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Futures Reverse Lower As Fed Meeting Looms

Futures Reverse Lower As Fed Meeting Looms

US stock futures fell on Tuesday, reversing an earlier gain, as traders prepared for this year’s barrage of final central bank meetings this week. Treasury yields advanced and the dollar slipped….

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Futures Reverse Lower As Fed Meeting Looms

US stock futures fell on Tuesday, reversing an earlier gain, as traders prepared for this year’s barrage of final central bank meetings this week. Treasury yields advanced and the dollar slipped. European stocks were little changed while Asian stocks dropped led by Japan whose Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hinted the government may consider guidelines for share buybacks (a tapering of stock buybacks in the US would lead to an instant market crash). At 745am, S&P futures were down 0.17% or 8 points to 4,651; Nasdaq futures were down 0.5% erasing earlier gains of as much as 0.3% as traders assessed the impact of a less accomodative monetary setting amid coronavirus challenges and high valuations.

Investors focused on central bank meetings this week and kept a wary eye on developments around the Omicron coronavirus variant. The Fed is expected to signal a faster pullback of asset purchases at the end of its two-day meeting on Wednesday, a move which Morgan Stanley believes will lead to market tremors in the next 3- 4 months, while the European Central Bank and the Bank of England will meet on Thursday to determine the course for their monetary policies into 2022.

"Equity markets will stay skittish as there is tension between Omicron and newsflow on one side, and a busy calendar for central banks on the other, while we stand between two earnings seasons," said Nick Nelson, head of European equity strategy at UBS. "But we're no longer talking about the same restrictions we had in Q1 2021 or 2020, so in the near term, restrictions across Europe will only be a modest drag on growth."

Here are some of the biggest U.S. movers today:

  • Shares in U.S.-listed Chinese firms decline anew in U.S. premarket trading as a selloff in the stocks and bonds of Chinese property firm Shimao hits sentiment. Alibaba (BABA US) shares fall as much as 2.2% premarket. Baidu (BIDU US) is down 1.8%, JD.com (JD US) -2.2%.
  • Purple Innovation shares (PRPL US) dropped in postmarket trading and price targets are cut by analysts after it said its 2021 sales would come in at the low end of its previously slashed forecast, as well as naming Robert DeMartini as acting CEO.
  • Alcoa (AA US) shares rise as much as 5% in U.S. premarket trading, after the aluminum maker is set to join the S&PS Midcap 400 Index.
  • Beyond Meat (BYND US) gained in postmarket after Piper Sandler upgraded the stock to neutral from underweight, saying a U.S. nationwide launch in McDonald’s appears to be coming late in the first quarter of 2022, “earlier than we anticipated.”
  • EQT (EQT US) climbed in postmarket trading after its board authorizes $1b buyback program, effective immediately and valid through Dec. 31, 2023.

“Volatility will remain elevated throughout all of this week’s rate decisions from the Fed, ECB and BOE,” Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda Corp., wrote in a note. “2022 is still expected to be a strong global growth story, but accelerated central bank hawkishness could be the one thing that helps deliver the first major pullback with U.S. equities.”

European bourses gave back gains with Euro Stoxx 50 back to flat having traded up as much as 0.7% after the open, ticking up from one-week lows. Similar price action observed across most equity indexes; IBEX outperforms, but nonetheless halves opening gains. Autos, media and travel are the softest sectors.

Asian stocks fell, as the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant kept investors on edge while they await key central bank decisions this week, including the outcome of the Federal Reserve’s meeting. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index headed for a third straight day of losses, falling as much as 0.7%. Stocks in China and Hong Kong led regional declines after the mainland reported its first omicron case. Chinese developers’ shares also dragged on benchmarks as they extended Monday’s slide after Shimao Group’s plunge added to concerns about the sector.  READ: China Developer Selloff Deepens as Shimao Deal Raises ‘Red Flag’ Asian markets have been largely risk-off this week as traders await the outcome of the Fed’s meeting on Wednesday, where it’s expected to speed up stimulus withdrawal and open the door to earlier interest-rate hikes in 2022 to curb elevated inflation. “The risk-off moves, which may be more prominent for rate-sensitive tech, continued to play out into Asia session, with sentiment further weighed by economic risks lingering in China’s property sector,” said Jun Rong Yeap, a market strategist at IG Asia Pte.

Japanese stocks also declined Tuesday, weighed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s remarks hinting the government may consider guidelines for share buybacks. The Topix index fell 0.2% to close at 1,973.81 in Tokyo, while the Nikkei 225 Stock Average declined 0.7% to 28,432.64. Sony Group Corp. contributed the most to the Topix’s decline, decreasing 0.9%. Out of 2,181 shares in the index, 766 rose and 1,315 fell, while 100 were unchanged. “It’s a difficult time to buy stocks into dips ahead of the FOMC meeting,” said Hideyuki Ishiguro, a strategist at Nomura Asset Management in Tokyo. “Because the rebound from around 27,500 yen levels had been so swift, it’s possible for the measure to be pushed back down again, driven by selling in futures,” he said, referring to the Nikkei 225. FOMC and BOJ meeting results are due Wednesday and Friday in respective local times. Some 61% of 44 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect a partial extension of the Covid aid for Japanese businesses set to end in March, while 91% of respondents said the BOJ won’t touch any of its main policy settings.  During parliament, Kishida commented on Japanese companies’ buyback policies in response to lawmaker questions. He said companies have their own set of unique circumstances that need to be taken into consideration so “guidelines” rather than outright regulation would be desirable.  “It’s unclear whether a guideline will actually be put together, but if the share buybacks become subject to restrictions, that will cap the upside in share prices,” said Tatsushi Maeno, a senior strategist at Okasan Asset Management.

Indian stocks fell, tracking regional peers and ahead of the U.S. Fed policy decision later this week, with the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant weighing on sentiment. The S&P BSE Sensex lost 0.3% to 58,117.09  in Mumbai to close at a one-week low. The NSE Nifty 50 Index declined by a similar magnitude. Reliance Industries Ltd. dropped 1.2% and was among the biggest drag on both the measures. Of the 30 shares in the Sensex, 13 slid, while 17 gained. Nine of 19 sectoral indexes compiled by BSE Ltd. retreated, led by a gauge of telecom companies. Investors are awaiting the outcome of the Fed’s meeting, where it is expected to speed up stimulus withdrawal and open the door to earlier interest-rate hikes in 2022 to curb elevated inflation. Higher U.S. rates would impact flows into emerging markets like India, which has kept borrowing costs at a record low even amid the second-fastest pace of inflation in Asia. “The negative momentum amid volatility is likely to continue,” Mitul Shah, head of research at Reliance Securities Ltd., said in a note. “Federal Reserve commentary and the data on omicron are going to be critical factors for the market direction in coming days.”

In rates, Treasury yields rose, with the belly of the curve underperforming after a block of 6,000 contracts in five-year March Treasury note futures traded at 121-00 on CBOT.  Yields are higher on the day by 2bp-3bp from belly out to long-end of the curve, 10-year up 2.2bp at 1.438%, similar to increase in U.K. 10-year yield; front-end outperforms, steepening most curve spreads by less than 1bp. Focal points include November PPI, while positioning flows may affect price action ahead of Wednesday’s Fed policy announcement. Bunds, and gilt cheapaned ~1-1.5bps across the curve with U.S. 5y lagging after a large futures block. Peripheral spreads have a marginal tightening bias.

In FX, the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index inched lower and the greenback traded mixed versus its Group-of-10 peers, with commodity currencies the worst performers and the franc leading gains. Asia’s dollar gains are faded with Bloomberg dollar index slipping into negative territory. Commodity currencies remain at the bottom of the G-10 scoreboard; CHF and EUR lead. . The euro rallied beyond $1.13 in early European trading, reversing yesterday’s losses, while yields on bunds and other European government bonds rose in line with Treasury yields. Cable edged up as traders assessed a record jump in U.K. employment in November. The print fuels concerns that inflation pressures are building in the labor market, yet most economists surveyed by Bloomberg predict policy makers are unlikely to hike interest rates this week due to the threat posed by omicron. Sweden’s krona was relatively steady even after the Riksbank’s target measure for inflation came in at 3.6% y/y in November, the highest level since 1993 and beating a median forecast of 3.4%. Norway’s krone extended yesterday’s losses and fell to a one-week low against the dollar, amid rising uncertainty around the outcome from this week’s Norges Bank meeting. Australia’s dollar dropped for a second day as investors priced in worsening virus data in the nation, along with risks of faster Fed tapering. Japanese money- market rates dropped after the BOJ conducted fund-supplying operations for a second day to cap the rise in yields. The yen traded in a narrow range. The Turkish lira softens over 3%, near 14.33/USD

In commodities, crude futures reverse gains; WTI drops 0.2% into the red before finding support near $71. Spot gold dips near $1,784/oz but trades a narrow range. Base metals are under pressure with LME aluminum underperforming.  Bloomberg’s Markets Live team is running an anonymous survey on asset views for 2022. It takes about two minutes and the results will be shared in the latter part of December

Looking at the day ahead, data releases include November’s PPI while in Europe we got the October data on Euro Area industrial production and UK unemployment.

Market Snapshot

  • S&P 500 futures down 0.4% to 4,651.75
  • MXAP down 0.6% to 192.36
  • MXAPJ down 0.7% to 625.42
  • Nikkei down 0.7% to 28,432.64
  • Topix down 0.2% to 1,973.81
  • Hang Seng Index down 1.3% to 23,635.95
  • Shanghai Composite down 0.5% to 3,661.53
  • Sensex down 0.2% to 58,139.40
  • Australia S&P/ASX 200 little changed at 7,378.39
  • Kospi down 0.5% to 2,987.95
  • Brent Futures up 0.3% to $74.15/bbl
  • Gold spot down 0.2% to $1,783.61
  • U.S. Dollar Index little changed at 96.31
  • STOXX Europe 600 up 0.3% to 474.98
  • German 10Y yield little changed at -0.37%
  • Euro up 0.1% to $1.1296

Top Overnight News from Bloomberg

  • With inflation dominating the conversation in Washington, those inside and outside the Fed trying to keep broad-based and inclusive employment at the top of the central bank’s agenda for 2022 are facing an uphill battle
  • The Czech central bank, which was among the world’s first to challenge the view that inflation was transitory, must continue its rapid interest-rate increases to keep consumer prices under control, Governor Jiri Rusnok said
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Norges Bank’s Deputy Governor Ida Wolden Bache are among the candidates to be Norway’s next central bank chief
  • Global oil markets have returned to surplus and face an even bigger oversupply early next year as the omicron variant impedes international travel, the International Energy Agency said
  • A two-shot course of Pfizer’s vaccination may offer 70% protection against being hospitalized with the omicron variant, South African medical-insurance provider Discovery said. Leading scientists cautioned that the level of immunity against the coronavirus among South Africa’s population due to earlier infections may be masking the severity of illness caused by omicron.

A more detailed look at global markets courtesy of Newsquawk

Asia-Pac stocks traded mostly subdued following the pullback on Wall Street as sentiment turned cautious ahead of this week’s plethora of central bank-focused risk events, key global data releases and quad-witching. ASX 200 (Unch.) was rangebound as underperformance in consumer-related sectors was counterbalanced by the resilience in property and mining names, with risk appetite not helped by a surge in domestic COVID infections and mixed NAB Business Confidence data. Nikkei 225 (-0.7%) sits beneath the 28.5k level with price action constrained by an indecisive currency. Hang Seng (-1.3%) and Shanghai Comp. (-0.5%) conformed to the downbeat mood as property names suffered from ongoing default concerns after China Shandong Hi-Speed Financial noted a default event by China Aoyuan Property Group and said it will make efforts to recover missed payments. Casino stocks also weakened amid concerns of a new global COVID wave and after China reported its first Omicron case, while there were further disruptions in the Zhejiang province where around 250k people were recently placed under lockdown due to an outbreak in three of the manufacturing region's cities. Finally, 10yr JGBs were helped by the lacklustre mood in stocks and with the BoJ announcing purchases including JPY 2tln of bonds via repurchase agreements and JPY 7tln of JGBs for Wednesday-Thursday, while the enhanced liquidity auction for longer-dated government bonds also attracted a higher bid-to-cover.

Top Asian News

  • China’s Oppo Touts Mobile Photography Breakthrough With New Chip
  • Toyota to Plow $35 Billion Into Accelerating Electric Car Shift
  • Orban Delays $5 Billion Budapest Airport Deal on Budget Risk
  • Slump in Macau Casino Shares Adds to Hong Kong Stocks’ Many Woes

The mood across equities have shifted to a downbeat one after the initial upside seen at the cash open (Euro Stoxx 50 -0.1%; Stoxx 600 -0.1%). US equity futures see losses to a greater magnitude with the RTY (-0.6%) and NQ (-0.6%) pressure is of a greater magnitude vs the ES (-0.3%) and YM (-0.2%). There has been no single trigger for this downside, with traders teeing up for tomorrow’s FOMC announcement, followed by the ECB, BOE, Flash PMIs, and Quad Witching. The morning saw an Omicron update from a South African study which suggested the risk of hospitalisation among adults with COVID is 29% lower than during the first wave, adjusting for vaccinations. This also noted that two doses of the Pfizer (-0.1% pre-mkt)/BioNTech (-1.4%) vaccine gives 70% protection against hospitalisation and 33% protection against infection during the current wave. Aside from that, fresh macro news flow has been on the lighter side. Back in Europe, cash bourses are mixed with some outperformance seen in the FTSE 100 (+0.4%), propped up by gains across banks and miners, with the former buoyed by the rising yields. Sectors are now mixed with a slight defensive bias, as Food & Beverages and Telecoms going Basic Resources and Banks at the top of the pile. The other side of the spectrum sees Autos & Parts, Tech and Travel & Leisure. In terms of individual movers, BT (-7%) after Altice said it has acquired a further 585mln shares in BT, upping its stake to 18.0% from 12.1%, to which the UK said it is closely monitoring the situation on BT and will not hesitate to act if needed. Altice's Drahi informed BT after-close on Monday that the stake had been increased, did not make them aware of this beforehand. Sticking with M&A, Vifro (+12.5%) rose to the top of the Stoxx 600 after CSL confirmed the Swiss tender offer for 100% of Vifor at USD 179.25/shr which will be funded by AUD 6.3bln institutional placement and will also raise AUD 750mln through share purchase plan.

Top European News

  • EU Gas Extends Rally as Crunch Risks Extending Into Next Winter
  • Covid Boosters Are Also the U.K.’s Answer to Business Aid Appeal
  • BOE Builds Back Buffer for U.K. Banks as Covid Risks Recede
  • Swedish Inflation at 28-Year Record Tests Riksbank’s Patience

In FX, the Greenback continues to grind with an upward bias amidst dip buying ahead of the FOMC that is keeping a lid on US Treasuries due to hawkish expectations for QE and rates amidst the ongoing spread of Omicron that is prompting bouts of risk aversion to the benefit of safe havens, intermittently. However, the index is still encountering resistance into 96.500 for semi-psychological reasons if not strictly technical and the Dollar is finding several levels tough to breach on an individual basis vs counterparts. PPI data may provide the additional impetus if strong, but confirmation of a faster taper by the Fed along with more aggressive tightening intentions implied by the latest SEP dot plots could be what the Buck needs to overcome its inhibitions. Looking at the DXY in more detail, the latest fade and dip is underway and favouring the carry currencies over high betas and commodity bloc, in the main as the index trades near the base of a 96.493-158 range.

  • CHF/EUR - No initial or obvious positive reaction to Swiss or Eurozone data in the form of producer/import prices and ip respectively, but the Franc and Euro are both taking advantage of the Greenback’s loss of momentum to probe round numbers at 0.9200 and 1.1300, while the Eur/Chf cross pivots 1.0400 to keep the SNB on guard for Thursday’s quarterly policy reviews just a matter of hours before the ECB delivers its final decisions of 2021.
  • AUD/CAD - The Aussie retreated further in wake of a mixed NAB business survey overnight showing a marked decline in confidence vs slight improvement in conditions, but has reclaimed 0.7100+ status against its US rival, while the Loonie is trying to contain losses through 1.2800 against the backdrop of another downturn in WTI crude.
  • GBP/NZD/JPY - All narrowly divergent vs their US peer, albeit the Pound taking most advantage of the retracement following a mostly upbeat UK labour market report, as Cable recovers from a sub-1.3200 low, while the Kiwi is back over 0.6750 awaiting NZ Q3 current account balances and benefiting from Aud/Nzd tailwinds. Elsewhere, the Yen has brushed off more speculation about the BoJ extending pandemic support measures beyond the current March 2022 expiry data to maintain clear sight of 113.50 and could be cushioned by decent option expiry interest just under the 113.75 low as 1 bn rolls off between 113.80-85.

In commodities, WTI and Brent front-front futures have retreated off best levels as the complex initially attempted to nurse yesterday’s losses, whilst risk sentiment tilts towards aversion. The contracts came off intraday highs after the IEA revises down its oil demand outlook by some 100k BPD for each 2021 and 2022. The IEA also suggested that world oil supply is set to overtake demand from this month, and new COVID cases are expected to temporarily slow - but not upend the recovery in oil demand. This differs somewhat from the OPEC release yesterday which saw a sizeable upgrade to the Q1 2022 metric – teeing the producers for a continuation of the current plans to hike monthly output. On the COVID front, South African health insurer Discovery released a real-world study on COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness during Omicron, which stated the risk of hospitalisation among adults with COVID is 29% lower than during the first wave, adjusting for vaccinations. The study also suggested that two doses of the Pfizer (PFE)/BioNTech (BNTX) vaccine gives 70% protection against hospitalisation, 33% protection against infection during the current wave and the risk of reinfection during the current wave is significantly higher than in previous waves. On the travel front, China’s Cathay Pacific said the emergence of Omicron has had an impact on travel sentiment for the holiday period and adjusted the December flight schedule to operate no more than 12% of pre-COVID flight capacity until the end-2021. The airline continues to face significant challenges, particularly for the travel business. This also comes as China's Guangzhou city has detected an additional Omicron COVID-19 case in a traveller returning from abroad. On the geopolitical front, Iranian nuclear talks hit the first stumbling block since resumption - Iranian Nuclear Chief Eslami said the IAEA has demanded access to the Karaj site, which is beyond safeguards and as such unacceptable. WTI Jan has retreated to around USD 71.00/bbl level (vs USD 72/bbl high) whilst Brent Feb heads towards the low USD 74/bbl area (vs high 75.15/bbl). It’s also worth keeping in mind that Open Interest in Brent has flipped to the Mar contract, but volume remains in Feb. Elsewhere, spot gold was initially hit by the rising Buck, with upside for the yellow metal still capped by the 100 DMA (1,789/oz), 200 DMA (1,793/oz) and 50 DMA (1,796/oz), whilst the downside sees USD 1,775/oz as the next immediate psychological support. The recent risk aversion has also crept into the base metals market, with LME copper now losing further ground under USD 9,500/t.

US Event Calendar

  • 8:30am: Nov. PPI Final Demand MoM, est. 0.5%, prior 0.6%; YoY, est. 9.2%, prior 8.6%;
  • 8:30am: Nov. PPI Ex Food, Energy, Trade MoM, est. 0.4%, prior 0.4%; YoY, prior 6.2%
  • 8:30am: Nov. PPI Ex Food and Energy MoM, est. 0.4%, prior 0.4%; YoY, est. 7.2%, prior 6.8%

DB's Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap

Ahead of the Fed tomorrow, there was a decidedly risk-off tone in markets yesterday as investors were alarmed by some of the virus headlines, especially those here in the UK, and also nervous ahead of the big central bank week. Admittedly this comes in the context of the S&P 500 having recovered back to its all-time record high by the end of last week, so even with this decline, global equities are still some way above their lows after the Omicron variant was first discovered. But it does speak to the jitters throughout markets that we could get some hawkish surprises from the various policy decisions this week, as well as continued concern about further Covid-19 restrictions in light of Omicron.

US equities lost ground from the get-go against this backdrop, with the S&P 500 (-0.91%) decline led by mega cap tech and energy shares. A post European close recovery was wiped out by a very late sell-off that saw it close at the session lows. Indeed, you can get an idea of how sentiment shifted by looking at the STOXX 600, which swung round from an early intraday high of +0.70% to end the session down -0.43%. Tech indices lost ground with the NASDAQ down -1.39% and the FANG+ index of megacap tech stocks down -2.67%. Small caps did slightly better than mega caps, but the Russell 2000 (-1.42%) wasn’t spared a 3rd consecutive decline. Volatility picked up with the drop in share prices in the New York morning, sending the VIX index (+1.79 ppts) above the 20 mark again.

That decline in investor risk appetite saw them move into sovereign bonds on both sides of the Atlantic, with yields on 10yr US Treasuries down -6.8bps to 1.42%. Meanwhile, the yield curve started to flatten again after their steepening moves of the week before, with the 2s10s slope down -4.6bps. Over in Europe, there was a similar pattern, and yields on 10yr bunds (-3.4bps), OATs (-3.4bps) and BTPs (-5.7bps) all moved lower. And that shift into safe havens was replicated elsewhere, with gold (+0.21%) advancing after its run of 4 successive weekly declines, as the dollar index (+0.23%) strengthened as well.

In terms of the latest on Covid-19, UK Prime Minister Johnson said that the Omicron variant was set to become the dominant strain in London today, and that at least one person in the country had already died as a result. That came as the 7-day moving average of cases rose to 51,955, its highest level since January, and Health Secretary Javid said that the current rate of UK Covid-19 infections (accounting for all likely infections and not just those confirmed with a test) was running at around 200k per day. Meanwhile, in South Africa hospitalisations are continuing to rise, with the total up to 6,198 yesterday, which is up from 3,798 just 6 days earlier. The rate of hospitalisation in South Africa is probably going to be one of the best leading indicators for where other countries could be headed over the coming weeks, and although it’s true that the US and Europe have much higher rates of vaccination, they also have much older populations as well. Separately, it was reported by Global Times that the Chinese city of Tianjin reported the first Omicron case seen in mainland China, which came from an overseas arrival. China’s reaction to Omicron will be very important in the weeks ahead.

Overnight in Asia, stock benchmarks are trading lower with the Shanghai Composite (-0.31%), CSI (-0.38%), KOSPI (-0.81%), Nikkei (-0.90%) and Hang Seng (-1.26%) all in the red. Answering a question in Japan's parliament, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said introducing guidelines on buybacks to companies could be appropriate although he cautioned against implementing stringent regulations. This prompted the Nikkei to drop sharply on the news. In China, rate cut calls are gathering momentum as an article in China Finance 40 Forum, an influential think-tank, weighed in on interest rate cuts and infrastructure investment as a means to get to 5% growth in 2022. Elsewhere in India, CPI for November came in at 4.91% year-on-year against a consensus of 5.10% on the back of reduced government taxes on fuel. DM futures are indicating a slightly more positive start with S&P 500 (+0.15%) and DAX (+0.14%) contracts trading higher.

Back in Europe, the rise in natural gas prices we were talking about in September/October hasn’t gone away, with the benchmark European future up +9.49% yesterday to surpass its record close back in early October. That’s come in light of further cold weather forecasts, as well as increasing questions as to whether the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will get the go-ahead anytime soon. However, oil prices witnessed modest falls, with both Brent crude (-1.01%) and WTI (-0.53%) moving lower.

Key moderate Senator Manchin sounded a pessimistic tune about President Biden’s build back better agenda ahead of a call with the President. As he has for some time, Senator Manchin expressed trepidation about the inflationary and deficit impact of additional federal spending at the moment, underscored by last Friday’s gangbusters CPI data. With a razor-thin majority, Democrats will need every Senator on board to pass new stimulus. That the West Virginia Senator has continued to prove recalcitrant does not bode well for the bill’s passage before the holidays, despite Senate leadership’s public wishes. Nevertheless, the readout from the call from both sides suggests that it was constructive, and the two are to continue talks this week. We shall see what concessions are needed to ultimately get Manchin to a yes on the build back better package.

To the day ahead now, and data releases from the US include November’s PPI and the NFIB’s small business optimism index for November, whilst in Europe there’s also October data on Euro Area industrial production and UK unemployment.

Tyler Durden Tue, 12/14/2021 - 08:05

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Science

Long COVID: female sex, older age and existing health problems increase risk – new research

A new study has analysed UK data from long-term health surveys and electronic health records to understand how common long COVID is, and who might be at…

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shurkin_son/Shutterstock

About 2 million people in the UK currently have long COVID, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.

In the UK, long COVID is defined as “signs and symptoms that continue or develop after acute COVID-19”. This definition is further split into people who have symptoms between four to 12 weeks after infection (ongoing symptomatic COVID-19) and for 12 weeks or more (post-COVID syndrome).

Symptoms can include fatigue, breathlessness, difficulty concentrating and many more – but the precise nature of the symptoms is not well understood. There are also gaps in our knowledge when it comes to the frequency of long COVID, and whether there are particular factors that put people at higher risk of developing the condition.

All of this is partly because the symptoms used to define long COVID often vary between studies, and these studies tend to be based on relatively few people. So the results may not apply to the wider population.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, my colleagues and I looked at data from ten UK-based long-term studies, alongside 1.1 million anonymised electronic health records from English general practices. Based on this data, we investigated whether the burden of long COVID (how common it is) differs by demographic and health characteristics, such as age, sex and existing medical conditions.

The studies were established before the pandemic, and have tracked participants over many years. From these surveys, we used data from 6,907 people who self-reported they’d had COVID-19. Comparing this with the data from the electronic health records of people diagnosed with COVID allowed us to examine the frequency of long COVID in those who have seen their GP about it and those who haven’t.


Read more: Long COVID: a public health expert’s campaign to understand the disease


We found that of the people who self-reported having COVID in the studies, the proportion who reported symptoms for longer than 12 weeks ranged between 7.8% and 17%, while 1.2% to 4.8% reported “debilitating” symptoms.

In the electronic health records, we found that only 0.4% of people with a COVID diagnosis were subsequently recorded as having long COVID. This low proportion of diagnoses by GPs may be partly because formal logging of long COVID was only introduced for doctors in November 2020.

COVID-19 National Core Study, Author provided

The proportion of people who reported symptoms for more than 12 weeks varied by age. There was also a lot of variation depending on which definition each study used to capture long COVID. But overall, we found evidence to suggest an increased risk of long COVID was associated with increasing age up to age 70.

The studies include participants across a range of ages, from an average age of 20 to 63. Using a strict definition of symptoms affecting day-to-day function, we found that the proportion of people with symptoms for 12 or more weeks generally rose with increasing age, ranging from 1.2% for 20-year-olds to 4.8% for those aged 63.

We also found that a range of other factors is associated with a heightened risk of developing long COVID. For instance, being female, poorer pre-pandemic mental health and overall health, obesity and having asthma were also identified as risk factors in both the long-term studies and electronic health records.

These findings are broadly consistent with other emerging evidence on long COVID. For example, a recent international review study concluded that women are 22% more likely than men to experience long COVID.


Read more: COVID: long-lasting symptoms rarer in children than in adults – new research


It will be important to understand why these links exist, which is beyond the scope of our research. But identifying who may be at higher risk of long COVID is important, and as we continue to learn more, this could inform public health prevention and treatment strategies.

Ellen Thompson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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International

Redundancy: what to know about your rights when an employer lets you go

Redundancies are an unfortunate fact of life for businesses, but companies can try to make the process of job cuts less painful for workers.

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Companies making redundancies should treat both dismissed employees and those that remain with compassion. Syda Productions/Shutterstock

One of the biggest rail strikes in 30 years has been playing out in recent weeks as 40,000 workers protest the threat of job cuts. Their employer, Network Rail, wants to lay off up to 1,800 people as it prepares to introduce new technologies in an attempt to save more than £100 million annually following a post-pandemic drop in passenger numbers.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has claimed this industrial action will cost around £150 million in lost revenue, in addition to a £450 million hit to the wider UK economy. With such significant costs expected, not to mention the ongoing impact on individual travellers, the government has called on the parties involved – the rail operators and the unions representing the workers – to agree a deal via negotiations.

We already saw the impact of a company taking such matters into its own hands earlier this year when P&O Ferries dismissed 800 employees without notice as it tried to make savings. In the current situation, Network Rail’s management is following a process of consultation with affected employees. It has offered voluntary redundancy in an attempt to limit the impact of its plans for modernisation that will lead to the redundancies, with more than 5,000 workers applying so far, according to news reports.

Unfortunately, redundancies are a fact of life for businesses, particularly in difficult times like the current economic environment. In such circumstances, businesses often choose to make redundancies to create a more sustainable future for the company as a whole. And while making employees redundant tends to be an unpleasant experience for all parties involved, the impact is, of course, most significant for the employees that are losing their jobs. Companies must therefore find a way to implement redundancies with compassion, providing clear communication for all employees during the process, as well as offering ongoing tools and support to the employees that lose their jobs and those that remain.

Setting expectations

So what should you expect? Employees at risk of redundancy are entitled to a fair redundancy process underpinned by the Employee Rights Act 1996, which includes the right to meaningful consultation. According to the UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) this should provide the opportunity to discuss the changes and why certain employees are at risk of redundancy. If employees meet specific criteria, such as being employed for a certain amount of time (usually a minimum of two years), they are also entitled to statutory redundancy payments. It is important to check specific employment contracts and the company’s policy on redundancy pay as well, however.

Going beyond basic rights, redundancy programmes can be implemented more smoothly when employees understand the business rationale for the situation, according to my research. Business leaders must provide a clear understanding of why redundancies are being made. Network rail, for example, has discussed its plan to make savings by implementing technology such as drones for site inspections and to drive automation of ticket sales.

To ensure consultations are useful and beneficial, employers should also be able to clearly demonstrate to unions and their members how they have attempted to save costs through means other than redundancies. This could involve reducing or selling unused assets or saving on procurement costs, for example. All reasonable alternatives to redundancies should be considered, such as potential redeployment of employees at risk of redundancy.

Once it has been decided that redundancies are to be made, however, a company should be ready and able to explain how employees were selected and why certain parts of the business were impacted. Overall, employees and unions should be given a clear plan for individual and collective consultation with anticipated timelines and effective communication channels. This will show all impacted employees that careful consideration was given to all decisions around the redundancy programme.

For those employees at risk of redundancy, additional services should be provided to help with the adjustment to life after redundancy. This can include support from the company itself, as well as services from external providers for up to three months after redundancy. Examples include:

  • Retraining: redundancies can be avoided where possible through redeployment by retraining employees to fulfil alternative, available and suitable roles. This depends on the role requirements and reasonable ability to transfer skills.

  • Counselling: loss of income is extremely stressful, causing anxiety and financial worries. Organisations should have the necessary help in place to support employee’s mental health by providing access to free counselling and one-to-one support.

  • Transition: employers can also offer alternative support such as workshops on financial planning and guidance, or on how to start a business.

Two women talking, counselling.
Companies should provide additional support following redundancies. wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Supporting other employees

A more compassionate redundancy process should also consider the employees that remain with the organisation. During my research, I found that the way organisations treat the employees who lose their jobs can have a significant impact on the employees who remain in the organisation. They may feel guilty or angry about colleagues losing their jobs, as well as experiencing continued fear of job insecurity if more job losses are expected.

Treating all employees with compassion, fairness and respect during redundancies also benefits the management staff that must implement the process of redundancies. Again, widespread communication – not just with the union, but with employees themselves – helps companies conduct the process with compassion. Remaining employees should understand the future vision and mission of the organisation. Other ways to lift employee morale include investing in training and development, as well as recognising job-related progress or achievements.

Redundancies cannot always be avoided, but the negative impact can certainly be limited for those who lose their jobs, as well as for those who remain. And when unions work with management to ease the pain of redundancies, employees can at least leave the organisation more equipped for the future.

Madeleine Stevens does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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U.S. FDA will decide on redesigned COVID vaccines by early July

U.S. regulators plan to decide by early July on whether to change the design of COVID-19 vaccines this fall in order to combat more recent variants of…

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U.S. FDA will decide on redesigned COVID vaccines by early July

By Michael Erman

“The better the match of the vaccines to the circulating strain we believe may correspond to improve vaccine effectiveness, and potentially to a better durability of protection,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said at a meeting of outside advisers to the regulator.

Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The committee is scheduled to vote on a recommendation on whether to make the change later on Tuesday.

The updated shots are likely to be redesigned to fight the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, experts say. read more The exact composition of the retooled shots and whether they also will include some of the original vaccine alongside new components will be considered at the meeting.

Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) and Novavax Inc. (NVAX.O) are scheduled to present data at the meeting. All three companies have been testing versions of their vaccines updated to combat the BA.1 Omicron variant that was circulating and led to a massive surge in infections last winter.

Both Moderna and Pfizer with partner BioNTech (22UAy.DE) have said that their respective redesigned vaccines generate a better immune response against BA.1 than their current shots that were designed for the original virus that emerged from China.

They have said that their new vaccines also appear to work against the more recently circulating BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, even though that protection is not as strong as against BA.1.

Experts also want to know if the new shots will boost protection against severe disease and death for younger, healthier people or merely offer a few months’ additional safeguard against mild infection.

Scientists who have questioned the value of booster shots for young and healthy people have said a broad campaign is not needed with an updated shot either.

Other experts have championed any additional protection new vaccines may offer.

Reporting by Michael Erman Editing by Bill Berkrot and Bernadette Baum

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Source: Reuters

 

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