BLACKROCK: MARKETS HAVE NOT REACHED BOTTOM YET

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While some big European banks are sticking to their 2019 dividend plans, many other financial institutions will find it almost impossible to go ahead with payouts amid pressure from governments and regulators to conserve capital for the tough times ahead, says Martin Lück, chief investment strategist at BlackRock. On the trillion-dollar question of how low the markets can go, he says they probably haven’t hit bottom yet. “We are very likely to test the old lows again in the near future.”

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Switzerland to relax coronavirus restrictions this month
Switzerland’s government said it would begin easing its coronavirus containment measures at the end of the month and is working on a plan for a stepwise return to normal. Interior Minister Alain Berset said the aim is to map out the timing and order of events for a transition that would likely take weeks. The plan will be carried out in coordination with other countries and will take account of economic needs as well as the importance of keeping the virus in check. Switzerland declared a state of emergency on March 16, closing shops, restaurants, bars, and entertainment and leisure facilities until April 19. The lockdown will be extended a week until April 26, the government said. “We are on the right path, but we haven’t reached the goal yet,” said President Simonetta Sommaruga. Other European governments also are starting to think about how to reopen factories, offices, and schools while minimizing the chance of further outbreaks. Austria on Monday said it would gradually begin to reopen shops after Easter, becoming the first country in Europe to do so. Pressure is building on governments to explain their plans because of the mounting economic costs of measures designed to contain the coronavirus. Economics Minister Guy Parmelin said the Swiss economy has taken an enormous hit with production collapsing about 25 percent. “We must seriously envision a profound crisis that lasts a long time,” he said. “The state can’t be engaged everywhere.” The government said it is working on an aid package for the devastated airline industry, which employs more than 200,000 in Switzerland. It also expanded some unemployment benefits for workers. About 30 percent of the labor force, or about 1.5 million people, are already receiving wage subsidies known as short-time work. Switzerland’s jobless rate rose to 3 percent in March and an increase of 7 percent in the coming months was not impossible, Parmelin said.

Swiss company races to bring COVID-19 antibody tests to market
Experts say antibody testing will play a crucial role in easing coronavirus lockdowns around the world and reviving economies. “If you have antibody tests you can identify those who are already immune and can go back safely to work and who might need a vaccine once a vaccine becomes available,” said Franz Walt, CEO of Swiss medical diagnostics company Quotient. While there are few reliable tests on the market at present, Quotient says it has developed a highly accurate one that can be carried out quickly on its blood screening machines. The company is scaling up production of the machines, called MosaiQ, at its plant in Eysins, Switzerland, as it seeks approval to commercialize the test in Europe and the U.S. Quotient plans to sell the tests for between USD 15 and 25 and to lease or sell the machines at cost. Just one machine can perform 3,000 tests a day, Walt says.

Yoga, live on Instagram
People in coronavirus confinement have turned to online yoga classes as a way to cope with self-isolation. Swiss-based yoga teacher, Federica Sella, is giving free Instagram classes to Italians who have been in lockdown for weeks.

Hotelleriesuisse: 5 percent of Swiss hotels won’t survive coronavirus
Andreas Züllig, owner of the four-star Hotel Schweizerhof in the Alpine resort of Lenzerheide, was having one of his best winters in 20 years before the coronavirus stole into Switzerland. As many as 200 guests were arriving daily to enjoy the abundant snow, driving revenues to record highs in January and February. But the season came to a premature end in mid-March when the government mandated a nationwide lockdown to help contain the virus. He closed the hotel temporarily, along with many of Switzerland’s 4,500 hotels. At the time, he only had six guests. “The whole industry has never seen anything like what we have now,” said Züllig, who is also the president of the Swiss Hotel Association. He predicts that 5 percent of Swiss hotels—from 200 to 250—won’t survive the pandemic. Those located in the country with no more than a dozen or so rooms are the ones most threatened, he said. On average, about 1 to 2 percent of Switzerland’s 4,500 hotels close down or go out of business every year. “It’s going to be a tough ride,” said Louis Papadopoulos, owner of Maya Boutique Hotel in Valais. The eight-room wellness hotel, which normally has an occupancy rate of 60 percent throughout the year, hasn’t received a booking request since the end of February. “I think many hotels will be faced with the choice: die now or in a few years’ time.” Papadopoulos remains hopeful that business will pick up over the summer from Swiss tourists who choose to travel locally. Sebastian Schmid, who runs Hotel Glocke in Valais, was also forced to close earlier than planned for the season. The 18-room hotel had received 20 booking cancellations in the last two weeks alone. The Second Hit It’s not the first time the Swiss hotel industry has faced a crisis. In 2015, the decoupling of the Swiss franc and the euro left many establishments struggling for international visitors as the currency surged. When Züllig took on the role as president as the Swiss Hotel Association that year, he thought things couldn’t get any worse. Now he believes the franc shock is nothing compared with the coronavirus. A survey carried out by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts for Western Switzerland expects losses for Swiss hotels to reach CHF 2 billion from March to May. April will be one of the hardest-hit months with revenues down roughly 90 percent, according to projections. “I think the international market is dead for the whole year,” said Züllig, who estimates it will take at least a year before the industry can return to normal. Others see a brighter future. “The Swiss hotel industry is facing a dark time indeed, but it has already proven that it is able to innovate and react quite quickly,” said Giuliano Bianchi, professor at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. “Despite the huge hit, I believe that the high human capital and the flexibility of the Swiss hotel industry will overcome this dark time. There is hope.”

An app to detect COVID-19’s telltale cough
Mobile phones have emerged as a key tool to track the spread of the coronavirus. But can they tell you whether you have the disease? Swiss-based Detect-Now has created an application that uses your smartphone to test for COVID-19 by recording the sound of your cough. Co-founder Simon Hofer explains how it works.

Coronavirus “stabilizing” in Switzerland, top health official says
Switzerland’s coronavirus epidemic appears to be stabilizing, a top health official said on Tuesday, crediting the country’s containment measures with slowing the spread. Asked when the restrictions could be relaxed, Daniel Koch, head of infectious diseases at the federal health agency, said there was no single numerical target. Authorities are using several measures to track the virus, ranging from new infections and hospitalizations to the number of patients in intensive care units, he said. A qualitative analysis is also part of the picture. “We take the different numbers and try to make an assessment out of them—together with the specialists and the cantons,” he said at a news conference. European governments are seeing growing evidence that their nationwide lockdowns are paying off. But in a region that has suffered more than 60 percent of deaths worldwide, officials must balance the need to reanimate their economies against the risk of reigniting the spread. Neighboring Austria, which has far fewer coronavirus cases than Switzerland, plans to allow small shops, hardware stores, and garden centers to reopen next week. Norway and Denmark are looking to open some schools this month. The World Health Organization on Tuesday urged countries not to lift their anti-COVID-19 measures too soon. “One of the most important parts is not to let go of the measures too early in order not to have a fall back again,” said WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier in a virtual briefing. Switzerland declared a state of emergency on March 16, closing shops, restaurants, bars, and entertainment and leisure facilities until April 19. The government is working on a post-lockdown plan once health officials say it’s safe to resume activities. Since Monday, the number of positive COVID-19 tests has increased by 590 to 22,242, Koch said. At least 641 people have died and more than 400 remain on respiratory support in intensive care. “It seems to be stabilizing, but it’s too early to say the problem is solved.”