Market Watch 08.02.2021

1. Amazon’s chief executive steps aside. Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos will step aside to become Executive Chairman, being replaced by Andy Jassy, who currently heads up its cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services. Mr Bezos, who is 57, said it was an “optimal time” to make the change, which will happen in the third quarter. He will still be engaged in some initiatives but his main focus will be on his personal climate change actions, the space exploration company Blue Origin and his newspaper, The Washington Post. Ms Bezos has been part of Amazon since its founding in 1994, during the time he gained a current net worth of almost $200bn. His replacement, Andy Jessy has 53, and is an old hand in the company since 1997. He has run his division since its starting in 2003. In the last months, AWS generated $12.67bn in sales, with an operating income of $3.6bn, being the most profitable part of Amazon’s business. The statement came as the company registered record quarterly revenue of $125.6bn, up more than 40% in the same period in the previous year, and exceeding Wall Street’s expectations. Due to Covid-19, the company expected to have losses between $3bn and $6.5bn, taking into consideration $2bn in pandemic-related expenditure, but the situation was unexpected in a positive way.

2. A new Italian government. Mario Draghi has accepted to structure a new Italian government as the country again faces a worse phase of the Covid-19 pandemic and the most severe economic crisis in its post-war history. Mr Draghi, a former president of the European Central Bank, has been called by the Italy’ president Sergio Mattarella to start consultations with the other Italian parties to form a national unity government. “I thank the president of the Republic for the trust he has granted me. It is a difficult moment,” Mr Draghi said in his speech. Due to the higher number of cases, more than 88,000 deaths during the pandemic, the president is trying to avoid snap elections that might happen in case of a lack of support for the new candidate. Mr Draghi has no antecedents on the Italian political stage and has to gain enough support among lawmakers to form a stable government in order to deal with the current situation. He is confident that he can get along with the other party leaders and with the “extraordinary resources of the EU”, around €200bn in loans and grants, the country is able to pass this critical phase. He was drugged into the situation after the collapse of the former prime minister Giuseppe Conte’ formation, which left the country with an unstable government in the middle of the pandemic.

3. New liability demands for UK directors. As part of a new proposal to review the UK corporate governance and audit supervision, the directors will be keeping personally responsible for the authenticity of their company’s financial declarations, with fines and bans for major damages. Kwasi Kwarteng, the new business secretary, will publish the reforms in a white paper next week that includes clear modifications to the audit companies in the wake-up call after some scandals such as Carillion and Patisserie Valerie. The 200-plus pages of guidance have to be issued by the UK business department, and will include the introduction of rules similar to the US Sarbanes-Oxley regulations introduced in response to the fall of Enron. The changes are addressed to the directors in order to make them more responsible for their acts regarding the financial statements of their companies. In case of any branches to sustain corporate reporting and audit standards, they will become subjects to receive fines and bans. The new rules have to be thought well so that business will not face expensive costs, especially during the pandemic burden. The respective rules might include issues raised by climate change and social obligations.

3. Protests in Myanmar. Thousands of people gathered for a second day of protest to fight against the newly installed junta, led by General Min Aung Hlaing, and request the release of the elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The protest is the biggest one since 2007, when the country did the transition to democracy. Many people, mostly part of the National League for Democracy party, have been arrested since the beginning of the month or are under house arrest or in detention. Sean Turnell, an Australian who served as a senior economic adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s ex-leader, was arrested on Saturday. The coup ended the country’s nine-year-old democratic transition and dragged one of Asia’s poorest states into a precarious situation when it was finally starting to bring Covid-19 under control. The military’s internet shutdown, a tool it has used in the past to hide from view violent conflicts, came after resistance to the coup gathered force online and overthrew the government. The regime ordered internet companies to block Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, in order to prevent the protestants’ messages from going viral. The protest was peaceful but some gun shots have been heard in one for the southern cities. The situation is not under control and people sustain they will keep protesting for re-stabilization of democracy.

5. The challenges of the South African strain. The Oxford and AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine does not prove to offer protection against the disease caused by the viral strain first identified in South Africa, according to some recent studies. The studies which are still in the making-process phase, showed that the formula used until now might not be efficient and could complicate the process to roll out vaccines as new strains appear. In both the human trials and tests on the blood of those vaccinated, the jab showed significantly reduced efficacy against the 501Y.V2 viral variant, coming from South Africa. While all Covid-19 vaccines have largely held up against the B.1.1.7 variant that emerged in the UK, the mutation that originated in South Africa has been more difficult to combat. Moderna has said it will test a booster shot and a reformulated vaccine to attack the South African variant, after its vaccine proved to be very ineffective to the new strain. BioNTech/Pfizer is also trying to improve their formula after several failed tests. However, the vaccines produced until now proved to be effective regarding the first strain of the virus leading to hopes that the burden of many hospitals can be reduced and allow for lockdowns to be eased.

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