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Tuesday, 10 November 2020

What we’re tracking on 10 November 2020

Good morning, wonderful people. We’re going to lead with the same thing everyone else in the world is trumpeting this morning, in one way or another: We just took a big step toward an effective vaccine against covid-19.

But don’t go celebrating just yet — there are lots and lots of caveats, especially for folks in our part of the world.

First, the facts: Pfizer and BioNTech’s covid-19 vaccine is 90% effective and could be submitted to authorities for emergency approval this month. The US and German companies said that no serious safety concerns were found and that the findings were a breakthrough for the industry, showing a proof of concept that vaccines can stop the disease. The reported efficacy rate is well above the 50% effectiveness required by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Pfizer and BioNTech said that up to 50 mn doses of the vaccine could be manufactured before the end of the year as well as 1.3 bn doses in 2021. The major development is on the front pages of Reuters, the Financial Times, Bloomberg, BBC, the Associated Press and the New York Times, among others.

Caveat #1: Divide that dose number by two and you get how many people will benefit from the vaccine if it makes it to market. Each person needs two doses taken some period apart.

Caveat #2: It’s tough to make — and even more difficult to distribute. The vaccine is synthetic mRNA and needs to be stored at -70°C. That type of super-cold storage is rare even in the US and Canada outside (really) major hospitals. “This will be a challenge in all settings because hospitals even in big cities do not have storage facilities for a vaccine at that ultra-low temperature,” one researcher told Reuters.

Caveat #3: It’s unclear whether the vaccine prevents infection, meaning we don’t know yet whether vaccinated people could still be asymptomatic carriers and infect others. This is a subtle point, but what the trial looked at was whether there were fewer symptomatic covid cases in people who got the vaccine than in people who got a placebo.

Caveat #4: In the meantime, you still need to wear your damn mask. It’s the single best thing any of us can do to constrain the spread of the virus. Don’t believe us? Fine. Go listen to Joe Biden.

But, but, but: There are plenty of vaccine candidates that don’t have that sort of crazy cold chain requirement. Moderna’s vaccine does, but other leading candidates being developed by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, which target the coronavirus’ spike protein, don’t, the WSJ notes. Still: Scientists say cautious optimism is the watchword for now.

Could Pfizer manufacture its vaccine in Egypt? We’re not going to hold our breath given the complexity of the process and the investment cost involved, but Aly Auf — the head of the medicines division at the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce — told Masaa DMC’s Eman El Hosary last night that it is possible. (It’s not at all clear whether he was speaking for Pfizer.)

But the vaccine breakthrough is still good news for Egypt: We’ve already signed up with AstraZeneca for 30 mn doses of the Oxford vaccine when it receives regulatory approval. The government, which is also currently participating in the clinical trials of a Chinese-made vaccine, will compare the test results from the different vaccines and make a decision on which to distribute to the public, Auf said. (watch, runtime: 12:31). Immunology professor Abd El Hadi Khader told El Hekaya’s Amr Adib that science, not geostrategy, needs to drive the decision on which vaccines the government purchases (watch, runtime: 4:23).

Producing a viable vaccine is one thing. Distributing it is an entirely different ball game. Attempts to bring the pandemic to an end may be plunged into crisis if global leaders don’t work together to ensure that vaccines are distributed fairly, professor of epidemiology Islam Anan told El Hadidi. The Trump administration’s refusal to commit to the fair distribution of a vaccine would severely complicate efforts to eradicate the virus from all corners of the world, he said, expressing hope that Washington may change course (watch, runtime: 5:40).

The Health Ministry reported 221 new covid-19 infections yesterday, down from 239 the day before. Egypt has now disclosed a total of 109,422 confirmed cases of covid-19. The ministry also reported 12 new deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll to 6,380. We now have a total of 100,439 confirmed cases that have fully recovered.

Global stocks cheered the announcement yesterday, rallying an intraday high as the news combined with Joe Biden’s victory in the US election to push market euphoria to new levels. MSCI’s index of EM stocks rose over 0.6% to hit an all-time high, while the S&P 500 closed 1.2% in the green. Both exchanges trimmed intraday highs before the closing bell thanks to dashed hopes of new stimulus and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell saying The Donald has “every right” to challenge the election process.

Oil also surged, with Brent crude rising as much as 6.5%, but tech shares slumped as investors looked at retailers, hotels and energy companies, which have lagged throughout the pandemic.

The rally isn’t looking like it’ll continue today, with US and European markets both projected to open in the red according to futures markets at the time of dispatch this morning.

The market rally is leading coverage in the global business press this morning: Bloomberg | FT | CNBC | WSJ | Reuters | Associated Press.

Closer to home, in the here and now:

It’s inflation day: The Central Bank of Egypt and Capmas are due to release inflation figures today, which will feed straight into the Thursday meeting of the CBE’s monetary policy committee. Annual urban inflation ticked up to 3.7% in September, but remained near a record low as seasonal factors such as the reopening of schools had a smaller-than-expected effect on monthly prices. Expect interest rates to be left on hold according to six of eight analysts and economists in our poll.

Renaissance Capital is hosting a five-day virtual conference on the 2021 outlook for emerging and frontier markets, including panel discussions on sectors in specific countries. The conference kicked off yesterday and wraps on Friday. Look for a panel discussion on Egypt’s fintech space with Fawry CEO Ashraf Sabry, Ebtikar CEO Ayman El Dessouky, Actis Partner Hossam Abou Moussa, and e-Finance subsidiary Khales CEO Moataz El Sayed. Tap / click here to stream the public sessions.

The Egyptian-British Chamber of Commerce and the British Egyptian Business Association’s Egypt Week continues today. International Cooperation Minister Rania Al Mashat, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait and presidential health advisor Mohamed Awad Tag El Din are due to speak on the second day of the conference today. The four-day virtual event kicked off yesterday with a speech by Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly, who said that Egypt could serve as the UK’s gateway to Africa as the country looks to boost trade after leaving the European Union. Check out the agenda here (pdf).

KUDOS- Egyptian Paralympic Committee chief Hayat Khattab is one of the 100 individuals who were appointed to the Senate by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, Inside the Games reports. Khattab, who is also president of ParaVolley Africa and teaches at several Egyptian universities, says she hoped to “achieve something for para-athletes” during her term. We had a chat with Khattab in our Work From Home Routine column last week, which you can read in full here.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi will be in Athens tomorrow and Thursday for talks with Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greek media report.

Apple is widely expected to unveil new Macs powered by Apple silicon at an event set to stream tonight at 8pm CLT. You can catch it here.


Fitch cut Saudi Arabia’s outlook to negative but maintained its A rating as covid-19 and plunging oil prices continued to wreak havoc on the kingdom’s economy, Bloomberg reports. The move comes as a result of the continued weakening of the sovereign’s fiscal and external balance sheets, said Fitch analysts.

Crude futures contracts will be on the menu when Abu Dhabi debuts its commodities exchange next March, marking the first time investors will be able to trade the futures, according to Bloomberg. The futures trading will replace the emirate’s retroactive pricing scheme, allowing instead the market to determine oil prices, pending regulatory approvals.

From the region:

  • UN-led talks in Tunisia on Libya’s future kicked off yesterday, with an eye toward arranging national elections to unify the fractured country, Reuters reports.
  • Violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has killed hundreds, Reuters reports, citing government sources.
  • Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia have signed a peace agreement to put an end to six weeks of conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, the BBC reports.

POST-US ELECTION WATCH- All the latest from the transition — or to be more accurate, non-transition — from Planet Trump:

  • Republican heavyweight Mitch McConnell has publicly backed Trump’s decision to persevere with legal action as pressure builds on the president to concede the election to Joe Biden. (Axios)
  • Trump stalwart and US attorney general Bill Barr authorized a probe into possible instances of electoral fraud. (CNN)
  • Hasta la vista: The ex-Apprentice host fired his defence secretary Mark Esper for unknown reasons, writing on social media that he had been “terminated.” (Twitter)
  • The prospect of Trump 2024 is real: The Donald has already told his advisers that he intends to make a comeback bid for the White House in 2024. (Axios)

A Biden presidency won’t go easy on China, with tensions expected to persist albeit with less volatility, CNBC reports. In a Foreign Policy article earlier this year, the president-elect wrote “the United States does need to get tough with China” and suggested the most effective way to do that would be “to build a united front of US allies and partners to counter China’s abusive behaviors.” It is unclear what stance the Biden administration will take on tariffs and negotiating phase two of the China-US trade deal signed earlier this year.

…and Russia won’t be their BFF either: Moscow is bracing for more anti-Russia rhetoric and stricter sanctions as Biden takes on the US presidency, according to the Financial Times.

And Naguib Sawiris is also weighing in on the prospect of a Biden White House, telling CNBC that he will restore “ethics, some principles back to democratic values,” and expressing hope that he will be more balanced in his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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