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Scope upgrades Greece’s long-term credit rating to B+ from B- and changes the Outlook to Positive

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Scope upgrades Greece’s long-term credit rating to B+ from B- and changes the Outlook to Positive

Compliance with the adjustment programme, improved budgetary performance, economic stabilization and a more favourable policy environment drive the upgrade; fragile public debt sustainability and economic growth prospects are constraints.

Scope Ratings has today upgraded the Hellenic Republic’s long-term foreign- and local-currency issuer ratings to B+ from B-. The sovereign’s senior unsecured debt in both local and foreign currency was also upgraded to B+ from B-. The agency also affirmed the short-term issuer rating of S-4 in both local and foreign currency. All outlooks were changed to Positive from Stable.

Rating drivers

The upgrade is underpinned by the following three rating drivers: (1) Scope’s expectation that Greece will successfully conclude the third adjustment programme, driven by Greece’s stabilising macroeconomic indicators along with the government’s strong reform progress addressing underlying weaknesses in its tax and public administration; (2) structurally improving budgetary performance with fiscal results exceeding targets, backed by a robust public debt profile and ongoing build-up of a large cash buffer which should support Greece’s sustainable return to market funding; (3) reduced policy uncertainties given both the demonstrated support and commitments of official euro area creditors to provide Greece with additional debt relief measures if needed, along with all major political parties supporting Greece’s membership in the euro area, providing for a more stable domestic political outlook. Improvements in the ‘domestic economic risk’ and ‘public finance risk’ categories of Scope´s analysis drive the upgrade.

The outlook change to Positive from Stable reflects Scope’s expectations of further credit-positive developments as a result of the exit from the adjustment programme and negotiations over debt relief. Scope will monitor the exit agreement and assess the extent of potential measures aimed at i) broadening the country’s capital market access, in view of the limited eligibility of Greek government securities for monetary operations; ii) conditionality mechanisms with enhanced monitoring in exchange for possible debt relief measures, including the potential further reprofiling of loans to the EFSF on a yet-to-be defined growth-adjustment mechanism; and iii) the system of incentives to encourage continuity in fiscal consolidation over the long term. Each of these measures, or a combination therefore, could, in Scope’s opinion, materially improve the long-term sustainability of Greek public-debt, increasing confidence and strengthen Hellenic Republic’s ability to handle its debt burden.

The first driver for the upgrade reflects Scope’s view that Greece will successfully complete its third support programme, scheduled to end in August 2018, underpinned by structural improvements in the form of broad reform efforts addressing Greece’s underlying weaknesses of low government tax revenues. This view is underpinned by the recent positive public lenders’ conclusions on Greece’s current programme implementation, acknowledging, including by the IMF, that Greece has implemented a number of politically challenging measures, including pension cuts, changes to labour market laws, reforms of the health system and the establishment of independent tax entities.

Greece’s macroeconomic situation is stabilizing, underpinned by some positive trends in terms of job creation, resulting in decreasing economic risks. After a prolonged depression, the Greek economy returned to 1.4% growth in 2017, the first time that real GDP growth exceeded 1% since 2007. It is Scope’s view that the recovery has been supported by the successful completion of the second EU programme review in June 2017, which buoyed confidence and business activities. However, the labour market keeps improving at a slow pace, with overall unemployment still at 21.5% in 2017 (down from 23.6% in 2016). Scope expects stronger real GDP growth by around 2% in 2018-2019, which will remain below the euro area average. Investment is set to accelerate, but from a low level and, depending on further reform progress, the composition of fiscal adjustments, and relaxation of capital controls.

Financing conditions in the economy also keep improving but remain tight, due to continuing, though easing capital controls. Bank liquidity is progressively normalizing, with an ongoing decrease of the Emergency Liquidity Assistance, reflecting positive private sector deposit flows, resulting in more diversified funding sources. Banks have gradually increased interbank funding and proceeded since last October to covered bond issues for the first time since 2014. The recovery of Greek banks remains burdened by weak asset quality with legacy non-performing exposure (NPE), comprising 43.1% of total exposures according to the Bank of Greece at the end of 2017, the largest percentage in the EU. However, recent EBA stress test results on Greek banks have confirmed the banking sectors’ resilience with none of the banks needing additional capital. Despite these positive results, Scope believes that the recovery in the banking sector is likely to be gradual with the successful reduction of NPE to depend on a supportive economic and political backdrop.

The second driver of the upgrade is Greece’s improvements in fiscal performance and debt structure. Following the effective stabilisation of the economic policy underpinned by reforms of the budgetary framework, Greece over-achieved the primary surplus target of the adjustment programme in 2017 for the third consecutive year. Under the programme, the primary surplus stood at 4.2% of GDP in 2017, overshooting the target of 1.75% by a wide margin. The improvement is also driven by better-than-expected revenue growth which is an additional credit positive development, as initial fiscal consolidation measures at the beginning of the adjustment process were rather focused on one-off discretionary spending cuts. It is Scope’s view that the fiscal improvements will be sustained as the result of structural savings, improved tax collection rates, the continuation of capital controls and the partial clearance of state arrears, which have increased private-sector liquidity as well as indirect tax receipts and corporate income tax. This positive development was confirmed in the first quarter of 2018, when the budgetary surplus (on a modified cash basis) more than doubled year on year, due to higher than expected budget revenues while primary expenditure was in line with targets. In addition, the Greek government has legislated contingent fiscal measures including tax increases and spending cuts that would be automatically applied if needed to achieve the primary surplus target (of 3.5% of GDP) for the years 2019-2022.

Unprecedented support from euro area official creditors has resulted in a robust public debt profile, as reflected by lower interest payments relative to revenues (6.3% in 2017 versus 16.4% in 2011) and a very long weighted average residual maturity (18.1 years in Q1 2018 versus 6.3 years in 2011). An ongoing build-up of a sizable cash buffer, together with moderate refinancing requirements strongly support public-debt sustainability within a 5-year period, easing Greece’s return to the capital markets despite the high debt stock (178.6% in 2017 versus 172.0% in 2011).

The third and final driver of the upgrade reflects Scope’s opinion of reduced policy uncertainties given both the demonstrated support and commitments of official euro area creditors to provide Greece with additional debt relief measures if needed, along with all major political parties supporting Greece’s membership in the euro area, providing for a more stable domestic political outlook.

Scope notes that recent Eurogroup statements have confirmed the growing convergence of interests between the Greek government, the European creditors and the IMF in support of a clean exit from the third adjustment programme without a successor arrangement, and, consequently, the commitment and expectation of all involved parties to ensure Greece‘s return to private market funding at sustainable rates. Consequently, Scope views the risk of a disorderly exit of the current adjustment programme as materially lower.

Finally, Scope notes that the targets under the adjustment programme have been approved by the Greek parliament with cross-parliamentary party support, which indicates broad national consensus for policy continuity. In fact, all major political parties have signed at least one Memorandum of Understanding, limiting the risk of policy reversals beyond the end of the programme.

Core Variable Scorecard (CVS) and qualitative scorecard (QS)

Scope’s Core Variable Scorecard (CVS), which is based on the relative rankings of key sovereign credit fundamentals, signals an indicative (bbb) range for the Republic of Greece. This indicative rating range can be adjusted by the Qualitative Scorecard (QS) by up to three notches, depending on the size of relative credit strengths or weaknesses versus peers based on analysts’ qualitative analysis.

Greece’s credit metrics captured by the CVS result are heavily influenced by the successive assistance programmes that the country has entered since 2010 that cannot be captured by the CVS Scorecard. For Greece, relative credit weaknesses are signaled for 1) growth potential, 2) economic policy framework, 3) macroeconomic stability and sustainability, 4) fiscal policy framework, 5) public debt sustainability, 6) market access and funding sources, 7) perceived willingness to pay, 8) banking sector performance, 9) financial imbalances and financial fragility.

An overall negative adjustment was made to the CVS outcome to B+ to incorporate Greece’s experience as a financial crisis country. As a result, the rating committee implemented a greater adjustment beyond the normal +/- 3 notch to account for the following factors. These are: i) remaining uncertainties regarding official creditors’ measures to ensure more robust long-term public debt sustainability; ii) the limited eligibility of Greek government securities for monetary operations; iii) the ongoing persistence of banking sector challenges and decreased confidence due to capital controls.

The results have been discussed and confirmed by a rating committee.

For further details, please see Appendix 2 in the rating report.

Outlook and rating-change drivers

The Positive Outlook reflects Scope’s view that risks to the ratings are titled to the upside over the next 12 to 18 months and Scope’s expectations of potentially further credit-positive outcome as a result of the exit from the adjustment programme and negotiations over debt relief over the coming months.

The ratings could be upgraded if: i) further debt relief measures were applied by official creditors, basically ensuring more robust public debt sustainability; ii) the country’s access to bond markets were broadened; iii) fiscal consolidation and reform progress were continued; iv) banking sector risks were further eased and/or capital controls eliminated; v) economic growth proved to be more sustained.

Conversely, the outlook could be returned to Stable if: i) further debt relief measures were not applied by official creditors; ii) the country’s access to bond markets and eligibility for monetary operations remained limited; iii) fiscal consolidation and reform progress abated; iv) the envisaged reduction of the high stock of non-performing-exposure notably delayed, thereby intensifying banking sector risks; v) economic growth prospects weakened.

Rating Committee

The main points discussed by the rating committee were: i) sustainability of the economic recovery, ii) recent fiscal developments, iii) public debt sustainability analysis, iv) policy uncertainties surrounding debt-relief measures; v) banking sector performance; vi) recent political and institutional developments, vii) peers consideration.

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U.S. inauguration turns poet Amanda Gorman into best seller

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U.S. inauguration turns poet Amanda Gorman into best seller 1

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The president’s poet woke up a superstar on Thursday, after a powerful reading at the U.S. inauguration catapulted 22-year-old Amanda Gorman to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list.

Hours after Gorman’s electric performance at the swearing-in of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, her two books – neither out yet – topped Amazon.com’s sales list.

“I AM ON THE FLOOR MY BOOKS ARE #1 & #2 ON AMAZON AFTER 1 DAY!” Gorman, a Los Angeles resident, wrote on Twitter.

Gorman’s debut poetry collection ‘The Hill We Climb’ won top spot in the online retail giant’s sale charts, closely followed by her upcoming ‘Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem’.

While poetry’s popularity is on the up, it remains a niche market and the overnight adulation clearly caught Gorman short.

“Thank you so much to everyone for supporting me and my words. As Yeats put it: ‘For words alone are certain good: Sing, then’.”

Gorman, the youngest poet in U.S. history to mark the transition of presidential power, offered a hopeful vision for a deeply divided country in Wednesday’s rendition.

“Being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it,” Gorman said on the steps of the U.S. Capitol two weeks after a mob laid siege and following a year of global protests for racial justice.

“We will not march back to what was. We move to what shall be, a country that is bruised, but whole. Benevolent, but bold. Fierce and free.”

The performance stirred instant acclaim, with praise from across the country and political spectrum, from the Republican-backing Lincoln Project to former President Barack Obama.

“Wasn’t @TheAmandaGorman’s poem just stunning? She’s promised to run for president in 2036 and I for one can’t wait,” tweeted former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

A graduate of Harvard University, Gorman says she overcame a speech impediment in her youth and became the first U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017.

She has now joined the ranks of august inaugural poets such as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

Her social media reach boomed, with her tens of thousands of followers ballooning into a Twitter fan base of a million-plus.

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I,” tweeted TV host Oprah Winfrey.

Gorman’s books are both due out in September.

Third on Amazon’s best selling list was another picture book linked to politics and projecting hope: ‘Ambitious Girl’ by Vice-President Kamala Harris’ niece, Meena Harris.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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Why brands harnessing the power of digital are winning in this evolving business landscape

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Why brands harnessing the power of digital are winning in this evolving business landscape 2

By Justin Pike, Founder and Chairman, MYPINPAD

Delivery of intuitive, secure, personalised, and frictionless user experiences has long been table stakes in digital commerce, well before the era of COVID-19. As businesses harness the revolutionary power of digital technologies, they have pursued large-scale change to adapt to evolving consumer preferences (some more successfully than others, but that’s a blog for another day). Digital transformation is a term we hear repeatedly, and it looks different for each organisation, but essentially, it’s about utilising technology and data to digitise, automate, innovate and improve processes and the customer experience across the entire business.

As I said, this was already well underway but then came 2020 and no industry escaped the disruption of the coronavirus outbreak, which has had an indelible impact on businesses performance, operations, and revenue. Regardless of whether the impact of COVID has been very positive or very challenging, it has forced organisations globally to re-evaluate and re-orient strategies to adapt.

As lockdowns and pandemic-related restrictions continue to change daily life, this raises the question of how we can balance a dramatic shift to digital and the benefits it brings, while ensuring business continuity and innovation both during and post-COVID, and protecting everyone against fraud?

Digital is an essential survival tool, and even more so in a COVID world

No one could have predicted the dramatic digital pivot that has taken place over this year. Indeed, within weeks of the COVID outbreak cash usage in the UK dropped by around 50%. Digital solutions including delivery applications, contactless payments, mobile commerce, online and mobile banking have become essential components of a touchless customer experience in the era of social distancing. It’s no longer just about an enhanced and superior customer experience, it’s also about health, safety and survival.

In store, businesses have benefited from contactless payments enabling faster throughput and reduced need for consumers to touch payment terminals (therefore requiring greater cleaning, which degrades the hardware much faster). Mastercard reported a 40% increase in contactless payments – including tap-to-pay and mobile pay – during the first quarter of the year as the global pandemic worsened. Digital has also become an essential sales channel for many B2C brands. Where brick and mortar stores have been required to close, digital commerce enables continuity of customer relationships and revenue. This channel also provides brands with rich customer data, which can be used to enhance and personalise the customer experience and typically results in greater levels of engagement and uplifts in revenue.

Industry forecasts estimate that worldwide spending on the technologies and services enabling digital transformation will reach GBP 1.8 trillion in 2023 – a clear indication that the process represents a long-term investment and a global commitment to digital-first strategy. The key point here is that digital brings significant benefits, and regardless of COVID, is here to stay.

The challenges that rapid digital transformation brings to businesses

Justin Pike

Justin Pike

Regardless of whether businesses are operating in developed or less-developed economies, these times of crisis have levelled the playing field in the sense that all businesses are facing similar issues. Access to products and supplies, maintaining customer relationships, accelerating sales for some and declining sales for others, health and hygiene are just a few of the unique challenges brought about by COVID.

Many businesses in physical environments have had to swiftly implement changes to significantly reduce safety risks for staff and customers, such as contactless payments, mobile ordering and delivery options. But with these changes come a host of other benefits of digitisation, such as faster transactions, and reduced human error at the point-of-sale.

The reliance on technology, however, can also expose organisations and consumers to certain vulnerabilities. In particular, the risks of fraud and cybercrime have dramatically increased since the onset of the pandemic as scammers have taken advantage of digital technologies to target both businesses and individuals.

As a McKinsey report illustrates, new levels of sophistication in the activities of fraudsters have placed more pressure on companies that have been previously slow to go digital, bringing “into sharp relief how vulnerable companies really are”, and damaging the financial health of small and large businesses. In fact, the Bottomline 2020 Business Payments Barometer reveals that only one in 10 small businesses across the UK report recovering more than 50% of losses due to fraud.

But take these stats with a grain of salt. While it is important to be aware of the risks and challenges this new business landscape brings, it’s equally as important to have a lens firmly across your own business, industry and audience, and to identify the changes you can make internally to mitigate risk as well as improve your customer experience. Where can you make some quick wins? Do you have the right skillsets internally to achieve what you need to achieve? What technology is out there that will enable your business goals? There are tech companies like MYPINPAD that are making huge strides in software development, which will transform businesses globally.

A digital world post-COVID

Almost a year in, the line between business success and failure remains fragile. However, an ongoing transition towards greater digitisation will be the difference between survival and the alternative.

There is a wide range of initiatives businesses can implement to weather this storm. If we look at the space MYPINPAD operates within, secure digital consumer authentication is crucial to the ongoing success and security of not only financial products but also identification and verification across a range of different industry verticals. Shifting the authentication of consumers securely onto mobile devices enables businesses to completely reshape their customer experiences. By bringing together a more seamless, frictionless customer experience, accessibility, privacy, security and access to consumer data, businesses are able to drive digital transformation across day-to-day activities.

Against this backdrop, software with stronger security standards continue to play an ever more vital role in supporting society, protecting consumers and businesses from the increase in risks that rapid digitisation brings. Already, merchants can deploy PIN on Mobile technology from companies like MYPINPAD, onto their smart devices to speed up the digitisation process many are now tackling.

Essentially, opening up universal payments and authentication methods that feel familiar, for both online and face-to-face transactions, will be key to opening up a world of possibilities when it comes to redefining how businesses engage with consumers.

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Brexit responsible for food supply problems in Northern Ireland, Ireland says

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Brexit responsible for food supply problems in Northern Ireland, Ireland says 3

LONDON (Reuters) – Food supply problems in Northern Ireland are due to Brexit because there are now a certain amount of checks on goods going between Britain and Northern Ireland, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.

British ministers have sought to play down the disruption of Brexit in recent days.

“The supermarket shelves were full before Christmas and there are some issues now in terms of supply chains and so that’s clearly a Brexit issue,” Coveney told ITV.

The Northern Irish protocol means there are “a certain amount of checks on goods coming from GB into Northern Ireland and that involves some disruption,” he said.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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