Plus, the Trump Administration is reportedly launching a new coronavirus task force focused on the economic devastation caused by the pandemic, oil rose on reports Saudi Arabia and Russia have come to agreement on a massive production cut, and airline stocks are on the rise after Mnuchin said airlines could hear back on their applications for government aid by as soon as tomorrow.
Stocks were higher to start Thursday with the Dow climbing 510 points, or 2.2%. The S&P 500 added 2%, while the Nasdaq traded 0.7% higher.
Jobless claims were sky high. A total of 6.61 million people filed for claims last week, according to the Labor Department, following the previous week’s upwardly-revised record high of 6.9 million. The total over the last three weeks is now about 16.8 million amid the coronavirus pandemic’s economic shutdown. The three-week tally implies an unemployment rate approaching 15%. California, New York, and Michigan saw the largest increase in claims. Some economists were relieved to see a bit of a decline from the previous week’s record high. “We cam into this release assuming it was less about the absolute level of initial claims and more about the trajectory,” said Ian Lyngen, head of U.S. rates strategy at BMO Capital Markets. “So on the margin, the fact this morning’s print wasn’t a record high is encouraging.”
Just minutes after the jobless claims report was released, the Federal Reserve announced plans to inject another $2.3 trillion of financing into businesses, including aid to small and mid-sized businesses, and revenue-pinched state and local governments. The Fed also said it would move to shore up some of the hardest-hit corners of the financial markets, pledging to begin buying some debt that has been recently downgraded to below investment grade, as well as certain collateralized loan obligations, and commercial mortgage-backed securities. “Our country’s highest priority must be to address this public health crisis,” said Fed Chairman Jerome Powell in a statement. “The Fed’s role is to provide as much relief and stability as we can during this period of constrained economic activity, and our actions today will help ensure that the eventual recovery is as vigorous as possible.”
Cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. rose to more than 432,438 as the death toll rose to at least 14,808. Deaths rose for the third straight day in New York, with 799 deaths from the coronavirus in the last 24 hours. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that social distancing restrictions may need to be tightened and extended until June to contain and prevent a resurgence in cases. “Unfortunately, restrictions may have to go up, meaning if things really get worse, we might have to tighten up further. It’s not what I envision today. It’s not what any of us want. But the truth is the truth. I don’t think anyone watching out there wants to be told pretty lies,” de Blasio said at a press conference. In Washington, Senate Democrats this morning blocked a Republican push to unanimously pass a bill to add $250 billion in funding into a loan program for small businesses devastated by the pandemic. Democrats want twice that amount as well as more aid for hospitals and state and local governments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said other emergency funding measures didn’t need to be attached to the loan program at this time. “Nobody believes this is the Senate’s last word on COVID-19. We don’t have to do everything right now,” McConnell said. At the White House, President Donald Trump is planning to launch a second coronavirus task force that focuses on the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is expected to be on the task force alongside National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and Trump’s new chief of staff, Mark Meadows, said this morning that he believes its possible for the U.S. economy to open back up next month, adding that the administration is doing “everything necessary that American companies and American worker can be open for business and that they have the liquidity that they need to operate their business in the interim.”
Oil prices jumped this morning on a report reports that Saudi Arabia and Russia have reached a deal on a deep production cut. Reuters reported that the cut could be as high as 20 million barrels per day. West Texas Intermediate rose as much as 12% to $28.36 per barrel, before paring gains to trade 2.59% higher to $25.74, while international benchmark Brent crude rose as much as 7% to trade at $35.14 per barrel, before falling to $33.46. “OPEC+ is trying mightily to cobble together a sizable production cut, and they are in full spin mode to try and rally prices,” said Again Capital’s John Kilduff. Today’s “teleconference will be a make-or-break moment for the oil market. The math on a 10 million barrel per day cutback, which is the minimum necessary to stabilize the situation, is almost impossible to compute.”
And airline stocks were higher this morning after Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said the White House will begin responding to airlines’ applications for government aid as soon as Friday. American Airlines shares are up 13%, Delta Air Lines is up 7%, JetBlue is up 8%, Spirit Airlines is up 15%, and United Airlines is up 16%. “We hope to get a lot of the airlines starting tomorrow and over the weekend with preliminary information,” Mnuchin told CNBC. “It is our objective, to make sure that I’ve said this is not a bailout, but airlines have the liquidity to keep their workers in place.”
Stocks We’re Watching
Moleculin Biotech (NASDAQ: MBRX): Shares of nano cap Moleculin Biotech rocketed as much as 252% yesterday after it announced results showing its 2-deoxy-D-glucose (“2-DG”) reduces replication of COVID-19 by 100% in in vitro testing. 2-DG is the active compound in WP1122. “This is the breakthrough we were looking for, only it came from an unexpected source,” said Walter Klemp, Chairman and CEO of Moleculin. “Normally, we wouldn’t have access to data like this until it is published, but the willingness of the authors to pre-release this data will help support our development of WP1122 for treating COVID-19.”
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