Stocks rally after Trump and business leaders pledge to support

Stocks rallied on Friday, rebounding from their worst day in more than 30 years, after President Trump said executives of private companies in the United States agreed to help with coronavirus testing efforts and said a national emergency that would free billions in funding to fight the epidemic.

The S&P 500 rose more than 9%, making Friday its best day since 2008, with most of the gains coming late in the day as government officials and business executives spoke at a conference press release at the White House.

Although he lacked details, Mr Trump said the administration was working with Google developing a website to find out if a person needs a test – a move to avoid overwhelming the health care system with people who are sick but don’t necessarily need to be tested for the coronavirus. Google later said the site would initially only be used around San Francisco, “in hopes of expanding it more widely over time.”

The general managers of Walmart, Target and Walgreens all said they had agreed to make testing facilities available. frames of CVS Health, Roche Diagnostics and Signify health were also present at the press conference.

Mr Trump also said he would waive interest on all student loans held by all government agencies and that the Energy Secretary would buy “large amounts of oil” to fill the country’s strategic reserve – an effort to support the fall in oil prices.

Later Friday evening, President Nancy Pelosi told Democratic lawmakers she had reached a deal with the Trump administration on a coronavirus relief program. She had previously said the House of Representatives would vote on Friday. Soon after, even as congressional and administration advisers negotiated the final legislative wording of the compromise, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed he would go ahead.

Financial markets have been nothing if not inconsistent over the past three weeks, dipping then rising, then plunging again, as each day brought new measures to contain the epidemic and new concerns as the economy, workers and businesses are taking a hit. result of them.

Shares on Thursday saw their biggest daily drop since the 1987 stock market crash, as Trump’s ban on entry into the United States from most European countries disappointed investors, who waited for Washington to take action. stricter measures to support the economy. . For the S&P 500, Friday’s gains recouped most of those losses.

Google is working with Verily, a life sciences unit of its parent company Alphabet, to refer people at high risk of coronavirus infection to testing sites.

But the agenda will not be as ambitious as President Trump has suggested. (Google shares surged, reaching a gain of more than 9%, as Mr Trump said on Friday.)

On Friday evening, Carolyn Wang, spokesperson for Verily, said she hoped to create a website to help “sort” people for virus testing. She said the goal was for the website to be available “no later than” Monday, but that it would be limited to selecting people for appointments at test sites in the Bay Area only.

If the pilot goes well, Verily aims to roll out the project nationwide, but there is no timeline for a national rollout. When asked to confirm Mr. Trump’s statement regarding the 1,700 Google engineers assigned to the project, Ms. Wang declined to comment. She said, however, that the president may have spoken about the number of Google employees who have expressed interest in volunteering for the project to create a triage site that would have a series of questions for people with problems. symptoms of the virus.

Alphabet chief executive Sundar Pichai sent employees an internal memo on Thursday seeking volunteers to create the website.

“A planning effort is underway to use Verily’s life sciences and clinical research expertise in partnership with Google to help with the COVID-19 testing effort,” Pichai wrote in the note, which was obtained by The New York Times.

He explained that once more tests became available, the plan was to have public health officials direct people to a Verily website that can direct people at higher risk to testing sites. . Mr. Pichai did not specify how many engineers would be assigned to the project, but asked for volunteers interested in working on the project.

As part of his emergency declaration on Friday, President Trump said he was waiving interest on tens of millions of student loans held by the federal government until further notice. But here’s the catch: the monthly payments aren’t actually going to go down.

Instead, people will pay the same amount that they are currently paying. The difference is that the entire amount will go towards the principal of their loans, according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education.

This means that they could pay off their loans faster, but they won’t have any money in their pockets now.

Mr Trump said waiving interest on their loans would help borrowers and their families. “It’s a big thing for a lot of the students who are left in the middle right now,” he said.

The amount that the waiver saves a borrower over time will vary depending on the interest rate on their loan. The interest rates on fixed rate loans to undergraduate and graduate students range from 4.53% to 7.08%.

The greatest benefit may be for borrowers who have suspended their monthly payments due to hardship, or perhaps in the future. In terms of student loans, this is called forbearance. Normally, the interest on their loans would continue to accrue, but this will not happen during the waiver period.

The ministry said it expected the waiver program to go into effect next week and be retroactive to Friday.

One of Bitcoin’s main selling points has been that it would serve as a safe place to keep money in times of trouble, such as a digital version of gold. This promise did not hold true during the recent market turmoil.

Gold has held its value better than most other investments over the past month, but the price of a Bitcoin has fallen by about 50%, to under $ 5,000 – a much steeper drop than stocks. American. Thursday was cryptocurrency’s worst day in seven years.

Bitcoin critics have gleefully posted on social media the many times prominent cryptocurrency advocates have said it would be a good haven in times of economic uncertainty.

Cryptocurrency advocates have said Bitcoin is not yet mature enough to be a safe haven, but it will be in the future.

Some clothing retailers and other discretionary items are temporarily closing their doors to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Outdoor gear brand Patagonia posted a letter from its CEO on its website Friday, saying the brand would temporarily close its stores and offices until at least March 27. At this point, she will “reassess and release an update.” This includes 39 stores in North America, including two in Canada, the company said.

Patagonia also said on Friday that it was temporarily unable to accept orders on its website and asked customers to check for an update at 4 p.m. on Monday.

Glossier, the beauty start-up, also said Friday that he planned to close stores for at least two weeks from Friday and delay the opening of a planned store in Arizona. Buck Mason, a menswear brand with 10 stores, will also temporarily close its stores.

Is isolating yourself because you may have been exposed to the coronavirus the same as calling a sick person?

This is the question that officials of the United Automobile Workers are negotiating with Fiat Chrysler and expect to raise with General Motors and Ford Motor. The union wants to ensure that members who take time off work to avoid potentially spreading the infection are eligible to receive sick pay, even if they have not developed symptoms of illness.

The union and Fiat Chrysler “are working together in this unprecedented and difficult situation,” said Cindy Estrada, vice president of the union. “The UAW strongly believes that no member should be at a disadvantage in response to the COVID-19 process. “

For now, the question is mostly hypothetical. Fiat Chrysler and Ford said on Friday they did not know of any infected U.S. workers. This was also true for GM, although he said “a small number” had quarantined themselves at home because they had traveled to South Korea or other affected areas in the country. in recent weeks.

  • Delta will cut 40 percent of its flights over the next few months – more than after the 9/11 terrorist attacks – and also park up to 300 planes, offering unpaid leave, freezing hiring, reducing its use of consultants and entrepreneurs and reduce capital spending by at least $ 2 billion for the year.

  • U.S. consumers were a little less confident in early March compared to a month ago, according to the latest University of Michigan consumer confidence index, reflecting early fears about the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on the stock market.

Reporting was provided by Nathaniel Popper, Sapna Maheshwari, Deborah Solomon, Neal Boudette, Ron Lieber, Tara Siegel Bernard, Alexandra Stevenson, Jeanna Smialek, Niraj Chokshi, Jim Tankersley, Cao Li, Matt Phillips, Amie Tsang, Carlos Tejada, Brooks Barnes, Tiffany Hsu, Mohammed Hadi and Katie Robertson.

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