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Economy

Here’s What Warren Buffett Says About The Coronavirus And His Outlook On Stocks

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Topline: Following his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders over the weekend, billionaire investor Warren Buffett told CNBC in an interview on Monday that the coronavirus is “scary stuff” for businesses and investors, but that the outbreak has “not changed” his long-term optimistic outlook on stocks.

  • Stocks plunged on Monday, with all three major U.S. benchmark indexes losing more than 3%, as a rising number of coronavirus cases outside of China stoked fears that the outbreak could turn into a global pandemic.
  • Speaking with CNBC on Monday morning, Buffett called the coronavirus “scary stuff,” saying that the outbreak is now “front and center” the main threat to U.S. companies and the economy.
  • He further warned that a “very significant percentage” of Berkshire Hathaway’s businesses—it owns more than 90, from American Express and Coca-Cola to Geico and Dairy Queen—could “very well” be negatively impacted by the coronavirus, though he remains optimistic about their long-term prospects.
  • More broadly, Buffett said that the U.S. economy is still “strong,” though it had become “a little softer” than it was six months ago: “Business is down but it’s down from a very good level,” he described. 
  • Despite the coronavirus’ impact on markets, Buffett, who is famous for his long-term  investing, said that investors shouldn’t panic by selling stocks based or get caught up in “today’s headlines.” 
  • The Oracle of Omaha actually sees a positive in the ongoing market sell-off, telling CNBC that Berkshire Hathaway would “certainly be more inclined” to buy stocks at the lower prices caused by the coronavirus.

What to watch for: Buffett also spoke to CNBC about some of his favorite investments right now. He called Apple, which is Berkshire Hathaway’s third-largest holding (with a roughly 5.5% stake) behind insurance and railroad companies, “probably the best business I know in the world.” Buffett added that he especially likes bank stocks, which are a big part of Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio—with big names like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America among its top holdings. Buffett called banks “very attractive compared to most other securities I see.” 

Surprising fact: Buffett also recently spoke about the coronavirus to his “science advisor,” billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates: “I talked to him in the last few days about it, and he’s bullish on the long-term outlook for a universal prevention of it,” he said.

Crucial quote: “We’re buying businesses to own for 20 or 30 years,” Buffett, who Forbes estimates has a net worth of $87.3 billion, said on CNBC. “We think the 20- and 30-year outlook is not changed by the coronavirus.”

Key background: Stocks plummeted sharply on Monday, amid news that the coronavirus outbreak has now infected more than 79,000 people globally and killed over 2,600. The number of cases outside of China surged over the weekend, causing concern among global investors as countries like Italy, South Korea and Iran emerge as new coronavirus hot spots. The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 1,000 points, dropping 3.5% for its worst day since February 2018. The S&P 500 similarly fell 3.5%, its worst drop since October 2018. Monday’s sell-off completely erased both indexes’ gains so far in 2020. The Nasdaq Composite index, on the other hand, declined 4%. 

Tangent: Buffett was also asked about U.S. politics during his interview. The billionaire investor said he would “certainly” vote for Mike Bloomberg. “I don’t think another billionaire supporting him would be the best thing to announce,” Buffet said, “but sure, I would have no trouble voting for Mike Bloomberg.” While he said he sympathizes with Democratic front-runner Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) message about income inequality, Buffett doesn’t think socialism is the answer, saying instead, “I don’t believe in giving up the capitalist system.”

Further reading: Buffett’s Letter To Berkshire Shareholders Reveals $5 Billion In Stock Buybacks And Plans For His Berkshire Stake

Sergei Klebnikov, Forbes Staff, Markets.

Economy

5 Tips For SMEs To Counter The Covid-19 Crisis

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It was recently reported by ratings agency S&P Global that the coronavirus outbreak has plunged the world into a recession. On the home front, a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases in the country resulted in the President of South Africa imposing a 21-day country-wide lockdown, starting from Thursday, 26 March 2020. Combine this with the fact that the country also recently announced to be in its third recession since 1994 it’s safe to say that many businesses are beginning to feel the effects of the pandemic.

The impact of the coronavirus on small businesses is likely to be substantial, especially for local businesses who are already feeling the pinch, as financial and market uncertainty can easily translate into an emotional crisis that can overwhelm our systems. However, help is on the way as the Department of Small Business Development announced that a Debt Relief Fund has been set up to assist small, medium and micro enterprises impacted by COVID-19.

While this relief is welcomed, it is still vital for leaders to step up. The world has been through crises before, but during these significantly difficult times, the economic impact may be as severe or possibly worse. As such, those in leadership positions must use past crises as examples and apply what was learnt to keep the country on course and minimise the impact of the pandemic.

Karl Westvig, CEO at Retail Capital, has pinpointed the visible areas that are affected and outlined a few pointers to help small business owners weather the storm.

Liquidity

The first victim of panic is liquidity – banks, asset managers and funders stop lending. When they cannot calculate the potential risk, they will not lend.  Therefore, it is critical to shore up cash by drawing down on available facilities and suspending any unnecessary investments. Reduce expenses and manage cash flow daily.

Get Your Best Team on It

When a business is growing, we tend to shift our best people into roles linked to growth and new initiatives. In a crisis, these people need to move into the highest priority roles. These roles would include collecting from customers, raising facilities or engaging key clients.

Morale and Communication

People need leadership. This would include authentic and regular communication about the situation, what the business requires and how this will be achieved. You can’t control the circumstances, but you can control the response and actions. This will create more certainty.

Hands-on

Events evolve quickly and every day is critical. Leaders must be hands-on. They have to be in touch with customers, suppliers, funders and staff. They have to collect data on everything – the mood, the financial metrics, even customer stories. Some of the best information is anecdotal, not just big data.

Policies

It’s tough to lead when you don’t understand all the underlying levers. These can change in a crisis. What worked in a stable environment can go out of the window in an instant. The best approach is to start again, listen to customers and then adapt your policies within your framework.

“This is not a manual on how to handle the current crisis, but hopefully, the points mentioned above can add to what you are already doing. In simple terms, it is easy to be overwhelmed, so tackle a few things very quickly and with commitment. This will create certainty and lead to action. The alternative is paralysis,” concludes Westvig.

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Current Affairs

Moody’s Downgrades South Africa To Junk

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Credit ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded South Africa to junk status on day 2 of the country’s nationwide lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic reform plans have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. The downgrade adds salt to injury for South Africa as it currently struggles with a recession it slipped into in early March.

“The unprecedented deterioration in the global economic outlook caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak will further exacerbate South Africa’s challenges” said Moody’s.

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Current Affairs

What You Need To Know About AfDB’s $3 billion “Fight COVID-19” Social Bond

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Landmark transaction, largest Social bond transaction to date in capital markets

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 27 March 2020 – The African Development Bank (AAA) has raised an exceptional $3 billion in a three-year bond to help alleviate the economic and social impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on livelihoods and Africa’s economies.  

The Fight Covid-19 Social bond, with a three-year maturity, garnered interest from central banks and official institutions, bank treasuries, and asset managers including Socially Responsible Investors, with bids exceeding $4.6 billion. This is the largest Social Bond ever launched in international capital markets to date, and the largest US Dollar benchmark ever issued by the Bank. It will pay an interest rate of 0.75%.

The African Development Bank Group is moving to provide flexible responses aimed at lessening the severe economic and social impact of this pandemic on its regional member countries and Africa’s private sector.

“These are critical times for Africa as it addresses the challenges resulting from the Coronavirus. The African Development Bank is taking bold measures to support African countries. This $3 billion Covid-19 bond issuance is the first part of our comprehensive response that will soon be announced. This is indeed the largest social bond transaction to date in capital markets. We are here for Africa, and we will provide significant rapid support for countries,” said Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group.

The order book for this record-breaking bond highlights the scale of investor support, which the African Development Bank enjoys, said the arrangers.

“As the Covid-19 outbreak is dangerously threatening Africa, the African Development Bank lives up to its huge responsibilities and deploys funds to assist and prepare the African population, through the financing of access to health and to all other essential goods, services and infrastructure,” said Tanguy Claquin, Head of Sustainable Banking, Crédit Agricole CIB.

Coronavirus cases were slow to arrive in Africa, but the virus is spreading quickly and has infected nearly 3,000 people across 45 countries, placing strain on already fragile health systems. 

It is estimated that the continent will require many billions of dollars to cushion the impact of the disease as many countries scrambled contingency measures, including commercial lockdowns in desperate efforts to contain it. Globally, factories have been closed and workers sent home, disrupting supply chains, trade, travel, and driving many economies toward recession. 

Commenting on the landmark transaction, George Sager, Executive Director, SSA Syndicate, Goldman Sachs said: “In a time of unprecedented market volatility, the African Development Bank has been able to brave the capital markets in order to secure invaluable funding to help the efforts of the African

continent’s fight against Covid-19. Not only that, but in the process, delivering their largest ever USD benchmark. A truly remarkable outcome both in terms of its purpose but also in terms of a USD financing”.

The Bank established its Social Bond framework in 2017 and raised the equivalent of  $2 billion through issuances denominated in Euro and Norwegian krone. In 2018 the Bank was designated by financial markets, ‘Second most impressive social or sustainability bond issuer” at the Global Capital SRI Awards.

“We are thankful for the exceptional level of interest the Fight Covid-19 Social Bond has raised across the world, as the African Development Bank moves towards lessening the social and economic impact of the pandemic on a continent already severely constrained. Our Social bond program enables us to highlight our strong development mandate to the investor community, allowing them to play a part in improving the lives of the people of Africa. This was an exceptional outcome for an exceptional cause,” said Hassatou Diop N’Sele, Treasurer, African Development Bank.

Fight Covid-19 was allocated to central banks and official institutions (53%), bank treasuries (27%) and asset managers (20%). Final bond distribution statistics were as follows: Europe (37%), Americas (36%), Asia (17%) Africa (8%,) and Middle-East (1%).

Press Release by the African Development Bank

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