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Stocks Inch Higher as Wall Street’s Turmoil Continues: Live Updates

Stocks ended slightly higher on Thursday, after a volatile session, as investors weighed fresh evidence of a sharp economic decline against efforts in the United States and Europe to offset the damage.

By the end of the day, which had started with a sharp drop on Wall Street, the S&P 500 rose by less than 1 percent, and shares in Europe also scratched out small gains. Oil prices, which had collapsed by more than 20 percent on Wednesday, sharply rebounded.

Markets in Asia-Pacific showed a little more optimism on Friday morning. Stocks in Sydney, Australia; Hong Kong; Seoul, South Korea and Taiwan were all trading up 3 percent or higher. In Tokyo, the market was down 1 percent in early morning trading.

The uneven trading came as the steady drumbeat of bad news about the spread of the coronavirus, and its impact on the economy, continued.

In the United States, the number of workers filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance surged, government data released on Thursday showed. Those figures do not reflect the sharp cuts made in the past few days as companies quickly scale down operations. And a survey of manufacturers by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia showed a sudden drop off in activity.

Economists in recent days have made increasingly dire predictions about the likely damage to the job market, with many predicting that the unemployment rate would quickly surpass the 10 percent level it hit in the worst of the last recession.

“This is a body blow to the economy unlike anything we’ve experienced in recent memory,” said Patrick Anderson, an economist in East Lansing, Mich. “Even the Great Recession did not include shuttering of businesses by government order at the same time that people were being told to say home and distance themselves.”

Overnight, the European Central Bank unveiled a huge bond-buying program aimed at preventing economic calamity, and the Fed presented a plan to support money market funds, which are threatened when there is a rush for cash. U.S. officials made progress on passage of stimulus efforts to keep the American economy running. The Bank of England on Thursday announced that it would reduce its benchmark interest rate to 0.1 percent and increase its buying of British government bonds and corporate bonds.

On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the White House’s economic relief plan included sending checks of $1,000 for every American adult and $500 per child within three weeks. If the crisis continues, the plan would be to send checks of the same amounts again in May.

But news of efforts to bolster the economy has been matched by a sharp escalation in the number of coronavirus cases in Europe and the United States, and fresh evidence of the impact on businesses. On Thursday, Ford Motor said that it would suspend its dividend payment and draw down about $15 billion from two lines of credit to help offset the impact of coronavirus-related production shutdowns, becoming the latest company to take such measures to cushion itself.

Tesla, the luxury electric carmaker, said on Thursday that it would temporarily shut down production at its factory in the San Francisco Bay Area starting Monday.

The company was under increasing pressure from local government officials and workers in recent days to stop making cars. Much of the Bay Area, including Tesla’s factory in Fremont, are under orders to shelter in place.

Earlier on Thursday, Kimberly Petersen, the chief of the Fremont Police Department, and other city officials had planned to meet with Tesla management to discuss compliance with an order by Alameda County limiting the operations of nonessential businesses, the department said on Twitter.

Airbnb, the home rental start-up, has been holding talks with investors about new funding as the spread of the coronavirus ravages its business ahead of its planned initial public offering.

The company, which is based in San Francisco, is valued at $31 billion by private investors. It began fielding unsolicited offers last week from venture capital firms, private equity firms and sovereign wealth funds, according to a person familiar with the situation. Offers have ranged from $100 million to $1 billion, the person said. Valuations have not yet been discussed.

The deal talks were first reported by CNBC.

Airbnb has not decided whether it will raise more funding, which could be used to snap up smaller competitors that are struggling amid the industry downturn, the person said. The company has $3 billion in cash on its balance sheet and access to another $1 billion line of credit.

In the past, Airbnb has turned a profit on its operations, unlike many of the cash-burning start-ups that went public last year and saw their stock prices fall as they struggled to make money. But the coronavirus has ground tourism to a halt in many parts of the world, putting Airbnb in a difficult position.

The company matches home rental operators with guests and takes a fee on the transaction. It recently announced that any guests wishing to cancel would get a full refund on their booking, providing relief to travelers but prompting ire from rental operators who rely on the income. In China, Airbnb established a $10 million fund to support its hosts.

On Tuesday Airbnb asked Congress for relief measures including low-interest loans for its rental operators.

Airbnb is under pressure to go public before some of its early employees shares begin to expire later this year. Last fall, it announced it would go public in 2020. It has retained Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to advise on the deal.

Layoffs rose sharply last week as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic began to ripple through the economy. Some 281,000 Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment insurance, up by 33 percent from 211,000 the week before, the Labor Department said Thursday. On a percentage basis, the increase was among the largest one-week surges on record.

The Labor Department said the increase was “clearly attributable to impacts from the Covid-19 virus” and noted that many states reported a rise in jobless claims from workers in food services, accommodation and travel.

Still, the data released Thursday was for claims filed from March 8-14, before the outbreak began to shut down restaurants, bars and retail stores in much of the country. The next report, which will reflect the first wave of closings, will almost certainly be much worse.

On Thursday, Kohl’s and TJX, the owner of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Home Goods, decided to follow many major retail chains in temporarily closing stores after initially resisting the move. Kohl’s said it would close its stores nationwide on Thursday at 7 p.m. “through at least April 1.” TJX said on its website that it would close its stores globally, along with its online businesses, for two weeks.

Simon Property Group, America’s biggest mall operator, and Taubman Centers, which oversees malls including the Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey, announced temporary closures on Wednesday and Thursday as well.

Employees for retail chains that sell nonessential goods have been expressing fear about their commutes and working in stores while the coronavirus spreads. Some chains like GameStop and Starbucks remained open as of Thursday afternoon.

With its largest division (theme parks and consumer products) essentially closed, its movie and television studios idled and its ESPN operation with no live sports to broadcast, the Walt Disney Company’s market capitalization has fallen by about $57 billion over the last month.

Disney, which has a new chief executive, said in a regulatory filing on Thursday that it had become “challenging” to estimate future performance for various divisions.

Disney’s primary competitors have also been in free fall. But those giants have more diversified holdings. Comcast, with its internet and cable hookup unit offsetting its NBCUniversal movie and theme park division, has shed about $30 billion in value over the last month. AT&T, which owns WarnerMedia, home to HBO, TNT, TBS, CNN and Warner Bros., is down by about $41 billion.

  • Walmart announced plans to give a cash bonus to all of its U.S. hourly workers. The bonus will be $300 for full-time workers and $150 for part-timers and will total more than $365 million. The retailer also said it would hire 150,000 workers through the end of May to work in stores, clubs, distribution centers and fulfillment centers.

  • Nikki Haley, the former U.N. ambassador, resigned from the board of Boeing, the company said in a regulatory filing on Thursday. “I cannot support a move to lean on the federal government for a stimulus or bailout,” Ms. Haley said in a letter to the board.

  • Domino’s Pizza announced on Monday that it would hire 1,000 workers in the greater Chicago area — delivery drivers, customer service representatives and managers — to meet an increased demand for deliveries.

  • Uber rides fell by 45 percent from the previous year in Hong Kong at the height of the outbreak there, while in Seattle rides were down by 60 to 70 percent, the company said.

Reporting and research were contributed by Erin Griffith, Sapna Maheshwari, Ben Casselman, Conor Dougherty, Emily Flitter, Isabella Kwai, Jack Ewing, Brooks Barnes, Niraj Chokshi, Neal E. Boudette, Carlos Tejada, Kate Conger, Jason Karaian, Amie Tsang, Heather Murphy, Matt Phillips, Jeanna Smialek, Jim Tankersley, Mohammed Hadi and Katie Robertson.

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