Investors Brace for Alarming Jobs Report: Live Updates

Another jaw-dropping number is expected on Thursday when the U.S. government reports the number of new unemployment claims filed across the country last week.

Several estimates put the figure at roughly five million. That would come on top of the previous week’s claims, which came in at 3.3 million — a total that could be revised upward when the Labor Department issues its report at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

The speed and scale of the job losses is without precedent. Until the coronavirus outbreak caused widespread workplace shutdowns and layoffs, the worst week for initial unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982.

The economic damage from the pandemic was initially concentrated in tourism, hospitality and related industries. But now the pain is spreading much more widely.

The Institute for Supply Management, an industry group, said Wednesday that the manufacturing sector, which had recently begun to recover from last year’s trade war, was contracting again. Data from the employment site ZipRecruiter showed a steep drop in job postings even in industries such as education and health care that are usually insulated from recessions.

Mixed markets signal a pause after Wall Street’s swoon.

Major global markets were mixed on Thursday, suggesting that investors were taking a deep breath after pounding Wall Street stocks sharply lower on Wednesday.

European markets opened mildly positive on Thursday after Asian stocks ended the day mixed. Futures markets were pointing to a positive opening for Wall Street.

Investors appeared to be pausing after the S&P 500 index fell 4.4 percent on Wednesday, driven lower by worsening economic data and President Trump’s prediction that the United States was set for a “very, very painful two weeks.” The drop added to the pounding American stocks have taken over the past month, which has left the S&P 500 index more than 20 percent lower.

More bad news could be in the works, as investors braced for weekly jobless claims data expected later Thursday in the United States. But for now, investors were looking for signs of a bottom to the market.

Prices for longer-term U.S. Treasury bonds rose, suggesting investors were continuing to see them as a safe place to park money. Gold prices rose in futures markets, too. But oil futures jumped, an indicator that some investors feel safer than they had in putting their money in a market that depends on continuing economic growth.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index closed 1.4 percent lower. Other Asian markets rose, with South Korean shares leading the way with a 2.3 percent rise in the Kospi index. The Shanghai Composite index in mainland China rose 1.6 percent. The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong rose 0.8 percent.

In London, the FTSE 100 index opened 0.6 percent higher. France’s CAC 40 index was 0.4 percent higher, and the DAX in Germany rose 0.2 percent.

Faced with grim new projections of the potential scale and economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic, investors dumped stocks on Wednesday. The S&P 500’s fall of more than 4 percent brought its decline over two days to 6 percent.

The drop, which followed a sell-off in Europe and Asia, came after President Trump said at a news conference on Tuesday that the United States would face a “very, very painful two weeks.” U.S. government scientists projected that the outbreak could kill up to 240,000 people in the country. On Wednesday, the United Nations warned of “enhanced instability, enhanced unrest and enhanced conflict.”

The economic readings continue to worsen as well. On Wednesday, surveys of manufacturing and factory activity in the United States, Europe and Japan showed activity slowing to levels not seen in a decade or more. In the United States, factory orders and employment measures fell to their lowest since 2009, the Institute for Supply Management said.

“The market is sort of steeling itself for the onslaught of bad news over the next couple weeks,” said Julian Emanuel, chief equity and derivatives strategist at the brokerage firm BTIG.

On Thursday, the U.S. government will report how many people filed for unemployment last week, and the data could show that as many as 5 million workers lost their jobs as people stay home and factories shut down.

Public pensions were facing a crisis even before the coronavirus.

Pension programs have taken huge hits to their investment portfolios over the past month as the markets collapsed. The outbreak has also set off widespread job losses and business closures that threaten to wipe out state and local tax revenue.

That one-two punch has staggered these funds, which were already chronically underfunded. Most are required by law to keep sending checks every month to about 11 million Americans.

Even before the pandemic gut-punched the economy, Maria Pappas, the treasurer of Cook County, Ill., counted a record 57,000 delinquent property-tax payers in her county, which includes Chicago. Property taxes feed more than 400 municipal pension funds in Cook County, including some that are cash-starved and close to hitting bottom.

“The people have no money,” said Ms. Pappas.

Last week, Moody’s investors service estimated that state and local pension funds had lost $1 trillion in the market sell-off that began in February. The exact damage is hard to determine, though, because pension funds do not issue quarterly reports.

Pension funds that run out of money — something that happened in Prichard, Ala., Central Falls, R.I., and Puerto Rico — could tip cities and other local governments into bankruptcy. States would be in uncharted waters because there is no bankruptcy mechanism for them; the nearest analogy is a one-off law passed by Congress for Puerto Rico, which has resulted in years of federal oversight, austerity measures and reduced debt payments to bondholders.

China is taking steps to make sure the medical masks, test kits, ventilators and other gear for fighting the coronavirus that it exports to the world will meet quality standards.

Those efforts could improve quality, but they could also slow exports at a time when hospitals and clinics around the world desperately seek equipment and protective gear.

Chinese officials this week tightened rules by requiring exported products be certified first as meeting Chinese standards that are equivalent to overseas standards. They also pushed back against complaints from other countries that some masks and testing kits were substandard.

At a news conference on Thursday, Liu Changyu, a deputy director general for foreign trade at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, called on foreign buyers to “conduct corresponding quality inspections before using the products” and for both sides to “properly negotiate and resolve” problems.

The new rules require that their shipment be carefully documented, and that Chinese customs officials scrutinize medical exports.

Omar Allam, a trade consultant in Ottawa, Canada, said that telling Chinese customs officials to assess medical supplies might not improve reliability and could cause corruption. “There needs to be state inspectors in the factories,” he said.

The new Chinese rules do not cover exports of KN95 respirators, an industrial grade of respirators that costs two-thirds less than N95 medical respirators. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed KN95 respirators as providing essentially the same protection as N95 respirators, but the Food and Drug Administration did not include the KN95 respirators in a list last Saturday of foreign alternatives to N95 respirators.

The spring buying season in real estate could be “catastrophic.”

In spite of market headwinds, overpriced apartments and legislative obstacles, New York’s residential real estate market was on an improbable upward swing for most of the first quarter.

Then the coronavirus struck, stopping the rebound in its tracks. Now, the pandemic threatens to do the same in real estate markets nationwide during the peak of buying season.

What happened in the first two months of the year no longer matters, said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers & Consultants. “All that matters to the housing market is what happens next.”

New York State’s stay-at-home order, and similar restrictions elsewhere, have effectively banned open houses and in-person property showings, and “most people are not going to make a big purchase without seeing it,” said Frederick Warburg Peters, the chief executive of Warburg Realty. Depending on the duration of the outbreak, he said, the number of new contracts in New York could drop by more than 70 percent in the second quarter, compared with the same period last year.

“We find ourselves with little to no empirical evidence of what’s happening,” said Mr. Miller, because the virus outbreak became a factor so late in March. “I don’t have a sense, other than it’s going to be catastrophic.”

Americans bought 1.9 million guns in March, according to a Times analysis of federal data. It was the second-busiest month ever for gun sales, trailing only January 2013, just after President Barack Obama’s re-election and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

With some people fearful that the pandemic could lead to civil unrest, gun sales have been skyrocketing. In the past, fear of gun-buying restrictions has been the main driver of spikes in gun sales, far surpassing the effects of mass shootings and terrorist attacks alone. But last month was different. As they prepare for an uncertain future, Americans have been crowding grocery stores to stock up on household essentials like canned beans and toilet paper. A similar worry appears to be driving gun sales.

In recent weeks, lines have been snaking out of gun stores throughout the country. In many states, estimated sales doubled in March compared with February. In Utah, they nearly tripled. And in Michigan, which has become a hot spot for virus cases, sales more than tripled.

The run on firearms has raised public health concerns and prompted local officials to debate whether gun stores should be temporarily closed.

Reporting was contributed by Ben Casselman, Patricia Cohen, Mary Williams Walsh, Keith Bradsher, Stefanos Chen, Keith Collins, David Yaffe-Bellany, Carlos Tejada and Daniel Victor.

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