By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
The number of deaths from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 rose above 353,000 on Wednesday, as the World Health Organization said the Americas are at the center of the pandemic following surges in infections in Brazil, Peru, Chile and others in the past few days and as U.S. deaths linked to the virus topped 100,000.
“Now is not the time for countries to ease restrictions,” Carissa Etienne, WHO director for the Americas and head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said on a videoconference, as the Guardian reported.
In the U.S., the death toll from the coronavirus reached 100,047 late Wednesday.
WHO officials are monitoring accelerating outbreaks in Central and South America, in countries that include El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. The Americas now have more than 2.4 million cases of the virus and more than 143,000 people have died.
Brazil has been especially hard hit, and its government widely criticized for its handling of the crisis. A University of Washington study estimated that Brazil's death toll could climb to 125,000 by early August, from 24,512 now. Brazil has 391,222 confirmed cases, the second highest tally in the world after the U.S.
President Donald Trump continued to make fun of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for wearing a face mask during a ceremony for the U.S. Memorial Day holiday on Monday, while Biden called Trump a “fool” who was “stoking deaths” by failing to lead on wearing face masks.
“He’s supposed to lead by example,” Biden said in an interview with CNN, as the Associated Press reported. The former vice president also noted that by then nearly 100,000 Americans had been killed by the virus and suggested that as many as half of those deaths were avoidable but for Trump’s “lack of attention and ego.”
His comments come after many Americans flocked to beaches and parks over the holiday weekend, failing to observe social-distancing measures and other guidelines that public-health experts say are still essential to control the spread of the virus.
The wearing of a face mask has been caught up in the culture wars brewing across the U.S. between those who refuse to comply with safety measures, and even claim the pandemic is not real, and those who are respecting guidelines.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said on CNN that he wears a mask in public both to protect himself and others and to encourage the general public to follow his example.
“I want to make it be a symbol for people to see that that’s the kind of thing you should be doing,” Fauci said in an interview. He warned people who are “out there frolicking” that the effect of spreading will only be seen in two, three or more weeks.
There are now 5.65 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and 353,414 people have died, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
At least 2.3 million people have recovered.
The U.S. now has 1.69 million cases, the data shows, and the death toll is the highest in the world.
Russia has 370,680 cases and 3,968 fatalities. The U.K. has 268,616 cases and 37,542 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe and second highest in the world after the U.S.
Spain has 236,259 cases and 27,117 deaths, while Italy has 231,139 cases and 33,072 deaths.
France has 182,847 cases and 28,533 deaths, while Germany has 181,524 cases and 8,428 deaths.
Turkey has 158,762 cases and 4,397 deaths and India has 157,777 cases and 4,528 deaths. Iran has 141,591 cases and 7,564 deaths.
Peru has 129,751 cases and 3,788 deaths. Canada is next with 88,201 cases and 6,759 deaths. China, where the disease was first reported late last year, has 84,104 cases and 4,638 deaths.
New York remains the U.S. epicenter with 368,669 cases and 29,241 deaths, according to a New York Times tracker.
In other news, Spain declared a 10-day mourning period for its dead, starting on Wednesday.
New Zealand reported a fifth straight day with no new infections and is continuing to push ahead with reopening. Germany extended social-distancing rules to June 29, while in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains under pressure to fire adviser Dominic Cummings, for a breach of lockdown measures.
There was bad news for South Korea, and a salutary tale for other countries attempting to reopen after appearing to have successfully contained the spread of the virus. South Korea announced a spike in new infections on Wednesday and said it may reimpose the social-distancing and other measures that had recently been lifted with millions of children returning to school.
South Korea suffered 40 new cases overnight, its biggest daily increase in nearly 50 days, the AP reported. All but four were in the densely populated Seoul region, where officials are still working to trace transmissions linked to nightclubs, karaoke rooms and an e-commerce warehouse.
What’s the latest medical news?
In medical news, the French government has banned the use of antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19 cases, after two French advisory bodies and the WHO warned that the drug has proven to be dangerous in several studies, Agence France-Presse reported.
The drug was granted an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March, even though there is scant evidence to suggest it is effective as a prophylactic. President Trump stunned observers last week when he said he was taking it preventively. The drug, which is approved as a treatment for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, has been associated with a higher risk of death.
What are companies saying?
Company news proved a mixed bag on Wednesday and again showed the pandemic is creating winners and losers in different sectors. Both Papa John’s and Domino’s Pizza reported strong sales as consumers obeying stay-at-home mandates order out, while preppy clothing retailer Ralph Lauren suffered a steep sales decline as stores were shuttered.
Quibi, the new short-form streaming service founded by showbiz legend Jeffrey Katzenberg and helmed by Meg Whitman, former CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. (NYS:HPE) and eBay Inc. (NAS:EBAY) , is already facing trouble with advertisers, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Major advertisers, including Walmart Inc. (NYS:WMT) and PepsiCo Inc. (NAS:PEP) , are asking to defer payments, after the service performed less well than expected, after launching in the middle of the pandemic.
Elsewhere, companies continued to raise money by issuing bonds and convertible bonds and to offer updates on how they plan to resume operations.
Here are the latest things companies have said about COVID-19:
• Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google parent Alphabet Inc. (NAS:GOOGL) (NAS:GOOG) , is penciling in July 6 as the date to reopen offices for employees who choose to return, according to a note he sent employees. The initial wave would make use of roughly 10% of building capacity, with a goal of 30% capacity by September. Those who wish to remain working from home can expense up to $1,000 for equipment and furniture, Pichai told employees in a note Tuesday. “Assuming external conditions allow, we’ll start to open more buildings in more cities,” a Google spokesperson said, quoting from Pichai’s note to employees. “This will give Googlers who need to come back to the office - or, capacity permitting, who want to come back - the opportunity to return on a limited, rotating basis (think: one day every couple of weeks, so roughly 10% building occupancy).”
• Apple Inc. (NAS:AAPL) will reopen dozens of U.S. stores as more regions begin to lift restrictions on business operations amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Apple is reopening certain stores in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Some stores will only be open for curbside pickup or storefront service, while others will allow for walk-in customer visits/ Apple was one of the first retailers to announce it would be closing stores outside of China when it made that decision in mid March.
• Boeing Co. (NYS:BA) announced layoffs late Wednesday, saying that nearly 7,000 U.S. workers will be affected and international layoffs are also coming. About 1,300 union workers had reportedly already applied to take voluntary buyouts. The Puget Sound Business Journal reported that 15% to 20% of white-collar engineering jobs may be eliminated in the Seattle area and Southern California.
• Domino’s Pizza Inc. (NYS:DPZ) saw a jump in U.S. sales between late March and mid-May as shutdown orders kept most U.S. residents at home in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Preliminary sales results from the first eight weeks of the second quarter showed a 14% increase in U.S. same-store sales, the company said in a business update. U.S. sales “accelerated materially” in the latter part of those eight weeks, Domino’s said. “We are seeing a tailwind as consumer behavior across the restaurant industry has shifted toward delivery and carryout, though we are not sure whether this trend will continue for the remainder of the second quarter or how long this tailwind may last,” the company said. International sales, “continue to be choppy,” matching or exceeding U.S. sales in some areas and “down materially” in others, depending on local restrictions and store closures, Domino’s said. At the peak, about 2,400 stores were temporarily closed. Domino’s has nearly $250 million of cash on hand “to provide ongoing financial flexibility” during the pandemic. The company is slated to report second-quarter earnings on July 16.
• The Hershey Co. (NYS:HSY) is planning a bond deal to raise the funds to repay a portion of its commercial paper program. The chocolate maker did not offer any details of size or pricing.
• Keysight Technologies Inc. (NYS:KEYS) , a maker of electronics test and measurement equipment and software, reported fiscal second-quarter results that badly missed Wall Street estimates. “While supply chain disruptions dampened our revenue performance during the second half of the quarter, which includes April, our results demonstrated the resiliency of our operating model and durable cash generation as we reached a record cash balance of $1.8 billion,” Keysight Chief Executive Ron Nersesian said in a statement announcing the results.
• Papa John’s International Inc.’s (NAS:PZZA) North American same-store sales grew 26.9% between March 30 and April 26, and grew 33.5% between April 27 and May 24. “In May, for the second straight month, Papa John’s team members and franchisees delivered the best sales period in the company’s history,” said Rob Lynch, Papa John’s chief executive in a statement. Papa John’s credits features like contactless delivery and new menu items like Papadias for the customer appeal. Of the company’s 2,100 international franchised stores, about 320 are temporarily closed across the Middle East, Latin America and Europe.
• Ralph Lauren Inc. (NYS:RL) reported wider-than-expected fourth-quarter losses, as revenue fell during the pandemic and Hong Kong protests. Revenue in North America was down 11% to $629 million and in Asia, revenue was down 22% to $214 million. Europe fell 19% to $353 million. Ralph Lauren ended fiscal 2020 with $2.1 billion in cash and investments and $1.2 billion in debt. The company drew down $475 million from its global credit facility and took other measures in response to COVID-19, including halving Chief Executive Patrice Louvet’s salary, eliminating Chief Creative Officer Ralph Lauren’s salary and bonus, and furloughing a “substantial portion” of store and corporate employees.
• Silicon Labs (NAS:SLAB) is planning to offer $500 million of convertible senior notes that mature in 2025 through a private offering. The Austin, Tx.-based company will use $310 million of the proceeds to repay an existing credit facility. Another portion will be used to fund the repurchase of outstanding 1.375% convertible bonds due 2020.
• Tractor Supply Co. (NAS:TSCO) expects “record-breaking sales and earnings” for its second quarter. That jump in sales is across channels, product categories, and geographic regions, the company said, with online buying experiencing “substantial growth.” Tractor Supply forecast sales growth between 24% and 29% and same-store growth between 20% and 25%. Gross profit “continues to be strong with gross margin expansion anticipated for the second quarter,” it said. Second-quarter operating expenses related to the pandemic are estimated to be at the high end of the company’s previous guidance range of between $30 million and $50 million. Per-share earnings were seen in a range between $2.45 and $2.65. The company is slated to report second-quarter earnings on July 23. The outlook “demonstrates the potential for Tractor Supply to emerge stronger than before as we continue to gain market share and build our business for the future,” said Chief Executive Hal Lawton.
• Tuesday Morning Corp.’s stock plunged after the discount home furnishings retailer filed for bankruptcy, as the prolonged closure of its stores amid the pandemic created an “insurmountable financial hurdle.” The company has obtained $100 million in debtor-in-possession financing so it can continue operations during the bankruptcy. The company plans to permanently close about 230 of its 687 total stores, or 33%, as part of the reorganization. Tuesday Morning initially closed all of its stores due to the pandemic, but has reopened about 80% of the stores, and over 7,300 employees have returned to work.
• The Walt Disney Co.’s (NYS:DIS) Disney World Resort executives will submit a proposal Wednesday to Orange County, Fla., officials with the company’s plan for a “phased reopening” of its theme parks in the area. Disney will present the plan at a meeting of the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force.
Floor Trading Resumes at New York Stock Exchange
The New York Stock Exchange resumed floor trading Tuesday, two months after the coronavirus pandemic shut down its floor. NYSE installed plexiglass barriers and limited the number of traders present. Photo: Brendan McDermid/Reuters