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As we enter a global recession, business risk has never been so high

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As we enter a global recession, business risk has never been so high 1

By Warwick Knowles, Senior Economist at data and analytics firm, Dun & Bradstreet

The coronavirus is having a significant economic impact around the world and widespread lockdowns and disruption means that businesses are facing a challenging environment and a global recession. Across industries, jobs are at risk and in the UK, GDP has contracted by the biggest drop on record

Indeed, the risk for business has never been so high. For the second successive quarter, Dun & Bradstreet’s Global Business Impact score, which ranks the biggest threats faced by businesses based on potential impact, remains at its highest-ever level. This indicates the high level of uncertainty facing businesses that operate cross-border.

While the outlook is bleak, foresight has never been so important. Identifying future risk will be crucial as businesses look to operate in the most testing of circumstances. If they successfully navigate through this pandemic-induced storm, the sea may just become calmer at the other end.

New risks enter the top ten

Highlighting the evolving impact of the coronavirus outbreak on economic conditions and thus the ever-changing global business environment, five of the six new entries in our Q3 2020 report are directly related to the coronavirus pandemic. The other new risk is related to the worsening political and economic crisis in Lebanon.

The six new risks identified include:

  1. The re-establishment of forced business shutdowns and a persistent rise in Covid-19 cases in the US severely saps global demand for goods and services and undermines remittance flows, weakening the recovery and prolonging the global recession
  2. Global equity valuations deteriorate as it becomes clear that depressed productivity levels in urban areas (due to indefinite social distancing) mean that leading economies will struggle for years to return to normality
  3. A new Covid-19 wave in Spain, France and other European markets requires another round of lockdowns, undermining business conditions across the EU
  4. Elevated delinquency rates for Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities (CMBS) in the North American lodging and retail sectors lead to bankruptcies and far-reaching consequences for multinational investors
  5. Failure to contain coronavirus outbreaks in the leading copper-producing countries – Chile and Peru – forces an extension and/or tightening of quarantine measures, leading to a decline in global copper supply and driving prices higher in H2
  6. Political instability in Lebanon encourages active intervention by external actors and encourages Hezbullah to take aggressive action against Israel, triggering further regional instability

The overall top ten risks for Q3 highlights the nature of the coronavirus pandemic, with three of the risks associated with it being pan-regional, two stemming from North America, and one each emanating from West and Central Europe and Latin America. Of the three non-Covid-19 risks, two originate in North America, and one in the Middle East and North Africa.

The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are spread across different types of risks: markets (3), economic growth (3) and politics (1). The three non-Covid-19 risks are all political in nature. The widespread nature of the risks highlighted in this report reinforces the fact that finance, procurement and supply-chain teams across all business sectors need to combat the impacts of an increasingly complex and globalised world.

Market concerns undermine risks

Three of our top ten risks relate to how the Covid-19 pandemic will undermine markets, lowering confidence and raising risk premia, and thus undermining prospects for doing business well into the medium term. In first place is the pan-regional risk that the global pandemic – which is affecting emerging-market and advanced countries alike with its impacts on mortality rates and the global economy – brings an unprecedented fiscal emergency, damaging all grades of sovereign creditworthiness for the medium term.

There is also a concern that elevated Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities (CMBS) delinquency rates in the North American lodging and retail sectors could lead to bankruptcies and far-reaching consequences for multinational investors.

The third market-oriented risk is the worry that the failure to contain coronavirus outbreaks in the leading copper-producing countries – Chile and Peru – forces an extension and/or tightening of quarantine measures, leading to a decline in global copper supply and driving prices higher in H2.

Geopolitical and political concerns

Four geopolitical/political risks feature in the top ten risks for businesses operating in the global environment. The first geopolitical risk is in second place overall. This risk, emanating from North America, is that the continuation of protective trade policies driven from the US puts additional pressure on global supply chains, further altering existing trade relationships while forcing continued transformations to existing supply chains.

In fourth place is the concern that US-China relations deteriorate as the US seeks to assign ultimate responsibility for its economic disaster, thus impeding global public health co-operation and damaging equity values through the return of higher geopolitical risk premia.

The third political risk, in equal fifth place, is pan-regional in nature. The fallout from Covid-19 could raise unemployment significantly, ushering in populist governments with nationalist characteristics in the democracies and increased anti-government protests in authoritarian countries; with both impacting negatively on the global business operating environment.

The final geopolitical risk is in equal ninth place and emerges from the Middle East and North Africa: we are concerned that political instability in Lebanon encourages active intervention by external actors and encourages Hezbullah to take aggressive action against Israel, triggering further regional instability.

Risks curtailing economic growth

The final three risks in the Q3 top ten are related to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on curtailing economic growth, thereby undermining the business operating environment. The first of these risks is that the re-establishment of forced business shutdowns and a persistent rise in Covid-19 cases in the US severely saps global demand for goods, services, and remittances, weakening the recovery and prolonging the global recession. This new entry, emanating from North America, is in equal third place.

The second risk associated with economic growth is also a new entry at equal fifth, and is pan-regional in nature. This risk is that global equity valuations deteriorate as it becomes clear that depressed productivity levels in urban areas (due to indefinite social distancing) will prompt leading economies to struggle for years to return to normality.

The final risk is that a new Covid-19 wave in Spain, France and other European markets requires another round of lockdowns, undermining business conditions across the EU. This new entry is in seventh place.

Business environment risk remains at record heights

Dun & Bradstreet’s Global Business Impact score for Q3 2020 shows that the risks confronting businesses remain at the record-high first experienced in Q2. The elevated level of risk has been driven mainly by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus: the outbreak illustrates how unexpected events can suddenly worsen the risk environment for businesses operating cross-border.

The geographical spread and diversity of risks in our top ten underlines the importance of taking a broad approach to mitigating risks. Business decision-makers will need to have contingency plans in place for the sudden disruption of seemingly secure supply chains.

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IMF lifts global growth forecast for 2021, still sees ‘exceptional uncertainty’

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IMF lifts global growth forecast for 2021, still sees 'exceptional uncertainty' 2

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday raised its forecast for global economic growth in 2021 and said the coronavirus-triggered downturn in 2020 would be nearly a full percentage point less severe than expected.

It said multiple vaccine approvals and the launch of vaccinations in some countries in December had boosted hopes of an eventual end to the pandemic that has now infected nearly 100 million people and claimed the lives of over 2.1 million globally.

But it warned that the world economy continued to face “exceptional uncertainty” and new waves of COVID-19 infections and variants posed risks, and global activity would remain well below pre-COVID projections made one year ago.

Close to 90 million people are likely to fall below the extreme poverty threshold during 2020-2021, with the pandemic wiping out progress made in reducing poverty over the past two decades. Large numbers of people remained unemployed and underemployed in many countries, including the United States.

In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF forecast a 2020 global contraction of 3.5%, an improvement of 0.9 percentage points from the 4.4% slump predicted in October, reflecting stronger-than-expected momentum in the second half of 2020.

It predicted global growth of 5.5% in 2021, an increase of 0.3 percentage points from the October forecast, citing expectations of a vaccine-powered uptick later in the year and added policy support in the United States, Japan and a few other large economies.

It said the U.S. economy – the largest in the world – was expected to grow by 5.1% in 2021, an upward revision of 2 percentage points attributed to carryover from strong momentum in the second half of 2020 and the benefit accruing from $900 billion in additional fiscal support approved in December.

The forecast would likely rise further if the U.S. Congress passes a $1.9 trillion relief package proposed by newly inaugurated President Joe Biden, economists say.

China’s economy is expected to expand by 8.1% in 2021 and 5.6% in 2022, compared with its October forecasts of 8.2% and 5.8%, respectively, while India’s economy is seen growing 11.5% in 2021, up 2.7 percentage points from the October forecast after a stronger-than-expected recovering in 2020.

The Fund said countries should continue to support their economies until activity normalized to limit persistent damage from the deep recession of the past year.

Low-income countries would need continued support through grants, low-interest loans and debt relief, and some countries may require debt restructuring, the IMF said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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Leon Black step downs as Apollo CEO after review of Epstein ties

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Leon Black step downs as Apollo CEO after review of Epstein ties 3

By Mike Spector and Chibuike Oguh

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Leon Black said on Monday he would step down as chief executive at Apollo Global Management Inc, following an independent review of his ties to the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

While Black, whose net worth is pegged by Forbes at $8.2 billion, will remain Apollo’s chairman, his decision to step down illustrates how doing business with Epstein weighed on the reputation of one of Wall Street’s most prominent investment firms. Black co-founded Apollo 31 years ago.

Apollo said it plans to change its corporate governance structure, doing away with shares with special voting rights that currently give Black and other co-founders effective control of the firm.

The independent review, conducted by law firm Dechert LLP, found Black was not involved in any way with Epstein’s criminal activities. Black paid Epstein $158 million for advice on tax and estate planning and related services between 2012 and 2017, according to the review.

Black, 69, said that although the review confirmed he did not engage in any wrongdoing, he “deeply” regretted his involvement with Epstein.

“I hope that the results of the review, and related enhancements … will reaffirm to you that Apollo is dedicated to the highest levels of transparency and governance,” Black wrote in a note to Apollo fund investors. He will step down as CEO no later than July 31.

Apollo co-founder Marc Rowan, 58, will take over as CEO.

Rowan has often kept a low-key profile compared with Apollo’s other co-founder, Joshua Harris, 56, and spearheaded many initiatives that turned Apollo into a credit investment giant, including the permanent capital base the firm enjoys through its ties to reinsurer Athene Holding Ltd.

The revelations of Black’s ties to Epstein took a toll on Apollo, which Black turned into one of the world’s largest private equity groups. Apollo executives had warned in October that some investors had paused their commitments to the buyout firm’s funds as they awaited the review’s findings.

Apollo shares are down 1% since the New York Times reported on Oct. 12 that Black paid at least $50 million to Epstein for advice and services, when most of his clients had deserted him.

Over the same period, shares of peers Blackstone Group Inc, KKR & Co Inc and Carlyle Group Inc are up 19%, 10% and 23%, respectively.

“We think a large number of (Apollo fund investors) took a ‘pause’, and we believe the outcome (of the review) and changes today will cause most of them to return to allocating to future Apollo funds,” Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a research note.

Apollo shares jumped 4% to $47.65 in after-hours trading on Monday.

“We continue to follow these events closely and will evaluate how Apollo addresses its issues,” the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, one of the largest U.S. public pension funds and an Apollo investor, said in a statement.

Epstein was found dead at age 66 in August 2019 in a Manhattan jail, while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges for allegedly abusing dozens of underage girls in Manhattan and Florida from 2002 to 2005. New York City’s chief medical examiner ruled that the cause of death was suicide by hanging.

FALLING OUT

Black previously said he had paid millions of dollars to Epstein, but the exact size of his payments was revealed for the first time on Monday. Beyond the $158 million in payments, Black made two loans to Epstein totaling $30.5 million in early 2017.

Dechert said in its report that Black’s social ties with Epstein, who built his fortune by endearing himself to powerful figures in high society, went back to the mid-1990s.

Epstein won Black’s trust by resolving an estate tax issue for him in 2012 potentially worth at least $500 million, the report said. He ended up advising Black on various aspects of his personal financial affairs, from his family office and airplane to his yacht and artwork.

Black believed that Epstein provided advice over the years that conferred between $1 billion and $2 billion in value to him, according to the Dechert report. Black said in his note to investors that he had paid Epstein a fee equivalent to 5% of the value he generated on an after-tax basis, and not tied to hourly rates.

Black and Epstein’s relationship deteriorated after Epstein failed to repay $20 million of the loans and Black refused to pay tens of millions of dollars in fees that Epstein demanded, according to the Dechert report.

They severed ties in October 2018, according to the report. Black knew Epstein had been convicted in Florida a decade earlier for soliciting prostitution from a minor, the Dechert report said, but there was no evidence suggesting Black had knowledge of the other alleged crimes before they were publicly reported in late 2018, culminating in Epstein’s July 2019 arrest.

On Monday, Black pledged $200 million toward “initiatives that seek to achieve gender equality and protect and empower women,” as well as helping survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.

Apollo said it would pursue a “one share, one vote” corporate governance structure that would do away with shares with special voting rights. It said the move could qualify it for listing on the S&P Global indices.

Apollo also said it would seek to give its board more authority to oversee its business, eroding the power of its executive committee led by Black.

The board will be expanded to include four new independent directors, including Avid Partners founder Pamela Joyner and physician and scientist Siddhartha Mukherjee, Apollo said. Apollo co-Presidents Scott Kleinman and James Zelter will join the board and take on increased responsibility running day-to-day operations.

Apollo had about $433 billion in assets under management as of the end of September.

(Reporting by Mike Spector and Chibuike Oguh; Additional reporting by Lawrence Delevigne and Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Leslie Adler and Kim Coghill)

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EU sees no cliff-edge ending for COVID fiscal stimulus

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EU sees no cliff-edge ending for COVID fiscal stimulus 4

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European governments will not need to abruptly end fiscal support for their economies after the pandemic, top officials said on Monday, noting that any withdrawal of stimulus would be carried out gradually and only once the economy has recovered.

Euro zone public debt rose sharply during 2020 and is likely to exceed 100% of GDP this year as governments borrow to help individuals and businesses survive lockdowns.

The higher debt raises concern about how to deal with it down the road and when to start cutting it again, since the EU last year suspended its rules limiting budget deficits and debt, known as the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP).

EU finance ministers are to discuss when to reintroduce any borrowing limits in the second quarter of this year.

“I believe it important that finance ministers debate and reach a common understanding on the appropriate fiscal stance by the summer. This can then serve as guidance for the preparation of their draft budgetary plans for 2022,” the chairman of the euro zone’s group of finance ministers, Paschal Donohoe, said on Monday.

“To avoid any misunderstanding, let me stress that this is not about an imminent withdrawal of fiscal stimulus,” he told the economic committee of the European Parliament.

“We all agree that our immediate priority is to shield our citizens, in particular younger cohorts and those most exposed to the crisis. There must be no cliff-edges,” he said.

Joao Leao, the finance minister of Portugal which holds the rotating presidency of the EU and therefore sets the agenda for EU finance ministers’ work until June, was equally cautious.

“We should not withdraw stimulus too early. We need to make sure the suspension clause for the SGP remains in force at least until we return to pre-crisis economic figures,” he told the committee. “We need to make sure jobs are maintained as well as the production capacity of companies.”

He said first cash from the EU’s 750 billion euro post-COVID economic recovery programme should reach the economy in the first half of the year.

“Real funding should be getting to the economy before the summer or in early part of the summer,” he said.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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