Brief : About 8,300 miles east of Wall Street, on a stretch of Bangalore’s Outer Ring Road, sits what was once the heart of the global financial industry’s back office. Before the pandemic, this cluster of glass-and-steel towers housed thousands of employees at firms like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and UBS Group AG who played critical roles in everything from risk management to customer service and compliance. Now the buildings are eerily empty. And with case counts soaring across Bangalore and much of India, work-from-home arrangements that have sustained Wall Street’s back-office operations for months are coming under intense strain. A growing number of employees are either sick or scrambling to find critical medical supplies such as oxygen for relatives or friends. Standard Chartered Plc said last week that about 800 of its 20,000 staffers in India were infected. As many as 25% of employees in some teams at UBS are absent, said an executive at the firm who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job. At Wells Fargo & Co.’s offices in Bangalore and Hyderabad, work on co-branded cards, balance transfers and reward programs is running behind schedule, an executive said.
Brief: Fears of rising interest rates and warnings over bond valuations have made junk- and investment-grade rated bonds a popular short bet among hedge funds. Speculators are predicting fresh pain for the bond market, especially for longer-dated bonds with sovereign yields being tipped to rise due to an increase in inflation forecasts. This comes amid warnings from market experts regarding the “over-extended” valuations of CCC-rated bonds, the riskiest class of debt. Global high-yield bonds worth as much as $55 billion are on loan to traders seeking to profit if prices drop, according to data from IHS Markit Ltd., by a narrow margin the largest balance since the fall of 2008. This compares with about $35 billion at the start of the year. In the euro-denominated investment-grade market, roughly $30 billion equivalent of bonds have been borrowed, the largest loan balance since early 2014. “I would expect that list to get bigger as spreads tighten and/or people get worried about rates rising,” said Tim Winstone, a portfolio manager at Janus Henderson, which oversees 294 billion pounds ($409 billion). “At these levels of valuations, I’m not surprised more people, such as hedge funds, are setting shorts.”
Brief: A new report from technology-focused investment bank ICON Corporate Finance, has revealed record-breaking tech deal activity in the first quarter of 2021, up 28 per cent on Q1 2020, with 268 deals announced. Evidencing resilience within the sector and a huge appetite for Vertical and Enterprise Software organisations, ICON believes M&A activity is yet to see its peak, and could easily surpass the UK total of 711 tech M&A deals completed last year. Digital transformation, fast-tracked by lockdowns across the world, has created a plethora of new digital solution providers that are grabbing the attention of overseas PE backed acquirers. Among these, UK Vertical Software providers are proving flavour of the month as PE houses look to buy, build and eventually sell. Corporate acquirers too are playing their part in an effort to gain an edge over rivals or to provide new revenue streams. The result has been valuations rising to near record levels. ICON believes that Digital Transformation across all industry sectors, including Vertical and Enterprise Software will continue to accelerate, boosted in no small part by appetite from overseas investors. Last year a record-breaking 48% of all UK deals involved cross-border backing, a figure which could yet be surpassed in 2021.
Brief: Canada's labour market lost 207,000 jobs last month as a spike in COVID-19 variant cases led to renewed public health restrictions and raised concerns about longer-term economic consequences from the pandemic. The unemployment rate rose to 8.1 per cent from 7.5 per cent in March, Statistics Canada reported. It would have been 10.5 per cent had it included in calculations Canadians who wanted to work but didn’t search for a job. Ontario led the way on losses regionally with a drop of 153,000, and British Columbia witnessed its first decrease in employment since a historic one-month plunge in the labour market in April 2020. Nationally, losses were heavier in full-time than part-time work, with retail and young workers hit hardest as a resurgence of the virus and its variants forced a new round of restrictions and lockdowns. With lockdowns continuing into May, CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes said more losses this month are possible. Leah Nord, senior director of workforce strategies with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said the latest setback in the labour market will carry a long-term impact on the workers and businesses affected, particularly in high-touch sectors that are falling further behind.
Brief: Abu Dhabi state investor Mubadala's total income rose nearly 36% to a record high last year, driven by growth in its public equities portfolio and funds while it accelerated investment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mubadala Investment Co posted total comprehensive income attributable to the owner of 72 billion dirhams ($19.60 billion), up from 53 billion dirhams a year earlier, it said in a statement. Comprehensive income includes net income and unrealised gains such as hedges on financial instruments or foreign currency transactions. Assets under management rose 4.8% to 894 billion dirhams. It also invested 108 billion dirhams of capital in 2020, the most it has invested in a single year. Deals included 4.3 billion dirhams in Reliance Industries-owned Jio, 2.7 billion dirhams in private equity investor Silver Lake and 7.5 billion dirhams through partnerships with CVC, Citadel, iSquared Capital and Apax Partners. "We navigated our portfolio through the dramatic macroeconomic decline of early 2020 and decided to accelerate the pace of our capital deployment, ending the year with record profit and growth," said Mubadala CEO Khaldoon al-Mubarak.
Brief: For women in the financial services industry, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the challenges they face in their jobs, resulting in a significant exodus from the field. In a survey conducted by Accenture, a global technology and business consulting firm, 29 percent of women working in financial services said they left their job either permanently or temporarily during the pandemic, while 34 percent of women who hadn’t left their jobs said they were considering leaving their current firms. Almost half of the women who were considering leaving their firms held entry-level positions, meaning they have fewer than five years of industry experience. In an already male-dominated sector, improving gender diversity is a priority for many firms, but current initiatives may not have been effective enough to combat the pandemic’s toll on non-male employees. Across all career levels — senior, supervisory, and entry-level — over half of the women in the survey said they faced “increased pressure” as the main caregivers in their households, a dynamic they attributed to the pandemic. Among the most affected by the pandemic were executive and senior management respondents, 59 percent of whom believed the pandemic had adversely affected their career progression. As Gema Zamarro, a professor at the University of Arkansas, senior economist at the University of Southern California Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, and mother of two kids, summed it up: “You’re doing three jobs: mom, teacher, and your own work.”
Brief : As U.S. retailers celebrate a boom lifting one of the pandemic’s hardest-hit sectors, scars left by a year of bankruptcies and delayed vendor payments could threaten to undermine their recovery -- just as the crucial back-to-school shopping season begins. After watching their receivables mount last year, vendors of apparel and other goods demanded change. In order to ship, many began requiring payment upon delivery of the goods or even in advance, according to people with knowledge of the demands, which were made of distressed and healthy clients alike. For merchants, that’s a big cash drain at a time of great uncertainty. The shift comes after retailers spent much of last year delaying payments to preserve cash. Such maneuvers have long been used by struggling chains, but amid the pandemic, even more stable merchants like Macy’s Inc. and Gap Inc. followed suit. An analysis of company financial data showed such buyers took at least two weeks longer to pay their suppliers than the same period the prior year. Vendors are “shell-shocked” after a string of Covid-era bankruptcies left them with large losses, and more concerned about guaranteeing they’ll be paid, said Perry Mandarino, head of restructuring and investment banking at B. Riley. “Late payments are not being tolerated,” Mandarino said.
Brief: Financial institutions and their directors have to navigate a rapidly changing world, marked by new and emerging risks driven by cyber exposures based on the sector’s reliance on technology, a growing burden of compliance, and the turbulence of Covid-19, according to a new report Financial Services Risk Trends: An Insurer’s Perspective from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS). At the same time, the behaviour and culture of financial institutions is under growing scrutiny from a wide range of stakeholders in areas such as sustainability, employment practices, diversity and inclusion and executive pay. “The financial services sector faces a period of heightened risks. Covid-19 has caused one of the largest ever shocks to the global economy, triggering unprecedented economic and fiscal stimulus and record levels of government debt,” says Paul Schiavone, Global Industry Solutions Director Financial Services at AGCS. “Despite an improved economic outlook, considerable uncertainty remains. The threat of economic and market volatility still lies ahead while the sector is also increasingly needing to focus on so-called ‘non-financial’ risks such as cyber resilience, management of third parties and supply chains, as well as the impact of climate change and other Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) trends.”
Brief: Many are predicting a bright future for biotech firms involved in the production of Covid-19 vaccines as they are rolled out across the globe, but US President Joe Biden’s proposal that vaccine producers should temporarily waive patent protection has dampened this rosy outlook and is likely to result in significant pushback from firms in the sector. On Wednesday (5 May), Biden announced his support for waiving intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines, bowing to increasingly pressure from within his own administration and other nations to help the rollout of the vaccine in less developed countries, such as India and South Africa. The news sent some pharmaceutical stocks plummeting. Moderna's stock was down 6.2% to $163 following the announcement while the Novavax share price fell 5% to $172, though Pfizer's stock price dropped only slightly. Healthcare shares in China were also affected by the news, with the CSI Health Care index falling nearly 4% to 15,727 points. Industry experts speculate that the decision was prompted in no small measure by Pfizer's Q1 earnings update, announced the same day, where it revealed it had recorded vaccine sales of $3.5bn in the first quarter of the year and expects full year sales of $26bn. As Jim Wood-Smith, CIO private clients & head of research at Hawksmoor Investment Management puts it, this situation raises "profound moral and financial problems".
Brief: Sculptor Capital Management’s flagship hedge fund is finally beginning to turn around. The firm’s multistrategy vehicle scored its first quarter of net inflows since 2014, marking the end of years of client withdrawals that totaled about $30 billion. The fund and its associated portfolios attracted a net $78 million of fresh cash, bringing total assets in those products to $10.9 billion as of March 31, the firm said in a statement Wednesday. The results, achieved in the last months of Chief Executive Officer Robert Shafir’s tenure, are a vindication of his promise and efforts to reverse the asset bleed. Last month, Chief Investment Officer Jimmy Levin succeeded him. Addressing the hedge fund inflows on Sculptor’s earnings call Thursday, Levin said that the new cash came from a broad range of investors. “It’s from all types of allocators all around the world: consultant-advised, non-consultant advised, institutional, non-institutional,” he said. “It’s been a bit of everything, which is why we described it as feeling healthy.”
Brief: Citadel Securities’ outsize role in the capital markers has gotten the attention of regulators. Gary Gensler, the new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, honed in on Citadel in prepared remarks to be delivered to a Thursday hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, which is looking into the GameStop trading fracas in January. The GameStop debacle resulted in sharp price hikes in so-called meme stocks, leading to restrictions on trading by broker dealers and resulting in losses among hedge funds and retail investors alike. In the process, the trading frenzy also raised questions about market structure and those who benefit from it. Citadel Securities, a market maker, emerged as a key player in January’s market events because of its acknowledged role in buying order flow from Robinhood, a retail trading app, whose customers sent GameStop shares temporarily soaring from $20 to $480. Payment for order flow is a controversial practice and has been banned in Canada and the U.K. In the U.S., Robinhood has already settled one SEC enforcement action on the practice.
Brief : Uncertainty about the speed and sustainability of the economic recovery are at the forefront of industry concerns, Funds Europe research shows. The finding comes at a time when firms are designing strategies for growth and innovation after the Covid-19 pandemic. The research, conducted in association with Caceis, ranges cross many themes in asset management. We found that decision makers also feel challenged by the continuing pressure of adapting to regulations, for example rules to do with ESG. Technology is also a pain point, with managers feeling a need to redesign technology ‘stacks’ and communication interfaces because they want to fulfil the digital needs of the funds industry for current and future generations. The survey had a total of 172 responses from investment fund professionals and was conducted online during February 2021. The report confirms that ESG and climate change is moving to the forefront of the regulatory and policy agenda in Europe. As a component of the European Commission’s Sustainable Finance Action Plan, the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) requires fund managers, financial advisers, and some other categories of regulated firms with activities in the EU, to disclose information on ESG implications of their investment strategies to investors.
Brief: Kroll, a provider of services and digital products related to governance, risk and transparency, has revealed the number of data breaches reported to the FCA fell by 30 per cent between 2019-2020. This is a direct contradiction to Kroll’s own data which, looking at all industries, showed a 56 per cent average rise in incidents over the same timeframe, with the financial services industry being slightly above that average. Freedom of Information data obtained by Kroll from the FCA shows that the number of reportable cyber incidents where company or personal data was potentially compromised or breached dropped 30 per cent to 76 in 2020, compared to 108 during the same time period in 2019. In reality, the number of data breaches is expected to be far higher, with Kroll’s proprietary data showing that during the same period the overall number of incidents impacting UK organisations rose 56 per cent, leading to an increase in consumer notifications of more than 41 per cent when compared to 2019. This disparity between official FCA statistics and the reality of the current cyber threat landscape means the increase in the sophistication and volume of attacks is in danger of going unaddressed, and is likely to be linked with changes to data breach reporting as a result of GDPR.
Brief: The program, which has run out of cash and refunded by Congress twice before, was scheduled to expire May 31. It’s not yet known if lawmakers will approve another round of funding. The SBA said in a statement it will still fund applications that have been approved. New applications made through Community Financial Institutions, which are financial lenders that serve underserved communities, would also be funded. More than half the loans and nearly a third of the loan money were distributed this year. The average loan size was $46,000, less than half the $101,000 average loan in 2020. That is a sign that smaller companies unable to get loans last year were now getting funding. Companies have been drawn to the loans because they promised forgiveness if the money is used for payroll and other essentials. But, while the PPP helped save many companies devastated by the pandemic, the Biden administration has estimated that more than 400,000 U.S. businesses have permanently closed due to the virus.
Brief: U.S. inflation is unlikely to get out of control despite the unprecedented government spending that’s been authorized in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans said. “I think the risk of this scenario is remote,” Evans said Wednesday in remarks prepared for a virtual speech. The Chicago Fed chief, who has long been one of the central bank’s biggest worriers about inflation being too low, was responding to critics of the Biden administration’s fiscal programs, which include not only Republicans but also some economists associated with the Democratic party. Most of Evans’s colleagues at the Fed, including Chair Jerome Powell, have pushed back forcefully against such criticisms in recent months. Instead, they’ve highlighted the importance of the fiscal support in speeding the labor market back to full employment. “With these developments, my outlook for growth and unemployment is much more positive today than it was just a few months ago,” Evans said, referring to the measures.
Brief: Bridgewater Associates’ main strategies posted strong gains in April, putting them solidly in the black for the year. The strong monthly performance also capped a double-digit gain for the 12 months following the sharp losses Bridgewater suffered at the beginning of the pandemic. Bridgewater’s flagship Pure Alpha macro strategy, sometimes referred to as PA 18 Percent, was up 5.34 percent in April and 4 percent year-to-date, according to a person familiar with the results as well as a private database. PA 12 Percent, which takes on less risk than the main Pure Alpha strategy, was up 3.5 percent for the month and 2.8 percent for the year. Pure Alpha has now posted a 14.23 percent gain over the past 12 months. All Weather, the firm’s beta strategy, was up 4.38 percent in April and 1.35 percent year-to-date. It was also up 18.81 percent over the past 12 months. Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund firm which is headed by Ray Dalio, generally points out that clients employ Pure Alpha as an overlay strategy, placing it on top of the benchmark of their choosing. For example, in the 12 months through April 30, the S&P 500 was up 47.7 percent, while Pure Alpha was up an additional 14.23 percent.
Brief: For the first time in history, global venture investments surpassed USD100 billion in Q1 2021. According to the research data analysed and published by Sijoitusrahastot, worldwide VC funding in Q1 2021 rose by 94 per cent YoY to USD125 billion. During the period, two unicorns on average were created daily, raising the quarterly total to 112. Based on a CNBC report citing Ernst & Young, VC funding in the US during the quarter hit USD64 billion. It was the highest quarterly figure on record, and it was equivalent to 43 per cent of total VC funding raised in 2020. Late-stage funding dominated the global VC market accounting for 68 per cent of the total. The segment, together with technology growth, soared by 122 per cent to USD85.6 billion. Some 79 per cent of the funds went into rounds worth at least USD100 million, up from 63 per cent in Q1 2021. Early-stage funding shot up by 63 per cent YoY to USD35.5 billion. Seed and angel investment held steady at USD4.1 billion while acquisitions rose by 44 per cent YoY to 631 deals worth USD57.1 billion. In Europe, total funding rose by 130 per cent YoY from USD9.3 billion to a record USD21.4 billion. Late-stage and technology funding surged 202 per cent to USD14.3 billion. Early-stage funding rose by 62 per cent YoY to USD5.8 billion. There were a record 54 rounds worth at least USD100 million as well as two billion-dollar rounds by Klarna and Cazoo.
Brief : Ken Griffin’s Citadel expects to have most of its U.S. employees back in its offices in New York, Chicago and Greenwich, Connecticut, by June 1, according to a person familiar with the matter. The $38 billion hedge fund, Citadel, and market-maker Citadel Securities anticipate that regular in-office operations in those locales will resume by that date, said the person, who asked not to be identified. Operations in Texas, meanwhile, will get back to normal in mid-May. Citadel’s expectation for workers’ return is earlier than some of its hedge fund peers, with many employees expressing an eagerness to get back to their desks. Bridgewater Associates and Two Sigma Investments plan to have employees back in offices in September while still allowing them to work remotely a few days a week. Major financial firms are stepping up efforts to bring workers back as Covid-19 vaccines become more broadly available and in-person schooling resumes. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. plans to tell staff they should be prepared to work from offices by mid-June, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. told employees to expect a return in early July.
Brief: Vanguard Group is adopting a hybrid work model for the majority of its staff, making it the latest company to rethink the primacy of offices in the aftermath of the pandemic. The world’s second-biggest asset manager plans to allow many employees to work remotely on Mondays and Fridays. With a staff of 17,300, Vanguard’s move represents a middle ground that other financial firms are seeking. “The pandemic has affected so many aspects of our lives, and how we work is one of them,” the company said in an emailed statement. “Vanguard will pursue a working model that will blend increased flexibility with the known benefits of in-person collaboration.” As Covid-19 vaccines become more readily available and cities reopen, U.S. companies are grappling with whether to bring employees back to offices full-time or embrace remote arrangements for the long haul. Vanguard, based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, joins money managers Two Sigma Investments and Bridgewater Associates in planning to allow employees to continue to work remotely at least part-time.
Brief: As global economies prepare to unlock, potentially driving up inflation and interest rates, hedge funds’ low sensitivity to rate moves can help bolster investors’ portfolio performance, says K2 Advisors, the hedge fund investing unit of Franklin Templeton. With economic growth tipped to trend higher, fuelling inflation, hedge fund strategies can deliver a diversifier to certain fixed income assets that may face a squeeze during inflationary or rising rate environments, said Brooks Ritchey, K2’s co-head of investment research and management. Hedge funds and other alternative investment strategies have traditionally been seen to thrive against equities and fixed income in low interest rate environments. But falling Covid cases and an accelerating vaccine roll-out across developed markets may now send consumer and industrial demand soaring, pushing global inflation trends and interest rates higher – carrying a knock-on effect for bonds and equities. As a result, hedge funds now look “particularly interesting” as a fixed income diversifier, Ritchey explained. “These strategies help to diversify one’s portfolio in a rising rate environment given the resultant increase in performance dispersion across regions, sectors and asset classes,” Ritchey wrote in a note on Tuesday.
Brief: The world’s most powerful economies agreed to back plans for so-called vaccine passports in a bid to pull the travel and tourism industry out of a pandemic-fueled slump. Tourism ministers from the Group of 20 threw their weight behind the new certificates, stressing that a resumption of normal activity for the sector is crucial to global economic recovery, according to Italian Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia. A virtual gathering on Tuesday, the first such meeting under the Italian presidency of the forum, backed efforts for safe mobility, coordinating with initiatives including the European Union’s Digital Green Certificate. That document will show the bearer has been fully vaccinated, has immunity via recovery, or recently tested negative. Garavaglia told a press conference in Rome that he had requested, and obtained from European Union Commissioner Thierry Breton, a commitment to accelerate introduction of the EU green certificate as much as possible. “Tourism will be the key to recovery once the pandemic is defeated,” Garavaglia said. Travel and tourism has been one of the industries hit hardest by restrictions on activity to contain the coronavirus.
Brief: Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy industrialized nations gathered Tuesday in London for their first face-to-face meeting in more than two years, to grapple with how to respond to the military coup in Myanmar and whether to challenge or coax a surging China. Host nation Britain was keen to show that the rich countries' club still has clout in a fast-changing world, and has warned that the increasingly aggressive stances of Russia, China and Iran pose a challenge to democratic societies and the international rule of law. U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the meeting “demonstrates diplomacy is back.” The two days of talks involving top diplomats from the U.K., the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan also were to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the Tigray crisis in Ethiopia and the precarious situation in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops and their NATO allies are winding down a two-decade deployment. The U.K. Foreign Office said the group would also discuss “Russia’s ongoing malign activity,” including Moscow's earlier troop buildup on the border with Ukraine and the imprisonment of opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
Brief: The value of UK buyout deals by high-net worth investors (HNWs) shot up by 626 per cent in 2020, rising from GBP132 million in 2019 to GBP958 million, says Boodle Hatfield, the leading private wealth law firm. The increasing number of buyout deals led or co-funded by HNWs goes against the overall decline in deal value across the wider private equity market over the same period. Whilst many trade buyers and to a lesser extent PE firms have stepped back from making acquisitions during the worst of the Covid crisis, HNW investors have used the crisis to buy distressed businesses at a substantial discount. Private equity deals by HNWs increased from 26 deals in 2019 to 27 deals in 2020. In contrast, last year there was a 26 per cent decline in combined deal value for UK private equity deals, according to research from a KPMG report. Overall UK private equity deal volume hit its lowest level since the 2008 economic crisis, falling from 1,200 deals in 2019 to 899 in 2020. Boodle Hatfield explains that HNWs have been increasingly interested in leading PE transactions themselves as a way to get access to the asset class without having to pay the management and performance fees that investing through a private equity fund would involve.
Brief : The Covid-19 pandemic didn’t hit all U.S. public pensions funds equally. Funds that were in the best financial health at the start of the pandemic took the hardest hit to their funded statuses over the course of the past year — but they’ve also benefitted most from the speedy recovery over the past 12 months, according to Goldman Sachs Asset Management’s public pension fund report for the first quarter of 2021. The report, which is based on a performance sample of 99 public plans representing approximately $3 trillion of assets under management, found that a majority of the pensions experienced funded status declines of 10.1 to 12.5 percent in March 2020. Retirement plans which were well funded to begin with — at over 90 percent funded — experienced the largest decline in funded statuses from December 2019 to March 2020. Meanwhile, pensions that started off the pandemic with funding ratios below 70 percent experienced a single-digit median decline in funded status. GSAM suggested that the trend in funded status declines was “likely influenced by varying allocations to fixed income.” Plans with the highest rates of decline in funded positions also allocated the lowest percentages of assets to fixed income.
Brief: Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest, will let its employees continue working from home a couple of days a week once the pandemic is over, Chief Executive Officer Nicolai Tangen said. Staff at the Oslo-based investor, which oversees $1.3 trillion in assets, will be allowed to spend “up to two days” a week working from home, Tangen told lawmakers in Norway’s parliament during a hearing on Monday. But there will also be “two set office days for everyone,” he said, so that “we can have the meetings we need to have in the office.” Tangen, a former London-based hedge-fund manager, is the latest prominent member of the financial industry to acknowledge that life won’t return to pre-pandemic norms even after the Covid crisis subsides. Barclays Plc CEO Jes Staley recently said he won’t force employees to return to the office, while Deutsche Bank AG is working on plans to let staff work from home up to three days a week. At Norway’s wealth fund, Tangen said he was considering requiring staff to be in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He also said no one would ever be forced to work from home, but said he thinks granting employees the option on a voluntary basis “can be positive.”
Brief: Markets have been obsessed -- and sometimes roiled -- for months over whether higher inflation is coming. The latest batch of quarterly reports suggests it’s already here and helping corporate America. Faced with rising prices for everything from lumber to oil to labor and computer chips, chief executive officers have cut costs and boosted prices for their products. The strategy appears to be working, with first-quarter income from S&P 500 companies jumping five times as fast as sales, data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence show. As a result, their net margin -- which measures how much profit companies are squeezing from their revenue -- has risen to a record high, according to Bank of America Corp. Executives mentioned “inflation” more than any time since 2011 during earnings conference calls last month, according to Bank of America. Warren Buffett joined the chorus two days ago, saying price increases are more intense “than people would have anticipated six months ago.” The billionaire added that as his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. boosted prices, customers have accepted them.
Brief: Thousands of restaurants and bars decimated by the COVID-19 outbreak have a better chance at survival as the government begins handing out $28.6 billion in grants ¬— money to help these small businesses stay afloat while they wait for customers to return. Laurie Thomas is applying for grants for her two San Francisco restaurants that have closed and reopened several times as coronavirus cases surged and declined; she’s still at just 50% of capacity. Rose’s Cafe and Terzo are operating at a loss but grant money will help them stay open. “This allows you to go back to February 2020 and apply these funds to help pay down debt, catch up on past due rent, etc.,” she says. The Small Business Administration is accepting applications for grants from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund as of Monday. For the first three weeks only applications from restaurants that are majority-owned by women, veterans and “socially and economically disadvantaged” applicants will be processed and paid out, although any restaurant can apply. After that, grants will be funded in the order that they’ve been approved by the SBA.
Brief: A coalition of airline and travel groups urged the U.S. and the U.K. governments to lift travel restrictions between the two nations, citing the growth in vaccinations and other tools that limit the spread of Covid-19. Officials should announce reopening before the Group of Seven economic talks scheduled for June, the groups said Monday in joint letters to President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “We are confident that the right tools now exist to enable a safe and meaningful restart to transatlantic travel,” said the letter from 49 industry groups and unions on both sides of the Atlantic. “Safely reopening borders between the U.S. and U.K. is essential for both countries’ economic recovery from Covid-19.” Exports between the two countries and tourism represent have a significant impact on each nation’s economy, highlighting the importance of resuming more normal travel, the group said. Industry officials in the U.K. have been saying that travel could begin to reopen as soon as this month, but the White House has been mum on when that might happen or what steps are needed to trigger such a move.
Brief: When a pandemic was declared last spring, Paul Aversano feared the worst. Aversano leads the global transaction advisory group at Alvarez & Marsal, which works with dealmakers across the corporate world and private equity. As stock markets plunged, investors turned their attention away from new acquisitions and toward shoring up their existing portfolio companies. It seemed like the industry-wide pipeline of deals was in danger of drying up. “I remember last year telling my CEOs, best estimate, I think our business will be down 50%, and I’d be thrilled if that was the case,” Aversano said. Rarely has he been happier to be proven so wrong. Deal activity did tick down during the second quarter of last year. But sooner than anyone expected, the market began to recover. In the end, Aversano’s business actually increased in 2020. And in 2021, acquisition activity of every kind is soaring to unprecedented heights.