What we’re tracking on 15 December 2020
Good morning, wonderful people. It’s midweek and mid-December, and our long-awaited end-of-year news slowdown is still MIA. There’s very interesting news this morning out of the Sovereign Fund of Egypt on the prospect of more military-owned companies opening to private investment — and the not-unexpected development that entrenched professions are going to resist being “disrupted” by tech, especially when that tech is owned by a key player in their supply chain.
We have the full rundown on this and more in the news well this morning.
It’s (almost) official: Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States after the electoral college voted yesterday. We love CNN’s take: “It's a constitutionally mandated ritual that's typically no more than a curious afterthought following a presidential election, but the ceremonial vote took on newfound significance this year as President Donald Trump and his GOP allies made unprecedented efforts to subvert the popular will of the voters and overturn Biden's November victory.”
Meanwhile: Spooks and corporations around the world are scrambling to quantify the damage after a months-long hack in which an arm of Russia’s foreign intelligence service appears to have penetrated a network monitoring product from SolarWinds to gain access to everything from corporate secrets to covid research — as well as data at the US treasury and commerce departments. Tens of thousands of companies and government agencies worldwide are believed to be affected. The story all over the English-speaking world’s front pages, and if you’re new to cyber warfare, we suggest you start with the Financial Times’ What do we know about the SolarWinds hack? See also coverage from the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Guardian and make sure to read the Washington Post’s original story, which broke the news.
CLOSER TO HOME- The pandemic e-commerce boom may be tapering off for Egypt’s SMEs, as 61% of those with a Facebook presence reported a y-o-y drop in sales in October, while 45% of businesses had to reduce their staff, according to the findings of a survey by Facebook, the World Bank, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The silver lining: 15% of businesses reported more online sales now than before the pandemic, while 56% said they were optimistic about the future of their business.
Meanwhile, Uber Egypt is back to 80% of its pre-covid run rate and expects a full recovery in 2021, General Manager Ahmed Khalil said at the virtual RiseUp Summit, reports Wamda. The company closed down UberEats in Egypt and other countries at the start of the pandemic which Khalil explained was “part of a global push to focus our resources in our top markets” to weather the storm. Khalil did not mention whether UberEats would make its way back to Egypt post-covid.
PSA- Look for more sand and blowing dust today and a high today of about 20°C, giving way to a bit of drizzle overnight. There’s a good chance of light showers tomorrow morning, our favorite weather app warns us.
WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY-
The House is reconvening today as its five-year term starts to draw to a close. The current class of MPs is due to end their term on 9 January 2021, according to a five-year-old presidential decree. Newly elected representatives will then officially take office the following day, and convene for their first session as soon as President Abdel Fattah El Sisi makes the call. The current House returned in October for a final, abridged fall legislative cycle.
On today's agenda:
- Debate on the ratification of the charter of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum;
- A EUR 1.9 bn syndicated loan recently approved by a group of banks led by JPMorgan Chase to fund projects by the National Authority for Tunnels;
- A grant from the USAID as part of the Egypt Economic Governance for Development Project, which aims to improve accountability, efficiency, and transparency in public institutions and civil service; and
- An Egypt-Russia economic and military cooperation agreement signed in Sochi in 2018.
The final results of the parliamentary elections were out yesterday. We have the full rundown in this morning’s Current Affairs, below.
It’s Fed day: The US Federal Open Market Committee kicks off later today its two-day policy-setting meeting. Consensus from senior economists and policy watchers is that the US central bank will expand a USD 120 bn per month bond-buying program it launched earlier in the pandemic, signaling easy monetary policy and near-zero interest rates for years to come.
This Fed meeting is of particular importance to emerging market policymakers and investors, who are eager to see if it will reinforce an already-low interest rate environment, reports Bloomberg. The recent shift in Fed policy to a more accommodative stance to stimulate a recovery from covid and drive inflation higher has heaped pressure on the USD, which is down 6% year-to-date against other currencies. A weaker greenback reduces debt servicing costs and provides policymakers with more room for stimulus without the fear of sudden inflationary shocks.
CIRCLE YOUR CALENDAR- The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE), meanwhile, is scheduled to meet on Thursday, 24 December. Pundits have widely been expecting the CBE to keep rates on hold after food prices drove the headline inflation rate up for the second consecutive month, to 5.7% in November from 4.6% in October. After slashing rates by 400 bps in 2020, the CBE still has room to lower rates by at least a further 100 bps over the next 12 months.
Egypt made a new archaeological discovery in Saqqara and will announce the details in early 2021, according to a cabinet statement. Self-styled Indiana Jones Zahi Hawass said the new discovery will shed light on the history of the 18th and 19th dynasties in Ancient Egypt.
START THIS BUSINESS- Not convinced with our pitch yesterday that you should open an old-folks home? AI guy Sam Altman’s Twitter feed comes to your rescue with his question about what “tiny / non-existent market today” that will be a USD 1 tn or more market in 10-20 years. So many interesting responses.
Don’t have an entrepreneurial bone in your body? Or have kids? The Financial Times invites you to consider how covid-19 is reshaping the “new in-demand jobs,” from tax specialist to healthcare, demand planners, drivers and tech workers.
Apple Fitness+ launches today for anybody with an iPhone (or iPad) and an Apple Watch. The service offers a wide roster of workouts from weights to spinning, rowing and yoga delivered in English by professional instructors. How do you get it? You’ll need to update your iPhone to the latest software, so head to Settings > General > Software Update and get to it. Read all about it here.
Wait, you mean true believers have to put bread on the table, too? Wherein the American Prospect talks about the consulting gigs of the folks with whom Joe Biden is surrounding himself, including that of his soon-to-be secretary of state.
CORRECTION- Because calendars are hard to operate. In a story on the surge in activity in the securitization market, yesterday, we incorrectly identified Corplease as being owned by CIB. It is owned by former CIB subsidiary CI Capital, which acquired Corplease from its former corporate parent in 2016. The story has been corrected on our website.