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For the week 5/18-5/22
[Posted 10:30 PM ET, Friday]
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The country is becoming more and more divided by the day and it’s depressing. Here in the New York City area, a large percentage of residents, especially business owners, are increasingly furious. It was best expressed the other day in the following op-ed that ran on the front page of the New York Post, written by David Marcus of The Federalist.
“Last Friday morning, some 3,500 New Yorkers lined up at a Catholic church in Queens to receive free food hours before it even opened, according to the New York Police Department. Catholic Charities has reported a 200 percent increase in demand over the past month and a half.
“By prolonging the coronavirus shutdown long after its core mission was accomplished, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have plunged tens of thousands of New Yorkers into poverty.
“It needs to end. Now.
“In mid-March, we were told we have to endure a lockdown to ensure that hospitals didn’t get overrun. We did. The hospitals were not overwhelmed. We turned the Javits Center into a hospital. We didn’t need it. We brought in a giant Navy ship to treat New Yorkers. We didn’t need it.
“We were told we were moments away from running out of ventilators. We weren’t, and now the United States has built so many, we are giving them away to other countries.
“Meanwhile, the Big Apple is dying. Its streets are empty. The bars and jazz clubs, restaurants and coffeehouses sit barren. Beloved haunts, storied rooms, perfect-slice joints are shuttered, many for good. The seat equity of countless small-business owners is evaporating. Instead of getting people back to work providing for their families, our mayor talks about a fantasyland New Deal for the post-coronavirus era.
“Open the city. All of it. Right now. Broadway shows, beaches, Yankees games, the schools, the top of the freakin’ Empire State building. Everything. New Yorkers have already learned to socially distance. Businesses can adjust. The elderly and infirm can continue to be isolated…
“If our elected leaders won’t save the world’s greatest city from a slow death by economic strangulation, then the people of New York must do it themselves. Barbers, tailors, nail salons, sporting good stores, movie theaters and others should open their doors – while maintaining social distancing, of course – and dare the state to shut them down.
“Our politicians serve by our consent; we don’t run our businesses or live our lives by their consent. The suggestion to the contrary is an affront to Americanism….
“We did what we were asked. We flattened the freakin’ curve. There is no longer any reasonable justification for the government to deprive us of our livelihoods. And our rights aren’t the government’s to grant or take away. They belong to us – the free grant of nature and the God of nature. We’re Americans. More than that: New Yorkers, (dammit).”
I get it. I also have no answers. 38.6 million have now filed for unemployment in America in just the last nine weeks. May’s unemployment rate, when issued June 5, will no doubt be 20%+. I maintain there is no V-recovery in the offing.
But if you are looking for a sliver of good news, the total number of travelers that went through TSA checkpoints on Thursday was 318,449, up from a low of 87,534 on April 14.
Of course the 318,449 is compared with 2,673,635 a year ago for the same date, or just 12%. But it’s worth watching for signs of life.
I just don’t want the nation to get complacent. Yes, reopen smartly. Good people can disagree on the idea of just letting it rip. It doesn’t help, however, when our leader in the White House refuses to follow his own guidelines.
Which brings me to the issue of wearing a mask. On Thursday, President Trump once again stepped on his message when he toured a Ford factory in Michigan. What should have been a feel-good story about corporate nimbleness, the production of lifesaving medical gear and equipment, and his leadership turned into another game of why the president refuses to wear a mask in settings where it is required of everyone else.
Thursday, while a photo emerged of him wearing a mask in an area of the facility off-limits to the press, he said he didn’t want to give the press “the pleasure” of seeing him wear one.
Let’s face it, the issue of whether a mask helps prevent the spread has been an evolving one. Here in New Jersey, we reported our first case on March 4. Many of us in my area went about our business the next ten days or so, but the evidence was all around. Covid-19 was in all our towns. In fact, experts now believe the coronavirus was in my state in January.
But by March 15, most of us knew enough to be careful with hand hygiene, and I went online to order some masks and supplies were already non-existent. Gov. Murphy had closed the schools March 10 and March 21 he issued our stay-at-home order. Cases were beginning to spike. It should have been “masks up” then.
Tuesday, March 24, we learned cases had spiked in Summit from four to eight. That day was a particularly memorable one as stories began to circulate of severe PPE issues at Overlook Hospital here in town and nurses, through various social media platforms, were screaming for help. I drove up there that afternoon and what I saw shook me to my core. Ambulances all over the place.
But we should have been wearing masks and very few of us were because the CDC guidelines weren’t clear.
It wasn’t until mid-April that masks were mandatory in places like grocery stores and the post office. It was too late. We had long been spreading it to each other.
This week, the CDC said that it turns out the virus doesn’t spread easily on surfaces, that it’s basically totally respiratory, spreading through coughs, sneezes, normal speech. It was the final confirmation, as if we needed reminding at this point, that the masks are necessary.
Our numbers, despite the gruesome death toll of 10,986 in my state, are coming down. But it’s no time to let your guard down if you live in the area, so I’ll be wearing a mask when I’m in any kind of crowd indoors for a long time to come.
For the rebels out there, those who like to say “I live in a free country” and refuse to wear one in areas where your state or local officials are telling you to, good luck. I hope our paths don’t cross.
Covid-19 deaths as of tonight….
--The World Health Organization expressed concern on Wednesday about the rising number of new coronavirus cases in poor countries, even as many rich nations have begun emerging from lockdown. The WHO said there were 106,000 new cases of infections Wednesday, the most in a single day since the outbreak began. [Then we had 107,700 today.]
“We still have a long way to go in this pandemic,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference.
--So you have Brazil, which registered a record 1,188 coronavirus deaths on Thursday, another 966 today, for a total of 21,048 and now 330,000 cases, second most in the world. President Jair Bolsonaro, a Trump acolyte, when questioned about the rising death toll in his country, actually said this: “So what? I can’t work miracles.”
At least 116 nurses have died in Brazil, most in the world.
--Mexico has recorded 420+ deaths three days in a row (including 479 just reported for the trailing 24 hours), all the figures going in the wrong direction.
--The UN is scared to death about coronavirus in Yemen. The health care system there “has in effect collapsed,” the UN said today, in appealing for urgent funding.
There are only 209 confirmed cases and 33 deaths as I write, but the UN hears from its sources that Yemen is really on the brink and that community transmission is taking place across the country.
The poor place has already been ravaged by war, and being severely malnourished, the population has among the world’s lowest immunity levels to disease.
--Research from South Korea shows that patients who test positive for the coronavirus weeks after recovering from Covid-19 probably aren’t capable of transmitting the infection.
Scientists from the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied 285 Covid-19 survivors who had tested positive for the coronavirus after their illness had apparently resolved, as indicated by a previous negative test result. The so-called re-positive patients weren’t found to have spread any lingering infection, and virus samples collected from them couldn’t be grown in culture, indicating the patients were shedding non-infectious or dead virus particles.
So a positive sign…the evidence suggests that those who have recovered present no risk of spreading the coronavirus when physical distancing measures are relaxed.
--On the other hand, staying in South Korea, group fitness classes can be a hotbed for the spread of the virus, Korea’s CDC warned in a new report.
The study, coming as states begin to reopen, highlights how a single workshop among 27 dance fitness instructors in South Korea was responsible for more than 100 coronavirus cases spread across 12 fitness facilities in the city of Cheonan.
Eight instructors at the Feb. 15 meeting had the coronavirus but they hadn’t known yet – they were asymptomatic.
Over the course of the next 24 days, by March 9, the virus spread to across fitness classes to 112 participants, according to a research team.
Contact tracers found about half of the 112 cases were transmitted from instructors to students.
--A new Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that a quarter of Americans have “little to no interest” in taking a coronavirus vaccine and are skeptical that the safety of the vaccine could be compromised based on the rate of which vaccines are being developed amid the outbreak.
Of those surveyed, 36 percent also said they would be “less willing” to take a coronavirus vaccine that President Trump “said was safe,” compared to the 14 percent who said they would be “more interested” based on the president’s advice.
Somehow, at least 70 percent of Americans either need to take a vaccine that is effective, or to have previously had the virus, in order for the country to reach “herd immunity.”
Finally, we have the rapidly growing tensions between the United States and China. I have the whole Hong Kong and Taiwan stories below, but this is something I’ve been warning about for years and it’s clearly coming to a head. President Xi Jinping is playing the nationalism card when it comes to the former and could do so with the latter at virtually any moment.
China plans to impose national security laws on Hong Kong that could see mainland intelligence agencies set up bases there, raising fears of direct law enforcement and what the U.S. is branding a “death knell” for the city’s autonomy. This is a frightening moment. The protests will be massive and this time the violence will be deadly.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the United States will stand with the people of Hong Kong.
“The United States strongly urges Beijing to reconsider its disastrous proposal, abide by its international obligations, and respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and civil liberties, which are key to preserving its special status under U.S. law,” Pompeo said.
President Trump, having made the decision it is good for him to criticize China heavily as part of his re-election campaign, seeing as a vast majority of Americans are now sick of China, has been escalating his rhetoric.
And others are getting involved, as tonight it is being reported British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning to reduce Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei Technologies’ involvement in Britain’s 5G network to zero by 2023, according to the Daily Telegraph. Johnson, like President Trump, has also instructed his government to make plans to end Britain’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies.
Earlier in the week, China added to tensions with Australia by announcing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties totaling 80.5% on Australian barley imports from May 19, which is expected to all but halt a $billion-dollar trade between them.
--President Trump on Tuesday called the number of Covid-19 cases in the United States – the highest in the world – a “badge of honor,” arguing the still-increasing number of cases is simply evidence the country is testing more people. “(If) we were testing a million people instead of 14 million people, it would have far fewer cases, right? So, I view it as a badge of honor. Really, it’s a badge of honor.”
The U.S. still trails many nations in per capita testing, including the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany.
--President Trump said he met on Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to discuss priorities for legislation – after the two flatly rejected a $3 trillion bill passed by House Democrats on Friday.
After four major coronavirus bills, Trump is pushing for a payroll tax cut (which is beyond absurd when there are so many without a job!) in new legislation and McConnell wants liability protections for companies that reopen. But Democrats who hold the House insist on state bailouts, which Trump and Republicans are largely against.
Democrats also propose to extend a $600 per week boost in unemployment insurance pay through January. But members of both parties expressed interest in additional stimulus checks and new infrastructure spending.
Trump then told reporters he plans to push states to allow churches to resume operations as local authorities gradually end two months of mandated business closures and quarantine rules.
“The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors. I want to get our churches open, and we’re going to be taking a very strong position on that very soon,” he said.
And then this afternoon, the president said he was declaring that places of worship – churches, synagogues and mosques – are providing essential services and thus should be opened as soon as possible.
Trump also issued a warning to state governors who refuse his appeal but did not say under what authority he would act to force the reopening of religious facilities.
“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less,” he said.
--The war of words between President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continued, Trump saying Pelosi has “mental problems” after she poked fun at his weight in a TV appearance.
“Pelosi is a sick woman. She’s got a lot of problems, a lot of mental problems,” Trump told reporters on Capitol Hill after attending a lunch with Senate Republicans.
Monday, Pelosi, in an interview on CNN, said that Trump should not be taking the drug hydroxychloroquine to protect against contracting the coronavirus because he is “morbidly obese.”
“I don’t respond to her. I think she’s a waste of time,” Trump initially said on Tuesday.
--So, yes, President Trump stunned us all on Monday, when in comments to reporters, the president said he had started taking the malaria and lupus medication hydroxychloroquine in the past fortnight.
“I happen to be taking it,” Trump said. ‘If it’s not good, I’ll tell you right, I’m not going to get hurt by it.”
The World Health Organization has called attention to reports of individuals self-medicating and causing themselves serious harm with hydroxychloroquine. And the Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning about its use. The FDA said it is “aware of reports of serious heart rhythm problems” in patients with Covid-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine.
Pelosi said on CNN Monday that she would “rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists.”
“Especially in his age group, and in his, shall we say, weight group, morbidly obese, they say.”
Critics of Pelosi said her comments were “fat-shaming.”
But today, a study of nearly 100,000 coronavirus patients was published in The Lancet and it showed there was no benefit in treating them with anti-viral drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and even increased the likelihood of them dying in hospital.
--President Trump walked back his threat on Wednesday to withhold funding from Michigan over its efforts to expand mail-in voting as a health safety measure during the coronavirus outbreak. The president then pounded away all week how mail-in/absentee voting is “wrought with fraud.”
Similarly, he threatened Nevada for sending out mail-in ballot applications.
--In tweets, Trump appeared to link MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough to the death of an aide two decades ago, a conspiracy theory debunked by police.
“Donald, you’re a sick person,” anchor Mika Brzezinski said on air as she defended her husband. She also demanded Twitter take down the president’s incendiary tweets.
Brzezinski questioned how the president could subject the family of a congressional aide – who authorities said died of natural causes in Scarborough’s office in 2001 – to such “BS.”
Brzezinski and Scarborough have been highly critical of the president’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
In 2017, the president referred to Brzezinski on Twitter as “low IQ Crazy Mika” and claimed she had been “bleeding badly from a face-lift” when he saw her once near his Florida home.
Trump first directed the baseless charge at Scarborough in November 2017, suggesting he should be fired “based on the ‘unsolved mystery’ that took place in Florida years ago.”
In July 2001, a member of his staff, 28-year-old Lori Klausutis, was found dead in the lawmaker’s office in Fort Walton Beach.
Scarborough was in Washington, D.C. at the time.
Authorities determined Klausutis died after losing consciousness from an abnormal heart rhythm, before collapsing and striking her head. She had told a colleague a day earlier that she felt unwell.
Police found no foul play and a medical examiner established Klausutis had suffered an acute subdural hematoma, or blood clot, ruling her death accidental.
--Attorney General William Barr said Monday that former President Barack Obama and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are not under investigation, despite President Trump’s assertions that his predecessor’s administration committed criminal offenses.
Trump has repeatedly accused Obama of unjustly targeting his associates in what he calls “Obamagate,” and has called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to call his predecessor to testify in hearings about the origins of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Barr, during an unrelated briefing on the continuing inquiry into December’s deadly shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, said he would not allow the criminal justice system to be “used as a political weapon.”
“The criminal justice system will not be used for partisan political ends,” Barr said, before launching a blistering critique of the Russia investigation.
--President Trump defended his decision to fire the State Department’s inspector general, saying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked him to do so and dismissing suggestions that Pompeo faced a probe by the ousted official, Steve Linick.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement responding to Linick’s firing that “Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal.”
“Inspectors general are crucial in correcting government failures and promoting the accountability that the American people deserve,” he said.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine also said Trump had failed to adequately explain the reasons for Linick’s removal.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted: “The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose. It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.”
--Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas was confirmed as the next director of national intelligence after a Senate vote along party lines on Thursday. The Republican lawmaker was confirmed 49-44 and will replace acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell.
“China is on a massive disinformation campaign because they are desperate to have Sleepy Joe Biden win the presidential race so they can continue to rip-off the United States, as they have done for decades, until I came along!
“Spokesman speaks stupidly on behalf of China, trying desperately to deflect the pain and carnage that their country spread throughout the world. Its disinformation and propaganda attack on the United States and Europe is a disgrace…
“…It all comes from the top. They could have easily stopped the plague, but they didn’t!”
“Crazy Bernie Sanders is not a fighter. He gives up too easy! The Dem establishment gets Alfred E. Newman (Mayor Pete) & @amyklobuchar to quit & endorse Sleepy Joe BEFORE Super Tuesday, & gets Pocahontas to stay in the race, taking thousands of votes from Bernie. He would have….
“….beaten Sleepy Joe in a LANDSLIDE, every State, if these events didn’t happen. Even if Warren just dropped out, he would have easily won. Dems did it to him with Crooked Hillary and now, even more so…and Bernie doesn’t even complain. VOTE for Trump on TRADE, better than BS!”
“Now that our Country is ‘Transitioning back to Greatness’, I am considering rescheduling the G-7, on the same or similar date, in Washington, D.C., at the legendary Camp David. The other members are also beginning their COMEBACK. It would be a great sign to all – normalization!”
“Congratulations to my daughter, Tiffany, on graduating from Georgetown Law. Great student, great school. Just what I need is a lawyer in the family. Proud of you Tiff!”
“Many will disagree, but @FoxNews is doing nothing to help Republicans, and me, get re-elected on November 3rd. Sure, there are some truly GREAT people on Fox, but you also have some real ‘garbage’ littered all over the network, people like Dummy Juan Williams, Schumerite Chris…
“…Hahn, Richard Goodstein, Donna Brazile, Niel (sic) Cavuto, and many others. They repeat the worst of the Democrat speaking points, and lies. All of the good is totally nullified, and more. Net Result = BAD! CNN & MSNDC are all in for the Do Nothing Democrats! Fox WAS Great!”
On Monday, Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto was hosting his 4 p.m. show when Trump told reporters he had begun taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure against the coronavirus. When the camera cut to Cavuto, the anchor looked stricken.
“That was stunning,” he told viewers, going on to cite studies about the potentially fatal effects of hydroxychloroquine on older patients and those with heart conditions.
“If you are in a risky population here and you are taking this as a preventive treatment to ward off the virus – or in a worst-case scenario, you are dealing with the virus and you are in this vulnerable population – it will kill you,” Cavuto said. “I cannot stress enough: This will kill you.”
Wall Street…China Trade Deal
In an interview Sunday on “60 Minutes,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the U.S. economy could take more than a year to recover from the coronavirus-induced shock.
“It’s going to take a while for us to get back,” Powell said in a rare appearance. “The economy will recover. It may take a while….It could stretch through the end of next year. We really don’t know.”
Powell cautioned that the public would need to stay vigilant to avoid a second wave of infections. “That would be quite damaging to the economy and also to public confidence,” he said. “That’s a risk we really want to avoid.”
The Chair also cautioned that it would be hard for the public to be “fully confident” until there is a vaccine. Economic activity that depends on large public gatherings could be especially challenged, he said.
“When the public is confident that it’s safe to go out, they’ll go out,” challenging the idea that there is a trade-off between economic growth and protecting the public’s health. The more that the public takes seriously social distancing measures, “the sooner we can open up the economy,” he said.
But the market surged Monday, helped as well by Moderna’s announcement (see below), on Powell’s assurances that the Fed is not out of ammunition to help the financial markets and expects the economy to start recovering as soon as the second quarter.
Separately, the Federal Reserve issued a stark warning last weekend that stock and other asset prices could suffer significant declines should the pandemic deepen, with the commercial real estate market being among the hardest-hit industries.
The Fed made the assertion in its twice-yearly financial stability report, in which it flags risks to the U.S. banking system and broader economy.
On the trade front, despite the tensions between Washington and Beijing, China reiterated a pledge to implement the first phase of its trade deal with the U.S.
Premier Li Keqiang told an annual gathering of lawmakers in Beijing today: “We will work with the United States to implement the phase one China-U.S. economic and trade agreement. China will continue to boost economic and trade cooperation with other countries to deliver mutual benefits.”
China has significantly stepped up purchase of U.S. agriculture products in the past two months, according to data from the Department of Agriculture.
In the 10 weeks ended May 7, gross sales of U.S. corn and pork were up around eight times and cotton sales were three times higher than they were in the same period in 2017, before the start of the U.S.-China trade war. Soybean exports to China, the largest component of U.S. farm export receipts, rose roughly a third in the same period.
But even as China buys more U.S. farm products, it isn’t on pace to meet targets for purchases overall. Research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics said under the agreement it was implied that Chinese imports would fall well below targets.
Part of the challenge for China is that domestic economic conditions have deteriorated, reducing demand.
It was a light week in terms of U.S. economic data, with April housing starts coming in at 891,000, annualized, vs. a revised March figure of 1.276 million.
April existing home sales were at a 4.33 million annualized pace vs. 5.27 million the prior month. Overall sales were down 17.2% from a year ago, not surprising given the lockdown occurred from mid-March through April in most states.
The median existing home price for all housing types in April was $286,800, up 7.4% from April 2019, as prices increased in every region. Record-low mortgage rates will remain in place for the foreseeable future and that will continue to be the key factor driving demand as state economies reopen.
The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow barometer for second-quarter GDP is at -41.9%.
One more…the Bureau of Labor Statistics said today that unemployment rates rose and total employment fell in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia in April amid the efforts to contain the coronavirus and the lockdown.
43 states set record-high levels of unemployment last month, with the highest being in Nevada, the state with the greatest reliance on the hard-hit food services and hospitality industry. The rate in Nevada surged 24.2 percentage points to 28.2% - nearly twice April’s national unemployment rate of 14.7%.
Europe and Asia
We had flash PMI readings for May in the eurozone (EA19), with the composite for the region at 30.5 vs. 13.6 in April (50 being the dividing line between growth and contraction); manufacturing at 39.5 vs. 33.4 in April, services 28.7 vs. 12.0.
In Germany, the flash composite was 31.4 vs. 17.4; manufacturing 36.8 vs. 34.5, services 31.4 vs. 16.2.
France had a flash composite for May of 30.5 vs. 11.1 in April; manufacturing 40.3 vs. 31.5, services 29.4 vs. 10.2.
Yes, the figures remain putrid, but you can see the worst for Europe was April, just as it is likely to be for the United States.
In non-Euro UK, the flash composite figure for May was 28.9 vs. 13.8; 40.6 for manufacturing vs. 32.6, services 27.8 vs. 13.4.
Chris Williamson / IHS Markit
“The eurozone saw a further collapse of business activity in May but the survey data at least brought reassuring signs that the downturn likely bottomed out in April.
“Second quarter GDP is still likely to fall at an unprecedented rate, down by around 10% compared to the first quarter, but the rise in the PMI adds to expectations that the downturn should continue to moderate as lockdown restrictions are further lifted heading into the summer.
“All eurozone countries eased their Covid-19 containment measures to some extent in May, helping to moderate the overall rate of economic decline.
“However, while a further loosening of restrictions is anticipated in coming months, some measures to contain the virus are likely to remain in place until an effective treatment or vaccine is found.
“An additional concern is that demand is likely to remain extremely weak for a prolonged period, putting further pressure on companies to make more aggressive job cuts as government job retention schemes expire. We therefor expect GDP to slump by almost 9% in 2020 and for a full recovery to take several years.”
Separately, inflation in April for the eurozone came in at 0.3% annualized vs. 0.7% in March. Inflation was running at a 1.7% pace a year earlier.
A few representative figures:
Spain -0.7% (ann.), Italy 0.1%, Germany 0.8% and France 0.4%.
--French President Emmanuel Macron lost his majority in the National Assembly when a centrist political party broke away. The defections leave Macron’s party, Republic On the Move, with 288 of the 577 seats, down from 308 when he was elected. To pass legislation, Macron will now have to rely more heavily on his political alliance with a smaller centrist party, Modem, that has moved in lockstep with the president in the past.
--There is growing frustration in Spain with the government and the lengthy lockdown, restrictions slowly being removed. The country is slated to contract 12.4% in 2020, as the critical tourism industry has been decimated.
--A German think tank, IfW Institute, projects Germany’s economy to fall 7.1% this year, with GDP in the second quarter down 11.3%, but then growth is likely in the third quarter on.
Brexit: Britain has the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe despite a lockdown that has kept citizens at home and businesses closed since March 23. That virtual halt in activity means the economy will shrink 17.5% this quarter, according to a Reuters poll of economists, but then the recovery should be stronger in the third assuming at least some lockdown measures are lifted.
But clouding the near-term outlook is the fact Britain’s transition period after leaving the European Union is due to expire at the end of December. Despite the pandemic, Britain has said it will not ask for an extension.
Talks on a new pact with the EU have reached an impasse before a key deadline at the end of June, when Brussels and London are to assess their progress.
In the meantime, the UK announced a new post-Brexit tariff regime to replace the European Union’s external tariff, maintaining a 10% tariff on cars but cutting levies on tens of billions of dollars of supply chain imports.
After decades outsourcing its trade policy to the EU, Britain is seeking free trade agreements with countries around the world and aims to have deals in place covering 80% of British trade by 2022.
Britain said the regime, known as UK Global Tariff, would be simpler and cheaper than the EU’s Common External Tariff. It will apply to countries with which it has no agreement and removes all tariffs below 2%.
Turning to Asia…China dropped its annual growth target for the first time on Friday and pledged more government spending as the Covid-19 pandemic hammers the world’s second-biggest economy, setting a somber tone for this year’s meeting of parliament, the National People’s Congress, in Beijing. The omission from Premier Li Keqiang’s annual report marks the first time China has not set a target for GDP since the government began publishing such goals in 1990.
The economy shrank 6.8% in the first quarter from a year earlier, the first contraction in decades, as the outbreak, which started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, paralyzed production and hit spending.
Li said: “We have not set a specific target for economic growth for the year, mainly because the global epidemic situation and economic and trade situation are very uncertain, and China’s development is facing some unpredictable factors.”
Domestic consumption, investment and exports are falling, and the pressure on employment is rising significantly, while financial risks are mounting, he warned.
Lots of data from Japan. GDP fell -3.4% in the first quarter, annualized, after a -7.3% print in the fourth quarter (owing to the sales-tax hike in October).
Ergo, with two negative quarters in a row, Japan is in recession. The second quarter looks worse.
April exports fell the most since Oct. 2009, down 21.9% year-on-year. Exports to the United States plunged 37.8%, with car exports to the U.S. down 65.8%.
Exports to the EU fell 28.0% yoy.
But they were only down 4.1% to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, as China’s economy began to reopen last month.
A flash reading on May activity showed a composite of 27.4 vs. April’s 25.8; manufacturing 31.7 vs. 34.7, services 25.3 vs. 21.5 in April. As in the case of Europe, still awful.
Japan’s core consumer prices (ex-fresh food here) fell 0.2% in April from a year ago, the government reported Friday. If you strip out both fresh food and energy, the CPI rose 0.2%.
--Stocks surged despite renewed U.S.-China tensions on the hopes for a vaccine and the fact all 50 states are now reopened in one form or another. The Dow Jones rose 3.3% to 24465, while the S&P 500 gained 3.2% and Nasdaq added 3.4% to bring its gain for the year to 3.9%.
But the small-cap Russell 2000 surged 7.7%, meaning the index has soared 37% off its March 18 low.
--U.S. Treasury Yields
6-mo. 0.13% 2-yr. 0.17% 10-yr. 0.66% 30-yr. 1.37%
--Oil continued its spectacular comeback as gasoline demand has surged as states reopen. Demand from drivers rose nearly 40% in the three-week period ended May 8, according to government data. Demand for diesel – commonly used by trucks, trains and boats – is also climbing, though jet-fuel consumption remains weak. West-Texas Intermediate closed the week at $33.56, almost a double in four weeks.
President Trump touted the energy rally with a tweet on Monday, saying “OIL (ENERGY) IS BACK!!!!”
Coupled with the globally coordinated supply cut last month, crude oil inventories in the U.S. fell for a second week, after rising steadily since January, signaling the worst of the industry’s storage crisis has passed. For much of April, traders were struggling to find available storage, and ships carrying oil were floating at sea with nowhere to go.
This afternoon we learned the U.S. oil rig count slumped by 21 to 237 during the week, its lowest level since July 2009, according to data compiled by Baker Hughes. That’s a positive for prices as it means less supply, though the flipside is lost jobs.
--United Airlines said in a Tuesday filing it expects to reduce its scheduled capacity for July by about 75%, compared with year-ago levels, while scheduled capacity for May and June were cut by approximately 90% from the same period in 2019.
As of May 18, the airline said it saw lower customer cancellation rates and “a moderate improvement in demand” in the U.S. and certain international destinations for the remainder of Q2. According to the airline, it will continue to evaluate flights on a rolling 60-day basis “until it sees signs of a recovery in demand.”
New UAL CEO Scott Kirby said on CNBC the other day that United’s daily passenger load had increased to 35,000-40,000 from a low of 10,000. But…this compares to an average of 500,000 a year ago.
--There is a slightly more optimistic tone coming from all the major carriers, however, with Southwest Airlines saying its flights are 25% to 30% full, after expecting its planes to be at most 10% full this month.
Delta Air Lines said, “We have seen a little bit of a bounce off the bottom,” though CFO Paul Jacobson added, “But we have to be careful that (the recent bookings for June and July) actually translate into trips and don’t just cancel.”
Southwest said new bookings have exceeded cancellations this month so far, and the airline expects its revenue decline in June to be less steep than in previous months, albeit still down 80% to 85% from a year earlier.
Planes are starting to fill up, too, as you’ve seen in various forums, but that’s in no small part due to the fact the airlines have cut so many flights from schedules.
American Airlines Group Inc. said its flights are now 35% full on average, compared with 15% in April.
But today, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly reportedly warned employees the carrier may need to cut jobs later this year unless passenger traffic recovers rapidly this summer, Bloomberg News citing a video message from Kelly to employees.
Kelly also said the company ran a $1 billion loss during April, not counting government aid, and barring a big increase in customers, “we’ll have to radically restructure Southwest Airlines.”
Well this really isn’t new, as I’ve noted it more than a few times over the last six weeks, but once the Sept. 30 deadline for keeping employees, under terms of the aid package passed by Congress, expires, the airlines can do what they want. It’s bound to be bloody.
--Lufthansa is bracing for hundreds of aircraft to remain grounded due to the pandemic well into 2022 and that further job cuts at its maintenance and catering businesses were inevitable. Lufthansa, in a letter to staff, said that 300 aircraft would remain grounded in 2021 and that 200 would be grounded in 2022.
“In the summer of 2023, when we will hopefully have put this crisis behind us, we will still likely have a fleet that is 100 aircraft smaller,” the board said in the letter.
Lufthansa had a fleet of 763 planes at the end of 2019, according to its annual report.
--Last Friday night, as I was going to post, Air Canada said it had decided to reduce its workforce by up to 60% as the airline tries to save cash and right size its operations to the level of traffic expected in the mid-to-longer term.
--Meanwhile, a group of U.S. senators are urging Delta and JetBlue to immediately reverse their decisions to reduce employees’ hours, saying that the moves are inconsistent with the requirements of taxpayer-funded payroll assistance.
Both have already received a portion of $25 billion in CARES Act money meant to protect airline workers’ jobs and pay rates until Sept. 30.
But the two airlines said the move was in full compliance, seeing as with flights to many cities suspended or significantly reduced, there are literally zero hours for the crewmembers to work. And the airlines are burning through cash.
JetBlue said it is trying to make the payroll aid last until Sept. 30 so that it can preserve as many jobs as it can.
--Rolls-Royce has said it will cut 9,000 jobs and warned it will take “several years” for the airline industry to recover from the coronavirus.
Rolls-Royce, which makes plane engines, said the reduction of nearly a fifth of its workforce would mainly affect its civil aerospace division.
Rolls employs 52,000 globally, with two-thirds in the UK, but now it has to deal with the unions.
--British budget airline easyJet said on Tuesday hackers had accessed the email and travel details of around nine million customers, as well as the credit card details of more than 2,000 of them, in a “highly sophisticated” attack.
CEO Johan Lundgren said, “Since we became aware of the incident, it has become clear that owing to Covid-19 there is heightened concern about personal data being used for online scams.”
The airline has grounded most of its flights due to Covid-19.
--Walmart Inc. emerged as one of the big winners of the coronavirus lockdowns, beating Wall Street’s quarterly revenue and profit forecasts and setting an online sales record as millions of consumers stocked up on food and cleaning supplies.
The company, like many other essential businesses, has seen a surge in demand late in March and early in April, with consumers limiting their trips to the grocers under “shelter-in-place” orders but stockpiling staples. The retailer said that though demand for toilet paper, surface cleaners and groceries tapered off after initial hoarding, government relief payments helped boost sales in the second half of April.
Among the category of sales that are doing well today are bicycles.
Walmart said, however, that while stimulus checks helped deliver a good start to the second quarter, it does not expect spending to continue at the same pace. The company offered little insight beyond that and pulled its forecast for the full year, citing uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
In the first quarter, WMT’s online business grew 74%, as its investments in store pick-up and delivery paid off at the time when demand for such services soared.
Walmart said uncertainty brought by the coronavirus called for prudence in its investments and cost savings. As part of that the group would discontinue Jet.com, the online start-up it bought in 2016 for $3.3 billion. The business was undergoing an overhaul last year by integrating its retail, technology, marketing, analytics and product teams with Walmart’s own online business.
Overall, sales at U.S. stores open at least a year rose 10%, excluding fuel, in the quarter, which is awesome, and above the 8.8% number analysts were expecting. Total revenue rose 8.6% to $134.6 billion.
Walmart has hired about 235,000 hourly workers so far, temporarily increasing wages and spending more on the maintenance of its stores and fulfillment centers. Operating margins declined some in the quarter to 20.5%.
--Target reported revenue and earnings that were better than expected, revenue at $19.62 billion, up 11.3%. But while the stores stayed open during the quarter, many of its customers shopped online. Same-store sales grew by 10.8% vs. a year ago, though that was because digital sales surged by 141%, while sales at stores open at least 12 months rose just 0.9%.
The crisis, however, cut into Target’s profits as labor expenses jumped and it sold fewer high-margin items like apparel. So the shares lost about 5% after the news the rest of the week.
--Home Depot Inc. reported an 11% decline in quarterly earnings as costs from boosting workers’ pay and benefits during the pandemic offset higher sales from locked-down customers doing more projects around the house.
The added employee benefits – which included weekly bonuses and expanded paid time off – totaled $640 million in the quarter ended May 3.
Revenue, though, rose a better-than-expected 7.1% in the quarter to $28.26 billion, up from $26.38 billion in the year-ago quarter.
“Clearly, the customer is reengaged with DIY,” CEO Craig Menear said.
Sales from HD’s digital platforms grew by about 80% in the quarter as people favored online shopping over in-person browsing.
Customers spent an average of $74.70 per transaction during the quarter, up 11% from a year earlier, while the number of transactions fell 3.9%, reflecting people’s desire to limit trips to the store, Menear said.
Comp-store sales rose 6.4% overall, 7.5% in the U.S. during the period. The company withdrew its fiscal 2020 guidance because of market uncertainties.
--Home Depot rival Lowe’s stock surged after an upbeat fiscal first-quarter earnings report. Lowe’s earned $1.77 a share on revenue of $19.68 billion, far better than expected on both metrics.
Overall comparable sales climbed 11.2% during the quarter, while comp sales in the U.S. rose 12.3%. The company said website orders surged 80%.
Lowe’s did withdraw its full-year guidance like many other retailers, citing the uncertainty and closures related to the coronavirus, though the company noted recent strength had continued into May.
--Kohl’s Corp. said the coronavirus crisis would have a material impact on results this year as it removed eight brands, including Jennifer Lopez, warning demand for women’s apparel would remain weak.
Kohl’s reported a bigger-than-expected first-quarter loss, though online sales surged 24% in the quarter and more than 60% in April. The department store chain said it has now reopened nearly half its U.S. stores as lockdowns ease.
For the quarter ended May 2, however, net sales fell about 44% to $2.16 billion and the company reported a net loss of $541 million.
The results follow bankruptcy filings by peers J.Crew, Neiman Marcus and J.C. Penney on the back of huge losses racked up in the two months since U.S. states began issuing stay-at-home orders.
--Speaking of J.C. Penney, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last Friday night, the company plans to close an unspecified number of stores permanently in a bid to survive the process. It had 845 stores at the end of 2019.
But the filing comes after several years of declining sales and strategic missteps, JCP losing money in eight of the last nine years, totaling $4.45 billion. The company also racked up $4.2 billion in debt.
--Macy’s Inc. offered a glimpse of the damage wrought by the coronavirus, saying that first-quarter sales fell by as much as 45% and that it expects to record a roughly $1 billion operating loss when it reports financial results July 1. Macy’s does plan on reopening another 80 of its 775 stores on Memorial Day and hopes to reopen all of them in some form over the next month.
--Victoria’s Secret parent L Brands Inc. said quarterly sales fell 37% and that it would close about a quarter of the lingerie brand’s stores in North America.
--But Best Buy Co. was able to make up for closed stores with online orders and curbside pickup. The chain, which also now has about 700 stores offering in-store visits by appointment, reported a 6% drop in quarterly revenue to $8.56 billion in the quarter ended May 2, better than expected. Quarterly same-store sales fell 5.3%.
CEO Corie Barry said the company was “able to retain approximately 81% of last year’s sales during the last six weeks of the quarter” even though customers couldn’t enter stores.
Online sales made up about 42% of Best Buy’s first-quarter domestic revenue of $7.92 billion, compared with just a 15% share a year earlier.
--Key Nike retailer Foot Locker swung to a loss of 17 cents per share from a year-ago profit of $1.53 a share, with revenue falling 43% to $1.18 billion. Same-store sales plunged 43% as well.
The company said the “phased reopening” of its stores is underway. Foot Lockers shares fell over 8% today.
--The U.S. auto industry, defying a wave of layoffs that has sent the U.S. job market into its worst catastrophe on record, began to reopen factories this week that have been shuttered since mid-March out of fear of spreading the coronavirus.
So the industry is among the first major sectors of the economy to restart its engine as about 133,000 U.S. workers pour back into assembly plants, about half of the industry’s workforce before the pandemic, according to the Associated Press. Parts-making companies also restarted this week.
But the economy is decimated so the auto sector won’t see a full return to normality yet, and if there are no sales, the workers could be sent home again. But automakers are convinced there is enough pent-up demand, especially for pickup trucks, to get the sector moving back in the right direction.
--Deere & Co. on Friday reported fiscal second-quarter profit of $666 million, surpassing Wall Street expectations. The agricultural equipment manufacturer posted revenue of $9.25 billion in the period.
But Deere offered a downbeat outlook for 2020, with sales of agriculture and turf equipment now seen sliding 10% to 15% for the full fiscal year, while construction and forestry equipment is expected to be down 30% to 40%.
The company is projecting net income to be in a range of $1.6 billion to $2 billion for the full year, after reporting net income of $3.25 billion in 2019.
--Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse) said Tuesday that same-restaurant sales declined 47.9% for its fiscal fourth quarter through May 17.
Beginning April 27, the company began reopening dining rooms limited to between 25% and 50% capacity, depending on local or state regulations. As of May 17, Darden had 49% of its dining rooms open in limited capacity and expects to have more than 65% of its dining rooms open with limited capacity by the end of May.
The company’s fine dining segment saw the biggest decline in same-restaurant sales, falling 63.1% for the quarter through May 17, while its Olive Garden restaurants had the smallest decline, 39.4%.
--According to Steve Hafner, CEO of Booking Holdings’ OpenTable and travel site Kayak, told Bloomberg that one out of every four restaurants won’t come back.
With most restaurants being closed or open for takeout only, it should be no surprise that reservations on OpenTable’s services were down 95% on May 13 from the same day a year ago.
The National Restaurant Association says some $30 billion was lost by its members in March, and $50 billion in April.
--Subway slashed 150 jobs this week – the latest in a series of cutbacks at the struggling sandwich chain that is being crushed by the outbreak. The company had laid off 300 in February amid record store closures that have plagued the company for years. The 450 total is compared with a headquarters level of 1,200 at the start of the year. The restaurants are all owned by franchisees.
Subway had a reported 23,802 U.S. stores at the end of 2019, after 996 closed over the course of the year.
--Pier 1 Imports Inc., a home furnishing chain that expanded throughout the U.S. starting in the 1960s, is liquidating its business as soon as it can get its stores open again, the retailer having filed for bankruptcy protection in February. At the time it moved to shut about half of its stores, trying to reorganize about 450 locations or find a buyer who would keep the business alive.
The pandemic dashed those hopes.
At one point, Pier 1 was one of the largest U.S. home furnishings specialty stores with 1,100 locations and sales of nearly $2 billion.
--As alluded to above, Moderna Inc. said its experimental coronavirus vaccine induced immune responses in some of the healthy volunteers who were vaccinated in a clinical study, with the shots generally safe and well-tolerated.
The study results provided a positive sign for the capabilities to protect people.
But the results are preliminary and only for a portion of the study participants.
Nonetheless, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the data suggest the vaccine, code-named mRNA-1273, “has a high probability to provide protection from Covid-19 disease in humans.”
Editorial / Wall Street Journal
“It took 20 months for scientists to prepare a SARS vaccine for test on humans, but private innovation is compressing the time-frame against Covid-19. Using rapid genetic sequencing and its nimble mRNA manufacturing platform, Moderna was able to develop and deliver a vaccine to the National Institutes of Health for clinical trials in late February….
“The first phase of a clinical trial examining whether the vaccine is safe and causes an immune response began in mid-March. Forty-five healthy volunteers ages 18 to 55 received varying doses. Moderna reported on Monday that all participants who had been evaluated after receiving two doses developed antibody levels at or above levels of those seen in patients who have recovered from the virus.
“This suggest that the vaccine could be effective, and none of the participants experienced severe side effects… On May 7, the Food and Drug Administration cleared the company to begin phase two of its trial with 600 participants including individuals over age 55 to determine whether they also muster a robust immune response.
“On May 12 the FDA granted Moderna fast-track designation, and the company plans to begin the third phase of its trial to assess the vaccine’s efficacy in thousands of people in July. A vaccine could be made available for high-priority groups such as health-care workers as early as the fall if results show promise.
“Historically only 16% of vaccines that begin clinical trials have been approved. But more than 100 vaccines are in development worldwide, and the Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health are investing heavily to accelerate those like Moderna’s with the most scientific potential based on early evidence….
“Relaxing lockdowns and social-distancing mandates will also be needed since masses of people will have to be exposed to the virus for manufacturers to figure out if vaccines work. Until a vaccine is widely available, large gatherings may not occur, international travel will be limited, and millions of people will feel anxious about returning to pre-virus habits. Which is why markets are cheering on Moderna, despite the uncertainties that remain, and Americans should be too.”
This was Monday. Tuesday, Moderna shares fell after a report questioned the company’s early-stage trial results. After all, it was also just a press release, and not peer reviewed.
And there was this op-ed from William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor and founder of the university’s cancer and HIV/AIDS research departments, in the Washington Post.
“Faith in medicine and science is based on trust. But today, in the rush to share scientific progress in combating Covid-19, that trust is being undermined.
“Private companies, governments and research institutes are holding news conferences to report potential breakthroughs that cannot be verified. The results are always favorable, but the full data on which the announcements are based are not immediately available for critical review. This is ‘publication by press release,’ and it’s damaging trust in the fundamental methods of science and medicine at a time when we need it most.
“The most recent example is Moderna’s claim Monday of favorable results in its vaccine trial, which it announced without revealing any of the underlying data. The announcement added billions of dollars to the value of the company, with its shares jumping about 20 percent. Many analysts believe it contributed to a 900-point gain in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
“The Moderna announcement described a safety trial of its vaccine based on eight healthy participants. The claim was that in all eight people, the vaccine raised the levels of neutralizing antibodies equivalent to those found in convalescent serum of those who recovered from Covid-19. What to make of that claim? Hard to say, because we have no sense of what those levels were. This is the equivalent of a chief executive of a public company announcing a favorable earnings report without supplying financial data, which the Securities and Exchange Commission would never allow….
“Such ‘publication by press release’ seems to be a standard practice lately. The National Institutes of Health announced last month that the drug remdesivir offered a clear benefit to Covid-19 patients with moderate disease, shortening the length of their hospital stay by several days. But did it really? Twenty days after the announcement, the supporting data has still not been published. Without the data, no doctor treating a patient can be sure they are doing the right thing….
“We all understand the need to share scientific and medical data as rapidly as possible in this time of crisis. But a media announcement alone is not enough. There are ways to share the data quickly and transparently: posting manuscripts before review or acceptance on publicly available websites or working with journals to allow an early view. Publishing in this manner allows doctors and scientists to reach their own conclusion, based on the evidence available.
“The media also bears responsibility. Asking experts to opine on unsubstantiated claims is not useful. Medicine and science are not matters of majority opinion; they are matters of fact supported by transparent data. This is the backbone of scientific progress and our only hope to end this pandemic. We can’t give up on our standards now.”
Shares in Moderna were all over the place this week on varying stories as to its vaccine’s efficacy, but they rallied back a bit today after Dr. Anthony Fauci said in several media reports there were positive early results from the phase 1 study.
--IBM has cut what appears to be a substantial number of jobs across New York, Missouri, California, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, according to company sources and the Wall Street Journal.
“IBM’s work in a highly competitive marketplace requires flexibility to constantly add high-value skills to our workforce. While we always consider the current environment, IBM’s workforce decisions are in the interest of the long-term health of our business,” company spokesman Ed Barbini said Thursday in a statement. “Recognizing the unique and difficult situation this business decision may create for some of our employees, IBM is offering subsidized medical coverage to all affected U.S. employees through June 2021.”
The Journal estimates the number of affected employees is likely to be in the thousands.
--The Trump administration awarded a contract worth up to $812 million for a new U.S. company to manufacture drugs and drug ingredients to fight Covid-19 on American soil, aiming to end dependence on other countries. The administration has been looking to build up the ability to produce drugs and their raw materials in the United States after the global pandemic exposed the industry’s dependence on China and India for its supply chain.
“For far too long, we’ve relied on foreign manufacturing and supply chains for our most important medicines and active pharmaceutical ingredients while placing America’s health, safety, and national security at grave risk,” Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, said in a statement.
The Department of Health and Human Services said it had awarded a four-year, $354 million contract to privately-held Phlow Corp. to make Covid-19 drugs, other essential drugs and their ingredients. The contract – which is for generic drugs, not more complicated products like vaccines – can be extended to a total of $812 million over 10 years.
Phlow was incorporated just in January, but management reached out to HHS last November, to tell them that they were working to build U.S. drug manufacturing capacity. Then the pandemic hit and the company turned its focus to drugs for the virus; such as medicines for pain management, sedation for ventilators, blood pressure support for critical patients and antibiotics, according to the company’s website.
--Johnson & Johnson suddenly announced it would stop selling baby talcum powder in North America, where sales have dropped off due to litigation over claimed asbestos exposure.
“Demand for talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising,” the company said in a statement.
J&J said it remained “steadfastly confident” in the safety of the product and that all verdicts reached against the company that have been through the appeals process have been overturned.
--Royal Caribbean Cruises reported revenue fell to $2.03 billion in its first quarter from $2.44 billion a year earlier.
As of April 30, about 45% of the guests booked on canceled sailings have requested cash refunds, the company said, adding that it continues to take future bookings for through 2022. As of March 31, it had $2.4 billion in customer deposits.
Royal Caribbean estimates its monthly cash burn to be, on average, from $250 million to $275 million during “a prolonged suspension of operations.”
--Shares of Uber spiked as much as 8 percent Monday on reports that the ride-hailing giant is axing an additional 3,000 employees and closing 45 offices as the coronavirus continues to slam its business.
This comes after 3,700 pink slips were handed out earlier this month, thus bringing Uber’s pandemic-fueled layoffs to about 25% of the company’s workforce.
“We’re seeing some signs of a recovery, but it comes off of a deep hole, with limited visibility as to its speed and shape,” CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a company-wide email. He added that the Uber Eats food delivery arm has been a bright spot, but “the business today doesn’t come close to covering our expenses.”
Khosrowshahi also said that Uber, which has struggled to turn a profit since going public last year, would be scaling back its artificial intelligence lab and product incubator, and would be re-evaluating costly endeavors like freight and self-driving vehicles, according to the report.
--Shares in Clorox rose after United Airlines said it would use Clorox products at the gate and terminal areas of its hub airports; Clorox to work with the airline on its cleaning program and disinfection procedures.
--President Trump said on Tuesday the United States should consider terminating trade deals under which it imports cattle as the federal government moves to help agricultural producers hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
“I read yesterday where we take some cattle in from other countries, we have trade deals. I think you should look at terminating those deals. We have a lot of cattle in this country.”
Mexico exports more than 1 million cows across the border each year that become part of the U.S. beef supply.
Trump made the comments at a White House event held to discuss how the $19 billion in coronavirus relief approved by Congress to help farmers will be distributed. $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers will include $9.6 billion for the livestock industry – with $5.1 billion for cattle, $2.9 billion for dairy and $1.6 billion for hogs.
--The coronavirus is hitting seafood businesses even harder than the meat industry. While U.S. supermarket shoppers are buying more fish and shellfish to prepare at home, the rise isn’t enough to offset the loss of sales to restaurants, where 70% of seafood is consumed, according to market-research firm Urner Barry.
--U.S. authorities on Wednesday arrested a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier and his son in Massachusetts wanted by Japan on charges that they enabled the escape of former Nissan Motor Co. boss Carlos Ghosn out of the country.
Former Green Beret Michael Taylor, 59, and his son, Peter Taylor, 27, are accused by Japanese authorities of helping Ghosn last year flee to Lebanon to avoid trial over alleged financial wrongdoing.
Prosecutors said Peter Taylor traveled to Japan the day before Ghosn’s escape and Michael Taylor and a third man, George-Antoine Zayek, arrived the next day with large black boxes that appeared to be for music equipment. They said all three met with Ghosn, who after entering a hotel room with Michael Taylor and Zayek hid in one of the boxes.
The box was taken to an airport and loaded on a private jet headed for Turkey. Two days later, Ghosn announced he was in Lebanon.
--Big beer brands, such as Bud Light and Coors Light, have been losing ground for years, but then the coronavirus struck. Now the same brands are making a comeback as the crisis shifts sales from tap rooms to grocery store aisles, at the expense of small craft breweries who suddenly find themselves in peril.
The crisis shut restaurants, bars, and other out-of-home venues that together make up about 18% of U.S. beer sales. For most craft breweries, on-site sales were down by more than 70% in early April, while sales to bars and restaurants dried up totally, according to a survey by the Brewers Association, an industry group.
And beer drinkers are buying in 24- and 30-packs so they can make fewer trips. I often choose the latter.
China: The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) is preparing a new national security law tailor-made for Hong Kong, it was announced Thursday, with the new law outlawing secessionist and subversive activity as well as foreign interference and terrorism in the city – all developments that had been troubling Beijing for some time, but most pressingly over the past year of increasingly violent anti-government protests.
The move is also a sign that the central government has given up hope that Hong Kong’s administration will succeed at passing local legislation on such a law, amid a hostile political environment and deeply divided city.
An NPC spokesman confirmed there was an item asking the legislature to review a resolution on “The NPC’s decision on establishing a sound legal system and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in the Hong Kong special administrative region.”
Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution requires the Hong Kong government to enact its own national security law prohibiting acts of “treason, secession, sedition, or subversion.”
The U.S. has until the end of this month to certify Hong Kong’s autonomy under the Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019.
It will make an assessment on whether Hong Kong remains suitably autonomous from China, a prerequisite for extending the city’s preferential U.S. trading and investment privileges.
Warning earlier that it would be a tough report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday launched a verbal salvo against China and expressed Washington’s concerns over Hong Kong. Pompeo called out the recent arrests of leading Hong Kong activists such as Democratic Party founder Martin Lee, and entrepreneur and media owner Jimmy Lai, describing how they had been “hauled into court.”
“Actions like these make it more difficult to assess that Hong Kong remains highly autonomous from mainland China,” Pompeo said. “We’re closely watching what is going on there.”
Pompeo had earlier this week deeply angered Beijing after becoming the first sitting secretary of state to congratulate the incoming Taiwanese leader, Tsai Ing-wen, as “president.” China vowed it would retaliate and said it would take “all necessary steps to safeguard its national sovereignty.”
The NPC is expected to vote on the national security resolution at the end of the annual session, which is likely to be on May 28. The resolution would then be forwarded to the Standing Committee to chart the actual details of the legislation. That would likely occur sometime next month.
The Standing Committee would then draft the legislation, which would be included in Hong Kong’s Basic Law.
Regarding Taiwan, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Friday that China will encourage the people of Taiwan to join it in opposing the island’s independence and promoting China’s “reunification,” a move bound to worsen Beijing’s poor relations with Taipei.
China describes Taiwan as its most sensitive and important territorial issue and has never renounced the use of force to bring what it views as a wayward Chinese province under its control.
Taiwan President Tsai, speaking in Taipei on Wednesday at the inauguration for her second term in office, said Taiwan cannot accept becoming part of China under its “one country, two systems” offer of autonomy, strongly rejecting China’s sovereignty claims.
Li, in his work report at the start of the annual meeting of China’s parliament, said his country would “resolutely oppose and deter any separatist activities seeking Taiwan independence.”
Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
Separately, China defense spending will rise at the slowest rate in three decades but still increase by 6.6% from 2019, a figure set at $178.16 billion in the national budget released today.
Editorial / Wall Street Journal
“China’s forceful takeover of Hong Kong appears to have begun, and threats against Taiwan are rising. That’s the message this week as the National People’s Congress in Beijing moved to pass an onerous new security law for Hong Kong and the Chinese navy plans to practice an amphibious assault on an island controlled by Taiwan.
“Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, China promised Hong Kong legal autonomy and the preservation of basic liberties, including freedom of speech, press and assembly. Yet Beijing is now seeking to bypass the Hong Kong Legislative Council and impose the national-security law unilaterally. This rule-by-diktat means the end of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that Beijing promised for 50 years after 1997.
“Enforcement of the national-security legislation would erase the legal lines between Hong Kong and the mainland. By our deadline China’s Communist Party legislature hadn’t released a draft bill, but rest assured the purpose is to silence and punish dissent to prevent a repeat of last year’s mass protests in Hong Kong. For months Beijing has falsely accused protesters of seeking independence from the mainland and acting on behalf of a foreign ‘black hand.’
“On Monday pro-Beijing lawmakers used a legal procedure to seize control of a powerful Legislative Council committee that vets bills and schedules final votes. China’s Hong Kong surrogates can now move forward with legislation making disrespect of China’s national anthem a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. When pro-democracy lawmakers protested, security guards dragged some from the room. Legislator Ted Hui had to go to the hospital after he was kicked in the chest so hard he struggled to breathe, the South China Morning Post reported.
“At a hearing Monday Hong Kong prosecutors signaled they may seek yearslong sentences for 15 pro-democracy activists arrested for their role in last year’s protests. They include Martin Lee, the father of the Hong Kong democracy movement, media tycoon Jimmy Lai, and other prominent advocates of peaceful protest. The cases will now be heard in district court, which has the authority to impose sentences of up to five years for those found guilty of participating or organizing unauthorized protests.
“Meanwhile, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was sworn in for a second four-year term this week and used her inaugural remarks to reject ‘one country, two systems’ for the island. Taiwanese can see that China isn’t keeping its promise of autonomy to Hong Kong. She called for ‘peace, parity, democracy, and dialogue’ between the two Chinese governments. Beijing reacted by attacking Ms. Tsai’s party and saying reunification is ‘inevitable.’
“To underscore the point, Reuters quoted Chinese sources last week as saying the People’s Liberation Army is planning a large-scale landing drill off Hainan Island in the South China Sea in August to simulate the possible seizure of the Taiwanese-held Pratas Island in the future. If Chinese President Xi Jinping needs a nationalist rallying cry, he might sign off on such an assault.
“The only way to deter any of this is to make sure Beijing officials know they will pay a heavy price. Hong Kongers may feel they have no choice but to protest in the streets even at the risk of arrest and imprisonment. They may lose but they will expose Beijing’s ugly side to the world. A bipartisan group in the U.S. Congress is advancing legislation that would sanction officials who implement the national-security law. The U.S. will also have to sell more arms to help Taiwan defend itself.*
“Mr. Xi wants the world to think his China is a benign power that follows global rules, but in Hong Kong and Taiwan we are seeing the true nature of the current Communist regime. The world will have to adapt to this increasingly dangerous reality.”
*The administration notified Congress of a possible sale of advanced torpedoes to Taiwan worth around $180 million, further souring relations between Washington and Beijing.
Russia: President Trump’s new arms-control negotiator is planning to meet with his Russian counterpart soon to discuss a new U.S. proposal for a far-reaching accord to limit all Russian, Chinese and U.S. nuclear warheads, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Marshall Billingslea, who took up his post last month as Trump’s senior envoy on arms control, will launch the new talks with Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister, likely in Vienna.
The new U.S. proposal is far more ambitious than the 2010 New START accord, which covers Russian and U.S. long-range nuclear arms and is due to expire in February.
But I don’t see any reason why China would enter the talks. Back in January, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Beijing had “no intention to participate.”
Billingslea, however, has told the Russians that they need to help bring China to the negotiating table.
Separately, the U.S. gave six months’ notice to treaty participants that it is leaving the 1992 Open Skies accord, which allows the West and Russia to carry out reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories to build confidence that an attack isn’t being planned.
The U.S. has accused Russia of denying Western planes full access in flights over its territory. President Trump said he would seek to maintain good relations with Russia by pursuing other arms control agreements or perhaps rejoin the Open Skies treaty if Moscow addressed U.S. concerns.
Afghanistan: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday welcomed a power-sharing deal to end a months-long political stalemate in Afghanistan, but chided President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah for taking so long.
Meanwhile, Taliban fighters detonated a car bomb on Monday near an Afghan intelligence agency installation in the central province of Ghazni, killing at least seven.
Israel/Palestinians: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Tuesday that the Palestinian Authority will end all agreements and understandings signed with Israel and the United States, including security agreements, in light of Israel’s intent to annex parts of the West Bank.
But supposedly Abbas and the PA have not “closed the door” on coordination with Israel. An official told Haaretz that the security forces may lower the level of engagement with their counterparts in Israel, but it is not yet possible to determine that coordination will be completely stopped.
Earlier on Tuesday, Germany and the PA released a joint statement expressing “grave concern” over Israel’s declared intention to begin annexing parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.
Such annexations, as part of Trump’s “deal of the century,” was a central promise of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest election campaign. Former political rivals turned allies Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi have also expressed their support for the administration’s plan.
Rwanda: Fugitive Felicien Kabuga was arrested in Paris on Saturday after 26 years on the run. The 84-year-old, Rwanda’s most wanted man with a $5 million bounty on his head, had been living under a false name in a five-story apartment block in a well-off Paris neighborhood. Neighbors say they saw him take walks but he never said a word.
A Hutu businessman, Kabuga is accused of creating and making contributions to a fund that raised finances to pay the youth militias that would slaughter some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, as well as importing huge numbers of machetes, according to the UN tribunal’s indictment.
--Presidential tracking polls….
Gallup: 49% approve of President Trump’s job performance, 48% disapprove; 92% of Republicans approve, 46% of independents (May 1-13). The splits were 49-47, 93, 47 in the previous Gallup survey (Apr. 14-28).
Rasmussen: 46% approve of Trump’s performance, 53% disapprove (May 22).
--In a new Quinnipiac University national poll of registered voters released Wednesday, Joe Biden leads President Trump 50-39 percent in a head-to-head matchup, up from the 49-41 lead Biden held in an April 8 national poll, though the change is within the margin of error. Democrats go to Biden 88-5 percent, Republicans go to Trump 87-8 percent, and independents go to Biden 47-36.
In this survey, President Trump’s job approval rating ticked lower to 42 percent, while 53 percent disapprove, compared to a 45-51 split in April.
50 percent approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, however, while 47 percent disapprove.
But on the president’s response to the coronavirus, 41 percent of voters approve and 56 percent disapprove. That’s down from a 46-51 approval rating in April and this might be the most important number of them all at this point, especially as we know otherwise that national surveys on your pick to be president are kind of worthless.
Interestingly, Dr. Anthony Fauci gets the highest marks for his handling of the response to the coronavirus, as voters approve 68-22 percent, but this is down from April, when Fauci received a 78-7 approval rating.
Also getting high marks are state governors, as voters approve 66-31 percent of how their state governors are handling the response to the outbreak, though this is lower than the 74-24 split in April.
Two-thirds of voters, 67 percent, say that President Trump should wear a face mask when he is out in public, while 27 percent say he should not. But while 90 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents say the president should wear a mask in public, only 38 percent of Republicans say the same.
Voters say 50-43 percent that they do not think it will be safe to send students to college in the fall, and 52-40 percent that they do not think it will be safe to send students to elementary, middle, and high schools in the fall.
--A new Fox News national poll gives Biden a 48-40 edge over Trump, Trump’s job approval rating just 44 percent, 54% disapproval, compared with a 49-49 split in April.
88 percent are concerned about coronavirus spreading and 78 percent feel the economy is in bad shape.
Voters favor allowing mail ballots this year by a 63-30 percent margin. About one in five, 19 percent, report they usually vote by mail/absentee. I started to years ago myself.
Trump didn’t like this poll, so he tweeted:
“Why doesn’t @FoxNews put up the CNBC POLL or the (believe it or not!) @CNN Poll? Hope Roger A is looking down and watching what has happened to this once beautiful creation!
“@FoxNews should fire their Fake Pollster. Never had a good Fox Poll!”
--As for some battleground states, various polls were released on Tuesday.
A survey of 600 likely voters in Arizona conducted by OH Predictive Insights found Biden leading Trump 50% to 43% in the state. In 2016, Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 3.5 percentage points.
OH Predictive Insights also found Democrat Mark Kelly leading Republican incumbent Sen. Martha McSally, 51% to 38%.
In Florida, a poll of likely voters conducted by Point Blank Political found Biden leading Trump 52% to 48%. But when third-party candidates were included in the poll, Biden’s lead shrank to one point. In 2016, Trump beat Clinton in Florida by 1.3 percentage points.
Clinton lost independent voters in the state by 4 points, but Biden is leading Trump among independents 44-37 (rounding off).
And in Virginia, which Clinton won in 2016 by 5 points, Biden is poised to perform even better, Biden leading Trump 51-39, according to The Roanoke College Poll.
--Meanwhile, today, Biden stepped in it again. The former vice president, who had a solid performance on CNBC this morning, also appeared on the popular radio show, “The Breakfast Club,” with host Charlamagne tha God.
“Listen, you’ve got to come see us when you come to New York, Vice President Biden,” Charlamagne said as a Biden aide tried to end the call. “It’s a long way until November. We’ve got more questions.”
“You’ve got more questions?” Biden responded. “Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
Reaction was swift. Biden tried to walk the comments back soon after.
“I should not have been so cavalier. I’ve never, never, ever taken the African-American community for granted,” Biden told members of the U.S. Black Chamber, according to CBS News.
“I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy. I shouldn’t have been so cavalier…No one should have to vote for any party based on their race, their religion, their background.”
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, an influential African-American member of the GOP caucus, condemned the remarks in an interview with Fox News.
“That is the most arrogant, condescending comment I’ve heard in a long time, and that’s saying something,” Scott said.
“If you think about the numbers, 1.3 million African Americans voted for Trump. He’s saying to (them), ‘you’re not black’? Who the heck does he think he is?”
Just so stupid.
--I am floored that there is any talk of Stacey Abrams being on the ticket with Joe Biden. As in I totally agree with this op-ed from Rich Lowry in the New York Post addressing the topic the other day.
“Stacey Abrams has another distinction to add to her resume – she is among the most preposterous potential vice presidential candidates ever.
“Her attempt to leverage a failed Georgia gubernatorial bid into a spot on the Democratic ticket is so brazenly absurd that it’s hard to think of precedents.
“But the 46-year-old African American activist isn’t one to be constrained by standard political practice – or reality. She refused to concede her narrow but clear 2018 gubernatorial loss, instead alleging she’d been undone by a massive voter suppression scheme.
“As she put it at a recent event, ‘malfeasance and incompetence and my opponent, who was a cartoon villain, stole the voices of Georgians.’ Usually, candidates who won’t acknowledge defeat are written off as sore losers. Such is the inflamed, paranoid state of Dems in the Trump era that rather than being embarrassed by the Georgian’s graceless and unsubstantiated claims of electoral theft, they have embraced and parroted them….
“By her own estimation, she’d be an ‘excellent running mate.’ She has no doubt that she’s prepared to be president on Day One and touts her foreign policy credentials of having visited more than a dozen countries.
“President Trump has rewritten the rules of political experience, yet it’s still a stretch to imagine someone who has only served in the Georgia legislature – and as a state representative, not even a senator – is ready to become leader of the free world. Even Pete Buttigieg has more executive experience….
“Abrams can reasonably boast of an ability to stoke turnout among minority and young voters – she won more votes than any statewide candidate in Georgia ever. But given her high-octane progressivism, she’d have limited appeal to working-class swing voters and suburban women. By picking her, Biden would also be undermining one of his chief arguments, namely, that he’s a low-risk, experienced, steady hand.
“This means that Abrams is likely to be passed over – and, if the past is any guide, conclude that she got robbed.”
I haven’t changed my opinion one iota. Biden would be a fool not to pick Amy Klobuchar, but at this point I will hardly be surprised if he goes with Kamala Harris.
--Former President Barack Obama, in his online address to graduating college students on Saturday, said the pandemic had shown that many officials “aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”
“More than anything this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” he said. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge,” Obama added.
--Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a high-profile critic of President Trump who quit the GOP and became an independent, announced Saturday he would not seek the Libertarian nomination for the White House, weeks after saying he was running because voters wanted an “alternative” to the two major parties.
“After much reflection, I’ve concluded that circumstances don’t lend themselves to my success as a candidate for president this year, and therefore I will not be a candidate,” he said in one of a series of tweets explaining his decision. He said “the new reality of social distancing levels the playing field among the candidates in many respects, but it also means lesser known candidates are more dependent on adequate media opportunities to reach people.”
--The gap between Americans who view themselves economically conservative and fiscally liberal is narrower than it’s ever been – but a new Gallup survey showed that social issues are still where most citizens have a liberal viewpoint.
The poll shows a gap of just 18 points separate the two positions, the closest in the history of the survey.
39% of U.S. adults said they are conservative on economic issues while 21% said they’re liberal. 38% answered they’re moderate fiscally.
Over the years, the gap had been as wide as 36 points (2010) and as close as 20, at various times.
The survey showed Americans are closer on social issues. 35% said they’re socially conservative and 29% said they’re liberal.
--American women had babies at record-low rates last year and pushed U.S. births down to their smallest level in 35 years, according to provisional figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. About 3.75 million babies were born in the U.S. in 2019, down 1% from the prior year, while the general fertility rate fell 2% to 58.2 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, the lowest level since the government began tracking the figure in 1909.
The data are the latest sign of how American childbearing, which began declining during the 2007-2009 recession, never fully rebounded when the economy bounced back. Millennials have been slower to form families than previous generations, in part, economists say, because they are less financially secure than those before them.
--Mark R. said he was watching a program on Dr. Jonas Salk on the Smithsonian channel concerning the development of the polio vaccine and Mark said as an 8-year-old, he was part of the secondary test to determine if the vaccine worked. But he got the placebo. So then he had to get the shots all over again.
--Actress Lori Loughlin has agreed to serve two months behind bars as part of her plea deal in the college admissions scandal – while her hubby Mossimo Giannulli is expected to serve five months.
--Marc Fisher / Washington Post
“Whether it’s the mall, restaurants, concerts, ballparks or even drive-in movie theaters, Americans are making it clear: They won’t be ready to go out to their favorite destinations until they feel confident about being able to go.
“To the bathroom, that is.”
Yup, this is a big, big deal. I know I wouldn’t want to go on any long drives yet where I might have to use a disgusting restroom on the New Jersey Turnpike or Garden State Parkway.
Or as Marc Fisher writes:
“The idea of a return to life in public is unnerving enough for many people. But it turns out that one of the biggest obstacles to dining in a restaurant, renewing a doctor’s appointment or going back to the office is the prospect of having to use a public restroom – a tight, intimate and potentially germ-infested space.”
It’s a vexing issue for business owners. McDonald’s is requiring franchisees to clean bathrooms every 30 minutes. Businesses are also replacing blow dryers with paper towels, which should have taken place long ago because blow dryers we long learned are disgusting (think blowing bacteria and specks of feces onto your hands).
--The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center said the U.S. will see an above-normal 13-19 named storms during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30. Three to six could be major hurricanes packing winds of at least 111 miles per hour.
The average hurricane season brings 12 named storms and six hurricanes, three of which are major.
The 2020 season started early with Tropical Storm Arthur bringing heavy rains to the southeastern coast this week before dissipating on Tuesday.
--We note the passing of Annie Glenn, 100, who died of complications from Covid-19 at a nursing home near St. Paul, Minn., where she had moved in recent years to be near her daughter.
Annie Glenn was thrust into the spotlight in 1962 when her husband became the first American to orbit the Earth, but she shied away from the media spotlight because of a severe stutter that later moved her to advocate for people with speech disorders.
Her husband, John Glenn, died in 2016 after an extraordinary life that also included breaking the transcontinental speed record and serving as a Democratic U.S. senator from Ohio. He and Annie were married for 73 years.
Dale Butland, the senator’s former speechwriter and chief of staff, said in a written statement: The relationship was “the stuff of fairy tales and one of the great love stories of all time.”
“During World War II, the Korean war and two flights into outer space, Annie patiently waited for John to come home,” Butland said. “Since December of 2016, John’s been patiently waiting for his Annie. Today, they’re both where they always wanted to be: together – for all eternity.”
--According to a poll conducted by the University of Phoenix, only 43 percent of 2,000 Americans surveyed were aware that the Memorial Day holiday honors military members who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Pray for the men and women of our armed forces…and all the fallen.
We thank our healthcare workers and first responders…and those with the U.S. Postal Service!
God bless America.
Returns for the week 5/18-5/22
Dow Jones +3.3% 
S&P 500 +3.2% 
S&P MidCap +7.4%
Russell 2000 +7.7%
Nasdaq +3.4% 
Returns for the period 1/1/20-5/22/20
Dow Jones -14.3%
S&P 500 -8.5%
S&P MidCap -17.8%
Russell 2000 -18.9%
Hang in there. Wash your hands. Wear a mask where required. Don’t play macho man.
And get some exercise.