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What to watch: German consumer confidence plummets, Fed meeting, AstraZeneca row

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·4-min read
Empty tables are seen in the shut apple store on the Kurfuerstendamm boulevard in Berlin on January 5, 2021 amid the ongoing novel coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic. - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders are expected Tuesday, January 5, 2021 to extend a partial lockdown in Europe's top economy as coronavirus deaths continue to mount despite tough restrictions in the run-up to the holidays. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP) (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Empty tables are seen in the shut Apple store in Berlin in January as COVID-19 rules forced closures. Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty

Here are some of the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and around the world.

German consumer confidence plummets

Confidence among consumers in Europe’s biggest economy has slumped over the past month, with German shoppers’ sentiment at its lowest ebb since last June.

“As 2021 begins, consumer confidence in Germany is suffering under the strict lockdown,” said GfK in its monthly report. “Propensity to buy is in freefall, while both economic and income expectations have registered moderate declines.”

GfK’s headline reading, based on a poll of 2,000 Germans, dropped to -15.6, down from -7.5 and significantly below a Reuters forecast of -7.9.

The percentage of citizens who regard COVID-19 as a significant threat to Germany hit 81%, its highest figure yet. The number alarmed about its impact on their own futures also hit its highest yet at 54%.

Large parts of the retail sector and restaurants were among the areas of the economy forced to shut down in December.

“The extension of the lockdown to mid-February has also made it more likely that the industries affected will be hit by a wave of bankruptcies. This is fueling fears of job losses among employees, which in turn is affecting income expectations,” the report added.

European stocks muted ahead of Fed decision

European markets were close to flat on Wednesday, ahead of a US Federal Reserve announcement later in the day.

The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) and the continent-wide Stoxx 600 (^STOXX) were near-flat in early trading in London, while the DAX (^GDAXI) slipped 0.2% in Frankfurt after the consumer confidence data was published. The CAC 40 (^FCHI) was up 0.3% in Paris, however.

The world’s most important central bank began a two-day meeting on Tuesday, with policymakers expected to hold rates at near-zero.

Few changes are expected in its policy statement, with attention likely to be focused on chairman Jerome Powell’s commentary over future asset purchases.

Futures pointed to a mixed open for US stocks, after declines on Wednesday. S&P 500 futures (ES=F) were down 0.2%, Dow Jones futures (YM=F) were down 0.2%, and futures on the tech-heavy Nasdaq (NQ=F) up 0.4%.

In Asian markets overnight, Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) rose 0.3%, and China’s Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) rose 0.1%.

But the Hong Kong Hang Seng (^HSI) was down by 1.5%, and the South Korean KOSPI (^KS11) lost 0.6%.

WATCH: EU threatens to block AstraZeneca vaccine exports

AstraZeneca defends vaccine distribution plan amid EU supply delays

AstraZeneca (AZN.L) chief executive Pascal Soriot has defended the firm’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine across the EU amid supply delay issues.

Soriot said that AstraZeneca were working “24/7 to fix the very many issues of production of the vaccine,” in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

He said production was “basically two months behind where we wanted to be.”

AstraZeneca on Friday (22 January) announced it planned to cut EU deliveries of the COVID-19 vaccine by 60% to 31 million doses in the first quarter of the year. It blamed production problems, meaning the number of initial available doses would be lower than expected. It sparked a rebuke from the EU.

Asian demand for luxury watches and leather goods boosts LVMH

The coronavirus pandemic hit LVMH’s (MC.PA) bottom line in 2020, with both its revenue and profit down, but it said it showed “good resilience” in part thanks to strong growth in Asia towards the second half of the year.

Shares ticked up 1.5% in Paris on Wednesday morning.

LVMH, which owns brands including Bvlgari, Louis Vuitton and Dior, said its watches and jewellery unit saw its organic revenue decline by 23% in 2020, but the situation improved in Q4, when the decline was 2%.

“Bvlgari was very responsive and quickly capitalised on the strong recovery in China,” the company said.

Its fashion and leather goods business group recorded a decrease in organic revenue of “only 3% in an environment marked by the closure of stores over a period of several months.”

WATCH: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?