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VOL. 44 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 27, 2020

Business fallout: National bills coming due, with risk; consumers see it

The Associated Press

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The outbreak of the coronavirus has dealt a shock to the global economy with unprecedented speed. Following are developments Thursday related to the global economy, the work place and the spread of the virus.

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UNDER REVIEW: This week, the U.S. reported that a staggering 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, a five-fold increase over the last high sent in 1982. On Friday, the U.S. House passed  a $2.2 trillion aid package  that few believe will be the last in the aftermath of this viral outbreak. Credit ratings agencies are taking note of the financial standing of the U.S., and other nations.

Fitch is affirming the United States' sovereign rating at "AAA," but it sees risk, too. Fitch said high fiscal deficits and debt — which were already rising before the economic shock precipitated by the coronavirus — are starting to erode U.S. credit strengths. The risk of a near-term negative rating action has climbed given the magnitude of the shock to the economy and public finances from the virus and the fiscal policy response, Fitch said, particularly in the absence of a credible consolidation plan for the country's preexisting, longer-term public finance and government debt challenges.

Italy's economic challenges will outweigh government support, according to Moody's. The agency says the country's weaker economy will weigh on its banks. Demand for a range of fee-generating banking services is expected to fall and problem loans are anticipated to rise. Italy on Friday become the second country to overtake China in coronavirus infections, reaching 86,498 cases on the same day it recorded its single biggest leap in deaths, with 969 more victims. The first was the U.S.

Closures are also expected to pressure revenue for regions in Russia. But Moody's says most regions it rates can maintain an adequate operating performance this year even with declines of up to 50% in corporate income tax revenue from the sectors most affected by the outbreak. Most regions are also anticipated to be able to withstand a combined 50% decline in corporate income tax and small business tax, as well as a 30% decline in personal income tax and still have a positive operating balance.

TRAVEL IN A TIME OF PANDEMIC: Any sector affiliated with the travel industry is at high risk, particularly cruise lines. Because so many are incorporated off-shore (Carnival has its headquarters in Miami, but it's incorporated in Panama), they could miss out on any rescue for U.S. corporations.

 Shares of Royal Caribbean and Carnival tumbled between 16% and 17% Friday.

 The International Air Transport Association this week said passenger revenue worldwide could fall as much as $252 billion, or 44%, compared with last year. Less than three weeks ago, the group estimated the virus could reduce airline revenue by up to $113 billion compared.

American Airlines is eligible for about $12 billion of the $50 billion in grants and loans set aside for passenger airlines under the economic-rescue bill. Speaking by video to employees, CEO Doug Parker said some of the terms of the grants aren't yet clear, "so we are not yet positive that American will meet those conditions," including that airlines not furlough or lay off workers until Sept. 30.

Schedule cuts due to light travel demand will mean "many groups of employees" will work a minimum number of hours "for the next few months," Parker said. It was not clear, however, whether the reduction in hours was the potential hurdle to American getting grant money. American plans to operate at about 40% of capacity in April and only 20% in May because of the steep fall in travel. Parker said current flights are on average less than 15% full.

Southwest Airlines is losing big money on every flight. CEO Gary Kelly told employees that the grants set aside for airlines under the economic-rescue bill make the company more confident it'll avoid layoffs. Southwest says it has never furloughed anyone in its history.

Under no circumstances could the airline sector be described as healthy, but there are signs of stabilization. For the first time since mid-February, the S&P 500 index tracking the industry are not deep in the red to end the week.

MARKET MAYHEM: After a three-day stretch that saw the biggest gains across markets in almost a century, the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq lost steam.

And Wall Street analysts are bracing for more. The S&P 500 slid 3.3%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 3.6%. European markets also fell. Asian markets closed mostly higher.

SOCIAL EDUCATION: Apple is launching an app and website  to give people information about the virus outbreak. The website and app, created with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The White House Task Force and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, lets users answer questions about the COVID-19 virus including risk factors and symptoms. It gives CDC recommendations on next steps, but isn't intended to replace instruction from health care providers. Apple said the website and app will keep all data private. You don't need an Apple ID for access. Last week, Google sister company Verily launched a website to screen people who think they might have COVID-19 and point them to testing sites.

RETAIL ABIDES: More than 2,000 grocery stores across the country are offering free deliver to individuals over the age of 60. Grocers such as Piggly Wiggly, LifeThyme Natural Market, Le District, and Matherne's will be waiving delivery fees on orders made by seniors and fulfilled by DoorDash. Freshop, GrocerKey, Mercato and Rosie are also participating in the initiative. Customers will also have the option to request a no-contact delivery at checkout.

Conagra Brands is giving bonuses to employees at production and distribution facilities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Full-time employees in the U.S. will receive $500 and part-time employees will receive $250, with similar amounts provided to workers in Canada and Mexico. The company is also continuing to pay anyone that is away from work due to a COVID-19-related illness. Those employees will also be eligible to receive the bonus.

Kroger plans to hire an additional 20,000 workers over the next several weeks. The company is also creating partnerships with local, regional and national businesses from the most-affected industries to create a shared-resource model to temporarily flex employees to Kroger roles. Some of the current partners include Marriott International, Sodexo, Sysco and VF Corp.

YOU SAY ENERGY, MARKET SAYS SURPLUS: Most projections already foresaw slowing energy demand as the global economy cools. Then the pandemic hit. U.S. crude prices have plunged 55% over the past month. Now, a phenomenon last seen during the 2008-09 financial crisis is re-emerging.

Energy demand has been so curtailed, there are fewer places to put the oil and natural gas that is still being produced, according to IHS Markit.

The market analysis group forecasts an annual first half 2020 surplus of 1.8 billion barrels of oil, which exceeds the upper end of its estimate of available storage capacity of 1.6 billion. IHS Markit anticipates that the storage shortage will lead to more production cuts or shut ins than previously expected. Among the three largest oil producers, Russia has the least amount of available storage capacity at about 8 days, followed by Saudi Arabia at 18 days and the U.S. at 30 days.

MALL MAUL: Data put out Friday by the U.S. on consumer behavior was largely discarded because it's using data from February, seemingly a lifetime ago. It did point to an economy that was still humming as of February, when consumer spending edged up 0.2% in February, matching a January gain. Personal incomes rose a solid 0.6 percent.

Private surveys, however, which take a more forward looking stance, paint a much darker picture.

Nearly half of U.S. consumers are extremely concerned about the virus outbreak, according to CoreSight Research's latest survey. That's up 10 percentage points from a week earlier, meaning that the likelihood that they'll keep spending is vastly diminished. About 70% of all economic activity in the U.S. is driven by consumers, so it matters.

And according to the CoreSight survey, about 9.1% of people have lost their jobs, up from 4.2%.

Americans are buying goods, but not where they did even two weeks ago. And 95% of respondents are avoiding public areas and travel, up from approximately 85% a week ago. Shopping centers and malls are the third most avoided location, following restaurants/bars/coffee shops and movie theaters, respectively.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 0 0
MORTGAGES 0 0 0
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 0 0
BUILDING PERMITS 0 0 0
BANKRUPTCIES 0 0 0
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 0 0
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0