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Warning signs for global recovery as Delta dims outlook

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People carry Primark shopping bags after retail restrictions due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) eased, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

A drubbing in world equity markets and a huge flight to safety into US Treasuries this week suggests investors now doubt that a much-anticipated return to post-COVID normality is feasible any time soon, write Saikat Chatterjee and Ritvik Carvalho.

Data from the United States and China, which account for more than half of world growth, suggests a slowdown in the recent blistering pace of the global economy alongside rising prices for all manner of goods and raw materials.

Coinciding with a resurgence in the Delta variant of COVID-19, markets may be sending alarm signals about the global economic outlook, Deutsche Bank chief FX strategist George Saravelos told clients.

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"As prices have risen, the consumer has been cutting back demand rather than bringing forward consumption. This is the opposite of what one would expect if the environment was genuinely inflationary and it shows the global economy has a very low speed limit," Saravelos wrote.

That sentiment was evident in the latest flow data too. Bank of America Merill Lynch flagged "stagflation" concerns for the second half of 2021, noting slowing inflows into stocks and outflows from high-yield assets.

Data on hedge funds' weekly currency positioning is the closest available real-time indicator of investors' thinking about the $6.6 trillion a day foreign exchange markets.

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With the dollar at its highest since end-March, latest Commodity Futures Trading Commission data shows net long positions on the dollar against a basket of major currencies is the biggest since March 2020. Positioning had dropped to a net short bet as recently as early June.

Dollar appreciation against the euro and emerging market currencies is unsurprising given economic uncertainty, said Ludovic Colin, senior portfolio manager at Vontobel Asset Management.

"Whenever Americans get worried about growth at home or globally, they repatriate money and buy dollars," he added.

In recent months, investors optimistic about an economic recovery sent a flood of cash into so-called cyclical sectors such as banks, leisure and energy. These are, in short, companies that benefit from an economic recovery.

The tide may now be going out.

Instead "growth" stocks, especially technology, has outperformed its value counterparts by more than 3 percentage points since the start of July. Many clients of Goldman Sachs believe the cyclical rotation was a short-lived phenomenon driven by recovery from an unusual recession, the bank said.

Defensive stocks such as utilities are back in favour too. A basket of value stocks compiled by MSCI is testing its lowest levels for this year against defensive peers, having risen 11% in the first six months of 2021.

Early this year, the dollar's trajectory was determined by the interest rate differentials enjoyed by U.S. debt over its rivals, with correlations peaking in May.

While real or inflation-adjusted US yields are still higher than their German counterparts, the drop in nominal US yields below 1.2% this week has raised concern over the global growth outlook.

Ulrich Leuchtmann, head of FX at Commerzbank, said that if global production and consumption did not return to 2019 levels soon, then a permanently lower GDP path has to be assumed. This is reflected to some extent in bond markets.

Investor sentiment has become more cautious, according to weekly polls by the American Association of Individual Investors. BlackRock, the world's biggest investment manager, cut U.S. equities to neutral in its mid-year outlook.

Stephen Jen, who runs hedge fund Eurizon SLJ Capital, noted that because China's business cycle was ahead of that of the United States or Europe, weaker data there is filtering through to investor sentiment in the West.

Popular reflation trades in the commodity markets have also gone into reverse. A ratio of gold/copper prices has fallen 10% after rising to more than 6-1/2 year highs in May.

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Commission approves €1.8 million Latvian scheme to support cattle farmers affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €1.8 million Latvian scheme to support farmers active in the cattle-breeding sector affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants. The measure aims at mitigating the liquidity shortages that the beneficiaries are facing and at addressing part of the losses they incurred due to the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Latvian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The Commission found that the scheme is in line with the conditions of the Temporary Framework.

In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €225,000 per beneficiary; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the scheme under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64541 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Commission approves €500,000 Portuguese scheme to further support the passenger transport sector in Azores in the context of the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €500,000 Portuguese scheme to further support the passenger transport sector in the Region of the Azores in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The measure was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. It follows another Portuguese scheme to support the passenger transport sector in Azores that the Commission approved on 4 June 2021 (SA.63010). Under the new scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants. The measure will be open to collective passenger transport companies of all sizes active in the Azores. The purpose of the measure is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that these companies are facing and to address losses incurred over 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus.

The Commission found that the Portuguese scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €1.8 million per company; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions of the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64599 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Commission authorizes French aid scheme of €3 billion to support, through loans and equity investments, companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic

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The European Commission has cleared, under EU state aid rules, France's plans to set up a € 3 billion fund that will invest through debt instruments and equity and hybrid instruments in companies affected by the pandemic. The measure was authorized under the Temporary State Aid Framework. The scheme will be implemented through a fund, titled 'Transition Fund for Businesses Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic', with a budget of € 3bn.

Under this scheme, support will take the form of (i) subordinated or participating loans; and (ii) recapitalization measures, in particular hybrid capital instruments and non-voting preferred shares. The measure is open to companies established in France and present in all sectors (except the financial sector), which were viable before the coronavirus pandemic and which have demonstrated the long-term viability of their economic model. Between 50 and 100 companies are expected to benefit from this scheme. The Commission considered that the measures complied with the conditions set out in the temporary framework.

The Commission concluded that the measure was necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of France, in accordance with Article 107 (3) (b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the temporary supervision. On this basis, the Commission authorized these schemes under EU state aid rules.

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Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager (pictured), competition policy, said: “This €3bn recapitalization scheme will allow France to support companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic by facilitating their access funding in these difficult times. We continue to work closely with member states to find practical solutions to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic while respecting EU regulations.”

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