Coronavirus - Pass the parcel
22 May 2020
Latin America looks set to become the new epicentre of the virus. The number of cases in Brazil, Peru, Mexico & Colombia are rising fast, with Brazil seeing the number of deaths doubling every two weeks. These countries have neither the economic power nor political will to enforce significant lockdowns and some are looking at some unconventional approaches to slow the spread, including bringing forward a number of public holidays. As long as the virus is circulating, the hotspots will continue to change making it very hard for countries to reopen their borders to global travel and trade.
• UK borrowing reached £62bn in April.
• British retail sales fall 18.1% in April (ONS).
• TFL reinstates charges for bus travel on Saturday.
• China scraps economic growth target.
• Close Brothers – “The group's financial performance in the third quarter reflects the impact of the forward-looking recognition of impairment charges under IFRS 9 as at 30 April 2020 to incorporate the impact of Covid-19, partially offset by a strong performance in Winterflood.
In the Banking division, we have focused on supporting our customers and continuing to lend under our consistent and prudent credit terms. The loan book reduced slightly in the quarter, decreasing 1.2% to £7.53 billion (31 January 2020: £7.62 billion) reflecting the impact of the pandemic on new business levels, particularly in April.
The Commercial loan book experienced a slight decline overall, reflecting modest new business levels in Asset Finance and progressively lower utilisation levels in Invoice Finance. In Retail, the UK lockdown has resulted in the temporary closure of motor dealerships with a reduction in new business for Motor Finance while dealers adapt to trading remotely. Premium Finance continues to see solid demand for insurance finance, particularly for commercial lines. Property has experienced fewer drawdowns on lending facilities during the current reduction in construction activity, but the pipeline for new developments remains robust.
We continue to focus on disciplined pricing, but lower activity levels and fee income in April due to the impact of Covid-19 resulted in a slight reduction in the net interest margin to 7.7% year-to-date (H1 2020: 7.8%).
While we continued to invest in our key strategic programmes to protect, improve and extend our business model, given the current conditions we are carefully reviewing the timing and prioritisation of investment spend and continue to focus on cost discipline.
The bad debt charge mainly related to the forward-looking recognition of impairment charges under IFRS 9 as at 30 April 2020 to incorporate the impact of Covid-19, resulting in an increased charge of £86.7 million in the quarter (H1 2020: £36.7 million), with a bad debt ratio of 2.1% year-to-date (H1 2020: 0.9%).
This increase predominantly reflects the application of expert judgement to determine the appropriate allocation of loan balances between stages 1 and 2, to the incorporation of updated macroeconomic scenario assumptions2, and to the review of provision coverage at the individual portfolio level. Provisions for expected credit losses increased in all businesses, with the largest increase in Commercial.
The charge incurred in the period represents a forward-looking estimate of credit losses under IFRS 9, based on information available at 30 April 2020 and taking into account the expert judgement of our businesses. We will continue to refine our assumptions as revised economic forecasts become available and visibility on the performance of the loan book evolves.
While there is considerable uncertainty on how the current environment will impact credit losses across the market, we remain confident in the quality of our loan book, which is predominantly secured, prudently underwritten and diverse3, and supported by the deep expertise of our people, many of whom have experience through previous downturns.
The Asset Management division delivered a resilient performance in the period and continued to achieve good new business levels with an annualised net inflow rate of 10% year-to-date (H1 2020: 12%). Managed assets were impacted by negative market movements, consistent with experience across the wealth management sector, reducing to £11.8 billion at 30 April 2020 (31 January 2020: £12.7 billion) and total client assets decreased to £13.0 billion (31 January 2020: £14.0 billion).
Winterflood has experienced a substantial increase in trading volumes since the Covid-19 outbreak, recording third quarter average daily volumes almost double those in the first half. The strong performance highlights the expertise and experience of our traders as they navigate extraordinary market movements. However, as a daily trading business, performance will continue to reflect the challenges and opportunities presented by the current market environment.”
• Premier Miton – “From 16 March 2020 all employees transitioned to remote working using the Group's business continuity arrangements. No material expenditure was required for the transition to remote working. All systems are continuing to operate as planned.
While the full implications of Covid-19 on the financial performance for the year remain difficult to determine at this stage, the Group has seen a recovery in AuM since the period end.
AuM at 30 April 2020 was £9.9 billion with net positive inflows of £19 million for the month of April.
We note that there are a number of measures available to the Board to reduce the cost base of the Group and to align expenditure with a more volatile revenue base.
Cuts to certain discretionary expenditure have already been implemented and, in addition, the senior management team have elected to take a reduction in salary for a period of six months.”
• River & Mercantile – “The beginning of 2020 has seen a dramatic increase in the volatility of global financial markets due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in global economic disruption and has caused the NAV of the company to decline significantly by 31 March 2020. Whilst the continued impact of Covid-19 is difficult to estimate, its effects may continue to adversely affect economies globally and, in particular, underlying portfolio holdings which may further negatively impact the company's NAV.
Both the Board and the Manager are actively monitoring the situation and are in frequent dialogue with the Portfolio Manager, who continues to diligently manage the company's assets in line with the company's investment strategy. Further to the going concern statement below, the Board are confident that the company, which is unleveraged, has sufficient resources at its disposal and liquidity in its portfolio to remain a going concern. Both the Board and the Manager will continue to monitor the situation and support the Portfolio Manager where necessary in order to guide the company through this period of exceptional volatility.
As you are all aware, the outlook for both the UK and Global economies deteriorated sharply in only a matter of weeks, since Covid-19 struck around the world. There are a range of estimates for the expected decline in U.K. GDP in the second quarter of 2020, but most forecasters expect a strong recovery in the following quarter. This could well mark the deepest recession since the financial crisis in 2008 for the UK. Unlike the financial crisis, it is not just financial pain we are feeling, since we are all concerned about our families and loved ones too. Therefore, the human toll of this crisis will be felt in untold ways.
Whilst this is the economic backdrop at the time of writing this report, I thought it worth considering how small and micro-cap stocks might be positioned in responding to times of market stress and what attributes they have that could set them apart from larger companies. An example of resilience in times of crisis is the family-owned furniture retailer, the House of Reeves, that suffered a horrendous fire after the rioting in London during August 2011. Images of firefighters being unable to save the store from the engulfing flames were broadcast and became emblematic of the London riots. This business had been owned within the same family in Croydon for over 145 years. The day after the fire the House of Reeves began its recovery, with staff helping to relocate the business to a nearby building and they continue trading profitably to this day.
While smaller firms tend to lack the formalised planning and resources of larger businesses, they do benefit from agility and flexibility in times of crisis. A smaller business is unlikely to have run several disaster recovery exercises and considered what each response might be to these different scenarios; but then, they are much more adaptable in being able to react to any scenario. Rather than having to turn an oil tanker around, the people with the hands on the tiller have a much more nimble vessel to helm. Secondly, a lack of an unwieldy infrastructure may afford business owners the potential to make decisions quickly with an ability to tap into their close networks at short notice. It will also be beneficial that those in control of small businesses quite often are the owners of the key relationships, whether that be with suppliers, lenders, local authorities or insurers, and can use a personal touch to make a difference in any negotiation.
Another factor to consider when weighing up the benefits of a smaller company's agility, is its ability to access finance. We have seen that the UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has taken unprecedented steps recently to improve access to finance for smaller companies, with the provision of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Yet, to what degree this will ensure that the banks unblock this provision of finance still remains to be seen.
In times like this, we believe that our Portfolio Manager's disciplined use of River and Mercantile's proprietary tools to guide his stock selection and regular meetings with key management of businesses in the micro-cap universe, allows him to determine which ones are most likely to survive and flourish. Indeed, a smaller company with a resourceful management team, access to finance and proven business model, should also be able to use its nimbleness and agility to position itself more for both the long and the short term.
Across the small and micro-cap listed investment company sector we have seen a widening of discounts to NAV through the current Covid-19 crisis. The discount to the NAV for our company widened from 16.97% at the date of our final results, 30 September 2019, to 30.14% at 31 March 2020. This despite the fact that the NAV total return of the company outperformed the Benchmark. This is of course an issue that your Board is taking very seriously and we are continuing to hold discussions and explore measures in order to narrow the discount.”
Food, Drinks & Household
• Headlam – “As previously stated, the company closed all of its UK sites on 24 March 2020 with the exception of its largest national distribution hub in Coleshill, which continued to operate on a very limited basis to fulfil demand for products in relation to essential work.
Since that time, and following UK Government guidelines, the company has taken a demand-led and phased approach to reopening its UK operations, providing its customers with limited delivery services and a collection service for pre-ordered products that was initiated during April 2020.
All of the company's principal distribution centres in the UK are now open on a limited basis enabling the business to provide nation-wide coverage and support for its customers. Additionally, the phased full reopening of the UK trade counter network commenced this week, which will also extend the collection service for pre-ordered products.
The company has, and will continue to ensure, that it is following all UK Government guidelines and the relevant guidelines relating to the Continental European businesses for the safety and protection of its people, customers and suppliers. The company is currently undertaking all the necessary preparatory work to fully implement Covid-19 Secure guidance throughout its network, with strict social distancing rules, use of PPE, and hand hygiene measures already being applied across the company's current operations.
Sites and delivery services will continue to be opened up more fully as the demand profile builds, including in response to the reopening of retail businesses. The company has strict controls in place ensuring that as sites have reopened, and continue to reopen more fully, operating costs are aligned with the developing revenue profile to manage costs to the lowest possible level.
In the UK, for the period since 25 March 2020, the company has been operating at a level which, on average, equates to approximately 10.4% of internal revenue expectations. For the last five trading days, led by increasing demand, this has risen to approximately 28.8%. 80.5% of the company's UK workforce are currently furloughed, compared with 87.6% on 11 May 2020 as sites have reopened reflecting demand, and continue to be paid an enhanced form of the UK Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
The company's operations in Continental Europe have collectively traded comparatively well throughout the same period due to the less restrictive governmental measures, with the exception of the French business which has operated under similar restrictions to that of the UK. For the period since 25 March 2020, the Continental European businesses have collectively been operating at a level which, on average, equates to approximately 66.8% of internal revenue expectations. For the last five trading days, this has risen to approximately 75.5%, with the recent lessening of restrictions in France being a key driver. A minority of the company's French and Swiss workforce are currently subject to the two countries' equivalent of the UK Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, with the Dutch workforce having operated fully throughout the period.
The company remains focused on the long-term and is continuing with the planning or accelerated implementation of some of the projects forming part of its ongoing Operational Improvement Programme. The Programme has been designed to make the business more customer focused and operationally efficient to increase revenue and enhance margin. A number of these projects will support the anticipated changes to customer ordering and interaction preferences, and enable the company to operate more effectively in the current environment. Projects include the ongoing transport integration initiative focused around more effective delivery fleet utilisation, an enhanced trade counter proposition, and increased e-commerce capabilities.
As previously stated, the company ceased purchasing products in March 2020, before the closure of its sites. In-line with its focus on cash management and working capital, the company will prioritise utilising its existing inventory position of £136.7 million to satisfy near-term demand and purchase as required in conjunction with specific projects and orders.
The company has agreed revised covenant tests with its banks Barclays Bank PLC and HSBC Bank Plc for 30 June 2020 on the existing facilities, which run to 30 April 2023. The banking facilities available to the company are £109.9 million, with current headroom of approximately £70.0 million. The company remains confident in its ability to manage the business and cash flows within these facilities. Of the existing government support schemes on offer, it is likely that the company will only utilise the UK Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Continental European equivalents.
It is not possible to provide guidance on the expected outturn for the financial year ending 31 December 2020 at this stage. As clarity improves, the company will issue a further announcement in respect of the anticipated 2020 performance’
• Genedrive# – “announces that the Genedrive® 96 SARS-CoV-2 Kit is now CE-IVD marked and is available for commercial sale across the European Union, including the UK, whilst also accelerating market access to countries that accept the CE-IVD mark.
The Genedrive® 96 SARS-CoV-2 Kit is a novel Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) assay designed to detect active infection in Covid-19 patients. genedrive's PCR bead format eliminates the need for the time consuming and error-prone reagent preparation required in all other open-platform test kits. The proprietary format streamlines laboratory workflow, allowing more tests to be performed in a day. Patient samples are simply mixed with the PCR beads, and are then analysed on a variety of existing third-party real time PCR platforms. During CE-IVD evaluations on 180 randomised specimens, the Genedrive® 96 SARS-CoV-2 Kit achieved 100% sensitivity and 98.2% specificity, placing it in a top tier performance table for Covid-19 PCR tests.
The test has been co-developed with Cytiva (formerly GE Healthcare Life Sciences). The scalable manufacturing process uses Cytiva's Lyo-Stable™ validated manufacturing method, capable of producing 10,000 PCR beads per hour. The Genedrive® 96 SARS-CoV-2 kit is stable at ambient temperatures which eliminates the need for cold storage, making the test very practical for global export markets.
Following CE-IVD marking, the company can commence commercial sales in the UK and across the EU immediately. The company will now begin distribution to potential customers for initial clinical evaluations, and aims to record first commercial sales in June.”
• Open Orphan – “today announces its intention to raise up to £12 million (net of expenses) (the "Fundraising") via a placing of new Ordinary Shares ("Placing Shares") to institutional and other investors (the "Placing"),
subscription of new Ordinary Shares ("Subscription Shares") to certain investors and an offer subscription for new Ordinary Shares by PrimaryBid ("PrimaryBid Shares") all at a price of 11 pence per new Ordinary Share (the "Issue Price").
The Group intends to conduct a Fundraising to raise up to £12 million (net of expenses) via the Placing of the Placing Shares, Subscription of the Subscription Shares and an offer for subscription of the PrimaryBid Shares all at the Issue Price.
The Placing is to be conducted by way of an accelerated bookbuild process which will commence immediately following this Announcement and will be subject to the terms and conditions set out in Appendix I to this Announcement.
The company has conditionally raised approximately £80,000 (before expenses) through the Subscription of 727,272 Subscription Shares.
The Group also intends to launch an offer for subscription to be conducted by PrimaryBid on behalf of the company (the "PrimaryBid Offer") on a "first come, first served" basis.
The net proceeds of the Fundraising will be used to
Maximise available Covid-19 opportunities including accelerating the development of both a seasonal coronavirus and a Covid-19 virus challenge study model to capitalise upon Group's inbound demand from Covid-19 vaccine developers globally. These challenge study models have the ability to speed up the development of a vaccine by 2-3 years;
• Ramp up Covid-19 antiviral testing to the Group's current capacity for 3,000 tests per day;
• Expand existing laboratory testing services to 3rd party pharmaceutical and biotech companies in line with our strategy of becoming a leading services provider to the growing viral, and respiratory diseases sector of the pharmaceutical industry; and
• Strengthen the balance sheet to enable the Group to take advantage of the significant and growing opportunities the Board believes are available.
The Issue Price represents a premium of 3.8 per cent. to the closing price of 10.6 pence per Ordinary Share on 7 May 2020 being the date immediately before the announcement of the Quotient partnership on 11 May 2020. It represents a discount of approximately 26.4 per cent. to the closing middle market price of 14.95 pence per Ordinary Share on 21 May 2020, being the latest practicable date prior to the publication of this Announcement.”
• Future – “Our many talented staff have been quick to evolve the business model to the changes in market conditions, including the creation of virtual events such as the Future Games Show and adapting the content strategy to respond to evolving audience demands. We have modified the subscription distribution model to ensure that readers can continue to access the content they love and increased presence of magazines on all digital channels. The closure of travel retail has reduced the profitability of some titles and therefore regrettably, we have reviewed the portfolio and removed activity that was loss making or marginal. In addition, cost based measures including a review of overheads has helped protect profitability. The Board has also taken a temporary pay cut from March.
Current trading and outlook – The second half of the financial year has continued to show strong momentum and, as a result of the quick action undertaken, we have been able to minimise the impact on the business of Covid-19-related issues. The ongoing strong growth in audiences has helped offset any softness in advertising, as well as maintaining the positive eCommerce trends seen in the first half of the year. The Board therefore remains confident in achieving its expectations for the full year.”
• Burberry Group – “Since late January, our business has been very materially impacted by the outbreak of Covid-19.
In revenue terms, most of our losses in February were in Asian markets. At peak, the majority of our stores in Mainland China were closed and those that remained open operated with reduced hours amid very significant declines in footfall. Towards the end of the year, trading in Mainland China started to improve with the reopening of all our stores. However, footfall in other parts of Asia, including Hong Kong S.A.R, remained materially weaker throughout.
EMEIA and the Americas also suffered very significant losses in the last three weeks of the year. By the end of March, in line with government guidelines, all of our stores in these regions were closed with only the digital part of our business open for trading.
We also saw disruption across our supply chain. Our leather-goods centre of excellence, Burberry Manifattura, and our trench coat factory in Castleford, Yorkshire closed in March. We also shut our major global distribution centre in Italy in March, with our American and UK logistics hubs reducing hours but remaining open to service our digital business. We also re-shaped our supply chain to enable a continued service to those parts of the world that remained open.
In order to limit the impact of the outbreak on our business, we implemented mitigating actions to contain costs and protect our financial position. These included renegotiating rents, restricting recruitment, travel and other discretionary spending.
We also leveraged our digital platform to continue to connect with customers that were unable to visit our stores. This included bringing our products to our clients through remote selling and roadshows, live streaming events from stores and creating immersive experiences such as our recent launch of Bags World.
FY 2021 outlook – We are not in a position to provide specific guidance for FY 2021 at this stage as it is currently challenging to predict the course of the pandemic and the longer lasting economic consequences. However, we currently have 50% of our store network closed and we expect our first quarter (to end June 2020) to be severely impacted with store closures likely to be at or near peak for most of the quarter.
We feel confident in the strength of the Burberry brand and are encouraged by the recovery we are experiencing in Mainland China and Korea with cumulative sales in both markets since the beginning of April ahead of the prior year, albeit it is likely there is a benefit from some repatriation of spending in Mainland China. However, as government restrictions ease across the globe, consumers in different markets are likely to respond in distinct ways, with the travelling consumer likely to take longer to return. As a result, it could take some time for the luxury industry to recover to pre-crisis levels.”
• Air Partner – “The Group has had a very encouraging start to the financial year, with the unaudited management accounts for the first quarter of the year showing expected underlying profit before tax of £6.0m. April was a record month, predominantly driven by unusually high levels of activity in Freight and Group Charter. The success of the Group in the year to date has been driven by new business wins as a result of the pandemic, such as repatriation contracts and corporate shuttles, which have outweighed a decline in Safety & Security and Private Jets (including JetCard). We have seen high levels of activity in May to date and are strongly ahead of budget for the month. The forward order book for June is also encouraging, with continued high demand for our Freight and Group Charter services as part of the ongoing Covid-19 response. Visibility beyond this point is very limited.
Looking ahead to the second half of the year, the Directors expect to see a slowdown in repatriation work and freight charter activity as global supply chains recover. Conversely, Private Jets bookings are expected to increase, as international airways start to re-open, with executives and high net worth individuals wanting to travel in more controlled environments via less busy airports. We have seen some early signs of recovery within Private Jets (as well as Security), but they remain nascent at this stage.
The Covid-19 crisis, which began at the start of our financial year, has made it very hard to judge the full year impact with any degree of certainty at this point. As a result, we have managed costs to preserve cash and maintain our working capital. Accordingly, we have implemented a series of temporary cost management initiatives, minimising all discretionary spend and, where necessary, reducing salary costs, subject to local legal requirements. In addition, all board directors are currently taking a voluntary 20% pay reduction for April, May and June as a minimum. We have also made use of available government grants and benefits to further reduce our cost base in the near term.”
• Spectris – “Group LFL sales declined by 12% in the period. Disposals reduced sales by 9%, partly offset by a 1% favourable foreign currency exchange movement, resulting in a 20% decrease in reported sales. After a 9% decline in the first quarter (preliminarily disclosed as 10%), April's performance has been in line with our revised expectations, with LFL sales down 21%, most notably in North America and in the academic research and automotive end markets.
LFL sales decreased notably in the period in Asia, driven by China, although China rebounded strongly in April as pent up demand translated to revenue. In Europe and North America, LFL sales for the four-month period were 13% and 6% lower, respectively, reflecting the later phasing of the start of the lockdowns in those regions.
From an end market perspective, LFL sales in the period were down more sharply in metals, minerals and mining where investments are being put on hold as demand for metals-based products declines, and academic research, as universities and research institutes closed their doors. Machine manufacturing was the only end market to see growth in the period, with good onward demand from process, food and medical markets.
Malvern Panalytical posted a 23% decline in LFL sales, against a tough comparator and reflecting its high exposure to Asia. Additionally, many customers have not been able to complete the installation of products impacting the ability to recognise revenue for those goods. There is a further impact related to order delays in certain jurisdictions.
Trading in HBK held up well, posting only a 5% LFL sales decline, supported by strong growth in North America and good growth in machine manufacturing in the period. Given its later cycle exposure and higher presence in Europe and North America, we expect the performance in the remainder of the second quarter to be weaker.
At Omega, LFL sales were 10% lower primarily reflecting a sharp decline in demand in its main market, North America, with a number of customers temporarily closing their operations. Industrial Solutions also posted a 10% LFL sales decline, with those businesses exposed to automotive and upstream oil and gas most affected.
Maintaining a strong balance sheet and conserving cash is a key priority for the Group during this period of uncertainty. The Group continues to be highly cash generative, with a cash conversion of over 150% for the period. At the end of April, we had net cash of £59.9 million (£33.5 million at 31 December 2019), with a cash balance of £244.2 million and gross borrowings of £184.3 million. The Group has £827.5 million of committed banking facilities and has access to a number of uncommitted and bank overdraft facilities
Due to the market uncertainty, we withdrew our forward financial guidance for 2020 on 6 April. Visibility continues to remain low and we therefore maintain this position. Given the highly cash-generative nature of the Group, we remain in a good position to weather the various market scenarios we have modelled.”
• OPG Power Ventures – “The Central government has enforced a nation-wide lockdown between 25 March 2020 and 31 May 2020 as part of its measures to contain the spread of Covid-19. During the lockdown, several restrictions have been placed on the movement of individuals and economic activities have come to a halt barring those related to essential goods and services. The restrictions have been relaxed in less affected areas in a limited manner since 20 April 2020.
The Indian Government has announced special economic and comprehensive packages of approximately £215 billion (Rs20 trillion) amounting to 10 per cent of India's GDP, to strengthen the “Indian Economy, Infrastructure, Technology-driven Systems, Vibrant Demography and Demand'.
Covid-19 followed by lockdown has had a severe impact on the overall industrial activity in India as a result of which electricity demand in the country has seen a significant reduction during the first two months of FY21.
Unit 3 (80 MW) at our Chennai plant, having a Power Purchase Agreement ("PPA") with the state DISCOM, Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation ("TANGEDCO"), continued operation during this lockdown with a limited PLF. During May 2020 this unit has seen substantial increase in generation and PLF is expected to be in 75-80 per cent range this month. Two (77MW each) out of three other units, having PPA with commercial captive users, resumed operations from the beginning and middle of May 2020 respectively. Power generation is expected to increase, while our fourth unit (180MW) is also expected to resume operations as the lockdown restrictions are eased accordingly.
The Government of India and Reserve Bank of India ("RBI") have introduced various measures to support the economy, some of which will be of direct and indirect benefit to OPG. The company is working with its consortium banks to provide support to maintain and improve the company's liquidity position so that OPG has financial flexibility during this period.
Indian Economy – Covid-19 and the subsequent extended countrywide lockdown have caused severe disruption to the Indian economy. However, it is likely to be less severely affected than certain other countries that are largely dependent on exports and wider international demand. Amid projections of a sharp contraction in the global economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects the Indian GDP to grow at 1.9 per cent in fiscal year 2020-21 and projects the Indian economy to recover strongly, with GDP growth of 7.4 per cent in fiscal 2021-22.
RBI has taken several steps to reduce the negative impact of the lockdown on the economy through various monetary policy measures, including reduction in repo-reverse repo rates, a moratorium on loan repayment, 90 days freeze on non-performing assets declaration. These measures coupled with the easing of lockdown restrictions in a phased manner, will help economic activity to resume to its full extent.”
• The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the amount of goods sold fell by 18.1% last month.
• The Egyptian government has announced a raft of financial measures to help pay for the economic damage caused by the pandemic. Under a new draft law, every working Egyptian will have 1% deducted from their pay while the elderly will have a half percent cut from their pensions.
• The UK treasury has extended the mortgage payment holiday for a further three months. More than 1.8 million mortgage customers have taken advantage of the relief from making payments so far.
• China has said it won't set an economic growth goal for this year as it deals with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. It's the first time Beijing hasn't had a gross domestic product target since 1990, when the country first started publishing such objectives.
• According to the OBR, borrowing in April 2020 is estimated to have been £62.1bn, £51.1bn more than in April 2019. Borrowing in March 2020 was revised up by £11.7bn to £14.7bn, largely due to a reduction in the previous estimate of tax receipts and National Insurance contributions, and the recording of expenditure associated with the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme.
• Researchers from Guy's and St Thomas' hospital in London are beginning a trial of an immunotherapy treatment that could help the recovery of people with the most severe form of Covid-19. An examination of blood samples from some of the most severely ill patients revealed extremely low numbers of a specific virus-fighting immune cell, called a T-cell. The trial will look into whether a protein called interleukin 7 – which is known to boost the number of T-cells – can aid patients' recovery.
• International travellers into the UK could be fined £1,000 if they fail to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival, the Government is expected to announce. The new rules are not expected to come into force until next month.
• NHS fees for overseas health staff and care workers are to be scrapped.
• Charging for bus travel in London will resume on Saturday, Transport for London (TfL) has announced.
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