NYSE Trading Floors to Close; ECB Buys Bond: Virus Update

The European Central Bank launched an extra emergency bond-buying program worth 750 billion euros ($820 billion) as financial and economic fallout spread from a credit market rout.

The U.S. Senate passed a relief package that would provide paid sick leave, food assistance and financial help for coronavirus testing. The New York Stock Exchange will close trading floors and go fully electronic from Monday. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated that non-essential businesses have no more than half their staff in the office.

Europe surpassed China in the number of coronavirus infections. Schools in England and some London Underground stations will close. German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled she may be open to joint European Union debt. Early drug trials on coronavirus patients yielded mixed results.

Key Developments:

  • Cases hit 210,843 worldwide, deaths exceed 8,600
  • Trudeau unveils stimulus worth 3% of economy
  • New York gets hospital ship from Navy
  • Japan Olympic committee still planning summer event
  • Europe can’t stop pandemic from rocking its foundations
  • The U.S. and Canada closed its border to non-essential traffic

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Early Drug Trials Yield Mixed Results (8:08 a.m. HK)

Drug trials on coronavirus patients in China yielded mixed results, with an HIV pill showing little benefit and a flu medication made by Fujifilm Holdings Corp. resulting in faster clearance of the virus.

The combination of lopinavir and ritonavir, marketed by AbbVie Inc. as Kaletra, didn’t improve the condition of patients or stop them from dying more than standard care in a randomized, controlled trial of 199 patients. The research was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Twitter Cracks Down on Misinformation (7:59 a.m. HK)

Twitter Inc. said it’s expanding rules to capture misinformation around the virus, following a similar escalation of measures from Facebook Inc.

Twitter will require users to remove tweets that deny expert guidance, encourage fake or ineffective treatments and preventions, or falsely purport to be from experts or authorities.

Qantas Furloughs About 20,000 Staff (7:46 a.m. HK)

The Australian airline furloughed two-thirds of its 30,000-strong workforce and scrapped all international flights as travel demand dried up.

“We have no work for most of our people,” Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said in a note to employees.

U.S. May Take Stakes for Company Aid (7:39 a.m. HK)

The White House’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said the administration may consider asking for an equity stake in corporations that want help from taxpayers.

But Kudlow cautioned that the idea was one of many, and the ultimate form of the coronavirus stimulus legislation would depend on negotiations with Capitol Hill.

London to Close as Many as 40 Underground Stations (7:17 a.m. HK)

Transport for London said public transit should only be used for essential journeys as it moved to close as many as 40 London Underground stations that don’t interchange with other lines.

From March 20, there will be no service on the Waterloo & City line and from March 23, the frequency of other services will be gradually reduced.

ECB Launches Emergency Bond Buying (7:16 a.m. HK)

The European Central Bank launched an extra emergency bond-buying program worth 750 billion euros ($820 billion) to calm a worsening financial crisis and protect the economy.

The decision in an unscheduled meeting on Wednesday evening came less than a week after a policy session in which officials agreed to pump more liquidity into the financial system.

Trump Gives U.S. Control Over Health-Care Supply Chain (6:29 a.m. HK)

President Donald Trump signed an executive order giving the federal government broad powers to direct the production and distribution of health protective gear, ventilators and other supplies if the virus outbreak gets far worse. As part of an emergency measure, the order lets U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar take priority over private contracts and agreements. The department could also get control over how needed health-care goods are distributed.

NYSE to Move to Fully Electronic Trading (4:55 p.m. NY)

The New York Stock Exchange will temporarily close its equities and options trading floors, moving to all-electronic trading starting Monday.

“While we are taking the precautionary step of closing the trading floors, we continue to firmly believe the markets should remain open and accessible to investors,” said NYSE President Stacey Cunningham. The markets will continue to operate under normal trading hours.

Senate Passes Relief Bill, Plans for More Stimulus (4:25 p.m. NY)

The Senate cleared the second major bill responding to the pandemic. The 90-8 vote, following House passage on Saturday, sends President Donald Trump a measure providing paid sick leave, food assistance for vulnerable populations and financial help for coronavirus testing.

As the Senate voted, Republican and Democratic leaders were already working on the next proposal.

“I will not adjourn the Senate until we have passed a far bolder package that includes significant relief for small businesses,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor of the chamber.

Read the full story here

Navy Hospital Ship Weeks Away From NYC Deployment (3:13 p.m NY)

The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort will be dispatched to New York City as coronavirus cases almost doubled, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

The floating hospital, which has previously been sent to disaster zones like Haiti and post-Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, can help free 1,000 beds when it arrives in a few weeks, the governor said. Another ship, the Mercy, will head to the West Coast.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Tuesday that hospital ships aren’t equipped to handle infectious disease patients but could provide care for trauma victims, allowing more beds in hospitals on land to handle those with the coronavirus.

Read full story here

Gates Says Shutdowns Could Last 10 Weeks (2:20 p.m. NY)

Bill Gates, who last week said he’s stepping down from the board of Microsoft Corp. to devote more time to philanthropy, told Reddit users on Wednesday that the coronavirus shutdown could last as long as 10 weeks — if things go well.

“If a country does a good job with testing and ‘shut down’ then within 6-10 weeks they should see very few cases and be able to open back up,” he said.

Detroit Automakers to Temporarily Shut U.S. Plants (2:20 p.m. NY)

General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will temporarily shut down their U.S. plants.

Ford will halt operations at all North American manufacturing facilities after Thursday evening shifts, according to a statement. GM and Fiat Chrysler also plan to idle their factories, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified ahead of official announcements.

U.S. Mayors Request $250 Billion in Federal Aid (2:20 p.m. NY)

The U.S. Conference of Mayors requested $250 billion from the federal government to aid local governments fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

Cities are the front lines in addressing this public health crisis, according to the group’s letter to U.S. House and Senate leaders on Wednesday.

Johnson Closes Schools in England (1:30 p.m. NY)

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said schools will close from Friday, increasing restrictions on the British population as the country grapples with a spiraling coronavirus crisis.

Johnson’s announcement covers English schools, after administrators in Scotland and Wales earlier told schools in those regions to prepare to close from Friday.

“After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed for most pupils, the vast majority of pupils, until further notice,” Johnson said.

School sites will be kept open to provide care to the children of key workers, Johnson said.

U.S. Allows Doctors to Work Across State Borders (12:59 p.m. NY)

Doctors and medical professionals will soon be allowed to practice across state lines, Vice President Mike Pence said.

The step may help health workers move to hotspots where the new coronavirus is spreading and in some cases infecting hospital staff. Pence said the Department of Health and Human Services will issue the regulation Wednesday.

U.S. Invokes Defense Production Act (12:19 p.m. NY)

President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, allowing the the government more latitude in emergencies to direct industrial manufacturing. He also said the Housing and Urban Development department will suspend foreclosures and evictions through the end of April.

According to FEMA’s website, the act allows for the president “to expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base to support military, energy, space, and homeland security programs.”

Italy May Ban Outdoor Recreation (10:30 a.m. NY)

Italy may consider a complete ban on outdoor activities if people don’t respect advice to stay at home during the nationwide lockdown to counter spread of coronavirus, Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora told RAI television.

Eurovision Song Contest Canceled (9:40 a.m. NY)

The European Broadcasting Union canceled the Eurovision Song Contest, one of the world’s most-watched televised events, which was due to be hosted in Rotterdam in about two months.

The Netherlands earlier reported another 346 confirmed cases – the biggest daily increase – to 2,051, while deaths rose by more than a third to 58.

Xi Says Pressure on China’s Economy Is Intensifying (8:01 a.m. NY)

The pressure on China’s economy is mounting as the coronavirus spreads, President Xi Jinping said, in comments reported by CCTV.

Former Chairs Urge Fed to Do More (7:45 a.m. NY)

The U.S. Federal Reserve must limit the long-term effects of the coronavirus, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen write in an op-ed for the Financial Times. The former chairs said the Fed has a “useful role to play” and that fiscal policy will have “to do more” as the impact of the virus becomes apparent.

The central bank “must ensure that the economic damage from the pandemic is not long-lasting.” It should also ensure that credit is available for otherwise sound borrowers, who face temporary issues, Bernanke and Yellen said.

— With assistance by Rachel Chang, and Josh Wingrove

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