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Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous, Brian Sozzi and Julia La Roche discuss Starbucks’ latest decision to continue to offer all of its employees benefits amid the coronavirus outbreak.
(Bloomberg) -- Oil soared after U.S. President Trump said Saudi Arabia and Russia would make major output cuts, though the producers haven’t yet confirmed they will be making curbs.Uncertainty swirled over even the volume of cuts that Trump touted: while he said they could be 10 million to as much as 15 million barrels, he didn’t specify if that reduction would be per day. The U.S. president tweeted that the nations would pump less after he spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.Trump’s comments immediately triggered skepticism, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t spoken to the Saudi Crown Prince and hasn’t agreed to cut oil production to boost prices.The Middle East kingdom also didn’t confirm the cuts, but called for an urgent meeting of the OPEC+ producer alliance to reach a “fair deal” that would restore balance in oil markets, state-run Saudi Press Agency reported. Any curbs by the group would be conditional on other countries joining, according to a delegate.U.S. West Texas Intermediate oil prices by as much as 35% and global benchmark Brent crude by as much as 47%, before paring some of those gains.“The 10, 15 million barrel a day cut is just not going to happen. On top of that, Russia has older oil wells, so they can’t restart in the same way that Saudi Arabia can,” said Tariq Zahir, a fund manager at Tyche Capital Advisors.If Trump meant 10 million barrels per day, that would equal both Moscow and Riyadh curbing nearly 45% of their production in what would prove an unprecedented move.If collective action does remove that much from the market, that would be the equivalent of about 10% of world demand prior to the impact of coronavirus crisis.That may not be enough to stop the pain that’s rippled across the energy industry as demand craters with the coronavirus outbreak shutting down economies around the world, according to Ben Luckock, co-head of oil trading at Trafigura. The trading house raised its consumption-loss estimate to around 35 million barrels a day.“We have no hope of production cuts matching the demand destruction,” he told Bloomberg, adding that by the middle to late April, “oil will have come out of the ground and will struggle to find a home.”Oil’s move comes after prices were already climbing following China’s instruction to government agencies to start buying cheap crude for its strategic reserves.The Trump administration will also rent space in the U.S. emergency oil reserve to domestic producers that are struggling to find places to store excess barrels.Despite the U.S. president’s optimism, Saudi Arabia hasn’t appeared to relent on its bid to flood the market yet, saying on Wednesday it was pumping at a record and had this week loaded almost 19 million barrels of oil in a single day. Meanwhile, Russia has said it’s not satisfied with the oil price.Goldman Sachs Group Inc. also doesn’t see a bright outlook. In a note earlier this week, it said any conceivable oil production cut by the U.S., OPEC+ and Canada would still “fall well short” of its estimated 26 million barrels a day of demand loss and only provide “fleeting support to inland crude prices.”Meanwhile, the physical crude market continues to show deepening signs of strain.Dated Brent, the benchmark for two-thirds of the world’s physical supply, was assessed at $15.135 on Wednesday, the lowest since at least 1999. Crude has slipped below $10 in some areas including Canada and shale regions in the U.S., Belarus wants to buy Russian oil for $4, while some grades have posted negative prices.As supply balloons, there are growing signs that the world is running out of places to store the glut.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- With $250 billion of new U.S. bond issues at investment grade since the middle of March, and 150 billion euros ($164 billion) in Europe, the high-end credit market is an undoubted beneficiary of the central banks’ coronavirus stimulus plans. The debt capital market is definitely back open.Indeed, analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. have bravely ventured that the worst of the widening of credit spreads — where the yield on corporate debt starts to increase faster than that of benchmark bonds — may be over for high-grade issuers.As I’ve written before, it’s important not to see this as a sign that all is well in the entirety of the credit markets: Companies with non-investment grade paper are crucial to the real economy too, but junk bonds are a long way from being in a good place. Defaults are looming.Setting aside the broader economic concerns of this state of affairs, there will be opportunities for investors in finding companies that will emerge from the crisis stronger — or the ones that will get most state support, if you’d prefer to be cynical. Credit selection, akin to stock-picking, will be the answer for those hunting yield. Tread carefully among the rubble and you might find some sparklers.As the Goldman analysts say, the high-grade part of the market is functioning well. There are 16 new issues slated in the euro debt capital markets on Thursday, including bonds from corporate giants such as BP Plc, British American Tobacco Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc. There’s even a rare deal coming in sterling, a market that’s been largely shut, from carmaker Volkswagen AG. That will be a significant test for a sector that’s been effectively shutdown by Covid-19.Credit spreads blew out spectacularly in March, and while things have improved, the environment has changed profoundly — even for the higher quality stuff. The premium offered on yields for new issues and overall credit spreads are significantly wider than during the first two months of this year, before the coronavirus struck the West in earnest. For corporate issuers, the heady days of rock-bottom interest rates are over, but this is better news for investors. The potential for positive performance is phenomenal, explaining why so many are diving back in to try to outperform the index. The European Central Bank has 1 trillion euros of bond purchases to complete this year, with as much as 20% of that to steer into eligible investment grade companies. That will be a major tailwind for a spike in the value of corporate debt.The ECB excludes financial firms and junk bonds from its Quantitative Easing program, but the crowded demand for high-quality paper will no doubt steer people toward non-investment grade sales, helping issuers. Also, whisper it, but the eligibility criteria for QE might well be softened.High-yield is still suffering badly from blown-out credit spreads. But it can offer the biggest opportunities to investors, especially if the particular company is critical to any economic recovery. Government credit and bailout plans might add to the appeal of certain sectors such as infrastructure, health and utilities. Less vital industries in the junk bond space will have to pay up to attract buyers. The beleaguered cruise liner company Carnival Corp had to pay a whopping 11.5% coupon to raise $4 billion this week. To get a sense of how far things have gone south for Carnival, at the beginning of March the yield on its existing three-year dollar bond had slipped below 2%. Bank debt might be popular too. Lenders’ senior investment-grade paper is already practically backstopped by national central banks. Subordinated bank debt remains for the brave, albeit the riskiest additional tier-1 perpetuals (known as CoCos, where investors lose out if a company goes bust) will always have their fans among those clamoring for proper yield. Selecting which companies can weather a crisis versus the dead ducks has probably been the most overlooked financial skill-set since the Lehman Brothers crisis, especially in corporate bonds. Blanket QE and the remorseless rise of passive investing has masked what active managers should be best at. It will pay in future to invest in a more selective fashion rather than simply buying the index.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Marcus Ashworth is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering European markets. He spent three decades in the banking industry, most recently as chief markets strategist at Haitong Securities in London.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- I spent the better part of the last three weeks on the phone with clients of my asset-management firm and friends who wanted a sounding board about markets. That’s not a complaint. For me, one bright spot of this crisis has been a return to indulgently long phone conversations, a throwback to a simpler time before smartphones and social media. Three questions came up routinely in those conversations, which makes me think they’re on a lot of investors’ minds. My thoughts are certainly not novel. They borrow liberally from investing giants such as Warren Buffett, Jack Bogle, Seth Klarman and others too numerous to name, and financial writers who have covered similar ground over the years and in recent days. But given the opportunity for costly mistakes during market upheavals, it never hurts to revisit some common pitfalls. The question that came up most is whether investors should sell their stocks now and buy them back later when they decline further. The spread of coronavirus and the resulting economic damage is expected to worsen. As it does, the thinking goes, stocks will continue to decline.It’s a natural impulse, but it misses a crucial aspect of the way markets work, which is that prices instantly reflect investors’ expectations about the future. That’s probably why, to many investors’ surprise, the U.S. stock market held its ground after dreadful news last Thursday that 3.28 million workers filed for unemployment the previous week, nearly quintupling the previous record. While exact numbers are never known in advance, a surge in initial jobless claims was widely expected well before the Labor Department released its official tally.More bad news is expected. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said on Tuesday that it expects the U.S. economy to shrink by an annualized 34% in the second quarter and unemployment to rise to 15% by mid-year before a recovery takes hold in the third quarter. That, too, is reflected in stock prices. The prospect of future declines depends on whether expectations become even more dire. But unless investors can predict if the outlook will darken further, there’s no reason to think they can anticipate the market’s next move. And that’s only half the battle. Those who manage to get out before another market drop must decide when to get back in, which is never clear. Market turns tend to be sudden. By the time it feels safe, the market is often sharply higher, leaving investors with regret about missing the bottom. Then comes the temptation to wait for the market to revisit its lows, an opportunity that may never come.I know investors who sold their stocks when Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, months before the market bottomed around the financial crisis. What seemed like a stroke of genius at the time became a harrowing trial. The market unexpectedly turned higher in March 2009 and never looked back. More than a decade later, some of those investors are still waiting for that elusive re-entry despite the likelihood that the market will never revert to that September 2008 level. There’s plenty of evidence showing that binary market timing, or all-in-all-out moves around markets, is a good way to lose money. I’ve never even seen it work in back tests, which have the formidable advantages of perfect hindsight, zero emotion and no cost. Every time someone tells me binary market timing is possible, I ask for a successful back test, and I have yet to see one. A second question is whether retirees have time to wait for stocks to recover. If history is any guide, the answer is most likely yes. There have been 10 bear markets in the U.S. since 1948, excluding the current one, as measured by a 20% or greater decline in the S&P 500 Index. The average number of years from peak to recovery — that is, the time it took for the S&P 500 to climb back to its previous high — was 3.9 years, and the median was 2.7 years. On five of those occasions, the market recovered in two years or less. In other words, market downturns tend to feel a lot longer than they are.The third question cuts entirely in the opposite direction: With markets down and interest rates at historic lows, should investors borrow money to buy stocks? The answer is no. While it’s safe to assume that markets will recover eventually, the path is unknowable. That’s a problem for investors playing with other people’s money. If markets fall further before recovering — a distinct possibility given all the uncertainty, particularly in the U.S., where stocks aren’t cheap — those investors may be forced to sell at even lower prices to meet margin calls. Borrowed money robs investors of time, which is arguably their only edge. Market downturns tend to provoke extreme reactions, and this one is no different. Yes, savvy investors can pick up some bargains by rebalancing their portfolios or even tilting toward their most beaten-down investments. U.S. investors might also lighten up on home bias, as there are better bargains in overseas stocks. But when markets are roiling, don’t discount the value of doing nothing. I had a seventh-grade shop teacher who used to say, “Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit.” For many investors, this is probably a good time to just sit. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Nir Kaissar is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the markets. He is the founder of Unison Advisors, an asset management firm. He has worked as a lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell and a consultant at Ernst & Young. For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Oil markets are in pain. Demand has plummeted, with about three billion people under lockdown just as the world faces a historic supply glut. The world’s crude storage, meanwhile, is filling fast, from underground caverns to rail cars and tankers. For landlocked producers, that hardly matters: Some are already paying customers to take their oil away.The consequences will be long-lasting. Drillers in the U.S. and elsewhere are scaling back or shutting down production. Against a background of steep spending cuts, not all of that will be swiftly reversible. Price relief will hinge on the world’s convalescence.The collapse in appetite for gasoline, jet fuel and diesel has been unprecedented in speed and scale. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimated Monday that with economies representing 92% of global gross domestic product now under some form of social distancing, the loss of demand this week stands at 26 million barrels per day, roughly a quarter below last year’s levels. Over a month, that’s almost 800 million barrels lost. Numbers since published from the shuttered economies of Italy and Spain suggest levels of destruction could be even worse. Spanish diesel demand is down 61%. The collapse is translating into a surplus that’s straining refineries, pipelines and the world’s limited ability to squirrel away oil.There is no precise estimate for how much capacity the world has to store oil products. Analysts at S&P Global Platts estimate 1.4 billion barrels, including 400 million of floating storage. So far, 50% of that has been used: The figure will rise to 90% by the end of April. It’s a squeeze visible in freight rates, with fleets of very large carriers filling up, making it harder to use them to store oil or even move it to a buyer. Costs for the benchmark journey from the Middle East to China have risen sevenfold; Reliance Industries Ltd. paid $400,000 a day for a supertanker to haul oil from the Middle East to India’s west coast in early April.For landlocked drillers, though, there are greater worries. They are facing a lack of local storage, and pipeline companies asking them to cut back or prove they have a buyer for their crude before loading. They simply can’t get oil to the right place, at the current price. Meanwhile, refineries are cutting back as they reach storage limits.This all means that negative oil prices — when producers are effectively paying customers to take the oil — aren’t only possible, but already a reality. The global benchmarks for oil, West Texas Intermediate and Brent, have dropped about two-thirds this year. They aren’t about to dip below zero. You won’t get paid for filling up at the pump. In the neighborhood of $20 a barrel, though, where your oil is now matters almost more than how much it costs you to produce it.Check out grades that demand expensive refining or in locations requiring costly transport. Wyoming Asphalt Sour, used in paving, was among the first to slide into the red at a negative $0.19 per barrel in mid-March, as my colleagues Javier Blas and Sheela Tobben reported last month. Other producers may be selling at a loss, effectively subsidizing buyers to take their output. Western Canadian Select, the benchmark price for the giant oil-sands industry in Canada, is at around $5, with Bakken crude in Guernsey, Wyoming, in single digits too. The gap with WTI has become wider.Many of these producers are already cutting back, or shutting down. Whiting Petroleum Corp., a shale champion, filed for bankruptcy Wednesday. Oil explorers, servicing companies and others are in severe pain too, and the squeeze won’t be felt only in the U.S. Russia says it won’t boost supply at current prices. Ecuador has failed to find buyers.What does this mean for an eventual recovery? First, the extent of demand loss means that even a resolution to the Saudi-Russian spat would help only a little, perhaps easing pressure on the world’s fleet of very large oil carriers, known as VLCCs.A real pick-up in prices will require demand to come back. At that point, it may not require much to prompt a temporary spike, depending on how much is stored, locked up by traders through financial contracts, or taken out for good. Geopolitics, with oil-producing nations strained, may also help a little. For the time being, though, negative prices are here to stay.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Clara Ferreira Marques is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering commodities and environmental, social and governance issues. Previously, she was an associate editor for Reuters Breakingviews, and editor and correspondent for Reuters in Singapore, India, the U.K., Italy and Russia.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve is trying to call time on a fire sale of Treasuries by foreign governments and central banks.Foreign official holders of Treasuries dumped more than $100 billion in the three weeks to March 25, on course for the biggest monthly drop on record, according to weekly Fed custody data that captures much of the pandemic-fueled turmoil.Countries reliant on oil exports and smaller Asian economies have been selling U.S. debt, and central banks have been primarily offloading older, less-liquid Treasuries, according to traders and market makers familiar with the transactions.The Fed on Tuesday rolled out its latest effort to restore functioning in markets, on top of moves to ramp up debt purchases and backstop several sectors. It introduced a temporary repurchase agreement facility that let other central banks swap Treasuries for dollars.“The fall in custody holdings is a clear signal that foreign central banks -- which have a lot of Treasury holdings -- have been selling them to source dollars,” said Subadra Rajappa, head of U.S. rates strategy at Societe Generale. “They need access to dollars as a lot of their payments are in dollars and that has driven them to sell Treasuries.”The Fed stopped short of saying it wanted to prevent a snowball effect from the selling, but said the new program will provide “an alternative temporary source of U.S. dollars other than sales of securities in the open market.”As fear swept through markets last month and fueled unprecedented volatility, liquidity -- the ability to trade without causing significant price moves -- deteriorated in Treasuries to its worst since the 2008 financial crisis. At the same time, the greenback surged as investors sought refuge in the world’s primary reserve currency.The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index rose 3.1% in March, the most since 2016.Liquidity BufferSome of the foreign official Treasury selling may simply be building up of a liquidity buffer, wrote William Marshall of Goldman Sachs in a client note. Though, “we suspect the rest may have been to either support a currency peg (in the case of oil-exporting countries like Saudi Arabia) or their respective domestic dollar liquidity needs,” he added.The Fed has acted to calm debt markets to avert knock-on economic effects, by announcing trillions of dollars of purchases of assets including Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. It also unveiled measures that would let other central banks tap expanded dollar swap lines.Tuesday’s Fed statement regarding the new repo facility didn’t specify if all central banks would be involved.The new repo program “is a sensible second-best solution for major countries that are outside the enlarged Fed FX swaps network but have substantial corporate dollar funding needs,” Krishna Guha, head of central-bank strategy at Evercore ISI and a former New York Fed official, said in a report. “This group includes China, which ought to be eligible for the new program, though the Fed release is not clear on this point.”Line of FireThis isn’t the first time Treasuries have been in the line of fire as the dollar gained. In 2016, a surge in the greenback saw central banks across Asia intervening to stabilize currency markets.Another indicator of central banks’ positioning in Treasuries is primary dealer holdings, which tend to rise when official accounts are selling. Fed data on these holdings are available with a lag, but their stock of the securities had surged to $272 billion as of March 18, from $193 billion at the start of February.The new repo facility “effectively backstops foreign central banks from forced liquidation of their Treasury holdings into dysfunctional markets,” Jonathan Cohn, a rates strategist at Credit Suisse, said in a note.Emerging-market “reserve managers sometimes need to sell U.S. Treasuries to defend their currency when the dollar is appreciating,” he wrote. “These types of forced flows can contribute to dislocations along the curve and weigh on dealer balance sheets.”(Updates with Goldman quote in ninth paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Don’t hold your breath. Massive Chinese stimulus isn’t coming to shore up the world.As China tries to get back on its feet from Covid-19, policy makers are announcing more fiscal help to deal with the worst economic hit in decades. This has included plans to spend trillions of yuan on standard measures from the Beijing playbook, such as issuing infrastructure bonds to boost activity, lower lending rates to help struggling companies, and cheap credit for small banks to support them.One measure from recent days stands out: Special central government bonds, a tool authorities have pulled out only twice before, in moments of dire financial pressure. This signals both seriousness and, ominously as the rest of the world looks for China to join in the rescue, that the country is being pushed into a corner. China’s economic engine, long a driver of global demand, may not rev up. Though China has been first-in and somewhat first-out on the virus, the measures laid out so far still amount to only 1.6% of gross domestic product on-budget and 1.7% off-budget. Compare that to Australia and South Korea, where off-budget measures already amount to 5.2% of GDP in addition to budgetary help, according to Credit Suisse Group AG analysts. Beijing is relying more on monetary policy to flush the system with liquidity and boost credit, unlike some countries where fiscal measures are playing a larger role. This reflects the reality that China is running out of effective tools. The special treasury bonds are therefore notable. They have only been deployed previously when things just had to get done. In 1998, Beijing used them out to recapitalize banks as the financial crisis pummeled Asia. In 2007, they were marshaled to set up sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corp. and strengthen foreign-exchange reserve management. They don’t end up on the government’s balance sheet and are earmarked for specific, targeted policy goals. This time, the bonds could directly fund China Inc. or recapitalize banks so they’ll have more room to lend. Nomura Holdings Inc. analysts estimate that almost 2 trillion yuan to 4 trillion yuan ($282 billion to $563 billion) of these long-maturity obligations could be issued to fill the gap between the official and actual fiscal deficit targets. Unlike regular central government bonds, these need to be put to spending that has returns, which could force some discipline.China doesn’t have the fiscal space of a decade ago, when it unleashed a 4 trillion yuan package to shore up what was then a much smaller economy and the rest of the world with it. Revenues plunged almost 10% in January and February from last year; those from land sales fell 16.4%. That’s only an early blow. At the local government level, revenue last year grew at the slowest pace in a decade. Property prices are dropping across several cities. With the need for expenditure and leverage rising, the ability to service borrowings has become difficult.There aren’t many places left to add more debt. China’s overall burden as a portion of its GDP is among the world’s highest. Local government debt has dominated in recent years as almost all of the 2.15 trillion yuan quota of municipal off-books bonds for specific projects was issued. Meanwhile, years of using state-backed enterprises’ balance sheets to boost economic growth has leveraged them to the hilt. Households are also strained.The special treasury bonds represent something of a last stand. They’re going to indirectly lean on China’s banks, which have other problems. Herein lies the risk. Banks are currently staring into a credit down-cycle made worse by the virus shock, which will amount to billions in yuan of non-performing assets, rising credit costs and slower profit growth. Jitters in the sector last year have hit confidence. Rounds of monetary-policy easing have pushed them to lend to the weakest borrowers. As Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts put it, issuing these bonds signals “a new round of loosening, monetizing fiscal stimulus via the central banking system, leveraging on banks to ramp credit growth.”Much of this will mean that prudent policies to unwind the leverage buried in China’s labyrinthine financial system will be thrown aside. More debt, on or off the books or contingent liabilities, will pile up. The type of stimulus China really needs — for consumers — won’t arrive.This time, China has limits that it has rarely faced in the past. As Beijing is constrained to turn inward, it’s no wonder that other countries are coming out with far more aggressive measures. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Anjani Trivedi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies in Asia. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal. For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS) is offering its employees worldwide an additional 10 days of leave to help them care for their children or elderly relatives and to cope with the unique circumstances related to the coronavirus impact.“We recognize our people are dealing with personal circumstances related to the profound impact of COVID-19, whether it be protecting their health, caring for a child whose school or daycare services are unavailable, adjusting to a new routine, tending to an ill or elderly family member,” Bentley de Beyer, Goldman's Global Head of Human Capital Management, wrote in a memo to employees. “To support employees, we will now offer 10 days of family leave to our people globally to care for family members, as needed, due to COVID-19 related illness or childcare needs, including homeschooling.”Goldman Sachs employees will be able to take the 10 days of leave throughout 2020. The allowance is in addition to the firm’s other benefits and offerings, including other leave programs, that can add relief to employees, according to De Beyer.Wall Street analysts assign a Moderate Buy consensus rating to Goldman stock based on 6 Buys and 5 Holds. The $239.33 average price target sees investors making a potential 62% profit on the shares in the next 12 months. (See Goldman Sachs stock analysis on TipRanks)Related News: Billionaire Investor Howard Marks Believes Now Is The Time To Buy (But Not Too Much) Goldman Sachs: 3 “Strong Buy” Stocks to Snap Up Now Morgan Stanley: 2 Stocks to Buy (and 1 to Stay Away From) More recent articles from Smarter Analyst: * Boeing to Offer Voluntary Layoffs to Contain Coronavirus Damage * Walgreens Beats Quarterly Earnings Bets as U.S. Pharmacy Sales Boom * Wells Fargo: 2 Big 11% Dividend Stocks to Buy (And 1 to Avoid) * J.P. Morgan: 3 Risky Stocks to Sell Now
(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are letting Apple Card users defer April payments without incurring interest to ease financial pressure from economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.The card, backed by Goldman, offered the same program for March payments. Apple Card users need to opt in to the program by messaging a support representative via the Wallet app on an Apple device.“We understand that the Covid-19 situation poses unique challenges for everyone and some customers may have difficulty making their monthly payments,” Apple wrote in an email to card customers. “If you previously enrolled in the Customer Assistance Program in March, you will need to enroll again.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Coronavirus deaths continued to climb sharply in New York and New Jersey, the nation’s epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, with governors of both states releasing data showing a doubling of fatalities in the past three days.New York reported a 25% one-day increase in fatalities on Wednesday and New Jersey reported a 33% increase, with nearly 500 people in the two states dying in a single day.New York’s death toll reached almost 2,000 victims, while New Jersey -- where infections spread more slowly and in smaller numbers at first but are now rapidly increasing -- has recorded more than 350 deaths. As of Sunday, the two states had a combined death toll of about 1,000.The rise in deaths has coincided with an uptick in the mortality rates of the disease in both states. After trailing the national mortality rate of 2.2%, both have risen as of Wednesday, with 2.3% of New York cases ending in death and 1.5% of New Jersey cases.New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, warned that the state would soon need more space to store deceased victims, and that it may resort to using refrigerated trucks.The stark statistics came as evidence mounted that the region’s health care system was reaching its limits. New York moved patients from overtaxed hospitals in the New York City area to upstate facilities in Albany for the first time, and New Jersey temporarily approached the ceiling of its hospital capacity and began using converted anesthesia machines as ventilators.Even after New York gets past the apex of the crisis in late April, Cuomo said, the state is likely to have an elevated death rate into July. He also said that patients whose conditions became so severe that they require ventilator support don’t face strong chances of survival. By one model provided by a unit of the Gates Foundation, there could be 16,000 deaths in New York -- and 93,000 nationwide.“That means you’re going to have tens of thousands of deaths outside of New York. So to the extent people watch their nightly news in Kansas and say, ‘Well, this is a New York problem,’ no, that means right now it’s a New York problem. Tomorrow it’s a Kansas problem,” Cuomo said. “Look at our numbers today and see yourself tomorrow.New Jersey has the second-highest number of virus cases after New York. Both states have issued stay-at-home orders, closing schools and nonessential businesses.Murphy’s top priority this week has been securing ventilators ahead of an expected surge in Covid-19 hospitalizations. On Wednesday, he said the federal government had committed to sending another 350 ventilators, for 850 total. He said that he was grateful for the equipment but that it was far fewer than the 2,300 ventilators the state had requested. He also said the state had spent “tens and tens of millions of dollars” for millions of masks, gloves and other disposable medical goods.In an interview with Bloomberg Television, Murphy said he was also looking to recruit more health-care workers. On Wednesday, he signed an executive order for license waivers and other exceptions to admit out-of-state medical professionals.“We need to bolster their ranks,” Murphy said.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
A US bank gives employees extra time off to handle the ‘unique personal circumstances related to the profound impact of Covid-19’
Bank investors generally anticipate a benefit from share buybacks and dividends, but both are in question now as the sector is under pressure to conserve capital.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Small businesses are in trouble. As the coronavirus spreads and more states close up restaurants, cafes, theaters, clothing stores, beauty salons and similar shops, small businesses are desperate for funds to avoid laying off their workers. Fortunately, the relief package signed by President Donald Trump last Friday is set to provide businesses some of the help they need.But the law’s passage isn’t the end of the story. Now, it needs to be put into effect in a way that encourages its use.Only half of U.S. small businesses have enough cash reserves to cover 15 days of operating expenses. Four in 10 small businesses have a three-week cash buffer. In Miami, the median firm has 11.8 cash-buffer days. In San Francisco, the median firm has 17.9 days. These statistics come from a 2019 report by the JPMorgan Chase Institute, which analyzes data on businesses that have deposit accounts with the bank.As of Monday evening, roughly three in four Americans are being told to stay home. Thirty-one states, 18 cities and the District of Columbia have issued shelter-in-place orders. This has already added millions of workers to the unemployment insurance rolls; 3.3 million new filers were added in the week ending March 21 alone. The previous weekly record, set in 1982, was 695,000. Economists at Goldman Sachs are currently forecasting that the unemployment rate will hit 15% — a 50% increase over the peak following the 2008 financial crisis.To do what it can to prevent soaring unemployment and mass business closures, Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program as part of its $2 trillion dollar economic recovery package.The program lets a small-business owner go to a local bank and take out a loan that is guaranteed by the government. The business can borrow up to 2.5 times its monthly payroll costs, not to exceed $10 million. The amount of the loan spent on payroll, rent, utilities and similar operating expenses during the eight-week period after taking out the loan will be forgiven provided that the business does not lay off workers or cut wages by more than 25%. Businesses that lay off workers after receiving a loan would have a smaller amount of their loan forgiven. For businesses that have already had layoffs, provisions are made to extend grants to them if they rehire workers.To qualify for a forgivable loan, a business or nonprofit organization must typically have fewer than 500 employees, or be a sole proprietor or independent contractor. To get money out the door quickly, lenders don’t need proof of actual economic harm, but can rely instead on good-faith certifications that the business needs the money to avoid layoffs or continue operating, and that the business intends to use the money for payroll and other operating expenses.The program has several additional provisions designed to swiftly put cash in the hands of business owners. It delegates authority to lenders to make determinations on borrower eligibility and creditworthiness so that businesses don’t have to go through the usual government process. Lenders do not need to assess the ability of borrowers to repay the loan or conduct a credit-elsewhere test, and no collateral or personal guarantee is required.This is a good deal for banks, which can charge generous fees and interest for these loans, despite the fact that they are guaranteed by the government, have a zero weight in the bank’s capital requirements and come with a ready customer base.To protect lenders, the law has a “hold harmless” provision shielding them from any penalties imposed by the government as long as they receive documentation certifying that borrowers used the loan proceeds to prevent layoffs.The Treasury Department hopes to have the program operational this week. To make it as effective as possible, four things should happen.First, some banks are concerned that they may be on the hook if borrowers misrepresent their situations or go bankrupt a week or two after taking out the loan. Regulators must assure banks that this will not happen. The legislation envisions banks as a conduit to pass along what are essentially government grants. The regulations currently being written need to treat banks as such by offering ironclad guarantees that the hold-harmless provisions will be strictly enforced by government agencies.In addition, the government should send the message that more money will be provided to the program if needed. Congress allocated $349 billion, but Columbia University economist Glenn Hubbard and I estimate that the demand could easily rise above $1 trillion. Lenders want to know how those limited funds will be allocated if more are needed.Third, the government needs to work with banks to understand their technology and processing needs. A large number of loans will need to be made, and it will be hard for government systems to keep up with the demand. The government needs to make processing as easy as possible for banks, engaging with private firms for help and advice.Finally, all levels of government need to engage in an active program of public messaging to encourage both lenders and small businesses to participate, making sure businesses know that the program offers grants for payroll and operating expenses, not just loans.In my home state of Virginia, the big news on Monday was Governor Ralph Northam’s decision to extend the coronavirus lockdown to June 10. He said, “It is clear more people need to hear this basic message: Stay home.” Northam should have used this opportunity to send a second basic message: Don’t lay off your workers, payroll grants will be available very soon.At the federal level, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the chief author of the program, did exactly this on Twitter on Monday, the day after Trump extended social distancing guidelines to April 30. But where is Trump himself? He should be urging businesses every day to hold on to their workers until the grant program comes online later this week.Congress has taken an important step toward propping up the U.S. small-business ecosystem that will be crucial to the post-pandemic recovery. But this vital task is far from complete.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Michael R. Strain is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is director of economic policy studies and Arthur F. Burns Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of “The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It).”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia showed no sign of bowing to pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to dial back its oil-price war with Russia. Instead, the kingdom pushed crude supply to record levels.Trump said Tuesday night that he’d spoken to both President Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an effort to broker a truce between the world’s two largest oil exporters. While Russia made some conciliatory noises, Saudi Arabia showed nothing but defiance.The kingdom started the month by boosting supply to more than 12 million barrels a day, the most ever, according to an industry official familiar with the kingdom’s operations. In an apparent show of force, Aramco was loading a record 15 tankers with 18.8 million barrels of oil on a single day earlier this week, according to another official and a tweet from the company.That social media post, boasting how the kingdom will “rise to supply energy,” appeared to be a riposte to U.S. Secretary State Michael Pompeo, who last week urged the Saudis to “rise to the occasion” by dialing back their plan to flood the market.So far, Riyadh has insisted that it will only back away from a decision to flood the global market if all the world’s leading producers -- including the U.S. -- agree to cut output. Russia has struck a more conciliatory tone, saying it would hold back from a major production increase, but hasn’t offered any concrete proposals to end hostilities with its former OPEC+ ally.Trump’s decision to wade into oil diplomacy is driven by the catastrophic impact of the price crash on the American shale industry, largely based in Texas and other Republican-leaning states. But his mission to rein in global supply is overshadowed by the unprecedented loss of demand -- possibly as much as 30% -- caused by the fight against the coronavirus.“Signs of policy discussions are multiplying and we believe such an outcome should no longer be dismissed,” analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a note. Even so, after such a huge drop in consumption it’s questionable “whether policy coordination by OPEC+, the U.S., and oil producers more broadly can save this market.”Read: Trump and Putin Are All Talk on Oil Price Plunge: Julian LeeA senior Russian official said that while they hadn’t spoken to Saudi Arabia yet, Moscow had no plans to increase production given the current market situation. He gave no indication that Russia was willing to consider output cuts, however. It was Russia’s refusal to join Saudi Arabia and other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in deeper reductions that kicked off the price war in early March.“The Russian side traditionally welcomes mutual dialog and cooperation in order to stabilize energy markets,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on conference call on Tuesday. Putin has no immediate plans to speak with the Saudi king or crown prince, but such contacts can be easily arranged, he said.Demand HitWorld oil demand, normally around 100 million barrels a day, will likely be down by 30 millions barrels a day in April and has yet to bottom out as lockdowns due to the virus continue, Chris Bake, an executive committee member at trader Vitol said on Tuesday.The Russian official said it made no sense for producers to boost output in the current situation. Energy Minister Alexander Novak said last month that the country can raise production by 200,000 to 300,000 barrels a day in the short term, and by as much as 500,000 barrels a day in the near future. That’s a fraction of the additional 2 million barrels a day that Saudi Arabia has pledged to pump.“The sharp drop of oil prices has made the bulk of new Russian oil drilling uneconomic, the industry will need to look for ways to optimize” output, said Darya Kozlova, head of oil and gas regulation services at Moscow-based Vygon Consulting.However, even if production is flat, Russia may hike its oil exports to offset falling domestic demand for crude as its own economy goes into shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Kozlova said.Trump MediationOn Tuesday evening in Washington, Trump said the U.S. would meet with Saudi Arabia and Russia with the goal of staunching the historic plunge in oil prices, and has raised the issue directly with the countries’ rulers.“They’re going to get together and we’re all going to get together and we’re going to see what we can do,” he said. “The two countries are discussing it. And I am joining at the appropriate time, if need be.”U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette had a “productive discussion” with Novak on Tuesday and agreed to “continue dialog among major energy producers and consumers, including through the G20,” the Department of Energy said in a statement. The two men agreed that an oil oversupply hurts the global economy, the Russian Energy Ministry said separately.Neither side detailed any steps they are considering to stem the downturn.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Corporations that receive aid from the federal government as part of the coronavirus legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump last week are banned from purchasing their own shares until a year after they’ve paid taxpayers back. This isn’t quite the end to buybacks that some have called for in recent years, but it is a notable development for a practice that has since the early 1980s become a pretty major use of corporate cash.How major? Since 2010, buybacks have consumed about half the free cash flow of the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. For all U.S. nonfinancial corporations, they’ve averaged a little over 2% of gross domestic product during that period.Corporations did not always spend this kind of money buying back their own shares. The next chart shows net share purchases by nonfinancial corporations, so it includes mergers and acquisitions as well as buybacks, but it gives a good indication that something major changed starting in 1984 — which happens to have been not long after the Securities and Exchange Commission altered its rules in November 1982 to make buybacks a lot easier to do.The reason buybacks weren’t easy to do before 1982 was because of concerns that companies would use them to manipulate their share prices to nefarious end — something that has definitely happened from time to time. Most of the great market corners and other such manipulations of the 1800s and early 1900s seem to have involved buying and selling by financiers who were the controlling shareholders of corporations, not the corporations themselves. But there was at least one notable case, recounted in John Kenneth Galbraith’s “The Great Crash 1929” and a 1939 SEC report, of a corporation that bought huge quantities of its own shares in 1929, both driving up the price at the time and making those shares worth less than they would have otherwise been after the market crashed.This was the Goldman Sachs Trading Corp., an investment company — what today would be called a closed-end mutual fund — set up by the partners of the eponymous brokerage firm and traded on the New York Curb Exchange (what later became the American Stock Exchange, now NYSE American). Its managers channeled the bulk of its cash in February and March 1929 into buying back shares, helping drive the price from $136.50 to $222.50 over the course of a few weeks. As the market began to slide in September, they engaged in another buying frenzy, accounting for 64% of trading volume in the stock that month, but could not halt its decline. Three years later, the shares were selling for $1.75 apiece.The SEC was created in 1934 to police such behavior, which it did in subsequent decades. One key case involved lumber products maker Georgia-Pacific. As finance scholars Douglas O. Cook, Laurie Krigman and J. Chris Leach described in a 2003 paper: Between 1961 and 1966, Georgia-Pacific acquired other companies using its common stock as payment. The number of shares to be exchanged in these transactions was contingent on the price level reached during a specified trading period. The SEC charged that Georgia-Pacific had used open market repurchases to manipulate (increase) the reference sale price, thereby reducing the number of shares needed to effect the acquisitions.The SEC won in court, and in 1968 Congress updated the Securities and Exchange Act to make it explicit that buybacks were illegal if “fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative,” leaving it up to the SEC to define what that meant. The commission came up with its first set of proposed rules for buybacks in 1967, before the legislation was passed, and revised them several times over the next decade. In an Oct, 27, 1980, rule-making proposal that was meant to clear up uncertainties, the SEC described four main reasons buybacks might be deemed out-of-bounds:If they were “designed to support or raise the market price of the issuer’s securities for the purpose of making exchange ratios appear more favorable to target company security holders” before a merger or acquisition. If they supported the share price after a merger or acquisition “for the purpose of reducing the number of shares required to be issued pursuant to contingent obligations owed to former shareholders of the target company.” If they supported the price to “assist insiders in disposing of their holdings.” If they supported the price to “maintain the value of securities pledged by insiders as collateral for bank loans.”Eight days later, Ronald Reagan was elected president, and two years later the new majority he appointed to the SEC, led by Chairman John Shad, a former head of investment banking at E.F. Hutton, swept all this aside. The commission instead granted “safe harbor” from liability for most repurchases, arguing that “issuer repurchase programs are seldom undertaken with improper intent” and “may frequently be of substantial economic benefit to investors.” The new rule still contained limitations on buybacks — the safe harbor disappeared during mergers, for example, and you couldn’t do any buybacks during the last half-hour of a trading day — but the disclosure requirements were so lax that it would be hard to tell if a company were violating them (these were beefed up somewhat in 2003). Buybacks had been unleashed.They were also starting to become fashionable, thanks to an electrical-engineer-turned-corporate-executive named Henry Singleton. During the stock market go-go years of the 1960s, Singleton had built a small electronics company into a sprawling but well-managed conglomerate. Stock in his Teledyne Corp. seemed to him to be priced quite richly relative to his preferred metric of profit, free cash flow, so he kept issuing more and more of it to buy other companies — 130 of them from 1961 to 1969.(1) When the stock market slumped after that, and the conglomerate Singleton had assembled kept churning out cash, he decided to stop issuing stock and start retiring it. “I think we can earn a better return buying our shares at these levels than by doing almost anything else,” he told one of Teledyne’s board members, the venture capitalist Arthur Rock, in 1972. “I’d like to announce a tender — what do you think?”A tender is a public offer to buy a certain amount of shares at a set price, a transaction transparent enough to avoid any SEC suspicions of market manipulation. Rock and the rest of the board agreed to Singleton’s plan, and “between 1972 and 1984, in eight separate tender offers, he bought back an astonishing 90 percent of Teledyne’s outstanding shares,” wrote private equity investor Will Thorndike in “The Outsiders,” the 2012 book from which my account of Singleton here is taken. “Singleton bought extremely well, generating an incredible 42 percent compound annual return for Teledyne’s shareholders across the tenders.”Those who sold in the tender offers didn’t share in those returns, of course, but they did get cash, on which they paid tax at capital-gains rates rather than the higher tax rates to which dividends — traditionally the chief means of conveying excess corporate cash to shareholders — were subjected. Other financially savvy corporate managers began to follow Teledyne’s example, with Warren Buffett endorsing buybacks in his 1978 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letter as “often by far the most attractive option for capital utilization.” By 1985, Buffett’s friend and bridge partner Carol Loomis was reporting in Fortune that corporations that voluntarily bought significant amounts of their own common stock from 1974 through 1983 had as a group outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index by 8.5 percentage points a year. And buying back shares had, thanks to the SEC, just become a lot easier to do.In the 1980s, a lot of the net share purchases apparent in the above chart were due to leveraged buyouts and mergers that removed shares from circulation. Others were opportunistic buybacks of the sort pioneered by Singleton, with repurchases spiking in the months after the 1987 stock market crash as executives bet correctly that markets would recover. In the 1990s, though, buybacks began to be something that companies just did, year in, year out. Their apparent success as a means of delivering higher shareholder returns — several studies in the 1990s backed up Loomis’s early findings — was one reason, but in her 1995 Massachusetts Institute of Technology doctoral dissertation, economist Christine Jolls proposed another. As she wrote in a subsequent paper:The increased use of repurchases coincided with an increasing reliance on stock options to compensate top managers, and stock options encourage managers to choose repurchases over conventional dividend payments because repurchases, unlike dividends, do not dilute the per-share value of the stock. Consistent with the stock option hypothesis, I find that firms which rely heavily on stock-option-based compensation are significantly more likely to repurchase their stock than firms which rely less heavily on stock options to compensate their top executives.Companies were giving out more and more stock options to their executives as compensation, and using buybacks to keep those grants from inflating shares outstanding, which would dilute earnings per share and thus presumably put downward pressure on stock prices. It wasn’t exactly what the SEC had in mind back in 1980 when it said buybacks were fraudulent if used to “assist insiders in disposing of their holdings,” but it was kinda-sorta in the ballpark. In recent years, corporate insiders have been twice as likely to sell stock in the eight days after their company announces a buyback as at other times, SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson reported in 2018. That sure seems like a hint that companies are often buying back shares for reasons other than that management truly believes it is “the most attractive option for capital utilization.”In keeping with this impression, some recent studies show the shareholder-return advantage once enjoyed by buyback companies to have largely evaporated. This is partly just because buybacks are so widespread that it would be really hard for buyback companies to beat the average, given that they now more or less are the average. There is some evidence, though, that a predilection for buybacks may now foreshadow trouble ahead. Buybacks go hand in hand with decreased capital investment (although there are questions about the direction of causation), while the banks that spent the most on buybacks in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis were the most likely to need bailouts during it. Plus, the simple fact that buybacks hit their all-time high as a share of GDP in mid-2007, right as things began to unravel, is pretty damning on its own. I’m still not quite ready to buy into University of Massachusetts at Lowell economist William Lazonick’s increasingly influential argument that buybacks, and the SEC’s 1982 rule change in particular, are responsible for pretty much everything bad that’s happened to the U.S. economy since.(2) But I can’t entirely dismiss it either.The role of buybacks in the coronavirus-induced crisis does seem somewhat secondary. Yes, it looks terrible that the five biggest U.S. airlines spent 96% of their free cash flow on buybacks from 2010 through 2019, as Bloomberg’s Brandon Kochkodin reported in March. Buybacks didn’t cause the pandemic, though, and I’m not sure we really ought to expect corporations to have balance sheets that can withstand the consequences of having their industry virtually shut down worldwide for months. Banning buybacks until government aid is repaid does make sense, as does banning common-stock dividends for that period — which the legislation also does. That doesn’t mean either should be banned forever, although I guess it does indicate that one or the other conceivably could be.A simple three-page bill introduced by Wisconsin U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and several other Democratic lawmakers in 2018 and 2019 would ban open-market repurchases, while still allowing the tender offers that made Teledyne great. There are legitimate reasons to do open-market buybacks, though, so I wonder whether a better if messier approach might be something like what Congress did in 1968, charging the SEC with redefining what constitutes a “fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative” buyback in the context of stock-based executive-compensation programs. The reasoning offered by Shad’s SEC for mostly abandoning this effort in 1982 — that buybacks are “seldom undertaken with improper intent” — seems in retrospect either spectacularly naive or spectacularly cynical.(1) Of the 130 acquisitions, 128 were done using only stock.(2) Disclosures (or maybe it's just name-dropping): I was tangentially involved in the editing of the Harvard Business Review article by Lazonick that is linked to here, as well as that of Thorndike's book, which was published by the Harvard Business Review Press. Carol Loomis was a colleague of mine at Fortune, and I know Christine Jolls because our kids were middle-school classmates. Also, in the late 1990s, I pocketed a modest Time Warner employee-stock-options windfall that may have been enabled in part by buybacks.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Justin Fox is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He was the editorial director of Harvard Business Review and wrote for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of “The Myth of the Rational Market.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc.’s most important manufacturing partner has reassured investors it can still get the latest 5G-enabled iPhones ready for an autumn launch despite global Covid-19 upheaval.Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., which makes most of the world’s iPhones, told investors it’s lost time to travel restrictions and other disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But with months to go before the first trial assembly lines start up in June, Hon Hai can still make the deadline, investor relations chief Alex Yang said on a private conference call hosted by Goldman Sachs.Hon Hai, known also as Foxconn, struggled through much of February after the Covid-19 outbreak delayed the return of the hundreds of thousands of workers it needed to assemble iPhones and other electronics. While it’s since resumed normal operations, the month-long hiatus cast Apple’s carefully calibrated product launch schedule in doubt. Much now depends on the course of the pandemic and a postponement remained very much on the cards though the new iPhones should emerge in time to catch the crucial holiday season, Yang said.“We and the customer’s engineers are trying to catch up the missing gap, after we lost some days due to travel ban. There’s opportunity and possibility that we might catch up,” Yang said. “But if there’s a further delay in the next few weeks, months, then you probably have to reconsider launching time. It’s still possible.”Foxconn said in a statement Wednesday’s conference call was intended to communicate its thoughts on the latest developments affecting the consumer electronics industry and not focused on any specific products or customer.Read more: Apple’s Supply Chain Woes Linger Even as China RecoversThe next iteration of Apple’s signature device may well be one of its most important in years -- an iPhone that can make full use of the fifth-generation wireless networks that promise much faster video and gaming. The U.S. company is already a step behind Samsung Electronics Co. and Huawei Technologies Co., which began selling 5G devices last year.Covid-19 is now jeopardizing Apple’s plans. Mass assembly is only one part of the iPhone maker’s supply chain, which encompasses hundreds of suppliers. Apple and its many partners spend months or even years sourcing individual components that are assembled into final products. Any disruptions to that complex network could slow the introduction of future devices. Trial assembly typically begins in early June and -- once finalized -- mass production commences in August, Yang outlined.As China’s largest employer and manufacturer of a plethora of electronics brands, Hon Hai encapsulates how the outbreak disrupted the global supply of made-in-China electronics. Apple scrapped its revenue guidance for the March quarter after the contagion disrupted its production chain: Hon Hai was forced to postpone the reopening of its “iPhone City” mega-complex in the central city of Zhengzhou while it imposed strict quarantine measures on thousands of laborers. But Foxconn has since sharply raised signing bonuses to attract new workers and said it reached full seasonal staffing level earlier than an original target of late March.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Oil expert and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Yergin told Goldman Sachs that demand could fall by 20 million barrels per day in April, or even more, referring to the "biggest demand drop in modern times" while Saudi Arabia and Russia engage in a price war. Oil prices are now in the $20s, having slumped in March after a deal on supply curbs between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other producers, known as OPEC+, fell apart. "If efforts to control the pandemic are successful within the next three-four months, and we start to rebound in the summer, then we could see a surge in demand growth in 2021," Ross said.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Well there’s a surprise. During a telephone conversation on Monday, Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin “agreed on the importance of stability in global energy markets.” However, it’s very unlikely either will go beyond extolling stability and waiting for (or pressuring) somebody else to do something about it.Trump, speaking at the White House Tuesday, talked of many meetings that are going to put this all right. He said Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are “going to get together and we’re all going to get together and we’re going to see what we can do.” Then he added that “the two countries are discussing it. And I am joining at the appropriate time, if need be.” But there’s no evidence that Russia and Saudi Arabia are talking and, even if the three leaders do get together, don’t expect a meeting to lead anywhere. Neither president, nor the crown prince, is renowned for his statesmanship or flexibility.Putin’s most recent diplomatic “successes” include the annexation of Crimea and sending troops to support Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Trump has become the master of the empty photo-op, most notably with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. MBS, as the de facto Saudi leader is known, led his country into a protracted conflict in Yemen and a blockade of Qatar, neither of which shows signs of bringing results.In the energy sector, points of contention between Trump and Putin include Russia’s role in Venezuela’s oil export trade; U.S. sanctions on Russia’s oil and gas industries, including those targeting the second Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Germany and others that have prevented foreign investment in Arctic oil and gas projects; and Russia’s own nascent shale sector. U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak had a “ productive discussion” by phone on Tuesday and agreed to “continue dialogue among major energy producers and consumers, including through the G20,” the Department of Energy said in a statement.Putin has no interest in throwing another lifeline to the U.S. shale sector. Trump still seems to see the problem as being caused by Russia and Saudi Arabia both going “crazy” and launching a price war.Let’s get one thing straight. The collapse in oil demand as a result of the worldwide response to the Covid-19 virus is a much, much bigger problem than the additional barrels threatened by Saudi Arabia and Russia — none of which has arrived yet. As airplanes stop flying and drivers stop driving, they are going to struggle to find buyers for their oil, just like everyone else. Saudi Arabia is already threatening to boost its exports by a further 600,000 barrels a day in May because its own refineries don’t want the crude. This is simply more stranded oil trying to find a buyer.Goldman Sachs estimates that global oil demand this week is down by 26 million barrels a day, or 25%. That’s more than the combined consumption of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central America and the entire Caribbean.Sadly, the loudest voices in America still seem to be those calling for the use of bully-boy tactics against the world’s other heavyweights. A letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week from six Republican senators, including Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and John Hoeven from North Dakota, characterizes the Saudi and Russian decisions to end output restriction as “economic warfare against the United States.” The lawmakers argue that “Saudi Arabia must change course,” when what they really mean is that the kingdom led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must return to its previous course, and they name-check the whole gamut of pressure tactics the U.S. has at its disposal to get it to do so, from the threat of “tariffs and other trade restrictions to investigations, safeguard actions, sanctions, and much else.”I get that senators from oil-producing states want someone else to cut back to keep the oil price high enough so that their local fossil-fuel industries can keep functioning. But the Saudis might well argue that the current situation would be easier to deal with had the U.S. not doubled its oil production in less than a decade.Targeting Saudi Arabia and Russia for behaving as American leaders have always urged them to behave — by removing “artificial” restrictions on their oil production — will not solve the crisis faced by oil producers everywhere. As I wrote Sunday, we are now getting the free-market in oil. The demand destruction caused by the collapse in oil demand as a result of responses to the Covid-19 virus will not be solved by sanctions or tariffs.The world’s Big 3 oil producers might have had a chance to get together to organize a global response to the temporary loss of oil buyers, but they squandered it. As things stand, the companies (and countries) that bear the brunt will be those who can’t find buyers or storage tanks for their oil. No amount of bullying, or half-hearted diplomacy, can change that now.(Adds comments by Trump and the energy department in second and fifth paragraphs.)This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Julian Lee is an oil strategist for Bloomberg. Previously he worked as a senior analyst at the Centre for Global Energy Studies.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said the U.S. would meet with Saudi Arabia and Russia with the goal of stanching an historic plunge in oil prices.Trump, speaking at the White House Tuesday, said he’s raised the issue in conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “They’re going to get together and we’re all going to get together and we’re going to see what we can do,” he said. “The two countries are discussing it. And I am joining at the appropriate time, if need be.”If it happens, it would be the first meeting between Saudi Arabia and Russia since the collapse of the OPEC+ coalition in early March. Since then, both countries have vowed to flood the market with millions of excess barrels of oil in an acrimonious battle over market share. Despite the president’s remarks, neither nation has backed down from their price war, with Saudi Arabia having already loaded several supertankers with crude headed for Europe.Trump’s intervention comes as April shapes up to be a calamitous month for the oil market. Saudi Arabia plans to boost its supply to a record 12.3 million barrels a day, up from about 9.7 million in February. At the same time, fuel consumption is poised to plummet by 15 million to 22 million barrels as coronavirus-related lockdowns halt transit in much of the world.Worst QuarterThe global benchmark crude has already plunged to record lows, posting the worst quarter in history on Tuesday.“It’s not even feasible what’s going on,” Trump said, adding that the price meltdown was harming the oil industry. “You don’t want to lose an industry -- you’re going to lose an industry over it.”Still, he celebrated the low gasoline prices brought about by the market downturn, calling them “the greatest tax cut we’ve ever given.”“People are going to be paying 99 cents for a gallon of gasoline,” he said. “It’s incredible in a lot of ways.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- What’s more important: a roof over your head or a car in your driveway? With unemployment rising as the coronavirus shuts down parts of the U.S. economy, the decision made by borrowers as their payments come due will determine how securities backed by auto loans and leases perform.Families will start to struggle as Covid-19 deepens its grip and job losses rise. Of the $14 trillion of consumer debt, mortgages account for $9 trillion and cars $1.3 trillion; however, more Americans have auto loans. When social distancing becomes the norm, cars seem more likely to fall down the priority list behind payments for homes, Netflix bills, phones and credit cards. With lockdowns spreading, many people aren’t going anywhere right now. That means the default risk is rising. Rating agencies are reassessing portfolios of loans and leases linked to asset-backed securities, or ABS, using loss levels from the 2008 financial crisis to calculate risk.When these car-related debts start going bad, the impact on the bonds they back is severe. The spread of auto ABS over Treasuries widened sharply in recent weeks, more so than on card-backed debt. The current dislocations in credit markets show that while auto-loan defaults may not be the center of a financial crisis like mortgage-backed securities, they could well set off wider panic as consumer confidence crumbles, household balance sheets deteriorate and big issuers – car companies – struggle.This market has grown rapidly since the last financial crisis. Already this year, almost $30 billion of auto asset-backed bonds have been issued in the U.S., following $118 billion in 2019. As of the third quarter last year, $250 billion was outstanding. At year-end, annualized loss rates on subprime auto ABS were around 9%, close to financial-crisis levels, while average interest rates have been even higher at 19%, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.Two factors will determine how these bonds perform: unemployment and the value of used cars, because cash flows come directly from borrowers. In the aftermath of a natural disaster, used-car prices rise because property has been damaged or destroyed. In this crisis, they’re likely to fall due to strain on consumer wallets. That reduces the worth of the collateral and lowers the residual value of leases that back some of these securities. Cars are, after all, a depreciating asset.What does this mean for the securitized bonds? Lenders and originators package pools of loans and leases in a special-purpose vehicle that then issues debt to investors. The interest and principal payments are structured into classes. Broadly, the more senior tiers have first claim on all cash flows and assets, while the junior take the first hit on losses but have higher yields. The lowest tranche, also known as the equity or first-loss pieces, is typically held by the issuer: auto companies’ financing arms and other lenders. When loans default and the asset pool can’t make up for the payments due to investors, the holders of the lower tranches absorb the loss.It will be yet another blow for the finance companies of already-struggling carmakers that issue ABS to finance leases and sales. They’ll take the first hit through the equity. Funding costs will surge and in turn squeeze sales, reminiscent of 2008.(3)As sales showed signs of reaching a plateau last year, auto giants, dealers and finance companies were pushing excessive financing with looser underwriting standards and conditions, such as longer terms and incentives. The weighted average credit score for non-prime loan pool borrowers was 590 last year, lower than 597 in 2008.Household balance sheets were strong overall going into this crisis, but varied greatly across income levels. The bottom 20% of American households are far more leveraged — more than 25% — than the higher income brackets on a debt-to-assets basis. Around a third of auto ABS are typically made up of subprime loans, where the ability to pay drops off sharply and suddenly.That doesn’t bode well. Companies like Ally Financial Inc. have already offered relief packages for consumers and dealers. Payments can be deferred for six months without late fees. New customers will be allowed to defer for three months. The Federal Reserve has brought back a financial crisis-era lending facility that’s meant to support the asset-backed securities market, where auto loans and leases are among the eligible collateral.The troubles will go further: There are other auto sector-related ABS, like those backed by rental cars and dealer-floor financing plans that are even more directly dependent on automakers’ health.Sure, structures have changed since 2008 to help lower the risk for investors on these bonds. But the underlying issues remain the same: consumers’ buying and borrowing behavior.Investors are busy thinking about mortgage-backed securities, given their large size and potentially deeper and more immediate impact on the financial system. But it’s important to consider recent consumer trends: Delinquencies as a portion of outstanding loans have been on the way down for mortgages. They’re rising for autos, especially among subprime borrowers, as are past-due loans. America has always been a nation of drivers and the appeal of cars has a way of pushing consumers to stretch their budgets in a way houses don’t. But the stay-in-place strategies to fight this pandemic may change that calculus in a way investors aren’t prepared for: Driving behavior could change.(1) Unable to secure affordable financing, the financing arms severely curtailed lending and leasing activity. This caused vehicle sales volumes to plummet and hastened the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings of Chrysler on April 30, 2009, and General Motors Inc. on June 1, 2009, according to S&P Global Ratings.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Anjani Trivedi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies in Asia. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal. For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Oil posted the worst quarter on record after the coronavirus crushed demand and raised fears about overflowing storage tanks amid a price war that has flooded the market with extra supply.Futures in New York edged higher on Tuesday but still ended the quarter down more than 66%. While Brent and West Texas Intermediate futures held above $20 a barrel, the underlying, physical market flashed signs of distress. The gap between paper market trades and real barrels has widened to multi-decade highs in some cases, suggesting financial flows are supporting the futures market.“The prices of the physical barrels are showing a lot more distress than the paper benchmarks,” said Roger Diwan, oil analyst at IHS Markit Ltd.With demand weakening by the day and producers slow to cut output, Dated Brent, the benchmark for about two-thirds of the world’s physical oil, was assessed at $17.79 a barrel on Monday, the lowest since 2002. Across major shale regions in Texas and North Dakota, oil remains below $10 a barrel, while some lesser known grades have posted negative prices.Read: Key U.S. Crude Oil Grade Has Never Been Cheaper in Modern EraU.S. crude stockpiles were said to have ballooned by 10.5 million barrels last week, according to traders citing the American Petroleum Institute report, with a 2.93 million-barrel gain in Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point of the U.S. crude futures contract. If confirmed by the U.S. Energy Information Administration data, the nationwide crude build will be the biggest since February 2017. The market was little changed after the report.From shuttering and reduced throughput at refiners from South Africa to Canada, to major consuming countries like India pulling back, the additional oil supply and lower demand has reverberated around the globe. Saudi Arabia is unleashing a flood of oil to Europe and traders expect Aramco to slash prices for Asia further. To make matters worse, space to store the huge oversupply is quickly running out.Goldman Sachs’s Jeff Currie said on Bloomberg TV that even Russia is “extremely vulnerable” to oil storage and infrastructure limits because its fields require thousands of miles of pipelines to get to buyers.Oil tanks around the world could fill in six weeks, a move that will likely force significant production shut-downs, Standard Chartered analysts including Emily Ashford wrote in a report.“Huge inventory builds, potentially exhausting spare storage capacity, will mean that market balance requires an unprecedented output shutdown by producers,” they wrote.Brent futures are signaling a historic glut is emerging. The May contract traded at a discount of $13.66 a barrel to November, a more bearish super-contango than the market saw even in the depths of the 2008-09 global financial crisis. The WTI equivalent discount is at $12.43 a barrel.The pressure on U.S. producers and drillers is growing as the rout has caused firms to cut capital spending budgets, accelerate restructuring and lay off workers. Now, even Texas oil buyers have been asking for large production cuts as crude flows overwhelm pipelines and storage, according to Pioneer Natural Resources Co. Senators are asking President Donald Trump to take action, after he agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin that current prices do not suit the interest of either country.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.