By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
• France will start easing a strict lockdown this weekend so that by Christmas, people will be able to spend time with their families, Reuters reported. President Emmanuel Macron said shops, theaters and cinemas will also reopen by Christmas. Macron said the worst of the second wave of the pandemic is over, but that restaurants, bars and cafes will remain closed until Jan. 20 to avoid a third wave.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide climbed above 60 million on Wednesday, the Johns Hopkins data show, and the death toll is 1.4 million. At least 38.3 million people have recovered from COVID-19.
Brazil has the second highest death toll after the U.S. at 170,115 and is third by cases at 6.1 million.
India is second in cases with 9.2 million, and third in deaths at 134,699.
Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 102,739 and 10th highest case tally at 1 million.
The U.K has 55,935 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world, and 1.5 million cases, or seventh highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 92,296 confirmed cases and 4,742 deaths, according to its official numbers.
What’s the economy saying?
The number of Americans who applied for state unemployment benefits in late November rose for the second week in a row to a five-week high, signaling the record rise in coronavirus cases has put a dent in hiring and could be applying the brakes to the economic recovery, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
Initial jobless claims increased by a seasonally adjusted 30,000 to 778,000 in the seven days ended Nov. 21. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast initial jobless claims to total 720,000.
It’s the first time new jobless claims have risen two weeks in a row since July — the last time the U.S. experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases. Another 311,675 people applied for benefits through a temporary federal-relief program that expires at the end of the year.
“Weekly unemployment insurance claims are moving in the wrong direction with the first back-to-back increases since July,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union. “Together with a slower-than-expected drop in continuing claims, we’re seeing the effects of rapidly-rising COVID-19 cases across the country. ”
Separately, the U.S. economy grew at a record 33.1% in the third quarter, identical to the initial October estimate, reflecting a sharp rebound in economic activity over the summer as economic restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 were relaxed, MarketWatch’s Chris Matthew reported, citing Commerce Department data.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected growth to accelerate to a 33.5% annual rate. Using more complete source data, the government found that consumer spending was slightly lower than previously thought, as was government spending. This was offset by upward revisions to business investment, residential investment and exports.
Another report found orders for long-lasting goods such as computers and military weapons rose again in October and business investment increased for the sixth straight month, but it’s unclear if manufacturers can escape the fallout ahead from the record coronavirus outbreak.
Durable-goods orders advanced 1.3% in October, the government said. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast a 0.5% increase.
One potentially big caveat: The surge in orders was driven by Pentagon spending. If defense is excluded, orders rose a more modest 0.2%.
Consumer spending rose 0.5% in October, after a revised 1.2% growth in September, and incomes dropped 0.7%. The October increase in spending was the smallest since April.
Economists were expecting spending to rise 0.4% and incomes to decline 0.5%.
What are companies saying?
• Deere & Co. /zigman2/quotes/207941296/composite DE +1.56% , the maker of agriculture, lawn care and construction equipment, reported fiscal fourth-quarter profit and sales that were well above expectations, and provided an upbeat outlook. Total revenue fell 1.7% to $9.73 billion, but beat the FactSet consensus of $8.59 billion. Agriculture and turf sales increased 8% to $6.20 billion, above the FactSet consensus of $5.51 billion, and construction and forestry sales dropped 16% to $2.46 billion but was above expectations of $1.99 billion. Looking ahead, Deere expects conditions in the farm economy to improve and in the construction and forestry markets to stabilize, after challenges associated with the pandemic. “Higher crop prices and improved fundamentals are leading to renewed optimism in the agricultural sector and improving demand for farm equipment,” said Chief Executive John May.
• Equillium Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200776383/composite EQ +3.24% decided not to initiate a Phase 3 trial of its itolizumab for the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, and said its decision was based on a review of recent updates regarding the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccine candidates and other treatment options. “We are continuing to assess the rapidly evolving clinical and commercial landscape related to this pandemic and may consider other options to evaluate itolizumab in COVID-19 patients, including government research initiatives,” said Chief Executive Bruce Steel.
• Gap Inc. /zigman2/quotes/206554267/composite GPS +6.60% missed Wall Street expectations for its third-quarter profit and said that the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in several U.S. areas could weigh on store traffic. Net sales were flat at $3.99 billion, the company said. Online sales rose 61%, but that was offset by a 20% decline in store sales. Online sales accounted for 40% of the company’s sales in the quarter. Gap said it ended the quarter with $2.6 billion in cash and equivalents, compared with $1.1 billion in the year-ago quarter. For the fourth quarter, it expects sales at or slightly higher than last year’s fourth quarter, when the company reported sales of $4.7 billion. Gap did not provide fiscal-year earnings outlook “recognizing the continued high level of uncertainty in the marketplace,” it said. “The widely-noted recent rise in COVID-19 cases remains a concern, which may impact store traffic.”
• Nordstrom Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203902116/composite JWN +11.25% reported a surprise GAAP profit for its third quarter. Sales dropped to $3.09 billion from $3.67 billion a year ago, the company said. Digital sales of $1.6 billion accounted for 54% of Nordstrom’s business, it said. Analysts polled by FactSet had expected Nordstrom to report sales of $3.13 billion. “Our ability to significantly strengthen our financial flexibility early in the pandemic was key to delivering operating profitability of more than $100 million and cash flow of more than $150 million in the third quarter,” Chief Executive Erik Nordstrom said in a statement.
• Pure Storage Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207052581/composite PSTG +4.95% , the flash-based storage provider, reported fiscal third-quarter results showing a wider loss and lower revenue. Revenue declined 4% to $410.6 million from $428.4 million a year ago. “We continued to experience a strong enterprise segment as the COVID crisis caused emergency buying,” Pure Storage Chief Executive Charlie Giancarlo told MarketWatch.
• Rite Aid Corp. /zigman2/quotes/201733831/composite RAD +12.20% confirmed that it will continue to offer no-charge COVID-19 testing in December, reversing an announcement made early Tuesday that it would begin charging $115 for symptomatic and asymptomatic diagnostic testing starting Dec. 1. The company currently does not charge people who come in for COVID-19 testing at its 301 testing sites. The Department of Health and Human Services said Rite Aid had notified HHS on Nov. 21 that it had conducted more tests than allocated in their contract, and that HHS had requested more funding for Rite Aid in response, according to a statement from Mia Heck, director of external affairs in the office of the assistant secretary for health. A Rite Aid spokesperson declined to comment beyond the news announcement. Rite Aid also on Tuesday announced plans to lower the age requirement for a COVID-19 test to 13 years old from 18 and said it plans to add 1,000 drive-through testing locations.