Government resources are unlimited when they have the central bank behind them with its money-printing capabilities that know no limits,” Chris Rupkey, a chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, wrote in a commentary Wednesday night. “Investors must know the world has changed. The world’s economic leaders will not rest until the financial world is on a firmer footing.”
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 200 points in early-afternoon trading, a 1 percent jump to lift it above the 20,000 marks. It was 20,100 around 1:30 p.m. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 1 percent as well, registering at 2,419. Technology stocks continued their mini-roll, lifting the Nasdaq 3 percent to 7,189. All three major U.S. indexes are now in well into a bear market, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 falling more than 30 percent from high one month ago.
The oil patch got a respite from weeks of declining prices when crude futures spiked 22 percent on reports that U.S. companies are cutting costs and curtailing the number of rigs. The upshot will reduce the amount of oil flowing to an already oversupplied market.
American workers are getting laid off at an unprecedented pace as the coronavirus outbreak shuts down much of the economy, with more than a million expected to lose their jobs by the end of March, economists say. Ball State University economist Michael Hicks predicts this month could be the worst for layoffs in U.S. history, a drastic reversal in a period of otherwise historically low unemployment.
Next week, the New York Stock Exchange will close its trading floor and move to all-electronic trading for the first time ever, Intercontinental Exchange announced. The electronic trading group, which owns the NYSE, said the decision comes after two people who were on the floor tested positive for COVID-19, although they have not been in the building this week. Most trading is already all-electronic, so the decision should have minimal impact on day to day transactions.
March 19, 2020 at 2:06 PM EDT
Oil prices spike on cost-cutting measures, Saudi ‘transportation fee’
Some good news finally arrived in the wheezing oil patch Thursday.
Oil spiked more than 22 percent Thursday, with West Texas intermediate crude selling for $25 a barrel, one day after sliding to an 18-year low amid continued uncertainty over the duration of the coronavirus shutdown that depressed demand.
Prices remain on track for one of their biggest monthly declines, and the pain is being reflected in the stock market, where shares of “supermajors” — ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP — are a fraction of their share price two months ago.
“Part of today’s bounce is from the aggressive spending cuts by U.S. oil companies,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. “Continental Resources, Chesapeake, ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP are all cutting back on spending. Investors like it.”
Kilduff said the spending will also curtail the number of oil production rigs in the United States. “You are going to see an immediate decline in output,” Kilduff said. He added that the Saudis have announced a “transportation fee” that may help elevate world oil prices.
By Thomas Heath
March 19, 2020 at 2:00 PM EDT
Universal delays release of ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ because of the coronavirus
The postponement marks Hollywood’s first release delay as a result of the production shutdown studios have imposed to slow the spread of the virus. Many expect a cascade of such delays to come.
Universal Pictures and its Illumination Entertainment subsidiary announced the postponement of the animated sequel, previously set for a July 3 release in the U.S., saying it had no new date set.
Studios had previously postponed a slew of spring movies including superhero adventure “Black Widow” and “Fast and Furious” sequel “F9.” But this is the first July film to be delayed.
In a statement, Illumination founder Chris Meledandri said the film simply couldn’t be completed in an era of studio closures and remote work. “In response to the severity of the situation in France, we are temporarily closing our Illumination Mac Guff studio in Paris,” Meledandri said. “This means we will be unable to finish ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru,’ in time for our planned global releases.”
By Steven Zeitchik
March 19, 2020 at 1:35 PM EDT
Harley-Davidson idles American factories a day after automakers do the same
Harley-Davidson shut down most production at its American manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on Thursday night over concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Those plants will be closed until at least March 29, the motorcycle maker said in a news release. Employees at Harley-Davidson’s Milwaukee-area headquarters and product development center were told Monday to work from home until at least the end of the month.
Harley-Davidson’s stock was down close to 8.5 percent in midday trading at around $18.50 per share.
“We recognize the unprecedented nature of this global crisis. In order to best support our employees and following the social distancing guidance issued by public health authorities, we are temporarily suspending the majority of production at our U.S. manufacturing facilities,” Jochen Zeitz, Harley-Davidson acting chief executive and president, said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the situation and take necessary steps to prioritize employee health and safety.”
Harley-Davidson’s announcement came hours after major automakers declared plans to idle production facilities after mounting pressure from organized labor groups. General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler all shuttered American plants Wednesday as demand softened for cars and a Ford factory worker tested positive for the coronavirus.
Honda and Toyota also announced plans to close North American manufacturing facilities.
By Jacob Bogage
March 19, 2020 at 1:10 PM EDT
Uber rides slide 70 percent in some markets amid pandemic
Uber executives rushed to assure investors Thursday that it could weather the coronavirus storm, even as they discussed a worst-case projection of ridership dropping as much as 80 percent for the rest of the year.
Already, passenger trips have declined by 60 percent to 70 percent in cities worst hit by the spread of the novel coronavirus, including Seattle, Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi said in a call with analysts. Trips declined in Hong Kong by 45 percent but are on the rebound.
In the meantime, he said, the company has experienced a rapid demand increase in its Uber Eats food delivery service, as customers remain cloistered in their homes in the name of social isolation. Bars and restaurants around the country have shuttered by public order, though officials in many cases have allowed restaurants to continue a carryout-only business.
Khosrowshahi said Thursday that it was too early to update its guidance for the coming quarter, which ends in June. But the company has $10 billion of cash on hand, something he said will give the company flexibility to withstand significant drops in demand. That apparently sat well with investors; Uber shares soared more than 30 percent after the morning call.
By Jacob Bogage
March 19, 2020 at 12:21 PM EDT
Perspective: The doctor will see you, but would rather not do so in person
If you’re sick, you should see a doctor. But not in person, if you can avoid it.
Instead, visit the doctor through an app. During the coronavirus outbreak, using your smartphone could be a matter of life and death. We could all take a lesson from Naomi Azhar, 49, who recently underwent breast cancer surgery and had an appointment for a follow-up in Manhattan. Shortly after leaving her home, she got a call from her oncologist’s office: Would she be willing to have a video chat, using her phone, instead of an in-person visit? “ I said, of course, this is much better,” says Azhar, who immediately turned around and went home. “Who wants to go to a doctor’s office right now, at this time of coronavirus?”
The reality is health-care workers are among the most at-risk for getting covid-19 — and doctors’ waiting rooms are magnets for people who might be contagious. So across America, doctors and hospitals are asking patients to shift outpatient activity into video chats, voice calls, texts and emails. Doctors really, really don’t want to see you in person right now. Officials have urged hospitals to cancel all elective surgeries, and President Trump touted the benefits of telemedicine during a briefing Tuesday.
As more Americans get sick with the coronavirus, starting online will likely be your best option to get tested quickly, and without putting yourself at additional risk. Sure, a webcam checkup sounds weird. Doesn’t a doctor need to look you in the eye? (And vice versa?) Apps definitely can’t replace all kinds of care — but you might be surprised how much is possible.
By Geoffrey Fowler and Laurie McGinley
March 19, 2020 at 11:29 AM EDT
Some shuttered retailers are extending their return policies
As retailers close stores, many consumers may be left wondering: What happens if I need to make a return?
Several stores that have closed brick-and mortar-locations have extended their return policy window. Apple said on its website that it will accept returns on most products up to 14 days after they reopen stores. Sephora said Monday it will accept returns within 30 days of reopening for items bought in stores during the month preceding its closures; it also increased its online order returns to 60 days.
Macy’s, which said Tuesday it was closing stores nationwide through March 31, said in an email that it is extending its return policy by 30 days. Gap Inc. said shoppers now have until July 1 to bring back any purchase made during the first three months of the year, while J. Crew, which is closing stores until March 28, said it is extending its return window from 30 to 60 days for orders placed starting March 1.
While many retailers allow returns to stores for purchases made online, the reverse is not always true when it comes to mailing in returns for items bought in stores. “Store systems are not always reconciled with online systems,” said Sucharita Kodali, a retail analyst at Forrester.
By Jena McGregor
March 19, 2020 at 11:08 AM EDT
As layoffs skyrocket, America’s unemployment safety net is underprepared to help many in need
American workers are getting laid off at an unprecedented pace as the coronavirus outbreak shuts down much of the economy, and the government safety net to help the newly jobless appears ill-equipped to handle the surge in the unemployed.
More than a million workers are expected to lose their jobs by the end of March, economists say, a dramatic turnaround from February when the unemployment rate was near a record low. Ball State University economist Michael Hicks predicts this month could be the worst for layoffs in U.S. history.
Job losses are mounting. The Labor Department reported Thursday that 281,000 people applied for jobless benefits last week, up 33 percent from the prior week. Economists say it’s only going to get worse. New York restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group let 2,000 workers go this Wednesday. Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, which oversees 54 hotels, laid off 4,000 employees Tuesday. MGM Resorts and Caesars have begun letting staff go, along with countless smaller restaurants, bars, gyms and coffee shops.
By Heather Long and Abha Bhattarai
March 19, 2020 at 10:46 AM EDT
White House, Democrats scramble to assemble massive spending packages as coronavirus crisis deepens
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday said the Trump administration is working on a plan that would send most Americans $1,000 within three weeks and an additional $500 for every child as a way to flood the country with money and try to blunt the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the U.S. economy.
Mnuchin, speaking on Fox Business, said a second round of payments for the same amount could be sent within the next six weeks if the crisis continued. The White House’s urgency has intensified as economic forecasts have become increasingly gloomy. A JPMorgan Chase analyst forecast that the U.S. economy could shrink by 14 percent between April and June, which would mark the worst quarterly contraction since World War II.
Mnuchin’s comments are part of the rapidly evolving fiscal stimulus plan that the White House and congressional leaders are scrambling to assemble amid growing signs that large parts of the economy are grinding to a halt. House Democrats, meanwhile, are working on their own set of proposals, and negotiations with the White House are expected to begin very soon.
The Treasury Department has estimated that sending cash payments to many Americans could cost $500 billion and serve as a large part of their $1 trillion economic rescue package it wants Congress to authorize immediately. They also are proposing helping small businesses obtain funding in a way that avoids mass layoffs, creating an emergency lending facility for airlines, and providing liquidity to another range of firms that have been hammered by cancellations and closures.
But many parts of the White House’s approach remain in flux, and lawmakers from both parties are debating a number of different ideas.
By Jeff Stein, Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner
March 19, 2020 at 10:21 AM EDT
New York Stock Exchange will close floor, pivot to electronic trading after two covid-19 diagnoses
The New York Stock Exchange is temporarily closing its 120-year-old trading floor and moving to electronic trading after two people tested positive for the coronavirus.
A floor trader and a NYSE employee tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the exchange said in a statement. “Both individuals were screened at the NYSE security checkpoint, administered a test by medical personnel at the Exchange and, as a precautionary measure, not permitted to enter the building this week. They will be treated and recuperate away from the Exchange facility.
The closure begins Monday and will have no effect on trading, according to a NYSE statement.
“Our markets are fully capable of operating in an all-electronic fashion to serve all participants, and we will proceed in that manner until we can reopen our trading floors to our members,” said NYSE president Stacey Cunningham.
The iconic floor and its traders, which still number in the hundreds but are greatly reduced from its heyday decades ago, are daily fixtures in news stories and backdrops for television interviews.
“I’ve been a broker on the New York Stock Exchange for 31 years, and I’ve seen the crash of ‘87, I’ve lived through 9/11, and traded during the financial crisis,” Peter Tuchman said in an email to The Post. “I’ve bobbed and weaved through the Trump administration‘s headline tweets over the last three years. We closed for five days during 9/11 and for two days during hurricane Sandy.”
Tuchman said he will miss the floor, but that “it’s important to know people will have access to their money and trading and as soon as we contain this fire us we will be back to work on the floor.”
By Thomas Heath
March 19, 2020 at 9:56 AM EDT
Scam robocalls are pitching fake coronavirus tests to vulnerable Americans
The deadly coronavirus outbreak has shuttered schools and businesses, wreaked havoc on the stock market and left some grocery store shelves bare. And if that isn’t enough, it’s also spawned a swarm of scam robocalls seeking to prey on Americans’ fears.
Every day for the past week, fraudsters have placed an estimated 1 million or more suspected suspicious calls about coronavirus to Americans’ smartphones, according to YouMail, which offers an app that blocks such unwanted telecom intrusions. The robocalls at times even have pitched fraudulent testing services, a dangerous sort of deception at a moment when patients are struggling to obtain diagnoses nationwide.
One such message cached by YouMail this week began by asking if the person on the other end of the line is a diabetic using insulin.
“We can qualify you to get a free diabetic monitor and a complimentary testing kit for coronavirus,” a female voice begins, urging people to press two on their phones to learn more.
By Tony Romm
March 19, 2020 at 9:40 AM EDT
Analysis: This economic downturn could hit service sector workers the hardest
The coronavirus recession is likely to do something that we haven’t really seen before: hammer services, like restaurants and retailers, first.
The closings and temporary shutdowns of so many hotels, restaurants and shops is a necessary step to slow down a global pandemic, but it’s laying waste to an entire sector, especially as states such as Connecticut, Maryland, Ohio and Louisiana block all sit-down dining.
The human cost of this service-industry recession will be proportionately higher, because we’re losing lower-wage jobs — and it takes millions of low-paid jobs to account for each percentage point of economic growth lost. In cold accounting terms, two food-services jobs match the value of a single job in manufacturing.
The pain will also be spread throughout the country, as every community relies on jobs in restaurants, bars and retail establishments.
By Andrew Van Dam
March 19, 2020 at 9:08 AM EDT
Overseas markets slide as European death tolls climb and lockdowns intensify
Overseas markets declined broadly Thursday as the coronavirus tightened its stranglehold on Europe, with a growing number of countries locking down their borders as death tolls rise.
Italy extended its lockdown past April 3 — its original end date — after more than 475 coronavirus deaths were recorded in a single day. Spain reported a 25 percent increase in confirmed cases within 24 hours. The European Union’s top Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, 69, said Thursday that he has tested positive for the virus.
By midday, Europe’s benchmark Stoxx 600 index had declined 0.8 percent, France’s CAC 40 slid 0.9 percent and Germany’s DAX fell 1 percent. Britain’s FTSE100 declined more than 2 percent.
Late Wednesday, the European Central Bank announced an $820 billion emergency bond-buying program to cushion the euro zone against the pandemic’s economic fallout, which has caused retailers and manufacturers worldwide to curtail operations or shut down altogether. This week the world’s largest carmaker, Volkswagen Group, said it would suspend European production.
“The ECB will ensure that all sectors of the economy can benefit from supportive financing conditions that enable them to absorb this shock,” the central bank said in a release. “This applies equally to families, firms, banks and governments. The Governing Council will do everything necessary within its mandate.”
As the global pandemic spreads, signs of recovery are surfacing in China. Deaths outside the country now exceed those within it, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins, and Beijing said Thursday that it had no new cases to report — which hasn’t happened since the outbreak began in December. But worsening conditions in Australia and New Zealand forced those countries to close their borders to everyone but citizens and residents.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index closed down 2.6 percent, while China’s Shanghai Composite Index and Japan’s Nikkei 225 closed down around 1 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 declined more than 3.4 percent as the Australian dollar sank to an 18-year-low.
By Taylor Telford