Stocks and News
Home | Week in Review Process | Terms of Use | About UsContact Us
   Articles Go Fund Me All-Species List Hot Spots Go Fund Me
Week in Review   |  Bar Chat    |  Hot Spots    |   Dr. Bortrum    |   Wall St. History
Week-in-Review
  Search Our Archives: 
 

 

Week in Review

http://www.gofundme.com/s3h2w8

AddThis Feed Button

   

03/28/2020

For the week 3/23-3/27

[Posted 10:30 PM ET, Friday]

Note: StocksandNews has significant ongoing costs and your support is greatly appreciated.  Please click on the gofundme link or send a check to PO Box 990, New Providence, NJ 07974.

Edition 1,093

Having just watched President Trump’s daily press conference, it should be pretty clear there is an overwhelming amount of news to cover with this crisis. 

I’m trying to break this week’s edition into three sections…starting with the facts, then the idea of reopening the country, and under Trump World, the issue of the president’s performance.

In addition under Street Bytes, I give you a sense of how companies are responding.

It is impossible to cover everything…and looking at a pile I still need to go thru, a lot will end up on the cutting room floor.  Like an in-depth discussion of our new national debt.

27,000 have died worldwide, over 1,500 in the United States.  On March 1st, the U.S. was at one.

Globally, Italy reported a sickening 919 additional deaths Friday to bring their total to 9,134.  Spain grew 769 to 4,934.  France’s toll rose 299 to 1,995.  The UK’s 181 to 759.  All were new daily records save for Spain, which set a record the day before of 365.

[British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive today and told the people he has mild symptoms.]

But the Netherlands’ toll is 546, an awful figure for a country its size; Germany spiked to 321 (banning interactions of more than two people); Belgium 289.

My beloved Ireland’s toll is now 22 and as I keep writing, their healthcare system cannot handle a tsunami of cases.

But last week I talked of the likes of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Pakistan and India, and Indonesia now has 87 deaths.  India only 20 but it’s on lockdown for 21 days, because Prime Minister Modi knows what’s coming.

Turkey is now spiking…up to 92 fatalities.  Syria is finally shutting down and lord knows what the true story is in that hellhole. 

Little Ecuador is at 36 deaths, a major concern for this small place.  The superintendent in my building is from there and with good reason he’s concerned for his family.

And then you have Brazil…92 deaths and beginning to spike…with a president, Bolsonaro, who is a flat-out idiot.

But then you have Africa, which is beginning to see swarms of cases.  One nation that seems destined to be “Hell on Earth” is Nigeria, where this week the army began to lock down all the food stocks, and by one report has begun engineering work on mass graves, because the government knows they are about to be overwhelmed.

Picture 20 million people jammed into Lagos!  200 million in this small country overall.  If you are an international aid worker, I pray for you. 

But most disturbingly this weekend, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong, which were touted for doing such a great job in holding Covid-19 at bay, all saw a resurgence of cases this week, blamed to a great extent on residents returning from other nations, the “imported” cases.  South Korean authorities were pleading with the public tonight to stay indoors and avoid large gatherings as the nation heightened border checks on people arriving from the United States.  The U.S. military has taken extra steps to restrict movements among the 28,500 troops stationed in the country.

[A coronavirus outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt that was originally limited to three Navy sailors has now expanded to include “dozens,” forcing the ship to divert to Guam, where all its crew members will undergo testing for the virus.]

Japan was finally forced to postpone the Tokyo Olympics, and panic-buying spread in the capital as reality hit home, while the city reported 41 new cases on Thursday, 102 nationally, a new record.

And then there is China, which disbelievingly said it had no homegrown cases in six of eight days but has admitted to a growing number of imported cases.  Today, the government ordered airlines to sharply cut the number of flights in and out of the country out of concern that travelers are reigniting the outbreak.

There was also a disturbing story of “long lines and stacks of ash urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan,” which are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the outbreak.  One photo published by Caixin, a Chinese media outlet, “showed 3,500 urns stacked on the ground inside.  It’s unclear how many of the urns had been filled.”  [South China Morning Post]

You’ve all seen some of the same stories I have.  With nothing else to do, you can’t help but get swept up in it.

Here in Summit, New Jersey, as of this morning we had 22 cases, all but two under the age of 65, at least half in their 20s and 30s.  In neighboring New Providence, they hadn’t been announcing anything and then suddenly this morning, the regional health authority said there were 12 cases.

The thing is the reporting in my state is awful.  Nothing on where those testing positive have been, each town’s data collection and dissemination different, some communities receiving no word whatsoever.

I’m trying to limit shopping as much as possible, but it’s impossible not to go out.  [I also have some family responsibilities.]

Summit is a major commuter town into Ground Zero, New York, and you can readily see how it spread.  The Garden State has 108 deaths as I go to post.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said this week, “Covid-19 is threatening the whole of humanity – and the whole of humanity must fight back.”

The European Union agency for disease control said the novel coronavirus is unlikely to disappear in summer, in a stark warning that the epidemic could continue when temperatures rise unless measures to hamper it are applied. 

---

Monday morning, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams appeared on NBC’s “Today” and proclaimed: “I want America to understand: This week, it’s going to get bad.”

And it was.  Monday saw the first day where the nation reported more than 100 deaths in a single day.

Late Sunday night, President Trump had tweeted:

“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.  AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”  He then spent the week talking about reopening the country by Easter and dialing back the push to practice social distancing for 15 days.  But by the end of the week, under pressure from Dr. Anthony Fauci and others, including Republican lawmakers, the president said we’d get more details next week and a plan to categorize each county in terms of the crisis level.

Earlier, Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, expressed concern about the economic effects of ordering Americans to stay inside.  “At some point you have to ask yourself whether the shutdown is doing more harm than good,” he told CNBC.  In a Fox New interview earlier in the day, he said, “We’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs.”

But then you had:

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.): “There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus.”

Dr. Scott Gottlieb: “There’s a strong and understandable desire to return to better times and a functioning economy.  But it should not be lost on anyone that there’s no such thing as a functioning economy and society so long as Covid-19 continues to spread uncontrolled in our biggest cities.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “Listened to New York Governor Cuomo’s explanation of how to balance reopening the economy against public health concerns.

“He rightfully said we can do both but it must be done smartly, always erring on the side of public health….

“Any decision needs to be based on healthcare data with the goal of ensuring we defeat the virus – not promoting its spread.”

Editorial / New York Post

“One can understand President Trump’s impatience – everyone shares it.

“But for him to say that the country is going to be back to normal in just a couple weeks, as he did Monday night, is wildly optimistic.

“What is the point of all this pain if we don’t make sure that the coronavirus is truly under control?  We risk an explosion of infections if we rush back into regular life.

“Take Hong Kong.  It implemented social isolation, movement restrictions and other measures right away, and in the first week of March, it had only 150 cases. But then it relaxed the regulations, and expats started pouring back in, Bloomberg News reports.  Now cases have doubled.  In response, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has had to introduce new quarantine restrictions.

“Can you imagine if the United States gave an all-clear signal, then officials were forced to reverse themselves?  The double-hit on the economy – not to mention the mental well-being of Americans – would be devastating.

“ ‘We’re going to be opening our country up for business, because our country was meant to be open,’ Trump said Monday night.  True.  But now that we’ve taken these extraordinary steps, now that we’re spending days indoors and learning not to shake hands, we cannot let our desire for normalcy ruin the plan.

“ ‘WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!’ Trump tweeted earlier Monday.

“Fine, but make that decision based on the opinion of medical and other experts.  Not our collective discomfort.”

Scott Gottlieb / Wall Street Journal

“First, the bad news: America’s coronavirus epidemic is only beginning, and the suffering will become more searing over the next two weeks.  Hospitals in New York City may soon be overwhelmed.  New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle may not be far behind.

“It will soon be clear why Covid-19 can’t be allowed to rage through the country untamed. The intense restrictions – telling Americans to stay inside in New York, California and other states – are necessary.  But so is a path back to a more normal life.  Here’s what the priorities should be in the coming weeks, with a focus on preventing new sparks of the virus from turning into the fires of New York and Seattle.

“Containment is no longer realistic in some areas of the U.S., but in other places it may still be possible.  As public-health authorities learn more about infection rates in different parts of the country, governments can tailor strategies to the facts on the ground.  There is a tradeoff between mitigation strategies, which target large populations – such as sheltering in place – and interventions that try to isolate those who are infected or might have been exposed.

“The population tactics are blunt instruments, necessary for isolating hot spots like New York and Seattle.  Other places may be able to rely more on individual interventions, which cause less disruption and economic damage.  Yet every state should be taking steps such as encouraging social distancing and preparing to expand hospital capacity.  Some states and cities that haven’t seen as many cases yet – such as New Orleans – have been too slow to take the threat seriously.

“For this to work, the U.S. will need widespread testing to know where and to what extent the virus is spreading….

“By the end of next week, the U.S. will have the capacity in place to screen more than 75,000 people a day.  South Korea tested 1 in 160 of its people and deployed technology to identify people who were infected and trace contacts.  The U.S. should do the same.

“Another step: serological surveillance, which means blood tests to detect antibodies developed to fight the novel coronavirus.  These antibodies confer immunity and can reveal whether a person has been exposed.  If a sizable portion of a local community has some protection, authorities can be more confident in relying on less invasive measures.  Once deployed, serological tests are cheap, straightforward, and easy to scale.

“Most important is developing a therapy to treat Covid-19 or perhaps prevent people from contracting it.  America is home to a vast, dynamic life-science industry.  This is its moment.  This is why decades of drug investment and development matter so much.

“One strategy would be to infuse convalescent plasma – antibodies from the blood of patients who have recovered from Covid-19.  This could help boost the immune response to those recently infected….

“For the most promising drugs, we should scale up manufacturing before we know for sure if they work….

“People will suffer and die in the coming weeks.  For many others, the U.S. can still turn the coronavirus into a manageable threat.  With the right mix of controlling transmission, expanding testing and deploying promising drugs, American ingenuity can beat back this pathogen.”

Thomas L. Friedman / New York Times

“These are days that test every leader – local, state and national. They are each being asked to make huge life and death decisions, while driving through a fog, with imperfect information, and everyone in the back seat shouting at them.  My heart goes out to them all.  I know they mean well. But as so many of our businesses shut down and millions begin to be laid off, some experts are beginning to ask: ‘Wait a minute! What the hell are we doing to ourselves?  To our economy?  To our next generation?  Is this cure – even for a short while – worse than the disease?’

“I share these questions.  Our leaders are not flying completely blind: They are working off the advice of serious epidemiologists and public health experts.  Yet we still need to be careful about ‘group think,’ which is a natural but dangerous reaction when responding to a national and global crisis.  We’re making decisions that affect the whole country and our entire economy – therefore, small errors in navigation could have huge consequences.

“Of course, because this virus is potentially affecting so many Americans at once, we need to provide more hospital beds, treatment equipment for those who will need it and protective gear like N95 masks for the doctors and nurses caring for virus-infected patients.  That is urgent!  And we need to immediately rectify the colossal failure to supply rapid, widespread testing.  That is urgent!

“But we also need to be asking ourselves – just as urgently – can we more surgically minimize the threat of this virus to those most vulnerable while we maximize the chances for as many Americans as possible to safely go back to work as soon as possible.  One expert I talk to below believes that could happen in as early as a few weeks – if we pause for a moment and think afresh about the coronavirus challenge.

“Indeed, if my inbox is any indication, a thoughtful backlash is brewing to the strategy the country has stumbled into.  And stumbling is what inevitably happens when you have a president who goes from treating the coronavirus as a hoax to a war in the space of two days.  A lot of health experts want to find a better balance to the medical, economic and moral issues now tugging at us all at once.

“Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis, an epidemiologist and co-director of Stanford’s Meta-Research Innovation Center, pointed out in a March 17 essay on statnews.com, that we still do not have a firm grasp of the population-wide fatality rate of coronavirus.  A look at some of the best available evidence today, though, indicates it may be 1 percent and could even be lower.

“ ‘If that is the true rate,’ Ioannidis wrote, ‘locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational.  It’s like an elephant being attacked by a house cat.  Frustrated and trying to avoid the cat, the elephant accidentally jumps off a cliff and dies.’….

“And imagine the stress and mental illness that will come – already has come – from our shutting down our economy, triggering massive layoffs….

“A surgical-vertical approach would focus on protecting and sequestering those among us most likely to be killed or suffer long-term damage by exposure to coronavirus infection – that is, the elderly, people with chronic diseases and the immunologically compromised – while basically treating the rest of society the way we have always dealt with familiar threats like the flu.  That means we would tell them to be respectful of others when coughing or sneezing, wash their hands regularly and if they feel sick to stay home and get over it – or to seek medical attention if they are not recuperating as expected….

“Effectively, we’d ‘reboot’ our society in two or perhaps more weeks from now.  ‘The rejuvenating effect on spirits, and the economy, of knowing where there’s light at the end of this tunnel would be hard to overstate.  Risk will not be zero, but the risk of some bad outcome for any of us on any given day is never zero.’  [Said Dr. David L. Katz of Yale University, an expert in public health and preventive medicine.]”

But we have to test, test, test.

“Katz’s approach is both sober and hopeful.  He is basically arguing that at this stage there is no way of avoiding the fact that many, many Americans are going to get the coronavirus or already have it. That ship has sailed….

“Either we let many of us get the coronavirus, recover and get back to work – while doing our utmost to protect those most vulnerable to being killed by it.  Or, we shut down for months to try to save everyone everywhere from this virus – no matter their risk profile – and kill many people by other means, kill our economy and maybe kill our future.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Our editorial last week on the costs of our government-mandated national economic shutdown struck a chord with readers, including perhaps at the White House.  President Trump is now saying he wants the country back to normal by mid-April.  While this is right as a direction, the shift to a sustainable health and economic strategy will require a transition and a credible explanation to the public.

“The initial 15-day national period of mass social distancing ends Monday, which is a chance for reconsidering the anti-virus shutdown strategy.  The challenge will be finding a balance between protecting against the virus and resuming commerce and business that is crucial to getting people back to work.

“The current at-home quarantines across the country are buying time to slow the coronavirus spread, as well as to surge masks, protective equipment and ventilators to hospitals and hot spots.  This hospital surge is crucial to saving lives and reassuring the public that America’s cities aren’t on a path to Italy’s scenes of tragic triage.  New York, Seattle and perhaps New Orleans will have to cope in coming days and weeks with hundreds and perhaps thousands of critically ill Covid-19 patients.  Americans will want to know how a sustainable strategy prevents similar scenes around the country.

“Mr. Trump and other leaders will also have to be candid about the limitations of what we know.  Because of the lack of widespread testing, we don’t know how many people are infected with few or only mild symptoms. This information would help us get a better fix on the real death rate, not least by group and health status, and thus to know how under siege our hospitals will be over weeks and months.  More accurate testing data will also reassure the public….

“But sooner rather than later, Mr. Trump and governors will have to explain the huge human and economic cost of continuing the shutdown.  Those costs will start to appear Thursday when initial jobless claims are likely to record one of the biggest one-week leaps in history.  They will rise by the millions as the shutdown goes on….

“The point here is that the policy tradeoff for Mr. Trump and the governors isn’t between saving lives and a higher stock market, as our editorial’s critics asserted.  And it isn’t a choice between pandemic expert Anthony Fauci and economists in the White House.  There is great public-health damage from both the virus and from mass unemployment and recession.

“The challenge for political leaders is to consider both and make decisions in the larger national interest.  This is what Mr. Trump means when he tweeted Tuesday, in his unsubtle fashion, that ‘We can do two things together.  THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM!’

“The urgent choice isn’t pitting public health against financial health.  Both matter, and the latter is essential to the former. The country needs a sustainable strategy for both.”

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken March 18-24, seven in 10 Americans (68%) now consider the coronavirus pandemic to be “a serious threat to me and my family.”  That is up 14 percentage points from a similar poll taken last week.  This includes majorities of Democrats and Republicans, whites, minorities, young, old, urban, suburban and rural residents.  Just last week, 63% of Democrats and 49% of Republicans said they considered the coronavirus to be a personal threat; now 76% of Democrats and 63% of Republicans feel the same way.

A Washington Post poll also had 7 in 10 Americans saying they are worried that they or someone in their immediate family might catch the disease.

Trump World

Trump and his supporters are pointing this week to a 60% approval rating from Gallup for his handling of the crisis, but I would caution my friends that the polling was done Mar. 13-22.  This past week the president’s performance was disgraceful.

I made a big mistake last Sunday evening.  The president was holding his daily press briefing/coronavirus update and at 7:00 p.m., rather than switch over to “60 Minutes” I kept the president on.

Among his rambling musings:

“China has gone through hell…I wish they (China) could have told us earlier…China is very secretive…I have great respect for the leader of the country.  I like him, he’s a friend of mine.”

“It cost me $billions of dollars (to run for president)…I’m a wartime president…cost me $billions and $billions to be president…When I ran I knew it would cost me a fortune…I’m doing very well…I think it’s very hard to run for president.”

“I’m not taking the $450,000.  No one said ‘thank you.’”

“Romney is in isolation?  Gee, that’s too bad.”

“I think we are doing an extraordinary job.”

It went on and on like this all week.

“Easter is a very special time for me.  I think Easter Sunday, you’ll have packed churches all over the country.”

“We lose much more (people) to automobile accidents.   We don’t ask people to stop making cars.”

“(The economy) is going to open up like a rocket ship.”

He kept going after the media, daily.

He went after governors that weren’t nice to him.

He totally lied about the ventilator situation.  His failure to enforce the Defense Production Act until today is beyond scandalous.  Fact: General Motors on Monday said it was studying the feasibility of building ventilators under its partnership with Ventec Life Systems at the Kokomo, Ind., plant.

First off, when I read this, I was floored GM was still studying it!  We had been told by the president earlier GM was signed up.  Why did GM then become an issue today, Friday?

Trump tweet:

“General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILAORS, NOW!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!”

You and I were led to believe GM and Ford were on it two weeks ago.  But, remember, these things take time.  Today, in his presser, Trump talked of tens of thousands of ventilators in “100 days.”

100 days?

The president closed the border to China Jan. 31.  Great.  Why didn’t we start ramping up production of PPE and ventilators even three weeks later?  Why did it take six and seven weeks?

But don’t ask the president to take responsibility of any kind, on anything.

“Great success over the past month,” he said today.  “A lot of great things are happening.”

Regarding Washington Gov. Inslee and Michigan Gov. Whitmer (“the woman”), why blast them?  Trump actually said he told his people not to call either one.  “I want them to be appreciative we’ve done a great job.”

“We’ve done a job the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

It’s been nothing but mixed messaging and lies since day one.  But don’t worry.  “The world is going to be better than ever,” the president said on Thursday.

Look, I want the nation to go back to work as soon as possible as much as anyone.  But we need a leader who traffics in the truth.  Thank god Dr. Fauci is still there.  I keep worrying he’ll get sick with the tremendous social distancing at the White House.

And we need the nation, some of you who haven’t experienced Covid-19 yet, to understand this is incredibly contagious, we have done grossly inadequate testing, there is no cure, and as yet no surefire therapeutics.

We needed to be vastly better prepared than we have been because as you hear incessantly, we’re trying to buy time.  But there is no doubt many of our major hospital systems are going to be overwhelmed.

As my good friend, Dr. W., noted this week, even if the mortality rate was near zero, because it is so infectious, the systems will be overrun.

Meanwhile, we’re left with the wisdom of Donald Trump, who when asked about Florida Gov. DeSantis’ incredibly lax and dangerous approach to the virus, said, “I don’t know.  The whole concept of a beach is very interesting…lots of open space.”

Daniel Henninger / Wall Street Journal

“The costs of how the U.S. has conducted its politics the past three years are now obvious.  Beset by a crisis akin to wartime, the country’s leadership is engulfed in political rancor.

“Since Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the national Democratic Party has tried to stop his presidency from functioning.  That irrefutably was the goal of the Russia collusion narrative, its attendant Mueller investigation and then the impeachment.

“Say what you want in defense of these projects, but the reality is they inflamed the normal workings of our politics.  The president’s opponents attacked relentlessly, and he without letup counterattacked personally.

“Through this period, people often noted that the polarization of American political life had become corrosive and unhealthy.  Everyone in Washington knew this, but no matter; it became an addiction.  Every issue now defaults to the same petty level.

“The greatest damage has been to the Democratic Party.  Here a distinction is in order.  By and large, the states are being capably led in their response to the coronavirus crisis by both Democratic and Republican governors.  Apparently working below the radar of the national media is the antidote to political insanity.

“But the national Democratic Party, run by people who live in a hothouse of their own making, looks to be in a state of meltdown.  While everything in America is changing, they just won’t.

“This is the party that produced a president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the nation through the crucible of depression and world war.  Faced today with a similar crucible in the coronavirus, with much of the country in isolation and shutdown, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, backed by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and virtually all their Democratic Senate colleagues, demanded that the national rescue package include – this is still hard to believe – airline emission standards.

“The response by Joe Biden, the presumptive presidential nominee, is even more dispiriting.  He has been parroting Mrs. Pelosi’s talking points, calling the rescue package a ‘slush fund’ and writing: ‘We can’t let Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell hold small businesses, workers, and communities hostage until they get their no-strings corporate bailout.’

“A central selling point of Mr. Biden’s has been that he’s the adult in the room who, unlike Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, still understands the necessity of a functioning private sector.  But if leading from behind is what Biden presidential leadership would look like, we should skip it and let Speaker Pelosi run the country from Capitol Hill.

“Who’s left?

“Who’s left is the president we’ve got, the one elected in 2016.  With Democrats bailing out on bipartisanship in a unique circumstance, the responsibility of national leadership – a historic opportunity – defaults to Mr. Trump.

“Let us understand the stakes.  There are national problems and there are national crises. In the latter, as in world wars, the task of national leadership is to protect a nation’s confidence in itself so that it can emerge intact as a society.

“We’re accustomed in difficult times to saying Americans can do anything, and that’s largely true.  But let’s not delude ourselves that this just happens, like sunshine.  American success isn’t a random effect.  It requires leadership.

“No national leader plans to be in a position like this – not Roosevelt, Lincoln or Churchill.  Mr. Trump will emerge from this crisis either as just another president or a president who led his entire country through a great battle.  If Democrats choose to be the opposition in this battle, voters will judge that choice.

“Some will say, from experience, that asking Mr. Trump to rise to presidential greatness is quixotic.  He’ll never adjust no matter the circumstance.  And yes, on Tuesday he was in a cat fight over ventilators with New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.

“Ironically, Mr. Trump’s path to presidential greatness may begin by doing something small but desired by virtually all Americans: Separate himself from the pettiness of our politics.

“Mr. Cuomo is a governor with a job to do.  Help him.  If he wants to kvetch, let him….

“The public will keep faith with the president if it believes policy decisions are being made in the Situation Room.

“If by September Mr. Trump and his team are bringing the U.S. through the threat from this pandemic, he will be re-elected.  Without a single rally.  Rallying a nation is what gets presidents remembered.”

Walter Russell Mead / Wall Street Journal

“This is not what his critics expected.  At 49% overall job approval in the latest Gallup poll, and with 60% approval of the way he is handling the coronavirus epidemic, President Trump’s standing with voters has improved even as the country closed down and the stock market underwent a historic meltdown.  That may change as this unpredictable crisis develops, but bitter and often justified criticism of Mr. Trump’s decision making in the early months of the pandemic has so far failed to break the bond between the 45th president and his political base.

“One reason Mr. Trump’s opponents have had such a hard time damaging his connection with voters is that they still don’t understand why so many Americans want a wrecking-ball presidency.  Beyond attributing Mr. Trump’s support to a mix of racism, religious fundamentalism and profound ignorance, the president’s establishment opponents in both parties have yet to grasp the depth and intensity of the populist energy that animates his base and the Bernie Sanders movement.

“The sheer number of voters in open political rebellion against centrist politics is remarkable.  Adding the Sanders base (36% of the Democratic vote in the latest Real Clear Politics poll average, or roughly 13% of the national vote considering that about 45% of voters lean Democratic) to the core Trump base of roughly 42%, and around 55% of U.S. voters now support politicians who openly despise the central assumptions of the political establishment….

“The establishment’s massive, decadeslong failure to think through the consequences of empowering Communist China and creating a trading relationship that, among other things, left the U.S. dependent on Beijing for pharmaceuticals is a much less excusable and more consequential error than anything Donald Trump has done in 2020 – and it has a direct bearing on the mess we are in.

“Attacks on the establishment aren’t always rational or fair.  They can be one-sided and fail to do justice to the accomplishments the U.S. has made in the recent past.  Populism on both the left and the right always attracts its share of snake-oil salesmen, and America’s current antiestablishment surge is no exception.  But the U.S. establishment won’t prosper again until it comes to grip with a central political fact: Populism rises when establishment leadership fails.  If conventional U.S. political leaders had been properly doing their jobs, Donald Trump would still be hosting a television show.

“Unless the president’s opponents take the full measure of this public discontent, they will be continually surprised by his resilience against media attacks.  And until the establishment undertakes a searching and honest inventory of the tangled legacy of American foreign and domestic policy since the end of the Cold War, expect populism to remain a potent part of the political scene.”

Kevin Baron / Defense One

“Trump can’t help himself.  He is missing his chance to live out ‘America First.’

“In January or February, he could have convened world leaders, determined a plan to stop the coronavirus, and shown what American power can really do with all of the pomp and circumstance of summit stages and Fox News backdrops.  He could have made the world grateful for his leadership. Even now, as the world stays home FaceTiming with family, Trump could convene a video conference of world leaders, sitting in Washington’s big chair in the middle of the virtual table, directing help, aid, relief, supplies, NATO militaries and the narrative.  He could have even liberals and TV pundits praising him as the global leader he believes himself to be.

“The coronavirus pandemic is more than a 9/11 moment.  It’s a Reagan-second-term-chance-to-beat-the-Soviets moment.  It’s a political opening to soften up, wake up, and bring the world together.  It’s an opportunity to diminish Beijing and Moscow and marginalize violent extremists. The United States should be leading the world through this pandemic. Americans should be leading the world.  Trump should be leading the world.

“He could have thought big, but instead he plays small.  On Tuesday night, the president of the United States was up late retweeting posts from the partisan and anti-Semitic information warfare site Breitbart, amplifying their praise and thumping liberal snowflakes and the corporate media….

“The president and his far-right allies see the pandemic as one more chance to again rip apart the notion that countries do better by cooperating.

“ ‘We should never be reliant on a foreign country for the means of our own survival,’ Trump said in a speech that was astounding and typical.  ‘This crisis has underscored just how critical it is to have strong borders,’ he continued, reading a speech that should alarm every other member of the United Nations.  Read on, from the White House transcript:

And this really shows – this experience shows how important borders are.  Without borders, you don’t have a nation.

Our goal for the future must be to have American medicine for American patients, American supplies for American hospitals, and American equipment for our great American heroes.

Now, both parties must unite to ensure the United States is truly an independent nation in every sense of the word.  Energy independence – we’ve established that. That’s something incredible that we have established.  We’re energy independent, manufacturing independence, economic independence, and territorial independence enforced by strong, sovereign borders.

America will never be a supplicant nation.  We will be a proud, prosperous, independent, and self-reliant nation.   We will embrace commerce with all, but we will be dependent on none.

“A supplicant nation.  That’s what Trump and his teammates like Stephen Miller and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo think America was, has, or could become.  Rather than lead the world with every resource the United States can muster, Trump wants the world to hear his message: the walls between you and us are as high as I can build them.”

---

--Early this week, Trump administration officials urged anyone leaving the New York metro area to self-isolate for 14 days to avoid spreading the virus to other parts of the country.

--Dr. Fauci told basketball star Stephen Curry in an interview on Instagram that he expects to see another cycle of the coronavirus, because he cannot “imagine it’s just going to disappear.”  But he said a new cycle would not take the same, drastic toll on daily life.

“We will get enough experience so that when it does come back we’ll be able to immediately identify, isolate and contact-trace.  And if you do that effectively you don’t have an outbreak,” Fauci said.  “You contain it at a very low level.  Which would mean we won’t have to lock down again.”

Separately, in an interview in Science Magazine, a reporter asked: “You’ve been in press conferences where things are happening that you disagree with, is that fair to say?”

Fauci: “Well, I don’t disagree in the substance.  It is expressed in a way that I would not express it, because it could lead to some misunderstanding about what the facts are about a given subject.”

--Confronted with criticism about the slow federal response to the coronavirus crisis, President Trump often boasts about his Jan. 31 decision to restrict travel from China, claiming he saved thousands of lives.

“Nobody wanted that to happen,” he said Wednesday about the travel ban.  “Everybody thought it was just unnecessary to do it.  And if we didn’t do that, thousands and thousands of people would have died, more than what’s happened.”

But as Jeffrey Levi, a public health expert at George Washington University, put it, “To the degree that it bought us time, we did not take advantage of that time.”

Levi told the Los Angeles Times that the administration should have begun widespread testing, improved medical surveillance systems, begun preparing hospitals and ordered emergency production of masks and ventilators “so we wouldn’t be in the difficult position we’re in today.”

Chris Beyrer, a professor of epidemiology and international health at Johns Hopkins University, said Trump issued his order too late to make a difference because coronavirus infections were already reported in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Toronto, as well as 26 other countries.

Any gains from the travel ban were lost in “the crucial early days and weeks of spread by our lack of testing, limited contact tracing, and failure to impose rapid travel and movement restrictions where cases were identified to limit clusters,” he said.

You hear the same thing from one expert after another.  We all know by now.  Trump minimized the danger of the pandemic until March 13, when he declared a national emergency – “two very big words” – to free up $50 billion in federal resources to deal with the crisis even as he denied any responsibility for the slow response.

And he’s lied constantly about when testing was widely available.

--Canada attacked a U.S. proposal to deploy troops along the undefended joint border to help fight the spread of coronavirus, saying the idea was unnecessary and would damage relations.  Speaking at the White House, Trump appeared to lack details on the possible troop deployment and said he would look into the matter.  An official told Reuters that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is stressed on the northern border because virtually all patrol officers and border crossing officials were shifted to the southern border.  The proposal was shelved.

--Trump tweets:

“The Lamestream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP.  We will be stronger than ever before!”

“I hear that Fake News CNN just reported that I am isolated in the White House, wondering out loud, ‘when will life return to normal?’ Does anybody really believe that?  There was no leak, they made it up – they are CORRUPT & FAKE NEWS…

“….I have been packed all day with meetings, I have no time for stupidity.  We’re working around the clock to KEEP AMERICA SAFE!”

“Congratulations to Prime Minister Abe of Japan, and the IOC, on their very wise decision to present the Olympics in 2021.  It will be a great success, and I look forward to being there!”

“It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world.  They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus…is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form.  They are working closely with us to get rid of it.  WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!”

[Trump stopped using the term “Chinese virus.”]

“I watch and listen to the Fake News, CNN, MSDNC, ABC, NBC, CBS, some of FOX (desperately & foolishly pleading to be politically correct), the @nytimes, & the @washingtonpost, and all I see is hatred of me at any cost.  Don’t they understand that they are destroying themselves?”

Wall Street

The World Trade Organization’s chief said on Wednesday that projections show the economic downturn and job losses caused by the pandemic would be worse than the 2008 recession.

“This pandemic will inevitably have an enormous impact on the economy,” director-general Roberto Azevedo said in a message filmed from his home. 

Today, the IMF said the global economy is already in recession.

In a very rare interview on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated the Fed would provide essentially unlimited lending to support the economy as long as it is damaged by the viral outbreak.

Powell told Savannah Guthrie the central bank’s efforts are focused on helping the economy recover quickly once the threat has passed.

The Chair acknowledged that the economy “may well be” in a recession but said that this is a unique downturn in that it was caused by efforts to control the disease.  The economy itself was strong before the outbreak began, he said.

“If we get the virus spread under control fairly quickly, then economic activity can resume, and we want to make that rebound as vigorous as possible,” Powell said.

Powell said the Fed’s ability to lend is somewhat constrained by the amount of capital provided by the Treasury to offset any credit losses.  He said the Fed can lend $10 for every $1 of cash that the Treasury provides.

The economic rescue bill approved by the Senate early Thursday includes $425 billion that the Treasury could use to backstop the Fed.  That would allow the Fed to boost its lending programs to an astronomical $4.25 trillion.

When asked if the Fed would run out of ammunition to support the economy, Powell said no.

“When it comes to this lending, we’re not going to run out of ammunition. That doesn’t happen,” he said.

Powell said the Fed’s policies will likely have their greatest impact when the economy does start to rebound, which he said could happen in the second half.

“When the economy begins to rebound, then we’ll be there to make sure that rebound is as strong as possible,” Powell said.

Monday, the Fed rolled out a series of sweeping new programs designed to shore up large and small businesses and keep markets functioning.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said during the extraordinary summit of G20 leaders Thursday: “The epidemic has hit global production and demand in every way, and countries need to leverage and coordinate their macro policies and prevent the world economy from falling into recession.  Fiscal and monetary policies must be implemented effectively, coordination of financial regulations must be strengthened, and (countries) have to work jointly to safeguard the stability of the global industrial supply chain.”

Thursday morning, the Labor Department then reported the number of American workers filing new claims for jobless benefits last week rose to 3.28 million from 282,000 the week before.  This level is not just the worst in the 53-year history of the series, but the worst week in 2009, when the job market was reeling, was 665,000.

And the 3.28 million number doesn’t reflect all those pushed out of jobs last week. Many state labor departments are so inundated with people filing for claims that not everyone has been able to get through.  It also doesn’t include freelance and gig workers who don’t qualify for benefits, although some of the changes in the following change that.

The true scope of the job losses won’t be known for some time.

So the Senate passed a massive coronavirus ‘stimulus’/relief bill, $2.2 trillion, that sends cash directly to most adults in a bid to put a hole in the dyke. 

The House then passed it by unanimous voice vote today after Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie forced hundreds of lawmakers to return to the House chamber for the vote after indicating he would raise a point of order that fewer than 50 percent of lawmakers were present as required.

It was an outrageous move putting everyone at risk all over again to become infected, with one lawmaker bellowing “f—k you!” at him.  President Trump fumed against Massie Friday morning, calling him a “third rate Grandstander” and adding: “throw Massie out of the Republican Party!”

Anyway, the package authorizes $1,200 checks for all adults ($500 more per child) who earn up to $75,000 and creates enormous loan programs for businesses.

A generous boost of $600 per week in unemployment pay, controversial to some Republican senators, presented a final road bump as some unemployed would receive more than 100 percent of their prior pay, but in the end it passed 96-0.

The package creates a $500 billion loan program run by the Treasury Department to assist businesses struggling to stay afloat.  Loans to President Trump’s businesses and those of members of Congress, other officials and their families are banned.

There is a separate $350 billion loan program for small businesses which offers to forgive money lent to businesses that avoid layoffs.

And there’s a $150bn boost in hospital funding and a $150bn fund for state and local governments, both pushed for by Democrats.

But aside from the massive amounts of (further) debt our children will be inheriting, the real story at the corporate and small business level is yet to be determined.  Of course much depends on the length of our national, and global, lockdown, but I’ll give you an example of what we are all facing.

New York mega-landlord SL Green is trying to shed a package of loans tied to city real estate assets in an effort to raise cash, as reported by Crain’s New York Business.   The company is marketing about $150 million worth of debt for sale.

While SL Green said this was business as usual, and that the loans in the package were performing, the sale comes as several lenders in the real estate market are experiencing major tumult.

SL Green is one of New York City’s largest commercial landlords and retail and other franchises are obviously being wiped out.

Nationally, mortgage markets have showed signs of crumbling, as companies struggle to sell debt and the entire financial system begins to seize up.

In one of the most dire warnings, real estate investor Tom Barrack said Monday that the U.S. commercial-mortgage market is on the brink of collapse and predicted a “domino effect” of consequences if banks and the government don’t take prompt action to keep borrowers from defaulting.

“You have to support the employers” so they can keep paying their rents and employees, he said.  “When commerce stops and they can’t pay rent and they can’t pay interest on the debt, and then the banks and the intermediaries can’t pay their investors, it all collapses.”

Winifred Cisar, head of credit strategy at Wells Fargo Securities, summed up the situation.

“The biggest thing that people are really worried about in the short term across the credit markets is there’s just been this massive rush for liquidity.  It’s been the sell-everything strategy in the markets to raise cash, while issuers on the corporate side of things are drawing down revolvers, taking out their delayed-draw term loans, at basically a record pace.  So the basic question for corporate credit is: is there enough liquidity in the system to actually back up all these revolver drawdowns and all of the cash raising by investors?”

Lawmakers and the administration hope the $2 trillion relief package helps prevent this, along with the extraordinary Fed response.

Lastly, we did have some economic data this week, largely irrelevant, as the impact of Covid-19 was minimal during the various reporting periods.

February new-home sales came in at a stronger-than-expected 765,000 annualized units, with January revised sharply higher to 800,000.

February durable goods (big-ticket items) came in better than forecast, 1.2%, but -0.6% ex-transportation, and -0.8% on the core capital goods metric.

February personal income was a strong 0.6%, and consumption (consumer spending) 0.2%.  The Fed’s key inflation barometer, the personal consumption expenditures index, was 1.8%, ex-food and energy.

And we had a final reading on fourth-quarter GDP, unchanged at 2.1%.

So the GDP figures for Q2 2019 thru Q4 2019 were 2.0%, 2.1%, 2.1%.

As for the first quarter, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer fell to 2.7% from 3.1%, but this does not reflect March activity.  We get our first official look at Q1 GDP end of April.  The ISM readings on manufacturing and the service sector next week will provide some early clues as to the March damage.

But back to the checks many Americans are supposed to receive in about three weeks, you are asking the IRS, with its 1960s-era computer systems, to accomplish this.  In 2001, the IRS needed more than six weeks to issue the first rebates authorized by President George W. Bush’s tax cut.  In 2008, the IRS issued its first payments to fight the Great Recession nearly three months after Bush signed off on them.

Europe and Asia

IHS Markit released its flash PMI readings for March in the eurozone (EA19).  The composite for the region was 31.4 (50 being the dividing between growth and contraction), a record low.  Manufacturing was 44.8 (92-month low), services 28.4, record low.

Germany had a flash composite of 37.2, with manufacturing at 45.7 and services at a record-low 34.5.

France’s flash comp for March was 30.7 (record low), manufacturing 42.9, services 29.0 (record low).

Separately, the UK’s flash comp was 37.1 (record low); manufacturing 48.0, services 35.7 (record low).

Chris Williamson, chief economist, IHS Markit:

“Business activity across the eurozone collapsed in March to an extent far exceeding that seen even at the height of the global financial crisis.  Steep downturns were seen in France, Germany and across the rest of the euro area as governments took increasingly tough measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“The March PMI is indicative of GDP slumping at a quarterly rate of around 2%, and clearly there’s scope for the downturn to intensify further as even more draconian policies to deal with the virus are potentially implemented in coming months.

“Demand for many goods and services has fallen dramatically, while near-record supply chain delays have stymied production and business closures mean an increasingly large proportion of the economy is being mothballed.

“Employment is already falling at a rate not seen since July 2009 as despair about the outlook broadens.  Business sentiment about the year ahead has plunged to the gloomiest on record, suggesting policymakers’ efforts to date have failed to brighten the darkening picture.”

Meanwhile, banks across Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain, are flooded with applications from customers seeking loan extensions, debt relief and renewal of credit lines.  Threats of default and bureaucratic hurdles slowing what was meant to be a swift infusion of cash for hard-pressed businesses threatens Europe’s efforts to rescue its flatlining economy.

One last note, needless to say, Brexit negotiations remain off for now.

Turning to Asia…while China proudly reopens the country after more than two months of imposing quarantines,  the growing evidence is that it is a slow process.  For many Chinese factories, demand for their products has evaporated.  At the same time, Chinese consumers are reluctant to spend over worries about what they have lost and what the future holds.  Various business surveys show corporate revenues and profits contracting at a faster pace than ever.

But People’s Bank of China Deputy Governor Chen Yulu told reporters in Beijing this week, “Economic indicators will likely show significant improvement in the second quarter and the Chinese economy will return to potential output level rather swiftly.”

No it won’t.   For starters, you need a buyer on the other side.

Next week we’ll get the PMI readings for China’s manufacturing and service sectors.

We had flash PMI readings for Japan this week, the March composite at 35.8, manufacturing 41.8, services 32.7.  Sickening.

South Korea reported exports rose 10.0% in the first 20 days of March year-on-year as the lockdowns across the world fueled demand for teleconferencing technology and components.  Outbound shipments for semiconductors, the nation’s major export, jumped 20.3% year-over-year, according to the Korea Customs Service.

“Demand from cloud computing firms have boosted sales of server chips, while an increase in telecommuting in the United States and China has also been a main drive to huge server demand,” a trade ministry official said.

Singapore announced its economy suffered its biggest contraction in a decade in the first quarter, down 2.2% from a year earlier, preliminary figures showed.  On a quarterly basis, GDP shrank 10.6%.  The trade ministry has cut its 2020 GDP forecast range to -4% to -1%, from a previous range of -0.5% to 1.5%.

Street Bytes

--The volatility the past five weeks has been remarkable.  Following are the weekly percentage moves for the Dow Jones.

-12.4%, +1.8%, -10.4%, -17.3%, +12.8%

Tuesday, the Dow rose 2,112 points, 11.4%, its best point-gain ever, best percentage gain since 1933.  The S&P 500 rose 9.4% for its best one-day gain since October 2008.  Nasdaq rose 8.1%.

On the week, aside from the Dow’s 12.8% gain, the S&P rose 10.3% and Nasdaq 9.1%.  Despite the big moves, the Dow and S&P have still lost over 20% on the year, Nasdaq 16%.

It’s almost quarter end and in a few weeks earnings reports will start flooding out.  Except now the SEC is allowing companies to delay their reports, for good reason, so we’ll see how many hold off for a spell.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. -0.02%  2-yr. 0.25%  10-yr. 0.69%  30-yr. 1.27%

Despite the big rally in equities, investors piled back into bonds, globally, the U.S. 10-year at a record weekly closing low.  The yield on Germany’s 10-year bund fell from -0.33% to -0.48%.  Italy’s 10-year, despite the fact the government said its debt-to-GDP ratio would easily rise to 145%, saw its 10-year yield fall to 1.32%.  Greece’s fell from 2.32% to 1.47%.

--Oil prices fell sharply at week’s end, to $21.63 on WTI, on renewed demand fears, with the International Energy Agency warning global demand was in “free fall” amid the lockdowns.  The IEA said demand could drop as much as 20 million barrels a day, or 15% to 20%.

The U.S. is pressing Saudi Arabia to restrain its scheduled oil-production boost.

--Chevron Corp. will cut capital spending by $4 billion this year with the massive demand destruction from the worsening global economy and an unprecedented slide in oil prices.  Included in the spending cuts will be halving it in the Permian Basin, the top U.S. shale field.

Total capex across the industry in the shale sector will fall from $107bn to $64bn this year, said Rystad Energy, a consultancy – and the drop could be much steeper unless oil prices rise significantly.

--Royal Dutch Shell on Monday said it would cut spending by $5 billion.  Exxon Mobil has not released its spending plans but said cuts would be “significant.”

--Spain’s Repsol said on Wednesday it would slash investments by 26% this year to limit the damage caused by sliding oil and gas prices and the epidemic.

--Occidental Petroleum Corp. is cutting salaries for its U.S. employees by up to 30% in a bid to slash expenses, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reviewed an internal company email.

CEO Vicki Hollub’s salary is being cut 81%, employee perks and bonuses ending in April.

Oxy is also cutting capital spending this year by about $800 million, on top of a previously announced $1.7 billion cut.  The company now plans to spend roughly half of its original 2020 budget of about $5.3 billion.

Occidental, owing to an ill-timed $38 billion acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. last year, is massively in debt.

--The U.S. oil rig count slumped by 40 to 624 over the week ended March 27 to the lowest level since March 2017, according to data released today by Baker Hughes.

In Canada, the oil rig count plunged by 34 to just 18.

--Global automotive sales are expected to drop 12% this year because the effects of Covid-19 are weighing on demand, according to IHS Markit.

The 12% slide would be “considerably worse than the two-year peak-to-trough decline of 8% that was seen during the 2008 to 2009 global recession,” said IHS Markit’s Colin Couchman.

--U.S. auto sales will fall by an estimated 15.3% decline to 14.4 million vehicles in 2020 as the virus wreaks havoc on the industry.  In March alone, research site Edmunds is looking for vehicle sales to decline 35.5% compared with March 2019.

Covid-19 poses the biggest threat to the auto industry since the Great Recession, which saw General Motors and Chrysler go bankrupt.

After the Great Recession, the industry had some terrific years, soaring from a low of 10.4 million in 2009 to more than 17 million from 2015 through 2019.

Showrooms in my area are closed, with service departments open.

--Ford Motor Co. announced plans on Thursday to shore up its finances amid the pandemic, aiming to generate cash by resuming production next month of its most profitable vehicles like the F-150 full-sized pickups while saving money through further cost cuts.

General Motors and Fiat Chrysler previously announced they would shut their North American operations until, at last word, April 6.

The UAW is concerned with Ford’s move to restart production due to the safety issue.

--Tesla is slashing 75% of its on-site staff at its Storey County, Nev., battery plant due to the pandemic.

--McDonald’s said Wednesday the pandemic could have a “material” negative impact on its financial results, per an SEC filing.  “Substantially all” of its U.S. restaurants are only operating via delivery, drive-thru, and take-away, while several markets such as France, Italy, Spain and the UK have closed all restaurants.

--Billionaire Tilman Fertitta laid off roughly 40,000 workers at his casino (Golden Nugget), hotel and restaurant empire to limit the economic damage caused by government-imposed shut-downs.  Fertitta, also the owner of the Houston Rockets, has hundreds of restaurants under the Landry’s Inc. umbrella, such as Bubba Gump Shrimp and Del Frisco’s.

“I think what we are doing with the shut-down is good but in a few weeks people will need to be around people,” Fertitta said in an interview with Bloomberg.  “Otherwise you are going to go into an economic crisis that is going to take us years to dig ourselves out of.”

Fertitta is hoping casinos and restaurants could be allowed to operate at 30% to 40% of capacity to soften the impact of the restrictions and allow companies to stay in business.

--The New York City hotel industry continues to take it on the chin over virus containment measures, as data compiled by STR Global shows an 80% drop in occupancy compared to this time last year.  The 80.5% rate is just slightly less than the drop in San Francisco, -80.7%.

On Wednesday, the Four Seasons Hotel New York announced it would open its rooms to nurses, doctors and medical personnel at no charge.  The hotel is located a few blocks from Weill Cornell Medical Center.

--Last week I told you New York City comptroller Scott Stringer was estimating the initial loss in revenues from the shutdown in Gotham at $3.2 billion, for starters.  This week, New York State Budget Director Robert Mujica said the state expects gross revenues to shrink by as much as $15 billion.

This week Stringer increased his estimate to $6 billion.

--California’s hotel industry is expected to lose more than 125,000 jobs in the next few weeks, more than in any other state, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Assoc., a trade group.  California has the most hotel jobs – about 285,000 – in the country.

To break even, hotels generally need to have an occupancy rate of 40% to 60%, depending on the type of hotel.

--One of America’s more popular restaurants, The Cheesecake Factory, cannot afford April’s rent at any of its nearly 300 locations due to the financial strain caused by the pandemic.

CEO David Overton reportedly notified the company’s landlords of their inability to pay in a letter, having been forced to close all their locations.

“The severe decrease in restaurant traffic has severely decreased our cash flow and inflicted a tremendous financial blow to our business,” Overton wrote.

Other major retail and restaurant chains, including Mattress Firm and Subway, are telling landlords they will withhold or slash rents in the coming months.

--Target said traffic and sales surged this month as consumers flocked to the retailer to stock up on goods during the pandemic.

Comparable sales rose 3.8% in February vs. last year, and for March to date, they had risen more than 20%, the retailer said in a statement.  Comp sales in essentials and food and beverage surged more than 50%, while apparel and accessories are more than 20% lower, Target said.

Target, like every other corporation, withdrew its guidance for sales growth, operating income and earnings for the quarter and 2020.

Target said it was raising pay by $2 an hour for its store and distribution center hourly workers until “at least” May 2.  It’s also offering paid leave options, the combination of which will increase costs.

--Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said on Tuesday he does not want the U.S. Treasury to take an equity stake in the planemaker as a condition of government loans as credit markets freeze amid the pandemic.

“I don’t have a need for an equity stake,” Calhoun told Fox Business.  “If they force it, we just look at all the other options and we’ve got plenty of them.”

Boeing is seeking $60 billion in U.S. government loans for itself and the aerospace industry.

“There are a lot of options for us in the private markets etcetera, but the credit markets have to be open,” Calhoun told CNBC, noting that Boeing “has $15 billion in the bank.”

Calhoun said he wants the government to allow Boeing to borrow funds and the government would collect interest.  “We want to pay everything back,” he said.

Last week, S&P downgraded Boeing’s credit and warned the coronavirus outbreak could hit Boeing’s cash flow further, as airline customers cancel flights and defer aircraft orders due to a plunge in travel demand.

Separately, Boeing said it would suspend airliner production in the Seattle area (its plant in Everett, Wash.) for 14 days starting Wednesday.  The factory produces the 787 Dreamliner and  other widebody aircraft.  Some workers in the plant tested positive, one worker dying.  36,000 are employed there.

Related to the above, General Electric is cutting its aviation unit workforce by 10%, or 2,600 employees.

--Singapore Airlines cut capacity 96% and ground almost all of its fleet, the carrier said on Monday.  Earlier, Cathay Pacific Airways also slashed capacity by 96% in April and May.

--An American Airlines flight attendant died Monday from coronavirus.

American said today it would suspend 60% to 70% of domestic capacity and 80% to 90% of international capacity in April, and 70% to 80% of domestic capacity and 80% to 90% of international capacity in May, compared with the same months a year earlier.  That kind of says it all.

--The stimulus bill adds $14 billion to the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corp spending authority and authorizes an additional $9.5 billion to help livestock producers, dairy farmers, specialty crop farmers and local agricultural groups.  The CCC, which was established during the Great Depression nearly a century ago, has been tapped by the Trump administration for nearly $30 billion in recent years to compensate farmers and assist the sector due to the U.S.-China trade wars.

--Caterpillar Inc., the world’s biggest construction and mining equipment maker, said it was suspending operations at some facilities and withdrawing its 2020 outlook amid supply constraints, adding it might close further plants.

--Farm equipment maker John Deere & Co pulled back its 2020 earnings guidance.

--The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics until 2021 has important ramifications for media giants Comcast Corp. and Discovery Inc., depriving them of at least a $billion in ad dollars this year, aside from the Games being a launchpad for other programming.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal, which has the U.S. rights to the Olympics, said it sold nearly $1.3 billion in ad revenue.  And it’s not like you just say, well, it will see that much next year when, hopefully, the Games take place.  NBCU will have to renegotiate the deal.  If you were a business that manages to survive the pandemic, you know you will be cutting back on the number of spots you buy, let alone want to pay lower prices.  [Discovery, which paid $1.45 billion in 2015 for the rights to show the Games in Europe between 2018 and 2024, declined to say how much advertising it had sold.]

As for Tokyo, the loss begins at $12 billion, the original cost to stage the Games, with an audit months ago saying it was closer to $20 billion, plus there were closing/rescheduling costs of an estimated $5 billion. 

--Facebook Inc. said usage of its products was skyrocketing, as you can imagine, but increased activity won’t shield the company from the online-advertising pullback roiling Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue alike.

In Italy, for example, with its severe lockdown, group video calling is up by more than 1000% from a month ago and usage of all Facebook apps is up 70%.

Facebook also owns Instagram and the popular messaging service WhatsApp.

The company didn’t provide earnings guidance, but said it was taking steps to increase capacity and reduce the strain that heightened video-calling and calling traffic puts on the communications structure.

Google parent Alphabet Inc. is in the same boat, making almost all of its money from online advertising in areas like search, maps and video, and no doubt its biggest clients will be pulling back.  No one should be surprised at the level of cutbacks.

--The Federal Reserve on Tuesday tapped a division of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, to manage billions of dollars in bond and mortgage-backed security purchases as the central bank works to cushion the economic and financial fallout from the crisis.

BlackRock’s Financial Markets Advisory unit will act as the investment manager for three new facilities: two Fed-backed vehicles that will buy corporate bonds and a program that will buy mortgage-backed securities issued by U.S. government agencies.

--Lululemon Athletica Inc. beat analysts’ estimates for quarterly results on Thursday, lifted by strong holiday season demand, but the athletic apparel maker did not provide full-year guidance amid the uncertainty.

With stores closed, the company is at least seeing stay-at-home consumers buying more yoga mats and blocks.

Lululemon has, however, reopened its 40 stores in China.

--Gold has been on an incredibly wild ride and the market is facing a historic squeeze as the global pandemic shuts down the supply chain at a time when investors were piling into it as a safe haven.

As reported by Bloomberg: “At issue is whether there will be enough gold available in New York to deliver against futures contracts traded on the Comex in New York with metals refiners shutting down and efforts to contain the virus halting planes.  As of Monday, open interest in the April gold contract stood at 195,604 contracts, equivalent to 19.6 million ounces.  The total deliverable stocks in Comex warehouses were 8.7 million ounces.

With metals refiners in Europe being forced shut, that impacts the ability of banks and traders to ship supplies from other locations to New York.

Switzerland’s refining industry, a major hub for processing gold into bars and coins, has largely shut down because of the virus.  Flights are being grounded globally.

--Looking back at history, per Ben Levisohn at Barron’s, “During the 1973 recession, GDP fell 3.4%, while joblessness rose from 4% to 9%.  In the first leg of the Great Depression, real output slid almost 30%, while unemployment jumped from 3% to nearly 25%. During a later leg of that awful downturn, many businesses and individuals went bankrupt. Banks failed, and the economy took more than a decade – and a world war – to recover.  It took 25 years – until 1954 – for stocks to return to the peak they hit in 1929.”

But, yes, Covid-19 is totally different.

--With much of America at home, television news viewership is up bigly.  Cable and broadcast news always receive a ratings bump when there is a crisis, but with the pandemic there is viewership at all hours of the day.

For example, the Fox News broadcast from the White House on Tuesday with President Trump and other officials discussing the crisis drew an audience of 4.4 million, the largest ever for a cable news town hall program, even though it aired at noon Eastern time when there are typically fewer people available to watch.

Fox News had its most-watched week of 2020 from March 16-22, with an average of 2.5 million throughout the day, a 73% increase over a comparable week last year.  It was followed by CNN’s 1.55 million viewers, which was up 151% from last year; and MSNBC, which drew 1.48 million for a 45% gain.

The three broadcast network evening newscasts are seeing their highest viewing levels in more than 15 years.  Last week, they averaged 32 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

“ABC World News Tonight with David Muir” and “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” locked up the entire 10 most-watched programs during March 16-22, including all prime-time shows ranked by Nielsen.

Muir’s program averaged 12.5 million viewers for the week – a level not seen in 20 years, while Holt scored 12 million viewers.  “CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell” drew 7.6 million.

A lot of the growth has been among younger viewers, who have been abandoning TV in droves.

“CBS Sunday Morning,” airing from a bare-bones studio in Los Angeles because the New York one was closed, still attracted 6.82 million viewers, the most since 1994.

“Face the Nation” had its biggest audience since Feb. 1991.  NBC’s “Meet the Press” had its highest since December 2008. Both of these in the 5 million to 5.1m level.  [Stephen Battaglio / Los Angeles Times]

Foreign Affairs

Afghanistan: Militants stormed a temple belonging to the Sikh religious minority in central Kabul, with at least 25 dying in the ensuing battle with security forces.  Two years ago, Islamic State targeted a Sikh gathering in Afghanistan, killing 19.  The Taliban denied involvement in Wednesday’s attack.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to salvage the U.S.-led peace effort, meeting with Taliban officials at a Qatari military base after visiting Kabul to try to end a feud between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political foe.

This extraordinary trip amid the coronavirus crisis shows just how deep the concern within the administration is over the stalled peace process, a month after the signing of a deal in Doha.  Pompeo said Wednesday after his failed attempt to mediate the feud between Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah.

“I’ll be honest, it was very frustrating,” though he said efforts to bring all sides together would continue.

Israel: Out of nowhere, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be retaining power.  Not that this in and of itself is surprising, but he’s doing so as his chief rival, Benny Gantz, reversed his prior stance and signaled that he would be open to serving in Netanyahu’s government as parliament speaker.

Gantz ran against the prime minister in another inconclusive election and, given the first chance to form a government, vowed to bring Netanyahu’s long rule to an end.

“These are unusual times and they call for unusual decisions,” Gantz said in a speech to the Knesset yesterday.  “This is not a time for infighting and mudslinging.  This is not the time for controversy and divisions.  This is the time for responsible, committed, patriotic leadership.  Let’s join hands and get Israel out of this crisis.”  Gantz’s supporters are furious.

Yes, Netanyahu gains a record fourth term, further enhancing his reputation for political genius.

Gantz, by his move, now has a chance to replace the PM down the road, though his move immediately forced the breakup of his centrist Blue and White party. 

Netanyahu had refused to step aside while he defends himself against bribery, fraud and corruption charges.  And with the coronavirus crisis, he has resorted to rule by emergency decree, including shutting down the courts as his trial neared.

The government opened up a war bunker in the Jerusalem hills to help coordinate its campaigns against the spread of the pandemic.  The bunker, called the “National Management Center,” was built more than a decade ago because of concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and missile exchanges with Hezbollah and Hamas.

Netanyahu warned one million Israelis could be infected with Covid-19 and 10,000 could die.  As of Thursday there were eight deaths here.

Iran: Tehran conceded the death toll from the coronavirus was at 2,378, though it could be far higher.  Officials said on Wednesday that there was fear of a second outbreak as many Iranians ignored travel bans and the prohibition of gatherings in parks during the Persian New Year holiday period.  President Hassan Rouhani banned any new trips between cities.

Separately, Iranian media reports that nearly 300 people have been killed and more than 1,000 sickened by ingesting methanol across the country; drinking alcohol banned in Iran.  Fake remedies are spreading across social media.

“The virus is spreading and people are just dying off, and I think they are even less aware of the fact that there are other dangers around,” said Dr. Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologist in Oslo, Norway, who studies methanol poisoning and fears Iran’s outbreak could be even worse than reported.  “When they keep drinking this, there’s going to be more people poisoned.”

Turkey: Prosecutors charged 20 suspects over the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018.  An indictment accused former Saudi Deputy Intelligence Chief Ahmad Asiri and former royal aide Saud al-Qahtani with instigating the murder.

China: President Trump held a phone call with President Xi late Thursday night and Xi told Trump that he hopes the United States will take substantive action to improve bilateral ties, China’s foreign ministry said.

Xi also told Trump that cooperation between their countries was the only correct choice and China was willing to support the United States in dealing with the coronavirus, according to an account of the conversation published by the Chinese ministry.

But with Trump and other top U.S. officials accusing China of a lack of transparency on the virus, Xi reiterated to Trump that China has been open and transparent.

Xi also chided U.S. officials, including Trump, for repeated references to Covid-19 as “the Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus.”  Xi said: “The virus knows no boundaries and ethnicity, and it is our common enemy. The international community can only defeat it through working together.

“The relationship of China and the U.S. is at a critical juncture.  Cooperation is mutually beneficial to both nations, while fighting will hurt.  Cooperation is the only correct choice.

“It is hoped that the United States will take concrete actions to improve China-U.S. relations, and the two sides will work together to strengthen cooperation in areas such as epidemic control,” he said, per state broadcaster CCTV.

In a tweet, Trump said he had just finished a very good conversation with Xi.  “Discussed in great detail the coronavirus that is ravaging large parts of our planet.  China has been through much and has developed a strong understanding of the virus.  We are working closely together.  Much respect!”

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Pompeo sharpened his criticism of Beijing and their handling of the outbreak, saying the ruling Communist Party was still denying the world information it needs to prevent further cases.

“My concern is that this coverup, this disinformation that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in, is still denying the world the information it needs to that we can prevent further cases or something like this from recurring again.

Pompeo also accused Iran and Russia of waging disinformation campaigns of their own.

“The disinformation campaign from Russia and Iran as well as China continues.  They’re talking about it coming from the U.S. Army and they’re saying maybe it began in Italy, all things to deflect responsibility.”

“The time will come for recriminations,” Pompeo added, saying it was important for the world to know now what was really going on.

Last weekend, in an interview with “Axios on HBO,” China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, reaffirmed his opposition to promoting theories that the virus originated in an American military lab, breaking with his own foreign ministry.

Cui said he stood by his Feb. 9 statement that it would be “crazy” to spread such theories.

“Such speculation will help nobody.  It’s very harmful.  Eventually, we must have an answer to  where the virus originally came from.  But, this is the job for the scientists to do, not for diplomats.”

Cui is appointed directly by President Xi and holds a vice-ministerial rank in China’s political hierarchy.

Finally, Michael R. Gordon / New York Times:

“The Marine Corps is undertaking its most sweeping transformation in decades, pivoting from a focus on fighting insurgents in the Middle East to developing the ability to hop from island to island in the western Pacific to bottle up the Chinese fleet.

“The 10-year plan to revamp the Corps follows years of classified U.S. wargames that revealed China’s missile and naval forces to be eroding American military advantages in the region.

“ ‘China, in terms of military capability, is the pacing threat,’ Gen. David Berger, the Marine Corps commandant, said in an interview.  ‘If we did nothing, we would be passed.’

“To reinvent themselves as a naval expeditionary force within budget limits, the Marines plan to get rid of all of their tanks, cut back on their aircraft and shrink in total numbers from 189,000 to as few as 170,000, Gen. Berger said.

“ ‘I have come to the conclusion that we need to contract the size of the Marine Corps to get quality,’ he said….

“While the U.S. focused on the Middle East (the past 20 years, after decades of preparing for combat with Soviet forces), China and Russia worked on systems to thwart the American military’s ability to assemble forces near their regions and command them in battle.  If war broke out, U.S. officials concluded, China could fire hundreds of missiles at U.S. and allies’ air bases, ports and command centers throughout the Pacific, jam the U.S. military’s GPS, attack American satellite systems and use its air defenses to keep U.S. warplanes at bay.”

North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s boys fired two more short-range ballistic missiles last Saturday towards the Sea of Japan, the projectiles flying 255 miles, according to the South Korean military.

A few days later, President Trump sent a letter to Kim offering help fighting the coronavirus.  According to Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, the letter also included a plan for advancing ties between the countries, per a statement published by state-run Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea continues to maintain it has seen no cases of infection, though the U.S. has said it has seen evidence the nation has been affected.

In her statement, Kim Yo Jong said the letter was “a good judgment and proper action.  Fortunately, the personal relations between the two top leaders are not as far away as the relations of confrontation between the two countries.”

Russia: This country has seemingly been in a state of denial regarding Covid-19, but President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he hoped Russia would defeat it in 2-3 months if it imposed tough measures, as authorities suspended international flights, ordered most shops in Moscow to shut and halted some church services. 

Russia suddenly had 840 cases as of Thursday.

Citing the coronavirus, Putin postponed a nationwide vote on constitutional changes that would allow him to extend his rule due to what he said was the worsening global situation.  The vote had been planned for April 22.

Separately, as part of a theme of mine from last week, the failure of the United States to project global leadership during the crisis has resulted in China and Russia filling the void.  Both nations very publicly began flying medical help to Italy, in Moscow’s case an operation labeled “From Russia with Love.”  The Kremlin and Putin have been courting Italy’s leaders for years.

China was the first to deliver, sending a shipment of ventilators, along with 300 Chinese intensive-care doctors and nurses to staff beleaguered hospitals.  Italy’s leaders were effusive in their praise of Beijing.

Chad / Nigeria: Islamist militants Boko Haram still carry a potent punch, killing 47 Nigerian soldiers in an ambush on Monday, and then the same day killing 92 Chadian soldiers in an attack on an island in Lake Chad, which is the region where forces from Chad, Nigeria and Niger have been fighting the insurgents for the last five years.

According to the UN, the Boko Haram insurgency began a decade ago in northeastern Nigeria and the ensuing violence, which spread to neighboring countries, has resulted in more than 30,000 dead, while forcing two million from their homes.

Random Musings

--Presidential tracking polls

Gallup: 49% approval of President Trump’s job performance, 45% disapproval; 92% of Republicans approve, 43% of independents (Mar. 13-22).  The numbers improved solidly for the president since the Mar. 2-13 survey.
Rasmussen: 46% approval, 52% disapproval (Mar. 27).  Unchanged vs. last Friday.

As part of the latest Gallup survey, 60% give the president generally positive reviews for his handling of the pandemic, 38% disapproving.  94% of Republicans, 60% of independents and 27% of Democrats approve of his response.

Historically, job approval has increased when the nation is under threat. Gallup notes that every president from FDR through George W. Bush saw their approval rating surge at least 10 points after a significant national event of this kind.  Bush’s 35-point increase after 9/11 is the most notable rally effect on record.

The aforementioned Reuters/Ipsos poll of Americans’ attitude towards the pandemic showed 53% saying they think the federal government is doing a good job, up 3 points from a week earlier.

Trump’s overall approval rating is 44%, up 4% since the last survey.

A Washington Post/ABC News survey released today had Trump’s approval at 48%, up five points since February.  [After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush’s approval rating surged from 55% to 86% in Post-ABC polling.]

58% in this poll say President Trump did not move quickly enough to control the pandemic and 38% say he moved at the right speed.

A Fox News poll released Thursday had Trump at 48% approval, up a point from February, while 51% disapprove.

51% approve of President Trump’s response to coronavirus.  77% approve of Dr. Fauci.

--Joe Biden rejected any idea of an April debate with Bernie Sanders, signaling Wednesday that he views the Democratic nominating contest as essentially over.

“I think we’ve had enough debate,” Biden said during a livestreamed news conference.  “I think we should get on with this.”

Sanders then responded that he wanted a face-off because it would help inform Americans as they confront the coronavirus.

“One of the things that I think the people want, especially in this unprecedented crisis in modern American history, is to hear the ideas of candidates as to how we got into this disaster,” Sanders said Wednesday on CNN.  “So I think we need a good debate as to where we go, not only just now but in the future.”

The Democratic National Committee had previously said a debate would be held sometime in April, though none has been planned and Biden’s near-insurmountable lead in delegates has called into question why Sanders remains in the race.

Last week, Sanders said he was “assessing” his campaign after a series of primary losses, but his advisers are saying now he won’t quit.

Separately, Biden said he needed to start vetting running mates “in a matter of weeks” and that he discussed the pick with former President Obama.  He told donors at a fundraising event held by telephone that his options will include at least six or seven women who will be subjected to background checks.

Regarding the idea of postponing the vote in November if the coronavirus is not fully contained by then, Biden said, “You know, we voted in the middle of the Civil War, we voted in the middle of World War One and Two.  The idea of postponing the electoral process seems to me out of the question.”

--Biden may regret having committed to a woman as running mate.  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has certainly garnered rave reviews for his coronavirus briefings and his national identity has soared.

--According to a Public Policy Poll of 896 North Carolina voters, half want Republican Sen. Richard Burr to resign after two Covid-19 related developments.  First, he gave a stark warning about the disease at a Feb. 27 private event that he has not repeated publicly, and, second, Senate financial-disclosure documents showed Burr and his wife sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his stock holdings in 33 separate transactions on Feb. 13, a week before the stock market began to tank.

Only 24% said Burr should remain in office.

--Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, in an op-ed Tuesday in USA TODAY, urged folks to stop “finger-wagging” at him for not self-quarantining while awaiting his coronavirus test results.

“I did not quarantine while awaiting a coronavirus test because I did not meet the criteria for quarantine.  In fact, I did not meet the current criteria for even being tested, much less quarantined.”

Paul added: “Instead of hounding people who got tested and then quarantined themselves, perhaps we need to broaden the testing and quit finger-wagging.”

Paul, who confirmed he tested positive for Covid-10 on Sunday, was blasted by his colleagues for spending a week interacting with them and aides, as well as using Capitol Hill facilities while awaiting his results.

Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, both of Utah, went into self-quarantine after being in proximity to Paul.

Paul had traveled extensively in the weeks prior to social distancing practices.  He also attended a March 7 charity ball at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum, where two attendees later tested positive.

But, he said, “I was not considered to be at risk since I never interacted with the two individuals, even from a distance, and was not recommended for testing by health officials.”

You’re an amazing jerk, Mr. Paul.  His fellow senators, Republican and Democrat, rightfully are super pissed.  Aside from working out at the gym, he then attended a number of Senate lunches while awaiting his results.

--Especially when you consider Senator Amy Klobuchar’s husband was hospitalized with the coronavirus.  The husband has a teaching job in Baltimore and was in Washington, DC, when he got sick.  Sen. Klobuchar was in Minnesota.  She said today he’s back home and improving, while she lives elsewhere in Washington.  What was clear from her tone in an interview with CNN is that it was dicey for a while.

--We know Antarctica is warming up, and one glacier, East Antarctica’s Denman glacier, has retreated nearly 3 miles in just 22 years, according to a study from scientists at the University of California-Irvine.

With concern the ground surface under the ice sheet could make it even more susceptible to a climate-driven collapse, “If fully thawed, the ice in Denman would cause sea levels worldwide to rise almost 5 feet,” the researchers said in a statement.

Greenland and Antarctica are now melting six times faster than in the 1990s.

In the United States almost 40% of the U.S. population lives in relatively high population-density coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion and hazards from storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Globally, eight of the world’s 10 largest cities are near a coast.

--America’s nonprofits are getting crushed in the coronavirus pandemic.  I imagine most of you belong to a little community organization as I am.  We do good work, but of course depend on fundraising and so much for holding golf outings in my area this spring.  Ours is in June and it’s possible the courses may reopen by then, but the local business community has been crushed, and these are the folks supporting the outing in times past.  Gone is that slug of money we then turn around and give back.

There are provisions in the Stimulus Bill that encourage charitable giving but, without reading the legislation yet, we need the local biz community to recover through their piece of the recovery program, small business loans, because we need to be able to go back to them at some point.

--America’s universities, and others in the Western World, are going to pay a huge price for the virus and the closing of borders, namely that with China.  Last year, more than 120,000 Chinese students enrolled in Britain; 200,000 in Australia; 400,000 at American universities…all paying full freight.

Schools have treated Chinese and other international students as “cash cows.”

--A 19th century Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, is known as the pioneer of hand-washing.  As reported by Meagan Flynn of the Washington Post: “He discovered the wonders of the now-basic hygienic practice as a way to stop the spread of infection in 1847, during an experiment in a Vienna hospital’s maternity ward….

“(In) his day, not even doctors cared to wash their hands.  Many didn’t care to heed Semmelweis’ warnings, either….

“He has been described as a martyr in life and a hero much later.  His advice was finally put to good use only after he died.”

“It’s unfortunate it takes a situation like the one we’re experiencing now for him to get his due,” Jordan H. Perlow, a Phoenix-based obstetrician who teaches at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, told the Post.  “It’s the kind of thing where, from the perspective of the year 2020, you look back and think, how could something as fundamental and basic and primitive as washing one’s hands be looked at in such a negative way?”

Semmelweis, born in Hungary, started working at Vienna’s General Hospital’s maternity clinic in 1846 after graduating from medical school.  He immediately became unsettled at the extraordinarily high maternal mortality rate in one of his wards.

“In the ward that was staffed by physicians and medical students, between 13 to 18 percent of new mothers were dying of a mysterious illness known as the childbed fever, or puerperal fever… By comparison, in the ward staffed by midwives, about 2 percent of women died of the fever.  No one knew what explained the extreme discrepancy.

“So Semmelweis started digging.  He scrutinized everything from the climate to the crowds at each maternity clinic, trying to pinpoint factors that might cause a spike in fever cases at one.  But the only obvious difference was the midwives.”

This is rather grotesque, but Semmelweis made a startling revelation.  “A fellow doctor died of what appeared to be a case of childbed fever after cutting himself with a scalpel that had been used to dissect one of the dead women’s bodies.

“The physicians, Semmelweis realized, had been dissecting infected cadavers during autopsies with their bare hands.  Then, with those same contaminated hands, they were delivering babies.

“ ‘They were inoculating their patients with bacteria,’ Perlow said.  ‘They were basically immersed in pus for hours.’

“Bacteria was not yet understood. But Semmelweis was getting close to his answer.  He believed the autopsy physicians must be carrying around invisible particles of ‘decaying animal-organic matter’ on their fingertips.  So he required anyone examining a woman in the labor room to wash their hands in a chlorinated lime solution before entering, especially those who just touched dead bodies.

“Within a matter of months, the results of this simple hygienic change were apparent and astounding.  The maternal mortality rate dropped to between 1 and 2 percent, matching that of the women in the midwives’ ward.”

The doctors didn’t believe Semmelweis because the prevailing view then about how diseases spread was that it did so by wafting toxic odors.  “If people cared about washing their hands in earlier decades, (said Dana Tulodziecki, a philosophy of science professor at Purdue University), it was because they were trying to get rid of the smell, not the particles.

“Now Semmelweis was claiming that those invisible particles on the hands of doctors were to blame.”

Nobody was pleased to hear this.  Especially because the midwives’ ward had a lower mortality rate and the doctors were supposed to know much more than them.

Semmelweis was let go in 1849.

---

Pray for the men and women of our armed forces…and all the fallen.

We pray for all our healthcare workers, police and EMTs.

God bless America.

---

Gold $1626
Oil $21.63

Returns for the week 3/23-3/27

Dow Jones  +12.8%  [21636]
S&P 500  +10.3%  [2541]
S&P MidCap  +13.0%
Russell 2000  +11.7%
Nasdaq  +9.1%  [7502]

Returns for the period 1/1/20-3/27/20

Dow Jones  -24.2%
S&P 500  -21.3%
S&P MidCap  -31.0%
Russell 2000 -32.2%
Nasdaq  -16.4%

Bulls 30.1
Bears 41.7

Hang in there.  Wash your hands.

Dr. Bortrum posted a new column!

Brian Trumbore



AddThis Feed Button

-03/28/2020-      
Web Epoch NJ Web Design  |  (c) Copyright 2016 StocksandNews.com, LLC.

Week in Review

03/28/2020

For the week 3/23-3/27

[Posted 10:30 PM ET, Friday]

Note: StocksandNews has significant ongoing costs and your support is greatly appreciated.  Please click on the gofundme link or send a check to PO Box 990, New Providence, NJ 07974.

Edition 1,093

Having just watched President Trump’s daily press conference, it should be pretty clear there is an overwhelming amount of news to cover with this crisis. 

I’m trying to break this week’s edition into three sections…starting with the facts, then the idea of reopening the country, and under Trump World, the issue of the president’s performance.

In addition under Street Bytes, I give you a sense of how companies are responding.

It is impossible to cover everything…and looking at a pile I still need to go thru, a lot will end up on the cutting room floor.  Like an in-depth discussion of our new national debt.

27,000 have died worldwide, over 1,500 in the United States.  On March 1st, the U.S. was at one.

Globally, Italy reported a sickening 919 additional deaths Friday to bring their total to 9,134.  Spain grew 769 to 4,934.  France’s toll rose 299 to 1,995.  The UK’s 181 to 759.  All were new daily records save for Spain, which set a record the day before of 365.

[British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive today and told the people he has mild symptoms.]

But the Netherlands’ toll is 546, an awful figure for a country its size; Germany spiked to 321 (banning interactions of more than two people); Belgium 289.

My beloved Ireland’s toll is now 22 and as I keep writing, their healthcare system cannot handle a tsunami of cases.

But last week I talked of the likes of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Pakistan and India, and Indonesia now has 87 deaths.  India only 20 but it’s on lockdown for 21 days, because Prime Minister Modi knows what’s coming.

Turkey is now spiking…up to 92 fatalities.  Syria is finally shutting down and lord knows what the true story is in that hellhole. 

Little Ecuador is at 36 deaths, a major concern for this small place.  The superintendent in my building is from there and with good reason he’s concerned for his family.

And then you have Brazil…92 deaths and beginning to spike…with a president, Bolsonaro, who is a flat-out idiot.

But then you have Africa, which is beginning to see swarms of cases.  One nation that seems destined to be “Hell on Earth” is Nigeria, where this week the army began to lock down all the food stocks, and by one report has begun engineering work on mass graves, because the government knows they are about to be overwhelmed.

Picture 20 million people jammed into Lagos!  200 million in this small country overall.  If you are an international aid worker, I pray for you. 

But most disturbingly this weekend, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong, which were touted for doing such a great job in holding Covid-19 at bay, all saw a resurgence of cases this week, blamed to a great extent on residents returning from other nations, the “imported” cases.  South Korean authorities were pleading with the public tonight to stay indoors and avoid large gatherings as the nation heightened border checks on people arriving from the United States.  The U.S. military has taken extra steps to restrict movements among the 28,500 troops stationed in the country.

[A coronavirus outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt that was originally limited to three Navy sailors has now expanded to include “dozens,” forcing the ship to divert to Guam, where all its crew members will undergo testing for the virus.]

Japan was finally forced to postpone the Tokyo Olympics, and panic-buying spread in the capital as reality hit home, while the city reported 41 new cases on Thursday, 102 nationally, a new record.

And then there is China, which disbelievingly said it had no homegrown cases in six of eight days but has admitted to a growing number of imported cases.  Today, the government ordered airlines to sharply cut the number of flights in and out of the country out of concern that travelers are reigniting the outbreak.

There was also a disturbing story of “long lines and stacks of ash urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan,” which are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the outbreak.  One photo published by Caixin, a Chinese media outlet, “showed 3,500 urns stacked on the ground inside.  It’s unclear how many of the urns had been filled.”  [South China Morning Post]

You’ve all seen some of the same stories I have.  With nothing else to do, you can’t help but get swept up in it.

Here in Summit, New Jersey, as of this morning we had 22 cases, all but two under the age of 65, at least half in their 20s and 30s.  In neighboring New Providence, they hadn’t been announcing anything and then suddenly this morning, the regional health authority said there were 12 cases.

The thing is the reporting in my state is awful.  Nothing on where those testing positive have been, each town’s data collection and dissemination different, some communities receiving no word whatsoever.

I’m trying to limit shopping as much as possible, but it’s impossible not to go out.  [I also have some family responsibilities.]

Summit is a major commuter town into Ground Zero, New York, and you can readily see how it spread.  The Garden State has 108 deaths as I go to post.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said this week, “Covid-19 is threatening the whole of humanity – and the whole of humanity must fight back.”

The European Union agency for disease control said the novel coronavirus is unlikely to disappear in summer, in a stark warning that the epidemic could continue when temperatures rise unless measures to hamper it are applied. 

---

Monday morning, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams appeared on NBC’s “Today” and proclaimed: “I want America to understand: This week, it’s going to get bad.”

And it was.  Monday saw the first day where the nation reported more than 100 deaths in a single day.

Late Sunday night, President Trump had tweeted:

“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.  AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”  He then spent the week talking about reopening the country by Easter and dialing back the push to practice social distancing for 15 days.  But by the end of the week, under pressure from Dr. Anthony Fauci and others, including Republican lawmakers, the president said we’d get more details next week and a plan to categorize each county in terms of the crisis level.

Earlier, Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, expressed concern about the economic effects of ordering Americans to stay inside.  “At some point you have to ask yourself whether the shutdown is doing more harm than good,” he told CNBC.  In a Fox New interview earlier in the day, he said, “We’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs.”

But then you had:

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.): “There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus.”

Dr. Scott Gottlieb: “There’s a strong and understandable desire to return to better times and a functioning economy.  But it should not be lost on anyone that there’s no such thing as a functioning economy and society so long as Covid-19 continues to spread uncontrolled in our biggest cities.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “Listened to New York Governor Cuomo’s explanation of how to balance reopening the economy against public health concerns.

“He rightfully said we can do both but it must be done smartly, always erring on the side of public health….

“Any decision needs to be based on healthcare data with the goal of ensuring we defeat the virus – not promoting its spread.”

Editorial / New York Post

“One can understand President Trump’s impatience – everyone shares it.

“But for him to say that the country is going to be back to normal in just a couple weeks, as he did Monday night, is wildly optimistic.

“What is the point of all this pain if we don’t make sure that the coronavirus is truly under control?  We risk an explosion of infections if we rush back into regular life.

“Take Hong Kong.  It implemented social isolation, movement restrictions and other measures right away, and in the first week of March, it had only 150 cases. But then it relaxed the regulations, and expats started pouring back in, Bloomberg News reports.  Now cases have doubled.  In response, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has had to introduce new quarantine restrictions.

“Can you imagine if the United States gave an all-clear signal, then officials were forced to reverse themselves?  The double-hit on the economy – not to mention the mental well-being of Americans – would be devastating.

“ ‘We’re going to be opening our country up for business, because our country was meant to be open,’ Trump said Monday night.  True.  But now that we’ve taken these extraordinary steps, now that we’re spending days indoors and learning not to shake hands, we cannot let our desire for normalcy ruin the plan.

“ ‘WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!’ Trump tweeted earlier Monday.

“Fine, but make that decision based on the opinion of medical and other experts.  Not our collective discomfort.”

Scott Gottlieb / Wall Street Journal

“First, the bad news: America’s coronavirus epidemic is only beginning, and the suffering will become more searing over the next two weeks.  Hospitals in New York City may soon be overwhelmed.  New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle may not be far behind.

“It will soon be clear why Covid-19 can’t be allowed to rage through the country untamed. The intense restrictions – telling Americans to stay inside in New York, California and other states – are necessary.  But so is a path back to a more normal life.  Here’s what the priorities should be in the coming weeks, with a focus on preventing new sparks of the virus from turning into the fires of New York and Seattle.

“Containment is no longer realistic in some areas of the U.S., but in other places it may still be possible.  As public-health authorities learn more about infection rates in different parts of the country, governments can tailor strategies to the facts on the ground.  There is a tradeoff between mitigation strategies, which target large populations – such as sheltering in place – and interventions that try to isolate those who are infected or might have been exposed.

“The population tactics are blunt instruments, necessary for isolating hot spots like New York and Seattle.  Other places may be able to rely more on individual interventions, which cause less disruption and economic damage.  Yet every state should be taking steps such as encouraging social distancing and preparing to expand hospital capacity.  Some states and cities that haven’t seen as many cases yet – such as New Orleans – have been too slow to take the threat seriously.

“For this to work, the U.S. will need widespread testing to know where and to what extent the virus is spreading….

“By the end of next week, the U.S. will have the capacity in place to screen more than 75,000 people a day.  South Korea tested 1 in 160 of its people and deployed technology to identify people who were infected and trace contacts.  The U.S. should do the same.

“Another step: serological surveillance, which means blood tests to detect antibodies developed to fight the novel coronavirus.  These antibodies confer immunity and can reveal whether a person has been exposed.  If a sizable portion of a local community has some protection, authorities can be more confident in relying on less invasive measures.  Once deployed, serological tests are cheap, straightforward, and easy to scale.

“Most important is developing a therapy to treat Covid-19 or perhaps prevent people from contracting it.  America is home to a vast, dynamic life-science industry.  This is its moment.  This is why decades of drug investment and development matter so much.

“One strategy would be to infuse convalescent plasma – antibodies from the blood of patients who have recovered from Covid-19.  This could help boost the immune response to those recently infected….

“For the most promising drugs, we should scale up manufacturing before we know for sure if they work….

“People will suffer and die in the coming weeks.  For many others, the U.S. can still turn the coronavirus into a manageable threat.  With the right mix of controlling transmission, expanding testing and deploying promising drugs, American ingenuity can beat back this pathogen.”

Thomas L. Friedman / New York Times

“These are days that test every leader – local, state and national. They are each being asked to make huge life and death decisions, while driving through a fog, with imperfect information, and everyone in the back seat shouting at them.  My heart goes out to them all.  I know they mean well. But as so many of our businesses shut down and millions begin to be laid off, some experts are beginning to ask: ‘Wait a minute! What the hell are we doing to ourselves?  To our economy?  To our next generation?  Is this cure – even for a short while – worse than the disease?’

“I share these questions.  Our leaders are not flying completely blind: They are working off the advice of serious epidemiologists and public health experts.  Yet we still need to be careful about ‘group think,’ which is a natural but dangerous reaction when responding to a national and global crisis.  We’re making decisions that affect the whole country and our entire economy – therefore, small errors in navigation could have huge consequences.

“Of course, because this virus is potentially affecting so many Americans at once, we need to provide more hospital beds, treatment equipment for those who will need it and protective gear like N95 masks for the doctors and nurses caring for virus-infected patients.  That is urgent!  And we need to immediately rectify the colossal failure to supply rapid, widespread testing.  That is urgent!

“But we also need to be asking ourselves – just as urgently – can we more surgically minimize the threat of this virus to those most vulnerable while we maximize the chances for as many Americans as possible to safely go back to work as soon as possible.  One expert I talk to below believes that could happen in as early as a few weeks – if we pause for a moment and think afresh about the coronavirus challenge.

“Indeed, if my inbox is any indication, a thoughtful backlash is brewing to the strategy the country has stumbled into.  And stumbling is what inevitably happens when you have a president who goes from treating the coronavirus as a hoax to a war in the space of two days.  A lot of health experts want to find a better balance to the medical, economic and moral issues now tugging at us all at once.

“Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis, an epidemiologist and co-director of Stanford’s Meta-Research Innovation Center, pointed out in a March 17 essay on statnews.com, that we still do not have a firm grasp of the population-wide fatality rate of coronavirus.  A look at some of the best available evidence today, though, indicates it may be 1 percent and could even be lower.

“ ‘If that is the true rate,’ Ioannidis wrote, ‘locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational.  It’s like an elephant being attacked by a house cat.  Frustrated and trying to avoid the cat, the elephant accidentally jumps off a cliff and dies.’….

“And imagine the stress and mental illness that will come – already has come – from our shutting down our economy, triggering massive layoffs….

“A surgical-vertical approach would focus on protecting and sequestering those among us most likely to be killed or suffer long-term damage by exposure to coronavirus infection – that is, the elderly, people with chronic diseases and the immunologically compromised – while basically treating the rest of society the way we have always dealt with familiar threats like the flu.  That means we would tell them to be respectful of others when coughing or sneezing, wash their hands regularly and if they feel sick to stay home and get over it – or to seek medical attention if they are not recuperating as expected….

“Effectively, we’d ‘reboot’ our society in two or perhaps more weeks from now.  ‘The rejuvenating effect on spirits, and the economy, of knowing where there’s light at the end of this tunnel would be hard to overstate.  Risk will not be zero, but the risk of some bad outcome for any of us on any given day is never zero.’  [Said Dr. David L. Katz of Yale University, an expert in public health and preventive medicine.]”

But we have to test, test, test.

“Katz’s approach is both sober and hopeful.  He is basically arguing that at this stage there is no way of avoiding the fact that many, many Americans are going to get the coronavirus or already have it. That ship has sailed….

“Either we let many of us get the coronavirus, recover and get back to work – while doing our utmost to protect those most vulnerable to being killed by it.  Or, we shut down for months to try to save everyone everywhere from this virus – no matter their risk profile – and kill many people by other means, kill our economy and maybe kill our future.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“Our editorial last week on the costs of our government-mandated national economic shutdown struck a chord with readers, including perhaps at the White House.  President Trump is now saying he wants the country back to normal by mid-April.  While this is right as a direction, the shift to a sustainable health and economic strategy will require a transition and a credible explanation to the public.

“The initial 15-day national period of mass social distancing ends Monday, which is a chance for reconsidering the anti-virus shutdown strategy.  The challenge will be finding a balance between protecting against the virus and resuming commerce and business that is crucial to getting people back to work.

“The current at-home quarantines across the country are buying time to slow the coronavirus spread, as well as to surge masks, protective equipment and ventilators to hospitals and hot spots.  This hospital surge is crucial to saving lives and reassuring the public that America’s cities aren’t on a path to Italy’s scenes of tragic triage.  New York, Seattle and perhaps New Orleans will have to cope in coming days and weeks with hundreds and perhaps thousands of critically ill Covid-19 patients.  Americans will want to know how a sustainable strategy prevents similar scenes around the country.

“Mr. Trump and other leaders will also have to be candid about the limitations of what we know.  Because of the lack of widespread testing, we don’t know how many people are infected with few or only mild symptoms. This information would help us get a better fix on the real death rate, not least by group and health status, and thus to know how under siege our hospitals will be over weeks and months.  More accurate testing data will also reassure the public….

“But sooner rather than later, Mr. Trump and governors will have to explain the huge human and economic cost of continuing the shutdown.  Those costs will start to appear Thursday when initial jobless claims are likely to record one of the biggest one-week leaps in history.  They will rise by the millions as the shutdown goes on….

“The point here is that the policy tradeoff for Mr. Trump and the governors isn’t between saving lives and a higher stock market, as our editorial’s critics asserted.  And it isn’t a choice between pandemic expert Anthony Fauci and economists in the White House.  There is great public-health damage from both the virus and from mass unemployment and recession.

“The challenge for political leaders is to consider both and make decisions in the larger national interest.  This is what Mr. Trump means when he tweeted Tuesday, in his unsubtle fashion, that ‘We can do two things together.  THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM!’

“The urgent choice isn’t pitting public health against financial health.  Both matter, and the latter is essential to the former. The country needs a sustainable strategy for both.”

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken March 18-24, seven in 10 Americans (68%) now consider the coronavirus pandemic to be “a serious threat to me and my family.”  That is up 14 percentage points from a similar poll taken last week.  This includes majorities of Democrats and Republicans, whites, minorities, young, old, urban, suburban and rural residents.  Just last week, 63% of Democrats and 49% of Republicans said they considered the coronavirus to be a personal threat; now 76% of Democrats and 63% of Republicans feel the same way.

A Washington Post poll also had 7 in 10 Americans saying they are worried that they or someone in their immediate family might catch the disease.

Trump World

Trump and his supporters are pointing this week to a 60% approval rating from Gallup for his handling of the crisis, but I would caution my friends that the polling was done Mar. 13-22.  This past week the president’s performance was disgraceful.

I made a big mistake last Sunday evening.  The president was holding his daily press briefing/coronavirus update and at 7:00 p.m., rather than switch over to “60 Minutes” I kept the president on.

Among his rambling musings:

“China has gone through hell…I wish they (China) could have told us earlier…China is very secretive…I have great respect for the leader of the country.  I like him, he’s a friend of mine.”

“It cost me $billions of dollars (to run for president)…I’m a wartime president…cost me $billions and $billions to be president…When I ran I knew it would cost me a fortune…I’m doing very well…I think it’s very hard to run for president.”

“I’m not taking the $450,000.  No one said ‘thank you.’”

“Romney is in isolation?  Gee, that’s too bad.”

“I think we are doing an extraordinary job.”

It went on and on like this all week.

“Easter is a very special time for me.  I think Easter Sunday, you’ll have packed churches all over the country.”

“We lose much more (people) to automobile accidents.   We don’t ask people to stop making cars.”

“(The economy) is going to open up like a rocket ship.”

He kept going after the media, daily.

He went after governors that weren’t nice to him.

He totally lied about the ventilator situation.  His failure to enforce the Defense Production Act until today is beyond scandalous.  Fact: General Motors on Monday said it was studying the feasibility of building ventilators under its partnership with Ventec Life Systems at the Kokomo, Ind., plant.

First off, when I read this, I was floored GM was still studying it!  We had been told by the president earlier GM was signed up.  Why did GM then become an issue today, Friday?

Trump tweet:

“General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILAORS, NOW!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!”

You and I were led to believe GM and Ford were on it two weeks ago.  But, remember, these things take time.  Today, in his presser, Trump talked of tens of thousands of ventilators in “100 days.”

100 days?

The president closed the border to China Jan. 31.  Great.  Why didn’t we start ramping up production of PPE and ventilators even three weeks later?  Why did it take six and seven weeks?

But don’t ask the president to take responsibility of any kind, on anything.

“Great success over the past month,” he said today.  “A lot of great things are happening.”

Regarding Washington Gov. Inslee and Michigan Gov. Whitmer (“the woman”), why blast them?  Trump actually said he told his people not to call either one.  “I want them to be appreciative we’ve done a great job.”

“We’ve done a job the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

It’s been nothing but mixed messaging and lies since day one.  But don’t worry.  “The world is going to be better than ever,” the president said on Thursday.

Look, I want the nation to go back to work as soon as possible as much as anyone.  But we need a leader who traffics in the truth.  Thank god Dr. Fauci is still there.  I keep worrying he’ll get sick with the tremendous social distancing at the White House.

And we need the nation, some of you who haven’t experienced Covid-19 yet, to understand this is incredibly contagious, we have done grossly inadequate testing, there is no cure, and as yet no surefire therapeutics.

We needed to be vastly better prepared than we have been because as you hear incessantly, we’re trying to buy time.  But there is no doubt many of our major hospital systems are going to be overwhelmed.

As my good friend, Dr. W., noted this week, even if the mortality rate was near zero, because it is so infectious, the systems will be overrun.

Meanwhile, we’re left with the wisdom of Donald Trump, who when asked about Florida Gov. DeSantis’ incredibly lax and dangerous approach to the virus, said, “I don’t know.  The whole concept of a beach is very interesting…lots of open space.”

Daniel Henninger / Wall Street Journal

“The costs of how the U.S. has conducted its politics the past three years are now obvious.  Beset by a crisis akin to wartime, the country’s leadership is engulfed in political rancor.

“Since Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the national Democratic Party has tried to stop his presidency from functioning.  That irrefutably was the goal of the Russia collusion narrative, its attendant Mueller investigation and then the impeachment.

“Say what you want in defense of these projects, but the reality is they inflamed the normal workings of our politics.  The president’s opponents attacked relentlessly, and he without letup counterattacked personally.

“Through this period, people often noted that the polarization of American political life had become corrosive and unhealthy.  Everyone in Washington knew this, but no matter; it became an addiction.  Every issue now defaults to the same petty level.

“The greatest damage has been to the Democratic Party.  Here a distinction is in order.  By and large, the states are being capably led in their response to the coronavirus crisis by both Democratic and Republican governors.  Apparently working below the radar of the national media is the antidote to political insanity.

“But the national Democratic Party, run by people who live in a hothouse of their own making, looks to be in a state of meltdown.  While everything in America is changing, they just won’t.

“This is the party that produced a president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the nation through the crucible of depression and world war.  Faced today with a similar crucible in the coronavirus, with much of the country in isolation and shutdown, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, backed by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and virtually all their Democratic Senate colleagues, demanded that the national rescue package include – this is still hard to believe – airline emission standards.

“The response by Joe Biden, the presumptive presidential nominee, is even more dispiriting.  He has been parroting Mrs. Pelosi’s talking points, calling the rescue package a ‘slush fund’ and writing: ‘We can’t let Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell hold small businesses, workers, and communities hostage until they get their no-strings corporate bailout.’

“A central selling point of Mr. Biden’s has been that he’s the adult in the room who, unlike Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, still understands the necessity of a functioning private sector.  But if leading from behind is what Biden presidential leadership would look like, we should skip it and let Speaker Pelosi run the country from Capitol Hill.

“Who’s left?

“Who’s left is the president we’ve got, the one elected in 2016.  With Democrats bailing out on bipartisanship in a unique circumstance, the responsibility of national leadership – a historic opportunity – defaults to Mr. Trump.

“Let us understand the stakes.  There are national problems and there are national crises. In the latter, as in world wars, the task of national leadership is to protect a nation’s confidence in itself so that it can emerge intact as a society.

“We’re accustomed in difficult times to saying Americans can do anything, and that’s largely true.  But let’s not delude ourselves that this just happens, like sunshine.  American success isn’t a random effect.  It requires leadership.

“No national leader plans to be in a position like this – not Roosevelt, Lincoln or Churchill.  Mr. Trump will emerge from this crisis either as just another president or a president who led his entire country through a great battle.  If Democrats choose to be the opposition in this battle, voters will judge that choice.

“Some will say, from experience, that asking Mr. Trump to rise to presidential greatness is quixotic.  He’ll never adjust no matter the circumstance.  And yes, on Tuesday he was in a cat fight over ventilators with New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.

“Ironically, Mr. Trump’s path to presidential greatness may begin by doing something small but desired by virtually all Americans: Separate himself from the pettiness of our politics.

“Mr. Cuomo is a governor with a job to do.  Help him.  If he wants to kvetch, let him….

“The public will keep faith with the president if it believes policy decisions are being made in the Situation Room.

“If by September Mr. Trump and his team are bringing the U.S. through the threat from this pandemic, he will be re-elected.  Without a single rally.  Rallying a nation is what gets presidents remembered.”

Walter Russell Mead / Wall Street Journal

“This is not what his critics expected.  At 49% overall job approval in the latest Gallup poll, and with 60% approval of the way he is handling the coronavirus epidemic, President Trump’s standing with voters has improved even as the country closed down and the stock market underwent a historic meltdown.  That may change as this unpredictable crisis develops, but bitter and often justified criticism of Mr. Trump’s decision making in the early months of the pandemic has so far failed to break the bond between the 45th president and his political base.

“One reason Mr. Trump’s opponents have had such a hard time damaging his connection with voters is that they still don’t understand why so many Americans want a wrecking-ball presidency.  Beyond attributing Mr. Trump’s support to a mix of racism, religious fundamentalism and profound ignorance, the president’s establishment opponents in both parties have yet to grasp the depth and intensity of the populist energy that animates his base and the Bernie Sanders movement.

“The sheer number of voters in open political rebellion against centrist politics is remarkable.  Adding the Sanders base (36% of the Democratic vote in the latest Real Clear Politics poll average, or roughly 13% of the national vote considering that about 45% of voters lean Democratic) to the core Trump base of roughly 42%, and around 55% of U.S. voters now support politicians who openly despise the central assumptions of the political establishment….

“The establishment’s massive, decadeslong failure to think through the consequences of empowering Communist China and creating a trading relationship that, among other things, left the U.S. dependent on Beijing for pharmaceuticals is a much less excusable and more consequential error than anything Donald Trump has done in 2020 – and it has a direct bearing on the mess we are in.

“Attacks on the establishment aren’t always rational or fair.  They can be one-sided and fail to do justice to the accomplishments the U.S. has made in the recent past.  Populism on both the left and the right always attracts its share of snake-oil salesmen, and America’s current antiestablishment surge is no exception.  But the U.S. establishment won’t prosper again until it comes to grip with a central political fact: Populism rises when establishment leadership fails.  If conventional U.S. political leaders had been properly doing their jobs, Donald Trump would still be hosting a television show.

“Unless the president’s opponents take the full measure of this public discontent, they will be continually surprised by his resilience against media attacks.  And until the establishment undertakes a searching and honest inventory of the tangled legacy of American foreign and domestic policy since the end of the Cold War, expect populism to remain a potent part of the political scene.”

Kevin Baron / Defense One

“Trump can’t help himself.  He is missing his chance to live out ‘America First.’

“In January or February, he could have convened world leaders, determined a plan to stop the coronavirus, and shown what American power can really do with all of the pomp and circumstance of summit stages and Fox News backdrops.  He could have made the world grateful for his leadership. Even now, as the world stays home FaceTiming with family, Trump could convene a video conference of world leaders, sitting in Washington’s big chair in the middle of the virtual table, directing help, aid, relief, supplies, NATO militaries and the narrative.  He could have even liberals and TV pundits praising him as the global leader he believes himself to be.

“The coronavirus pandemic is more than a 9/11 moment.  It’s a Reagan-second-term-chance-to-beat-the-Soviets moment.  It’s a political opening to soften up, wake up, and bring the world together.  It’s an opportunity to diminish Beijing and Moscow and marginalize violent extremists. The United States should be leading the world through this pandemic. Americans should be leading the world.  Trump should be leading the world.

“He could have thought big, but instead he plays small.  On Tuesday night, the president of the United States was up late retweeting posts from the partisan and anti-Semitic information warfare site Breitbart, amplifying their praise and thumping liberal snowflakes and the corporate media….

“The president and his far-right allies see the pandemic as one more chance to again rip apart the notion that countries do better by cooperating.

“ ‘We should never be reliant on a foreign country for the means of our own survival,’ Trump said in a speech that was astounding and typical.  ‘This crisis has underscored just how critical it is to have strong borders,’ he continued, reading a speech that should alarm every other member of the United Nations.  Read on, from the White House transcript:

And this really shows – this experience shows how important borders are.  Without borders, you don’t have a nation.

Our goal for the future must be to have American medicine for American patients, American supplies for American hospitals, and American equipment for our great American heroes.

Now, both parties must unite to ensure the United States is truly an independent nation in every sense of the word.  Energy independence – we’ve established that. That’s something incredible that we have established.  We’re energy independent, manufacturing independence, economic independence, and territorial independence enforced by strong, sovereign borders.

America will never be a supplicant nation.  We will be a proud, prosperous, independent, and self-reliant nation.   We will embrace commerce with all, but we will be dependent on none.

“A supplicant nation.  That’s what Trump and his teammates like Stephen Miller and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo think America was, has, or could become.  Rather than lead the world with every resource the United States can muster, Trump wants the world to hear his message: the walls between you and us are as high as I can build them.”

---

--Early this week, Trump administration officials urged anyone leaving the New York metro area to self-isolate for 14 days to avoid spreading the virus to other parts of the country.

--Dr. Fauci told basketball star Stephen Curry in an interview on Instagram that he expects to see another cycle of the coronavirus, because he cannot “imagine it’s just going to disappear.”  But he said a new cycle would not take the same, drastic toll on daily life.

“We will get enough experience so that when it does come back we’ll be able to immediately identify, isolate and contact-trace.  And if you do that effectively you don’t have an outbreak,” Fauci said.  “You contain it at a very low level.  Which would mean we won’t have to lock down again.”

Separately, in an interview in Science Magazine, a reporter asked: “You’ve been in press conferences where things are happening that you disagree with, is that fair to say?”

Fauci: “Well, I don’t disagree in the substance.  It is expressed in a way that I would not express it, because it could lead to some misunderstanding about what the facts are about a given subject.”

--Confronted with criticism about the slow federal response to the coronavirus crisis, President Trump often boasts about his Jan. 31 decision to restrict travel from China, claiming he saved thousands of lives.

“Nobody wanted that to happen,” he said Wednesday about the travel ban.  “Everybody thought it was just unnecessary to do it.  And if we didn’t do that, thousands and thousands of people would have died, more than what’s happened.”

But as Jeffrey Levi, a public health expert at George Washington University, put it, “To the degree that it bought us time, we did not take advantage of that time.”

Levi told the Los Angeles Times that the administration should have begun widespread testing, improved medical surveillance systems, begun preparing hospitals and ordered emergency production of masks and ventilators “so we wouldn’t be in the difficult position we’re in today.”

Chris Beyrer, a professor of epidemiology and international health at Johns Hopkins University, said Trump issued his order too late to make a difference because coronavirus infections were already reported in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Toronto, as well as 26 other countries.

Any gains from the travel ban were lost in “the crucial early days and weeks of spread by our lack of testing, limited contact tracing, and failure to impose rapid travel and movement restrictions where cases were identified to limit clusters,” he said.

You hear the same thing from one expert after another.  We all know by now.  Trump minimized the danger of the pandemic until March 13, when he declared a national emergency – “two very big words” – to free up $50 billion in federal resources to deal with the crisis even as he denied any responsibility for the slow response.

And he’s lied constantly about when testing was widely available.

--Canada attacked a U.S. proposal to deploy troops along the undefended joint border to help fight the spread of coronavirus, saying the idea was unnecessary and would damage relations.  Speaking at the White House, Trump appeared to lack details on the possible troop deployment and said he would look into the matter.  An official told Reuters that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is stressed on the northern border because virtually all patrol officers and border crossing officials were shifted to the southern border.  The proposal was shelved.

--Trump tweets:

“The Lamestream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP.  We will be stronger than ever before!”

“I hear that Fake News CNN just reported that I am isolated in the White House, wondering out loud, ‘when will life return to normal?’ Does anybody really believe that?  There was no leak, they made it up – they are CORRUPT & FAKE NEWS…

“….I have been packed all day with meetings, I have no time for stupidity.  We’re working around the clock to KEEP AMERICA SAFE!”

“Congratulations to Prime Minister Abe of Japan, and the IOC, on their very wise decision to present the Olympics in 2021.  It will be a great success, and I look forward to being there!”

“It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world.  They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus…is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form.  They are working closely with us to get rid of it.  WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!”

[Trump stopped using the term “Chinese virus.”]

“I watch and listen to the Fake News, CNN, MSDNC, ABC, NBC, CBS, some of FOX (desperately & foolishly pleading to be politically correct), the @nytimes, & the @washingtonpost, and all I see is hatred of me at any cost.  Don’t they understand that they are destroying themselves?”

Wall Street

The World Trade Organization’s chief said on Wednesday that projections show the economic downturn and job losses caused by the pandemic would be worse than the 2008 recession.

“This pandemic will inevitably have an enormous impact on the economy,” director-general Roberto Azevedo said in a message filmed from his home. 

Today, the IMF said the global economy is already in recession.

In a very rare interview on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated the Fed would provide essentially unlimited lending to support the economy as long as it is damaged by the viral outbreak.

Powell told Savannah Guthrie the central bank’s efforts are focused on helping the economy recover quickly once the threat has passed.

The Chair acknowledged that the economy “may well be” in a recession but said that this is a unique downturn in that it was caused by efforts to control the disease.  The economy itself was strong before the outbreak began, he said.

“If we get the virus spread under control fairly quickly, then economic activity can resume, and we want to make that rebound as vigorous as possible,” Powell said.

Powell said the Fed’s ability to lend is somewhat constrained by the amount of capital provided by the Treasury to offset any credit losses.  He said the Fed can lend $10 for every $1 of cash that the Treasury provides.

The economic rescue bill approved by the Senate early Thursday includes $425 billion that the Treasury could use to backstop the Fed.  That would allow the Fed to boost its lending programs to an astronomical $4.25 trillion.

When asked if the Fed would run out of ammunition to support the economy, Powell said no.

“When it comes to this lending, we’re not going to run out of ammunition. That doesn’t happen,” he said.

Powell said the Fed’s policies will likely have their greatest impact when the economy does start to rebound, which he said could happen in the second half.

“When the economy begins to rebound, then we’ll be there to make sure that rebound is as strong as possible,” Powell said.

Monday, the Fed rolled out a series of sweeping new programs designed to shore up large and small businesses and keep markets functioning.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said during the extraordinary summit of G20 leaders Thursday: “The epidemic has hit global production and demand in every way, and countries need to leverage and coordinate their macro policies and prevent the world economy from falling into recession.  Fiscal and monetary policies must be implemented effectively, coordination of financial regulations must be strengthened, and (countries) have to work jointly to safeguard the stability of the global industrial supply chain.”

Thursday morning, the Labor Department then reported the number of American workers filing new claims for jobless benefits last week rose to 3.28 million from 282,000 the week before.  This level is not just the worst in the 53-year history of the series, but the worst week in 2009, when the job market was reeling, was 665,000.

And the 3.28 million number doesn’t reflect all those pushed out of jobs last week. Many state labor departments are so inundated with people filing for claims that not everyone has been able to get through.  It also doesn’t include freelance and gig workers who don’t qualify for benefits, although some of the changes in the following change that.

The true scope of the job losses won’t be known for some time.

So the Senate passed a massive coronavirus ‘stimulus’/relief bill, $2.2 trillion, that sends cash directly to most adults in a bid to put a hole in the dyke. 

The House then passed it by unanimous voice vote today after Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie forced hundreds of lawmakers to return to the House chamber for the vote after indicating he would raise a point of order that fewer than 50 percent of lawmakers were present as required.

It was an outrageous move putting everyone at risk all over again to become infected, with one lawmaker bellowing “f—k you!” at him.  President Trump fumed against Massie Friday morning, calling him a “third rate Grandstander” and adding: “throw Massie out of the Republican Party!”

Anyway, the package authorizes $1,200 checks for all adults ($500 more per child) who earn up to $75,000 and creates enormous loan programs for businesses.

A generous boost of $600 per week in unemployment pay, controversial to some Republican senators, presented a final road bump as some unemployed would receive more than 100 percent of their prior pay, but in the end it passed 96-0.

The package creates a $500 billion loan program run by the Treasury Department to assist businesses struggling to stay afloat.  Loans to President Trump’s businesses and those of members of Congress, other officials and their families are banned.

There is a separate $350 billion loan program for small businesses which offers to forgive money lent to businesses that avoid layoffs.

And there’s a $150bn boost in hospital funding and a $150bn fund for state and local governments, both pushed for by Democrats.

But aside from the massive amounts of (further) debt our children will be inheriting, the real story at the corporate and small business level is yet to be determined.  Of course much depends on the length of our national, and global, lockdown, but I’ll give you an example of what we are all facing.

New York mega-landlord SL Green is trying to shed a package of loans tied to city real estate assets in an effort to raise cash, as reported by Crain’s New York Business.   The company is marketing about $150 million worth of debt for sale.

While SL Green said this was business as usual, and that the loans in the package were performing, the sale comes as several lenders in the real estate market are experiencing major tumult.

SL Green is one of New York City’s largest commercial landlords and retail and other franchises are obviously being wiped out.

Nationally, mortgage markets have showed signs of crumbling, as companies struggle to sell debt and the entire financial system begins to seize up.

In one of the most dire warnings, real estate investor Tom Barrack said Monday that the U.S. commercial-mortgage market is on the brink of collapse and predicted a “domino effect” of consequences if banks and the government don’t take prompt action to keep borrowers from defaulting.

“You have to support the employers” so they can keep paying their rents and employees, he said.  “When commerce stops and they can’t pay rent and they can’t pay interest on the debt, and then the banks and the intermediaries can’t pay their investors, it all collapses.”

Winifred Cisar, head of credit strategy at Wells Fargo Securities, summed up the situation.

“The biggest thing that people are really worried about in the short term across the credit markets is there’s just been this massive rush for liquidity.  It’s been the sell-everything strategy in the markets to raise cash, while issuers on the corporate side of things are drawing down revolvers, taking out their delayed-draw term loans, at basically a record pace.  So the basic question for corporate credit is: is there enough liquidity in the system to actually back up all these revolver drawdowns and all of the cash raising by investors?”

Lawmakers and the administration hope the $2 trillion relief package helps prevent this, along with the extraordinary Fed response.

Lastly, we did have some economic data this week, largely irrelevant, as the impact of Covid-19 was minimal during the various reporting periods.

February new-home sales came in at a stronger-than-expected 765,000 annualized units, with January revised sharply higher to 800,000.

February durable goods (big-ticket items) came in better than forecast, 1.2%, but -0.6% ex-transportation, and -0.8% on the core capital goods metric.

February personal income was a strong 0.6%, and consumption (consumer spending) 0.2%.  The Fed’s key inflation barometer, the personal consumption expenditures index, was 1.8%, ex-food and energy.

And we had a final reading on fourth-quarter GDP, unchanged at 2.1%.

So the GDP figures for Q2 2019 thru Q4 2019 were 2.0%, 2.1%, 2.1%.

As for the first quarter, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer fell to 2.7% from 3.1%, but this does not reflect March activity.  We get our first official look at Q1 GDP end of April.  The ISM readings on manufacturing and the service sector next week will provide some early clues as to the March damage.

But back to the checks many Americans are supposed to receive in about three weeks, you are asking the IRS, with its 1960s-era computer systems, to accomplish this.  In 2001, the IRS needed more than six weeks to issue the first rebates authorized by President George W. Bush’s tax cut.  In 2008, the IRS issued its first payments to fight the Great Recession nearly three months after Bush signed off on them.

Europe and Asia

IHS Markit released its flash PMI readings for March in the eurozone (EA19).  The composite for the region was 31.4 (50 being the dividing between growth and contraction), a record low.  Manufacturing was 44.8 (92-month low), services 28.4, record low.

Germany had a flash composite of 37.2, with manufacturing at 45.7 and services at a record-low 34.5.

France’s flash comp for March was 30.7 (record low), manufacturing 42.9, services 29.0 (record low).

Separately, the UK’s flash comp was 37.1 (record low); manufacturing 48.0, services 35.7 (record low).

Chris Williamson, chief economist, IHS Markit:

“Business activity across the eurozone collapsed in March to an extent far exceeding that seen even at the height of the global financial crisis.  Steep downturns were seen in France, Germany and across the rest of the euro area as governments took increasingly tough measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“The March PMI is indicative of GDP slumping at a quarterly rate of around 2%, and clearly there’s scope for the downturn to intensify further as even more draconian policies to deal with the virus are potentially implemented in coming months.

“Demand for many goods and services has fallen dramatically, while near-record supply chain delays have stymied production and business closures mean an increasingly large proportion of the economy is being mothballed.

“Employment is already falling at a rate not seen since July 2009 as despair about the outlook broadens.  Business sentiment about the year ahead has plunged to the gloomiest on record, suggesting policymakers’ efforts to date have failed to brighten the darkening picture.”

Meanwhile, banks across Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain, are flooded with applications from customers seeking loan extensions, debt relief and renewal of credit lines.  Threats of default and bureaucratic hurdles slowing what was meant to be a swift infusion of cash for hard-pressed businesses threatens Europe’s efforts to rescue its flatlining economy.

One last note, needless to say, Brexit negotiations remain off for now.

Turning to Asia…while China proudly reopens the country after more than two months of imposing quarantines,  the growing evidence is that it is a slow process.  For many Chinese factories, demand for their products has evaporated.  At the same time, Chinese consumers are reluctant to spend over worries about what they have lost and what the future holds.  Various business surveys show corporate revenues and profits contracting at a faster pace than ever.

But People’s Bank of China Deputy Governor Chen Yulu told reporters in Beijing this week, “Economic indicators will likely show significant improvement in the second quarter and the Chinese economy will return to potential output level rather swiftly.”

No it won’t.   For starters, you need a buyer on the other side.

Next week we’ll get the PMI readings for China’s manufacturing and service sectors.

We had flash PMI readings for Japan this week, the March composite at 35.8, manufacturing 41.8, services 32.7.  Sickening.

South Korea reported exports rose 10.0% in the first 20 days of March year-on-year as the lockdowns across the world fueled demand for teleconferencing technology and components.  Outbound shipments for semiconductors, the nation’s major export, jumped 20.3% year-over-year, according to the Korea Customs Service.

“Demand from cloud computing firms have boosted sales of server chips, while an increase in telecommuting in the United States and China has also been a main drive to huge server demand,” a trade ministry official said.

Singapore announced its economy suffered its biggest contraction in a decade in the first quarter, down 2.2% from a year earlier, preliminary figures showed.  On a quarterly basis, GDP shrank 10.6%.  The trade ministry has cut its 2020 GDP forecast range to -4% to -1%, from a previous range of -0.5% to 1.5%.

Street Bytes

--The volatility the past five weeks has been remarkable.  Following are the weekly percentage moves for the Dow Jones.

-12.4%, +1.8%, -10.4%, -17.3%, +12.8%

Tuesday, the Dow rose 2,112 points, 11.4%, its best point-gain ever, best percentage gain since 1933.  The S&P 500 rose 9.4% for its best one-day gain since October 2008.  Nasdaq rose 8.1%.

On the week, aside from the Dow’s 12.8% gain, the S&P rose 10.3% and Nasdaq 9.1%.  Despite the big moves, the Dow and S&P have still lost over 20% on the year, Nasdaq 16%.

It’s almost quarter end and in a few weeks earnings reports will start flooding out.  Except now the SEC is allowing companies to delay their reports, for good reason, so we’ll see how many hold off for a spell.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. -0.02%  2-yr. 0.25%  10-yr. 0.69%  30-yr. 1.27%

Despite the big rally in equities, investors piled back into bonds, globally, the U.S. 10-year at a record weekly closing low.  The yield on Germany’s 10-year bund fell from -0.33% to -0.48%.  Italy’s 10-year, despite the fact the government said its debt-to-GDP ratio would easily rise to 145%, saw its 10-year yield fall to 1.32%.  Greece’s fell from 2.32% to 1.47%.

--Oil prices fell sharply at week’s end, to $21.63 on WTI, on renewed demand fears, with the International Energy Agency warning global demand was in “free fall” amid the lockdowns.  The IEA said demand could drop as much as 20 million barrels a day, or 15% to 20%.

The U.S. is pressing Saudi Arabia to restrain its scheduled oil-production boost.

--Chevron Corp. will cut capital spending by $4 billion this year with the massive demand destruction from the worsening global economy and an unprecedented slide in oil prices.  Included in the spending cuts will be halving it in the Permian Basin, the top U.S. shale field.

Total capex across the industry in the shale sector will fall from $107bn to $64bn this year, said Rystad Energy, a consultancy – and the drop could be much steeper unless oil prices rise significantly.

--Royal Dutch Shell on Monday said it would cut spending by $5 billion.  Exxon Mobil has not released its spending plans but said cuts would be “significant.”

--Spain’s Repsol said on Wednesday it would slash investments by 26% this year to limit the damage caused by sliding oil and gas prices and the epidemic.

--Occidental Petroleum Corp. is cutting salaries for its U.S. employees by up to 30% in a bid to slash expenses, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reviewed an internal company email.

CEO Vicki Hollub’s salary is being cut 81%, employee perks and bonuses ending in April.

Oxy is also cutting capital spending this year by about $800 million, on top of a previously announced $1.7 billion cut.  The company now plans to spend roughly half of its original 2020 budget of about $5.3 billion.

Occidental, owing to an ill-timed $38 billion acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. last year, is massively in debt.

--The U.S. oil rig count slumped by 40 to 624 over the week ended March 27 to the lowest level since March 2017, according to data released today by Baker Hughes.

In Canada, the oil rig count plunged by 34 to just 18.

--Global automotive sales are expected to drop 12% this year because the effects of Covid-19 are weighing on demand, according to IHS Markit.

The 12% slide would be “considerably worse than the two-year peak-to-trough decline of 8% that was seen during the 2008 to 2009 global recession,” said IHS Markit’s Colin Couchman.

--U.S. auto sales will fall by an estimated 15.3% decline to 14.4 million vehicles in 2020 as the virus wreaks havoc on the industry.  In March alone, research site Edmunds is looking for vehicle sales to decline 35.5% compared with March 2019.

Covid-19 poses the biggest threat to the auto industry since the Great Recession, which saw General Motors and Chrysler go bankrupt.

After the Great Recession, the industry had some terrific years, soaring from a low of 10.4 million in 2009 to more than 17 million from 2015 through 2019.

Showrooms in my area are closed, with service departments open.

--Ford Motor Co. announced plans on Thursday to shore up its finances amid the pandemic, aiming to generate cash by resuming production next month of its most profitable vehicles like the F-150 full-sized pickups while saving money through further cost cuts.

General Motors and Fiat Chrysler previously announced they would shut their North American operations until, at last word, April 6.

The UAW is concerned with Ford’s move to restart production due to the safety issue.

--Tesla is slashing 75% of its on-site staff at its Storey County, Nev., battery plant due to the pandemic.

--McDonald’s said Wednesday the pandemic could have a “material” negative impact on its financial results, per an SEC filing.  “Substantially all” of its U.S. restaurants are only operating via delivery, drive-thru, and take-away, while several markets such as France, Italy, Spain and the UK have closed all restaurants.

--Billionaire Tilman Fertitta laid off roughly 40,000 workers at his casino (Golden Nugget), hotel and restaurant empire to limit the economic damage caused by government-imposed shut-downs.  Fertitta, also the owner of the Houston Rockets, has hundreds of restaurants under the Landry’s Inc. umbrella, such as Bubba Gump Shrimp and Del Frisco’s.

“I think what we are doing with the shut-down is good but in a few weeks people will need to be around people,” Fertitta said in an interview with Bloomberg.  “Otherwise you are going to go into an economic crisis that is going to take us years to dig ourselves out of.”

Fertitta is hoping casinos and restaurants could be allowed to operate at 30% to 40% of capacity to soften the impact of the restrictions and allow companies to stay in business.

--The New York City hotel industry continues to take it on the chin over virus containment measures, as data compiled by STR Global shows an 80% drop in occupancy compared to this time last year.  The 80.5% rate is just slightly less than the drop in San Francisco, -80.7%.

On Wednesday, the Four Seasons Hotel New York announced it would open its rooms to nurses, doctors and medical personnel at no charge.  The hotel is located a few blocks from Weill Cornell Medical Center.

--Last week I told you New York City comptroller Scott Stringer was estimating the initial loss in revenues from the shutdown in Gotham at $3.2 billion, for starters.  This week, New York State Budget Director Robert Mujica said the state expects gross revenues to shrink by as much as $15 billion.

This week Stringer increased his estimate to $6 billion.

--California’s hotel industry is expected to lose more than 125,000 jobs in the next few weeks, more than in any other state, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Assoc., a trade group.  California has the most hotel jobs – about 285,000 – in the country.

To break even, hotels generally need to have an occupancy rate of 40% to 60%, depending on the type of hotel.

--One of America’s more popular restaurants, The Cheesecake Factory, cannot afford April’s rent at any of its nearly 300 locations due to the financial strain caused by the pandemic.

CEO David Overton reportedly notified the company’s landlords of their inability to pay in a letter, having been forced to close all their locations.

“The severe decrease in restaurant traffic has severely decreased our cash flow and inflicted a tremendous financial blow to our business,” Overton wrote.

Other major retail and restaurant chains, including Mattress Firm and Subway, are telling landlords they will withhold or slash rents in the coming months.

--Target said traffic and sales surged this month as consumers flocked to the retailer to stock up on goods during the pandemic.

Comparable sales rose 3.8% in February vs. last year, and for March to date, they had risen more than 20%, the retailer said in a statement.  Comp sales in essentials and food and beverage surged more than 50%, while apparel and accessories are more than 20% lower, Target said.

Target, like every other corporation, withdrew its guidance for sales growth, operating income and earnings for the quarter and 2020.

Target said it was raising pay by $2 an hour for its store and distribution center hourly workers until “at least” May 2.  It’s also offering paid leave options, the combination of which will increase costs.

--Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said on Tuesday he does not want the U.S. Treasury to take an equity stake in the planemaker as a condition of government loans as credit markets freeze amid the pandemic.

“I don’t have a need for an equity stake,” Calhoun told Fox Business.  “If they force it, we just look at all the other options and we’ve got plenty of them.”

Boeing is seeking $60 billion in U.S. government loans for itself and the aerospace industry.

“There are a lot of options for us in the private markets etcetera, but the credit markets have to be open,” Calhoun told CNBC, noting that Boeing “has $15 billion in the bank.”

Calhoun said he wants the government to allow Boeing to borrow funds and the government would collect interest.  “We want to pay everything back,” he said.

Last week, S&P downgraded Boeing’s credit and warned the coronavirus outbreak could hit Boeing’s cash flow further, as airline customers cancel flights and defer aircraft orders due to a plunge in travel demand.

Separately, Boeing said it would suspend airliner production in the Seattle area (its plant in Everett, Wash.) for 14 days starting Wednesday.  The factory produces the 787 Dreamliner and  other widebody aircraft.  Some workers in the plant tested positive, one worker dying.  36,000 are employed there.

Related to the above, General Electric is cutting its aviation unit workforce by 10%, or 2,600 employees.

--Singapore Airlines cut capacity 96% and ground almost all of its fleet, the carrier said on Monday.  Earlier, Cathay Pacific Airways also slashed capacity by 96% in April and May.

--An American Airlines flight attendant died Monday from coronavirus.

American said today it would suspend 60% to 70% of domestic capacity and 80% to 90% of international capacity in April, and 70% to 80% of domestic capacity and 80% to 90% of international capacity in May, compared with the same months a year earlier.  That kind of says it all.

--The stimulus bill adds $14 billion to the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corp spending authority and authorizes an additional $9.5 billion to help livestock producers, dairy farmers, specialty crop farmers and local agricultural groups.  The CCC, which was established during the Great Depression nearly a century ago, has been tapped by the Trump administration for nearly $30 billion in recent years to compensate farmers and assist the sector due to the U.S.-China trade wars.

--Caterpillar Inc., the world’s biggest construction and mining equipment maker, said it was suspending operations at some facilities and withdrawing its 2020 outlook amid supply constraints, adding it might close further plants.

--Farm equipment maker John Deere & Co pulled back its 2020 earnings guidance.

--The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics until 2021 has important ramifications for media giants Comcast Corp. and Discovery Inc., depriving them of at least a $billion in ad dollars this year, aside from the Games being a launchpad for other programming.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal, which has the U.S. rights to the Olympics, said it sold nearly $1.3 billion in ad revenue.  And it’s not like you just say, well, it will see that much next year when, hopefully, the Games take place.  NBCU will have to renegotiate the deal.  If you were a business that manages to survive the pandemic, you know you will be cutting back on the number of spots you buy, let alone want to pay lower prices.  [Discovery, which paid $1.45 billion in 2015 for the rights to show the Games in Europe between 2018 and 2024, declined to say how much advertising it had sold.]

As for Tokyo, the loss begins at $12 billion, the original cost to stage the Games, with an audit months ago saying it was closer to $20 billion, plus there were closing/rescheduling costs of an estimated $5 billion. 

--Facebook Inc. said usage of its products was skyrocketing, as you can imagine, but increased activity won’t shield the company from the online-advertising pullback roiling Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue alike.

In Italy, for example, with its severe lockdown, group video calling is up by more than 1000% from a month ago and usage of all Facebook apps is up 70%.

Facebook also owns Instagram and the popular messaging service WhatsApp.

The company didn’t provide earnings guidance, but said it was taking steps to increase capacity and reduce the strain that heightened video-calling and calling traffic puts on the communications structure.

Google parent Alphabet Inc. is in the same boat, making almost all of its money from online advertising in areas like search, maps and video, and no doubt its biggest clients will be pulling back.  No one should be surprised at the level of cutbacks.

--The Federal Reserve on Tuesday tapped a division of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, to manage billions of dollars in bond and mortgage-backed security purchases as the central bank works to cushion the economic and financial fallout from the crisis.

BlackRock’s Financial Markets Advisory unit will act as the investment manager for three new facilities: two Fed-backed vehicles that will buy corporate bonds and a program that will buy mortgage-backed securities issued by U.S. government agencies.

--Lululemon Athletica Inc. beat analysts’ estimates for quarterly results on Thursday, lifted by strong holiday season demand, but the athletic apparel maker did not provide full-year guidance amid the uncertainty.

With stores closed, the company is at least seeing stay-at-home consumers buying more yoga mats and blocks.

Lululemon has, however, reopened its 40 stores in China.

--Gold has been on an incredibly wild ride and the market is facing a historic squeeze as the global pandemic shuts down the supply chain at a time when investors were piling into it as a safe haven.

As reported by Bloomberg: “At issue is whether there will be enough gold available in New York to deliver against futures contracts traded on the Comex in New York with metals refiners shutting down and efforts to contain the virus halting planes.  As of Monday, open interest in the April gold contract stood at 195,604 contracts, equivalent to 19.6 million ounces.  The total deliverable stocks in Comex warehouses were 8.7 million ounces.

With metals refiners in Europe being forced shut, that impacts the ability of banks and traders to ship supplies from other locations to New York.

Switzerland’s refining industry, a major hub for processing gold into bars and coins, has largely shut down because of the virus.  Flights are being grounded globally.

--Looking back at history, per Ben Levisohn at Barron’s, “During the 1973 recession, GDP fell 3.4%, while joblessness rose from 4% to 9%.  In the first leg of the Great Depression, real output slid almost 30%, while unemployment jumped from 3% to nearly 25%. During a later leg of that awful downturn, many businesses and individuals went bankrupt. Banks failed, and the economy took more than a decade – and a world war – to recover.  It took 25 years – until 1954 – for stocks to return to the peak they hit in 1929.”

But, yes, Covid-19 is totally different.

--With much of America at home, television news viewership is up bigly.  Cable and broadcast news always receive a ratings bump when there is a crisis, but with the pandemic there is viewership at all hours of the day.

For example, the Fox News broadcast from the White House on Tuesday with President Trump and other officials discussing the crisis drew an audience of 4.4 million, the largest ever for a cable news town hall program, even though it aired at noon Eastern time when there are typically fewer people available to watch.

Fox News had its most-watched week of 2020 from March 16-22, with an average of 2.5 million throughout the day, a 73% increase over a comparable week last year.  It was followed by CNN’s 1.55 million viewers, which was up 151% from last year; and MSNBC, which drew 1.48 million for a 45% gain.

The three broadcast network evening newscasts are seeing their highest viewing levels in more than 15 years.  Last week, they averaged 32 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

“ABC World News Tonight with David Muir” and “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” locked up the entire 10 most-watched programs during March 16-22, including all prime-time shows ranked by Nielsen.

Muir’s program averaged 12.5 million viewers for the week – a level not seen in 20 years, while Holt scored 12 million viewers.  “CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell” drew 7.6 million.

A lot of the growth has been among younger viewers, who have been abandoning TV in droves.

“CBS Sunday Morning,” airing from a bare-bones studio in Los Angeles because the New York one was closed, still attracted 6.82 million viewers, the most since 1994.

“Face the Nation” had its biggest audience since Feb. 1991.  NBC’s “Meet the Press” had its highest since December 2008. Both of these in the 5 million to 5.1m level.  [Stephen Battaglio / Los Angeles Times]

Foreign Affairs

Afghanistan: Militants stormed a temple belonging to the Sikh religious minority in central Kabul, with at least 25 dying in the ensuing battle with security forces.  Two years ago, Islamic State targeted a Sikh gathering in Afghanistan, killing 19.  The Taliban denied involvement in Wednesday’s attack.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to salvage the U.S.-led peace effort, meeting with Taliban officials at a Qatari military base after visiting Kabul to try to end a feud between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political foe.

This extraordinary trip amid the coronavirus crisis shows just how deep the concern within the administration is over the stalled peace process, a month after the signing of a deal in Doha.  Pompeo said Wednesday after his failed attempt to mediate the feud between Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah.

“I’ll be honest, it was very frustrating,” though he said efforts to bring all sides together would continue.

Israel: Out of nowhere, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be retaining power.  Not that this in and of itself is surprising, but he’s doing so as his chief rival, Benny Gantz, reversed his prior stance and signaled that he would be open to serving in Netanyahu’s government as parliament speaker.

Gantz ran against the prime minister in another inconclusive election and, given the first chance to form a government, vowed to bring Netanyahu’s long rule to an end.

“These are unusual times and they call for unusual decisions,” Gantz said in a speech to the Knesset yesterday.  “This is not a time for infighting and mudslinging.  This is not the time for controversy and divisions.  This is the time for responsible, committed, patriotic leadership.  Let’s join hands and get Israel out of this crisis.”  Gantz’s supporters are furious.

Yes, Netanyahu gains a record fourth term, further enhancing his reputation for political genius.

Gantz, by his move, now has a chance to replace the PM down the road, though his move immediately forced the breakup of his centrist Blue and White party. 

Netanyahu had refused to step aside while he defends himself against bribery, fraud and corruption charges.  And with the coronavirus crisis, he has resorted to rule by emergency decree, including shutting down the courts as his trial neared.

The government opened up a war bunker in the Jerusalem hills to help coordinate its campaigns against the spread of the pandemic.  The bunker, called the “National Management Center,” was built more than a decade ago because of concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and missile exchanges with Hezbollah and Hamas.

Netanyahu warned one million Israelis could be infected with Covid-19 and 10,000 could die.  As of Thursday there were eight deaths here.

Iran: Tehran conceded the death toll from the coronavirus was at 2,378, though it could be far higher.  Officials said on Wednesday that there was fear of a second outbreak as many Iranians ignored travel bans and the prohibition of gatherings in parks during the Persian New Year holiday period.  President Hassan Rouhani banned any new trips between cities.

Separately, Iranian media reports that nearly 300 people have been killed and more than 1,000 sickened by ingesting methanol across the country; drinking alcohol banned in Iran.  Fake remedies are spreading across social media.

“The virus is spreading and people are just dying off, and I think they are even less aware of the fact that there are other dangers around,” said Dr. Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologist in Oslo, Norway, who studies methanol poisoning and fears Iran’s outbreak could be even worse than reported.  “When they keep drinking this, there’s going to be more people poisoned.”

Turkey: Prosecutors charged 20 suspects over the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018.  An indictment accused former Saudi Deputy Intelligence Chief Ahmad Asiri and former royal aide Saud al-Qahtani with instigating the murder.

China: President Trump held a phone call with President Xi late Thursday night and Xi told Trump that he hopes the United States will take substantive action to improve bilateral ties, China’s foreign ministry said.

Xi also told Trump that cooperation between their countries was the only correct choice and China was willing to support the United States in dealing with the coronavirus, according to an account of the conversation published by the Chinese ministry.

But with Trump and other top U.S. officials accusing China of a lack of transparency on the virus, Xi reiterated to Trump that China has been open and transparent.

Xi also chided U.S. officials, including Trump, for repeated references to Covid-19 as “the Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus.”  Xi said: “The virus knows no boundaries and ethnicity, and it is our common enemy. The international community can only defeat it through working together.

“The relationship of China and the U.S. is at a critical juncture.  Cooperation is mutually beneficial to both nations, while fighting will hurt.  Cooperation is the only correct choice.

“It is hoped that the United States will take concrete actions to improve China-U.S. relations, and the two sides will work together to strengthen cooperation in areas such as epidemic control,” he said, per state broadcaster CCTV.

In a tweet, Trump said he had just finished a very good conversation with Xi.  “Discussed in great detail the coronavirus that is ravaging large parts of our planet.  China has been through much and has developed a strong understanding of the virus.  We are working closely together.  Much respect!”

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Pompeo sharpened his criticism of Beijing and their handling of the outbreak, saying the ruling Communist Party was still denying the world information it needs to prevent further cases.

“My concern is that this coverup, this disinformation that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in, is still denying the world the information it needs to that we can prevent further cases or something like this from recurring again.

Pompeo also accused Iran and Russia of waging disinformation campaigns of their own.

“The disinformation campaign from Russia and Iran as well as China continues.  They’re talking about it coming from the U.S. Army and they’re saying maybe it began in Italy, all things to deflect responsibility.”

“The time will come for recriminations,” Pompeo added, saying it was important for the world to know now what was really going on.

Last weekend, in an interview with “Axios on HBO,” China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, reaffirmed his opposition to promoting theories that the virus originated in an American military lab, breaking with his own foreign ministry.

Cui said he stood by his Feb. 9 statement that it would be “crazy” to spread such theories.

“Such speculation will help nobody.  It’s very harmful.  Eventually, we must have an answer to  where the virus originally came from.  But, this is the job for the scientists to do, not for diplomats.”

Cui is appointed directly by President Xi and holds a vice-ministerial rank in China’s political hierarchy.

Finally, Michael R. Gordon / New York Times:

“The Marine Corps is undertaking its most sweeping transformation in decades, pivoting from a focus on fighting insurgents in the Middle East to developing the ability to hop from island to island in the western Pacific to bottle up the Chinese fleet.

“The 10-year plan to revamp the Corps follows years of classified U.S. wargames that revealed China’s missile and naval forces to be eroding American military advantages in the region.

“ ‘China, in terms of military capability, is the pacing threat,’ Gen. David Berger, the Marine Corps commandant, said in an interview.  ‘If we did nothing, we would be passed.’

“To reinvent themselves as a naval expeditionary force within budget limits, the Marines plan to get rid of all of their tanks, cut back on their aircraft and shrink in total numbers from 189,000 to as few as 170,000, Gen. Berger said.

“ ‘I have come to the conclusion that we need to contract the size of the Marine Corps to get quality,’ he said….

“While the U.S. focused on the Middle East (the past 20 years, after decades of preparing for combat with Soviet forces), China and Russia worked on systems to thwart the American military’s ability to assemble forces near their regions and command them in battle.  If war broke out, U.S. officials concluded, China could fire hundreds of missiles at U.S. and allies’ air bases, ports and command centers throughout the Pacific, jam the U.S. military’s GPS, attack American satellite systems and use its air defenses to keep U.S. warplanes at bay.”

North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s boys fired two more short-range ballistic missiles last Saturday towards the Sea of Japan, the projectiles flying 255 miles, according to the South Korean military.

A few days later, President Trump sent a letter to Kim offering help fighting the coronavirus.  According to Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, the letter also included a plan for advancing ties between the countries, per a statement published by state-run Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea continues to maintain it has seen no cases of infection, though the U.S. has said it has seen evidence the nation has been affected.

In her statement, Kim Yo Jong said the letter was “a good judgment and proper action.  Fortunately, the personal relations between the two top leaders are not as far away as the relations of confrontation between the two countries.”

Russia: This country has seemingly been in a state of denial regarding Covid-19, but President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he hoped Russia would defeat it in 2-3 months if it imposed tough measures, as authorities suspended international flights, ordered most shops in Moscow to shut and halted some church services. 

Russia suddenly had 840 cases as of Thursday.

Citing the coronavirus, Putin postponed a nationwide vote on constitutional changes that would allow him to extend his rule due to what he said was the worsening global situation.  The vote had been planned for April 22.

Separately, as part of a theme of mine from last week, the failure of the United States to project global leadership during the crisis has resulted in China and Russia filling the void.  Both nations very publicly began flying medical help to Italy, in Moscow’s case an operation labeled “From Russia with Love.”  The Kremlin and Putin have been courting Italy’s leaders for years.

China was the first to deliver, sending a shipment of ventilators, along with 300 Chinese intensive-care doctors and nurses to staff beleaguered hospitals.  Italy’s leaders were effusive in their praise of Beijing.

Chad / Nigeria: Islamist militants Boko Haram still carry a potent punch, killing 47 Nigerian soldiers in an ambush on Monday, and then the same day killing 92 Chadian soldiers in an attack on an island in Lake Chad, which is the region where forces from Chad, Nigeria and Niger have been fighting the insurgents for the last five years.

According to the UN, the Boko Haram insurgency began a decade ago in northeastern Nigeria and the ensuing violence, which spread to neighboring countries, has resulted in more than 30,000 dead, while forcing two million from their homes.

Random Musings

--Presidential tracking polls

Gallup: 49% approval of President Trump’s job performance, 45% disapproval; 92% of Republicans approve, 43% of independents (Mar. 13-22).  The numbers improved solidly for the president since the Mar. 2-13 survey.
Rasmussen: 46% approval, 52% disapproval (Mar. 27).  Unchanged vs. last Friday.

As part of the latest Gallup survey, 60% give the president generally positive reviews for his handling of the pandemic, 38% disapproving.  94% of Republicans, 60% of independents and 27% of Democrats approve of his response.

Historically, job approval has increased when the nation is under threat. Gallup notes that every president from FDR through George W. Bush saw their approval rating surge at least 10 points after a significant national event of this kind.  Bush’s 35-point increase after 9/11 is the most notable rally effect on record.

The aforementioned Reuters/Ipsos poll of Americans’ attitude towards the pandemic showed 53% saying they think the federal government is doing a good job, up 3 points from a week earlier.

Trump’s overall approval rating is 44%, up 4% since the last survey.

A Washington Post/ABC News survey released today had Trump’s approval at 48%, up five points since February.  [After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush’s approval rating surged from 55% to 86% in Post-ABC polling.]

58% in this poll say President Trump did not move quickly enough to control the pandemic and 38% say he moved at the right speed.

A Fox News poll released Thursday had Trump at 48% approval, up a point from February, while 51% disapprove.

51% approve of President Trump’s response to coronavirus.  77% approve of Dr. Fauci.

--Joe Biden rejected any idea of an April debate with Bernie Sanders, signaling Wednesday that he views the Democratic nominating contest as essentially over.

“I think we’ve had enough debate,” Biden said during a livestreamed news conference.  “I think we should get on with this.”

Sanders then responded that he wanted a face-off because it would help inform Americans as they confront the coronavirus.

“One of the things that I think the people want, especially in this unprecedented crisis in modern American history, is to hear the ideas of candidates as to how we got into this disaster,” Sanders said Wednesday on CNN.  “So I think we need a good debate as to where we go, not only just now but in the future.”

The Democratic National Committee had previously said a debate would be held sometime in April, though none has been planned and Biden’s near-insurmountable lead in delegates has called into question why Sanders remains in the race.

Last week, Sanders said he was “assessing” his campaign after a series of primary losses, but his advisers are saying now he won’t quit.

Separately, Biden said he needed to start vetting running mates “in a matter of weeks” and that he discussed the pick with former President Obama.  He told donors at a fundraising event held by telephone that his options will include at least six or seven women who will be subjected to background checks.

Regarding the idea of postponing the vote in November if the coronavirus is not fully contained by then, Biden said, “You know, we voted in the middle of the Civil War, we voted in the middle of World War One and Two.  The idea of postponing the electoral process seems to me out of the question.”

--Biden may regret having committed to a woman as running mate.  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has certainly garnered rave reviews for his coronavirus briefings and his national identity has soared.

--According to a Public Policy Poll of 896 North Carolina voters, half want Republican Sen. Richard Burr to resign after two Covid-19 related developments.  First, he gave a stark warning about the disease at a Feb. 27 private event that he has not repeated publicly, and, second, Senate financial-disclosure documents showed Burr and his wife sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his stock holdings in 33 separate transactions on Feb. 13, a week before the stock market began to tank.

Only 24% said Burr should remain in office.

--Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, in an op-ed Tuesday in USA TODAY, urged folks to stop “finger-wagging” at him for not self-quarantining while awaiting his coronavirus test results.

“I did not quarantine while awaiting a coronavirus test because I did not meet the criteria for quarantine.  In fact, I did not meet the current criteria for even being tested, much less quarantined.”

Paul added: “Instead of hounding people who got tested and then quarantined themselves, perhaps we need to broaden the testing and quit finger-wagging.”

Paul, who confirmed he tested positive for Covid-10 on Sunday, was blasted by his colleagues for spending a week interacting with them and aides, as well as using Capitol Hill facilities while awaiting his results.

Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, both of Utah, went into self-quarantine after being in proximity to Paul.

Paul had traveled extensively in the weeks prior to social distancing practices.  He also attended a March 7 charity ball at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum, where two attendees later tested positive.

But, he said, “I was not considered to be at risk since I never interacted with the two individuals, even from a distance, and was not recommended for testing by health officials.”

You’re an amazing jerk, Mr. Paul.  His fellow senators, Republican and Democrat, rightfully are super pissed.  Aside from working out at the gym, he then attended a number of Senate lunches while awaiting his results.

--Especially when you consider Senator Amy Klobuchar’s husband was hospitalized with the coronavirus.  The husband has a teaching job in Baltimore and was in Washington, DC, when he got sick.  Sen. Klobuchar was in Minnesota.  She said today he’s back home and improving, while she lives elsewhere in Washington.  What was clear from her tone in an interview with CNN is that it was dicey for a while.

--We know Antarctica is warming up, and one glacier, East Antarctica’s Denman glacier, has retreated nearly 3 miles in just 22 years, according to a study from scientists at the University of California-Irvine.

With concern the ground surface under the ice sheet could make it even more susceptible to a climate-driven collapse, “If fully thawed, the ice in Denman would cause sea levels worldwide to rise almost 5 feet,” the researchers said in a statement.

Greenland and Antarctica are now melting six times faster than in the 1990s.

In the United States almost 40% of the U.S. population lives in relatively high population-density coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion and hazards from storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Globally, eight of the world’s 10 largest cities are near a coast.

--America’s nonprofits are getting crushed in the coronavirus pandemic.  I imagine most of you belong to a little community organization as I am.  We do good work, but of course depend on fundraising and so much for holding golf outings in my area this spring.  Ours is in June and it’s possible the courses may reopen by then, but the local business community has been crushed, and these are the folks supporting the outing in times past.  Gone is that slug of money we then turn around and give back.

There are provisions in the Stimulus Bill that encourage charitable giving but, without reading the legislation yet, we need the local biz community to recover through their piece of the recovery program, small business loans, because we need to be able to go back to them at some point.

--America’s universities, and others in the Western World, are going to pay a huge price for the virus and the closing of borders, namely that with China.  Last year, more than 120,000 Chinese students enrolled in Britain; 200,000 in Australia; 400,000 at American universities…all paying full freight.

Schools have treated Chinese and other international students as “cash cows.”

--A 19th century Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, is known as the pioneer of hand-washing.  As reported by Meagan Flynn of the Washington Post: “He discovered the wonders of the now-basic hygienic practice as a way to stop the spread of infection in 1847, during an experiment in a Vienna hospital’s maternity ward….

“(In) his day, not even doctors cared to wash their hands.  Many didn’t care to heed Semmelweis’ warnings, either….

“He has been described as a martyr in life and a hero much later.  His advice was finally put to good use only after he died.”

“It’s unfortunate it takes a situation like the one we’re experiencing now for him to get his due,” Jordan H. Perlow, a Phoenix-based obstetrician who teaches at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, told the Post.  “It’s the kind of thing where, from the perspective of the year 2020, you look back and think, how could something as fundamental and basic and primitive as washing one’s hands be looked at in such a negative way?”

Semmelweis, born in Hungary, started working at Vienna’s General Hospital’s maternity clinic in 1846 after graduating from medical school.  He immediately became unsettled at the extraordinarily high maternal mortality rate in one of his wards.

“In the ward that was staffed by physicians and medical students, between 13 to 18 percent of new mothers were dying of a mysterious illness known as the childbed fever, or puerperal fever… By comparison, in the ward staffed by midwives, about 2 percent of women died of the fever.  No one knew what explained the extreme discrepancy.

“So Semmelweis started digging.  He scrutinized everything from the climate to the crowds at each maternity clinic, trying to pinpoint factors that might cause a spike in fever cases at one.  But the only obvious difference was the midwives.”

This is rather grotesque, but Semmelweis made a startling revelation.  “A fellow doctor died of what appeared to be a case of childbed fever after cutting himself with a scalpel that had been used to dissect one of the dead women’s bodies.

“The physicians, Semmelweis realized, had been dissecting infected cadavers during autopsies with their bare hands.  Then, with those same contaminated hands, they were delivering babies.

“ ‘They were inoculating their patients with bacteria,’ Perlow said.  ‘They were basically immersed in pus for hours.’

“Bacteria was not yet understood. But Semmelweis was getting close to his answer.  He believed the autopsy physicians must be carrying around invisible particles of ‘decaying animal-organic matter’ on their fingertips.  So he required anyone examining a woman in the labor room to wash their hands in a chlorinated lime solution before entering, especially those who just touched dead bodies.

“Within a matter of months, the results of this simple hygienic change were apparent and astounding.  The maternal mortality rate dropped to between 1 and 2 percent, matching that of the women in the midwives’ ward.”

The doctors didn’t believe Semmelweis because the prevailing view then about how diseases spread was that it did so by wafting toxic odors.  “If people cared about washing their hands in earlier decades, (said Dana Tulodziecki, a philosophy of science professor at Purdue University), it was because they were trying to get rid of the smell, not the particles.

“Now Semmelweis was claiming that those invisible particles on the hands of doctors were to blame.”

Nobody was pleased to hear this.  Especially because the midwives’ ward had a lower mortality rate and the doctors were supposed to know much more than them.

Semmelweis was let go in 1849.

---

Pray for the men and women of our armed forces…and all the fallen.

We pray for all our healthcare workers, police and EMTs.

God bless America.

---

Gold $1626
Oil $21.63

Returns for the week 3/23-3/27

Dow Jones  +12.8%  [21636]
S&P 500  +10.3%  [2541]
S&P MidCap  +13.0%
Russell 2000  +11.7%
Nasdaq  +9.1%  [7502]

Returns for the period 1/1/20-3/27/20

Dow Jones  -24.2%
S&P 500  -21.3%
S&P MidCap  -31.0%
Russell 2000 -32.2%
Nasdaq  -16.4%

Bulls 30.1
Bears 41.7

Hang in there.  Wash your hands.

Dr. Bortrum posted a new column!

Brian Trumbore