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Trump tells GM: Stop 'wasting time', build ventilators to address coronavirus

WASHINGTON/DETROIT (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday invoked emergency powers to require General Motors Co (GM.N) to build much-needed ventilators for coronavirus patients after he accused the largest U.S. automaker of “wasting time” during negotiations.

Trump, who has been on the defensive for not moving faster to compel the production of medical equipment, for the first time invoked the Defense Production Act, saying GM was not moving quickly enough even though earlier on Friday the largest U.S. automaker announced it would begin building ventilators in the coming weeks.

Asked about negotiations with GM over ventilators, Trump expressed anger with the company’s decision to close an assembly plant in politically important Ohio. He also criticized GM’s prior decisions to build plants outside the United States.

“I didn’t go into it with a favorable view,” Trump told a news conference of the GM talks. White House adviser Peter Navarro said the administration ran into “roadblocks” with GM this week.

GM said in a statement in response to Trump that it has been working with ventilator firm Ventec Life Systems and GM suppliers “around the clock for over a week to meet this urgent need” and said its commitment to Ventec’s ventilators “has never wavered.”

The act grants the president power to expand industrial production of any key materials or products for national security and other reasons. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and other Democrats have urged him to invoke the act, but the president had been reluctant to do so until now.

Democratic U.S. Senator Ed Markey said, “About time. Now, tell us every day: which companies will be making more of this equipment, how much is being made, and where the equipment is going.”

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  • Factbox: Carmakers churn out machines, masks to help fight coronavirus

On Friday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States topped 100,000, the highest in the world according to a Reuters tally. The U.S. death toll topped 1,550. [L1N2BK21G]

Trump also said countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Italy need ventilators and that if the excess volume is not needed, the United States can export them.

Earlier, Trump lashed out at GM and Ford Motor Co F.M for moving too slowly just hours before GM said it would build medical equipment at an Indiana plant.

Trump criticized the U.S. automakers and said he expected the United States would make or obtain 100,000 additional ventilators within the next 100 days.

The attack on the automakers coincided with rising tension between Trump and the Democratic governors of New York and Michigan, who have criticized the administration’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic. On Thursday evening, Trump questioned in an interview on the Fox News network whether New York state needed 30,000 ventilators to cope with rising numbers of coronavirus patients, as Cuomo had said.

GM and Ford separately announced earlier this week they were working with medical equipment companies to help boost ventilator production.

GM and its partner Ventec confirmed after Trump’s tweets that the No. 1 U.S. automaker would deploy 1,000 workers to build ventilators at its Kokomo, Indiana, parts plant and ship as soon as next month. It was aiming to build more than 10,000 per month with the ability to go higher. Suppliers in the effort were told the target was 200,000 ventilators.

But early Friday, before GM issued its release, Trump attacked the automaker and Chief Executive Mary Barra on Twitter, reviving his grievance with Barra for closing and selling a car factory in Ohio, a state critical to the president’s re-election campaign.

“General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Friday.

“They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed ventilators, ‘very quickly’,” Trump said on Twitter of GM and Ventec’s effort. “Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar.”

Trump’s comments about GM and Ford came after a New York Times story Thursday suggested the White House had backed away from announcing a major ventilator deal with GM and Ventec because the price tag was too high. That drew criticism from Democrats.

Following Trump’s tweets, Ford said it was moving as fast as it could to gear up its ventilator manufacturing efforts and was in “active conversations” with the Trump administration seeking approvals. Ford said it has “teams working flat-out with GE Healthcare (GE.N) to boost production of simplified ventilators.”

Other automakers have said they are working to produce ventilators, masks and other medical equipment.

On Friday, Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) said it was “finalizing agreements to begin working with at least two companies that produce ventilators and respirators to help increase their capacity.”

New York City Mayor Bill be Blasio on Friday said on Twitter that Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) had agreed to donate hundreds of ventilators to hospital intensive care units in New York City and the state of New York.

    Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk in response said the electric carmaker was helping locate and deliver existing ventilators.

    Tesla on Friday did not respond to a request for comment on where it got the ventilators and whether the company was producing any ventilators of its own, something Musk has said the company will do.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) and Ferrari (RACE.MI) previously said they were exploring making ventilators in Italy.

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Singapore Airlines obtains $13 billion rescue package amid coronavirus shock

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – State investor Temasek Holdings and others will inject as much as S$19 billion ($13.27 billion) of liquidity into Singapore Airlines (SIA) (SIAL.SI) in the single biggest rescue for an airline slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The massive financing plan, which drove SIA shares down as much as 10.5% on Friday, underscores the depth of financial trouble for the global airline industry, with nearly one-third of the world’s aircraft already grounded because of the pandemic, according to data provider Cirium.

Many governments worldwide have already stepped in to help airlines amid the virus-induced travel slump, with the United States offering $58 billion in aid. Many carriers have grounded fleets and ordered thousands of workers on unpaid leave to keep afloat.

The S$5.3 billion equity and up to S$9.7 billion convertible note portions of the Singapore Airlines fundraising are being underwritten by Temasek, which owns about 55% of the group.

The carrier has also obtained a S$4 billion bridge loan facility with the country’s biggest lender, DBS Group Holdings Ltd (DBSM.SI), to support near-term liquidity requirements.

“This is an exceptional time for the SIA Group,” SIA Chairman Peter Seah said in a statement late on Thursday.

SIA’s shares went into a rare trading halt earlier Thursday after plunging to their lowest in 22 years this week as investors feared the virus will have a deep impact on the company.

“Under the current dire circumstances, the rights issue is the best tactical move for SIA. It underscores the carrier’s strategic importance to Singapore and the island state’s position as both a financial center and aviation hub,” Shukor Yusof, head of aviation consultancy Endau Analytics, said in a blog post.

SIA has said it would cut capacity by 96%, ground almost its entire fleet and impose cost cuts affecting about 10,000 staff amid what it called the “greatest challenge” it had ever faced.

The rights issue will be offered at S$3 per share, a 53.8% discount to SIA’s last traded price of S$6.5.

“While the raising looks earnings and valuation decretive, SIA now looks well positioned to ride out the storm with balance sheet concerns largely de-risked,” BofA analysts told clients.

Temasek International Chief Executive Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara said the deal would not only tide SIA over a short-term liquidity challenge but would position it for growth beyond the pandemic.

SIA said it would use the funding from the rights issues to beef up its capital and operational expenditure needs.

On Thursday, the Singapore government announced more than $30 billion in new measures to help businesses and households brace against the pandemic.

Finance minister Heng Swee Keat had also said that SIA would announce support from Temasek and that he welcomed Temasek’s decision to support the airline.

Qantas Airways (QAN.AX) this week secured A$1.05 billion ($636.1 million) against its aircraft fleet.

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Trump drags GM, Ford into political war over ventilators to fight coronavirus

WASHINGTON/DETROIT (Reuters) – General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co got dragged into the political war over much-needed ventilators for coronavirus patients Friday as U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out at the automakers for moving too slowly just hours before GM said it would build medical equipment at an Indiana plant.

Trump criticized the U.S. automakers and promised he would announce the federal purchase of an undisclosed number of ventilators later on Friday. He also warned he might invoke the Defense Production Act if the automakers didn’t move quickly.

The attack on the automakers coincided with rising tension between Trump and the Democratic governors of New York and Michigan, who have criticized the administration’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic. On Thursday evening, Trump questioned in an interview on the Fox News network whether New York state needed 30,000 ventilators to cope with rising numbers of coronavirus patients, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had said.

GM (GM.N) and Ford (F.N) separately announced earlier this week they were working with medical equipment companies to help boost ventilator production.

GM and its partner Ventec Life Systems confirmed after Trump’s tweets that the No. 1 U.S. automaker would deploy 1,000 workers to build ventilators at its Kokomo, Indiana, parts plant and ship as soon as next month. It was aiming to build more than 10,000 per month with the ability to go higher. Suppliers in the effort were told the target was 200,000 ventilators.

But early Friday, before GM issued its release, Trump attacked the automaker and Chief Executive Mary Barra on Twitter, reviving his grievance with Barra for closing and selling a car factory in Ohio, a state critical to the president’s re-election campaign.

“General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Related Coverage

  • Factbox: Carmakers churn out machines, masks to help fight coronavirus

“They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed ventilators, ‘very quickly’,” Trump said on Twitter of GM and Ventec’s effort. “Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar.”

Trump tweeted he may “Invoke the “P,” and clarified he meant the Defense Production Act. The act grants the president power to expand industrial production of any key materials or products for national security and other reasons. Cuomo and other Democrats have urged him to invoke the act, but the president has been reluctant to do so.

Trump’s comments about GM and Ford came after a New York Times story Thursday suggested the White House had backed away from announcing a major ventilator deal with GM and Ventec because the price tag was too high. That drew criticism from Democrats.

Following Trump’s tweets, Ford said it was moving as fast as it could to gear up its ventilator manufacturing efforts and was in “active conversations” with the Trump administration seeking approvals. Ford said it has “teams working flat-out with GE Healthcare (GE.N) to boost production of simplified ventilators.”

Other automakers have said they are working to produce ventilators, masks and other medical equipment.

On Friday, Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) said it was “finalizing agreements to begin working with at least two companies that produce ventilators and respirators to help increase their capacity.”

New York City Mayor Bill be Blasio on Friday said on Twitter that Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) had agreed to donate hundreds of ventilators to hospital intensive care units in New York City and the state of New York.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk in response said the electric carmaker was helping locate and deliver existing ventilators.

Tesla on Friday did not respond to a request for comment on where it got the ventilators from and whether the company was producing any ventilators of its own, something Musk has said the company will do.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) and Ferrari (RACE.MI) previously said they were exploring making ventilators in Italy.

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HSBC delays job cuts in face of coronavirus

LONDON (Reuters) – HSBC has said it is delaying the “vast majority” of its planned redundancies to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, a memo sent to staff seen by Reuters said.

“Because of the extraordinary impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have decided to pause, for the time being, the vast majority of redundancies associated with this programme where notices have not already been issued,” HSBC CEO Noel Quinn said.

“We will also pause external recruitment, other than for a small number of front-line and business critical roles and those already with written offers.”

Quinn, who was confirmed in the top role earlier this month, had previously planned to cut about 35,000 jobs as part of an overhaul of Europe’s largest bank by assets.

The memo was earlier reported on by IFR and the Financial Times.

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U.S. corporate crisis bailouts may prove bonanza for insider trading, new study warns

WASHINGTON/BOSTON (Reuters) – White-collar crime prosecutors and defense attorneys are likely to be busy following a massive economic stimulus package from the U.S. Congress aimed at mitigating the fallout from the coronavirus, according to a new academic study of insider trading.

The research, from scholars at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Stanford University, University of Cambridge and IESE Business School, found insider trading profitability jumped dramatically during the 2007-2009 global financial crisis and subsequent government bailout.

“Anytime the government picks winner and losers, there is a greater opportunity for insider trading by connected individuals,” said Daniel Taylor, an associate professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and one of the authors of the report.

The report analyzed trading by corporate insiders at leading financial institutions before and after Congress finalized its $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to purchase toxic assets from troubled lenders, the details of which were largely thrashed out by executives and government officials in private.

The study, published online this month in the Journal of Finance, found evidence of abnormal trading by politically connected insiders 30 days ahead of the TARP infusions, which either boosted or hit company share prices, depending on the situation.

The researchers examined open market purchases and sales by officers and directors at 497 publicly traded institutions between 2005 and 2011. They then compared the trades placed by insiders who appeared to have identifiable connections at regulators, the Treasury and Congress, with the trades placed by insiders who appeared to have no such connection.

During the period over which TARP funds were disbursed, the one-month-ahead future returns between purchases and sales by insiders with political connections was 8.89% versus 2.81% for those without, according to the study. It also identified a pronounced increase in the trading activity of politically connected insiders 30 days prior to the TARP announcement.

“I hope we can avoid repeating it this time around, but I am not optimistic,” Taylor said.

Wall Street rallied for a second straight session on Wednesday as the U.S. Senate neared a vote on a $2 trillion package to support businesses and households devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. The package will include a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries including airlines, and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

Concerns are already growing that some individuals may have gained an edge amid the chaos by getting material information on the spread of the coronavirus and regulatory moves ahead of the rest of the world.

Most notably, the U.S. dollar pared gains moments before the Federal Reserve announced last week that it was launching a new dollar funding facility for nine central banks to ease a global dollar crunch, Reuters reported.

Separately, two Republican U.S. senators were criticized last week for selling large amounts of stock before the coronavirus-induced market meltdown and after closed-door briefings on the coronavirus outbreak.

Legally, trades that may be based on information gleaned from political connections occupy a “gray area” since the information may be valuable, but may not relate to a particular company or sector, or even be very specific, said Taylor.

“I[t]s something that causes the insider to revise their beliefs about future value, but it’s not a hard piece of information. The legal definition of insider trading differs from the economic definition,” said Taylor.

On Monday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) warned executives against insider trading, noting the coronavirus disruption was increasing the number of people with access to material non-public information.

“I would not be surprised if enforcement activity picked up,” said Kathleen Ceglarski Burns, a partner in Nixon Peabody’s Litigation department. “I would expect the government will likely look closely at financial reporting, risk disclosures and corporate insider trading as well.”

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Newly jobless Americans worry about making ends meet

(Reuters) – Optician Ali Nelson sent the final few orders of eyeglasses to clients last week before her Washington D.C.-based store closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Without a paycheck indefinitely, Nelson is one of potentially tens of millions other Americans whose livelihoods are now in doubt because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday is set to offer the clearest evidence yet of the coronavirus’ devastating impact on the economy.

Behind the numbers, which are expected to hit a new record, are worried workers like Nelson.

She has already filed to receive unemployment benefits, a relatively painless process that took minutes online. But Nelson is unsure of how much money she might receive, and worries how she’ll support a family of six on the amount.

The maximum offered in the District of Columbia – just about $450 a week – won’t be enough to cover her rent in Fairfax County, Virginia, much less health insurance, groceries and utilities.

“This is not sustainable,” said Nelson, 52, the primary breadwinner in her household, which includes her veteran husband who is in school and two working kids.

Many of the millions of Americans bracing for life on unemployment benefits are doing so for the first time in their lives as retail stores, movie theaters, restaurants and other small business shut their doors amid the outbreak.

Congress is finalizing a stimulus bill that would boost unemployment payments by $600 a week for people affected by the virus. It could also expand access to the program for self-employed workers and freelancers, who are not typically covered by the traditional program.

How much money out-of-work Americans should get remained a stumbling block to the bill passing on Wednesday. Currently, U.S. unemployment benefits usually amount to half of a worker’s previous pay, less than in most other developed countries.

Even if the bill does pass this week, it is not clear when consumers will get cash. The surge in unemployment claims overwhelmed some states and led to processing delays. Payments of $1,200 per low and mid-income adult, promised by the White House, may take the tax agency months to process.

The uncertainty is leaving at least some in this newly-unemployed set of Americans increasingly anxious.

Scott Thomas, 34, lost his job as co-creative director for The Ride, a tour of Manhattan last week. As he jumped through hoops to file for unemployment this week, he said he had put aside his goals to vacation in Las Vegas this summer. “I don’t want to take the financial risk,” he said.

“NOT GOING TO BE SUFFICIENT”

Unemployment benefits are meant to help tide workers over financially while they look for a new job. They can also help the economy rebound more quickly from a downturn by providing households with money so they can keep spending.

However, the generosity of the U.S. program, which is administered by states, varies across the country.

Each state determines the level of wages that are subject to unemployment insurance taxes as long as it’s above the federal minimum of $7,000, according to a report by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. But many states collect taxes off a low base and some states pay lower benefits, the report found.

The U.S. program offers unemployed people benefits for a shorter time and with more conditions to meet than many advanced countries, an October 2019 report from the United Nations’ International Labor Office shows.

The average weekly benefit was $377 in the fourth quarter of 2019, with averages ranging from slightly above $200 in some states to more than $500 in others.

For some U.S. households with little to no savings, that may not be enough to cover their essential bills. Half of U.S. households have no emergency savings, and nearly 40% would struggle to afford an unexpected expense of $400, according to a survey here by the Federal Reserve.

Black and Hispanic workers are more likely to struggle with their monthly bills, as are people with a high school degree or less, according to the study.

The changes being considered this week, which broaden access to the program and increase payments, highlight the holes in the economic safety net, economists say.

“As important as these programs are, they’re not going to be sufficient in a lot of cases,” said Dave Cooper, senior economic analyst for the Economic Policy Institute in Washington D.C. “Unfortunately, unemployment benefits may not be enough for some folks to pay their bills.”

In the meantime, the benefits for workers can be low if the program is not adjusted.

Louis DeAngelis, 26, worked as a bar tender in Plymouth, New Hampshire, until early last week, when the governor closed all bars and restaurants because of the virus. After applying without any problems, he found out he will receive $159 a week, or slightly less than half of his weekly income.

That won’t be enough to cover the rent, said DeAngelis, who was supposed to move to a new apartment in April. For now he is now looking into staying with friends or family. The money he saved for his security deposit will likely need to be used to help pay for his phone, car payment, insurance, utilities and food.

“I’m fortunate to have some family who are willing to help,” said DeAngelis, who also worked as a substitute teacher. “I’ve got options, but a lot of folks don’t.”

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Asian markets tread cautiously ahead of U.S. stimulus, jobs

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian stock markets made a cautious start on Thursday following two days of rallies, as investors await the passage and details of a $2 trillion stimulus package in the United States to combat the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

Senate leaders hope to vote on the plan later on Wednesday in Washington, but it still faces criticism. The bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for payments up to $3,000 to millions of U.S. families.

It cannot come soon enough, with potentially enormous weekly U.S. initial jobless claims to appear in data due at 1230 GMT.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index rose 1.5% in early trade – its third positive start in as many sessions, but also its most muted. Japan’s Nikkei fell 2.2%.

Hong Kong futures were 1% higher and China A50 futures were up 0.2%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3%.

“There has been so much stimulus thrown at this,” said Jun Bei Liu, portfolio manager at Tribeca Investment Partners in Sydney.

“But the positivity related to it is really just sentiment,” she said, adding that investors were largely flying blind with so many companies withdrawing earnings guidance. Jobless figures may offer a “reality check,” she said.

In perhaps an early sign of the fragile mood, the risk-sensitive Australian dollar dropped 1% and the safe-haven Japanese yen rose in morning trade. [FRX/]

U.S. stock futures rose 1%, following the first back-to-back session rises on Wall Street in over a month.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 2.4% and the S&P 500 1.2%, while the Nasdaq Composite dropped half a percent following a Nikkei report that Apple was weighing a delay in the launch of its 5G iPhone.

JOBLESS CLAIMS TO TEST BOUNCE

The money at stake in the stimulus bill amounts to nearly half of the $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

But it also comes against a backdrop of bad news as the coronavirus spreads and as jobless claims are set to soar, with both expected to test the nascent bounce in markets this week.

California Governor Gavin Newsom told reporters on Wednesday that a million Californians had already applied for jobless benefits this month – a number that knocked stocks from session highs and has analysts bracing for worse to come.

RBC Capital Markets economists had expected a national figure over 1 million in Thursday’s data, but say “it is now poised to be many multiples of that,” as reduced hours across the country drive deep layoffs.

“Something in the 5-10 million range for initial jobless claims is quite likely,” they wrote in a note.

That compares to a 695,000 peak in 1982. Forecasts in a Reuters poll range from a minimum of 250,000 initial claims, all the way up to 4 million.

Trepidation seemed to put a halt on the U.S. dollar’s recent softness in currency markets, with the dollar ahead 1% against the Antipodean currencies and up 0.6% against the pound.

It slipped 0.3% to 110.85 yen.

U.S. crude slipped 1.5% to $24.11 per barrel and gold steadied at $1,608.14 per ounce.

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U.S. core capital goods orders point to worsening business investment downturn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New orders for key U.S.-made capital goods fell sharply in February as demand for machinery and other products slumped, suggesting a deepening contraction in business investment that analysts said signaled the economy was already in recession.

The coronavirus pandemic has further darkened the outlook for business investment as measures to contain the highly contagious virus have brought the country to a sudden stop. The Federal Reserve has taken extraordinary steps to soften the hit on the economy. U.S. senators were set to vote on Wednesday on a record $2 trillion fiscal stimulus package.

“Business investment is the key swing factor in every recession, and right now the pendulum is swinging the wrong way with declining orders likely to drag the economy over the cliff and down into recession in March,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

Orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, dropped 0.8% in February after rising by a slightly downwardly revised 1.0% in January, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday.

These so-called core capital goods orders were previously reported to have increased 1.1% in January.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast core capital goods orders would drop 0.4% in February. There were decreases in orders for machinery, primary metals and computers and electronics products last month. But demand for electrical equipment, appliances and components increased 1.3% last month.

Shipments of core capital goods fell 0.7% last month. Core capital goods shipments are used to calculate equipment spending in the government’s gross domestic product measurement. They increased 1.1% in January.

Business investment has contracted for three straight quarters, the longest such stretch since 2009. Economists have blamed the business investment rot on the Trump administration’s 20-month-old trade war with China. The weakness in business investment comes at a time when corporate profits are weakening.

“Given that profits are likely now declining, financial market conditions have tightened and the economy is contracting, business investment will take it on the chin,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “Business investment in equipment will drop sharply in the second quarter.”

Stocks on Wall Street were trading mostly higher, with investors comforted by the huge stimulus package. The dollar .DXY fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were mostly trading higher.

ABRUPT HALT

The coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19, has brought the economy to a abrupt halt, with governors in at least 18 states, accounting for nearly half the country’s population, ordering residents to stay mostly indoors.

“Non-essential” businesses have also been ordered closed, leading to massive unemployment and a rush to apply for jobless benefits. A survey by data firm IHS Markit on Tuesday showed its gauge of U.S. business activity dropped to a record low in March. Some analysts say the economy slipped into recession in March.

Recessions in the United States are called by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The NBER’s business cycle dating committee does not define a recession as two consecutive quarters of decline in real gross domestic product, as is the rule of thumb in many countries.

Instead, it looks for a drop in economic activity, spread across the economy and lasting more than a few months. Measures taken by the U.S. central bank to stem the slide include slashing interest rates to zero, promising bottomless dollar funding and implementing an array of programs to help keep companies afloat.

Business investment is taking a hit from a collapse in crude prices, thanks to the coronavirus and an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. A survey from the Dallas Fed on Wednesday showed a significant decline in activity in the oil and gas sector in the first quarter.

The survey’s measure of capital expenditures among exploration and production firms dropped to a reading of -49.0 in the first quarter from 9.1 in the October-December period. Its measure of the expected level of capital expenditures next year plummeted to -61.9 from 0.9 in the fourth quarter, as firms also cut expectations for capital spending in 2021.

“Prior to the global COVID-19 outbreak, the combination of muted global growth, persistent trade policy uncertainty and tariffs, the strong dollar and weak corporate profitability made for a very challenging backdrop for U.S. businesses,” said Lydia Boussour, a senior U.S. economist at Oxford Economics in New York. “We now believe the additional headwind posed by the coronavirus will lead to one of the largest pullbacks in capital spending in history.”

Overall orders for durable goods, items ranging from toasters to aircraft that are meant to last three years or more, accelerated 1.2% last month after gaining 0.1% in January. They were boosted by a 4.6% rebound in orders for transportation equipment, which followed a 0.9% decline in January.

Orders for civilian aircraft slipped 0.3% last month after soaring 356.7% in January. Motor vehicles and parts orders accelerated 1.8% in February after falling 0.5%.

But orders for transportation equipment are set to weaken. Boeing (BA.N) has temporarily closed some its plants in Washington state, one of the states hardest hit by the coronavirus, and auto makers have shuttered factories to protect their workers from COVID-19.

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Coronavirus: Tesco becomes latest grocery chain to impose safety measures

Supermarkets and convenience stores are introducing measures to help keep staff and customers as safe as possible amid lockdown conditions across the UK.

With non-essential retail closed, grocery outlets and pharmacies are on the front line to keep the UK fed and watered to comply with Boris Johnson’s restrictions on movement to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Tesco was the latest to announce what it was doing as the industry moves to protect staff and customers.

The UK’s largest retailer said its measures included:

  • Floor markings in car parks
  • Limiting the flow of customers being allowed into stores when necessary
  • Hand sanitisers for customer and staff use
  • Floor markings and protective screens at checkouts

The rules were in line with those previously announced by rivals including Waitrose and Lidl.

Waitrose said it was bolstering social distancing measures within its stores in a bid to keep staff, known as partners, and customers as safe as possible.

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Malaysians living and working in Singapore can remit money at Maybank without transfer fees

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) – Maybank announced on Wednesday (March 25) that it is offering complimentary remittance services for Malaysians working and living in Singapore who have been affected by Malaysia’s movement control order.

Malaysian customers may visit any Maybank branch to remit funds without a transfer fee to any Malaysian bank account at “attractive” exchange rates from March 25 till April 14, 2020. This is limited to transfers to and from individual accounts.

Mr Alvin Lee, head of community financial services and group wealth management of Maybank Singapore, said: “We are committed to supporting the community and hope that this complimentary remittance initiative provides some relief for them, and their family members will be able to receive the funds they need in a timely manner.”

The bank had previously introduced relief measures such as Home Loan Repayment Relief to existing customers whose incomes have been affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. It also offered complimentary Covid-19 and dengue fever insurance coverage for all individual Maybank customers.

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