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Stocks Rally After Trump and Business Leaders Pledge Support

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

The S&P 500 rose more than 9 percent, 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 news conference at the White House.

Though he was short on details, Mr. Trump said the administration was working with Google to develop a website to determine whether an individual needs a test — a move aimed at avoiding overwhelming the health system with people who are ill but do not necessarily need to be tested for coronavirus. Google later said the site would initially only be used around San Francisco, “with the hope of expanding it more broadly over time.”

The chief executives of Walmart, Target and Walgreens all said they had agreed to make facilities available for testing. Executives from CVS Health, Roche Diagnostics and Signify Health were also in attendance at the news conference.

Mr. Trump also said he would waive interest on all student loans held by all government agencies, and that the energy secretary would be buying “large quantities of oil” to fill up the country’s strategic reserve — an effort to bolster flagging oil prices. Later Friday evening, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democratic lawmakers she had reached an agreement with the Trump administration on a coronavirus relief package. She had already said the House of Representatives would vote on it Friday.

Financial markets have been nothing if not inconsistent for the past three weeks, plunging and then rising, and then plunging again, as each day brought new measures to contain the outbreak and new worries that the economy, workers and businesses would take a hit as a result of them.

On Thursday, stocks had their biggest daily drop since the stock market crashed in 1987, as Mr. Trump’s ban on the entry to the United States from most European countries disappointed investors, who had been waiting for Washington to take stronger steps to bolster the economy. For the S&P 500, Friday’s gains recouped most of those losses.

One of the main selling points for Bitcoin has been that it would serve as a safe place to keep money during times of turmoil, like a digital version of gold. This promise has not held up well during the recent market gyrations.

Gold has held its value better than most other investments over the last month, but the price of a Bitcoin has fallen around 50 percent, to under $5,000 — a much sharper drop than American stocks. Thursday was the cryptocurrency’s worst day in seven years.

Critics of Bitcoin have been gleefully posting on social media the many times that prominent advocates of the cryptocurrency had said that it would be a good refuge in times of economic uncertainty.

Advocates of the cryptocurrency have said that Bitcoin is not mature enough to be a safe haven yet, but that it will be in the future.

Some retailers of apparel and other discretionary items are temporarily closing their doors to help prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. The outdoor-gear brand Patagonia posted a letter from its chief executive on its website on Friday, saying that the brand would temporarily close its stores and offices until at least March 27. At that point it will “reassess and post an update.” That 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 back for an update on Monday at 4 p.m.

Glossier, the beauty start-up, also said on Friday that it planned to close its stores for at least two weeks beginning on Friday and delay a planned store opening in Arizona. Buck Mason, a men’s wear brand with 10 stores, will also temporarily close its locations.

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.

How much the waiver saves a particular borrower will vary depending on the interest rate on their loan. The current range of interest rates on fixed-rate loans to undergraduate and graduate students is 4.53 percent to 7.08 percent.

Those borrowers will still have to make payments on their principal, and it was not immediately clear how quickly the loan servicers who send out the bills will be able to recalculate what each person owes.

The waiver will not affect all borrowers. Student loans issued through state agencies and others — including from big private lenders like Sallie Mae — are not covered. Other loans that are not part of the waiver program include the majority of Federal Family Education Loans, which are mostly held by commercial lenders, and school-held Perkins loans.

But the federal government is the biggest holder of student debt with $1.2 trillion in direct loans to more than 35 million borrowers.

Other details were not clear, including how the unpaid interest would be handled.

The entire federal student loan system has grown more complex over time, so changing payments on the fly poses a serious challenge. Many loan servicers have committed errors in recent years and sowed confusion among borrowers, especially those in the public service loan forgiveness program.

Is isolating yourself because you might have been exposed to the coronavirus the same as calling in sick?

That’s the question that United Automobile Workers union officials are negotiating with Fiat Chrysler, and expect to take up with General Motors and Ford Motor. The union wants to make sure that members who stay away from work to avoid potentially spreading infection are eligible to collect sick pay, even if they have not developed symptoms of illness.

The union and Fiat Chrysler “are working together during this unprecedented and challenging situation,” said Cindy Estrada, a union vice president. “The U.A.W. feels strongly that no member should be disadvantaged in response to the COVID-19 process.”

For now, the question is mostly hypothetical. Fiat Chrysler and Ford said Friday that they knew of no American workers who were infected. That was also true of G.M., though it said “a small number” had quarantined themselves at home because they had traveled to South Korea or other affected areas in the last few weeks.

Even as concern about the virus increases, it has been mostly business as usual at the companies’ factories. Mark Truby, a Ford spokesman, said the company had seen no disruptions to production or parts supplies outside of China. In its U.S. plants, it has made hand sanitizer available and in some cases has repositioned workers farther apart.

  • Delta will cut 40 percent of its flights over the next few months — more than it did after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — and is also parking up to to 300 planes, offering unpaid leaves, freezing hiring, scaling back its use of consultants and contractors and slashing capital spending by at least $2 billion for the year.

  • Berkshire Hathaway said it would not allow shareholders to physically attend its May 2 annual meeting in Omaha, which will be streamed online. All special events around the meeting were canceled.

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

Reporting was contributed 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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