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Financial Stress Continues to Recede

Overview: Financial stress continues to recede. The Topix bank index is up for the second consecutive session and the Stoxx 600 bank index is recovering…

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Overview: Financial stress continues to recede. The Topix bank index is up for the second consecutive session and the Stoxx 600 bank index is recovering for the third session. The AT1 ETF is trying to snap a four-day decline. The KBW US bank index rose for the third consecutive session yesterday. More broadly equity markets are rallying. The advance in the Asia Pacific was led by tech companies following Alibaba's re-organization announcement. The Hang Seng rose by over 2% and the index of mainland shares rose by 2.2%. Europe's Stoxx 600 is up nearly 1% and US index futures are up almost the same. Benchmark 10-year yields are mostly 1-3 bp softer in Europe and the US.

The dollar is mixed. The Swiss franc is leading the advancers (~+0.3%) while euro, sterling and the Canadian dollar are posting small gains. The Japanese yen is the weakest of the majors (~-0.6%). The antipodeans and Scandis are also softer. A larger than expected decline in Australia's monthly CPI underscores the likelihood that central bank joins the Bank of Canada in pausing monetary policy when it meets next week. Most emerging market currencies are also firmer today, and the JP Morgan Emerging Market Currency Index is higher for the third consecutive session. Gold is softer within yesterday's $1949-$1975 range. The unexpectedly large drop in US oil inventories (~6 mln barrels according to report of API's estimate, which if confirmed by the EIA later today would be the largest drawdown in four months) is helping May WTI extend its gains above $74 a barrel. Recall that it had fallen below $65 at the start of last week.

Asia Pacific

The US dollar is knocking on the upper end of its band against the Hong Kong dollar, raising the prospect of intervention by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. It appears to be driven by the wide rate differential between Hong Kong and dollar rates (~3.20% vs. ~4.85%). Although the HKMA tracks the Fed's rate increases, the key is not official rates but bank rates, and the large banks have not fully passed the increase. Reports suggest some of the global banks operating locally have raised rates a fraction of what HKMA has delivered. The root of the problem is not a weakness but a strength. Hong Kong has seen an inflow of portfolio and speculative capital seeking opportunities to benefit from the mainland's re-opening.  Of course, from time-to-time some speculators short the Hong Kong dollar on ideas that the peg will break. It is an inexpensive wager. In fact, it is the carry trade. One is paid well to be long the US dollar. Pressure will remain until this consideration changes. Eventually, the one-country two-currencies will eventually end, but it does not mean it will today or tomorrow. As recently as last month, the HKMA demonstrated its commitment to the peg by intervening. Pressure on the peg has been experienced since last May and in this bout, the HKMA has spent around HKD280 defending it (~$35 bln).

The US and Japan struck a deal on critical minerals, but the key issue is whether it will be sufficient to satisfy the American congress that the executive agreement is sufficient to benefit from the tax- credits embodied in the Inflation Reduction Act. The Biden administration is negotiating a similar agreement with the EU. The problem is that some lawmakers, including Senator Manchin, have pushed back that it violates the legislature's intent on the restrictions of the tax credit. Manchin previously threatened legislation that would force the issue. The US Trade Representative Office can strike a deal for a specific sector without approval of Congress, but that specific sector deal (critical minerals) cannot then meet the threshold of a free-trade agreement to secure the tax incentives. 

The Japanese yen is the weakest of the major currencies today, dragged lower by the nearly 20 bp rise in US 10-year yields this week and the end of the fiscal year related flows. Some dollar buying may have been related to the expirations of a $615 mln option today at JPY131.75. The greenback tested the JPY130.40 support we identified yesterday and rebounded to briefly trade above JPY132.00 today, a five-day high.  However, the session high may be in place and support now is seen in the JPY131.30-50 band. Softer than expected Australian monthly CPI (6.8% vs. 7.4% in January and 7.2% median forecast in Bloomberg's survey) reinforced ideas that the central bank will pause its rate hike cycle next week. The Australian dollar settled near session highs above $0.6700 in North America yesterday and made a margin new high before being sold. It reached a low slightly ahead of $0.6660 in early European turnover. The immediate selling pressure looks exhausted and a bounce toward $0.6680-90 looks likely. On the downside, note that there are options for A$680 mln that expire today at $0.6650. In line with the developments in the Asia Pacific session today, the US dollar is firmer against the Chinese yuan. However, it held below the high seen on Monday (~CNY6.8935). The dollar's reference rate was set at CNY6.8771, a bit lower than the median projection in Bloomberg's forecast (~CNY6.8788). The sharp decline in the overnight repo to its lowest since early January reflect the liquidity provisions by the central bank into the quarter-end.

Europe

Reports suggest regulators are finding that one roughly 5 mln euro trade on Deutsche Bank's credit-default swaps last Friday, was the likely trigger of the debacle. The bank's market cap fell by1.6 bln euros and billions more off the bank share indices. Then there is the US Treasury market, where the measure of volatility (MOVE) has softened slightly from last week when it rose to the highest level since the Great Financial Crisis. While the wide intraday ranges of the US two-year note have been noted, less appreciated are the large swings in the German two-year yield. Before today, last session with less than a 10 bp range was March 8. In the dozen sessions since, the yield has an average daily range of around 27 bp. The rapid changes and opaque liquidity in some markets leading to dramatic moves challenges the price discovery process. The speed of movement seems to have accelerated, and reports that Silicon Valley Bank lost $40 bln of deposits in a single day.

Italy's Meloni government will tap into a 21 bln euro reserve in the budget to give a three-month extension of help to low-income families cope with higher energy bills but eliminate it for others. It is projected to cost almost 5 billion euros. The energy subsidies have cost about 90 mln euros. Most Italian families are likely to see higher energy bills, though gas will still have a lower VAT. Meloni also intends to adjust corporate taxes to better target them and cost less. Separately, the government is reportedly considering reducing or eliminating the VAT on basic food staples. Meanwhile, the EU is delaying a 19 bln euro distribution to Italy from the pandemic recovery fund. The aid is conditional on meeting certain goals. The EU is extending its assessment phase to review a progress on a couple projects, licensing of port activities, and district heating. These are tied to the disbursement for the end of last year. The EU acknowledged there has been "significant" progress. Italy has received about a third of the 192 bln euros earmarked for it. Despite the volatile swings in the yields, Italy's two-year premium over Germany is within a few basis points of the Q1 average (~46 bp). The same is true of the 10-year differential, which has averaged about 187 bp this year. 

After slipping lower in most of the Asia Pacific session, the euro caught a bid late that carried into the European session and lifted it to session highs near $1.0855. The session low was set slightly below $1.0820 and there are nearly 1.6 bln euros in option expirations today between two strikes ($1.0780 and $1.0800). Recall that on two separate occasions last week, the euro be repulsed from intraday moves above $1.09. A retest today seems unlikely, but the price actions suggest underlying demand. Sterling has also recovered from the slippage seen early in Asia that saw it test initial support near $1.2300. Yesterday, it took out last week's high by a few hundredths of a cent, did so again today rising to slightly above $1.2350. However, here too, the intraday momentum indicators look stretched, cautioning North American participants from looking for strong follow-through buying.

America

What remains striking is the divergence between the market and the Federal Reserve. On rates they are one way. Fed Chair Powell was unequivocal last week. A pause had been considered, but no one was talking about a rate cut this year. The market is pricing in a 4.72% average effective Fed funds rate in July. On the outlook for the economy this year, they are the other way. The median Fed forecast was for the economy to grow by 0.4% this year. The median forecast in Bloomberg's survey anticipated more than twice the growth and projects 1.0% growth this year. As of the end of last week, the Atlanta Fed sees the US expanding by 3.2% this quarter (it will be updated Friday). The median in Bloomberg's survey is half as much. 

The US goods deficit in February was a little more than expected and some of the imports appeared to have gone into wholesale inventories, which unexpectedly rose (0.2% vs. -0.1% median forecast in Bloomberg's survey). Retail inventories jumped 0.8%, well above the 0.2% expected and biggest increase since last August. Given the strength of February retail sales (0.5% for the measure that excludes autos, gasoline, food services and building materials, after a 2.3% rise in January), the increase in retail inventories was likely desired. FHFA houses prices unexpectedly rose in January (first time in three months, leaving them flat over the period). S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller's measure continued to slump. It has not risen since last June. The Conference Board's measure of consumer confidence rose due to the expectations component. This contrasts with the University of Michigan's preliminary estimate that showed the first decline in four months. Moreover, when its final reading is announced at the end of the week, the risk seems to be on the downside, according to the Bloomberg survey. Meanwhile, surveys have shown that the service sector has been faring better than the manufacturing sector. However, the decline in the Richman Fed's business conditions, while its manufacturing survey improved, coupled with the sharp decline in the Dallas Fed's service activity index may be warning of weakness going into Q2.

The US dollar flirted with CAD1.38 at the end of last week is pushing through CAD1.36 today to reach its lowest level since before the banking stress was seen earlier this month. The five-day moving average has crossed below the 20-day moving average for the first time since mid-February. Canada's budget announced late yesterday boosts the deficit via new green initiatives and health spending, while raising taxes, including a new tax on dividend income for banks and insurance companies from Canadian companies. The market appears to be still digesting the implications. Today's range has thus far been too narrow to read much into it. The greenback has traded between roughly CAD1.3590 and CAD1.3615. On the other hand, the Mexican peso has continued to rebound from the risk-off drop that saw the US dollar surge above MXN19.23 (March 20). The dollar is weaker for fifth consecutive session and seventh of the last nine. It finished last week near MXN18.4450 and fell to about MXN18.1230 today, its lowest level since March 9. However, the intraday momentum indicators are stretched, and the greenback looks poised to recover back into the MXN18.20-25 area. Banxico meets tomorrow and is widely expected to hike its overnight target rate by a quarter-of-a-point to 11.25%.

 


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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide…

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020, some elite colleges and universities shredded testing requirements for admission. Several years later, the test-optional admission has yet to produce the promising results for racial and class-based equity that many woke academic institutions wished.

The failure of test-optional admission policies has forced Dartmouth College to reinstate standardized test scores for admission starting next year. This should never have been eliminated, as merit will always prevail. 

"Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a predictor of student success at Dartmouth, we are removing the extended pause and reactivating the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission, effective with the Class of 2029," Dartmouth wrote in a press release Monday morning. 

"For Dartmouth, the evidence supporting our reactivation of a required testing policy is clear. Our bottom line is simple: we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve—not detract from—our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus," the elite college said. 

Who would've thought eliminating standardized tests for admission because a fringe minority said they were instruments of racism and a biased system was ever a good idea? 

Also, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. More from Dartmouth, who commissioned the research: 

They also found that test scores represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low and middle-income backgrounds; who are first-generation college-bound; as well as students from urban and rural backgrounds.

All the colleges and universities that quickly adopted test-optional admissions in 2020 experienced a surge in applications. Perhaps the push for test-optional was under the guise of woke equality but was nothing more than protecting the bottom line for these institutions. 

A glimpse of sanity returns to woke schools: Admit qualified kids. Next up is corporate America and all tiers of the US government. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 02/05/2024 - 17:20

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

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To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

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Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


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