Sanofi CEO on possible coronavirus treatment hydroxychloroquine: 'Everybody gets access' if effective

Sanofi CEO: ‘Everybody gets access’ to potential coronavirus treatment if proven correct

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson discusses the rapid progress being made in developing a coronavirus vaccine and moving the production of essential pharmaceutical supply from China to Europe.

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Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson said Wednesday that the French drugmaker is working to ensure "everybody" has access to hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug that has been discussed as a potential treatment for the novel coronavirus, if it's proven to be an effective measure.

"On hydroxychloroquine, you know, we give it away free. It's our plan to make sure that we bring it, if it's proven to be correct, that everybody gets access to it," Hudson told FOX Business' Maria Bartiromo. "And I think not just us, but other makers as well should try and do their best to make sure nothing stops patients that need getting these medicines. We'll wait and see what the evidence is. It's just around the corner. Then we'll know definitively."

Sanofi produces a brand-named version of hydroxychloroquine called Plaquenil.


Hudson said studies are underway on its rheumatoid arthritis drug Kevzara and hydroxychloroquine, at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, Northwell Health in Long Island, New York, and across Europe to get evidence to show how the treatments work.

Hudson, chief executive officer of Sanofi, arrives for the company’s annual earnings news conference in Paris on Feb. 6. (Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Some medical professionals have expressed concerns about giving hydroxychloroquine to patients with existing heart conditions, due to the potentially deadly side effects. Dr. Michael Ackerman, a genetic cardiologist and director of the Mayo Clinic's Windland Smith Rice Genetic Heart Rhythm Clinic, issued guidance to physicians in March warning of the risks associated with the medication.

"Correctly identifying which patients are most susceptible to this unwanted, tragic side effect and knowing how to safely use these medications is important in neutralizing this threat," Ackerman wrote.


But Hudson is hopeful to have more answers soon.

"These medicines have been approved for different illnesses a number of years ago, so they're well understood and characterized. What we don't know is how effective they'll be tackling COVID-19 — that's why we do the clinical studies. That's what we do. We prove that the risk-benefit is worthwhile and we hope within a week or two to have that evidence," he said.


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Investors warned banks could suspend dividends

Investors have been warned that three of the nation's big banks could suspend their dividends for the first half, after the regulator told boards to consider deferring the payments or cut them "materially."

The analyst predictions of dividend suspensions from ANZ Bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac came as the big four banks and Macquarie Group also had their credit rating outlook cut to "negative" by Standard & Poor's.

Shares in the big four banks slumped on Wednesday, as the lenders acknowledged the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority's (APRA) call for banks to be prudent with capital while there is so much uncertainty about the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

Some analysts forecast NAB, ANZ and Westpac would defer dividends for this half.Credit:

APRA chairman Wayne Byres told boards to consider dividend deferrals, sparking a flurry of predictions about how boards will react to the regulatory pressure.

Bank of Queensland became the first bank to defer its dividend at its half-year results, as several analysts predicted ANZ, NAB and Westpac would follow suit at their results over the coming weeks.

UBS analyst Jonathan Mott cut his first-half dividend forecasts for ANZ, NAB and Westpac to zero, but he is forecasting payments in future halves. "We remain neutral on the banking sector following the recent correction, although this announcement is a clear negative," Mr Mott wrote.

Macquarie analysts said "we suspect banks are likely to choose to suspend their dividends and look to reinstate it (and possibly pay a special dividend) if conditions normalise." The analysts said Commonwealth Bank, which reports on a different financial calendar and has been boosting its capital with asset sales, was in a stronger position and could maintain a reduced dividend.

Morgans analyst Azib Khan said his "base case" was for Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, NAB and Westpac to suspend their next dividends.

ANZ shares dropped 4.9 per cent to $15.52, NAB shares fell 4.8 per cent to $15.35, Westpac lost 5.3 per cent to $15.25, and CBA dropped 3.3 per cent to $59.81.

Against these predictions, the banks said they had not made decisions on dividends yet, and some other analysts predicted the payments would flow, albeit at a lower level.

Morgan Stanley analyst Richard Wiles said he thought major banks were "unlikely to defer dividend payments," but they would consider strengthening their balance sheets by having their dividend reinvestment plans underwritten.

Westpac on Wednesday noted the letter from APRA but said it had not yet made a decision on its dividend, which would be announced next month. National Australia Bank said it would take APRA's guidance into account when setting its dividend, while Commonwealth Bank and ANZ Bank did not issue ASX statements on the topic.

Macquarie Group said it had $5.3 billion in surplus capital at the end of December, and it would also take APRA's guidance into account. "Macquarie recognises its role in supporting Australian households, businesses and the broader economy during this period of significant disruption," it said.

The focus on bank dividends came as S&P cut its credit rating outlook for the big banks to "negative," as a direct result of a similar downgrade of the federal government's rating. S&P takes into account the likelihood of government support for banks when setting the lenders' credit ratings, so changes in the government's rating tends to flow into bank ratings.

The global ratings agency's change in its outlook statement could lead to the banks paying more for money if it leads to an actual downgrade in their rating.

It came after Fitch Ratings cut its credit rating for the major Australian banks, as it warned of rising bad debts and pressure on profits from low interest rates. Banks have in recent weeks said small businesses and households can defer their loan repayments for up to six months if needed, but Fitch predicted this would not stop some loans from going into default.

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Tesla to furlough workers, cut employee salaries due to coronavirus

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Tesla Inc told employees on Tuesday it would furlough all non-essential workers and implement salary cuts during a shut down of its U.S. production facilities because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Tesla said it planned to resume normal operations on May 4, barring any significant changes, according to an email sent to U.S. employees by in-house counsel Valerie Capers Workman, which was viewed by Reuters.


The company, which suspended production at its San Francisco Bay Area vehicle and New York solar roof tile factories on March 24, said in the email the decisions were part of a broader effort to manage costs and achieve long-term plans.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The coronavirus pandemic has slashed U.S. demand for cars and forced several other automakers to furlough U.S. workers.

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Pay for salaried Tesla employees will be reduced beginning on April 13 and cuts will remain in place until the end of the second quarter, the email said.


In the United States, workers' pay will be cut by 10%, directors' salaries by 20% and vice presidents' salaries by 30%. Comparable reductions will be implemented abroad.

Employees who cannot work from home and have not been assigned to critical work onsite factories will be furloughed, with workers maintaining their healthcare benefits until production resumes, the email said.

Tesla suspended production at both factories last month after it ended a standoff with authorities concerned about the spread of the coronavirus.

Tesla's sole U.S. auto factory employs more than 10,000 workers, with annualized production of slightly more than 415,000 units by the end of December 2019.


The suspension interrupts a planned ramp-up in production of its Model Y sport utility vehicle at the factory. Demand for the Model Y is expected to be higher than for all of Tesla's other models combined, Chief Executive Elon Musk has said in the past. The Model Y taps into strong demand for SUVs and is much less expensive than the high-end Model X.

Tesla on March 20 said it believed it had enough liquidity to successfully navigate the extended period of uncertainty, with some $6.3 billion in cash at the end of the third quarter, ahead of a recent $2.3 billion capital raise.


The company on Thursday surprised investors with strong first quarter delivery numbers despite the coronavirus outbreak hammering nationwide car sales and said Model Y production was ahead of schedule.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; editing by Jane Wardell)

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Trump Says Free Market Will Curb U.S. Oil Output ‘Automatically’

President Donald Trump gave the strongest signal yet the U.S. might not join Saudi Arabia, Russia and other major producers in coordinated oil-production cuts, even as plunging crude prices put thousands of American shale jobs at risk.

While OPEC and its allies prepare for a meeting on Thursday to forge an unprecedented output-cut deal, Trump told reporters in Washington that the free market would work to curb American production.

“I think the cuts are automatic if you are a believer in markets,” he said, echoing comments he made last week after a meeting with several oil industry titans ended without a public plan for addressing the oil market’s historic crash. Though the president has touted global output cuts of 10 million to 15 million barrels a day to stabilize prices, he’s been reticent to commit the U.S. to such an effort, suggesting instead that Saudi Arabia and Russia should bear the brunt.

On Monday, Trump added that the U.S. hasn’t been asked to participate in a global deal. “Nobody’s asked me,” he said. “If they ask me I’ll make a decision,” he told reporters.

The market rout — which was triggered by coronavirus-related lockdowns and exacerbated by the Saudi-Russian price war — has already spurred shale explorers to scale back their budgets, put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk and and has already led some companies to bankruptcy. As storage fills up with barrels nowhere to go, producers are being forced to shut in wells.

Asked whether the U.S. would join other major producers in curbing production, Trump said the cuts were “happening automatically.”

“It’s supply and demand,” he said. “They are cutting back very seriously.”

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NAB ramps up temporary branch closures

National Australia Bank will temporarily close more than one in 10 of its branches, as social distancing rules lead to a sharp drop in the number of people doing their banking in person.

The lender on Monday said it had closed about 20 of its 635 Australian branches so far in response to coronavirus, and the number of outlets closed would rise to 70 this week.

NAB will temporarily close more than one in ten of its Australian branches.Credit:Bloomberg

As part of the closures, which may be lifted further in months ahead, the bank is re-training 700 staff to work digitally with customers, at a time when call centres are being swamped with cries for help from borrowers.

ANZ Bank had on Monday also closed 58 of its branches, while Westpac has had up to 30 of its branches closed in recent weeks, while Commonwealth Bank had 16 of its branches shut.

Banking sources suggested more outlets were likely to close across the industry, as the number of people visiting branches falls sharply, and banks face staff shortages due to parents needing to care for children.

While banking has been classified as an "essential service" by the government, NAB's executive general manager of retail, Krissie Jones, said fewer people were coming into branches.

"We think it’s a really great opportunity to start re-skilling our teams, so that they can start to help other areas that have been inundated during this period,” she said.

Ms Jones said the bank could increase the number of branches it closed temporarily in the months ahead, depending on how busy the outlets were and the extent of the government's social distancing rules.

The number of bank branches in Australia has been slipping in recent years as more customers embrace banking digitally, but the coronavirus has sharply accelerated the trend.

Ms Jones said that in the most extreme case of Sydney’s central business district, foot traffic had fallen 90 per cent, while in other cases the reduction was closer to 40 per cent.

Ms Jones said the bank intended to reopen the branches it was closing but added it could not predict how customer behaviour would change during the coronavirus crisis.

For example, she said NAB had been contacting 15,000 customers who did their banking using a passbook. Some of this group had used a passbook account for 40 years and had been reluctant to change, she said, but were now learning how to do some of their banking digitally.

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IMF encouraged by coronavirus recovery in China, but pandemic could resurge

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund on Monday cited limited but encouraging signs of recovery in China, the first country to suffer the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, but said it could not rule out a resurgence of the pandemic in China and elsewhere.

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In a blog, top IMF economists said the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus had pushed the world into a recession that would be worse than the global financial crisis, and called for a global, coordinated health and economic policy response.

"The economic damage is mounting across all countries, tracking the sharp rise in new infections and containment measures put in place by governments," the IMF experts wrote.

People bow their heads during a national moment of mourning for victims of coronavirus in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province Saturday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The total confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world jumped to more than 1,250,000, with 68,400 deaths reported, according to a Reuters tally.

China was seeing a modest improvement in its purchasing manager surveys (PMIs) after sharp declines early in the year, and daily satellite data on nitrogen dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere – a proxy for industrial and transport activity — showed a gradual decline in containment measures, the IMF experts wrote.

In this April 1 photo, a passenger takes the subway in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

"The recovery in China, albeit limited, is encouraging, suggesting that containment measures can succeed in controlling the epidemic and pave the way for a resumption of economic activity," the authors wrote.

"But there is huge uncertainty about the future path of the pandemic and a resurgence of its spread in China and other countries cannot be ruled out," they added.

European countries such as Italy, Spain, and France were now in acute phases of the outbreak, followed by the United States, while the epidemic appeared to be just beginning in many emerging market and developing economies.


Disruptions caused by the virus were starting to ripple through emerging markets, while the latest indices from purchasing manager surveys (PMIs) pointed to sharp slowdowns in manufacturing output in many countries.


The U.S. economy was experiencing the consequences with "unprecedented speed and severity," the blog said, noting that nearly 10 million Americans had applied for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks in March, a sharper increase than even during the peak of the global financial crisis.


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Germany’s Virus Outbreak Slows With Lowest New Cases in Six Days

Germany saw the lowest number of new coronavirus cases in six days in a tentative sign that lockdown measures are easing the outbreak.

As restrictions across Europe’s largest economy enter their fourth week, infections rose by 4,031 to 100,123, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The death toll increased by 140 to 1,584 on Monday, the lowest daily increase in five days.

New cases and deaths have consistently dropped over weekends as regional health authorities have been slower to report figures.

Germany continues to have the third-highest number of confirmed cases in Europe after Spain and Italy. Its death rate, currently at 1.58%, is well below the levels seen in those countries.

28,222 in U.S.Most new cases today

-26% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-1.​078 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

Despite improving figures, government officials have warned that the worst of the crisis is yet to come. Helge Braun, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, said it’s critical to reduce the number of infections before taking decisions on easing social distancing rules.

The concern is that patients require ventilation for a longer period of time than initially anticipated “because more and more older people get infected,” Braun said to Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on Sunday.

Reports on Covid-19 related outbreaks in nursing homes and hospitals are increasing, according to the Robert Koch Institute. The number of deaths is relatively high in some of these outbreaks, the health authority said.

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Singapore Retail Investors Use Cheap Cash to Load Up on Stocks

Record low interest rates are tempting some retail investors in Singapore to load up on debt to buy shares, just as the coronavirus outbreak creates the most volatile markets since the global financial crisis.

Earlier this year, 31-year-old insurance agent Heng Kai Sheng got advances on three separate credit cards to the tune of S$150,000 ($105,000). With the money, he opened a share-financing account at a local bank and pledged the lot as collateral. He was granted leverage of around 3.5 times, a S$500,000 kitty Heng’s plowing into the stock market.

“As Asians, our parents always tell us ‘Don’t borrow money, repay your mortgage as soon as possible’,” said Heng, whose initial S$170,000 share portfolio now totals about S$135,000. “But money is so cheap.”

According to preliminary data from the Monetary Authority of Singapore, bank financing for stock purchases by retail investors rebounded in February after three consecutive months of declines. Individuals pumped around S$2 billion into equities in March, 50% more than the previous month, Singapore Exchange Ltd. data show.

32,133 in U.S.Most new cases today

-26% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-1.​138 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

The increase comes as the nation’s benchmark equity gauge registered its worst quarter since the global financial crisis. The SPDR Straits Times Index ETF, the largest Singapore-listed exchange-traded fund tracking the city-state’s stocks, saw net inflows of about S$247 million in the three months ended March 31, its largest quarterly boost since 2002, Bloomberg-compiled data show.

“There are probably new and existing investors who aren’t leveraged who would definitely want to take advantage of the sell-off to buy shares,” said Joel Ng, an analyst at KGI Securities (Singapore) Pte.

There are also some suggestions retail investors may be using their homes as collateral to borrow money.

David Gerald, founder of investor lobby group Securities Investors Association (Singapore), said he was aware that investors “may want to refinance their housing loans” in the low-rate environment to free up cash for equity investments. However, “investors should be cautious not to over-leverage” in volatile markets because they may face margin calls, he added.

Not everyone is joining the party. While share financing by banks rose in February, the amount decreased 11% when compared to a year ago. And according to Ng, margin calls “really intensified” in March, particularly for private-bank clients who were sold leveraged products or who took on debt to buy real-estate investment trusts.

Heng said he has a three- to-five-year horizon for his investments, and maintains he’s doing the math to make sure he can always cover the interest, which ranges from 1.38% to 2.03% on the credit cards.

Some of the shares he bought include Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp., which slumped 21% last quarter, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., down 25%, and Mapletree Industrial Trust, which declined 6.5%.

Heng knows he’s taking a risk but he’s not too worried.

“For young people like us, even if you fail, you can make up the capital,” he said. “If you have sufficient earning power, you should take a bit more risk.”

— With assistance by Abhishek Vishnoi, and Chanyaporn Chanjaroen

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Italy Nears Decree on $216 Billion in Guarantees to Companies

Italy is finalizing new measures aimed at providing liquidity to companies, Treasury Minister Roberto Gualtieri said.

The government will guarantee loans of up to 800,000 euros at 100%, and will boost guarantees to 90% on another 200 billion euros ($216 billion) in loans, Gualtieri said in a televised comment on Rai TG1. Companies will be able to seek bank loans for as much as 25% of their revenue, and those new benefits could be combined with the other measures the government is studying to help Italian businesses.

Read More: Why the Fate of Milan Will Be the Fate of Italy (1)

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is working on a new decree to further boost liquidity for businesses, while another package later this month will include emergency income for people trapped in the so-called underground economy.

The government is deploying at least 25 billion euros in new economic aid after an initial stimulus package approved in March for the same amount. The Italian daily La Stampa said earlier Saturday that the liquidity decree will be approved by Monday.

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Oil’s Stunning Demand Collapse Threatens Closures Everywhere

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The survivors of oil’s last crash were the lowest-cost producers. But the crisis engulfing the industry now is so fast, the same rules don’t apply.

From the shale patch of Texas and the oil sands of Canada to the plains of Siberia, production of at least one in every 10 barrels around the world is likely to be shuttered as demand is shredded by the coronavirus pandemic. Cost won’t be the ultimate arbiter for producers this time, because as the International Energy Agency says, “there could soon be no place for their oil to go.”

Every imaginable space — from tanks and pipelines to rail cars — is filling to the brim. It’s a key reason that pressure is building for an output cut by OPEC and other producers at their meeting next week, though even the 10 million barrels a day of curbs that’s been touted may not be enough. Only those who can find a place to shelter their unwanted crude are likely to remain standing.

“It’s important to think about who’s going to shut in. It’s all dictated by logistics and where you sit in these major pipelines around the world,” Jeff Currie, head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., said in a Bloomberg television interview. “It’s going to be Russia, the U.S., Canada and parts of Latin America where you see the real damage.”

Staggering Destruction

The rout in demand is staggering. With large swathes of the global economy shut down to tackle the virus pandemic, with no idea of how long it’ll continue, some oil traders are estimating an unprecedented 35 million barrels a day destruction in oil use.

Even if OPEC and other producers agree to a 10 million barrels a day of output cuts — in itself a mammoth undertaking — the IEA estimates 15 million a day of stockpile would still build up.

When oil last collapsed five years ago it was America’s shale producers who took the immediate hit because of their sensitivity to price swings, and the nation’s industry is set to be battered again. Pipeline operators have asked drillers in Texas to ratchet back output.

This time round everyone is sharing the pain. About 7 million barrels of daily output due to be shipped next month by a range of exporters is “homeless,” with “literally nowhere to go,” consultant JBC Energy GmbH estimates.

Production is starting to buckle everywhere.

IHS Markit expects as much as 10 million barrels a day of output to be shut-in from April through June as storage fills up. In Canada, Athabasca Oil Corp. suspended some oil sands operations and Suncor Energy Inc. said last month it will partly shut some of its fields.

Brazil’s Petrobras is paring production by 200,000 barrels a day. Landlocked Chad in Africa has halted two fields, and Ecuador, Citigroup Inc. said, “isn’t able to sell its crude anywhere to anybody.”

Producers who are operating offshore, or have access to coastal terminals, possess the widest options to reroute their barrels and will be the most “immune,” Goldman’s Currie said. Those “sitting behind thousands of miles of pipe” are the most exposed.

Russia Vulnerable

Russia, despite having helped initiate the global price war, is among those particularly vulnerable to its fallout. As sales from ports and its Druzhba pipeline melt away, the country could be incapable of selling about 1 million barrels a day of its output, according to Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Citi.

Neighbors such as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, both far away from their customers, face “severe offtake issues,” said David Wech, an analyst at JBC Energy in Vienna.

While logistics are critical, oil’s collapse is simply making some production unprofitable. At $25 a barrel crude, about 5% of global production is losing money, according to the IEA.

Companies are also slashing spending. BP Plc will invest less in its U.S. shale operations this year as it looks to reduce expenditure by about $5 billion, lowering production. Some North Sea fields just aren’t economical at current oil prices.

“In the short-term, low prices will decrease supply by incentivizing reduced production,” said Paul Horsnell, an analyst at Standard Chartered Plc.

Emerging Winner

Amid the carnage, there may still be a winner. Saudi Arabia, OPEC kingpin and the main architect of the bruising price war, can pump crude from its vast fields at less than $10 a barrel. It also has access to plentiful storage around the world — from Egypt to Japan.

Riyadh is flooding the market with crude as it threatens to pump at record high levels, contributing to oil’s rout and forcing producers to consider an output agreement.

The kingdom is convening an emergency online gathering of the OPEC+ coalition on Monday. The meeting is open to producers worldwide, including the U.S. If America were to join coordinated production cuts, that would be an unprecedented move away from the country’s free-market ethics.

But there are no guarantees that a deal can be reached. And even if an expanded alliance is made and the currently discussed 10 million barrels a day of cuts are agreed, it would ultimately be insufficient in the face of such an enormous glut.

“The market is going to be shutting stuff down whether you like it or not,” said Jan Stuart, global energy economist at Cornerstone Macro LLC. “That horse has left the barn.”

— With assistance by Alix Steel, and Javier Blas

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