Cuba constitution vote, UK bank results, Walmart earnings
The FT's Vanessa Kortekaas looks at the main stories making the news this week, including Cuba's referendum, results from UK banks HSBC, Lloyds and Barclays, earnings from US retailer Walmart, and a summit of the Visegrad-4 group hosted in Israel
Presented by Vanessa Kortekaas; Produced by James Sandy; Studio filmed by Rod Fitzgerald; Written by John Paul Rathbone, David Crow, Alistair Gray, Valerie Hopkins, Simon Greaves
Here are some of the top stories we'll be watching this week. Cubans are set to vote on a new constitution. There'll be results from UK banks HSBC, Lloyds, and Barclays. Investors will be watching for earnings from Walmart. And Israel is preparing to host leaders from several central European countries. First up, the people of Cuba are set to vote on a new constitution on Sunday.
The vote promises to be the biggest political overhaul in a generation. Although the country's Communist party will retain its primary role, the new constitution will introduce limits on the number and duration of presidential terms. Two five-year terms will be the maximum, compared to Fidel Castro's three decades in the role. There will also be an age limit for future presidents.
And private property will be allowed for the first time since the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s. However, despite the symbolic significance of these changes, Cubans will also be watching several international developments which could make an impact at home. The FT's John Paul Rathbone has this analysis.
It won't amount to much of a hill of beans for most Cubans. Because their biggest worry is what's going on in Venezuela, which is Cuba's biggest ally and is entering into economic freefall and basically, near global political isolation. And Venezuela is Cuba's closest ally. It's in the past provided aid for Cuba, which Cuba can no longer count on.
Also, Cuba has got this cold thaw, this cold freeze with the United States. Donald Trump is threatening to make the embargo tougher. So all those changes, which are taking place outside the island, will rather make what's going on inside the island pale into relative insignificance, even though the constitution is a big deal in Cuba's context.
Now to the UK, where investors will be watching figures from HSBC, Lloyds, and Barclays next week. On Tuesday, shareholders in HSBC, which generates the majority of its revenue from Asia, will be looking for signs of whether the bank is being affected by a slowdown in China and trade tensions between China and the US.
Lloyds is expected to signal its confidence with a £2bn share buyback when it reports on Wednesday. Then on Thursday, Barclays will aim to show evidence of a turnaround at its investment bank. More broadly, though, the results could signal weakness in the UK economy amid huge uncertainty caused by Brexit, as David Crow reports.
There will be a question around how well the UK economy is performing. There are various indicators that the banks can talk about, which they often see as predictive of a turn in the cycle. But the other big question will be preparedness. How well prepared is the UK economy for stepping off the cliff for a no-deal Brexit?
Banks have done an awful lot to ensure that they as institutions are prepared for Brexit. But when you talk to executives, the main lenders, they would say the UK economy itself. And obviously, they play a big role in that, is less well prepared for a sudden exit.
Now, it was supposed to have been a bumper festive season for US retailers. But shock figures out last week showed the biggest drop in retail sales since 2009. On Tuesday, investors will be watching closely for earnings results from Walmart for more insight as to whether the economic data for December was just an anomaly. Like-for-like US sales are forecast to be up around 3 per cent, although profits are expected to be flat. As Alistair Gray reports, the rise and fall of competitors is just one factor the retail leader is having to contend with.
Some of Walmart's big-box periods have already posted upbeat sales numbers for the festive season. At Target, like-for-like sales rose 5.7 per cent over November and December. Walmart is also benefiting from problems at rivals that have struggled to adapt to the rise of e-commerce.
The collapse of Toys "R" Us should have helped its toy business. But Walmart, of course, is locked in a battle with Amazon. While it's faring better than many retailers, its margins are coming under pressure. That's partly because of the investments it's having to make in ecommerce. And rising transport costs are also weighing on profitability.
And finally, leaders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland will meet in Jerusalem this week for a summit that will attempt to strengthen ties with Israel. The four central European countries form a cultural and political alliance known as the Visegrad Four group, which has been meeting since 1991. Tuesday will be the first time the summit has been held outside of Europe, however. And the choice of host city has raised some eyebrows internationally. The FT's Valerie Hopkins has more.
These four countries are among the most conservative in Europe and have called for a return to Christian values, which is one of the reasons why people think it's quite interesting that premier Netanyahu has been cultivating such strong ties with these countries.
Additionally, it should be noted that each of these four countries has a complicated relationship with the past, Poland especially, seeking to pass controversial legislation that would criminalise blaming any nationality besides Germans for the Holocaust, and Hungary as well, having a complicated relationship with anti-Semitism.
And that's what the week ahead looks like from the Financial Times in London.