Wall Street set to open higher on renewed confidence of an economic recovery.
U.S. stock futures rose and global markets rallied on Monday as governments around the world discussed when and how to reopen businesses and get their economies back on track. But turmoil in oil markets continued, with the price of the U.S. benchmark crude tumbling by more than 20 percent.
Futures for the S&P 500 were up about 1 percent, pointing to a positive start to the week on Wall Street. European stocks were trading about 2 percent higher after a broadly higher day in Asia.
In the United States, governors in Colorado, Georgia, Michigan and other states are deciding how and when to start easing some social-distancing restrictions. Any opening will be slow and painful, but investors signaled optimism that the recovery could begin soon. Prices of U.S. Treasury bonds, a traditional investor safe haven, fell in early Monday trading.
The price of West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, fell more than 20 percent. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was down about 6 percent. Global cuts in oil production are set to start in May, after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, along with Russia and other producers, agreed to reduce daily output by 9.7 million barrels a day to address a glut as demand for crude crashed.
A quarter of the companies in the S&P 500 have already reported first-quarter earnings, and it hasn’t been pretty. More companies will open their books this week, revealing the effects of the pandemic on their businesses.
💊 Pharma firms will be closely watched for any news of Covid-19 breakthroughs, including Pfizer, Merck and Novartis on Tuesday, and AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline on Wednesday.
🗣 Other companies of note reporting this week include Boeing, Caterpillar, eBay, General Electric, Kraft Heinz, Mastercard, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Qualcomm, Southwest Airlines, Samsung, Spotify, Starbucks, Tesla, Twitter, Visa and Yum Brands.
The vast economic rescue package that President Trump signed into law last month included $349 billion in low-interest loans for small businesses. The so-called Paycheck Protection Program was supposed to help prevent small companies — generally those with fewer than 500 employees in the United States — from capsizing as the economy sinks into what looks like a severe recession.
The loan program was meant for companies that could no longer finance themselves through traditional means, like raising money in the markets or borrowing from banks under existing credit lines. The law required that the federal money — which comes at a low 1 percent interest rate and in some cases doesn’t need to be paid back — be spent on things like payroll or rent.
But the program has been riddled with problems. Within days of its start, its money ran out, prompting Congress to approve an additional $310 billion in funding that will open for applications on Monday. Lenders expect the second round to be depleted even faster.
Countless small businesses were shut out, even as a number of large companies received millions of dollars in aid.
Some, including restaurant chains like Ruth’s Chris and Shake Shack, agreed to return their loans after a public outcry. But dozens of large but lower-profile companies with financial or legal problems have also received large payouts under the program, according to an analysis of the more than 200 publicly traded companies that have disclosed receiving a total of more than $750 million in bailout loans.
The government has since published new guidance strongly discouraging public companies from using the program and urged those that did take the money to return it. Some have; others haven’t.
Small companies — those with under 500 workers — employ nearly half of America’s private sector work force.
“It has been beyond frustrating,” said Diane Burgio, a single mother who runs a design business in New York City that employs four people. She was one of more than 280,000 applicants who sought, and did not get, a loan from JPMorgan Chase.
On a recent weekday, while France was still under one of Europe’s tightest lockdowns, mammoth six-foot tractor tires were rolling off the assembly line at a Michelin factory in northeast France. Farther south, other Michelin plants turned out tires for ambulances and fire trucks as fast as small skeleton crews could make them.
“We can’t stay confined forever,” Florent Menegaux, Michelin’s chief executive, said by telephone recently. “Just after the health crisis, we’re going to have an economic crisis looming which will have huge social consequences. We have to learn how to live with Covid-19.”
But in France, where Michelin is based, the piecemeal rollout has ignited tensions with labor unions.
“Michelin is trying to reassure financial markets by showing that they’re capable of producing,” said Jean-Paul Cognet, a union leader in Clermont-Ferrand, where Michelin has its headquarters. “But at what cost?”
The question is echoing worldwide as companies seek to rebound from lockdowns that have exacted a devastating economic toll. In the United States, Europe and China, governments are calling for more emphasis on getting vital industries back on track, forcing executives to strike a balance between keeping their businesses alive and their employees safe.
Signs of bailout fatigue are already starting to appear in Washington, raising the risk that government help for the economy will dry up before a potential coronavirus depression is contained.
That was a key reason the last economic recovery — after the 2008 financial crisis — was so slow for so long.
“The pandemic response got off to a really promising start, with everyone coming together with a whatever-it-takes attitude,” said Jason Furman, who shaped economic policy in response to the global financial crisis as a staff member in the Obama White House. “But we’re slipping back into the types of gridlock, over-optimism about the economy and over-pessimism on the deficit that followed the financial crisis and unnecessarily prolonged the economic pain.”
Consider a few of the experiences from that earlier episode that might inform the pandemic response.
In the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, there were heated bipartisan warnings about excessive public debt. But not only did no debt crisis occur — the opposite happened. Interest rates and inflation have stayed persistently low for the last decade, and demand for Treasury bonds has remained very high.
Politicians and public health experts have sparred for weeks over when, and under what circumstances, to allow businesses to reopen and Americans to emerge from their homes. But another question could prove just as thorny — how?
Because the restart will be gradual, with certain places and industries opening earlier than others, it will by definition be complicated.
Georgia and other states are beginning the reopening process. But even under the most optimistic estimates, it will be months, and possibly years, before Americans again crowd into bars and squeeze onto subway cars the way they did before the pandemic struck.
And it isn’t clear what, exactly, it means to gradually restart a system with as many interlocking pieces as the U.S. economy. How can one factory reopen when its suppliers remain shuttered? How can parents return to work when schools are still closed? How can older people return when there is still no effective treatment or vaccine? What is the government’s role in helping private businesses that may initially need to operate at a fraction of their normal capacity?
Then there is the public health threat: If states reopen their economies too quickly, or without the right precautions in place, that could lead to a renewed outbreak, with dire consequences for both safety and the economy.
Falling stock prices are bad enough. But investors are facing the loss of an income flow that may have seemed as reliable as the rotation of the Earth: quarterly dividends.
“In a recession, companies curl up into a fetal position and they cut employment, production and inventories,” said Edward Yardeni, the independent market researcher. “They stop buying back their own stock, and then, if they are still bleeding cash, they cut dividends.”
Cuts have already begun, and they are expected to amount to as much as 30 percent of the nearly $500 billion that S&P 500 companies paid in dividends in the last 12 months. This will add to the pain of investors who may not have realized that dividends are paid at the discretion of management and do not flow automatically year after year.
Some economists say that investors do not really need dividends — stock buybacks or skillful redeployment of earnings within a corporation can be just as beneficial — but the loss of dividends on top of so many other losses is bound to be painful.
But companies like Ford, Boeing, Macy’s and Occidental Petroleum have already announced dividend reductions or suspensions, and many more are on the way.
Catch up: Here’s what else is happening.
General Motors said it was suspending its quarterly dividend and any share buybacks to strengthen its cash position and “help navigate the uncertainties in the global market created by this pandemic.” When it halted North American production a month ago, the automaker said it was laying off 6,500 salaried workers and cutting executive pay. In labor negotiations last year that prompted a six-week strike, the United Automobile Workers noted that G.M. had spent more than $10 billion on stock buybacks since 2015
The German sportswear maker Adidas said Monday that sales plunged 20 percent and profit all but evaporated in the first quarter of the year because lockdowns kept stores closed in key markets like China.
Japan’s central bank announced on Monday that it had eliminated restrictions on its purchases of government bonds, opening the door for the country to pump unlimited quantities of money into its economy. The country’s economy contracted by 7.1 percent in the last quarter of 2019, and economic indicators have only gotten worse since.
Deutsche Bank said late Sunday that net profit plunged in the first quarter and warned that pressures from the coronavirus are eating away at its capital. In a preliminary earnings report, Germany’s largest bank said that profit from January through March fell by more than two-thirds to 66 million euros, or $72 million, compared to the first quarter of 2019.
Reporting was contributed by Jessica Silver-Greenberg, David Enrich, Jesse Drucker, Stacy Cowley, Neil Irwin, Jason Karaian, Kevin McKenna, Liz Alderman, Jack Ewing, Ben Dooley, Jeff Sommer, Ben Casselman, Carlos Tejada, Kevin Granville and Daniel Victor.