The Senate approved a $484 billion coronavirus rescue package, with $320 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program that ran dry last week. It also includes $60 billion for other small business rescue programs and $75 billion for hospitals. The House is expected to pass it tomorrow, and President Trump to sign it soon after.
There will be a closer eye on where this round of money goes, after data showed that over 80 public companies borrowed from a fund for needy small firms:
• Mr. Trump said yesterday that he would ask bigger companies to return money. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned of “severe consequences” for inappropriate borrowers.
• Some venture capitalists are urging their portfolio companies to think twice about applying, citing ethical and P.R. concerns.
• State investment funds warned hedge funds against using the program: “It is ethically questionable and likely not in the best interest of the industry as a whole, long term,” the investment chief of Alaska’s $60 billion oil fund told Bloomberg.
• The law school professor Tim Wu has proposed a potential safeguard: Reserve half the new money for “real” small businesses with fewer than 25 employees.
Screen time is soaring
Stuck at home, people are watching much more TV. (And not all of it is “Tiger King.”) Cue bumper results for Netflix, which yesterday reported a whopping 16 million new subscribers in the first quarter, double what analysts expected.
“Everyone you know just signed up,” is how Ed Lee of The Times put it. Streaming has soared during lockdowns, so much so that some countries have requested cuts in video quality to avoid overwhelming the internet. But it hadn’t been clear that the surge came from new subscribers, rather than just existing ones streaming more. Netflix provided the answer.
Enthusiasm was short-lived, with a big jump in the share price fading after about a half-hour. Netflix’s letter to shareholders predicted the boom wouldn’t last: It expects to be up by 7.5 million accounts in the current quarter. And lockdowns hit content production, too, although Netflix said it had plenty in the pipeline for this year. (It also warned that this was all “guesswork.”)
• The competition is intensifying, with Disney Plus getting 50 million subscribers in just five months, NBCUniversal’s Peacock launching to 15 million Comcast customers last week, and AT&T’s HBO Max rolling out next month.
Snap also reported bumper results after the market closed, with app use up significantly, “helping close friends and family stay together emotionally while they are separated physically,” said its C.E.O., Evan Spiegel.
The oil price panic goes global
Extreme price volatility is a sign that the oil industry faces serious, structural problems from a glut in supply.
Brent crude briefly hit a two-decade low in trading today. It’s currently at about $20 a barrel, down about 30 percent this week alone. Traders are worried that international oil storage facilities could fill up soon, the same fear that drove West Texas Intermediate crude below $0 a barrel. At the time of writing, it’s trading at around $12.
Nobody is making money at these prices. The IMF estimates that Saudi Arabia needs $76 a barrel to balance its government budget, while Russia’s break-even price is commonly put around $45. A recent survey by the Dallas Fed found that regional shale producers draw the line for profitability at around $50 a barrel.
“I’m just living a nightmare,” the president of a Texas oil trade group told The Times’s Cliff Krauss, as the American oil industry — once touted as a new energy superpower — confronts job losses, work stoppages and corporate bankruptcies. (Betting against producers, however, has been profitable for some hedge funds.)
• President Trump promised yesterday to help the industry. Potential avenues could include paying oil companies to keep crude in the ground and building storage. But experts expect many producers to fail regardless, and Goldman Sachs analysts predict crunching consolidation among American shale companies.
Neiman Marcus heralds a new wave of retail disaster
The luxury department store is expected to file for bankruptcy protection as soon as today, Michael has learned. And it is just one player in what is developing into a retail apocalypse.
Neiman Marcus has struggled with $4.8 billion in debt assumed during 15 years of private equity ownership. It’s in talks to secure over $500 million in bankruptcy financing, according to Michael’s reporting. It missed an interest payment last week, and has already furloughed many of its 14,000 workers.
• Its lenders expect the business to survive, either as an independent company or under new ownership.
Department stores are in deep trouble, The Times’s Sapna Maheshwari and Vanessa Friedman write. E-commerce was already eating their business. Now, “the genre is toast,” Mark Cohen of Columbia Business School told our colleagues.
• Lord & Taylor, sold last year for $100 million, is said to be considering bankruptcy as well.
• The long-embattled J.C. Penney is expected to decide on how to restructure its debts — options include filing for Chapter 11 — within a few weeks.
It’s all about small business, with the combination of WhatsApp and Jio’s business services opening up new ways for people to connect and shop on their phones. Facebook doesn’t make as much money from users in Asia as elsewhere, something this deal could change.
Antitrust approval is required, but as DealBook noted yesterday, big tech companies think the pandemic will encourage regulators to wave through proposals they might once have held up. India’s telecom market is becoming a near duopoly between Jio and Airtel, as smaller rivals struggle to pay back taxes after a Supreme Court ruling last year.