It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World!

It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World                                                          08 January 2020

The big news of the week (and perhaps the year) was the signing of the AlUla Declaration at the conclusion of the GCC Summit, marking a definitive end to the Gulf dispute with Qatar and restoring full ties with Doha. In June 2017, the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, severed diplomatic, trade and transport ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman confirmed that leaders of the six-member GCC signed two documents on Tuesday, with the Gulf states, inking an agreement that affirms “our Gulf, Arab and Islamic solidarity and stability”. The Crown Prince singled out “the threats posed by the Iranian regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and its plans for sabotage and destruction.”

This is just the fillip that is required to get Dubai speeding forward again. Another positive is the fact that Brent has almost reached US$ 55 – a starting level that will benefit the Dubai economy. By the end of the week, further good news was the fact that the Democrats’ victory in the Georgia Senate run-offs will add further pressure on the US dollar, which this week reached its lowest level since April 2018; a low dollar is often seen as a major plus for the Dubai’s tourism sector which will benefit from overseas visitors getting more for their local currency when buying plane tickets and spending money here.    The only fly in the ointment seems to be the increased lockdowns and rising Coronavirus cases in Europe, and elsewhere which could have a negative effect on the local hospitality sector if tourist numbers were to drop.

For the week ending 07 January, there were 1,546 Dubai real estate and properties transactions valued at US$ 1.2 billion. According to the Department of Land and Property, 1,035 apartments/villas were sold for a combined total of US$ 452 million and 109 plots for US$ 119 million. The top three sales were for land in Palm Jumeirah, (two for US$ 10 million each) and the other in Island 2 for US$ 9 million. The three locations, with the highest number of transactions, were Nad Al Shiba Third (27 – US$ 18 million), Al Hebiah Fourth (20- US$ 12 million) and Nad Al Shiba First (18 – US$ 10 million). The top prices of the week were for a villa in Marsa Dubai, selling for US$ 41 million, a Business Bay apartment for US$ 38 million and another apartment in Nad Al Shiba First for US$ 37 million. Mortgaged properties for the week totalled US$ 545 million, whilst 98 properties, valued at US$ 117 million, were granted between first-degree relatives worth US$ 117 million.

With no figures readily available, Sobha Realty reported a doubling of H2 sales at its eight million sq ft flagship development, Sobha Hartland, situated in Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum City. The massive development of villas and townhouses at Sobha Hartland includes the Gardenia Villas, Forest Villas, Waterfront Villas and Garden Houses; the master development is slated for completion by 2025. The real estate developer expects to achieve 70% of its 2020 target, as the demand for larger homes and outdoor spaces increases as a result of Covid-19.  Property Finder has indicated that the number of villas and townhouses searches has quadrupled since the onset of the pandemic. In the eight months to November, it estimates that of the 4k villas sold, 63% were for ready units.

Emaar has divested The Sky View, comprising the Address hotel and residential apartments, for US$ 205 million – an indicator that Dubai’s commercial property sector is on the move up. European fund, Evergreen Hospitality, has made the acquisition in one of the biggest deals in Dubai’s property sector for some months. The deal is “in line with the company’s asset-light strategy for hospitality assets.” Two years ago, the Dubai developer sold five properties in its Dubai hotel portfolio to Abu Dhabi National Hotels for US$ 605 million. It is expected that the current management, the Address, will continue operating the property which has 169 rooms and 551 apartments, along with a 70 mt infinity pool and a floating skybridge.

In a bid to help local family businesses prosper, the federal Ministry of Economy is keen to work alongside them to develop a legislative structure. Over the past sixty years, some of these businesses have grown from a one man shop to a multi-business conglomerate, and in some cases employing three generations of the family; others have failed., with one of the main drivers being lack of corporate governance. Earlier in the week, there was a meeting between the Ministry and the Family Business Council-Gulf to discuss how better to organise businesses so that they remain operational for successive generations. Joint work committees are already in place between the two sides working on strategy, research and legislation.

The Dubai Gold & Commodities Exchange had a record 2020, during which it traded 12.73 million contracts. The best performing product, trading over 260k contracts, was DGCX’s AUD Futures Contract, up 4,694%, year-on-year. The two best DGCX launched products were the Weekly INR-US Dollar (USD) Futures Contract, along with the launch of three FX Rolling Futures Contracts – EUR, GBP and AUD against the USD.

This week, Dubai launched its fifth economic package worth US$ 86 million, to mitigate the effects of the global health crisis on businesses, bringing the total value of stimulus packages to date to US$ 1.93 billion. According to the Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the package will provide necessary elements for business continuity and accelerate the pace of recovery. Some of the current package will extend the validity of some of the initiatives, announced in the previous stimulus packages, for another six months, until June 2021. It will also continue the market fee exemption to commercial establishments and hotels, that were not included in the previous package, as well non-beach hotels and their restaurants being refunded 50% from the hotel sales fee as well as the Tourism Dirham Fee.

In the tourism, entertainment and events sector, the exemption from the fees charged for postponement and cancellation of recreational and sports events and activities, including conferences and exhibitions, has been extended. Other measures include extending the freeze on fees charged for ticket sales, issuing permits and other government fees imposed on entertainment and business events, as well as extending the cancellation of the 25% down payment requirement for accepting instalments of licensing fees and licence renewal on a monthly basis. Furthermore, nurseries, leasing land lots from the Knowledge Fund Establishment, will continue to benefit from the 50% reduction in land rent.

After a 2020 6.3% contraction, the World Bank has revised slightly downward its UAE economic growth forecast to 2.4% next year, following a 1.0 % increase projected for this year. The bank has forecast a 4.0% expansion this year “assuming an initial Covid-19 vaccine rollout becomes widespread throughout the year,” It predicts a 2.1% economic growth for the MENA region “reflecting the lasting damage from the pandemic and low oil prices.” For the other `GCC nations its forecast shows  2021 and 2022 growth of 2.0% and 2.2% for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait – 0.5% and 3.1%,  Oman – 0.5% and an impressive 9.4%,  Qatar – 3.0% and 3.0% and Bahrain – 2.2% and 2.5%.

2020 was a historic year for the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, as over 2k new companies joined the free zone, driven to some extent by the introduction of incentives to attract new businesses.; for example, following the onset of Covid-19 in March, DMCC introduced its “Business Support Package”, with offers of a wide range of incentives and value-added services. It was estimated that over 8k member-companies took up 13k offers. Recently, the authority Introduced a limited time offer of allowing virtual licences to be issued in five working days, with zero upfront fees.

With the imminent retirement of banking veteran, Simon Haslam, Network International, has appointed Nandan Mer, Mastercard’s strategy head for international markets, as its new chief executive as from 01 February. The current incumbent, who joined the Dubai-based payment processing firm in 2017, will remain with the company during a six-month notice period to ensure a smooth transition. Network Internaional went public on the London Stock Exchange in 2019, with Mastercard, a 10% stakeholder, pledging to invest a further US$ 35 million in the business over the next five years.

The bourse opened on Sunday 03 January and, having slipped 58 points (2.3%) the previous fortnight, gained 134 points (5.4%) to close on 2,492 by Thursday 07 January. Emaar Properties, US$ 0.02 lower the previous week, traded US$ 0.11 higher at US$ 1.07, whilst Arabtec is now in the throes of liquidation, with its last trading, late in September, at US$ 0.14. Thursday 07 January saw the market trading at 421 million shares, worth US$ 110 million, (compared to 139 million shares, at a value of US$ 47 million, on 31 December).

By Thursday, 07 January, Brent, US$ 10.72 (26.1%) higher the previous seven weeks, was US$ 2.72 (5.2%) higher in this week’s trading to close on US$ 54.52. Gold, US$ 101 (5.6%) higher the previous three weeks, gained a further US$ 14 (0.7%) to close on US$ 1,909 by Thursday 07 January.

In November, Japan imported nineteen million barrels of crude oil from the UAE which equates to 27.5% of the country’s monthly total of just over 69 million barrels.

In a show of flexing its muscles, Saudi Arabia surprised the market by making a large cut in its oil production, an indicator to the rest of the world that the kingdom is still the prime mover in the industry. It could also be seen to be a slap in the face for Russia, which had been targeting a 500k bpd increase in February. On the news breaking, crude prices jumped to ten-month highs and energy shares on the global bourses surged. Saudi Arabia also pledged an additional unilateral cut of one million bpd in February and March, whilst Opec+ allowed both Russia and Kazakhstan to add a token combined 75k bpd for these two months. Whilst the move did paper over cracks in the fragile oil bloc, it was a major blow for the bear investors who read the market badly and had to buy back their bets.

One consequence of the pandemic is that investment in the energy sector fell off a cliff in 2020, with the impact being felt across the sector, from fossil fuels to renewables and efficiency. Driven mainly by the pandemic, and the double whammy of falling prices and slowing demand, capex in international upstream projects. has significantly reduced, with many projects being deferred for better times. The lack of investment will have a negative impact on the future supply line, so it is inevitable that when demand returns to pre-pandemic levels, supply will be unable to meet demand in the short to medium-term, as new projects will take more time for completion.  It is estimated that current production could be ramped up by seven million bpd, using existing facilities, but the market may be in need of twelve million bpd; without any investment now, the market will be five million bpd short because of the dearth of present investment. The short-term impact will be a spike in oil prices for a while until the oil sector recovers, and supply catches up with demand. Last year, global investment in energy fell by 21.0% to US$ 1.5 trillion – and not the US$ 1.95 trillion expected at the beginning of 2020. With revenues down across the board, oil companies still have to cover both their operating and capital costs so the only options for most is to cut costs or take a loan.

It was no surprise to read that the UK car sales last year suffered their largest fall since World War II, declining 29.0%, (equivalent to 680k units), to 1.63 million vehicles, with most of the lost sales occurring during the first lockdown, when showrooms and factories closed, impacting with a loss of a one million in unit sales in the quarter to May. December new car sales sank 10.9%. It is estimated that the industry lost US$ 27.2 billion in lost sales and the government US$ 2.6 billion in lost VAT receipts. 62.7% of new cars were for petrol and mild-hybrid vehicles, whilst mild-hybrid diesel cars comprised about 20% of the market. The big winners were battery and plug-in hybrid electric cars, along with plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), with the former posting a 186% growth to 108k units and the latter jumping 91.2% to 67k. The latest lockdown will continue to add salt to the industry’s wounds, as showrooms remain closed once again. The UK-EU trade deal will also have an impact on the industry since last year about 70% of vehicles were imported from Europe.

The US Justice Department has reached an agreement wit Boeing concerning criminal charges that it hid information from investigators about the safety and design of its 737 Max planes. The shamed US plane maker was fined US$ 2.5 billion (of which US$ 500 million has been earmarked for families of the 346 people killed in the two plane crashes). The DoJ accused Boeing of not cooperating with investigators for six months and concealing information about changes to an automated flight control system, known as MCAS. This resulted In pilot training manuals lacking information about the system, which overrode pilot commands based on faulty data, forcing the planes to nosedive shortly after take-off. In a damning indictment, Boeing was accused of choosing “profit over candour” and impeding oversight of the planes, which were involved in two deadly crashes, which were involved in two deadly crashes, whilst the plane maker acknowledged how the firm “fell short”. Isn’t Life Strange?

Troubled Rolls Royce has another problem to deal with – this time because it has had to put its UltraFan engine programme “on ice”, when testing finishes next year; further investment will be put on hold until a new aircraft is launched and that could be years, bearing in mind the state of the aviation sector, battered by the on-going pandemic. No manufacturer will consider introducing a new model in the present climate until demand for air travel returns to pre-Covid levels. To date, RR has already invested over US$ 680 million in the project, which is expected to be more than 25% efficient than the company’s Trent engines; this is part of a strategy to return to this sector, a decade after leaving a JV with Pratt & Whitney. Last month, the UK aero-engine maker noted that it was burning through cash at a faster rate than expected after raising US$ 6.8 billion – a US$ 2.7 billion rights issue and new credit lines.

Having leased planes since 2016, Amazon has bought eleven used Boeing 767-300s, from struggling airlines Delta and WestJet, to “support Amazon’s growing customer base”. The fact that the company is finally purchasing planes is a good sign that the tech giant will become a credible competitor in logistics, with the added benefits of lowering overall lifetime costs and greater control over the speed, reliability and quality of service. Since 2015, the company has found it more economical to handle logistics itself rather than using third parties, and has built its own global end-to-end logistics network, with its own vans, trucks and aircraft. There seems every possibility that it will overtake, in size, the likes of UPS and Fedex, as a supply chain provider, with the possibility of Amazon Air becoming an independent carrier in the US. It has been estimated by Chicago’s De Paul university that Amazon’s fleet was likely to grow to two hundred aircraft by 2028. Currently, Amazon lifts 2.3 billion packages every year, compared to the 3.1 billion and 2.7 billion carried by Fedex and UPS, but could overtake both by next year.

In what has been an off-on deal for some time, LVMH has finally completed its purchase of US jeweller Tiffany for US$ 15.8 billion, slightly discounted from the initial price of US$ 16.2 billion. The main benefit for the French luxury giant is that it will  be able to expand into the jewellery sector – a fast-growing area of the luxury goods market. Covid-19 and some tough negotiations slowed the deal which was announced over a year ago, leading to Tiffany suing LVMH to force the agreement to go ahead. Chief Executive, Bernard Arnault, has appointed his 28-year old son, Alexandre, as member of the new executiveteam toraise Tiffany’sprofile among younger buyers and customers in China, as well as enhancing online sales as it pushes to revive the iconic brand.

In line with many other store chains,John Lewis, which had offered EU delivery via its website, has scrapped overseas deliveries but confirmed that the decision was not related to Brexit, but because of its new strategy to focus on the UK. It seems that other retailers, including Asos and Fortnum & Masons, have temporarily suspended EU deliveries due to confusion surrounding post Brexit trading. Meanwhile store chain Debenhams has temporarily shut its online business in Ireland.

It is a wonder what the pandemic can do to company valuations. Yesterday, Robolox raised US$ 520 million, in private capital, valuing the children’s online gaming platform at US$ 29.5 billion – a massive sevenfold increase since February 2020. The funding was led by Altimeter Capital and Dragoneer Investment Group, with Warner Music Group one of several current investors. The company first released Robolox in 2006 and has seen revenue climb 91.0% to US$ 242.2 million. The company is planning a direct listing – rather than the more orthodox IPO route – where a company typically does not raise capital and investors do not have to wait for a lockup period to expire before selling their shares.

In a bold prediction JP Morgan estimates that Bitcoin could top US$ 146k, if it were to become a safe-haven asset. There is no doubt that it has caught investors’ attention, viewing it as a hedge against inflation and an alternative to the depreciating greenback. The bank noted that for Bitcoin to match the value of private gold holdings, it would have to reach US$ 146k but considers that it is likely to outshine gold, with the younger generation’s propensity for “digital” – rather than physical – gold, as millennials become a more important component of the investment market. If there were a move to oust gold as an ‘alternative’ currency, that could leave the door open for Bitcoin to move even higher, looking long-term.

On Thursday, Bitcoin reached US$ 40,367, lifting the total value of the entire cryptocurrency market to over US$ 1 trillion, (and Bitcoin to over US$ 740 billion), before falling back in later trading to hover around the US$ 38k level. So far in the seven days of 2021, the digital coin is up over 30% – and over 400% since the beginning of 2020. Not an investment for the faint-hearted, there is every chance that Bitcoin could top US$ 100k but along the way there will double-digit weekly gains and double-digit weekly losses. Until it becomes part of the “establishment”, it will remain volatile, with every possibility of its price dropping as quickly as it rises. Real risk-seekers could look at investing in rival cryptocurrency Ethereum which sank more than 10% to as low as US$ 1,087 yesterday.

The latest big IPO in the US will be Max Levchin’s Affirm Holdings, with a probable US$ 9.0 billion valuation; he also co-founded PayPal Holdings. The IPO is pitching the share price between US$ 33 to US$ 38 which would rake in funding of up to US$ 935 million. The company, established in 2012, gives people, without credit history or savings accounts, access to small loans, offering monthly pay-back financing for online purchases. Its major investors include Singapore’s SWF, VC firm Spark Capital and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and at its last private funding round, the company was only valued at US$ 3 billion. 2021 will be another boom year for the IPO sector, which last year raised US$ 167.6 billion, its highest level since 1999. This year will be more of the same, with major players, such as Robinhood, Instacart and Coinbase, joining the New York bourses.

MGM Resorts International has failed in a bold US$ 11.1 billion bid for Entain, which includes a number of gambling sites in its portfolio, such as Bwin, Coral, Ladbrokes, Partypoker, Eurobet, Gala and Foxy Bingo. The Las Vegas casino operator is keen to add such attractive on-line sites, ever since sports betting was legalised in US in 2018. An earlier US$ 10 billion all-cash bid from MGM failed last year and this time, the London-listed Entain noted that the bid undervalued the company, which has benefitted from a boom in online betting since the onset of the pandemic. Last September, MGM’s rival Caesars Entertainment agreed to buy UK-based William Hill for US$ 5.2 billion. With the FTSE 100, the worst performing major bourse in the world last year, it is inevitable that other US companies will be trawling around the City to pick up some basement bargains.

There are concerns about Nvidia’s 2020 acquisition of Arm for a reported US$ 40 billion. The UK’s competition regulator has invited interested parties to forward their views on the US tech company’s purchase from SoftBank of the British chip designer. The Competition and Markets Authority, which has the authority to stop the sale if it considered it would reduce competition, has a track record of blocking more deals than its peers in other countries, and of being one of the world’s most aggressive antitrust enforcers. The formal investigation is start towards the end of the year.

After years of on-going negotiations, the proposed US$ 52 billion merger, between Fiat Chrysler and France’s PSA Group has been approved by both sets of shareholders and will create the world’s fourth biggest carmaker, behind VW, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance and Toyota. The new entity, to be called Stellantis, will be home to fourteen different brands such as Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall, Fiat, Jeep and Chrysler, as well as the upmarket brands such as Maserati and Alfa Romeo. Although the new group will have spare production capacity of almost six million cars, PSA has pledged not to close factories after the merger, but there are concerns about the future of the 3k Vauxhall workers in the UK. Like with most mergers, the hope is that the two partners can pool expertise and resources – and save costs. Reality usually turns out differently.

A deal, signed at the beginning of last year, seemed to indicate the demise of Ford in the Indian market, in which the US carmaker planned to transfer most of its local operations, including two factories, into a JV to be majority-controlled by Mahindra & Mahindra. Now, it has announced that it will pull out of the accord, with both partiers agreeing to the termination after reassessing in part due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Ford has confirmed that “the company is actively evaluating its businesses around the world, including in India” and it is public knowledge that the company has struggled for more than twenty years to grow in the world’s fourth-largest car market. Last year, Ford took a US$ 799 million asset impairment charge – based on “fair value less cost to sell” – ahead of the expected Mahindra transfer and the recent termination of the agreement will have no bearing on that particular transaction.

One consequence of the boom in online shopping can be seen in the US, as consumers there are expected to return unwanted goods, valued at US$ 115 billion, with retailers having to process millions of extra items. It is estimated that “online returns” are normally three times greater in number compared to “normal retail sales”. For example, online buyers are more likely to buy more clothes than needed to try out size etc, only to return those not fitting the bill. Returns are expected to be 15% higher this year. Two other surprising facts are that 50% of returned goods have little or no salvage value and that almost 2.7 billion kg of these returns – enough to fill 7.7k fully-loaded Boeing 747s – found their way to a landfill. Whilst retailers take a beating, the big winners are the logistics companies gaining because of the two-way traffic.

Good news for the global economy came from South Korea – considered a bellwether for global trade – reporting December exports jumping at their fastest race since October 2018, driven by robust growth for computer chips and an improving global economy. December exports grew by 12.6%, year on year – a lot higher than the expected 5.6% expansion or the previous month’s 4.1% return. Sales of IT products, including semiconductor exports, (30% higher on the year), were prominent, accounting for eleven of the fifteen major export items posting growth; mobile devices, displays and computers all reported impressive growth – at 39.8%, 28.0% and 14.7% respectively. Exports to its prime market, China, were 3.3% higher, whilst exports to the US and EU jumped 11.6% and 26.4% respectively. December imports were 1.8% higher – compared to a 1.9% decline in November.

It seems that Donald Trump is leaving the White House, with all guns blazing having, this week signed an executive order banning transactions with eight Chinese apps, including popular payments platform Alipay, QQ Wallet and WeChat Pay, on the grounds of them being threats to US national security. The ban becomes effective after forty-five days, by which time Joe Biden will be sitting in the Oval Office. As his four-year presidential stint comes to an end, President Trump has signed executive orders against a range of Chinese firms – including TikTok and Huawei – arguing they could share data with the Chinese government. Even his sternest critics should be able to see that he has a valid point to make. Only last month, the Commerce Department added to its trade blacklist many Chinese companies, including the country’s top chipmaker SMIC and drone manufacturer DJI Technology, as well as restricting a number of companies, with alleged military ties, from buying sensitive US goods and technology.

In December, the number of US private jobs declined for the first time since April by 123k – an indicator of the impact of the recent rise in Covid-19 cases across the country and the slow introduction of the vaccine; November had seen a 304k gain. The sectors that suffered most were leisure, retail and hospitality. By the end of the year, private payrolls were some ten million off pre-pandemic levels and the unfortunate fact is that this will get even worse, with winter ahead and national lockdowns increasing. Meanwhile, the US manufacturing sector grew at its strongest pace since August 2018, as the Institute for Supply Management index for tracking Factory activity was up 3.2 to 60.7. In December, new orders were 2.8 higher at 67.9 and supplier deliveries by 6.5 to 67.6, with employment moving from negative territory by 3.1 to 51.5.

The eurozone saw November retail sales sink 6.1%, as much of the bloc was in some sort of lockdown, as the next wave of the pandemic led to heightened movement restrictions. This followed a 1.4% rise the previous month and was 2.9% and 3.25 lower on the same month in 2019 and in February just before the pandemic’s onset; in April, it was 20% down. France performed the worst of the 19-country bloc eurozone, with overall retail trade down 18.0%, led by falls of 10.6% and 8.9% in demand for automotive fuels and for non-food products. Belgium was not far behind with a 15.9% decline. The IHS Markit/CIPS construction PMI slipped 0.1 to 45.5 in December – the 10th straight month of contraction in construction activity with France reporting its steepest fall since May. Across the bloc, reduced workforce numbers rose at a slightly quicker rate. This is in contrast to the UK where construction continues with its recovery, although its PMI data did drop 0.1 to 54.6 in December.

In the past ten months, the ECB has invested US$ 2.3 trillion in monetary stimulus packages to prop up companies and households, including US$ 613 billion last month. For the fourth month in a row, inflation was in negative territory, at minus 0.3%; this is likely to move higher – albeit well short of the bloc’s 2.0% target – driven by higher energy prices. The ERC sentiment index in December rose 2.7 to 90.4, as economic confidence rose among consumers and in the industrial sector; strangely, some of the strongest gains were witnessed in Italy and Spain. Any immediate economic recovery will be thwarted by the fact that, in contrast to the UK, there has been a slow and uneven start to the implementation of vaccination campaigns.

November UK mortgage approvals hit their highest monthly level since August 2007, as UK lenders approved nearly 105k mortgages, with year on year unsecured consumer lending dipping 6.7% – its biggest fall since monthly records began in 1994. Driven by pent up demand, as well as the Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday, resulting from the lockdown effects of the first wave, the UK property market experienced a surge over the summer. Notwithstanding the impact of Covid-19, November saw 715k house purchase approvals. Although prices rose 7.3%, year on year, in December, (their biggest increase in six years), the market will inevitably slow after the Chancellor withdraws the tax break in March.

However, the general UK economy has not been performing to the same level, as output falls whilst unemployment rises. Unsecured lending to consumers fell in November at a record pace because of the lockdown, when many non-essential retailers having to shut up shop, along with the likes of bars and restaurants. In the same month, year on year net consumer lending declined 6.7% to US$ 2.1 billion – the biggest monthly fall since monthly records began in 1994. The December IHS Markit/CIPS manufacturing PMI rose 1.9 to 57.5 – its strongest growth since November 2017, as factories rushed to complete work before the end of the post-Brexit transition period on December 31, with manufacturers stockpiling materials at the fastest rate since March 2019 amid fears of disruption to trade with the EU. In November, non-financial corporates borrowed US$ 2.7 billion, (90% – SMEs and 10% – larger businesses), well short of the March figure of US$ 42.2 billion.

Just as the country enters its third lockdown in ten months, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak has introduced a US$ 6.2 billion support package. Businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors will be able to claim up to US$ 13k to help them through the beginning of the year. This comes at a time when the country was facing a highly contagious new coronavirus variant that was spreading so fact that the NHS could buckle under the pressure by the end of the month.

2020 has been a good year for the world’s five hundred richest people who saw their combined wealth jump 31% to US$ 7.6 trillion, at a time when the remaining 99.99999% of the population had to make do with the impact of the pandemic, such as rising unemployment and global economic contraction. Much of the gain was thanks to the burgeoning stock markets that have risen by US$ 3 trillion from their March nadir. The top five richest people each have wealth of more than US$ 100 billion, with the top two, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, gaining an extra US$ 217 billion during the year. This week, Musk, who started 2020 barely making the top 50, is now considered richer than Bezos, with personal wealth of US$ 185 billion.  A further twenty had assets in excess of US$ 50 billion, including Zhong Shanshan who saw his wealth reach US$ 71 billion this year; known as the “Lone Wolf”, and a low-profile water-bottle tycoon”, he became Asia’s richest person replacing India’s Mukesh Ambani. Although the Chinese members of this exclusive ‘club’ gained a total US$ 569 billion in 2021, some of the others, with mega e-commerce and tech giants, including Jack Ma of the Alibaba Group, did not fare as well. In these days of egalitarianism, when it comes to obscene wealth, It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World.

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