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Argentina’s interest rate hits world record 60%, economic woes deepen

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Argentina’s Central Bank hiked its benchmark interest rate from 45 to 60 percent Thursday in a dramatic but fruitless bid to shore up the peso, which plunged to a record low against the dollar.

Despite the bank’s extraordinary measure to impose one of the world’s highest benchmark rates, the currency lost a further 13.5 percent by the close — its biggest daily loss of the year.

The Argentine currency has now lost 53 percent of its value since the beginning of the year, to trade at 39.87 to the dollar. It was worth around 18 to the dollar at the start of the year.

Earlier Marcos Pena, President Mauricio Macri’s cabinet chief, was forced to deny the government was facing an economic disaster.

“We are not facing economic failure,” said Pena.

“This is a transformation, not failure. In that transformation there are difficult moments,” he said.

Ratings agency Moody’s said the Central Bank’s move “is a clear signal that economic policy approaches have not been sufficient to contain the financial pressures facing Argentina.”

Crisis has gripped the South American giant’s economy over the previous 24 hours.

Macri had on Wednesday unexpectedly requested an acceleration to the IMF funding of $50 million agreed in June.

The government has already drawn down a first tranche of $15 billion — some of which has been used to try and prop up the peso.

A statement from the president aimed at calming the markets appeared to have done the opposite after his request — effectively to get early access to the remaining $35 billion of the loan — sent the peso plummeting almost 7.0 percent by the close.

Despite explicit support from the International Monetary Fund for his policies, the peso opened a further 4.0 percent lower on Thursday — prompting the Central Bank’s intervention.

The bank pledged to keep interest rates unchanged at 60 percent until at least December.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said Wednesday she had agreed to Macri’s request to speed up disbursement of the loan in a bid to shore up Argentina’s battered economy.

In return for IMF support, the government has committed to reducing its budget deficit to 2.7 percent this year, from 3.9 percent in 2017, and to 1.3 percent of GDP next year.

But analysts said the government needs to provide more detail about how it plans to achieve aggressive IMF fiscal targets, if markets are to be assuaged.

On top of that, the government faces a major obstacle in November, when a $7 billion foreign exchange debt repayment is due.

“This will be a key flashpoint,” said Edward Glossop, Latin American specialist with Capital Economics.

“Regardless of what happens from here, the country’s weak balance sheets mean that Argentine markets will remain extremely vulnerable to swings in investor risk appetite,” added Glossop.

Speaking at the opening of the Council of the Americas business chamber in Buenos Aires, Pena attributed the market volatility to Argentina’s recent history.

“We are the country that has the most times violated its international contracts in the world, which has lied and cheated the rest of the time, and has shown again and again — until now — that it is not willing to seek fiscal balance and depend on its own resources,” he said.

He insisted the path taken by Macri, since he took office in December 2015 after the free-spending leftist government of Cristina Kirchner, is one “of fiscal balance, development and growth.”

The current exchange turbulence was attributable to “structural vulnerabilities” following a massive drought that affected agricultural production, the main generator of foreign currency, and a “change in the financial and commercial context in the world, notably due to tensions between the United States and China,” Pena said.

“There are no magic solutions, you have to go for the truth.”

Macri had sought to soothe the turbulence in a statement before markets opened on Wednesday, assuring Argentines that help is on the way.

“Over the past week, we have had new expressions of lack of confidence in the markets, especially over our ability to obtain financing for 2019,” Macri acknowledged.

He said the IMF would provide “all the funds necessary to guarantee the fulfilment of the financial program next year.” (NAN)

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Company News

Vodafone holds off deploying Huawei in core network due to security row

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The Vodafone logo is seen at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

 

LONDON: 25 January 2019: Vodafone, the world’s second largest mobile operator, said it was “pausing” the deployment of Huawei equipment in its core networks until Western governments give the Chinese firm full security clearance.

The United States and some allies, including Australia and New Zealand, have banned Huawei from 5G networks because of alleged ties to the Chinese government, while the firm has denied that its technology could be used by Beijing for spying.

Vodafone’s Chief Executive Nick Read said on Friday after reporting third-quarter results that the debate was playing out at a “too simplistic level”, adding that Huawei was an important player in an equipment market which it dominates along with Ericsson Sweden’s Ericsson and Nokia.

“We have decided to pause further Huawei in our core whilst we engage with the various agencies and governments and Huawei just to finalise the situation, of which I feel Huawei is really open and working hard,” Read said.

Poland is set to exclude Huawei from 5G after it arrested a Huawei executive earlier this month on spying allegations. Huawei fired the man, who has denied wrongdoing.

Europe’s mobile industry would face higher costs and delays to faster networks if authorities imposed a blanket ban on Huawei equipment, particularly the radio technology deployed on mobile towers, Vodafone’s Read said.

Operators in Europe such as BT and Orange, have already removed Huawei’s equipment or taken steps to limit its future use.

Read said Huawei’s equipment was used in Vodafone’s core – which he described as the intelligent part of the network – in Spain and some other smaller markets.

European governments and security agencies had not pressurised Vodafone into taking the step, but the “noise level” had increased, and the debate now needed more facts, Read said, adding that governments in Africa and the Middle East, where Vodafone also uses Huawei, had not raised concerns.

A spokesman for Huawei, which become the world’s biggest telecoms equipment maker earlier this decade despite being shut out of the U.S. market, said it had been a long-term strategic partner to Vodafone since 2007.

“Huawei is focused on supporting Vodafone’s 5G network rollouts, of which the core is a small proportion. We are grateful to Vodafone for its support of Huawei and we will endeavour to live up to the trust placed in us,” he said.

However, Read said that Vodafone had already agreed terms with a range of 5G suppliers, so moving away from Huawei in parts of the roll-out would not incur additional costs.

TOUGH END TO YEAR

Shares in Vodafone fell after it reported a deterioration in its key revenue measure in the third quarter, down 40 basis points quarter-on-quarter to 0.1 percent, reflecting price competition in Spain and Italy and a slowdown in South Africa.

Analysts had expected growth of 0.3 percent and the stock fell to its lowest level since July 2010 after the update, trading down 2.9 percent at 140 pence at 1245 GMT.

Vodafone said, however, that competition in the Spanish and Italian markets had moderated through the quarter and it improved its level of churn, or the number of customers leaving, by two percentage points year-on-year.

The company’s Chief Financial Officer Margherita Della Valle said the performance improvements would start to show in the top line after the current quarter.

“We expect as we enter into the next fiscal year to start seeing the benefits in terms of revenue growth,” she said.

Analysts at UBS said Vodafone performed well in net adds and churn across Europe, but they expected fourth quarter service revenue to drop to –0.5 percent, driven by weakness in Spain and tougher comparatives in Britain.

“This is disappointing relative to prior comments that service revenues would be similar to the +0.5 percent seen in Q2,” they said.

Vodafone’s reiterated its guidance for this year of around 3 percent growth in underlying adjusted core earnings, with free cash flow before spectrum costs of about 5.4 billion euros.

Reuters 

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Governance

Euro zone bond yields slide as Brexit, U.S. shutdown sap risk appetite

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Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in the House of Commons in London on Jan 15, 2019 ahead of the meaningful vote on the Government’s Brexit deal. (Photo: AFP/Mark Duffy/UK Parliament)

 

LONDON – 17 January 2019: Euro zone bond yields edged lower on Thursday after rising the day before, as markets continued to assess the outlook for the UK, and the U.S. shutdown failed to provide much direction to markets.

Eurozone bond markets have taken their cue this week from Britain, where Gilt yields rose on Wednesday after the UK parliament rejected a Brexit agreement.

Britain remained in focus after UK Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote on Wednesday night, though uncertainty over the passage of Britain’s exit from the European Union rumbled on.

Germany’s 10-year government bond yield, the benchmark for the region, opened 1.6 basis points lower to 0.207 percent while other 10-year bond yields in the euro zone slid around two basis points.

Euro area inflation figures, released at 1000 GMT, are expected to confirm flash estimates and drop to 1.6 percent year-on-year from 1.9 percent, brought down by lower gas prices.

The data “won’t give the markets any hint because of the storm in British Parliament and the prospect of delay in their departure from the euro zone,” said Commerzbank’s rate strategist, Rene Albrecht.

However, euro zone data are likely to surprise to the upside, Albrecht said. “We expect better data than sentiment indicators are. We think yields should bottom out at the long end.”

New supply is due from Spain, which will tap its 2021s, 2023s, 2024s and 2027s to raise 4 billion to 5 billion euros.

Elsewhere, Italian five-year government bonds continued to perform following Italy’s successful 15-year bond sale, which prompted a follow-on rally in Italian government bonds.

Italy’s five year government bond fell 13.5 basis points on Wednesday, its biggest one-day fall in over a month.

GOOD FOR GREECE Greek bond yields fell on Thursday after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras won a confidence vote in parliament, triggered by Greece’s approval of an accord to end a dispute over Macedonia’s name, which averted the prospect of a snap election.

Greece is widely expected to return to the debt markets in the coming weeks, with Italy’s deal likely to provide confidence to the southern European nation.

EU Economics Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said on Wednesday that Greece should regain full access to the debt markets and all efforts should be made to that end.

Greece’s 10-year government bond yield slipped in early trade to its lowest level since December 13 at 4.22 percent .

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Company News

Diet Coke Unveils New Flavors and Marketing as Brand Refresh Enters Second Year

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Diet Coke entered a new era in 2018 by debuting a modern new look, sleek new packaging, four bold new flavors and new marketing – with the goal of reenergizing and contemporizing the beloved brand for new drinkers and loyal fans alike.

And in 2019, America’s top-selling zero-calorie sparkling beverage is picking up where it left off with the introduction of two more flavors – Blueberry Acai and Strawberry Guava – and releasing new content as part of the “Because I Can” campaign.

The restage helped spark a 2018 turnaround for the brand, which posted retail dollar sales growth in Nielsen measured channels for four consecutive quarters after at least five years of decline.

Diet Coke

“We focused on modernizing Diet Coke to appeal to a new consumer base while at the same time connecting with our core drinkers by preserving the essence of what makes this brand so special,” said Rafael Acevedo, group director, Diet Coke. “We took smart risks in our approach to this holistic brand restage, and everything worked together to generate excitement and draw new fans to the brand.”

Diet Coke Blueberry Acai and Diet Coke Strawberry Guava were selected from a shortlist of 20 options and tested with more than 2,000 Americans. The new flavors will offer even more variety to the existing Diet Coke lineup, which also includes Ginger Lime, Feisty Cherry, Zesty Blood Orange and Twisted Mango. They aim to satisfy adventurous fans’ thirst for bolder tastes and more dynamic experiences.

“These new flavors are highly incremental to our current flavors and will continue to drive excitement for the brand,” Acevedo said. “Flavor variety is key because it provides more points of entry into the brand. Different consumers have different favorites, so it’s important to offer a range. And we’re finding that when new drinkers try a flavor, they’re also more likely to reach for (original) Diet Coke.”

Both flavors, which hit stores nationwide in mid-January, are available in sleek 12-oz. cans and sold as on-the-go singles and in eight packs. A nationwide sampling activation will give people the chance to experience the new flavors through August. The six-month tour will hit 15 cities and more than 100 college campuses runs through August and. Learn more at DietCoke.com.

Fresh new marketing will launch in the coming weeks across all channels – from TV, to social, to experiential – and will extend the “Because I Can” invitation for fans to live life confidently and on their own terms.

“Last year’s campaign introduced Diet Coke’s new personality and philosophy,” said Tara Mathew Sahu, integrated marketing communications (IMC) director, Diet Coke. “As we enter year two, we aim to show how the brand delivers a refreshing boost to everyday moments.

Blueberry Acai

She added, “Many of our newer fans were not even born when Diet Coke first launched in 1982, so they may see the brand as a choice of generations before them. We’re reframing the brand in a youthful, energetic and aspirational tone and showing how Diet Coke can fit into their lives.”

Acevedo said that while he’s encouraged by the brand’s rebound over the last year, the team has its eye on the long term.

“You don’t restage a brand the size of Diet Coke in one quarter or one year,” he added. “This is a multi-year plan, so it’s important to stay focused on our core strategy.”

Source: Nielsen AMC, Full-Year 2018

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