By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
The coronavirus pandemic that has cost more than 412,000 lives globally took just one month to span the globe and is still far from over, even as countries around the world move to lift quarantines, stay-at-home orders and other restrictions on movement.
That’s the grim view of Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases, speaking at a virtual conference held by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization on Tuesday.
“In a period of four months, it has devastated the whole world. And it isn’t over yet,” he said.
COVID-19 is one of the worst pandemics in history and has spread far faster than other transmissible diseases that can take six months or longer to infect the globe. The best hope to contain it is to develop vaccines and scale up to billions of doses, he said.
The federal government agency, the National Institutes of Health, is gearing up to fund three separate Phase 3 trials of vaccine candidates this summer, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing a lead government vaccine researcher.
Moderna Inc. (NAS:MRNA) remains ahead of the pack and will be first to start a trial in July, followed in August by a vaccine that is being co-developed by Oxford University and U.K. drug maker AstraZeneca (NAS:AZN) . In September, Johnson & Johnson (NYS:JNJ) will launch a trial involving its vaccine candidate.
There are no approved vaccines for COVID-19, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization for Gilead Sciences Inc.’s (NAS:GILD) remdesivir as a treatment for patients with moderate to severe cases. Remdesivir has shown some promise in clinical trials in speeding up recoveries, but the company has not yet published a full set of data.
Fauci’s comments come as infection rates are still growing in many parts of the world. Africa now has more than 200,000 confirmed cases and the president of Burundi has died of a suspected case.
The World Health Organization is urging Pakistan to return to lockdown after hospitals said they were nearing full capacity, as the Guardian reported.
In Latin America, Argentina reported more than 1,000 cases in a 24-hour period for the first time. Lockdown measures have been extended in capital Buenos Aires, the epicenter of the outbreak, according to the Guardian.
In the U.S., where all 50 states are in the midst of reopening, 21 states are still showing increasing cases, including California, Texas and Florida, according to a New York Times tracker. Six states, including Georgia, Louisiana and Wisconsin, are mostly the same, while 26 states, including early hot spots New York, New Jersey and Illinois, are showing decreasing numbers.
More than 12 states are recording their highest averages of new cases since the start of the outbreak and hospitalizations have been climbing since Memorial Day, according to the Washington Post.
There are now 7.27 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and at least 412,013 people have died, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University . More than 3.4 million people have recovered.
The U.S. has the highest case toll in the world at 1.98 million and the highest death toll at 112,057.
Brazil has 739,503 cases and 38,406 fatalities, the data show. Brazil has ceased to publish updates of cases and deaths, but four major newspapers and two affiliated news sites announced a partnership to collect data directly from state health departments and to report updated tallies of fatalities and cases. On Tuesday, a Supreme Court justice ordered the government to resume updating numbers, according to the Guardian.
Russia has 493,023 cases and 6,350 fatalities.
The U.K. has 290,581 cases and 40,968 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe and second highest in the world after the U.S.
India now has 276,583 cases and 7,745 deaths.
Two early hot spots, Spain has 241,966 cases and 27,136 deaths, while Italy has 235,561 cases and 34,043 deaths.
Peru, France Germany, Iran, Turkey Chile, Mexico, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Canada are next and all ahead of China, where the illness was first reported late last year. China has 84,198 cases and 4,638 deaths.
What’s the economy saying?
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released its twice-a-year economic outlook on Wednesday, and unusually, presented two scenarios — one where the coronavirus continues to recede, and another where a second wave of rapid contagion erupts later in 2020. OECD Chief Economist Laurence Boone said both forecasts are equally probable.
Both forecasts are sobering, but in the “single hit,” U.S. gross domestic product slides 7.3% in 2020 and grows 4.1% in 2021, and in the “double hit,” U.S. GDP slides 8.5% in 2020 and limps just 1.9% higher in 2021. The unemployment rate in the double-hit scenario shoots higher to 16.9% in the fourth quarter and falls to only 10% in the fourth quarter of 2021, whereas the jobless rate in the single hit slows to 10.4% this year and 8.2% in 2021.
The Federal Reserve is meeting again on Wednesday, and is expected to make a statement at 2 p.m. and hold a press conference hosted by Chairman Jerome Powell at 2.30 p.m.
Investors are expecting the Fed to cheer the surprisingly encouraging May jobs report but won’t make any other move to alter its “low-for-longer”interest-rate policy, as MarketWatch’s Greg Robb reported.
“It is exceedingly unlikely that ... a handful of more positive gauges like nonfarm payrolls and mortgage-purchase applications will drive the Fed to rewrite the narrative on the fly,” said Derek Holt, head of capital-market economics at Scotiabank.
Separately, the cost of some U.S. consumer goods such as groceries have spiked for households, but inflation more broadly fell again in May owing to a slump in demand triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The consumer-price index slipped 0.1% last month after a much larger drop in April, the government said Wednesday. It was the third straight decline.
Overall inflation has softened considerably in the past several months almost to the point of being erased. Consumer prices have risen just 0.1% in the last 12 months, down from a 2.4% yearly rate as recently as February.
“Price pressures in the U.S. faded further in May as another drop in energy prices along with weak demand weighed on inflation,” said economist Katherine Judge of CIBC Capital Markets.
What are companies saying?
The mooted tie-up between ride-sharing and delivery company Uber Technologies Inc. (NYS:UBER) and food delivery company Grubhub Inc. appears to be off after CNBC said Uber was likely to pull out of talks after lawmakers raised antitrust concerns.
Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said in May when the deal was first reported, that it represented a “new low in pandemic profiteering.”
The report, which cites multiple anonymous sources, said that Grubhub was likely to merge with a European food-delivery player, as the company has received interest from Just Eat Takeaway.com N.V. (LON:UK:JET) (AMS:NL:TKWY) and Delivery Hero AG (ETR:XE:DHER) .
The Wall Street Journal said Just Eat Takeaway.com was near an all-stock deal for Grubhub and that a merger announcement could come as soon as today.
In the car sector, Tesla Inc. shares (NAS:TSLA) soared 7% to top $1,000 for the first time, buoyed by a memo from Chief Executive Elon Musk that told employees it was “time to go all out” on the production of the Tesla Semi, and detailing some of the plans for the freight truck’s production.
The stock traded as high as $1,013 in midday trading, the continuation of a rally that started Monday with positive car sales news from China. The move also came just hours after Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said the stock had room to run to $1,000 and possibly much higher, given his belief that demand in China for Model 3’s are ramping stronger than expected and the potential for “game changing” battery developments.
Ives reiterated his neutral rating on the electric car maker, but raised his base price target to $1,000 from $800, while boosting his “bull case” target to $1,500 from $1,350.
Starbuck’s Corp. (NAS:SBUX) said it expects to regain profitability in the fourth quarter as sales improve around the world and stores reopen, although the path there will see further losses. The coffee chain operator is expecting the pandemic to shave $3.0 billion to $3.2 billion off third-quarter sales in the third quarter, which was affected for a longer duration markets outside of China.
Elsewhere, companies continued to raise money through bond or convertible bond offering, to offer updates on the pace of reopening of stores and other outlets and provide sales guidance.
Here are the latest things companies have said about COVID-19:
• Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYS:BBY) will allow a “limited” number of people inside most of its stores from next Monday, without the need for an appointment. Some 9,000 previously furloughed part- and full-time workers will return to support that and other initiatives, such as ongoing “contactless” curbside pickups. Best Buy said it will restrict the number of customers inside the stores to 25% capacity, which would allow for about 60 people in a store depending on size. Stores also will have floor signage to help customers and employees maintain 6 feet of distance at all times, the company said. In-home services, such as installations and repairs, will also resume with some restrictions.
• Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYS:DAL) provided a second-quarter revenue outlook that was slightly below expectations. Delta expects revenue for the quarter ending June 30 to be down 90% from a year ago, as capacity has been reduced by 85%, as a result of the pandemic. Delta expects to cut its average daily cash outflow to about $40 million by June 30, compared with about $100 million as of March 31. The company targets cutting cash burn to “zero” by Dec. 31. “We believe this improvement in average daily cash outflow would result from modest continued demand recovery, particularly with domestic leisure travel beginning to return as states lift shelter-in-place orders, and additional cost-cutting initiatives,” Delta stated. The company has added 100 additional flights to its domestic schedule in June, and plans to add more in September. Delta has raised more than $10 billion through various financing arrangements since early March, and targets $10 billion in cash, cash equivalents and borrowing capacity as of Dec. 31.
• DPW Holdings Inc.’s Gresham Worldwide Inc. defense business received $3.2 million in purchase orders from four different defense contractors. The company had recorded revenue of $21.1 million in 2019. “This recent uptick in orders reflects the confidence and the trust that Gresham has with long life cycle platform programs of ‘blue chip’ customers in defense, aerospace and commercial sectors across the globe. We anticipate that strong demand and customer confidence will enable us to achieve significant growth in 2020 and 2021,” said Jonathan Reed, chief executive of DPW’s Gresham Worldwide.
• Online ticketing company Eventbrite Inc. (NYS:EB) plans to offer $115 million of convertible senior notes that will be due in 2025. The company also anticipates that it will grant those who initially purchase the notes the option to purchase an additional $17.25 million in notes to cover any overallotments. Eventbrite intends to use the proceeds partly for corporate purposes and partly to fund capped call transactions, that are intended to reduce dilution on conversion.
• Guess Inc. (NYS:GES) shares fell after the clothing company posted weaker-than-expected earnings and offered a weak sales outlook. After shutting its stores and taking measures such as furloughing its North American store associates due to the coronavirus, Guess began reopening its European locations in mid-April. Some of its U.S. and Canadian stores began operating again in mid-May. All stores in Asia are open and e-commerce is available in all regions. Traffic and revenue are significantly reduced at reopened locations, and though traffic is down online, conversion is up, the company said. “Looking forward, the building blocks of our long-term strategy are still intact,” said Carlos Alberini, Guess chief executive, in a statement. Sales for stores that have been open since May 2 are at 75% of last year in the U.S. and Canada, and 70% for Europe. Second quarter revenue is expected to “have a decrease similar to that of the first quarter.”
• Hertz Global Holdings Inc. (NAS:HTZ) disclosed Wednesday that it received on May 26 a delisting notice from the New York Stock Exchange, which cited the car rental company’s filing for bankruptcy. Hertz has appealed the delisting, and requested a hearing. The stock will remain listed on the NYSE until the appeal is resolved. “There can be no assurance that the NYSE will grant the company’s request for continued listing at the hearing and whether there will be equity value in the company’s common stock,” Hertz said. Separately, Hertz said Chief Marketing Officer Jodi Allen was “terminated without cause” on June 5, after nearly three years in the role, and that Laura Smith was appointed global marketing and customer experience officer on June 9. No other details were offered.
• MGM Resorts International (NYS:MGM) is reopening more resorts in Las Vegas over the next few weeks. Luxor and The Shoppes at Mandalay Bay Place will open their doors again June 25 at 10 a.m. PST, followed by Aria at 10 a.m. PST, and Mandalay Bay, Four Seasons Las Vegas at 11 a.m. PST on July 1. Last week, Bellagio, MGM Grand, and New York-New York opened. Excalibur is expected to open June 11.
• Okta Inc. (NAS:OKTA) priced a $1 billion offering of convertible senior notes that mature in 2026 on Wednesday, as the ID-management platform provider joins many companies raising funds during the coronavirus pandemic. The notes will pay 0.375% in interest a year and will be convertible at an initial rate of 4.1912 shares of Class A common stock per $1,000 principal amount of notes. The company is entering into capped call transactions to limit dilution on conversion. Proceeds of the offering will be used to cover the costs of the capped call transactions and for general corporate purposes. The company has also entered privately negotiated transactions with holders of its 0.25% convertible senior notes due 2023, to exchange about $69.9 million in principal for about 1.4 million shares.
• The RealReal Inc. (NAS:REAL) is planning to offer $125 million of convertible bonds that mature in 2025, joining many other companies raising funds during the coronavirus pandemic. The luxury goods website’s bonds will be convertible into cash, common stock or a combination of the two. The interest rate and conversion rate and other terms will be decided at pricing. The company will enter into capped call transactions to limit dilution on conversion. Proceeds of the deal will be used to fund those transactions and for general corporate purposes and working capital.
• Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc. (NAS:RRGB) posted a far wider-than-expected loss for its fiscal first quarter ended April 19 as the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close restaurants. . Same-restaurant sales fell 20.8% for the quarter, but have started to recover. The company has reopened about 270 dining rooms with new protocols, mostly on the West Coast. “Sales are exceeding our expectations, accompanied by record high dine-in Guest satisfaction scores and continued, strong retention of our elevated off-premise sales,” Chief Executive Paul J.B. Murphy III said in a statement. The company had $88.9 million in cash as of April 19 and debt of $290.9 million. It was not in compliance with certain financial covenants and had amended agreements with creditors.
• Taubman Centers Inc. shares plummeted after fellow real-estate investment trust Simon Property Group Inc. (NYS:SPG) terminated the deal to buy Taubman. Simon filed a court action requesting a declaration that Taubman has suffered a “material adverse event” under the merger agreement, as the pandemic has had a “uniquely material and disproportionate effect” on Taubman compared with other REITs. Simon also claims that Taubman has “breached” its obligations by failing to take steps to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, by not making needed cuts to expenses and expenditures. On Feb. 10, the companies announced a deal in which Simon would buy Taubman in a deal valued at about $3.6 billion.
• United Natural Foods Inc. (NYS:UNFI) blew past earnings estimates for its fiscal third quarter, as the food wholesaler benefited from COVID-19-related demand, which was partially offset by customer bankruptcies. The company previously withdrew its fiscal 2020 guidance, but has issued fresh guidance that includes Cub Foods and certain Shoppers Food Warehouse stores. It now expects sales of $26.4 billion to $26.6 billion, up from previous guidance of $23.5 billion to $24.3 billion.
• Verint Systems Inc. (NAS:VRNT) , a data analytics company, reported lower-than-expected adjusted fiscal first-quarter profits, and sales that fell short of estimates as customers delayed planned projects during the pandemic. “Looking forward, as offices reopen and travel restrictions are lifted, we expect a sequential improvement in Q2 and continued improvement in the second half of the year,” CEO Dan Boden said. Verint has made “significant progress” on its plan to create two standalone public companies, he said. Verint did not provide specific guidance but said it expects its results “to improve throughout the year.”
• Yum Brands Inc.’s (NYS:YUM) global same-store sales fell 19% for the quarter-to-date through May 5, with business impacted by closures associated with the pandemic. KFC same-store sales fell 26%, Pizza Hut sales declined 10% and Taco Bell sales fell 11%. Across each of the brands, tsame-store sales have improved from the end of April, with the biggest improvement at KFC, up in the midteens. “Our KFC and Pizza Hut businesses in the U.S. have benefited significantly in recent weeks from their strength in the dinner daypart as sought after delivery and carry-out options,” the filing said. Nearly all (92%) of North American Yum Brands restaurants are open for business, 97% are open in Asia Pacific, and 78% are open in Africa, Europe, India, Latin America, the Middle East and Russia.
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