World News

U.S. Navy relieves commander of coronavirus-hit aircraft carrier

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Navy announced on Thursday it had relieved the commander of the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote a scathing letter that leaked to the public asking Navy leadership for stronger measures to control a coronavirus outbreak onboard.

Reuters reported earlier on Thursday that the commander, Captain Brett Crozier, was expected to be relieved.

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Wall St gains as oil recovery eclipses record weekly jobless claims

(Reuters) – Wall Street bounced on Thursday as a recovery in oil prices outweighed the shock of weekly jobless claims soaring past 6 million.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits last week exceeded the top end of analysts’ estimates at 5.25 million, and U.S. President Donald Trump has warned of more economic pain as more states enforce sweeping stay-at-home orders to curtail the coronavirus pandemic.

“The U.S. labor market has never experienced such a disruption,” said Mike Loewengart, managing director of investment strategy at E*TRADE Financial.

“Most will likely say the United States is sitting squarely in a recession right now, but the real question at hand is for how long and to what extent.”

The Dow Jones .DJI and S&P 500 .SPX, still fresh from their worst opening quarters in history, were lifted by a surge in oil prices as Saudi Arabia and Russia signaled they were ready to co-operate to help stabilize the market.

The energy index .SPNY, which has lost half its value this year partly due to their price war, jumped 13% with Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) and Chevron Corp (CVX.N) posting the biggest gains among Dow components.

But analysts predict further declines for U.S. equity markets as more companies announce production cuts and withdraw financial forecasts ahead of the earnings season.

Boeing Co (BA.N), once a symbol of American industrialism, said on Thursday it would offer buyout and early retirement packages to employees, as a near collapse in business activity crushes liquidity and sparks mass staff furloughs.

“We’re going to be digesting this for awhile and until the data becomes less worse, we’re going to have lumpiness in trading around these shock-and-awe numbers,” said Richard Steinberg, chief market strategist at Colony Group, in Florida.

At 10:13 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was up 81.95 points, or 0.39%, at 21,025.46, while the S&P 500 .SPX was up 17.83 points, or 0.72%, at 2,488.33. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was up 41.58 points, or 0.56%, at 7,402.16.

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc (WBA.O) fell 6% after the drugstore retailer reported a steep decline in U.S same-store sales in the last week of March. [L4N2BQ32Z]

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.53-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 1.80-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded no new 52-week high and seven new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded two new highs and 47 new lows.

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World News

Migrant dies in riot in Mexican detention center amid coronavirus fears

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A Guatemalan migrant died and 14 others were taken to hospital after a riot broke out in a detention center in southern Mexico, authorities said on Wednesday, as tensions rise in such facilities due to the spread of the coronavirus.

It started on Tuesday evening in a detention center in the southern state of Tabasco after migrants voiced concerns about coronavirus and recent border closures, Mexico’s interior ministry and National Migration Institute (INM) said.

As cases of coronavirus rise in Mexico, concerns are mounting over how to prevent the spread of the disease among the thousands of migrants who have been waylaid in the country as a result of hardline U.S. immigration policies.

Mexico has registered 1,378 coronavirus cases and 37 deaths; its detention centers are seen as particularly vulnerable.

One 42-year-old Guatemalan died and 14 people were taken to hospitals in Tenosique and Villahermosa for smoke inhalation after migrants set fire to mattresses, authorities said, adding that 27 migrants escaped during the turmoil.

“The Tenosique migration station was cleared and the migrants were transferred to other shelters,” the authorities said.

UN agencies said in a joint statement that UN personnel in Tenosique arranged for 42 asylum seekers to be transferred from the detention center to a shelter as they continue their processes with Mexican refugee agency COMAR.

“The practice of facilitating these exits becomes more important at this time due to the health emergency caused by COVID-19,” the UN agencies said.

The statement was jointly issued by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, children’s fund UNICEF, the human rights commissioner and the International Organization for Migration

A spokeswoman for COMAR said it sought the release of 11 migrants who had sought requested with the agency. “We lament the death of Mr. Hector Rolando Barrientos Dardon, an asylum seeker,” the spokeswoman said.

Last week, rights groups in the southern state of Chiapas denounced what they called a violent crackdown on a protest in Mexico’s largest detention center.

Migrants had voiced fears that they will contract the coronavirus in the facility, which advocates have denounced for overcrowding and poor sanitation.

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Trump invites oil CEOs to discuss help for ailing industry: source

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has invited oil executives to the White House to discuss potential aid for the industry as the coronavirus pandemic spurs a historic slump in energy prices, a source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

The Wall Street Journal, which was first to report on the meeting citing unidentified sources, said Trump would discuss a range of options to help the industry, including the possibility of tariffs on oil imports from Saudi Arabia.

The meeting is to take place on Friday, the Journal said, with major drillers including Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp and Occidental Petroleum Corp due to participate.

A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the biggest oil and gas companies in the United States, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

World oil prices have lost roughly two thirds of their value so far this year as the fast-spreading coronavirus brings global economies to a virtual standstill, and as Saudi Arabia and Russia flood the market with oil in a price war between major producers.

The collapse in prices has threatened the once-booming U.S. drilling industry, which has a relatively high cost of production, leading Washington to scramble for ways to protect the sector.

Trump this week called Russia and Saudi Arabia’s price war “crazy” and spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the issue. The Trump administration is also planning to send a special envoy to Riyadh to push for lower output.

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Pelosi wants 'vote by mail' provisions in next coronavirus bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday she hopes “vote by mail” provisions can be part of the next coronavirus response plan being put together by House Democrats.

Speaking in a conference call, Pelosi said at least $2 billion was needed to enable voting by mail, in order to give citizens a safe way to vote during the coronavirus pandemic. She said Democrats had gotten just $400 million for that purpose in a recent bill.

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Futures tumble as coronavirus crisis intensifies

(Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures sank on Wednesday following stark predictions of a rising U.S. death toll and economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak, a day after the S&P 500 ended its worst quarter since the 2008 financial crisis.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned Americans of a “very, very painful” two weeks, with White House health officials modeling an enormous jump in virus-related deaths even with strict social distancing measures.

Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Loretta Mester said reports measuring U.S. economic activity are likely to be “very bad” in the first half of 2020 and the unemployment rate could rise above 10% due to efforts to stem the virus outbreak.

The rapid worldwide spread of the disease has forced entire countries to shut down, stalling business activity and raising fears of corporate defaults.

The S&P 500 lost about $5.6 trillion in market value to post its worst first quarter on record, while the Dow Jones .DJI ended Tuesday with its biggest quarterly fall since 1987. At 05:21 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis 1YMcv1 were down 672 points, or 3.09%, S&P 500 e-minis EScv1 were down 81.5 points, or 3.17% and Nasdaq 100 e-minis NQcv1 were down 216 points, or 2.77%.

SPDR S&P 500 ETFs (SPY.P) were down 3.27%.

The S&P 500 index .SPX closed down 1.6% at 2,584.59‚Äč on Tuesday.

(This story corrects market value figure to $5.6 trillion from $7 trillion in paragraph 5)

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Chinese buyers snap up U.S. oil purchases at widest discounts ever

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China has increased U.S. crude purchases with some buyers snapping up cargoes at the widest discounts ever as sellers seek to offload excess supplies in Asia, six trade sources said on Wednesday.

Beijing started processing in March applications from Chinese companies to waive import tariffs on U.S. energy goods as part of the Sino-U.S. Phase 1 trade deal and they have since bought liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from the United States.

The world’s largest crude importer is boosting U.S. energy imports at a time when the world is swamped with excess supply after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia failed to extend production cuts and as measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus destroyed demand.

Cheap U.S. energy supplies will help China lower its import costs, but the deep discounts will add further pressure on U.S. producers to shut in production after U.S. crude futures CLc1 slumped to their lowest since 2002. [O/R]

U.S. Mars Sour crude has been sold to Chinese buyers at discounts between $7 and $9 a barrel to September ICE Brent futures for July arrival while the discounts for West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) in Midland were between $6 and $7 a barrel, the sources told Reuters.

BP (BP.L) and Equinor (EQNR.OL) may have sold some of these cargoes, they said, while the buyers were not immediately known. BP declined to comment while Equinor could not be immediately reached for comment outside office hours.

“Only the Chinese are buying and the rest of the world are selling,” a Singapore-based trader said, leading to some “very aggressive offers” for U.S. crude into that market even though the oil’s benchmark is already at the lowest in 18 years.

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Fidelity shuts three money market funds to most new investors

NEW YORK, March 31 (Reuters) – Fidelity Investments, one of the world’s largest asset managers, on Tuesday closed three money market funds to new investors to protect the return of existing shareholders after the Federal Reserve this month cut short-term interest rates to near zero.

Restricting the money flow into the three funds will help reduce the number of new Treasury securities paying lower yields that Fidelity will need to purchase and thereby halt the dilution of existing shareholder returns.

“Newer issues generally have lower yields than the funds’ current holdings, and as such they would affect the funds’ ability to continue to deliver positive net yields to shareholders,” Boston-based Fidelity said in a statement.

Fidelity Treasury Only Money Market Fund, FIMM Treasury Only Portfolio and FIMM Treasury Portfolio had a cumulative $85.5 billion as of Monday, said the closely-held asset manager best known for actively managed funds.

Yields already were low before markets plunged a month ago, making it more difficult to invest incremental capital after the Fed cut rates to near zero, Mike Terwilliger, portfolio manager of the Resource Credit Income Fund at Resource America said.

“That yield-starved environment is going to be looking a lot more challenging on a go-forward basis,” he said. “It underscores the challenges of traditional fixed income funds broadly.”

Fidelity said existing shareholders can add to their investments in the three funds, and 401(k)-type retirement plans that already offer the three funds also will accept new investors, Fidelity said in a statement.

Assets in the three funds had soared by more than $23 billion this month as investors rushed to turn other investments into cash as the market plunged, said the Financial Times, which earlier reported the closing of the funds. (Reporting by Herbert Lash Editing by Alistair Bell)

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Architect of Trump tax cut may run $500 billion coronavirus loan program

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Justin Muzinich, an architect of the sweeping 2017 Republican tax cut, is under consideration to oversee a newly created $500 billion coronavirus rescue loan program for large companies, cities and states, two sources familiar with the agency’s plans said.

The move is part of a range of staffing shifts within the Treasury Department to implement an unprecedented $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue plan passed by Congress last week.

Muzinich, 42, a former Morgan Stanley mergers and acquisitions banker, also served as president of Muzinich & Co, a family investment firm, and was a tax policy adviser for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign.

A graduate of Harvard as well as Yale Law School, Muzinich joined the Treasury Department in 2017 as a senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He played a key role in creating the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that passed Congress and was signed by President Donald Trump later that year, including authoring part of the legislation and negotiating terms with Republican lawmakers. He was confirmed as the department’s number two official in December 2018.

The 2017 restructuring of the tax code cut U.S. corporate taxes from 35% to 21%, a shift that will push the 2020 federal budget deficit to more than $1 trillion despite a strong economy, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported in January, before the U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

Muzinich would be in charge of a program that would leverage $500 billion in newly appropriated Treasury capital to back some $4.5 trillion in Federal Reserve loans to companies, cities and states affected by the outbreak.

The designation of key Treasury officials to oversee such programs would come on top of their normal duties. Muzinich has also been overseeing the department’s international sanctions and anti-money laundering efforts since a key undersecretary, Sigal Mandelker, left for the private sector last October.

Other moves under consideration include putting Brent McIntosh, who is Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs, in charge of the bill’s aid programs for airlines, the sources said. McIntosh had served until last September as Treasury’s general counsel.

The department is considering putting Michael Faulkender, its assistant secretary for economic policy, and Bimal Patel, the assistant secretary for financial institutions, in charge of a $350 billion program to make forgivable payroll and overhead loans to small businesses hobbled by the pandemic.

David Kautter, who is Treasury’s assistant secretary for tax policy, would be put in charge of implementing a program for direct payments to individuals of up to $3,400 per household through the Internal Revenue Service.

“They are shifting resources in the building to try and have as many hands on deck as they can,” said Tony Fratto, a former Treasury official who was White House spokesman at the start of the 2008 financial crisis. But, he noted “all of these people still have day jobs.”

Economists have said that speedy implementation of disbursements of loans and payments is key to preventing a deeper U.S. recession.

News of the potential shifts within the Treasury Department to implement the massive coronavirus bill was first reported by the Washington Post.

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Trump signs off on deferring tariffs for most-favored nations for three months

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump has signed off on a plan to defer U.S. tariffs for most-favored nations for three months, according to a source familiar with the decision.

The plan would not apply to tariffs on Chinese and European goods subject to Section 301 tariffs or to steel and aluminum subject to Section 232 tariffs.

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