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Economy in focus, Argentina's pandemic strategy shifts for second wave – The Journal Pioneer

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By Agustin Geist

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez was clear when COVID-19 first hit the country early last year: saving lives at all costs trumped any economic concerns.

Now facing a second wave of infections, the South American nation has adjusted its strategy to prioritize protecting its fragile economy. It is hoping greater experience dealing with the coronavirus, a nascent vaccine program, and short, regional lockdowns can help keep the virus in check.

The second wave comes at a delicate time for the center-left Peronist government. It is heading for mid-term elections in October to defend its majority in Congress, its popularity bruised by a strict, lengthy lockdown last year and the hard economic hit.

The grains producer is also in talks with the International Monetary Fund to revamp some $45 billion in loans it cannot pay back and needs to fire up economic growth to bring in much needed hard currency. And creditors are looking for signs of recovery after a sovereign debt restructuring last year.

The Fernandez administration wants to avoid imposing a blanket lockdown, instead using data on caseloads to establish short-term localized restrictions, reinforce sanitary measures, and maintain controls over borders, a government source said.

The government also wants to accelerate a vaccine roll-out delayed by shortage of supply, aiming to have all medical workers and those at high risk vaccinated before the fast-approaching southern winter.

Argentina’s economy contracted around 10% last year, the third straight year of recession, and Economy Minister Martin Guzman has said it “could not withstand” another total shutdown. Poverty levels rose to 42% in the second half of last year.

The country has recorded around 2.4 million coronavirus cases and over 56,000 deaths, and a second wave is building with recent daily cases at 80% of the peak and rising, a Reuters tally of official data shows. On Tuesday, infections reached a daily record.

“The second wave and incidence of cases could be even worse when the variants take hold,” said Tomás Orduna, an infectious disease specialist who advises the government, referring to the P1 ‘Brazilian’ variant and others racing through the region.

‘WARNING LIGHTS’

Argentine infectious diseases expert Martin Hojman said the southern hemisphere winter and reopening of activities would keep driving the second wave.

He said the rate of vaccinations – which has seen some 4.3 million doses administered so far in a country with a population of around 45 million – was not fast enough.

Leda Guzzi, a Buenos Aires-based infectious disease expert, said there had been a very substantial jump in cases over the last month, and pointed to the ‘R number’, which measures transmission rates, soaring in some areas.

“When this index is greater than 1.2 it means that cases are accelerating in a worrying way and that the warning lights should come on… This is happening in various jurisdictions and various departments,” she said.

Despite that, schools and restaurants in most places are open, and many Argentines say they do not want another strict lockdown.

“I think there must be a middle ground where the economy does not collapse and stores do not close and so many people are left on the street and without work,” said Ambar Rujal, a 19-year-old student in Buenos Aires.

Jorge Giacobbe, a Buenos Aires-based political analyst, said the government would not want to risk upsetting voters so close to October’s legislative elections.

“There are going to be restrictions, but the government knows that it cannot make harsh restrictions again. People will not allow it after having suffered such a strict quarantine in 2020,” he said.

(Reporting by Agustin Geist; Additional reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Rosalba O’Brien)

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Economy

CANADA STOCKS – TSX ends flat at 19,228.03

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* The Toronto Stock Exchange’s TSX falls 0.00 percent to 19,228.03

* Leading the index were Corus Entertainment Inc <CJRb.TO​>, up 7.0%, Methanex Corp​, up 6.4%, and Canaccord Genuity Group Inc​, higher by 5.5%.

* Lagging shares were Denison Mines Corp​​, down 7.0%, Trillium Therapeutics Inc​, down 7.0%, and Nexgen Energy Ltd​, lower by 5.7%.

* On the TSX 93 issues rose and 128 fell as a 0.7-to-1 ratio favored decliners. There were 26 new highs and no new lows, with total volume of 183.7 million shares.

* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Toronto-dominion Bank, Nutrien Ltd and Organigram Holdings Inc.

* The TSX’s energy group fell 1.61 points, or 1.4%, while the financials sector climbed 0.67 points, or 0.2%.

* West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell 0.44%, or $0.26, to $59.34 a barrel. Brent crude  fell 0.24%, or $0.15, to $63.05 [O/R]

* The TSX is up 10.3% for the year.

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Canadian dollar outshines G10 peers, boosted by jobs surge

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Canadian dollar

By Fergal Smith

TORONTO (Reuters) – The Canadian dollar advanced against its broadly stronger U.S. counterpart on Friday as data showing the economy added far more jobs than expected in March offset lower oil prices, with the loonie also gaining for the week.

Canada added 303,100 jobs in March, triple analyst expectations, driven by the recovery across sectors hit by shutdowns in December and January to curb the new coronavirus.

“The Canadian economy keeps beating expectations,” said Michael Goshko, corporate risk manager at Western Union Business Solutions. “It seems like the economy is adapting to these closures and restrictions.”

Stronger-than-expected economic growth could pull forward the timing of the first interest rate hike by the Bank of Canada, Goshko said.

The central bank has signaled that its benchmark rate will stay at a record low of 0.25% until 2023. It is due to update its economic forecasts on April 21, when some analysts expect it to cut bond purchases.

The Canadian dollar was trading 0.3% higher at 1.2530 to the greenback, or 79.81 U.S. cents, the biggest gain among G10 currencies. For the week, it was also up 0.3%.

Still, speculators have cut their bullish bets on the Canadian dollar to the lowest since December, data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed. As of April 6, net long positions had fallen to 2,690 contracts from 6,518 in the prior week.

The price of oil, one of Canada‘s major exports, was pressured by rising supplies from major producers. U.S. crude prices settled 0.5% lower at $59.32 a barrel, while the U.S. dollar gained ground against a basket of major currencies, supported by higher U.S. Treasury yields.

Canadian government bond yields also climbed and the curve steepened, with the 10-year up 4.1 basis points at 1.502%.

 

(Reporting by Fergal Smith; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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Canadian dollar rebounds from one-week low ahead of jobs data

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Canadian dollar

By Fergal Smith

TORONTO (Reuters) -The Canadian dollar strengthened against its U.S. counterpart on Thursday, recovering from a one-week low the day before, as the level of oil prices bolstered the medium-term outlook for the currency and ahead of domestic jobs data on Friday.

The Canadian dollar was trading 0.4% higher at 1.2560 to the greenback, or 79.62 U.S. cents. On Wednesday, it touched its weakest intraday level since March 31 at 1.2634.

“We have seen partial retracement from the decline over the last couple of days,” said Greg Anderson, global head of foreign exchange strategy at BMO Capital Markets.

“With oil prices where they are – let’s call WCS still at roughly $49 a barrel – I still think CAD has room to strengthen over the medium term and even over a one-week horizon.”

Western Canadian Select (WCS), the heavy blend of oil that Canada produces, trades at a discount to the U.S. benchmark. U.S. crude futures settled 0.3% lower at $59.60 a barrel, but were up nearly 80% since last November.

The S&P 500 closed at a record high as Treasury yields fell following softer-than-anticipated labor market data, while the U.S. dollar fell to a two-week low against a basket of major currencies.

Canada‘s employment report for March, due on Friday, could offer clues on the Bank of Canada‘s policy outlook. The central bank has become more upbeat about prospects for economic growth, while some strategists expect it to cut bond purchases at its next interest rate announcement on April 21.

On a more cautious note for the economy, Ontario, Canada‘s most populous province, initiated a four-week stay-at-home order as it battles a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canadian government bond yields were lower across a flatter curve in sympathy with U.S. Treasuries. The 10-year fell 3.3 basis points to 1.469%.

(Reporting by Fergal Smith;Editing by Alison Williams and Jonathan Oatis)

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