Stocks Move Higher Even As U.S. Reports A Record One-Day Surge In New Coronavirus Cases

Plus, Trump administration aides are reportedly looking at ways to undermine the Hong Kong dollar to punish China for its recent actions in the city, Walmart is getting into the health insurance business, and another retailer filed for bankruptcy.

Stocks were higher to start Wednesday with the Dow adding 208 points, or 0.8%. The S&P 500  also gained 0.8%, while the Nasdaq rose 1%.

Stocks rose even as the U.S. reported a record daily spike of confirmed coronavirus cases with more than 60,000 new confirmed cases late Tuesday as the Trump administration began the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization. The surge in new cases brings the nationwide total to just under 3 million cases of the deadly virus. White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said that while other countries succeeded in shutting down and reducing daily new cases to a manageable level, the U.S. failed to do the same. “The European Union as an entity, it went up and then came down to baseline,” Fauci said. “Now they’re having little blips, as you might expect, as they try to reopen. We went up, never came down to baseline, and now it’s surging back up. So it’s a serious situation that we have to address immediately.” 

Top aides in the Trump administration are reportedly looking at ways to undermine the Hong Kong dollar to punish China for its recent moves to chip away at Hong Kong’s political freedoms. Economists doubt the threat of U.S. action to undermine Hong Kong’s longstanding U.S. dollar peg will become reality given practical difficulties of pursuing such a path and given the damage it would do to U.S. interests. Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at AxiCorp, said, “Why this is [a] bad not to mention an unlikely move: First, direct U.S. action against the peg could trigger China’s response by putting U.S. assets, including USTs or equities. Second, such a move could destabilize USD pegs elsewhere, including U.S. allies around the world, especially those in the Middle East. Third, the unthinkable instability that it would trigger in the USD-based global financial ecosystem could drive a selloff in U.S. equity markets – an outcome abhorrent to the White House ahead of the November presidential election.”

Walmart just quietly made another move into the healthcare business. The big box retailer just listed job openings on its careers website for “Walmart Insurance Services LLC,” and in the listing said it is looking to hire insurance agents in Dallas, TX to sell Medicare insurance. “We need passionate health insurance professionals to help us build this new business from the ground up and achieve our mission,” the company says in the job posting. Walmart has previously opened primary-care clinics, made health care acquisitions, and spoken to its broader ambitions in the space, and last month it acquired technology from CareZone to help people manage multiple medications. Elsewhere, Walgreens struck a deal with VillageMD to staff and run primary care clinics inside hundreds of its U.S. drugstores. As part of the deal, Walgreens will invest $1 billion in equity and convertible debt in VillageMD over the next three years, including a $250 million equity investment completed today.

Slack has acquired Rimeto, a software as a service company that builds a detailed employee dictionary for companies. Rimeto has recently raised $10 million in venture funding, and its software allows employers and fellow employees to see workers’ skills, experience, and current projects at a glance. While Slack didn’t disclose terms of the deal, the work messaging platform said the acquisition will help its users feel more “connected,” especially as people continue to work from home amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Rimeto’s advanced profile and directory features will be integrated into Slack directly, but we will also continue to offer Rimeto as a standalone product and support their existing enterprise customers,” said Slack CEO Steward Butterfield in a press release.

Another storied retailer has filed for bankruptcy. Brooks Brothers Group—the two-century old purveyor of classic suits and dresses—filed for Chapter 11 protections today, becoming the latest name to succumb as the coronavirus pandemic adds to the woes afflicting legacy retailers, following Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, JCPenney, and John Varvatos Enterprises, among other recent filers in the sector. Chapter 11 allows Brooks Brothers to continue operations while it works out a plan to turn its business around and pay off its debts. “Over the past year, Brooks Brothers’ board, leadership team, and financial and legal advisors have been evaluating various strategic options to position the company for future success, including a potential sale of the business,” a Brooks Brothers spokesperson said. “During this strategic review, COVID-19 became immensely disruptive and took a toll on our business.”

Stocks We’re Watching

AgEagle Aerial Systems (OTC: UAVS): AgEagle shares soared 37.5% yesterday following a letter from new CEO J. Michael Drozd announcing the company’s plan to expand its drone operations to Wichita, Kansas for increasing manufacturing capacity and proficiencies. “In the foreseeable future, we believe being an American drone manufacturer with proven engineering expertise will go a long way in winning new business opportunities, particularly with those customers which may be reluctant to rely on Chinese manufacturers due to the much touted supply chain challenges and perceived national security risks that have been the subject of prevailing media attention over the past several months. Based on advanced discussions with several prospective new customers, the outlook for our drone manufacturing business appears very promising,” Drozd wrote in the note. “Given the projected growth of the drone package delivery market, which is forecasted to reach $27.4 billion by 2030 according to research firm MarketsandMarkets, we have determined that our long-term growth strategy must provide for additional opportunities in this high growth market. Our approach to continuing to successfully penetrate this market will require that we proceed with measured, well-calculated steps to ensure that the path we forge is smart, revenue-driven and financially disciplined.”