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Dollar US bond yields and earnings in focus

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In Asia, futures pointed to a subdued open for Japanese stocks after the benchmark index fell more than 1 percent in the last session. Nikkei futures traded in Chicago were off by 0.21 percent at 21,880 compared to the index’s previous close. Osaka futures were lower by 0.43 percent.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.26 percent in early trade. The heavily weighted financials and materials subindexes traded lower by 0.17 percent and 2.17 percent, respectively, dragging the benchmark lower.

Australian corporates take center stage on the earnings front on Wednesday, with Wesfarmers, Santos and Scentre Group among the companies reporting results during the day.

Markets in China will remain closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

The dollar firmed as markets consider the overnight U.S. Treasury auction. The dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against a basket of six rivals, last traded at 89.714. Against the yen, the dollar firmed to trade at 107.28.

On the commodities front, U.S. crude futures rose 0.4 percent to settle at $61.90 per barrel. Brent crude futures settled 0.6 percent lower at $65.25 per barrel as the dollar firmed.

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Business leaders must prioritize workers’ mental health in lockdown: CEO

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Rising coronavirus infection rates, and the accompanying wave of lockdowns across Europe, should prompt managers to spend more time considering their employees’ mental health, according to the CEO of staffing group Adecco

“Especially with … the second wave of lockdowns coming in, we need more emotionally intelligent leaders, because we see that many people are suffering,” Alain Dehaze told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Monday.

Countries including the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and France are currently in lockdown or have extended restrictions, with some expected to last beyond the end of the month. Lockdowns were first implemented last year when the coronavirus pandemic hit the region in early 2020, and have been reinstated as virus infection rates have risen during fall and winter.

Workers have reported worsening mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, according to an Adecco-commissioned survey of 8,000 office-based staff in eight countries, Dehaze added. 

“We have seen in our survey that 28% of employees … say their mental health got worse during the pandemic, and that only one in 10 managers exceeded employees’ expectations in supporting them. This soft skill will be extremely important to make sure that in this new world, managers and leaders are taking care of their people in the right way,” he said.

Adecco expects permanent, white-collar jobs to decline this year, such as payroll workers, with more of a focus on temporary roles.

“Employers have the challenge to have the right talent at the right time … but unfortunately, for some of them, [the pandemic] means they will have to lay off people and then it will be very important that government but also employers and individuals are investing in reskilling and upskilling themselves to remain competitive.”

Employees want to spend around half of their working time in the office and half at home (once restrictions are lifted), according to Adecco’s survey. “Human interactions are still valued. And these figures of 50-50 really transcends geography, generation, parental status. So, it’s really a kind of new universal ideal,” Dehaze said.

“Hybrid work is here to stay … it creates (a) more inclusive workplace, especially for people with disabilities, or working parents.”

Adecco’s revenue was down 28% in the second quarter of 2020 and it fell 15% in its third quarter and Dehaze said he expects its revenue to continue to improve as lockdowns become less restrictive. “Governments have learned from this first lockdown not to close everything and keep the economy going and protect the labor employment by doing ‘intelligent’ lockdown(s).”

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Tesla CEO donates to carbon capture technology prize

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GRUENHEIDE, GERMANY – SEPTEMBER 03: Tesla head Elon Musk talks to the press as he arrives to to have a look at the construction site of the new Tesla Gigafactory near Berlin on September 03, 2020 near Gruenheide, Germany. Musk is currently in Germany where he met with vaccine maker CureVac on Tuesday, with which Tesla has a cooperation to build devices for producing RNA vaccines, as well as German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier yesterday.

Maja Hitij | Getty Images

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has announced that he is donating $100 million towards a prize for the best technology that can capture carbon dioxide.

Musk, who overtook Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest person this month, made the announcement on Twitter late Thursday, saying he would share more details next week.

“Am donating $100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology,” Musk tweeted to his 42.7 million followers.

Carbon capture is the process of trapping waste carbon dioxide either directly from the air, or just before it gets emitted from factories and power plants.

With the latter, the first step is often to install solvent filters on factory chimneys, which catch the carbon emissions before they’re released into the Earth’s atmosphere. Once captured, carbon dioxide can then be shipped or piped somewhere it can’t escape from (often deep underground) to prevent it contributing to global warming.

Most of the captured carbon dioxide remains underground, but some of it can also used to make plastics and fizzy drinks.

Why is carbon capture needed?

Global carbon dioxide emissions have soared over the last 100 years, leading to unprecedented global warming and climate change.

There are currently around 20 carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) projects operating commercially worldwide, according to the International Energy Agency.

The agency said that 30 new projects had been agreed since 2017, but stressed that many more were needed to prevent carbon emissions from raising the temperature on Earth by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The IEA believes CCUS projects could reduce carbon emissions by almost a fifth, while also slashing the cost of tackling the climate crisis by 70%. Adapting heavy industry to run on clean energy is relatively difficult and expensive compared to installing carbon capture systems.

U.S. President Joe Biden has pledged to put more of a focus on cutting emissions than his predecessor and said he wants the U.S. to be carbon neutral by 2050.

‘Plant more trees’

The prize that Musk has said he will contribute to is connected to the Xprize Foundation, TechCrunch reported, citing an anonymous source. The foundation is a nonprofit that puts on competitions to promote and support innovation.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index, Musk has a total net worth of $201 billion, while Bezos has $193 billion. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is the next wealthiest person, with a total net worth of $134 billion.

Musk recently asked his Twitter followers what he should do with his money.

“Critical feedback is always super appreciated, as well as ways to donate money that really make a difference (way harder than it seems),” he tweeted Jan. 8.

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UK doctors have advice for U.S. on fighting mutant variant

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U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Allyson Black, a registered nurse, cares for Covid-19 patients in a makeshift ICU (Intensive Care Unit) at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center on January 21, 2021 in Torrance, California.

Mario Tama | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON — Health experts have warned that even with restrictions the U.S. is likely to struggle to curb the spread of a highly-infectious coronavirus variant, underlining the importance of taking aggressive measures immediately to protect as many people as possible.

The variant, first discovered in the U.K and known as B.1.1.7., has an unusually high number of mutations and is associated with more efficient and rapid transmission.

There is no evidence that the mutant strain is associated with more severe disease outcomes. However, as it is more transmissible, additional people are likely to get infected, and this could lead to a higher number of serious infections and further fatalities.

Scientists first detected this mutant strain of the virus in September. The variant of concern has since been detected in at least 44 countries, including the U.S., which has reported its presence in 12 states.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the modeled trajectory of the variant in the U.S. “exhibits rapid growth in early 2021, becoming the predominant variant in March.”

The forecast comes as the U.K., which has seen exponential growth of the strain in the months since its discovery, struggles to control its impact.

What’s the situation in the UK?

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced lockdown measures in England on Jan. 5, instructing people to “stay at home” as most schools, bars and restaurants were ordered to close. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all introduced similar measures.

The restrictions, which are expected to remain in place in England until at least mid-February, were brought in to try to reduce the strain on the nation’s already stressed hospitals amid an upsurge in Covid admissions.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19) at Downing Street on January 15, 2021 in London, England.

Dominic Lipinski | Getty Images

Government figures released on Thursday said Britain recorded 37,892 new Covid cases with 1,290 deaths. A day earlier, the U.K. recorded an all-time record high of Covid fatalities, when data showed an additional 1,820 people had died within 28 days of a positive Covid test.

Dr. Deepti Gurdasani, clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London, stressed that it was clear from the U.K. response that unless aggressive measures were taken immediately to contain virus spread, “the variant will rapidly spread geographically, as well as increase in frequency in places where it has established into the community.”

Gurdasani cited findings from a closely-watched study led by researchers at Imperial College London that showed “no evidence of decline” in Covid rates between Jan. 6 to Jan. 15 despite England being in lockdown, “suggesting that even with restrictions, it is difficult to contain this effectively due to higher transmissibility.”

Researchers of the study, published Thursday, warned that U.K. health services would remain under “extreme pressure” and the cumulative number of deaths would increase rapidly unless the prevalence of the virus in the community was reduced substantially.

“All this means that the window for containment is very short. Given the lower active surveillance in the U.S., the variant may have spread wider than anticipated, and policy to contain must reflect this,” Gurdasani said.

“This means strict containment efforts not just where the variant was identified, but in all regions where it could have spread. And active surveillance with contact tracing to identify all possible cases, while maintaining strict restrictions to break chains of transmission.”

Patients arrive in ambulances at the Royal London Hospital, on January 05, 2021 in London, England. The British Prime Minister made a national television address on Monday evening announcing England is to enter its third lockdown of the covid-19 pandemic. This week the UK recorded more than 50,000 new confirmed Covid cases for the seventh day in a row.

Dan Kitwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images

To date, the U.K. has recorded the fifth-highest number of confirmed Covid infections and related deaths in the world.

What measures should be considered in the U.S.?

On his second day in office, President Joe Biden announced sweeping measures to tackle the virus, including the establishment of a Covid testing board to boost testing, address supply shortfalls and direct funds to hard-hit minority communities.

Biden said the executive orders showed that: “Help is on the way.” He also warned it would take months “to turn this around.”

“The key to it all is reducing interpersonal interactions and the strategy needs to be broadly the same as what has gone before, what has worked elsewhere, and then some,” Dr. Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, told CNBC via telephone.

Clarke said U.S. states would need to consider reducing the number of people in retail or leisure environments, for example, and it may be necessary to close bars or restrict their opening hours given studies showing the risk of transmission is higher indoors.

“None of these things that we do to protect ourselves eliminates the risk, none of them makes us Covid-proof — all it does is reduce your chances of getting infected,” Clarke said.

“The virus has just pushed back on that with this evolutionary step and it will now be even more difficult to attain the same level of protection.”

Roll-out vaccines ‘as fast as you possibly can’

“Everyone wants to believe vaccines are the solution, and they are going to make a huge difference, but it is not the whole solution,” Dr. Kit Yates, a senior lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath and author of “The Math of Life and Death,” told CNBC via telephone.

Yates said the new U.S. administration should do all it can to roll out Covid vaccines “as fast as you possibly can” to alleviate the pressure on health facilities but insisted this should be part of a multi-pronged approach.

Some other measures U.S. states should consider, Yates said, include: encouraging people to work from home where possible, physical distancing, improving ventilation within school settings, getting children to wear masks, financial support to those self-isolating and effective test and trace protocols.

“These are the boring, horrible, non-pharmaceutical measures that no-one wants but the alternative is just too scary to think about.”

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