Oct 14, 2020

Axios Markets

Dion Rabouin

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🎙 "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." - See who said it and why it matters at the bottom.

1 big thing: China's digital currency leaves others in the dust

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

China is already test-driving the future of finance while the rest of the world is stuck trying to get its learner's permit.

What's happening: Over the past two weeks Chinese authorities in cities like Shenzhen and Chengdu have given out the country's brand new digital renminbi currency and are urging even faster rollout of the token nationwide.

  • The country's central bank has distributed the currency to "lottery" winners who are reportedly spending it at thousands of retailers, including local supermarkets and pharmacies and even Walmart.

What they're saying: “We must serve dual circulation with fintech-led innovations,” Chen Yulu, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, said in an article published on Sunday in the PBOC-run China Finance magazine.

  • “We must build an independent and high-quality financial infrastructure … quicken the pace of research and development of the central bank digital currency, and ensure that pilot tests show [the digital currency] is controllable and safeguards the security of payments.”

On the other side: The Bank for International Settlements and seven mostly Western central banks including the Fed, European Central Bank, Bank of Japan and the Bank of England published a report last week detailing the “foundational principles” and “core features” of a potential central bank digital currency (CBDC) in order to "guide exploration and support public policy objectives."

  • None of the central banks committed to pursuing or producing a digital currency as part of the report.

Why it matters: The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the world's move away from paper money and producing the world's first CBDC could put China in the driver's seat to steer the future of payments and currency.

Between the lines: "If you take the last 250 days what has happened is we’ve gone into a different pace of digital," Charlotte Hogg, CEO of European operations at Visa, said during a panel at the Institute of International Finance's annual meeting Tuesday.

  • "Everything that we can see is that people who never used digital payments before are using them. They’re going to continue to use them, particularly as those more vulnerable in our societies continue to shield and it’s going to be ever more important for our recovery for all of our business communities to be able to use forms of digital payment."

ICYMI: Facebook attempted to produce a digital currency that would have been convertible across borders and provided users the opportunity to spend and exchange it, but was rebuffed by U.S. and international regulators concerned about a for-profit company having so much influence on the supply of money.

  • That concern is still a driving force behind central banks' efforts — that and a desire to ensure commercial banks aren't left out in the cold once digital payments make many of their services obsolete.
2. Catch up quick

Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and former health care adviser David Cutler estimate the coronavirus pandemic has cost the U.S. $16 trillion in lost life, health care and economic output. (JAMA)

JPMorgan and Citigroup both beat earnings estimates with the former bank, which claimed $29.9 billion in revenue during the third quarter, hinting that a stimulus package would be a welcome development. (IBD)

Delta reported a $5.4 billion loss last quarter and warned it could be years before sales recover. (CNBC)

Less than 24 hours after Johnson & Johnson announced it had halted testing on its coronavirus vaccine, fellow pharma giant Eli Lilly said its late-stage trials had been paused by U.S. health regulators over potential safety concerns. (CNBC)

3. Pandemic hiring surges
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Data: Indeed; Chart: Axios Visuals

Axios' Erica Pandey writes: While the coronavirus pandemic has dampened hiring across states and sectors, some industries have fully recovered — or are doing even better than they were before the pandemic.

  • Postings in Indeed's driving category, which includes trucking and other delivery driving jobs, are up 11.1% compared with the beginning of February.
  • Construction jobs are up 6.7% as people take advantage of the time to make home improvements — adding offices or decks.
  • Beauty and wellness has recovered, too. People are booking hair, nail, training and dental appointments to catch up on the personal grooming and care they skipped during lockdowns.
4. The pandemic isn't keeping the health care industry down

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Axios' Bob Herman writes: Health care's third-quarter earnings season has started, and if the quarter is anything like the previous one, the industry will continue to fare relatively well even amid the broader economic turmoil.

The bottom line: The coronavirus dominated the spring and summer, which forced people to put off care, but people have resumed getting procedures and seeing their doctors.

Between the lines: The second quarter was extremely profitable for health insurers — UnitedHealth Group, for example, posted its highest-ever profit.

  • Health insurers still aren't paying as many medical claims as before the pandemic, which likely will keep their profit figures at high levels.

Yes, but: The persistent number of coronavirus cases is no longer stunting all demand for pharmaceuticals, surgeries, medical devices, hospital stays, doctor visits and other health care services.

  • The highest net profit margins in Q2 belonged to pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, according to the Axios health care earnings tracker.
  • Almost all hospital systems we track posted a net profit in Q2, due largely to the rebounding stock market boosting their investment portfolios. But patient volumes have also continued to increase since their low point in the spring.
  • Orlando Health, an eight-hospital system, ended June sitting on $2.7 billion and an 8% operating margin — and also received $82 million in taxpayer bailout funds to offset the coronavirus.
  • Hospital executives "expect a sharp recovery [in volumes] over the next twelve months," according to a new SVB Leerink survey.
  • Medical device sales are "recovering faster than expected," Johnson & Johnson executives said on their Q3 investor call yesterday.

Go deeper: Follow our earnings tracker

5. AMC says it's running out of cash
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Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Axios' Sara Fischer writes: AMC, the largest movie exhibitor in North America, said in a regulatory filing Tuesday that given its current cash burn-rate, its existing resources may run out by year's end.

Why it matters: The theater chain warned investors in July that it may not survive the pandemic. The company reopened most of its theaters in August, but with studios delaying major blockbusters, attendance has been abysmal.

Details: As of Oct. 9, the company resumed operations at 494 of its 598 theaters. Since then, AMC says it has only sold about 2.2 million tickets — an 85% decline from this time last year.

  • For the remaining theaters that have yet to reopen in states including California, New York, Maryland and Washington, AMC says the company is in touch with local governments, but it remains unclear when reopening will happen.

Be smart: AMC says it has two options moving forward: Borrow more cash or sell more tickets, neither of which will be easy.

  • Most Hollywood studios have moved their blockbusters off the release schedule for the remainder of the year and well into 2021.
  • To boost cash flow, the company says it's exploring a few options, including further negotiations with landlords regarding lease payments, striking joint use agreements with business partners and even potential asset sales.

The big picture: The movie industry has been crushed by the pandemic, and recent events suggest it's not going to get better anytime soon.

  • Cineworld, the parent company of Regal Cinemas, last week said it would temporarily close all of its 663 theaters in the U.S. and U.K.
  • In doing so, it noted that movie studios weren't sending enough of its biggest films to theaters to lure consumers.
  • Several movie delays have been announced over the past several weeks, including MGM's latest James Bond movie, Warner Bros. "Dunes" and "Wonder Woman 1984."
Dion Rabouin

Thanks for reading!

Quote: "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

Why it matters: On Oct. 14, 1892, Arthur Conan Doyle published "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" a collection of 12 stories originally published serially in The Strand Magazine.