Stocks Waver as Consumer Survey Shows Continued Concern: Live Updates

Stocks Waver as Consumer Survey Shows Continued Concern: Live Updates

Investors are betting a handful of companies will emerge from the crisis even stronger.

Long before the coronavirus pandemic, a shift was underway in the stock market: A few tech giants were responsible for a large chunk of the gains on Wall Street.

The outbreak, which dovetails perfectly with the kinds of remote-working and shop-from-home products offered by companies like Microsoft, Apple and Amazon has supercharged this shift, Matt Phillips reports.

According to data from Goldman Sachs, the top five companies in the S&P 500 — Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook — now account for 20 percent of the index. And all five are up more than 20 percent since the market hit its low on March 23, which means gains in just this handful of stocks has been a big factor in the market’s rebound from that low.

The difference in investor expectations for large and small companies is stark: The Nasdaq 100, an index of the largest technology companies — which also happen to be the largest companies in the country — is up 1.2 percent this year. The Russell 2000 index, which tracks small public companies, is down 23 percent.

“Investors are telling you that the bigger, stronger, more stable balance sheet company is going to win versus its smaller peer,” said Stuart Kaiser, head of equity derivatives research at UBS.

As the coronavirus outbreak ebbs in China, the country’s companies and officials have made big strides in restarting its economy. Its factories, brought to a standstill when the coronavirus outbreak swept through the country in January, are humming again, and even the air pollution is coming back.

An early rally on Wall Street gave way to selling, in a reversal that began soon after new data on consumer confidence in the United States showed that views on current business and job market conditions in April fell by the most on record.

Investors had been encouraged by the possible easing of restrictions in major economies around the world. In the United States, at least a dozen states are moving to lift business shutdowns and several European countries have loosened rules. Hope for an economic rebound has helped to fuel a nearly 30 percent rally in the S&P 500 over the past month.

But the sudden shift in sentiment on Tuesday — the S&P 500 initially rose by more than 1 percent before it gave up all of those gains — shows how fragile this optimism is.

The survey that seemed to spook investors on Tuesday, conducted by the Conference Board, did show that expectations for the near-term improved, which the organization attributed to “the possibility that stay-at-home restrictions will loosen soon.”

But with millions of people suddenly out of work in the United States, the country’s most substantial economic engine — consumer spending — has taken a hit.

Investors will have more data to consider soon. Companies like Ford Motor and Starbucks are scheduled to report financial results for the first quarter of the year on Tuesday. The earnings reports may further cloud the hopes for a healthy global recovery, but they may also give companies a chance to outline the steps they are taking to reopen.

Oil prices were also volatile on Tuesday. The price of West Texas Intermediate, the type of oil used to determine industry prices in the United States, fell nearly 20 percent before rebounding.

At about $12 a barrel, the price is still at a level virtually unheard-of before the double whammy of the coronavirus outbreak and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Brent crude, the international benchmark, wavered between gains and losses and was about $21 a barrel.

YouTube said on Tuesday that it was introducing fact-check information on some video searches in the United States to combat misinformation about the coronavirus, a problem so rampant online that the World Health Organization has said it was confronting an “infodemic.”

The video service will show users searching for some debunked claims a box, or panel, that directs them to accurate information.

“We want to surface that fact-check snippet right then and there on YouTube search results,” said Neal Mohan, the company’s chief product officer.

The fact-check panels, which had been in use in Brazil and India since last year, draw from articles written by members of the International Fact-Checking Network — the same organization used by Facebook for its fact checks — or by publishers that YouTube deems “authoritative.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Tuesday that companies that received more than $2 million in small-business loans would be audited by the Small Business Administration and could face “criminal liability” if it turned out that they were not eligible to apply for the relief money.

Mr. Mnuchin’s comments come as backlash grows over big, publicly traded companies receiving millions of dollars in loans while many small businesses have been unable to gain access to the $660 billion pot of bailout money. At least 116 public companies have taken loans of more than $2 million and have not returned those funds.

Mr. Mnuchin said on Tuesday that he thought it was “outrageous” that the Los Angeles Lakers basketball franchise had taken about $4.6 million from the program. The team said on Monday that it repaid the loan.

“The purpose of this program was not social welfare for big business,” Mr. Mnuchin said.

The Treasury secretary noted that banks had been encouraged to process the loans as quickly as possible and that the onus was on the borrowers to honestly assess whether they were eligible for the loans, which are meant for businesses with fewer than 500 workers.

“It’s really the fault of the borrowers,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “It’s the borrowers who have criminal liability if they made this certification and it’s not true.”

A slew of companies are reporting their quarterly earnings this week, offering a glimpse of how the coronavirus pandemic affected business in the first three months of the year and a prediction for what that damage will look like going forward.

  • PepsiCo reported strong earnings in the first quarter as consumers stocked up snacks and beverages for the Super Bowl and, later, the coronavirus quarantines. PepsiCo said net sales in the quarter rose 7.7 percent to $13.88 billion with its snack, beverages and food divisions all seeing robust sales. Other companies have suspended share buybacks or dividends to shareholders because of the effect of the pandemic, but PepsiCo said it intended to repurchase $2 billion in shares and provide $5.5 billion in dividends.

  • Southwest Airlines lost $94 million in the first quarter of the year, a relatively light blow in an industry ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. Still, the company ended the quarter with $4.2 billion in revenue, nearly 18 percent less than the same period last year. Southwest has more than $9 billion in cash and short-term investments, slightly more than Delta and well above the approximately $6 billion that United has in reserve.

  • BP said Tuesday that profit for the first quarter fell by two-thirds compared with a year earlier. The London-based oil giant said that “underlying replacement cost profit,” the metric most closely followed by analysts, was $791 million for the quarter, down from $2.36 billion a year earlier. The company reported a $4.4 billion loss for the period, mostly because of a $3.7 billion inventory loss on holdings of oil.

  • United Parcel Service reported $18 billion in revenue in the first quarter of the year, 5 percent more than in the same period last year. Still, earnings per share missed forecasts and the company warned that disrupted supply chains had taken a toll on its customers and withdrew its forecasts for the rest of the year.

  • Sales and profits increased at 3M in the first three months of the year as demand surged for face masks and other personal protective equipment. Global sales grew 21 percent in its health care division, while consumer sales went up 4.6 percent, the company said Tuesday. 3M said it would begin reporting sales every month, even as it withdrew full-year financial forecasts it had made in late January.

  • Harley-Davidson on Tuesday reported a steep drop in retail sales of motorcycles in the first quarter. In the United States, sales were up 6.6 percent until mid-March, and then ended the quarter 15.5 percent below the same period last year, the company said.

More public companies reveal millions in small-business loans.

In the past two days, more than 90 publicly traded companies have disclosed receiving $240 million in forgivable loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, the fund intended for small businesses with limited access to finance. Since the beginning of the month, some 250 publicly traded businesses have said that they received more than $1 billion from the rescue program, stoking anger among mom-and-pop firms struggling to tap the funds.

AutoNation, the largest car retailer in the United States, borrowed $77 million, which it had not disclosed in filings. It said over the weekend that it was returning the funds, and would have announced the loans in its next regularly scheduled financing filing.

Some companies that promptly disclosed loans are now disclosing that they are returning them, too. The telecom group IDT reported a $10 million loan on Friday, but released another filing on Monday saying that it would return the money “to make those funds available to other borrowers that may be in greater need.”

Another group isn’t yet sure what to do: The communications firm Aviat Networks disclosed on Monday that it had received almost $6 million in a loan, but is “evaluating new guidance” about whether to keep it.

When the University of California, San Francisco, was running perilously low on personal protective equipment, the university’s chancellor called Marc Benioff, the hyperconnected billionaire who is a founder and the chief executive of Salesforce.

The relative ease with which Salesforce acquired so much protective gear stands in sharp contrast to the often chaotic government efforts to secure it. And while the national stockpile of supplies has been depleted, Mr. Benioff and his team simply called their business partners in China and started writing checks.

Once it was apparent that the Salesforce team could obtain and deliver supplies, they took steps to formalize their efforts and set a lofty target.

By March 29, 10 days after the chancellor called Mr. Benioff, Salesforce had found more than 50 million pieces of protective equipment, with millions already delivered.

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