Friday Wrap-Up (August, 14) #4

Stocks around the world are looking to close out the week with a whimper, and the S&P 500 is on the cusp of a record high

(Arvind Rajaraman – Head of Investments at UCLIF & Lead Editor)

Welcome to the UCLIF Friday Wrap-Up, our weekly newsletter that brings you the most important market events and information during the past week! So what’s moving markets?

Markets: Stocks around the world are looking to close out the week with a whimper. US markets are also on the cusp of a new S&P 500 record. Flat trading in the US comes after a sell-off in Europe triggered by new travel curbs. The 10-year treasury note fell, taking yields to the highest level since around mid-June. Chinese companies have raised more than double their haul from the same period last year in U.S. IPOs, despite threats to delist them from U.S. stock exchanges. The White House plans to make them comply with U.S. audit requirements by 2022 or risk giving up their American listings.

Economy: The long road back for the US labour market reached a milestone, with fewer than 1 million new jobless claims filed last week for the first time since mid-March. That still remains significantly above “normal” levels. U.S. productivity grew 7.3% last quarter. That came while the number of hours worked fell 43%, the biggest decline ever. Retail spending climbed 1.2% in July, marking its third consecutive monthly increase and bringing the total value of U.S. retail sales above pre-pandemic levels.

Geopolitics: Yesterday, Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached a historic agreement, dubbed the Abraham Accord, to “fully normalize” their diplomatic and commercial relationship. Israel will (for now) hold off on annexing parts of the occupied West Bank at the request of President Trump, but PM Benjamin Netanyahu said he’ll move forward with the plan eventually.

US Politics: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris as his running mate, marking the first time a Black woman or any person of South Asian descent will join a major U.S. party ticket. 

Coming up next week… Investors are bracing for high-level trade talks between U.S. and Chinese officials over the weekend. Next week might also bring more fodder for the reflationistas, with the release of the minutes from the last meeting of the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee.

Markets in a minute:


Information Technology (Maria Lomaeva)

This week we will continue looking at quarterly earnings within the tech industry. 

Chinese Tencent (700:HK -0.70%) has presented strong Q2 earnings results on Wednesday reporting a 29% increase YoY in total revenues to RMB114.9bn ($16.2bn) with the largest revenue growth of 40% coming from online gaming.

Last week Tencent’s app WeChat received a banning order from Donald Trump. The company, however, may not be seriously affected by the ban as the US accounts for less than 2% of its total revenue. Apple (AAPL +2.79%), on the contrary, may suffer much bigger losses in case it is not able to provide the multi-functional app to its Chinese users who would opt for the app over an iPhone. Almost a fifth of Apple’s revenue in 2019 originated from China.

Another Chinese company, Lenovo (992:HK +0.84%), which is the world’s largest computer producer as well as a software and cloud service provider, set a new record increasing its revenue by nearly 7% YoY to US$13.3bn, with net income growing to 31% YoY to US$213m. So far Lenovo has not been affected by the US-China tensions, to which it would be very sensitive as international sales generated 79% of the revenues in the last fiscal year.

The world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer and Apple’s supplier, Taiwanese Foxconn (2354:TT -1.47%), reported a 3% decline in net revenue to NT$1.128bn (US$1 = NT$29.5) due to fewer consumer products sales. However, the net profit attributable to shareholders grew by 34% to NT$22.88bn. Analysts have expressed doubts about the future of the company as it faces growing competition from Chinese Luxshare (002475:CH +5.20%). 

Cisco (CSCO -10.26%), an American networking equipment as well as soft- and hardware producer, also reported less positive results. As expected, the revenues fell by 9% YoY to $12.2bn, and further losses of 9-11% are estimated in the current quarter. Cisco CEO expressed the company’s ambition to expand its cloud services and offer all its products on an “as-a-service” basis potentially providing more resilience to the profits. 

Healthcare (Christine Chan)

Like last week, healthcare equities have again remained at quite steady levels. The XLV exchange-traded fund has reached a new peak of $107.43 mid-week, outperforming last week’s peak of $106.948.

It was a relatively quiet week for healthcare equities overall, but there were a few interesting events. On Wednesday 12th August, the US government has announced its plans to buy 100 million doses of Moderna’s potential vaccine against COVID-19 for the price of $1.5 billion. As a result, Moderna’ share price (MRNA) shot up 9.8% that day, going from $68.97 to $75.74 overnight. However, it has since settled back into its initial level.

Meanwhile on the other side of the pond, the UK government is further expanding their COVID-19 vaccine inventory and has agreed to purchase 60 million doses of Novavax’s vaccine. Upon the release of this news on Friday 14th August, the share price of Novavax (NVAX), a US biotechnology company, has increased 9.93% to $146.51 per share at market close. However, being one of the companies that financially benefitted from the pandemic, their share price has actually gone up a whopping 2300% over the course of the year. This is definitely becoming a popular trend as the race to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine continues: the share price of the German-based biotechnology firm CureVac (CVAC) more than tripled after debuting on NASDAQ on Friday 14th August, and likewise, that of China’s CanSino Biologics (HKG:6185) has more than tripled since the beginning of the year, and they also decided on a secondary listing on Shanghai Stock Exchange’s NASDAQ-like Star Market. It will definitely be important to keep an eye out for this space as the competition between healthcare and biotechnology companies heat up.

Consumer Staples and Consumer Discretionary (Jun Wei)

The resurgence of COVID-19 in a few European countries resulted in a jittery week for the consumers sector, particularly in Europe. With the United Kingdom placing France and the Netherlands back on the 14-day quarantine list, travel stocks were badly hit in Friday trading, with Easyjet (LON: EZJ) down roughly 6%. While the rest of Europe continues to encourage tourism over the course of the summer as part of economic recovery efforts, we should continue to see price volatility in travel and hospitality-related stocks depending on how quarantine rules change, particularly in the UK. Balancing economic recovery with the health and safety of people continues to be a tall order, especially since dire economic data continues to be released.

Companies with a focus on food delivery continue to report good results, though. Domino’s (DPZ) reported an increase in sales of 5.5% in the 6 months to 28th June, buoyed by quarantine orders and the late finish to the English Premier League in the UK. Just Eat Takeaway (AMS: TKWY) also reported a 44% year-on-year increase in revenue for the first half of 2020. With M&A volume being badly affected by COVID-19, Seven & I Holdings’ (TYO: 3322) $21 billion acquisition of Marathon Petroleum’s Speedway petrol stations business came as a huge surprise. Seven & I holdings, the parent company of the 7-Eleven chain convenience stores ubiquitous in Asia, came under criticism for overpaying (approximately 13.7x EV/EBITDA). With electric cars being all the rage as investors continue to hop on the Tesla hype train, there is also concern amongst investors that Seven & I holdings has not put its enormous cash pile to good use by investing in what may well be a sunset industry. However, this acquisition should be seen as more of an acquisition to increase market share and extend Seven & I’s dominance of the convenience store industry in the U.S., rather than an acquisition of the pumping stations themselves since convenience stores and petrol pumps are operated side by side. That being said, Seven & I Holdings will need to realise cost and revenue synergies and invest in electric charging facilities for Speedway to cater to the increasing popularity of electric vehicles on America’s roads.

Communication Services (Katarina Lau)

Global tensions continue to rise and play out most evidently in the telecoms space. Diplomacy between India and China hit a four-decade low as India released its own 5G network plans excluding China’s Huawei and ZTE. India will start approving 5G trials by private companies including Bharti AirtelReliance Jio, and Vodafone Idea. This is a likely ramification of both countries’ deadly Himalayan border clashes and strikes a similar tone to the U.S., U.K. and Australia all previously banning Huawei and ZTE from their national 5G networks due to suspicion of spying by the Chinese government.

‘Cable Cowboy’ John Malone’s Liberty Global acquires Swiss telecoms business Sunrise Communications for $7.4 billion (SFr6.8 billion). The deal is an all-cash takeover offer including debt. After the announcement on Wednesday, Sunrise Communications (SRCG) surged to record levels of > 26%, while Liberty’s (LBTYA) share price rose 3.3% to $22.78.

The acquisition creates a strong competitor to incumbent state-controlled telecoms group Swisscom in Switzerland.Following billionaire media mogul Sumner Redstone’s recent death, daughter Shari Redstone is now at the helm of ViacomCBS which plans to rebrand its streaming services. The name ‘Paramount+’ tops shortlist for the new brand and the rationale behind this movement is to compete with Disney+ and Netflix. ViacomCBS (VIAC) shares have recovered from a coronavirus-induced low of $11.97 to $27.85, since surpassing free cash flow estimates and recent distribution deals with Comcast, Verizon and YouTube

Financial Institutions (Jamie Biswas)

This week saw the financial institutions sector carry over last weeks momentum, with the Vanguard Financials ETF (VFH) rising a steady 0.85%. Most of this gain was contributed by insurance firms with banks having a slightly disappointing week in comparison. Financial institutions underperformed relative to the overall market this week.

Goldman Sachs has been trying to diversify its business for a few years now, not wanting to rely on just investment banking fees. They made their first big move back in 2016 with the introduction of Marcus, Goldman’s consumer banking arm. Last year Goldman Sachs developed a partnership with Apple, with the introduction of the Apple credit card. Now Goldman Sachs is trying to form another partnership, this time with General Motors. Goldman Sachs has submitted a bid for the General Motors credit card franchise, which carries loan balances of approximately $3 billion. This acquisition would allow Goldman to build their customer base much faster than they could organically and would more than double their current portfolio of loans from $2.3 billion to $ 5.3 billion. General Motors is currently partnered with Capital One and has been since 2012. Capital One (COF) saw its shares drop 2.13% as a result of the announcement. Barclays, who has a much more established credit card business, is rumoured to also be bidding for the GM credit card franchise.Admiral, one of the UK’s largest insurers, announced this week it was restoring its dividends. Insurance companies are considered income stocks, paying regular and consistent dividends. However, over lockdown regulators put a pause on dividends within the insurance industry to ensure that capital remained at healthy levels. Now the regulations have eased, Admiral has announced a 20.7p per share special dividend whilst simultaneously increasing its semi-annual dividend for the first half of the year by 12% to 70.5p per share. Admiral, like many other insurers, has greatly increased its profits over the lockdown period as driving claims are down. Admiral (ADM) saw a 5% jump in share price to an all-time high as a result of the announcement.

Industrials (Ed Collins)

Thyssenkrupp (TKA), the German Industrials conglomerate, saw its shares tumble this week. This came after the company warned on Thursday that its ailing steel unit was likely to rack up “a good €1bn” of operating losses this year.

The steel division at Thyssenkrupp has been impacted by a collapse in demand from the car industry. Order’s in the steel division dropped 24% in Q2, compared to the same period last year. This resulted in €841m of operating losses for the first nine months of a financial year that ends on September 30. Last year, these losses were only €75m.

After closing the trading day on Wednesday at €7.42, Thyssenkrupp’s share price fell off a cliff on Thursday, closing at €6.23. That’s a fall of 16% in 24 hours.

The share price is also down by 49% since the start of the year, with steel companies not only battling shrinking demand due to coronavirus, but also from cheap Chinese imports and high raw material prices.

Following Airbus’ delivery figures last week, Boeing (BA) announced its figures on Tuesday. They were not good: only four jet deliveries and zero new orders in the month of July. On top of this, lost orders for Boeing’s grounded 737 Max rose above 400 after customers scrapped another 43 Max purchases in July.

These figures illustrate the two huge issues Boeing is dealing with at the moment: coronavirus impacts decimating demand for new planes, and the flying ban on the 737 Max, which is nearing 17-months.

As of midday on Friday, Boeing’s share price was up 2.4% since the start of the week. However, Boeing’s share price is still down 46.5% since the start of the year – the biggest fall on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Utilities (Katarina Lau)

The S&P 500 spent the week flirting with record highs led by gains in Utilities and Consumer Staples. Coincidentally or not, Goldman Sachs has given Utilities an overweight recommendation based on its “high dividend yield and compelling valuation relative to interest rates”. While Utilities have evidently stumbled this year, its future prospects are brighter than ever with the sector’s 2021 earnings per share estimates of -1%, the smallest decline among S&P 500 sectors. Similarly, the Utilities Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLU) has about 19.5x current-year earnings estimates, beating its five-year average of about 18x. As declining fossil fuel demand paves way for renewables, NextEra Energy (NEE) has been a particular standout, outperforming the entire sector with positive 19% returns YTD.  

Polysilicon, the raw material for solar panels, saw a 56% price increase due to an explosion
at a manufacturing plant in China, run by GCL-Poly Energy. The accident removed 48,000 tonnes of polysilicon from the market, making up 10% of global supply. The supply-push raised prices from $6.83/kg in July to $10.68/kg on Wednesday. The incident not only reflects the solar industry’s overexposure in China, but also dampens governments’ efforts to adopt renewable energy given the rising costs.

UK energy company Bulb has been fined £1.76m for failing to comply with several market rules and overcharging at least 11,000 customers. Government regulator Ofgem claimed the company had not been compliant since 2017, affecting about 61,000 customers. Bulb was originally founded to challenge the “Big Six” suppliers. Interestingly, this is the third time this year Ofgem taken regulatory action towards such “challenger” energy companies. Earlier this year, Ovo was fined £8.9 million and Utility Warehouse paid £650,000.

Materials (Ed Collins)

Last weekend, Saudi Aramco (ARAMCO), the state-controlled oil giant, released its Q2 earnings report. In the period, the company’s profit fell to 24.6bn riyals ($6.6bn), down 73 per cent from 92.6bn riyals the year before.

Despite the poor earnings, the company will continue to pay $75bn in dividends this year. $18.75bn in dividends will be paid for Q2, with most of this going to the Saudi Arabian government, which owns approximately 98% of Aramco’s stock. This comes as the Kingdom battles a widening budget deficit.

The decision to continue paying a dividend contrasts the decisions of other oil giants, such as Shell and BP, who both slashed their dividends in recent weeks.

To help pay for the dividend, Aramco is targeting capex of $20bn to $25bn this year, down from $32.8bn last year.

Aramco’s CEO, Amin Nasser, expressed his confidence for the third quarter, explaining that oil consumption in Asia, Aramco’s largest market, has nearly returned to pre-coronavirus levels.

Aramco’s share price rose 0.3% on Sunday, following the earning’s report. After starting the trading week on Sunday at 33.05 riyals, the share price now trades at 33.50 riyals, a rise of 1.36% on the trading week.

Elsewhere in materials, Occidental Petroleum Corp. (OXY) has cancelled its year-long effort to sell Algerian oil and gas fields. It has now labelled them as “core” assets.

Occidental had agreed to sell the Algerian fields to Total SE for $4.9bn, but the deal fell through after the sale was blocked by the Algerian government.

Occidental will now look to sell other assets in an attempt to cover its $6bn of debt that is due next year. 

Occidental’s share price fell 6.77% on Tuesday, making it the worst performer in the S&P 500 Energy Index.

Fixed Income

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Rates (Harrison Knowles)

As last week drew to a close, no progress had been made on agreeing a new stimulus plan for the U.S. economy, with talks on the brink of collapse. The White House and Democratic leaders remained “very, very far apart on significant issues”.

The U.S government’s fundraising effort, which has reached fresh extremes to stay ahead of the unprecedented spending required to support the world’s largest economy, confirmed plans to issue $2 trillion of debt as the pandemic raves on. The next round of which will be among the largest on record. Certainly, the Treasury market is looking good as the debt pile mounts. Treasury officials expressed satisfaction as they sold “record amounts of debt at record low rates”.

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The Treasury may marvel at the demand for U.S debt, though the Fed is still purchasing $80 billion of Treasuries a month. The market is clinging onto the potential central bank action in September, whilst Covid-19 cases in the U.S., and turbulence surrounding the presidential election add to this case.

This leads me to suggest taking a look at iShares USD Treasury Bond 7-10yr. The opportunity is there before the market prices in on Fed action, though not concrete, I have strong belief that this is a good time to enter. Longer maturity since a rise in rates is off the cards for a long, long time.

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On Monday, critics of Trump’s executive actions came to light on both sides of the aisle, as payroll tax was deferred and unemployment benefits where expanded. This was due to last week’s failed negotiations between the Republicans and Democrats over the new stimulus package, as the deadline was set for last Friday. 

Whilst in Europe, Turkey’s Lira held the previous days decline, as President Erdogan announced plans to cut rates further, even after the central bank cuts implemented already amid the pandemic. “God willing, they will go down further,” the leader — a firm believer that high borrowing costs fuel inflation. Whilst food for thought is given by the BoE’s Dave Ramsden, who told The Times in an interview that the central bank will accelerate and step up quantitative easing if the economy slows and markets wobble again.

Also, something I found interesting on Tuesday from Bloomberg’s Emily Barret…

The bond market may be having a moment. There haven’t been any significant moves yet but there have been a few interesting shifts in pricing and a notable change in sentiment. The once seemingly relentless decline in U.S. real yields has stopped for now with the 10-year inflation-protected Treasury yield set for its third straight increase as of early Tuesday morning. Traders are dialling back their expectations for a negative-rate policy from the Federal Reserve with Fed funds futures for December 2021 retreating below 100 for the first time since June. That indicates the market expects interest rates to remain in positive territory through all of next year, though traders remain priced for a move below zero in the first half of 2022. And a slew of strategists has come out in the past few days with bearish commentary on Treasuries, from Barclays to Citigroup to UBS. None of this means a turning point is imminent, but it does call for heightened caution. A rapid move higher in yields would upset a lot of investment apple carts and spark a rotation in equities that investors are likely not yet positioned for. [3]

Through to Thursday, the chances of a big fiscal stimulus package seem more distant than ever, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rebuffed an “overture” from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to restart talks because the White House hadn’t budged on demands for a smaller package. Whilst Mnuchin claims a refuse of compromise on Pelosi’s side.

Now, on Friday morning, Negotiations over a new coronavirus relief plan remain at a standstill ahead of presidential nominating conventions for Republicans and Democrats. A standout feature of this week’s Treasury market selloff was the climb in real yields. It almost feels like an abstract notion to be discussing an increase amid the 10-year inflation-adjusted rate recently at an historic low, with a miserable growth outlook and faith in the Fed’s ultra-easy policy stance. The Fed is widely expected to formalize its commitment to keeping interest rates floored at its next meeting. And it’s hard to argue that the economic picture has brightened much. The pandemic is on a collision course with the U.S. flu season.

JPMorgan strategists have observed that the 5- to 30-year Treasury curve is “loosely correlated” to an indicator they created to track the ratios of positive virus tests across the U.S., and they reckon “bonds seem to be responding to the improving COVID trends.” [3]

Credit (Alexander Kaiser)

With more and more money being spent on economic relief and central banks continuing to pour money into corporate bonds, many worrying effects have started to come to light. Borrowing continues to be exceptionally cheap to the point where even junk bonds have started to show minuscule returns with 2.9% coupon rates. Seeing as this benefit has now fully extended to riskier businesses, many so-called “zombie corporations” begin to spring up. While these businesses clearly operate with heavy losses, the cheap debt they have access to allows them to continue staying in business. This is coupled with a general sense of safety among investors who, according to research from the Bank of America, expect Central banks to continue their support programs for several years. In my opinion, this indicates a significant deviation from traditionally freer markets, and depending on the scale of continued support may increase inflationary pressures drastically.

However, the alternative seems just as undesirable. Stopping short of these measures inevitably would lead to many businesses quickly defaulting. Given the challenging conditions today, it would be extremely unlikely for newly unemployed individuals to find new work due to a slow labour market. While the intent to restore markets to normal levels is clear, given the necessarily wide measures implemented by the Central Banks, it was impossible to avoid saving already failing businesses in the process. Regardless, if the way aid is distributed remains the same, the potential for a much larger crash than necessary will remain in the future whenever the supply of cheap debt dries up as there would be a plethora of businesses unable to cope with even small declines in cash flows given their existing levels of debt.

Real Estate

Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT’s) (Claire Willemse)

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As certain government support measures in the U.S. are expiring, rental payments are already starting to decrease ever so slightly. More importantly, the percentage of rental payments made by credit cards is starting to increase in turn, signalling potential difficulties with future payments for many. This could start having an impact on the residential real estate sector. Globally, this comes along with the fall in rental payments in the retail sector, which has continued to be hard hit despite government support measures.

The office sector has remained potentially slightly more stable, as uncertainty has kept some payments coming in while firms decide whether to bring staff back into the office or not. Certain types of commercial real estate have also received a boost, in terms of warehouse space, which has benefitted from the increase in e-commerce sales during the lockdown.

Interesting REIT results this week include United Hampshire US REIT, which kept to its IPO distribution per unit forecast of $1.78 cents per share, demonstrating a very resilient portfolio in light of the current economic situation. This was attributed to their interest in self-storage properties, as well as grocery properties being in areas of high population density. Their share price (under SGX: ODBU) jumped 7.41%.

Brookfield Asset Management, a large and diversified owner of real estate, reported a net loss of $1.5bn in Q2. Its property arm has seen defaults of over $1bn of debt from its portfolio, driven by shopping malls defaulting on their debts. This could lead to a loss of up to 12 properties from its portfolio. It (NYSE: BAM) has already seen a fall of 1.66% so far.


Oil & Precious Metals (Oliviero Sacchet)

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The oil sector registered a positive week with WTI (+0,6%) and BRNT (+0,11%).

Uganda has officially joined the EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative). The African country now is the 54th member of the organization and has to disclose information such as contracts, revenues and payments. This decision was made in order to boost investment in the oil sector. In particular Uganda is still waiting for a FID (final investment decision) by Tullow Oil, Total and CNOOC for the Lake Albert oil project. This new $20 billion oil development will produce 230,000 barrel per day

Additionally with the COVID-19, South Korea, is facing another big oil issue due to monsoon. The Asian country is going through his longest monsoon season ever, more than 50 days. With the auto traffic that is going down by 18.4% the gasoline demand will decrease, in Q3, by 12%. In numbers the barrels consumed will fall from 21.25 million to 21.05 million.

Another news, that could suffer the oil sector, is the tension between Greece and France with Turkey. Paris supports Greece in the confrontation with Turkey after that Ankara entered the disputed area of the water of Cyprus, to do oil and gas exploration. The main reason of the confrontation is that Turkey decided to offshore oil and gas reserves. 

Gold ($1,941.44) registered a volatile week.

The commodity had its biggest sell off day (-6%) on Tuesday. Gold falling below $2,000 a troy ounce. This tumble was related with a sell-off in US Treasury, the yield on the 10-year note climbing 8 basis points. Also the price of silver fell on Tuesday (-15%). Gold price reached its low of $1,864. A variety of analysts said that this period will be favourable for gold, but it will not return to its recent record levels. This could be the end of the oil ascent.

Foreign Exchange

G10 & EMFX (Krisztián Sudár)

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The United States Dollar has continued its prolonged decline for the eight-straight week. The American legislative is still facing a stalemate, in which the two main parties can not seem to come to an agreement regarding the next stimulus package. While Donald Trump issued an executive order that will provide some amount of relief to the US’s citizens, the market is eagerly awaiting the next approved stimulus bill as most of the economic uptick that was witnessed in recent months was tied to returning customer spending, which heavily relied on the 600$ a month that the stimulus provided. Adding on to the greenback’s troubles, economic data released on Friday showed yet again that the speed of recovery is dwindling, as the growth in consumer spending for the month of July was a fraction of what it was in June. All in all, the Dollar Index slipped 0.2% this week, with the dollar weakening against most of its peers.

The fresh outbreak of COVID-19 has resulted in the Kiwi Dollar being the biggest loser of the week, with it reaching a level of 0.6538$. The most likely explanation for such a high drop in the country’s currency’s price can be explained by the fact that they were able to contain the virus remarkably well, which caused many investors who are deeply risk averse to invest in their dollar, and now to flee. This yet again solidifies the biggest trend in currency markets this year, which is quite simply: More cases, more weakening.

Central European countries have a high correlation with their Western European counterparts as much of their economy relies on manufacturing for Western brands. The slide in European economic performance, coupled with the stagnation caused by lockdowns, have resulted in an 8-13% decline in the CEE regions economic data, which in turn pushed their currency prices lower against the dollar slightly, but most of this has already been priced in.Turkey’s Lyra, despite the central bank’s efforts, continued its major downtrend, reaching an all-time-low of 7.366 against the Dollar on Friday, so far standing on a 19% decline this year.

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