US primaries, Slovakia poll, results from AB InBev and Rio Tinto
The FT's James Sandy previews some of the big stories the Financial Times is watching this week, including US primaries in South Carolina, an election in Slovakia, and results reported by AB InBev and Rio Tinto
Written by Judith Evans, James Sandy and Simon Greaves. Filmed by Rod Fitzgerald. Edited by Anastasia McLoughlin. Produced by James Sandy
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Here are just some of the stories we'll be watching this week. Democratic presidential candidates are set to square off in South Carolina. Slovakian parliamentary elections could dislodge the country's ruling Smer party. And we'll have the latest earnings results from mining titan Rio Tinto and multinational brewer AB InBev.
First up, Democratic hopefuls in the US presidential election will go toe to toe in South Carolina on Tuesday. The televised debate comes ahead of a crucial round of voting on the 3rd of March, or Super Tuesday, the single day when most voters will choose their favourite candidate. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg have emerged as early leaders in the race, but supporters of Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren will hope their candidate can stage a comeback after poor results in New Hampshire and Iowa.
Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg's shot at the White House could hinge on his next outing in front of the cameras after a stuttering performance in his first live debate in Nevada. Our Washington correspondent Courtney Weaver has more.
Really what all these candidates are saying is that they are the best candidate to beat Donald Trump. You have Bernie Sanders saying that he has the most enthusiasm among his supporters, which polls back up. On the flip side, you have people like Joe Biden, who obviously was holding up his electability as one of his main strengths going into the primary, and he's fared less well among Democratic primary voters.
In South Carolina, about two-thirds of the state's Democratic voters are black, a group that Joe Biden has always traditionally polled well among. So really what Biden's campaign is looking for is a first-place finish in South Carolina to prove to voters, and to his donors, that he is still in this race. And for candidates like Klobuchar and Buttigieg this was a chance for them to show that they can poll well among groups that they haven't really been polling well among.
Now to Slovakia, where the ruling Smer party is expected to lose its parliamentary majority on Saturday. Polls suggest that a coalition of four opposition parties could oust Smer, which has dominated Slovak politics for more than a decade. The four political groups come from different parts of the political spectrum, ranging from liberal to centre right, and their failure to co-operate could leave the door open for Smer, as James Shotter reports.
If they fail to secure a majority, Smer, which polls suggest is likely to emerge as the largest party, could find a way to cling onto power. One possibility is that it could do so thanks to some sort of co-operation with the extreme right party of Marian Kotleba, who romanticises the fascist Slovak state that existed from 1939 until 1945, and is currently polling third.
Smer has so far without a coalition with Kotleba, but it has already passed bills in parliament thanks to his votes. And if he did end up having some influence over the next government, it would be a worrying sign that extremism is leaping further into the European mainstream.
Now, metals and mining multinational Rio Tinto will publish full-year results on Wednesday. The company has long been a bellwether for the mining sector and the figures could provide insights into the health of the Chinese economy following the country's recent outbreak of coronavirus. Investors are likely to focus on how much cash Rio Tinto has been able to generate over the last year.
Thanks to the high price of iron ore, the company's biggest commodity, there could be a windfall for shareholders. Analysts expect dividends could be as high as $3 a share, which would represent 90 per cent of earnings. There are still questions over the company's performance, however. Neil Hume is our natural resources editor.
So the other questions that shareholders will have will be about the progress of Rio's giant copper project in Mongolia. That's called Oyu Tolgoi. They announced last year delays and a big cost overrun there, so investors will be looking for reassurance that things are back on track and that that project is going to come on time and on the revised budget.
Copper's quite important for Rio. It needs to really diversify its commodity mix. It's got too much iron ore at the moment. That's OK when they're making returns at $90 a tonne, but will Chinese steel production hold up and can those prices really remain that high?
And finally, international brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev is set to post fourth-quarter results on Thursday. The company's share price sits about 40 per cent below the level it achieved in 2016, when it completed a deal to buy UK-based SABMiller. That deal aimed to boost the company's presence in Africa and Asia, but left it saddled with more than $100bn of debt.
Since then, AB InBev has cut its dividend, replaced its chairman, and announced the departure of its chief financial officer Felipe Dutra, a key figure in the brewer's expansion. According to our consumer industries correspondent Judith Evans there could be more trouble ahead.
Late last year, AB InBev was forced to scale down its earnings expectations because of tough conditions in key markets, like Brazil and the US. AB InBev has a fierce reputation for cost-cutting, but analysts say it now needs to show it can boost sales, not just by raising prices but by persuading people to drink more of its beer.
Stronger growth in markets like the US, Brazil, and Mexico, not to mention China, where the impact of coronavirus is yet to become clear, might help to reassure investors the company can regain some of its former fizz.
And that's what the week ahead looks like from The Financial Times in London.