Update on the latest business


Wall Street see-saws up and down as volatility retains grip

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are see-sawing between gains and losses in midday trading on Wall Street, but so far the moves are more subdued than the wild jabs that have dominated recent weeks.

The S&P 500 was down 0.2% in early afternoon trading, after bouncing between a gain of 2.5% and a loss of 3.3%. That would be a notable change in normal times, but the index has had eight straight days where it swung up or down between 4.9% and 12%.


European stocks swung from gains to losses and back to gains. Asian markets dropped following the brutal 5.1% loss for U.S. stocks the prior day. Crude oil clawed back some of its steep loses from the day before, and benchmark U.S. oil rose back above $24 per barrel.

Markets have been so volatile because investors are weighing the increasing likelihood of a recession on one hand against huge, emergency efforts by global authorities to support the economy on the other. Markets got more of each on Thursday.

Ultimately, investors say they need to see the number of new infections stop accelerating for the market’s extreme volatility to ease.


Jobless claims jump by 70,000 as virus starts to take hold

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits surged last week by 70,000 to the highest level in more than two years, indicating that the effect of the coronavirus was starting to be felt in rising layoffs in the job market.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for benefits, a good proxy for layoffs, rose by 70,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000 benefit applications last week. That was the highest weekly total since Sept. 2, 2017, following Hurricane Harvey.

Both the one-week rise and the total number of applications were far above the levels seen over the past year as the country’s unemployment rate fell to a half-century low of 3.5%.

Economists are predicting a surge in layoffs as efforts to contain the spreading coronavirus result in people losing jobs in a variety of industries from restaurants and bars to airlines and hotels.


US mortgage rates climb this week; 30-year loan at 3.65%

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. long-term mortgage rates climbed this week in a whip-sawing market amid deepening anxiety over devastation to the economy from the coronavirus pandemic.

Home loan rates had hit all-time lows two weeks ago. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the benchmark 30-year loan jumped to 3.65% this week from 3.36% last week.

Freddie Mac said the short-term rise was due to mortgage lenders increasing prices to deal with booming demand for refinancing into loans at historically low rates.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 3.06% from 2.77%.


U.S. Fed establishes currency swaps with 9 central banks

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve has set up a program to exchange dollars for foreign currency with nine central banks to support dollar lending in global markets that are under pressure from the impact of the viral outbreak.

The move enables foreign banks to provide dollars to their banks that sometimes lend and trade in U.S. currency.

It is the latest effort by the Fed to smooth the functioning of financial markets, as investors, banks, and companies rush to stockpile cash amid plunging stock markets and a sharply slowing economy. Late Wednesday, the Fed announced its third emergency lending program to provide money to banks that purchase financial assets from money market mutual funds, including short-term IOUs known as commercial paper.

The currency swaps established Thursday are capped at $60 billion for six central banks in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, Korea and Sweden. The exchange lines are capped at $30 billion for central banks in Denmark, Norway and New Zealand. Under the swaps, the Fed provides dollars for an equal amount of foreign currency, which it can also use in short-term lending to banks if needed.

The Fed already maintains such currency exchanges with five other central banks, including the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan, and the Bank of Canada.


Mnuchin: Family of 4 could get $3K under virus relief plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — The first federal checks to families could be $3,000 for a family of four under the White House proposal to unleash $1 trillion to shore up households and the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin) said Thursday that the “checks in the mail” would be direct deposited into people’s accounts under the plan the Trump administration has proposed to Congress.

Mnuchin told Fox Business Network the payments would be $1,000 per adult and $500 per child so that a family of two parents and two children would receive $3,000. He said the goal is to get that money out in three weeks.

Congress is rushing to compile the sweeping economic rescue package, the biggest undertaking since the 2008 recession and financial crisis, in a matter of days.


$10 toilet paper? Coronavirus gouging complaints surge in US

UNDATED (AP) — Across a country where shelves are empty and patience thin, authorities are receiving a surge of reports about people trying to cash in on the coronavirus crisis with outrageous prices, phony cures and other scams. 

An Associated Press survey of attorneys general in all 50 states found the number of complaints had already exceeded 5,000. One store advertised hand sanitizer at $60 a bottle. Chain stores were accused of selling $26 thermometers and face masks at $39.95 a pair, while a convenience store offered toilet paper at $10 a roll next to a sign reading, “This is not a joke.”

Forty states responded to the AP’s survey with numbers that included both tips and formally filed complaints against everything from individuals and mom-and-pop stores to big-box retailers. The count is certainly low because it only includes cases in which someone went online or called to register a grievance.

Efforts to prevent exploitation are also being carried out by individual cities, such as New York, which alone has received more than 1,000 complaints, issued 550 violations and imposed $275,000 in fines for gouging, including one case in which a store was accused of selling bottles of Purell at $79 each.


Ford suspends dividend, borrows to weather virus downturn

DETROIT (AP) — Ford is suspending its dividend to preserve cash as vehicles sales fade due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The company said it’s drawing on two credit lines to put another $15.4 billion in cash on its balance sheet.

Like other companies, Ford Motor Co. also withdrew its financial guidance for the year Thursday.

The cash Ford saves will be used to offset the impact on working capital due to factory shutdowns.

On Wednesday Ford and other automakers announced that they will close all of their North American factories in the coming days. Factories in Europe and elsewhere have already been shut down.

Ford’s shares fell 2.9% in morning trading to $4.37, a level not seen in over a decade.

Ford’s move is expected to be followed by many companies as they try to hoard cash to survive the uncertain impact of the COVID-19 infections.


Virus-shocked Hollywood gets break with streaming services

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Sports are on hold, theaters are closed and so are amusement parks, a disaster-movie scenario that has Hollywood reeling. But Americans held captive at home by the coronavirus can turn to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other streaming services, outliers in an entertainment industry brought to an unprecedented standstill.

The recent launch of Disney and Apple services and the upcoming arrival of NBCUniversal’s Peacock and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max unleashed speculation about winners and losers in an increasingly crowded field. With self-imposed or required isolation the abrupt reality, emerging and niche streamers could draw new subscribers — gains that may even outlast the coronavirus crisis.

Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush Securities, predicts the demand for streaming services will increase exponentially over the next three to six months as consumers around the world remain stuck in place. He sees up to a 20 percent increase likely in the amount of time subscribers spend watching streamed fare. And he predicts that millions of new customers will hop aboard worldwide.

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