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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.
About this event
Last Updated: Mar 25, 2020 at 8:07 am ET

US Business News: Layoffs and food lines: How the pandemic slams the poorest U.S. workers

Brad Heath



Laredo, Texas (Reuters) - Alberto Mendoza figures he can make it a couple of weeks on unemployment benefits before starting to decide which bills won’t get paid. The 26-year-old father of three lost his job training cooks when all the local restaurants started closing their doors and laying off staff.
People wait in line, following the social distance rules, to apply for a relief box via teleconference call at the South Texas Food Bank in Laredo, Texas, U.S., March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Veronica G. Cardenas Food Bank
“I have to pay rent, my truck bills; I have three children to support,” he said.
Mendoza is among thousands here in Laredo, Texas, along the southern U.S. border, who are teetering on the edge of financial ruin as the coronavirus pandemic takes hold – even though Laredo has seen no deaths and confirmed just nine cases by Tuesday evening. That’s a tiny figure compared to thousands of other hard-hit communities.
For an interactive graphic tracking coronavirus in the United States, click tmsnrt.rs/3bmK7N3
The plight of Laredo – a city of 260,000 located in one of America’s poorest counties – illustrates the breadth and depth of the economic pain radiating across the world as governments scramble to shut down commerce and issue stay-home directives to slow the pandemic. When city officials limited public gatherings – even funerals – to no more than 10 people, the local economy went off a cliff, despite the comparatively minor health impacts so far. The city’s rapid decline underscores the magnified fallout from the pandemic in economically fragile communities where most families live one or two missed paychecks away from desperation.
Poverty makes it much harder for people to isolate themselves to guard against infection or to seek proper care when they get sick, said Sandra Quinn, a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health.
“A pandemic like this just feeds on social inequities and existing health system disparities,” she said.
In surrounding Webb County, which includes Laredo, nearly a third of residents live beneath the federal poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About as many don’t have health insurance. Nearly all the students in the city’s school system — now shuttered — were eligible for subsidized lunches or other government benefits.
Mendoza’s kids have insurance through Medicaid, the government-run health program for low-income families. Mendoza has no insurance at all. If he gets sick, he said, he would “go to the doctor and ask for a payment plan.”
Other families are already in the food line. One day last week, more than 800 people showed up at the South Texas Regional Food Bank for boxes of pasta, rice and other supplies. On a typical day before the pandemic, just 25 or 30 people might have stopped by the organization’s warehouse to get food to sustain their families through a rough patch.
Now, instead of coming inside to ask for help, they sat at laptop computers under an awning outside, no more than 10 at a time, using video chat to talk with workers who didn’t want to run the risk of becoming infected.
“You have to feel for these people,” said Alma Boubel, the food bank’s director.
The severity of the U.S. economic crisis will soon become more clear with releases of new data. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard recently predicted the U.S. unemployment rate may hit 30% in the second quarter – higher than during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Goldman Sachs analysts estimated that more than 2 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week alone, more than triple the previous record.
The unemployment rate in Webb County, estimated at 4.1% in January, was above the national average before the virus hit. Many of the region’s jobs are tied to the transportation industry that moves goods back and forth across the border with Mexico – traffic that U.S. President Donald Trump and the Mexican government have sharply curtailed in an effort to contain the disease.
Officials in Laredo and Webb County did not respond to questions about how they planned to handle the public health or economic shocks.
The realities of lower-wage work also often mean that people can’t shift their livelihoods to a home office, as professionals in higher-end jobs often can. That dynamic also complicates government efforts to stop the spread of disease through social isolation.
“Social distancing is hard, and of course many low-income people work at jobs that are physical, in-person, manual, and you have to show up,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.
Studies after an outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus in the United States a decade ago found that minorities and lower-income families had a harder time separating themselves from other people in the way health authorities recommend. “They were less likely to be able to avoid public transportation, lived in larger households,” and had jobs that couldn’t be done remotely, Quinn said.
Ricarda Rios, 65, worked as a substitute teacher in Laredo before the schools closed. The system’s employees are still on the payroll, but not the subs. He said he is already “completely out of resources.”
That’s made it harder to steer clear of other people, especially when stores run short of basic supplies. “I have to go to different places until I get lucky and buy a dozen of eggs or a gallon of milk,” he said.
Carmen Garcia, the executive director of the Laredo Regional Food Bank, said she grasped the enormity of the crisis when she exhausted the supplies she bought for all of March just ten days into the month. Many of the people who come to her for help live in large families and work low-wage jobs that are now threatened. Many regularly seek cheaper medical care on the opposite side of the border with Mexico, which has been closed to non-essential travel.
“There’s a lot of worry now,” Garcia said. “Our clients, what they’re saying is they don’t know where else they can get assistance. They’re willing to risk their health. They can’t work right now, so they don’t have a paycheck. They need whatever food they can get.”
Reporting by Brad Heath and Veronica G. Cardenas; Additional reporting by Ned Parker; Editing by Brian Thevenot

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: States surge mail-in voting for delayed primaries as coronavirus pandemic intensifies

By Joseph Marks


PowerPost Analysis
Analysis Interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data, as well as anticipating how events might unfold based on past events


A box of ballots mailed in for the Washington state primary election at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Wash., on March 10. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
THE KEY
States including Georgia, West Virginia and Ohio are rushing to dramatically ramp up mail-in voting for primary contests during the coronavirus pandemic even with no guarantee Congress will help foot the bill.
Those states are all planning to spend millions of dollars to send absentee ballot applications to all their registered voters in anticipation of largely mail-in primaries that will be unlike any their states have ever conducted. 
The efforts come as congressional leaders continue to wrangle over whether the federal government should help states increase mail-in voting amid the pandemic and if Democrats can use the crisis to mandate reforms to improve ballot access and security. Senate leaders announced an agreement early today on a $2 trillion stimulus bill to respond to the pandemic but have yet to release details on whether the bill contains new election funding. 
Senators are likely to vote on the measure later today but House action could take longer. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) (told NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell yesterday the deal then under discussion fell far short of the $4 billion Democrats requested for election officials, but her office didn’t answer queries about what actually made it into the deal.
The state efforts mark a huge logistical and financial undertaking by officials  struggling to protect democratic processes under conditions that make in-person voting extremely difficult if not dangerous.
In a twist, they're also being led by Republican secretaries of state who fiercely oppose the mandates championed by Pelosi and other Democrats, which include expanding the option of mail-in voting to all citizens and requiring 15 to 20 days of early voting for all elections. 
“Those are ideas that deserve debate but to push them through as emergency measures is playing politics with a crisis and that’s not what we should be doing,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) told me. “I think it’s crisis opportunism for people to try to get their otherwise partisan pet projects at a time like this.” 
LaRose plans to ask the Ohio legislature today for at least $10.5 million to run a majority mail-in primary in June to make up for the state’s March 17 primary that Gov. Mike DeWine (R) canceled at the last minute out of concern the virus made in-person voting unsafe for voters and poll workers.
The plan is to send forms to request an absentee ballot to every registered Ohio voter along with a postage-paid envelope. LaRose hopes to raise the approximately 35 percent of Ohioans who typically vote by mail to as near 100 percent as possible, he told me, though he’ll also run a smaller in-person election in early June.
LaRose said he'd welcome federal money to offset the cost of the the mail-in effort provided it doesn't come with any strings attached. Election leaders in Georgia and West Virginia, meanwhile, were less eager for help from Washington. 
“We’re grateful for what we do have… The federal government has a lot of issues on their plate so we’ll make due with what we have now,” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), who announced plans yesterday to surge mail-in voting for the state’s May 19 primary, told me. 
Georgia officials said they expect to spend around $13 million to send absentee voter forms to the state’s 6.9 million registered voters – and anticipate dramatically raising the approximately 5 percent of voters who cast ballots by mail in previous elections.
“We’d like to see a real strong increase in that,” Raffensperger said, though he didn’t offer a precise goal. “Doing this quick is a big lift, but our team is up the challenge.”
West Virginia is among about one-third of states that require voters to have an excuse such as illness or travel before they can vote by mail, and only about 2 percent of voters did so in previous elections. Because of a state emergency declaration, however, Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) was able to effectively declare fear of coronavirus as the excuse for the entire state.
Warner expects to spend at least $1.6 million to send absentee ballot requests to his residents before the May 12 primary to supplement voters who actually show up at the polls. 
Raffensperger and Warner both plan to fund the vote-by-mail efforts at least partly with leftover money Congress appropriated to them last year to help harden their election system against hackers from Russia or elsewhere. But it’s unclear whether they’ll have enough leftover money for a similar effort in the general election if the pandemic continues to upset normal life.
For now, though, they said they’re focused only on the primaries.
“At this point, it’s one step at a time,” Warner told me. “We may need to duplicate this depending on how the virus plays out, but that’s out of our control right now.”

PINGED, PATCHED, PWNED


Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/EPE-EFE/Shutterstock)
PINGED: Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are urging European leaders to sanction a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who they say not only helped interfere with the 2016 U.S. election but is already interfering in the 2020 contest, Maggie Miller at the Hill reports. Putin associate Yevgeniy Prigozhin is the main funder of the Internet Research Agency, a notorious Russian Internet troll factory.
 “We must thwart his malign global activities done at Putin’s behest and ongoing efforts to interfere in the domestic politics of democracies on both sides of the Atlantic,” the House members, led by chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and ranking Republican Michael McCaul (Tex.) wrote in a letter to the European Union's ambassador to the United States.
The letter follows a similar request from Senate leaders pushing for sanctions against Prigozhin.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services. (Al Drago/Bloomberg News)
PATCHED: The Health and Human Services Department, which is helping to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, is also being exploited by hackers, Sean Lyngaas at CyberScoop reports. The scammers used a phony web link that looked like it came from the agency to dupe people into downloading malware that can steal their personal data. 
The phishing email appeared to link to an actual HHS website providing information about coronavirus symptoms. It's unclear how many people were hacked before cybersecurity experts spotted the scam and worked with HHS to take it down, Sean reports.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) headquarters. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)
PWNED: Banks in the United States and the United Kingdom are stepping up efforts to protect customers from coronavirus-themed fraud, Lawrence White and Sinead Cruise at Reuters report. The efforts include social media campaigns to warn of potential scams and 24-hour support hotlines for victims. 
Fraudsters in the United States have used the confusion created by shortened banking hours and an emphasis on online banking to steal people’s personal data including birth dates and Social Security numbers, Reuters reports. In some cases, scammers have posed as officials with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation claiming to need people’s data because their lender is collapsing, FDIC officials said.

PUBLIC KEY

The Election Assistance Commission is seeking public input on the long-awaited 2.0 version of the voluntary security and accessibility guidelines for voting systems that it shares with states. The big change is a ban sought by cybersecurity hawks on Internet connectivity in voting systems. Here’s more from Politico's Morning Cybersecurity.
— More cybersecurity news from the public sector:

During a virtual town hall, Mark Esper warned employees to be vigilant for phishing attempts and practice good cyber hygiene.
Nextgov

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has shut down a Russia-based online platform for selling hacked information, following the arrest of its alleged administrator on hacking charges, authorities announced Tuesday.
Reuters

Amazon accused the Pentagon of seeking to manipulate its review of a huge cloud-computing deal in order to steer the award to rival Microsoft.
Wall Street Journal

PRIVATE KEY

Cybersecurity news from the private sector:

As millions of U.S. workers pivoted to remote work last week, putting new strains on their computer networks, federal officials warned that hackers smelled blood. But the fallout from coronavirus-related breaches may not become clear for some time.
Wall Street Journal

Accounts pushed hundreds of tweets advertising a sketchy mask website on Tuesday.
Vice

Pandemics don’t just stress test the physical and mental health for potentially millions of folks across the country, but their livelihoods as well.
Gizmodo

Google is culling its Play store of unofficial coronavirus apps, but they’d already scored at least 400,000 downloads.
Forbes

ZERO DAYBOOK

  • The U.S. Election Assistance Commission will host a virtual public hearing on VVSG 2.0 Requirements at 10am on Friday.

Market Insider | Biggest Markets Moves Premarket: Stocks making the biggest moves in the premarket: Target, Nike, Facebook, Apple, Peloton & more

Peter Schacknow



Take a look at some of the biggest movers in the premarket:

Target (TGT) – The retailer joined the ranks of those withdrawing financial guidance, due to the uncertainty stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. Target said food and household goods sales are jumping, but profit may be squeezed by higher costs for staffing and cleaning stores.
Nike (NKE) – Nike reported quarterly profit of 78 cents per share, beating the consensus estimate of 59 cents a share. Revenue also exceeded forecasts, and the athletic footwear and apparel maker said business has rebounded in China following the coronavirus outbreak.
Facebook (FB) – Facebook said usage of its platforms has surged during the virus outbreak, but added that it is also seeing a weakening of its ad sales business.
Kraft Heinz (KHC) – The food producer was upgraded to “overweight” from “neutral” at JPMorgan Chase, which said that packaged food companies with higher levels of debt will benefit from the virus-related surge in business.
Occidental Petroleum (OXY) – Occidental Petroleum announced employee salary cuts of up to 30%, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. CEO Vicki Hollub will take an 81% pay cut. The oil producer is trying to conserve cash during a period of tumbling oil prices.
Boeing (BA) – Boeing plans to restart 737 Max production by May, according to sources who spoke to CNBC. Several regulatory hurdles still remain, however, before the aircraft is ungrounded by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Peloton Interactive (PTON) – Peloton’s largest investor – Wellington Management – sold 4 million shares worth about $100 million during the past week as the fitness equipment maker’s stock jumped, according to regulatory filings. Wellington still holds 5.9 million shares.
Royal Caribbean (RCL) – Royal Caribbean extended the suspension of its cruises through May 12, as coronavirus cases around the world surge. The cruise line had previously suspended voyages through the end of April.
Whirlpool (WHR) – Whirlpool withdrew its 2020 guidance due to the coronavirus outbreak. The appliance maker is also cutting production in its US factories, due to supply chain disruptions.
Apple (AAPL) – Apple was upgraded to “buy” from “hold” at Deutsche Bank, which said the recent decline has changed its opinion that the stock was “too rich” from a risk-reward standpoint.
Hershey (HSY) – Hershey received a double upgrade at Piper Sandler to “overweight” from “underweight.” Piper points to valuation, and expects the chocolate maker to benefit from strong consumer demand and retail traffic.
TJX (TJX) – TJX was upgraded to “outperform” from “sector perform” at RBC Capital, based on the strength of the retailer’s balance sheet.
Winnebago (WGO) – The recreational vehicle maker reported quarterly earnings of 67 cents per share, matching estimates. Revenue beat Wall Street forecasts, however, and Winnebago said it is confident that the outdoor recreation industry will rebound in the future once the coronavirus outbreak is resolved.

World News: More than 170,000 volunteer to help UK fight coronavirus

1-2 minutes - Source: Reuters



LONDON (Reuters) - More than 170,000 people have signed up to help Britain’s National Health Service tackle the coronavirus outbreak just hours after a request for a quarter of a million volunteers.
“At times of crisis people come together,” Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, told BBC TV. “This is a health emergency and we can all play a role.”
Britain had called for 250,000 volunteers to deliver food and medicines, provide transport for patients and supplies, and to telephone those who are becoming lonely because of self isolation.
The system aims to reach up to 1.5 million people who are “shielding” - keeping themselves at home for 12 weeks under government advice to protect those with serious health conditions.
The death toll from coronavirus in the United Kingdom jumped on Tuesday by 87 to a total of 422 - the biggest daily increase since the crisis began.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Kate Holton

Real Estate: Weekly mortgage applications tank 29% as coronavirus sidelines homebuyers

Diana Olick




CNBC: Mortgage Services real estate properties for sale 160110
A woman looks at real estate listings outside a Berkshire Hathaway Home Services office in Montclair, N.J.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
An increase in interest rates, combined with a massive shutdown of the economy caused homeowners and potential homebuyers to back away from the mortgage market.
Total mortgage application volume fell 29.4% last week from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index.
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) increased to 3.82% from 3.74%, with points decreasing to 0.35 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment. That is the highest level since mid-January.
“Several factors pushed rates higher, including increased secondary market volatility, lenders grappling with capacity issues and backlogs in their pipelines, and remote work staffing challenges,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.
Applications to refinance a home loan, which had been surging dramatically in the last month, fell 34% for the week but were still 195% higher than a year ago, when rates were 63 basis points higher. Refinances tend to be volatile, moving weekly with interest rates.
Mortgage applications to purchase a home are usually less volatile and less sensitive to weekly rate moves. Those applications decreased an unusually wide 15% for the week to the lowest level since August and were 11% lower annually. Buyers are clearly rattled by the economic shutdown, job layoffs and the massive drop in the stock market.
“Potential homebuyers might continue to hold off on buying until there is a slowdown in the spread of the coronavirus and more clarity on the economic outlook,” Kan said.
 Purchase applications fell even more dramatically last week in states hardest hit by the coronavirus: down 35% in New York, 23% in California and 17% in Washington. 
Mortgage rates have already pulled back this week, as the Federal Reserve is now pouring money into the mortgage-backed securities market to restore liquidity.
Lower rates, however, are unlikely to cause any surge in homebuying. Real estate agents and homebuilders are reporting a big drop in demand, and open houses are shuttered. They are doing virtual home tours, but sales are predicted to drop dramatically for the next few months. 

US Market | Futures Indicator: Stock futures turn negative even after White House, Senate reach deal on coronavirus stimulus bill

Fred Imbert, Yun Li, Eustance Huang



Stock futures turned negative in early Wednesday morning trading, following Tuesday’s historic rally, despite the White House and Senate reaching a deal on a coronavirus stimulus bill.
Around 7 a.m. ET, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were down 127 points, or 0.6%. S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures were down 0.9% and 0.8%, respectively. Dow futures were up more than 800 points at one point in the overnight session.
The moves came after the White House and Senate leaders agreed on a massive $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill.
“At last we have a deal,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said around 1:37 a.m. ET from the floor of the Senate. “In effect, this is a war-time level of investment into our nation.”
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “This is not a moment of celebration but one of necessity.”
Ahead of the news, Dow futures had pointed to an opening drop of about 200 points, while S&P 500 and Nasdaq-100 futures also pointed to losses at the Wednesday open.
The action in the futures market followed an epic comeback on Wall Street. The Dow soared more than 2,100 points, or over 11%, notching its biggest one-day percentage gain since 1933 and its best point increase ever. The S&P 500 rallied 9.4% for its best day since October 2008. 
Even with Tuesday’s massive rebound, some on Wall Street struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially without a clear sign that the coronavirus outbreak will be contained soon.
“This was a one-day bull market,” CNBC’s Jim Cramer said on “Closing Bell” on Tuesday. “You had stocks that moved so much they basically moved as if the second half of the year is going to be good. I struggle to find out why the second half of the year should be good ...I hate this kind of rally. This was a machine-driven rally, just like the sell-offs … I want to wait to see.”
Last week, the Cboe Volatility Index (VIX), also known as Wall Street’s fear gauge, eclipsed its financial crisis high and closed at 82.69. As of Wednesday morning, it was still hovering around a still-high 60 level.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus cases in the U.S. and globally still haven’t shown a sign of peaking. More than 400,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide, including over 50,000 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University. So far, more than 600 deaths related to the coronavirus have been confirmed in the U.S. New York City reported nearly 15,000 cases Tuesday and 131 related deaths.
Some investors believed the stock market was overdue for a big bounce, having priced in a worst-case scenario regarding the economic damage being done by coronavirus-related shutdowns. They believe a bounce could occur here even as coronavirus cases continue to surge because the market was so oversold.
—CNBC’s Jesse Pound contributed reporting.