Stocks Fluctuate as Weekly Jobless Claims Surge: Live Updates

More than 6.6 million people filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, setting a grim record for the second straight week.

The latest claims brought the two-week total to nearly 10 million.

The speed and scale of the job losses is without precedent. Until last month, the worst week for unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982.

“What usually takes months or quarters to happen in a recession is happening in a matter of weeks,” said Michelle Meyer, chief U.S. economist for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

A month ago, most forecasters still thought the United States could avoid a recession. Today, with the pandemic shuttering businesses and forcing vast layoffs, many economists are expecting a decline in gross domestic product that rivals the worst periods of the Great Depression.

A new surge in jobless claims undercut a stock market rally on Thursday as investors weighed the latest sign of the economic damage wrought across the country by the coronavirus pandemic.

Stocks in the Europe and futures on the S&P 500 had been higher before the U.S. government said 6.6 million people had filed for unemployment benefits last week.

By the time regular trading began in the U.S., those gains had faded and the S&P 500 was slightly lower.

Prices for longer-term U.S. Treasury bonds rose, suggesting investors were continuing to see them as a safe place to park money. Gold prices rose in futures markets, too.

The index dropped 4.4 percent on Wednesday, driven lower by worsening economic data and President Trump’s warning that the U.S. was set for a “very, very painful two weeks.”

The unemployment claims show the rapidly changing jobs market in the U.S., where layoffs and furloughs are hitting workers in almost every industry as efforts to contain the virus outbreak decimate consumer spending, travel and manufacturing.

Pressure builds on Congress to do more to help workers and businesses.

The Labor Department’s report on Thursday that 6.6 million Americans filed claims for unemployment benefits last week only increases the pressure on President Trump and members of Congress to ready another package to further aid workers and businesses through the coronavirus crisis.

The $2.2 trillion package that Mr. Trump signed into law last week includes enhanced benefits for unemployed workers for up to four months, along with aid for large and small businesses and direct payments to millions of individuals, as the country struggles through a shutdown of economic activity meant to slow the spread of the virus.

Many economists have warned that the $350 billion included in that most recent package for aid to small businesses will not prove sufficient to help all of the companies that might otherwise go under during the shutdowns.

R. Glenn Hubbard, a Columbia University economist and former adviser to President George W. Bush, said in an interview that the necessary assistance is likely “closer to $1 trillion,” which would require another $650 billion appropriation from Congress.

Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, have pushed for additional payments to reach more Americans, to help people continue to pay their bills through the crisis. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio has called for federally funded “hazard pay” for doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks, postal carriers and other workers on the front lines of the virus.

Mr. Trump and Democratic leaders have also called for a sweeping investment in infrastructure, like broadband expansion and bridge repair, that could put millions of Americans to work once the crisis abates. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have shown less enthusiasm for many of those ideas.

Satellite images show that Saudi oil shipments have surged.

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

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

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

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

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

Pension programs have taken huge hits to their investment portfolios over the past month as the markets collapsed. The outbreak has also set off widespread job losses and business closures that threaten to wipe out state and local tax revenue.

That one-two punch has staggered these funds, which were already chronically underfunded. Most are required by law to keep sending checks every month to about 11 million Americans.

Even before the pandemic gut-punched the economy, Maria Pappas, the treasurer of Cook County, Ill., counted a record 57,000 delinquent property-tax payers in her county, which includes Chicago. Property taxes feed more than 400 municipal pension funds in Cook County, including some that are cash-starved and close to hitting bottom.

“The people have no money,” said Ms. Pappas.

Last week, Moody’s investors service estimated that state and local pension funds had lost $1 trillion in the market sell-off that began in February. The exact damage is hard to determine, though, because pension funds do not issue quarterly reports.

Pension funds that run out of money — something that happened in Prichard, Ala., Central Falls, R.I., and Puerto Rico — could tip cities and other local governments into bankruptcy. States would be in uncharted waters because there is no bankruptcy mechanism for them; the nearest analogy is a one-off law passed by Congress for Puerto Rico, which has resulted in years of federal oversight, austerity measures and reduced debt payments to bondholders.

In spite of market headwinds, overpriced apartments and legislative obstacles, New York’s residential real estate market was on an improbable upward swing for most of the first quarter.

Then the coronavirus struck, stopping the rebound in its tracks. Now, the pandemic threatens to do the same in real estate markets nationwide during the peak of buying season.

What happened in the first two months of the year no longer matters, said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers & Consultants. “All that matters to the housing market is what happens next.”

New York State’s stay-at-home order, and similar restrictions elsewhere, have effectively banned open houses and in-person property showings, and “most people are not going to make a big purchase without seeing it,” said Frederick Warburg Peters, the chief executive of Warburg Realty. Depending on the duration of the outbreak, he said, the number of new contracts in New York could drop by more than 70 percent in the second quarter, compared with the same period last year.

Americans bought 1.9 million guns in March, according to a Times analysis of federal data. It was the second-busiest month ever for gun sales, trailing only January 2013, just after President Barack Obama’s re-election and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

With some people fearful that the pandemic could lead to civil unrest, gun sales have been skyrocketing. In the past, fear of gun-buying restrictions has been the main driver of spikes in gun sales, far surpassing the effects of mass shootings and terrorist attacks alone. But last month was different. As they prepare for an uncertain future, Americans have been crowding grocery stores to stock up on household essentials like canned beans and toilet paper. A similar worry appears to be driving gun sales.

In recent weeks, lines have been snaking out of gun stores throughout the country. In many states, estimated sales doubled in March compared with February. In Utah, they nearly tripled. And in Michigan, which has become a hot spot for virus cases, sales more than tripled.

The run on firearms has raised public health concerns and prompted local officials to debate whether gun stores should be temporarily closed.

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

  • Boeing’s chief executive, Dave Calhoun, announced voluntary layoffs in a note to staff on Thursday, with details on eligibility and benefits to come in three to four weeks. “We’re in uncharted waters,” he said, adding that the layoffs would provide a bridge to recovery, provided “we’re not confronted with more unexpected challenges.”

  • Home Depot has ordered all 2,300 of its stores in North America to stop sales of N95 masks to try to free them up for those on the front lines of the coronavirus emergency response, the company said on Wednesday.

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

  • SoftBank has decided it will not buy $3 billion in WeWork stock, a board committee of the office space company said Wednesday, dealing a blow to shareholders who had hoped to cash out their shares. SoftBank, a dominant shareholder of WeWork that has poured billions of dollars into the company, could also hold back $1.1 billion of financing from WeWork, reducing the company’s access to cash as the downturn caused by the coronavirus hits the already stressed business.

Reporting was contributed by Jim Tankersley, Peter Eavis, Stanley Reed, Ben Casselman, Patricia Cohen, Mary Williams Walsh, Niraj Chokshi, Keith Bradsher, Stefanos Chen, Keith Collins, David Yaffe-Bellany, Carlos Tejada and Daniel Victor.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *