Investors Brace for Alarming Unemployment 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.

Wall Street set to open higher.

U.S. stocks looked set to rebound and global markets were broadly higher on Thursday, suggesting that investors were taking a deep breath after Wall Street’s slump on Wednesday.

Futures for the S&P 500 pointed to a positive opening.

The index fell 4.4 percent on Wednesday, driven lower by worsening economic data and President Trump’s warning 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 more than 20 percent lower.

More bad news could be in the works, as investors braced for weekly jobless claims data on 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 Europe, markets were up less than 1 percent. Stocks in Asia were mixed.

Satellite images show that Saudi oil shipments have surged.

Saudi Arabia is making good on its threat to flood the world with oil, according to data from satellite images. Saudi loadings of oil onto tankers have surged reaching as high as 14.8 million barrels on Wednesday, the day that production agreements with OPEC and Russia formally ended, according to Alex Booth, head of market research at Kpler, which tracks oil flows.

That number is roughly double the kingdom’s average daily export of about 7.4 million barrels a day in January and February.

As Saudi exports spiked, oil prices rose Thursday. President Trump told reporters Wednesday that he expected Saudi Arabia and Russia to reach a deal soon to end their price war. “I think that they will work it out over the next few days, “ Mr. Trump said, Reuters reported.

The Saudis also appear to be raising production, analysts say. Antoine Halff, a founding partner of Kayrros, which monitors oil industry activity by satellite, said the firm had recently detected more flaring of natural gas, possible evidence of a rapid output increase, in the Ghawar field, the world’s largest oil field.

While a Saudi-Russia deal would take some oil off the market, most analysts are skeptical that it would come close to being sufficient to compensate for the around 25 percent decline of demand that some analysts expect from the fallout from the coronavirus epidemic.

For weeks, people in Spain have been ordered to remain in their homes unless they had an urgent reason for going outside. But outside a social security office in the Raval neighborhood of Barcelona on Thursday, hundreds of people said they had no choice but to join the line.

“I have one week left of savings to buy food for my family,” said Mafus Rohman, 33, who said he had opened a bar a week before Spain went into lockdown on March 14.

Mr. Rohman said if the owner of his apartment had not frozen the rent, he would have been on the streets with his wife and their 5-year-old twins. “I don’t have anything else but a huge loan to reimburse,” he said.

Similar scenes played out across the country, where more than 10,000 deaths have been reported. On Thursday, the country recorded its highest daily toll: 950 dead.

The unemployment numbers released on Thursday suggest that the impact on Spain’s work force could be greater than that of the 2008 financial crisis. Over 800,000 workers withdrew from the Spanish social security system in March, the highest monthly drop in modern history.

“The conscious decision not to take measures to protect production is leading us to a crisis without precedent,” said Daniel Lacalle, an economist who is forecasting that Spanish unemployment could reach 35 percent, up from 14 percent before the coronavirus outbreak.

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.

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.

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.

Catch up: Here’s what else is going on.

  • Mitsubishi Motors on Thursday announced that it would temporarily suspend production at its plants in Japan because of the coronavirus’s “impact on the parts supply chain as well as global market decline.” Toyota Motors made a similar announcement last week.

Reporting was contributed by Stanley Reed, 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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