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Mar 25, 2020

Coronavirus Updates: Deal Near on Stimulus Package; Dow, Stocks Jump; U.S. Cases Near 50,000 .

By Douglas Belkin and Melissa Korn


21 minutes ago (all time is approximately from here on)

Coronavirus Creates College Uncertainty, Admissions Gets Easier



The change is a reprieve for applicants who have been fighting against growing odds against their admission to selective schools. Above, Syracuse University.Dan Lyon for The Wall Street Journal
The pandemic has scrambled the college admissions process but students considering offers or awaiting decisions can expect higher acceptance rates, as colleges take measures to ensure they will still have enough students enrolled come fall.
“Students are going to be getting into schools they never would have been admitted to last year,” said Sara Harberson, an independent college counselor who used to run the admissions office at Franklin & Marshall.
28 minutes ago

Employees Don Masks, Meet Resistance



A Carl's Pharmacy employee, wearing a mask and gloves, reaches to accept payment from a customer in Aspen, Colo.Kelsey Brunner/Associated Press
U.S. workplaces are facing a dilemma, who should be permitted to wear mask and gloves on the job if they wished?
In health-care settings, it is a case of how best to use resources when they are stretched to breaking point, elsewhere some managers have said that employees wearing masks could unnecessarily alarm people.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says face masks should be reserved for health-care workers. But research indicating that the virus can spread before symptoms show means some public-facing workers are clashing with management over the issue.
48 minutes ago

Markets Update: Stocks Grow Jittery

Investors’ initial optimism about an estimated $2 trillion U.S. stimulus package waned as concerns about the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic were renewed.
Futures linked to the Dow Jones Industrial Average wavered between gains and losses, suggesting U.S. blue-chip shares are poised for a day of volatility when the market opens in New York. On Tuesday, the gauge soared 11%, its best day in 87 years.
Stocks in Europe gave up gains from earlier in the day, with the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 edging down 0.2%. U.S. crude futures dropped 2.6%.
52 minutes ago

Coronavirus Lockdown Begins in India, as Global Cases Pass 420,000

Why Dr. Fauci Is in the Middle of Coronavirus Controversies
0:00 / 2:37
Why Dr. Fauci Is in the Middle of Coronavirus Controversies
Why Dr. Fauci Is in the Middle of Coronavirus Controversies
Globally, coronavirus cases surpassed 420,000 Wednesday, with more than 18,900 dead, according to data from Johns Hopkins University early Wednesday.
India implemented the world's most extensive lockdown with a nationwide stay-at-home order that affected 1.3 billion people.
In the U.K., Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, tested positive for the coronavirus but was said to be in good spirits with only mild symptoms. A spokesman wouldn't comment on whether Queen Elizabeth had been tested for the virus.
1 hour ago

How the Coronavirus Ravaged a Family



Hong Ling and Li Song together in 2016 at Wuhan’s East Lake.Courtesy of Li Song
As the epicenter of the pandemic shifts to Europe and the U.S., the way the coronavirus has infected and spread within families in Asia is likely to be repeated with devastating consequences.
In Wuhan, one woman's world was turned upside down after a family dinner in late January. Li Song and five others in her extended family fell sick after being infected with the virus. Ms. Li's husband was hospitalized and four hours later, the hospital called to tell her he had died.
2 hours ago

Governments Prepare for the ‘Long Haul’



The Philippine government has sealed off Luzon, the country's most-populous island, to prevent the spread of Covid-19.Ezra Acayan/Getty Images
Sweeping restrictions and lockdowns world-wide are expected to slow the spread of coronavirus, but governments are preparing for a monthslong siege rather than a quick win.
Authorities will grapple with a difficult issue in the coming weeks and months: When is it safe to relax the limitations, and by how much without risking a resurgence?
“Life is not going to be back to what we consider normal for years to come,” Kristian Andersen, an infectious-disease researcher at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., said. “We need to figure out how we are going to function as a society for the next three years.”
2 hours ago

U.S. Communities Struggle to Deal With Testing Backlogs



National testing capacity is expected to increase after new FDA regulations. Here, a test site in Washington, D.C.jim lo scalzo/Shutterstock
Many cities and states are pursuing their own efforts to deal with shortages of critical equipment and backlogs as mass testing for the coronavirus ramps up.
A nationwide shortage of swabs and other testing supplies means the turnaround time from lab to lab has varied dramatically, with significant delays in some. And even in places where more testing is being done than a week ago, it still isn't enough, some doctors said.
3 hours ago

As Coronavirus Panic Spreads, Living Underground Doesn’t Seem So Strange



In South Dakota, a settlement christened Vivos xPoint consists of 575 cement fortresses—each tucked under thick grasslandThe Vivos Group
Survivalists are feeling a sense of relief and pride as the coronavirus upends nearly all aspects of normal life.
Those that have engaged in doomsday preparations—constructing or investing in bunkers and preparing for an isolated life underground—have often been greeted with derision, but spending on shelters has boomed since the pandemic began dominating news headlines.
The options range from single-residence bunkers to luxury communities with gyms, pools and even a dog-walk park.
3 hours ago

Global Stocks Surge as U.S. Clinches Stimulus Deal

U.S. futures rose, stock markets in Asia-Pacific and Europe gained and the dollar weakened as lawmakers in Washington and the Trump administration reached an agreement on an estimated $2 trillion stimulus package to limit the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.
Futures linked to the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose, suggesting U.S. blue-chip shares are likely to gain for a second day when the market opens in New York.
Indexes in Europe opened higher, with the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 gaining 4.2%. Most markets in Asia closed higher.
6 hours ago

White House Reaches Deal With Lawmakers on $2 Trillion Coronavirus Stimulus Bill



Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.Stefani Reynolds/Zuma Press
Lawmakers and the Trump administration reached an agreement on an estimated $2 trillion stimulus package aimed at shielding the U.S. economy from the worst consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Ladies and gentlemen...we have a deal,” Eric Ueland, the White House director of legislative affairs, said early Wednesday morning.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) were set to deliver remarks from the Senate floor after a flurry of negotiations on Capitol Hill, with Democrats saying they had secured higher unemployment benefits, among other items.
7 hours ago

U.S. Companies in China Expect Business to Return to Normal Soon

BEIJING—As China’s Covid-19 cases drop and the country goes back to work, more clarity is emerging at many American and multinational companies over when their business would return to normal, a business lobby survey showed.
In a poll of 119 companies conducted in mid-March by the American Chamber of Commerce in China, 22% of respondents said they have already resumed normal business operations after a prolonged period of shutdown due to the coronavirus epidemic. Another 13% expect a return to normal business by the end of March and 23% more by the end of April.
The epidemic has struck revenue expectations of many companies: 57% said their China revenue would decrease in 2020 if business can’t return to normal before April 30, a more pessimistic result than a similar survey conducted in February. Yet a third of the respondents said they expect no change to their business strategy in the longer term of three to five years. Half of the respondents said it is too early to tell, while 8% said they plan to delay or cancel investments.
The latest concern for many companies is how they could face further business disruption as the epidemic center shifts from China to elsewhere in the world, said Greg Gilligan, the business lobby’s chairman. The global nature of the pandemic is likely to hit the technology and service sectors especially hard, the survey showed—about 45% of respondents in both sectors said they expect a strong to moderate impact, such as supply chain and manufacturing disruption, or a dent in their revenues.
8 hours ago

Global Stocks Follow U.S. Markets Higher



Vincent Yu/Associated Press
Stock markets in the Asia-Pacific region rose on Wednesday, after U.S. shares surged as lawmakers in Washington made progress toward agreeing on a giant stimulus package.
In morning trading in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index rose 2.6%. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 jumped 5.5%, while Australia’s ASX 200 gained 3.4% and South Korea’s Kospi rose 4.5%.
8 hours ago

The Latest Virus News We're Following

9 hours ago

FEMA Pulls Back from Defense Production Act

The Trump administration was set to implement a defense mobilization law Tuesday to expedite the production of test kits for the novel coronavirus, but at the last minute deemed it unnecessary.
The move came despite mounting calls for President Trump to use the law to resolve severe equipment shortages.
Mr. Trump, said Tuesday evening that the Defense Production Act hadn’t been used, saying the government hadn’t “found it to be the case” that the law was needed.
9 hours ago

Occidental Petroleum Cuts Salaries Amid Coronavirus Fallout, Oil-Price Plunge

Occidental Petroleum is cutting salaries for its U.S. employees by up to 30% as it grapples with plunging oil prices, high debt and falling demand due to a halt in economic activity because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief Executive Vicki Hollub’s pay will be cut by 81% and the oil-and-chemical company’s top executives’ pay will be cut by an average of 68%, according to an email viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Employee bonuses and perks, such as gym memberships and commuter subsidies, are set to end in April.
“The coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented decline in demand for oil on a global basis. On top of that, the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia has further exacerbated the situation,” the email stated. “We must take immediate and unprecedented actions for our company.”
11 hours ago

New Mexico Sets Up $100 Million Fund to Aid Businesses

New Mexico is setting up a $100 million fund to help mid-sized businesses hit by disruptions tied to the coronavirus pandemic.
It gave Sun Mountain Capital the job of managing the lending pool. The money comes from funds overseen by the New Mexico State Investment Council.
The pool will be operated as part of the state fund’s private-equity program and will lend to businesses with 40 to 50 employees and at least $10 million in revenue, said Brian Birk, Sun Mountain’s managing partner.
11 hours ago

New York Slashes Subway Service as Coronavirus Affects Staff



John Minchillo/Associated Press
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority will reduce subway, bus and commuter rail services as ridership plummets and the new coronavirus crisis causes worker shortages.
Transit officials have emphasized that running a full service helps critical workers get to schools, hospitals and grocery stores. But the schedule has become increasingly difficult to maintain as train and bus operators, supervisors and other workers have become infected with the virus or have been quarantined.
11 hours ago

American Airlines Blocks Off Middle Seats for Social Distancing



carlos barria/Reuters
American Airlines Group Inc. is scaling back food and beverage service and blocking off middle seats in an effort to create more space between passengers, and with crew.
With more empty seats on planes, American said it would block 50% of all middle seats on every flight, spacing passengers in accordance with social distancing recommendations from public health officials. Air travel has slowed to a trickle with the number of passengers flowing through security checkpoints dropping more than 85% from a year ago, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
Gate agents and flight attendants will also be able to reassign seats to create more space between customers and customers can change seats once onboard, the airline said Tuesday.
The airline also announced several other changes aimed at reducing contact between flight attendants and passengers, including scaling back food and beverage service and shuttering most airport lounges. On flights under four-and-a-half hours, no food will be served and some beverages will be made available only on request. Longer flights will also have more limited food available.
11 hours ago

EU Grapples With How to Support Economies

There is broad support to allow countries to tap credit lines from the eurozone’s bailout fund as the European Union looks for ways to step up its fiscal response to the coronavirus crisis.
Governments are considering allowing countries to borrow as much as 2% of their annual economic output.
The European Stability Mechanism, which was one of the region’s strongest responses to the financial crisis, is aimed at assuring markets that eurozone governments had the means to rescue struggling economies. The fund has €410 billion ($440 billion) in loans available.
12 hours ago

Steven Rattner on Coronavirus Stimulus: ‘Better to Go Too Quickly’



'In 2008 we were a bit late to the party,' Steven Rattner said. Takaaki Iwabu/Bloomberg News
Longtime Wall Street financier Steven Rattner said the U.S. could use lessons from the financial crisis to navigate the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
"What we learned in the Great Recession was that, as distasteful as it may be, we need to keep the business sector functioning when private markets are unable to do so," Mr. Rattner, chairman and CEO of Willett Advisors LLC, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Rattner, who served as the Obama administration’s “car czar” during the financial crisis, said officials shouldn't hold back on intervention.
"It is better to go too quickly and too heavily than to go too slowly and too tentatively. And in retrospect, in 2008 we were a bit late to the party," he said.
However, Mr. Rattner said he didn't see why airlines should get special assistance, adding "the most important priority here is to make sure the taxpayer money is loaned or invested prudently and commercially."
13 hours ago

Facebook Usage Soars, But Online Advertising Plunges



thomas white/Reuters
Use of Facebook's products, which include Instagram and WhatsApp, is skyrocketing during the pandemic, but the social-media giant warned that the increased activity wouldn't shield it from the online-advertising pullback roiling Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue alike.
In a post on Tuesday afternoon, Facebook said total messaging across the platform’s services has increased 50% in countries hit hard by the virus, with video messaging more than doubling. In Italy, group video calling is up by more than 1000% and use of all Facebook apps is up 70%.
But that doesn't mean much for the bottom line.
“We don’t monetize many of the services where we’re seeing increased engagement, and we’ve seen a weakening in our ads business in countries taking aggressive actions to reduce the spread of Covid-19,” wrote Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice president of analytics, and Jay Parikh, vice president of engineering.
As companies pull back on ad spending amid growing economic uncertainty, digital and local media companies are more vulnerable in the short-term, ad buyers say. Unlike national television ads, which are often purchased many months in advance and are harder to cancel, most digital ad buys can be canceled within days.
13 hours ago

European Governments Take Steps to Keep Workers in Jobs

Europe is taking steps to stop workers from getting fired as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts the world economy.
Governments across the continent have deployed new programs—or extended existing ones—to subsidize the wages of idled workers, allowing employers to keep them in their jobs.
Such programs, according to economists, can not only provide quick relief to businesses and workers in a sudden downturn, but also allow companies to hit the ground running once activity picks up again.
“There are a number of structural features of Western European labor markets...that may be helpful in mitigating impacts compared with, for example, the U.S.,” said Malcolm Barr, an economist at JPMorgan. “Employment relationships are typically more stable than in the U.S.”
13 hours ago

Virus Dampens Payment Volumes at Square

Square Inc. said Tuesday the volume of payments it processed for its small-business customers over the last 10 days fell 25% from last year due to the effects of the coronavirus.
The financial-tech company run by Jack Dorsey said in a securities filing that that slowdown meant its gross profit would be around 6% lower in the first quarter than previously forecast, despite an increase in gross profit of around 50% in both January and February. "Starting in March, the effects of Covid-19 began to impact the company’'s growth," Square said in the filing.
13 hours ago

Coronavirus Cybersecurity Fallout Might Not Be Felt for Weeks

Sophisticated hackers could use coronavirus-related chaos to penetrate computer networks and quietly search for bank-account numbers, trade secrets or personally identifiable information over the course of weeks, months or even years.
"Very well-organized criminal organizations or nation-states--they can wait," says Nicolas Fischbach, chief technology officer of Forcepoint, a cybersecurity firm that specializes in data protection. The question is whether governments and companies--which have remote workers on overburdened computer networks managed by busy IT teams--can play the long game as well.
13 hours ago

Nike’s Investors Have Less Reason To Sweat

Heard on the Street's Charley Grant on how Nike can endure the current pandemic turmoil:
Investors have known for weeks that the coronavirus crisis would wreak havoc on the global economy. Fiscal third-quarter results from Nike on Tuesday were an early chance to survey the damage.
The apparel giant reported revenues of $10.1 billion and earnings of 53 cents a share for the quarter that ended Feb 29. The virus-related lockdown of large parts of China, which began in late January, meant sales in that country fell 5% from a year earlier after 22 consecutive quarters of growth.
That blow would sting on its own: In the fiscal second quarter, which ended last November, sales in China grew by 20% from a year earlier and accounted for nearly 18% of total company sales. Additionally, professional sports leagues and big-ticket amateur events have shut down operations, effectively thwarting many of Nike’s best marketing opportunities.
Nike’s shares have been punished along with the broad stock market, but the company is in excellent financial condition and can endure a weak period. It ended the quarter with $3.2 billion in cash. It has just over $6 billion in long- term debt and operating lease obligations on its books and doesn’t face significant debt maturities until 2023.
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Last Updated: Mar 25, 2020 at 8:07 am ET

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