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Vaccine delays in poorer nations threaten rich world’s economy

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Advanced economies face a significant hit to their economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic unless they help developing countries speed up their vaccination programmes, according to a report that will be published by the World Health Organization on Monday.

If the rollout of vaccines in developing countries continues on its current trajectory, advanced economies face output losses of up to $2.4tn — 3.5 per cent of their annual gross domestic product before the pandemic — because of disruptions to global trade and supply chains, the study said.

“The longer we wait to provide vaccines, tests, and treatments to all countries, the faster the virus will take hold, the potential for more variants will emerge, the greater the chance today’s vaccines could become ineffective, and the harder it will be for all countries to recover,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO. “No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

The research illustrates the interconnected nature of the global economic recovery and means that even if the world’s leading nations succeed in vaccinating their vulnerable populations promptly, they still face significant economic vulnerabilities from the pandemic.

“Emerging and developing economies are linked to advanced economies through exports and imports, and not just of finished goods,” said Sebnem Kalemli-Ozcan of the University of Maryland, lead author of the report.

“If those countries don’t get the vaccine or get it late, they are not going to recover, they are not going to supply the intermediate goods needed by advanced economies and they won’t have the same level of demand for advanced economy exports.”

Overall a delay in bringing the pandemic under control in emerging economies would wipe about $4.4tn off the world’s output this year, or about 5.7 per cent of annual global output before the pandemic, according to the research, which was commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce and has been seen by the Financial Times. More than half the impact would fall on high-income countries, the study found.

The WHO has warned of a global “catastrophic moral failure” as poorer countries fall behind richer ones in accessing vaccines.

The Covax facility — which was set up last year by the WHO, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines — has struggled to mobilise support from rich nations and faces a $27bn funding shortfall.

The finance ministers of Norway and South Africa have called on fellow ministers of the G20, the OECD and Covax member countries to meet on January 29 to discuss plugging the funding gap.

That would deliver a return on investment of more than 166 times by avoiding the forecast loss of output, the ICC study said.

The research looked at trade links and supply chains for 65 countries and 35 business sectors and estimated the impact on trade and economic output in various vaccination scenarios, based on whether workers in each sector need to operate in proximity to one another.

Under the most extreme scenario, in which rich countries receive vaccines this year but emerging and developing countries do not, the hit to global output would be $9.2tn.

The base-case scenario, causing a $4.4tn loss of output, assumes that advanced economies vaccinate their vulnerable populations by the end of April and that emerging and developing economies reach the same point early next year.

Ms Kalemli-Ozcan warned there were some risks which that estimate did not cover, including the possibility that it would take longer than a year to reach vulnerable populations in poor countries, and that the virus could mutate and continue to spread in advanced economies even if they reached critical levels of inoculation. 



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Emerging Markets

Bond sell-off roils markets, ex-Petrobras chief hits back, Ghana’s first Covax vaccines

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The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury exceeded 1.5 per cent for the first time in a year and the outgoing head of Petrobras warns Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro against state controlled fuel prices. Plus, the FT’s Africa editor, David Pilling, discusses the Covax vaccine rollout in low-income countries. 

Wall Street stocks sell off as government bond rout accelerates

https://www.ft.com/content/ea46ee81-89a2-4f23-aeff-2a099c02432c

Ousted Petrobras chief hits back at Bolsonaro 

https://www.ft.com/content/1cd6c9fb-3201-4815-9f4f-61a4f0881856?

Africa will pay more for Russian Covid vaccine than ‘western’ jabs

https://www.ft.com/content/ffe40c7d-c418-4a93-a202-5ee996434de7


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Petrobras/Bolsonaro: bossa boots | Financial Times

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“Brazil is not for beginners.” Composer Tom Jobim’s remark about his homeland stands as a warning to gung-ho foreign investors. Shares in Petrobras have fallen almost a fifth since President Jair Bolsonaro said he would replace the widely respected chief executive of the oil giant.

Firebrand Bolsonaro campaigned on a free-market platform. Now he is reverting to the interventionism of leftist predecessors. It is the latest reminder that a country with huge potential has big political and social problems.

Bolsonaro reacted to fuel protests by pushing for a retired army general to supplant chief executive Roberto Castello Branco, who had refused to lower prices. This is politically advantageous but economically short-sighted.

Fourth-quarter ebitda beat expectations at R$60bn (US$11bn), announced late on Wednesday, a 47 per cent increase on the previous quarter. This partly reflected the reversal of a R$13bn charge for healthcare costs. Investors now have to factor the cost of possible fuel subsidies into forecasts. The last time Petrobras was leaned on, it set the company back about R$60bn (US$24bn at the time). That equates to 40 per cent of forecast ebitda for 2021.

At just over 8 times forward earnings, shares trade at a sharp discount to global peers. Forcing Petrobras to cut fuel prices will make sales of underperforming assets harder to pull off and debt reduction less certain. Bidders may fear the obligation to cap prices will apply to them too.

A booming local stock market, rock bottom interest rates and low levels of foreign debt are giving Bolsonaro scope to spend his way out of the Covid-19 crisis. But the economy remains precarious. Public debt stands at 90 per cent of gross domestic product. The real — at R$5.40 per US dollar — remains near record lows. Brazil’s credit is rated junk by big agencies.

Rising developed market yields will make financings costlier for developing nations such as Brazil. So will high-handed treatment of minority investors. It sends a dire signal when a government with an economic stake of just over a third uses its voting majority to deliver a boardroom coup.

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South Africa’s economy is ‘dangerously overstretched’, officials warn

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South Africa is pushing ahead with plans to shore up its precarious public finances as officials warn the economy is “dangerously overstretched” despite the recent boom in commodity prices.

Finance minister Tito Mboweni hailed “significant improvement” as he delivered the annual budget on Wednesday and said that state debts that will hit 80 per cent of GDP this year will peak below 90 per cent by 2025, lower than initially feared.

But Mboweni warned that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government was not “swimming in cash” despite a major recent tax windfall. The Treasury now expects to collect almost 100bn rand ($6.8bn) more tax than expected this year after a surge in earnings for miners. This compares with a projected overall tax shortfall of more than 200bn rand. Still, the finance minister made clear that spending cutbacks would be necessary.

“Continuing on the path of fiscal consolidation during the economic fallout was a difficult decision. However, on this, we are resolute,” Mboweni said. “We remain adamant that fiscal prudence is the best way forward. We cannot allow our economy to have feet of clay.”

The pandemic has hit South Africa hardest on the continent, with 1.5m cases recorded despite a tough lockdown. An intense second wave is receding and the first vaccinations of health workers started this month. More than 10bn rand will be allocated to vaccines over the next two years, Mboweni said.

‘We remain adamant that fiscal prudence is the best way forward’ – South African finance minister Tito Mboweni © Sumaya Hisham/Reuters

Even before the pandemic’s economic hit, a decade of stagnant growth, corruption and bailouts for indebted state companies such as the Eskom electricity monopoly rotted away what was once a prudent fiscus compared with its emerging market peers. 

Government spending has grown four per cent a year since 2008, versus 1.5 per cent annual growth in real GDP. The country’s credit rating was cut to junk status last year. Despite this year’s cash boost, the state expects to borrow well over 500bn rand per year over the next few years. The cost to service state debts is set to rise from 232bn rand this year to 338bn rand by 2023, or about 20 cents of every rand in tax.

The fiscal belt-tightening will have implications for South Africa’s spending on health and social services. On Wednesday Mboweni announced below-inflation increases in the social grants that form a safety net for millions of South Africans. “We are actually seeing, for the first time that I can recall, cuts in the social welfare budget,” said Geordin Hill-Lewis, Mboweni’s shadow in the opposition Democratic Alliance.

The finance minister is also facing a battle with union allies of the ruling African National Congress over a plan to cap growth in public sector wages. South Africa lost 1.4m jobs over the past year, according to statistics released this week. The jobless rate — including those discouraged from looking for work — was nearly 43 per cent in the closing months of 2020.

The South African treasury expects the economy to rebound 3.3 per cent this year, after a 7.2 per cent drop last year, and to expand 2.2 per cent and 1.6 per cent next year and in 2023 — growth rates that are widely seen as too low in the long run to sustain healthy public finances.

“The key challenges for South Africa do however persist, clever funding decisions aside,” Razia Khan, chief Middle East and Africa economist for Standard Chartered, said. “Weak structural growth and the Eskom debt overhang must still be addressed.” 



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