While Fitch on Thursday maintained the country’s BB- credit rating, the drop in outlook for its issuer default ratings indicates a rising risk Turkey could default on its debt and the possibility of a future downgrade.

The announcement of the change in outlook was the result of an out-of-schedule review of Turkey’s credit rating. Fitch said confidence in the country had deteriorated, creating stability risk and raising financing pressures, because of the central bank’s “premature monetary policy easing cycle and the prospect of further rate cuts or additional economic stimulus ahead of the 2023 presidential election.”

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US regulator sues to stop Nvidia’s acquisition of Arm

US regulators have sued to block Nvidia’s multibillion-dollar acquisition of UK chip design company Arm from SoftBank after European and American authorities raised concerns about the tie-up.

The Federal Trade Commission said in a statement on Thursday that the transaction, which would be the largest takeover of a semiconductor group, would give one of the world’s biggest chip groups control over computing technology and designs that competitors rely on to create their own chips.

The case is the latest significant antitrust move by the Biden administration, which has committed to curb the power of big business by stamping out anti-competitive practices.

The FTC pegged the value of the chip deal at $40bn, but the cash and stock transaction is currently worth $82bn following a jump in Nvidia’s share price. Nvidia would have to pay SoftBank a $1.25bn break-up fee if the deal falls apart.

The regulator alleged that the combined company would “have the means and incentive to stifle innovative next-generation technologies, including those used to run data centres and driver-assistance systems in cars”.

Read more on the FTC’s move to block the deal here

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US stocks advance as Omicron concerns drive choppy trading

Global stock markets experienced volatile trading on Thursday as investors and governments scrambled to respond to the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The S&P 500 rose 1.4 per cent, led by economically sensitive sectors such as banks and industrial companies, which partially recovered some of the losses notched up in the previous two sessions. A day earlier, the benchmark share index had gained in early dealings before swinging to a 1.2 per cent loss after the first confirmed case of the Omicron variant was identified in the US. The more tech-heavy Nasdaq rose 0.8 per cent on Thursday.

European stocks lurched lower after climbing on Wednesday. The regional Stoxx 600 index dropped 1.2 per cent, London’s FTSE 100 lost 0.6 per cent and the Dax in Frankfurt fell 1.4 per cent after Germany’s leaders agreed to impose tight social restrictions on people who are unvaccinated.

Stock market volatility has been elevated since Friday, when the World Health Organization declared Omicron a “variant of concern” because of its high number of mutations and vaccine makers made varied predictions on its ability to evade existing jabs. On Wednesday, the US announced it had identified its first case of Covid-19 caused by the Omicron variant.

The yield on the US 10-year Treasury note rose 0.03 percentage points to 1.43 per cent, but remained substantially below its level of 1.65 per cent a week ago. Lower yields reflect higher prices as nervous investors parked cash in assets perceived as safe havens.

Read more on the day’s market moves here

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Gopinath named IMF’s second-highest ranking official in surprise move

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The second-highest ranking official at the International Monetary Fund, Geoffrey Okamoto, will step down early next year and be succeeded by the fund’s chief economist Gita Gopinath, months after the organisation’s top leadership weathered a major scandal.

The IMF on Thursday announced the surprise exit of Okamoto, who was appointed first deputy managing director in March 2020, and named Gopinath, who has served as the fund’s chief economist since 2019, as his replacement.

Gopinath, who was expected to return to her position at Harvard University, will assume the role on January 21.

“Both Geoffrey and Gita are tremendous colleagues — I am sad to see Geoffrey go but, at the same time, I am delighted that Gita has decided to stay and accept the new responsibility ,” said Kristalina Georgieva, the once-embattled managing director of the IMF, in a statement. “She is the right person at the right time . . . I value highly her sound judgment, good counsel, and unwavering support.”

The transition comes after Georgieva was accused in September of manipulating data to benefit China while at the helm of the World Bank — charges she repeatedly denied. The IMF executive board opted to retain her in October after extensive deliberations and affirmed it had “full confidence” in her ability to carry out her responsibilities.

In a statement released on Thursday, Okamoto, who previously served in the Treasury department during the Trump administration, said he would be returning to the private sector.

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New York has biggest daily jump in new Covid cases since January

New York has reported its biggest single-day increase in Covid-19 cases since January, reflecting the growing rates of infection affecting colder-weather states in the US.

A further 11,300 positive cases were reported over the past 24 hours, according to an update Thursday from the state’s health department. That was the biggest one-day increase in infections since January 29, when New York was trying to overcome the worst of the winter wave that was sweeping across most of the country.

Hospitalisations, which tend to lag infections, rose to 3,093 statewide, the most since late April.

The latest figures came just hours after governor Kathy Hochul, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and the Centers for Disease Control revealed the second reported case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus in the US had been identified in a Minnesota resident who had attended an anime convention in New York City in late November.

Adjusted for population, New York has averaged about 33 new cases per 100,000 people a day over the past week, according to the most recent data from the CDC on Wednesday. That left it just outside the 20 states with the highest daily rates.

Michigan, New Hampshire and Minnesota have the highest per capita rates of infection in the US, having averaged more than 60 new cases per 100,000 people a day over the past week. Other places where temperatures have also dropped ahead of winter — including North Dakota, Wisconsin and Vermont — round out the top 10 states with the highest rates.

CDC data also separate the state of New York from its most populous city. These show a population-adjusted rate of about 18 new cases per 100,000 people a day in the metropolis compared to about 44 for the rest of the state.

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Biden tightens rules for international travellers as part of renewed bid to curb pandemic

Americans will no longer have to pay for at-home Covid-19 tests under plans Joe Biden announced on Thursday to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, a day after the first case was confirmed in the US.

In a speech at the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, the US president outlined a range of measures aimed at keeping infections down over the winter, including free rapid tests, an extended mask mandate on public transport and tighter testing requirements for international travellers.

“This new variant is cause for concern, but not panic. We knew there would be cases . . . but we have the best tools, the best vaccines in the world, the best medicine and the best scientists in the world,” Biden said. “We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion.”

The president has shied away from imposing some of the stricter measures used in other countries, such as mandating testing or quarantine requirements for travellers after they arrive in the US.

The Biden administration’s new public health policies include allowing those covered by private health insurance to reclaim the cost of rapid at-home antigen tests from their insurer. The administration will also send tests to be handed out at clinics and health centres for those not privately insured.

From early next week, every traveller will have to test negative within 24 hours of boarding a flight to the US and will have to wear a mask on board — a requirement that is being extended at least until March.

Read more on Biden’s winter plan to slow the pandemic here

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United warns Omicron is threat to transatlantic flights

United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby became the first boss of a big US carrier to warn the Omicron coronavirus variant is a threat to transatlantic travel.

“My guess is we’ll have less flying to Europe than we would have in January” because of the new variant, Kirby told the Financial Times as fears rise that Omicron could disrupt one of the world’s most important airline routes.

The company has stopped short of cutting flights to Europe or Africa because of the variant, but Kirby fears passenger numbers will drop on some of its key routes after Omicron’s discovery in South Africa and Botswana last week.

However, he is not anticipating the variant will change the overall outlook of the airline, which has bet on a significant expansion in long-haul flights, including five new ones from the US to London from next March, which prompted the carrier’s largest order of new planes.

While it’s “too early to know for sure, my guess is that it will have a short-term impact, but the long-term forecast is not any different than it was before,” he said.

The airline will continue with new flights to Lagos, which detected its first Omicron cases this week, and the relaunch of flights to Cape Town, where the variant is spreading rapidly, because of passenger demand and the need to fly cargo to those regions.

Read more on Kirby’s warning here

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Fed official Randy Quarles’ parting shot: first Covid stimulus, then ‘colonisation of Mars’

The emergency lending facilities rolled out by the Federal Reserve at the start of the pandemic threaten to set a dangerous precedent that will put pressure on the central bank to fund all manner of government projects — including even the “colonisation of Mars”, an outgoing top official has warned.

Randy Quarles, who is stepping down as a Fed governor this month, struck a cautious tone about the unprecedented support provided at the onset of the coronavirus crisis by the US central bank, which implemented a series of programmes to ensure the smooth flow of credit to households, business and local government.

Quarles said the facilities put in place for the pandemic had “established the precedent that the Fed can lend to businesses and municipalities”, which would encourage those with grand plans and little patience for democracy to demand more action in the future.

“There will inevitably be those . . . who will begin to ask why the Fed can’t fund repairs of the country’s ageing infrastructure, or finance the building of a border wall, or purchase trillions of dollars of green energy bonds, or underwrite the colonisation of Mars,” said Quarles, a Donald Trump appointee who had served as one of Wall Street’s top watchdogs before his term expired in October.

Read more on Quarles’ comments here

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Second US Omicron case detected in Minnesota resident who attended NYC convention

The top US public agency has confirmed it is investigating an additional case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, a day after revealing the country had registered its first reported case of the new strain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday it was working with the health departments of Minnesota and New York City to investigate a case caused by the Omicron variant.

The individual, a resident of Minnesota, developed mild symptoms on November 22, was tested two days later and has since recovered, the CDC said.

Prior to the development of symptoms, the individual travelled to New York City and attended the Anime NYC convention at the Javits Center from November 19 to 21.

The CDC announced on Wednesday an individual in San Francisco had been identified as the first reported case of the Omicron variant in the US. That person, who had returned from South Africa on November 22, was fully vaccinated, had “mild symptoms that are improving” and had been self-quarantining since testing positive, the agency said.

The Omicron variant was first reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa on November 24 and has now been detected in more than 20 countries.

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Kellogg reaches tentative deal with union to end two-month strike

Kellogg says it has reached a tentative deal with the union that has been striking at its cereal factories to potentially end a two-month-long strike.

Nearly 1,400 workers who make Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops across four states walked off the job in early October, hoping to end forced overtime work and eliminate the company’s two-tiered compensation scheme. The negotiations were tense, drew heavy public scrutiny and appeared to have stalled before the two sides came to an agreement Thursday.

The company said the deal will increase wages for all employees and provide a pathway for junior workers to receive so-called “legacy wages and benefits.”

The Kellogg strike is the latest strike to be resolved in a wave of labour actions that activists heralded as “Striketober.” Workers unions leveraged a prolonged labour shortage to demand wage rises and better benefits from their employers with mixed results.

Hollywood production crews secured raises and guaranteed time off between shifts from the film and television studios by threatening to strike last month. Elsewhere, workers at farming equipment maker John Deere received a 10 per cent raise after a 5-week strike in November and workers at snack maker Nabisco secured a day off each week when their strike ended in September.

The strike at Kellogg highlighted the substantial obstacles still facing organised labour, as it dragged on for more than two months and did not deliver all the contract changes workers were hoping for. The workers’ union will vote on whether to approve the deal and officially end the strike on Sunday.

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US imposes new sanctions on Belarus over migrant crisis

The US has imposed limits on dealings in Belarusian state debt as part of a new round of co-ordinated western sanctions imposed on Minsk following its orchestration of a migrant crisis on its border with the EU.

The move, which was announced alongside further sanctions from the UK and Canada, would prohibit transactions involving new issues of Belarusian sovereign debt in the primary and secondary markets.

The US also added 20 Belarusian individuals and 12 entities to its sanctions list. The UK announced new sanctions on eight individuals and said it would impose an asset freeze on Belaruskali, a potash producer that is one of the main sources of foreign currency for the regime of Belarus’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko.

“These actions reaffirm the US government’s commitment to
impose costs on the Lukashenko regime for enabling corruption, human
rights abuses, inhumane exploitation of vulnerable people and
orchestration of irregular migration, and attacks against democratic
freedoms and international norms,” the US Treasury said in a statement.

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Opec and allies strike deal to continue boosting oil output

Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Opec+ alliance agreed to continue increasing monthly crude production, delivering a victory to consumer governments including the US that had called on the group to help push prices lower.

Oil prices fell on the announcement, which surprised a market that had expected the group of major producers to hold back supply amid fears the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant will hit global oil demand. International benchmark Brent was down 1 per cent on Thursday to more than $68 a barrel, its lowest price since mid-August.

The Opec+ group, which includes Opec members and other producers such as Russia, said they would increase supply in January by 400,000 barrels of day as previously planned. However, in an unusual move, they said the meeting would remain “in session”, suggesting Saudi Arabia, Russia and other large producers could intervene quickly to prop up prices if necessary.

Opec+ “will continue to monitor the market closely and make immediate adjustments if required,” it said.

The Opec decision comes after weeks of pressure from the White House, which had called on the group to add more supply to cool prices that have risen sharply in the past year and fed fears of economy-wide inflation in the US. The White House announced a release of oil from its emergency stockpile late last month in an attempt to drive down prices that had little immediate impact.

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US stocks bounce after back-to-back declines

Wall Street equities rose on Thursday, partially recovering from falls in the previous session, as the Omicron coronavirus variant continued to drive market volatility.

The S&P 500 ticked up 0.8 per cent in early New York dealings as airline, bank and industrial stocks swung back from losses in preceding sessions. A day earlier, the benchmark share index had rallied before closing 1.2 per cent lower, marking its largest intraday swing since March.

The technology-focused Nasdaq Composite rose 0.7 per cent, while European stocks continued to reflect concerns about the new variant.

The regional Stoxx Europe 600 index dropped 1.1 per cent, London’s FTSE 100 lost 0.5 per cent, and the Dax in Frankfurt fell 1.6 per cent after Germany’s leaders agreed to impose strict social restrictions on unvaccinated citizens.

Stock markets have swung sharply since last Friday when the World Health Organization declared Omicron a “variant of concern” because of its high number of mutations and vaccine makers made varied predictions on whether it may evade the protection of existing jabs. On Wednesday, the US announced it had identified its first reported case of Covid-19 caused by the Omicron variant.

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Germany moves towards mandatory vaccination as it imposes sweeping restrictions

Germany has paved the way for mandatory vaccinations from early next year, as well as other tough new measures to put pressure on the large minority of Germans who have so far refused to get the jab.

Angela Merkel, chancellor, and Olaf Scholz, chancellor-designate, announced the new measures after a hastily-scheduled meeting with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states as the country faced an alarming increase in Covid-19 infections, putting unprecedented strain on German hospitals.

“The fourth wave must be broken,” Merkel told journalists after the meeting.

The leaders decided to hold a vote in the Bundestag on whether to introduce a general vaccination mandate, which would likely apply from February onwards. Just under 30 per cent of Germans remain unvaccinated, according to the Financial Times’ tracker.

In addition, they said that only the vaccinated and those who have recovered from Covid-19 would be able to enter shops and cultural institutions.

Unvaccinated people will also face tight new contact restrictions. A household of vaccine holdouts will only be able to meet two people from another household.

The leaders also agreed that bars and discos will have to be closed in areas with more than 350 cases of coronavirus infection per 100,000 people over 7 days. They will also bring in tight new curbs on private parties in these places.

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France’s conservative party dumps Barnier and Bertrand for presidential primary

A hardline conservative and the president of the Ile-de-France region will vie for the presidential nomination for France’s Les Républicains party, after members voted out expected favourites including Michel Barnier in the first round.

Eric Ciotti, the most rightwing of the would-be French presidential candidates for the party, and Valérie Pécresse, president of the Ile-de-France region around Paris, will vie for the party’s nomination at the weekend after coming out ahead in the first round of the primary vote.

Although the vote was close, LR members made a surprise choice in voting out two of the five candidates previously considered to be favourites. Barnier, who led the EU’s Brexit negotiations, and Xavier Bertrand, the combative leader of the Hauts-de-France region who was rated in national opinion polls as the best choice to beat the incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, were both eliminated.

Pécresse, who is competing to become the first woman president of France, is now the favourite to win the LR nomination against Ciotti in the second round at the weekend, because she is likely to secure the support of the losing candidates.

Christian Jacob, LR leader, said on Thursday that Ciotti had secured 25.6 per cent of the votes cast, just ahead of Pécresse with 25 per cent, Barnier with 23.9 per cent, Bertrand with 22.4 per cent and Philippe Juvin with just 3.1 per cent.

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Boeing shares rise 5.5% as China paves way for 737 Max return

Boeing shares rose more than 5 per cent in pre-market trading after China’s aviation authority took an important step towards recertifying the company’s 737 Max plane for flight, two and half years after it was grounded following a pair of fatal crashes.

China remains one of the last big markets where the model remains grounded, after hundreds were killed when two 737 Max jets flown by Indonesia’s Lion Air and Ethiopian Airways crashed in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) deemed the aircraft safe to fly with a number of technical upgrades by Boeing, after investigators blamed the crashes on faulty computer systems.

“After conducting sufficient assessment, CAAC considers the corrective actions are adequate to address this unsafe condition,” the agency said in a directive released on Thursday.

Boeing said the decision “is an important milestone toward safely returning the 737 Max to service in China,” and it continues to work with regulators worldwide to return the airplane to service.

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New US unemployment benefit claims rise by less than expected

New applications for US unemployment benefits rose by less than expected during Thanksgiving week from their lowest level in more than five decades, signalling progress in the labour market.

State unemployment offices took in 222,000 initial jobless claims on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ending November 27, an increase of 28,000 from the previous week, according to the labour department. That was below expectations of 240,000, according to economists polled by Refinitiv.

Claims fell to 194,000 the previous week, a move that was largely attributed to seasonal adjustments.

The latest report showed that claims fell the most in Virginia, Texas and California, according to preliminary figures that are not seasonally adjusted. The pace of claims picked up in North Carolina and Wisconsin.

There were 1.96m Americans actively collecting benefits as of November 13, below the 2.06m continuing claims recorded a week earlier.

Dismissals have slowed as employers struggle to hire and retain staff, with a record number of Americans quitting their jobs. Still, the latest data indicate employment growth in the US is rebounding as the drag from factors such as childcare responsibilities and Covid fears gradually fades.

The nonfarm payroll report due to be released on Friday is expected to show that the US economy created 550,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate dipped to 4.5 per cent, from 4.6 per cent previously.

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Omicron could account for half of EU infections within months, health body warns

The EU’s health agency has warned that the variant Omicron could account for over half of coronavirus infections in the bloc within a few months.

Omicron “may have a substantial growth advantage over the Delta [variant of concern]”, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement on Thursday.

“Mathematical modelling indicates that the Omicron [variant of concern] is expected to cause over half of all SARS-COV-2 infections in the EU/EEA within the next few months,” it added.

The agency said that, as of Wednesday, 70 Omicron cases had been reported in 13 EU and European Economic Area countries. It advised countries to continue to prioritise the vaccination of the most vulnerable groups, and encouraged other measures such physical distancing and the use of face masks.

However it also warned that travel restrictions would have a limited shelf life.

“Given the increasing number of cases and clusters in the EU/EEA without a travel history or contact with travel-related cases, it is likely that, within the coming weeks the effectiveness of travel-related measures will significantly decrease, and countries should prepare for a rapid and measured de-escalation of such measures,” the agency said in its statement.

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US secretary of state cautions Russia over aggression against Ukraine

US secretary of state Antony Blinken has cautioned that Russia faces “serious consequences” should it pursue any renewed aggression against Ukraine.

Washington has frequently pointed to a Russian military build-up on the Ukraine border in recent weeks, raising fears of a possible invasion. Moscow has dismissed such statements as inflammatory and said it has no plans to attack.

Blinken said he had “deep concerns about Russia’s plan for renewed aggression against Ukraine”, adding that “if Russia decides to pursue confrontation, there will be serious consequences”. He was speaking on Thursday ahead of a meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov told Blinken ahead of the talks, taking place in Stockholm on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, that Moscow does not want any conflict in Ukraine and is ready to take steps to resolve the crisis.

Lavrov added that Russia would offer up a plan for a European security pact that would focus on preventing Nato from encroaching east, something Moscow often stresses it sees a threat to its security.

“Turning our neighbouring countries into bridgeheads of confrontation with Russia and deploying Nato forces in direct proximity to areas of strategic importance for our security is categorically unacceptable,” Lavrov said.

Russian officials on Thursday warned of a possible military escalation of the conflict, saying Kyiv could try to reclaim eastern regions using force. Lavrov said western arms shipments to Ukraine were encouraging Kyiv to consider this option.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described an “increasing intensity of provocative actions” in the area.

“The risk of military action in Ukraine is still high,” Peskov said.

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Brazil enters recession as inflation grips economy

The Brazilian economy entered a technical recession in the third quarter as rising inflation choked off its pandemic recovery.

Third-quarter data released on Thursday showed a 0.1 per cent contraction in gross domestic product from the previous quarter, when it shrank by a revised 0.4 per cent. Compared with the third quarter of last year, the economy expanded 4 per cent.

The contraction was driven primarily by an 8 per cent drop in agriculture, which has been hit by an unprecedented drought, and a 9.8 per cent decline in the export of goods and services. Industry remained stagnant, while services grew 1.1 per cent.

“The economy has basically stagnated. We reached the pre-Covid level, but since then there has been no growth at all and there is no indication that growth will come,” said Mauricio Molon, chief economist at Logus Capital in São Paulo.

Latin America’s largest economy had rebounded quickly from the initial impact of Covid-19, with gross domestic product in the first quarter of this year returning to where it was before the pandemic struck at the end of 2019.

Since then, however, the recovery has lost steam and some economists are forecasting a contraction next year. Presidential elections in October also threaten to bring fresh uncertainty.

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What to watch in the Americas today

Biden speech: US president Joe Biden is set to announce a series of measures designed to slow the spread of Covid-19 over the winter, including stricter testing requirements for overseas travellers. Earlier this week Biden described the new Omicron coronavirus variant as “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic”.

Jobless Claims: Filings for unemployment benefits are expected to have picked up again last week from their lowest level since 1969. Despite the weekly rise, “the downward trend in claims is clear and we expect it to continue over the holiday season,” said Ian Shepherdson, economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. The data comes ahead of Friday’s nonfarm payroll report, which is expected to show hiring rebounded for a second consecutive month.

Brazil GDP: Latin America’s biggest economy is expected to report that gross domestic product was unchanged in the third quarter, from the previous quarter when it contracted 0.1 per cent. From a year ago, the economy is projected to have grown 4.3 per cent.

Earnings: A handful of retailers are due to report results, including Dollar General and Kroger, with investors watching for updates on supply chain disruption and price pressures. Discount store Dollar General is expected to report quarterly earnings of $2.04 a share. Investors will also be watching to see if it follows rival Dollar Tree in boosting prices. Dollar Tree, known for its “everything’s $1” slogan, last month said it would lift prices for most merchandise to $1.25.

Markets: US stock futures suggest the S&P 500 would open up 0.6 per cent and Nasdaq up 0.25 per cent on Thursday. The S&P 500 fell 1.2 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite declined 1.8 per cent on Wednesday as news of the first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the US prompted a late sell-off.

Washington: Republican and Democratic lawmakers will work on a deal to avoid a government shutdown on Friday. Republican lawmakers protesting against the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates are threatening to vote against stop-gap measures to keep the government funded.

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Abrdn seals £1.5bn Interactive Investor deal

Abrdn has sealed a £1.5bn deal to buy the UK’s second largest funds supermarket, Interactive Investor, in a major push by the FTSE 100 asset manager into the direct-to-consumer market.

Abrdn said on Thursday that it had reached an agreement with Interactive Investor’s majority owner, US private equity group JC Flowers and Co, to buy the investment platform in a cash deal, subject to regulatory approval.

The move is the latest example of consolidation that is sweeping across the asset management sector as groups seek to increase scale and tap into growth opportunities amid rising costs and downward pressure on fees.

For Interactive Investor, the agreement marks the culmination of several years of intensive dealmaking that have built it into the number two UK investment platform, a sector that has emerged as a winner from the pandemic boom in share trading. The tie up supersedes a public listing for the company, which had been expected early next year.

Abdn chief executive Stephen Bird said in a statement that the deal “is a unique opportunity and a transformative step in delivering our growth strategy . . . Abrdn’s scale, resources and shared vision will enable Interactive Investor to grow confidently and expand its leadership position in the UK’s attractive savings and wealth market.”

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EU fines five banks €344m in forex spot trading cartel probe

The European Commission has fined a group of five banks, including HSBC and Credit Suisse, a total of €344m for taking part in a foreign exchange spot trading cartel.

UBS, Barclays and RBS were also fined, the Commission said on Thursday. A total fine of €261m was imposed on the four banks that decided to settle the case, namely UBS, Barclays, RBS and HSBC. Brussels also fined Credit Suisse €83m.

UBS received full immunity for revealing the existence of the cartels, avoiding a fine of roughly €94m.

The decision marks the end of the EU’s sixth cartel investigation in the financial sector since 2013. “Our cartel decisions . . . send a clear message that the Commission remains committed to ensure a sound and competitive financial sector that is essential for investment and growth,” said Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner.

“Foreign exchange spot trading activities are one of the largest financial markets in the world. The collusive behaviour of the five banks undermined the integrity of the financial sector at the expense of the European economy and consumers,” she added.

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Community spread of Omicron detected in England

England has detected at least one Omicron case that is unrelated to travel, suggesting the variant is spreading in the community.

Officials have so far been unable to link the case to any travel history related to southern Africa, where the strain was first detected, whether directly or by contact to any other traveller, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Meanwhile, dozens of new Omicron sequences were being assessed by health officials, suggesting the case tally will increase in the coming days.

In Scotland, 10 Omicron cases have been detected and health officials suspect the variant may already be spreading in the community.

The UK Health Security Agency said on Wednesday that a total of 32 cases had been confirmed in England and Scotland. The HSA did not respond to specific questions, but said it would communicate new developments daily.

The World Health Organization last week designated the variant as one “of concern” after a sharp rise in cases in South Africa.

Scientists fear the heavily mutated variant can spread faster than Delta and bypass the immune protection provided by vaccines or prior infection, although studies are under way to confirm this. It is not yet known whether Omicron alters the severity of Covid.

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UK household wealth soars on back of rising house prices and savings

UK household wealth has risen to records, boosted by buoyant house prices and pension values, while government support helped incomes hold up.

Households’ net worth increased 8.4 per cent to £11.2tn in 2020, the highest since records began in 1995, data published by the Office for National Statistics showed on Thursday. The growth compares with 3.3 per cent in the previous year and is double the average pace in the past decade.

The largest contribution came from a 7.3 per cent increase in average house prices, followed by a rising value in insurance and pensions, and then by deposits, the statistics agency said.

Incomes were largely shielded thanks to government support schemes. Many workers, particularly higher earners, saved a record amount, invested in property and financial assets while their spending fell due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Column chart of showing UK household net worth grew strongly in 2020 (£tn)

The UK economy meanwhile is experiencing the largest contraction in more than 300 years. Government net worth fell by £445bn in 2020, the largest decline on record, as debt rose after unprecedented support to the economy.

“Government financial liabilities increased significantly and were consistent with the increases in current government expenditure because of the coronavirus pandemic,” explained the ONS.

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About 2% of UK population reports having long Covid symptoms, says ONS

Just under 2 per cent in the UK has reported having long Covid-19 symptoms, a condition that is “not yet fully understood”, the Office for National Statistics has said.

An estimated 1.2m people — or 1.9 per cent of the population — have experienced Covid-19 symptoms persisting more than four weeks after their first suspected signs of having contracted the virus, a level that has remained consistent since October.

Some 64 per cent of them, or 775,000 people, said their symptoms made it difficult to carry out day-to-day activities. A fifth reported that their quotidian activities had been “limited a lot”.

The most common persistent symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of smell and difficulty concentrating. Prevalence was greatest in those aged 35 to 69 years, as well as those living in poorer areas, those working in health or social care, and those with pre-existing health issues or disabilities.

The statistics in the ONS study are based on self-reporting rather than clinical diagnoses of ongoing or long Covid. “Long Covid is an emerging phenomenon that is not yet fully understood,” the ONS said.

“The estimates presented in this release are experimental statistics, which are a series of statistics that are in the testing phase and not yet fully developed,” it added.

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Accountancy boom propels BDO partners to earn more than Big Four rivals

Partners at mid-tier accountant BDO were paid more than their counterparts at Big Four rival EY last year as a boom in the industry helped it increase revenues in its audit, tax and advisory divisions.

BDO, the UK’s fifth-largest accounting firm by revenue, paid partners an average of £760,000 before tax in the year to June 30, overtaking the £749,000 paid out by EY.

More than half of BDO’s audits inspected by the Financial Reporting Council this year fell below the required standard but the firm has continued to win market share and now audits more UK-listed companies than any other firm.

Revenues rose 11 per cent to £731m while profits rose 48 per cent to £203m as reduced business travel drove costs lower.

Despite increased profits per partner, BDO is a much smaller business than the Big Four — Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC — which each generate at least three times as much revenue in the UK.

“As the economy started to settle, post-Brexit and with the rollout of the vaccine programme, we experienced an increase in demand for our services,” said Paul Eagland, BDO’s UK managing partner.

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HSBC chief executive warns European fragmentation could lead to higher costs

HSBC chief executive Noel Quinn said there was a risk banks would suffer increased costs if Brexit leads to a more fragmented market.

The European Central Bank has begun pushing banks to move extra staff and capital from London to their post-Brexit operations in continental Europe.

While Quinn said he was confident HSBC would not need to shift resources, he added that any significant upheaval and replication of roles in Europe would hit banks’ costs.

“There is the risk of fragmentation increasing costs, but that is something outside my control,” he said at the Financial Times’ Global Banking Summit on Thursday morning.

Bank executives, lawyers and supervisors recently told the FT that the ECB is becoming increasingly forceful in its demands that lenders move more resources to the continent to run their European businesses.

The fresh push is partly linked to the ECB’s recent decision to end temporary pandemic-era reprieves it granted banks on their timetable for moving staff and capital to the EU.

Quinn said: “I’m hopeful the temporary arrangements will become more permanent, but that’s not for me to make a call on.”

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European stocks drop as Omicron variant weighs on sentiment

European stocks have opened lower, after a slide on Wall Street late in the previous session, as traders weighed the Omicron coronavirus variant and the future direction of monetary policy.

Europe’s Stoxx 600 fell 1.2 per cent on Thursday, extending a week of volatility driven by the variant. London’s FTSE 100 dropped 1 per cent.

The declines follow a 1.2 per cent decline in New York of the S&P 500 equity gauge on Wednesday.

Omicron, which the World Health Organization last week declared a “variant of concern”, features a high number of mutations that have prompted concerns it may evade the immune protection provided by vaccines.

Markets have also been assessing comments made on Tuesday by US Federal Reserve chair Jay Powell that suggested he was willing to accelerate the reduction of the central bank’s $120bn of monthly bond purchases that have supported the stock market since March 2020.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose 0.01 percentage points to about 1.45 per cent. Brent crude, the oil benchmark, rose 1.8 per cent to $70.09 a barrel after heavy swings in recent days.

Investors on Wednesday raced to hedge themselves, with trading volumes of put options — derivatives that offer protection if the price of a security declines — hitting the highest level in 17 months, according to Bloomberg data.

The Vix index, Wall Street’s so-called fear gauge which measures expected stock market volatility, on Wednesday traded at an elevated 31.1 points, above its long-run average of about 20 and its highest since March.

Asian equities were mixed. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index added 0.4 per cent and Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 dropped 0.7 per cent.

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Hong Kong’s strict Covid rules prompt workers to drift away

Nearly half of British companies in a Hong Kong survey are suffering an “unusually high” turnover of staff due to the territory’s “zero-Covid” border restrictions that make most incoming travellers spend three weeks in quarantine.

A survey of 152 members of the British Chambers of Commerce in October found that more than 70 per cent of respondents are struggling to bring talent into the city.

“We are unable to recruit from outside Hong Kong at the moment,” said one survey respondent. Candidates “are no longer interested in Hong Kong as a destination particularly due to the lengthy quarantine periods and the inability to travel without exceedingly large expense and changing quarantine procedures”.

Hong Kong’s quarantine rules, which the city has in place to convince mainland China to open up their mutual border, have protected the Chinese territory from the high pandemic death toll recorded elsewhere.

The regulations though have slowed the city’s vaccine take-up among older citizens, critics say, while some of the measures, such as the three-week quarantine, have been deemed unscientific.

International businesses have been lobbying against the restrictions as they drive away potential workers coming to the city.

“Finding a solution for easing quarantine restrictions at international borders is also a priority for us,” said Peter Burnett, the chair of the chamber.

Hong Kong is facing an outflow of locals, who are concerned about a national curriculum introduced in the wake of 2019’s political unrest.

An average of 32 students left per school in the 2020-21 school year, compared with about 20 per school in the two years before, figures released this week from the Hong Kong association of the heads of secondary schools showed. Nearly 1,000 teachers left in 2020-21, from 498 in the previous school year.

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World faces half year of ‘extreme uncertainty’ due to Omicron, says Sorrell

The world faces a three to six month period of “extreme uncertainty” following the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, Sir Martin Sorrell has said, as governments and experts work out how serious its impact will be.

The British businessman and founder of media group S4 Capital said he would have hoped that the government would be better prepared to provide clear guidance and strategy after the experience of the Delta variant a year ago.

“The guidance we are getting from the government and from vaccine manufacturers is contradictory,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday.

“We’re kind of in never never land at the moment, and we are looking at a period of extreme uncertainty until we see what happens over the next 3 to 6 months.”

But whereas UK government guidelines have been mixed, he has seen a rapid reaction among his business clients. “There’s been quite a sharp number of cancellations [of parties and events] since this happened just 3 to 5 days ago,” Sir Martin said.

“Things were getting better and its a step backwards, but we have to live with Covid. It is endemic, it is something now we have to live with over the years,” he added.

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Rothermere increases bid to take Daily Mail publisher private

Lord Rothermere has raised his bid to take Daily Mail and General Trust private to 270p a share and said the improved offer for the publisher of the UK’s best selling daily newspaper is “final”.

The latest bid from the Rothermere family, the controlling shareholders of DMGT, represents an improvement of 6 per cent from the original offer, formally tabled last month.

It comes after two large institutional investors spoke out against the first offer for the media company, which has been listed in London for almost 90 years.

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Early data suggest GSK antibody treatment is effective against Omicron

GlaxoSmithKline’s Covid-19 antibody treatment is likely to be able to tackle the Omicron coronavirus variant, according to early data from the company, despite rival drugs losing efficacy against the recently discovered strain.

The UK drugmaker and its partner Vir Biotechnology said on Thursday that early tests suggest the antibody treatment, called sotrovimab, is effective against Omicron’s key mutations. But the companies’ paper has not yet been peer-reviewed and they still need to complete lab tests of sotrovimab. The companies will provide an update by the end of 2021.

By contrast, early tests of Regeneron’s antibody treatment Ronapreve found the mutations in Omicron may hamper the drug’s ability to treat Covid-19.

Hal Barron, GSK’s chief scientific officer, said the company was working to expand access to the treatment worldwide.

“Though early, these pre-clinical data support our long-held view on the potential for sotrovimab to maintain its activity as the virus continues to mutate,” he said.

Separately on Thursday, the UK regulator approved the drug for high risk people with mild and moderate disease. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said it would work with GSK to establish if Omicron will have any impact on its efficacy.

Dr June Raine, MHRA chief executive said: “This is yet another therapeutic that has been shown to be effective at protecting those most vulnerable to Covid-19, and signals another significant step forward in our fight against this devastating disease.”

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China’s hypersonic weapon test increased tensions in the Indo-Pacific, US defence secretary says

Lloyd Austin, US defence secretary, said on Thursday that China’s hypersonic weapon test in July and its development of the advanced weapon had increased tensions in the Indo-Pacific.

“We know that China conducted a test of a hypersonic weapon on the 27th of July,” Austin said in his first confirmation of the test, first reported by the Financial Times.

“We’ll continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and deter against a range of potential threats from the PRC to ourselves and our allies,” Austin said during a visit to Seoul.

China flew a hypersonic glide vehicle — a manoeuvrable space craft that travels at over five times the speed of sound — around the world on an orbital rocket system, demonstrating the ability to hit anywhere in the US with nuclear weapons.

The HGV fired a missile as it flew over the South China Sea, revealing a capability that stunned the Pentagon because of the physical difficulties of shooting a projectile while flying at such speed.

Austin was speaking in Seoul alongside his South Korean counterpart, Suh Wook, after annual talks about the US-Republic of Korea military alliance that included General Mark Milley, the chair of the US joint chiefs.

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Japan backtracks on suspension for in-bound flight bookings

Japan has rowed back on a controversial request that international airlines stop taking bookings for in-bound flights, saying that a “consideration” would be made for Japanese returnees.

Hirokazu Matsuno, chief cabinet secretary, said the request from the country’s transport ministry was made as an emergency and precautionary measure.

“The blanket suspension of new bookings is withdrawn,” he said, according to a simultaneous English translation of his remarks to reporters on the cabinet office website.

Matsuno added that the demands of Japanese returnees to be able to reach the country would be met.

On Wednesday, state-owned broadcaster NHK reported that the transport ministry had requested that airlines stop taking new reservations for all Japan-bound flights until the end of December.

A statement from Japan Airlines that day said the carrier had stopped taking new reservations for all JAL-operated international flights arriving in Japan in December “in accordance with instructions from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism”.

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Square Inc to become Block in latest tech sector rebrand

Square Inc, the payments company run by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, said on Wednesday that it would change its name to Block, becoming the latest tech group to rebrand itself with a name swap.

The division of the company that provides services to sellers will keep the name Square, while the parent company will assume the new name, which it said “acknowledges the company’s growth” into areas such as money transfers, music streaming and crypto currencies.

Tech groups in the US have in recent years undergone a string of rebrands as their portfolios have expanded beyond their original products. In October, Facebook changed its name to Meta, to encompass its wider tech ambitions. That move followed a similar one from Google, which reinvented itself as Alphabet in 2015.

Square Inc’s name change is expected to complete on or around December 10.

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Cloud Village shares slide on Hong Kong debut

Shares in Cloud Village, the music streaming unit of Chinese gaming group Netease, fell on Thursday, after the company raised HK$3.28bn (US$421m) in its initial public offering.

Shares dropped by as much as 2.4 per cent to a low of HK$200 in the morning of their first day of trading and were down 2.2 per cent when markets closed for lunch. A total of 16m shares were sold for HK$205 each in the IPO, at the midpoint of the expected range.

The listing was delayed in August after a disappointing response from investors and concerns over Beijing’s regulatory crackdown on technology groups.

Thursday’s share price falls followed the release of draft rules last month by the Cyberspace Administration of China, China’s powerful data watchdog, that would require companies listing in Hong Kong to undergo a cyber security review if share sales could have implications for national security.

The IPO makes Cloud Village one of the first tech groups to list in Hong Kong since the new rules were announced.

Cloud Village assessed the new rules in its prospectus but noted that the company had not been subject to any related notices or inquiries.

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South Korea consumer prices rise at fastest clip since 2011

South Korean inflation rose at its fastest pace in almost a decade, as the country’s consumer price index confounded economists’ expectations with a 3.7 per cent year-on-year rise in November.

Inflation in the East Asian country has exceeded the Bank of Korea’s 2 per cent target for eight straight months.

In August, South Korea became the first big Asian economy to raise interest rates when the BoK raised the benchmark rate to 0.75 per cent from a record low of 0.5 per cent. Last week the benchmark interest rate was raised by 25 basis points again to 1 per cent.

Analysts ascribe the November surge to rises in food and oil prices in a country that depends heavily on imports.

The South Korean economy faces a period of uncertainty amid a recent surge in Covid-19 cases and an unpredictable presidential election due to be held in March.

A phased loosening of social distancing restrictions has been halted, while health authorities announced the first confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country on Wednesday.

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Macquarie names former RBA governor as new chair

Macquarie has appointed a former Reserve Bank of Australia governor to take over as chair of the group and its bank.

Glenn Stevens, who served as RBA governor between 2006 and 2016, will take over from Peter Warne after the release of the group’s full-year results in early May 2022.

Stevens became an independent voting director at the company in November 2017.

Warne led the Australian asset manager as chair for five years and has been a director of both the group and its banking unit since 2007. He signalled his intention to retire from Macquarie’s board in July 2019.

Macquarie is one of the world’s biggest infrastructure investors, with stakes in Cadent, the gas distribution network, and KCom, a fibre telecoms business in the UK.

Diane Grady, a voting director at the group, will also retire in late February next year, the company said.

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Disney names Susan Arnold to replace Bob Iger as chair

Walt Disney said Susan E Arnold will succeed Bob Iger as chair of the board when he steps down at the end of the year.

Arnold, who has held senior positions at The Carlyle Group and Procter & Gamble, has served on the Disney board for 14 years. She has been Disney’s independent lead director since 2018.

Iger stepped down as chief executive in February 2020, but remained chair and has directed Disney’s creative businesses. Bob Chapek, a 28-year Disney veteran who ran its theme parks and resorts business, succeeded him as chief executive.

Disney will see a number of veteran executives depart at the end of the year, including general counsel Alan Braverman, communications chief Zenia Mucha and Alan Horn, the veteran producer who led the Disney Studios for nine years. Gary Marsh, president of Disney Branded Television, is also stepping down.

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US Covid hospitalisations rose during November

The level of Covid-19 hospitalisations in the US rose during November, ending a two-month run of declines following the country’s summer wave.

The increase in hospitalisations has been accompanied by a rise in daily new coronavirus infections and elevated deaths, which has stirred concerns about a fifth wave of the pandemic in the US heading into winter.

There were 58,067 patients in US hospitals with Covid-19 on November 30, according to a Financial Times analysis of data released on Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). That marked a 20 per cent increase from the end of October, which was the lowest level since the end of July, but comfortably below summer highs of more than 103,000 in late August.

Column chart of Month-end level of patients with Covid-19 in US hospitals showing US Covid hospitalisations rose in November

In about three-fifths of US states, the seven-day average of hospitalisations is higher than it was at the end of October, according to an FT analysis of HHS data. Michigan and the northeastern states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont — where temperatures have cooled — reported their highest average levels of patients during November.

The US averaged about 82,500 new Covid-19 cases a day in the week ended November 30, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an increase of 16 per cent since the end of October.

Covid-related deaths have averaged 816, down from almost 1,200 a day at the end of October, but the latest figures may be lower due to reporting delays following the Thanksgiving long weekend.

More than 70 per cent of the US population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while 59.4 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data on Wednesday. Almost 42m Americans have received their booster shots.

During a press briefing on Wednesday at the White House, Dr Anthony Fauci reiterated that about 80m Americans have not been vaccinated against Covid-19. He implored them to sign up for their shots as he and other top health officials revealed the first US case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus had been identified in California.

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What to watch in Asia today

Opec+: The group will announce what they intend to do about oil prices, which are down almost 20 per cent in a week because of the spread of the Omicron variant and worries about how the vaccine will stand up to it.

Data: South Korean consumer price inflation for November is announced today. Australia also releases its monthly retail sales figures, an important gauge of economic activity.

Lloyd Austin: The US defence secretary will meet his South Korean counterpart in Seoul today for a Security Consultative Meeting. The two will discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

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Turkish finance minister resigns amid lira plunge

Turkey’s finance minister has resigned and been replaced by a loyalist to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan amid a sharp plunge in the lira.

Lutfi Elvan, who was seen as the last remaining voice of economic orthodoxy in the Turkish leader’s cabinet, asked to be relieved of his duties, according to the country’s official gazette.

After weeks of rumours that he was seeking to step down, the former technocrat was replaced by Nurettin Nebati, who last week made a fulsome public defence of Erdogan’s policy of cutting interest rates despite rising inflation.

Nebati, who served three years as a deputy finance minister prior to his appointment, said Turkey had for years been trying to implement a policy of low rates but had always faced strong opposition. “This time, we are determined to implement it,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that there was “no problem” with keeping interest rates low in current market conditions.

The lira has lost close to 40 per cent of its value since the start of September as Erdogan, a lifelong opponent of high interest rates, has pressured the country’s central bank to repeatedly cut them, lowering its benchmark rate to 15 per cent despite annual inflation of close to 20 per cent.

That approach has prompted warnings from economists that the government risks causing runaway inflation and financial instability.

Read more on the finance minister’s departure here.

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US stocks swing the most since March in Omicron-triggered sell-off

US equities and oil prices slid on Wednesday as concerns about the Omicron coronavirus variant and hawkish comments from the Federal Reserve chair weighed on global financial markets.

The S&P 500 equity gauge closed 1.2 per cent lower, erasing a gain of 1.9 per cent earlier in the session. The decline marked the benchmark’s largest intraday swing since March and followed a punishing session on Tuesday, which left the index almost 2 per cent lower.

The technology-focused Nasdaq slipped 1.8 per cent, with losses accelerating just before the close.

Stocks were hit by news that the first Omicron variant had been identified in a vaccinated person in California, as well as figures that showed another surge of coronavirus cases in South Africa.

Investors continued to weigh comments from Jay Powell, Fed chair, who this week told Congress that the risk of higher inflation had increased.

Market measures of volatility continued to rise on Wednesday, with the Cboe’s Vix index rising above 30 for the first time since March.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury note declined 0.02 percentage points on the day to 1.42 per cent. The two-year Treasury yield, which closely tracks interest rate expectations fell 0.01 percentage point to 0.56 per cent.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, settled down 0.5 per cent at $68.87 a barrel, after falling almost 4 per cent on Tuesday, as investors anticipated the result of the Opec+ meeting of the producer group and its allies this week.

Read more on the day’s market moves here.

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Stacey Abrams launches campaign for Georgia governor after narrow 2018 loss

Stacey Abrams will run for governor of Georgia in 2022, setting up a possible high-profile rematch between the Democratic voting-rights activist and Republican incumbent Brian Kemp.

Abrams announced her candidacy on Wednesday with a campaign video saying: “Opportunity and success in Georgia shouldn’t be determined by your zip code, background or access to power.”

Abrams became a national political figure after her narrow loss to Kemp in the 2018 governor’s race in Georgia, a contest that was marred by accusations that Kemp, who was at the time Georgia’s secretary of state, had removed black Georgians from the voter rolls.

More recently, the former state legislator turned political organiser was widely credited with Democrats’ electoral successes in the traditionally Republican southern state, including Joe Biden’s narrow win there last November over Donald Trump, as well as US Senate victories by Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the most recent election cycle.

Abrams, who has not held national office, was briefly floated as a possible running mate for Biden in the run-up to last year’s election.

Kemp, meanwhile, has fallen out with Trump in the aftermath of last year’s presidential poll, when the then president tried to press the governor and Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” tens of thousands of votes to overturn the election result in the state. While Kemp has said he will seek re-election, he is expected to face at least one rightwing primary challenger in his pursuit of re-election.

The 2022 midterm elections will be seen as a litmus test of Democrats’ strength in Georgia, with the governor’s mansion and a Senate seat up for grabs as Warnock defends his title after winning earlier this year in a special election.

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