Coronavirus - Building bed capacity
3 April 2020
The UK’s Nightingale Hospital opened today at London’s ExCel centre after nine days of fitting out. It currently has 500 beds, although it has capacity for 3,500. In New York, temporary hospitals are being built in Central Park and the Manhattan Center, and many other pop-up hospitals are filling conference centres, stadiums and parks across the globe. While these are impressive logistical feats, it is two months since China completed its two hospitals in two weeks in Wuhan. It seems surprising that it has taken this long for governments to respond.
• Singapore has announced a one-month lockdown
• DfT has awarded £167m funding to bus operators to cover losses
• The White House is expected to advise Americans to wear masks
• Europe urges insurers not to pay dividends Link, but BAFIN disagrees
• Cicero report on UK household finances Link
• Hong Kong re-imposes restrictions Link
• Moody’s economic scenarios Link
• Peru is to stop people from leaving their homes according to their gender
• UK Nightingale hospital opens at London ExCel centre
• BBC will offer daily programmes to help parents and children with schoolwork at home during the lockdown
• Saturday will feature a televised Virtual Grand National with bookmakers sending profits to NHS Charities Together
• Bank of Georgia – “Our banking regulator has announced that it has introduced an updated supervisory plan for the Georgian banking sector. The initiatives under the revised supervisory plan are aimed at alleviating the negative financial and economic challenges created by the global Covid-19 pandemic in Georgia. The measures, which have been introduced with immediate effect, are mainly focused on capital adequacy and liquidity initiatives that allow banks to use existing buffers to support customers in the current financially stressed circumstances, to continue normal business activities as far as possible, and to support the economy through ongoing lending operations.
Capital adequacy initiatives:
• Combined buffer – the conservation buffer requirement of 2.5% of risk-weighted assets reduced to 0% indefinitely;
• Pillar 2 requirements:
• Currency induced credit risk buffer (CICR) requirement reduced by 2/3rds indefinitely;
• The phase-in of additional credit portfolio concentration risk buffer (HHI) and net GRAPE buffer requirements on Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) and Tier 1 capital, planned at the end of March, 2020, has been postponed indefinitely;
• The possibility of fully or partially releasing the remaining requirements of Pillar 2 buffers (HHI, CICR, net GRAPE), if necessary, remains open.
• Liquidity coverage ratio (LCR) requirements (for local and foreign currency, as well as total requirement) may be revisited and reduced, if necessary;
• Mandatory reserve requirements may be revisited and reduced, if necessary;
• Eligibility criteria for repo-eligible securities may be revisited, if necessary, to support GEL liquidity.
• The deadline for submitting previously planned stress testing results to NBG has been postponed until the end of May, 2020;
• NBG will not impose any monetary sanctions in case of breach of economic normatives and limits driven by external factors (e.g. reserves, exchange rate deprecation);
• NBG on-site audits, except for ongoing anti-money laundering reviews, postponed indefinitely;
• All new regulatory changes and requirements postponed till September, 2020, or until further communicated by NBG. This does not apply to regulations with regard to open banking, XBRL reporting and resolution framework.
During the period the banks are allowed to use partially or fully the Pillar 2 and conservation buffers, the banks must not make capital distribution in any form.
Bank of Georgia's (the "Bank") capital adequacy ratios, funding and liquidity positions have been strong, and remain comfortably above the Bank's minimum regulatory requirements. As of 29 February 2020, the Bank's liquidity coverage ratio stood at 133.9% and net stable funding ratio at 130.9%, compared to the 100% minimum required level. The CET1, Tier 1 and total capital adequacy ratios were 12.2%, 14.2% and 18.6%, respectively, comfortably in excess of the respective minimum required levels of 10.2%, 12.2% and 17.1%. Following the just announced measures, the Bank expects CET1, Tier 1 and Total Capital adequacy minimum ratio requirements of 6.9%, 8.7% and 13.3%, respectively, as of 31 March 2020.
In addition, on 2 April 2020, the Bank drew-down the second tranche of the US$107 million subordinated syndicated loan facility signed in December, 2019, in the amount of US$55 million. This is expected to be treated as a Bank Tier 2 capital instrument under the Basel III regulation upon approval of the NBG and will further improve the overall capitalisation of the Bank.”
• Cenkos Securities – “When released, the audited results are expected to be in line with the trading update issued on 18 February 2020. As previously reported, following the unfavourable market backdrop in 2019 (before Covid 19), the Board had implemented steps to reduce the Company's cost base. As a result, Cenkos' annual fixed cost base today is anticipated to be more than £3.0 million lower than in 2019. The Board will continue to take action to reduce costs and minimise the financial impact of the uncertainty caused by Covid 19. The Company has a strong balance sheet, with cash resources of £23.8m as at 01 April 2020, and other financial resources well in excess of its regulatory requirements. The Company was profitable for the second half of
2019 and expects to report a small profit for the year ended 31 December 2019.
Cenkos responded to Covid 19 promptly and successfully implemented a comprehensive remote working capability, which has enabled us to ensure both the wellbeing of our staff and the ability to continue servicing our clients during this period of uncertainty. The Company is fully operational and continues to operate as normal. Due to the quality and flexibility of our people and the strengths of our business, our ability to attract and win new high-quality corporate clients remains strong. We continue to sign up quality clients, having added one this week, along with a number in the pipeline, and have the capacity to add many more to our stable.”
• CMC Markets – “As announced in a series of upgrades throughout the financial year, net trading revenue across the Group has been strong in FY 2020 and in particular during the final quarter of the year.
The CFD business has generated gross client income (client transaction fees) of c£241 million (FY 2019: £216.0 million) due to the strong underlying performance in the business throughout the year. This was further enhanced by the increased market activity in the final quarter, which more than offsets the reduced client trading activity resulting from the ESMA intervention measures implemented in August 2018, four months into FY 2019. In addition, client income retained has been considerably stronger than the 75-80% range that was guided at the half-year results (H1 2020: 82%). The Group expects CFD net trading revenue to be approximately £214 million (FY 2019: £110.2 million). The Group is encouraged by the continued trading of its loyal client base, in addition to new clients who have joined the platform and existing clients have been reactivating their accounts.
The stockbroking business has also had a strong year and net revenue is expected to increase to c£32 million (FY 2019: £15.5 million). The increase was mainly driven by the first full year of revenue generated from the ANZ Bank white label partnership and its ongoing success, further complemented by additional growth across the core stockbroking business.
Operating costs, including depreciation and amortisation and excluding variable remuneration, are expected to be in the region of £136 million (FY 2019: £120.4 million).
The Group continues to have a strong balance sheet and liquidity position, and re-affirms that its dividend policy of paying a total annual dividend of 50% of profit after tax remains in place.”
• Nationwide Building Society – “Nationwide Building Society ('Nationwide') has today announced that it is stopping plans to enter the UK business banking market as it prioritises supporting its members through the immediate and longer-term financial implications of Covid-19.
The impact of Covid-19, including assumption changes to short and long-term interest rates, has meant that the option of entering the business banking market is no longer commercially viable. As a consequence of its decision, Nationwide will cease activity directly related to its proposed market entry, it will return the £50 million grant funding it was awarded from the Banking Competition Remedies' Capability and Innovation Fund, as announced in May 2019, and won't participate in the Incentivised Switching Scheme.
The financial implications of the cancellation will be disclosed within Nationwide's preliminary full year results for 2019/2020. At this stage, Nationwide estimates the costs of cancellation will be in the region of £70 million in 2020 but running cost and investment savings will make this a net neutral cost over the next 24 months. All employees will be redeployed to other roles within Nationwide.”
• TBC Bank Group – “Our economists' latest analysis forecasts the Georgian economy to contract in 2020, which will have a negative impact on many businesses and individuals in the country. Therefore, in close co-ordination with the National Bank of Georgia ("NBG"), we have decided to create an extra loan loss provision buffer to prepare for the potential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Georgian economy. As of 31 March 2020, TBC Bank decided to book additional provisions in accordance with local standards, at 3.0-3.3% of the loan book and resulting in an estimated up to 2.44% decrease in the CET1 capital adequacy ratio.
NBG is implementing countercyclical measures to support financial stability of the banking system and to ensure provision of financial support to sectors of the economy affected by the current turmoil.
In relation to capital adequacy requirements:
• Postponing the phasing in of additional capital requirements planned in March 2020, with an 0.44 pp effect on TBC's CET 1
• Allowing banks to use the conservation buffer (currently at 2.5pp on CET1) and 2/3 of CICR buffer resulted in the release of 1.0-2.0% of capital across our CET1, Tier 1 and Total CAR
• Leaving open the possibility of releasing all pillar 2 buffers (remaining 1/3 CICR, HHI and Net Grape buffers) in the range of 1.0-4.0% of capital across our CET1, Tier 1 and Total CAR.
In relation to liquidity requirements, if necessary:
• Decreasing LCR limits
• Decreasing FX mandatory reserve requirements
• Updating criteria for security or repo pledging to support GEL liquidity
As a result of the provision made and also the significant depreciation of the Georgian Lari during the course of March 2020, TBC Bank's CET1, Tier 1 and Total CAR as at 31 March 2020 are estimated at 8.7%, 11.5% and 16.1%, respectively. The final numbers will be published on 30 April 2020. These ratios remain well above the NBG's revised estimated minimum requirements of 7.0%, 8.8% and 13.4%, respectively, which allow for the utilisation of the full conservation buffer and 2/3 of the currency induced credit risk buffer.”
Food, drinks & household
• ABF – “Associated British Foods plc ("the Group") announces today that George Weston, Chief Executive, and John Bason, Finance Director, have requested that their base pay be reduced temporarily by 50%, and that the board of directors has accepted this proposal. Furthermore, bonuses relating to the current financial year will not be paid to the executive directors. Paul Marchant, chief executive of Primark, has also requested that his base pay be reduced temporarily by 50%.
The non-executive directors of the ABF board, including the chairman Michael McLintock, have decided that their fees should be reduced temporarily by 25%.
The board, including the executive management team, believes that these steps are appropriate given its expectation that full year earnings will now be much lower than envisaged at the start of the financial year. The board is acutely aware that many Primark employees will see their livelihoods affected by Covid-19.
As stated in the Group's trading update of 23 March, the Group has not seen a material impact in its sugar, grocery, ingredients and agriculture businesses. Measures to reduce the operating costs at Primark continue to be developed and implemented. The Group has a strong balance sheet and, at close of business last night, has some £1.7bn of cash.”
• ReNeuron Group – “Following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Company has initiated a research programme focused on the potential utility of its proprietary exosomes as a delivery vehicle for viral vaccines. Previously presented, unpublished data show that ReNeuron's exosomes can be loaded with biologically active cargo and delivered preferentially to certain specific sites in the body. This research is in its initial stages, the goal being to establish whether an increase in the potency of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus vaccines in development can be enhanced in this way, utilising ReNeuron's established expertise in exosome isolation, modification and manufacture at scale.
Government measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus are having an increasing effect on most clinical studies, including in the US, where the Company is running two clinical trials with its therapeutic candidates for stroke disability and retinitis pigmentosa. As a consequence, these clinical studies will be subject to some delays in patient recruitment and the Company will provide further guidance regarding the timing of availability of top-line data from the studies in due course. Patients already treated continue to be followed up in both studies, on a remote basis where this is necessary in order to ensure patient safety.”
• BAE – “Given the critical nature of the products and services that we provide to a number of nations, the key role we play in national economies and the local communities in which we operate, the Group has a number of near-term priorities:
• Protect the wellbeing of our employees
• Meet customer priorities and support them as they face unique challenges
• Support our supply chain in dealing with pandemic related disruption
• Preserve and protect our capabilities and the strength of the Group's business which is underpinned by our £45bn order backlog and programme positions
• Ensure that we maintain liquidity and balance sheet strength and thereby remain robustly funded in anticipation of a potentially extended period of uncertainty.
Our Approach – Our primary focus through this challenging period is to ensure that our employees are safe, our facilities are maintained securely, and the long-term future of our business is protected. A core part of this approach involves working closely with our customers and suppliers to support them in these difficult times. This will enable us to increase production for any affected operations safely and as quickly as possible once permitted to do so. This will allow us to minimise any interruption of supply to our customers and be in a position to support the economic recovery phase for the countries in which we operate.
The Company is in a strong position with a large order backlog, mainly consisting of long-term Government contracts across a wide international customer base. We have a strong balance sheet, a high quality, diverse portfolio and supply chains closely aligned to the nations in which we operate. At the same time, the Company is taking a number of actions to enhance its resilience and position the business for an eventual return to a full operational tempo.
Management Actions – We have mobilised our business continuity plans in response to the Covid-19 outbreak with governance and communication structures to facilitate rapid decision-making. Significant steps have already been taken in line with relevant government guidance and policy to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our employees and customers. These include working from home for a significant proportion of colleagues throughout the Group, with a number of sites on reduced operational levels. New procedures have been implemented at our sites including enhanced cleaning regimes, safe working distance measures and distribution of protective equipment to our teams on site while they continue to meet the critical priorities of our customers. We have already seen an exceptional response from our employees, customers and supply chains and are liaising closely with our customers and suppliers to understand any changes in requirements and priorities during this time.
Trading Update – In the first quarter of 2020, the pandemic has had no material impact on the financial performance of the Group. We have received significant awards recently on the M109A7 self-propelled howitzer programme, in US ship repair and on the THAAD missile programme in Electronic Systems.
As the second quarter commences, we are seeing more significant disruptions. We continue to assess the impact on our business of the measures announced by national governments, together with the actions the Group has taken to support customers and suppliers. In parallel, cost control measures have been implemented to help limit the financial impact of disruptions to the business.
Liquidity position – The liquidity of the Company is strong, with significant gross cash and access to a £2bn Revolving Credit Facility committed to April 2024, along with other short and long-term debt options.
From this position of strength the Group does typically have a working capital cash outflow in the first half of the year and actions are being taken internally to optimise cash flow while maintaining operational resilience and capability. Additionally, we are discussing funding profiles with our key customers to ensure our supply chain remains strong and there is a continuity on critical defence and security programmes.
Final Dividend Payment, Executive Director Remuneration and AGM – The liquidity and business profile of the Group is strong. This remains however reliant on the goodwill of our customers and the financial strength of our supply chain to maintain the drumbeat of production commitments both now and in the future.
Against a background of significant government and social challenges, and the uncertainty as to the duration of the resulting disruption, the Board believes it is in the Company`s best interests, having regard to all our stakeholders' interests, to defer the decision on the 13.8 pence per share dividend proposed by the Board when announcing the Company's 2019 results in February.
We recognise the importance of the dividend to our shareholders and whilst it remains our intention to pay a dividend, the timing of any payment will be contingent on prevailing macro-economic and social conditions over the coming months. An update on the dividend payment will be provided at the Half Year results on 30 July 2020, at which time the Board will also review remuneration of the Executive Directors.
Acquisitions – The proposed acquisitions of the Collins Aerospace Military Global Positioning System business and Raytheon's Airborne Tactical Radios business are still expected to complete in the coming months. As previously announced, appropriate financing is already in place to enable completion. Both acquisitions are conditional on the completion of the Raytheon and United Technologies Corporation merger, now due to complete on 3 April 2020, as well as other customary closing conditions and required US regulatory approvals.
Pension – The latest estimates show that the UK pension deficit funding position has not materially changed since the year-end despite the market volatility in equities and bonds. The Group's assumptions on the funding of its pension schemes are prudent and appropriately reflect expected long-term asset returns and the term of the liabilities. The latest valuation of the Group's Main Scheme is dated 31 October 2019 and, subject to market conditions, we intend to proceed with the funding contributions agreed as part of this valuation as outlined in the Preliminary Results Announcement.
Guidance Update – Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic will impact our previous guidance for 2020, at this stage it is not possible to predict either the duration of the disruption or its impact on the 2020 outturn. A further update will be provided when appropriate.
• Bagir – “The Company has continued to experience existing orders being placed on hold or cancelled by customers, with a significant proportion of the Company's previous order book now on hold or cancelled.
As a result of the limited visibility on future revenues and payments by customers, particularly in our key markets in the UK and US and, as a result of, our current cash balance, the Board anticipates that the Company has insufficient cash resources available to operate the business as a going concern.
Accordingly, the Board is actively assessing its options, which include seeking immediate additional funding to support the Company's working capital needs. In addition, the Board is taking legal advice, including insolvency advice, as to its options.”
• Tyman – “Since the announcement of our 2019 preliminary results on 5th March 2020, the crisis situation with the Covid-19 pandemic has changed significantly.
The Group's priority continues to be ensuring the health and safety of our employees, their families and our communities, especially at the current time. We have acted quickly to implement enhanced hygiene and social distancing measures across the Group, including moving employees to remote home working where possible.
The Group's 2020 trading performance was in line with our expectations until the middle of March. Since then, trading has progressively been impacted as increasingly stringent lockdowns have taken effect in our markets. We have responded accordingly, temporarily closing our facilities in the UK and Italy. Our sites in North America are currently operating but with a marked reduction in order intake now being seen. The situation however remains fluid and is being closely monitored and actively managed.
Balance sheet and liquidity – The Group enters this period of volatility and uncertainty with a robust balance sheet. At 31st December 2019, net debt excluding leases was £163m and net debt to EBITDA ratio on a covenant basis was 1.7x (2018: 2.3x) compared with the covenant limit of 3.0x. The Group has a cash balance of £121m as at 31st March 2020, having recently drawn down against our revolving credit facility of £240 million, with £4m remaining undrawn. The earliest maturing debt is a $55m tranche of our US Private Placement that is due for repayment in November 2021.
Focus on cash preservation and withdrawal of final dividend – The Group has put in place a broad range of measures with focus on optimisation of cash flow via cost savings, working capital reduction and tight management of capital expenditure. The Group is also making use of government employee programmes, tax relief and other measures as they become available in all our geographies. For example, in the UK, 80% of the workforce are currently furloughed.
As part of the leadership's response, the Board and senior management have elected to take a base salary reduction of 25% and 20% respectively, effective from 1st April 2020. In addition, the Group has decided to cancel the 2020 management bonus scheme.
Given the considerable level of uncertainty, the Board has taken the decision to cancel the final dividend payment of 8.35p per ordinary share that was proposed with the 2019 results announcement on 5 March 2020. The cash impact of this decision is £16m in H1 2020. Future dividend decisions will be made as and when conditions normalise.
We have assessed the impact on both profitability and cash flow of various potential scenarios of different durations and severity. We will continue to monitor the evolution of the crisis and remain flexible to adjust plans as necessary. With the actions being taken, we are confident that we are well-placed to withstand a prolonged period of reduced trading.
• Fuller, Smith & Turner – “The Company has placed the vast majority of its employees in furlough, retaining a small number in key positions to maintain critical functions and deliver the year-end financial reporting process. Fuller's is grateful for the Government's financial assistance to employees in furlough and, where 80% of their regular wage exceeds the Government cap of £2,500 per month, the Company has committed to top up the payment to the 80% level.
During the current closure of the entire estate, steps have been taken to minimise all outgoings and to preserve cash. The Company has suspended all non-essential capital spend and is negotiating across its supplier base to reduce costs further.
As stated in the previous announcement on 23 March 2020, Fuller's has an excellent relationship and open dialogue with its lending banks, and the Company is well financed with a healthy balance sheet and significant liquidity headroom. However, in light of the unprecedented current situation – especially the uncertainty as to how long the emergency regulations will last – and to ensure the Company is in the best possible financial position with maximum flexibility, the Board has taken the decision not to propose a final dividend on the Company's ordinary shares for the year ended 28 March 2020, thereby preserving further cash (FY2019 final dividend: £6.8 million).”
• Ascential – “The impact from Covid-19 continues to be felt across the world by consumers and our customers across the marketing, creative and media industries. It has become increasingly clear that our customers' priorities have shifted to the need to protect people, to serve consumers with essential products and services and to focus on preserving companies, societies and economies. Our priority at this time is to keep our people and partners safe, to support our customers as they face the current challenges, and to protect the integrity of the Cannes Lions brand and all that it represents to its community. In light of this, we have taken the difficult decision that the Cannes Lions Festival (including the Awards) will not take place in 2020.
The impact of Covid-19 on the customer base of Cannes Lions and its ability to produce creative work, the judging and recognition of which is at the heart of the Cannes Lions Festival, has been an important factor in our decision-making as well as our desire to remove any uncertainty about the running of the awards and event for our partners and customers. After consultation with major customer groups, we have concluded that it would be inappropriate and not commercially viable to run the festival in 2020. The next edition of the Cannes Lions Festival will now take place in June 2021, when we look forward to welcoming back the world's top brands and the creative industries to celebrate the best of global creativity.
Revenue from the Cannes Lions Festival and Awards and its associated regional events comprised just over half the total revenue earned in the Marketing Segment in 2019. Ascential is working with long-standing partners and suppliers to minimise irrecoverable costs associated with the 2020 festival. It will also be making prudent adjustments to the overall cost base of the Group, mindful of the need to preserve and nurture capability to deliver strongly in 2021.
As a result, the Board will no longer propose the 2019 final dividend of 4.0p per share announced in February 2020 at its AGM on 6 May 2020, resulting in a cash saving of £15 million. The Board has also decided to suspend previously proposed 2020 salary increases across Ascential, including for Executive and Non-Executive Directors and to reduce temporarily the Executive Directors' salaries and Non-Executive Director fees by 25%.
Ascential has a robust balance sheet and significant liquidity. As previously announced, Ascential successfully refinanced its debt facilities in January 2020 (replacing previous term loans with an expanded £450m revolving credit facility maturing in January 2025), and expects to operate well within its covenants at the next testing date at the end of June 2020.”
• MediaZest – “Results for February and particularly March 2020 have been materially adversely impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak, as clients initially began to defer some projects and more recently temporarily close stores and other places of business.
Whilst the UK and certain other countries remain in “lockdown”, all deployments and installations in progress are currently on hold until further notice. In particular, this has affected key projects across the UK and in Milan, Copenhagen and Berlin, all of which are now expected to complete later in 2020.
Several of these projects were scheduled to fall in February or March 2020 and would have contributed to the ongoing improving performance across the second half of the year to 31 March 2020. Due to the disruption caused by Covid-19, the Board expects revenue for these two months to be lower than forecast and reduced to approximately £300,000 in aggregate (comparable period last year £319,000), with a modest net profit at operational level and a subsequent small loss at consolidated Group level.
In light of this, rather than the anticipated profit for the 6 months to 31 March 2020 the Group now expects to realise a modest loss after tax (6 months ended 31 March 2019 loss of £201,000) albeit with a profitable EBITDA for the period (6 months ended 31 March 2019 loss of £144,000). Within this, the Group’s operating subsidiary MediaZest International is still expected to be profitable for the 12-month period.
Some recurring revenue streams have been affected by store closures, although three of the Company’s clients are keeping stores open at this current time being deemed as selling essential goods. The Group is continuing to provide support and maintenance services to these businesses remotely and in accordance with the latest Government recommendations and guidelines.
Outlook and Covid-19 Response – At this time, it is not possible to assess the extent to which Covid-19 will affect forthcoming trading and financial performance and the situation is evolving rapidly. Further updates will be provided as soon as more information is known.
The Board is working on the assumption that the “lockdown” period and ongoing disruption caused by Covid-19 will have an impact for a minimum of six months and is therefore planning accordingly as best it can.
It is expected that once a more normal business environment resumes, projects that have been delayed from February, March, April and possibly beyond, will be required to be completed and as such there will be an initial period post restrictions when the Company will be extremely busy.
Beyond that, there are several ongoing roll-out programmes for clients with which the Group is engaged. These are currently on hold but also believed likely to resume promptly once the current restrictions on movement and store openings are lifted.
Accordingly, for this period of disruption, the Company has implemented a range of cost cutting measures to help secure the long-term future of the Group, whilst keeping the hard working and high quality delivery teams that have been built over recent years intact where possible. The Group has therefore utilised the Government’s Job Retention Scheme to furlough certain employees and is in discussions with its banks and larger shareholders regarding other measures.
In addition, approximately £150,000 of cost savings have been identified and executed already with further reductions under consideration should they be necessary.
Furthermore, the Board has agreed to extend the current accounting period to 30 September 2020 in order to defer audit costs until later in the year so that cash can be conserved during the current “lockdown” period.”
• Adriatic Metals – “In both the UK and Bosnia, government have imposed substantial restrictions on the movement of people, and in Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina, these restrictions include a curfew on all residents between 8pm and 5am daily. Additionally, Bosnia has closed its borders to all foreigners.
Exploration – Adriatic commenced a 20,000m drilling campaign for 2020 in mid January, ramping up the rig count recently to 5 rigs, with a 6th rig contracted and en-route from Serbia. The recent closure of the border has delayed the arrival of the sixth rig, but we are confident that border closures will cease within weeks. All other exploration activity is continuing unaffected, with supplies being delivered on time, and core sample exports to Bor in Serbia being only slightly delayed by border restrictions. We have sought and received a special dispensation from the municipal emergency coordinator to continue drilling 24 hours per day during the curfew period.
In 2020 to date we have drilled over 2,800m in 10 holes, and have recently permitted a further 29 drill pads for an increase in exploration activity over the spring and summer months. No assay results from the 2020 program have been received to date, but we have been advised that no delays are expected by ALS, our metallurgical assay provider in Serbia.
Pre-development – All activities related to metallurgical test work, geo-chemical domaining and pre-feasibility assessment are underway and largely unaffected by the current crisis. For the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, where some foreign-based consultants had been expected to conduct site visits for various streams of work, these have been substituted by local resources under the guidance of our international consultants, with no resulting impact on the quality of work.
As a result of the expansion in the mineralised footprint visually evident from recent drilling, a deferral of the Pre-Feasibility Study ("PFS") is being considered to allow additional drilling to be incorporated into an updated mineral resource estimate, which will be utilised for the PFS. This is not as a result of any delays in PFS work streams, which are all progressing as planned, or any Covid-19 related issues.”
• Fox Marble – “The spread of Coronavirus (Covid-19) continues to have a significant impact across industries worldwide, including the marble extraction and processing market, given the international travel and working restrictions now in place in many countries.
Kosovo Operations – In line with many other nations, Kosovo has introduced a number of measures to try and curb the further spread of Covid-19, including travel restrictions, school closures and closures of non-essential shops and venues. All flights into Kosovo have been cancelled since 16 March 2020, whilst land borders are also closed to non-Kosovo citizens. On 23 March 2020 all private businesses, apart from of some designated sectors, were also ordered to close.
Under the current legislation, Fox Marble's operations are permitted to continue, as it falls within a designated sector. The Company will continue to operate the factory, though it will scale back operations to specific projects. This will allow the implementation of extra distancing procedures to protect our workforce, as well as to take into account the impact of Covid-19 on the Company's customers. Existing and committed projects will be completed, though timelines will be closely managed in co-ordination with our clients. The level of operations at the factory will be assessed every two weeks.
Fox Marble's factory has, over the first quarter of this year, developed a strong order book of projects for the local Kosovan market and we hope to return to a higher rate of production as soon as conditions permit.
Macedonia Operations – In the operating update released on 10 March 2020 the Company noted the impact of the Covid-19 on the sale of block marble. Demand has fallen as a result of travel restrictions placed on China, the principal buyers of the Company's block marble, since January 2020. The spread of the virus into Europe and the resulting impact on cross border travel and trade has magnified this effect. The Company has elected to significantly scale back production at the quarry in order to keep operational cash flow neutral until the international block marble market returns to normality. The Company is well positioned to ramp up operations as and when it is feasible to do so.
The Board will continue to monitor closely the situation and working capital will continue to be managed tightly. Whilst operations are temporarily suspended, the Company will seek to eliminate all unnecessary expenditure and the Board will not take any salary or fees until operations resume. Head Office staff in London are on government furlough, as we work to retain our hard working and committed team.
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