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Business leaders optimistic COP26 visions will become reality

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November 8, 2021

By Ross Kerber and Simon Jessop

BOSTON/GLASGOW (Reuters) – A week into the United Nations’ high-profile climate conference in Glasgow, executives and financial analysts said they are optimistic the talks will lead to changes needed for business to play a bigger role in tackling climate change.

The business observers pointed to several steps by world leaders they said could boost sustainable business and investing efforts to mobilize the vast sums of money needed to wean the world off fossil fuels.

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These include a pledge by financial firms with a combined $130 trillion in assets to focus on climate change, the creation of a global standards body to scrutinize corporate climate claims, and pledges to cut methane emissions and to save forests.

Jefferies managing director Aniket Shah said although many of the steps lacked specific promises, they showed a global consensus forming to tackle climate change that will make it easier to for private investors and governments to put in money and effort.

“There’s a certain power of signaling of intentions that can’t be dismissed here,” Shah said. He pointed to the goal set by India’s prime minister, Narenda Modi, on Nov. 1 for his country to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2070.

Although two decades later than what scientists say is needed to avert catastrophic climate impacts, the pledge was still more than India had offered in the past and could be accelerated with financial help from developed nations, Shah said.

Peter Lacy, Accenture’s global sustainability services lead, said that for investors and companies, the most significant step at the conference was the creation on Nov. 3 of the International Sustainability Standards Board, meant to create a baseline for companies to describe their climate impact.

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Lacy called it a seismic moment for business and in line with the hopes of CEOs Accenture surveyed ahead of the conference.

The new board, Lacy said, “will give investors and stakeholders a much better understanding of related risks and opportunities and help guide the allocation of the huge amount of capital needed as the world transitions to net zero,” he said via email.

LACK OF DETAIL

Critics say many of the conference’s key announcements lack specifics and give companies wiggle room. For instance, banks, insurers and investors pledged to work to cut emissions to net zero by 2050, but each entity has made its own net zero commitments “with potential overlap across initiatives, institutions and assets,” according to the group’s press statement.

Leslie Samuelrich, media of Green Century Capital Management in Boston, which does not invest in fossil fuel stocks, said she worries bigger investment firms signed on so quickly to carbon-reduction pledges advertised at Glasgow because their terms might be too easy to meet.

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“The speed with which some have adopted this makes me cautious,” Samuelrich said.

But other finance executives say it is inevitable businesses will move to cut emissions under pressure from customers and to chase profits. Mark Haefele, chief investment officer for UBS Global Wealth Management, said promising areas include renewable energy, transport and batteries.

Diplomats now must hash out rules on areas like constructing markets to help businesses price carbon and how much developed nations will help poorer ones.[nL8N2RY0GS]

On a call with journalists on Friday, David Waskow, a director of the nonprofit World Resources Institute, said he was more optimistic than a week ago that the attendees would strike meaningful agreements.

“I think the beginning of the week actually did lay good groundwork. Not to say everything is all rosy,” he said.

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(Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston and by Simon Jessop in Glasgow. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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Investors brace for potential hit to earnings because of Omicron

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December 6, 2021

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As details of a new COVID-19 variant emerge, investors are bracing for a potential hit to U.S. corporate earnings, particularly among retailers, restaurants and travel companies.

News of the Omicron variant comes in the middle of the holiday shopping period, and many businesses are already struggling with higher inflation and supply chain snags because of the pandemic.

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That is putting the focus again on these companies affected by the reopening of the economy, said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco in New York.

“Are we still going to see traffic into restaurants and retailers, or at least retailers that derive most of their revenue from in-store traffic as opposed to online?” she said. “The other area of vulnerability of course is supply chain disruptions.”

She and other strategists said it’s too early to tell the extent to which the variant could affect earnings.

The Omicron variant that captured global attention in South Africa less than two weeks ago has spread to about one-third of U.S. states, but the Delta version accounts for the majority of COVID-19 infections as cases rise nationwide, U.S. health officials said on Sunday.

Goldman Sachs on Saturday cited risks and uncertainty around the emergence of the Omicron variant as it cut its outlook for U.S. economic growth to 3.8% for 2022. While the variant could slow economic reopening, the firm expects “only a modest drag” on service spending, it said in a note.

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U.S. companies have just wrapped up a much stronger-than-expected third-quarter earnings season, and the rate of fourth-quarter earnings year-over-year growth has been expected to be well below the previous quarter’s.

Analysts see fourth-quarter S&P 500 earnings up 21.6% from the year-ago quarter, while third-quarter earnings growth was at about 43%, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

That fourth-quarter forecast has not changed since Nov. 26, just after the new variant became headline news.

Omicron may be affecting travel plans. Airline shares have already come under pressure, with the NYSE Arca airline index down 8.3% since the close of the session before Nov. 26.

For companies, “the significance of the impact will depend on how long the Omicron measures last,” said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia. “There will be some short-term impact… It’ll surely cause some short-term disruption to travel.”

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Colin Scarola, a vice president of equity research at CFRA, wrote in a Dec. 2 note on the airline sector that while details of the variant are still emerging, trends in U.S. air travel over recent months with the Delta variant may give some insight into what could happen to travel under the Omicron variant.

“This recent history tells us that most people have already accepted the material risk of infection with a Covid-19 variant when fully vaccinated. But knowing that risk of severe illness remains very low, they’ve been comfortable flying on airplanes,” he wrote.

Compounding concerns about the 2022 earnings outlook are higher costs for companies, with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell last week signaling that inflation risks are rising and numerous companies citing rising costs during the third-quarter earnings season.

Even before the Omicron news, Tuz said investors were reading “more and more about inflation and wages and other inputs,” and that was expected to continue into 2022.

“I don’t know if the ability to pass along these higher costs is going to exist as much,” he said.

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(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Alden Bentley and Nick Zieminski)

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Bank investment chiefs signal China and emerging market caution

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December 6, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) -Market volatility and uncertainty over China’s indebted property sector is making bank investment chiefs cautious about its assets, amid more general nervousness about broader emerging markets.

“I would take a wait-and-see approach on emerging markets,” Credit Suisse global chief investment officer Michael Strobaek told the Reuters annual Investment Outlook Summit.

“I would take a day-by-day, week-by-week approach to China, to see what’s unfolding on the default side and the policy side,” he said, referring to problems in the country’s giant corporate debt sector.

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“Only if I see real deep opportunities, I’d go back in.”

Willem Sels, Global CIO, Private Banking & Wealth Management, HSBC, said clients needed to take a longer term view on emerging markets after many were hurt by recent volatility.

“We have a neutral view on China, we try to diversify,” he said.

“We try to get the confidence of investing in China. We try to align ourselves with what is clear in terms of government policy, and that’s the net zero transmission.”

Investors can still “find some winners” in China by digging down into areas like green tech and 5G-related businesses where the government was showing significant support, said Mark Haefele, CIO at UBS Global Wealth Management.

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(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes, Sujata Rao and Dhara Ranasinghe; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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IMF says euro zone should keep supporting economy, high inflation is temporary

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December 6, 2021

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Euro zone governments should continue to spend to support the COVID-19 economic recovery, though in an increasingly focused way, and consolidate public finances only when it is firmly under way, the International Monetary Fund said on Monday.

In a regular report on the euro zone economy presented to the group’s finance ministers, the IMF noted, however, that while consolidation itself could wait, a credible way of how it would be done in the future should be announced already now.

“Policies should remain accommodative but become increasingly targeted, with a focus on mitigating potential rises in inequality and poverty,” the IMF said.

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“Fiscal policy space should be rebuilt once the expansion is firmly underway, but credible medium-term consolidation plans should be announced now,” it said.

The Fund also noted that the rise in inflation, which hit a record high of 4.9% on a year-on-year basis in November, was temporary and, therefore, not a big threat because it did not translate into a spike in wages, called a second-round effect.

“Recent inflation readings have surprised on the upside, but much of the increase still appears transitory, with large second-round effects unlikely,” the report said, adding that the European Central Bank’s monetary policy should therefore continue to be accommodative.

“Structural reforms and high-impact investment, including in climate-friendly infrastructure and digitalization, remain crucial to enhancing resilience and boosting potential growth,” the IMF said.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Paul Simao)

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