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India to ease lockdown rules as coronavirus case numbers decline
6 June 2021, 4:39 PM

India reported 114 460 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, the lowest in two months, while the death toll increased by 2 677, as parts of the country prepared to ease movement restrictions.

India has the world’s second-largest number of coronavirus infections after the United States with total cases at 28.8 million, according to health ministry data. The country has suffered 346 759 deaths.

A second wave of the coronavirus that has largely battered the rural interiors of the country is yet to abate but New Delhi and other cities are working towards allowing more businesses to operate and movement rules to be relaxed from Monday onwards.

The western state of Maharashtra, which is India’s richest and has suffered the most infections during the second wave, plans to start this week easing in stages a strict lockdown imposed in April.

Scientists have warned of a third wave of the coronavirus that could hit India later in the year, likely impacting children more.

While the country has ramped up its vaccination drive in the past few weeks after a slow start, a majority of its 1.3 billion people are expected to remain unvaccinated by the time a potential third wave hits.

Hassan smashes women’s 10 000 metres world record: World Athletics
6 June 2021, 4:38 PM

Dutch long-distance runner Sifan Hassan broke the women’s 10 000 metres world record on Sunday, clocking 29 minutes and 6.82 seconds in a Continental Tour meet, World Athletics said.

Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana held the previous record of 29:17.45, set in Rio at the 2016 Olympics.

Hassan is the reigning world champion having won gold in Doha in 2019 and the 28-year-old set down a marker before next month’s Tokyo Games, blowing away the competition and sprinting solo across the line with her arms outstretched in celebration.

“Wow, to run this world record here today in Hengelo is something I could only dream of,” the Ethiopian-born Hassan said.

“It’s the perfect confirmation of the hard work we’ve put in getting ready for Tokyo. I am so happy to share this record in front of my Dutch fans.”

Hassan also holds the record for the mile, one-hour event and five-kilometre road race.

Investors eye Washington talks after big rally in infrastructure shares
6 June 2021, 3:42 PM

Investors will watch Washington in the coming week for clues on whether an outsized rally in shares of companies that would benefit from President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.7 trillion infrastructure plan has more room to run.

Expectations of spending from Washington on bridges, roads, and tunnels bolstered so-called value stocks, especially the industrials and materials sectors, both up around 20% this year, ahead of the 12.5% gain for the S&P 500.

Among the biggest winners have been shares of United States Steel Corp, up nearly 200% since the start of the year, while steel producer Nucor Corp’s stock has gained around 104%.

Those large gains may leave many industrials and materials stocks vulnerable to a selloff if a large spending bill in Washington fails to materialize, said John Mowrey, chief investment officer of NFJ Investment Group, which manages $8.2 billion in assets.

“It’s scary how much of (the spending bill) is already priced into the market,” he said.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg circled June 7 as the date by which negotiations with Senate Republicans must have a “clear direction.” If not, he suggested, Senate Democrats could propose a more targeted infrastructure bill.

Republican leaders have endorsed roughly $257 billion in new spending, while calling major tax hikes to finance the construction of roads, bridges, water pipes and other projects a non-starter.

Progressive Democrats, meanwhile, are warning they would block any bill they view as inadequate.

Talks continued between Biden and Senator Shelley Capito, the main Republican negotiator.

Mowrey is focusing on companies he believes are undervalued that would benefit from an upgrade of technology-focused infrastructure like cell phone towers and data centers.

Shares of American Tower Corp, one of Mowrey’s holdings, are up 17% for the year.

Investors have embraced infrastructure stocks at a time when concerns about rising inflation, lingering disruptions in global supply chains from the coronavirus pandemic and accommodative central bank policies have helped push prices for raw materials to multi-year highs.

Investors trying to gauge the inflation threat will keep a close eye on US consumer price data, to be released on June 10.

A much stronger than expected CPI number sparked a selloff in the market last month, bringing infrastructure stocks down with it, as many worried rising inflation could force the Federal Reserve to begin unwinding stimulus soon.

Still, exchange-traded funds that bet on infrastructure stocks were the only type of thematic ETFs to attract positive net inflows in May, according to data from State Street Corp. Infrastructure ETFs were up 76.1% for the year through May, more than double the return of other thematic bets such as robotics or digital security.

The utilities sector may have the most to gain over the long term from roughly $384 billion in federal spending from Biden’s proposed bill, Wells Fargo noted in an analyst report. However, rising Treasury yields will likely leave the sector unattractive over the next six to 18 months, the firm said.

“The full ramifications of the American Jobs Plan will take multiple years to convert to growth for utilities firms,” the firm said.

Investors who are skeptical that Congress will pass an infrastructure bill should focus on areas such as clean energy, automotive parts and manufacturing, and agricultural machinery, which have not had the same run-up as commodity-tied businesses, said Brian Sponheimer, a portfolio manager of the $2.4 billion Gabelli Dividend & Income Trust fund.

Automotive companies will likely continue benefiting from above-trend demand through at least 2023 as the global semiconductor shortage and a lack of inventory keeps supplies low, said Sponheimer, whose position in parts supplier Genuine Parts Co is among his fund’s ten-largest holdings.

If lawmakers cannot reach a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure, “there are reasons to think that there are supply chain challenges that push out growth for pockets of the market through 2022 and 2023,” he said.

Steyn’s steady boot earns him a Bok recall to tame Lions again
6 June 2021, 3:20 PM

South Africa’s desire to have a flyhalf who can settle the nerves and eke out a win in tight situations led to a recall for Morne Steyn for the British & Irish Lions series starting next month.

Steyn won the last of his 66 test caps in 2016 and, despite the fact that he will turn 37 before the start of the Lions series, has been rewarded for some gritty displays for the Bulls in South African domestic rugby.

It was Steyn’s steady boot that won the Springboks the 2009 Lions series and head coach Jacques Nienabar hopes he will bring that same calming influence.

“The big thing we were looking for there was consistency,” Nienabar told reporters, adding that Morne had been the most consistent flyhalf since domestic rugby returned in November after being interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steyn beat Sharks number 10 Curwin Bosch for a place in the 46-man squad that will also play two tests against Georgia before the Lions series.

While Nienabar acknowledged the talent of Bosch, his selection of a more steady boot in Steyn perhaps reveals how the Boks will play.

“(Bosch’s) X-factor is phenomenal and he can win games for you out of nothing. He’s only 23 and as he grows a little bit older and plays more big games, (domestic) Currie Cup finals like he did this year, he will probably get more consistent.

“I can see him playing a lot of Test matches for South Africa.”

World Cup winner Handre Pollard is likely to be the starting flyhalf for the Boks though he has spent most of the 2020-21 French Top 14 season on the sidelines at Montpellier with a serious knee injury that will always cast doubt on his fitness.

The more flamboyant Elton Jantjies is the other number 10 in the squad, though his ball-in-hand style does not suit the Boks’ forward-dominated game and he is likely to be used as an impact player off the bench if they choose to switch their game plan.

The Boks will play warm-up tests against Georgia on July 2 and 9, before they face the Lions on three consecutive Saturdays from July 24.

Attackers kill 88 people in northwest Nigeria
6 June 2021, 2:47 PM

Attackers killed 88 people in Nigeria’s Kebbi state on Thursday, spurring its governor to pledge a bigger deployment of security forces on Sunday as insecurity spreads largely unchecked through the country’s northwest.

Perpetrators swept through eight villages, killing people and sending residents fleeing, police said, giving a death toll of 88. Details began to emerge on Saturday.

A spokesperson for Kebbi Governor Abubakar Bagudu said on Sunday the attackers had come from neighbouring Niger and Zamfara states, rustling cattle and destroying crops.

Gunmen have ramped up attacks on the region’s communities in recent years, forcing thousands to flee across Nigeria’s northern border to Niger.

The attackers have become globally notorious because of mass kidnappings at schools, with more than 800 students abducted since December.

The rampant violence has spawned a humanitarian crisis, international aid group Medicins Sans Frontieres said on Thursday.

On Sunday, the governor promised financial aid, and “requested communities in the area to be tolerant, accommodating, friendly and peaceful,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

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