Hello from my apartment, where I plan to remain for as long as my pretzel and coffee supply holds out. Here’s what you need to know for the week ahead in business and tech news (basically all coronavirus-related, of course). Stay safe and sane out there, everyone.
What’s Up? (March 8-14)
A Bitter End to the Bull Market
Since the 2008 financial crisis, the stock market has been riding its longest rally in United States history. That is, until this past week, when the Dow took its worst plunge since the 1987 crash. Everyone is freaking out about the coronavirus, which continues to spread at an alarming rate and wreak unpredictable havoc on manufacturing, consumer demand and the global economy. (Adding to the volatility — and also stemming from the coronavirus damage — is Saudi Arabia’s oil-price war with Russia.) Stocks leapt up late on Friday, but are still significantly down for the year.
Hotels, cruise lines, Airbnb hosts and other travel-related businesses are getting crushed as health officials urge people to stay home. Major airline carriers like Delta, American and United are also hurting, but said early in the week that they were prepared to absorb the impact of coronavirus by cutting costs. That is, until President Trump suddenly barred travelers from most European countries. Airline stocks plummeted on Thursday as carriers canceled flights and laid off workers, and the International Air Transport Association warned that the ban would “create negative consequences across the economy.”
What Are Workers to Do?
Like many people with desk jobs in New York, I’m taking recommended “social distancing” measures and working from home. But what about the many at-risk people who can’t? Walmart, Uber, Lyft and other major companies with large numbers of hourly-wage or gig workers have rolled out new policies for paid leave or other financial assistance to those who contract the coronavirus or are subject to mandatory quarantines. It’s a move toward helping low-wage workers in the service industry who don’t normally get paid sick leave (and who can’t afford to take unpaid time off). But many Americans remain financially vulnerable to illness of any kind, including most delivery people, store clerks, restaurant workers, taxi drivers and others whose jobs cannot be done remotely.
What’s Next? (March 15-21)
Relief From Washington
Mr. Trump declared a national emergency on Friday and said he would release $50 billion in federal aid, some of which is to go toward expanding coronavirus testing in the coming weeks with the help of Google, CVS, Walmart, Target, Walgreens and other private companies. (The stock market rallied in response to some definitive news, for a change.) House Democrats also struck a deal with the White House on a sweeping relief bill later that night. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the package included paid sick leave guarantees and additional food aid and federal funds for Medicaid. The Senate is expected to act on the legislation next week.
The Fed is expected to lower interest rates again this week, hot on the heels of its emergency rate cut earlier this month. It’s yet another step in the scramble to reassure investors, consumers and workers, who are uneasy about how the pandemic will affect them and how much worse it will get. But interest rates are already so low that the Fed is running out of wiggle room to act further if (or when) it needs to — and that’s already making the financial industry more nervous, not less.
And Finally, Something Non-Virus-Related
The Democratic presidential candidate could effectively be decided this week when Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio hold their primary elections. If Joseph R. Biden Jr. keeps up his winning streak, then he’ll have a clear path to the general election. That would be a small comfort to Wall Street during these tumultuous times, since Mr. Biden’s views on business regulation are considerably more moderate than those of his remaining rival, Bernie Sanders, who has vowed to crack down on lending and other banking activities.
The Trump administration announced a broad new rule that will allow people to use mobile phone apps to get medical information directly from their doctors — which is convenient, but could undermine privacy. The sporting goods retailer Modell’s (“Gotta Go to Mo’s”) has filed for bankruptcy and is closing all its stores. And just before the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for sex crimes, newly released documents showed that he had reached out to several businesses leaders, including the billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Jeff Bezos, for help. Through his spokesman, Mr. Bloomberg said he never responded.