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Greenback Softens amid Stronger Risk Appetites to Start August

Overview:  Risk appetites snap back after easing in the waning hours last month.  The MSCI Asia Pacific equities jumped back after dropping 1.8% last week for the second week in a row.  Japan’s Topix and China’s CSI 300 rose by more than 2%, and Hong…

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Overview:  Risk appetites snap back after easing in the waning hours last month.  The MSCI Asia Pacific equities jumped back after dropping 1.8% last week for the second week in a row.  Japan's Topix and China's CSI 300 rose by more than 2%, and Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Australia gained more than 1%.  Europe's Dow Jones Stoxx 600 is recouping the pre-weekend loss and is trading at new record highs.  US futures are at a higher opening.  Bond markets are nonplussed, with the US 10-year hovering around 1.22%, and European bonds are narrowly mixed, with the periphery outperforming the core.   Of note, China's 10-year benchmark yield is slightly above 2.80%, a new 12-month low.  The US dollar is softer against the majors and most emerging market currencies, but key levels, like $1.19 in the euro, $1.40 in sterling, and JPY109.50 against the yen, remain intact.  The JP Morgan Emerging Market Currency Index recouped the loss from the end of last week when it pared the first weekly gain in five weeks.  Gold is softer and looks poised to test support in the $1790-$1800 band.  Oil has come back heavier after reaching two-week highs before the weekend.  WTI for September delivery is straddling the $73-level after trading at a two-week high near $74.25.  Iron ore prices extended their decline for the fifth consecutive session and have risen only once in the past 11 sessions.  Copper prices are firm amid reports that three separate mines in Chile could strike.   

Asia Pacific

China's economy moderated in July, according to the official PMI released over the weekend.  The manufacturing PMI eased to 50.4 from 50.9, which was a little more than expected.  The non-manufacturing PMI showed a small decline to 53.3 from 53.5 and was in line with expectations.  The composite stands at 52.4 from 52.9.    A few details seem notable.  New export orders were below the 50 boom/bust level for the third consecutive month.  Overall, new orders slipped to 50.9 from 51.5. Price components increased.  The data also needs to be understood within a broader context. The Caixin manufacturing PMI also missed expectations, falling to 50.3 from 51.3.  It is the lowest since April 2020.  The virus outbreak in Nanjing and lockdown are disruptive.  China is experiencing the broadest breakout since the virus first struck. The flood and heatwave have also had a detrimental effect.  July is also a traditional maintenance period.  The PBOC has gone from tightening to easing policy, culminating with a 50 bp reduction in reserves.  Recall that aggregate (bank and non-bank) financing soared in June (CNY3.67 trillion, more than April and May combined).  

Despite formal and informal social restrictions, Japan has yet to get ahead of the pandemic curve. Both Tokyo and the country reported a record number of cases over the weekend. As a result, the fourth state of emergency for Tokyo was extended to the end of August.  It began July 12.  Five other prefectures are in a formal state of emergency, several others have implemented "intensive anti-virus measures."  One implication is that it pushes the much-anticipated recovery of the world's third-largest economy into Q4.  Separately, Japan's manufacturing PMI stands at 53.0, up from the 52.2 flash reading and 52.4 in June.  Australia's manufacturing PMI ticked up to 56.9 from the preliminary estimate of 56.8.  It stood at 58.6 in June and peaked in May at 60.4.  The RBA meets tomorrow and is widely anticipated to reverse directions and, instead of exiting from emergency measures, is likely to provide more support via bond purchases.  

South Korea reported strong July trade figures, even though exports and imports did not grow as fast (year-over-year) as expected, but the surplus was a magnitude greater than the median in Bloomberg's survey at $1.76 bln.  Exports of tech products (chips, computers, display monitors, rechargeable batteries) continue to rise sharply, which speaks to the demand abroad, while the nearly 60% rise in petrochemical exports is a function of higher prices.   China was the weakest of the four largest destinations for South Korean exports, up 15.7% year-over-year.  Exports to the US were up slightly more than 32%, while shipments to the EU were up nearly 44%.  Exports to Japan rose by 28%.  Overall exports stood at record levels.  Looking ahead, South Korea reports July CPI figures tomorrow and are expected to be unchanged at 2.4% and 1.5% for the headline and core, respectively.  The central bank meets on August 26.  The market expects a 25 bp hike in the seven-day repo rate from 50 bp over the next three months.  

The dollar has been confined to less than a 20-pip range above JPY109.60 in uneventful activity in the upper end of the pre-weekend range. Recall that before the weekend, the dollar slipped to almost JPY109.35, an eight-session low.  It has been recorded lower high.  The pre-weekend high was almost JPY109.85.  There is a $310 mln option at JPY109.75 that rolls off today.  The Australian dollar met sellers above $0.7400 in the last two sessions and is consolidating between $0.7330 and $0.7360 so far today.  A nearly A$1.2 bln option at $0.7400 expires today, and another at $0.7360 for about A$525 mln.  In the last four sessions, the greenback has gone from the three-month highs (~CNY6.5125) to the lower end of its six-week range (~CNY6.4500).  It traded above the pre-weekend high to reach CNY6.4685 but was sold to the lows just below CNY6.46 and is little changed on the session.  The PBOC set the dollar's reference rate at CNY6.4660, tightly near expectations CNY6.4662). 

Europe

The eurozone flash July manufacturing PMI was revised to 62.8 from 62.6 after peaking at 63.4 in June.  The revision seems solely owed to better German figures.  Its manufacturing PMI was revised to 65.9 from 65.6 and 65.1 in June.  The multi-year peak was set in March at 66.6. Separately, Germany reported June retail sales jumped by 4.2%, more than twice the median forecast in Bloomberg's survey, and the May series was revised to show a 4.6% gain from 4.2%.  France's manufacturing PMI slipped to 58.0 from the flash reading of 58.1.  In June, it stood at 59.0.  Spain's manufacturing PMI was softer than expected at 59.0.  The median forecast in Bloomberg's survey was 59.5 after June's 60.4. Finally, Italy's 60.3 July manufacturing PMI cannot be considered weak though it was softer than anticipated (61.5) and down from the 62.2 reading in June.   

The UK's final July manufacturing PMI was unchanged from the preliminary reading at 60.4.  It stood at 63.9 in June and peaked in May at 65.6.  The highlight this week is the Bank of England meeting on Thursday.  The uncertainty over the trajectory of the virus and the fact income/job support programs continue would seem to discourage new action.  However, a couple of MPC members have expressed concern about inflation and could dissent in favor of slowing the bond purchases.  It is possible that the BOE announced the result of its view on policy sequencing--balancing the future rate hikes with a reduction in government bond holdings.  Currently, the BOE does not plan on reducing the stock of bonds until the policy rate rises to 1.5%. However, there is speculation that the rate threshold could be reduced to 1%.

The euro traded above $1.19 briefly ahead of the weekend before falling to session lows near $1.1850 as European markets closed ahead of month-end.  Today, the euro is firmer but holding below $1.1900, where an option for nearly 1.4 bln euros is set to expire today.  Session highs are being recorded in the European morning, but the intraday technicals are stretched as North American dealers return to their posts.  For its part, sterling encountered offers in front of $1.40 in the last two sessions and has found support a little below $1.39.  It recorded the session high around $1.3935 in the European morning, but here too, the intraday momentum studies are stretched.  The $1.3940-$1.3960 area offers nearby resistance.  

America

While a strong US employment report is expected at the end of the week, there are several other moving parts.  First, the two-year suspension of the debt ceiling expired. The Treasury has already begun implementing the maneuvers that have deployed over the past quarter of a century.  What is seen dysfunction of the US political system and cost it the AAA rating from S&P a decade ago, there is little material impact from the macabre dance outside of possibly a T-bill auction.  It is not precisely clear when Yellen's options would be exhausted, but there are probably at least two months. Second, despite a last-ditch effort to prevent it, the eviction moratorium expired, and reports suggest that as many as 18% of adult renters nationally are behind in payments.  That said, emergency rental assistance disbursement has lagged.  

Third, the $550 bln bipartisan physical infrastructure bill is expected to face a final vote in the Senate this week.  Assuming it is approved, the House of Representatives is not expected to take it up until next month.  Meanwhile, another $450 bln roadway bill also has bipartisan support.  The remainder of the Biden administration's broader infrastructure initiative will be included in a "reconciliation process." Fourth, the demand for the Fed's reserve repo edged over $1 trillion for the first time ahead of the weekend.  The Fed pays 5 bp (annualized) for the funds, as much as a six-month T-bill.  The vast sums reflect the Fed's QE, which creates reserves to swap for Treasuries and Agency MBS, lower T-bill supply, and the reduced Treasury cash balances at the Fed.   With the debt ceiling reinstated, the pressure on the Treasury to lower cash balances slacken.  Many observers are concerned about the huge volume that the RRP is drawing.  There is something to be said that at five basis points, the yield is attractive in its own right, which was not true before the June FOMC meeting. Nevertheless, while recognizing the high usage, Powell showed no concern and seemed to suggest that the facility is acting as the Fed anticipated and desired. 

Canada reports the July manufacturing PMI tomorrow and June merchandise trade figures on Thursday.  The highlight of the week is the employment report on Friday.  Recall that Canada lost about 275k jobs in April and May.  It stormed back in June, with nearly 231k job growth, but still lost 33k full-time positions.  It was the third monthly loss of full-time jobs for a 175k loss over the period.  Economists in Bloomberg's survey look for Canada to have grown 170k jobs and for the unemployment rate to fall to 7.4% from 7.8%, even as the participation rate improves to 65.5% from 65.2%.  For comparison, the Canadian unemployment rate stood at 5.6%-5.7% before the pandemic struck, and the participation rate was about 65.5%.  

The US dollar bounced off support near CAD1.2425 and approached CAD1.2490 ahead of month-end.  It has made no further headway today and has come back better offered.  At the end of last week, the five-day moving average slipped below the 20-day moving average for the first time since early June, picking up the US dollar's pullback since poking briefly above CAD1.28 on July 19.  A convincing break of CAD1.24 could confirm a topping pattern that projects back toward CAD1.20, though the first target would be near CAD1.23. The US dollar is encountering resistance around MXN19.93 and looks poised to challenge support near MXN19.80.  There is a band of congestion in the MXN19.70-MXN19.75 area that could slow the greenback's descent.  The low for the year was set in January, slightly below MXN19.55.  A more recent low was set in June, just below MXN19.60.  Mexico reports June worker remittances (which are larger than trade as a source of hard currency), the manufacturing PMI (48.8 in June), and the IMEF activity index.  Brazil reports its PMI and July trade balance (both imports and exports are expected to have slowed to produce a smaller trade surplus).  The dollar jumped nearly 2.6% against the real at the end of last week to snap a five-day slide.  Month-end considerations and political worries were the main culprits.  The central bank meets late on Wednesday and is expected to hike the Selic rate by 100 bp to 5.25%.  It began the year at 2.0%.  


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The Bloc’s Secrets of Success: 5 Ways The Health Creative Agency Won 200 Awards

As a global pandemic has reshaped society, The Bloc has been at the forefront of changing not just what stories get told about healthcare, but how they are told. In doing so, the health creative agency has won more than 200 film and advertising awards…

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The Bloc’s Secrets of Success: 5 Ways The Health Creative Agency Won 200 Awards

The Bloc achieved unprecedented levels of acclaim and recognition by embracing creativity, racial justice, technology, new practices, and people

New York, NY, September 22 – Over the past two years, The Bloc has redefined health creative to become one of America’s most talked about agencies. As a global pandemic has reshaped society, The Bloc has been at the forefront of changing not just what stories get told about healthcare, but how they’re told. In doing so, they’ve won over 200 film and advertising awards in 2020 and 2021. Recently, The Bloc became the first ever health agency listed on the “Of The Year” ranking for the entire Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. In addition, The Bloc is a founding member of The BlocPartners, the acclaimed global network of independent health creative agencies. The BlocPartners recently placed second in the “Health Network of the Festival” category at the Cannes Lions Health Festival.

The Bloc CEO Jennifer Matthews (PRNewsfoto/The Bloc)

“The work we’ve been so awarded for lately has been a natural extension of our motto ‘Be Great to Do Good,’” said Jennifer Matthews, CEO at The Bloc. “Health is life. It deserves the very best in creative excellence.”

  1. Invest in Hollywood Level Filmmaking 

A man walks through a futuristic train station, suffering from a cough, and decides to seek help from an automated doctor. That’s the premise of The Bloc’s award-winning short film Instant Doctor. Made so as to give thanks to doctors and released on National Doctor’s Day (March 30, 2020), the film highlighted the importance of the human element in healthcare by showing a world where medicine is done via machines.  

Instant Doctor won the Grand Jury Award for Best Short at the New York International Film Awards and was declared the Best Sci-fi Short Film at the 2020 Rhode Island International Film Festival.

“Instant Doctor has shown the industry that healthcare advertising can have not just the production quality but also the storytelling excellence of Hollywood movies,” said Bernardo Romero, Chief Creative Officer at The Bloc. “Healthcare has never been more important, which means health creative should be of the same quality as what you would see in a movie theatre or stream on Netflix.”

  1. Tackle the Biggest Issues – Including Racism and Racial Bias in Healthcare

Some of The Bloc’s most acclaimed recent work has centered around racial justice, both in healthcare and in the broader world. 

In early 2020, The Bloc, in partnership with acclaimed ballet dancer Ingrid Silva’s EmpowHer New York, released “The Call,” a short film where an actress went undercover on nursing advice hotlines to expose racial disparities in healthcare treatment. 

The Bloc went on to work with Ingrid on two more films. First came Skindeep, an animated story about racial trauma told through watercolor frames by Black women illustrators. Skindeep was followed by Making Space, a documentary about Ingrid’s life journey which premiered at Cannes Lions. 

In partnership with the National Black Child Development Institute, The Bloc created ABC’s of Survival, a tear-apart book for black children and their parents. The book aims to support mental health and change laws by including postcards that can be sent to congress. The ebook can be found at abcsofsurvival.com.

  1. Hire and Promote the Best People

The Bloc continues to grow rapidly and has recently hired Stuart Goldstein as COO and promoted Antoinette Bobbitt to EVP, strategy director. Stuart will be The Bloc’s first COO, and he’ll oversee the management for over 4,500 projects a year, with the goal of increasing efficiency and profitability. Meanwhile, Antoinette will ensure that The Bloc’s competitive differentiation is present in all client work.

The Bloc’s commitment to its employees was underscored this summer when Fortune magazine listed it as one of the best workplaces in New York for 2021. The Bloc is one of three advertising agencies on the list, and the only health creative agency focused exclusively on health.

  1. Get High Tech

More and more agencies are realizing that their creative skills can be used to power tech innovations, and The Bloc has focused on the development of tech to address pressing health needs. At the beginning of the pandemic, The Bloc pioneered SafeCode, a device concept which combined a bar-code scanner with UV light to help stop the spread of disease on delivery packages. 

The Bloc has also created a tool to aid mental health. At the end of 2020, they worked with Rockwell Ventures to create Scrollaby, an app which takes the habit of “doomscrolling” and turns it into a sleep aid, with over 1,000 pieces of custom content that support rest and relaxation.

  1. Rethink Agency Practices

To expand upon the capabilities it has developed, The Bloc has established new practice areas that distinguish it in the healthcare agency space.

One new practice area is The Bloc Science Foundry, which applies behavioral science and scientific expertise to medical communications. The other is The Bloc Storytellers

And this year, The Bloc announced its Storytellers department, which is dedicated to bringing unsurpassed production and narrative quality to healthcare creative. Storytellers seeks to replicate the success The Bloc has had with The Call, Skindeep, and Instant Doctor. The Bloc is currently searching for the best creative minds from the film, theater, and TV industries to join their team. Resumes can be sent to storytellers@thebloc.com.

 

About The Bloc

The Bloc is a leading independent health creative agency in the United States. Celebrating 21 years in 2021, The Bloc delivers comprehensive omnichannel communications for audiences across the health spectrum and partners with innovative clients who are doing some of the most meaningful and exciting work in health today. A founding member of The BlocPartners, the leading global network of independent health creative agencies, The Bloc’s work has been globally recognized for creativity and innovation. For more information, visit www.thebloc.com.

 

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As inflation fears spike, 1build raises $14M to help construction firms optimize their cost estimates

It’s an extraordinarily exhausting time to estimate costs in the construction industry. Lumber prices skyrocketed during the post-pandemic construction spree, only to come hurtling back down to Earth in recent weeks. Copper, concrete, and steel have…

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It’s an extraordinarily exhausting time to estimate costs in the construction industry. Lumber prices skyrocketed during the post-pandemic construction spree, only to come hurtling back down to Earth in recent weeks. Copper, concrete, and steel have also seen wild price swings as supply chain breakages, workers shortages, border restrictions and more plague price stability.

Construction is among the world’s largest industries, with firms planning and building projects valued at trillions of dollars at pretty much any time. Yet, it’s also one of the most archaic industries, with a heavy reliance on paper even as IT has increasingly filtered into more of the industry’s processes. Paper though can’t match the extreme volatility in materials and labor happening today, and that means construction firms need better and more real-time software tools to handle cost estimates.

1build has a bold vision to own not just cost estimating, but everything that it takes to get a building under construction. “We are going to occupy the whitespace niche of pre-construction — your planing, your estimating, up until you break ground on your building,” CEO and founder Dmitry Alexin said.

Alexin had been scouting around for startup ideas in the real estate sector in 2018 and 2019, having previously worked in finance. He worked briefly at a stealth startup in the space, where he “helped to select real estate with data science.” He discovered a problem when it came to modeling the development of a property though: it wasn’t easy to determine what could be built or how much it would cost. “I just assumed you can just use an API to figure out the cost to build,” he said.

That led him into the rabbit hole that is the math of the construction industry. He discovered “this analog industry … three times as large as ecommerce and still in this offline, non-digitized way to consume,” he said. He wanted to automate more of these processes, but even that ran into challenges. “When I was forming 1build, it was creating a data standard for the construction industry,” he explained. Eventually, he zeroed in on cost estimating.

Alexin is a solo founder, who has since built up a management team around him. He and a few early employees joined the YC Winter 2020 batch, where 1build was identified as one of TechCrunch’s 20 most exciting startups in the batch out of several hundred (the company was my selection).

The startup’s timing, though, was horrific. “COVID happened right as we were graduating,” Alexin said. The company suffered a “50% reduction in usage in the first 30 days.” The company was still small and it hunkered down, but then something surprising happened: the construction industry just zoomed forward as millions of people moved to new homes and offices with the rise of remote work.

The company raised a previously undisclosed $5.5 million seed round from Initialized Capital and kept building. It focused on building a single platform (that’s the “1build”) around all aspects of estimating costs and handling the planning phase of construction. It’s “almost an experience that feels like interacting a spreadsheet, but we pull in the latest materials rate, the latest labor rates,” Alexin said. From there, you can “develop your estimate yourself, line item by line item.” He says that integrating all construction planning in one location can massively save time and money, and is particularly valuable for smaller contractors and construction firms who don’t have the scaled-up planning teams of their larger brethren.

1build’s team, with CEO and founder Dmitry Alexin sitting in center of first row. Image Credits: 1build

Alexin said that subscription revenues have risen 7x in the past 10 months, and 10x since April when we talked a few weeks ago. That excitement led it to a quick, $14.5 million Series A led by Brent Baltimore at Greycroft. Alexin said that Baltimore has been engaged in construction tech for a long time, and said that “we felt that they were the one firm that understood what we are doing.”

The team, as is typical these days, is spread out, with the majority in the U.S. and others in Canada and Europe.

1build wants to be the one stop for the construction industry, and hopes that the industry standardizes on a universal set of data formats. “The more and more builders that adapt that, the more we can build into the product,” he said.

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Long COVID: double vaccination halves risk of developing long-lasting symptoms

Want to avoid long COVID? Get vaccinated.

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Studio Romantic/Shutterstock

In unvaccinated people, around one in 20 who get symptomatic COVID-19 experience symptoms for at least eight weeks. Around one in 50 have symptoms that drag out for three months or more.

We wanted to know whether COVID-19 vaccines might protect against developing long-lasting symptoms. To find out, we looked at data provided by more than a million regular contributors to the COVID Symptom Study, a project in which members of the public log their symptoms via an app to help with research.

Our latest analysis of the study’s data, covering around 2 million vaccine doses, shows that vaccines significantly reduce the risk of catching COVID-19, with only 0.2% of those fully vaccinated later testing positive for the virus.

Even if you’re unlucky enough to catch the virus after being vaccinated, your chances of falling seriously ill or dying are slashed. Double-vaccinated people are 31% less likely to experience acute COVID-19 symptoms and 73% less likely to be hospitalised – a result that’s borne out in the relatively low hospitalisation and death rates we’re seeing now even as tens of thousands of people are still testing positive every day in the UK.

Reassuringly, for those who did fall ill with COVID-19 after being vaccinated, only around 5% went on to have symptoms that lasted for more than four weeks, meaning their chances of developing long COVID were cut by half. One of the best ways to reduce your risk of getting long COVID is to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

However, we did notice that frail older people and those living in more socially deprived areas were more likely to be infected and fall ill with COVID-19 after being vaccinated, especially if they had only had one vaccine dose. This suggests that we should prioritise further vaccination efforts and public health measures such as masking and social distancing among these groups, especially where infection rates are high and people are mixing and moving around.

Vaccines and long COVID

As the UK vaccination programme rolled out, we also started to notice anecdotal reports from people living with long COVID that their symptoms seemed to improve after being vaccinated.

The patient-led LongCovidSOS group chose to investigate this by surveying over 800 long COVID patients early in 2021. More than half of those surveyed noticed an overall improvement in their symptoms after vaccination, which then appeared to be sustained in about half of this group. Around a quarter of the overall respondents reported no difference and one-fifth said their symptoms had got worse. These findings have been released as a preprint, so haven’t yet been reviewed by other scientists, but they’ve been backed up by data from the COVID Symptom Study, which we’ll be publishing soon.

However, while there does seem to be some kind of link between receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and improvements in long COVID, it’s not clear exactly how the two are connected. It could be that the immune response triggered by the vaccine has a direct impact on symptoms.

Alternatively, it could just be that time has continued to pass since these people were originally infected and they’re experiencing a natural recovery from the virus. Or it could be a bit of both. Either way, more research is needed to tease out what’s going on.

A woman with long COVID lying on a bed, covering her face
There isn’t a definitive answer yet on whether vaccines can relieve people’s long COVID symptoms. True Touch Lifestyle/Shutterstock

What we can say is that COVID-19 vaccines certainly aren’t harmful for people with long COVID. What’s more, because we know that it’s possible to be reinfected with the virus, there’s a risk that catching it a second time could exacerbate symptoms for people living with long COVID and set them back even further. It’s therefore vital that we encourage anyone with long COVID who has not been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible, to help protect themselves and those around them.

A serious threat

Although the chances of developing long COVID after being vaccinated are small, this is a numbers game and a small percentage of a big number can still be substantial. As long as we are seeing tens of thousands of cases every day, we can still expect to see a substantial number of people living with lingering symptoms over the coming months.

This is particularly important for younger people, who may be less worried about hospitalisation or death, yet who can still be susceptible to the debilitating long-term effects of the virus. A lot can happen in a few months when you’re young, and long COVID can mean that people miss out on life-changing opportunities, like sitting an exam or taking up a new job, as well as the social activities that bring joy and wellbeing to life.

It’s likely that we’ll all be living with COVID-19 for some time to come. But with a combination of vaccination and public health measures where necessary, we can help to make sure that as few people as possible have to directly live with its life-limiting long-term effects.

Claire Steves consults for ZOE Ltd which is the company which developed the COVID Symptom Study together with King's College London. She receives funding from the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, the Wellcome Trust and Chronic Disease Research Foundation.

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