Senate Passes Relief Bill; NYSE Floors to Close: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) —

The U.S. Senate cleared an economic relief package that would provide paid sick leave, food assistance and financial help for virus testing. President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, allowing the government to boost manufacturing of masks and protective equipment.

The New York Stock Exchange will close its trading floors and go fully electronic. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated that non-essential businesses have no more than half their workforce in the office.

Europe surpassed China in the number of coronavirus infections. Schools in England will close. German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled she may be open to joint European Union debt. Financial markets spasmed, sending U.S. stocks down more than 5% and Bloomberg’s dollar index to a record.

Key Developments:

Cases hit 205,883 worldwide, deaths exceed 8,205Trudeau unveils stimulus worth 3% of economyNew York gets hospital ship from NavyJapan Olympic committee still planning summer eventEurope can’t stop pandemic from rocking its foundationsThe U.S. and Canada closed its border to non-essential traffic.Gap plans to close some stores, and U.K. supermarkets are rationing

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NYSE to Move to Fully Electronic Trading (4:55 p.m. NY)

The New York Stock Exchange will temporarily close its equities and options trading floors, moving to all-electronic trading starting Monday.

“While we are taking the precautionary step of closing the trading floors, we continue to firmly believe the markets should remain open and accessible to investors,” said NYSE President Stacey Cunningham. The markets will continue to operate under normal trading hours.

Senate Passes Relief Bill, Plans for More Stimulus (4:25 p.m. NY)

The Senate cleared the second major bill responding to the pandemic. The 90-8 vote, following House passage on Saturday, sends President Donald Trump a measure providing paid sick leave, food assistance for vulnerable populations and financial help for coronavirus testing.

As the Senate voted, Republican and Democratic leaders were already working on the next proposal.

“I will not adjourn the Senate until we have passed a far bolder package that includes significant relief for small businesses,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor of the chamber.

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Navy Hospital Ship Weeks Away From NYC Deployment (3:13 p.m NY)

The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort will be dispatched to New York City as coronavirus cases almost doubled, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

The floating hospital, which has previously been sent to disaster zones like Haiti and post-Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, can help free 1,000 beds when it arrives in a few weeks, the governor said. Another ship, the Mercy, will head to the West Coast.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Tuesday that hospital ships aren’t equipped to handle infectious disease patients but could provide care for trauma victims, allowing more beds in hospitals on land to handle those with the coronavirus.

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Gates Says Shutdowns Could Last 10 Weeks (2:20 p.m. NY)

Bill Gates, who last week said he’s stepping down from the board of Microsoft Corp. to devote more time to philanthropy, told Reddit users on Wednesday that the coronavirus shutdown could last as long as 10 weeks — if things go well.

“If a country does a good job with testing and ‘shut down’ then within 6-10 weeks they should see very few cases and be able to open back up,” he said.

Detroit Automakers to Temporarily Shut U.S. Plants (2:20 p.m. NY)

General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will temporarily shut down their U.S. plants.

Ford will halt operations at all North American manufacturing facilities after Thursday evening shifts, according to a statement. GM and Fiat Chrysler also plan to idle their factories, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified ahead of official announcements.

U.S. Mayors Request $250 Billion in Federal Aid (2:20 p.m. NY)

The U.S. Conference of Mayors requested $250 billion from the federal government to aid local governments fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

Cities are the front lines in addressing this public health crisis, according to the group’s letter to U.S. House and Senate leaders on Wednesday.

Johnson Closes Schools in England (1:30 p.m. NY)

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said schools will close from Friday, increasing restrictions on the British population as the country grapples with a spiraling coronavirus crisis.

Johnson’s announcement covers English schools, after administrators in Scotland and Wales earlier told schools in those regions to prepare to close from Friday.

“After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed for most pupils, the vast majority of pupils, until further notice,” Johnson said.

School sites will be kept open to provide care to the children of key workers, Johnson said.

U.S. Allows Doctors to Work Across State Borders (12:59 p.m. NY)

Doctors and medical professionals will soon be allowed to practice across state lines, Vice President Mike Pence said.

The step may help health workers move to hotspots where the new coronavirus is spreading and in some cases infecting hospital staff. Pence said the Department of Health and Human Services will issue the regulation Wednesday.

New Jersey Identifies Closed Hospital (12:50 p.m. NY)

New Jersey has identified one closed hospital as a potentialacute care facility that could be brought back online to handlean expected surge in patients, said Donna Leusner, a statehealth department spokeswoman.

It would not serve as a special facility for Covid-19 patients. Rather, all hospitals in the state “need to be able to care for” such patients, she said. Leusner declined to identify the hospital under consideration.

U.S. Invokes Defense Production Act (12:19 p.m. NY)

President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, allowing the the government more latitude in emergencies to direct industrial manufacturing. He also said the Housing and Urban Development department will suspend foreclosures and evictions through the end of April.

According to FEMA’s website, the act allows for the president “to expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base to support military, energy, space, and homeland security programs.”

Navy to Send Hospital Ship to New York City (12:14 p.m. NY)

The Navy hospital ship Comfort is being dispatched to New York City.

The floating hospital, which has previously been sent to disaster zones such as Haiti and post-Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, can provide 1,000 beds.

Schiphol Shuts Majority of Piers At Airport (12:08 p.m. NY)

Schiphol Airport, Europe’s third largest by passenger traffic, will scale down operations to a core and shut five of its seven piers from March 24. Plane stands at shut concourses will be used as temporary parking spots for planes that will be grounded for a longer time.

Italy May Ban Outdoor Recreation (10:30 a.m. NY)

Italy may consider a complete ban on outdoor activities if people don’t respect advice to stay at home during the nationwide lockdown to counter spread of coronavirus, Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora told RAI television.

Eurovision Song Contest Canceled (9:40 a.m. NY)

The European Broadcasting Union canceled the Eurovision Song Contest, one of the world’s most-watched televised events, which was due to be hosted in Rotterdam in about two months.

The Netherlands earlier reported another 346 confirmed cases – the biggest daily increase – to 2,051, while deaths rose by more than a third to 58.

Germany Stops Refugee Program (9:34 a.m. NY)

Germany has stopped the resettlement program for refugees as part of the government’s measures against the coronavirus, a spokesman for the interior ministry said on Wednesday. As part of the EU-Turkey agreement, Germany has taken in refugees from Syria and Turkey since 2012.

JPMorgan Pledges $50 Million (9:12 a.m. NY)

JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s philanthropic plan is aimed at supporting people, communities and businesses impacted by the pandemic, according to statement Wednesday.

Portugal Offers Credit Lines for Tourism (9:05 a.m. NY)

Portuguese Economy Minister Pedro Siza Vieira announced new credit lines for businesses most affected by the outbreak, such as restaurants and the tourism sector. They will be guaranteed by the state, provided through the banking system and may be paid back over four years.

Austria, Italy Start Using Mobile Data to Gauge Lockdown (8:22 a.m. NY)

Officials in Austria and Italy are starting to use location data transmitted by mobile phones to determine the effectiveness of their coronavirus lockdowns.

U.K. Pledges to Support Renters, Increase Testing (8:10 a.m. NY)

In addition to measures announced on Tuesday to support homeowners through the crisis, the government is preparing legislation to protect from renters from eviction. Ministers are also preparing additional measures to help workers, after announcing a business support package. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. will ramp up to 25,000 the number of people they test daily for coronavirus and that scientists are “much closer to getting a generally available test” to see if people have had — and already recovered from — the virus.

Johnson said further steps would be taken on schools. Some of the country’s most prestigious private schools are closing, even as the government is keeping its school system open. The pound fell to its lowest level against the dollar in over three decades on the shocks caused by the outbreak.

Xi Says Pressure on China’s Economy Is Intensifying (8:01 a.m. NY)

The pressure on China’s economy is mounting as the coronavirus spreads, President Xi Jinping said, in comments reported by CCTV.

French Government May Seek to Declare Health Emergency (8 a.m. NY)

French consumption could drop 2% this year and inflation could decline to 0.6%, AFP reported, citing an amended finance bill. The government will be allowed to use orders to support companies, according to the bill cited by AFP.

Meanwhile Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the government will do “whatever it takes” to prevent unemployment and liquidity squeezes, readying funds equivalent of 38 billion euros ($42 billion), or almost 10% of its economic output to limit the fallout of the crisis.

Ackman Says U.S. Should ‘Shut Down’ for 30 Days (7:50 a.m. NY)

“The only answer” in the U.S.’s fight against coronavirus is to shut down the country for 30 days and close the borders, hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman said in a series of posts on Twitter Wednesday, addressing Trump.

All Americans should be put on an “extended Spring Break”, he added, which would lead to a plummeting infection rate and soaring markets.

Former Chairs Urge Fed to Do More (7:45 a.m. NY)

The U.S. Federal Reserve must limit the long-term effects of the coronavirus, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen write in an op-ed for the Financial Times. The former chairs said the Fed has a “useful role to play” and that fiscal policy will have “to do more” as the impact of the virus becomes apparent.

The central bank “must ensure that the economic damage from the pandemic is not long-lasting.” It should also ensure that credit is available for otherwise sound borrowers, who face temporary issues, Bernanke and Yellen said.

Gap to Temporarily Close North America Stores (7:40 a.m. NY)

Gap will temporarily close its Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic, Gap, Janie and Jack and Intermix stores across North America, effective March 19.

Poland Pledges Stimulus, Oman Ready to Add Liquidity (7:21 a.m. NY)

Poland announced a rescue package designed to shield the economy that will cost around $52 billion, or roughly 9% of gross domestic product. Separately, Oman is prepared to add $20.8 billion in liquidity to provide relief from economic damages caused by the virus, its central bank said. Earlier, Iceland’s central bank made a second emergency interest rate cut in a week and injected fresh liquidity.

Santander Portugal Unit Chairman Dies From Coronavirus (6:40 a.m. NY)

Banco Santander Totta Chairman Antonio Vieira Monteiro has died after being infected with coronavirus, Portuguese newspaper Expresso reported on Wednesday, citing a source at Santander in Portugal. The 73-year-old Vieira Monteiro was CEO of Santander’s Portuguese unit from 2012-2018 before becoming chairman. Vieira Monteiro is the second known death from coronavirus in Portugal.

Moscow Police Tap Cameras to Track Violators (6:35 a.m. NY)

Moscow police have used the city’s massive camera network to nab over 200 people for violating quarantine required after returning from high-risk countries. The authorities say they are using one of the world’s most-comprehensive facial-recognition systems to monitor the more than 13,000 people in the Russian capital under mandatory self-isolation measures. People found to transmit coronavirus to someone else could face jail time in Russia, with a maximum sentence 5 years if the sick person dies.

European Banks Get $130 Billion, Easing Dollar Stress (6:30 a.m. NY)

Lenders from the euro zone borrowed the bulk of the money — $112 billion in operations coordinated by the European Central Bank. That’s the biggest use of the crisis-era swap lines since the global financial meltdown more than a decade ago. U.K. lenders took $15.5 billion via the Bank of England, and Swiss institutions took $2.6 billion.

Japan Adds Travel Curbs (6:05 a.m. NY)

Japan will ban visitors from Italy and Spain from Thursday and impose voluntary quarantine of 14 days on visitors from 38 countries including Iran and nations in Europe.

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