Rouhani: Iran cannot shut down economy despite worsening coronavirus outbreak

Iran has suffered a sharp economic downturn after US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions. (WANA via Reuters)
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Updated 11 July 2020

Rouhani: Iran cannot shut down economy despite worsening coronavirus outbreak

  • Iran must continue ‘economic, social and cultural activities while observing health protocols’
  • The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by six percent this year

TEHRAN: Iran said on Saturday that it cannot afford to shut down its sanctions-hit economy, even as the Middle East’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak worsens with record-high death tolls and rising infections.
Iran must continue “economic, social and cultural activities while observing health protocols,” President Hassan Rouhani said during a televised virus taskforce meeting.
“The simplest solution is to close down all activities, (but) the next day, people would come out to protest the (resulting) chaos, hunger, hardship and pressure,” he added.

However, he called for big gatherings such as weddings and wakes to be banned to stem a rise in coronavirus infections.
Shortly after Rouhani’s televised speech, a police official in Tehran announced the closure of all wedding and mourning venues in the capital until further notice.
The Islamic republic has been struggling since late February to contain the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, which has killed over 12,400 people and infected more than 252,000.
Deaths from the respiratory disease hit 221 on Thursday — a single-day record for Iran.
The country closed schools, canceled public events and banned movement between its 31 provinces in March, but Rouhani’s government progressively lifted restrictions from April to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.
The outbreak’s rising toll has prompted authorities to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces and to allow the hardest hit provinces to reimpose restrictive measures.
Iran has suffered a sharp economic downturn after US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions.
The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by six percent this year.
“It is not possible to keep businesses and economic activities shut down in the long-term,” Rouhani said, emphasizing that “the people will not accept this.”
Health Minister Said Namaki warned on Wednesday of a potential “revolt over poverty” and blamed US sanctions for the government’s “empty coffers.”
The reopening of the economy “was not over our ignorance (of the virus’ dangers), but it was due to us being on our knees against an economy that could take no more,” Namaki said on state television.
US sanctions targeted vital oil sales and banking relations, among other sectors, forcing Iran to rely on non-oil exports, which have dropped as borders were closed to stem the spread of the virus.


S&P 500 inches closer to record high

Updated 12 August 2020

S&P 500 inches closer to record high

  • US stock market index returns to levels last seen before the onset of coronavirus crisis

NEW YORK: The S&P 500 on Tuesday closed in on its February record high, returning to levels last seen before the onset of the coronavirus crisis that caused one of Wall Street’s most dramatic crashes in history.

The benchmark index was about half a percent below its peak hit on Feb. 19, when investors started dumping shares in anticipation of what proved to be the biggest slump in the US economy since the Great Depression.

Ultra-low interest rates, trillions of dollars in stimulus and, more recently, a better-than-feared second quarter earnings season have allowed all three of Wall Street’s main indexes to recover.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq has led the charge, boosted by “stay-at-home winners” Amazon.com Inc., Netflix Inc. and Apple Inc. The index was down about 0.4 percent.

The blue chip Dow surged 1.2 percent, coming within 5 percent of its February peak.

“You’ve got to admit that this is a market that wants to go up, despite tensions between US-China, despite news of the coronavirus not being particularly encouraging,” said Andrea Cicione, a strategist at TS Lombard.

“We’re facing an emergency from the health, economy and employment point of view — the outlook is a lot less rosy. There’s a disconnect between valuation and the actual outlook even though lower rates to some degree justify high valuation.”

Aiding sentiment, President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia had become the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine. But the approval’s speed has concerned some experts as the vaccine still must complete final trials.

Investors are now hoping Republicans and Democrats will resolve their differences and agree on another relief program to support about 30 million unemployed Americans, as the battle with the virus outbreak was far from over with US cases surpassing 5 million last week.

Also in focus are Sino-US tensions ahead of high-stakes trade talks in the coming weekend.

“Certainly the rhetoric from Washington has been negative with regards to China ... there’s plenty of things to worry about, but markets are really focused more on the very easy fiscal and monetary policies at this point,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.

Financials, energy and industrial sectors, that have lagged the benchmark index this year, provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 on Tuesday.

The S&P 500 was set to rise for the eighth straight session, its longest streak of gains since April 2019.

The S&P 500 was up 15.39 points, or 0.46 percent, at 3,375.86, about 18 points shy of its high of 3,393.52. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 341.41 points, or 1.23 percent, at 28,132.85, and the Nasdaq Composite was down 48.37 points, or 0.44 percent, at 10,919.99.

Royal Caribbean Group jumped 4.6 percent after it hinted at new safety measures aimed at getting sailing going again after months of cancellations. Peers Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and Carnival Corp. also rose.

US mall owner Simon Property Group Inc. gained 4.1 percent despite posting a disappointing second quarter profit, as its CEO expressed some hope over a recovery in retail as lockdown measures in some regions eased.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners 3.44-to-1 on the NYSE and 1.44-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 35 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 50 new highs and four new lows.