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London (CNN Business)The world is going to exit the coronavirus crisis with huge piles of debt.
What’s happening: Unprecedented support from central banks has unlocked a surge of borrowing by governments around the world as they look to fund expensive coronavirus relief efforts. According to the International Monetary Fund, the ratio of sovereign debt to GDP in advanced economies will rise by 20 percentage points to about 125% of GDP by the end of 2021.
This week has generated some notable examples. Italy, the most indebted European economy after Greece, on Tuesday issued a three-year bond that pays zero interest.
Why it matters: It says something about the current environment that a country with as much baggage as Italy can borrow money for free.
China also raised $6 billion in an international bond sale. The issuance directly targeted American buyers for the first time in more than a decade, and generated significant interest from investors hunting for yield in emerging markets. (As the only major economy that the IMF expects to grow this year, China looks like a solid bet.)
And despite concerns about debt sustainability, borrowing has continued apace in so-called frontier markets, a category that includes countries like Oman, Bahrain and Zambia, according to a recent report from the Institute of International Finance.
The flood of debt hitting markets is thanks in large part to the huge stimulus programs enacted to date. Central banks quickly slashed interest rates when the pandemic shut down economies earlier this year and have snapped up trillions of dollars in bonds, reducing borrowing risks.
Bond investors in Europe are now betting that the European Central Bank will turn on the stimulus taps again, possibly as early as December, by adding billions more to its $1.35 trillion asset purchase program.
With little risk that central bankers will take their foot off the pedal, voices that would normally be more conservative on borrowing are encouraging countries to take advantage of the situation.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said earlier this month that there is little risk of the government overdoing stimulus, whereas too little support would lead to a “weak recovery.”
Even the IMF, known for taking a tough line with governments that rack up unsustainable debts, has cautioned against withdrawing aid too soon.
“Preventing further setbacks will require that policy support is not prematurely withdrawn,” chief economist Gita Gopinath said in a report published Tuesday.
But the IMF warned that especially in emerging markets — where debt servicing costs are high and tax revenue is down due to brutal contractions in economic activity — there will be significant aftershocks to manage.
With large sums of money needed to pay off growing debts, there will be less left over to fund social spending in the future. That could exacerbate the rising poverty and worsening inequality stemming from the pandemic.
Starbucks is linking executive pay to diversity targets
Starbucks (SBUX) has a new plan to boost diversity: put executive pay on the line.
The coffee chain said Wednesday that it will tie executive compensation to inclusion initiatives starting next year. It did not specify exactly how pay will be affected, but set goals to raise the number of Black people, indigenous people and other people of color at the company, my CNN Business colleague Danielle Wiener-Bronner reports.
What’s changing: At the corporate level, Starbucks is aiming for 30% of employees to be in this demographic group by 2025. In retail and manufacturing, the goal is 40%.
Why it matters: Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd earlier this year sparked a slew of fresh corporate commitments on diversity. But Starbucks’ decision to put money for executives on the line reflects a desire to ensure pledges aren’t just lip service.
More companies have been setting medium-term goals. Earlier this year, Microsoft (MSFT) announced a plan to double the number of Black managers and senior leaders by 2025. Wells Fargo (WFC) also said it will double Black leadership in the next five years and will evaluate senior leaders based on their progress in improving diversity and inclusion.
Watch this space: Such efforts have caught the attention of the Trump administration, which has asked Microsoft and Wells Fargo how they plan to enact these commitments without discriminating based on race. Both companies have pushed back on any suggestion that their plans are discriminatory or illegal.
BTS label’s first day of trading is a big hit
The music label behind BTS, the planet’s biggest K-pop sensation, has successfully cashed in on the group’s success.
This just in: Investors gave shares of Big Hit Entertainment an enthusiastic welcome when they started trading in Seoul on Thursday. The stock closed at 258,000 won ($225), 90% above the IPO price of 135,000 won ($118).
Big Hit is now worth roughly 8.7 trillion won ($7.6 billion), making it more valuable than the country’s three biggest listed record labels combined. The IPO was South Korea’s largest IPO since July 2017.
It’s clear there’s a lot of money in massive global fandom. But Big Hit’s extreme reliance on BTS, which accounted for 97% of sales last year, could turn out to be as much a liability as an asset.
See here: South Korea mandates more than a year of military service for men, and the group’s members are fast approaching the deadline to enlist, my CNN Business colleagues Julia Hollingsworth and Jake Kwon report. That could disrupt the band for years.
Big Hit has tried to diversify its business. Yet BTS still made up nearly 88% of sales through the first half of this year, according to the company’s IPO prospectus.
Morgan Stanley (MS), Charles Schwab (SCHW), Truist (TFC) and Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) report results before US markets open.
Also today: Initial US jobless claims for last week post at 8:30 a.m. ET. Economists surveyed by Refinitiv expect another 825,000 claims — a decline from last week, but still indicating elevated unemployment.
Coming tomorrow: BNY Mellon closes out US bank earnings.
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