US death toll tops 71,000
The US death toll climbed above 71,000 on Friday with more than 1,700 coronavirus fatalities over the past 24 hours.
Led by New York and Pennsylvania, a further 1,760 people have died, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project. Those two states, the hardest and fifth hardest hit, saw daily increases of 217 and 200, respectively.
New Jersey recorded a further 151 deaths, while Massachusetts’ total rose by 150.
Since the pandemic began, 71,762 people in the US have died of coronavirus, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
US stocks notch biggest weekly rise in a month
Investors took a grim April jobs report in their stride, handing US stocks their biggest weekly advance in a month amid growing confidence that many large economies have passed the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The S&P 500 closed 1.7 per cent higher on Friday — its biggest one-day rise since April 29 — leaving it up 3.5 per cent for the week. That is the benchmark’s best weekly performance since a 12.1 per cent rise in the week ended April 10 and followed back-to-back weekly declines.
The Nasdaq Composite rose for a fifth straight day, up 1.6 per cent on Friday, for its longest winning streak since December 26. The tech-heavy index gained 6 per cent this week, and on Thursday clawed its way back to positive territory for 2020.
Investors pushed past data this morning that showed the US economy shed a record 20.5m jobs in April and the unemployment rate rose to 15 per cent. Historic as those numbers may be, they were not as bad as analysts forecast.
The rally in global stocks this week has also been helped by signs of a thaw in trade relations between the US and China.Government bonds were weaker on Friday.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury was up 0.04 percentage points to 0.68 per cent.
Apple to reopen some US stores next week
Patrick McGee in San Francisco
Apple will start to reopen its US retail stores next week, beginning with a store in Boise, Idaho on Monday and a few others in South Carolina, Alabama and Alaska later in the week.
The iPhone maker had shuttered all of its global stores outside China on March 14 because of the coronavirus. It now said it was looking county by county with the help of local health authorities to get back to normal.
Customers will need to wear masks to enter the store, undergo a quick temperature check before entering, and observe social distancing rules inside. A similar approach is already under way in countries such as South Korea and Germany.
“With many working and learning from home, our primary focus will be providing service and support at the Genius Bar,” Apple said.
Customers will be allowed to order products online and pick them up in store at specified times, should they wish to avoid lines.
“Our new social distance protocol allows for a limited number of visitors in the store at one time so there may be a delay for walk-in customers,” Apple said. “We recommend, where possible, customers buy online for contactless delivery or in-store pick up.”
Panel scrutinising virus aid tells 5 companies to return PPP funding
Lauren Fedor in Washington
A new congressional committee set up to provide oversight of the US government response to the coronavirus crisis has sent letters demanding that five companies “immediately return” funding they received through the Paycheck Protection Program, a federal loan scheme intended to prop up small businesses.
“Since your company is a public entity with a substantial investor base and access to the capital markets, we ask that you return these funds immediately,” the panel, which is chaired by House Democratic majority whip Jim Clyburn, wrote in the letters. “Returning these funds will allow truly small businesses — which do not have access to alternative sources of capital — to obtain the emergency loans they need to avoid layoffs, stay in business, and weather the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus crisis.”
The select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis sent letters to five firms: EVO Transportation & Energy Services, Inc; Gulf Island Fabrication, Inc; MiMedx Group, Inc; Quantum Corporation; and Universal Stainless & Alloy Products, Inc. Lawmakers said the committee sent letters to publicly-held companies with market capitalisations of more than $25m and over 600 employees that sought and received small business loans of $10m or more.
An FT analysis published last month found that more than 80 publicly listed companies had received PPP money from the first $350bn tranche of funding intended to help smaller firms. Congress later approved more than $300m in extra funding for the scheme, after demand for the loans far outstripped supply.
Spanish government denies request from Madrid region to ease lockdown
Daniel Dombey in Madrid
Spain’s government has turned down a request from the Madrid region to loosen its eight-week coronavirus lockdown on Monday, as tensions rise over the political, health and economic implications of the country’s bid to return to more normal life.
The Socialist-led government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has set out a complex four stage process to phase out the lockdown and move towards a so-called “new normality”.
It has set Monday as the provisional date for the first phase – in which restaurants and bars can open their terraces, shops selling “non-essential” goods can open without the need for appointments, and people can hold small gatherings.
But on Friday evening the government said that only just half of Spain’s population — 51 per cent — would be able to move to the first phase. The remainder, including the residents of Madrid, live in areas that do not qualify for the loosening of the lockdown.
Mr Sánchez’s administration says phasing out the lockdown must depend on conditions on the ground, such as the rate of contagion, the number of hospitalisations and deaths and the capacity of local health systems. Salvador Illa, health minister, said that regions that did not qualify for the loosening of the lockdown could resubmit plans next week.
The issue has been particularly controversial in Madrid, whose request on Thursday to further loosen the lockdown prompted the resignation of Yolanda Fuentes, the director general of public health for the region, who considered that it was not yet ready.
Madrid has been the worst hit region in Spain by the pandemic, with more than 8,500 deaths. However, the area with the highest number of new cases is Catalonia, which reported 543 on Friday — almost half the total for Spain as a whole. The government said that three of Catalonia’s seven health districts qualified for phase one.
Trump says he has not come into contact with Pence’s infected staffer
Lauren Fedor in Washington
Donald Trump appeared to confirm that the vice-presidential staffer who tested positive for coronavirus was Katie Miller, Mike Pence’s press secretary.
Her husband, Stephen Miller, is a White House adviser who has been a central figure in developing the Trump administration’s hardline policies on immigration.
Mr Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday: “She’s a wonderful young woman, Katie, she tested very good for a long period of time, and then all of the sudden today she tested positive. She hasn’t come into contact with me. She has spent some time with the vice-president.”
US oil and gas rig count falls to record low
The number of active oil and natural gas rigs fell to a record low last week as energy companies continued to retire drills and reduce output in response to a dramatic demand drop amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The rig count, considered a proxy for future production, fell by 34 to 374 in the week ending May 8, according to data from oil field services company Baker Hughes.
US oil prices turned negative last month as closure of non-essential businesses and travel restrictions left the world awash with oil and traders with limited access to storage capacity across the US. Total US oil production is expected to fall by up to 3m barrels a day from a high near 13m b/d a few months ago, according to analysts.
On Friday, West Texas Intermediate, the US crude marker, was up 3 per cent to $24.27 a barrel, while Brent crude, the global benchmark, climbed 3.5 per cent to $30.56 a barrel.
EU imposes conditions on companies that receive state aid
Javier Espinoza in Brussels
The EU will allow companies to keep government aid for more than half a decade as Brussels seeks to help firms struggling from a dramatic drop in revenues due to the pandemic.
In a further extension of the state aid rules, the European Commission said listed companies must present a restructuring plan if they are still in receipt of state aid after six years. Private companies do not have to comply to this rule for an extra year.
The EU also said that until at least 75 per cent of the recapitalisation is “redeemed a strict limitation of the remuneration of their management, including a ban on bonus payments, is applied”.
Brussels said these conditions seek to incentivise companies “to buy out the shares owned by the State as soon as the economic situation allows”.
Firms will also be forbidden to buy rivals using government money.
Under the new rules, member states will be allowed to inject equity or debt to companies struggling during the pandemic.
Competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said: “We need a European recovery plan that is green and digital and to the benefit of all European consumers. That’s in the interest of all of Europe – to make sure that this global symmetric crisis does not transform into an asymmetric shock to the detriment of Member States with less possibility to help their industry and the EU’s competitiveness as a whole.”
Pence staffer tests positive for coronavirus
Lauren Fedor in Washington
A second White House official has tested positive this week for coronavirus, raising concerns that US President Donald Trump or vice-president Mike Pence have come into contact with Covid-19.
Kayleigh McEnany, the new White House press secretary, confirmed on Friday that a member of Mr Pence’s team had tested positive for the virus, but said measures were in place to keep White House staffers safe, including contact tracing. Ms McEnany said the president and vice-president, who have both been reluctant to wear face masks, were regularly tested for the virus.
The vice-president’s plane, Air Force Two, was delayed earlier on Friday en route to Des Moines, Iowa. Reporters travelling with the president said a number of people, including many members of Mr Pence’s staff, left the plane before it eventually left Washington.
A senior Trump administration official later said the member of Mr Pence’s staff had tested positive for coronavirus on Friday morning, after testing negative on Thursday. The unnamed individual was not supposed to travel to Iowa, but had possibly been in contact with six people who were scheduled to fly with the vice-president, and they were removed from the flight.
The official said the six people were asked to get tested and go home “out of an abundance of caution”, adding: “The vice-president and the president have not had contact with this person recently.”
Another White House official, the president’s valet, tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week. While reports suggested the president had been in close contact with his valet, Mr Trump told reporters on Thursday he had “very little personal contact with this gentleman”.
UK says no ‘dramatic’ change to lockdown restrictions as death toll tops 31,000
Laura Hughes in London
George Eustice, environment secretary, has cautioned the public there will be no “dramatic overnight change” in the UK’s lockdown restrictions.
Ahead of an update to the guidance from the prime minister on Sunday, Mr Eustice said the current measures should still be adhered to over the bank holiday weekend.
He said the daily UK death toll from the virus had risen by 626, taking the total to 31,241. Official figures suggest that the number of deaths is significantly higher.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing, the cabinet minister said:
We have to be realistic, there is not going to be any dramatic overnight change.
As the data that we’re outlining on a daily basis shows, we are not out of the woods, there are still major challenges with this virus for sometime to come.
And it’s therefore important to avoid that second peak that could overwhelm our NHS, that we exit and evolve these restrictions very, very carefully.
He added that “it is quite possible” for fast food restaurants to re-open safely, adding the government had never mandated them to close.
“While clearly restaurants and pubs had to close, we were quite keen to keep that capacity to be able to do takeaway food for people”, he said. “A McDonald’s drive-through is made for the social distancing situation that we are in”.
“I think some of those food-to-go businesses will probably be seeking to learn lessons from what supermarkets have done as they consider tentatively reopening.”
Independence of ECB is ‘beyond question’ – EU economy commissioner
Mehreen Khan in Brussels
Brussels has insisted that the independence of the European Central Bank is “beyond question” in response to an explosive ruling from Germany’s constitutional court earlier this week
Speaking after a meeting of EU finance ministers, Paolo Gentiloni, EU commissioner for the economy, repeated that EU law “has primacy over national law in our common legal order”.
“The ECB is an EU institution and its independence is the basis for monetary policy making in the euro area. That independence is beyond question” he said.
The intervention comes after Germany’s court in Karlsruhe called on the ECB to produce a proportionality assessment justifying its bond buying if Germany is to remain part of the scheme. The German court also called the ECJ’s views on QE as “incomprehensible” and going beyond its mandate.
Mr Gentiloni said Brussels was studying the German ruling “in detail” before deciding on how to respond. The commissioner however did not confirm that the commission would launch an infringement process against the German government at the ECJ.
EU finance ministers agree terms of emergency loan to fight pandemic
Mehreen Khan in Brussels
EU finance ministers have agreed the terms of an emergency pandemic credit line that will allow governments to tap loans worth up to 2 per cent of their GDP to fight the crisis.
Ministers agreed the tool – from the European Stability Mechanism – would offer support for governments to “support domestic financing of direct and indirect healthcare, cure and prevention related costs due to the COVID 19 crisis”.
The agreement comes after months of divisions between eurozone capitals about how to design a credit line that would not impose stringent conditions on economies that needed aid. Italy had fiercely resisted the idea of attaching conditions like future economic reforms on the ESM cash.
Ireland cancels state school leaving exams
Arthur Beesley in Dublin
Ireland has cancelled state school-leaving exams due in the summer because of coronavirus and given 61,000 students the option of a school assessment to determine university entry.
The move on Friday came after Dublin said the pandemic made it unsafe to hold leaving certificate exams first scheduled for June and later postponed to July and August. “Proceeding with the exams this summer would be unfair to the students under these current circumstances,” Joe McHugh, the education minister, said.
Students will receive a “calculated grade” based in the first instance on their teachers’ judgment, subject to the principal’s approval and a process of national standardisation. The Irish Universities Association, the representative body for the institutions, said it will accept such grades for admissions in the autumn.
Amid concerns about the possibility of bias in the grading process, the government insisted it had built in safeguards to ensure fairness. But the minister said: “Let’s call a spade a spade. I have massive reservations around this and this is not a perfect solution.”
Students can choose to sit the exams on an unspecified date in the future when the pandemic passes, but not in time to start third-level education in the autumn.
New York daily death toll drops to lowest since start of outbreak
Peter Spiegel in New York
New York on Friday recorded the fewest deaths over a 24 hour period since the early weeks of the outbreak, with Governor Andrew Cuomo reporting 216 deaths in the hardest-hit state in the US.
Although Mr Cuomo expressed frustration that the death toll has not fallen faster — it has remained at just above 200 daily fatalities for four straight days — the tally was the lowest reported by the state since March 27.
“We would have like to see a faster decline,” Mr Cuomo said at his daily news conference. “It’s a possibility it flattens out, but we don’t know.”
The slowing death toll in New York, long the epicentre of the pandemic in the US, highlighted how the American outbreak was spreading outside of the state, with the death rate nationally continuing to rise despite falling in New York.
EU states urged to extend restrictions on non-essential travel in bloc
Mehreen Khan in Brussels
Brussels has called on EU member states to extend restrictions on non-essential travel in the bloc to June 15 as Europe slowly embarks on lifting confinement measures to fight Covid-19.
The European Commission on Friday called for a 30-day extension on travel restrictions in the bloc’s passport-free Schengen travel area, warning the situation remained “fragile”.
Some EU countries like Denmark and Germany have begun to ease restrictions in recent days, allowing some businesses and schools to restart. But Brussels is concerned that some countries will go ahead with wider deconfinement while others are still battling the crisis.
“Despite progress in many European countries, the situation worldwide is very fragile. It is imperative that any action taken is gradual, with different measures being lifted in different phases,” Margaritis Schinas, EU commission vice president, said.
Kudlow says formal negotiations on stimulus package paused
Formal discussions about a new stimulus package are on pause, but will be revisited at the end of the month, as the economy starts to gradually reopen, Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic official, said.
“We’re going to take a look at things at the end of May and early June and see where we are in the economy,” Mr Kudlow told Fox Business.
The highest unemployment rate since the second world war and the prospect of a US recession have raised pressure on Washington to do more as the near $3tn in fiscal stimulus, which includes small business loans and expanded jobless benefits is set to fade this summer.
Separately, Mr Kudlow told reporters the US president supports a payroll tax cut and some sort of liability insurance for businesses. Mr Kudlow, said:
His philosophy from day one was lower taxes, lower regulations, opening up energy and fair trade deals. And I would argue those worked and produced a very strong economy, even as recently as January and February. So whatever policies we come up with will be consistent with that point of view. It’s a free enterprise point of view.
But on specifics, we’re at a lull right now.
Spain extends temporary layoff scheme until June 30
Daniel Dombey in Madrid
Spain’s government has agreed to prolong the country’s temporary layoff schemes — which cover more than 3m people who might otherwise have been sacked.
Yolanda Díaz, employment minister, said that, following consultation with business and unions, the extraordinary version of the lay-off schemes, known as ERTEs, which can cover around 70 per cent of workers’ salaries, would now be extended until June 30.
Spain’s biggest business confederation and opposition political parties had expressed concern that the special ERTEs designed to respond to the economic effects of the pandemic were due to expire when the country ends the state of alert, the legal regime underpinning Spain’s lockdown. Without those ERTEs in place, they warned, the country would risk a further big surge in unemployment, which Spain’s government already expects to hit 19 per cent this year.
The state of alert, which gives the government sweeping powers to rule by decree and restrict mobility, is proving increasingly contentious. Parliament voted this week to prolong it for a further 15 day period, but only after the government agreed to work with the opposition Ciudadanos party on looking at alternative measures and on de-linking the state of alert from the temporary lay-off programmes.
US stocks rise 1% as investors look past jobs data
Wall Street opened higher on Friday as investors shrugged off ugly jobs data and welcomed signs of cooling US-China trade tensions and latest steps to ease restrictions on coronavirus lockdowns globally.
The S&P 500 climbed 1 per cent led by energy and financials and putting the benchmark index on track for its first weekly advance in three weeks. Meanwhile, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 0.5 per cent up for its fifth consecutive day and eyeing a weekly rise of nearly 5 per cent.
Investors looked past data that showed the US unemployment rate hit a post-war high of 14.7 per cent in April after after 20.5m Americans lost their jobs. They tracked gains in Asian and European markets that rallied after top US officials said their trade pact with China remained on track despite rising tensions over the spread of the virus.
Elsewhere in markets, the yield on the US 10-year rose 0.02 percentage points to 0.6545 per cent, while the dollar index, a gauge of the buck against a weighted basket of peers, was little changed at 99.87.
Global rate of growth in Covid-19 deaths slows after three-day increase
The rate of increase in Covid-19 fatalities globally cooled on Thursday after three-straight days of accelerating.
A further 5,780 people died on Thursday from the disease, bringing the total to 263,605.
In the US, a record 2,746 people died, but this surge was mainly due to a retrospective counting of nursing home deaths in New York state dating back to March 1, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project.
Globally, the number of newly confirmed Covid-19 cases climbed by 94,158 on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to just shy of 3.8m.
Brazil recorded its second-deadliest day as 610 fatalities were reported, pushing the total through 9,000 to 9,265. Newly confirmed cases soared as 9,082 infections were registered bringing the total to 135,106 in Latin America’s hardest-hit nation.
Russia posted its fifth consecutive day of 10,000 or more new cases. It registered 53,106 infections over the past five days alone as the total number of cases hit 187,859.
Explore data about the pandemic to better understand the disease’s spread and trajectory in the live-updating and customisable version of the FT’s Covid-19 trajectory charts.
Wales offers clues on UK government’s lockdown plans
Wales’ First Minister gave the clearest insight yet into the limited social distancing measures which could be eased in England next week.
Officially extending lockdown for another three week period, Mark Drakeford announced that from Monday exercise would now be allowed more than once a day in Wales.
Garden centres will be allowed to open where they can impose two metre social distancing rules and councils will be asked to plan for the re-opening of libraries and waste centres.
The stance is expected to be broadly consistent with the rest of the UK, given the Welsh government has closely aligned its coronavirus policies with those of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Mr Drakeford said the changes will be introduced from Monday “so Wales moves in step with the rest of the UK”.
He added: “I don’t believe you will see anywhere in the UK other than the most modest of immediate changes broadly of the sort I have proposed in Wales.”
Toyota to restart UK engine factory next week
Peter Campbell, Motor Industry Correspondent in London
Toyota will restart its UK engine plant next week, becoming the latest carmaker in Britain to reopen manufacturing operations after the shutdown.
Staff at the Japanese carmaker will return to the Deeside engine plant in North Wales from Monday to prepare for production commencing on Wednesday.
The site ships engines to car plants across the world, including Turkey, where Toyota is next week restarting production at its Sakarya site, which produces the C-HR and Corolla Sedan models.
The company’s UK car facility at Burnaston in Derbyshire will remain closed for the time being, with a re-start date to be announced in the coming weeks.
Like many carmakers reopening sites across Europe, Toyota has introduced new health measures to allow staff to work safely, including face masks, temperature checks and new working practices to maintain distance.
Several UK plants are preparing to reopen with lower production levels, as carmakers strive to re-start their revenue engines, while also tempering output because of the collapse in demand for new cars.
Lagarde calls for common fiscal response to Covid-19 recession
Ben Hall in London and Martin Arnold in Frankfurt
Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, implored eurozone governments to come up with a common fiscal response to the economic slump caused by the coronavirus lockdown, warning of the dangers of divergence between the bloc’s members.
Addressing the State of the Union conference, organised by the European University Institute in Florence, Ms Lagarde said a “common European fiscal response is highly desirable”, adding that it needed to be “swift, sizeable and symmetrical”.
The ECB has already committed to buy more than €1tn of assets this year and to provide banks with about €3tn of ultra-cheap loans while also freeing up more than €120bn of capital for lenders to support the eurozone economy.
Ms Lagarde said European governments’ response to the pandemic would result in additional funding requirements equal to 10 per cent of eurozone gross domestic product. “This will lead to additional debt issuance in the range of €1tn to €1.5tn in 2020 alone,” she said.
Canada reports 2m job losses in April
Canada recorded its second consecutive month of record job losses in April as employment plunged by nearly 2m.
In the first official survey since the country’s lockdowns began, Statistics Canada reported the unemployment rate up 5.2 percentage points to 13 per cent — close to its highest ever rate of 13.1 per cent in December 1982. The April figures were less severe than the 4m job loss consensus forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
The headline figure may not capture the full scale of labour market pain. “The April unemployment rate would be 17.8 per cent, when adjusted to reflect those who were not counted as unemployed for reasons specific to the Covid-19 economic shutdown”, the Statistics Canada said in the release.
More than one third of the potential labour force was out of work or working less half their usual hours in April. Total job losses during the pandemic began rose past 3m. Canada shed 1m jobs in March, as Covid-19 began to affect the economy.
The government has said 7.3m people have received Canada’s emergency unemployment benefit as of May 3, and a further 1.7m workers are being supported with a 75 per cent wage subsidy. These figures represent roughly 23 per cent of Canada’s population of 38m receiving emergency public funds.
Canada has close to 65,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and has recorded more than 4,400 deaths.
US stock futures hold gains, while Treasuries come under modest pressure
US stock-index futures remained steadily higher after data showed the US jobless rate rose to the highest level in the post-war period.
S&P 500 were recently up 1.1 per cent, near their highs of the day, after a key report showed the US jobless rate hit 14.7 per cent.
The 10-year US Treasury note yield ticked up 0.03 percentage points in the wake of the data to 0.66 per cent, signalling a slight fall in price.
US jobless rate soars to post-war high above 14%
US unemployment has surged to a level that is unprecedented in the decades following the second world war as more than 20m Americans lost their jobs last month when sprawling job losses strangled the world’s biggest economy.
Employment excluding farm workers fell by 20.5m in April — the largest drop on record — compared with economists’ expectations for a decline of 21.7m, the labour department said on Friday.
The unemployment rate, which had been hovering at 50-year lows before the pandemic hit, hit 14.7 per cent, which was the highest since records began in 1948.
The jobless rate peaked at 10 per cent during the 2008-09 financial crisis, and was estimated to have surged to about 25 per cent during the Great Depression.
Ireland’s unemployment rate soars to record 28%
Ireland’s unemployment rate rose to a record 28.2 per cent after huge coronavirus job losses that have left more than half of young people without work, new data show.
The figures on Friday from the Central Statistics Office show that 52.8 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 years were jobless last month, confirming assessments that the young have been hit hardest by measures to curtail the disease by closing large parts of the economy.
“These data suggest numbers at work in Ireland at present are at their lowest level in twenty years,” said Austin Hughes, economist at KBC Bank.
With almost 600,000 people receiving special Covid-19 welfare payments after losing work in the lockdown, the jobless rate in April was higher even than government forecasts three weeks ago that suggested unemployment would peak at 22 per cent in April to June. The government is also subsidising the pay of 427,000 workers, meaning the number of people relying on the state for all or part of their income has risen by more than 1m since coronavirus struck.
Ireland entered the pandemic crisis in near full-employment with a 4.8 per cent jobless rate after recovering from the 2008 financial crash. But drastic measures to tackle coronavirus that have closed construction sites, large parts of the retail and services sectors as well as hotels, restaurants and bars have taken a heavy toll on employment.
The jobless data comes three days after the government reported a sharp deterioration in the public finances last month as tax revenues fell and welfare and health spending surged.
ECJ says it is sole arbiter of whether EU institutions have broken the law
The EU’s top court has insisted it alone has the power to decide on the validity of an EU institution’s actions, in a highly unusual statement coming just days after one of its decisions was challenged by the German Constitutional Court.
The European Court of Justice said on Friday that it never commented on the judgment of a national court, but that the EU’s legal order could be jeopardised if national courts diverge from its rulings on whether EU institutions’ actions are compliant with the law.
“Like other authorities of the member states, national courts are required to ensure that EU law takes full effect. That is the only way of ensuring the equality of member states in the Union they created,” the press statement said.
On Tuesday the German court told the Berlin government it needed to ensure the European Central Bank carries out a “proportionality assessment” of its bond purchases within three months. Strikingly, the Karlsruhe court rebuffed part of an ECJ’s ruling in 2018 that had approved ECB bond-purchasing, calling it “untenable from a methodological perspective”.
“In order to ensure that EU law is applied uniformly, the Court of Justice alone – which was created for that purpose by the Member states – has jurisdiction to rule that an act of an EU intuition is contrary to EU law,” the ECJ said.
“Divergences between courts of the member states as to the validity of such acts would indeed be liable to place in jeopardy the unity of the EU legal order and to detract from legal certainty.”
Trump to speak 30 minutes before US jobs report
Donald Trump has said he will be interviewed on a US television news programme half an hour before the release of employment figures that are forecast to show a surge in joblessness that is unprecedented in the post-war period.
The US president said on Twitter he would be interviewed on Fox News Channel at 8am ET (1pm Bst). Typically he would have been briefed on the jobs figures in advance, but a federal rule prohibits executive branch employees, including the president, from publicly discussing the figures until an hour after their release.
European investors find shelter in … Granolas
Wall Street has its Fangs, now Europe has its own group of sought after (if slightly less excitedly named) stocks: the Granolas.
Investors have found shelter in a group of large European companies that look “attractive” as the Covid-19 crisis ripples across major economies, according to Goldman Sachs, which has had a swing at giving them a catchy name.
N estlé, Novartis, Novo Nordisk
L’ O real
S AP, Sanofi
The Granolas now account for 23 per cent of the market value of the Stoxx 600 index tracking the biggest companies across the continent, Goldman says.
The group’s leadership in Europe echoes that of the Fangs, which have more recently morphed into the Faamgs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet’s Google).
The latter accounts for a fifth of S&P 500 market value, and has been behind the sharp gains in recent years as well as the comeback on Wall Street that has brought the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite back into the black for 2020.
India’s top court asks for government to weigh alcohol home delivery
Jyotsna Singh in Delhi
India’s supreme court has asked state governments to consider home delivery of alcohol to address concerns of overcrowding at liquor shops.
Huge crowds have been thronging liquor stores since the government resumed sales as it began easing restrictions imposed during a strict 40-day nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, earlier this week.
The court today dismissed a public interest petition calling for a ban on liquor sales on the grounds that the shops could not maintain physical distancing.
In asking governments to organise home delivery of liquor, the supreme court might have taken a cue from the northern Punjab state which has already started the practice.
Excise tax on alcoholic beverages is a key source of income for state governments comprising 15 to 30 per cent of their revenue.
Several state governments have moved in quickly to impose an additional coronavirus tax on liquor to recoup some of their losses from the lockdown.
Architect of Sweden’s no-lockdown strategy insists it will pay off
Sweden’s unique strategy to deal with coronavirus will ensure it has only a small second wave of cases unlike other countries that could be forced to return to lockdown, according to the architect of the contentious policy.
Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist who devised the no-lockdown approach, estimated that 40 per cent of people in the capital, Stockholm, would be immune to Covid-19 by the end of May, giving the country an advantage against a virus that “we’re going to have to live with for a very long time”.
“In the autumn there will be a second wave. Sweden will have a high level of immunity and the number of cases will probably be quite low,” Mr Tegnell told the Financial Times. “But Finland will have a very low level of immunity. Will Finland have to go into a complete lockdown again?”
Sweden and Mr Tegnell are under the global spotlight as their response to the pandemic has made them a global outlier.
Read the full story.
UK minister says not to expect ‘big changes’ to lockdown next week
Oliver Dowden, UK culture secretary, has warned the public not to expect “big changes” as certain social distancing measures are eased next week.
The prime minister will map out the UK’s gradual exit from the lockdown in a televised address on Sunday, and is expected to announce some limited easing of restrictions that could take effect next week.
These could include allowing unlimited exercise outside people’s homes, and enabling some businesses to ramp up operations where social distancing can be observed.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Dowden said: “On Sunday, what the prime minister will do is set out the road map ahead.
“So we can start to look to the future, but we’ll have to do so in a very tentative and cautious way. People should not expect big changes from the prime minister on Sunday.
“But what they should expect, and this is what people have been asking for some time, tell us where we’re going. Give us a road map ahead. And that is what the prime minister will do.
“The worst thing that could happen is that after the huge effort we’ve all put in… we don’t want to have a second peak that overwhelms the NHS.”
Japanese diplomat Yukio Okamoto dies at 74 from Covid-19
The Japanese diplomat and commentator Yukio Okamoto died on April 24 from pneumonia caused by Covid-19, his office confirmed on Friday.
Mr Okamoto, who died aged 74, was a close aide to two prime ministers and the man Japanese companies turned to whenever they had a business problem with diplomatic ramifications.
In the 1990s, he advised prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto on a deal to relocate the US Marine Corps base at Futenma in Okinawa. He was later an adviser to prime minister Junichiro Koizumi in the aftermath of the Iraq War.
“I’m shocked by this sudden news,” said chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga. “I’d like to express my enormous respect for Mr Okamoto’s achievements and send my sympathies to his family. I pray that he will rest in peace.”
“Yukio was a giant in Japan-US relations…a diplomat who always did his best for his nation,” said former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, via the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Nomura pushed to loss by woes in credit derivatives business
Nomura logged a net loss of ¥34.5bn ($324m) in the final quarter of its financial year as a sharp setback arising from widening credit derivative spreads offset the higher trading revenues created elsewhere by coronavirus-related market ructions in March.
The quarterly loss – the first posted by Japan’s biggest brokerage in five quarters and contrasting with a ¥844m profit in the same period a year earlier – highlights the intensifying challenge facing the company’s new chief executive, Kentaro Okuda.
As the first ever Nomura CEO promoted from the top of the company’s investment banking division, he began his job on April 1 as global markets reacted to the threat of global recession and has vowed to continue a fundamental shake-up of the firm begun by his predecessor. Even in December, he said that he was approaching the job “with a sense of crisis”.
Net revenues in the company’s flagship investment banking division were down 59 per cent year on year in the fourth quarter of the financial year that ended on March 31. Cancelled IPO business accounted for some of that, but the bank was also hard hit by a mark-to-market loss of around ¥10bn on loan related positions as credit spreads blew out in March.
Nomura’s numbers suggested that, elsewhere, the performance of the wholesale division in the January to March quarter had been relatively solid. The increased volatility and trading in rates led to that segment reporting its strongest revenues for a decade.
Foreign exchange and cash equities, it said, were also strong and, in a section analysing the overall impact of the coronavirus on its business, the company said it had been the bookrunner on $83bn of global bond issuance during the months of March and April this year.
Nomura posted full year net profits of ¥217bn, which was below the consensus estimates of ¥276bn among five analysts polled by Refinitiv.
European markets kick off trading on a high note
Equity bourses across continental Europe started Friday with solid gains, a day after a rally in America’s big tech companies sent a key index into the black for 2020.
The composite Stoxx 600 Europe index rose 0.7 per cent in early dealings, with benchmarks in Frankfurt and Paris climbing around 1 per cent each. London’s markets were closed for a public holiday.
The upbeat sentiment follows gains on Wall Street, where the Nasdaq Composite shed what had been heavy year to date losses on the back of vigorous gains over the past month in the shares of big tech companies, including Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook. Tesla, the electric carmaker, has surged more than 80 per cent this year, with virtual meeting provider Zoom Video up 132 per cent.
German exports drop 12% in record tumble
German exports dropped the most in March since the country’s reunification in the latest sign of the heavy toll coronavirus has taken on Europe’s biggest economy.
The value of German exports declined 11.8 per cent in March from February to €108.9bn, the most severe fall since records began in 1990. Exports were down 7.9 per cent from the same month in 2019.
Imports fell 5.1 per cent from the previous month to €91.6bn, marking the biggest decline since global financial crisis in 2009.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a shallower 5 per cent fall in exports, with a 4 per cent fall in imports.
The report on Thursday from the Federal Statistics Office underscores the the severity of the fall in global trade brought on by sweeping lockdowns and other measures meant to stem the spread of coronavirus. Germany’s economy, often considered the eurozone’s powerhouse, has a sprawling export sector and is particularly affected by fluctuations in trade.
Migrant workers in India crushed to death as they try to return home
Amy Kazmin in New Delhi
A group of 15 Indian migrant workers, who were making an arduous trek from an industrial zone back to their native villages in Madhya Pradesh, was crushed to death by a goods train early Friday morning, after they fell asleep on the tracks.
The fatal accident highlights the continuing plight of millions of desperate Indian labourers, who have been left stranded without work or wages in India’s big cities and industrial areas for the duration of the country’s on-going lockdown.
In a tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described himself as “extremely anguished” over the loss of life due to the accident.
With nearly all regular public transportation services suspended in India since March 22, thousands of migrants have undertaken long and difficult journeys on foot, or by other illicit and sometimes dangerous means, in a desperate bid to reach the comfort of their distant home villages.
Many have died along the way as a result of exhaustion, heat stroke, hunger dehydration and sometimes fatal accidents.
Recently, 14 migrant workers even were found hidden inside a cement mixer as they sought to get home.
There has been a mounting outcry over the plight of migrant workers amid growing concerns about the potential for social unrest, prompting Indian Railways last weekend to begin running special point-to-point train services to take migrant workers back to their home states.
But tickets for the trains, organised between the governments of the sending and receiving states, remain hard to get hold of, given the limited services and huge pent up demand.
As a result, many migrants are continuing to set out on foot.
Earlier this week, the southern state of Karanataka — home of the IT hub Bangalore — decided not permit the special trains to operate in the state, after complaints from the construction industry that the mass exodus of migrant workers would lead to a massive labour shortage once companies were ready to resume operations.
The decision led to a massive public outcry, especially from powerful labour unions, which accused authorities of treating workers like bonded labourers. The Karnataka state government has since reversed its decision, and has now agreed to permit the special trains to operate, allowing many frustrated migrant workers to leave.
UK starts to build second contact tracing app
Sarah Neville, Tim Bradshaw and Helen Warrell in London
The NHS has already begun building a second smartphone app to trace the spread of the coronavirus, after criticism of the first app it launched this week on the Isle of Wight.
The second NHS app will use technology provided by Google and Apple and is being developed “in parallel”, in case politicians decide to make a switch, according to two people familiar with the situation.
Matthew Gould, head of NHSX, the UK health service’s innovation arm, gave the go-ahead to the new project earlier this week.
The decision to build an alternative to the NHS’ original app, which gathers more data in a central database, came after pressure within the government over the technical and ethical issues of its initial approach.
Read more here.
South Korea reports 13 more cases associated with clubber
Song Jung-a in Seoul
South Korea on Friday reported 13 more coronavirus cases associated with a clubber who visited a multicultural party district in downtown Seoul over the weekend, soon after the government eased its social distancing campaign.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday that the 29-year-old party-goer, a resident of the Yongin city just outside of Seoul, is now known to have infected 14 people. The first case was identified on Thursday.
The infected individuals include the clubber’s friend, who visited the Itaewon district with him, as well as his co-worker at a software firm in Seongnam in the metropolitan area. Those infected include three foreigners and a South Korean soldier.
The Yongin resident visited five clubs and bars in Itaewon over the weekend and traveled to different parts of the country during the recent long weekend. Much of the country was on vacation from April 30 through to May 5 and hundreds of people went to the clubs on the day when the Yongin resident visited.
The new cases have renewed concerns about further possible community transmission in South Korea, where the outbreak has been brought under control thanks to the country’s aggressive testing and contact tracing.
The KCDC expects more cases associated with the party-goer and Park Won-soon, the Seoul city mayor, said on Friday that he was considering closing bars and clubs again.
South Korea on Wednesday further relaxed social distancing guidelines, lifting strict restrictions on entertainment facilities, following a slowing in the country’s caseload over recent weeks. There have been fewer than 20 new cases per day for the past 20 consecutive days .
But health authorities have called for vigilance, warning about a possible second wave of infections. Schools are scheduled to reopen later this month while professional sports have been allowed to resume without spectators.
AIIB to lend $500m to India to combat Covid-19
The Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will lend $500m to India to support efforts to prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by Covid-19
The project is funded by AIIB’s newly formed facility to provide loans to members to fight the coronavirus crisis.
India’s Covid-19 emergency response and health systems preparedness project is being cofinanced by the World Bank and is aimed at enabling New Delhi to scale up efforts to limit the spread of the disease and expand its response capacity.
The project also supports the purchase of medical equipment, improving testing facilities and strengthening research.
“Building a resilient health system that can effectively treat Covid-19 patients and prevent its spread is the immediate priority,” said DJ Pandian, AIIB vice president, investment operations.
The bank said its Covid-19 Crisis Recovery Facility has an initial size of $5bn-$10bn to support AIIB members’ needs during the crisis. AIIB is currently reviewing other projects from a number of members.
Australia’s Morrison says reopening plan could restore 850,000 jobs
Jamie Smyth in Sydney
Australia’s federal and state governments agreed a three-step plan on Friday to achieve a Covid-19 safe economy by July, which focuses on a phased reopening of business, recreation and social gatherings.
Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, said the plan to reopen the economy could restore 850,000 jobs in the months ahead while preserving the successes achieved in suppressing the spread of the virus.
He said the first phase of the plan would allow gatherings of up to 10 people and five visitors to people’s homes, with individual states retaining the power to determine when this easing of restrictions is implemented.
“Be encouraged, Australia, that we are successfully making our way through this difficult battle on two fronts. Firstly, we’ve been fighting the virus and we are winning, Secondly, we have put in place and are delivering the economic lifeline,” said Mr Morrison.
“It is our goal to move through all of these steps to achieve that COVID safe economy in July of this year.”
Australia has dramatically reduced the rate of infections over recent weeks following the implementation of social distancing rules and border controls. It has reported 6,896 infections, a rise of 22 cases in the previous 24 hours.
Step two will allow gatherings of up to 20 people and the opening of gyms, cinemas and similar businesses. Step three will permit gatherings of up to 100 people, pubs and clubs to reopen and the opening of state borders.
Some Australian states and territories have already loosened restrictions, such as reopening national parks, swimming pools and playgrounds.
Washington and Beijing say trade deal remains on track
James Politi in Washington and Ryan McMorrow in Beijing
Top US officials said their trade pact with China remained on track despite rising tensions over the spread of the coronavirus, which had led president Donald Trump to question whether the commercial truce agreement implemented less than three months ago would hold up.
Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, held a conference call with Liu He, China’s vice-premier, on Thursday night to discuss the implementation of the so-called “phase one” agreement, with Washington offering an upbeat summary of the discussion.
“Both sides agreed that good progress is being made on creating the governmental infrastructures necessary to make the agreement a success. They also agreed that in spite of the current global health emergency, both countries fully expect to meet their obligations under the agreement in a timely manner,” USTR and Treasury said in a joint statement.
The encouraging assessment of the state of the US-China trade deal comes after a week during which Mr Trump sharply ramped up his criticism of Beijing, accusing the Asian nation of failing to prevent a pandemic that has left the US and global economies reeling, and caused more than 70,000 deaths in the US alone.
China’s ministry of commerce said the two sides agreed to strengthen co-operation over macroeconomic and public health matters. The ministry said the two countries would “strive to create a favorable atmosphere and conditions for the implementation of the first phase of the China-US economic and trade agreement, and push forward to achieve positive results”.
Mr Trump had said that he was expecting to hear more about the status of the trade deal within the coming weeks, but was not sure if China would abide by the terms of the agreement, which calls for large-scale purchases of American goods — and was prepared to ditch the deal if Beijing failed to comply, possibly leading to a new escalation of tariffs.
Discovery of virus in patient’s eyes is ‘crucially relevant’, scientists say
Hong Kong scientists say their discovery of coronavirus in the eyes of a patient is “crucially relevant” for disease control.
In a paper published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine on Thursday, the academics from the University of Hong Kong said their findings supported the theory that the virus could spread via airborne droplets landing in the eye, or via traces of the virus being transferred by someone touching their eyes with anything contaminated with the virus.
“The demonstration of infection of conjunctiva suggests that the eye might be an additional route of infection, an observation that is crucially relevant for infection prevention and control.”
They also found that the new coronavirus, known as Sars-Cov-2, replicated in the main airways of the lungs more extensively than Sars, the acute respiratory disease that emerged in Guangdong province in 2002, helping to explain why it might be so infectious.
“The robust replication competence of Sars-Cov-2 in human bronchus [the main airways in the lungs] might explain its efficient transmission efficiency among humans,” the paper says.
LG Chem shares steady after India gas leak kills 11
Song Jung-a in Seoul
Shares in LG Chem have rebounded after a sharp fall on Thursday following a gas leak at its Indian factory that killed more than 11 people and sickened hundreds more as industries reopened after the weeks-long coronavirus lockdown.
The gas leak has been contained but more people were evacuated from the area near the plant on Friday as a precautionary measure, amid fear of another possible leak due to rising temperatures at the plant.
“There was not a second leak but LG Chem has asked the police to evacuate residents as a precautionary measure as there are concerns that tank temperature would rise,” LG Chem said on Friday. “We are taking necessary measures including putting water into the tank.”
Shares of LG Chem gained 0.7 per cent in mid-morning trade on Friday after falling as much as 2.4 per cent earlier in the day. The shares lost nearly 2 per cent on Thursday.
The leak of deadly styrene gas took place at a factory in Visakhapatnam, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, operated by South Korea’s largest chemical producer. Hundreds have been hospitalised and injured, according to officials and local media.
The incident came days after many Indian industries were given the green light to start operating again after the government ordered India into a lockdown in late March to stem the spread of coronavirus.
LG Chem, which was also in the process of reopening the factory, said it was checking the cause of the accident. The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Jagan Mohan Reddy, said in a televised address on Thursday that the leak occurred because the styrene had been stored for a long time.
Macquarie slashes dividend as impairment charges surge
Jamie Smyth in Sydney
Macquarie Group has slashed its dividend and refrained from providing an earnings outlook following a surge in impairments linked to the coronavirus crisis, ending several consecutive years of profit growth at the Australian investment bank.
Shemara Wikramanayake, Macquarie chief executive, said market conditions were likely to remain challenging given the significant uncertainty caused by Covid-19 and the pace of economic recovery, which meant the bank could not provide any meaningful earnings guidance for 2021.
“The final months of the financial year were overshadowed by the profound human impact of the Covid-19 global health crisis and its economic consequences,” said Ms Wikramanayake.
“We continue to maintain a cautious stance, with a conservative approach to capital, funding and liquidity that positions us well to respond to the current environment.”
Impairment charges almost doubled to A$1.04bn ($679m) in the year to end March, causing full year profit to fall 8 per cent to A$2.7bn compared to the same period a year ago. This represents the first fall in annual profit at Macquarie since 2012. The bank cut its full year dividend in half to A$1.80 and signalled it would continue to maintain a strong balance sheet.
Macquarie reported tier one capital — a measure of banks’ balance sheet strength — of 12.2 per cent, up from 11.4 per cent last year.
Shares in Macquarie were 2 per cent higher at A$102.40 on the ASX, which was up around 1 per cent.
The bank, which has earned the nickname the “millionaires’ factory” due to its generous remuneration policy, paid Ms Wikramanayake A$18.1m in 2020, which was her first full year as chief executive, up from A$17m a year earlier.
China reports 1 new coronavirus case, no imported infections
Health authorities in China reported one new coronavirus case to the end of Thursday, with no new imported cases or deaths.
The reported coronavirus case was found in Jilin, a north-eastern Chinese province. Authorities in the province said the case was being investigated.
China has upped controls on its land borders in recent weeks and limited the number of international flights into the country in a bid to prevent a second wave of infections from overseas.
In total, 1,680 people returning to China from overseas have been found to have Covid-19.
The total number of recorded cases in China now stands at 82,886, and 4,633 deaths officially linked to Covid-19.
There were 16 cases of people who tested positive for the virus but did not show any symptoms. None of those asymptomatic cases included people returning from overseas.
OCBC profit falls 43% as coronavirus and oil rout hits Singapore banks
Mercedes Ruehl in Singapore
Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation, south-east Asia’s second biggest bank by assets, has reported a 43 per cent year-on-year drop in net profit to S$698m ($494m) in a first quarter trading update.
OCBC’s update caps a weak quarter for Singapore’s big three banks. Profits also fell at DBS and United Overseas Bank as the coronavirus outbreak and an oil rout put pressure on financial institutions.
OCBC chief executive Samuel Tsien said in a statement that he expects the next few quarters “will be very difficult for individuals and businesses” but he was confident the bank could maintain a strong balance sheet through the situation.
“As we enter this period of a health crisis that has developed into a global economic crisis, the conservative stance we have always taken to preserve a strong capital, liquidity and funding foundation have served our customers and shareholders well,” he added.
DBS last week reported its first profit decline since 2017 while UOB posted a 19 per cent year-on-year fall in net profit on Wednesday.
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Denmark is to re-open restaurants, cafés, shops, and secondary schools in the next two weeks as part of the second phase of its re-opening from its coronavirus lockdown. And Norway will become one of the first European countries to reopen its entire school system after it said that all pupils aged over 10 would return from Monday.
The UK government says it has recouped £70m of the £92m it spent on millions of unreliable Covid-19 antibody tests it ordered.
A “rapid” uptick in US consumer demand for guns began in March as states implemented lockdown measures, boosting sales at firearms manufacturer Sturm Ruger.
A member of the US military who works at the White House has contracted the coronavirus, a senior Trump administration official said on Thursday, as US media identified the individual as one of Donald Trump’s personal valets.
New York will extend the moratorium for coronavirus-related hardship by two months, providing additional rent relief for affected residential and commercial tenants.
Up to 44m people in sub-Saharan Africa could be infected with Covid-19 in the first year of the pandemic if containment measures fail, leading to as many as 190,000 deaths, the World Health Organization has warned.
Corporate news latest
General Motors is issuing bonds paying yields in junk territory as the company shores up liquidity. The Detroit automaker is issuing a seven-year senior unsecured note that will pay investors 7 per cent above benchmark Treasury yields. Three- and five-year notes will pay interest of 6 and 6.5 per cent above Treasuries, respectively.
US banks are urging the Trump administration for clarity on which companies should be allowed to keep the money they received under the Paycheck Protection Program, which is designed to encourage them to continue employing staff during the coronavirus crisis.
A tumble in global ride-sharing demand was offset by a surge in food delivery, Uber said, as it reported stronger than expected revenues for its first quarter. Its overall revenues grew to $3.5bn, up 14 per cent on 2019, and slightly above Wall Street’s expectations.
JPMorgan Chase has warned staff that they will not be returning to their offices for several weeks after countries and cities announced they would be easing their restrictions, highlighting the extensive preparations that must be carried out before workers get back to their desks.
World Bank lends Ecuador $500m to tackle coronavirus fallout
Gideon Long in Bogotá
The World Bank has become the latest multilateral institution to lend money to Ecuador to help it tackle coronavirus and get its struggling economy back on track.
The bank said it would lend Ecuador $500m, to be paid back over 28 years at a variable rate of interest.
The International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank have both extended loans to Ecuador recently, for $643m and $700m respectively.
Ecuador has recorded over 30,000 cases of the virus and 1,654 deaths, making it the worst hit country in South America per capita.
The port city of Guayaquil has been particularly badly hit and for a while local authorities were so overwhelmed they were unable to collect the bodies of the dead. Some corpses were abandoned in the streets or stored inside houses for days in the tropical heat.
The pandemic comes as the Andean nation is struggling to keep afloat economically. It has negotiated a four-month reprieve with bondholders on debt repayments and is negotiating a new deal with the IMF to replace the now defunct $4.2bn package it agreed last year.
Asia-Pacific stocks track Wall Street gains
Asia-Pacific equities rose on Friday after technology stocks and further easing of lockdowns pushed Wall Street higher.
In Japan, the Topix gained 1.2 per cent, South Korea’s Kospi was up 0.9 per cent and the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia rose 0.3 per cent. S&P 500 futures pointed to a 0.6 per cent gain for US stocks when trading resumes on Friday.
Overnight in the US, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index turned positive for the year closing up 1.4 per cent, highlighting the resilience of the technology sector. The benchmark S&P 500 added 1.2 per cent.
Those gains came as the US recorded a further 3.2m people filing for unemployment benefits, taking the total number of claims over the past seven weeks to more than 33m. US non-farm payroll figures will be released later on Friday and are expected to show unemployment rose to 16 per cent amid lockdown measures.
US bond markets sent bearish signals on Thursday as yields on two- and five-year Treasuries fell to record lows and futures investors priced in the possibility of negative rates.
Investors pull money from US equity funds for third consecutive week
Richard Henderson in Melbourne
Investors have pulled money from US equity funds for the third consecutive week despite a bumper run in the stock market that led to the biggest monthly gain in more than three decades in April.
Mutual funds and exchange traded funds that invest in US stocks had $9.3bn in outflows in the week ending Wednesday, extending the sum over the past three weeks to $12.9bn, according to data from EPFR Global.
The outflows come after a recent jump for the stock market: US blue-chips are up 29 per cent from the low point reached in March. Equities staged a swift fall earlier this year as countries around the world imposed lockdowns to stem the spread of coronavirus, crippling global commerce.
April marked the best monthly gain for the S&P 500 since 1987 as investors looked beyond the health crisis and the near-term hit to corporate profits, which are expected to fall 14 per cent in the first quarter alone, according to Credit Suisse data.
Earnings for the full year are anticipated to drop by one third to $110 a share for companies in the S&P 500 before rocketing back in 2021 to surpass levels seen last year, according to Goldman Sachs estimates, helping explain the optimism driving the recent rally.
US death toll tops 70,000 as New York fatalities surpass 20,000
Peter Wells in New York
New York’s coronavirus death toll topped 20,000 on Thursday, taking the total number of deaths in the US since the pandemic began to just over 70,000.
The hardest hit state has reported 20,828 deaths, according to data compiled on by the Covid Tracking Project.
Andrew Cuomo, the state’s governor, said today that a further 231 people in New York had died from coronavirus over the past 24 hours. But the overall New York tally increased by 941, with the Covid Tracking Project saying most of those “were newly confirmed, but did not occur in the last 24 hours”.
Including the revised New York deaths, the US’s daily toll of 2,746 represents a record high, up from 1,949 on Wednesday. The previous daily record was 2,700 on April 29.
Other states that had large increases over the past day were: Pennsylvania, up 310; New Jersey, up 252, and; Illinois, up 137. These are, respectively, the fifth, second and sixth hardest hit states in terms of total fatalities.
Since the pandemic began, 70,002 people have died from Covid-19 in the US, according to the Covid Tracking Project.