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BOJ’s policy review may make ETF buying more flexible – Reuters poll

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BOJ's policy review may make ETF buying more flexible - Reuters poll 1

via Reuters

 

By Kaori Kaneko

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan will likely focus on measures to make its purchases of risky assets, such as exchange-traded funds (ETF), more flexible as the economy comes under growing strain from a spike in COVID-19 infections, a Reuters poll found.

Analysts polled also revised down their economic projection for the fiscal year ending in March on expectations a recent resurgence of coronavirus infections would dent growth.

Economic activity could stall in the world’s third-largest economy from pandemic curbs and the BOJ may have to look at more effective ways to achieve its 2% inflation target as renewed infections force it to maintain its massive stimulus longer, analysts said.

The central bank said last month it would undergo an examination of its yield curve control and quantitative easing policies to seek ways to make them more “effective and sustainable”. Its findings will be released in March while new GDP estimates will be issued at its Jan. 20-21 policy meeting.

“The BOJ may be thinking of correcting distortions caused by its policy that could become an obstacle for maintaining its current framework through Governor (Haruhiko) Kuroda’s term that ends in early 2023,” said Izuru Kato, chief economist at Totan Research.

Asked what steps the BOJ would take when the central bank unveils its findings in March, 31 economists said the central bank would “make its ETF, J-REIT buying more flexible,” the poll conducted between Jan. 7-18 showed.

Eight analysts said the BOJ would revise its three-tiered deposit rate system that applies negative interest rates only to marginal excess bank reserves and two said the central bank would change the 10-year bond yield target to other durations.

The question allowed multiple answers.

The central bank will discuss ways to scale back a controversial programme that buys massive amounts of exchange traded funds without stoking market fears of a full-fledged retreat from ultra-loose policy, sources have told Reuters.

 

RENEWED STATE OF EMERGENCY

Japan expanded a state of emergency it declared for the Tokyo area earlier this month to seven more prefectures last Wednesday amid a steady rise in COVID-19 cases.

Many analysts expect the latest measures to inflict less damage to the economy than the stricter and broader curbs imposed in April and May last year.

In the poll, taken before the government’s decision to expand the state of emergency beyond the Tokyo area, analysts expected the economy to contract 2.4% in January-March. The poll had predicted a 2.1% expansion in December.

For the current fiscal year ending in March, the economy was forecast to shrink 5.5%, the poll found, slightly weaker than a 5.3% contraction projected last month.

The economy was expected to expand 3.3% in the fiscal year beginning in April, starting with 4.1% growth in the April-June quarter, the poll showed.

“Restrictions under the renewed emergency status are relatively moderate, so it could take a long time for infection numbers to fall,” said Hiroshi Namioka, strategist and fund manager at T&D Asset Management. “Downward pressure on prices could strengthen.”

Core consumer prices, which exclude volatile fresh food prices, will slip 0.5% this fiscal year before rising 0.2% next fiscal year, the poll found.

Economists were split on which direction the BOJ will move when it next changes policy.

Twenty-one of 39 analysts forecast the BOJ would scale down stimulus, while 18 said it would ramp up monetary support.

Sources have told Reuters the BOJ was likely to slightly revise up next fiscal year’s economic forecast and hold off on expanding stimulus at its Jan. 20-21 policy meeting.

 

(For other stories from the Reuters global economic poll:)

 

 

(Polling by Shaloo Shrivastava, Editing by Leika Kihara and Jacqueline Wong)

 

Business

Battling Covid collateral damage, Renault says 2021 will be volatile

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Battling Covid collateral damage, Renault says 2021 will be volatile 2

By Gilles Guillaume

PARIS (Reuters) – Renault said on Friday it is still fighting the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a shortage of semiconductor chips, that could make for another rough year for the French carmaker.

Renault reported an 8 billion euro ($9.7 billion) loss for 2020 which, combined with gloomy take on the market, sent its shares down more than 5% in late morning trading.

“We are in the midst of a battle to try to manage a difficult year in terms of supply chains, of components,” Chief Executive Luca de Meo told reporters. “This is all the collateral damage of the Covid pandemic… we will have a fairly volatile year.”

De Meo, who took over last July, is looking at ways to boost profitability and sales at Renault while pushing ahead with cost cuts. There were early signs of improving momentum as margins inched up in the second half of 2020.

The group gave no financial guidance for this year, although it said it might reach a target of achieving 2 billion euros in costs cuts by 2023 ahead of time, possibly by December.

Executives said they were confident the carmaker could be profitable in the second half of 2021, but that they lacked sufficient market visibility to provide a forecast.

Renault struck a cautious note, saying it was focused on its recovery but warned orders had faltered in early 2021 as pandemic restrictions continued in some countries.

The group is facing new challenges as the European Union tightens emissions regulations and after rivals PSA and Fiat Chrysler joined forces to create Stellantis, the world’s fourth-biggest automaker.

The auto industry endured a tough 2020 but a swift rebound in premium car sales in China helped companies such as Volkswagen and Daimler to weather the storm.

Auto companies globally have since been hit by a shortage of semiconductors that has forced production cuts worldwide.

“The beginning of the year has shown some signs of weakness,” De Meo told analysts, but added the chip shortage should be resolved by the second half of 2021. “We have taken the necessary measures to anticipate and overcome challenges.”

Renault estimated the chip shortage could reduce its production by about 100,000 vehicles this year.

SHARP HIT

The group was already loss-making in 2019, but took a sharp hit in 2020 during lockdowns to fight the pandemic, which also hurt its Japanese partner Nissan.

Analysts polled by Refinitiv had expected a 7.4 billion euro loss for 2020. The group posted negative free cash flow for 2020.

The 2018 arrest of Carlos Ghosn, who formerly lead the alliance between Renault and Nissan, plunged the automakers into turmoil.

In a further sign that the companies have been working to repair the alliance, De Meo told journalists that Renault and Nissan will announce new joint products together in the coming weeks or months.

Renault has begun to raise prices on some car models, and group operating profit, which was negative for 2020 as a whole, improved in the last six months of the year, reaching 866 million euros or 3.5% of revenue.

Analysts at Jefferies said the operating performance was better than expected. Sales were still falling in the second half, but less sharply.

Renault is slashing jobs and trimming its range of cars, allowing it to slice spending in areas like research and development as it focuses on redressing its finances. It is also pivoting more towards electric cars as part of its revamp.

It was already struggling more than some rivals with sliding sales before the pandemic, after years of a vast expansion drive it is now trying to rein in, focusing on profitable markets.

De Meo told journalists on Friday that the French carmaker will make three new higher-margin models at its Palencia plant in Spain, where manufacturing costs are lower, between 2022 and 2024.

($1 = 0.8269 euros)

(Reporting by Gilles Guillaume and Sarah White in Paris, Nick Carey in London; Editing by Christopher Cushing, David Evans and Jan Harvey)

 

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UK delays review of business rates tax until autumn

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UK delays review of business rates tax until autumn 3

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s finance ministry said it would delay publication of its review of business rates – a tax paid by companies based on the value of the property they occupy – until the autumn when the economic outlook should be clearer.

Many companies are demanding reductions in their business rates to help them compete with online retailers.

“Due to the ongoing and wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic and economic uncertainty, the government said the review’s final report would be released later in the year when there is more clarity on the long-term state of the economy and the public finances,” the ministry said.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak has granted a temporary business rates exemption to companies in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors, costing over 10 billion pounds ($14 billion). Sunak is due to announce his next round of support measures for the economy on March 3.

($1 = 0.7152 pounds)

(Writing by William Schomberg, editing by David Milliken)

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Discounter Pepco has all of Europe in its sights

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Discounter Pepco has all of Europe in its sights 4

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) – Pepco Group, which owns British discount retailer Poundland, has targeted 400 store openings across Europe in its 2020-21 financial year as it expands its PEPCO brand beyond central and eastern Europe, its boss said on Friday.

The group opened a net 327 new stores in its 2019-20 year, taking the total to 3,021 in 15 countries. The PEPCO brand entered western Europe for the first time with openings in Italy and it plans its first foray into Spain in April or May.

Chief Executive Andy Bond said its five stores in Italy have traded “super well” so far.

“That’s given us a lot of confidence that we can now start building PEPCO into western Europe and that expands our market opportunity from roughly 100 million people (in central and eastern Europe) to roughly 500 million people,” he told Reuters.

To further illustrate the brand’s potential he noted that the group has more than 1,000 PEPCO shops in Poland, which has a significantly smaller population and gross domestic product than Italy or Spain.

The company, which also owns the Dealz brand in Europe but does not trade online, has already opened more than 100 of the targeted 400 new stores this financial year.

Pepco Group is part of South African conglomerate Steinhoff, which is still battling the fallout of a 2017 accounting scandal.

Since 2019 Steinhoff and its creditors have been evaluating a range of strategic options for Pepco Group, including a potential public listing, private equity sale or trade sale.

That process was delayed by the pandemic, but Steinhoff said last month that it had resumed.

“The business will be up for sale at the right time. It’s a case of when, rather than if,” said Bond, a former boss of British supermarket chain Asda.

Pepco Group on Friday reported a 31% drop in full-year core earnings, citing temporary coronavirus-related store closures.

Underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) were 229 million euros ($277 million) for the year to Sept. 30, against 331 million euros the previous year.

Sales rose 3% to 3.5 billion euros, reflecting new store openings.

($1 = 0.8279 euros)

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by David Goodman)

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