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The Fed Just Cut Interest Rates Due To Growing Economic Threat From The Coronavirus

Plus, Pfizer announced it is initiating a program to screen antiviral drugs in its pipeline to identify possible treatments for the coronavirus, Target and Kohl’s reported earnings, and Thermo Fisher is buying Qiagen. 

Stocks were volatile to start Tuesday with the Dow rising 114 points, or 0.5%, after having fallen more than 300 points earlier in the trading day. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq are both up 0.2%.

U.S. stocks swung wildly as investors assessed the Federal Reserve’s announcement of a 50 basis-point rate cut in response to the growing economic threat from the coronavirus. The move marks the first such cut since December 2008, during the financial crisis, and follows a G-7 meeting where economic officials from most of the world’s largest economies committed to unspecified coordinated economic action. “The fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong. However, the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity,” the Fed said in a statement. “In light of these risks and in support of achieving its maximum employment and price stability goals, the Federal Open Market Committee decided today to lower the target range for the federal funds rate.” Societe Generale head of U.S. rates strategy, Subadra Rajappa, said in reaction, “Does a 50 basis point cut change things? That’s a tough one to answer. It could perhaps help the credit markets, especially primary markets that are currently somewhat frozen. But Fed cuts tend to be less effective in situations like this when there is a supply and demand shock.”

The CDC has confirmed that cases in the U.S. have risen to at least 91, while there have been at least 6 deaths in the U.S. from the virus. Global confirmed cases have risen to at least 91,300 and global deaths are at least 3,110, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. CDC officials also told Congress that the World Health Organization is likely to declare COVID-19 a global pandemic as sustained person-to-person spread of the virus takes hold beyond China. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that the state has a second confirmed case—a man from Manhattan with no relevant history of international travel and no known contact with known cases of the virus in the U.S.—and that more cases are expected as the outbreak spreads and testing ramps up. Two schools in the state have also been closed on news of a suspected case of the coronavirus in the local community. “You cannot contain the spread. You can slow it, you can limit it, but you cannot contain the spread,” Cuomo said at a press conference. “It is inevitable that it will continue to spread.”

Pfizer announced a program to screen antiviral drugs in its development pipeline to determine if they could be effective treatments against the coronavirus following a meeting of pharmaceutical executives and President Trump at the White House on Monday. “At Pfizer, we believe the best approach to address COVID-19 is to bring together the resources and know-how from across the pharmaceutical industry to rapidly develop and deliver vaccines and therapeutics,” Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, Mikael Dolsten, said. “We are happy to volunteer our expertise and resources to aid the development and delivery of possible solutions.” Pfizer added that it had contracted with a third part to screen a set of experimental Pfizer antivirals for activity against the virus, and expects results by the end of the month. If successful, Pfizer said it could begin testing a drug in humans by the end of 2020.

In earnings news, Target shares are down -4% after the retailer reported mixed fourth quarter results. Target reported adjusted earnings per share of $1.69 on revenue of $23.4 billion, compared to analysts’ expectations for earnings per share of $1.65 on revenue of $23.5 billion, while same-store sales rose in line with expectations to 1.5%. “The strategic investments we’ve made over the past several years to elevate the shopping experience, curate our multi-category assortment at scale, and deliver ease and convenience through our fulfillment capabilities are deepening our relationship with our guest,” said CEO Brian Cornell in a press release. “As we look ahead to 2020 and beyond, we are well positioned to build on this strong foundation to further differentiate Target and drive long-term, profitable growth.” And Kohl’s shares gained 4% at the open after the retailer delivered an earnings beat. Kohl’s reported adjusted earnings per share of $1.99 on net sales of $6.54 billion, compared to Wall Street expectations for earnings of $1.88 per share on net sales of $6.52 billion. CEO Michelle Gass said the chain saw an “acceleration of traffic,” and new customers in store and online as Kohl’s launched new brands ahead of and during the holiday season. 

Thermo Fisher announced it has reached a deal to acquire Dutch molecular testing and diagnostics company Qiagen for $11.5 billion. “We are excited to bring together our complementary offerings to advance our customers’ important work, from discovery to diagnostics,” said Thermo Fisher CEO Marc N. Casper in a statement. Evercore ISI analyst Vijay Kumar said in a note that “the deal is a home run for TMO. The assets fit well together and make strategic sense and we think there is scope for meaningful synergies over time.”

Stocks We’re Watching

Karyopharm Therapeutics (NASDAQ: KPTI): Karyopharm shares rocketed as much as 81% yesterday after the biopharma company announced that its experimental combination treatment for multiple myeloma met primary endpoints in late-stage clinical trials. “We are thrilled to report these highly significant top-line results from the BOSTON study, the first randomized Phase 3 trial to demonstrate clinically and statistically significant activity of once-weekly XPOVIO in combination with a current standard of care treatment in patients with myeloma after one to three prior therapies,” said Sharon Shacham, PhD, MBA, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Karyopharm. “In the study, patients on the SVd regimen lived 47% longer without their disease worsening, which we believe represents an important improvement in the treatment of patients with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma. We plan to submit the full data set for presentations at upcoming medical meetings to share the results with the medical community.  We also intend to submit these data as quickly as possible to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as part of a supplemental New Drug Application… If approved, the SVd regimen would be the first and only FDA-approved combination drug regimen that includes once-weekly Velcade therapy for relapsed myeloma.”

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