Virus outbreak hits weakened Italian economy where it hurts

Virus outbreak hits weakened Italian economy where it hurts
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With the coronavirus emergency deepening in Europe, Italy risks falling back into recession as tourists are spooked from visiting its cultural treasures. (AP)
Virus outbreak hits weakened Italian economy where it hurts
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Even before the virus arrived in Italy, luxury fashion officials projected a 2 percent first-half contraction. (AP)
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Updated 08 March 2020

Virus outbreak hits weakened Italian economy where it hurts

Virus outbreak hits weakened Italian economy where it hurts
  • Entire towns are quarantined in the north, the heart of Italy’s financial industry
  • Italian tourism officials are projecting 32 million fewer foreign visitors and a loss of €7.4 billion ($8.1 billion) in the second quarter alone

MILAN: The focal point of the coronavirus emergency in Europe, Italy, is also the region’s weakest economy and is taking an almighty hit as foreigners stop visiting its cultural treasures or buying its prized artisanal products, from fashion to food to design.

Europe’s third-largest economy has long been among the slowest growing in the region and is the one that is tallying the largest number of virus infections outside Asia.

Entire towns are quarantined in the north, the heart of Italy’s manufacturing and financial industries. Airlines have cut back on flights to the country, meaning millions fewer travelers are expected — causing billions in losses for hotels, restaurants, tourist sites and many others.

The turmoil is expected to push Italy back into recession and weigh more broadly on the European economy, with trade-focused countries like Germany, France and Britain also struggling with the global disruption to supply chains and travel.

“I am getting cancelations through June,” said Stefania Stea, who has two hotels in Venice, where the Carnival cancelation emptied the city in a single afternoon and sent occupation rates plunging to an unheard of 1 percent-2 percent.

Stea, who is vice president of the Venice hoteliers association, is tallying cancelations worth €7,000-€10,000 ($7,700-$11,000) a day for her 39 rooms — all currently empty.

“The only reservations I am getting are for Christmas or New Year’s Eve, with people hoping for a deal.”

Italy’s economy is forecast to shrink this quarter, with Bocconi University economist Francesco Daveri predicting a 0.3 percent. That would match a surprise shrinkage in the last quarter of 2019 and would put the country in a technical recession.

The country has already shed 4 percent of GDP in back-to-back recessions in the first two decades of the century, and recovery has been stalled for the last two years.

Banks are still trying to burn off a pile of bad loans left over from the financial crisis a decade ago and the government’s public debt load — the highest in Europe after Greece — limits the country’s ability to significantly ramp up spending to help the economy if needed.

The tourism and luxury industries were the first, but not last, to sound the alarm.

Tourism officials are projecting 32 million fewer foreign visitors and a loss of €7.4 billion ($8.1 billion) in the second quarter alone, before the arrival of the make-or-break summer travel season. Foreign airlines are canceling flights to Milan, Italy’s financial and fashion capital, and to Venice, a top destination.

The tourism industry decries what it describes as confusing and hyperbolic media coverage of the virus outbreak, creating more concern among Italians, travelers and business partners than perhaps warranted.

“Unfortunately, we are paying the price of a media communication that has been much more lethal than the virus,’’ said Luca Patane, the president of tourism association Confturismo-Confcommercio.

Even before the virus arrived in Italy, luxury fashion officials projected a 2 percent first half contraction. That was based solely on weaker spending by Chinese consumers, who are the biggest luxury buyers in the world accounting for 35 percent of global sales.

Now the virus, which began in China, is discouraging well-heeled shopping tourists to Milan’s Monte Napoleone district and Rome’s via Condotti, while spreading to the US and European neighbors, key export markets.

“It is starting to impact Japan and Korea, and most probably will impact Europe and other countries as the virus spreads. We hope it will not spread too fast,’’ said Federica Levato, partner at consultancy group Bain.

Bain is, for now, maintaining its forecast for 3 percent to 5 percent year-on-year growth in global luxury goods sales through 2025. Levato noted that in the 2003 SARS epidemic, spending rebounded “as soon as the crisis passed.’’

How deeply the virus will hit the rest of the Italian economy remains to be seen.

Authorities are trying to help with a €7.5 billion ($8.3 billion) plan approved this week, including short-term unemployment schemes to help small businesses. The European Central Bank could trim its interest rates when it meets next week, but they are already near or below zero, and the disruption to business is unlikely to be helped much by cheaper credit.

Making things more complicated is a lack of knowledge about the virus’s true risks and whether it is spread, for example, through exported goods.

Industry groups and policymakers have signaled incidents of importers of Italian goods in other EU countries seeking additional certification that the goods are virus-free.

The Coldiretti agricultural lobby on Wednesday said that “unjustified documentation” had been requested from importers of aged cheese in Greece, lettuce sent to Poland and fruit to Kuwait, while shipments of Italian-grown apples are blocked at the border with Ukraine.

Coldiretti also said its producers had reported “numerous cancelations without good reasons that struck an entire range of ‘Made in Italy’ foodstuffs, from wine to cured meats.’’

The coronavirus emergency is damaging Italy’s image abroad, Coldiretti said, putting at risk a sector worth €538 billion ($590 billion), from farm producers to grocery shelves to restaurants.

In a bid to limit damage, agricultural association Confagricoltura met this week with government officials from countries including Britain, France, Germany, Hungary and the Netherlands.

And it is not only food products that have fallen under suspicion. The head of a steel making company said a customer in Germany had requested that wooden shipping containers be sanitized.

The apparently ad hoc requests are out of line with prevailing medical advice.

The World Health Organization has emphasized that the virus is spreading person to person “and nothing indicates that other routes of transmission, such as via parcel or cargo freight, are contributing to onward spread in any way.” It added that there is no evidence to suggest food products pose a risk.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio this week protested against what he called indiscriminate limits on Italian exports.

“It is not acceptable to block Italian goods or ask for a certificate of guarantee beyond what exists in commercial agreements,’’ Di Maio said Tuesday. ”Merchandise does not have anything to do with the virus.’’


Egyptian government approves rise in fuel prices

Consumers purchase fuel at a petrol station near Cairo Airport, Egypt.(REUTERS file photo)
Consumers purchase fuel at a petrol station near Cairo Airport, Egypt.(REUTERS file photo)
Updated 34 min 6 sec ago

Egyptian government approves rise in fuel prices

Consumers purchase fuel at a petrol station near Cairo Airport, Egypt.(REUTERS file photo)
  • Prices of all three grades raised by 0.50 Egyptian pounds each
  • Citizens who use public transportation will not be affected by latest move, official says

CAIRO: The Egyptian government has raised fuel prices from Friday based on the decisions of the Automatic Pricing Committee for Petroleum Products.

The committee, which meets every three months, issued a statement raising gasoline prices by 25 piasters ($0.016), with the price of a liter of 80 octane gasoline rising to EGP 6.75 ($0.43). The price of 92 octane gasoline is now EGP 8 per litre and high-quality 95 octane gasoline is EGP 9.

The price of diesel remains unchanged at EGP 6.75 per liter for public transport vehicles and EGP 3,900 per ton for the industrial sector.

The government implemented the new gasoline prices on Friday morning, according to a statement from the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources.

The last price hike was in April, in line with the Egyptian government’s plan to gradually stop subsidizing fuel products within the framework of a reform program supported by the International Monetary Fund.

Prices have remained stable over the past year after dropping in April 2020 and October 2019.

The Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum stated that the pricing committee reviewed the average prices of Brent crude in the global market and the exchange rate of the dollar against the Egyptian pound for the period from April to June 2021.

These are the two most important factors “influencing the cost of providing and selling petroleum products in the local market, in addition to other burdens and costs,” the ministry said.

It said the committee’s recommendations reflected the current conditions in the world, such as the severe fluctuation in global prices resulting from the pandemic and the reduction of crude production.

Hossam Arafat, head of the General Division for Petroleum Products, said that the rise was due to the rise in the dollar, the increase in direct and indirect expenses and the rise in the price of a barrel of oil.

He said the prices of diesel used in public and private transportation would remain fixed. It means transportation ticket prices will remain unchanged.

Ahmed Mohamed, a government employee, said that the rise in fuel prices will not affect him because he does not own a car.

He said that the Egyptian government has been very open with its citizens for years, as it had told them that it would gradually stop subsidizing petroleum products.


OPEC should leave oil market in hands of the Saudis – Mizuho

OPEC should leave oil market in hands of the Saudis – Mizuho
Updated 23 July 2021

OPEC should leave oil market in hands of the Saudis – Mizuho

OPEC should leave oil market in hands of the Saudis – Mizuho
  • Saudi Arabia has managed production effectively during COVID era
  • Risks remain as COVID resurgence could hurt demand

RIYADH: OPEC and the entire energy industry should thank Saudi Arabia for helping oil prices recover from negative territory last year, and the market would be best left to the Kingdom to manage, according to a senior investment banking energy commentator.

“They’ve done a magnificent job of managing their production program in the COVID era,” Robert Yawger, executive director of Energy Futures at Mizuho Securities said in an interview on Bloomberg Television on Thursday.

Crude oil futures fell below zero for the first time in history on April 20 last year as demand evaporated amid widespread lockdowns in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

That was an “unprecedented event” and “left a terrible scar on the industry,” said Yawger. “It rallied back under the management of the Saudis. The rest of OPEC has a lot to thank them for. Anyone that has anything to do with energy has a lot to thank them for, for that matter.”

WTI crude, the US benchmark, reached a six-year high of $76.98 on July 5 as OPEC+ failed to find agreement on output quotas, but has edged lower since then as the UAE and Saudi Arabia hammered out a compromise. The group will raise output by 400,000 barrels a month from August for 14 months.

While discipline on production has helped bring prices back, the market is at risk if renewed lockdowns hurt demand, said Yawger.

“I understand that everyone wants to get as many barrels on the market as possible, but you just can’t do that,” he said. “You cannot flood the market. It’s a very fragile state right now.”

“In my opinion, it’s best to let the Saudis manage it; they’ve done an incredible job. As long as they don’t flood the market themselves,” he said.

“Everybody remembers negative prices. That was the result of the price war last year. They all came to the assumption that it’s better to keep the barrels off the market and let the Saudis take charge and manage the situation than let prices slide in that direction again. Nobody can sustain that kind of slide for very long.”

“I don’t know if we’re going to see that $76.98 number again. That may be a challenge.”

US COVID-19 cases have climbed in recent weeks, reaching almost 64,000 yesterday compared with below 10,000 a day at the beginning of the month. However, that’s down from the peak in January of more than 250,000 new cases per day.

“If we have a COVID flare up that’s a third of what it was last fall, we have a serious problem on our hands and demand would not be that supersized as a result,” said Yawger. “If everybody was vaccinated we would not even be having this conversation. But because we’re headed into the winter with a big part of the population that’s not vaccinated, it has the potential to be a big problem for crude oil demand.”


New Russian war plane has Mideast orders in sights

New Russian war plane has Mideast orders in sights
Updated 23 July 2021

New Russian war plane has Mideast orders in sights

New Russian war plane has Mideast orders in sights
  • Plane has combat radius of 1,500 km and shortened takeoff and landing
  • Russia expects 300 orders for the plane over the next 15 years

DUBAI: Mideast governments could figure among customers for Russia’s new Sukhoi stealth fighter jet, a top Rostec executive told Arab News.
Known popularly as “The Checkmate,” the aircraft was inspected by President Vladimir Putin ahead of Moscow’s biennial airshow on Tuesday.
Designed to compete with the US F-15 fighter jet, few details had previously been made public about the plane made by Rostec, Russia’s defense industry manufacturing conglomerate and United Aircraft Corporation (UAC).
Victor Kladov, Rostec director for international cooperation and regional policy, told Arab News the aircraft had high export potential.
“This included singling out countries of the Middle East among potential customers,” he said.
Earlier, UAC General Director Yury Slyusar told Russian TV the plane had a combat radius of 1,500 kilometers and shortened takeoff and landing.
He expects as many as 300 orders for the plane over the next 15 years, mainly from the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.
“Market appetite for advanced aircraft such as “the Checkmate” is strong in the Middle East, particularly if workshare and investment opportunities can help to satisfy local offset and industrialization policies,” said Charles Forrester, a regional lead analyst at Janes, a defense intelligence provider. “The desire to have sovereign control over advanced capabilities is a key part of this, particularly given the challenge of supply chain security in the face of export controls from foreign partners.”
The plane is expected to cost between $25 million and $30 million according to Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov.
Russia has invested heavily in its defense sector in recent years and has targeted exports to the Gulf states where it has been highly visible in regional arms fairs.
However strong US ties to the region have sometimes hampered its marketing push in the Arab world — with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) deterring potential clients.
“From an operational perspective, a number of militaries in the region are undertaking the process of refreshing their aircraft fleets that were acquired in the 1990s and 2000s, in order to deploy new capabilities, improve interoperability, and reduce maintenance costs. For some countries, such as Qatar and Egypt, this has involved significant increases in fleet sizes and capabilities. Changing threat dynamics, such as new anti-aircraft missile technology, have also meant that new capabilities are required to maintain an edge over their potential adversaries,” added Forrester.


Bitcoin set for weekly gain after Musk helps recovery above $30,000

Bitcoin set for weekly gain after Musk helps recovery above $30,000
Updated 23 July 2021

Bitcoin set for weekly gain after Musk helps recovery above $30,000

Bitcoin set for weekly gain after Musk helps recovery above $30,000
  • Bitcoin fell below $30,000 on July 20
  • Musk said he and his companies own crypto assets

RIYADH: Cryptocurrencies rose on Friday, with bitcoin headed for a weekly gain following a volatile period that saw it dip below $30,000 for the first time in a month.

Bitcoin, the most traded cryptocurrency, was 1.1 percent higher at $32,419.46 at 12:36 a.m. Riyadh time, according to Coindesk desk data. Ether, the second most traded crypto asset, rose 3.7 percent to $2,056.70.

Bitcoin fell as low as $29,504.96 on July 20 before comments from Elon Musk at the B Word conference the follow day helped stir bullish sentiment. Both Tesla and SpaceX hold bitcoin on their balance sheet, and he personally owns bitcoin, ether and dogecoin, he said.

His comments helped boost prices across the crypto complex, with ether breaking above $2,000 for the first time since July 14.

Crypto traders have experienced a “roller coaster ride,” Lukas Conrad, chief product officer at Bitpanda told Coindesk. “Even though pressure from sellers might be diminishing, buyers won’t turn things around until resistance is broken.”

Core Scientific Holding Co. said on Wednesday it would go public through a merger with a blank-check company backed by BlackRock Inc, in a deal that values the cryptocurrency miner at $4.3 billion.

The deal with Power & Digital Infrastructure Acquisition Corp will fetch $300 million in cash proceeds, but the companies did not disclose a private investment in public equity (PIPE) round that typically accompanies blank-check mergers.

Core Scientific said it had mined 928 bitcoins in the second quarter and forecast revenues of $493 million and $1.1 billion for fiscal 2021 and 2022, respectively.

The company said it was 100 percent net carbon neutral and aims to remain so as it grows. Bitcoin is virtual but mining the asset consumes a lot of energy as it is created using high-powered computers around the globe.

A survey conducted by the investment bank Goldman Sachs found that 45 percent of family offices are interested in investing in cryptocurrencies, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

Another 15 percent, over 150, said they have already invested in cryptocurrency. And they see the crypto industry as a hedge against higher inflation, prolonged low rates and other macroeconomic developments following a year of unprecedented global monetary and fiscal stimulus.

FTX Trading Ltd said on Tuesday its valuation had risen to $18 billion after a $900 million funding round that included SoftBank Group Corp and was one of the biggest fundraises for a crypto company.

The round saw participation from more than 60 investors, including venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, private equity giant Thoma Bravo, Daniel Loeb's Third Point, the Paul Tudor Jones family and British hedge fund manager Alan Howard.

JPMorgan Chase & Co will allow all of its wealth management clients access to cryptocurrency funds, Business Insider reported on Thursday, citing sources.

The bank told its financial advisers in a memo earlier this week to take buy and sell orders from its wealth management clients for five cryptocurrency products effective July 19, the report said.

Four of such products are from Grayscale Investments and one from Osprey Funds, according to the report. JPMorgan declined to comment on the report.


Electric vehicles double market share in Europe in the second quarter

Electric vehicles double market share in Europe in the second quarter
Updated 23 July 2021

Electric vehicles double market share in Europe in the second quarter

Electric vehicles double market share in Europe in the second quarter
  • All-electric vehicles accounted for 7.5 percent of new car sales in Europe
  • Sales of battery electric vehicles more than tripled across Europe to 210,298 cars

PARIS: Electric vehicles more than doubled their share of new car sales in Europe in the second quarter, with hybrids also making gains, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) said Friday.
All-electric vehicles accounted for 7.5 percent of new car sales in Europe in the three months from April through June, against 3.5 percent during that period last year.
In absolute terms, sales of battery electric vehicles more than tripled across Europe to reach 210,298 cars.
The ACEA said there were substantial gains in the region’s top four markets, led by sales more than quadrupling in Spain and Germany.
“Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) had an even more impressive second quarter of 2021, with registrations jumping by 255.8 percent to 235,730 units,” said the ACEA.
Sales of hybrids also more than tripled to 541,162 vehicles, remaining the largest category of alternatively-powered cars.
Meanwhile, registrations of new petrol and diesel vehicles increased given the low number of vehicles sold in the second quarter last year, when many European countries had severe restrictions on businesses due to the pandemic.
But in terms of market share, both petrol and diesel saw huge drops.
Diesel saw its market share plunge to 20.4 percent from 29.4 percent.
Petrol had a bigger contraction, to 41.8 percent from 51.9 percent.
Automakers are stepping up their plans to shift to all-electric production.
Yesterday, Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler said it plans to invest more than 40 billion euros ($47 billion) by 2030 to be ready to take on Tesla in an all-electric car market, but warned the shift in technology would lead to job cuts.

Outlining its strategy for an electric future, the inventor of the modern motor car said on Thursday it would, with partners, build eight battery plants as it ramps up electric vehicle (EV) production.

From 2025, all new vehicle platforms will only make EVs, the German luxury automaker added.

“We really want to go for it ... and be dominantly, if not all electric, by the end of the decade,” Chief Executive Ola Källenius told Reuters, adding that spending on traditional combustion-engine technology would be “close to zero” by 2025.

However, Daimler — to be renamed Mercedes-Benz as part of plans to spin off its trucks division later this year — stopped short of giving a hard deadline for ending sales of fossil-fuel cars.

Some carmakers like Geely-owned Volvo Cars have committed to going all electric by 2030, while General Motors Co. (GM.N) says it aspires to be fully electric by 2035, as they all try to close the gap to industry leader Tesla.