Instacart workers strike as labor unrest grows during coronavirus crisis

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Some of the roughly 200,000 workers at U.S. online grocery delivery company Instacart said they were striking on Monday as labor unrest grows globally over safety and wages for people working through the coronavirus crisis.

Workers at an Amazon.com Inc warehouse in Staten Island, New York also plan to walk off the job on Monday.

It was not immediately clear how many Instacart workers were participating in the strike, organized by a group called the Gig Workers Collective, or what impact it might have on operations.

Taking to Twitter and other social media platforms, strikers and their supporters asked for hazard pay increases, paid sick leave and better protective measures while on the job.

Clerks, delivery drivers, stockers, gig workers, fast food workers and others have kept food and essential goods flowing across the country to customers who are safely tucked away at home to help stop the spread of the deadly virus.

San Francisco-based Instacart said on March 23 that it wanted to hire another 300,000 gig workers – including the so-called “shoppers” who buy and deliver groceries – because of a surge in demand.

In New York on Monday, multiple grocery stores listed on the company’s app had no delivery slots available, citing higher-than-normal demand.

It was not clear whether increased demand was caused by a shortage of shoppers due to the walk-off.

Employees of McDonald’s Corp, as well as people who said they worked at Walmart Inc, Harris Teeter, Waffle House, Family Dollar and Food Lion, boycotted work at North Carolina locations on Friday.

Last week, several hundred Amazon employees protested in France, prompting a rebuke the next day from Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who said pressure on the employees to work despite concern over inadequate protections was “unacceptable.”

At Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse, which had a reported case of COVID-19, workers planned to walk out, according to media reports.

The workers aimed to protest the decision by the world’s largest online retailer to keep the facility open despite health risks, the reports said. Amazon did not immediately return a request for comment.

Source: Read Full Article

Wall Street set to open higher as investors weigh stimulus against shutdown

(Reuters) – Wall Street was set to open slightly higher on Monday as President Donald Trump followed last week’s massive fiscal stimulus by extending his stay-at-home guidelines, leaving investors guessing at their economic impact.

The S&P 500 .SPX posted its biggest weekly percentage gain in over a decade last week, while the Dow Jones .DJI its best since 1938, thanks to the record $2.2 trillion in aid agreed by officials.

All three major stock indexes, however, ended Friday more than 3% lower after the United States overtook China as the country with the most number of coronavirus cases.

The crisis has so far knocked $7.4 trillion off the value of S&P 500 companies and without any clarity on how long it will take to quell the outbreak, Wall Street’s main indicators of future volatility remain at high levels.

“There is no way to gauge the short-term direction of markets right now when there is still so much uncertainty,” said David Bahnsen, chief investment officer of Bahnsen Group in California.

“The shape of the inevitable economic recovery is unknown and will be for weeks or months.”

Trump on Sunday dropped a hotly criticized plan to get the economy up and running again by mid-April after White House health experts argued strongly with him to extend the stay-at-home order so the country could start seeing the rates of infection come down.

JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) said on Saturday it expected real U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) to fall 10% in the first quarter and plunge 25% in the second quarter.

The CBOE volatility index dipped on Monday, but was still near levels far above those in 2018 and 2019.

“Until we’ve got some evidence that can help deal with the virus, it’s probably more choppy markets ahead,” said Noah Hamman, chief executive office of AdvisorShares in Bethesda, Maryland.

At 08:41 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis 1YMcv1 were up 139 points, or 0.65%, S&P 500 e-minis EScv1 were up 23.5 points, or 0.92% and Nasdaq 100 e-minis NQcv1 were up 78.25 points, or 1.03%.

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) rose 4.5% as the drugmaker announced plans to start human testing of its experimental coronavirus vaccine by September

Abbott Laboratories (ABT.N) was the top gainer among S&P 500 components, rising nearly 10% after it won U.S. approval for a diagnostic test that can detect coronavirus in minutes.

General Motors Co (GM.N) rose 5% as Trump praised the automaker’s ventilator production after he invoked emergency powers to compel the manufacturing of badly needed equipment to tackle the pandemic.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd (NCLH.N), Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCL.N) and Carnival Corp (CCL.N) slumped after Berenberg slashed its price targets on cruise operators by about a third.

Oil majors Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) and Chevron Corp (CVX.N) fell over 2% as U.S. crude prices fell below $20 for the first time in 18 years.

Source: Read Full Article

Virtual tours, coronavirus clauses: Pandemic up-ends homebuying across the U.S.

(Reuters) – Prospective buyers arriving at Betsy and Eric Melby’s house for sale in Memphis, Tennessee, last week were greeted by a large pump bottle of hand sanitizer and a box of disposable gloves.

Inside, every light was on, the closet doors ajar and the shower curtains pulled back, all to forestall the need to touch any surfaces.

“We wanted to make those coming to see our home feel comfortable that we’re taking every precaution,” said Eric Melby, who accepted an offer on Thursday, two days after listing the house.

The process of buying and selling a home, like virtually every other aspect of American life, has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Open houses have been eliminated, closings are being conducted through car windows and home showings require plenty of caution – if they’re even permitted by local officials.

Millions of U.S. residents are under stay-at-home orders here in more than 20 states, and unemployment figures are soaring, all but ensuring the housing market – which had been strong, thanks to the robust economy and low mortgage rates – will suffer a major downturn.

“This is catastrophic,” said Judi Desiderio, a real estate agent based in East Hampton, New York, who works in the eastern Long Island suburbs.

Sales of new single-family homes dropped in February, after January saw the highest level since 2007, and analysts expect March could bring a sharper decline.

Several real estate agents described buyers backing out of deals due to the stock market slump, or clients delaying plans to sell until the uncertainty subsides.

Even for those who had an agreement before the outbreak exploded, concerns over contagion have had an effect. In Sacramento, a couple that had planned to move in with their elderly parents had to delay their closing because the parents were under quarantine, according to their agent, Jeanine Roza.

Some closings are proceeding at a distance. In one instance, a notary observed a buyer in a car signing paperwork through the window of an office, said Chris Reese, president of the Ohio Realtors association.

“Our whole way of doing business has changed,” she said.

In New York state, some county clerks’ offices have closed, leaving it unclear whether sales can be completed if they cannot be recorded.

Some real estate associations have written a “coronavirus addendum” that allows deals to be called off if the pandemic makes it impossible to close: travel restrictions, lack of house inspectors and title company closures are among the covered reasons.

The level of disruption varies from state to state, and even city to city, based on the patchwork approach officials have taken to combating the virus.

In New York and California, where all “non-essential” businesses were shuttered, real estate is not considered “essential,” and agents are barred from even showing homes.

That has ground home-buying to a near halt, though some agents are using online tools, including 3D software, to conduct “virtual” showings.

In other states like Ohio, where real estate was added to the “essential” businesses list, agents and their clients are still navigating the new reality.

“We’ve never had anything like this,” said Brenda Conner, an agent in Cincinnati.

One of her clients has instructed her not to show a house anymore; an elderly couple who had accepted an offer before the outbreak accelerated is now balking at allowing a required inspection to complete the deal.

Cindi Bulla, who chairs the Texas Realtors association, toured a house this week with a client who asked the sellers to leave the home at least three hours before the showing. The request was based on some reports the virus might be able to survive in the air for hours, though most researchers have concluded that is unlikely.

Some agents are concerned about losing their livelihoods.

Roza, the Sacramento agent, runs an office with her wife, Sindy Kirsch, and will soon have no new business, due to the California shutdown.

“How are we going to survive?” Kirsch asked.

Memphis agent Barbie Dan, who helped the Melbys sell their house, has taken a page out of their book, asking clients to provide washing stations and fresh towels to put buyers at ease. She has also been giving video tours of houses using her phone.

“This is uncharted territory,” she said.

(This story corrects spelling of Brenda Conner’s last name from Connor; corrects to say Cindi Bulla’s title is chairman, not president, of the Texas Realtors association)

Source: Read Full Article

Trump risks blowback from war of words with China over coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and some top aides have repeatedly excoriated China over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a stance that even some in his administration worry could bring a dangerous backlash from Beijing.

While Trump himself softened his tone after a week of blaming what he called the “Chinese virus” for the human and economic toll of the disease, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday had harsh words for the Chinese, accusing them of an “intentional disinformation campaign.”

Increasing strains in U.S.-China relations have raised concerns at a time when experts say an unprecedented level of cooperation is needed to face the crisis and deal with its fallout.

“The U.S. and China are engaged now in a demonization contest,” said Daniel Russel, who served as the State Department’s top Asia adviser until early in Trump’s term.

“That inevitably hinders badly needed cooperation.”

At risk also is Trump’s hard-won trade deal between the world’s two biggest economies, a key plank of his 2020 re-election campaign.

While Washington and Beijing have so far mostly been waging an escalating war of words, the Trump administration has raised the prospect of turning rhetoric into action, which could further ratchet up tensions.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, a leading China hawk, is crafting a new “Buy America” executive order aimed at reducing U.S. reliance on Chinese-made pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies.

China, which has matched U.S. recriminations over the virus, has warned that such a move would be unwise and unrealistic.

An article carried by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua said the world should thank China, rather than blame it, and warned if Beijing were to ban the export of drugs, “the United States would sink into the hell of a novel coronavirus epidemic.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is leading a faction within the administration opposed to Navarro’s initiative, said a senior U.S. official on condition of anonymity. Internal dissent is based on concerns that now is not the time to antagonize China when its help is needed to fight the pandemic and keep the global economy afloat.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S.-CHINA TENSIONS CLOUD G20

Friction between the United States and China is expected to overhang a video conference of the Group of 20 major economies on Thursday to discuss the pandemic, which has upended life and sent economic shockwaves around the globe.

With his pronouncements, Trump has whipsawed back and forth in how he has characterized China’s role.

After initially commending China for “doing a very professional job” fighting the virus, Trump ratcheted up his rhetoric last week, saying “the world is paying a very big price for what they did” and accusing Beijing of covering up the outbreak’s early stages in the Wuhan province.But Trump’s language softened again this week as he offered further praise for Chinese President Xi Jinping, describing him as a “friend.”

Pompeo, meanwhile, has become the public face of the anti-China camp. He called the disease the “Wuhan virus” on Wednesday, using a term that angers China, and said Beijing needs to be more transparent.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had shared information and urged Washington to “cease politicizing the epidemic.”

Despite Pompeo’s tough talk, another U.S. official said that unless Trump or his surrogates take direct aim at Xi, something they have yet to do, relations could still be salvaged.

Trump this week has regularly touted his trade deal with China, pointing out that Beijing’s is moving ahead with its promised agricultural purchases considered crucial to his electoral prospects in farm states.

China has its own levers if it chooses to retaliate, not only on possibly slow-walking implementation of the trade deal but by using its position as a key supplier of medical goods to the United States.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said in an op-ed last month that in 2018, the U.S. imported more than $12.7 billion worth of pharmaceuticals and antibiotics, medical devices, and food products from China, not including organic chemicals used to create pharmaceutical products.

Navarro last week said he hoped to finish work on the executive order, but it has not been advanced amid a flurry of warnings from U.S. health experts who fear China could respond by slowing shipments of medical equipment. The senior U.S. official said the decree was “still in process.”

“In normal times, I would agree that it is important for the United States to have its own capacity to produce ventilators, masks and other medical equipment,” said Matthew Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“But this is not the moment to considering a policy like this.”

Source: Read Full Article

U.S. Senate close to passing $2 trillion in coronavirus aid, timing of vote unclear

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators will vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, hoping it will become law quickly.

Top aides to Republican President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats said they had agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of marathon talks.

“Today the Senate will act to help the people of this country weather this storm,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said after the chamber convened at noon EDT (1600 GMT).

“This is not even a stimulus package,” he said. “It is emergency relief.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said his party was willing to pass the bill as quickly as possible.

“Help is on the way. Big help. Quick help,” he said on the Senate floor.

Trump is ready to sign the measure into law, the White House said, but it was unclear how quickly Congress could get the package to his desk. McConnell did not say what time the Senate would hold its vote, and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is not expected to act before Thursday.

Related Coverage

  • No. 2 House Democrat pledges 24-hour notice before stimulus vote
  • Factbox: What's in the nearly $2 trillion U.S. Senate coronavirus stimulus?

A potential roadblock emerged in the early afternoon, as several Republican senators said the bill needed to be changed so that it would not pay laid-off workers more money than they earned on the job, calling the language a “drafting error.”

“This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said at a news conference.

The massive bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

It will also include $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

It would be the largest rescue package ever approved by Congress and the third such effort to be passed this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the $3.8 billion allocated to his state would not cover the tax revenue it stands to lose from reduced economic activity. His state accounts for roughly half of all U.S. cases.

“That is a drop in the bucket,” he said at a news conference.

The package aims to flood the U.S. economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed more than 810 people in the United States and infected more than 59,200.

The governors of at least 18 states, including New York, have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the pathogen’s spread, but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

Wall Street rose in choppy trading on Wednesday, building on the previous session’s gains, on hopes of quick congressional action.

The stimulus bill is expected to pass the Republican-led Senate easily, more so because Republican Senator Rand Paul, the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

It also must pass the Democratic-led House of Representatives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed a more far-reaching rescue package, did not say whether she would support the Senate version.

“We’ll see the bill and see how the Senate votes. So there’s no decision about timing until we see the bill,” she told reporters.

House members left Washington 10 days ago, but the lower chamber could quickly pass the bill without requiring them to return if all members agree to do so.

The No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, told lawmakers that they would be notified 24 hours before any action.

If just one of the chamber’s 430 current members objects, that could require them to return to Washington to vote in person at a time when several members are self-quarantining. Any changes made by the House would also require Senate approval – leading to further delays.

The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, said he supported the bill and called for its quick passage.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

Source: Read Full Article

Factbox: U.S. lawmakers who tested positive for the coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Three members of the U.S. Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than two dozen others have said they are self-quarantining, even as lawmakers scramble to pass more legislation to help cope with the pandemic.

Here is a look at some of the lawmakers affected:

WHO HAS THE VIRUS?

Senator Rand Paul

The Kentucky Republican said on Sunday that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was in quarantine. He said he was asymptomatic and feeling fine and was tested out of an abundance of caution. He had been in the Senate and using the gym there in the days before he received his positive result.

Representative Mario Diaz-Balart

The Florida Republican said on March 18 that he tested positive after developing symptoms on March 14. That was less than 24 hours after he and more than 400 other members of the House of Representatives crowded into the chamber to pass a sweeping coronavirus aid package.

Representative Ben McAdams

The Utah Democrat said on March 18 that he had the virus, also having developed symptoms on March 14. In a statement on Tuesday, the 45-year-old said he was hospitalized and doctors were monitoring his occasional need for oxygen.

McAdams urged lawmakers to stop partisan games and take swift action to support communities grappling with the public health emergency. “At the advice of my doctors, I am still in the hospital. My experience further shows me the seriousness of this issue,” he said on Twitter.

WHO IS SELF-QUARANTINED?

Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee said on Sunday they would self-quarantine after having spent time with Paul.

Romney said on Tuesday that he had tested negative for the virus but would stay in quarantine.

At least four other senators previously self-quarantined. They are Republicans Cory Gardner, Lindsey Graham, Rick Scott and Ted Cruz. Cruz and Graham have returned to public life.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said on Monday her husband, 52-year-old John Bessler, had the virus and was in the hospital, but she was not at risk because she had not seen him for two weeks. That is longer than the quarantine period.

At least 23 House members have self-quarantined, some after exposure to Diaz-Balart or McAdams, and others after contacts with their constituents or staff members who later tested positive. Not all are still in isolation.

They include: Republicans Steve Scalise, Mark Meadows, Tom Cole, Doug Collins, Drew Ferguson, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar and Ann Wagner along with Democrats Don Beyer, Anthony Brindisi, Julia Brownley, Jason Crow, Joe Cunningham, Sharice Davids, Kendra Horn, Andy Kim, Gwen Moore, Stephanie Murphy, Ben Ray Lujan, David Price, Kathleen Rice, David Schweikert and John Yarmuth.

Source: Read Full Article

McConnell, Pelosi, Mnuchin see deal soon on $2 trillion U.S. coronavirus aid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Democrats and Republicans said on Tuesday they were close to a deal on a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus package, raising hopes that the divided U.S. Congress could soon act to try to limit the pandemic’s economic fallout.

“At last, I believe, we’re on the five-yard line,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, using a football analogy meaning close to scoring, as the chamber opened its session on Tuesday morning.

“We are very close,” added McConnell, the top Republican in Congress.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said the two sides had agreed to more oversight provisions for a proposed $500 billion fund to help hard-hit businesses, resolving a key sticking point.

“I think there is a real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours,” Pelosi told CNBC.

Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump’s treasury secretary, told reporters that lawmakers hope to have a draft ready within the next two to three hours. He confirmed the changes to the industrial fund.

“There’s better oversight,” Mnuchin said.

Along with the industrial aid, the bill would send direct payments of up to $3,000 to millions of U.S. families at a cost of $500 billion. It also would provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $75 billion for hospitals.

Democrats have twice blocked attempts to advance the bill, saying it did not provide enough money for states and hospitals, lacked sufficient aid for unemployed Americans and did not include adequate supervision of a massive fund to aid big businesses.

Those concerns appear to have been addressed.

Related Coverage

  • McConnell says lawmakers very close to a deal on coronavirus bill

“I’m very optimistic that there will be a deal announced this morning,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons said on MSNBC.

Wall Street bounced from three-year lows on Tuesday on hopes that the Senate might be close to ending its standoff on the legislation.

Trump, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, has said he may ease a public-health clamp-down that aims to slow the spread of the virus in an effort to quickly restart the economy. Other officials warned that such an action could compound the damage.

‘ALL OF THE NONSENSE’

Republicans, Democrats and top Trump aides have negotiated for days over the package, which would be the third and largest passed to address the crisis if it is backed by both the Republican-majority Senate and Democratic-led House and signed by the Republican president.

The money at stake in the stimulus legislation amounts to more than the U.S. government spends on national defense, scientific research, highway construction and other discretionary programs.

“Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today. The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 550 people in the United States and sickened more than 43,800, shuttered thousands of businesses, thrown millions out of work and led state governors to order about 100 million people – nearly a third of the nation’s population – to stay at home.

Pelosi has introduced her own $2.5 trillion counterproposal that also includes $4 billion that would allow states to conduct the November presidential and congressional elections by mail.

That legislation would likely be irrelevant if a bipartisan deal is forged in the Senate.

Republicans normally hold a slim 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning they need Democratic support to garner the 60 votes required to advance most legislation.

But the coronavirus has affected their ranks, giving Democrats more leverage. Republican Senator Rand Paul has tested positive for coronavirus and four other Republicans are also unable to vote because they were exposed to Paul or others with the virus.

Source: Read Full Article

Historic Fed boost fails to stem Wall Street's virus driven selloff

(Reuters) – Wall Street’s slide deepened further on Monday as the rapidly spreading coronavirus forced more U.S. states into lockdown, overshadowing unprecedented moves by the U.S. Federal Reserve to shore up credit across the economy.

After cutting interest rates to near zero recently, the Fed will now lend against student loans and credit card loans, as well as back the purchase of corporate bonds and make direct loans to companies.

The unprecedented steps briefly lifted U.S. stock index futures more than 3% earlier in the session, but the mounting death toll from COVID-19 and a tide of lockdowns quickly sent the main indexes back into the red, putting the S&P 500 .SPX on pace for its worst month since World War Two.

“What the Fed did is important because it does help in the credit markets. But it’s not enough from an equity market perspective,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee.

“What we now need is leadership out of Congress to pass some sort of stimulus bill, because what the Fed’s doing is relieving some problems, but it doesn’t do enough to solve to solve what’s out there.”

Investors had hoped the U.S. Senate would clear a $1 trillion-plus coronavirus stimulus package over the weekend, but Democrats and Republicans were still scrambling to come to an agreement.

Maryland, Ohio, Louisiana and Delaware joined New York and California in asking people to stay home, foreshadowing a near halt in economic activity and more pain for U.S. equities and prompting several analysts to slash their growth forecasts.

Goldman Sachs expects an outright contraction in global real GDP in 2020 on the back of a 24% plunge in U.S. real GDP in the second quarter: two-and-a-half times as large as the previous post-war record.

The Fed’s stimulus measures failed to reassure investors jolted by a $9 trillion wipeout in the benchmark S&P 500’s value since a record high hit last month. A rush for safe-haven assets like government bonds caused U.S. Treasury yields to fall on Monday. [US/]

At 12:46 p.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 380.84 points, or 1.99%, at 18,793.14 and the S&P 500 .SPX was down 42.00 points, or 1.82%, at 2,262.92. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was down 3.25 points, or 0.05%, at 6,876.27.

The energy sector .SPNY dropped more than 5%, the most among the 11 major S&P 500 sectors, tracking a plunge in oil prices. [O/R]

The defensive utilities .SPLRCU and real estate .SPLRCR sectors also dropped about 4% each.

Boeing (BA.N) was among the top gainers on the Dow .DJI, rising 4.44% after Goldman Sachs upgraded its rating on the planemaker to “buy”.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 3.63-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.87-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded no new 52-week high and 203 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded two new highs and 450 new lows.

Source: Read Full Article

Fed boost fails to stem Wall Street rout

(Reuters) – Wall Street’s slide deepened on Monday as the rapidly spreading coronavirus forced more U.S. states into lockdown, eclipsing optimism from an aggressive policy easing by the Federal Reserve and putting the S&P 500 on pace for its worst month since World War Two.

After cutting interest rates to near zero and offering to buy more Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, the Fed will now lend against student loans and credit card loans, as well as back the purchase of corporate bonds and direct loans to companies.

The extraordinary moves briefly lifted U.S. stock index futures more than 3%, but the mounting death toll from COVID-19 and growing evidence of the economic damage to Corporate America quickly sent the main indexes back into the red.

“It’s their bazooka moment, which should be a sign to investors that the Fed will provide any and all liquidity necessary to support the economy through this period,” said Russell Price, chief economist at Ameriprise Financial Service in, Troy, Michigan.

“But quite frankly, the market is just in a waiting period right now until the virus runs its course and some of the therapies and other treatments are able to improve outcomes.”

Investors had hoped the U.S. Senate would clear a $1 trillion-plus coronavirus stimulus package over the weekend, but Democrats and Republicans were still scrambling to come to an agreement.

Ohio, Louisiana and Delaware have now joined New York and California in asking people to stay home, foreshadowing a near halt in economic activity and more pain for U.S. equities, which have already lost more than $9 trillion in value since a record high hit last month.

Goldman Sachs expects an outright contraction in global real GDP in 2020 on the back of a 24% plunge in U.S. real GDP in the second quarter: two-and-a-half times as large as the previous post-war record.

At 11:49 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was down 908.45 points, or 4.74%, at 18,265.53, while the S&P 500 .SPX was down 107.63 points, or 4.67%, at 2,197.29 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was down 234.88 points, or 3.41%, at 6,644.63.

The energy sector .SPNY fell 5%, tracking a plunge in oil prices. [O/R]

Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) and Chevron (CVX.N) were among the biggest drags on the Dow .DJI.

Hasbro (HAS.O) rose 10.84% after the toy maker’s Chief Executive Officer Brian Goldner said its supply chains were up and running in China.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers more than 5-to-1 on the NYSE and 3-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded no new 52-week high and 195 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded two new highs and 401 new lows.

Source: Read Full Article

Fed aims 'bazooka' to backstop coronavirus-hit economy

(Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Reserve on Monday rolled out an extraordinary array of programs to backstop an economy reeling from sweeping restrictions on people and businesses that scientists say are needed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

For the first time the Fed will back purchases of corporate bonds and make direct loans to companies, and will roll out “soon” a program to get credit to small and medium-sized business. It also said it will expand its asset purchases by as much as needed to stabilize financial markets.

The series of actions marks a massive intervention by the U.S. central bank beyond the financial markets where it has so far concentrated its firepower into the real U.S. economy.

“It’s their bazooka moment,” said Russell Price, chief economist at Ameriprise Financial Services in Troy, Michigan.

Nearly a third of the U.S. population has been urged to stay indoors and authorities have mandated the shutdown of large parts of the service sector to keep people safe.

With customers disappearing rapidly, businesses starved of cash may be able to tap into the Fed’s “lifeline” to stay afloat while the shutdowns continue, said University of Oregon economics professor Tim Duy.

“The Fed is still working to maintain the flow of credit because they know what happened during the Depression (when) too many firms went under,” Duy said. “The more damage that happens, the harder it is going to be to restart the economy.”

Still, he said, without massive fiscal aid such efforts won’t be enough.

U.S. stocks continued their slide after the announcement, as U.S. lawmakers struggled to reach agreement on a far-reaching coronavirus stimulus package on Monday after failing to reach a deal over the weekend. U.S. corporate credit investors for their part welcomed the Fed’s move, sending up prices of U.S. investment-grade corporate bond exchange-traded funds.

Under the new programs, the Fed will lend against student loans, credit card loans, and U.S. government backed-loans to small businesses, and buy bonds of larger employers and make loans to them in what amounts to four years of bridge financing.

Hundreds of thousands of people have already filed for unemployment insurance in California alone, the state’s governor said at the weekend, and many analysts are projecting declines in economic output next quarter that are far worse than the steepest drop during the Great Recession.

A Reuters poll of economists estimated initial jobless claims rose an astounding 1 million last week, and some believe the number could be higher.

In a statement the Fed said the effort, approved unanimously by members of the Federal Open Market Committee, was taken because “it has become clear that our economy will face severe disruptions” as a result of the health crisis.

“This is the Fed’s all-out effort to ensure that the business sector and households can continue on,” said Sam Bullard, senior economist for Wells Fargo Securities.

“The Fed is doing everything they can” to keep markets functioning smoothly after economic activity was disrupted, he said “We take this as a huge easing.”

Source: Read Full Article