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March 2022 Monthly

March will be a pivotal month. Three key elements shape the investment climate: geopolitics, easing of Covid pressures in Europe and North America, and…

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March will be a pivotal month. Three key elements shape the investment climate: geopolitics, easing of Covid pressures in Europe and North America, and the continued monetary policy response. 

Russia's threat to Ukraine had been simmering for several weeks before the February 11 warning by the US that an attack was imminent.  It became a significant risk-off factor and added to the pressure on equities, while helping support the bond markets.  

While several concessions were offered, there has been no common ground on the key issue of NATO enlargement. Whatever military victory Putin may enjoy, Russia will see more NATO rather than less.  Not only will NATO boost its presence, but it is possible that Sweden (and maybe Finland) joins the military pact.  The risk is that the economic fallout from Russia's military action spurs more inflation and weaker growth.  Most immediately, it has seen the market downgrade the chances of a large rate hike (50 bp) by the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England at their mid-March meetings.    

The virus appears to be receding and social restrictions are being lifted in Europe and North America. Economies are re-opening.  Delivery times are improving, suggesting supply chain disruptions are easing. After a slow start, the G7 economies appear to be strengthening, with the exception of Japan. Japan imposed new social restrictions in late January that ran through mid-February.  The February composite PMI was below the 50 boom/bust level for the second consecutive month. In the UK and France, the service PMI has risen above the manufacturing PMI, another sign of a post-Covid recovery.  

The normalization of monetary policy takes a big step forward in the coming weeks with the first rate hikes by the US and Canada, and the first balance sheet reduction by the Bank of England.  The European Central Bank will update is forward guidance for its asset purchases and is expected to allow for a hike toward the end of the year.  The Bank of Japan's Yield-Curve Control cap on the 10-year bond at 0.25% may be challenged if global yields drag higher in their wake.   The Reserve Bank of Australia continues to push back against expectations of an early hike, which the swaps market says likely happens in July.  

Commodity prices continue to rise.  The CRB Index rose by about 3.5% in February after a 9.8% gain in January.  It has not had a losing week since mid-December.  Adverse weather conditions in South America are helping boost corn and soy prices, which also translates into higher livestock prices.  Oil prices remain near multiyear highs and the April WTI contract has risen by around a quarter this year. The high does not seem to be in place yet, but a nuclear accord with Iran would boost supply. 

US natural gas prices are up about 20% this year, but partly it is a function of the weak finish last year. Still, it is above the 200-day moving average by around 4%.  Europe's benchmark (Netherlands) has risen by almost 40%.  Higher oil and natural gas prices have knock-on effects on food production via fertilizer and pesticides, let alone transportation. We note that the last three recessions in the US were preceded by a doubling of oil prices.  The price of WTI has doubled since the start of last year. 

Emerging markets have been resilient to start the year.  Brazil and Russia raised rate particularly aggressively 2021 and early this year.  Others, including Hungary, Czech, and Chile have done much of their heavy lifting.  The MSCI Emerging Market Equity Index has held in better than the MSCI World Index of developed countries in the first two months of the year (-4.9% vs. -7.8%).  Year-to-date the JP Morgan Emerging Market Currency Index has risen by almost 1%.  Carry and valuation were often cited as the main considerations.  

Bannockburn's GDP-weighted currency index rose about 0.3% in February as the currencies tended to have appreciated against the dollar.  The Chinese yuan (21.8%) and euro (19.1%) have the most weighting after the US dollar (31%) in the index.  They rose by 0.7% and 0.3% respectively. The strongest performer in the index was the Brazilian real (2.1% weighting) with a 3.0% gain, followed by the Australian dollar's (2.0% weighting) 2.25% increase. The weakest by far was the Russian rouble (2.2% weighting), which tumbled 6.75%.  


Dollar:   There is no doubt that the Federal Reserve will launch a new monetary cycle at the mid-March meeting.  At one point, the market had priced in a little more than an 80% chance of a 50 bp move out of the gate. The pushback was mild, but the market understood, and the odds now are near 28%, which may still be high.  The focus is on the updated economic projections and any fresh guidance on the balance sheet.  At issue is terminal target rate in the cycle.  In December, five officials projected the Fed funds target rate in 2024 would be above the long-term rate of 2.5% (all but two Fed officials saw it above 2.0%-2.5%).   The Federal Reserve is getting closer to deciding the parameters of its balance sheet strategy.  It may be a bit early for details, but Chair Powell could confirm a start around midyear.  Meanwhile, the US economy is slowing sharply after the historic inventory contribution that lifted Q4 22 growth to about 7fx%.  The Atlanta Fed's GDP tracker sees Q1 growth at 1.3% while the median forecast in Bloomberg's survey is for 1.6% GDP at an annualized pace. Still, a strong rebound is likely to play out before the more sustained slowdown, we expected, starting in H2.  

 

Euro:  First it was the divergence of monetary policy that drove the euro to $1.1120 in January.  The euro recovered to almost $1.15 on February 10, the day before the US warned that Russia could invade Ukraine. Then it was actual invasion took the euro to almost $1.1100.  The European Central Bank's leadership opened the door to a rate hike later this year, before the US warning about Russia's deadly intentions, the market began pricing in a hike in June.  This seemed exaggerated at the time.  The ECB has been very clear on the sequence.  Bond buying, under the Asset Purchase Program will end shortly before the first rate hike. To prepare for a possible hike, the ECB needs to adjust its forward guidance on its asset purchases at the March 10 meeting. It will likely reaffirm purchases in Q2, but it may look for an exit shortly thereafter.  The market has pushed the first rate hike back to the end of Q3. Meanwhile, the US-German two-year interest rate differential continues to trend in the US favor.  Consider that at the end of last September, the US premium was a little less than 100 bp. Now it is near 200 bp.  On the eve of the pandemic, it was almost 220 bp, although there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the exchange rate and the interest rate differential, the euro was in a range between $1.10 and nearly $1.1250 in December 2020.   

(February 25 indicative closing prices, previous in parentheses)

Spot: $1.1270 ($1.1150)

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast $1.1300 ($1.1175) 

One-month forward $1.1280 ($1.1160)    One-month implied vol 7.0% (6.0%)    

 

 

Japanese Yen:  Unlike most other large economies, Japan continues to experience deflationary pressures as seen by the GDP deflator (-1.3% year-over-year Q4 2021) or the January CPI (excluding fresh food and energy, -0.5% year-over-year).  This, coupled with signs of a weak Q1 has persuaded the market that BOJ is on hold until after Governor Kuroda's term ends in April 2023.  Given the monetary policy divergence and the deterioration of the balance of payments (with rising oil and commodity prices), the yen appears vulnerable.  However, the exchange rate's correlation with the change in the US 10-year yield has slackened, while improving with equities. In other words, its "safe haven" status is outweighing carry considerations.  Still, on balance, we look for the dollar to challenge the January and February high near JPY116.35.  Above those highs, there appears to be little chart-based resistance ahead of the late 2016/early 2017 high around JPY118.60.  

 

Spot: JPY115.55 (JPY115.25)      

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast JPY115.00 (JPY115.15)     

One-month forward JPY115.50 (JPY115.20)    One-month implied vol 6.3% (6.1%)

 

 

British Pound: Sterling was stuck in a $1.35-$1.36 range for most of February.  Intraday violations common but there was only one close outside the range until Russia invaded Ukraine.  It briefly crashed through $1.32 before rebounding.  The UK gets only 5%-6% of its oil and gas from Russia, but foreign direct investment exposure can be substantial for some companies in some sectors.  Consider that BP has a 20% stake in Rosneft.  The Bank of England meets on March 17.  The market has dramatically downgraded the risk of a 50 bp move, which had been rejected in favor a 25 bp move by a 5-4 vote in February.  Before the US warning about a full-scale Russian attack, the swaps market had more than a 60% chance the BOE would deliver a 50 bp hike in March.  Two weeks later the odds have fallen to less than 20%, the lowest since mid-December.  With the base rate at 50 bp, the BOE will stop reinvesting maturing proceeds of its holdings, and GBP28 bln of bond maturing in March that will not be recycled.  The outright selling of assets from its balance sheet can begin when the base rate reaches 1.0% but it is not a trigger as much as a pre-condition.   

 

Spot: $1.3410 ($1.3400)   

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast $1.3500 ($1.3450) 

One-month forward $1.3405 ($1.3395)   One-month implied vol 7.0% (6.5%)

 

 

Canadian Dollar:  Like sterling, the Canadian dollar spent most of February in a clear range.  It broke down on the dramatic wave of risk-aversion on the Russian invasion, but, unlike sterling, it was back into the old range within 24 hours.  The US dollar's range was CAD1.2650-CAD1.2660 on the downside and CAD1.28 on the upside.  It shot up to CAD1.2860 but returned to CAD1.27 the following day.   The Bank of Canada meets on March 2.  The swaps market sees a 75% chance that the Bank of Canada delivers a 50 bp to initiate its tightening cycle.  The market is discounting almost 180 bp of hikes over the next 12 months and peaking between 2.25%-2.50% next year from 25 bp now.  It is the most among the G7 countries.  It is also where the central bank sees the neutral rate.  The Bank of Canada is also expected to signal that it plans on letting the balance sheet shrink passively, not replacing maturing securities shortly.  

 

Spot: CAD1.2715 (CAD 1.2770) 

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast CAD1.2600 (CAD1.2690)

One-month forward CAD1.2710 (CAD1.2765)    One-month implied vol 6.7% (7.1%) 

 

 

Australian Dollar: After falling 2.7% in January, the Australian dollar rebounded by 2.25% in February.  Of the major currencies, only the New Zealand dollar outperformed it and its central bank hiked rates for the third consecutive meeting and announced its balance sheet reduction strategy.  Australia's economy appeared to recover quickly from the Covid-related disruption that pushed the January composite PMI below the 50 boom/bust level (46.7).  It bounced back in February to 55.9, the highest since last June.  Higher commodity prices are delivering a positive terms of trade shock.  The average monthly trade surplus was A$10.2 bln last year compared with an average of nearly A$5.7 bln in 2019. While the Reserve Bank of Australia acknowledges the possibility of rate hike later this year, the market is considerably more aggressive.  The swaps market has discounted around 145 bp in tightening over the next 12 months.  However, in recent weeks, the market has pushed the first hike in Q3 from Q2.  For the last four months, the Australian dollar has mostly traded between $0.7000 and $0.7300.  This range may continue to dominate.   

 

Spot:  $0.7220 ($0.6990)       

Median Bloomberg One-Month Forecast $0.7200 ($0.7090)     

One-month forward $0.7230 ($0.6995)     One-month implied vol 10.0% (10.4%)   

 

 

Mexican Peso:  The peso appreciated by 1.4% in February.  Latam currencies shined. and accounted for four of the top six EM performers, led by the 3% gain in the Brazilian real.  At her first meeting as Governor of the Bank of Mexico, Rodriguez delivered a 50 bp hike. With price pressures still accelerating, she is poised to repeat it at her second meeting on March 24.   It would bring the target rate to 6.5%.  Recall that in the last cycle, Banxico had raised its target to 8.25% before cutting by in August 2019.  It was at 7.25% in January 2020.  The swaps market expects it to peak in early near year in the 8.00%-8.25% area.  The key is inflation, which has been above 7% for three months through January.  The bi-weekly inflation report had it accelerating in mid-February.  Mexican asset markets are underperforming.  Consider, the yield on its 10-year dollar bond is up 100 bp this year.  Brazil's is up half as much. Mexico's equity benchmark is off almost 1.4% this year while the MSCI Latam equity index is up 11.5%.  The dollar set five-month lows in late February slightly below MXN20.16. It peaked in late January near MXN20.9150.  The bulk of the move is probably behind it and the MXN20.00-MXN20.10 area may offer a nearby floor.   

 

Spot: MXN20.35 (MXN20.80)  

Median Bloomberg One-Month Forecast MXN20.50 (MXN20.78)  

One-month forward MXN20.46 (MXN20.90)     One-month implied vol 11.0% (10.6%)

  

 

Chinese Yuan:  Few observers seem to place any importance on Chinese officials claim that it is making the currency move flexible.  The yuan still can only move in a 2% band around the reference rate that the central bank sets daily ostensibly submissions by its banks.  Although it does not appear to intervene directly, it can still have various levers of influence.   The yuan has risen against the dollar for six of the past seven months.  The currency moves are small but have a cumulative effect. In February, the yuan rose by about 0.7% against the dollar.  It was sufficient to lift it to a new four-year high and what appears to be a new record-high against its trade-weighted basket (CFETS).  After cautioning the market against driving the yuan higher and raising the reserve requirement for foreign currency deposits (earned in part from selling the yuan to offshore buyers), the PBOC shifted in February.  It began setting the dollar's reference rate below expectations.  While a couple of large asset managers have reduced their weightings of Chinese bonds as the premium over Treasuries narrows considerably, foreign investors have been buying Chinese stocks outside of the technology and property sectors.  It is difficult to know the extent of the official tolerance of a stronger yuan when monetary and fiscal policy is more stimulative.  The dollar's low from 2017 was around CNY6.24-CNY6.25.  

 

Spot: CNY6.3175 (CNY6.3615)

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast CNY6.3800 (CNY6.3895) 

One-month forward CNY6.3300 (CNY6.3820)    One-month implied vol 3.1% (3.1%)

 

 



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Best Stocks To Buy Today? 3 Travel Stocks in Focus

Check out these travel stocks as China loosens its lockdown restrictions.
The post Best Stocks To Buy Today? 3 Travel Stocks in Focus appeared first on…

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3 Travel Stocks For Your Watchlist Now

As we’re approaching Independence Day, travel stocks may seem attractive for investors today. Since parts of the world are already moving towards the endemic phase, consumers could be increasingly keen on traveling. Moreover, with summer vacations continuing, families are excited to enjoy a vacation somewhere in the world. According to an estimate by the American Automobile Association, 42 million Americans are likely to travel for the long weekend ahead. Therefore, it would make sense that investors are considering travel stocks now.

On top of that, China has just cut the quarantine period for international travelers. This would make for a milestone in its loosening of Covid restrictions in the past two years. According to the revised government protocol, international travelers only have to quarantine at centralized facilities for seven days, and an additional three days spent at home before venturing out. This decision is made as Chinese officials continue to get a hold of the pandemic locally.

The slash in quarantine times has benefited many companies, and Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ: WYNN) and Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS) are some of them. Since both companies operate casinos in Macau, both companies are gaining in the stock market today. Evidently, both LVS stock and WYNN stock are now gaining by over 7% at the opening bell today. With a great weekend coming ahead, here are three more travel stocks for your watchlist today.

Travel Stocks To Watch Today

Trip.com Group Ltd.

First up on our list today we have an international online travel agency, Trip.com. In short, the company offers hotel reservations, flight tickets, package tours, corporate travel management, and train ticketing services. All of which are readily available to consumers via its one-stop mobile app. With hotel and transportation information given, leisure and business travelers can make reservations. Travel packages and guided tours are also offered for corporate clients to manage their travel needs. For independent leisure visitors, Trip.com also provides package trips, including those for tour groups, semi-tour groups, and private groups.

TCOM
Source: TD Ameritrade TOS

Yesterday, Trip.com released its first fiscal quarter financial results. Among its highlights, net revenue was $649 million, remaining stable year-over-year. The reason is because of the impact of the latest wave of Covid in China. However, staycation travels have been a major contributor to the recovery of the Chinese domestic market. In particular, local hotel bookings are up by over 20% year-over-year. At the same time, Trip.com’s air-ticket bookings on its global platforms are also up by 270% over the same period.

Despite China’s strict lockdown measures in most of the first half of 2022, Trip.com is maintaining its overall growth. According to CEO Jane Sun, the company’s “results demonstrated our resilience amidst a confluence of challenges and uncertainties.” Sun also adds, “While we may continue to see short-term fluctuations, demand for travel is still strong and shows a bright outlook in the long-term.” Pair all this with China loosening its restrictions and TCOM stock could be an attractive buy amongst its travel stock peers. Would you say the same?

[Read More] Stock Market Today: Dow Jones, S&P 500 Edge Higher; Trip.com Stock Surges From China Covid Easing

Spirit Airlines Incorporated

Next, we have Spirit Airlines, an ultra-low-cost carrier. The company operates across the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean. In fact, it is a leader in providing customizable travel options that start with an unbundled fare. Its Fit Fleet is one of the youngest and most fuel-efficient in the U.S. as well. In recent weeks, the company has been locked in a fierce battle as companies like JetBlue (NASDAQ: JBLU) and Frontier Group (NASDAQ: ULCC) have been trying to bid for Spirit.

The saga could be heading towards a climax this week as Spirit shareholders will vote on fellow budget airline Frontier’s acquisition offer on Thursday. However, JetBlue has been on the offensive, even boosting its offer price for Spirit on Monday evening. Diving in, JetBlue’s new offer raises the reverse break-up fee to $400 million from $350 million if regulators do not approve the deal. It also includes a dividend to Spirit shareholders of $2.50 a share, up from its previous offer of $1.50. On Frontier’s end, however, the company dismissed JetBlue’s claims that its acquisition of Spirit will lead to lower airfares.

Separately, TIG Advisors, an investment adviser that owns a stake of approximately 2 million Spirit Airlines shares, says that it has just sent a letter to the board of directors at Spirit regarding its intention to vote against the company’s proposed merger agreement with Frontier Group. It believes that its merger with JetBlue is the far superior outcome for Spirit shareholders due to its all-cash bid. This would also eliminate execution risk and maximize certainty of value. All things considered, should investors be looking at SAVE stock right now?

SAVE stock
Source: TD Ameritrade TOS

[Read More] 5 Top Leisure Stocks To Watch This Summer

Airbnb Inc.

Topping our list today, we have Airbnb, a travel company that offers an online marketplace for lodging and tourism activities. It mainly earns its income through commissions from each booking. Today, it has over 4 million hosts who have welcomed more than 1 billion guests across the globe.

Today, the company announced that it is officially codifying the ban of all parties and events in its listings as part of its policy. This follows a temporary ban that was initiated in August 2020 on all parties and events. In that time since the company says it saw a direct correlation between the implementation of its policy in August 2020 and a 44% year-over-year drop in the rate of party reports. The ban has also been well received by its host community and it has also received positive feedback from community leaders and elected officials.

On June 27, 2022, the company also reported that family travel and long-term stays will trend across the U.S. this Independence Day. For instance, from February 2022 to March 2022, searches for stays over July 4th have increased by nearly 50%. Also, hosts could stand to earn a lot during the holiday. After all, last year’s Independence Day yielded the biggest payout for U.S. hosts in 2021 compared to other holiday weekends, a major moment for hosts to earn. All things considered, is ABNB stock worth investing in right now?

ABNB stock
Source: TD Ameritrade TOS

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The post Best Stocks To Buy Today? 3 Travel Stocks in Focus appeared first on Stock Market News, Quotes, Charts and Financial Information | StockMarket.com.

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New study: COVID-19 may cause or accelerate neurological diseases

Danish researchers published a study suggesting that COVID-19 increases the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s…

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New study: COVID-19 may cause or accelerate neurological diseases

Danish researchers published a study suggesting that COVID-19 increases the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

They presented the research at the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) Congress in Vienna, and the results were published in Frontiers in Neurology.

Specifically, after analyzing data from health records in Denmark, they found that people who tested positive for COVID-19 were more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and ischemic stroke.

Courtesy of BioSpace

“COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on people with dementia, their carers and their families,” Sara Imarisio, Ph.D., head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said of the study. “The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia, is caused by a complex mix of age, genetics and other environmental factors. This research suggests that having COVID-19 is linked to an increased risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, however, this was no stronger than the link to other respiratory diseases like the flu.”

She noted that diseases such as Alzheimer’s develop in the brain over many years, but COVID-19 has only been present outside China since early 2020. “It may be that people in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s are more susceptible to catching diseases like COVID-19,” Imarisio added.

The study analyzed 919,731 people who tested positive for COVID-19. Of them, 43,375 had a 3.5 times increased risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, 2.6 times higher risk of Parkinson’s disease, 2.7 times higher risk of ischemic stroke and 4.8 times higher risk of intracerebral hemorrhage. It’s possible that neuroinflammation increased the development of neurodegenerative disorders. The patients evaluated were in- and outpatients in Denmark between February 2020 and November 2021. It also included influenza patients from the corresponding pre-pandemic period.

“More than two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the precise nature and evolution of the effects of COVID-19 on neurological disorders remained uncharacterized,” Dr. Pardis Zarifkar, M.D., lead author, department of neurology, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark, explained. “Previous studies have established an association with neurological syndromes, but until now it is unknown whether COVID-19 also influences the incidence of specific neurological diseases and whether it differs from other respiratory infections.”

The risk of most neurological diseases was no higher in COVID-19 patients than in people diagnosed with the flu or other respiratory diseases, although COVID-19 patients over 80 had 1.7 times higher risk of ischemic stroke compared to influenza and bacterial pneumonia. The researchers found no increase in other neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, Guillain-Barre syndrome and narcolepsy for any of the viral diseases.

Zarifkar added, “We found support for an increased risk of being diagnosed with neurodegenerative and cerebrovascular disorders in COVID-19 positive compared to COVID-negative patients, which must be confirmed or refuted by large registry studies in the near future. Reassuringly, apart from ischemic stroke, most neurological disorders do not appear to be more frequent after COVID-19 than after influenza or community-acquired bacterial pneumonia.”

A 2021 study described a potential link between COVID-19 and the onset of Parkinson’s disease. The study out of the University of Twente in The Netherlands showed in laboratory assays that the SARS-CoV-2 N-protein interacts with alpha-synuclein, a protein in the brain, and increases the speed of the formation of amyloid fibrils, which is a defining feature of Parkinson’s disease. Interestingly, one of the predominant features of both early Parkinson’s disease and COVID-19 infection is the loss of sense of smell.

It has been clear for some time that COVID-19 is more than a respiratory disease, with a broad range of symptoms including “brain fog,” blood clots and strokes, possible gastrointestinal and other issues. In addition to links to neurological diseases, an increase in new-onset diabetes has been tied to COVID-19 infections.

Recent research from Osaka University in Japan suggests the association has to do with the insulin/IGF signaling pathway, a key pathway in energy metabolism regulation and cell survival. COVID-19 infection appears to impair insulin/IGF signaling by increasing IRF1 expression, which disrupts blood sugar metabolism.

In light of these discoveries, researchers will likely dig deeper to discover how and why COVID-19 is associated with a higher risk of other seemingly unrelated diseases. 

Source: BioSpace

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#CannesLions2022: Pharma and health marketers lose spotlight at creativity ad fest, but does it matter?

Pharma advertising has long been considered second-tier when compared to the rest of the advertising industry. And there are some legitimate reasons why….

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Pharma advertising has long been considered second-tier when compared to the rest of the advertising industry. And there are some legitimate reasons why. Nike sneakers and Coca-Cola soda ads will likely always be more entertaining or exciting than regulated campaigns for diabetes and heart disease.

Still, the Cannes Lions advertising festival of creativity was pharma and healthcare advertising’s annual chance to shine. For the past eight years, pharma agencies and clients stood side by side with consumer companies and agency hotshots on the biggest advertising award stage in the world at the Palais in Cannes, France.

However, something changed this year. While the awards for pharma and health and wellness were handed out to widespread applause on the first night of the show, for much of the rest of the time, healthcare marketing was relegated to the back of the room and mostly off the main stages.

The pharma and health and wellness category award finalists, for instance, were tucked in the back corner of the basement of the main building. Even people who wanted to see the work complained that they had to search for them. Only three Cannes Lions official sessions this year covered health or pharma advertising topics and were mostly general topics about creativity, diversity or empathy.

There were no pharma and health case study dissections or deep dives into the unique challenges in health and pharma advertising — and, maybe more importantly for the industry, there were no pharma executives on the Cannes stages as they have been in the past. Patricia Corsi was the lone pharma-connected executive; she is the chief marketing officer of Bayer Consumer Health and served as both a speaker and health and wellness jury president.

Patricia Corsi speaks on a judge’s panel (Clara Bui/Endpoints News)

Click on the image to see the full-sized version

Even among this year’s health and wellness award winners, no gold prizes went to pharma companies. Unexpected winners like Heineken and Harley Davidson did, however, take home the gold for their respective vaccination and “Tough Turban” campaigns.

There are two schools of thought about the disappearance of Cannes Lions Health as an official programmed track. On one hand, it signifies the parity of the industry with big consumer brands, but on the other hand, it also meant fewer conversations, less networking opportunities and an overall dimming of the industries’ presences at Cannes Lions.

Rich Levy

“I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was disappointed so far,” said Rich Levy, chief creative officer of Klick Health on the first day of the show. “When you’re talking about a multibillion dollar industry in the US, I thought that 31 short list for pharma was remarkably small … I don’t think it’s an accurate view of the work that the industry is doing.”

Pharma and health and wellness entries both were way down this year. Total pharma entries dropped to 298, down from 509 last year with 11 total Lion awards given out. In health and wellness, there were 1,213 entries, down from 1,300 last year. There were Grand Prix awards given in both categories, but this was the first year it was required — in the past, judges could pass over a category for the top award if they thought it didn’t rise to the level of Grand Prix.

For the second year in a row, the Grand Prix in the pharma category went to a non-pharma company. Dell Technologies and Intel snagged the top prize for their voice app for people with motor neuron disease. The entry — created by VMLY&R New York and called “I Will Always Be Me” — helps people with MND bank a digital copy of their voice by reading a story book.

In the health and wellness category, Maxx Flash’s mosquito repellent campaign “The Killer Pack” took the top prize. The repellent is designed to address India’s mosquito problem, with a biodegradable packaging that kills mosquitoes outside while a nontoxic coil fights them inside.

Other health creatives and executives agreed with Levy’s award assessment, but also expressed concern about the limited health content. The health and pharma panels and award deep dives that were presented got solid reviews, but there were scant few in the official program, along with a handful of unofficial ones outside the main venues.

Several health agency networks set up off-site slates of healthcare and pharma programming — WPP Health and IPG Health both offered multiple panels and discussions at their own sites. CMI Media Group hosted a panel at the Pandora Beach pavilion on audio branding, while other agency creatives like Levy and Bernardo Romero, along with Ogilvy Health’s Adam Hessel and both panels of judges for pharma and health and wellness, attended sessions and networked with others in the health community.

Still, there just weren’t as many health and pharma people on the ground as there typically have been in the past as agencies cut back rosters of attendees and didn’t invite as many clients. That’s likely in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic recovery year of Cannes Lions this year as well as budget considerations in general.

Dana Maiman

Dana Maiman, CEO of IPG Health and a long-time Cannes Lions attendee said, “I’m hoping the changes honestly are just temporary. Because I remember when I first started coming here — I think this may be my 10th one or so — but back then it was consolidated. It was really liberating when it was focused and broken out, even though clearly there’s a lot of crossovers and all of that. But I think there is something very special about celebrating the creativity in our world because we can all agree it is more challenging.”

Hessel, chief creative officer at Ogilvy Health, said one reason for fewer entries was heavier curation down to just a few this year, but added that no matter the numbers, Cannes and other marketing award shows still are important for the industry.

“Just celebrating great work in any category is what the industry really needs and also maybe to pull back a bit — everybody’s looking for that one crown jewel, but there’s so much great work out there that should be celebrated,” he said, adding, “When clients see great work, they want that too, so that’s the bar.”

Corsi, meanwhile, said she wants to see more creativity from pharma marketers. She finds that creatives in the pharma industry are often trained to be more conservative, because if you cross the line, you face regulators — but she would like that to change.

“We really believe that there is a great opportunity for us to raise the bar in this category,” she said. “Work in health and wellness consistently across the years has not been the most inspiring.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean the work should be more complicated. According to Corsi, sometimes the simplest idea is the best. What she wants to see, though, is more outside-the-box thinking.

A handful of execs, including Corsi, noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has served as a wake-up call for pharma companies discovering what their role should be with patients. Pharma advertising is becoming more of a conversation as opposed to a one-off encounter, Corsi said. Even companies like Walgreens — which facilitated the vaccination of more than 30 million Americans — are taking a new approach to advertising.

Mel Routhier

“The pandemic, there’s no going back. You can’t unhear the bell, right? The bell’s been rung,” said Mel Routhier, chief creative officer of the WPP Walgreens team. “It’s a good thing for us to take stock and say we can have more purpose as a brand.”

One thing that hasn’t changed this year? The level of passion that pharma creatives are bringing to the conference.

Gena Pemberton

“What I’m taking away now, that I guess maybe I didn’t really expect, is how much passion people have in the work that they’re doing,” said first-time attendee Gena Pemberton, Omnicom Health Group’s diversity, equity and inclusion director. “[It’s] really impactful to be able to talk with people in different areas, understand a little bit more about the work they’ve done, and just seeing how excited everybody is to be together again.”

In the end, the questions remain. Does Cannes Lions need a separate pharma and health track? Or vice versa, does pharma and healthcare advertising need that spotlight at Cannes? The debate won’t be easily settled.

Franklin Williams, director of experience design at Area 23 and a pharma judge, said, “It doesn’t really matter who’s doing the work as long as the targets are being hit. So I think that’s what you’re starting to see almost as a trend and a theme. It doesn’t have to be, we did pharma because we’re pharma. We did pharma because we wanted to do good.”

The danger, of course, is that without broader inclusion, specific content and more awards, pharma may lose interest in Cannes.

“It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And what I mean by that is fewer winners every year mean fewer entries the following year. And fewer entries mean fewer winners,” Levy said.

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