What we’re tracking on 4 August 2020
Uhm, who am I? What do I do for a living? Forgive us, but we imagine this is what Will Smith must have felt like after Tommy Lee Jones zapped him at the end of Men in Black. Really long long weekends can do that to you.
So welcome, friends, to the month of August. Back to school month for some of us. The prelude to fall. The month before we all need to start thinking about our 2021 budget process. We hope those of you able to escape to Sahel are having a blast.
The big news of the day: We have the lowest single-day count of new covid-19 cases in Egypt since April. More on that below.
It’s shaping up to be a busy month punctuated not just by the start of the school year at some private institutions, but by a trip to the ballot box:
- PMI data for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE is due out on Wednesday, 5 August at around 6:15am CLT.
- Foreign reserves figures for July should be out early next week.
- Inflation data for July will land on or about, Monday, 10 August.
- We’re heading to the polls to elect a senate this month. Expats will vote 9-10 August, while voters in Egypt will cast their ballots 11-12 August. Runoffs take place in September. Expect to head to the voting booth yet again in October for House elections.
- The Central Bank of Egypt will meet to review interest rates on Thursday, 13 August.
- The House reconvenes on Sunday, 16 August after a brief recess.
- We have a holiday near the end of the month as we take Thursday, 20 August off in observance of Islamic New Year.
AU-sponsored GERD talks resume this week with technical teams from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan set to meet today and tomorrow to discuss the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, cabinet said in a statement yesterday. Irrigation ministers from the three countries will then meet on Thursday. We have more in this morning’s Diplomacy + Foreign Trade, below.
COVID-19 IN EGYPT-
Daily cases reach lowest level since 21 April: The Health Ministry confirmed 157 new cases of covid-19 yesterday — the lowest single-day total since 21 April. This brings the nation’s total confirmed cases to 94,640. The ministry also reported 23 new deaths yesterday, which is the lowest figure reported since 22 May. Egypt’s overall death now stands at 4,888.
But be on your best behavior lest we be put back into lockdown: The government may need to once again impose stricter preventative measures if there is a resurgence of the virus, Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly warned during a televised press statement following Wednesday’s cabinet meeting (watch, runtime: 24:46). Madbouly attributed falling rates of infection to public awareness — and stressed the importance of continued social distancing and wearing face masks in public.
Egypt’s churches opened their doors for the first time in more than four months yesterday, the Coptic Orthodox Church said in a statement. Worshippers will need to practice social distancing and wear masks, among other precautions outlined in a separate statement.
It remains unclear when mosques will re-open for Friday prayers.
Egypt is among 31 “high risk” countries subject to an indefinite flight ban by Kuwait introduced on Saturday by the country’s civil aviation authority. The decision was announced on the same day the country partially resumed commercial flights, with the Kuwait International Airport operating at 30% capacity.
It’s unclear when flights between the two countries might restart: A cabinet statement on Sunday said that the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister told Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry that the ban will be reviewed “during the coming period.” The flight ban comes at a time of strained relations between the two countries as the Gulf nation looks to reduce the number of migrant workers who call it home.
ON THE GLOBAL FRONT-
The number of confirmed cases of covid-19 worldwide surpassed 18 mn on Sunday, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
Russia is gearing up to administer a vaccine en masse by October: Clinical trials on a vaccine developed by a Russian state research institute have been completed, potentially allowing health authorities to start a mass vaccination campaign in October, Reuters reports, citing an unnamed source. The vaccine may receive regulatory approval by the end of August. Doctors and teachers would be first in line to receive the vaccine before it is made more widely accessible to the public.
There are growing concerns that politics is taking priority in the race for a vaccine: Skepticism has surrounded the speed at which Russia’s clinical trials have been rushed through, with leading US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci expressing hopes that Russia is “actually testing the vaccine.” In the US, experts say they are worried that the Trump administration will push for a vaccine to be approved before Americans go to the polls on 3 November to give his reelection bid a boost.
Australia’s second-largest state is in lockdown with a nighttime curfew and the military rolling out to enforce isolation orders, according to Reuters.
Middle East bond binge to continue into 2021 -JPMorgan: The surge in sovereign bond issuances in the Middle East in the wake of the pandemic will continue into next year, JPMorgan Chase said, according to Bloomberg. Stability brought by USD pegs, solid sovereign credit ratings, and a lack of capital controls will continue to fuel investor interest in the region, which saw USD 72 bn of bond issuance during the first six months of the year. Governments have taken to the bond markets to plug gaping holes in their finances caused by lockdowns and the crash in oil prices.
And expect a wave of M&A: The US investment bank is forecasting a spate of takeovers in the region, particularly in the financial, retail, real estate, and tourism sectors. “All these sectors are ripe for consolidation,” said Karim Tannir, the bank’s joint-senior country officer for MENA. “Some of the [transactions] we will see may not have been driven by covid-19, but that is now going to accelerate consolidation.”
White House officials and US Congressional Democrats have “made some progress” in their talks on a third round of fiscal stimulus package, Reuters reports. Republicans remain opposed to renewing the crucial USD 600 per week unemployment benefits, which expired on Friday, saying the payouts are discouraging citizens to go back to work. US President Donald Trump is now “seriously considering” issuing executive orders to suspend or defer the collection of payroll taxes.
Manufacturing activity in China surged last month at its fastest pace in nine years in the latest sign that the world’s second-largest economy is mounting a strong recovery after its lockdown earlier this year, according to latest PMI figures.
LNG markets continued to contract for the third consecutive month in July, marking a record 9.4% y-o-y decrease in fuel exports — the steepest slump since 2017, Bloomberg reports. Weak global demand for liquified natural gas spells financing trouble for export projects that had set sights on the rapid expansion in LNG markets before covid took hold, the business information service notes.
HSBC profits fell 96% in 2Q2020 as losses from non-performing loans reached USD 3.8 bn, disappointing CEO Ewen Stevenson’s expectations of a “much sharper V-shaped” recovery, the Financial Times reports. The bank has readjusted its expectations for the year to account for anticipated weaker performance, setting aside some USD 8-13 bn for non-performing loans.
AND THE REST OF THE WORLD-
Under-fire Emirates REIT hires Houlihan Lokey ahead of regulatory probe: Nasdaq Dubai-listed Emirates REIT has tapped investment bank Houlihan Lokey to advise it on its “strategic options” and “operational structure,” the fund announced in a statement (pdf). The Dubai Financial Services Authority said last month that it would investigate the fund’s owner, Equitativa, on “matters connected to the management,” a week after shareholders accused it of misrepresenting its market value to investors.
The UAE inaugurated the Arab world’s first nuclear power plant on Saturday, making it one of the some 30 countries with nuclear capabilities, Bloomberg reports. The country plans to have four nuclear reactors online by 2023, producing a fifth of its electricity needs. The launch sees the New York Times with its knickers in a knot because, you know, only Westerners can be trusted with nuclear power programs: “The launch is raising concerns about the growing number of nuclear programs in the volatile Middle East,” the Grey Lady helpfully notes, wringing its hands.
Microsoft perseveres with talks to buy TikTok after Trump vows US ban: Microsoft is pushing ahead with talks that could see it acquire Chinese video-sharing app TikTok after talks between CEO Satya Nadella and President Donald Trump, the company said yesterday. The tech giant vowed to wrap up negotiations to buy the company’s US operations by the middle of September, and promised to conduct a security review and detail the “proper economic benefits” to the government.
What’s a little extortion between friends? The US government has been threatening to ban the app, citing security concerns, and King Cheeto wants a cut of the sale price if a transaction goes through.
ELSEWHERE ON PLANET TECH: A Chinese patent troll is trying to prevent Apple from selling in China anything that has Siri in it. Facebook smashed second-quarter earnings expectations despite an ongoing ad boycott over the platform’s role promoting hate speech. SpaceX returned two astronauts to Earth in a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday following a historic two-month mission to the International Space Station. Watch the landing here (runtime: 06:07:28).
Two Egyptian women named among Forbes’ 2020 most powerful women behind Mideast online brands: Abeer El Sisi, one of the co-founders of AI personal assistant startup Elves, and Ghada El Tannawi, who founded online gown rental platform La Reina, have been named by Forbes two of the most influential women behind online brands in the Middle East this year.