By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
• Dr. Anthony Fauci was set to meet for the first time Thursday with President-elect Joe Biden and members of the Biden transition team. He described the meeting, in an appearance earlier in the day on MSNBC, as typical of presidential transitions, saying he would provide status updates on the pandemic and vaccine development. He said he did not expect President Donald Trump to fire FDA chief Stephen Hahn, who was summoned to the White House two days earlier, reportedly to explain a perceived “delay” in vaccine authorization. Fauci also said the Trump White House and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with the reported scale and locations of their dozens of planned Christmas parties , are inviting serious public health risks. “Please recognize this is real,” Fauci said. “This is not ‘fake.’ This is not ‘hoax.’ ”
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The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide climbed above 64.8 million on Thursday, the Johns Hopkins data show, and the death toll is 1.49 million. At least 41.6 million people have recovered from COVID-19.
Brazil has the second highest death toll at 174,515 and is third by cases at 6.4 million.
India is second worldwide in cases with 9.5 million and third in deaths at 138,648.
Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 107,565 and 11th highest case tally at 1.13 million.
The U.K has had 60,210 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world, and 1.7 million cases, or seventh highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 93,203 confirmed cases and 4,744 deaths, according to its official numbers.
What’s the economy saying?
New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits fell in late November for the first time in three weeks — due in part, it’s believed, to the Thanksgiving holiday — but new jobless claims remain stubbornly high, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
The latest decline, though welcome, is unlikely to dispel fresh worries about rising layoffs and a slowdown in hiring amid the latest rising wave of coronavirus cases. A variety of indicators point to a softening labor market.
Initial jobless claims dropped by a seasonally adjusted 75,000 to 712,000 in the seven days ended Nov. 28. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast initial jobless claims to total 780,000.
Another 288,701 people applied for benefits through a temporary federal relief program that expires at the end of the year, the government said Thursday.
“Virus transmission rates remain high, and layoffs are likely to rise over coming weeks as curbs on business operations broaden,” said chief U.S. economist Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday is slated to report its official estimate of how many total government and private-sector jobs were recovered in November. Economists polled by MarketWatch predict a 466,000-job increase.
What are companies saying?
• 3M Co. /zigman2/quotes/205029460/composite MMM -0.37% is planning a restructuring that will impact 2,900 jobs globally as the Post-it maker and diversified industrial company moves to align operations with the changing economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. “The COVID-19 pandemic has advanced the pace of change and disrupted end markets around the world, increasing the need for companies to adapt faster,” said Mike Roman, 3M chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement. 3M introduced a new global operating model in January, and is now aiming to better use analytics to drive efficiencies. The company is expecting to book pretax charges of $250 million to $300 million, of which $120 million to $150 million will be booked in the fourth quarter. The company expects to generate annual pretax savings of $200 million to $250 million, with $75 million to $100 million expected in 2021.
• AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200235402/composite AMC +3.58% filed for the sale of up to 200 million Class A shares, the cinema chain’s latest capital raise, as it works to boost liquidity to navigate the pandemic. Based on Wednesday’s stock closing price of $4.32, the offering could be worth up to $864 million, which compares with AMC’s market capitalization of $593.5 million. AMC said it may sell the shares from time to time, in one or more series or issuances, and on terms that will be determined at the time of the offering. The company said it had 85.6 million Class A shares and 51.8 million Class B shares outstanding as of Oct. 30.
• Delta Air Lines Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL -0.81% provided a daily cash-burn outlook for the fourth quarter that could be half of that averaged in the third quarter. Chief Executive Ed Bastian wrote in a memo to employees that the company has increased on-site rapid testing for COVID-19 in an attempt to reduce the spread, and is offering at-home testing kits to all U.S. employees. Meanwhile, Bastian said there has been “some slowing of demand” and bookings as COVID-19 cases have increased across the U.S. The slowing has pressured daily cash burn by about $2 million per day, and he now expects fourth-quarter daily cash burn to end up at $12 million to $14 million, a marked improvement from a daily cash burn of $24 million in the third quarter. He still expects fourth-quarter revenue to be about 30% of year-ago levels.
• Express Inc. shares /zigman2/quotes/210459169/composite EXPR -7.65% tumbled after the apparel retailer missed earnings estimates for the third quarter and said it is cutting 10% of staff at its corporate headquarters and would pursue liquidity measures. Sales fell 34% to $322.1 million from $488.5 million, below the $376 million FactSet consensus. Same-store sales tumbled 30%. The company is aiming to realize about $550 million in liquidity benefits, with about $440 million expected in 2020. It is cutting 10% of staff at its corporate office in Columbus, Ohio, and is not providing guidance due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
• Kroger Co. /zigman2/quotes/206215053/composite KR -1.38% reported a third-quarter profit that rose above expectations thanks to at-home dining during the pandemic, but sales that came up short. Sales rose 6.3% to $29.72 billion, below the FactSet consensus of $29.97 billion, while same-store-sales growth of 10.9% topped expectations for a 10.3% rise. Kroger said it repurchased $304 million in stock during the quarter. The company expects full-year adjusted EPS of $3.30 to $3.35, compared with the FactSet consensus of $3.30, and expects same-store sales to rise about 14%, compared with expectations of 12.5% growth.
• Michaels Cos. /zigman2/quotes/207984083/composite MIK -0.14% posted stronger-than-expected earnings for the third quarter and said it would pay $10 million in holiday bonuses to full-time and part-time staff as it works through the pandemic economy. The arts and crafts retailer’s sales rose to $1.406 billion from $1.222 billion, also ahead of the $1.391 billion FactSet consensus. Same-store sales rose 16.3% to beat the 14.8% FactSet consensus. E-commerce sales rose 128%, driven by improvements to the company’s curbside pickup, same-day delivery and other services. The company is not offering guidance due to uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
• Signet Jewelers Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/204614427/composite SIG -1.75% reported a surprise third-quarter profit and revenue that rose above forecasts. Sales rose 9.5% to $1.30 billion from $1.19 billion, while the FactSet consensus was for a decline to $1.14 billion, as same-store-sales growth of 15.1% beat expectations of a 5.1% rise. Same-store sales through Nov. 30 were up about 3% from a year ago, but were down in the low single-digit percentage range over the Thanksgiving weekend, as weak retail-store traffic amid the COVID-19 pandemic was partially offset by higher conversion rates, migration to digital sales and higher transaction value.
• Walmart Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT -0.40% will pay out more than $700 million in additional cash bonuses to its U.S. employees, the fourth special bonus it’s paid since the start of the pandemic. The payout includes $319 million in quarterly bonuses in employees’ paychecks on Nov. 25, following “strong third-quarter business performance,” and about $388 million in “special” bonuses to paid Dec. 24 “in recognition of associates’ sustained commitment to customers during the pandemic.” That brings the total quarterly and special bonuses paid out during the pandemic to $2.8 billion. “As we come to a close on this historic year, I’m filled with gratitude for how our associates have led through one of the most trying periods for our company and country,” said Walmart U.S. chief executive, John Furner.
Additional reporting by Mike Murphy, Nicole Lyn Pesce and Tomi Kilgore.