reality is only those delusions that we have in common...

Saturday, March 14, 2020

week ending Mar 14

 Fed to step up cash injections for banks to guard against market pressure --The New York Federal Reserve said Monday that it will increase the amount of money it is offering to banks for their short-term funding needs.As part of its continuing efforts to make sure the funding, or repo, markets are working properly, the central bank said it will up the amount it offers in overnight operations from $100 billion to $150 billion through Thursday. In addition, it will increase the two-week repo operation offerings from at least $20 billion to at least $45 billion.Repo operations involve banks posting high-quality collateral like Treasurys in exchange for operating cash.The moves come amid market tumult on Wall Street that has seen Treasury yields hit record lows amid cascading oil prices and a falling stock market.In its announcement, the Fed said the move is "intended to ensure that the supply of reserves remains ample and to mitigate the risk of money market pressures that could adversely affect policy implementation."However, the measure was met with immediate skepticism."This is a step in the right direction of providing additional liquidity to guard against money market / funding market pressures but it is a baby step – with only short-term changes, limited term funding and no global reach," said Krishna Guha, head of global policy and central bank policy strategy at Evercore ISI.Guha called for "much more" in terms of liquidity measures, including a formal extension of a $60 billion a month Treasury bill-buying program that could end in April. "We hope the Fed is just about to pull the trigger on these larger liquidity measures. If it is not we think market pressures will force the US central bank to do so within a short period of time. Either way we expect these measures to be in place this week and plausibly much sooner than that," Guha said in a note to clients.

 U.S. Repo, the Fed, Coronavirus, and Global Demand/Supply Shocks - Michael Schussele -  As I pointed out on March 3, the market noise of March 2nd when the Dow went down 5.09% on significantly lower volume was not the cause (the stock market is noise and not of data interest to the Fed) and I pointed to the repo spike on the morning of March 3rd of the one day U.S. Repo to $108.608 billion which was $8.608 billion more than the $100 billion Fed cap on one day repo.  On 2/28 U.S. Repo was only $26.240 billion and on 3/2 it doubled to $53.140.  On 3/4 the submitted amount was $111.478 leaving $11.478 billion not accepted over the $100 billion Fed cap.  3/5 went down to $87.357 billion; 3/6 was $89.607 billion; and 3/9 was $112.932 billion, all of which was accepted because the Fed raised their cap to $150 billion through 3/12.  In comparison the significant 2019 repo market stress, which was very disruptive, began on September 17, 2019 at $53.150 billion and never went over $90 billion on any one day through November, 2019. The 14 day repo has been capped at $20 billion and on 3/3 $50.950 billion was not accepted and on 3/5 $52.550 billion was not accepted, but on 3/9 the Fed raised the cap to only $45 billion through 3/12. You can find recent repo operations here and you can do an historical search here.  Tim Duy, who had correctly called the 50 basis points cut, correctlynotes the market will not be satisfied, but believes early action by the Fed will help short circuit recessionary dynamics and allow the Fed to squeeze through without returning to the zero bound.  However, Stephen Williamson expressed concern, as I did on March 4, that the potential gains of the Fed cut were too small and the potential costs too large and the Fed should have waited for more data or cut less aggressively. Both economists indicate that fiscal stimulus from the Federal government is needed as the Fed cannot do it alone though monetary policy. Williamson is also not supportive of the Fed continuing to buy $60 billion in treasuries each month if the market is seeking safe assets and the Fed could sell treasuries exchanging treasuries for cash in its assets and reserves. However, the Federal Reserve has a model of a supply of ample reserves in the implementation of monetary policy.  Keep your eye on the daily U.S. repo operations.  If it keeps moving up, much less continuing at the high submissions seen this March, you will probably see another Federal Funds Rate cut at the March 17-18 meeting --- maybe sooner.  The Fed needs to maintain liquidity and has demonstrated with the 50 basis points cut it is ready to act strongly.  The market wants a 75 basis points cut, but the market is noise (not data driven but reactive to data) and, like a two year old child, is never satisfied (want want want).  Some economists want a 1% cut or cut to zero, but such a preemptive strike is, in my opinion, very risky;  I want to the Fed waiting for the data and saving ammunition to deploy if a recession appears more likely as the risks evolve in the current demand and possible supply shocks.

 Funding Freeze Getting Worse- Dealers Demand Record $216BN In Liquidity From Fed Repo - Yesterday, when showing the sudden spike in the FRA/OIS spread - a key gauge of banking-sector risk which measures dollar shortages - we warned that liquidity in the market is virtually nil quoting a host of traders who confirmed that it was next to impossible to trade without disruptions, while more ominously, the interbank plumbing appeared to be getting clogged up agian. Moments ago we got confirmation when the Fed reported that one day after it expanded its repo operations, there was a record demand for Fed liquidity in both the term and repo operations. With the term repo expanded from $20BN to $45BN and the overnight repo ceiling also raised from $100 to $150BN, moments ago the Fed announced that it had received the most liquidity demand on record, as Dealers indicated some $93BN in term repo submissions (which thanks to the expanded facility size meant that the oversubscription dropped from a record 3.6x to 2.1x)... ... alongside a fully allotted $123.625BN in overnight repo (out of $150BN eligible)... ... for a total of $216BN in indicated liquidity. Of this, $168BN in liquidity was released between the overnight and fully-alloted $45BN term repo facility.

 Fed pledges more than $500 billion to keep funding markets calm  - The Federal Reserve is trying to get ahead of possible funding disruptions caused by the coronavirus, ramping up cash injections in the coming weeks to as much as $505 billion in a bid to keep short-term financing markets functioning smoothly through quarter-end. The central bank’s New York branch said Wednesday that it would conduct additional repurchase-agreement operations that could take its support for this crucial corner of the financial markets beyond the total of $490 billion it offered over year-end. Policymakers are trying to avert a repeat of September, when short-term borrowing costs spiked amid imbalances in the supply and demand for cash. The Fed’s announcement covers operations starting Thursday, and comes as stocks are plummeting on concern about the damage to the economy from the viral outbreak, which the World Health Organization is now calling a pandemic. Turbulence in Treasuries, where yields sank to record lows this week, may have played into the Fed’s approach. Volatility in spreads between the cheapest-to-deliver Treasury securities and their associated futures contracts appeared to draw a response from regulators, analysts said. On Monday, the New York Fed unexpectedly increased the size of this week’s repo offerings to $150 billion for the overnight action and $45 billion for the term as financial markets convulsed, up from $100 billion and $20 billion, respectively. The Fed now plans to offer 14-day term repo operations twice a week through April 9 of at least $45 billion. It will also conduct three one-month actions of at least $50 billion beginning Thursday. The bank also boosted its overnight offering to $175 billion daily through April 13. The Fed has been conducting repo offerings and Treasury-bill purchases in a bid to keep control of short-term rates and bolster bank reserves. The efforts have calmed markets since September, when overnight repo rates soared as high as 10%, and also helped quell concern about a potential cash crunch at the end of 2019. The overnight rate was around 1.21% Wednesday afternoon, within the Fed’s target range of 1% to 1.25%.

Liquidity Getting Worse By The Day- Fed Injects Record $132 Billion With Overnight Repo - Mot much new to report this morning regarding the daily Fed' repo operations that we didn't already cover extensively yesterday in "Funding Freeze Getting Worse: Dealers Demand Record $216BN In Liquidity From Fed Repo", except to note that while we wait for tomorrow's upsized term repo operation, today's overnight repo, which as a reminder was recently upsized from $100BN to $150BN... ... saw the highest amount of both bids and accepted securities since the central bank resumed the offerings in September as the liquidity crisis is clearly getting worse by the day. Specifically, dealers submitted $132.375BN of bids at 1.10% vs a maximum of $150b, which was not only up from Tuesday’s total bids of $124BN, but also the highest in overnight repo history!   The growing funding panic also meant that general collateral has continued to rise, and after dropping to 1.10%, in line with last week's Fed emergency rate cut, overnight GC has pushed higher, and last traded at 1.23%/1.18% as dealers are once again scrambling for liquidity anywhere they As this latest data merely confirms that the liquidity crisis is getting worse, we have nothing new to add to our conclusion from yesterday so we will just repost it here: As we pointed out last week, this continuing liquidity crunch is not only bizarre, but increasingly concerning, as it means that not only did the rate cut not unlock additional funding, it actually made the problem worse, and now banks and dealers are telegraphing that they need not only more repo buffer but likely an expansion of QE... which will come soon enough, once the Fed funds hits 0% in a few days and is forced to restart bond buying to prevent the next crash. Will that be enough to stabilize the market? We don't know, but in light of the imminent corona-recession, on Tuesday Credit Suisse's Zoltan Pozsar repo guru published a lengthy piece whose conclusion - at least on the liquidity front - is that the Fed should "combine rate cuts with open liquidity lines that include a pledge to use the swap lines, an uncapped repo facility and QE if necessary."

Fed announces $1.5 trillion in capital injections to combat coronavirus fallout and 'highly unusual disruptions' - The Federal Reserve Bank of New York will start adding fresh capital to money markets on Thursday to pad against coronavirus risks and ease stresses on the Treasury-bill market. The extraordinary funding measure first involves a $500 billion injection at 1:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, the bank said. The cash will be added to money markets through a three-month market repurchase agreement, or repo operation. One-month and three-month repos for $500 billion each will be conducted on Friday and continue to be offered weekly through the calendar month, the bank added. The central bank said it would also expand its $60 billion reserve-management purchases to buy up "a range of maturities" roughly matching that seen in Treasury assets outstanding. Securities targeted include Treasury bills, floating-rate notes, and nominal coupons. The first such purchase will begin Friday, the bank said. The Fed's previously scheduled daily overnight and two-week repos will still take place through the end of the week, adding as much as $220 billion to money markets. The massive stimulus measure was made in accordance with the Federal Open Market Committee and in response to unprecedented liquidity issues in the Treasury-bond market, the New York Fed said. "These changes are being made to address highly unusual disruptions in Treasury financing markets associated with the coronavirus outbreak," the bank said. The announcement fueled a sharp uptick in the ailing stock market on Thursday afternoon. Stocks sat more than 8% lower before the Fed's statement pared some losses. By the end of the central bank's Thursday operation, the Fed's balance sheet will have reached an all-time high. The magnitude of the Fed's new liquidity measures signals a "full-blown crisis response operation," Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in an emailed statement.  The FOMC is likely to slash its interest rate by 50 basis points at its meeting next week to further ease money-market stresses before the federal government issues its own aid, he added. "Now it's up to Congress to fire the fiscal bazooka, the bigger and quicker the better," Shepherdson said.

Bazooka Fired: Fed Unleashes $1.5 Trillion Repo Bailout, Expands "Not QE" To QE5 -  -After increases in its repo facility twice already this week, from $100billion to $150billion to $175billion per day, and adding added a new 1-month term repo facility, the New York Fed just stunned the market and fired its biggest bazooka since Lehman (not coincidentally, just moments before today's 30Y Treasury auction, as a failed auction would mean, well, game over), by announcing a total of $1 trillion in 3-month repos over two days ($500BN today, $500BN tomorrow), as well as an additional $500BN in one-month repos offered weekly,which means up to $3 trillion in cumulative repos (if fully allotted) may be online by the end of the month.  But wait, there's more, because the fed also finally threw in the towel on the semantics bullshit it was pulling since Sept 2019 by pretending that "QE" is "NOT QE", when it officially expanded not-QE/QE4 to Q5, when it announced it would start purchasing coupon Treasuries as part of its POMO operations, which as a reminder, was the official trigger transforming Not QE into QE . For some context of how that compares to what they have been doing, assuming full allotment on the 2 $500BN repos... from the NYFed:

    • As a part of its $60 billion reserve management purchases for the monthly period beginning March 13, 2020 and continuing through April 13, 2020, the Desk will conduct purchases across a range of maturities to roughly match the maturity composition of Treasury securities outstanding.  Specifically, the Desk plans to distribute reserve management purchases across eleven sectors, including nominal coupons, bills, Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, and Floating Rate Notes. The distribution of purchases across sectors will be the same distribution as the Desk uses to reinvest principal payments from the Federal Reserve’s holdings of agency debt and agency MBS in Treasury securities.  The first such purchases will begin tomorrow, March 13, 2020.
    • Today, March 12, 2020, the Desk will offer $500 billion in a three-month repo operation at 1:30 pm ET that will settle on March 13, 2020.
    • Tomorrow, the Desk will further offer $500 billion in a three-month repo operation and $500 billion in a one-month repo operation for same day settlement.
    • Three-month and one-month repo operations for $500 billion will be offered on a weekly basis for the remainder of the monthly schedule.
    • The Desk will continue to offer at least $175 billion in daily overnight repo operations and at least $45 billion in two-week term repo operations twice per week over this period.

These changes are being made to address highly unusual disruptions in Treasury financing markets associated with the coronavirus outbreak. Reserve management purchases into the second quarter will continue to be conducted with this maturity allocation. The terms of operations will be adjusted as needed to foster smooth Treasury market functioning and efficient and effective policy implementation. Finally, for those looking forward to the official return of QE, i.e., the monetization of coupons in addition to Bills, here is the Fed's full monetization schedule.

NY Fed boosts purchases of Treasurys to try to calm markets (AP) — The Federal Reserve moved Thursday to try to ease disruptions in the financial markets stemming from the coronavirus by announcing that it will sharply increase its purchases of short-term Treasury bonds. The Fed said it's making available at least $2 trillion in short-term lending as a way to ensure that the Treasury market can function smoothly. It's also broadening its ongoing $60 billion-a-month purchases of Treasurys to include longer-term bonds. Initially, the Fed's actions led the stock market to sharply pare its deep losses, before share prices fell back down. By mid-afternoon, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was still off more than 8%. Likewise, the announcement caused Treasury yields to fall before they rose back up again. The reaction in the markets suggested little faith that the Fed's moves would do much to restore the confidence of investors and consumers in the face of travel disruptions, event cancellations and business closures. Thursday's central bank action, being led by the New York Fed, is intended to keep credit markets functioning and ensure that banks can continue to provide loans to businesses and other borrowers across the economy. “The New York Fed fired its bazooka,” said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics. The action follows signs of stress in the bond market. On Wednesday when the stock market plunged, bond yields actually rose. Typically, in circumstances like this, the two would move together: Investors would move en masse into the bond market, driving down bond yields as bond prices rose. The disjointed move in prices likely signals a lack of liquidity in the bond market. That means there are too few buyers or sellers, causing prices to move violently and make prices less easy to pinpoint. “There are massive concerns out there," said Tom di Galoma with Seaport Global Holdings. "Market-making is under severe pressure. This is beyond the market’s current capabilities.” In a note to investors, analysts at Bank of America said that the U.S. bond market has “materially deteriorated over recent days” and now “requires a rapid and large near-term policy response from the U.S. treasury or Federal Reserve.” Earlier in the day, the European Central Bank deployed targeted new stimulus measures to cushion the shock to the economy from the virus outbreak. The ECB's president said, though, that monetary policy couldn't do it alone and called for a "decisive and determined” response from governments.

Fed unveils dramatic measures to ease market strain from virus  --The Federal Reserve took aggressive steps Thursday to ease what it called “temporary disruptions” in Treasuries, flooding the market with liquidity and widening its purchases of U.S. government securities in a measure that recalls the quantitative easing it used during the financial crisis.The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said in a statement that the “changes are being made to address highly unusual disruptions in Treasury financing markets associated with the coronavirus outbreak” and had been done at the direction of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell in consultation with the Federal Open Market Committee. Under the Fed’s existing program to buy $60 billion a month in securities, the purchases will be widened to include coupon-bearing notes across a range of maturities to match the maturity composition of the Treasury market, it said.Treasuries resumed rising and stocks pared losses after the surprise announcement, made about 10 minutes before the bidding deadline for $16 billion auction of new 30-year bonds. The current 30-year yield quickly shed about 10 basis points to 1.25% ahead of the auction as investors absorbed the Fed’s muscular move.“This is a full-blown crisis response operation, intended to make it abundantly clear that the Fed will not allow liquidity to dry up,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics. “We expect the Fed to purchase $60 billion of securities across the spectrum for the foreseeable future: QE4 is here.” In addition, the New York Fed offered $500 billion in a three-month repo operation and said it would repeat the exercise tomorrow, along with another $500 billion in a one-month operation, and continue on a weekly basis for the rest of the monthly calendar. This adds a massive jolt of liquidity to financial markets that will also expand the Fed’s balance sheet for the duration of the operations. The Fed has been under increasing pressure to act as investors lost faith the U.S. government’s ability to quickly produce a coherent policy response after President Donald Trump addressed the nation Wednesday with few details on fiscal stimulus plans but restrictions on travel from Europe to the U.S. that deepened the sense of alarm.

Federal Reserve Announces Unprecedented $1.5 Trillion in Loans to Wall Street Today and Tomorrow -- Pam Martens - Making the most unprecedented announcement in the history of Wall Street, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York announced today that it will be offering $500 billion in 3-month repo loans to its primary dealers (Wall Street trading firms) today at 1:30 p.m. That $500 billion comes on top of the $198.10 billion the New York Fed loaned the street in its morning repo operations.Tomorrow, the New York Fed said it will offer its primary dealers another $500 billion in a 3-month loan and another $500 billion in a one-month loan, bringing the two-day total to potentially more than $1.7 trillion being offered at super low interest rates. (The Fed will also offer its regular one-day loan of $175 billion tomorrow.)These are staggering, unprecedented sums being offered by the Fed while it simultaneously claims that the Wall Street banks have adequate capital. The fact that the Dow was down another 2,000 points this morning and the stock market was locked, limit down, shortly after the opening bell certainly played a role in the decision. (The New York Stock Exchange suspends all trading for 15 minutes when the S&P 500 Index drops 7 percent, which it did shortly after the opening bell at 9:30 a.m. today.)To prop up the stock market further, the Fed announcement indicated that the $500 billion in 3-month loans and $500 billion in one-month loans will be offered weekly “for the remainder of the monthly schedule.” That means $1 trillion a week will be available at below-market interest rates. That will be on top of the $175 billion the Fed is offering daily in one-day loans and the $45 billion it is offering each Tuesday and Thursday in 14-day loans. This is a dramatic expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet to support Wall Street — all without one vote, or debate, or hearing occurring in Congress.In addition, the Fed announced that its $60 billion purchase of Treasury bills (up to a one-year maturity) will now be expanded to include “purchases across a range of maturities to roughly match the maturity composition of Treasury securities outstanding.”The Fed said that its Open Market Desk plans to make “purchases across eleven sectors, including nominal coupons, bills, Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, and Floating Rate Notes. The distribution of purchases across sectors will be the same distribution as the Desk uses to reinvest principal payments from the Federal Reserve’s holdings of agency debt and agency MBS in Treasury securities.” The Fed has, in other words, officially launched its second bailout of Wall Street since 2008 and QE4.

NY Fed Announces Emergency QE, Will Buy $33BN In Bonds; Yields Tumble - US Treasury yields are plunging after The Fed announced what amounts to 'Emergency QE' to buy $33 billion in bonds at maturities up to 30 Years... 10Y yields have plunged 16bps on the headline... And 30Y yields are now down 3bps on the day, after being up 35bps overnight... FRBNY Statement Details: The Desk will conduct purchases in each of five maturity sectors below at the times indicated, subject to reasonable prices.

  • 20 to 30 year sector at 10:30 – 10:45 am and 2:15 to 2:45 pm for around $4 billion each
  • 7 to 20 year sector at 11:15 – 11:30 am  for around $5 billion
  • 4.5 to 7 year sector at 12:00 – 12:15 pm for around $8 billion
  • 2.25 to 4.5 year sector at 12:45 – 1:00 pm for around $8 billion
  • 0 to 2.25 year sector at 1:30 – 1:45 pm for around $8 billion

These purchases are intended to address highly unusual disruptions in the market for Treasury securities associated with the coronavirus outbreak.  These purchases are part of the $80 billion of planned monthly purchases, including both $60 billion of reserve management purchases and $20 billion of reinvestments of principal payments received from the Federal Reserve’s holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities.

Watching U.S. Repo, Liquidity, and the Fed - Michael Schussele - As I detailed at length in my last post, U.S. Repo, the Fed, Coronavirus, and Global Demand/Supply Shocks, overnight repo submissions have continued to increase to $123.625 billion on 3/10 and $132,375 billion on 3/11.  As a result the Fed on 3/11/2020 has increased the overnight repo daily funding cap to $175 billion through April 13 to provide the liquidity to ease pressures on funding markets and adequate reserves in the banking system.  Besides offering 14 day repo on Tuesday and Thursday of each week capped at $45 billion each offering,  the Fed will also offer three one month offerings capped at $50 billion each starting Thursday 3/12. With the continued daily increases in repo submissions and the evolving risks in the global economy, this increase in repo operations was to be expected and shows the commitment of the Fed. Meanwhile, Italy has shuttered all shops except suppermarkets, food stores, and pharmacies in its nationwide lockdown, India has suspendedall tourist visas, and, in a Presidential Oval Office meesage to the nation, President Trump announced he would seek to provide aid to affected workers and small businesses, deferred taxes for certain affected individuals and businesses, restrict travel form Europe for thirty dayswhile not offering any additional stimulus and support for health care during this coronavirus pandemic.  The Oval Office message has not been well received as Asian and European markets have significantly tanked and the U. S. Dow futures show tthe Dow is set to fall 1195 points on opening as I write this. With reduced global travel, businesses telling workers to work at home, universities sending students home, states, cities, and athletic leagues (NBA suspended its season) limiting public gatherings in the United States (which was 4-6 weeks too slow in preparing and responding to the coronavirus infection), the U.S. and global economy is shutting down.  Consequently, as I detailed in my last post, the recessionary pressures on the U.S. economy is obviously increasing.

The entire US yield curve plunged below 1% for the first time ever. Here's why that's a big red flag for investors. Investors plowed cash into US government bonds on Monday as they braced for the global economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak and a brutal oil-price war after Saudi Arabia and Russia failed to agree on output cuts. Surging demand drove up the price of US Treasuries, dragging down their yields and sending the entire yield curve below 1% for the first time ever. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury touched a record low of less than 0.4%, while the 30-year Treasury yield slid below 1% — an unprecedented event. The falling curve underscores the worsening outlook for the world economy. "It signals the market is worried about a global recession and aggressive monetary easing by the Fed," Neil Wilson, the chief market analyst for, told Business Insider in an email on Monday. "It will eventually settle down, and the real risk is when rates snap back," he added. The fall in bond yields is a product of investors fleeing volatile markets and seeking shelter in government bonds. They sold off oil and ditched stocks, commodities such as silver and soybeans, and even cryptocurrencies on Monday as they worried about the coronavirus outbreak hitting global demand and an oil-supply glut. Moreover, the fact that investors are willing to buy bonds offering record-low yields underlines how worried they are about a global slowdown and a wide sell-off of higher-risk assets. When interest rates fall, bond prices tend to rise — driving down yields — as investors chase a better return by moving money into government bonds instead of keeping their cash in the bank and collecting paltry interest. The scale of the latest yield declines suggests that investors expect the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates again. The US central bank last week made an emergency interest-rate cut of 50 basis points to shore up the economy against the coronavirus outbreak.  Indeed, futures signaled that investors put the odds of another cut this month at 100%, according to Reuters. With rates already at 1% to 1.25%, the Fed has little scope for further cuts before they hit zero. Against that backdrop, a 30-year Treasury yield of about 0.9% starts to look enticing.

Going on Recession Watch – McBride -  I'm not forecasting a recession, just moving to Recession Watch for the first time since 2006.   In early 2007, I moved from Recession Watch to forecasting a recession that started in December 2007. As I noted in Predicting the Next Recession, the usual leading indicators are not useful if there is "a pandemic, significant military conflict, disruption of energy supplies for any reason, a major natural disaster (meteor strike, super volcano, etc), and a number of other low probability reasons".  The reason I'm moving to Recession Watch now is a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the response to the pandemic of the current administration. Leadership is key in a crisis.   Information should be clear, transparent, and accurate.   Action should be proactive. Usually the CDC leads the world in responding to a health crisis. However, the CDC was caught flat-footed this time.   Testing for COVID-19 should already be ubiquitous and free for all (not just those with insurance).    It appears testing will increase dramatically over the next several weeks, but the administration still needs to make testing free for all (otherwise the uninsured will avoid the test and spread the disease). And the administration should have fiscal policies ready to go to address the economic impact of the health crisis. Here are my suggestions: Fiscal Policies to Address COVID-19. There is news out this morning that White House advisers will have a list of policy options for Mr. Trump today. My sense is the administration will slow track a fiscal response and try to embrace ineffective policies. For example, enacting corporate tax cuts would be bad policy - it would take many months to have an impact, and the cuts would target the wrong segment of the economy. Before predicting a recession, we need to see how this unfolds.  Perhaps COVID-19 will be seasonal like the flu and the economy will bounce back in the Summer.  If that is the case, we will have time to prepare for a probable resurgence of the disease in the Fall.    But that is a thin thread to pin our hopes.

 Deficit hits $624 billion, outpacing last year --The 2020 federal deficit for the fiscal year spiked to $624 billion through February, surpassing the entire annual deficit of 2016 in just five months.New data from the Treasury Department showed that the deficit for February alone stood at an astonishing $235 billion, as spending Social Security, defense, social and health programs outweighed the trickle of tax income from payroll taxes and individual taxes. The deficit was 15 percent higher than it was at the same point last year. Part of that increase appeared related to the timing of certain large, federal payments.“Outlays during the first five months of this year were boosted by shifts in the timing of certain payments that otherwise would have been due on March 1, which fell on a weekend,” an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office noted in a preview of the deficit data.“Those shifts increased outlays through February by $52 billion; without them, the outlay increase would have been 6 percent and the deficit for the first five months of 2020 would have been $572 billion, roughly $28 billion larger, rather than $80 billion larger, than the amount for the same period last year,” it found in its analysis. Even with those shifts taken into account, however, the deficit is clearly rising. Since President Trump came to office, it has grown markedly due to a combination of tax cuts and increased spending on both defense and domestic priorities. Demographic pressures are also pushing up the deficit, as the baby boomer generation retires from the workforce.  The deficit is expected to surpass $1 trillion in 2020 for the only time since the four-year stretch following the financial crisis.

New court documents explain reasoning behind JEDI stop-work order - The federal judge handling the bid protest lawsuit over DoD’s multibillion dollar JEDI Cloud contract found that the Pentagon treated Amazon Web Services unfairly when it awarded the multibillion dollar contract to Microsoft, and that Microsoft’s bid included a technical approach that was not allowed under the terms of the contract.The additional details in the case came via newly-unsealed court documents Friday afternoon. They explain Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith’s rationale for the order she issued last month that temporarily blocked DoD and Microsoft from getting to work on the JEDI contract.And they show that out of a long list of allegations Amazon has made in its lawsuit, the ruling came down to the relatively mundane sorts of procurement law issues that dominate federal bid protests. Amazon’s headline-grabbingallegations of improper interference by President Donald Trump, for instance, are not mentioned at all.Instead, the judge found that DoD allowed Microsoft to get by with a solution to data storage that shouldn’t have been allowed under the JEDI solicitation’s terms. The exact details of the storage approach Microsoft proposed are redacted from the newly-released order and from other court filings. But the court found they did not comply with a provision in DoD’s request for proposals that required information stored in JEDI’s “Cloud data warehouse” to be “online” and “highly accessible” to JEDI users “without human intervention.”

Like a Ball of Fire -- At​ the end of last year the Russian military announced that it had deployed a revolutionary weapon, designed to give Russia a decisive advantage in the strategic nuclear arms race. Avangard, as the new system is called, is a ‘hypersonic glide’ missile. Unlike traditional Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, which follow a fixed and predictable trajectory, arcing up as high as 1200 miles into space and re-entering the atmosphere at around 15,000 miles an hour before plunging down to their target, the Avangard glider is launched by an ICBM booster on a much lower trajectory to skirt the edge of the atmosphere, between 25 and 60 miles up. It then separates and shoots through the upper atmosphere at about 7000 miles per hour while manoeuvring on an unpredictable course toward its distant target.   Vladimir Putin boasted that it was ‘absolutely invulnerable to any air or missile defence system’ – ‘It flies to its target like a meteorite, like a ball of fire’ – and treated the audience to a short video animation depicting the weapon zigzagging around the globe before striking Florida.  Putin’s bellicose claim drew alarmed and unquestioning attention in the West.  Across the military-industrial complex, the money trees were shaken, showering dollars on eager recipients. A complaisant Congress poured money into programmes to develop all-new missile defences against the new threat, as well as programmes to build offensive hypersonic weapons to close the ‘technology gap’. The sums allocated for defensive initiatives alone exceeded $10 billion in the 2020 Pentagon budget, including $108 million in seed money for a ‘Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor’ – an as-yet undesigned array of low-orbit satellites that would detect and track Russia’s weapons. Last September, Marillyn Hewson, the CEO of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms manufacturer, hefted a golden shovel to break ground in Courtland, Alabama, on new facilities to develop, test and produce a variety of hypersonic weapons. By then Lockheed already had more than $3.5 billion of hypersonic contracts in hand. Excitement was running high.  Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defence for research and engineering, a hypersonics enthusiast, has spoken of the need for ‘maybe thousands’ of hypersonic weapons. ‘This takes us back to the Cold War,’ he announced cheerfully, ‘where at one point we had thirty thousand nuclear warheads and missiles to launch them’.

The Growing Threat of Nuclear War With Russia - America's Flexible First-Use of Nuclear Weapons --A recent Senate Armed Services Committee meeting revealed a fascinating aspect of America's evolving use of nuclear weapons.  The meeting which is shown in its entirety here heard from General Tod Wolters, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and Commander, U.S. European Command, among others.   Four star General Wolters assumed his duties in Europe on May 2, 2019 as shown hereHere is the announcement of the meeting from the Senate Armed Services Committee website: Now let's look at the key exchange which you can find at the 39 minute mark:

  • Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) - Can you tell us a bit about what you are hearing from our NATO partners when it comes to the detrerrent in private conversations, if you can share that, but also in public, the support that you see?
  • General Wolters - Senator, there is a greater degree of awareness of the importance of deterrence.  As we look at the success NATO has had the last seven decades to deliver peace, one of the elements has to be the triad that exists from the United States and its representation to nuclear deterrence on the Euorpeoan continent.  It has been very effect and the nations understand more and more about that with each passing day as a result of embracing deterrence to a greater degree than we have in the past.
  • […]
  • Senator Fisher - What are your view, sir, on adopting a so-called no first-use policy?  Do you believe that would strengthen deterrence?
  • General Wolters - Senator.  I am a fan of flexible first-use policy.

Flexible first-use policy.  In other words, General Wolters is a fan of using nuclear weapons before Russia has a chance to use theirs, an option that Washington has long favoured since it believes that a nuclear war is winnable.    While the vast majority of the world is completely unaware of this key admission by the man in charge of America's forces and nuclear weapons stockpile in Europe, it did not go unnoticed by Russia as shown here in this report from RT:

  House passes measure limiting Trump's ability to take military action against Iran The House has passed a resolution aimed at constraining President Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran, sending it to the president’s desk for his expected veto. In a largely party-line 227-186 vote, the House approved the resolution that would direct the president to “terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against” Iran unless Congress specifically authorizes it. Six Republicans voted for the measure. The Senate passed the resolution in a 55-45 vote last month, with eight Republicans siding with Democrats to support it. Neither chamber of Congress is expected to have the votes to override Trump’s likely veto. The passage of the resolution comes after tensions with Iran spiked earlier this year to the point where Washington and Iran appeared to be on the brink of war. U.S.-Iran tensions have risen since Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions. But hostility skyrocketed in early January with a U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iran responded with a rocket attack on two military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops. More than 100 U.S. troops were later diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries caused by the attack. Since the strikes, both sides have stepped back from the brink. But just before the House started voting Wednesday, the U.S. military confirmed that 15 rockets hit Camp Taji in Iraq, and several reports said that two U.S. troops and a British service member were killed. Officials have not placed blame for the attack, but suspicion immediately fell on Iran-backed militias that operate in Iraq.

Judge orders Chelsea Manning released from jail - (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday ordered the release of former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who has been incarcerated since May for refusing to testify to a grand jury.  U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga ordered Manning’s release from jail after prosecutors reported that the grand jury that subpoenaed her has disbanded. The judge left in place more than $256,000 in fines he imposed for her refusal to testify to the grand jury, which is investigating WikiLeaks. The fines had been accumulating at a rate of $1,000 a day. A hearing in the case that had been scheduled for Friday has now been canceled. Manning had argued that she had shown through her prolonged stay at the Alexandria jail that she proved she could not be coerced into testifying and therefore should be released.On Wednesday her lawyers said she attempted suicide while in jail.Manning was held since May for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Wikileaks. She spent an additional two months in jail earlier in 2019 for refusing to testify to a separate grand jury.She could have faced nearly six more months of jail time if the grand jury had continued its work. The civil contempt citation was designed to coerce her testimony.Federal prosecutors had maintained that Manning can easily effect her own release by complying with the grand jury subpoena. They said she had the same duty to provide testimony that all citizens face. Under federal law, a recalcitrant witness can only be jailed for civil contempt if there is a reasonable belief that incarceration will coerce the witness into testifying. If the jail time has no coercive effect and is purely punitive, the recalcitrant witness is supposed to be released. Manning has said she believes grand juries in general are an abuse of power and that she would rather starve to death than testify. Judge Trenga, in sending Manning to jail, said there was no dishonor in testifying to grand juries, which are referenced specifically in the U.S. Constitution, and that he hoped time in jail would allow Manning to reflect on that. Manning had previously spent seven years in a military prison for delivering a trove of classified information to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is under indictment at the Alexandria courthouse and is fighting extradition to the U.S.. Manning’s 35-year sentence was then commuted by then-President Barack Obama.

Kushner: US to approve annexation if Palestinians don't negotiate - Despite a refusal by the Palestinians to be involved in any negotiations and a lack of government in Israel, US President Donald Trump's administration will push forward with the "Deal of the Century" peace plan, including giving White House approval to Israeli annexation, senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner told US senators in a closed-room meeting last Wednesday, Channel 13's diplomatic correspondent reported through Axios. The news comes just following Israel's third election within a year, which has seen the country still divided as no clear winner has emerged from the political deadlock. Despite this, it seems the Trump administration feels both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief political rival, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, will both support the annexation. Though US and Israeli officials met in Jerusalem two weeks ago to discuss which areas of the West Bank over which the Trump administration is ready to recognize the application of Israeli sovereignty, Kushner has stated that the overall demarcation process will take months. In the meantime, he urged the Palestinians to start negotiating, saying that they could improve their position through negotiations, but they only have themselves to blame if it goes ahead without their approval, the Axios report stated. The Palestinians have stated their refusal to accept the Trump administration's peace plan well before the plan was even unveiled, and since then have refused to budge on the issue. In addition, the Palestinian Authority has been cracking down on any perceived efforts of "normalization" of ties with Israel in the months since the plan was unveiled.According to Kushner, who presented the senators with the same presentation used at a UN Security Council meeting in February, the situation has become increasingly worsened due to two specific factors: Increasing expansion efforts by Israel in the West Bank, and the increasing dependence of Palestinian leaders on foreign aid. “Kushner’s message was that every time negotiations failed, the Palestinians got more money and Israel was able to keep expanding the settlements, but the peace process became a false notion and didn’t solve anything. Both parties' leaderships just kept getting what they want without improving the lives of the people."

Democrats introduce bill to guarantee paid sick leave in response to coronavirus -Democrats in the House and Senate introduced legislation Friday that would require all employers to grant workers paid sick days in light of the global coronavirus spread. The bill unveiled by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) would mandate all employers to let workers accrue seven days of paid sick leave and immediately provide 14 additional days when there is a public health emergency. Health authorities have been encouraging Americans to stay home if they feel sick to help prevent potential spread of the coronavirus, but the lack of a federal guarantee for paid leave has raised concerns that some workers — especially in the service and restaurant industries — might not be able to follow those guidelines. “The lack of paid sick days could make coronavirus harder to contain in the United States compared with other countries that have universal sick leave policies in place,” DeLauro, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing federal health agencies, said in a statement. "Low-income workers and their families could be hit even harder by the virus, as low wage jobs are at the forefront of not providing sick leave benefits." The two Democrats expressed concern that given the choice between staying home sick and going unpaid, low-wage workers would still show up to work, potentially spreading the virus in their communities. “Workers want to do the right thing for themselves, their families, and their communities — so especially in the middle of public health crises like this, staying home sick shouldn’t have to mean losing a paycheck or a job," Murray said. DeLauro's and Murray's bills would also ensure that paid sick leave can be used in a public health emergency for taking care of children if schools are closed or if a worker or family member is quarantined. The U.S. is one of the only industrialized countries in the world that does not have national requirements for paid sick leave.

Fiscal Policies to Address COVID-19 – Mcbride - Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said on Meet the Press this morning:"early on, there were some missteps" … "But right now I believe 1.1 million tests have already been sent out. By Monday there’ll be an additional 400,000." See the entire interview with Dr. Fauci here: Fauci: Those 'vulnerable' to coronavirus should limit travel and crowd exposure (second video is full interview). Listen to his comments on testing! (first couple of minutes).  Dr. Fauci is transparent, honest and factual. Test kits are just one part of the equation on testing.   We also need testing capacity.   Tests need to be ubiquitous, and free for all. Medicare is already paying for the tests, and most insurance companies have said they will pay for the tests. The Federal Government needs to step up and pay for the tests for the uninsured (with no citizenship requirement).Currently qualifying for a test is too restrictive (due to the lack of test kits and capacity).   It should be easy to qualify (those that have symptoms, or close contact with someone with COVID-19, or healthcare workers and first responders, or staff at retirement communities and those that frequent those communities should all be able to obtain tests on demand). On fiscal policy:
1) The Federal Government should immediately announce that tests are free for the uninsured.
2) For those that test positive (but don't need hospitalization), the experts should determine how to isolate them. If their employers will not pay for their time off, then the government should pay. We don't want people avoiding tests because of the costs or the fear of lost income.
3) Sick people should not go to work.  If the company does not pay for sick leave, the Government could have a program of sharing part of the sick leave (say 50% with the company).   This is important for part time workers.  Companies like Trader Joe's have already announced that part time employees can take sick leave.
4) We need to proactively expand unemployment insurance. (Note: There would be triggers for this program, so if we get lucky, and COVID-19 is seasonal, then this program would have minimal fiscal impact.) The idea is to increase the amount paid (based on various triggers) and to include parents with school closures (to help with child care).
4a) Based on certain triggers, the Federal Government would pay an additional 60% of whatever the state is paying for unemployment insurance (if the state is paying $300 per week, the Federal government would add $180 per week). (Note: The 60% is just an arbitrary number).   The requirement that people are looking for work would be waived (this is not a financial issue - it is a health issue)
4b) On school closures, the Federal Government would pay a parent both the state share and the 60% extra.   School closures are easy to verify.   There should be a "reduction in hours" clause, so a person can keep working during a school closure, and still receive some benefits.
4c) There should be a provision to extend the benefits (entirely paid by the Federal government) if the crisis is still ongoing.

Trump administration overrode CDC recommendation that elderly, at-risk populations not fly: AP  --The White House this week batted down a recommendation from health officials that elderly people and those who are “physically fragile” not fly on commercial airplanes, an unnamed official with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.  The AP reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) submitted a plan this week with the recommendation as a way to control the spread of the virus. However, administration officials reportedly ordered that particular provision of the plan be removed, according to the federal official. The Trump administration has since then suggested that those who are most susceptible to the virus not travel but, according the news source, has “stopped short of stronger guidance” laid out by the CDC. The official in question spoke to the AP on condition of  anonymity, as they were not authorized to speak about the matter. The federal official’s revelation comes as the disease continues to spread across the country, with cases now confirmed in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.The news also comes as Vice President Pence on Saturday spoke after meeting with representatives from the cruise ship industry, a section of the travel industry that has been in the news most recently due to the outbreak. The vice president was assigned as leader of the administration’s coronavirus task force and is in charge of messaging and media relations concerning the status of the virus response.  Pence reportedly "narrowed" his focus when he spoke about precautions for certain populations, noting that "older people with serious health problems" should "practice common sense and avoid activities including traveling on a cruise line."

Trump's focus on coronavirus numbers could backfire, health experts say - (Reuters) - President Donald Trump loves numbers, and the ones he believes illustrate his accomplishments - an unemployment rate at a 50-year-low and stock markets at record highs - have become touchstones in his speeches, rallies and Twitter missives. The numbers in the coronavirus outbreak in the United States are increasingly not going his way, but that has not stopped him from portraying them largely as a sign of success. The United States had almost 550 confirmed cases of the respiratory virus as of Sunday night and 22 related deaths. The count could rise sharply as testing increases this week. More than 3,600 people have died globally. From suggesting more optimistic time lines for a potential vaccine than scientists say is possible, to contradicting public health officials on the potential for cases to increase, to questioning the fatality rate cited by the World Health Organization, Trump has sought to present figures related to the virus that appear more favorable than reality. While praising his team’s work to combat the virus, the president, who is seeking re-election in November, has repeatedly cited the relatively low number of infected individuals in the United States as proof of the success of his early ban on foreign nationals flying in from China - where the coronavirus originated - compared with actions taken in other countries with higher numbers of cases. Critics say Trump’s representation of the numbers related to the spread of the disease is complicating the government’s response. “The focus on the numbers for numbers’ sake just exposes ... they’re not looking around the next corner here,” said Lisa Monaco, a former homeland security adviser to former President Barack Obama. “They’re not preparing the public for what is going to be a substantial spike in the number of cases that we see.”

Trump: 'Fake News Media,' Democrats working to 'inflame the CoronaVirus situation' -President Trump in an early morning tweet on Monday accused the "Fake News Media" and Democrats of trying “to inflame” the coronavirus outbreak as the virus spreads globally and across the U.S. “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant,” Trump tweeted.  “Surgeon General, 'The risk is low to the average American,’” Trump added.  It’s unclear exactly what prompted Trump's tweet.Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have issued calls for putting politics aside as the nation grapples with the outbreak.  More than 500 cases have been confirmed in the U.S., and multiple people have died from the virus, mostly in Washington state.  At least eight states have declared states of emergency due to the outbreak, including Oregon, which announced its state of emergency Sunday after its number of cases doubled to 14. Trump administration officialssought to ease fears in a series of appearances on Sunday morning talk shows, but some Democrats have questioned the administration’s response. Despite Trump’s claim last week that anyone who needs a test can get one, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said that’s not the case in his state.Issues over available tests make it difficult to assess the scope of the epidemic, Murphy said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”  Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the nation is entering a so-called mitigation phase and people should not panic even as more cases appear.

White House under pressure to boost coronavirus fight as stocks plunge - U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly played down the threat posed by the flu-like virus sweeping the globe, was planning to meet with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other members of his economic team to weigh possible action, an administration official told Reuters. Paid sick leave is among policy steps being considered, the official said on condition of anonymity. One camp in the White House, which includes Trump, backs an across-the-board payroll tax cut, said an economist advising the administration, while top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow and others advocate specific tax credits, loans or direct subsidies to certain industries or hard-hit areas. Florida health officials said all people returning from China, Iran, South Korea and Italy must isolate for 14 days while travelers from other countries affected by the outbreak should monitor their health. The number of confirmed U.S. cases reached 566, including 22 deaths, according to state public health authorities and a running national tally kept by the Johns Hopkins University. Thirty-four U.S. states and the District of Columbia have reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) infections of the respiratory illness COVID-19 that can lead to pneumonia. Louisiana had the state’s first presumed coronavirus case, Governor John Bel Edwards announced on Monday.

Trump vows 'major' steps to aid U.S. economy amid coronavirus rise - (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Monday said he will be taking “major” steps to gird the economy against the impact of the spreading coronavirus outbreak and will discuss a payroll tax cut with congressional Republicans on Tuesday. “We’ll be discussing a possible payroll tax cut or relief, substantial relief, very substantial relief, that’s a big number,” Trump told reporters. He did not provide details but said a news conference will be held on Tuesday. Vice President Mike Pence said the administration was consulting Congress on providing paid sick leave to workers, an idea that Democrats already have been trying to advance. The stepped-up response to the coronavirus came as the number of confirmed cases in the United States hit 605, according to Johns Hopkins University. Three additional deaths in Washington state, according to local officials, brought the total nationwide to 25. Earlier Monday, Johns Hopkins said that worldwide, there are 113,584 cases, with 3,996 deaths, the majority in China. The Trump administration moves came as stock markets plunged and top health officials urged some people to avoid cruise ships, air travel and big public gatherings. The administration was planning to huddle in coming days with executives of the banking, hospital and health insurance industries. While an across-the-board payroll tax cut has been under discussion, top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow and others have advocated specific tax credits, loans or direct subsidies to certain industries or hard-hit areas. A payroll tax cut could encourage consumer spending and help households that might otherwise struggle to make rent and mortgage payments on time or pay medical bills if family members’ work hours are reduced during the coronavirus outbreak.

Trump Floats Payroll Tax Cut After Market Plunged on Virus Fears - President Donald Trump said Monday he will seek a payroll tax cut and “very substantial relief” for industries that have been hit by the virus, reversing course on the need for economic stimulus hours after markets posted their worst losses in more than a decade. Trump, speaking at a White House news conference, said that he plans to announce “very dramatic” actions to support the economy at a press conference on Tuesday following discussions with lawmakers. “I will be here tomorrow afternoon to let you know about some of the economic steps, which will be major,” Trump said. Members Of The Coronavirus Task Force Hold Press Briefing Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in Washington, D.C. on March 9.Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg Trump said he wants to help hourly wage earners who could lose pay by staying home “so they don’t get penalized for something that’s not their fault.” Pressure has been growing on Trump to take more decisive action in response to the coronavirus, as the number of cases in the U.S. and worldwide continues to grow. U.S. stocks plunged more than 7.5% on Monday -- the worst day on Wall Street since the financial crisis -- as a full-blown oil price war rattled financial markets already on edge over the outbreak. Trump’s statement marks a reversal from his administration’s recent position on the need for economic stimulus. Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration isn’t considering a payroll tax cut as part of its response to the coronavirus. He added that the virus sell-off isn’t comparable to the financial crisis a decade ago. “We will get through this,” he told reporters on Mar. 3. Market swings are happening because “the markets struggle to assess new risks.” It’s unclear whether the plans being discussed at the White House will be enough to stem the sell-off as the private sector, particularly airlines and cruise companies, clamor for more relief.

White House plan for economic response to coronavirus is ‘not there right now,’ officials say — The White House is not ready to roll out specific economic proposals in its response to the widening impact of the coronavirus outbreak, administration officials told CNBC. The revelation comes as U.S. stock futures pointed toward a sharp rebound at the open Tuesday following the Dow’s 2,013-point drop Monday and President Donald Trump’s suggestion that a payroll tax cut and other stimulus measures may be in the works to mitigate economic damage from the virus’ spread. Trump has also invited Wall Street executives to meet at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the response. However, inside the administration, some officials were stunned by Trump’s claim Monday that he would hold a press conference Tuesday to announce an economic plan. “That was news to everyone on the inside,” one official said. The actual details of any plan remain up in the air. “It’s not there right now,” an official said. “A lot of details need to be worked out.” The president’s schedule for Tuesday includes a 5:30 p.m. ET media briefing for his coronavirus task force. In addition to the potential payroll tax cut, which faces skepticism from Senate Republicans, Trump also said the administration would work with travel industry players, such as airlines and cruise lines, as travel restrictions and fears stemming from the outbreak take a toll on them. American Airlines on Tuesday, for instance, slashed international and domestic flights as demand craters. Wage relief for hourly workers is also under discussion, but it would require big federal spending and there are no details about how such a policy would work, an official said. The officials cited in this story declined to be named since plans were still being worked out. Trump on Friday signed an $8.3 billion spending package aimed at supporting states and researchers. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic advisor, are slated to head to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to brief Senate Republicans on some ideas and try to get a sense of what is possible. “The president has a strong point of view, and he’s looking forward to Senate reaction to that perspective,” a senior administration official said.

Trump Tries to Counter Economic Damage From Coronavirus -Rattled by Monday’s historic decline in the stock market, U.S. President Donald Trump is proposing a slate of measures to help contain the economic fallout of the coronavirus, which is sparking fears of recession from Japan to Europe and even in the United States. But the administration’s preferred remedies will face both an uphill fight in Congress and doubts over how effective they would be.  After markets closed up Tuesday on hopes of some kind of fiscal stimulus, the Trump administration presented a vague combination of proposals that might include another tax cut (this time of the payroll tax), combined with paid sick leave and other support for hourly workers. Reports indicated that Trump ispushing for a total elimination of the payroll tax through the end of the year, which would cost about $900 billion and would be larger than the Obama-era stimulus in the wake of the financial crash.But a day after promising “very major” economic relief, the president had little to say following a midday meeting with Republican senators. “I was just with the Republican senators and they were just about all there, mostly all there and there’s a great feeling about doing a lot of the things,” he told reporters.Other options could include loan support for cash-strapped businesses hit particularly hard by the virus; one idea gaining traction is a federal bailout for oil and gas producers struggling under the oil-price warunleashed by the virus, in addition to government aid for industries such as travel and hotels that have suffered a drop in business as the outbreak has grown.And, true to form, Trump has also continued to pressure the Federal Reserve to further cut interest rates—the central bank already slashed the prime lending rate by half a percentage point in an emergency move last week—to kickstart an economy that by some indicators is looking wobbly. In the end, whatever economic medicine Washington comes up with to battle the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak will be largely determined by Congress—especially the Democrats, who control the House.

Trump Wants Coronavirus Bailout For Oil and Hotel Industries - Yesterday evening, President Trump held a press conference and announced he would soon unveil an aggressive plan to head off a recession. “I will be here tomorrow afternoon,” he promised, “to let you know about some of the economic steps we’re taking, which will be major.”This announcement “stunned” Trump’s own advisers, who had not yet figured out what the plan is going to be, reports Eamon Javers. But the press conference had been announced, so Trump’s advisers have been scrambling to backfill their boss’s promise of a “very substantial,” “very major,” “very dramatic” plan.At his press conference, Trump mentioned a few possibilities for what this package might include. One item is a bailout for owners of hotels. “We’re also talking to the hotel industry.  And some places, actually, will do well, and some places probably won’t do well at all. But we’re working also with the hotel industry.” By the way, did you know that the Trump Organization is in the hotel field? Weird coincidence. In fact, it’s possible the people in the hotel industry the president is talking to about giving a federal bailout might even include members of his own family. Today more details of Trump’s hastily emerging plan have leaked out. The Washington Post reports Trump is “strongly considering a bailout for oil and gas producers.” The president and his advisers “have been taking calls since Monday from concerned energy sector allies.” You might wonder what the energy sector has to do with the coronavirus. The answer is, almost nothing! They’re in trouble because Russia and Saudi Arabia are ramping up production and cutting into their market share. This move is a benefit to consumers, who will enjoy cheaper energy prices, which will help offset some of the contractionary hit from the slowdown. Of course, cheap energy is the primary rationale for the Republican Party’s refusal to do anything about climate change or air pollution. Yet now, Trump wants to backstop that industry with a check from the taxpayers. Where is the logic? The Post notes, “One of the companies hardest hit was Continental Resources, founded by Harold Hamm, a Trump supporter and an adviser to the president on energy issues.” Ah, well, that explains it: Trump’s supporters are also advising him, and perhaps their advice is not being offered at a fully arm’s-length distance from their narrow interests.

Trump Prepares Aid Package To Relieve U.S. Oil Producers - The Trump Administration will review solutions to the pain felt by US oil producers as oil prices fall to multi-year lows on Monday, according to Bloomberg.Administration officials will present the President with options, which will include financial assistance to industries affected by the coronavirus and the oil price crash. These measures may include cash injections, tax credits, payroll tax cuts, and tariff reductions on specific Chinese imports, Bloomberg sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.Oil prices fell sharply since on Monday after the OPEC+ talks fell apart on Friday and Saudi Arabia and Russia vowed to increase oil production in an oil price war that saw Saudi slash its OSP for April by between $6 and $8 per barrel.By Monday afternoon, the WTI Crude grade had fallen 25.02% to $30.95—the largest oil price slide in years.US oil companies were hit hard on Monday, with Chevron (-15.37%), Occidental (-52.01%), Apache (-53.86%), Marathon Oil (-46.81%), ExxonMobil (-12.22%), EOG Resources (-31.98%), ConocoPhillips (-24.87%), and Pioneer Natural Resource (-36.96%), all falling sharply on the day.While US oil companies may be feeling the pinch, US consumers—mainly drivers—may be in for a real treat, with gasoline prices at the pump expected to fall. Average gasoline prices in the United States are already the lowest they’ve been in a year, according to Gas Buddy. Gasoline could dip below $2 per gallon in the coming weeks if the oil price war persists, Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at Gas Buddy told USA Today.And as gas prices go down, discretionary spending goes up—a positive development for the economy.

Getting serious about the economic response to COVID-19 -- EPI Blog by Josh Bivens - With the stock market plummeting and hysteria around COVID-19 (commonly known as the coronavirus) escalating, it is time to get serious about the economic policy response. Policymakers and the public will need help in distinguishing between smart responses and those that are just ideological opportunism, such as calls for cuts in taxes and regulations, for example.Simply put, smart responses must be tailored to the type of recession the outbreak could cause if policymakers didn’t act.  Below I sketch out why these characteristics of the COVID-19 slowdown are likely, and what a tailored response to each would be. First, if the COVID-19 outbreak slows the economy, it could happen very rapidly. This is quite different, for example, than the onset of the Great Recession. That recession was caused by the bursting of the home price bubble, which essentially began in mid-2006. From that point on the recession was near-inevitable, but it took literally years to gather steam. A COVID-19 driven recession would be quite different in that it would hit quickly. The spread of the disease has been quite rapid in each country it has affected. Further, the public health response to maintain “social distancing” to thwart its spread tends to take effect rapidly as well. Even before the reported cases in the U.S. have reached large numbers the news are full of cascading cancellations of business and entertainment gatherings. We are almost certainly already feeling the economic effects of the COVID-19 slowdown—it just has not appeared in economic statistics yet (since these statistics tend to appear with a small lag).Second, the sectors that will be first hit by “social distancing” measures disproportionately employ low-wage workers. Traditionally, manufacturing and construction–two comparatively high-paid industries—have been the first to dip in recessions. COVID-19 will be different. The sectors that will be directly affected by “social distancing”—restaurants, retail (excluding online), and personal services, for example—are sectors with lower wages than average. Crucially, workers in these sectors also have low rates of paid sick leave. Between low-pay and lack of access to sick leave and health insurance coverage, these workers on the economic front lines of COVID-19 will need lots of help quickly. Third, many of the public health interventions that will be undertaken in the coming weeks will be done by state and local governments. Further, state and local government spending predictably becomes a powerful anti-stimulus whenever the overall economy is hit by a negative shock. Negative economic shocks reduce income and spending, which in turn reduces income and sales tax revenues collected by state and local governments. Because these governments have to balance operating budgets, this decline in tax collections tends to spur spending cutbacks, which powerfully drag on economic growth. This dynamic was a key reason why recovery from the Great Recession took so long.

Has Dr. Anthony Fauci made Trump irrelevant to the coronavirus crisis? -Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has ignored, disputed, belittled or silenced experts. He rejected the conclusions of his intelligence agencies about Russian interference in American elections; mocked climate change scientists by calling for “good old-fashioned Global Warming” during a freezing snowstorm; and overrode the hurricane forecasts of the National Weather Service. "The experts are terrible,” Trump once said. “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” But in the coronavirus outbreak, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has shown that without experts we would all be in a mess. When it comes to explaining the coronavirus to the American public, Dr. Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, is everything that Trump is not. He explains medical issues in an understandable way, but without sacrificing scientific precision; he neither exaggerates the effectiveness of the administration’s response nor understates the threat coronavirus poses; and by being calm, focused, and competent, Dr. Fauci re-assures people that we will get through this. Most of what Trump has said about the coronavirus ranged from incoherent to exaggerated, if not false, to plain silly. He insisted two weeks ago that the coronavirus was “very much under control in the USA” and that the cases “were going very substantially down, not up.” None of it was true, and in fact coronavirus cases have increased almost fifteen fold since then. Trump appeared to suggest that people with coronavirus should go to work. He expressed a preference for keeping Americans with the coronavirus at sea on a cruise ship in order to keep the coronavirus numbers in the United States down, which might in his mind help him politically but certainly wouldn’t do those Americans any good. His idea of re-assuring the public is to tell them “there’s a very good chance you’re not going to die.” In case anyone doubts his medical competence, Trump claims that he has “natural” scientific ability due to a “great, super-genius uncle.” In the face of this craziness, Dr. Fauci has accomplished two remarkable feats for a government expert. First, he has rendered Trump largely irrelevant to the public’s understanding of the crisis. It may be one measure of Dr. Fauci’s credibility with the American people that, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, while 53 percent of the public have confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle the coronavirus crisis, only 43 percent approve of Trump’s response. Dr. Fauci may have turned Trump’s bizarre commentary on the coronavirus into background noise.

 Fauci 'Optimistic' Coronavirus Testing System Will Be Fixed Within 'The Next Week Or Two' - Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says he is 'optimistic' that the ongoing bottlenecks delaying coronavirus testing will be fixed. Fauci acknowledged to ABC News that the government needs to do better to meet the flood of demand as COVID-19 begins to blanket the country. "I mean, we have to admit that in the beginning we didn't have what we needed, but now we will fix it," he said. According to Fauci, the earlier testing methods were 'working' during the initial outbreak, however the coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence is on track to provide a better system quickly. "It's going to be within the next week or two -- probably even more like a week," he said. Fauci said that the diagnostic test used by the World Health Organization (WHO) wasn't used because the US test was "one that had been working, and working well for the system that was involved." 

Ted Cruz to stay at home this week after interacting with coronavirus patient --Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Sunday that he shook hands with a man now confirmed to be infected with the novel form of coronavirus during a recent interaction at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).In a news release Sunday evening, Cruz said that based on medical advice he had received, he did not believe there was any current risk of him developing the disease, which has already infected more than 100,000 people globally."Last night, I was informed that 10 days ago at CPAC I briefly interacted with an individual who is currently symptomatic and has tested positive for COVID-19. That interaction consisted of a brief conversation and a handshake," Cruz said."I’m not experiencing any symptoms, and I feel fine and healthy. Given that the interaction was 10 days ago, that the average incubation period is 5-6 days, that the interaction was for less than a minute, and that I have no current symptoms, the medical authorities have advised me that the odds of transmission from the other individual to me were extremely low," he added."The physicians further advised that testing is not effective before symptoms manifest, and my brief interaction with the individual does not meet the CDC criteria for self-quarantine," he added.Nevertheless, Cruz said he will remain at his home in Texas this week "out of an abundance of caution."The GOP senator's statement comes a day after CPAC officials announced that an attendee of the conference had tested positive for the virus, which has killed a handful of people in the U.S. and thousands more around the world, with the majority of deaths occurring in mainland China, where the virus is believed to have originated.

These are the 6 members of Congress taking steps to isolate themselves amid coronavirus threat – As lawmakers on Capitol Hill grapple with how to contain the spread of coronavirus across the United States, six members of Congress are now taking steps to either self-quarantine or otherwise isolate themselves as a precaution after coming into contact with an infected individual.Five Republican lawmakers are self-quarantining after interacting with an individual at the Conservative Political Action Conference who has tested positive for coronavirus. Separately, one Democratic congresswoman announced on Monday that she and her staff are now working remotely after finding out that she recently came into contact with someone who tested positive. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced on Sunday that he had been notified that he was in contact with an individual at CPAC who tested positive and is showing symptoms. In a statement, Cruz said that "the interaction consisted of a brief conversation and a handshake." Cruz said that he is "not experiencing any symptoms, and I feel fine and healthy," and that "medical authorities have advised me that the odds of transmission from the other individual to me were extremely low."  A message posted to Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz's Twitter account on Monday stated that the congressman found out on Monday that he came into contact with an individual at CPAC who had tested positive. Gaetz rode on Air Force Once with President Donald Trump on Monday and spent the weekend at Trump's Mar-a-Lago property. Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia announced on Monday that CPAC contacted him to tell him that a photo of him and the conference attendee who tested positive had been found, indicating they interacted."While I feel completely healthy and I am not experiencing any symptoms, I have decided to self-quarantine at my home for the remainder of the 14-day period out of an abundance of caution," Collins said in a statement. Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona put out a statement on Sunday saying that he was similarly notified that during CPAC he was in contact with an individual who had tested positive. Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley of California put out a statement on Monday saying that she has been informed that "an individual I met with last week in DC tested positive for COVID-19." "I have decided to close our DC office for the week," the congresswoman said, adding, "My staff and I are working remotely."

House Democrats jam GOP with coronavirus bill --President Trump met with close to a dozen chiefs of the largest U.S. banks and their advocates in Washington, D.C., as the financial sector faces pressure to prepare for an economic slowdown driven by the coronavirus outbreak. Trump huddled with several of the CEOs of the biggest American commercial and investment banks Wednesday, including Michael Corbat of Citigroup, Bryan Moynihan of Bank of America, Charles Scharf of Wells Fargo and David Solomon of Goldman Sachs. Gordon Smith, co-president of JPMorgan Chase, attended the meeting on behalf of the largest U.S. bank as CEO Jamie Dimon recovers from heart surgery. American Bankers Association President Rob Nichols and Consumer Bankers Association President Richard Hunt, and Independent Community Bankers of America President Rebeca Romero Rainey attended the meeting on behalf of the their trade groups representing the vast majority of U.S. retail banks. Stephen Schwartzman, CEO of investment firm BlackStone; Ken Griffin, chief executive of hedge fund Citadel; Truist Financial chief executive Kelly King; and US Bancorp chief executive Andrew Cecere also attended the meeting, which included Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, senior adviser Jared Kushner and Small Business Administration chief Jovita Caranza. Trump called the meeting of top U.S. bankers to explore ways to support small and midsize businesses likely to suffer steep declines in revenue throughout the coronavirus outbreak, according to industry sources. As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. exceeds 1,000, states and cities have taken drastic measures to slow the spread of the potentially fatal respiratory illness. Canceled events, bans on large gatherings and social distancing efforts are likely to dampen consumer spending, a dire blow to businesses with small staffs and tight margins. The bankers and industry advocates meeting with Trump on Wednesday highlighted efforts to help customers facing hardships by easing fees, delaying deadlines and offering flexibility with the terms of their accounts and loans. Corbat and several fellow bank CEOs also stressed that their companies were well equipped to handle any economic downturn caused by the virus. "This is not a financial crisis," Corbat told Trump and reporters ahead of the meeting.

Senate Democrats call on Trump to consider disaster declaration --Senate Democrats are urging President Trump to immediately consider a disaster declaration to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. Doing so would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to utilize $42 billion available in the disaster relief fund to assist state and local governments in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. “It is crucial that your administration employ a whole-of-government approach in responding to COVID-19. This includes working closely with state, local, and tribal officials and providing necessary resources to those on the frontlines,” Democrats wrote in a letter to Trump Wednesday. “We strongly urge FEMA to stand ready to provide emergency protective measures to prevent and mitigate the spread of disease, save lives, and protect public health and safety, should any state request assistance," they added. The letter is signed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N-Y.) and 35 Senate Democrats. Trump is scheduled to deliver a statement Wednesday in the Oval Office at 9 p.m. ET regarding the crisis. The administration is said to be considering a national emergency declaration to free up additional resources to fight the coronavirus. A spokesperson for the White House was not immediately available for comment in response to the Democrats’ letter.

 Coronavirus Live Updates: U.S. Will Suspend Travel From Europe as Countries Tighten Lockdowns -  President Trump announced on Wednesday night that he was taking “strong but necessary” actions to keep new cases of the coronavirus from entering the United States by suspending all travel from Europe for 30 days, beginning on Friday. The restrictions do not apply to Britain, he said.Speaking from the Oval Office, Mr. Trump called the coronavirus a “horrible infection” and said he was addressing the nation to talk about the “unprecedented response to the coronavirus outbreak.” The president also said health insurance companies had agreed to extend insurance coverage to cover coronavirus treatments as well as waive related co-payments. Mr. Trump added that he planned to soon announce emergency action to provide financial relief for workers who fall ill or need to be quarantined. He said he would ask Congress to take legislative action to extend that relief but did not detail what that would be. He said he would instruct the Treasury Department to “defer tax payments without interest or penalties for certain individuals and businesses negatively impacted.” The president, sitting behind the Resolute Desk with his arms crossed, finally appeared to be acknowledging the severity of the virus, calling it a “horrible infection” and acknowledging that Americans should cut back on travel that was not necessary. It signaled a break from the business-as-usual attitude he had been trying to project as recently as Tuesday, when he urged Americans to “stay calm” and said the virus would soon go away. But Mr. Trump continued to anticipate a fast end date to the spread of the coronavirus, even as medical experts have warned that the pandemic will worsen. “This is not a financial crisis,” he said. “This is just a temporary moment in time that we will overcome as a nation and a world.” Financial markets tumbled again Wednesday as policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic appeared unwilling or unable to mount an aggressive response to the economic threat posed by the virus.The S&P 500 fell nearly 5 percent on Wednesday, erasing its gains on Tuesday. The index is now down 19 percent from its high on Feb. 19. “If the Trump administration and Congress can’t get it together quickly and put together a sizable and responsible package, then a recession seems like a real possibility here,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics.The economic damage from the global pandemic is only beginning to emerge from disruptions in supply chains, travel and entertainment, worsened by a price war in the oil industry. In Europe, major indexes in Frankfurt, London and Paris fell, giving up early gains that had come after the Bank of England said it would cut interest rates to help British businesses. Shares in Asia also fell. The spread of the coronavirus across more than 100 countries now qualifies as a global pandemic, World Health Organization officials said on Wednesday, confirming what many epidemiologists have been saying for weeks.  In 2010, it defined a pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a new disease” that affects large numbers of people. The C.D.C. says it is “an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.”

Trump stops flights from Europe, global alarm over coronavirus spreads - (Reuters) - Travelers scrambled to rebook flights and markets reeled on Thursday after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sweeping restrictions on travel from Europe, hitting battered airlines and heightening global alarm over the coronavirus. But China, where the disease originated, said its epidemic had peaked and the global spread could be over by June if other nations applied similarly aggressive containment measures as Beijing’s communist government. Trump had downplayed risks to the United States during the crisis, but with epidemics ballooning from Iran to Italy and Spain, he limited travel from continental Europe for 30 days. “This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” he said in a prime-time televised address from the Oval Office on Wednesday. Markets went into a tailspin, with European shares plunging to their lowest in almost four years and oil slumping. U.S. stock indexes lost another 7 percent and triggered an automatic cutout shortly after the opening bell. The European Central Bank approved fresh stimulus measures, including ultra-cheap loans, to help the ailing euro zone economy but unexpectedly kept interest rates on hold. Trump’s move also sent weary and confused travelers rushing to airports to board the last flights back to the United States. “It caused a mass panic,” said 20-year-old Anna Grace, a U.S. student at Suffolk University on her first trip to Europe, who rushed to Madrid’s Barajas airport at 5 a.m. to get home. The outbreak has disrupted industry, travel, entertainment and sports worldwide, even throwing the Tokyo Summer Olympics into question.

Trump’s travel ban sidesteps his own European resorts – President Donald Trump’s new European travel restrictions have a convenient side effect: They exempt nations where three Trump-owned golf resorts are located. Trump is already under fire for visiting his properties in both countries as president, leading to U.S. taxpayer money being spent at his own firms. The president has been saddled with lawsuits and investigations throughout his term alleging that he’s violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause by accepting taxpayer money other than his salary.  The U.S. government proclamation initiating the ban targets 26 European countries that comprise a visa-free travel zone known as the Schengen Area. The United Kingdom, which is home to Trump Turnberry and Trump International Golf Links, and Ireland, which is home to another Trump-branded hotel and golf course at Doonbeg, do not participate in the Schengen Area. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are also not part of the Schengen Area. All three of the resorts are struggling financially. Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, is scheduled to meet Trump at the White House on Thursday in one of the few events related to St. Patrick’s Day that has not been canceled due to coronavirus concerns. The administration’s European travel proclamation notes that “the Schengen Area has exported 201 COVID-19 cases to 53 countries. Moreover, the free flow of people between the Schengen Area countries makes the task of managing the spread of the virus difficult.” Trump’s European travel ban comes with several other loopholes.  Though they are subject to border checks on arrival, residents of the 26 Schengen Area countries are also free to live and work in the United Kingdom, meaning they could fly to the United States from a British airport as long as they hadn't spent time within the Schengen countries in the last 14 days.

Read Trump’s coronavirus Oval Office address - Politico This is a transcript of the president’s Wednesday night address. (video).

Trump’s Coronavirus Speech Reaction The American Conservative -Bad parts:

  • He looked and sounded unwell
  • I don’t suppose I’m opposed to the European travel restrictions, but it’s much too late for that to do measurable good. They would have made a lot more sense two weeks ago. And exempting Britain from this ban is senseless. It sounded like he’s  trying to frame the virus as an external threat. But it’s already here, and it’s rapidly spreading. This seemed more rhetorical than anything else — Trump trying to reinforce his image as a nationalist looking out for American interests
  • He spoke much more about economic relief than public health concerns
  • He spent far too much time and effort trying to defend his administration’s response, and no time speaking more directly to people who — encouraged by him and his media coterie — have spent the last few weeks minimizing the seriousness of all this
  • He said little or nothing about testing, which we are still not able to do. No real talk about social distancing
  • He did not declare a state of national emergency, which would have helpful policy and legal effects at the state level
  • He said nothing about the critical-care crisis facing hospitals. I have found that this is a point that is not widely understood by the general public: that even if only a relatively small number of people are ultimately going to die from this virus, it stands to overwhelm our hospitals. This is why it is so very important for everybody to practice social distancing and the rest: to slow the rate of infection, and give our health care system the chance to cope. It is beyond comprehension why he didn’t make this clear to listeners tonight. I’ve had a number of conversations these past few days with people who aren’t following the story closely, and they are entirely unaware of this fact. The president blew an opportunity to explain that to the nation
  • Watching him, I realized the cost of a president having pissed away his authority these past three years, with his daily juvenile tweets and schoolyard rhetoric. The country needs a president now who can inspire, galvanize, and lead. Tonight I saw a president who looked tired, afraid, and completely unconvincing. He ended by calling for an end to partisanship, and the nation coming together to fight this threat. That’s what any president should do in his position, in a moment of great national crisis. It is difficult to imagine a president with less credibility to make that ask

Analysis: Facing virus outbreak, Trump’s tactics fall short (AP) — The escalating coronavirus crisis is presenting President Donald Trump with a challenge for which he appears ill-equipped, his favorite political tactics ineffective and his reelection chances in jeopardy.A rare crisis battering the White House that is not of the president’s own making, the spreading coronavirus has panicked global financial markets and alarmed Americans, many of whom have turned to the Oval Office for guidance and reassurances. But what they have found is a president struggling for a solution, unable to settle Wall Street and proving particularly vulnerable to a threat that is out of his control.In an address to the nation Wednesday night, Trump announced a sweeping travel ban for much of Europe as well as a package of proposals to help steady the teetering economy. But he continued to play down the severity of the situation, painting it as a foreign threat that soon will be banished rather than focusing on managing the growing number of cases at home.“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” Trump declared.Addressing the economic costs, he added, “This is not a financial crisis, this is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation and as a world.” But the virus has appeared impervious to the Republican president’s bluster.The virus does not have a Twitter account and, unlike so many previous Trump foes, is resistant to political bullying or Republican Party solidarity. It has preyed on his lack of curiosity and fears of germs while exposing divides and inadequacies within senior levels of his administration. It has taken away Trump’s favorite political tool, his rallies, from which he draws energy and coveted voter information.And eight months from Election Day, it has endangered his best reelection argument — a strong economy — just as Joe Biden, the candidate emerging from the Democratic field, seems poised to take advantage of a political landscape upended by the virus.

Inside the Oval Office, a Fierce Fight Over Trump’s Virus Speech -Donald Trump sat in the Oval Office Wednesday before the biggest speech of his presidency, listening to his aides argue about whether barring Europeans from traveling to the U.S. would trigger a global depression.The medical experts on his team were adamant: The best way to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus was to buy time by keeping Europeans out, they said, with the hope the virus may naturally ebb in the warmer weather, according to people familiar with the deliberations. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, pushed back strongly, saying the economic cost would be steep.Trump let them go on for a bit, then had heard enough. He dispatched some of the advisers into the nearby Cabinet Room and told them to come back with a plan they could all stand behind, said two of the people, who like others asked for anonymity to describe internal deliberations. When they returned with almost everyone endorsing the travel restrictions, Trump agreed to do a prime-time address to tell the nation.His aides now see this moment as the most crucial of Trump’s presidency, the time when voters will decide whether he deserves re-election. “We’re going to win or lose right here,” one said. Another said that if the stock market is lower than when Trump took office, it would shatter his claim to being the one person who can keep the economy on track.If that’s truly the measure voters will use, Trump’s speech Wednesday did little to win their confidence or to win himself a second term.The S&P 500 plunged nearly 10% on Thursday, chalking up its worst loss since the crash in 1987, even after the Federal Reserve took aggressive steps by flooding the market with liquidity and widening its purchases of U.S. government securities.

How Trump Made America Far Less Prepared For Coronavirus - Just over a year ago, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence sounded alarms about America’s vulnerability to a major public health crisis. “We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large scale outbreak of a contagious disease,” the DNI reported in January 2019, “that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”But Donald Trump put his head in the sand. After slashing federal pandemic response teams and kneecapping other public health initiatives throughout his first term, he failed to prioritize the potential for outbreak, declining to devote adequate resources to the looming threat. Now, as the DNI’s grim forecast last year proves correct, the United States’ national security apparatus is scrambling both to address a growing crisis in the country—and, potentially, within its ranks.America’s national security and defense agencies are grappling with how to combat the virus quickly spreading across the globe—and the country—while simultaneously keeping their own staffs safe. But, critics and observers told Politico Thursday, actions by the Trump administration, like the 2018 ouster of Tim Ziemer, the White House’s top pandemic response expert, could make an effective response more challenging. “[Staff shakeups] have had a profound ripple effect, the consequences of which we are seeing play out now, I think,” Ned Price, who served in the CIA and on the National Security Council under Barack Obama during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, told the outlet. As Politico pointed out, Ziemer, who was not replaced; Luciana Borio, the National Security Council’s director for medical and biodefense preparedness; and Tom Bossert, the former Homeland Security adviser who oversaw a since-disbanded global health security team, all were ousted in 2018, shortly after John Bolton joined the Trump White House.“There are directorates that can pick up the slack,” Price said. “But you don’t have the same level of expertise of people who have lived through Ebola, H1N1, and other disease responses.”

 Exclusive: White House told federal health agency to classify coronavirus deliberations - sources -(Reuters) - The White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, an unusual step that has restricted information and hampered the U.S. government’s response to the contagion, according to four Trump administration officials. The officials said that dozens of classified discussions about such topics as the scope of infections, quarantines and travel restrictions have been held since mid-January in a high-security meeting room at the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), a key player in the fight against the coronavirus. Staffers without security clearances, including government experts, were excluded from the interagency meetings, which included video conference calls, the sources said. “We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go,” one official said. “These should not be classified meetings. It was unnecessary.” The sources said the National Security Council (NSC), which advises the president on security issues, ordered the classification.”This came directly from the White House,” one official said. The White House insistence on secrecy at the nation’s premier public health organization, which has not been previously disclosed, has put a lid on certain information - and potentially delayed the response to the crisis. COVID19, the disease caused by the virus, has killed about 30 people in the United States and infected more than 1,000 people. HHS oversees a broad range of health agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which among other things is responsible for tracking cases and providing guidance nationally on the outbreaks.

Trump’s payroll tax cuts are a terrible opening bid to address the economic fallout of COVID-19: But employer tax credits can be part of the economic response if they finance direct benefits for workers --Unconditional tax cuts for employers are a terrible policy response to the economic fallout of COVID-19. But employer tax credits that are tied to the provision of specific benefits for workers can be a useful way to deliver emergency help. In the long run, key benefits like paid sick leave and strong unemployment insurance should not rest on employer tax credits, but these credits might be the best way to deliver emergency benefits right now.The Trump administration has put forward the idea of cutting both employee and employer-side payroll taxes as the centerpiece of an economic response to the COVID-19 epidemic. This is a terrible opening bid. In late 2010, the Obama White House and a Republican-led Congress agreed on a temporary payroll tax cut for employees only as a compromise measure to provide economic stimulus.But the employee-side payroll tax cut is an even worse potential compromise this time. One reason is that it would not get enough money out the door and into households’ pockets quickly enough. A COVID-19 recession will come fast and people will need lots of help quickly. A payroll tax cut will dribble out gradually over time. Another reason is the employee-side payroll tax cut is poorly targeted and sends lots of money to high-income households. A COVID-19 recession is laser-targeted at sectors with lots of low-wage workers, and the response should be too. So, even employee-side payroll tax cuts are a poor centerpiece of any policy package responding to the coming slowdown.Employer-side payroll tax cuts are even much worse. They are a pure windfall to business and would do nothing for workers in the short run. These employer-side cuts should be flatly opposed.There is, however, a potential role for employer tax credits as a way to stand-up emergency paid sick leave or work sharing or unemployment insurance. The optimal way for these programs to work is to have them be an ongoing part of our social safety net that take effect automatically during downturns. In the case of work sharing and unemployment insurance, these should be social insurance programs financed in the long run by payroll taxes. Paid sick leave should be a mandated labor standard. But since we do not have strong systems in place to provide these benefits to workers affected by the economic fallout of COVID-19 in the short run, and because placing new costs on employers just as revenue potentially craters might not be optimal, we could use employer tax credits to finance the emergency provision of key benefits like paid sick leave and expanded unemployment insurance.

Congress pours cold water on Trump's payroll tax cut --President Trump’s push to cut the payroll tax as part of an effort to revive the economy is facing steep headwinds on Capitol Hill. Trump has spent days making the pitch publicly, as well as privately, as Washington is under growing pressure to try to shore up the stock market, which has plummeted this week over growing concerns about the growing coronavirus outbreak. House Democrats are set to unveil an economic response package that does not include a payroll tax cut. Meanwhile, Senate reactions range from deep skepticism to, in some cases, outright opposition, raising questions about whether a plan could ever reach Trump’s desk. “I know that’s in the conversation … I would prefer they exercise other options before going down that path,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, while caveating that it's “too early” to make decisions on legislation. Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) predicted that a payroll tax cut would spark resistance not only from fiscal hawks but a broader swath of the Senate GOP caucus. “I think there are going to be a lot of fiscal conservatives, and I think that’s going to go deeper into the conference than normal,” Braun said, asked about opposition to the idea. “My gut is there’s going to be folks not interested in doing it quickly.” Asked if he was one of those who would be opposed to quickly passing a payroll tax cut, Braun added: “I would be one of them.”

Democrats push for paid leave in coronavirus response - Democrats are pushing to include paid sick and family leave as part of any economic response to coronavirus. The likelihood of enacting at least a temporary paid leave policy went up Tuesday, when President Trump mentioned the issue in his list of possible legislative responses at a GOP Senate meeting. But the details of a paid leave policy remain unclear, and Democratic demands could make Republican support for the policy difficult. “People who aren’t getting paid have trouble making rent, have trouble making their mortgage payment. No one should be evicted or foreclosed upon during this crisis. Paid sick days are one of the most important ways we can do that,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Wednesday. House Democrats were slated to unveil coronavirus legislation Wednesday with provisions on paid leave, nutrition assistance for kids missing school lunches during closures and covering the costs of testing kits. A later package could deal with longer-term economic issues. The White House has yet to formalize its own economic response, but President Trump is set to address the nation Wednesday evening to discuss the coronavirus. His top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday to strategize. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republicans on Ways and Means, said the administration was looking at addressing the issue through executive action. “We discussed with Mr. Kudlow the president’s desire to act quickly to deal with the hourly workers and those who have to stay home and may not have salaries while they are quarantined at home,” Brady said. “There are, I think, strong executive actions that can be taken to address that.” But Republicans are also concerned about ensuring businesses don’t buckle as outbreak spreads. “The way I heard it was aimed at small businesses only,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) after a Tuesday meeting between Trump and GOP senators.

Oil lobbyists met with White House staffers to discuss markets amid OPEC price war, coronavirus- Lobbyists representing the oil and gas industry met with White House policy staffers Wednesday morning to discuss coronavirus, the state of the economy and the market, a representative for the American Petroleum Institute told CNBC. The meeting comes as the market has been roiled by fears of coronavirus and deteriorating OPEC talks. After negotiations between OPEC and Russia fell apart on Friday, OPEC’s de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday slashed its oil prices and announced plans to increase production. This led to a selloff in oil markets and pressure on U.S. energy producers. Oil prices on Monday plunged 24%, marking the worst day since 1991. Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said on Wednesday that the company had been asked to supply a record 13 million barrels per day in April. Oil fell 4% Wednesday. Still, the American Petroleum Institute, which represents companies including Halliburton, Hess and Occidental Petroleum, is not seeking federal aid, said the the spokeswoman, Bethany Aronhalt. That statement comes despite reports Tuesday indicating President Donald Trump was considering a federal aid package for the shale industry, potentially in the form of low-interest loans. An official told CNBC that the White House doesn’t want the potential assistance to be perceived as a bailout. White House declined to comment. API CEO Mike Sommers told Bloomberg on Tuesday the group’s focus is on balancing the oil market. “What we have here is a demand shock, of course, because of coronavirus, and a supply shock, because of the decision by Russia and the Saudis to flood the market with oil,” Sommers said. “So, we are concerned about these geopolitical factors that are feeding into some downturn within the industry ... right now, we trying to make sure policymakers are responding in the right way. But, ultimately, the solution here is to work in a diplomatic way to make sure oil markets are well-balanced,” he said.

Analysis: Facing virus outbreak, Trump’s tactics fall short (AP) — The escalating coronavirus crisis is presenting President Donald Trump with a challenge for which he appears ill-equipped, his favorite political tactics ineffective and his reelection chances in jeopardy.A rare crisis battering the White House that is not of the president’s own making, the spreading coronavirus has panicked global financial markets and alarmed Americans, many of whom have turned to the Oval Office for guidance and reassurances. But what they have found is a president struggling for a solution, unable to settle Wall Street and proving particularly vulnerable to a threat that is out of his control.In an address to the nation Wednesday night, Trump announced a sweeping travel ban for much of Europe as well as a package of proposals to help steady the teetering economy. But he continued to play down the severity of the situation, painting it as a foreign threat that soon will be banished rather than focusing on managing the growing number of cases at home.“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” Trump declared.Addressing the economic costs, he added, “This is not a financial crisis, this is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation and as a world.” But the virus has appeared impervious to the Republican president’s bluster.The virus does not have a Twitter account and, unlike so many previous Trump foes, is resistant to political bullying or Republican Party solidarity. It has preyed on his lack of curiosity and fears of germs while exposing divides and inadequacies within senior levels of his administration. It has taken away Trump’s favorite political tool, his rallies, from which he draws energy and coveted voter information.And eight months from Election Day, it has endangered his best reelection argument — a strong economy — just as Joe Biden, the candidate emerging from the Democratic field, seems poised to take advantage of a political landscape upended by the virus.

House Democrats' coronavirus bill delayed as GOP pushes to include Trump proposals  - House Republicans made clear Thursday that they won't support the new emergency coronavirus aid bill unveiled by Democrats — at least not in its current form.Lawmakers in both parties are scrambling to take action to combat the deadly coronavirus pandemic.But Republicans have hang-ups with the specifics of the Democrats' bill, CNBC's Ylan Mui reported Thursday, because it omits several of the measures President Donald Trump had called on Congress to enact. Politico reported Thursday morning that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy R-Calif., opposed the bill.McCarthy was expected to explain his problems with the bill in public remarks at 10 a.m. ET. In a tweet earlier Thursday, he called the plan "unworkable" and complained that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had introduced the "completely partisan" bill late at night Wednesday.Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill responded on Twitter that McCarthy's claim was "not true.""Minority staffs of committees of jurisdiction were given language yesterday afternoon" and had already requested changes, Hammill said.Pelosi continued negotiations with Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin that had begun earlier in the week.Trump, in an Oval Office address Wednesday night, had asked lawmakers to consider implementing payroll tax relief amid the U.S. response to the virus. That measure, which even some Republicans have been reluctant to endorse, is not included in the Democrats' bill.Payroll taxes fund entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.The bill also ignores Trump's call for increased authority for Small Business Administration loans.A spokesman for Pelosi told CNBC that the payroll tax and SBA measures did not come up during the speaker's call with Mnuchin.Lawmakers are set to return to their districts for the next week, compounding the sense of urgency to push something through the chamber while members are still there to cast votes.

‘I don’t want to use the b-word’: Trump aides race to rescue the economy -The Trump administration is scrambling to prop up industries crumbling under the weight of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Just don’t call it a “bailout” around any White House officials or Republicans on Capitol Hill. President Donald Trump’s top aides are racing to design a wide-ranging government rescue of major sectors of the economy — such as airlines, hospitality and other service industries — amid a collapsing stock market and cascading shutdowns of major sports events, Broadway shows, museums and amusement parks. Behind the scenes, the Treasury Department and top economic officials are exploring ways to help out industries struggling financially from a rapid shutdown. They’re leaning toward some type of tax relief or deferring tax payments to provide an initial cushion — hoping to avoid a full-fledged bailout akin to the 2008 banking rescue that could prove difficult to clear past the Republican base. “I don’t want to use the b-word,” said one senior administration official, who acknowledged the White House is looking at resources necessary — including tax relief or direct injections of funds — to offset the downturn in industries and businesses with thousands of affected employees. “If what the airline industry says is true, then Congress really will have little choice to act or face a significant extinction moment for the airline industry,” the official added. SharePlay Video Trump hinted at such a move in his Oval Office address on Wednesday night, saying he had asked Treasury to defer tax payments for businesses and individuals hurt by the coronavirus, using emergency authority. “This action will provide more than $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy,” he told Americans.

Trump's coronavirus task force is reportedly awaiting 'research' from Jared Kushner before making an emergency declaration --  Just when Jared Kushner's policy portfolio couldn't get any thicker, the president's son-in-law has reportedly found himself at the crux of a critical coronavirus decision. Kushner already helms the White House's efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East and resolve the opioid crisis in the US while also serving as the liaison to Mexico, China, and the global Muslim community. He is now set to be the final sign-off on the White House coronavirus task force's recommendation to the president ahead of his address on Wednesday night, according to a report from Politico.  President Donald Trump is hesitant to declare a full emergency, according to three people familiar with the decision-making who spoke with Politico, and instead leaning toward a more limited response that would keep in-line with his tendency to downplay the severity of the virus. However, Kushner is the lynchpin to whatever Trump will announce in his address to the nation, Politico reported.  "The task force will not give Trump its final verdict" ahead of the address until Kushner "finishes his research and comes to a conclusion himself," Politico reported. Under the Stafford Act, Trump would be able to give federal agencies more authority and leeway to assist in transportation and shelter for those affected by the virus by tapping into the $34 billion disaster-relief fund under the Federal Emergency Management Agency. On Wednesday evening, Trump announced that the US will ban all travel from Europe except for the United Kingdom, with the exception of Americans who have been appropriately screened, for thirty days beginning on Friday at midnight. Financial markets have also plunged as the virus continues to spread and more and more countries implement restrictions on travel and day-to-day work.

Inside Jared Kushner’s coronavirus research: a wide net on a giant Facebook group  - Just before midnight Wednesday, a doctor asked a group of fellow emergency room physicians on Facebook how they would combat the escalating coronavirus outbreak. “I have direct channel to person now in charge at White House,” Kurt Kloss wrote in his post. The next morning, after hundreds of doctors responded, Kloss explained why he sought the suggestions: Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, had asked him for recommendations. Kloss, whose daughter is married to Kushner’s brother, sent Kushner 12 recommendations Thursday morning. The Facebook crowd-sourcing exercise showed how Trump‘s team is scrambling for solutions to confront the outbreak after weeks of criticism for the administration's sluggish response, a shortage of tests and the president’s own rhetoric downplaying the pandemic. It is now expected to consume the final year of Trump's first term and threaten his campaign for a second term. Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead a task force to combat the spread of the coronavirus two weeks ago. But in recent days as conditions worsened and criticism mounted, Kushner took a more active role, according to two people familiar with the situation. Kushner has attended several meetings on coronavirus alongside Trump, including one with banking leaders at the White House Wednesday to discuss how they could help their customers hit by the outbreak. He is also talking to people about whether Trump should declare an emergency, bringing in the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate and unleashing billions of dollars for struggling states. Trump has tapped Kushner to lead on several contentious issues, including Middle East peace, immigration and criminal justice reform, all of which involved him engaging in lengthy consultations with impacted people before recommending a decision to Trump. In a Facebook post, Kloss said Kushner is “now directly involved in the response to this,” referring to coronavirus.

Trump Declares National Emergency Over The Coronavirus - President Trump declared a national state of emergency on Friday over the coronavirus outbreak, unleashing billions of dollars in federal funding and ordering all states to set up emergency operations centers to combat the pandemic. "To unleash the full power of the federal government, I'm officially declaring a national emergency," Trump told reporters in the White House Rose Garden. "Two very big words." A number of cities and states have already declared states of emergency, allowing them to access federal aid to address the health crisis, but Trump said the national emergency would unleash a further $50 billion nationally. The president also ordered hospitals to activate emergency preparedness plans. "We'll remove or eliminate every obstacle necessary to deliver our people the care that they need and that they're entitled to," he said. "No resource will be spared, nothing whatsoever." Trump said Google is setting up an online quiz that people can take to determine whether they need to be tested for the coronavirus. Those who need the test will then be directed to a drive-thru testing area; Walmart, Target, CVS, and Walgreens CEOs said they will open their parking lots across the country for testing. Additionally, Trump announced a public-private partnership to increase testing for COVID-19, saying that the FDA had approved a new test within hours after receiving an application to do so. "We therefore expect up to half a million additional tests will be available early next week," he said. "We'll be announcing locations probably on Sunday night." The administration is also directing nursing homes to temporarily restrict visitors and nonessential personnel with a few exceptions such as end-of-life situations, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma said at the press conference. “We fully appreciate that this measure represents a severe trial for residents of nursing homes and those who love them. But we are doing what we must to protect our vulnerable elderly,” said Verma.

McConnell Cancels Senate Recess, Will Remain In Town To Craft COVID-19 Legislation - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has slammed legislation introduced by House Democrats to tackle coronavirus as an "ideological wish list" which he vowed to block because it creates a "needless thicket of bureaucracy." "Instead of focusing on immediate relief to affected individuals, families and businesses, the House Democrats chose to wander into various areas of policy that are barely related, if at all, to the issue before us." he said. McConnell said that instead he wants a smaller, non-controversial coronavirus response package.House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also signaled his opposition to the Democratic proposal. House Democrats are hoping to vote for their economic stimulus bill on Thursday, which would include provisions that mandate paid sick leave for workers, provide over $1 billion in aid to state and local governments $1 billion for food programs and unemployment. Update: McConnell responds : Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi’s first draft from late last night was off-base. It does not focus immediate relief on affected Americans. It proposes new bureaucracy that would only delay assistance. It wanders into policy areas that are not related to the pressing issues at hand.  — Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) March 12, 2020 (Update 11:11 ET): President Trump says he does not support House Democrats' coronavirus bill because it includes 'unrelated goodies.'  He added that he won't invoke emergency powers under the stafford act over the outbreak at this time.  Meanwhile, Trump's former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Bossert has some thoughts on what should be done right now:  In two weeks, we will regret wasting time and energy on travel restrictions and wish we focused more on hospital preparation and large scale community mitigation. (Update 13:45 ET): McConnell has canceled the Senate recess over the coronavirus, saying on Tuesday that they will remain in town to craft COVID-19 legislation.

Coronavirus: Trump backs economic relief deal reached with Democrats – President Donald Trump said Friday he will support an agreement with House Democrats on legislation to provide economic relief to Americans affected by coronavirus.“I fully support H.R. 6201: Families First CoronaVirus Response Act, which will be voted on in the House this evening. This Bill will follow my direction for free CoronaVirus tests, and paid sick leave for our impacted American workers,” Trump tweeted.Trump said he encouraged Republican and Democratic lawmakers to "VOTE YES" on the package.House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an agreement earlier Friday, but Trump appeared to cast doubt on that measure during a Rose Garden press conference. And for several hours White House aides declined to offer clear guidance on whether they agreed with Pelosi about the deal.Trump’s remarks and the subsequent silence from the White House left the fate of the legislation unclear. Rank-and-file Republicans in the House were unlikely to go along with an agreement without a clear understanding that the president would sign it. "We don't think the Democrats are giving enough," Trump said.The legislation would ensure sick leave for affected workers and include money for testing for Americans, including the uninsured. Trump and lawmakers have been under pressure to ease fears over the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which has halted many parts of public life, forced the closure of schools and pummeled financial markets. But Trump appears to have not won a key provision he had sought: a payroll tax holiday. Trump blamed Democrats for opposing the idea, but it also drew a chilly response from a number of Senate Republicans.

Pelosi, Trump strike deal on coronavirus response package - Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Trump struck a deal Friday evening on a multibillion-dollar stimulus package aimed at assisting millions of Americans directly hurt by the coronavirus outbreak. The deal arrived after days of roller-coaster negotiations that put the outcome in doubt as the nation’s leaders raced to ease public anxiety and stabilize volatile markets. Just hours before the deal was announced, Trump suggested in a Rose Garden address that he wasn’t on board, raising doubts that the two sides could come together. The deadly pandemic has roiled the stock market, upended small businesses and large industries alike, and canceled major sporting and political events around the country. Millions of Americans could lose income — or their jobs entirely — due to mass public closures, work-from-home orders and the economic downturn sure to follow. “We are proud to have reached an agreement with the Administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to her Democratic colleagues. The agreement struck Friday aims to ease some of the economic stress by providing financial assistance to those most directly affected by the crisis, including unemployment and paid leave benefits. Perhaps more importantly, the deal aims to calm some of the public trepidation and market turmoil of recent weeks by demonstrating that Washington policymakers can put aside partisan differences and unite quickly behind an emergency response befitting — at least in rhetoric — the severity of the crisis. Pelosi had been engaged in intense negotiations throughout the week with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s point person on the second round of emergency coronavirus relief. On Thursday, the two spoke at least four times by phone as they neared an agreement, aides said. To get there, they had to iron out a small handful of delicate wrinkles that threatened to sink the entire package.

Pelosi, Trump strike deal on coronavirus response package --Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Trump have struck a deal on a multibillion-dollar stimulus package aimed at assisting millions of Americans directly hurt by the coronavirus outbreak.Pelosi announced the deal on Friday evening after days of roller-coaster negotiations that put the outcome in doubt, as the nation’s leaders raced to ease public anxiety and stabilize volatile markets. Trump said on Twitter that he looked forward to signing the legislation."I have directed the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor to issue regulations that will provide flexibility so that in no way will Small Businesses be hurt. I encourage all Republicans and Democrats to come together and VOTE YES!" Trump wrote in a series of tweets.Just hours before the deal was announced, Trump said in a Rose Garden address that he wasn’t on board, suggesting a bipartisan deal was out of reach even as the number of cases in the U.S. approached 2,000.And even after Pelosi’s announcement, there was widespread confusion across the Capitol about whether Trump had endorsed the package. Several GOP lawmakers said no agreement had been secured, and even House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) suggested Friday evening that the talks were still in flux.Yet Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has been leading the negotiations with Pelosi, seemed to put the confusion to rest just before 8 p.m. when he told Fox Business that there was, in fact, a deal."We have an agreement that reflects what the president talked about in his speech the other night. He's very focused on making sure that we can deal with the coronavirus,” he said. The frantic, eleventh-hour talks that brought the sides together highlight the urgency facing leaders from both parties to take aggressive actions to contain the fast-moving virus, for reasons of both public health and national morale.

House passes bill to help prop up economy from coronavirus - The House early Saturday morning passed legislation aimed at mitigating the economic impact of the coronavirus by providing financial assistance to people impacted by the pandemic. The measure, which passed 363-40, includes provisions that would ensure that workers can take paid sick or family leave, bolster unemployment insurance, and guarantee that all Americans can get free diagnostic testing for the coronavirus. Its passage comes after two days of uncertainty while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin engaged in intense negotiations to accommodate GOP concerns, such as the cost of paid sick leave on businesses and ensuring that no taxpayer funds can be used for abortion. House Democrats initially unveiled their legislation Wednesday night and threatened to move forward with or without the GOP, but with the growing number of coronavirus cases resulting in an increasing number of school, business, entertainment and athletic event shutdowns – as well as historic stock market losses – lawmakers were under pressure to take drastic action that actually stood a chance at becoming law. “We could have passed our bill yesterday,” Pelosi told reporters at a late Friday night press conference in the Capitol. “But we thought it was important to assure the American people that we are willing and able to work together to get a job done for them.” Yet confusion over whether they had struck a deal remained late into Friday evening, with GOP lawmakers throwing cold water on a deal and saying Pelosi jumped the gun on announcing an agreement. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs then teased an interview with Mnuchin, who was meeting with President Trump as the show was airing, before the Treasury secretary announced at the end of the program that they had, in fact, come to a consensus. Trump eventually tweeted that he “fully” supports the bill to assure anxious GOP lawmakers that he would sign it into law. Trump added that he directed the Departments of Treasury and Labor “to issue regulations that will provide flexibility so that in no way will small businesses be hurt.” The two sides spent hours finalizing the legislative text, which ultimately wasn’t publicly posted until just before midnight — less than an hour before the House voted on it. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) voted “present” after he criticized the short timeframe to review the revised bill, tweeting that he was “reading fast.”

Brazilian president's press secretary tests positive for coronavirus, days after meeting Trump - Fabio Wajngarten, the press secretary for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday, two sources have told CNN. Bolsonaro's health is being monitored. It comes just days after Wajngarten met US President Donald Trump in Florida. Trump was in close physical proximity with the Wajngarten Saturday night, two people familiar tell CNN. The Brazilian press secretary attended the dinner Trump hosted at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, took a photo with the US President and later stood feet away from Trump as he spoke during Kimberly Guilfoyle's birthday, the sources said. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement Thursday saying: "Both the President and Vice President had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time." She added: "The White House Medical Unit and the United States Secret Service has been working closely with various agencies to ensure every precaution is taken to keep the First & Second Families, and all White House staff healthy." Bolsonaro's aide also posted an image of himself standing with Trump and US Vice President Mike Pence at Mar-a-Lago over the weekend.

Trump, Pence Won’t Be Tested After Meeting Brazilian Official With Coronavirus - A Brazilian government official who attended a meeting at Donald Trump’s Florida resort on Saturday and posted a photo of himself standing next to the U.S. president and Vice President Mike Pence has tested positive for the 2019 novel coronavirus, Brazil’s presidential office confirmed on Thursday. However, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that Trump and Pence had “almost no interactions” with the senior aide and “do not require being tested at this time.” “Exposures from the case are being assessed, which will dictate next steps,” she added. “To reiterate CDC guidelines, there is currently no indication to test patients without symptoms, and only people with prolonged close exposure to confirmed positive cases should self-quarantine.” Fabio Wajngarten, the press secretary for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, accompanied the far-right leader to Mar-a-Lago on Friday for a visit that included dinner with Trump, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. On Sunday, the delegation reportedly met with U.S. military Southern Command senior leaders, who then traveled to Capitol Hill and the Pentagon. On Monday, the delegation met with Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) for a meeting at the Hilton Miami Downtown and, while Scott said he didn’t believe he came into contact with Wajngarten, he was in the same room as the Brazilian aide.  “The [Brazilian] Embassy said the person had no symptoms leading up to or the day of the conference,” Scott said in a statement, adding that he would cancel a scheduled press conference on coronavirus testing and instead self-quarantine out of “an abundance of caution.” Bolsonaro has also been tested for the virus and is awaiting the results.

Second Mar-a-Lago guest tests positive for coronavirus - A second person who was with President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida this past weekend has tested positive for COVID-19, the diseased caused by the novel coronavirus. Republican officials said that a guest at a fundraiser at the Florida resort who attended a luncheon with Trump later tested positive for the coronavirus infection. The news came after a Brazilian official who met with Trump also tested positive.“As you may have had contact with this individual, please contact your medical provider if you or any of your loved ones is ill” or shows other symptoms, donors were told, according to a copy of a message obtained by The Washington Post.Trump has sought to downplay the interaction with the press aide to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, even after photographs emerged of the two in close proximity to each other and shaking hands.“That night, I was taking hundreds of pictures,” Trump said during an earlier exchange with a reporter about the matter.However, Trump reversed course during remarks at the White House Friday, saying he would be tested.“Most likely, yes,” Trump told a reporter during an exchange about his recent contact with the Brazilian official. “Not for that reason, but because I think I will do it anyway. “Fairly soon, we’re working out a schedule,” he added.

Trump takes coronavirus test, extends travel ban to Britain, Ireland - (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Saturday he had taken a coronavirus test but that his temperature was “totally normal,” as he extended a travel ban to Britain and Ireland to try to slow the spread of a pandemic that has shut down much of the daily routine of American life. After White House officials took the unprecedented step of checking the temperatures of journalists entering the briefing room, Trump told reporters he took a test for the virus on Friday night and that he expects the results in “a day or two days.” He met with a Brazilian delegation last week, at least one member of which has since tested positive. Trump said Americans should reconsider non-essential travel, and that his administration was also considering domestic travel restrictions. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the country has recorded 2,226 case of the new coronavirus but has not yet reached the peak of the outbreak. “This will get worse before it gets better,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said at the briefing. But, he added, “99% of people will recover and people need to know that.” Critics have accused Trump of focusing too much on markets, which on Friday saw the three major Wall Street indexes gain more than 9% after having had their worst day since 1987 on Thursday.

Trump aides pound on China. Health experts say: Please stop. -They call it the “Wuhan virus.” As a lethal pandemic races across the world, overwhelming health systems and upending entire societies, President Donald Trump’s top aides and allies see an opening to weaken a vulnerable adversary. Advertisement The Trump team’s escalating drumbeat against China is worrying some public health experts, who say the attempts to blame Beijing for the coronavirus outbreak could harm efforts to combat the spreading contagion, while winning praise from others. And it’s come amid conspiracy theories and counteraccusations from Chinese officials, some of whom are alleging the virus’s true origins lie outside China, in what U.S. officials say is a malicious effort to shift blame. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien has accused China of covering up the health crisis. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has repeatedly labeled the illness the “Wuhan coronavirus” — a reference to the Chinese city that is the epicenter of the disease. Hawkish pro-Trump lawmakers in Congress, meanwhile, have raised alarms about China’s outsized role in global supply chains for key medicines. And that’s on top of other anti-Beijing moves that have nothing to do with the virus at all. The Chinese are fighting back with their own harsh rhetoric, all while signaling that their herculean effort to eradicate the virus means the world should look to them – and not the United States — as a leader and role model. The Trump administration’s hardline reaction to Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus is in many ways par for the course: Its foreign policy relies more on sticks than carrots, and it has flatly declared the ruling Chinese Communist Party a long-term global threat.

'US Army Behind Covid-19 In Wuhan'- China's Foreign Ministry Levels Bombastic Charge - A truly bombshell and unprecedented accusation, underscoring that if Sino-US relations amid the broader crisis weren't already bad enough, they're about to crash much, much lower: China's Foreign Ministry spokesman tweets "it might be the US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan" — the widely acknowledged epicenter and origin point of the Covid-19 pandemic.Such shock allegations have recently been swirling in foreign media, especially in Chinese, Iranian and Russian press; however, this is the first time such a high Beijing has leveled the charge this after President Trump controversially referred to it as a "foreign virus". Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made the remarks on his official Twitter account Thursday, citing prior televised testimony by CDC Director Robert Redfield to the House Oversight Committee:2/2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 12, 2020.   After four months the globe wrangled over "patient zero" and origin points in China, including scrutiny focused on the Chinese state-owned virology lab in Wuhan, which itself happened to be in the ground zero hot zone, it appears Beijing is now aggressively deflecting "blame" for the spread."Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!" [sic] Lijian demanded.He said: When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent!So it appears the official Chinese party line is now that the virus originated in the United States!

Twitter Won't Remove Chinese Official's Conspiracy Theory Suggesting US Army Secretly Infected Wuhan With COVID-19 -- While Zero Hedge remains banned from Twitter for suggesting that a Chinese level-4 biolab experimenting with bat coronavirus (which is 96% genetically identical to COVID-19) - located roughly 900 feet from the Wuhan wet-market widely considered as 'ground zero' for the new disease - may have had something to do with the global outbreak the novel coronavirus, Twitter has refused to delete a conspiracy theory from a Chinese official accusing the US Army of introducing it into Wuhan. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lijian Zhao claimed in a tweet this week that "It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan," citing prior televised testimony by CDC Director Robert Redfield in which he said that early COVID-19 cases were mistaken for regular influenza.   1/2 CDC Director Robert Redfield admitted some Americans who seemingly died from influenza were tested positive for novel #coronavirus in the posthumous diagnosis, during the House Oversight Committee Wednesday. #COVID19  2/2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation! — Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 12, 2020 According to Quartz, "The conspiracy posits that 300 athletes from the US military who in October attended the 7th Military World Games in Wuhan, where the epidemic first broke out, were infected with the virus, thereby spreading it in China." And according to the Daily Caller, "A tweet from Chinese politician Lijian Zhao suggesting the United States is trying to keep secret a plan to inject the virus into China does not violate Twitter rules, a company spokesman said. The spokesman reiterated the company’s existing rules but did not provide a reason for speaking anonymously." Heaven forbid Twitter choose a CCP conspiracy theory over Occam's razor.

Federal judge cites coronavirus in decision blocking Trump admin cut to food stamps - A Trump administration rule that would have tightened work requirements for food stamps was blocked by a federal judge on Friday, who cited the rapidly spreading coronavirus in her decision. D.C. District Court Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell granted a preliminary injunction blocking the new rule, which government estimates predicted would kick as many as 700,000 Americans off of food stamps. “Especially now, as a global pandemic poses widespread health risks, guaranteeing that government officials at both the federal and state levels have flexibility to address the nutritional needs of residents and ensure their well-being through programs like SNAP, is essential,” Howell wrote in her ruling, according to HuffPost, which first reported the injunction. A coalition of 14 states and two major cities, as well as the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, had sued the Trump administration over its rule to restrict the ability of states to provide food stamps to jobless residents. Under the new rule "able-bodied" Americans who are not caring for a child younger than 6 years old would be eligible for food stamps only if they're employed or enrolled in a vocational training program. "The waivers that the Rule curtails are critical to ensuring access to food for low-income people who live in areas with limited employment opportunities," read the complaint filed by the 14 states and New York City and Washington, D.C. "If implemented, the Rule will have a drastic impact on Plaintiffs and their residents by depriving between 688,000 and 850,000 vulnerable Americans of much-needed nutritional assistance."

HHS official overseeing immigrant shelters changes roles to assist with coronavirus response - The Health and Human Services (HHS) official who was in charge of overseeing the department’s shelters for immigrants has changed roles, the agency announced Friday. An official for HHS said that Jonathan Hayes, who had served as director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), will now work on HHS’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. “At the beginning of March, as part of the Department’s work to combat COVID-19, Secretary Azar directed his Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Dr. Robert Kadlec, to lead HHS’s interdepartmental incident response structure, in line with the Department’s emergency support function responsibilities," the official said. "To assist in this endeavor, Jonathan Hayes has been named Senior Advisor in the Office of Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response." “Hayes has served as the Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and brings a tremendous amount of experience managing complex logistical challenges as Director of ORR, under often difficult and dynamic circumstances," the official added. Hayes’s role overseeing ORR thrust him into the spotlight amid the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies, including the now-scrapped “zero tolerance” policy that led to a spike in family separations at the border. Hayes has had the top ORR job since February 2019 when the department was experiencing a flood of referrals of unaccompanied children who were apprehended by Border Patrol agents after crossing the border. ORR clashed with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under Hayes’s tenure. Senior officials reportedly pushed to have ICE agents inside ORR facilities last year, but the administration ultimately chose to allow ICE only to collect fingerprints from people who sought to pick up immigrant children at government shelters.

ICE rigged its algorithms to keep immigrants in jail, claims lawsuit - A new lawsuit claims Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rigged software to create a “secret no-release policy” for people suspected of breaking immigration laws. ICE’s New York office uses a risk assessment algorithm to recommend that an arrestee be released or detained until a hearing. But the New York Civil Liberties Union and Bronx Defenders say the algorithm was changed in 2015 and again in 2017, removing the ability to recommend release, even for arrestees who posed no threat.The Risk Classification Assessment (RCA) analyzes a subject’s criminal history, family ties, and other data. Theoretically, it should reach a verdict of “detain” or “release” (with or without bail). Reuters reported in 2018, however, that ICE had removed the “release” option. Instead, the system could only recommend detention or refer the case to an ICE supervisor — who, the lawsuit says, would almost never order a release.NYCLU and Bronx Defenders filed a public records request for more details, and yesterday, they used the resulting information to sue ICE’s New York field office. When the system was implemented in 2013, the suit notes, roughly 40 percent of people that immigration officers arrested were released with or without bond. Between 2017 and 2019, the number dropped below 3 percent. This coincided with a massive spike in arresting immigrants without criminal convictions who should have been more likely to qualify for release. Detaining nonviolent immigrants with no flight risk can have devastating consequences. Prisoners can spend weeks or months in jail without being convicted of a crime, awaiting a hearing before a judge. Many lose connections with their families and communities, are fired from jobs, or receive shoddy care for serious medical conditions. (New York’s cash bail system has put poor non-immigrants in similar positions, although a bail reform law took effect this year.) Meanwhile,Reuters wrote that courts have been overloaded with hearings for detained immigrants — 40 percent of whom were released after their hearings.The class action lawsuit claims that ICE violated prisoners’ due process rights under the Fifth Amendment, alongside other regulations. “ICE is legally required to make individual assessments and cannot outsource its statutory and constitutional duties to a rigged algorithm,” said NYCLU staff attorney Amy Belsher in a statement. ICE’s alleged algorithm rigging is part of a larger immigration crackdown by the Trump administration — including increased surveillance of visa applicants, DNA collection from detained immigrants, and overcrowded detention centers with brutal living conditions.

Blind man fails citizenship test after being denied Braille --A blind man has been denied US citizenship after immigration agents refused to provide him with an English language sentence to read in Braille. Lucio Delgado, 23, was born blind and uses a cane to get around. He moved to the US from Mexico six years ago. Mr Delgado said he was offered a large-print sentence to read, which he could not, being totally blind. Mr Delgado, who is legally blind under Illinois state law, was told to get a doctor's note to prove his condition. "Over here I was going to get the education I couldn't get in Mexico," he told CBS News from his home on a farm in Pembroke Township, Illinois - about 70 miles (110km) south of Chicago. After taking the test in May, he recently received a letter from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) informing him that he had been rejected. "Unfortunately, you were unable to read a sentence in the English language," the letter said. "Regrettably, you were unable to achieve a passing score on the reading portion of the naturalisation test." . He was told during the test to go and get a doctor's note to prove that he was blind, but he could not afford to do so because he does not have health insurance.

 Feds arrest over 600 alleged Mexican cartel members --The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced Wednesday that more than 600 arrests have been made as a result of an interagency operation cracking down on Mexican cartel activity. “Project Python,” a DEA-led initiative, targeted members of Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG). According to the DEA, over the last six months federal law enforcement officials have been monitoring the activities of the accused. The operation resulted in more than 600 arrests nationwide, 350 indictments and “significant seizures of money and drugs,” according to the agencies. “Project Python marks the most comprehensive action to date in the Department of Justice’s campaign to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately destroy CJNG,” Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski said in a statement. Benczkowski cited an executive order President Trump passed shortly after Trump was inaugurated in 2017 that condemned cartel operations in the U.S. and directed federal law enforcement to use the Threat Mitigation Working Group, which was put in place by the Obama administration in 2011. According to the DOJ, CJNG is active in major U.S. cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Houston and Atlanta.

Rand Paul looms as wild card in surveillance fight -  Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is taking on a familiar role as a thorn in the side of leadership as Congress barrels toward a surveillance deadline with no deal in sight. Paul, a libertarian-minded Republican, is pushing for broader surveillance court reforms to be included as part of any bill that reauthorizes or extends the expiring provisions of the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 law that overhauled the country’s intelligence programs. "The time is ripe now. It’s an inflection point. You’ve got Republicans coming around to this," Paul said. "I think even the powers that be in the Senate, the Republicans that don't like it, they know that the president wants it, they know a lot of us who are reformers want it, and so I ultimately I think they acquiesce." Paul isn’t the only GOP senator pushing reforms as part of the USA Freedom debate — Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), for example, is also deeply involved — but Paul has publicly emerged as the loudest voice within the Senate Republican Conference to demand changes to the court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). His position puts him at odds with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has personally backed a clean extension of the three expiring provisions that relate to roving wiretaps, lone wolf surveillance and a controversial phone records program. But with no deal in sight and the clock ticking, McConnell is likely to need cooperation from Paul to get legislation across the floor. The GOP leader has yet to tee up any bill related to the expiring USA Freedom provisions. Instead, the chamber will take a procedural vote on Monday night on a mammoth energy package, with final passage of that bill expected on Tuesday or Wednesday. The surveillance deadline, March 15, is a Sunday; the Senate normally leaves town for the week on Thursday afternoon. Paul says he won't support a short-term extension and appeared skeptical that he would back a larger deal that paired a USA Freedom extension with reforms to FISA, though he added that he could support some of the surveillance reforms if they get standalone votes, as amendments, for example. He’s also pushing for an amendment vote to prohibit FISA warrants from being used against American citizens and to prohibit information obtained in the FISA courts from being used against a U.S. citizen in domestic courts.

 Trump tells GOP senator he does not support House surveillance deal - President Trump told Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Thursday that he does not support a House-passed surveillance bill— raising fresh questions about the fate of the legislation. A spokesman for Lee confirmed the conversation and that the president told the Utah Republican that he does not support the House legislation. Officials speaking for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Lee and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have been working to kill the House bill, including urging Trump to veto it if it reaches his desk, over concerns that it does not go far enough to reform the court associated with the Freedom Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Lee tried, but failed, to get the Senate to pass a 45-day extension of three soon-to-expire provisions of the USA Freedom Act, as well as guarantee votes on amendments to the House legislation, which pairs a reauthorization of the provisions with some changes to the FISA process. Progressives and libertarian-minded GOP senators have warned for years that they do not believe the surveillance court provides enough transparency or privacy protections for the targeted. They've been joined by several Republican lawmakers after the Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz found 17 significant inaccuracies and omissions as part of the warrant applications into Trump campaign associate Carter Page. Trump has repeatedly railed against FISA, arguing that his campaign was "spied" upon.

 Trump picks ultra-right congressman Mark Meadows as new chief of staff - In an action carried out repeatedly during the Trump administration, a top official was fired Friday by tweet and replaced, with little or no advance warning. This time the official was Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, and the replacement is Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a leader of the ultra-right House Freedom Caucus. Mulvaney’s dismissal was abrupt, but hardly unexpected. He was named acting chief of staff in December 2018, after retired General John Kelly left the position, and never succeeded in persuading Trump to remove the “acting” from his title, while he continued to hold the official position of budget director, with the work carried out by his deputy Russ Vought, who was “acting” budget chief. Press accounts suggest that Mulvaney’s fate was sealed by his disastrous October press conference, when he unexpectedly stepped into the White House briefing room to confirm that Trump had indeed demanded political favors from the president of Ukraine in return for the delivery of US military assistance. “We do it all the time,” he declared. “Get over it.” Within hours, Mulvaney was compelled to issue a groveling retraction, but the video of his statement was used continually by the Democrats in the course of their drive to impeach Trump for withholding military aid to Ukraine. Mulvaney refused to testify before the House impeachment inquiry, but Trump reportedly was reluctant to fire him until after the Senate trial, which ended in acquittal February 5.

Twitter puts 'manipulated' tag on edited Biden video retweeted by Trump --A tweet featuring edited footage of former Vice President Joe Biden that incorrectly made it appear as though he was endorsing President Trump’s reelection has been labelled “manipulated media” by Twitter.A spokesperson for the social platform told The Hill on Sunday that the tweet was “actioned” based on a policy it recently rolled out to prevent users from deceptively sharing “synthetic or manipulated media that are likely to cause harm.” The tweet, the president’s social media manager Dan Scavino posted on Saturday, shows edited footage from a speech Biden delivered in Missouri earlier that day. The clip was edited to show Biden saying, “Excuse me. We can only re-elect Donald Trump,” right before it ends mid-sentence. In a full clip of the moment, Biden says, “Excuse me. We can only re-elect Donald Trump if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad here. It's gotta be a positive campaign.” The doctored video, which was later promoted by Trump and his campaign, racked up millions of views before Twitter labeled the media “manipulated” on Sunday afternoon in a first for the platform.However, some people on Twitter also noted that when they search for the tweet, the label no longer shows up. A Twitter spokesperson said that the label is "not currently showing up in Tweet detail, but is visible in the timeline."

Biden’s Policies Propose Minor Changes in a Time of Crisis - Alexis Goldstein -- Former Vice President Joe Biden now has a plurality of delegates, following his strong performance on Super Tuesday, and polls suggest he is likely to dominate in the six states that have their primaries on March 10, and according to projections from FiveThirtyEight, Biden is now favored as the most likely candidate to win the nomination.  Given the sudden rise in Biden’s prospects, it’s an important moment in which to review his policy platform, which sometimes tends to attract less discussion, perhaps because his policy proposals overall seem to match a claim Biden himself made at a fundraiser in Manhattan last June, when he reassured wealthy donors that unlike more progressive candidates, he wouldn’t call for dramatic transfers of wealth from the 1 percent to the rest of society, and under his leadership “nothing would fundamentally change.”  Biden has long opposed Medicare for All, arguing last year that it’s better to simply build on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and more recently saying there isn’t majority support for Medicare for All among Democrats (even though polling shows there is).  Biden’s record on abortion rights includes past support for the Hyde amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion, but Biden reversed his position on Hyde last June. Biden gave confusing answers about reproductive care during his New York Times candidate interview, claiming that there are organizations that allow people to get abortions for free.  On disability rights, Biden also has yet to articulate a strong way forward. Biden does not have a dedicated disability plan — while the Democratic field was still plentiful, this stood out in particular as he was the only leading candidate without one.  Biden supports ending cash bail and the federal government’s use of private prisons, and would pressure states to do the same. He supports eliminating the very mandatory minimums he was in part responsible for creating (with his Anti-Drug Abuse Act that created sentencing disparities between cocaine and crack). But he thinks marijuana should be decriminalized, not legalized. Biden opposes extending the right to vote to people who are incarcerated; Sanders would enfranchise everyone. Sanders wants to end solitary confinement; Biden would preserve it in certain cases like “protecting the life of an imprisoned person,” though his website does not explain why that would be necessary.Biden doesn’t support decriminalizing border-crossing and other immigration violations. When asked by The Washington Post where he stood on abolishing or restructuring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Biden did not answer. Biden also did not respond to a housing and homelessness questionnaire from The New York Times.  The housing plan on Biden’s website is paltry compared to that of the remaining candidates. Biden proposes a $100 billion affordable housing fund, including $65 billion in“incentives” to construct or rehabilitate affordable housing. But the phrase “public housing” doesn’t appear once in the plan, and it’s unclear how much in the incentives are meant to deal with the estimated$70 billion backlog in repairs needed to public housing, following decades of underinvestment. Just as with his health care plan, the focus in Biden’s housing plan is more on incentives to the private market than on large-scale investment by the government in public goods. Biden’s climate plan is a moderate vision that is mostly a continuation of Obama-era policies — which climate activists feel are not urgent enough to address the climate crisis.

Role of a Wall Street Law Firm in the Joe Biden Resurgence Raises Alarms for Progressives - Pam Martens - There has been the feeling of an invisible hand in the miraculous comeback of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Biden lost all three of the first races in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, then spiraled to a long series of state victories despite a lackluster and sometimes rambling performance in the presidential debates. Since the invisible hand in unlikely elections always has a money trail somewhere, we decided to pull back the dark curtain using campaign financing data at the Center for Responsive Politics ( The name of the giant Wall Street law firm – Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP – emerges as a common denominator. Paul Weiss has not only been a major donor to the Biden campaign but it was simultaneously a major donor to the campaigns of the four presidential candidates who dropped out of the race and then endorsed Biden at critical moments in his miraculous resuscitation. (As the Center for Responsive Politics notes on its website, the law firm itself is prohibited from making donations under federal law. The money came from the law firm’s partners, employees, their immediate family members or its PAC.) Donors from Paul Weiss rank as the 12th largest donor to the Joe Biden campaign with a tally of $168,412. Paul Weiss was the top donor to Senator Cory Booker’s presidential campaign, sluicing $151,102 into his campaign coffers. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who hails from Minnesota – pretty far from the law firm’s Wall Street focus – received $76,932 from Paul Weiss, making it her third largest donor in her presidential bid. Pete Buttigieg, who was the former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana – about as far from Wall Street as one can get, received $133,261 from those generous folks at Paul Weiss, making it his seventh largest donor. And, finally, there was presidential candidate Kamala Harris, the junior Senator from California, who received the sizeable sum of $193,873 from the folks at Paul Weiss, ranking them her second largest campaign contributor. Just how statistically likely is it that one law firm would show up in the campaigns of five different Democratic candidates for president without there being an agenda? Adding to the suspicion is this. On March 2, the day prior to the make-or-break Super Tuesday primary elections on March 3, which guaranteed maximum media coverage, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg endorsed Joe Biden for President, giving him a critical lift. One day before this week’s Super Tuesday II elections, Senator Cory Booker endorsed Biden, which followed by one day the endorsement of Biden by Senator Kamala Harris.

Joe Biden told a factory worker ‘you’re full of s---’ during a tense argument over guns-  Leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called a Detroit factory worker “full of s---” in a testy exchange on gun policy Tuesday as voters cast ballots in Michigan’s crucial primary. Video shared by reporters on Biden’s tour of the Detroit auto plant shows the former vice president surrounded by workers as he argued face to face with a man in a hard hat and an orange high-visibility vest. The worker accused Biden of “actively trying to end our Second Amendment right.” Biden immediately responded: “You’re full of s---.” Biden was visiting with members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who are building a new Fiat Chrysler assembly plant. “I support the Second Amendment,” Biden said in the clip. But “the Second Amendment — just like right now, if you yell ‘fire,’ that’s not free speech.” “I have a shotgun, I have a 20-gauge, a 12-gauge,” Biden said. “You’re not allowed to own [just] any weapon. I’m not taking your gun away at all. You need 100 rounds?” The worker then claimed Biden had said he was going to take guns away. “I did not say that! I did not say that!” Biden fired back, raising his voice. The worker said he had heard Biden make that claim in a viral video. “It’s a viral video like the other ones that came out” that were “lies,” Biden said. “Don’t be such a horse’s a--,” Biden added as the exchange grew more heated. The National Rifle Association quickly shared the video on Twitter. “Joe: Gun owners see through your lies,” the NRA’s official account tweeted.

GOP chairman cancels Hunter Biden-related subpoena vote --Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) canceled a vote scheduled for Wednesday afternoon on a subpoena stemming from his months-long probe into Hunter Biden and Burisma Holdings. “Out of an abundance of caution, and to allow time for you to receive additional briefings, I will postpone a vote to subpoena records and an appearance from former Blue Star Strategies consultant Andrii Telizhenko about his work for the lobbying firm,” Johnson said in a note to committee members, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill. Johnson told reporters that he was pulling the vote because of "some discrepancies brought up in what we had been told." "There were issues raised," Johnson said. "There were discrepancies in what had been told in one briefing versus the next briefing, and then even greater discrepancies in staff notes." The committee had been poised to vote on Wednesday afternoon to subpoena Telizhenko for documents and an interview. Johnson characterized him as willing to participate with the committee's investigation but currently barred by a non-disclosure agreement. Johnson's decision to move forward with the subpoena vote, over the objections of Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) had sparked days of high-profile tensions, with Democrats viewing the subpoena as an attempt to target former Vice President Joe Biden that might also inadvertently help spread Russian misinformation.

Hunter Biden Settles With Baby-Mama After Judge Rejects Coronavirus Excuse - Hunter Biden has reached a settlement in his paternity case after an Arkansas judge shut down his latest attempt to delay the case, after the former Ukrainian energy company board member, crack aficionado, and strip club patron (turned artist) argued that he would be unable to attend scheduled hearings this week - citing his wife's pregnancy, "intense media scrutiny" surrounding his father's presidential bid, and travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus. According to the Washington Free Beacon, Arkansas circuit judge Holly Meyer admonished Biden for his repeated attempts at delaying the inevitable. "For context in ruling on this Motion the Court has reviewed the history of this litigation and finds that the Defendant has been given considerable leniency regarding continuances and delay," she wrote in her order. "The defendant’s attempts to delay this case are mounting such that one begins to see a pattern of delay." On Wednesday morning, lawyers for plaintiff Lunden Alexis Roberts alerted the judge that they had reached a final settlement with Biden that, pending court approval, will end the nearly 10-month-long legal battle. "Late last night, after the court entered the order, we reached a global, final settlement of all issues," Roberts's lawyer wrote in an email to Judge Meyer.

The Other Biden Problem- Joe's Brother Now Facing Allegations Of Influence Peddling == If reports are accurate, influence peddling may be something of a family cottage industry. While Congress continues to look at the Hunter Biden contract and his effort to sell his name to foreign companies, the brother of Joe Biden is facing the same allegations in an expanding controversy over his selling of his connection to the former vice president. James Biden was anything but subtle in his pitching his connections to his brother.While it has received little attention in the media, James Biden has leveraged his connection with his brother for years in open pitches for contracts with major business like Americore (which is now in bankruptcy and the subject of a FBI investigation that is not contacted to Biden). Biden arranged for Americore founder Grant White to meet his brother.Former Americore executive Tom Pritchard and others allege that Biden promised a large investment from Middle Eastern backers while he openly referenced his access to his brother and his family name. Biden is facing a wide array of litigation over allegedly fraudulent activities as well as a personal loan acquired through Americore before it went into bankruptcy. The effort of Hunter and James Biden to peddle access and influence with Joe Biden could become an even greater issue in the 2020 election. Joe Biden has bizarrely continued to claim that “no one has suggested that my son did anything wrong.” He seems to be drawing a distinction between what is criminal and what is not — as if the criminal code is the only measure of wrongdoing or unethical conduct. Now a pattern exists of not just his son cashing in on his influence but his brother. That is wrong regardless of whether it is criminal. The expanding litigation surrounding James Biden could force a broader debate about that distinction.

Obama-Era Inspector General Indicted On 16 Counts Of Theft And Fraud - The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Friday that the Obama administration's Acting Homeland Security Inspector General and his former subordinate were indicted on 16 counts of theft and fraud.The charges against 59-year-old Charles K. Edwards and his underling Murali Yamazula Venkata, 54, include theft of government property, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Venkata is also charged with destruction of records.According to the allegations in the indictment, from October 2014 to April 2017, Edwards, Venkata, and others executed a scheme to defraud the U.S. government by stealing confidential and proprietary software from DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), along with sensitive government databases containing personal identifying information (PII) of DHS and USPS employees, so that Edwards’s company, Delta Business Solutions, could later sell an enhanced version of DHS-OIG’s software to the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at a profit.  Although Edwards had left DHS-OIG in December 2013, he continued to leverage his relationship with Venkata and other DHS-OIG employees to steal the software and the sensitive government databases. –DOJ    Venkata and others are also accused of reconfiguring Edwards' laptop so that he could upload the stolen software and databases, and helped troubleshoot whenever Edwards needed. He even built a test server at his house with the stolen software and databases. Edwards is also accused of employing Indian software developers for the purpose of developing his ripoff of DHS's software.

Harvey Weinstein Gets 23 Years In Prison For Sex Crimes - Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Wednesday for sexually assaulting two women. The sentence follows a landmark verdict on February 24, after a jury found that Weinstein raped aspiring actress Jessica Mann at a DoubleTree hotel in 2013 when she was 27-years-old, and forced oral sex on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, now 42, at his apartment in 2006.Weinstein’s sentencing was watched in the Manhattan courtroom by all the women who had testified at trial against the once-feared mogul, who was convicted Feb. 24 of rape and committing a criminal sexual act more than two years after explosive news  articles about his alleged serial sexual abuse of women.The producer of films including “Pulp Fiction,” “Shakespeare in Love,” and “Gangs of New York” was found not guilty of the most serious charges: two counts of predatory sexual assault for which he could have been sentenced to life in prison. He also was acquitted of first-degree rape. -CNBC

Prince Andrew Has 'Completely Shut The Door' To Cooperation With Epstein Probe- Prosecutors - Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman says that Prince Andrew has "completely shut the door" on cooperating with federal prosecutors in the Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking investigation, according to the NY Daily News. "Contrary to Prince Andrew’s very public offer to cooperate with our investigation into Epstein’s co-conspirators, an offer that was conveyed via press release, Prince Andrew has now completely shut the door on voluntary cooperation and our office is considering its options," Berman said on Monday at an unrelated press conference.In January, Berman said Andrew has provided "zero cooperation" on the case.Andrew has been accused by Virigina Roberts Giuffre, who alleges she was coerced into having sex with the prince on three separate occasions when she was 17. She has offered a detailed account of a March 10, 2001 encounter in which she says she danced with Andrew at the Tramp nightclub in London before he had sex with her. Giuffre has also released an infamous picture of herself, Andrew, and Epstein 'madam' Ghislaine Maxwell, in which Andrew has his arm around her.  Andrew has suggested the picture is fake, and has denied any association with Roberts Giuffre. In November, the prince claimed in a trainwreck of an interview that Epstein had "quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming," adding "Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required."

US Prosecutors Seeking Legal Options Against Epstein Co-Conspirator Prince Andrew - The FBI has spent months trying to get an interview with Prince Andrew about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, but investigators have had no luck getting him to speak on the record about the case. New York prosecutors told the press this week that the prince has “completely shut the door” on cooperating with authorities. They are now considering what further legal action can be taken. Andrew continues to deny any wrongdoing or knowledge of Epstein’s many crimes, despite a growing body of evidence indicating that he was involved. Manhattan Attorney Geoffrey Berman described the prince as a “co-conspirator.” “Contrary to Prince Andrew’s very public offer to cooperate with our investigation into Epstein’s co-conspirators, an offer that was conveyed via press release, Prince Andrew has now completely shut the door on voluntary cooperation and our office is considering its options,” Berman said, according to the Guardian. Andrew has previously promised to help investigators with the case, but has since removed himself from public life. He has also refused requests for interviews that investigators have sent him. When asked about the recent statement from New York prosecutors, a spokesperson for the palace told the Guardian, “The issue is being dealt with by the Duke of York’s legal team.”

Stock trading temporarily halted as plunge triggers 'circuit breaker' -Stock trading was halted Monday after the S&P 500 Index fell 7 percent after the market opened, triggering an automatic freeze.Trading was paused for 15 minutes after the S&P slipped below a “circuit-breaker” level designed to prevent broader stock market crash in times of high volatility.The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted by 1,884 points as trading opened, a 7.29 percent drop and the Nasdaq composite sank 7.1 percent. Trading resumed before 10 a.m. ET.

Over $26 billion wiped off cryptocurrency market in 24 hours after massive oil price plunge - Cryptocurrency markets plunged following a plummet in oil prices and further sell-off in stocks. The market capitalization or entire value of cryptocurrencies was down $26.43 billion from a day earlier at around 1:17 p.m. Singapore time, according to data from The sell-off worsened as the day went on. Bitcoin, the biggest cryptocurrency by value, fell over 10% in 24 hours at around the same time. The violent sell-off in the cryptocurrency market comes after international oil benchmark Brent crude futures plummeted 30% to $31.02 per barrel, its lowest level since Feb. 2016. That was sparked by Saudi Arabia slashing its official selling prices for oil after OPEC failed to agree a deal on production cuts. This has led to fears of an oil price war. Brent has since pared some of its losses. Meanwhile, stock markets in Japan and Hong Kong fell sharply while U.S. stocks are set for a steep drop at start of trading on Monday. The other big digital coins ethereum, XRP and bitcoin cash, posted double-digit percentage point losses. Despite the losses posted Monday, bitcoin is up around 9% year-to-date. Huge moves in cryptocurrency prices are not unusual and these digital coins are known for their volatility. Market players however said this could be an opportunity to buy some bitcoin. “For those who have long term investment horizons, bitcoin is absolutely a buy during these dips,” Jehan Chu, co-founder of Kenetic Capital, an investor in blockchain start-ups told CNBC. “We can expect more of this volatility sparked by macro health and financial shocks, but ultimately long term investments in the digital future and it’s key asset Bitcoin will be a winning strategy”

Flock of Black Swans Tanks Stocks, Oil, Treasury Yields; Fed Sticks Its Finger in the Dike - Pam Martens - There are now so many Black Swans circling in the sky against darkening clouds that it’s starting to feel like news on steroids. Here’s what we woke up to this morning:  Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average contract had fallen 5 percent overnight so they are now locked, limit-down in the futures market in Chicago. We can get a pretty good idea, however, of just how far the stock market will fall when it opens at 9:30 a.m. in New York from the SPDR Dow ETF, which at 9:03 a.m. suggested an opening loss of about 1,681 points or 6.5 percent from its close on Friday. Those projected losses, of course, could be stemmed before the market opens by news of liquidity injections. The stock market, of course, has been spooked by growing cases of the coronavirus and escalating outbreaks from community spread in the U.S. That anxiety was heightened over the weekend with news that Italy had quarantined 16 million residents in Northern Italy. The area included the business capital of Milan. As of Monday morning, the number of confirmed cases worldwide jumped to 110,000 with deaths just under 4,000. As if the coronavirus wasn’t enough for nervous traders and investors to deal with this morning, crude oil has also staged a crash, trading down over 20 percent from its close on Friday. The crash in the price of oil comes as Saudi Arabia is threatening to open its spigots to grab market share following a breakdown in talks for production cuts in Vienna last week. OPEC had recommended additional cuts of 1.5 million barrels a day but Russia balked. Because Saudi Arabia is a low-cost producer, it could level serious damage on oil producers in the U.S. The junk bond market, which has significant exposure to energy companies, is likely to react negatively to the oil news. That will in turn put pressure on the biggest Wall Street banks, which have loan exposure to that sector. Adding to the surreal aspect of this morning’s news, the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note crashed through 0.50 percent and traded as low as 0.3802 percent. Even during the Great Depression, the 10-year Treasury note traded in a range of 2 to 3 percent. The unprecedented decline in yields is a result of a safe haven flight to the Treasury instrument as chaos erupts in markets around the world. Stock markets in Europe were also in panic mode. The U.K.’s FTSE, Germany’s DAX, and France’s CAC 40 had all fallen by about 8 percent by early afternoon in Europe.

There Was a Bloodbath in Wall Street Banks and Insurers Yesterday  - Pam Martens - President Donald Trump is bringing a pea shooter to a gunfight. If you look carefully at the charts on this page from yesterday’s trading bloodbath, it’s clear that there is a deep financial crisis playing out. The idea that this can be remedied with a payroll tax cut is the stuff of tooth fairies. And this crisis didn’t begin with the coronavirus. Headlines about the virus did not start appearing in the U.S. until January of this year. But the Federal Reserve began making hundreds of billions of dollars each week in cheap loans to Wall Street’s banks on September 17, 2019 — the first time it had done this since the 2008 financial crisis. You can earmark September 17, 2019 as the actual date that this Financial Crisis II got underway. All of the toothless financial reforms of the Dodd-Frank legislation of 2010, together with the rollback of reforms since then, are now coming home to roost — as it was inevitable that they would. To give you a snapshot idea of just how grave the situation was yesterday, JPMorgan Chase, the largest federally-insured bank in the U.S. which also holds tens of trillions of dollars of derivatives, fell by a larger percentage yesterday than on September 15, 2008 – the day that Lehman Brothers filed bankruptcy at the height of the 2008 financial crisis. JPMorgan Chase fell 13.55 percent yesterday versus just 10.13 percent on September 15, 2008. Citigroup led the declines among the mega Wall Street banks yesterday with a stunning loss of 16.17 percent. This is the same bank that received the largest government bailout in global banking history in 2008. Why it was even resuscitated by the government in 2008 remains a nagging question and there would be political upheaval if a repeat performance was suggested. Bank of America, parent of the sprawling retail brokerage firm, Merrill Lynch, declined by 14.70 percent while Deutsche Bank, which has a heavy derivatives footprint on Wall Street, shed 12.78 percent – erasing equity capital it desperately needs right now to stay afloat. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which have the ability to trade in their own Dark Pools to protect their share price, closed down 10.39 percent and 10.37 percent, respectively.Among the insurers with derivative exposure to Wall Street, Lincoln National (LNC) led the declines losing 16.82 percent. It is now down by 47 percent in less than a month. MetLife (MET), which sued the government to get removed from the SIFI list (Systemically Important Financial Institution), certainly appeared to be a SIFI yesterday: it lost 16.64 percent and traded as part of the mega bank/insurer derivatives herd. Prudential Financial (PRU), Ameriprise Financial (AMP), and AIG also experienced deep double-digit losses. Not to put too fine a point on it, but AIG received a $185 billion bailout by the government in the 2008 financial crash. It’s not likely there is going to be the political will for a replay of that either – especially given President Trump’s large libertarian voter base that doesn’t believe in government handouts.

Insider Buying Surges To Nearly Decade Long High Amid Coronavirus Sell-Off - Those asking who is "buying while there's blood in the streets" over the last couple months may very well have their answer: corporate insiders. While we are still waiting for the first big activist to take a swing - or the first signs of large M&A that can sometimes come with selloffs, there's one group of people that aren't waiting to pull the trigger. Executives are hitting the clearance rack and buying shares of their own companies at what Bloomberg calls a "breakneck" pace during the first couple of weeks of March. The total purchased has exceeded the last two months combined and insider buys are outpacing sales by the most since 2011. Megan Horneman, director of portfolio strategy at Verdence Capital Advisors commented: “When insiders are buying, they think their companies are well undervalued. It can be a good sign that we’re trying to find a bottom around here -- not necessarily that it is the bottom but at least that we’re trying to find the bottom here.” The S&P 500 is now trading at a 14% discount to its 5 year average, which could perhaps be why almost 1,400 executives have bought shares of their own companies. The list includes the CEO of Newell Brands and Kinder Morgan. Buyers outnumbered sellers by nearly a 3:2 ratio. The last two times insiders bought similarly were in July 2011, preceding a 10% rally in the next two quarters, and in December 2018, preceding a 40% bounce off lows as the market rallied throughout 2019.

 Life Insurance Providers at Major Risk Over Coronavirus and Plummeting Bond Yields -Major U.S. life insurance providers have struggled as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country. However, while it's likely that many of these companies will face policy losses as the number of COVID-19-related deaths grow, they also face a threat from collapsing bond rates, which had hit historic lows earlier this week. Should bond rates continue to stay low, major life insurers could have to charge more and reprice their products in an effort to stay financially afloat. When coupled with the possibility of further COVID-19-related deaths and the payouts that this would require from healthcare insurance providers, the sector appears to be in a riskier position than ever. Insurance companies usually have a substantial exposure to interest-sensitive assets (including bonds) while also providing interest-sensitive products to their clients. Sudden drops in interest rates, as was seen on Monday, where the 10-year Treasury yield hit a new all-time low of 0.318%, can dramatically affect the balance sheets of these businesses. A struggling market The life insurance sector has seen significant declines over the past month. In comparison to the S&P 500, which fell by around 19% over the past four weeks, the S&P 500 Life & Health Insurance index declined by around 37%. Major life insurers, such as Prudential Financial (NYSE:PRU) and Metlife (NYSE:MET), both fell significantly on Wednesday, declining 7.8% and 4.9%, respectively. Both stocks have lost almost 40% of their market value over the past couple of weeks.

More coronavirus challenges for banks; RBS delays -The CEOs of the largest U.S. banks “struck a calming tone Wednesday in a White House meeting with President Trump that was light on policy talk and largely meant to reassure markets,” the paper says. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said banks are in a “great position” on capital and liquidity. “The meeting was called against the worrisome backdrop” of a 20% drop in stock prices, where “bank stocks have been especially hard hit.” Trump called the attendees, who included the heads of Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and others, “probably the best bankers in the world.”“There are signs that [some] executives see more trouble on the horizon,” American Banker reports.Despite the happy talk with the president, bank “earnings likely will suffer” from the crisis, the Journal notes. “Add together some of the biggest challenges U.S. banks weathered in the dozen years since the financial crisis, and you get an idea of how bad the coronavirus epidemic could be for them. Many of their businesses mirror economic activity, so falling growth and rising unemployment can dent their profits. Sharp drops in asset prices can sap their investment-banking and trading revenues as deal activity and investors pause.”And, as investors move away from risky assets, it "saddles lenders with securities they are struggling to sell at desired prices." The coronavirus outbreak has prompted questions among consumers whether they should keep extra cash on hand. “When it comes to cash, though, the virus fears cut both ways: There are those who also worry that the cash itself could be a source for transmission. Experts say such fears are understandable — but overblown.” The recent drop in the average rate on a 30-year mortgage to a record low of 3.29% last week “could give the flagging economy a much-needed boost amid coronavirus fears. Yet housing is juicing the economy less than it used to, some economists say. Housing never fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and low rates won’t cure its ills. Higher land costs, restrictive zoning, scarce labor and tighter lending standards still limit construction.”

 The drop in oil was perhaps the 'final straw' for US credit markets, strategist says - Falling oil prices may be the “primary reason” for volatility in U.S. credit markets, including historic lows on Treasury yields this week, according to a fixed income strategist. The credit market is sensitive to moves in oil because a “very large portion” of high-yield bonds in America are issued by companies involved in energy production, distribution and exploration, Thomas Tzitzouris of Strategas Research Partners said. “There’s just a lot of leverage there,” he told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Tuesday. Charles-Henry Monchau, chief investment officer of Dubai-based Al Mal Capital, agreed that these firms are vulnerable to oil price shocks. “They’re on the brink, for some of them, of bankruptcies, and obviously this could have a ripple effect on the whole credit market,” he said. Oil plummeted more than 20% on Monday after OPEC and its allies failed to agree on production cuts last week. Saudi Arabia, which initially suggested a large cut, said it would offer discounts on oil and plans to increase production after Russia refused to lower output at the OPEC+ meeting. While crude futures were up on Tuesday, they are still too low for U.S. producers, said Tzitzouris, a director at Strategas. Brent was trading at $37.50 a barrel in Asia’s afternoon, up 9.23%. U.S. crude traded around $34.22, up 9.89%. “Roughly speaking, you can make the argument that below $40 oil, most of these names, especially in the high-yield space, really can’t survive,” he said. “That drop in oil was perhaps the final straw for the U.S. credit markets.”

Virus could deal blow to leveraged loans. What's that mean for banks?— A rollercoaster stock market. A quickly planned White House meeting with bank CEOs. Uncertainty about the next shoe to drop.With the coronavirus outbreak spurring increasing worries about the economic fallout, there are shades of 2008 in 2020.Which segment of the financial sector could be hardest hit, if any, is still a matter of debate. But some industry watchers say a worsening crisis could unmask the historically high levels of risky corporate debt, including leveraged loans, with a spillover effect for banks.“We may be in an economic moment just as serious as 2008, but it's an economic moment that looks very different than 2008 in a lot of ways,” said Marcus Stanley, the policy director for Americans for Financial Reform. As businesses have loaded up on debt in the low-interest-rate years following the 2008 financial crisis, the global leveraged loan market is estimated to be anywhere from $1 trillion to $3 trillion. Up to now, regulators have been more worried about nonbanks' steadily increasing share of that market, with the regulated financial system thought to be protected. Many in the industry have argued that the banks would be insulated from a direct hit to leveraged loans, since most of the risk is concentrated in the nonbank sector. But there is also data that has shown that leveraged loans on banks’ books have been growing steadily in recent years. And even if banks aren’t making these loans directly, they have invested in collateralized loan obligations — which are made up of leveraged loans — and are also exposed through prime brokerage and credit derivatives, said Erik Gerding, a professor at University of Colorado Law School. In that scenario, banks would be among multiple sectors caught in the tailwinds. “I think the real concern is if this hits a broad enough set of industries, that the diversification that happens in the leveraged loans, and particularly in the CLO market, begins to affect a lot of different lenders and investors,” he said.

 Regulators pledge assistance to banks affected by coronavirus— Five federal financial agencies and a trade group for state banking regulators have committed to provide “appropriate regulatory assistance” to banks whose customers may be harmed by the coronavirus outbreak, as U.S. markets tumbled in response to the threat the virus poses to the economy. The Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Credit Union Administration and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors in a joint statement urged financial institutions to meet the needs of customers.“Regulators note that financial institutions should work constructively with borrowers and other customers in affected communities,” the agencies said in a news release Monday. “Prudent efforts that are consistent with safe and sound lending practices should not be subject to examiner criticism. The regulators also pledged to expedite requests to provide more convenient services to communities hit by the virus and to work with affected banks in scheduling exams to ensure minimal disruption to bank operations. Senate Democrats earlier Monday had said more regulatory guidance for financial institutions was needed on how to help consumer and commercial borrowers whose income streams were disrupted by the outbreak.The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council released a 10-page interagency statement Friday recommending steps banks should take to proactively prevent disruption of operations, minimize contact between staff and customers and plan for how affected employees reenter the workplace, among other things. “Pandemic planning presents unique challenges to financial institution management,” the FFIEC said in the interagency statement. “Unlike natural disasters, technical disasters, malicious acts, or terrorist events, the impact of a pandemic is much more difficult to determine because of the anticipated difference in scale and duration.” In that guidance, regulators advised banks to develop a program to reduce the likelihood that an institution’s operations will be significantly affected by a pandemic, as well as a strategy for recovering from a pandemic.

Another Dangerous Virus Hits the U.S. – Wall Street Bank Contagion - By Pam Martens -  There has been a lot of delusional talk about the strong capital levels of the mega banks on Wall Street, not only from the Federal Reserve, but also from Wall Street analysts spreading fantasies about the banks on cable news programs. We took an afternoon off last Friday to hear what was being said about the banks on CNBC. We were stunned to hear Mike Mayo, a long-tenured bank analyst on Wall Street, who currently works for Wells Fargo Securities, deliver a huckster-like assessment of the mega Wall Street banks. Mayo said this: “The banking industry has the strongest balance sheet in a generation. Now think about this: the banks have added $1 trillion of additional capital – that’s $1 trillion with a T; $2 trillion of additional cash; $3 trillion of additional deposits. You have a Federal Reserve stress test every year. Every year, the Federal Reserve, the overseer of the banking industry, they assume Armageddon will happen.” Mayo forgets to mention this: the big banks have been bleeding common equity capital since this selloff began. Since the first trading day of this year, January 2, JPMorgan Chase has lost $138.27 billion of its common equity capital, a decline of 32 percent. The carnage at Citigroup has been even worse with its common equity capital tanking by 37.5 percent, more than a third. See the chart above for the contagion effect among the other mega banks on Wall Street. As for the Fed’s stress tests, which are simply another illusion, see our report: Three Federal Studies Show Fed’s Stress Tests of Big Banks Are Just a Placebo. Then there is Mayo’s pitch that the banks have $2 trillion of additional cash. If they were actually rolling in liquidity, they wouldn’t be needing those hundreds of billions of dollars in revolving repo loans from the Fed each week, which began for the first time since the financial crisis on September 17 of last year and just got massively bigger today. (See our in-depth, ongoing series on the Fed’s repo loans to Wall Street here.) As for adding $3 trillion in additional deposits, that has been eclipsed by the retention of dangerous derivatives at these banks. As of September 30, 2019, according to the regulator of national banks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, those same five bank holding companies held $230 trillion in notional (face amount) of derivatives, which represents 85 percent of all derivatives held by the more than 5,000 banks and savings associations in the United States. This is the very definition of concentrated, uncontrollable risk.

 Coronavirus scams to watch out for - Fraudsters of all stripes are taking advantage of the coronavirus scare, and some of their scams are a direct threat to banks and their customers. Granted, New York hardware stores charging $79.99 for a bottle of hand sanitizer get the spotlight. But there are also hackers in the shadows sending emails and creating websites designed to trick people into clicking on malicious links disguised as helpful resources. Consumers can end up with malware on their computers that steal online banking credentials or credit card numbers. “Cybercriminals will often take advantage of trending topics in the news, such as the coronavirus, to try and prey on consumers using fear and urgency tactics,” said Gary McAlum, senior vice president and chief security officer for USAA. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, such activity is especially insidious in that it mimics communications from expert sources such as the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Johns Hopkins University. “I think false information is becoming more of a problem, especially in times of crisis, because ... everyone's looking for the best information, and they have no way of judging if it's real or not,” said Avivah Litan, vice president at Gartner. And even for consumers who consider themselves savvy enough to spot fakes, "they're not clearheaded, and they're usually very anxious to get the information, so they’re not going to analyze the URL or details of a map, images or instructions.” Litan’s point about analyzing URLs carefully before clicking on them applies to a fake-map scam. Johns Hopkins' popular COVID-19 dashboard has been a go-to source for people who want to stay up to date on the virus. This fake coronavirus-related map contains a type of spyware that steals usernames, passwords, credit card numbers and other data stored in browsers. But researchers at Malwarebytes discovered a malicious program,, that claims to provide an up-to-date coronavirus map just like the one at Johns Hopkins. It produces a map that looks exactly like the university’s graphic. But the software has embedded malware called corona.exe that’s a variant of AzorUlt, a type of spyware that steals usernames, passwords, credit card numbers and other data stored in the user’s browser. According to, the Trojan is distributed through infected email attachments, malicious online ads, social engineering and software vulnerabilities.

 Wells Fargo's Betsy Duke quits before turn in Washington hot seat - Wells Fargo Chair Betsy Duke resigned from the company’s board ahead of a dramatic congressional hearing set for this week, succumbing to the same political pressures that have claimed multiple former leaders of the bank.The lender said Monday morning that Duke had stepped down and is being replaced as chair by board member Charles Noski. Duke faced a growing chorus of calls for her departure after Democrats atop the House Financial Services Committee issued a scathing report last week on the bank’s response to a series of consumer scandals.Duke and board member James Quigley, whose resignation was also announced Monday, are set to appear before the committee Wednesday for a hearing examining “the role of the board of directors in the bank’s egregious pattern of consumer abuses.” Wells Fargo didn’t say whether the hearing will go forward as planned. “Since we were made aware of the egregious harms suffered by Wells Fargo’s customers, we were and remain fiercely determined to do right by them and to strengthen the bank’s culture and controls,” Duke and Quigley said in a statement on Monday. “We believe that our decision will facilitate the bank’s and the new CEO’s ability to turn the page and avoid distraction that could impede the bank’s future progress.” Wells Fargo leaders have been in Washington’s crosshairs following a series of scandals that began with the 2016 revelation that bank employees opened millions of potentially fake accounts to meet sales goals. The company has faced unprecedented political and regulatory fallout in the years since, including repeated hearings, record fines for former executives and a growth cap put in place by the Federal Reserve.Two former chief executives, Tim Sloan and John Stumpf, stepped down after tough hearings of their own in Washington that included calls for their ousters. The latest set of hearings in front of the House Financial Services Committee begins Tuesday with an appearance by CEO Charlie Scharf, less than five months into his tenure. The panel will seek his thoughts on next steps for what it calls “the bank that broke America’s trust.”

Waters asks DOJ to consider criminal charge against former Wells Fargo CEO - Rep. Maxine Waters on Tuesday asked the Department of Justice to consider the possibility of a criminal charge against former Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan for making what she contends were inaccurate and misleading comments during his congressional testimony last year. Waters, a California Democrat who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, sent the referral letter on the same day that Wells Fargo’s current CEO, Charlie Scharf, testified before the panel. Former Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan told Congress last year that the bank was fully complying with an enforcement order tied to car insurance product, a claim that was later disputed by regulators. In the letter, Waters stated that Sloan’s March 2019 testimony involves a “potential violation” of the federal statute that prohibits knowingly and willfully making a false statement to Congress. Waters asked the DOJ to review both Sloan’s testimony and a report on Wells Fargo that the Democratic staff of the House panel released last week, and to take any action that it deems appropriate. The House Democrats’ report revealed that in the immediate aftermath of Sloan’s congressional testimony, staffers at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency privately questioned its accuracy. During the March 12, 2019, hearing, Waters asked Sloan about the bank’s remediation plans for customers who paid for unnecessary auto insurance. In response, Sloan stated that the San Francisco bank was in compliance with provisions of the relevant OCC consent order. But in an internal email that was described in the House Democrats’ report, a senior OCC official said that Wells Fargo was actually not in compliance with one of two portions of its remediation plans. Amid pressure by regulators on the bank’s board to oust its CEO, Sloan stepped down in late March. House Republicans last week released their own report on Wells Fargo, which was also critical of Sloan, but did not accuse him of making false statements to Congress. Instead, the GOP staff report concluded that Sloan made incomplete and overly optimistic public statements about the bank’s progress toward complying with regulatory orders, and that his predictions on the timeline for completing that work were unsupported by the facts on the ground.

Senator urges banks to stop stock buybacks during coronavirus outbreak— The top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee is calling on banks to suspend stock buybacks in light of the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the economy.As U.S. stocks continue to plummet as a result of the coronavirus, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said on the Senate floor Thursday that banks should suspend stock buybacks and invest in their communities.   “We have to act now, to make sure we can focus all our efforts on preventing this virus from spreading, and don’t have one crisis stacked on top of another,” Brown said. “One way we can do that is to suspend bank stock buybacks. Banks need to be investing in their communities right now, not investing in their CEOs’ stock portfolios.”Brown's remarks came during another brutal trading day, as both the Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 were down more than 7% as the market opened.In his Senate floor remarks, Brown referenced an ongoing $30 billion buyback at JPMorgan Chase and a $23 billion buyback at Wells Fargo.“That money would be better spent investing in small businesses and medical research and relief for people who need help,” Brown said. “The reason big banks are supposed to have that money is so they can keep lending and keep communities afloat when we have crises like this one.”It’s not the first call from a member of Congress for banks to halt stock buybacks this week.At a House Financial Services Committee hearing Tuesday, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., asked Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf if the bank would commit to halting stock buybacks and dividends until he is better able to assess the impact of the coronavirus.But Scharf would not commit to suspending stock buybacks and said, “We're going to run t he bank the way we think is proven with our regulators.”

Fallen Angel Day Arrives- $140 Billion In Energy Debt At Risk Of Imminent Downgrade To Junk -- Back in November of 2017, this website was the first to suggest that a flood of "fallen angels", or the lowest, BBB-rated investment grade bonds that are downgraded to junk, will be the event that triggers the next corporate debt crisis. In "Hunting Angels: What The World's Most Bearish Hedge Fund Will Short Next", we quoted from the IMF's Oct 2017 "Global Financial Stability Report"  which issued an ominous warning: ... BBB bonds now make up nearly 50% of the index of investment grade bonds, an all time high. BBB bonds are only one notch above high yield, and are at the greatest risk of becoming fallen angels, that is bonds that were investment grade when issued, but subsequently get downgraded to below investment grade, or what is known these days as high yield. It then points out that investors have never been more at risk of capital loss if yields were to rise. In addition, it notes volatility targeting investors will mechanically increase leverage as volatility drops, with variable annuities investors having little flexibility to deviate from target volatility Following this article, the topic of a tsunami in "fallen angel" credits took on greater urgency, because with over $3 trillion in bonds on the cusp of downgrade, as we discussed in "The $6.4 Trillion Question: How Many BBB Bonds Are About To Be Downgraded", countless asset managers warned (here, here and here) that this was the biggest threat to the credit pillar of both the US economy and stock market (recall the bulk of BBB rated issuance was used to fund the trillions in buybacks that levitated the stock market over the past few years). However, despite a few close scares, and the downgrades of some massive IG names to junk such as Ford and more recently, Macy's, there never emerged a clear catalyst that would trigger a wholesale downgrade of IG names to junk, especially since the Fed ending its monetary tightening in late 2018 and unleashed another rate cut cycle coupled with QE4 in 2019 sent IG and HY yields and spreads to record lows, even though as Morgan Stanley pointed out no less than 55% of BBB-rated investment grade bonds, would have a junk rating based on leverage alone.

Securities and Exchange Commission asks D.C. employees to work from home after coronavirus scare - WaPo - The Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday asked employees at its D.C. headquarters to stay away from the office because of a potential coronavirus case, becoming the first major federal employer to turn to telework to avoid the spreading virus.The announcement from the agency, which is charged with monitoring the financial markets, came after a day of turmoil on Wall Street, with the Dow Jones industrial average falling more than 2,000 points. The agency‘s notice, which was emailed shortly after 8 p.m., required employees working on the ninth floor of its office to stay home and encouraged all others to do the same.“Out of an abundance of caution, effective immediately the SEC is requiring all Headquarters personnel (employees and contractors) who work on the 9th floor to telework,” the email to employees read. In an emailed statement, the agency confirmed the announcement. “Even with increased telework, the SEC remains able and committed to fully executing its mission on behalf of investors, including monitoring market function and working closely with other regulators and market participants,” the statement said. The agency has more than 4,000 employees across the country.

CME To Close Chicago Trading Floor On Friday The 13th - Slowly but surely, the paralysis that has gripped virtually every corner of the global economy is spreading toward the beating heart of the world's capital markets, and according to a notice posted late on Wednesday by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, starting Friday the 13th the world's biggest derivatives marketplace will become a ghost town - well, more so even than usual, since the CME already replaced most humans with algos and computers - as it closes its Chicago trading floor indefinitely "as a precaution to reduce large gatherings that can contribute to the spread of coronavirus in line with the advice of medical professionals." The CME notice is below: CME Group today announced it will close its Chicago trading floor as of the close of business Friday, March 13, 2020, as a precaution to reduce large gatherings that can contribute to the spread of coronavirus in line with the advice of medical professionals. All products will continue to trade on CME Globex as they do today.No coronavirus cases have been reported on the trading floor or in the Chicago Board of Trade building. The reopening of the trading floor will be evaluated as more medical guidance on the coronavirus becomes available.  The company's headquarters at 20 S. Wacker Drive will remain open. The trading floor community will receive an additional q&a tomorrow related to the execution of certain floor products, procedures and protocols and other floor-related practices. Expect all other cash, future and derivatives exchanges to follow in the CME's footsteps, as the world's professional traders no longer welcome in their place of business, scramble for office space in their parents' basement.

JPMorgan tells New York employees to work from home due to virus –- JPMorgan Chase is planning to implement a staggered work-from-home plan for its New York-area employees after the governor asked businesses to help the state slow the spread of the coronavirus. The bank will split the workers, with one group working from home while the other is in the office, according to people with knowledge of the matter. After a week, the groups will rotate. The plan applies to most corporate employees based in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Jersey City, New Jersey, but not to branch workers or traders, one of the people said. The firm sent its Seattle-area employees home last week. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday in an interview on CNN that he would ask businesses to voluntarily consider staggering shifts for employees and letting them telecommute to help stem the spread of the highly contagious virus. New York cases jumped to 212 Wednesday after not having a single case less than two weeks ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. JPMorgan has about 37,000 employees in the New York metro area, which includes New Jersey, around half of whom are branch employees. Workers in the first group will telecommute through March 20 and return to the office March 23, according to the person.

CFPB chief takes heat from Senate Dems for regulators' response to virus Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger came under fire Tuesday from Senate Democrats who questioned what steps the bureau — and other regulators — had taken to help consumers who sustain wage or job losses because of coronavirus outbreak. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, led the charge by asking Kraninger why the Financial Stability Oversight Council — which is supposed to identify emerging threats to the financial system — has not met since November though it is required to meet quarterly. “Considering what’s happening with the financial markets and the public health crisis around the country, would you demand that [Treasury] Secretary Munchin call a meeting immediately to explain publicly what this administration’s plan is to make sure regular Americans don’t end up paying the price?” Brown said. “The purpose of FSOC is to understand and put plans together so things aren’t happening with such chaos as they are now.” Kraninger, who is one of the 10 voting members on the 15-member council, said it plans to meet in late March, but she would not commit to speeding up the council's plans. She also initially refused to say that the coronavirus had created an economic emergency, but then relented under repeated questioning. “It clearly is a public health emergency that has significant economic impact. It’s something that the administration is looking at day to day,” Kraninger said. “The bureau has a pandemic plan, and we’ve reminded institutions we regulate that they should have pandemic plans. Again, there is an ongoing business-continuity concern and a mission concern in terms of how this is affecting consumers and making sure that we are getting the best possible information out.” Kraninger said the CFPB is working to ensure the safety of its employees. The bureau is trying to adopt a telework policy but has about 50 employees who have not signed on, she said. The CFPB also is taking precautions by asking the public to live-stream its events rather than attend them.

FDIC to issue proposal on ILCs at agency board meeting -The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. appears poised to address a thorny policy issue next week that could have broad implications for fintech firms that want to obtain a banking charter.The FDIC announced late Wednesday that it will consider a proposal dealing with the parent companies of industrial loan companies, also known as industrial banks.ILCs have had a complicated history in Washington. Policymakers have frequently wavered over which firms can obtain the niche charter, which is most prevalent in Utah. Most recently, some fintech firms have seen the charter as a way to enter the banking system. The payments company Square and Rakuten — a Japanese e-commerce conglomerate — are among the firms awaiting FDIC approval to own ILCs.The charter has stoked controversy since an application from Walmart for an ILC in 2006 prompted strong pushback from the U.S. banking sector, particularly community banks concerned that the retail giant would have an advantage over smaller, local financial institutions. The ILC is one of the last banking charters still legally available to nonfinancial parents.The ILC debate went mostly dormant for almost a decade after Walmart withdrew its bid, but the issue reemerged in 2017 when Square applied for an ILC. Square would later reapply in December 2018; that application has sat in the FDIC’s queue for deposit insurance ever since. Rakuten's ILC bid further magnified the issue and left the industry wondering when the FDIC would make a decision on pending applications.FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams has repeatedly said her agency would consider the applications like any other in accordance with current laws.“The law of the land is that ILCs do exist … and the job of the FDIC is to give each ILC application due consideration,” she said at her confirmation hearing in January 2018.

Why You Should Stop Using or Cancel Your Citi Mastercard: Systematic Violation of Cardmember Chargeback Rights, Insistence on Using Fraud-Friendly Voiceprints - Yves Smith - As a long-standing million mile American Airlines customer who has chosen to rack up even more frequent flier points via a Citi Aadvantage card, until recently, I’ve thought well of Mastercard and Citi. Citi once had intelligent and competent phone representatives who also seemed to have more discretion to solve cardholder problems than was typical for large banks.That is no longer true. I’ve stumbled across Citi violations of Mastercard’s chargeback procedures which have the earmarks of being institutionalized (note I’ve been to this rodeo a few times, not just as a consumer but as a seasoned consultant to large banks, as well as to American Express).This fiasco is relevant not just as a matter of prurient interest, but more importantly, as a demonstration case of ham-fisted chicanery on two fronts. The more important one is Citi’s chargeback abuses, since chargebacks are a very important but not widely recognized last vestige of consumer protection.What Citi is up to could be dismissed as predictable bank grifting. But the question remains why is Mastercard, which is reported to be vigorous in protecting its brand, letting Citi get away with trashing Mastercard’s image? And then there is the icing on the cake of Citi cornering customers into accepting its plan to use voiceprints.Below is a voice recording and a transcript from a recent call on a badly and apparently deliberately mishandled chargeback on a Citi Mastercard. I’ve been put through persistent HAMP-level runarounds, for instance, of not being told to send in supporting documentation (when from prior experience I knew that was required), to being affirmatively discouraged from sending in documentation which I nevertheless sent in anyhow. But in keeping with them not wanting to consider it, it was ignored.

Community banks seek broader exemption from CRA changes— Community banks are asking regulators to broaden the scope of institutions that would be granted regulatory relief from a new Community Reinvestment Act framework.The CRA reform plan proposed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. would allow banks with under $500 million of assets to stick with the old regime.But community banks and industry representatives say that threshold should be closer to $1 billion to relieve smaller banks of the compliance ordeal of transitioning to a new framework. "We want the asset threshold to be raised,” said Lilly Thomas, executive vice president and senior regulatory counsel for the Independent Community Bankers of America. “We’re still talking to our bankers about where exactly it should be, but at a minimum, we believe it should be $1.3 billion at least." Under the current regime, banks with assets of $326 million to $1.305 billion are considered "intermediate small" for the purposes of CRA exams, while banks below $326 million are just considered "small." Banks in either category enjoy varying degrees of relief from CRA reporting requirements. The thresholds are adjusted annually for inflation.The proposal would remove the "intermediate small" category and raise the threshold for "small" to $500 million. But the more significant step would be to allow institutions below $500 million of assets to opt in to the new framework or have their CRA performance measured under the current system.Yet bankers say the agencies should allow more institutions to get relief.

Black Knight Mortgage Monitor for January; "Cash-out lending hit a more than 10-year high at the end of 2019" - Black Knight released their Mortgage Monitor report for January last week. According to Black Knight, 3.22% of mortgages were delinquent in January, down from 3.75% in January 2019. Black Knight also reported that 0.46% of mortgages were in the foreclosure process, down from 0.51% a year ago.  This gives a total of 3.73% delinquent or in foreclosure. Press Release: Black Knight Mortgage Monitor: Despite 6.5-Year High in Refinance Lending, Servicers Struggle to Retain and Recapture Borrowers; 80% of Refinance Borrower Business Lost  This month, in light of a marked increase in refinance activity in Q4 2019, Black Knight looked into servicers’ retention of refinancing borrowers. As Black Knight Data & Analytics President Ben Graboske explained, despite refinance lending hitting a 6.5-year high, servicers are facing challenges in retaining the business of refinancing borrowers. “Despite a surge in refinance lending driven by low rates, servicers continue to struggle in their efforts to recapture refinancing borrowers, with only one in five being retained by servicers in Q4 2019,” said Graboske. “Retention rates rose along with refinance volumes early last year, hitting an 18-month high in Q2 2019, but retention rates have since fallen in each of the past two quarters. Fewer than one in four borrowers refinancing to lower their rate or term – business which has been historically easier to retain – stayed with their servicer post-refinance in Q4 2019. A large driver has been a recent failure to retain 2018 vintage mortgages, which goes to show just how quickly lender/borrower relationships can evaporate without the right data and tools for servicers to early on identify clients in their portfolios with sufficient tappable equity, and act to retain them. Borrowers who left for ‘greener pastures’ received an average 0.08% lower interest rate than those who stayed, strengthening the need for tools to ensure rate pricing is competitive. Retention challenges are even more pronounced among cash-out refinances, for which retention rates fell from 19% in Q3 2019 to just 17% in Q4 2019, the lowest in more than four years. At the same time, cash-out lending hit a more than 10-year high at the end of 2019, with some 600,000 borrowers pulling an estimated $41B in equity from their homes, the largest quarterly volume since 2007.  Here is a graph from the Mortgage Monitor that shows the National Delinquency Rate. From Black Knight:

• Mortgage delinquencies fell by 5.4% month-over month to the lowest level on record since Black Knight began reporting the metric in 2000
• At 3.22%, the national delinquency rate is down 14% from the same time last year
• With annual declines picking up in recent months and tax refund season on the horizon, we could see delinquencies push downward even further
The second graph shows Black Knight's estimate of equity withdrawn (cash-out):
• Approximately 600K homeowners pulled $41 billion in equity via cash-outs in Q4, the largest such volume since mid-2009
• With rates falling below 3.5% in early 2020, cash-out refinance activity is likely to remain strong in coming months
• Cash-out origination volumes have increased in each of the past three quarters
• However, outsized growth in rate/term lending has suppressed the cash-out share of refinance lending, which edged below 50% in Q4 2019 for the first time in three years

MBA: Mortgage Applications Increased Sharply in Latest Weekly Survey  From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey:  Mortgage applications increased 55.4 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending March 6, 2020.In response to the current interest rate environment, MBA now forecasts total mortgage originations to come in around $2.61 trillion this year – a 20.3 percent gain from 2019’s volume ($2.17 trillion). Refinance originations are expected to double earlier MBA projections, jumping 36.7 percent to around $1.23 trillion. Purchase originations are now forecasted to rise 8.3 percent to $1.38 trillion.... The Refinance Index increased 79 percent from the previous week to the highest level since April 2009, and was 479 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 6 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 7 percent compared with the previous week and was 12 percent higher than the same week one year ago....“Market uncertainty around the coronavirus led to a considerable drop in U.S. Treasury rates last week, causing the 30-year fixed rate to fall and match its December 2012 survey low of 3.47 percent. Homeowners rushed in, with refinance applications jumping 79 percent – the largest weekly increase since November 2008,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “With last week’s increase, the refinance index hit its highest level since April 2009. The purchase market also had a solid week, with activity nearly 12 percent higher than a year ago. Prospective buyers continue to be encouraged by improving housing inventory levels in some markets and very low rates.” The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) decreased to the lowest level since December 2012, equaling the lowest level in survey history at 3.47 percent, from 3.57 percent with points increasing to 0.27 from 0.26 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Mortgage Refis Explode Higher As Rates Hit Record Lows - Mortgage applications in the US exploded by 55.4% last week as rates collapsed to record lows amid global growth fears and monetary policy response expectations. Graphs Source: Bloomberg The massive spike in applications was dominated by refinancings, which jumped a stunning 78.6% WoW, new home mortgage apps rose 5.6% WoW. The sensitivity to the drop in mortgage rates to record lows is astounding as the following chart shows... Source: Bloomberg Outside of the post-9/11 refinancing boom and the chaos of November 2008, this is the biggest spike in refinancings ever.

 Mortgage Equity Withdrawal Positive in Q4 - Note: There have been reports showing an increase in cash out refinances, but it isn't showing up significantly in the Fed's Flow of Funds report. The following data is calculated from the Fed's Flow of Funds data (released today) and the BEA supplement data on single family structure investment. This is an aggregate number, and is a combination of homeowners extracting equity - hence the name "MEW" - and normal principal payments and debt cancellation (modifications, short sales, and foreclosures). For Q4 2019, the Net Equity Extraction was $29 billion, or a 0.70% of Disposable Personal Income (DPI). This graph shows the net equity extraction, or mortgage equity withdrawal (MEW), results, using the Flow of Funds (and BEA data) compared to the Kennedy-Greenspan method.  Note: This data is impacted by debt cancellation and foreclosures, but much less than a few years ago.  MEW has been mostly positive for the last four years. With a slower rate of debt cancellation, MEW will likely be mostly positive going forward - but nothing like during the housing bubble. The Fed's Flow of Funds report showed that the amount of mortgage debt outstanding increased by $86 billion in Q4.

Fed's Flow of Funds: Household Net Worth Increased in Q4 - The Federal Reserve released the Q4 2019 Flow of Funds report today: Flow of Funds. The net worth of households and nonprofits rose to $118.4 trillion during the fourth quarter of 2019. The value of directly and indirectly held corporate equities increased $2.6 trillion and the value of real estate increased $0.1 trillion. Household debt increased 4.1 percent at an annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2019. Consumer credit grew at an annual rate of 4.5 percent, while mortgage debt (excluding charge-offs) grew at an annual rate of 3.1 percent.The first graph shows Households and Nonprofit net worth as a percent of GDP.  Household net worth, as a percent of GDP, is higher than the peak in 2006 (housing bubble), and above the stock bubble peak.Net Worth as a percent of GDP decreased slightly in Q4.This includes real estate and financial assets (stocks, bonds, pension reserves, deposits, etc) net of liabilities (mostly mortgages). Note that this does NOT include public debt obligations. This graph shows homeowner percent equity since 1952.Household percent equity (as measured by the Fed) collapsed when house prices fell sharply in 2007 and 2008.In Q4 2019, household percent equity (of household real estate) was at 63.8% - down from Q3. Note: about 30.3% of owner occupied households had no mortgage debt as of April 2010. So the approximately 50+ million households with mortgages have far less than 63.8% equity - and about 2 million homeowners still have negative equity. The third graph shows household real estate assets and mortgage debt as a percent of GDP.Mortgage debt increased by $86 billion in Q4.Mortgage debt is still down from the peak during the housing bubble, and, as a percent of GDP is at 48.8% (the lowest since 2001), down from a peak of 73.5% of GDP during the housing bubble.The value of real estate, as a percent of GDP, decreased slightly in Q4, and is above the average of the last 30 years (excluding bubble).  However, mortgage debt as a percent of GDP, continues to decline. Note: Household net worth looks to decline sharply in Q1 2020.

BLS: CPI increased 0.1% in February, Core CPI increased 0.2% --From the BLS: The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 0.1 percent in February on a seasonally adjusted basis, the same increase as in January, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 2.3 percent before seasonal adjustment....The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.2 percent in February, the same increase as in January....The all items index increased 2.3 percent for the 12 months ending February, a smaller increase than the 2.5-percent figure for the period ending January. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.4 percent over the last 12 months.  Overall inflation was close to expectations in February. I'll post a graph later today after the Cleveland Fed releases the median and trimmed-mean CPI.

Consumer Price Index: February Core at 2.36% - The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the February Consumer Price Index data this morning. The year-over-year non-seasonally adjusted Headline CPI came in at 2.33%, down from 2.49% the previous month. Year-over-year Core CPI (ex Food and Energy) came in at 2.36%, up from 2.26% the previous month and above the Fed's 2% PCE target.Here is the introduction from the BLS summary, which leads with the seasonally adjusted monthly data: The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 0.1 percent in February on a seasonally adjusted basis, the same increase as in January, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 2.3 percent before seasonal adjustment.Increases in the indexes for shelter and for food were the main causes of the increase in the seasonally adjusted all items index, more than offsetting a decline in the energy index. The food index increased 0.4 percent over the month, with the food at home index rising 0.5 percent, its largest monthly increase since May 2014. The index for energy fell 2.0 percent in February, with all of its major component indexes declining.The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.2 percent in February, the same increase as in January. Along with the index for shelter, the indexes for apparel, personal care, used cars and trucks, education, and medical carewere among those that increased in February. The indexes for recreation and airline fares declined over the month.The all items index increased 2.3 percent for the 12 months ending February, a smaller increase than the 2.5-percent figure for the period ending January. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.4 percent over the last 12 months. The food index rose 1.8 percent over the last 12 months, while the energy index increased 2.8 percent over that period. [More…] was looking for a 0.2% MoM change in seasonally adjusted Headline CPI and a 0.2% in Core CPI. Year-over-year forecasts were 2.2% for Headline and 2.3% for Core.The first chart is an overlay of Headline CPI and Core CPI (the latter excludes Food and Energy) since the turn of the century. The highlighted two percent level is the Federal Reserve's Core inflation target for the CPI's cousin index, the BEA's Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index.

Cleveland Fed: Key Measures Show Inflation Above 2% YoY in February, Core PCE below 2% -- The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI and the trimmed-mean CPI this morning:According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the median Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% (2.7% annualized rate) in February. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index also rose 0.2% (2.3% annualized rate) during the month. The median CPI and 16% trimmed-mean CPI are measures of core inflation calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland based on data released in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) monthly CPI report.Earlier today, the BLS reported that the seasonally adjusted CPI for all urban consumers rose 0.1% (1.1% annualized rate) in February. The CPI less food and energy rose 0.2% (2.7% annualized rate) on a seasonally adjusted basis. Note: The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI details for January here. Motor fuel decreased at a 33.5% annualized rate in February. This graph shows the year-over-year change for these four key measures of inflation. On a year-over-year basis, the median CPI rose 2.8%, the trimmed-mean CPI rose 2.4%, and the CPI less food and energy rose 2.4%. Core PCE is for January and increased 1.6% year-over-year.On a monthly basis, median CPI was at 2.7% annualized and trimmed-mean CPI was at 2.3% annualized.Overall, these measures are mostly above the Fed's 2% target (Core PCE is below 2%).   This is all pre-COVID-19.

 February Producer Price Index: Core Final Demand Down 0.3% MoM - Today's release of the February Producer Price Index (PPI) for Final Demand was at -0.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted, down from a 0.5% increase last month. It is at 1.3% year-over-year, down from 2.1% last month, on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. Core Final Demand (less food and energy) came in at -0.3% MoM, down from 0.5% the previous month and is up 1.4% YoY NSA. MoM consensus forecasts were for -0.1% headline and 0.1% core. Here is the summary of the news release on Final Demand:The Producer Price Index for final demand fell 0.6 percent in February, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Final demand prices advanced 0.5 percent in January and 0.2 percent in December. (See table A.) On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index increased 1.3 percent for the 12 months ended in February.  In February, 60 percent of the decline in the final demand index can be traced to a 0.9-percent decrease in prices for final demand goods. The index for final demand services moved down 0.3 percent.  Prices for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services inched down 0.1 percent in February, the first decline since falling 0.1 percent in June 2019. For the 12 months ended in February, the index for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services rose 1.4 percent. More… The BLS shifted its focus to its new "Final Demand" series in 2014, a shift we support. However, the data for these series are only constructed back to November 2009 for Headline and April 2010 for Core. Since our focus is on longer-term trends, we continue to track the legacy Producer Price Index for Finished Goods, which the BLS also includes in their monthly updates. As this (older) overlay illustrates, the Final Demand and Finished Goods indexes are highly correlated.

February Heavy Duty Truck Orders Plunge, New 2020 Estimates Call For A 31% Drop It has been an interesting dance over the last 18 months for the Class 8 trucking industry and its analysts. While the numbers have consistently told us one thing, namely that the economy is slowing and that the trucking industry is bearing the brunt of the recession, analysts continue to make excuses for the poor numbers while holding out what seems like neverending hope for a turnaround. But the data doesn't lie: February Class 8 orders fell 16%. The month is traditionally a slower one for the heavy duty trucking industry, but this year included an extra day. The seasonally adjusted orders were the weakest monthly order rate since last August, according to ACT Research. ACT’s senior analyst Kenny Vieth said: "Weak freight market and rate conditions, as well as a still-large backlog, continue to bedevil new Class 8 orders." Thanks for that groundbreaking analysis of the situation. Lest we forget, ACT Research had said last month that it expected the backlog in Class 8 orders to "continue to wear away". We guess that is no longer the case.

 Small Business Optimism Increased Slightly in February -- From the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB): February 2020 Report: Small business owners expressed slightly higher levels of optimism in February with the NFIB Optimism Index moving up 0.2 points to 104.5 ...Strong job creation continued in February, with an average addition of 0.43 workers per firm, adding to a strong 1st quarter of 2020. Finding qualified workers remains the top issue with 25 percent reporting this as their number one problem. This graph shows the small business optimism index since 1986.The index increased to 104.5 in February. Note: Usually small business owners complain about taxes and regulations (currently 2nd and 3rd on the "Single Most Important Problem" list). However, during the recession, "poor sales" was the top problem. Now the difficulty of finding qualified workers is the top problem.

LA area Port Traffic Down Year-over-year in February --Note: The expansion to the Panama Canal was completed in 2016 (As I noted a few years ago), and some of the traffic that used the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is probably going through the canal. This might be impacting TEUs on the West Coast. Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic. The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container).To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average. On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was down 1.6% in February compared to the rolling 12 months ending in January.   Outbound traffic was up 0.4% compared to the rolling 12 months ending the previous month. The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports).  Usually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year (January 25th in 2020). Because of the timing of the New Year, we would have expected traffic to decline in February without an impact from COVID-19. In general imports both imports and exports have turned down recently - and will probably be negatively impacted by COVID-19 over the next several months.

Port Of Los Angeles Taking Substantial Hit , Expects Volume To Plunge 15% From Coronavirus -- As the coronavirus grinds the world's economy to a halt, and supply-chains break, many of the key components of US commerce - like port traffic - are starting to feel the virus' ugly effects. For instance, year over year volume at the Port of Los Angeles - the busiest seaport not only in the US but in the entire Western hemisphere - is expected to plunge 15% in the first quarter as a result of  the outbreak. Executive Director Gene Seroka told American Shipper: "Forty vessel sailings have been canceled from Asia, mainly China, to the Port of Los Angeles from Feb. 11 through April 1. Those 40 vessel cancellations would represent nearly 25% of our normal traffic at the Port of Los Angeles."He continued: “There are a number of revenue streams that are floating here: the goods themselves, the ocean freight, the business on the docks, truck and warehouse communities. This will be substantial and I’ve given guidance to the marketplace that for the first quarter of 2020, the Port of Los Angeles volume will be down 15% year-on-year.”He also said that nonperishable exports are piling up across the country: “We’re going to start to see a whipsaw effect in the industry. Pretty quickly those empties and exports will need to be evacuated to get ready for factory production when we curb — or hopefully eradicate — this virus and workers can get back on the job.” He continued: “This is a human health concern number one, and we need all hands on deck to get our people well and back to productive lives. But at the same time, we’re going to have to find equilibrium in the industry to play catch-up and then even out before we reach our traditional peak season this summer.”

Factbox: Airlines suspend flights due to coronavirus outbreak - (Reuters) - Airlines across the globe have suspended flights or modified services in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Below are details:

  • - American Airlines (AAL.O) extended the suspension of China and Hong Kong flights through April 24
  • - Air France (AIRF.PA) canceled flights to mainland China to the end of March.
  • - Air India suspended flights to Shanghai, Hong Kong until June 30
  • - Air Seoul suspended China flights until further notice.
  • - Air Tanzania, which planned to begin a charter service to China in February, postponed its maiden flights.
  • - Air Mauritius suspended all flights to China and Hong Kong
  • - Austrian Airlines extended its cancellations to March and April. (
  • - British Airways (ICAG.L) extended suspensions until April 17.
  • - Delta Airlines (DAL.N) flights suspended to April 30
  • - Egyptair resumed some flights to and from China.
  • - El Al Israel Airlines (ELAL.TA) extends suspension of flights to Hong Kong and Beijing until May 2.
  • - Iberia Airlines (ICAG.L) extended the suspension of flights from Madrid to Shanghai, its only route, until the end of April.
  • - Finnair (FIA1S.HE) canceled all flights to mainland China flights and some Hong Kong flights until the end of April.
  • - JejuAir Co Ltd (089590.KS) suspended all China routes starting March 1.
  • - Kenya Airways (KQNA.NR) suspended flights until further notice.
  • - KLM said it would extend its ban on flights to Chengdu, Hangzhou and Xiamen in China to at least May 3. It expects to resume flights to Beijing and Shanghai on March 29.
  • - Lion Air suspended all flights to China from February, and has waived travel change fees for flights up to April 30. (
  • - LOT extended suspensions until March 28.
  • - Lufthansa extended cancellations until April 24.
  • - Oman Air suspended flights until further notice.
  • - Quantas Airlines' (QAN.AX) sole remaining route to mainland China, Syndey-Shanghai, has been suspended and its Hong Kong flights are reduced. (
  • - Qatar Airways suspended until further notice.
  • - Rwandair suspended until further notice.
  • - Saudia, Saudi Arabia’s state airline, suspended flights on Feb. 2.
  • - Scoot, Singapore Airlines’ (SIAL.SI) low-cost carrier, suspended until further notice.
  • - United Airlines (UAL.O) suspended its Hong Kong service until April 23.
  • - Vietjet VJC.HM and Vietnam Airlines HVN.HM suspended flights to the mainland as well as Hong Kong and Macau to April 30.
  • also see long list of partial flight suspensions & cancellations

U.S. airlines prepare new flight cuts after new UK, Ireland restrictions - (Reuters) - Delta Air Lines said on Saturday it plans to soon announce additional schedule changes to its European flights after the Trump administration said it was expanding travel restrictions to Britain and Ireland. Vice President Mike Pence said the new travel restrictions will apply to Britain and Ireland starting Monday at midnight. They bar most non-U.S. citizens from entering the United States who have been in the U.K. or Ireland within the last 14 days. They do not bar flights to and from the US or Americans and permanent residents from travel. Washington first imposed restrictions on China and expanded them this week to continental Europe. Last week’s European changes prompted U.S. airlines to cut numerous flights. Delta said Friday it would cut capacity by 40% in the next few months — the largest reduction in its history — and eliminate nearly all flights to continental Europe for the next 30 days. It will also park up to 300 aircraft. United Airlines and American Airlines also announced new cuts to European service on Friday. Major U.S. airlines confirmed on Friday they had been in talks with the White House and Congress about financial assistance. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce late Friday called for urgent action, calling on the U.S. government to “turn next to a package to assist impacted employers... No business should go bankrupt because of a temporary loss in revenue as a result of the coronavirus.” Airlines are reeling from a plunge in bookings and traffic, as the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic prompts travel restrictions and event cancellations around the world. In Europe, the situation is more dire…

Carnival Halts Global Cruise Operations For 60 Days - Shares of Carnival Corp. plunged by more than 20% on Thursday morning after it announced its Princess Cruises Line would halt operations for 60 days amid the Covid-19 outbreak. This comes after all confirmed cases of the new coronavirus aboard cruise ships have been on Princess vessels. The Diamond Princes has been docked in Yokohama, Japan, with at least 700 confirmed cases. The Grand Princess docked Monday in Oakland, California, has about 21 confirmed cases. In proactive response to the unpredictable circumstances evolving from the global spread of COVID-19 and in an abundance of caution, Princess Cruises announced that it will voluntarily pause global operations of its 18 cruise ships for two months (60 days), impacting voyages departing March 12 to May 10. "Princess Cruises is a global vacation company that serves more than 50,000 guests daily from 70 countries as part of our diverse business, and it is widely known that we have been managing the implications of COVID-19 on two continents," said Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises. "By taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us, and the countries and communities we visit around the world," added Swartz.

Nonstop Acela trains between Washington and New York suspended due to coronavirus - Citing reduced demand for service due to the fears over coronavirus, Amtrak announced Friday evening that it will temporarily suspend its Acela Nonstop trains between Washington and New York.The service will halt the service (trains 2401, 2402 and 2403) from March 10 until May 26, according to a statement from Amtrak. The rail line started the non-stop service last year.The announcement came on the same day Gov. Phil Murphy’s Office announced that a fourth person had tested "presumptive positive” for coronavirus.The Acela became the fastest North American train when it went in service in 2002.Amtrak also announced that there will be no change fees on reservations made through April 30 and that it will increase its cleaning procedures, and add additional sanitizers and disinfectant wipes on its trains and in stations.

Caterpillar Machine Sales Plunge Most In Three Years As Pandemic Paralyzes Heavy Industries - Just in case the world needed yet another confirmation the world's manufacturing industries, primarily construction and mining, are grinding to a halt, it got one late on Thursday when Caterpillar reported that in February its global machine sales suffered their biggest drop since December 2016. The report, which covers the first full month when the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed China's economy and was rapidly spreading across the rest of the world "underlines how the coronavirus outbreak is putting a drag on the industries that Caterpillar supplies" according to Bloomberg. While the North American region posted another double digit drop, declining from -11% in January to -12% in February, it was Asia that was hit the hardest, tumbling from a modest, -2% drop in January to a whopping -17% in February, the biggest decline in four years. As Bloomberg further notes, the downbeat mood in the heavy manufacturing industry permeated ConExpo, the largest construction convention in North America. In remarks at the Las Vegas gathering this week, which surprisingly has not been canceled, Caterpillar CEO Jim Umpleby said the coronavirus hasn’t yet caused major supply snags, and the company was focusing on executing the plan set in place when he first took over as CEO. In other words, the real fall in retail sales is yet to come, and may be why Umpleby didn’t offer much detail on how the worldwide move to stamp out the virus will change prospects for the business. "Our guidance was based on the best information that we had at the time, and if we have any changes to that we’ll do it when we put out our first-quarter results," Umpleby told Bloomberg in an interview. Translation: expect CAT to pull its entire 2020 guidance in the coming days. Fears about the virus’s impact on global growth have helped send shares of the economic bellwether down 38% this year, off to its worst start since 2009.

The Sudden Economic Stop – McBride - I just spoke with a tile sub-contractor who mostly does remodels. He was completely booked for the next several months, and all of his jobs have cancelled for the next 8 weeks. He has a great reputation - and a good network - and he has been busy for years.  These cancellations caught him by surprise. He will have to layoff his workers until he finds work.This story is happening all across the country. This is a sudden stop for the US economy like nothing I've ever seen.It might take a week or two to show up in the weekly unemployment claims report, but we are going to see a sharp increase in claims.   Since this week was the BLS reference week for the March job report, the crisis will probably not have a huge impact on the March report. We don't know how long this will last, but China is only now slowly recovering - so this might last for several months or even longer.

All 3 US Cities Hit By COVID-19 Show Markedly Lower Weekend Traffic - Almost one month ago, we first looked at TomTom traffic congestion data across various Chinese cities (and a handful of US "control" cities) to assess the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the broader economy. Overnight, DataTrek's Nicholas Colas took the TomTom data in his analysis of not only China, but also Italy and that other cluster of covid-19 cases, the U.S. Here is what he found, from his latest Morning Briefing note to clients. We continue to track traffic congestion around the world as a real-time measure of COVID-19’s impact on the global economy. This weekend’s data shows how the virus is affecting consumer demand, in comparison to weekday volumes that highlight commutation patterns. Today we will review the data from 9 major cities around the world, all touched by the virus but at various stages of reaction to the health threat. First, here is the 7-day data for Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen (recent week in red, 1-year averages in light blue): Takeaway: while weekday traffic is getting back to normal, weekend congestion is essentially zero in Beijing and Shanghai although somewhat better in Shenzhen. China is clearly getting back to work but leisure travel/shopping is still not yet reaccelerating. Now, here are Milan, Rome and Paris: Takeaway: the northern Italian quarantine is not affecting Milan’s traffic as much as China’s weekend data shows, but Roman congestion shows a marked slowing of economic activity starting Thursday and Paris was well below trend this weekend. Finally, here are Seattle, San Francisco and New York: Takeaway: all 3 US cities affected by COVID-19 show markedly lower weekend traffic than average, and the generally subpar congestion during the middle/later part of the workweek tells us this is not due to the sorts of seasonal patterns we mentioned in our “Markets” section. The upshot from all this: as capital markets have already started to discount, the global consumer is quickly retrenching, led by individuals who live in a city where COVID-19 has taken hold.

Gun Sales Soar Among Asian-Americans After Virus-Related Attacks - The threat of Covid-19 hate crimes across the country is surging this week as Asian Americans in San Gabriel Valley, a region east of Los Angeles, are loading up on weapons as concerns they could be targeted. CBS Los Angeles reported this week that gun sales among Asians are rising in San Gabriel Valley as they believe the pandemic could trigger hate crimes against them. David Liu, the owner of Arcadia Firearm & Safety, said gun sales have jumped in the last two weeks as the virus crisis worsens in California. "Because of coronavirus, a lot of people start to worry," Liu said. CBS Los Angeles said there's a high concentration of Asians near the Arcadia gun store. Liu said many of his customers are stocking up on weapons because they fear they might be targeted because of their ethnicity if a local virus outbreak is to occur. "I do worry," said Daniel Lim, who recently bought a gun and ammo for his wife at Arcadia.  Lim said he bought the gun to defend his family amid fears the virus could crash the stock market and economy and lead to massive social unrest where Asians would be targeted. "I hope and pray it never happens," he said.

Coronavirus Conference Gets Canceled Because of Coronavirus  - The Council on Foreign Relations has canceled a roundtable called “Doing Business Under Coronavirus” scheduled for Friday in New York due to the spread of the infection itself. CFR has also canceled other in-person conferences that were scheduled from March 11 to April 3, including roundtables in New York and Washington and national events around the U.S.The CFR’s confabs are joining a long list of canceled or postponed gatherings, including the annual New York auto show. The Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association said Tuesday that the car show will be rescheduled to late August. Events in metro New York are coming under close scrutiny due to an increase in cases in the city and, in particular, an outbreak in the suburb of New Rochelle. The National Guard will be sent to the town to help close public gathering spaces in an effort to slow the spread of the outbreak, Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference.  Across the U.S., the spread of the novel virus has so far scuttled more than 50 major corporate events with an estimated attendance of almost 1 million people, according to data collected by Bloomberg News.

Top Biogen execs were present at meeting where attendees had Covid-19 - Biogen’s CEO, chief financial officer, and head of research and development were among those at a corporate meeting last week attended by eight people who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and the company said it has taken aggressive steps to prevent other employees from falling ill. The executives — Michel Vounatsos, Jeff Capello, and Alfred Sandrock — attended the annual meeting, according to people familiar with the matter. Biogen on Friday confirmed their attendance at the meeting. The company said the individuals known to have COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are currently “doing well, improving and under the care of their healthcare providers.” It added, “Protecting our employees and our communities is our priority.” All of the approximately 175 meeting attendees, with or without flu-like symptoms, have been directed to work from home for two weeks. The company said it was asking all “office-based Biogen employees and contractors” in Massachusetts, Research Triangle Park, N.C., and Baar, Switzerland, to work from home until further notice, and “restricting travel” through the end of the month. In a statement Friday night, Biogen said meeting attendees who are symptomatic would be contacted by public health authorities to be tested, if they haven’t already, and “must quarantine themselves.” They also have been asked to stay isolated from family members or others they live with, “and these close contacts must also be quarantined until further notice,” the statement said.

Amid COVID-19 outbreak, the workers who need paid sick days the most have the least - The United States is unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic given that many workers throughout the economy will have financial difficulty in following the CDC’s recommendations to stay home and seek medical care if they think they’ve become infected. Millions of U.S. workers and their families don’t have access to health insurance, and only 30% of the lowest paid workers have the ability to earn paid sick days—workers who typically have lots of contact with the public and aren’t able to work from home. There are deficiencies in paid sick days coverage per sector, particularly among those workers with a lot of public exposure. The figure below displays access to paid sick leave by sector. Information and financial activities have the highest rates of coverage at 95% and 91%, respectively.  Over half of private-sector workers in leisure and hospitality do not have access to paid sick days. Within that sector, 55% of workers in accommodation and food services do not have access to paid sick days (not shown). Of the public health concerns in the workforce related to COVID-19, two loom large: those who work with the elderly because of how dangerous the virus is for that population and those who work with food because of the transmission of illness. Research shows that more paid sick days is related to reduced flu rates. There is no reason to believe contagion of COVID-19 will be any different. When over half of workers in food services and related occupations do not have access to paid sick days, the illness may spread more quickly.What exacerbates the lack of paid sick days among these workers is that their jobs are already not easily transferable to working from home. On average, about 29% of all workers can work from home. And, not surprisingly, workers in sectors where they are more likely to have paid sick days are also more likely to be able to work from home. Over 50% of workers in information, financial activities, and professional and business services can work from home. However, only about 9% of workers in leisure and hospitality are able to work from home. Many of the 73% of workers with access to paid sick days will not have enough days banked to be able to take off for the course of the illness to take care of themselves or a family member. COVID-19’s incubation period could be as long as 14 days, and little is known about how long it could take to recover once symptoms take hold. The figure below displays the amount of paid sick days workers have access to at different lengths of service. Paid sick days increase by years of service, but even after twenty years, only 25% of private-sector workers are offered at least 10 days of paid sick days a year.

 NCAA tournament game in Baltimore held in empty gym for Covid-19 - In what was believed to be the first US sports event held without fans because of the new coronavirus, a Division III men’s basketball NCAA tournament game was played Friday at an empty gym at Johns Hopkins University. Yeshiva University tipped off against Worcester Polytechnic Institute just after 2pm in an arena occupied only by players, referees, employees and media members. The national anthem and starting lineups went on as normal with players giving each other fist pounds instead of handshakes.As students walked by the athletics facility, there were police officers outside and signs on doors reading, “No spectators”. Music blared over the speakers inside and some pre-planned fan announcements, including one promoting social media sharing – “Tell the world you’re here” – went on with no fans to hear them.

March Madness 2020 officially canceled due to coronavirus - The NCAA tournament for men’s and women’s basketball has been canceled, the NCAA announced Thursday, as concerns over the spread of coronavirus continued to rise across the country. The NCAA was slow in making its decision. It announced Wednesday that it would play the tournament without any fans after Ohio and Washington — states that were set to host first and second-round games — had announced a ban of large gatherings. Since then, the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS all suspended their seasons and every conference basketball tournament was canceled. Prominent voices like TNT analyst Charles Barkley and ESPN analyst Jay Bilas called for the tournament to be postponed Thursday morning, citing the risk for the players even without fans in the buildings.Duke was the first university to say it would not play in the NCAA tournament if one was held, suspending all athletic activities indefinitely.  All other winter and spring NCAA championships have also been canceled.

NCAA's March Madness coronavirus cancellation will cost organization big -The cancellation of NCAA’s lucrative March Madness basketball tournaments on Thursday will jeopardize expected revenue from the most lucrative event in college sports.The NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball tournament generates $867.5 million annually from television and marketing rights alone, according to the institution’s website. The event composes a significant portion of the NCAA’s yearly revenue. In 2019, the NCAA earned an estimated $933 million when factoring in media rights, ticket sales and sponsorships.Ticket revenue was effectively wiped out after NCAA President Mark Emmert moved to cancel the tournaments and other upcoming championship events. That lost revenue alone will cost the NCAA tens of millions of dollars. “Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled the Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships,” the NCAA said in a statement. “This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities.”At present, it's unclear how the NCAA's decision will affect its broadcast rights deals with CBS and WarnerMedia's TNT. The unprecedented decision marked a reversal for the NCAA, which indicated on Wednesday that it had planned to proceed with the tournaments without fans in attendance. Revelations on Wednesday night that Rudy Gobert of the NBA's Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus prompted U.S. sports leagues to take fast action. The NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS have all suspended activities. At least 14 NCAA conferences canceled their individual postseason basketball tournaments.

 NBA suspends season until further notice, over coronavirus -- The NBA has suspended its season “until further notice" after a Utah Jazz player tested positive Wednesday for the coronavirus, a move that came only hours after the majority of the league's owners were leaning toward playing games without fans in arenas. Now there will be no games at all, at least for the time being. A person with knowledge of the situation said the Jazz player who tested positive was center Rudy Gobert. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither the league nor the team confirmed the test. “The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice,” the league said in a statement sent shortly after 9:30 p.m. EDT. “The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.” The test result, the NBA said, was reported shortly before the scheduled tip-off time for the Utah at Oklahoma City game on Wednesday night was called off. Players were on the floor for warmups and tip-off was moments away when they were told to return to their locker rooms. About 30 minutes later, fans were told the game was postponed “due to unforeseen circumstances." Those circumstances were the league’s worst-case scenario for now -- a player testing positive. A second person who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity said the league expects the shutdown to last a minimum of two weeks, but cautioned that timeframe is very fluid. “It's a very serious time right now," Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I think the league moved appropriately and prudently and we'll all just have to monitor the situation and see where it goes from here." 

 Coronavirus live updates: PGA Tour cancels multiple events- The Players Championship golf tournament in Florida has been canceled along with all events through the Valero Texas Open, according to the PGA Tour. “It is with regret that we are announcing the cancellation of The Players Championship,” PGA Tour said in a statement. “We have also decided to cancel all PGA Tour events – across all of our Tours – in the coming weeks, through the Valero Texas Open.” The Valero Texas Open ends on Apr 5. Earlier Thursday, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said that The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, Florida and all tournaments in the near future will go on as planned, but without spectators due to the spread of the coronavirus.” The commissioner said he spoke with President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis earlier Thursday and is in constant communication with local health officials. It’s not just stocks that are getting hammered. The cryptocurrency market saw a huge sell-off in the past 24 hours. The total value of the entire cryptocurrency market plummeted around $93.5 billion in the space of 24 hours as of 10:07 a.m. Singapore time, according to data from Bitcoin was down 48% while other digital coins like ethereum and XRP were down 49% an over 42% respectively. Microsoft said Thursday evening it would not be holding its three-day Build conference for developers in Seattle in May as originally planned. About 6,000 people had been expected to attend last year’s Build show. The event will be held online.

  • Global cases: At least 125,288, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization
  • Global deaths: At least 4,614, according to the latest figures from the WHO
  • US cases: At least 1,663, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Coachella Postponed Due To Coronavirus, Organizers Offer Refunds - The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California was postponed on Tuesday afternoon as global cases of COVID-19 top 118,000. Organizers moved the April 10-12 and April 17-19 dates to October 9-11 and 16-18 on the hopes that the coronavirus scourge will be behind us by then. "At the direction of the County of Riverside and local health authorities, we must sadly confirm the rescheduling of Coachella and Stagecoach due to COVID-19 concerns," the organizers said in a statement. "All purchases for the April dates will be honored for the rescheduled October dates. Purchasers will be notified by Friday, March 13 on how to obtain a refund if they are unable to attend." The cancellation comes after over 18,000 people signed a petition calling for the event's cancellation in order to "protect ourselves and California residents by do the right thing before it's too late." 

Disneyland to Close Due to Coronavirus. Disneyland will shut down operations due to the coronavirus outbreak, The Walt Disney Co. announced Thursday. The closure takes effect Saturday. The drastic move comes on the heels of more cases of the virus being reported. "While there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at Disneyland Resort, after carefully reviewing the guidelines of the Governor of California’s executive order and in the best interest of our guests and employees, we are proceeding with the closure of Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure, beginning the morning of March 14 through the end of the month," the company said in a statement. It added, "The Hotels of Disneyland Resort will remain open until Monday, March 16, to give guests the ability to make necessary travel arrangements; Downtown Disney will remain open. We will monitor the ongoing situation and follow the advice and guidance of federal and state officials and health agencies. Disney will continue to pay cast members during this time." The news came as something of a surprise as just hours prior, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Disneyland and other large theme parks were not required to comply with his order against large gatherings to counter the spread of the coronavirus. Newsom noted that he spoke Wednesday with Disney’s executive chairman, Bob Iger, about the situation. Earlier this week, Walt Disney Co. officials tried to ease the concerns of would-be park visitors. Dr. Pamela Hymel, chief medical officer for Disney Parks, said Disneyland and Walt Disney World were already exceptionally clean destinations, but more was being done in the wake of the growing pandemic.

Smithsonian museums, Arlington National Cemetery close amid coronavirus concerns - Two Washington, D.C.- area organizations announced Thursday that they will temporarily close some of the city's most popular sites amid concerns about the spreading novel coronavirus.The Smithsonian museums and Arlington National Cemetery, as well as both the Kennedy Center and Ford’s Theater, said they will close in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, citing the need to protect visitors, staff and the general population from the outbreak.  “As a public health precaution due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), all Smithsonian museums in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and in New York City, including the National Zoo, will temporarily close to the public starting Saturday, March 14,” a press release from the Smithsonian group read.

Coronavirus: The Case for Canceling Everything - We don’t yet know the full ramifications of the novel coronavirus. But three crucial facts have become clear in the first months of this extraordinary global event. And what they add up to is not an invocation to stay calm, as so many politicians around the globe are incessantly suggesting; it is, on the contrary, the case for changing our behavior in radical ways—right now. The first fact is that, at least in the initial stages, documented cases of COVID-19 seem to increase in exponential fashion. On the 23rd of January, China’s Hubei province, which contains the city of Wuhan, had 444 confirmed COVID-19 cases. A week later, by the 30th of January, it had 4,903 cases. Another week later, by the 6th of February, it had 22,112.The same story is now playing out in other countries around the world. Italy had 62 identified cases of COVID-19 on the 22nd of February. It had 888 cases by the 29th of February, and 4,636 by the 6th of March.Because the United States has been extremely sluggish in testing patients for the coronavirus, the official tally of 604 likely represents a fraction of the real caseload. But even if we take this number at face value, it suggests that we should prepare to have up to 10 times as many cases a week from today, and up to 100 times as many cases two weeks from today. The second fact is that this disease is deadlier than the flu, to which the honestly ill-informed and the wantonly irresponsible insist on comparing it. Early guesstimates, made before data were widely available, suggested that the fatality rate for the coronavirus might wind up being about 1 percent. If that guess proves true, the coronavirus is 10 times as deadly as the flu. But there is reason to fear that the fatality rate could be much higher. According to the World Health Organization, the current case fatality rate—a common measure of what portion of confirmed patients die from a particular disease—stands at 3.4 percent. This figure could be an overstatement, because mild cases of the disease are less likely to be diagnosed. Or it could be an understatement, because many patients have already been diagnosed with the virus but have not yet recovered (and may still die).

As coronavirus spreads, CDC warns Americans about traveling inside the U.S. - With the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continuing to grow, public health officials have issued a warning to people thinking about traveling within the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted a new guide Wednesday answering common questions about the risks the novel coronavirus pandemic poses to Americans traveling domestically.“CDC does not generally issue advisories or restrictions for travel within the United States,” the agency said on its website. “However, cases of COVID-19 have been reported in many states, and some areas are experiencing community spread of the disease.”Health officials warned that travelers are at high risk of contracting the illness in crowded places, including conferences, public events, religious gatherings, public spaces like movie theaters and shopping malls, and public transportation. The CDC also noted that going to an airport raises your risk of contracting the coronavirus if another traveler there has COVID-19. The CDC noted that travelers should consider whether their home town or the destination they’re planning to visit has a high number of cases. “If COVID-19 is spreading at your destination, but not where you live, you may be at higher risk of exposure if you travel there,” the CDC said. “Consider the risk of passing COVID-19 to others during travel, particularly if you will be in close contact with people who are older adults or have severe chronic health condition.” Additionally, the public health agency warned that those who do decide to travel may be asked by their employer or school to stay home for up to 14 days after traveling to avoid spreading the illness.

Super-rich jet off to disaster bunkers amid coronavirus outbreak - Like hundreds of thousands of people across the world, the super-rich are preparing to self-isolate in the face of an escalation in the coronavirus crisis. But their plans extend far beyond stocking up on hand sanitiser and TV boxsets.The world’s richest people are chartering private jets to set off for holiday homes or specially prepared disaster bunkers in countries that, so far, appear to have avoided the worst of the Covid-19 outbreak.  Many are understood to be taking personal doctors or nurses on their flights to treat them and their families in the event that they become infected. The wealthy are also besieging doctors in private clinics in Harley Street, London, and across the world, demanding private coronavirus tests. To avoid overwhelming limited testing facilities, the NHS said it would test only people with a “high chance” of having the illness – meaning people who had had close contact with a confirmed case or who had recently gone to a high-risk country. Mark Ali, chief executive and medical director of the Private Harley Street Clinic, said: “This has led to huge demand from very wealthy people asking if they can pay for private testing. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer testing, as the NHS has said all tests should be done centrally.” The Department of Health and Social Care has mandated that all tests must be carried out by the NHS and Public Health England (PHE).However, an employee at another Harley Street practice, who declined to be named, said their clinic had arranged for concerned clients to be tested in other countries, or for samples to be sent abroad for testing. Ali said his clinic was also offering the worried wealthy an intravenous infusion of vitamins and minerals to boost their immune systems. “We know that 90% of adults have a deficiency in vitamins – what better to improve that than an IV immune boost? An intravenous infusion ensures instant and optimal delivery of these nutrients to the body’s cells and the nutrients should include vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin B12 complex, glutathione, zinc and essential amino acids such as arginine, taurine, lysine and citrulline.” The treatment costs £350.

California allows employees sickened or affected by coronavirus to file claims for government benefits California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced Tuesday evening that Californians who are unable to work because they are sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, will now be able to claim short-term disability insurance from the state. "[California] has waived the one-week waiting period for those unemployed or disabled as a result of COVID-19," Newsom tweeted. "If a medical professional says you’re unable to work, if your hours have been reduced, or your employer has shut down -- you can file a claim," he added. According to the state's website, the disability insurance covers "60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week." Earlier in the week, Newsom prohibited gatherings or events of 250 people or more. California has reported nearly 200 cases of COVID-19 and four virus-related deaths. In the U.S., there have been more than 1,300 confirmed cases and more than 30 related deaths.

Americans adjust to new life, hunker down amid coronavirus --Most big tech companies in San Francisco and Seattle have told employees to work from home, emptying out the downtown neighborhoods that are a hub for tech and venture capital firms. The restaurants, food trucks and other businesses that thrive off lunchtime crowds say that businesses has pretty much ground to a halt. Workers lost their jobs, parents came up with impromptu home lesson plans for children kept home from shuttered schools. Families fretted over dwindling retirement accounts, the health of elderly parents, and every cough and sneeze in their midst. Millions of people settled into new and disrupted routines Thursday as the coronavirus began to uproot almost every facet of American life. The spate of event cancellations that drove home the gravity of the outbreak a day earlier only intensified Thursday, with Disney and Universal Orlando Resort shutting down theme parks, the NCAA calling off March Madness and Broadway theaters closing their doors in Manhattan. All the major professional sports announced they are halting play, and officials ordered a shutdown of every school in the state of Ohio for three weeks. And with the cascade of closures, a new reality set in for American households. In the Pacific Northwest, parents scrambled to devise homeschooling using library books or apps. Others, desperate to get to work, jumped on social media boards to seek child care or exchange tips about available babysitters. Parents rushed to college campuses and drove away with their children’s belongings and bags of their clothing. College officials scrambled to pay for plane tickets home for others. A mother in Seattle organized small outdoor play dates where the kids are told not to get too close to one another. The parents stood awkwardly, several feet apart. Most big tech companies in San Francisco and Seattle have told employees to work from home, emptying out the downtown neighborhoods that are a hub for tech and venture capital firms. The restaurants, food trucks and other businesses that thrive off lunchtime crowds say that businesses has pretty much ground to a halt.

The coronavirus is bringing a painful but much-needed end to an era of economic excess  - If you are riding a bicycle across a tightrope high above the ground while standing on the handlebars and doing a juggling act as you go, you need to maintain momentum and avoid shocks at all costs. Any slowing or wobbling could send youcrashing and bring the high wire act to an abrupt and painful end.That’s a pretty good analogy of what’s happening in financial markets and to the global economy. Even a pestilence as virulent as the coronavirus could not be bringing down the economy so quickly and dramatically if it were not already riding precariously high.This is a point many people appear to be missing as they scan the headlines daily for any evidence that the coronavirus spread isslowingand that, therefore, things can revert to “normal” fairly soon with financial markets resuming their ascent and business activity picking up.This will not happen. The economy and financial markets need to take a double fall, first from the coronavirus shock, then from theunsustainable highsthey had reached on the back of seemingly endless monetary easing, low interest rates, inflated asset values and credit-fuelled consumption.That is a long way to fall and the economy that has been performing the most impressive and death-defying balancing act of all – that of the United States– stands to fall most precipitously. As they say, “the bigger (or taller) they are, the harder they fall.”Amid a plethora of economic analyses pouring out almost daily from the likes of the International Monetary Fund, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, UN Conference on Trade and Development and Institute of International Finance, all cataloguing the woes of the macro economy, one from data analytics company J.D. Power in California was particularly ominous. It noted that “two-thirds of US adults are worried that [the coronavirus] will hurt their financial situation [owing to] unexpected medical expenses, inability to work enough hours and declining value of stock portfolios. Consumers are planning to travel less and limit visits to restaurants.”

Coronavirus Will Change How We Shop, Travel and Work for Years - Every economic shock leaves a legacy. The deadly coronavirus will be no different. The great depression spurred a “waste not want not” attitude that defined consumer patterns for decades. Hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic still haunts German policy.The Asia financial crisis left the region hoarding the world’s biggest collection of foreign exchange. More recently, the 2008 global financial crisis drove a wedge through mature democracies that still reverberates, with workers suffering measly pay gains in the decade since.This time it’s a public health emergency that’s shaking up the world economy. In just a matter of weeks, people in affected areas have become accustomed to wearing masks, stocking up on essentials, canceling social and business gatherings, scrapping travel plans and working from home. Even countries with relatively few cases are taking many of those precautions.Traces of such habits will endure long after the virus lock downs ease, acting as a brake on demand. On the supply side, international manufacturers are being forced to rethink where to buy and produce their goods -- accelerating a shift after the U.S.-China trade war exposed the risks of relying on one source for components.In the white-collar world, workplaces have amped up options for teleworking and staggered shifts -- ushering in a new era where work from home is an increasing part of people’s regular schedule. “Once effective work-from-home policies are established, they are likely to stick,” said Karen Harris, managing director of consultancy Bain’s Macro Trends Group in New York.

 "It's Like Scenes From A Mad Max Movie" - Americans Continue Epic Run On Costco  - As concerns of a Covid-19 outbreak increase across the US, Costco stores are experiencing the second weekend of panic-buying of food, water, and hand sanitizers. Last weekend we noted how the "great panic of 2020 is underway" as Americans made a mad dash to Costco stores and other big-box retailers to hoard supplies. Costco CFO Richard Galanti told investors during an earnings call last week that buying panic has "been nuts" adding that  he attributes "this to concerns over the coronavirus."Stock prices for Walmart and Target have also benefited from the spread of the deadly virus, as people preparing for a quarantine situation load up shopping carts with bottled water, canned soup, instant mac and cheese and everything else that they could possibly need to wait out the virus. But the panic-buying has been leading to shortages and leaving people on edge. -WaPoOn the East Coast, tens of millions of Americans woke up on Saturday morning and heard the news about 44 total confirmed virus cases in New York, with a majority in Westchester, a suburb of NYC. PIX11 News' Cristian Benavides tweeted a video of the panic that is developing in NYC this morning. He shows a long line of cars waiting to get into a Costco in Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens. ABC13 Houston reported, "We're seeing extremely long line at the Costco on Richmond this morning. Many people are trying to stock up on sanity items and water amid the coronavirus fears."

No milk, no bleach: Americans awake to coronavirus panic buying -  (Reuters) - In Union, New Jersey, a Target opened at 8 a.m. and had sold out of its full stock of milk and bottled water five minutes later. In Austin, Texas, some gas station pumps ran dry. Not a bottle of bleach could be found at a Home Depot in Fairfax, Virginia. As dawn broke across the United States on Saturday, thousands of shoppers lined up outside supermarkets and grocery stores before they opened, eager for a chance to buy essentials that have flown off shelves as the country hunkers down to slow the spread of coronavirus.“It’s crazy. People have gone crazy,” said Alexis Coppol, a Washington, D.C. resident who was shopping at Costco. “I mean, I’m not too worried, but if we get put on a lockdown I want to make sure I have food.”Americans have been stocking up on goods for days. But for many, the severity of the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which causes a sometimes fatal, highly contagious respiratory illness, really started to sink in after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, releasing $50 billion in federal aid to help states fight the virus.  More than 2,500 Americans have contracted the disease and at least 52 have died. The virus has infected more than 154,000 people worldwide and killed some 5,800 since it was discovered in China in December.

Coronavirus: The psychology of panic buying -Last Saturday afternoon, Kristina Moy decided to swing by her local supermarket in the US city of Seattle to pick up some weekly groceries and supplies for her son’s upcoming baseball tournament.What started as a quick errand turned into a three-hour ordeal, navigating checkout lanes packed with hundreds of shoppers stocking up amid the outbreak of coronavirus. “For the most part, people were understanding and relatively calm. But patience was definitely starting to grow thin,” says Moy, who tweeted images of long queues and people with trolleys loaded with bottled water. “Toilet paper and milk were flying off the shelves faster than I could count, and carbonated water was just about empty.” Moy isn’t the only one to experience long queues and empty shelves. Mass demand for rice and instant noodles in Singapore prompted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to assure the public there was enough to go around. In Auckland, New Zealand, supermarket spending shot up 40% last Saturday compared to the same day a year ago. And shoppers in Malaysia wanting to pad “pandemic pantries” – grocery hoards to fill people’s kitchens until the crisis dies down – have driven an 800% increase in weekly hand sanitiser sales. (All of those places have confirmed cases of Covid-19.) These are the real-world consequences of panic buying – a phenomenon that happens in the face of a crisis that can drive up prices and take essential goods out of the hands of people who need them most (such as face masks for health workers).  So why do people do it? Experts say the answer lies in a fear of the unknown, and believing that a dramatic event warrants a dramatic response – even though, in this case, the best response is something as mundane as washing your hands.   “It is rational to prepare for something bad that looks like it is likely to occur,” says David Savage, who’s written about the rationality behind stocking up in a crisis. However: “It is not rational to buy 500 cans of baked beans for what would likely be a two-week isolation period.”

The psychology of stockpiling: Why people are panic buying toilet paper --Panic buying has been rife amid the global spread of the new coronavirus, with consumers around the world stockpiling goods like hand sanitizer, canned foods and toilet paper.The trend has seen stores ration products, with U.K. retailers limiting sales of hand hygiene products while Australian shoppers have seen restrictions on the amount of toilet paper they can buy.  Psychologists spoke to CNBC to weigh in on why our brains push us to panic buy — even when authorities are assuring the public there’s no need to.According to Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist at the University of the Arts London, the short answer can be found in the psychology of “retail therapy” — where we buy to manage our emotional state.“It’s about ‘taking back control’ in a world where you feel out of control,” he said. “More generally, panic buying can be understood as playing to our three fundamental psychology needs.”Those needs were autonomy, or a need for control, relatedness, which Marsden defined as “we shopping” rather than “me shopping,” and competence, which is achieved when making a purchase gives people a sense that they are “smart shoppers.”Meanwhile, Sander van der Linden, an assistant professor of social psychology at Cambridge University, said there were both generalized and coronavirus-specific factors at play.“In the U.S., people are receiving conflicting messages from the CDC and the Trump administration,” he said. “When one organization is saying it’s urgent and another says it’s under control, it makes people worry.”President Donald Trump downplayed the impact of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak on Twitter this week, with a disconnect reportedly widening between the administration and U.S. health authorities. The virus is now present in at least 35 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).More generally, a “fear contagion” phenomenon was taking hold, van der Linden added. “When people are stressed their reason is hampered, so they look at what other people are doing. If others are stockpiling it leads you to engage in the same behavior,” he said. “People see photos of empty shelves and regardless of whether it’s rational it sends a signal to them that it’s the thing to do.”

Ben Carson: 'I don't have any problem with raising the minimum wage' - Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said he doesn’t have a problem with raising the minimum wage, but stopped short of offering a new guaranteed hourly rate. “I don’t have any problems with raising the minimum wage,” Carson said on “Axios on HBO” in an interview that aired Sunday. Carson said the market should dictate the minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 an hour. He also said that the minimum wage should be indexed to allow for it to change as conditions do. “It needs to be indexed then you don't keep having these arguments every 10 or 15 years,” Carson added. When pressed on what the minimum wage should be, Carson said he’d leave it to the economists. “I would allow the economists to do the indexing of what it should be now compared to what it was when it was set at that level, based on what the expenses are now versus what they were then,” he said.

Google tracked his bike ride past a burglarized home. That made him a suspect. The email arrived from Google’s legal investigations support team, writing to let Zachary McCoy know that local police had demanded information related to his Google account. The company said it would release the data unless he went to court and tried to block it. He had just seven days. “I was hit with a really deep fear,” McCoy, 30, recalled, even though he couldn’t think of anything he’d done wrong. He had an Android phone, which was linked to his Google account, and, like millions of other Americans, he used an assortment of Google products, including Gmail and YouTube. Now police seemingly wanted access to all of it. “I didn’t know what it was about, but I knew the police wanted to get something from me,” McCoy said in a recent interview. “I was afraid I was going to get charged with something, I don’t know what.” There was one clue. In the notice from Google was a case number. McCoy searched for it on the Gainesville Police Department’s website, and found a one-page investigation report on the burglary of an elderly woman’s home 10 months earlier. The crime had occurred less than a mile from the home that McCoy, who had recently earned an associate degree in computer programming, shared with two others. Now McCoy was even more panicked and confused. He knew he had nothing to do with the break-in ─ he’d never even been to the victim’s house ─ and didn’t know anyone who might have. And he didn’t have much time to prove it.  His lawyer, Caleb Kenyon, dug around and learned that the notice had been prompted by a “geofence warrant,” a police surveillance tool that casts a virtual dragnet over crime scenes, sweeping up Google location data — drawn from users’ GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular connections — from everyone nearby.The warrants, which have increased dramatically in the past two years, can help police find potential suspects when they have no leads. They also scoop up data from people who have nothing to do with the crime, often without their knowing ─ which Google itself has described as “a significant incursion on privacy.”

If You're Close To The Scene Of A Crime, Police Can Demand Google Hand Over Your Data - The Gainesville Police Department suspected an innocent man was involved in a burglary so naturally they requested that Google give them all of his location data. Google’s legal investigations support team wrote to Zachary McCoy telling him that local police were demanding information related to his Google account. Google replied and said it would release the data unless McCoy went to court and tried to block the request, NBC reported. The man then searched his case number on the Gainesville Police Department website where he found a one-page report on the burglary of an elderly woman’s home ten months earlier on March 29, 2009. Unfortunately for McCoy, the crime occurred less than a mile from the home that he shared with his two roommates. Caleb Kenyon, McCoy’s lawyer, said he was subject of a “geofence warrant.” A geofence warrant is essentially a virtual dragnet over crime scenes where police request to sweep up Google location data drawn from users’ GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and cellular connections from everyone who is near a crime scene. From this blanket of surveillance law enforcement then try to figure out which phones may be tied to suspects or possible witnesses. According to journalist Tony Webster, “Law enforcement officials say it’s a promising new technique.”

As Youth Suicides Climb, Anguished Parents Begin To Speak Out  - Alec Murray was 13. He enjoyed camping, fishing and skiing. At home, it was video games, movies and books. Having just completed middle school with “almost straight A’s,” those grades were going to earn him an iPhone for his upcoming birthday. Instead, he killed himself on June 8 — the first day of summer break. Caleb Stenvold was 14. He was a high school freshman in the gifted and talented program. He ran track and played defensive cornerback on his school’s football team. Just two months into high school ― and four months after Alec’s suicide — Caleb killed himself on Oct. 22. The teenagers, both from Reno, Nevada, didn’t know each other. But their families now do, bonded by loss. Their parents are haunted by what they don’t understand: why. They ― along with mental health experts, school leaders and researchers — are trying to understand why suicide by children ages 10 to 14 has gone up and up. The suicide rate for that age group almost tripled from 2007 to 2017. Newly released 2018 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a 16% increase over the previous year. While experts point to a host of explanations for the alarming rise, scientific proof about cause isn’t conclusive. Some research shows correlations with social media use, cyberbullying and the internet, but studies citing them as a suicide cause are less decisive. The parents of Caleb and Alec believe impulsivity ― very common in teens because their brains aren’t fully developed — played a role in their suicides. Kerri Countess, Caleb’s mother, called his suicide “totally unexpected and unimaginable.” He was the youngest of her five sons. Paige Murray said son Alec “showed no signs of mental distress or depression or anxiety.” “We think it was an incredibly impulsive act by a hormonal young man,” she said, noting that Alec’s stellar grades were posted online the day of his suicide.

 Alabama bill may lift yoga ban in public schools but prohibit ‘namaste’ greeting - Alabama could takes steps to lift a decades-old ban on yoga in public schools this week, but would keep a ban on the greeting “namaste” in place. A bill brought by Representative Jeremy Gray, a Democratic legislator from Opelika, is on the proposed debate agenda Tuesday in the Alabama House of Representatives. If the bill passes with a two-thirds majority, it will then go to the Senate for further debate. The Alabama board of education in 1993 voted to prohibit yoga, hypnosis and meditation in public school classrooms. The ban was pushed by conservative groups, and some schools have reported complaints from parents who say the practice endorses a “non-Christian belief system”. The Alabama yoga ban got new attention in 2018 when an old document circulated listing yoga – along with games like tag and duck, duck, goose – among activities deemed to be inappropriate in gym class, according to the board. The ancient practice of yoga has its roots in Hinduism, though it is now a common form of exercise practiced across the world, including in private gyms in Alabama.

Teachers pay out-of-pocket to keep their classrooms clean of COVID-19: Teachers already spend on average $450 a year on school supplies “I keep my surfaces as clean as possible, wipe down tables every day, and use sanitizer, but it becomes an expense, because the district doesn’t give us wipes or sanitizer for our classrooms,” Kristin Luebbert, a teacher at the U School in North Philadelphia, recently told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s just a worry—what’s the plan and how are we going to be safe?”With fears over COVID-19 spreading throughout the nation’s classrooms, there is understandably a push to maintain cleanliness in all schools. Even the Centers for Disease Control weighed in with recommendationsfor schools and teachers in particular too: clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects in the classroom.The question is who’s going to pay for the products needed to protect students and teachers? Turns out, some teachers are using their own money to cover the cost of things such as hand sanitizers and wipes, according to some published reports on the issue. That expense is in addition to the, on average, $459 teachers spend on school supplies for which they are not reimbursed (adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars),found an analysis by Economic Policy Institute economist Emma García.  “What’s ahead for teachers in light of the threat of COVID-19 spreading will only add to the existing challenges and stress,” predicts García. “Teachers already act as first respondents when it comes to children’s basic needs, and schools are the only place where some students can have access to hot meals, medical care, washing their dirty laundry, or even to shelter. These, as well as the expense outlays, are worse in schools serving larger shares of low-income students.”

Coronavirus school closings: Ohio, Maryland shut all K-12 schools - Twelve states and a number of large urban school districts — including Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest — are shutting down all K-12 schools as part of a sweeping attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Michigan, West Virginia, Virginia, Louisiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington and Alabama have ordered all schools closed. The governor of Kentucky has recommended closing all schools in that state. Major metropolitan districts in Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas have also shuttered. And a growing number of smaller districts around the country have also chosen to close.The actions are the first wave of widespread school closings in the U.S., and they stand to upend school and family routines for millions of children. According to a count updated mid-afternoon Friday by Education Week magazine, about a quarter of American schoolchildren had been or were scheduled to be affected by a school closure — and that was before some states announced their actions. Such closures will throw into sharp relief the deep socioeconomic divides in American education. Disadvantaged families who rely the most on schools for stable services, such as meals and access to learning materials, will be some of the most negatively affected.“Wide-scale learning loss could be among the biggest impacts coronavirus has on children in America,” said Betsy Zorio, vice president of U.S. programs at Save the Children, an international children's charity. “With an unprecedented number of school closures already announced and many more expected, ensuring that children can continue to learn is essential.”The effects on children will be particularly acute in places like Los Angeles, where the school district serves more than 600,000 students. Roughly 80 percent of students there rely on their school for lunch. More than 20,000 are homeless.Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine kicked off the wave of statewide closures Thursday when he announced that all K-12 public, charter and private schools in Ohio will be shut down for three weeks starting Monday to try to contain the spread of the virus.  Shortly after the Ohio announcement, Maryland's superintendent announced the state's schools would close for two weeks starting Monday. Other states followed, most closing for two or three weeks. In Washington, the first state to have an outbreak spreading in the community, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all schools closed by Tuesday through April 24 — about six weeks.

Coronavirus in N.Y.C.: Why Closing Public Schools Is a ‘Last Resort’ -NYT - New York City has the largest public school system in the United States, a vast district with about 750,000 children who are poor,including around 114,000 who are homeless.For such students, school may be the only place they can get three hot meals a day and medical care, and even wash their dirty laundry.That is why the city’s public schools will probably stay open even if the new coronavirus becomes more widespread in New York. Richard A. Carranza, the schools chancellor, said earlier this week that he considered long-term closings an “extreme” measure and a “last resort.”There are no plans to shut schools down, and Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday that none of the city’s 1.1 million public school students had shown any symptoms of the virus. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised that, so far, children have been less likely than adults to become infected.Even a single snow day can seriously disrupt the lives of New York’s most vulnerable children and their parents and other relatives, whose jobs often do not provide paid time off, said Aaron Pallas, a professor of education at Columbia University’s Teachers College.“Kids will need to be supervised,” Professor Pallas said. “And there are complex interactions here that affect the well-being of families.” Large-scale school closings might mean, for example, that subway conductors and bus drivers must stay home with their children, or that nurses at public hospitals would not be able to come to work, potentially slowing essential city services. Although millions of students around the world have already had their schools close because of the virus, such a move would present a major challenge for a district where many children do not have internet access at home, making remote learning nearly impossible.

 Sweetwater teachers and students protest impending mass firing of teachers (video) On Monday evening, teachers, students and parents in California’s Sweetwater school district demonstrated outside a school board meeting against the planned firing of hundreds of teachers and the closing of learning centers which help educate socially disadvantaged students.

Corruption In U.S. Military Academies Is Harming Our National Security - In a few weeks, high school students will be receiving much-anticipated decisions on whether they’ve been accepted to their colleges of choice.  The admissions process has never been played on an entirely equal playing field, whether because of the vicissitudes of schooling, the realities of economics, or outright fraud. The convictions in the Varsity Blues scandal have exposed even more details about elaborate schemes, wherein wealthy parents paid a shadowy middleman a six-figure fee to “backdoor” their children into their universities of choice. The conspiracy involved the bribery of coaches, the manufacture of athletic accolades, and fraudulent test scores.   As much as we shake our heads at such unethical practices and may feel these parents should be punished, these are ultimately isolated cases that have relatively little effect on society at large. This, however, cannot be said about the admissions chicanery that has been going on for decades at the U.S. military academies. Their admissions fabrications have instilled in the minds of Americans an overconfidence in the military that has had dire consequences: a belief that America is more ready for war than it is and a reduction in military preparedness.  As a teacher at West Point for the past 20 years, I have seen a line from dishonesty in the military to deficiencies in officers’ preparation, to the failures in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  “The end result is a profession whose members often hold and propagate a false sense of integrity that prevents the profession from addressing—or even acknowledging—the duplicity and deceit throughout the formation.”  A civilian English professor at the Naval Academy, Bruce Fleming, was first to describe that Academy’s false reporting of admissions statistics after serving on its admissions board. “Our military academies aren’t filled with the best and the brightest,” Fleming wrote in 2015. “They are a boondoggle, on your dime, and serve no one.” The military academies today are simply not the selective institutions they pretend to be. They claim falsely some of the lowest college acceptance rates in the nation, from 9 to 11 percent in 2018, when the real acceptance rate is apparently over 50 percent each year. The Naval Academy once claimed 20,000 applicants in one year, when the actual number was under 5,000. The Academy inflated its acceptance rate by counting “all 7,500 applicants to a week-long summer program for 11th graders . . . as well as anybody who fills out enough information to create a candidate number,” Fleming found.

Hidden figures: College students may be paying thousands in athletic fees and not know it -- Katelyn Waltemyer, a junior at James Madison University in Virginia, was stunned by what she learned during a seemingly simple assignment for the campus newspaper: dissecting the school's tuition bill. Buried in each student's yearly cost of almost $23,000 was a required fee of $2,340 solely to finance the school's sports teams. The money was not for using the gym, or for funding student clubs and activities. It was only for underwriting the costs of athletic teams — and a student could only find out about it by visiting and searching the school's website. "For someone who doesn't care a whole lot about athletics, it seems a bit much for me to have to contribute," said Waltemyer. "I have two jobs. I'm a full-time student. And I'm paying for athletes' scholarships? To me, that hurt."James Madison's students are far from alone among American college students in funding top-tier college sports programs — often unknowingly. An NBC News investigation found that students like Waltemyer are paying a rising cost — sometimes thousands of dollars each year — in fees that don't always appear on their tuition bills.Students may not even see the fee on their tuition bill, and would need to visit the university website or, at some institutions, even file a public records request to find out how much they are being charged to support college athletics. And student fees have soared in the past decade, rising even faster than the overall cost of a public university education. Schools in Division 1, the top level of college sports, collected $1.2 billion in fiscal 2018, according toNCAA figures, 51 percent more than a decade ago. By contrast, the average yearly tuition at a four-year public college has risen 37 percent in the same span, according to the College Board. College officials have defended Division 1 sports programs as a way to foster school spirit, attract student applications and encourage donations.  But as costs climb, universities are not required to disclose how much they charge students for sports teams. "It's by design that they're not being transparent because they know that it's not right," said Natalia Abrams, executive director of the Student Debt Crisis, an advocacy group that works to reduce student debt. "It's incredibly deceptive to bundle it that way."

Coronavirus prompts Berea College to shut down for the year ‘out of an abundance of caution’ --Berea College President Lyle Roelofs announced Tuesday that the private college in Madison County will end the academic year Friday and send students home out of concern over thecoronavirus.“Concluding, after careful analysis, that it will not be possible to adequately assure student and employee safety in the circumstance of a case of COVID-19 occurring on campus, we have decided that the College will cease instructional activities as of the end of the day on this Friday, March 13,”Roelofs said in a letter to the college community.Berea spokesman Tim Jordan said there were no cases reported on campus and the action was being taken “out of an abundance of caution.”The letter said instruction should not continue, although assignments for students to complete and submit can be part of the plan and electronic communications may continue. The due date for final grades will not change.Students are asked to return home Saturday and to vacate residence halls. Jordan said school officials anticipate that as many as 200 of the college’s 1,600 students won’t be able to return home immediately and they will be allowed to stay on campus until they can make arrangements. The school may help with travel costs.Universities across the United States were canceling in person classes for the remainder of the year and transitioning to virtual courses including Harvard University. Transitions from in-person classes to virtual learning were also being made at Princeton, Amherst, University of California, Berkeley and Indiana University.

 Tulane University tells all students to move out -  In an email sent to students today (Mar. 11) Tulane President Mike Fitts is telling all students to move out of the residence dorms by the end of next week (Mar. 22). This is in addition to the University’s changing all courses to online classes. According to the email, “all uptown, on-campus students should prepare to move out of their residence halls for the remainder of the semester.” The email does not say how the students in dorms will pay for rentals in New Orleans. It does say that students, such as international students, who have “difficulty returning home” should submit a request for an “exception to moving off campus.” However, “all faculty and staff are expected to report to work as normal,” using “social distancing measures.” We will update this story as more information becomes available.

Harvard’s “Let Them Eat Veritas”: Richest University’s Poor Students Shafted as School Provides Spotty, Inadequate Help as It Throws Them Out of Dorms and Jobs -Yves Smith - Harvard University should be ashamed of itself. It has dumped the problem of its sudden closure due to coronavirus largely on the students themselves and their families. While most of them are affluent enough to handle the financial fallout of buying airfare at the last minute and storing or shipping their clothes, books, and other possessions, Harvard’s students from lower income backgrounds have, to a significant degree, been left in the lurch. I learned about this train wreck via an e-mail from a foundation affiliated with my undergraduate house1 asking for alumni to pitch in: As some of you already know, the College suddenly announced yesterday in the middle of exam week that due to the COVID outbreak, all students must leave their dorms by Sunday and that classes would resume online sometime next week. This has placed incredible strains on everyone—staff, student professors alike,—but particularly on our lower income, first generation students, as you can read in the Crimson. this crisis requires students to pay to store or ship their things, as well as to buy airline tickets home on short notice. Additionally some of our international students who can’t return home will have to remain isolated on campus, and others will be returning home to areas with slow or no internet service which will make participating in online classes next to impossible. The Harvard Crimson piece mentioned in the e-mail describes in detail how low-income students have been turfed out, framing as students having been given an eviction notice on Tuesday to get out by Sunday. The school will not reopen after spring break. Key details: Some students must ship or store their on-campus belongings without financial support from Harvard. Others who planned to stay on campus must now book unexpected flights home and accrue additional costs. And those who rely on term-time employment must confront additional financial concerns as they lose their primary sources of income….

California graduate student wildcat strike enters fifth week - The growing wildcat strike of University of California (UC) graduate student teaching assistants (TAs) has entered its fifth week, and has now spread from UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) to at least four other campuses, with substantial sympathy demonstrations at all of the 11 campuses. Graduate students launched this struggle in opposition to the no-strike, poverty contract imposed by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, demanding a substantial cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to reduce crushing rent burdens in one of the most expensive states in the country. On February 28, UC fired roughly 80 TAs who refused to submit final grades for Fall 2019 in protest. The strike has now spread to UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis, UC San Diego and most recently to nearly 100 professional and administrative workers at the UC Hastings law campus. The UAW, whose entire leadership is reeling from a corruption and bribery scandal, is attempting to contain and isolate this movement, calling for an end to the strike for wages in favor of an “unfair labor practices” strike vote they plan to call in April. The main demand of this “sanctioned” strike would be preservation of the corrupt UAW’s role as the “sole legally recognized bargaining unit” for graduate students. The UAW is totally opposed to a strike for improved conditions. Socialist Equality Party (SEP) Vice Presidential candidate Norissa Santa Cruz was invited to a meeting of COLA organizers at UC Irvine (UCI) and spoke to an audience of about 20. She advanced the SEP’s perspective of breaking with the UAW and forming rank-and-file committees of graduate students to broaden the strike both on and off the campuses. She further argued that the struggle for higher wages, which workers all across California desperately need, is inherently political and must be waged in opposition to the Democratic Party, which governs California and appoints the majority of the UC Board of Regents. UCI is the fifth UC campus at which Santa Cruz and SEP Presidential candidate and National Secretary Joseph Kishore have spoken this past week, including UCSC and UC Berkeley (UCB) on Tuesday, UC Los Angeles (UCLA) on Wednesday and UC San Diego (UCSD) on Thursday.

Berkeley grad students vote to join wildcat strike as UAW scrambles to shut down struggle - Graduate students at Berkeley, the flagship campus of the University of California (UC) system, voted on Monday to join the wildcat strike initiated by UC Santa Cruz graduate students last month. Faced with crushing rent burdens, USCSC graduate students and teaching assistants (TAs) are demanding substantial cost-of-living adjustments. The strike has met with widespread support across the state and even around world, which has only been galvanized by the decision by UC President Janet Napolitano to fire dozens of strikers. Berkeley graduate students are schedule to begin their strike next Monday, March 16, bringing the total number of UC schools with strikes to six out of eleven. In addition to UCSC, the other schools where graduate students are on strike are UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis and UC San Diego. Administrative and professional workers at the UC Hastings law campus have also taken strike action. Solidarity demonstrations attracting thousands of people have taken place on all campuses in the UC system. The stand taken by Berkeley graduate students repudiates the position of the UAW, which last month rejected a widely-circulated petition demanding a sympathy strike to defend fired UCSC strikers. In a letter to students, UAW Unit Chair Gerard Ramm declared that the union would not defend students who violated the no-strike clause in the UAW contract. As the wildcat strike of University of California (UC) graduate students approaches the one month mark, the struggle has reached a crossroads. Fearing that the strike will spread off the campuses, the UAW, the Democratic Party and the pseudo-left are intensifying their efforts to smother the strike. The UAW is attempting to shut down the wildcat strike and divert students away from their chief demand for COLA. While it is demanding that graduate students immediately shut down their wildcat strike, it promises only to call a vote for an officially authorized “unfair labor practices” (ULP) strike—a definition which legally prohibits the raising of economic demands—at some point in April. Unions have long used such strikes to muzzle workers and isolate and wear down militant workers, as in the ongoing strike by 2,000 Asarco copper miners in Arizona.

Column: You paid off your student loans. You should still support canceling them for others - LA Times - A major consequence of the ending of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign is the loss — at least for now — of a voice so adept at explaining how progressive policies work to the benefit of all Americans, regardless of their station in life. The best example of this may have come in January, when Warren responded to a voter outraged that, after he had paid student loans, she was proposing that those in the same situation get relief. Warren’s questioner stalked away before she could fully answer his complaint, but she finished her explanation a few days later on CBS (though she had to talk over a preening anchorman’s interruption to do so). “Look, we build a future going forward by making it better,” she said. “By that same logic, what would we have done, not started Social Security because we didn’t start it last week for you or last month for you?”   Warren was confronting, with typical clarity, one of the most common objections to policies that fix manifest injustices: “I suffered, so why shouldn’t everyone else?” Sometimes the point is articulated through its converse: “I got mine, too bad about you.” The same question was raised Wednesday by Republican political operative Matthew J. Dowd, who tweeted, “I paid for my college by working and i took out student loans which I paid back in less than ten years by scrimping on other things. Why is it fair that we just cancel all student loan debt?” This is perhaps the most narrow-minded and shortsighted argument on public policy one can imagine. Applied more broadly, it’s a vote for total political stasis.  That’s because every social problem addressed by political leaders comes to their attention because it has afflicted some portion of the population. Refusing to correct a manifest injustice out of solicitude for the suffering of previous victims is asinine. Taking a line from Warren’s point, we got child labor laws because generations had their whole lives stunted by the loss of their childhood. Social Security because of the spectacle of America’s seniors homeless and starving in the wake of the Great Depression. We got Medicare and Medicaid because the project to bring healthcare to elderly and low-income Americans was still unfinished after the 1940s. We’re talking about canceling student debt because we recognize as a society that those who had to scrimp and save to get themselves or their offspring through university should not have needed to do so.  We understand — or should, at any rate — that all these needs are properly the concern of the entire community, not merely those immediately affected.

 Senate overturns DeVos rule limiting debt relief for defrauded students - Most GOP senators who crossed party lines to reverse the policy are up for reelection this year, including Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Joni Ernst of Iowa.The additional Republicans who voted with their Democratic colleagues were Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio and Todd Young of Indiana.Some Democrats argued that the DeVos rewrite "gutted" the rule by making it harder for students to apply for debt relief and changed the calculation so that only some of their loans would be forgiven."We don't believe your life should be ruined because some school lied to you about the education they were promising, the loans you were taking out. We believe that you deserve a second chance in life," said Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who sponsored the legislation, in a press conference held after the vote.DeVos has made several attempts to write the new rule, known as borrower defense, that would scale back an Obama-era policy aimed at helping students who were misled by for-profit colleges like Corinthian and ITT Tech. Both institutions collapsed under regulatory pressure during the Obama administration. DeVos told members of Congress last year that her rule would protect taxpayers from people trying to scam the system by applying for debt relief when they suffered no harm. Those students who were defrauded would still be eligible for loan forgiveness, she said at the time

Opioid-related deaths in Columbus, Ohio area up 45 percent from last year — The novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has hit Ohio.The state’s first three confirmed cases of the disease, all in Cuyahoga County, were announced today by the Ohio Department of Health. All three are people in their 50′s who recently traveled outside the state, according to the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.COVID-19 is a respiratory illness with symptoms similar to those of the flu — fever, cough and shortness of breath — that has sickened thousands and killed 3,100 in China, according to the World Health Organization. There is not yet a vaccine for COVID-19, nor are there any medications approved to treat it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.So far, the virus has spread to 102 countries, according to the WHO.In January, two Miami University students, who recently traveled to China, tested negative for the coronavirus. Testing for the illness involves a nasal and mouth swab, blood sample and lower respiratory sputum sample. Since then, a dozen Ohioans have tested negative for the virus. Health care workers caring for patients with COVID-19, people in close contact with people who have COVID-19 and travelers returning from affected international locations are at elevated risk of exposure.

 New Species of Chlamydia Bacteria Found in the Arctic Ocean - A very common sexually transmitted disease, chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis and it can infect men and women in different parts of the body, spread through sexual contact.Several abundant populations bacteria in the Chlamydia family were discovered by a group of researchers in deep sediments of the Arctic Ocean — 2 miles (3 kilometers) beneath the surface of the Arctic Ocean, several feet beneath the ocean floor. The finding is expected to help understand how the bacteria evolved to become infectious.Chlamydia and related bacteria (collectively referred to as Chlamydiae) need to interact with other organisms to survive. It interacts specifically with organisms such as animals, plants and fungi, and even microscopic organisms such as amoebas, algae and plankton.The bacteria spend much of their lives inside the cells of their human hosts, but can also parasitise bears and koalas. Most of the knowledge about Chlamydiae is based on studies of pathogenic lineages in the laboratory. But do the bacteria also exist in other settings? If this study is any indication, the answer is yes. An international group of researchers reported the discovery of numerous new species of Chlamydiae that grow in deep sediments of the Arctic Ocean, in the absence of obvious host organisms.

 Caught By Surprise: Lack Of Coronavirus Testing Gives U.S. Highest Reported Mortality Rate. - The U.S. currently has the highest mortality rate among new coronavirus COVID-19 patients due to a low number of actual confirmed cases, and a high number of elderly who passed away recently in the state of Washington. All told, the U.S. has 238 people that tested positive, of which 8 have recovered and 14 have died, all but one in Washington state.It’s not because the coronavirus in the U.S. is any stronger than it is anywhere else in the 70+ nations that now have it. It’s that the level of testing here has been slow resulting in a small number of confirmed cases compared to the number of deaths. That means the mortality rate here is higher than it is in Hubei province, the epicenter of the new coronavirus. The U.S. mortality rate is currently 5.9%. In Hubei, it’s 4.3%.The U.S. does not yet have the capacity to test at the levels South Korea is currently testing at, which is over 10,000 patients a day. South Korea’s mortality rate, meanwhile, is just 0.6%, which is on par with influenza, a disease that infects millions each year.“Because this is a new coronavirus, we are in a period of uncertainty,” says Winnie Chi-Man, professor of global health policy and economy at Harvard’s School of Public Health. “There is no deterministic response. That’s the reality. People have to trust the government will get this right.”  The fast rising death toll lit a fire under Congress to act: legislators passed an $8.3 billion aid bill signed by President Trump on Friday. He had initially only asked for $2.5 billion. The $8.3 billion package includes $7.8 billion in discretionary appropriations, plus $500 million for Medicare.

Never mind China, look to the US for the next big coronavirus crisis - After locking down entire cities and placing tens of millions of citizens under quarantine, China’s authoritarian government has managed to put a lid on the proliferation of Covid-19 to quite an extent. For the first time since the outbreak began more than two months ago, the Hubei province epicentre had no new cases to report – except ground zero in Wuhan – for two days in a row this week. The daily number of new infections across mainland China fell below 100 on Saturday. Hospitals packed to the rafters with Covid-19 patients just a couple of weeks ago have empty beds to show now. And now, with the global total of coronavirus cases topping the 100,000 mark, China is closing its borders to arrivals from other countries that pose a threat. Don’t miss the irony and implications of what’s happening here – China may have given this disease to the rest of the world, but now it’s making sure the rest of the world doesn’t give it right back. And why not, considering how complacent so many countries have been, to their detriment. “Woefully unprepared” was how America’s largest nursing union summed it up in a recent warning to the government about “a fragmented and broken public health infrastructure” that would not be able to cope with a crisis of this magnitude. The US has reported fewer than 300 infections so far because diagnostic testing for Covid-19 is being conducted at a fraction of the scale it should be. Not even 2,000 have been tested so far, compared with more than 140,000 in South Korea. It doesn’t help that Trump has been making recklessly irresponsible claims about the disease and lulling Americans into a false sense of security by routinely disputing scientific data and offering personal opinions that directly contradict public health advice. He has suggested, based on personal “hunches”, that the disease will “miraculously go away” with the onset of summer, that it’s mostly “very mild”, that many people recover without having to see a doctor, that hundreds of thousands will get better “just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work”.

Coronavirus reminds us we are organisms in an environment - But, the first pandemic in a century is forcefully and sadly reminding all of us that Darwin was right about our place in the natural world, more specifically, that we will never be outside of it.That the world is "wildly unprepared" for this pandemic is in part a result of our belief the we are on a separate journey from the rest of the natural world, headed toward a perfected existence in which nature obeys all of our commands and bothers us not at all. Why prepare for something that is merely a product of nature? We have the technology to overcome it, don't we? There must be a pill, right? Actually, wrong.Those who understand human vulnerabilities have been sounding the alarm for years. But the idea that our entire way of life could be dramatically disrupted worldwide simultaneously simply was not on the radar of most governments—at least not enough to get them to stockpile even the most basic medical supplies; face masks come to mind. There is much talk of creating a vaccine and doing it quickly. But such an endeavor can take more than a year and even more time to manufacture and distribute. There is less talk about the unhealthy lifestyles and chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes that result from that lifestyle which might need to be addressed if we are going to cope better with the world of microorganisms we inhabit. There is even less talk that those at the bottom of the economic ladder are the most vulnerable and that the wealth gap and the gap in access to health care it implies are actually a huge public health problem for all of us. The very way in which we live—constantly pressing on the edge of wilderness to develop it and exploit it—puts humans potentially in contact with millions of viruses from which will come the next pandemic. And, the next one will likely come much sooner than 100 years from now.

 Coronavirus can travel twice as far as official ‘safe distance’ and stay in air for 30 minutes, Chinese study finds - The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 can linger in the air for at least 30 minutes and travel up to 4.5 metres – further than the “safe distance” advised by health authorities around the world, according to a study by a team of Chinese government epidemiologists. The researchers also found that it can last for days on a surface where respiratory droplets land, raising the risk of transmission if unsuspecting people touch it and then rub their face. The length of time it lasts on the surface depends on factors such as temperature and the type of surface, for example at around 37C (98F), it can survive for two to three days on glass, fabric, metal, plastic or paper. These findings, from a group of official researchers from Hunan province investigating a cluster case, challenge the advice from health authorities around the world that people should remain apart at a “safe distance” of one to two metres (three to six and a half feet). Their work was based on a local outbreak case on January 22 during the peak Lunar New Year travel season. A passenger, known as “A”, boarded a fully booked long-distance coach and settled down on the second row from the back. The passenger already felt sick at that point but it was before China had declared the coronavirus outbreak a national crisis, so “A” did not wear a mask, nor did most of the other passengers or the driver on the 48-seat bus. China requires closed circuit television cameras to be installed on all long-distance buses, which provided valuable footage for researchers to reconstruct the spread of the virus on the bus, whose windows were all closed.“ It can be confirmed that in a closed environment with air-conditioning, the transmission distance of the new coronavirus will exceed the commonly recognised safe distance,” the researchers wrote in a paper published in peer-review journal Practical Preventive Medicine last Friday.

D.C. priest who distributed communion to hundreds tests positive for coronavirus - A Washington, D.C., priest who hosted services as recently as March 1 tested positive for the coronavirus on Saturday, according to the Washington Post. Visitors to Christ Church in Georgetown could have been exposed to the virus, the district’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, said in a news conference Monday. Rev. Timothy Cole, the rector at the church, is the city’s first presumptive positive for the coronavirus. Cole oversaw three services that were attended by about 550 people, according to the Post. Though it’s still unclear how many of those made direct contact with him, church officials said he shook parishioners’ hands and provided communion at the 11:15 a.m. services on March 1. “We recognize this situation is fluid," Bowser said during the news conference. “We put the safety of residents first. We are following the science about how we will proceed.” Bowser encouraged anyone who visited the church on Feb. 24 and between Feb. 28-March 3 to self-quarantine for 14 days. The church announced on Monday that it has suspended all services and activities until further notice. Cole had not traveled internationally recently and first fell ill after returning from a Feb. 22 conference of Episcopal leaders in Louisville, according to The Post.

Coronavirus Update: NY State Of Emergency Declared As Outbreak Jumps To 89 Cases  - Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Saturday as the number of coronavirus cases in the state soared. As of Saturday night, there were a total of 89 cases in New York State. Eleven of those confirmed cases were in New York City. The majority of the cases are in Westchester County.Mayor Bill de Blasio said seven new cases in the city were confirmed Saturday morning. “We are seeing more community transmission between people who have no direct connection to travel to one of the affected countries,” de Blasio said in a statement. “I urge New Yorkers to remain vigilant—not alarmed—and take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones. As we continue to see more cases of COVID-19, we will be providing as much guidance to New Yorkers as possible to keep our city safe.” The seven new cases include the wife and 11-year-old daughter of an Upper West Side man who had previously tested positive, a man who is currently hospitalized in Queens, two Brooklyn women who were recently on a cruise from Egypt, a Brooklyn man who recently returned from Italy and a Manhattan man who spent time with someone who tested positive for coronavirus in Chile. The two Brooklyn women are at home in mandatory quarantine, as are the wife and daughter of the Upper West Side man. The Manhattan man was discharged from a local hospital Saturday morning and is under mandatory quarantine. The Brooklyn man who recently returned from Italy is in a local hospital in serious condition. Officials say the man is in his 30s. CBS2 reports the case in Far Rockaway, Queens, is at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital and as a result 40 workers have been quarantined.

New York Firefighters Won't Respond To Coronavirus Calls  - The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) won't dispatch its firefighters to potential coronavirus calls, as the city leaves it in the hands of EMTs and paramedics, according to the New York Post (which bizarrely opens their article with: "They’re not the Bravest when it comes to the coronavirus.")The department issued an order Friday temporarily relieving firefighters from responding to calls of the second highest priority for patients with fever, coughing, difficulty breathing or even those who are unconscious.A fever, cough and trouble breathing are the most common symptoms of the novel coronavirus, officially called COVID-19. -New York Post."Effective immediately, the following call types will temporarily not receive a [certified first responder] response," states paperwork obtained by the New York Daily News.According to the report, paramedics are shocked at the decision: "We can’t believe they would put out this order during one of the biggest citywide health crises. The fact that they’re abdicating all of this is just astounding," said one first responder. "You’re talking about people who call themselves the Bravest." Alternatively, you're talking about people whose job it is to fight fires - not contract a hyper-virulent disease that would prevent them from fighting fires... as opposed to an EMT, whose job description includes likely exposure to pathogens. "They would literally lose the firehouse. If you lose the house, the response times go through the roof," said one veteran paramedic, while the Post notes that at least 30 Seattle-area firefighters were placed under quarantine after responding to a nursing home where coronavirus erupted.

NY AG Orders Televangelist Jim Bakker To Halt Advertising Of Alleged Coronavirus Cure - New York's Attorney General Letitia James sent a cease-and-desist order to televangelist Jim Bakker, ordering him to stop promoting an alleged cure for coronavirus, reported ABC News. In early February, on the "The Jim Bakker Show," guest Sherrill Sellman claimed that "Silver Solution" is a remedy for the deadly coronavirus, that at the time, was spreading across China. Here's a snippet of the broadcast:Jim Bakker is standing by the claims he has made about the silver solution he sells ... and he's willing to sell you a case of it for just $300.  — Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) March 2, 2020When Sellman was asked if the coronavirus elixir would cure Covid-19, she replied, "Let's say it hasn't been tested on this strain of the coronavirus, but it's been tested on other strains of the coronavirus, and it has been able to eliminate it within 12 hours." Since the broadcast, Bakker has been selling "Silver Solution" on his website for $300 for a pack of 12.

New York Gov. Cuomo deploys National Guard to New Rochelle, establishes containment center to stem coronavirus -New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has deployed the National Guard to New Rochelle, a coronavirus hot spot just north of New York City. “This is unique in the United States of America, we haven’t seen this anywhere else. Think about it, New Rochelle has double the cases of New York City, it’s true, it’s a phenomenon,” Cuomo told reporters Tuesday in announcing the deployment. Westchester County, where New Rochelle is located, had 108 COVID-19 cases out of the 173 confirmed infections across the state, according to state health department data Tuesday. Cuomo compared the number of cases in New York to Washington state, where officials said an outbreak has spread to at least 162 people, killing 22 mostly elderly residents. Across the U.S., at least 25 people have died, but none in New York so far. A man in his 60s died from COVID-19 in Bergen County, New Jersey, state officials confirmed Monday. Fourteen New Yorkers are hospitalized with COVID-19, Cuomo said, adding “most of the 14 are members of that vulnerable community.” 20200303 Coronavirus flat map 740-px US ONLY New York National Guard troops have already been dispatched to a health department command post in New Rochelle “to assist with the outbreak,” according to a slide he presented at a news briefing. “We have moved from a containment strategy to more of a mitigation strategy,” NY state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said. Cuomo stressed that the state isn’t restricting people from leaving the area. “You’re not containing people, it’s facilities. Somebody who lives in that containment area could be in this room today. There’s nothing you can do about that,” he said. Cuomo said schools in New Rochelle will be closed for two weeks beginning Thursday, and officials are adding a satellite testing facility within the containment area to test residents for the virus. Northwell Health received the approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday night to run automated testing, Cuomo said. “This will be a period of disruption for the local community. I understand that,” he added.

Coronavirus: Death toll, confirmed cases increase in Washington - The number of coronavirus cases continues to increase as more counties have been getting back test results. On Sunday, the death toll in Washington state reached 19 and the confirmed cases, reported by the Washington Department of Health, hit at least 136. Public Health - Seattle & King County said the two newest deaths in the county were both Life Care Center residents. And it was only hours later, the Grant County Health District reported the county’s first death from the coronavirus. That number has not been included yet in the DOH death toll number of 18. As reported by the DOH on Sunday, the current breakdown of cases by county is as follows: King County, 83; Snohomish County, 31; and Pierce County, four. Grant, Jefferson, Clark, and Kittitas all each report one confirmed case. Additionally, there are 14 “unassigned” positive cases, according to the Department of Health’s website. The website did not clarify what exactly that term means. The Kitsap Public Health District later reported its first positive coronavirus case, pending confirmation from the state health department. The person who tested positive is a Bainbridge Island resident. Joint Base Lewis-McChord also announced Sunday evening a service member’s spouse, who resides off-base and has not recently visited JBLM, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday. Officials said the service member is also being tested, and he and his wife are in quarantine at home. Sixteen of those who died in King County were residents of Life Care Center, a nursing home in Kirkland, according to Public Health - Seattle & King County. Researchers say the virus may have been circulating undetected for weeks.

Washington State Warns Mail-In Ballot Voters Not To Lick Envelopes -While Federal officials are investigating a Seattle-area nursing home for a Covid-19 outbreak, local officials have started building several "quarantine villages" in the Seattle–Tacoma metropolitan area.  Seattle appears to be the epicenter of the virus outbreak in the US, with 39 confirmed cases and ten deaths. Many of the deaths have been situated at a nursing home in Kirkland, a suburb east of Seattle.Virus fears prompted Washington's Secretary of State and Department of Health on Tuesday to inform the public that everyone who votes during the presidential primary by mail-in ballot to use "alternative methods" in sealing the envelope that holds the ballot instead of using their tongue. The tweet said: "As recommended by @WADeptHealth, please use alternative methods to seal your ballot return envelopes, such as a wet sponge or cloth."   A catchy slogan was attached to the tweet that reads: "Whether healthy or sick, please don't lick!

Seattle-area nursing home unable to test 65 workers with COVID-19 symptoms - (Reuters) - The Seattle-area nursing home at the epicenter of one of the biggest coronavirus outbreaks in the United States said on Monday it had no kits to test 65 employees showing symptoms of the respiratory illness that has killed at least 13 patients at the long-term care center. The staff in question, representing more than a third of the Life Care Center’s 180 employees, are out sick with symptoms consistent with coronavirus, and a federal strike team of nurses and doctors is helping to care for 53 patients remaining in the center. With the facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland accounting for more than half of the known U.S. coronavirus deaths, and all its patients tested, it was unclear why Life Care lacked diagnostic kits for staff, even as the University of Washington offered to process test samples for them. “We would like more kits to test employees,” Life Care Center spokesman Tim Killian told reporters, adding he did not know why they had not been forthcoming. “We’ve been asking the various government agencies that have been supplying us with test kits.” Twenty-six of 120 patients who were residing at the nursing home as of Feb. 19 have since died, with 13 of 15 autopsies carried conducted to date confirming coronavirus was the cause, Life Care officials said on Monday. Among 53 residents still in the facility as of Monday, results for 31 out of 35 tested have so far come back positive for the coronavirus, they said. The Seattle-King County Public Health agency on Monday reported three more Life Care residents had died from coronavirus infections at local hospitals in recent days, raising the statewide total to 22. Washington as a whole has documented 162 confirmed cases, one of the largest tally of any single U.S. state. The nationwide number has surpassed 600. The outbreak has shown how quickly coronavirus can spread through elderly residents with weak immune systems and underlying health conditions living in close quarters. “We’ve had patients who, within an hour’s time, show no symptoms to going to acute symptoms and being transferred to the hospital,” Killian told a news conference on Sunday. “And we’ve had patients die relatively quickly under those circumstances.”

Coronavirus Kills 2 in Washington State, U.S. Death Toll at 29  -- TWO NURSING HOME residents have died from the coronavirus in Washington's King County, officials said Tuesday, bringing the total number of U.S. deaths from COVID-19 to 29.So far, 22 people have died from the virus in the county and 24 in the state. County officials announced 74 new cases of the illness, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the county to 190. "Access to more testing is showing us that COVID-19 is spreading more rapidly in King County. Ten long-term care facilities have reported positive COVID-19 cases," county officials said in an update posted online.The two deaths reported Tuesday include a woman in her 80s who was a resident of Issaquah Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and a man in his 80s who was a resident of Ida Culver House.Neither are connected to the Life Care Center of Kirkland, which has been the epicenter of the outbreak in Washington state. Of the 22 deaths reported in the county, 19 have been linked to Life Care Center, where at least 55 people have tested positive for the virus.With the new cases out of King County, officials report 267 confirmed cases in the state overall, according to the Washington State Department of Health.Public health officials are working with the 10 long-term care facilities in the county where residents or employees have tested positive for the virus.In addition to the 24 deaths in Washington state, two people have died from the coronavirus in California, two in Florida and one in New Jersey.

Seattle Running Dangerously Low On Protective Gear Amid Largest Outbreak In Country - Seattle is running out of protective gear for first responders and medical facilities as COVID-19 continues to spread in the hardest-hit region in the country, and they are days to week away from running out if they don't receive new supplies from a national stockpile. Mayor Jenny Durkan (D) told The Hill  that according to current estimates, there are over 1,100 people in the greater Seattle area who are infected with the coronavirus. Of note, there have been 397 confirmed cases in Washington State, of which 29 have died and one person has recovered. Those who become sick enough to need hospitalization are already stretching health systems as city, county and state officials scramble to build capacity. Many people who become ill call 911, putting a premium on personal protective gear that police and fire fighters must don and doff each time they come into contact with someone who might be symptomatic.  “There’s some critical things that we will need very quickly. We have made it clear on what those are. Testing still remains the number one issue. Capacity has increased, but it has not increased to meet the demand or the need,” Durkan told The Hill. “The national stockpile of personal protective equipment, face masks, face shields, gloves — we will run out if we don’t get replenishments soon.” -The Hill

Seattle’s Patient Zero Spread Coronavirus Despite Ebola-Style Lockdown --The man who would become Patient Zero for the new coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. appeared to do everything right. He arrived Jan. 19 at an urgent-care clinic in a suburb north of Seattle with a slightly elevated temperature and a cough he’d developed soon after returning four days earlier from a visit with family in Wuhan, China.The 35-year-old had seen a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alert about the virus and decided to get checked. He put on a mask in the waiting room. After learning about his travel, the clinic drew blood and called state and county health officials, who hustled the sample onto an overnight flight to the CDC lab in Atlanta. The patient was told to stay in isolation at home, and health officials checked on him the next morning.  The test came back positive that afternoon, Jan. 20, the first confirmed case in the U.S. By 11 p.m., the patient was in a plastic-enclosed isolation gurney on his way to a biocontainment ward at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington, a two-bed unit developed for the Ebola virus. As his condition worsened, then improved over the next several days, staff wore protective garb that included helmets and face masks. Few even entered the room; a robot equipped with a stethoscope took vitals and had a video screen for doctors to talk to him from afar.County health officials located more than 60 people who’d come in contact with him, and none developed the virus in the following weeks. By Feb. 21, he was deemed fully recovered. Somehow, someone was missed.  All the careful medical detective work, it’s now clear, wasn’t enough to slow a virus moving faster than the world’s efforts to contain it. On Jan. 15, when the traveler to Wuhan who became the first known U.S. case returned to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, he took group transportation from the airport with other passengers, county officials have said. At the time, 41 people in Wuhan had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, and Chinese officials said the threat of human-to-human transmission was low. A CDC notice advised Americans who’d been in Wuhan and felt sick to seek care.  Two days later, the recent arrival from Wuhan visited the urgent-care clinic in Snohomish County, Washington, and the intensive response began. In retrospect, it was already too late. Some researchers who’ve traced the viral genomes of patients around the world now believe someone else in the area picked it up between Jan. 15 and Jan. 19, before the traveler went to the hospital. He might have sneezed in the airport shuttle or on some surface—all but impossible for health workers to trace.

'Grand Princess' Passenger Who Died Of Covid-19 Probably Caught The Virus In California, Carnival Says -- The latest alarming twist in the 'Grand Princess' saga is that the 71-year-old former passenger who died in California's Placer County may have already been infected with the virus when he boarded, meaning that the virus may have been circulating in northern California as early as late January.It's certainly a disturbing discovery as officials in California and Washington State have stumbled upon an alarming rash of potentially infected individuals many of whom have been unable to secure a test, even though federal officials said Saturday that tests are being shipped. Though, as USA Today points out, this is only a theory at this point; investigators stressed that nothing has been confirmed. That would also seriously undermine the Trump Administration's response, as President Trump has at times seemed dismissive of the threat posed by the virus, something that Democrats are already exploiting for political points, even as the administration is "catching up" - in the words of former FDA director Dr. Scott Gottlieb. However, "if true, it could mean there was so-called community spread of the virus in California earlier than authorities have previously disclosed," one official said.During a conference call with reporters on Saturday evening, Carnival Corp Chief Medical Officer Grant Tarling said the man boarded the ship in San Francisco on Feb. 11, when it set sail for Mexico.Tarling said the man sought medical treatment from the ship's medical center on Feb. 20, when he reported symptoms of an "acute respiratory illness" for about a week.Since the virus has an incubation of roughly five to six days for the first symptoms to emerge, it's reasonable to suspect that he picked it up before boarding, meaning it was likely acquired in Cali then brought on board the ship. "We believe this case was community acquired in California and brought on the ship," Tarling said.Interestingly, Placer County health officials are disputing the company's claim: They're insisting he probably picked up the virus aboard the cruise."The Placer County health officer, however, disputed Tarling’s statement and said the passenger probably contracted the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease while on the cruise."

Coronavirus: Grand Princess cruise ship docks, unloads 23 people — A large media presence and a handful of curious residents greeted the Grand Princess cruise ship as it arrived at the Port of Oakland around noon Monday.The vessel had been floating off the California coast since Thursday, when 21 of those aboard – including 19 crew members – tested positive for novel coronavirus. The authorities, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, had been pondering where the ship should dock until finally settling on Oakland, across the bay from its initial destination of San Francisco.Twenty-three people who needed acute medical care had been taken off the ship by late Monday afternoon, but it was not clear how many of them had tested positive for the virus, Shawn Boyd, a spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services, told the Associated Press.Aerial footage showed a tent set up at the end of the forward gangway, along with three more set back about 15 yards from the ship, and biohazard-suited medical workers walking between them.   The ship is carrying 2,421 passengers and 1,113 crew members, all of whom need to be screened. (Crew members will remain on the ship if they do not need immediate medical attention.) Guests who "require acute medical treatment and hospitalization" will be first to disembark, though it's unclear how many people need to be transported to hospitals. One person – presumably one of the 21 people who have the virus – was seen being loaded into an ambulance. Next will be the ship's 962 California residents, who will be transported to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, and Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego for a 14-day quarantine period. Americans from other states will be taken to bases in Texas and Georgia.  Meanwhile, the State Department has been working with the governments of 54 other countries to arrange repatriation flights for the ship's foreign passengers, which includes nearly 240 Canadians.

US Coronavirus: Grand Princess passengers will continue to disembark today as outbreak widens in the US –   A cruise ship held off the coast of California after people aboard tested positive for coronavirus will continue disembarking passengers in Oakland on Tuesday, as fears about the fast-moving virus ripple through the nation's capital, Wall Street and universities across the country. At least 732 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the US, including 21 on the Grand Princess cruise ship.The ship began to disembark passengers at the Port of Oakland Monday after spending days in limbo off the coast of California. More passengers will be removed from the vessel Tuesday morning, beginning at 8 a.m. local time, according to an announcement from the ship's Captain John Harry Smith. The ship's operator, Princess Cruise Line, said in a statement that disembarking passengers would be a "multiple day process."The effort is underway as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US has skyrocketed. Monday brought at least 150 new cases and new anxiety to many corners of the country. Schools including The Ohio State University, the University of California, Berkeley and Amherst College are temporarily closing classrooms on campus in favor of online instruction. And six US lawmakers are self-quarantining or isolating themselves after coming into contact with an infected person -- though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that the Capitol should not shut down over the virus.

Quarantined cruise ship passengers: 'We're being told next to nothing' -  (Reuters) - Laura and Don Davis, two former passengers of a coronavirus-stricken ocean liner now quarantined on a California military base, have little to do to pass the time but watch TV, play cards and - they add half-jokingly - avoid arguments. But more frustrating to the Modesto, California-based couple than the boredom, the stagnant indoor air, the lack of clean towels or their missing luggage has been what they describe as an almost complete lack of communication from their caretakers. “We’re not being given any information. We’re being told next to nothing,” Don Davis, 53, a retired California Highway Patrol officer, said during a FaceTime interview from the couple’s second-floor room. His wife, Laura, 51, a hospital intensive care unit nurse, said she was most appalled by a “fiasco” of haphazard germ-control measures she observed during their transit from the ship to the quarantine site at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and after their arrival there. Overall, the two say their treatment has shown a lack of sympathy and competence on the part of their custodians. Asked about the couple’s complaints, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement that the quarantine operation “raised many significant logistical challenges.” She said HHS held a “telephonic town hall” with nearly 300 of those under quarantine on Friday night, and had assigned case managers to “each of the guests to individually address their needs.”

The Dangerous Delays in U.S. Coronavirus Testing Continue  - Nearly two weeks after the new coronavirus was first found to be spreading among Americans, the United States remains dangerously limited in its capacity to test people for the illness, an ongoing investigation from The Atlantic has found. After surveying local data from across the country, we can only verify that 4,384 people have been tested for the coronavirus nationwide, as of Monday at 4 p.m. eastern time. These data are as comprehensive a compilation of official statistics as currently possible. The lack of testing means that it is almost impossible to know how many Americans are infected with the coronavirus and suffering from COVID-19, the disease it causes. While our analysis has tracked state and local announcements that more than 570 people in 36 states are infected, experts say that number is almost certainly too small to reflect the full extent of the disease’s spread in the U.S. Not enough Americans have been tested for officials to know how many people are ill, they say. When researchers have used statistical and genetic techniques to estimate the true size of the outbreak, they have concluded that thousands of Americans may have already been infected by the beginning of the month. Health officials have attributed 26 deaths to COVID-19 in the United States, as of today. The sluggish rollout of the tests has become a debilitating weakness in America’s response to the spread of the coronavirus. By this point in its outbreak, South Korea had tested more than 100,000 people for the disease, and it was testing roughly 15,000 people every day. The United Kingdom, where three people have died of COVID-19, has already tested more than 24,900 people.

More Than 20 Colleges Cancel In-Person Classes In Response To Coronavirus - NPR. A growing number of U.S. colleges have canceled in-person classes because of the coronavirus. The closures began in Washington state, and now include Harvard University, Columbia University, Princeton University, Rice University, Stanford University, Hofstra University, University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Washington, among others. As of midday Tuesday, more than half a million students are affected by the cancellations. Education technology specialist Bryan Alexander of Georgetown University has been leading an effort to track coronavirus-related higher education closures. He expects to see many more in the coming days and weeks. "Higher education has a very strong herd mentality," he says, "so I think once University of [Washington] made a shift to teaching online, I think that really got everyone excited." Many of the colleges announced that they were pausing in-person classes after students or staff members tested positive for the virus. Others, such as Midland University in Nebraska, announced only that they were canceling "out of an abundance of caution." In some cases, events for prospective students are also being canceled. But many campuses are following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are staying open when possible to offer housing and meals to students.

Fauci: Coronavirus Spread In America 'Not Encouraging'; Says Americans Should Avoid Large Gatherings, Especially If Vulnerable - The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, recommended on Sunday that elderly and vulnerable Americans avoid travel and large crowds as coronavirus gains a foothold in the United States. In an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Fauci emphasized that the elderly and people with "underlying conditions" are "overwhelmingly" more likely to be hit worse by coronavirus, according to NBC News."If you are an elderly person with an underlying condition, if you get infected, the risk of getting into trouble is considerable. So it's our responsibility to protect the vulnerable," he said, adding "When I say protect, I mean right now. Not wait until things get worse. Say no large crowds, no long trips. And above all, don't get on a cruise ship." Dr. Anthony Fauci says people who are already vulnerable to health infections should take extra precautions.— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) March 8, 2020"They call it social distancing, but it's common sense stuff. You don't want to go to a massive gathering, particularly if you're a vulnerable individual," he added. "If we continue to see the community spread go up I think you need to seriously look at anything that's a large gathering."

CDC tells people over 60 or with chronic illnesses to stock up on goods for a lengthy stay at home - Many Americans will be exposed to COVID-19 over the next year or so with many people in the U.S. getting sick, a top CDC official said Monday, recommending that people over 60 and anyone with chronic medical conditions buckle down for a lengthy stay home. “This virus is capable of spreading easily and sustainably from person to person ... and there’s essentially no immunity against this virus in the population,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call, citing World Health Organization data that studied more than 70,000 cases in China. “It’s fair to say that, as the trajectory of the outbreak continues, many people in the United States will at some point in time, either this year or next, be exposed to this virus and there’s a good chance many will become sick,” she said. Most people won’t develop serious symptoms, but 15% to 20% of the people who are exposed to the virus get severely sick, she said. Of the 70,000 cases WHO scientists looked at, only about 2% were in people younger than 19. The odds of developing COVID-19 increase with age, starting at age 60. It’s especially lethal for people over 80. “This seems to be a disease that affects adults and most seriously older adults,” she said. “Starting at age 60, there is an increasing risk of disease and the risk increases with age.” People with diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and other serious underlying conditions are more likely to develop “serious outcomes, including death,” she said. The CDC is recommending people with underlying conditions or who are over 60 to stock up on medications, household items and groceries to stay at home “for a period of time,” she said. The U.S. government recommended travelers with underlying health conditions avoid taking any cruises anywhere in the world. “We also recommend people at higher risk avoid non-essential travel, such as long plane trips,” she said.

The U.S. Isn’t Ready for What’s About to Happen - For the professionals who try to manage homeland-security threats, reassuring the public after a natural disaster or terrorist attack—or amid a coronavirus outbreak like the one the world now faces—is just part of the job. I am a former federal and state homeland-security official. I study safety and resiliency issues in an academic setting, advise companies on their emergency-response plans, and trade ideas with people in public health, law enforcement, and many other disciplines. Since the beginning of the disease now known as COVID-19, I’ve also been receiving more and more text messages from nervous relatives and friends. The rash decisions that panic breeds have never made any emergency better. So like many others in my field, I’ve been urging people, in as calm a tone as I can muster, to listen to experts and advising them about concrete steps they can take to keep their families, communities, and businesses safe.Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Avoid large gatherings. Don’t panic, and prepare as best you can. Advice like mine is meant to be empowering, but now I fear it may also be misleading. If Americans conclude that life will continue mostly as normal, they may be wrong. The United States is far less prepared than other democratic nations experiencing outbreaks of the novel coronavirus. Low case counts so far may reflect not an absence of the pathogen but a woeful lack of testing.   Disruptions are almost certain to multiply in the weeks to come. Airlines are scaling back flights. Conferences, including Austin’s signature event, South by Southwest, are being canceled. The drop in imports is hurting global supply chains. Corporations are prohibiting their employees from traveling and attending mass gatherings. Stanford University just canceled its in-person classes for the rest of the winter quarter, and other institutions are likely to take similar steps. Government agencies and private companies alike will activate continuity-of-operations protocols, as they are called in my field. Get used to it.

Detroit to restore water service to unpaid homes to allow people to wash their hands to avoid coronavirus - The City of Detroit announced on Monday that it will restore water to residents in the city who have had their service cut off due to unpaid bills so those people have the ability to wash their hands. Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) spoke during a press conference Monday afternoon to announce the plan to restore water for Detroiters. The city announced the plan would allow residents with unpaid bills to restore water for a $25 fee and then keep their water on during the crisis for $25 per month. During Monday's press conference, the city said the State of Michigan would pay the first $25 reactivation fee but renters or homeowners would be responsible for the monthly fee after that, which would remain at $25 per month for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. .

US coronavirus cases top 1,200 as WHO declares a pandemic - For the first time in 11 years, the World Health Organization has declared a pandemicas a top US health official calls for "all hands on deck" to fight coronavirus.A pandemic is defined as the "worldwide spread" of a new disease.The US has more than 1,200 cases of novel coronavirus. And growing clusters of the disease are forcing many Americans to change their daily lives.One of the biggest sports events of the year, the men's Division I basketball tournament, known as March Madness, will be played with only family members and essential personnel in attendance, NCAA President Mark Emmert announced. The women's tournament also will be played to largely empty arenas."While I understand how disappointing this is for fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how Covid-19 is progressing in the United States," he said. Other large events have been postponed or canceled. Dozens of universities are temporarily shutting down campuses. A New York suburb now has a "containment zone." And more companies are urged to let their employees work from home."Keeping the workplace safe, keeping the home safe, keeping the school safe and keeping commercial establishments safe -- this should be universal for the country," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "We would like the country to realize that, as a nation, we can't be doing the kinds of things we were doing a few months ago," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're in a state that has no cases or one case. You have to start taking seriously what you can do now. Everybody should say, 'All hands on deck. This is what we need to do.'"

Tests indicate coronavirus can survive in the air --Federally funded tests conducted by scientists from several major institutions indicated that the novel form of coronavirus behind a worldwide outbreak can survive in the air for several hours.A study awaiting peer review from scientists at Princeton University, the University of California-Los Angeles and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) posted online Wednesday indicated that the COVID-19 virus could remain viable in the air "up to 3 hours post aerosolization," while remaining alive on plastic and other surfaces for up to three days. "Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite transmission of HCoV-19 is plausible, as the virus can remain viable in aerosols for multiple hours and on surfaces up to days," reads the study's abstract. The test results suggest that humans could be infected by the disease simply carried through the air or on a solid surface, even if direct contact with an infected person does not occur. That finding, if accepted, would come in stark contrast to previous media reports that suggested the virus was not easily transmittable outside of direct human contact.Confirmed cases of coronavirus infection have crossed 121,000 worldwide, with more than 4,300 deaths. The majority of deaths have occurred in mainland China, where the virus is thought to have originated, and Italy, which is experiencing its own large-scale outbreak.The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreaka pandemic on Wednesday, with officials warning that they were "deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction" by world governments to prevent the disease from spreading.

Coronavirus, Covid-19: How Long Does the Virus Live in Body? - Patients with the new coronavirus keep the pathogen in their respiratory tract for as long as 37 days, a new study found, suggesting they could remain infectious for many weeks. In yet another sign of how difficult the pandemic may be to contain, doctors in China detected the virus’s RNA in respiratory samples from survivors for a median of 20 days after they became infected, they wrote in an article published in the Lancet medical journal. The new coronavirus has spread to 118 countries and infected about 125,000 people since first emerging in Wuhan, China, at the end of last year, evading drastic efforts by local authorities and subsequent containment attempts in other nations. The findings have “important implications for both patient isolation decision-making and guidance around the length of antiviral treatment,” Fei Zhou from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the other authors wrote. Currently, the recommended isolation period after exposure is 14 days to avoid spreading the virus. But if people remain contagious long after their symptoms have vanished, they may unwittingly propagate the pathogen after they return from quarantine. By comparison, only a third of patients with SARS still harbored the virus in their respiratory tract after as long as four weeks, the Chinese scientists said. They studied the medical records and laboratory data from 191 Covid-19 patients treated at Jinyintan Hospital and Wuhan Pulmonary Hospital, including 54 who died from the infection. 

Virginia declares state of emergency over coronavirus   Virginia has declared a state of emergency over concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced the state of emergency on Thursday as the number of coronavirus cases rose to 17 in Virginia. “Our top priority is to make sure Virginians stay safe and healthy, and that our response to this situation leaves no one behind,” the governor said in a statement. “From our health department, to our schools, to our hospitals, to our transit systems, Virginia’s agencies and institutions have been thoroughly planning for every scenario. This emergency declaration will ensure we can continue to prepare for and appropriately respond to Virginians’ needs during this time,” he said. The state is canceling conferences and out-of-state travel by public employees. Northam said Virginia is creating tests for the virus and told public schools to make their own decisions on whether to close. 

Ohio health official estimates 100,000 people in state have coronavirus | TheHill - A top health official in Ohio estimated on Thursday that more than 100,000 people in the state have coronavirus, a shockingly high number that underscores the limited testing so far. Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton said at a press conference alongside Gov. Mike DeWine (R) that given that the virus is spreading in the community in Ohio, she estimates at least 1 percent of the population in the state has the virus. "We know now, just the fact of community spread, says that at least 1 percent, at the very least, 1 percent of our population is carrying this virus in Ohio today," Acton said. "We have 11.7 million people. So the math is over 100,000. So that just gives you a sense of how this virus spreads and is spreading quickly." She added that the slow rollout of testing means the state does not have good verified numbers to know for sure. "Our delay in being able to test has delayed our understanding of the spread of this," Acton said. The Trump administration has come under intense criticism for the slow rollout of tests. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top National Institutes of Health official, acknowledged earlier Thursday it is "a failing" that people cannot easily get tested for coronavirus in the United States. Not everyone with the virus has symptoms, and about 80 percent of people with the virus do not end up needing hospitalization, experts say. However, the virus can be deadly especially for older people and those with underlying health conditions. The possible numbers in Ohio are a stark illustration of how many cases could be in other states as well, but have not been revealed given the lack of widespread testing. More than 1,300 people in the U.S. have currently tested positive for the illness, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, while about three dozen people in the country have died.

13 coronavirus cases now reported in 6 Louisiana Parishes. Public Health Emergency declared for Louisiana.As of 6 pm Wednesday (Mar. 11), Governor John Bel Edwards has declared a "Public Health Emergency" for the state of Louisiana. The Governor says there are 13 "presumptive positive" cases of the coronavirus in six parishes. According to New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell, 10 of the cases are in Orleans Parish. Three of the affected patients are residents of the upscale retirement center, Lambeth House. The six parishes with presumptive positive coronavirus cases are: Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, Lafourche, Iberia, and Caddo. Governor Edwards said Louisianians should expect more cornonavirus cases, and more cancellations of major events. All St. Patrick's Day parades in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes are cancelled. "These choices are tough," said Edwards, "but they will be made with public health and safety in mind.”

Flight To New Jersey Diverted After Person Coughing Causes Passengers To Panic - All we can say is: get used to stories like this. And while we're not going to document every single time coronavirus panic takes hold of what would otherwise be normal daily situations, we do think people should prepare to see more of it. A commercial flight that was heading from Colorado to Newark, New Jersey had to be diverted to Denver on Monday after several passengers "became disruptive," according to CBS Philly. The uproar on the plane was caused by a passenger who was coughing and sneezing. With coronavirus fears running rampant, the people seated around the passenger became concerned and eventually disruptive enough that the captain of the flight decided to ground the plane. The passengers on Flight 1562 heading to Newark "failed to follow crew members' instructions," which forced the diversion of the plane. Upon landing in Denver, the plane was met with police and the disruptive passengers were removed. The incident is an example of growing public concern about the coronavirus. The number of such incidents will likely grow, as we are starting to already see. Just yesterday, for instance, we wrote about the first potential coronavirus-related hate crime after a man wearing a surgical mask stabbed an Asian man in Brooklyn more than a dozen times. United Airlines commented that the "sick" passenger in question was only just "suffering from allergies". The person was screened on the plane for a fever and was allowed to continue the flight. 

Airport Says DHS Not Screening People Coming Into US From Virus-Stricken Italy Or South Korea - A major airport in Atlanta has admitted that neither its own officials, nor the Department of Homeland Security are screening travellers arriving from Italy or South Korea, two countries where the coronavirus has hit the hardest outside of China.Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia announced that while the CDC has demanded screening of passengers from China and Iran, no such screening is taking place for those coming in from Italy/South Korea, “because those countries are doing exit screenings.”As per the CDC, In the US, airports are conducting entry screening for travelers from China and Iran.People aren’t being screened when they arrive from Italy/South Korea, because those countries are doing exit screenings.For more info, please visit: *NA— Atlanta Airport (@ATLairport) March 8, 2020So, essentially, officials in the US are relying on the word of their foreign counterparts that sufficient screening is happening before people leave. This jives with reports from those entering the US after returning from Italy, confirming that they were not stopped or screened.

Miami Mayor Tests Positive After Meeting With President Bolsonaro & His Staff - The Brazilian presidency has slammed initial reports Friday originating in one of the country's biggest newspapers citing "government sources" saying President Jair Bolsonaro tested positive for Covid-19. Soon after the Brazilian presidency's Facebook page officially said the test came back "negative," despite Fox News and The Guardian among others reporting that he had the virus. Bolsonaro's son also blasted the media reports as "too much lies".No doubt the White House breathed a sigh of relief, given Bolsonaro had just dined with President Trump Saturday night at Mar-a-Lago, but still a close call given a top aide among the Brazilian delegation did test positive Thursday. But guess who did come into contact with both Bolsonaro and the confirmed Covid-19 infected aide? Miami Mayor Francis Suarez confirmed Friday that he has tested positive for the new coronavirus. Suarez, 42, said in a statement that he was not feeling any symptoms and advised anyone who shook hands with him or was close to him since Monday to self-isolate for 14 days.“It is confirmed that I have the coronavirus,” Suarez told the Miami Herald earlier in the day Friday. “I did test positive for it.”He's been in isolation since Thursday after it was initially learned that Bolsonaro aide Fabio Wajngarten tested positive for it.Worrisomely it remains that Suarez, along with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and President  Trump, all hosted Boslonaro and his staff in south Florida this week, including at a major public event at the Forum Of The Americas at the InterContinental Miami, where Bolsonaro was awarded with the keys to the city.

Massachusetts Virus Outbreak Looks Like Italy’s Just Two Weeks Ago -  Boston is one of the major coronavirus clusters in the U.S., along with Westchester County, New York, and Seattle. In Boston, it all began with a Feb. 26 meeting at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf hotel, near the tourist mecca of Faneuil Hall and overlooking Boston Harbor. There, about 175 executives met from around the country, then unwittingly spread contamination across the city and, likely, around the world. Ironically, they were from Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Biogen Inc., whose very mission is to develop drugs, rather than spread disease.  As in the rest of the country, researchers in Boston are hamstrung by the government’s slow roll-out of testing. The Biogen meeting, in particular, is a puzzling case because it resulted in so many infections. The lab is focusing on a number of hypotheses. Could it be something about the ventilation system that promoted the spread? What if several people arrived at the meeting already infected? Why this meeting, when so many others of the same size were happening across the U.S? The detective work starts with a fuller picture emerging about what happened at the Biogen conference. There, colleagues from around the world greeted each other with handshakes and hugs and picked from plates of pastries and a self-serve hot-food bar, according to a detailed reconstruction by the Boston Globe. Those in attendance “included one or more individuals from Italy,” a Biogen spokesman said. All those at the conference were invited to dinner near Faneuil Hall. On March 5, more than a week after the event, the company said a number of attendees reported different degrees of flu-like symptoms. At least three tested positive for the virus. Of those initial cases, two employees were based in Europe, a company spokesman confirmed. Biogen required those who attended to work from home for two weeks. The firm advised employees who did not feel well to stay home and contact their doctors. But it was too late. Some Biogen employees with the virus had already attended an investment conference hosted by New York-based investment firm Cowen & Co. on March 2 at the Boston Marriott Copley Place. The conference, which hosted more than 325 public and private companies, did not alert attendees until Sunday that at least one Biogen employee who attended had tested positive for the virus. They had continued to meet and go about daily life for almost a week after potentially coming in contact with it.So far, 77 cases have been linked to the Biogen conference. It wasn’t long before its contagion left the city.Two attendees of the Biogen conference in Boston who have tested positive for coronavirus later attended a private party of about 47 people in Princeton, New Jersey, according to local officials. At least two people who attended the party are residents of a nearby town, South Brunswick, which closed schools on Wednesday, even though no South Brunswick residents have tested positive for the illness. Those who went to the party were asked to self-quarantine until assessments and any testing is complete. But the shock waves are felt most powerfully in Boston. Other biotech companies, including Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., have told employees to work from home. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh canceled the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Conventions are being postponed or canceled. And on Thursday, Marriott said it would close the hotel that hosted the Biogen conference.

Coronavirus in Ohio: From no infections to 13 in a week --Inside one week in March, Ohio went from having no infections from the virus to 13 cases, eight announced Friday alone. Four are members of one family who were treated and released from a Butler County hospital, the first Southwest Ohio patients. Another 159 Ohioans are awaiting results from their testing for the novel coronavirus.Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer speaks at a press conference regarding cases of COVID-19 at the Butler County Government Services Building in Hamilton on March 13, 2020. (Photo: Sam Greene/The Enquirer)Inside one week in March, Ohio’s governor ramped up the most severe restrictions on everyday life ever experienced in the Buckeye State. All schools were closed for three weeks, colleges and universities closed for the balance of the spring semester, office employees told to work from home, gatherings of more than 100 people forbidden, including at the state’s casinos and major-league sports parks.Speaking to reporters in Columbus Friday to close a monumental week, Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio's health director, said Friday’s increased count of infected Ohioans reflects the help that state and federal health laboratories now are getting from university and private labs processing the tests.Acton said the tests in the Butler County cases went to a LabCorp facility, and the four other cases announced Friday were traced by the lab at the Cleveland Clinic. Of the 13 people, nine are men and four women who range from 34 to 66. Four patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, the upper-respiratory illness that develops with infection from the novel coronavirus.Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer said at a news conference Friday afternoon that the four people who tested positive for the novel coronavirus have three other family members also awaiting test results. Of those three, two are home in quarantine, and one is in the hospital.

Cuyahoga County has declared a State of Emergency as COVID-19 situation develops (WOIO) - County Executive Armond Budish has issued a State of Emergency declaration for Cuyahoga County.“As the COVID-19 situation continues to develop in Cuyahoga County, I have made the decision to declare a State of Emergency.”On Wednesday Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said the city is under a “civil emergency” due to the coronavirus, essentially making it easier to change policies to minimize the impact of the virus. The Ohio Department of Health said four people have tested positive for coronavirus.On March 11, Budish issued a State of Emergency declaration for Cuyahoga County and released the following statement: “This will allow us to purchase mission critical supplies without going through our normal procurement process. I believe that this is crucial so that we can continue to react swiftly to what is a fast-moving situation," Budish said. "As we go through this uncertain time, please know that we are all working together with our municipalities, our boards of health, the State and others to monitor and react in a timely way. The health and safety of our residents and our County employees is paramount." [ Coronavirus closures: Here are the Northeast Ohio schools, organizations, events impacted by coronavirus (live blog ]

Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now - With everything that’s happening about the Coronavirus, it might be very hard to make a decision of what to do today. Should you wait for more information? Do something today? What? Here’s what I’m going to cover in this article, with lots of charts, data and models with plenty of sources:

  • How many cases of coronavirus will there be in your area?
  • What will happen when these cases materialize?
  • What should you do?
  • When?

When you’re done reading the article, this is what you’ll take away: The coronavirus is coming to you. It’s coming at an exponential speed: gradually, and then suddenly. It’s a matter of days. Maybe a week or two. When it does, your healthcare system will be overwhelmed. Your fellow citizens will be treated in the hallways. Exhausted healthcare workers will break down. Some will die. They will have to decide which patient gets the oxygen and which one dies. The only way to prevent this is social distancing today. Not tomorrow. Today. That means keeping as many people home as possible, starting now. As a politician, community leader or business leader, you have the power and the responsibility to prevent this. You might have fears today: What if I overreact? Will people laugh at me? Will they be angry at me? Will I look stupid? Won’t it be better to wait for others to take steps first? Will I hurt the economy too much? But in 2–4 weeks, when the entire world is in lockdown, when the few precious days of social distancing you will have enabled will have saved lives, people won’t criticize you anymore: They will thank you for making the right decision.

It’s Not Panic; It’s Reality - A reader writes (I’ve concealed details to protect his privacy): I’m an emergency doctor in [greater capital region of major state]. For the past 5 years or so we’ve had a chronic intensive care bed shortage.  One factor is well intentioned state mandated nurse to patient ratios. These don’t apply in the emergency department but they do in the ICU. Our hospital has 12 ICU beds, but is routinely staffed with 2 nurses who can care for only 2 patients each.  There are other potential places within the hospital to provide ICU level of care, such as recovery rooms (now called PACU’s, post anesthesia care units) and day surgery areas. The hospital does not spend the money to have the nurses to do this. Also, the hospital cannot hire or retain enough nurses to fill the positions it is willing to pay for. We often have to transfer patients from our emergency department to other hospitals that have ICU beds. Frequently there aren’t any – none at [name], the biggest hospital in the state, or [list of other major hospitals in the capital city], nor at other area community hospitals. This is our baseline. We have no capacity for a surge of patients who can’t breathe because of Covid-19.  I read this e-mail after reading this short, informative piece from Bloomberg News, about how coronavirus kills people. Excerpts:  Once inside the body, the coronavirus invades the epithelial cells that line and protect the respiratory tract, . If it’s contained in the upper airway, it usually results in a less severe disease. But if the virus treks down the windpipe to the peripheral branches of the respiratory tree and lung tissue, it can trigger a more severe phase of the disease. That’s due to the pneumonia-causing damage inflicted directly by the virus plus secondary damage caused by the body’s immune response to the infection. I have a weakened immune system because of Epstein-Barr virus. I am 53 years old. This is all very real to me. You readers who think this is all silly panic ginned up by the media and the Democrats, feel free to nurture your comforting illusions. This doctor I quote above is on the front lines. He’s telling you that if you come to his hospital unable to breathe with coronavirus, they will not be able to take you … and chances are, none of the hospitals in his major American city will have room for you either.

Sick People Across the U.S. Say They Are Being Denied the Coronavirus Test — First came the tickle in the throat. Then, a hacking cough. Then, a shortness of breath she had never experienced before. Hillary King, a 32-year-old consultant in Boston who lives down the street from a hotel where dozens of Biogen executives contracted the new coronavirus, decided that she had better get tested.  But getting tested is far easier said than done, even as testing slowly ramps up nationwide. Five days after President Trump announced that anyone who wants a test can get a test, Ms. King’s experience shows how difficult it can be in the United States to find out if you have the coronavirus.Many who fear they have the virus have faced one roadblock after another as they try to get tested, according to interviews with dozens of people across the country.Some have been rejected because they had no symptoms, even though they had been in proximity to someone who tested positive. Others were told no because they had not traveled to a hot spot abroad, even though they had fevers and hacking coughs and lived in cities with growing outbreaks. Still others were told a bitter truth: There simply were not enough tests to go around.“The system is not really geared to what we need right now, what you are asking for. That is a failing,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Thursday. “It is a failing. I mean, let’s admit it.”Dr. Fauci added: “The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we are not set up for that. Do I t hink we should be? Yes. But we are not.”

Why the U.S. is so far behind on coronavirus testing - Some of the nation’s best academic laboratories wanted to begin developing their own coronavirus diagnostic tests early last month, but were blocked by federal rules about test development.The U.S. is woefully behind in mass deployment of tests to detect coronavirus, determine its spread and isolate hot spots. Once given the go-ahead to develop tests under more relaxed terms, some of these labs were able to get tests up and running in a matter of days. Even though their testing capacity is usually limited, academic labs are particularly crucial to coronavirus testing because they’re attached to hospitals. That means that providers treating patients at these hospitals can receive tests results much more quickly than those who have to send samples to commercial, state or CDC labs. Part of the overall problem with testing right now isn’t just that there aren’t enough tests available, but also that there can be long delays in determining whether patients are infected or not.“They followed the standard process, but what needed to be in vision was that this was a once in a generation pathogen — a once in a generation epidemic,” former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told me.The approval process for the academic labs highlights the clash between bureaucracy — which is in place for a reason — and the need to move quickly in the face of an emerging pandemic.

  • “I do understand the FDA’s viewpoint, which is there’s really a need to standardize testing and make sure test results are accurate,” said Charles Chiu, associate director of the University of California at San Francisco Clinical Microbiology Laboratory. But “this is something that probably should have been discussed from the get go when we first knew about the outbreak in China.” Less than a dozen academic labs are currently running tests, although others have said they’re working on developing them.
  • The FDA posted relaxed testing guidelines on Feb. 29. Major commercial labs — like LabCorp and Quest — and smaller, non-academic private labs have also gotten tests prepared for operation since the announcement, in addition to academic labs — a total of more than 30 private labs, per the FDA. 16 were testing patients as of yesterday.
  • State public health labs are also running tests, but like the CDC and commercial labs, aren’t directly connected with care sites.
  • “The spread of the virus — it basically outstripped the guidance provided by the FDA,” Chiu said.

“In the U.S., we have policies in place that strike the right balance during public health emergencies of ensuring critical independent review by the scientific and public health experts and timely test availability,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a speech earlier this month.. “The CDC test is a high-quality test, and it’s important to remember that false negatives or positives can be detrimental to making sure we are treating patients early, without delay, and also not quarantining healthy individuals.”

The US has reported 51 coronavirus deaths among more than 2,500 cases. Here's what we know about the US patients. - The US has reported 51 deaths from the coronavirus as of Friday: 37 in Washington state, five in California, four in Louisiana, three in Florida, and one each in New York, Colorado, New Jersey, South Dakota, Georgia, and Kansas. The country's case tally has passed 2,500, with cases reported in at least 49 states and Washington, DC. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday, and on Friday, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in response to the pandemic. On Wednesday, March 11, Trump has announced a 30-day travel ban for people traveling from Europe, excluding the United Kingdom. US citizens and permanent residents and some of their immediate family will be exempt. Because county- and state-level health authorities are reporting the latest case counts before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does, Business Insider is tallying those local reports and updating this story live to give a comprehensive picture of where — and to what degree — the coronavirus is spreading in the US. The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, in December, causes a respiratory disease known as COVID-19. Over 5,700 people have died and over 153,000 others have been infected, many of whom were in China. Cases have been recorded in more than 110 countries. For the latest global case totals, death tolls, and travel information, see Business Insider's live updates here. Here's everything we know about the coronavirus in the US — in the list below, states are ordered by their number of cases.

Covid-19 update -- Early Warning by Stuart Staniford - A very quick update on my last post.  The above shows the same graph as before but with more data.  Korea continues to get their infection under control, Italy is really struggling to do the same (and reports of conditions in the health care system there are getting really gruesome).  Hopefully the Italian curve will start to bend now that the country is in lockdown.  My slapdash extrapolation of the US case curve (the dashed line) has performed just about flawlessly - the US is on track to have a higher number of cases (relative to population) than China within a few days (well, it's not clear how meaningful the comparison is, since it's not clear that either country's numbers are very accurate).  There is no sign of any meaningful containment in the US so far (bending of the curve), and I do not expect any in the next week as the US is still in the process of solving its testing problems, and has not instituted mandatory social distancing at any scale.  The UK has a similar trajectory to the US but a few days ahead (no doubt due to greater proximity to Italy).  Japan is doing much better than most places - possibly because it did things like closing all schools fairly early, but still has not fully contained its epidemic.  This second graph shows the crude death rate - total deaths as a fraction of total known cases.  Of course, neither number might be exact - some cases never got diagnosed, or are not diagnosed yet, some people died misdiagnosed as some other kind of pneumonia.  These are just the best numbers we have.Korea continues to have a very low death rate, reflecting the benefit of a very well organized and extensive testing regime.  The US death rate was for a while amongst the worst (representing the particularly poor testing regime in the US).  However, Italy now has the worst ratio - presumably reflecting the fact that the health care system is overwhelmed and many patients are not receiving good care.

CDC Estimates of Covid-19 Toll --Menzie Chinn - From The Hill today: One model from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that between 160 million and 210 million Americans could contract the disease over as long as a year. Based on mortality data and current hospital capacity, the number of deaths under the CDC’s scenarios ranged from 200,000 to as many as 1.7 million. It found as many as 21 million people might need hospitalization, a daunting figure in a nation with just about 925,000 hospital beds.In contrast, flu-related deaths this season are estimated to range between 20,000-50,000.The article continues:Another model built by experts at Resolve to Save Lives, a global health nonprofit, and the Council on Foreign Relations found the number of potential deaths could range from as few as 163,500, if the virus is no more deadly than seasonal influenza, to more than 1.6 million if the virus carries a mortality rate of just 1 percent. For the CFR study, see here. See Sheri Fink’s NYT article today.

All Hospital Beds In The US Will Be Filled With Patients 'By About May 8th' Due To Coronavirus: Analysis - A sobering analysis of how coronavirus is likely to impact the US healthcare system suggests that hospitals will be quickly overwhelmed with patients, and that all available beds will be filled by around May 8th if the virus tracks with Italy's figures and 10% of patients require an ICU. Of note, the Straits Times reported last week that thousands of people were waiting for hospital beds in South Korea as the disease surges.Liz Specht, a PhD in biology and the associate director of Science and Technology for the Good Food Institute laid out her concerns in a lengthy Twitter thread on Friday, which you can see here on Twitter, or continue reading below. Continued:

  • We can expect that we’ll continue to see a doubling of cases every 6 days (this is a typical doubling time across several epidemiological studies). Here I mean *actual* cases. Confirmed cases may appear to rise faster in the short term due to new test kit rollouts.
  • We’re looking at about 1M US cases by the end of April, 2M by ~May 5, 4M by ~May 11, and so on. Exponentials are hard to grasp, but this is how they go.
  • As the healthcare system begins to saturate under this case load, it will become increasingly hard to detect, track, and contain new transmission chains. In absence of extreme interventions, this likely won’t slow significantly until hitting >>1% of susceptible population.
  • What does a case load of this size mean for healthcare system? We’ll examine just two factors — hospital beds and masks — among many, many other things that will be impacted.
  • The US has about 2.8 hospital beds per 1000 people. With a population of 330M, this is ~1M beds. At any given time, 65% of those beds are already occupied. That leaves about 330k beds available nationwide (perhaps a bit fewer this time of year with regular flu season, etc).
  • Let’s trust Italy’s numbers and assume that about 10% of cases are serious enough to require hospitalization. (Keep in mind that for many patients, hospitalization lasts for *weeks* — in other words, turnover will be *very* slow as beds fill with COVID19 patients).
  • By this estimate, by about May 8th, all open hospital beds in the US will be filled. (This says nothing, of course, about whether these beds are suitable for isolation of patients with a highly infectious virus.)
  • If we’re wrong by a factor of two regarding the fraction of severe cases, that only changes the timeline of bed saturation by 6 days in either direction. If 20% of cases require hospitalization, we run out of beds by ~May 2nd.  If only 5% of cases require it, we can make it until ~May 14th. 2.5% gets us to May 20th. This, of course, assumes that there is no uptick in demand for beds from *other* (non-COVID19) causes, which seems like a dubious assumption.
  • As healthcare system becomes increasingly burdened, Rx shortages, etc, people w/ chronic conditions that are normally well-managed may find themselves slipping into severe states of medical distress requiring intensive care & hospitalization.
  • We could go on and on about thousands of factors – # of ventilators, or even simple things like saline drip bags. You see where this is going.
  • Importantly, I cannot stress this enough: even if I’m wrong – even VERY wrong – about core assumptions like % of severe cases or current case #, it only changes the timeline by days or weeks. This is how exponential growth in an immunologically naïve population works.
  • But take the scenarios above (full beds, no PPE, etc, at just 1% of the US population infected) and stretch them out over just a couple extra months.
  • That timeline roughly fits with consensus end-game numbers from these highly esteemed epidemiologists. Again, we’re talking about discrepancies of mere days or weeks one direction or another, but not disagreements in the overall magnitude of the challenge.
  • This is not some hypothetical, fear-mongering, worst-case scenario. This is reality, as far as anyone can tell with the current available data

What Do We Do When the Coronavirus Bankrupts the Health Insurance Industry – Dean Baker - I suppose it’s not an absolute certainty, but with Donald Trump in charge of stopping the spread of the disease, the bankruptcy of the health insurance industry would seem to be pretty much a foregone conclusion. After all, if large numbers of people contract the disease, which is hard to imagine will not be the case, the industry will face a huge bill paying for their care.Anyhow, folks should be giving some thought to what sort of conditions we would impose on a bailout. I’ll start the bidding with a hard cap of $1 million on total compensation for the CEO or any other employee of the company. And this should be written so it’s 100 percent airtight. That cap includes all options, bonuses, deferred pay, health care benefits and anything else that can be deemed as compensation.And I would also take away any “we didn’t understand” defenses for corporate boards. Give the bastards a mandatory five year jail sentence if they sign a contract that breaks the cap. That should help them to think clearly.For anyone who thinks this is too low, the president of the United States works for $400k. (Okay, Trump gets about 100 times that amount by billing the government for staff and secret service stays at his resorts, but $400k is what a normal president gets.)Anyhow, this pay cap is my opening bid, but we should have our conditions prepared in advance for when the free market lovers in the health industry come running to the government to save them from bankruptcy.

Coronavirus ‘highly sensitive’ to high temperatures, but don’t bank on summer killing it off, studies say The virus that causes Covid-19 may have a temperature sweet spot at which it spreads fastest, a new study has suggested, but experts say people should avoid falling into the trap of thinking it will react to seasonal changes in exactly the same way as other pathogens, like those that cause the common cold or influenza. The study, by a team from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, the capital of south China’s Guangdong province, sought to determine how the spread of the new coronavirus might be affected by changes in season and temperature. Published last month, though yet to be peer-reviewed, the report suggested heat had a significant role to play in how the virus behaves. “Temperature could significantly change Covid-19 transmission,” it said. “And there might be a best temperature for viral transmission.” The “virus is highly sensitive to high temperature”, which could prevent it from spreading in warmer countries, while the opposite appeared to be true in colder climes, the study said. As a result, it suggested that “countries and regions with a lower temperature adopt the strictest control measures”. Many national governments and health authorities are banking on the coronavirus losing some of its potency as the weather warms up, as is generally the case with similar viruses that cause the common cold and influenza. However, a separate study by a group of researchers including epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that sustained transmission of the coronavirus and the rapid growth in infections was possible in a range of humidity conditions – from cold and dry provinces in China to tropical locations, such as the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in the far south of the country and Singapore. “Weather alone, [such as an] increase of temperature and humidity as the spring and summer months arrive in the Northern Hemisphere, will not necessarily lead to declines in case counts without the implementation of extensive public health interventions,”

Tests indicate coronavirus can survive in the air - Federally funded tests conducted by scientists from several major institutions indicated that the novel form of coronavirus behind a worldwide outbreak can survive in the air for several hours.A study awaiting peer review from scientists at Princeton University, the University of California-Los Angeles and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) posted online Wednesday indicated that the COVID-19 virus could remain viable in the air "up to 3 hours post aerosolization," while remaining alive on plastic and other surfaces for up to three days."Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite transmission of HCoV-19 is plausible, as the virus can remain viable in aerosols for multiple hours and on surfaces up to days," reads the study's abstract. The test results suggest that humans could be infected by the disease simply carried through the air or on a solid surface, even if direct contact with an infected person does not occur. That finding, if accepted, would come in stark contrast to previous media reports that suggested the virus was not easily transmittable outside of direct human contact.

Worst-case coronavirus models show massive US toll  - Statistical models meant to project the potential reach of the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease suggest more than a million Americans could die if the nation does not take swift action to stop its spread as quickly as possible. At least three different models built by epidemiology experts suggest that millions of Americans will contract the coronavirus, even in optimistic projections, based on what they know of its spread in China and the United States so far.  One model from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that between 160 million and 210 million Americans could contract the disease over as long as a year. Based on mortality data and current hospital capacity, the number of deaths under the CDC's scenarios ranged from 200,000 to as many as 1.7 million.  It found as many as 21 million people might need hospitalization, a daunting figure in a nation with just about 925,000 hospital beds. The CDC's model was described to The Hill by an expert who watched the presentation. The New York Times first reported its existence. The spokesman said the modeling can help health systems plan for a surge in patients and help the CDC plan to distribute medical experts and equipment. It also helps show local governments when mitigation steps like school closures are wise. Another model built by experts at Resolve to Save Lives, a global health nonprofit, and the Council on Foreign Relations found the number of potential deaths could range from as few as 163,500, if the virus is no more deadly than seasonal influenza, to more than 1.6 million if the virus carries a mortality rate of just 1 percent.Those figures are based on estimates that half of Americans will contract the virus.Globally, the numbers are even more staggering. Five researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health estimated that between 20 percent and 60 percent of everyone on earth — or between 1.4 billion and 4.2 billion people — could eventually contract the disease. If the virus only kills 1 percent of those who contract it, somewhere between 14 million and 42 million people are at risk. In countries like Iran and Italy, where health systems are overrun, the mortality rate can be much higher.

Stocks savaged, bars deserted, prisons in uproar as coronavirus spreads - (Reuters) - Deserted bars, reeling financial markets and rioting prisoners made clear on Monday how the global coronavirus epidemic was extending its reach into all aspects of social and economic life. Major European stock markets dived more than 7%, Japanese indexes fell over 5% and U.S. markets sank over 7% after Saudi Arabia launched an oil price war with Russia that sent investors already spooked by the coronavirus outbreak running for the exits. In Italy, where infections and deaths are still soaring even as they slow in China, the origin of the epidemic, much of the industrial north around Milan was coming to terms with a quarantine affecting 16 million people. Deaths in Milan’s Lombardy region - where cinemas, theaters and museums are closed, sporting events suspended and restaurant hours restricted - jumped 25% in a day to 333, while the national death toll soared by 97 to 463, the highest in the world after China. Over 9,000 people have become infected in Italy in little over two weeks, out of a global total of more than 110,000. Some 3,900 people have died across the world, the vast majority in mainland China.“Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference. In the United States, which has reported 566 cases and 22 deaths, the administration scrambled on Monday to assure Americans it was responding to the outbreak as stock markets plunged and top health officials urged some people to avoid cruise ships, air travel and big public gatherings. Florida went a step further and asked all travelers returning from any overseas trip to quarantine themselves for 14 days. A source also said top Wall Street executives had been invited to the White House on Wednesday for talks on the coronavirus. Around the world, flights have been canceled, communities and cruise liners isolated, and concerts and trade fairs postponed. Even the Tokyo Summer Olympics are in doubt. While some countries, such as China and Italy, have turned to drastic measures to try to delay the spread of the virus, others remain in a “containment” phase, where individual cases can still be tracked. Iran, with 7,161 cases and 237 deaths, said it was temporarily releasing about 70,000 prisoners because of the coronavirus. China and South Korea both reported a slowdown in new infections. Mainland China, outside Hubei province, center of the outbreak, recorded no new locally transmitted coronavirus cases for the second day. South Korea reported 165 new cases, bringing the national tally to 7,478, while the death toll rose by one to 51. Authorities said six prisoners died as riots spread through more than 25 jails across the country over measures imposed to contain the coronavirus. Police and fire trucks massed outside the main prison in the northern town of Modena, the site of some of the worst violence.

30,000 US Soldiers Arrive In Europe Without Masks - The United States are demonstrating their power by organising the largest transfer of their troops in Europe on the occasion of the Defender Europe 20 exercises. This country, which only a few years ago sacrificed its soldiers without warning in its nuclear tests, is taking no precautions for its soldiers faced with the coronavirus epidemic. The United States have raised the alert for the corona virus in Italy to level 3 - (« avoid non-essential travel »), and taken it to level 4 for Lombardy and Veneto (« do not travel »), the same level as for China. The airline companies American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have cancelled all their flights between New York and Milan. US citizens who are travelling to Germany, Poland and other European countries are at alert level 2, and must take « increased precautions ». But there is a category of US citizens which is exempt from these standards : the 20,000 soldiers who have begun to arrive from the United States to the ports and airports of Europe for the Defender Europe 20 exercises, the greatest deployment of US troops in Europe in the last 25 years. With those who are already present, approximately 30,000 US soldiers will be participating in the execises in April and May, alongside 7,000 others from the 17 member countries and partners of NATO, including Italy. The first armoured unit arrived from the port of Savannah, USA at Bremerhaven in Germany. A total of 20,000 pieces of military equipment are arriving from the USA at six European ports (in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Latvia and Estonia). 13,000 others are provided by the stocks that were pre-positioned by the US Army Europe, mainly in Germany, Holland and Belgium. These operations, explains the US Army Europe, « require the participation of tens of thousands of soldiers, military personnel and civilians from numerous nations ». At the same time, the majority of the contingent of 20,000 soldiers arrive from the USA, landing at seven European airports. Among this number are 6,000 from the National Guard of 15 States : including Arizona, Florida, Montana, New York and Virginia. At the start of the exercise in April – explains the US Army Europe – the 30,000 US soldiers « will deploy throughout the European region » in order to « protect Europe from any potential threat », with a clear reference to the « Russian menace ». 

Iraq Puts France and Spain on Coronavirus Entry Ban List - Iraq has banned entry to travelers coming from France and Spain, the Foreign Ministry said on Friday, bringing the total number of countries on its entry ban list to 11 as it tries to stem the spread of coronavirus. The ban does not extend to Iraqi citizens and foreign diplomats, a ministry spokesman said in a statement. Iraq has so far recorded 38 cases of coronavirus and two deaths. The health minister, who heads Iraq's coronavirus response task force, called on all Iraqis in Iran - which has suffered the world's deadliest coronavirus outbreak outside China - to return by March 15 before border crossings are closed and only four airports open to them. Overland trade with Kuwait and Iran is to be suspended between March 8-15, the health minister added in a decree. Iraq is alarmed about any spread of the coronavirus from neighboring Iran. Iraq's first recorded case was of an Iranian student who was then sent home, and the rest had all visited Iran recently. Iraq has close cultural and religious ties with Iran and annually receives millions of Iranian pilgrims.

Leap in coronavirus cases tests limits of Italy's health system - Thirty-six coronavirus patients have died in Italy over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 233, the country's civil protection department has said.Italy has struggled to contain the novel virus since February 20, when the so-called "Patient n.1" attended a local hospital in the northern town of Codogno. Sixteen days later, the country has the highest death toll outside China, while the number of people suffering from COVID-19 leapt to 5,883, officials said on Saturday."The whole system was not ready for the emergency, but responded very quickly," Lorenzo Casani, health director of a private clinic for elderly people near the quarantine area in southern Lombardy, told Al Jazeera on Friday. Senior citizens and people suffering from chronic and acute diseases are at a greater risk of infection. This worries Casani since all his patients are at risk. For the first 10 days, he had no time off at all. "All the personnel should have been properly informed and prepared in case of an emergency," he said, stressing that the initial chaos was prompted by the lack of a unified contingency plan across the regions, comprising both private clinics as well as public hospitals. Almost a month before the start of the outbreak, the health ministry created a taskforce and suspended all flights to and from China, declaring a state of emergency. But the virus could have arrived in Italy before the travel ban was issued.Sacco hospital in Milan studied three different genetic sequences found in the northern region of Lombardy, confirming COVID-19 weeks before doctors found "Patient n.1". "It is plausible that when COVID-19 landed in the country, it was still in incubation, and the infection developed into somebody with light or no symptoms at all,"

Coronavirus: quarter of Italy’s population put in quarantine as virus reaches Washington DC  - Italy has formally locked down more than a quarter of its population in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, as the outbreak reached Washington DC and a political convention attended by Donald Trump and Mike Pence.More than 5,800 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Italy, after an alarming increase of more than 1,200 in a single 24-hour period. Two hundred and thirty-three people have died. Almost 100 countries are now responding to outbreaks.In the early hours of Sunday, Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree enacting forced quarantine for the region of Lombardy – home to more than 10 million people and the financial capital, Milan – and multiple other provinces, totalling around 16 million residents. Affected provinces include Venice, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Pesaro and Urbino, Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano Cusio Ossola, Vercelli, Padua, and Treviso. The lockdown decree includes the power to impose fines on anyone caught entering or leaving Lombardy, the worst-affected region, until 3 April. It provides for the banning of all public events, closing cinemas, theatres, gyms, discos and pubs. Religious ceremonies such as funerals and weddings will also be prohibited, and leave for healthcare workers has been cancelled. Rome is also prolonging the closure of schools across the country until at least 3 April, while major sporting events, such as Serie A football games, will be played behind closed doors. The escalation in Italy comes as the US struggles with its own response to the outbreak. In Washington DC, authorities reported a “presumptive positive” test result in a man, aged in his 50s, who had no identifiable contact with the virus. He began exhibiting conditions in late February although he appears to have no record of international travel or close contact with people known to have the virus, Mayor Muriel Bowser said. He remains in hospital.

16 Million People In Italy Locked Down In Coronavirus Quarantine - As the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads around the world, the World Health Organization, WHO has warned that governments must take drastic measures to contain the virus. The group has even recommended that countries who are facing new outbreaks should take a similar approach to that seen in China over the past two months. Italy, which seems to be the country worst hit by the virus aside from China, is now in the position where those tough decisions are being made.After a large number of deaths have been reported each day in the region, the government of Italy has decided to place 16 million people under a strict quarantine. Anyone living within the borders of Lombardy and 14 other central and northern provinces will be on lockdown until the 3rd of April. Even the historic and affluent cities of Milan and Venice will be on lockdown. The list of regions also affected includes, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Pesaro and Urbino, Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano Cusio Ossola, Vercelli, Padua, Treviso and Venice. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also announced the closure of schools, gyms, museums, nightclubs and other venues across the whole country. The quarantine measures were announced after the country reported 36 deaths in 24 hours. Officials have said that the healthcare system across the country is overwhelmed, and they are now rationing medical care and only allowing people into the hospitals for treatment if they meet certain criteria. Prime Minister Conte warned of “sacrifices” that could sometimes be “very big” as he announced the measures. “There will be no movement in or out of these areas, or within them, unless for proven work-related reasons, emergencies or health reasons. We are facing an emergency, a national emergency. We have to limit the spread of the virus and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed,” Mr Conte said in a statement. The World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Italy for making “genuine sacrifices” with the restrictions.

Italy COVID-19 surge triggers massive lockdown; US cases pass 500  --A dramatic jump in Italy's COVID-19 cases and deaths today made it the second worst-hit country behind China, as the country announced a massive lockdown affecting 16 million, and in the United States, the number of new cases steadily rose with at least four more states reporting their first cases. Italy's health ministry today reported 1,492 new cases today, along with 133 more deaths, bringing its respective overall totals to 7,375 cases and 366 deaths. The new development pushes Italy ahead of South Korea as the country with the highest number of cases behind China. The country also finalized a lockdown affecting all of Lombardy region, where 4,189 cases have been reported so far. It also affects 14 provinces in other regions, and taken together, the measures put about 16 million people—about one quarter of Italy's population—under quarantine. The measures are in effect until Apr 3 and also prohibit weddings and funerals and shutter movie theaters, nightclubs, gyms, swimming pools, museums, and ski resorts. Restaurants can remain open limited hours, but customers must sit 3 feet apart.The steps are the strongest any country has taken outside of China. World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, today on Twitter praised Italy's bold steps to slow the spread of the virus. "They are making genuine sacrifices," he said. "WHO stands in solidarity and is here to continue supporting you."Meanwhile, cases rose sharply in other European Countries, with new cases lifting France and Germany over or toward the 1,000-case mark. France reported 177 new cases today, along with 3 new deaths, raising its total to 1,126, including 19 deaths, while Germany's Robert Koch Institute is now reporting 902 cases. In the Middle East, Iran's health ministry today reported 743 new cases today, plus 49 more deaths, lifting its totals to 6,566 cases, along with 194 more deaths. The virus has been reported from at least 30 locations, with Tehran, Qom, Gilan, and Isfahan the hardest hit areas.

Seven dead as coronavirus measures trigger prison riots across Italy -(Reuters) - Seven prisoners have died as riots spread through crowded jails across Italy over measures imposed to contain the coronavirus. Inmates, many angered by restrictions on family visits, went on the rampage and started fires from Sunday into Monday, authorities said. In one prison, inmates took guards hostage and in another some escaped. By Monday afternoon, violence that started at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy had spread south, hitting more than 25 penitentiaries nationwide. Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede said the government was open to discussing prison conditions but the rebellions had to stop. In a sign of the political pressures piling onto his coalition government, the leader of the far-right opposition League, Matteo Salvini, called for an “iron fist” response. Italy - the worst-hit country in Europe - has reported 463 deaths linked to the virus. The biggest rebellion began on Sunday in a prison in the northern town of Modena. Three prisoners died there, and another four in prisons where they were moved after the violence started, a prison administration official at the justice ministry, said. Two guards were taken hostage in a prison in the northern town of Pavia on Sunday night, and then freed in a police raid hours later, the prison police group UILPA said. Inmates revolted in Milan’s San Vittore prison, taking to the roof and unfurling a banner demanding a general pardon. Further south, prisoners in the Tuscan city of Prato set fire to mattresses. On Sicily, inmates rebelled at Palermo’s Ucciardone prison, which houses some Mafia convicts, but guards managed to regain control, officials said. Italian media said about 50 inmates managed to escape from a jail in the southern city Foggia. The majority were rapidly captured, but by nightfall nine prisoners were still missing.

Coronavirus: Italy extends emergency measures nationwide - Italy has extended its emergency coronavirus measures, which include travel restrictions and a ban on public gatherings, to the entire country. On Monday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered people to stay home and seek permission for essential travel. He said the measures were designed to protect the most vulnerable. "There is no more time," he said in a TV address. Italy's coronavirus death toll jumped from 366 to 463 on Monday. It is the worst-hit country after China. The number of confirmed infection also increased by 24% from Sunday, official figures showed. Cases of the virus have been confirmed in all 20 Italian regions. Mr Conte said the best thing was for people to stay at home. "We're having an important growth in infection... and of deaths," he said in an evening address. "The whole of Italy will become a protected zone," he added. Mr Conte described the measures as "I stay home" - with people forbidden to gather in public. "No more nightlife; we can't allow this anymore since they are occasions for contagion," he said. All sporting events - including football matches - are suspended nationwide. Schools and universities will remain closed until 3 April. The government said only those with a valid work or family reason that cannot be postponed will be allowed to travel. Passengers departing on flights will have to justify themselves, as will all those who arrive by plane. There are controls at train stations to check the temperatures of passengers. Cruise ships are also forbidden to dock at various ports.

Leaked Quarantine Plans Create Chaos As Panicked Italians Sprint For The Exits, Threatening To Spread Virus - As the quarantine begins across the Italian north on Sunday, virology experts at the WHO, CDC and at universities around the world are waiting to see if Rome's crackdown - coming a little too late, as many have pointed out, given the last two days' worth of massive increases in the national case total - will work.With the rules in place until April 3, Bloomberg points out, whether the public and local police and officials go along with the orders will ultimately determine whether they are successful or not.  Italians have become inured to alarming news over the past month as the outbreak has spiraled out of control in Lombardy. But following  a flurry of uncontrolled leaks warning about an imminent lockdown as part of the government's planned emergency decree, restaurants and bars started emptying out and many fled to the train station, where they hopped trains to get out of the region, especially those who had plans to travel elsewhere that were being interrupted by the lockdown.According to an SCMP reporter in Padua, packed bars and restaurants quickly emptied out as news of a coming lockdown hit, as many people rushed to the railway station. Travellers with suitcases, wearing face masks, gloves and carrying bottles of sanitising gel shoved their way on to the local train.This appears to have been a phenomenon across the North. The video shows passengers with large bags packed heading toward a cross-country train to take them out of the quarantine zone and into the Italian south, where the virus has penetrated, but infection numbers and deaths remain much lower than in the north.Footage from Milan train station where suddenly people arrive to flee from the possible quarantine zone (via @amos8125) #Covid19   This could be terrible news for the impoverished south: experts have repeatedly warned that southern Italy - best known as an agricultural and fishing center rife with organized crime - doesn't possess the medical infrastructure to handle a surge in life-threatening cases of pneumonia. One epidemiologist described the series of panic-provoking leaks as "pure madness." Fortunately, Italian markets were closed during the panic, and now people have more or less accepted the new rules. But at this point, the horse is already out of the barn. Panicked Italians are now traveling around the country, potentially bringing the virus with them.

Why are deaths from coronavirus so high in Italy? - Deaths from the new coronavirus in Italy have soared in recent days, with the country reporting 463 total fatalities from the virus, out of 9,172 confirmed cases, as of Monday (March 9). But why are deaths in the country so high? Outside of mainland China, Italy now has the highest number of deaths in the world from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. And the country's fatality rate from COVID-19 — at 5% — is much higher than the global average of 3.4%, according to the World Health Organization. One factor affecting the country's death rate may be the age of its population — Italy has the oldest population in Europe, with about 23% of residents 65 or older, according to The New York Times. The median age in the country is 47.3, compared with 38.3 in the United States, the Times reported. Many of Italy's deaths have been among people in their 80s, and 90s, a population known to be more susceptible to severe complications from COVID-19, according to The Local.  Given Italy's older population, "you would expect their mortality rate to be higher on average, all else being held equal," compared with a country with a younger population, Gordon told Live Science. In addition, as people age, the chances of developing at least one condition that weakens their immune system — such as cancer or diabetes — increases, said Krys Johnson, an epidemiologist at the Temple University College of Public Health. Such conditions also make people more susceptible to severe illness from coronavirus, she said.Another issue may be the number of people in a given area who require medical care — having a lot of severely ill people in a single region could potentially overwhelm the medical system, Gordon said. She noted that this was likely the case in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak began and which saw the majority of COVID-19 cases in China. A recent report from WHO found that the fatality rate was 5.8% in Wuhan, compared with 0.7% in the rest of the country,Live Science previously reported.Finally, the country may not be catching many of the mild c ases of COVID-19. Often, as testing expands within a community, more mild cases are found, which lowers the overall death rate, Gordon said. This was the case in South Korea, which conducted more than 140,000 tests and found a fatality rate of 0.6%, according to Business Insider.

10,000 coronavirus cases now reported in Italy- Italy has now reported more than 10,000 total coronavirus cases in the country, where deaths from the virus have surpassed 600. Italy has the most confirmed cases and deaths outside of China, where the virus is believed to have originated. “Right now, the epicenter — the new China — is Europe,” Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, according to The Associated Press. The death toll in Italy from the virus climbed to 631 people Tuesday from 463 the day before, the Italian Civil Protection authorities reported, the AP noted. The Italian government has instructed the country’s 62 million people to stay home unless they are working or seeking health care or “necessities,” leading to empty streets, especially in Rome. Police in Rome enforced requirements that people need to stay three feet apart from one another in public and that businesses need to close by 6 p.m. In response to the virus, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced Wednesday that 25 billion euros, or $28.3 billion, would be dedicated to combating the outbreak and its impact, Reuters reported. “The main objective is to protect citizens’ health, but we must take into account that there are other interests at stake,” Conte said at a news conference. “We must be aware that there are civil liberties that are being violated, we must always proceed carefully.” The cabinet requested 7.5 billion euros requested last week before a dramatic rise in Italian cases and deaths. Italy’s economy and tourism had already been taking a hit before the virus struck the country. Several countries, including the U.S., have issued travel advisories against visiting Italy or even bans. The virus, which has infected more than 120,000 people worldwide, has limited travel, shut down schools and struck economies around the world as the number of cases increase. The U.S. reached 1,000 identified cases and 29 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Italy Cases Top 10,000; N.Y. Aims for Containment: Virus Update  - Controlling the coronavirus outbreak in some parts of the U.S. is now beyond containment efforts, said Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York became one of the first states to try to limit the movement of large groups of people to staunch the spread of the disease in a suburb of New York City. The annual New York auto show will be pushed back to August from April, while the city’s half marathon set for this weekend was canceled. Italy cases topped 10,000 as it became the first country to attempt a nationwide lockdown. Cases surpass 117,000 worldwide; deaths exceed 4,200; Europe struggles to limit virus spread, led by Italian lockdown; Why rational people are panic buying as coronavirus spreads;  Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca confirmed the first case of the coronavirus in the country, saying a male citizen tested positive. Turkey has also canceled vacations for all health personnel as a precaution, Koca said.  Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have canceled planned rallies in Cleveland Tuesday amid concerns about coronavirus spreading at public events and suggested the campaigns might suspend large gatherings. Citigroup Inc. will begin splitting up its thousands of New York-based employees on Wednesday. About half of its workforce there will be sent to work from home or from redundancy sites. Bank branches will operate as usual, said the person. European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde demanded rapid fiscal action from EU leaders during an emergency call on the coronavirus outbreak, according to an official with knowledge of the discussion. She repeated her pleas over the past months for governments to step up and help prop up growth. The call is becoming more urgent now as the viral outbreak deals a blow to the bloc’s economies.

 Italy to temporarily close non-essential stores amid coronavirus lockdown - Italy's prime minister announced Wednesday that all non-essential stores in the country would be shuttered temporarily as the country struggles to gain control over an outbreak of coronavirus that has spread around the world.The Associated Press reported that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made the announcement late Wednesday evening on Facebook Live, with all stores other than grocery stores and pharmacies ordered to close.Italy has already implemented lockdown procedures across the country as more than 10,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the country, but Conte told viewers Wednesday night that the country must ”go another step″ with the new measures, according to the AP.The country has reported more than 600 deaths from the virus, making it the region hardest hit outside mainland China where the coronavirus strain is thought to have originated by health experts.More than 110,000 people have been infected globally by the disease, with just over 4,300 deaths reported so far.Health experts have warned that a larger outbreak in the U.S. is possible as the number of confirmed cases in the country has passed 1,000.

Italy closes bars, restaurants and most shops as coronavirus death toll jumps 30% - Italy has tightened its nationwide lockdown further in response to the rising death toll from coronavirus, ordering all non-essential shops and services to close. Announcing the measures Wednesday evening, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said supermarkets and pharmacies will be the only retailers to remain open in Italy. The latest restrictions come as the virus death toll surged over 30% on Wednesday to more than 800 — the biggest daily jump since the start of the outbreak. Italy is already under a national lockdown restricting citizens’ movement and activities until April 3. Conte said it was time to “go one step further” as he announced the closure of most commercial and retail activities with bars, restaurants and beauty salons among those ordered to shut. Public services remain in place and industrial production is allowed to continue, on condition that companies adopt safety measures to protect workers and prevent contagion. GP: Coronavirus Rome Italy shutdown Precautions against coronavirus in Italy A waiter closes a pizza shop due to few tourists attraction at 6 pm. in Rome, Italy, on March 11, 2020. Riccardo De Luca | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images The prime minister said the world was watching to see how Italy, now the country worst hit by the virus outside China, responds: “At this moment the whole world is certainly looking at us for the numbers of the contagion, they see a country that is in difficulty, but they also appreciate us because we are showing great strictness and great resistance,” Conte said in a Facebook address. “I have a deep conviction. I would like to share it with you. Tomorrow not only will they look at us again and admire us, but they will take us as a positive example of a country that, thanks to its sense of community, has managed to win its battle against this pandemic.” watch now VIDEO02:49 Italy increases spending to $28 billion in effort tackle coronavirus As of Wednesday evening, Italy recorded 12,462 confirmed cases of the virus, and 827 deaths, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University and Italy’s Civil Protection agency. The death toll from the virus a day earlier had been 631 people.

Italy's government orders all shops, bars and restaurants to close - Italy’s government has ordered all shops, bars and restaurants across the country to close after the country’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak rose by 31% in the space of 24 hours to a total of 827.As governments across Europe cancelled events, shut schools and imposed travel bans and the World Health Organization formally declared a pandemic, the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said all stores would close nationwide bar those selling “basic necessities”, such as pharmacies and supermarkets.“Industries can stay open, but with strict measures in place, as well as essential services such as banks. Transport will be guaranteed,” Conte said on Wednesday night, warning Italy’s population of over 60 million not to “rush to the supermarkets” as shelves would be restocked as normal.On Monday the government banned its 62 million people from all travel unless certified as justified on professional or health grounds, and asked people to stay mainly at home. “Just a few days ago I asked you to change your habits, and you have responded in an extraordinary way,” Conte said.Italians’ “great sacrifices” were making “a great and precious contribution to the country”, he said. He added that the impact of the new measures would only be clear in a few weeks’ time and thanked the nation for its efforts, saying: “We’ll soon return to hugging each other.”Earlier on Wednesday, the civil protection service said the total number of coronavirus cases in Italy – the EU member state that has been by far the hardest hit by the virus – had risen to 12,462 from 10,149, with 560 of those in intensive care.Evidence of a widening European crisis began to appear, with Albania, Belgium, Sweden, Bulgaria and Ireland all registering their first deaths from the coronavirus and Spain confirming a steep rise in cases to 2,152 – the second highest in Europe after Italy – and 50 deaths. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said 60-70% of the country’s population could become infected and the priority was to slow the spread of the virus so health systems could cope. Germany has confirmed 1,300 infections, with two deaths, and recommended the cancellation of all events with more than 1,000 people.

"We Are Treated Worse Than Garbage": Italian Families Stuck Inside With Bodies Of Dead Spouses As Nationwide Lockdown Begins - Thanks in part to President Trump's nonchalant initial response , millions of Americans still believe the coronavirus is - worst case - like a bad flu. But after reading this desperate plea from an Italian citizen whose sister succumbed to Covid-19 before ever making it to a hospital, hopefully they'll understand what's really at stake here. As Dr. Scott Gottlieb said earlier on CNBC: It's probably too late for America to be South Korea (aka taking swift steps to contain the outbreaks before they get out of control), but we don't have to be Italy. When his sister died after contracting the novel coronavirus, Luca Franzese thought that things couldn’t get much worse. Then, for more than 36 hours, the Italian actor and mixed martial arts trainer was trapped at home with Teresa Franzese’s decaying body, unable to find a funeral home that would bury her. "I have my sister in bed, dead, I don’t know what to do," Franzese said in a Facebook video over the weekend, pleading for help. "I cannot give her the honor she deserves because the institutions have abandoned me. I contacted everyone, but nobody was able to give me an answer." Initially posted to Facebook, Luca's video was also shared to YouTube as he and thousands of other Italians tried to get the message out: Local officials don't care: Luca tried to find a funeral home to bury his sister and for weeks "ma nessuno ne fregata" - but nobody gave a fuck.  Al Jazeera reported that Teresa Franzese, 47, suffered from epilepsy but was healthy up until last week, when she began showing symptoms of coronavirus. She died Saturday evening in her home in Naples, the country's third-largest city, and the largest in the Italian south. Teresa was tested for the virus only after her death, Luca said.

Italy reports record 250 coronavirus deaths in one day - Italian officials said 250 people have died from the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, marking a record number of deaths from the illness within such a timespan. The Italian Civil Protection Agency reported the increase Friday, which raised the country's death toll from coronavirus to 1,266 people,according to The Associated Press. The spike in cases has shifted the focus on the outbreak from China to Europe. "More cases are now being reported every day [in Europe] than were being reported by China at the height of its epidemic," World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. He also called the reported 5,000 deaths worldwide a "tragic milestone.""Do not let this fire burn," he said calling for social distancing. "Isolate the sick."The record number of deaths comes just days after Italy reported nearly 200 deaths in a 24-hour period. Scientists have not yet found a vaccine for COVID-19, which WHO officially characterized as a pandemic on early Wednesday.“In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of Covid-19 cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher,” Tedros said Wednesday.As of Friday afternoon, 1,875 people in the U.S. had tested positive for the coronavirus. Public health officials have estimated that thousands of people likely have the virus but don’t know it, partly due to the lack of testing.Trump announced on Wednesday travel restrictions from Europe. He also declared a national emergency over the coronavirus on Friday, freeing up additional resources and funding for the federal, state and local governments fighting the disease.

Coronavirus in Italy is like ‘a world war’ as death toll soars - Italy recorded 250 coronavirus deaths in a 24-hour period — the most in the country in a single day — as the number of COVID-19 fatalities there reached 1,266, according to official data released Friday.The country also recorded more than 2,500 new cases of the virus in that period, bringing the total to more than 17,000.A nurse in northern Italy said that fighting the virus was like being in the middle of “a world war.” Hospitals like this one in Brescia are packed as Italy battles the scourge, which earlier this week took the life of Dr. R oberto Stella, 67, the head of a medical association in a region heavily hit by the virus.

Coronavirus death rates by age in South Korea and older patients -  Data from the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reinforces a disturbing attribute of the coronavirus pandemic.  Older patients in South Korea were far more likely to die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, than younger patients.  That pattern is similar to data released by China. The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 100 countries, infected more than 121,000 people, and caused over 4,300 deaths.  The South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been releasing regular reports on case counts and death rates in that country. The most recent report, which showed the effects of the disease through March 11, reinforced the trend of the disease being far more dangerous for older patients than for younger people.The report counts a total of 7,755 cases through March 11 and 60 deaths, for a total death rate of 0.77%. That is far lower than the reported death rates in several other countries. A major factor in that lower death rate could be the country's extremely thorough coronavirus-testing policies: Many milder cases included in South Korea's overall count might not be noticed in countries like the US, where testing is more sparse.While South Korea reported 2,718 cases among patients under 30 as of March 11, there were zero deaths from COVID-19 among those younger patients. Only one patient between the ages of 30 and 39 had died, and only one patient in their 40s died. Older patients, however, were more likely to die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Patients older than 80 had a 7.2% death rate through March 11:

Coronavirus death rates in South Korea reinforce a frightening pattern of how the disease affects older people - The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 100 countries, infected more than 121,000 people, and caused over 4,300 deaths.  The South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been releasing regular reports on case counts and death rates in that country. The most recent report, which showed the effects of the disease through March 11, reinforced the trend of the disease being far more dangerous for older patients than for younger people.The report counts a total of 7,755 cases through March 11 and 60 deaths, for a total death rate of 0.77%. That is far lower than the reported death rates in several other countries. A major factor in that lower death rate could be the country's extremely thorough coronavirus-testing policies: Many milder cases included in South Korea's overall count might not be noticed in countries like the US, where testing is more sparse.While South Korea reported 2,718 cases among patients under 30 as of March 11, there were zero deaths from COVID-19 among those younger patients. Only one patient between the ages of 30 and 39 had died, and only one patient in their 40s died.Older patients, however, were more likely to die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Patients older than 80 had a 7.2% death rate through March 11: The higher death rates among older patients reinforce the frightening trend of COVID-19 being more dangerous for older patients that was seen in a similar report from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. While death rates overall were much higher in China than in South Korea, the breakdown by patients' age follows a strikingly similar pattern: This pattern, if it continues elsewhere, suggests alarming consequences for countries with older populations. Italy, which now has the highest number of cases outside China, has one of the oldest populations in the world. That aging population could be especially susceptible to the disease.

South Korea is watching quarantined citizens with a smartphone app - Thousands in coronavirus lockdown will be monitored for symptoms—and tracked to make sure they stay at home and don’t become “super spreaders.” With almost 6,300 cases and more than 40 reported deaths, South Korea has become home to the world’s largest coronavirus outbreak outside China. As a result, the government in Seoul has taken what it calls “maximum” action to contain the spread of the disease—including sending thousands of people into mandatory home quarantine.Now it is launching its latest attempt to keep things from escalating further: a smartphone app that can monitor citizens on lockdown. The app, developed by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, allows those who have been ordered not to leave home to stay in contact with case workers and report on their progress. It will also use GPS to keep track of their location to make sure they are not breaking their quarantine.

South Korea sees more virus patients released than new infections - South Korea -- once the largest coronavirus outbreak outside China -- saw its newly recovered patients exceed fresh infections for the first time on Friday, as it reported its lowest number of new cases for three weeks. The South confirmed 110 new cases on Thursday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said, taking the total to 7,979. But 177 fully recovered patients were released the same day, it added. South Korea has an advanced medical system widely available to all, and has embarked on a huge coronavirus testing drive. But its stock market was caught up in the global economic concerns over the pandemic, with trading briefly halted on the Korea stock exchange six minutes after the opening when the benchmark KOSPI index fell to 1707.90, down 6.8 percent or 126.43 points. It was the second consecutive day trading had been halted on the main bourse, the first time that had happened since the US credit rating was downgraded in 2011. The number of new cases in Daegu, the southern city at the center of the outbreak, and the neighboring province of North Gyeongsang had declined "dramatically", officials said. So far, nearly 90 percent of South Korea's cases have been in the two regions. But Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, who is leading the response in Daegu, warned the government "should not be complacent even a bit". "The battle against the coronavirus has now become a global fight going far beyond Daegu," he said.

Italy and South Korea virus outbreaks reveal disparity in deaths and tactics - (Reuters) - In Italy, millions are locked down and more than 800 people have died from the coronavirus. In South Korea, hit by the disease at about the same time, only a few thousand are quarantined and 67 people have died. As the virus courses through the world, the story of two outbreaks illustrates a coming problem for countries now grappling with an explosion in cases.It’s impractical to test every potential patient, but unless the authorities can find a way to see how widespread infection is, their best answer is lockdown.Italy started out testing widely, then narrowed the focus so that now, the authorities don’t have to process hundreds of thousands of tests. But there’s a trade-off: They can’t see what’s coming and are trying to curb the movements of the country’s entire population of 60 million people to contain the disease. Even Pope Francis, who has a cold and delivered his Sunday blessing over the internet from inside the Vatican, said he felt “caged in the library.”Thousands of miles away in South Korea, authorities have a different response to a similar-sized outbreak. They are testing hundreds of thousands of people for infections and tracking potential carriers like detectives, using cell phone and satellite technology.Both countries saw their first cases of the disease called COVID-19 in late January. South Korea has since reported 67 deaths out of nearly 8,000 confirmed cases, after testing more than 222,000 people. In contrast, Italy has had 827 deaths and identified more than 12,000 cases after carrying out more than 73,000 tests on an unspecified number of people. Epidemiologists say it is not possible to compare the numbers directly. But some say the dramatically different outcomes point to an important insight: Aggressive and sustained testing is a powerful tool for fighting the virus. Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, said extensive testing can give countries a better picture of the extent of an outbreak. When testing in a country is limited, he said, the authorities have to take bolder actions to limit movement of people. “I’m uncomfortable with enforced lockdown-type movement restrictions,” he said. “China did that, but China is able to do that. China has a population that will comply with that.”

Coronavirus Update: Cases Skyrocket In Germany, Prompting Economic Concerns -Confirmed cases of Covid-19, also known as coronavirus, in Germany skyrocketed on Saturday, reaching 795 by mid-day after over 100 new cases were confirmed. The number of cases has increased 12-fold since a week ago, when 66 were confirmed as of Feb. 9. Germany now has the second-most confirmed cases of any country in Europe, behind Italy.On Saturday morning, cases in Germany were concentrated in portions of the west and south of the country. According to Reuters, the infections originated at an automotive company with locations in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of Covid-19. The New York Timesalso attributed the spread of the virus to an infected man who attended Carnival celebrations in North Rhine-Westphalia.As of now, there have been no deaths reported in Germany. However, at least one patient with a weakened immune system due to a recent organ transplant has been reported to be in critical condition.“We must accept that this will continue and we will have more new cases confirmed,” Dilek Kalayci, health minister in Berlin, said. “No one is able to stop this from spreading.”Since Germany is particularly reliant on trade, anxiety about the impact of coronavirus on the country’s economy had been growing. The recent spread of the coronavirus to Italy may create added supply-chain interruptions for Germany.“These events show how fragile global supply chains are,” Ola Kallenius, chairman for Daimler and the head of Mercedes-Benz, said in an interview. “But a world without global work sharing would be less successful... We should protect [that success] while checking for vulnerabilities where we can bring more security into the supply chain.”

Spain puts Madrid, Basque country on lockdown as coronavirus cases multiply - Yesterday, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE)-Podemos government passed a decree temporarily suspending all closed-door events of more than 1,000 people in coronavirus-hit areas of Spain: Madrid, La Rioja and the Basque towns of Vitoria and Labastida. The national and regional governments agreed to close all educational facilities, from kindergartens to universities. They also recommended avoidance of travelling in high-transmission areas and called for people to work from home. The government also decided that all sports events involving “a great number of people” will be played behind closed doors for two weeks. The popular semi-publicly funded tourism trips organised by the Institute for the Elderly and Social Services for pensioners has also been suspended until next month. Flights between Italy and Spain are banned until the end of the month. Customers, some with protective masks, queue at the check out of a supermarket as people begin to stock up on provisions in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul White) The decision came after Spain’s Ministry of Health said there were 1,622 registered cases, compared to 1,200 the day before. The repeated 30 percent day-to-day increases shows that the contagion is out of control. The virus has so far killed 35 people and 135 have been discharged from hospital, while a total of 17,500 tests have been performed. Coronavirus cases have been detected in up to 10 universities so far, in Madrid, Valladolid, Valencia, Málaga and Seville. On Monday, the Madrid regional government closed its six public and eight private universities, affecting more than 300,000 students and 45,000 teachers and nonteaching staff. The closure also extends to primary and secondary schools. In Madrid alone, this affects 1.5 million students. Madrid has also closed senior centres, affecting 213 different sites across the region, in a bid to stop the contagion. The measure was taken after the deaths of two elderly people. Spain’s parliament has also decided to suspend all its parliamentary activity for a week after Javier Ortega Smith, a leading deputy of the fascistic Vox party, tested positive for coronavirus. The spread of the virus takes places after a decade of austerity by Madrid and the European Union has devastated Spain’s health system. According to a 2018 study published by Social Summit, an association of unions, NGOs and researchers, under the title “A lost decade: an analysis of 10 years of cuts”, Spanish public health lost between 15 to 21 billion euros in its budget since 2009.

UK Health Minister Tests Positive For COVID-19; Bernie And Biden Cancel Rallies- Live Updates = UK Health Minister Nadine Dorries announced on Tuesday that she has tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating, according to Sky News. She's the first MP in the country to be diagnosed with COVID-19. "I can confirm I have tested positive for coronavirus," Dorries said in a statement. "As soon as I was informed I took all the advised precautions and have been self-isolating at home." Summary:

  • The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival set to take place in April has been postponed until October due to COVID-19.
  • UK Health Minister announces she's tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating
  • National Guard is deploying to New Rochelle, area businesses, schools will close, Cuomo says
  • Washington State reports two more coronavirus deaths, bringing the total up to 24 and 267 cases.
  • 6th patient dies from Cov-19 in UK
  • US CDC Chief: "the US is beyond virus containment in some areas"
  • Washington State considering "Rapid Lockdown", new benefits announced for workers
  • Mortality rate in Lombardy hits 8% - higher than Wuhan
  • Lagarde calls on European governments to embrace "rapid fiscal action."
  • Austria, Switzerland close borders with Italy
  • NJ Governor declares state of emergency
  • North Carolina declares state of emergency
  • Air Canada latest airline to suspend routes to Italy as traffic expected to plunge due to quarantine
  • Mass. declares state of emergency after confirming 51 'presumptive' cases; Boston cancels St. Patricks Day Parade
  • NYC Mayor says outbreak "evolving very rapidly"
  • Harvard moves classes online
  • Xi takes victory lap in Wuhan
  • Trump says had 'great' meeting with Repubs on stimulus plan, but no details released
  • Italy reports 36% jump in deaths, cases climb above 10,000
  • Three Canadians test positive in Calgary
  • Spain suspends parliament after lawmaker infected
  • Austria total cases hits 182
  • First case reported in Philly
  • EU suspends parliament indefinitely
  • Italian government suspends mortgage payments across country
  • CDC says nearly 5,000 tests have been conducted in US through Monday
  • New Jersey confirms first death

Newborn baby tests positive for coronavirus in London -A newborn baby has tested positive for coronavirus in what is thought to be the youngest case of the disease in the UK, it has emerged.The child’s mother, who was taken to a north London hospital days before the birth with suspected pneumonia, has also caught the virus.The mother tested positive at North Middlesex hospital, in Enfield, with results coming through after the birth. Minutes after the birth the baby was tested for Covid-19. The NHS trust has confirmed that two patients tested positive for coronavirus, with staff in close contact with them during treatment now being advised to self-isolate.It is not known whether the child contracted the disease in the womb or was infected during birth. The Sun, which first revealed the case, reported that the baby was still being treated at the hospital but the mother has been transferred to a specialist infections hospital.In a statement, North Middlesex University Hospital NHS trust said: “Two patients at North Middlesex University hospital have tested positive for coronavirus. One has been transferred to a specialist centre and one is being treated in an isolation room.

Coronavirus may force UK doctors to decide who they’ll save - Italy is facing serious challenges, with demand for critical care far outstripping supply. Health officials there are having to make very difficult decisions about who to treat – in the knowledge that deciding not to treat will very likely lead to death.  On Thursday the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care, issued guidelines advising doctors how to deploy scarce resources when the need for them is outstripped by the demand of critically ill patients. The guidelines state that priority should be given to those who have, first, “greater likelihood of survival and, second, who have more potential years of life”. As a result, patients with underlying conditions and elderly patients, who are deemed to stand less chance of surviving the virus, may not be treated in favour of healthier and/or younger people who have more chance of recovery. In the coming months we may face a similar situation in the UK where we do not have the resources necessary to treat all people who will catch Covid-19. So how do healthcare professionals decide who to treat? The basic principle being applied in Italy is one we are all familiar with – a form of utilitarianism – which aims at maximising the number of lives saved. This approach does not value any one life over another – all lives are equally valuable – but it does say that we should focus resources where they are likely to save the most lives. This means prioritising for treatment those people who are most likely to benefit from the treatment and recover quickly enough to vacate the bed and allow the next person in. This way, more lives are saved overall. This may be anathema to those of us, including myself, who intuitively prefer a “first come, first served” queuing system. That seems familiar, impartial, equitable and fair. That may well be the best strategy in normal times – but a pandemic is not normal. It is an emergency, and while emergencies do not call for a suspension of ethics, they do call on us to revisit our priorities – and that will always be horribly uncomfortable.

France closes shops, restaurants, tells people to stay home - (Reuters) - France will shut most shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities from midnight on Saturday and people should stay home as much as possible as the spread of coronavirus is accelerating, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced. He was speaking at a news conference after the public health authority said 91 people had died in France and almost 4,500 were now infected. “I have decided to close all non-indispensable locations, notably cafes, restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs and shops,” he said. “We must absolutely limit our movements.” Exceptions to the shop ban will include food stores, pharmacies and petrol stations. Philippe said the government had been left with no choice because too many people were still out in the streets and not sufficiently applying recently announced measures, including keeping a safe distance from each other. That, he said, was helping accelerate the spread of the virus..

Spain plans partial coronavirus lockdown from Monday: draft - (Reuters) - Spain plans to put its 47 million inhabitants under partial lockdown from Monday as part of a 15-day state of emergency plan to combat the coronavirus, a draft of an official decree seen by Reuters showed. The government will say all Spaniards must stay home except to buy food, go to the pharmacy, to the hospital, or to work or for other emergencies, the draft discussed on Saturday by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his ministers showed. Bars, restaurants, conference centers and all leisure and sports activities - including cinemas, theaters, swimming pools or soccer grounds - will be shut down. A source with knowledge of the talks said the measures that are part of the lockdown could change in Saturday’s cabinet talks.All public transport would be curtailed, the draft showed, with airline, train, bus and boat operators told they need to cut their services by at least half and that any plane, train, bus or other means of transport can only be a third full. Employers would have the obligation to let their workers work remotely and judicial proceedings will be suspended. Spain’s Interior Ministry would control all police forces, including local and regional ones, under the 15-day emergency.

Medical supplies running out in parts of Canada as first coronavirus death reported - Canada’s first death from a coronavirus infection was confirmed Monday as news broke that some provinces are running short of medical supplies. As of Tuesday evening, there were 86 officially confirmed coronavirus infections across four of the country’s ten provinces and three territories: 32 in British Columbia, fourteen in Alberta, 36 in Ontario, and four in Quebec. However, Chief federal medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam has warned that these figures likely lag behind the reality on the ground in each province. Canada’s first COVID-19 casualty was a man in his 80s who died at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday. He had a number of underlying conditions. The virus was first contracted by a worker at the care home in the local community and has since spread to another nursing home resident. B.C.’s chief medical officer, Bonnie Henry, described the spread of COVID-19 at the care home as an “outbreak.” In a separate development, 228 Canadians who had been holidaying on the Grand Princess cruise ship off the California coast were repatriated to Canada yesterday. Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said that “a handful” of Canadian crew members tested positive for COVID-19 and were left in the United States for treatment. Six cases out of Canada’s total resulted when passengers on an earlier leg of the Grand Princess’ voyage were infected. Officials have advised against any travel on cruise ships due to the ease with which the disease can spread among passengers. Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu conceded Monday that provinces are already running out of basic medical supplies to treat patients, including face masks, eye shields, gowns, gloves, and ventilators. “We are very alive to the fact that some provinces are indicating that they have deficits,” said Hajdu, “and we are gathering that information and we have said all along that we will be there as a federal government to support them with the resources they need, whether those are financial resources or practical resources.” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland addressed a letter to Canada’s premiers urging them to provide updates to the federal government on medical supply shortages prior to a meeting of federal and provincial government first ministers scheduled for Friday. The news that some provinces are already running out of critical medical supplies despite the relatively low number of confirmed infections to date illustrates how ill-prepared Canada’s healthcare system is to deal with the looming epidemic. Successive governments at the federal and provincial levels have implemented austerity budgets for healthcare and other critical social services for years, including the current Trudeau Liberal government. Health transfers from the federal government to the provinces have risen by a miserly 3 percent per year over the past four years. This “increase” barely keeps pace with the inflation rate, never mind population increases and the growing demands on the healthcare system produced by an aging population.

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, wife of Canada PM Justin Trudeau, tests positive for coronavirus Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire, has tested positive for COVID-19. “Following medical advice, she will remain in isolation for the time being. She is feeling well, is taking all the recommended precautions and her symptoms remain mild,” according to a statement tweeted by Cameron Ahmad, the prime minister’s communications director. Health professionals are set to reach out to people who have been in close contact with Gregoire Trudeau. The prime minister himself is in “good health with no symptoms,” Ahmad said. “As a precautionary measure and following the advice of doctors, he will be in isolation for a planned period of 14 days,” the statement added. “Also on the advice of doctors, he will not be tested at this stage since he has no symptoms.” Trudeau will address Canadians on Friday, the statement said. Gregoire Trudeau thanked people in a personal statement that Ahmad shared on Twitter. She said although she is experiencing “uncomfortable symptoms of the virus, I will be back on my feet soon,” and noted that other Canadian families and patients may be facing more serious health concerns. Gregoire Trudeau had recently returned from a speaking engagement in London and began exhibiting “mild flu-like symptoms including a low fever” late Wednesday. As of Thursday, Canada has at least 138 confirmed cases, according to government data. The coronavirus outbreak, which has affected at least 125,000 people worldwide, has been declared a global pandemic by WHO.

China Sends Team Of Specialists To Iraq As Covid-19 Threat To Middle East Grows - After long facing criticism from world leaders and health officials over its slow response to coronavirus and lack of transparency, China is going on the offensive, tackling Covid-19 outside of its own borders with a continued focus on the Middle East, after last month sending a team to the hard hit country of Iran.For the first time Beijing has sent a team of experts to Iraq to advise the government in Baghdad. The team consists of seven specialists from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention who arrived in Iraq on Saturday, which will further assist with testing, prevention and treatment for patients.   China also announced it's contributed an extra $20 million to World Health Organization (WHO) efforts in fighting the outbreak globally.Iraq has thus far confirmed at least 54 cases and four deaths from the virus, according to Iraqi Ministry of Health numbers.  Deputy Iraqi health minister Jassim al-Falahi welcomed the move, saying, “The arrival of Chinese experts and medical equipment will enhance prevention and control of the coronavirus epidemic in Iraq,” according to Xinhua news.

Iran Asks IMF For $5BN Emergency Loan As Death Toll Soars Near 500   Citing vast shortages of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals due to US-led sanctions, Iran is urging IMF relief as it battles coronavirus to the tune of $5 billion.  Days ago Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused President Trump on Twitter of "maliciously tightening US' illegal sanctions with aim of draining Iran's resources needed in the fight against Covid-19 — while our citizens are dying from it." Now he's urging immediate emergency aidIran has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency funding to help it fight the coronavirus outbreak, which has hit the Islamic Republic hard, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet on Thursday. As Reuters reports Thursday, Iran’s Central Bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati revealed in a social media post that “in a letter addressed to the head of IMF, I have requested five billion U.S. dollar from the RFI emergency fund to help our fight against the coronavirus”. And Zarif in a follow-up message noted that IMF managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, “has stated that countries affected by #COVID19 will be supported via Rapid Financial Instrument. Our Central Bank requested access to this facility immediately.”

Islamic Scholar Who Said Coronavirus Was Allah's Punishment Gets Coronavirus - An Islamic scholar who said the coronavirus was “Allah’s punishment” for China’s treatment of Muslims now has coronavirus. Back in February, Hadi Al-Modarresi, who is based in Iran, said that the coronavirus outbreak was “undoubtedly an act of Allah that is divine punishment against the Chinese for their treatment, mockery, and disrespect towards Muslims and Islam,” reported MEMRI-TV.  “It is obvious that the spread of this virus is an act of Allah. How do we know this? The spread of the coronavirus began in China, an ancient and vast country, the population of which makes up one seventh of humanity,” said Al-Modarresi. “More than a billion people live in that country. The authorities in that country are tyrannical and they laid siege to more than a million Muslims and placed them under house arrest. The journalists in that country began to mock the niqab of Muslim women and they forced Muslim men to eat pork and drink wine. Allah sent a disease upon them and this disease laid siege to 40 million [Chinese people]. The same niqab that they mocked has been forced upon them, both men and women, by Allah, by means of the state authorities and officials,” he added. It is now being reported that Al-Modarresi has contracted coronavirus, meaning that Allah must obviously be punishing him for wrongdoing.

Global Deaths Top 4,000; China Adds Just 24 Cases: Virus Update (March 11): Regions from Italy to New York amped up containment efforts as the global death toll from the coronavirus climbed above 4,000. In China, the outbreak’s epicenter, authorities reported just 24 new cases. Italy infections topped 10,000 as thenation attempted a nationwide lockdown. U.S. cases neared 1,000, and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said some parts of the country are now beyond containment efforts.New York became one of the first states to try to limit the movement of large groups of people to stanch the spread of the disease in a suburb of New York City. The annual New York auto show will be pushed back to August from April, while Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden canceled planned campaign rallies. Key Developments:
    Cases surpass 117,000 worldwide; deaths exceed 4,200
    Trump’s a no-show after promising briefing on economic plan
    Europe struggles to limit virus spread, led by Italian lockdown
    Why rational people are panic buying as coronavirus spreads
    Both leading candidates for the Democratic nomination canceled Tuesday events
China reported 24 additional cases on March 10, of which 13 came from Hubei province, the country’s National Health Commission said. All the latest 22 deaths were also in Hubei. China added 19 cases a day earlier. The nation now has 80,778 total confirmed coronavirus infections and the death toll stands at 3,158. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to announce financial measures to help mitigate the effects of the widening outbreak. The U.S. Department of Education is letting colleges and universities change course schedules to accommodate students who can’t meet enrollment requirements or complete internships, the New York Times reported. The department has given broad approval to schools seeking relief from federal standards as they activate distance-learning programs, the newspaper said, citing a guidance document from the department.

 Mission Accomplished -- President Xi Declares Victory Over Coronavirus In Visit To Wuhan - Almost exactly one month ago, President Xi, clad in a facemask and protective gear, ventured out of the Imperial City and out into the Beijing neighborhoods where he visited with hospital workers and posed for photos for the state-run media. Looking back, his decision to show up in person and visit with doctors and nurses probably accomplished what he intended: it gave the Chinese people hope that the leadership had not forgotten them, and that while the quarantine measures might seem draconian and overly punitive at times, the Communist Party would continue to do what it feels it must to maintain social order and protect the Chinese people.One month later, President Xi is making his second major public visit since the outbreak began in late December. This time, he's traveling to Wuhan - the epicenter of the outbreak - in what appears to be a "Mission Accomplished" moment for the leader of the world's largest country in its battle against the novel coronavirus and Covid-19. Since the beginning of the outbreak, Xi has left the on-the-ground work to his No. 2, Premier Li Keqiang. On Tuesday, while Chinese state media touted the visit as a sign that "victory is near", Xi stopped at Huoshenshan, one of two hastily-built "hospitals" (quarantine center/prison) built in under two weeks between January and February, during the worst of the outbreak in Wuhan. In one piece of commentary, Xinhua 'explained' the importance of Xi's visit with a syllogism.  "A victory in Wuhan is a victory for Hubei, a victory in Hubei is a victory for China," the commentary said, repeating a phrase that has been used previously in official party media. "The battle continues, but victory is near," said another commentary published by Xinhua on Tuesday morning.

Top Coronavirus Doctor in Wuhan Says High Blood Pressure Is Major Death Risk - Patients with hypertension appear to be at a higher risk of dying from the coronavirus, said a top Chinese intensive care doctor who’s been treating critically ill patients since mid-January. While there’s been no published research yet explaining why, Chinese doctors working in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus first emerged, have noticed that infected patients with that underlying illness are more likely to slip into severe distress and die. Of a group of 170 patients who died in January in Wuhan -- the first wave of casualties caused by a pathogen that’s now raced around the world -- nearly half had hypertension. “That’s a very high ratio,” said Du Bin, director of the intensive care unit at Peking Union Medical College Hospital, in an interview with Bloomberg over the phone from Wuhan. He was among a team of top doctors sent to the devastated city two months ago to help treat patients there. “From what I was told by other doctors and the data I can see myself, among all the underlying diseases, hypertension is a key dangerous factor,” said Du, one of the most respected critical care experts in China. “Though there is no research published on that yet, we believe hypertension could be an important factor in causing patients to deteriorate, leading to a bad prognosis.” 2020-wuhan-novel-coronavirus-outbreak-inline Read more on how the virus reaches a fatal “tipping point” when lungs become inflamed As the outbreak picks up speed in Europe and the U.S., plunging countries like Italy into crisis, doctors are struggling to treat the highly-infectious pathogen that’s infected over 108,000 people globally in just three months. Understanding the course of the disease and identifying individuals at greatest risk are critical for optimizing care for a global contagion that’s killed more than 3,700 people since emerging in China in December. Answers may lie in studying the large pool of patients in China, where more than 15,000 remain hospitalized although new infections have slowed dramatically. The disease turns critical in 6% of patients and deterioration can happen very quickly. “We’ll keep an eye on old people and those with high blood pressure. They are the key focus,” said Du.

There Is a ‘Tipping Point’ Before Coronavirus Kills - The new coronavirus causes little more than a cough if it stays in the noseand throat, which it does for the majority of people unlucky enough to be infected. Danger starts when it reaches the lungs.  One in seven patients develops difficulty breathing and other severe complications, while 6% become critical. These patients typically suffer failure of the respiratory and other vital systems, and sometimes develop septic shock, according to a report by last month’s joint World Health Organization-China mission.  The progression from mild or moderate to severe can occur “very, very quickly,” said Bruce Aylward, a WHO assistant director-general who co-led a mission in China that reviewed data from 56,000 cases. Understanding the course of the disease and identifying individuals at greatest risk are critical for optimizing care for a global contagion that’s killed more than 3,700 people since emerging in central China in December. About 10-15% of mild-to-moderate patients progress to severe and of those, 15-20% progress to critical. Patients at highest risk include people age 60 and older and those with pre-existing conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.“The clinical picture suggests a pattern of disease that’s not dissimilar to what we might see in influenza,”  Covid-19 most likely spreads via contact with virus-laden droplets expelled from an infected person’s cough, sneeze or breath. Infection generally starts in the nose. Once inside the body, the coronavirus invades the epithelial cells that line and protect the respiratory tract, . If it’s contained in the upper airway, it usually results in a less severe disease. But if the virus treks down the windpipe to the peripheral branches of the respiratory tree and lung tissue, it can trigger a more severe phase of the disease. That’s due to the pneumonia-causing damage inflicted directly by the virus plus secondary damage caused by the body’s immune response to the infection.  Damage to the epithelium lining the trachea and bronchi can result in the loss of protective mucus-producing cells as well as the tiny hairs, or cilia, that sweep dirt and respiratory secretions out of the lungs.  As a result, the lungs are vulnerable to an invasive secondary bacterial infection. Potential culprits include the germs normally harbored in the nose and throat, and the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that thrive in hospitals, especially the moist environments of mechanical ventilators. Secondary bacterial infections represent an especially pernicious threat because they can kill critical respiratory tract stem cells that enable tissue to rejuvenate. Without them, “you just can’t physically repair your lungs,”  Damaged lungs can starve vital organs of oxygen, impairing the kidneys, liver, brain and heart. “When you get a bad, overwhelming infection, everything starts to fall apart in a cascade,” . “You pass the tipping point where everything is going downhill and, at some point, you can’t get it back.”

Japan Plays Catch-Up With Rushed Virus State-of-Emergency Bill -- Two months after Japan confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is finally setting up a legal framework to let him declare a nationwide state of emergency if the outbreak worsens.Like many of Abe’s responses to the crisis -- from restricting visitors from virus-hit areas to bolstering the local mask supply -- the introduction of the state-of-emergency legislation comes long after other leaders took similar action. The delays have fueled doubts over whether Japan is prepared to act decisively enough to manage the Tokyo Olympics in July, the world’s largest sporting event.“Japan didn’t have a legal system in place to tackle this properly,” said Yu Uchiyama, a professor of political science at the University of Tokyo. “Why is that only happening now? They should have done it much sooner.” While Japan hasn’t had a surge in coronavirus cases seen in places like South Korea, its approach so far has been marked by bureaucratic roadblocks and sudden reversals. The Abe government waited until Feb. 1 to bar visitors with symptoms, tested only a tiny fraction of possible cases in the initial days, and moved suddenly last week to quarantine arrivals from China, after the pace of infections there had begun to slow.   The delays may be partly explained by a political system that places a high value on consensus and the measured judgment of ministry bureaucrats. Still, others blame a complacency after Abe’s success in neutralizing opposition both inside and outside his government over his record-setting seven years in power.

Tourism flows and death rates suggest covid-19 is being under-reported As covid-19 reaches countries unwilling or unable to monitor it, officials must use educated guesswork to track its evolution. The number of cases each country reports depends both on the number of infections and on how many people get tested. By March 1st South Korea had tested over 100,000 people; America just 472. To estimate the number of undetected cases, scholars can make use of patterns in more complete data. One model, built by a team at Harvard, used the number of people flying from Hubei province in China, where the outbreak began, to various countries to predict imported cases. Such data are less relevant now, because Hubei has been locked down for a month. To derive fresh estimates, The Economist built a similar model. We tested the link within the oecd—a club of mostly rich countries, which should have strong detection capacity—between Chinese tourism in 2019 and confirmed covid-19 cases. As expected, oecd states that swapped lots of tourists with China, such as Switzerland, tend to report higher infection rates than do ones with small flows, like Belgium. Applied worldwide, our model finds big outliers. The outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea, where the virus is spreading internally, are bigger than tourist flows suggest. At the other extreme, countries like Singapore may have fewer diagnoses than expected because of strong containment efforts. But the Philippines, Russia, Myanmar and Indonesia have lots of people and tourism to and from China, and just eight confirmed cases in total. Thousands more have probably gone undetected. Another pattern bolsters this finding. South Korea and China test regularly. In both places—excluding Hubei, where the virus began claiming lives before authorities formulated a response—0.5-1% of people who have tested positive have died. In other countries with at least one death, this rate is five times higher. Deaths are easier to count than infections are. The most likely explanation for this gap is that for every person diagnosed in these countries, four more do not know they are infected.

Israel Deploys Teens & Army To Combat Virus As Health Ministry Says "Tens Of Thousands" Will Be Infected - As government emergency response plans around the globe become more militarized in efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19, with China and Iran previously being the first to call up military units to both assist in testing and quarantining suspected cases, Israel has now announced stepped-up drastic action.Bloomberg reports Sunday that "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to deploy the military and an army of teenagers to help fight the coronavirus. He’s also weighing putting parts of the U.S. on a travel blacklist."Tel Aviv's logic is apparently young people, which happen to make up the vast majority of enlisted and lower officer ranks in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), are less susceptible to the virus and most often only experience it as a mild flu-like sickness. Israel has already moved to block entry into the country for foreigners coming from current virus epicenters and hot zones, including from some European countries. The country has seen 25 confirmed cases as of the weekend and an estimated 80,000 citizens ordered to self-quarantine in their homes, according to Health Ministry figures.Per Bloomberg, military personnel will focus efforts on disinfecting high trafficked gathering spaces and to deliver medical supplies, which is to include use of the air force: Young people and the army will be mobilized to disinfect public spaces such as railway and bus stations with bleach. Netanyahu is putting them on the front line after concluding “the pandemic is not afflicting children or young people.” Netanyahu has been one of the few world leaders to bluntly call the virus a “global pandemic,” something the WHO has thus far controversially refrained from doing.

WHO declares the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic - The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, acknowledging what has seemed clear for some time — the virus will likely spread to all countries on the globe. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the situation will worsen. “We expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher,” said Tedros, as the director-general is known. As of Wednesday, 114 countries have reported that 118,000 have contracted Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, known as SARS-CoV2. Nearly 4,300 people have died. In the United States, where for weeks state and local laboratories could not test for the virus, just over 1,000 cases have been diagnosed and 29 people have died. But authorities here warn continuing limits on testing mean the full scale of spread in this country is not yet known. The virus causes mild respiratory infections in about 80% of those infected, though about half will have pneumonia. Another 15% develop severe illness, and 5% need critical care. WHO officials had said earlier they were hesitant to call the outbreak a pandemic in case it led governments and individuals to give up the fight. On Wednesday, they stressed that fundamental public health interventions can still limit the spread of the virus and drive down cases even where it was transmitting widely, as the work of authorities and communities in China, Singapore, and South Korea has shown. “Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus,” Tedros said at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, in making the announcement. “It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.” At the same time, Tedros said: “This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector — so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight.” Tedros said this was the first coronavirus to reach pandemic levels, but also said “we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled.”

‘We didn’t know’: Bali authorities in the dark as COVID-19 patient dies on resort island --A 53-year-old foreign woman holidaying in Bali became Indonesia's first COVID-19 fatality on Wednesday, but local authorities were only informed after her death that she had tested positive for the disease.The Health Ministry had identified the woman as Case 25 in a press conference on Tuesday evening but neglected to inform Bali’s provincial administration."Today, early in the morning, at 2:45 a.m., a foreign national under observation at Sanglah Hospital died," the chairman of Bali’s COVID-19 task force, Dewa Made Indra, said at a press conference in Denpasar on Wednesday.Dewa, who is also the secretary of the Bali administration, said the administration had not received any information on the patient’s test result until local officials called the Health Ministry themselves after the patient’s death. "Because this patient died in the isolation room, under observation, we tried to get confirmation from Jakarta. We hadn’t received her laboratory test results yet,” he said. “[After calling the ministry,] we were told that the patient who died was Case 25, who was announced as COVID-19 positive yesterday."

Indonesia's COVID-19 death toll climbs to four while cases jump to 69 - The number of coronavirus cases in Indonesia has doubled to 69 with the confirmation of 35 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, its highest jump to date, as the death toll from the disease climbs to four. The new fatalities included Case 35 and Case 36, a 57-year-old and a 37-year-old woman, both of whom succumbed to the disease on Thursday after being admitted to Sulianti Saroso Infectious Diseases Hospital in Jakarta in poor condition, Health Ministry Disease Control and Prevention director-general Achmad Yurianto said on Friday. Made with Flourish The test results for Case 35 and 36 came back positive for COVID-19 on Friday, and the central government has handed over the results to the local health administration to trace others who may have been exposed, he said. In addition, a 50-year-old man identified as Case 50, died after his condition quickly deteriorated, Yurianto said, adding that local health authorities were tracing his close contacts. Yurianto, who is the government's spokesman for COVID-19, said that all of the new cases announced on Friday were identified through the tracing of close contacts of confirmed coronavirus cases over the past two days. “This data is the result of contact tracing over the last two days that was reported by local [authorities] as of this afternoon,” Yurianto told journalists on Friday. The new cases, Cases 35 to 69, vary in terms of age and gender, with the eldest being two 80-year-old women identified as Case 38 and Case 69. They also included a 2-year-old boy known as Case 54 – the youngest patient to have tested positive for COVID-19 in the country to date – and a 3-year-old boy, identified as Case 49.

Coronavirus Can Live in Patients for Five Weeks After Contagion - Patients with the new coronavirus keep the pathogen in their respiratory tract for as long as 37 days, a new study found, suggesting they could remain infectious for many weeks.In yet another sign of how difficult the pandemic may be to contain, doctors in China detected the virus’s RNA in respiratory samples from survivors for a median of 20 days after they became infected, they wrote in an article published in the Lancet medical journal.The new coronavirus has spread to 118 countries and infected about 125,000 people since first emerging in Wuhan, China, at the end of last year, evading drastic efforts by local authorities and subsequent containment attempts in other nations.The findings have “important implications for both patient isolation decision-making and guidance around the length of antiviral treatment,” Fei Zhou from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the other authors wrote.Currently, the recommended isolation period after exposure is 14 days to avoid spreading the virus. But if people remain contagious long after their symptoms have vanished, they may unwittingly propagate the pathogen after they return from quarantine.By comparison, only a third of patients with SARS still harbored the virus in their respiratory tract after as long as four weeks, the Chinese scientists said. They studied the medical records and laboratory data from 191 Covid-19 patients treated at Jinyintan Hospital and Wuhan Pulmonary Hospital, including 54 who died from the infection.

As the coronavirus spreads, one study predicts that even the best-case scenario is 15 million dead and a $2.4 trillion hit to global GDP -- As coronavirus cases continue to rise around the world, a group of Australian experts predict that the economic impact of the disease in the best-case scenario may total $2.4 trillion in lost global gross domestic product.The coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, has killed nearly 3,300 people and infected more than 95,000. The virus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19, has spread to at least 81 countries.More than 150 cases have been reported in the US, including 11 deaths across two states. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak an international public-health emergency and warned that the window of opportunity to contain it is narrowing. On Tuesday, the WHO noted that the global death rate for the novel coronavirus based on the latest figures was 3.4% — higher than earlier figures of about 2%. The WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the new coronavirus was "a unique virus with unique characteristics."While much is still unknown about the virus, the group of Australian experts has produced a warning about the impact the virus might have on people's lives if left unchecked.  New modeling from The Australian National University looks at seven scenarios of how the COVID-19 outbreak might affect the world's wealth, ranging from low severity to high severity.Four of the seven scenarios in the paper examine the impact of COVID-19 spreading outside China, ranging from low to high severity. A seventh scenario examines a global impact in which a mild pandemic occurs each year indefinitely.But even in the low-severity model — or best-case scenario of the seven, which the paper acknowledged were not definitive — ANU researchers estimate a global GDP loss of $2.4 trillion, with an estimated death toll of 15 million. They modeled their estimates on the Hong Kong flu pandemic, an outbreak in 1968-1969 that is estimated to have killed about 1 million people. In the high-severity model — modeled after the Spanish flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 17 million to 50 million globally from 1918 to 1920 — the global GDP loss could be as high as $9 trillion. In that model, the death toll is estimated to surpass 68 million.

 Coronavirus pandemic could be over by June if countries act, says Chinese adviser – (Reuters) - The global coronavirus pandemic could be over by June if countries mobilize to fight it, a senior Chinese medical adviser said on Thursday, as China declared the peak had passed there and new cases in Hubei fell to single digits for the first time.  Around two-thirds of global cases of the coronavirus have been recorded in China’s central Hubei province, where the virus first emerged in December. But in recent weeks the vast majority of new cases have been outside China. Chinese authorities credit strict measures they have taken, including placing Hubei under near total lockdown, with preventing big outbreaks in other cities, and say other countries should learn from their efforts. “Broadly speaking, the peak of the epidemic has passed for China,” said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission. “The increase of new cases is falling.” Zhong Nanshan, the government’s senior medical adviser, told reporters that as long as countries take the outbreak seriously and are prepared to take firm measures, it could be over worldwide in a matter of months. “My advice is calling for all countries to follow WHO instructions and intervene on a national scale,” he said. “If all countries could get mobilized, it could be over by June.” Speaking to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, President Xi Jinping similarly expressed confidence, state television reported. “After hard work, China has shown a trend of continuous improvement in epidemic prevention and control,” the report cited Xi as saying. Zhong, an 83-year-old epidemiologist renowned for helping combat the SARS outbreak in 2003, said viruses in the same family typically became less active in warm months.

Monsanto Secretly Funded Glyphosate Studies, Watchdog Finds --A new investigation revealed that Monsanto funneled money to secretly fund academic studies that warned of catastrophic consequences to farmers if glyphosate was banned in the UK, according to research from the German watchdog LobbyControl, as The Guardian reported.The two studies in question come from 2010 and 2014, which was before the German chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018. Upon learning of the secret funding, Bayer said the failure to disclose it violated the company's principles, according to The Guardian."This is an unacceptable form of opaque lobbying," said Ulrich Müller at LobbyControl, as The Guardianreported. "Citizens, media and decision-makers should know who pays for studies on subjects of public interest. The studies also used very high figures for the benefits of glyphosate and for possible losses in case of a ban. These extreme figures were then used to spin the debate."However, the authors of the two studies said that the funding did not influence their findings. The 2010 study, called How Valuable is Glyphosate to UK Agriculture and the Environment? touted glyphosate for "a wide range of benefits to users." It said that glyphosate binds to soil and rarely leaches into groundwater. It does mention that glyphosate is sometimes found in surface water, but far below levels that would register as toxic. It then goes on to discuss how a ban of glyphosate would upend UK farming and gardening. The 2014 study followed a similar line of reasoning. The study, titled Glyphosate Use on Combinable Crops in Europe: Implications for Agriculture and the Environment, also mentioned that glyphosate is highly water soluble and does not readily leach into soil or water and is found in less than 1 percent of water samples. It then goes on to assess "the value of glyphosate use across wheat, winter barley and oilseed rape in Europe."

Study reveals grasshopper declines associated with declines in quality of prairie grasses -A University of Oklahoma-led study shows that grasshopper numbers have declined over 30% in a Kansas grassland preserve over the past two decades. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the paper, "Nutrient dilution and climate cycles underlie declines in a dominant herbivore," reveals a new potent and potentially widespread threat to Earth's plant feeders: the dilution of nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and sodium in the plants themselves due to increasing levels of atmospheric CO2.  Grasshoppers are abundant consumers in grasslands—a habitat that covers more than 30% of Earth's land mass and is the source of the majority of human crops. The same decline in plant quality revealed by Welti and her colleagues has recently raised alarms about the global human food supply.  This decline in plant nutrient concentration poses a challenge for all animals that consume plants, including humans," Welti said.The OU-based study adds to the growing evidence that some insect groups are declining in abundance. Such long-term data are rare but are a primary function of the National Science Foundation's LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) sites, including Konza Prairie—a large protected tallgrass prairie reserve in northeast Kansas that provided the study's key data."One surprise was that grasshopper abundances in this large native tallgrass prairie reserve are declining," Welti said. "This grassland appears to be a stable and prime habitat for grasshoppers and yet even here, we are seeing 2% annual declines."The grasshoppers have been surveyed at Konza for approaching 30 years, providing a rare and detailed breakdown of this important group of insects.The study is unique, not only in the length of the record, but in the sophisticated set of mathematical tools Welti and her colleagues implemented to account for two drivers of grasshopper populations.

 Malnourished Insects: Higher CO2 Levels Make Plants Less Nutritious - Grasshopper populations, like those of many other insects, are declining. My colleagues and I identified a new possible culprit: The plants grasshoppers rely on for food are becoming less nutritious due to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the air. Ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere tend to promote plant growth by supplying them with extra carbon. But all that added carbon is squeezing out other nutrients that plant feeders – like insects and people – need to thrive. These fast-growing plants end up less dense in nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and sodium – more like iceberg lettuce than kale. On our study site in a Kansas prairie, my colleagues and I show that across more than 40 species of grasshoppers, total populations are falling at more than 2% a year. This led to an overall reduction in grasshopper numbers over the past two decades of about one-third. These population declines parallel the decline in grassland nutrients. Grasshopper populations vary year to year for many reasons, but my colleagues and I believe that the dilution of plant nutrients caused by elevated CO2 is the most likely reason for the decline.It adds up to what we call the “nutrient dilution hypothesis”: Increased CO2 is making plants less nutritious per bite and insects are paying the price.Ecologists have thus far focused on pesticide use and the loss of native habitats as causes for insect declines.These factors aren’t likely at the large native prairie reserve where I work. Yet the 2% per year decline in grasshoppers our study found is eerily similar to the 2% declines reported from long-term studies around the globe of moths and butterflies, whose young – caterpillars – are also voracious plant feeders. Other factors, like pesticide use and habitat destruction, are certainly hurting insect populations in many places. But since CO2 is increasing globally, my colleagues and I suspect that nutrient dilution is likely bad news for plant-eating insects across a huge variety of habitats, in both pristine and degraded ecosystems. And since insects are crucial parts of all terrestrial food webs, their loss affects many other organisms from plants to birds.

 Fatal Fungal Disease Linked to Millions of Bat Deaths Confirmed in Texas - A deadly fungal disease responsible for the deaths of millions of bats across the U.S. has been confirmed in Texas for the first time. White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease in bats caused by a cold-loving fungus known asPseudogymnoascus destructans, which infects the skin on the muzzle, ear and wings of hibernating bats. Infected bats have obvious fungal growth on their body, but may also behave erratically both inside and outside of caves during the winter when they should be hibernating, according to the White-Nose Syndrome Response Team. The fungus that causes the disease was first detected in the state in 2017, but there were no signs of the WNS that it can cause, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). In the years since, the fungus has spread to dozens of sites in 21 counties. At the time, biologists said that it usually takes a few years after detecting the fungus for the disease to manifest.The infected animal is a type of bat known as cave myotis (Myotis velifer) and was found in the central part of the state on Feb. 23. Analysis conducted by the USGS National Wildlife Health Center confirmed the presence of both the fungus and the disease that it causes."Finding WNS in Central Texas for the first time is definitely concerning," said Nathan Fuller, bat specialist at TPWD. "Biologists had hoped that white-nose syndrome, a disease that thrives in cold conditions, might not occur in warmer parts of Texas. We're following up on several other reports to determine whether this was an isolated incident or if the impacts are more widespread. We recently received a report from a site in Bell County of five cave myotis that we suspect were infected as well. We should know more in the next few weeks."WNS was first detected in New York more than a decade ago and has since spread from the northeastern part of the country to the southcentral states at what the USGS calls an "alarming rate." It is believed to have been introduced from Europe where bats appear to be resistant to the fungus. The fungus is largely transmitted between bats but can be brought into caves on the clothing and gear of humans. As of this year, millions of bats in at least 33 states and seven Canadian provinces have died from the disease. In some parts of the U.S., normally long-lived winter bat populations have fallen by more than 90 percent. Because many species only produce one offspring each year, experts say it could take decades for some populations to recover.

2 Rare White Giraffes Killed by Poachers in Kenya - A pair of rare white giraffes met a tragic end when they were slaughtered by poachers in Kenya.The mother and calf were confirmed dead Tuesday in Ijara, Garissa County by community members and rangers from the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy, according to a press release."This is a very sad day for the community of Ijara and Kenya as a whole," conservancy manager Mohammed Ahmednoor said in the press release. "We are the only community in the world who are custodians of the white giraffe. Its killing is a blow to tremendous steps taken by the community to conserve rare and unique species, and a wakeup call for continued support to conservation efforts."The Kenya Wildlife Service had been called to the sanctuary after it was reported that the two giraffes had not been seen for some time, CNN reported. When their skeletal remains were found and photographed, it was estimated that they had been dead at least four months. The Kenya Wildlife Service is now investigating the deaths.Only one white giraffe is left in the conservancy, a male who is believed to be the only one now living,according to CBS News.  "This is a long-term loss given that genetics studies and research, which were significant investment into the area by researchers, have now gone down the drain," Ahmednoor said in the press release. "Further to this the white giraffe was a big boost to tourism in the area."

Massive Monkey Gangs Are Fighting For Food On Thailand Streets As Tourist Food Disappears - Coronavirus isn't just causing humans to fight in the aisles of Target over toilet paper. Today in "signs of the apocalypse", hungry monkey gangs are also swarming and fighting - for food - on the streets of Thailand. Monkeys in the country are usually well fed by tourists who visit Central Thailand, but visitors have plummeted as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, which has hit the Asian region hard. The animals shown in a video are reported to be two separate "rival gangs" that dwell in the city, according to the Daily Mail. Half of the monkeys are said to live in the temple areas, while the others live in the city. The two groups don't usually meet but ended up doing so this past week.  The animals are shown wandering separately looking for food, but once one monkey finds a banana, the chase is on. The ferocity of the animals shocked even locals, who are used to seeing the monkeys on a daily basis. One onlooker, who captured video, said: "They looked more like wild dogs than monkeys. They went crazy for the single piece of food. I've never seen them this aggressive."The onlooker explained: "I think the monkeys were very, very hungry. There's normally a lot of tourists here to feed the monkeys but now there are not as many, because of the coronavirus."Hundreds of monkeys are shown in this Daily Mail video fighting over a single banana:

Electronic Waste: New EU Rules Target Throwaway Culture - All those phones, computers and tablets we rely on are dependent on mined resources. Extracting and processing those resources accounts for nearly half of our greenhouse gas emissions, which is why theEuropean Commission's Circular Economy Action Plan calls for "initiatives for the entire life cycle of products, from design and manufacturing to consumption, repair, reuse, recycling, and bringing resources back into the economy."Essentially, the European Union wants to get rid of planned obsolescence, where manufacturers design a product with a short lifespan so consumers have to buy a new one, which leads to throwaway culture. To that end, the European Commission announced Wednesday that it will introduce laws to halve the amount of waste the EU produces by 2030. Right now, less than 40 percent of electronic waste in the EU is recycled.The new laws will ensure that new products brought to the EU market are repairable, recyclable and designed to last longer than our current phones and tablets, according to Reuters."The goal, in the end, is decoupling resource extraction from our economic growth," Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius told reporters in Brussels, as Deutsche Welle reported. He added, "The linear growth model of take, make, use and discard has reached its limits."The sweeping legislation will apply to a wide range of products, including mobile phones, textiles, electronics, batteries, construction and packaging, according to the BBC. The legislation that will make it easier to repair a broken phone display or to replace the battery is spurred by the Right to Repair movement. It also updates current efficiency standards to apply to a broader selection of everyday items. The efficiency laws are outdated since they only apply to computers, televisions, dishwashers and washing machines, according to The Guardian.

BLM exodus: Agency loses half of DC staff slated for relocation - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has lost more than half of its Washington-based employees who were slated to move out West as the agency pushes ahead with a controversial plan to relocate staff. New internal numbers from the Interior Department obtained by The Hill show 69 employees have left the agency rather than accept the new assignment. Another 18 left after the plans were announced but before they could be reassigned. Those 87 employees outnumber the 80 who have agreed to the move. The figures are at odds with the ones referenced in December by acting BLM Director William Perry Pendley, who said in an email that roughly two-thirds of staffers had agreed to move. “This is a huge brain drain,” said Steve Ellis, who retired from BLM’s top career-level post in 2016. “There is a lot of really solid expertise walking out the door.” The BLM move would uproot nearly all of the agency’s dwindling Washington staff out West, leaving just 61 of 10,000 employees in the nation’s capital. Under the relocation plan, roughly 25 employees would work at BLM’s new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., while another 150 or so would be placed in the agency’s existing offices out West. The new internal figures show the agency is experiencing an exodus similar to the ones at two U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies. One of the two agencies, the Economic Research Service, lost nearly 80 percent of its staff last year and had to cancel several projects as a result. In a meeting with Senate appropriators Wednesday, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told lawmakers he was confident the agency would find quality candidates to replace the departing staffers, including those needed to fill top positions at the new headquarters. “The caliber of people and number of people applying for these positions is through the roof and phenomenal,” he said. But Ellis said the relocation “removes BLM from the sphere of direct influence in the nation’s capital and critically weakens the agency’s ability for career leadership and their staff to collaborate across disciplines and work closely with other key agencies.” “The administration is solving a problem that isn’t there while creating new ones. It will weaken the agency by marginalizing leadership in a relatively small western community,”  “The Trump administration is destroying the Bureau of Land Management by mistreating its staff and politicizing its mission and then lying to Congress and the public about the damage it’s causing. This is what happens when you put fossil fuel industry lobbyists and anti-public lands extremists in charge of government agencies,” Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva said in a statement Thursday to The Hill.

Judge Rules Against Trump's Attempt to Log in America's Largest National Forest - A federal judge in Alaska ruled late Wednesday against a Trump administration plan to open 1.8 million acres of America's largest national forest to logging. The Forest Service plan targeted part of the Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island. It would have been the largest sale of national forest timber in 30 years, Earthjustice pointed out, permitting 164 miles of new roads and clearing an area of forest three times the size of Manhattan, more than half of it old growth. But U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled that the plan violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because the agency did not take all of its potential impacts into account, The Hill reported."The magnificent, ancient forests of the Tongass just got a reprieve from the chain saws," Randi Spivak,public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said in the Earthjustice press release. "We're thrilled the court agreed that the Trump administration broke the law when it approved cutting thousands of acres of old-growth trees. It's critical to protect our remaining old-growth forests to have any chance of stopping the extinction crisis and slowing climate change."CBD was one of eight conservation groups that challenged the plan with representation from Earthjustice, according to fellow plaintiff the National Audubon Society. The groups, also including Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Rainforest Defenders, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League and the Natural Resources Defense Council, argued that it violated NEPA, which allows people to weigh in on major infrastructure projects that will impact their community. Prince of Wales Island is an important location for subsistence hunting and fishing, but the Forest Service did not say in its plans where logging would take place, which meant it was impossible for the local community to meaningfully respond to the plans. Judge Gleason agreed with this assessment of the project, arguing that the service did not state where logging and road building would occur, according to Courthouse News Service. "By not developing actual site-specific information, the Forest Service limited its ability to make informed decisions regarding impacts to subsistence uses and presented local communities with vague, hypothetical, and over-inclusive representations of the project's effects over a 15-year period," Gleason wrote.

Tropical Forests Are Reaching Their Carbon Dioxide Limit - Humanity has pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide levels almost 50% higher than they were before industrialization. That dramatic number would be even higher without tropical forests, which have been absorbing as much as 17% of CO₂ emissions along the way. Unfortunately, rainforests can’t capture carbon like they used to. In a new study using 30 years of data from pristine Amazon and African tropical forests, researchers found the actual rate CO₂-reduction rate peaked a quarter-century ago. These rainforests absorbed about a third less CO₂ over the past decade than they did the 1990s, according to the study published in the journal Nature. That’s a difference of 21 billion metric tons—or roughly similar to a decade of fossil-fuel emissions from the U.K., Canada, Germany, and France combined. South American forests began their decline more quickly than their African counterparts, which showed slowing only around 2010. The Amazon, which is world’s largest tropical forest, may turn into a source of emissions by 2035 if it continues to lose the ability to store new carbon at its current rate.

David Attenborough Calls For Ban on Deep-Sea Mining -- Sir David Attenborough wants a ban on deep-sea mining. The 93-year-old conservationist spoke out in an interview with Sky News Thursday in conjunction with a new report that warns of the potentially devastating consequences of extracting metals and minerals from the deep places of the ocean. The practice could harm biodiversity, limit the ocean's ability to support life and even disrupt its ability to store carbon, worsening the climate crisis."We should not go in and trash an area of the globe about which we know hardly anything until we've done the proper research - in short we want a moratorium against action of industrialising the deep-sea," Attenborough told Sky. The report Attenborough backed was published by Flora and Fauna International (FFI) Thursday, aconservation group of which Attenborough serves as vice president. It comes as there is growing interest in deep-sea mining, defined by FFI as mining below 200 meters (approximately 656 feet), as deposits of minerals used in batteries and mobile phones are discovered, The Guardian reported. The international rules governing the new practice will be decided at a meeting of the UN International Seabed Authority in July.  The FFI report is the first to seriously consider the risks of the practice, and it drew some troubling conclusions.  Deep-sea mining could:

  1. Disturb pristine ecosystems
  2. Create far-reaching plumes of sediment that could kill marine life far from the mining site
  3. Kill microbes in sediments and hydrothermal vents that reduce methane and carbon
  4. Disrupt the ocean's "Biological Pump" that distributes nutrients and sucks carbon out of the atmosphere
  5. Expose deep-sea life to toxic metals
  6. Worsen ocean acidification through the mining of sulphide deposits on the seafloor

Preliminary March Consumer Sentiment Declines to 95.9 from 101.0  --From the University of Michigan, Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard CurtinConsumer sentiment fell in early March due to the spreading coronavirus and the steep declines in stock prices. … The component of the Sentiment Index that posted the greatest loss involved judgments about prospects for the economy during the year ahead; this component fell by 29 points, accounting for 83% of the total point decline in early March. … While the most effective containment efforts are widespread closures and self-isolation, those same actions have the largest negative impact on the economy and significantly increase the probability that the pandemic will be followed by a recession that lasts longer than the virus. Not a huge decline - yet.

Coronavirus could halt the world’s emissions growth. Not that we should feel good about that.  Emissions are already way down in China, the world’s largest yearly contributor to climate change. Humans have seemed unable to get a handle on climate change, with global emissions of greenhouse gases continuing to grow every year. But a microscopic pathogen, so structurally simple that it does not even have a single cell and is arguably not even alive, may be capable of accomplishing what our political leaders thus far cannot.Experts say that greenhouse gas emissions in China, the world’s largest current contributor to climate change, are down 25 percent in recent weeks as the country conducted a massive societal intervention to stop the spread of the virus. Air pollution is also down, due to decreased driving and less coal burning.Meanwhile, as the virus enters a second phase, spreading beyond China to other countries, it is dampening global demand for oil and air travel, and threatening overall global economic growth. All of these are strongly linked to greenhouse gas emissions.While it’s too early to say for sure, if these trends continue, the coronavirus could join rare company. Since the year 1900, greenhouse gas emissions have risen dramatically. During that period, the escalation of emissions has been nearly constant, with 2019 projected to set yet another record high. And when significant declines have happened, it’s usually been because of world wars, sweeping economic contractions or large-scale geopolitical events such as the fall of the Soviet Union. The last time global emissions fell noticeably was in the wake of the Great Recession, from 2008 to 2009 — when U.S. GDP fell 4.3 percent, unemployment doubled from 5 to 10 percent, housing prices crashed and the stock market lost, at the nadir, more than half of its value. But even in that moment of economic and societal trauma, the global emissions decline was fleeting. Emissions started to rise again almost immediately.  Still, if the current emissions contraction that happened first in China spreads around the world, and is sustained, then it might cause a similar impact.  Elizabeth Economy, a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the nation’s emissions have increased every year for the past three until coronavirus paralyzed entire regions. “If there is a bright side to the coronavirus," she said, "it is that the drop in industrial production, manufacturing, and automobile use will produce a noticeable drop in CO2 emissions for at least the first two months of the year.” Granted, the bounce back could be rapid if China tries to juice its economy through some type of stimulus once the situation stabilizes. South Korea has already enacted roughly $10 billion in stimulus in the wake of the virus’s spread, and Italy is planning an infusion of $8.4 billion.

Three charts that explain what coronavirus is doing to climate emissions - The quickly spreading coronavirus has closed schools, constricted travel, shaken markets and infected more than 100,000 people. It is also already having impact on the environment: The buildup of climate-warming emissions has dipped amid the outbreak.The spread of a novel coronavirus around the world is nothing to celebrate. But it's true that dampened demand for electricity, oil and air travel in China has led to a drop in greenhouse gas emissions in that country, the world's largest contributor to climate change. And as the virus spreads, it may further weigh on economic activity in other nations and decrease their emissions.These three charts explain what has happened to emissions during the outbreak — and where we may be going:

  • 1. The economy in China, the world's largest emitter, has contracted. And that downturn may be best seen by looking up. More than a dozen airlines have scaled back service in China, where the outbreak began late last year. From Jan. 23 to Feb. 13, the number of daily departures and arrivals fell from 15,072 to just 2,004,according to the New York Times: The air travel industry is just one of many affected by the virus. “If there is a bright side to the coronavirus,” Elizabeth Economy, a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The Post, “it is that the drop in industrial production, manufacturing, and automobile use will produce a noticeable drop in CO2 emissions for at least the first two months of the year.”
  • 2. So now there is less air pollution in China. As my colleagues Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens report, carbon emissions in China are down at least a quarter over February. So, too, has small-particle air pollution decreased. And most dramatically of all, concentrations of another pollutant released by burning fossil fuels called nitrogen dioxide — pictured below —  are down also about 40 percent.
  • 3. But don't expect it to last. Past crises — including the Great Depression, the oil shortages in the 1970s and, yes, an influenza pandemic in 1918 — have spurred drops in emissions before. But those declines proved to be fleeting. After the global economy regained its footing following the last dip during 2008 financial crash, for example, “[e]missions started to rise again almost immediately,” Mooney, Dennis and Muyskens write.

Why the coronavirus outbreak is terrible news for climate change -   It appears increasingly likely that the global coronavirus outbreak will cut greenhouse-gas emissions this year, as deepening public health concerns ground planes and squeeze international trade. But it would be a mistake to assume that the rapidly spreading virus, which has already killed thousands and forced millions into quarantine, will meaningfully reduce the dangers of climate change.  As with the rare instances when worldwide carbon pollution dipped in the past, driven by earlier economic shocks, diseases, and wars, emissions are likely to rise again as soon as the economy bounces back. In the meantime, if the virus leads to a full-blown global pandemic and economic crash, it could easily drain money and political will from climate efforts. In fact, we absolutely should dedicate the bulk of our international attention and resources to the outbreak at this moment, given the grave and immediate public health dangers. Still, the fear is that the highly contagious coronavirus could complicate the challenges of climate change—which presents serious, if longer-term, threats of its own—at a point when it was crucial to make rapid strides. There are several ways this could happen:

  • If capital markets lock up, it’s going to become incredibly difficult for companies to secure the financing necessary to move ahead with any pending solar, wind, and battery projects, much less propose new ones.
  • Global oil prices took a historic plunge on Monday, driven by a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia as well as coronavirus concerns. Cheap gas could make electric vehicles, already more expensive, a harder sell for consumers. It’s why Tesla’s stock crashed on Monday.
  • China produces a huge share of the world’s solar panels, wind turbines, and lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles and grid storage projects. Companies there have already said they’re grappling with supply issues as well as declines in production and shipments, which have in turn slowed some renewables projects overseas. Any resulting clampdown on trade with the nation where the outbreak originated, which some members of the Trump administration are pushing for, will only further disrupt these clean-energy supply chain and distribution networks.
  • Rising health and financial fears could also divert public attention from the problem. Climate change has become an increasingly high priority for average voters in recent years, and the motivating force behind a rising youth activist movement around the world, building pressure on politicians to take serious action. But in the midst of an economic downturn and public health crisis, people would understandably become more focused on immediate health concerns and pocketbook issues—i.e. their jobs, retirement savings, and homes. The longer-term dangers of climate change would take a back seat.

Jane Fonda Says Bernie Sanders Is the Only Climate Candidate -Octogenarian actor and activist Jane Fonda declared ahead of a climate action protest in California Friday that the U.S. needs a "climate president" and she is now backing Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is leading a grassroots movement challenging the Democratic Party establishment coalescing around former Vice President Joe Biden."We have to get a climate president in office, and there's only one right now, and that's Bernie Sanders," Fonda told USA TODAY prior to the Los Angeles rally. "So, I'm indirectly saying I believe you have to support the climate candidate." Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is technically still in the Democratic presidential primary race, but Super Tuesday effectively made it a two-person contest between Biden and Sanders (I-Vt.). USA Today noted that Fonda previously donated to Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who have since ended their campaigns.Sanders' Green New Deal proposal to tackle the global climate crisis and ensure a just transition to renewable energy has been hailed by climate advocates as a "game-changer." The plan, unveiled in August 2019, calls for "100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and complete decarbonization by at least 2050."Fonda's comments about supporting Sanders came ahead of the second Fire Drill Friday event in California. In October 2019, Fonda launched Fire Drill Fridays as a weekly civil disobedience campaign in Washington, DC that aimed to pressure U.S. policymakers to ambitiously address the human-caused climate crisis. After a few months and five arrests, Fonda returned to California to resume filming her Netflix show Grace and Frankie. She also partnered with Greenpeace USA to bring Fire Drill Fridays to the West Coast. The first monthly rally was held on Feb. 7 at City Hall in Los Angeles. The second event was Friday, in the Los Angeles Harbor area, and focused on environmental racism.

Wind, solar and storage take up 95% of ISO-New England interconnection queue, marking 'dramatic shift' - About 95% of nearly 21 GW of energy resources currently proposed for the New England region are grid-scale wind, solar and battery projects, according to the Independent System Operator of New England (ISO-NE).  The number "reflects a dramatic shift" in the grid operator's interconnnection queue, ISO-NE president and CEO Gordon van Welie said in a press call on Friday. Five years ago, the majority of projects sought by developers were natural gas resources, he said.  ISO-NE does not estimate how much of the expected renewable and storage capacity will be built or which resources will be impacted by the grid operator's Competitive Auctions with Sponsored Policy Resources (CASPR) mechanism. The CASPR plan, intended to mitigate the impact of state subsidies for clean energy on the market, remains the best solution at the moment, van Welie said. While not all of the projects in the queue will be developed, the shift "signals that that's the type of project that developers are seeking to propose or to bring forward," Anne George, ISO-NE's VP of external affairs and corporate communications, said on the call. The makeup of the proposed 20,927 MW includes 68% wind, 15% solar and 11% battery storage. Natural gas makes up only 5% or 1,037 MW. Developers are asking ISO-NE to study proposals for many more potential projects as well. In 2016, natural gas made up 63% of the queue, with wind representing 33% of the 13,000 MW of total proposed generation. In 2015, the interconnection queue had about 10,000 MW of proposed projects — 57% natural gas and 42% wind.

New York Power Plant Mines $50,000 Of Bitcoin A Day - A New York power plant turns to Bitcoin mining in a successful bid to increase profitability.Bloomberg reported on Mar. 5 that a power plant in New York’s Finger Lakes region now mines about $50,000 of Bitcoin (BTC) each day using the electricity it produces. Atlas Holding, the private equity company that owns the facility, installed 7,000 crypto mining machines at the Greenidge Generation’s 65,000-square-foot power plant in Dresden, New York.  The firm pointed out that since it produces the power consumed by the machines on its own, the mining operation is extremely low cost.  Cryptocurrency mining is extremely energy-intensive. Mining facilities tend to concentrate where electricity prices are the lowest. In this case, the power cost is equivalent to production costs. Atlas Holding’s mining operation consumes about 15 megawatts of the 115 megawatts of the power plant’s total capacity. In the past, the Dresden power plant used to operate only when there was higher-than-usual energy demand during summer and winter, but now it operates the whole year.

 Trump team seeks more time on biofuel waivers - The Trump administration wants more time to consider possibly appealing a court ruling that would impede its ability to exempt small oil refiners from complying with the nation’s biofuels law.Both the Reuters and Bloomberg news services reported the administration filed a motion late Friday asking the deadline for an appeal be extended two weeks — making the deadline March 24 instead of Monday.The number of waivers granted to refineries from complying with the renewable fuel law has quadrupled under the Trump administration, according to Reuters.In January, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals raised a red flag on the program, ruling that the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its authority in granting new waivers — though it could extend waivers it had already granted before 2010.Both news services reported last week, citing sources they did not name, that the Trump administration had already decided to appeal.Reuters reported that White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that an appeal was coming. Grassley’s office would not comment on that report.   In a statement, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw decried the possibility of an appeal, saying “this would go down as one of the worst decisions I’ve seen in 20 years of biofuels policy.”

Energy bill stalled amid amendment gridlock - A mammoth energy policy bill hit a roadblock in the Senate on Monday night with a stalemate over amendments threatening to derail the legislation entirely. Lawmakers voted against closing debate on an updated version of the bill that included a package of noncontroversial amendments forwarded by its sponsors, a sign lawmakers are still eager to push for some of the 191 amendments that have been proposed for the bill. The path forward for the bill, which had been expected to pass as soon as Tuesday, is now unclear. Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) did vote against it, a procedural tactic that could allow him to try to end debate for a second time if he’s able to reach a deal. Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said negotiations had stalled on a path forward on amendments. "We'll probably end up having to pivot something else, until we figure out if there's a way we can get this back on track," Thune told The Hill. The American Energy Innovation Act, sponsored by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) would spur research and development into a number of types of energy, the first major package on the topic in more than a decade. Democrats have been fighting to add amendments that would phase down the use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigerators and air conditioners, as well as another that could push to make new homes more energy efficient. The White House and a few senators have expressed opposition to the HFCs amendment, arguing that federal standards should supersede any passed by the states. But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) threatened to filibuster the bill hours ahead of Monday night’s votes, accusing McConnell of blocking an otherwise popular amendment from Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) that could help fight climate change. “They’re thousands of times more damaging to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Phasing out these HFCs is very important. And it will go a long way in fighting climate change and protecting the environment for future generations,” he said, calling the energy bill “a real rare opportunity to make tangible progress.

Exclusive: U.S., Canada, European nations meet to discuss concern over Mexico energy policy - (Reuters) - The United States, the European Union, Canada and six European nations have held joint talks on concerns over Mexico’s energy policy, sources told Reuters, as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pushes for a bigger role for the state in the sector. The unusually broad diplomatic encounter is a measure of how the leftist Lopez Obrador’s break with the energy policy of the previous government is worrying economies that have traditionally been some of Mexico’s biggest foreign investors. U.S., Canadian and European officials privately voice concern that Mexico’s energy policy is eroding the legal foundations of contracts worth billions of dollars with the previous administration, in what they fear is a creeping squeeze-out of their interests. Mexico’s government denies it is undermining those deals, but says prior contracts were often damaging to the country, and has sought to renegotiate the terms of some. At Friday’s meeting in Mexico City hosted by the U.S. embassy, diplomats from Britain, Canada, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain discussed their concerns and how best to relay them to Lopez Obrador, said five people familiar with the gathering.

US utilities, grid operators form plans to power through potential pandemic - Electric utilities may be affected by the outbreak of novel coronavirus in the U.S. and should prepare to operate with up to 40% of their workforce out sick or quarantined, according to a recent Edison Electric Institute report advising the industry on pandemic plans. That figure raises questions about whether power plant and grid employees will have to risk exposure to continue service, especially given that power is essential to other institutions strained by the outbreak, such as hospitals. Domestic utilities and grid operators contacted by S&P Global Market Intelligence said they would address local outbreaks on a case-by-case basis, evacuate and disinfect workplaces exposed to the virus, and restrict access to critical areas. Travel restrictions are quickly spreading: PJM Interconnection, the country's largest grid operator, has limited employee travel and canceled an upcoming seminar for operators. "We felt it was not prudent to have a concentration of grid operators in one place," wrote PJM officials in an email to stakeholders. Other grid operators have followed suit. New York ISO announced in a March 9 press release an "indefinite suspension" of all in-person stakeholder meetings, while only Midcontinent ISO employees who are essential to operations can now access control centers. MISO facilities visitors will need to answer travel- and health-related questions before entering. Responding to questions about the outbreak, Craig Cano, spokesman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, pointed to a reference guide by the North American Electric Reliability Council. He noted that there are "no specific references to disease outbreaks in the NERC standards" but that "NERC does require that the registered entities plan for and conduct operations during emergency conditions." Registered entities include power plants and transmission control rooms, the spokesman said. "We expect that generating plants and transmission control rooms would have procedures in place to ensure that they could be staffed appropriately," Cano said. The NERC guidelines do not directly outline when or if a power plant would need to be shut down.

U.S.: Renewables generated more electricity than coal in February - The unthinkable occurred in the U.S. last month: In the dead of winter, renewable energy (utility-scale solar, wind and hydropower) generated more electricity than did coal plants.This has never happened before.Specifically, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) newhourly electric grid monitor, renewables generated 56,981,597 megawatt-hours of electricity during February while coal produced 54,733,731 MWh.The data comes with a few caveats. EIA notes that the numbers are not final (there is a two-month lag until numbers are confirmed in the Administration’s Electric Power Monthly) and that the new web-based resource is still undergoing beta testing. Still, the likelihood that renewable generation outperformed coal during the winter, historically a high-demand season for coal-fired generators, is a clear sign of the rapid transition that is reshaping the U.S. electricity sector.The first time renewables outproduced coal, last April, was a landmark month (see: April is shaping up to be momentous in transition from coal to renewables). February 2020’s results are, if anything, even more important given the time of the year and some of the underlying data. As we noted at the time, the April 2019 results were somewhat influenced by the industry practice of taking coal plants offline during lower-demand seasons (spring and fall) to perform maintenance and upgrades in preparation for higher energy demand during the summer and winter months.Even more interesting is comparing the daily figures of coal generation last April with this February’s results. February l ogged 11 days when coal-fired generation totaled less than 1.8 million megawatt-hours (MWh); last April witnessed only five such days. At the other extreme, April 2019 marked 13 days when coal-fired generation topped 2 million MWh; February 2020  recorded only eight. Most tellingly, for the month as a whole, coal generated an average of 1.98 million MWh daily last April; while this February the daily average was just 1.88 million MWh. All of this EIA data can be found here.

Coal-Fired Power Plants Hit a Milestone in Reduced Operation -Coal-fired power plants are retreating from the market in at least two big ways. One is hard to miss: Many plants are closing. The other is more subtle: Remaining plants are running much less often than before. Newly released figures from the Energy Information Administration show that coal plants in the United States had a "capacity factor" of 47.5 percent in 2019, the first time it's been below 50 percent in decades of available records. This means that the total electricity production from the country's roughly 310 remaining coal plants was less than half of what it would have been, had every plant operated every hour at full capacity.The percentage is remarkably low considering that coal plants also are closing at a rapid rate, which means the plants still operating are some of the most efficient and profitable. The fact that even these plants are being used less than they were shows fundamental changes in the economics of generating electricity, with coal losing ground even more than might be apparent from just looking at plant closings. It also raises questions about why utilities aren't being more aggressive in closing coal plants. At least some of that reluctance is because companies are still paying off the costs of building the plants or of environmental retrofits, an obstacle some states are looking to address. Gas-fired power plants can run much less expensively than coal plants, and the emissions from gas plants are less, although still significant. Another factor is the growth of wind and solar power, which also are less expensive than coal-fired power.

Nearly $640 billion coal investments undercut by cheap renewables: research - (Reuters) - Nearly $640 billion of investment in coal power capacity worldwide is at risk because it is cheaper to generate electricity from new renewables, research by think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative showed on Thursday. Institutional investors are increasingly withdrawing from fossil fuel companies due to the risk their assets will become stranded as tougher emissions-cuts targets discourage their use and renewable energy becomes even cheaper. The report examined the economics of 95% of coal plants which are operating, under construction or planned worldwide. Globally, 499 gigawatts (GW) of new coal power capacity is planned or under construction with an investment cost of $638 billion. More than 60% of global coal plants are currently generating electricity at a higher cost than could be produced by building new renewables. By 2030 at the latest, it will be cheaper to build new wind or solar capacity than continue operating coal in all markets, the report said. The capital recovery period for new investments in coal capacity is usually 15 to 20 years, making these investments risky.

As Investors and Insurers Back Away, the Economics of Coal Turn Toxic -  Any day now, New York State will be coal-free. Its last coal-fired power station, at Somerset on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, will shut for good as the winter ends. Remember when Donald Trump promised to bring back coal? Well, three years on, coal’s decline is accelerating — in the United States and worldwide. With the fuel unable to compete in most places with natural gas, nuclear, and renewables, the mining and burning of coal is increasingly toxic economically as well as environmentally. Coal mines are becoming “stranded assets” — unlikely ever to pay off the costs of their development. The risks for financiers are becoming too great. Now, even insurance companies are refusing to underwrite coal-fired power plants and coal mining ventures. And without insurance, say gleeful climate campaigners, coal is dead. Coal burning worldwide fell a further 3 percent last year, the biggest decline yet from a peak in 2013. That trend is unlikely to change. The number of new coal plants that began construction worldwide fell by 84 percent between 2015 and 2018, according to NGOs tracking the demise. Across the developed world, coal’s contribution to keeping the lights on is in freefall. Despite the Trump administration’s dismissal of the climate crisis, the U.S. is proving no exception. Twelve years ago, 45 percent of U.S. electricity was generated by burning coal. The figure is now 24 percent and falling fast. Since Trump arrived in the White House, 39,0000 megawatts of coal-burning power plants have been retired across the U.S. and none commissioned. Starved of markets, eight U.S. coal mining companies filed for bankruptcy last year. They included the largest surviving private company, Murray Energy, owned by Robert Murray, a prominent Trump backer.Investors face growing pressure to pull the plug on coal from climate campaigners, many of whom see shutting off financing as the best route to hobble the fossil fuel industry. And investors see little reason to push back against the pressure since coal represents an escalating financial as well as reputational risk as demand shrinks, regulators turn up the heat on CO2 emissions, and rival cleaner fuels become cheaper.

Indiana approves coal-to-diesel plant that's above cancer risk levels -- Indiana environmental regulators have approved a toxic polluting facility in southern Indiana that at least a dozen other states would have either denied or required additional controls. It's a decision that, for some, raises questions about whether Indiana is putting industry concerns ahead of the state's obligation to protect Hoosiers from exposure to emissions that are known to cause cancers and other serious health effects. It's also not new. IndyStar analyzed roughly 20 similar permits approved since 2007 and found that in nine of those cases the plants' expected emissions exceeded the cancer risk threshold set by Indiana's own regulators. The latest example is Riverview Energy Corporation’s $2.5-billion coal-to-diesel plant planned for Spencer County. The plant would be the first-of-its-kind in the U.S, and has been controversial since it was proposed. But local and national environmental groups are now concerned that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued the permit, even though the plant’s emissions are expected to produce a cancer risk that is nearly 13 times greater than Indiana’s stated "level of concern." IndyStar's review found that many states have enforceable standards that are set at levels that would have required officials to deny Riverview's permit. In Indiana, however, its cancer risk threshold is merely a guideline. “Being above the cancer risk threshold was just a shot in the gut, you know,” said Mary Hess, who leads Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life, a group that started in opposition to the Riverview plant. “It just really makes me angry that they think it’s okay.” Hess’ group and the environmental law organization Earthjustice are now challenging this permit before a judge, leaving it and the facility’s fate up in the air. Riverview officials, however, are steadfast on keeping the project moving forward. Riverview deferred questions about the project and its permit to IDEM. IDEM told IndyStar that it believes it followed its policies in the case of Riverview, but would not comment further because of the ongoing legal challenge.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines cancer risk as the elevated risk of getting cancer from exposure to toxic or hazardous air pollutants, known as HAPs — the kind emitted from plants such as Riverview. These pollutants are known to cause or may cause cancer as well as other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects.  According to IDEM's policies, the agency considers a cancer risk above one in 1 million — meaning up to one person, out of 1 million, is likely to contract cancer — “to be a level of concern.” The risk level for Riverview, according to the permit, is nearly 13 in one million.

Indiana coal bill: Republicans push legislation to governor's desk --Indiana’s coal bill is heading to the governor’s desk as legislation that would extend the life of the state’s coal-fired power plants for a year — following a seesaw battle between lawmakers over its major tenets.House Bill 1414 advanced out of conference committee Tuesday morning, but not before the leaders of Indiana's House and Senate, both of them Republicans, replaced the committee's Democrats, both of whom opposed the measure, with fellow party members who provided the votes needed to approve it. The conference committee report passed out of the House on Tuesday 55 to 38, and narrowly was voted out of the Senate that evening by a 28-21 vote. A spokeswoman for Gov. Eric Holcomb said Tuesday that he "will review the legislation."The bill largely reverted to its House version, which was embraced by coal interests but criticized by environmental activists and some business interests as an industry bailout. That said, the bill no longer has some of the original and more controversial language that likely would have raised ratepayers' bills.House Bill 1414 squeaked out of the House early last month with provisions that would make it harder for utilities to shutter coal-fired plants and created an incentive for utilities to buy more coal. The Senate made changes that watered down the House bill: It moved the bill's expiration up by four months, and took out the need of the state's utility regulatory commission to analyze and issue a report on a utilities plan to retire a coal plant. But those changes were rejected by the House, sending the bill to conference committee.

Duke, Dominion, Southern won't hit clean energy targets at current pace: Report -- Duke Energy, Dominion Energy and Southern Company are not making investments consistent with their clean energy goals, according to a report released Monday from Synapse Energy Economics. The three utilities make up 4.2% of total U.S. carbon emissions and 12.4% of U.S. power sector emissions, which constitute about a third of U.S. overall emissions, according to the report. All three utilities have ambitious carbon reduction goals — Duke and Dominion are aiming for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, while Southern is aiming for "low-to-no" emissions by that time. But under the utilities' current plans, those goals will not be reached by 2030 if those companies keep their coal plants online as long as is currently planned and continue aggressive natural gas buildouts, according to the Synapse report, prepared for the nonpartisan, nonprofit group Majority Action. Over 50 utilities across the U.S. have some sort of carbon reduction goal,according to the Smart Electric Power Alliance, but as more utilities aim for ambitious clean energy targets, some groups worry their actions may not match their commitments. When Duke first announced its mid-century goals, for example, many were skeptical of the utility's strategy behind that plan, which relies heavily on natural gas buildouts through the 2030s. And Dominion's announcement earlier this year came alongside the purchase of an additional share of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which both utilities say will be critical to their long-term gas needs. "The near-term actions [of these companies] aren't consistent," with a net-zero 2050 goal, or with the more incremental but still substantial carbon reductions needed to get to that mid-century figure, Bruce Biewald, founder and CEO of Synapse and co-author of the report told Utility Dive. "[C]ontrary to what Southern Company, Dominion Energy, and Duke Energy say on their websites, in television ads, and in shareholder reports and pamphlets, the three companies are thus far taking minimal actions to decarbonize their electricity systems," according to the report. "[N]one of the three companies examined in this report will meet their 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goals under their current resource plans."

 This Tennessee community is keeping a federal utility under pressure to clean up coal ash --Sharon Todd was one of more than 100 people, most of them older adults, packed into a small, bright Claxton, Tennessee, courtroom on a rainy night in mid- February. She and her neighbors wanted to make sure county officials heard concerns about public health and environmental risks of coal ash, the byproduct of burning coal for electricity that contains radioactive materials and heavy metalsknown to cause birth defects, cancer, and chronic heart and lung diseases. “We don’t have to sit back and accept what [TVA] want[s] to do,” said Todd, who is near retirement. “We can have some input.” The landfill, quietly proposed in 2015, was originally going to store new coal ash for the TVA’s 58-year-old Bull Run Fossil Plant. Then, last summer, TVA announced it would close the plant by 2023. But the utility didn’t have plans to clean up the site’s unlined clay coal ash pit three miles west of town, which borders the Clinch River, a public drinking water source. Their solution was to cap the 5 million tons of coal ash in place.The pit is partially submerged in groundwater, and the TVA’s 2019 monitoring data shows arsenic, a known carcinogen, is already leaking from at least two groundwater wells up to eight times above federal drinking water standards. The TVA insists drinking water is safe in Claxton and in downstream communities like Oak Ridge and West Knoxville. Residents aren’t convinced — and they’re leery of the TVA’s new plans to approve a permit for the lined landfill near their homes, which could be a future home for millions of tons of contaminated waste.Out of 737 coal ash sites in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, almost all are in unlined ponds and are polluting groundwater above safe drinking water standards, according to utility data gathered by environmental group EarthJustice. The Southeast is home to nearly half of those sites. As utilities close uneconomical, aging coal-fired power plants at a near-record pace — despite the Trump administration’s efforts to prop up the industry and loosen regulations on coal ash disposal — one of the most pressing questions for communities is if, and how, utilities will clean up the waste.

Federal power plant in Tennessee looking to dump coal ash on SC - Don’t dump more coal ash in South Carolina, state legislators are telling the federal government, and are adding a cost for it. A state Senate bill filed Thursday would tack on a $30-per-ton surcharge for dumping coal ash in a landfill in a county with fewer than 150,000 people, which in this case is meant to include tiny Bishopville in the Pee Dee. The bill came in response to the federal Tennessee Valley Authority announcing a $300 million plan to move toxin-laden coal ash from a retired plant in Memphis to one of six landfills off-site. The landfill list includes Bishopville in Lee County. The 3.5 million cubic yards to be dumped would be enough to fill 14 football fields as high as the goal posts. The surcharge would cost the TVA about $140 million more. State Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, the bill’s main sponsor, said trying to ban the dumping outright would create legal problems. “You start to worry about interstate commerce if you just say ‘we’re banning all of this stuff from coming into our state,’ ” said McElveen, whose district includes Lee County. “I think we’re creating an impossible situation by adding a per-ton surcharge on top of whatever the landfill charges,” he said, adding that the fight against out-of-state dumping is “nothing new for South Carolina. We’ve fought these kind of battles for years.”

People Get Answers To What's In Their Water As Clock Ticks On Coal Ash Bills - Fletcher Sams of the Altamaha Riverkeeper guided his truck down a long muddy road to Ken and Dorothy Krakow’s home on the banks of the Ocmulgee River. With him in a notebook were the results of their well testing. He laid out the bad news on their kitchen table after digging through his notebook with data from over 60 other homes.   “It is tied at the very highest for the worst,” he said. Dorothy Krakow buried her face in her hands at the news. Ken Krakow cracked a joke.  “Yeah. Wow. Congratulations to us,” he said. “What’s going on?”  Sams went on to explain that the Krakow’s water is contaminated with a cancer causing heavy metal called hexavalent chromium. They aren’t alone. People all around the town of Juliette are beginning to get answers about what harmful substances might be in their drinking water. They wanted Sams to find out because they are anxious after decades of living next to the coal ash pond at Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer, which they now know is partially submerged in the aquifer from which they draw their drinking water. Meanwhile, a pair of bills aimed at storing toxic coal ash away from drinking water look like they may not make it through Crossover Day. That’s when bills from one side of the legislature pass to another, part of the path to the governor’s desk.  While some want more evidence that coal ash is causing harm in Georgia before acting on the bills, for many in Juliette, uncertainty is reason enough.  At their kitchen table, Sams explained to the Krakows their water is over 500 times the hexavalent chromium health advisory limit in California. It’s also about 150 times the limit in North Carolina. Here in Georgia, their number has no context.  “There’s only two states in the Union who have limits on hexavalent chromium. Georgia is not one of them,” he told them.  Georgia follows EPA coal ash rules which only consider total chromium content, and other types of chromium are less toxic than hexavalent chromium. Plus, despite more than a decade of work that is still ongoing, the EPA has still not settled on guidelines for human toxicity of hexavalent chromium. So Georgia Power’s contamination of the aquifer from which the Krakows and their neighbors draw their drinking water is within legal limits.

No New Black Lung Benefits, West Virginia Miners Seek Changes -  The 2020 West Virginia legislative session has ended with no new legislation addressing black lung benefits, leaving former and current coal miners to depend on waning federal benefits to combat the lifelong disease.   The Kanawha County chapter of the Black Lung Association -- which includes about 30 current and former coal miners, wives, widows and volunteers -- lobbied local legislators this past year to no avail. Last week the group celebrated its one-year anniversary while discussing what the future will look like for miners at its’ monthly meeting in Cabin Creek, West Virginia.  Cabin Creek has a long history with coal mining and strife between union workers and the coal companies over wages. In 1912 the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike resulted in a year-long, deadly battle, and over 200 miners were arrested, and even 108 years later, the resentment is palpable. John Ingram has black lung, a crippling disease caused by the inhalation of coal and silica dust. He worked underground and on surface mines as an electrician.“I get a little frustrated because coal companies for years, I mean before I was born even, got away with whatever they wanted to get away with,” Ingram said. “And somebody needs to stop them, hold them accountable. After all we made the money for them.”These days, miners are still fighting, albeit nonviolently, through the bureaucratic system for federal black lung benefits. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fundprovides some miners disabled by black lung with monthly payments and medical benefits. Coal companies pay into it through a per-ton tax on coal. But the fund is more than $4 billion in debt, and as coal companies increasingly file for bankruptcy it is facing insolvency more quickly than predicted.For miners, getting approved for the federal benefits is time consuming. Jerry Coleman, the chapter’s president, fought for seven years. He said many of the men in the room have been denied and are trying to appeal.“Yeah I’ve got 37 years in the coal mines,” he said. “Some of them they’ve got 30 some years in the coal mines, and they’re getting turned down. There’s something wrong.”

Georgia Power’s Vogtle nuclear facility hits major milestone - Georgia Power ordered the first nuclear fuel load for Vogtle Unit 4 at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Waynesboro, Ga. It was the second major milestone for the facility in the last 12 months as fuel for Unit 3 was ordered last summer. They are the first newly designed nuclear reactors built in the United States in 30 years. The fuel will eventually be loaded into the reactor vessels to support startup once the reactors begin operating. After the initial fueling, approximately one-third of the total fuel assemblies will be replaced during each refueling outage after the units begin operating. It is similar to the process used at the existing Vogtle units 1 & 2. Also, workers have installed 10 of the 16 shield building panels around the Unit 4 containment vessel. The shields provide an additional layer of safety around the containment vessel and nuclear reactor to protect the structure from any potential impacts. The Vogtle 3 & 4 units represent the largest construction projects in the state of Georgia. There are more than 9,000 workers currently on-site with more than 800 permanent jobs created once the units begin operating. The project is now approximately 84 percent complete..

Peach Bottom nuclear plant gets 20-year extension --A York County nuclear plant is now licensed to operate an additional 20 years past its 60-year license. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the extension request from Exelon Generation for Units 2 and 3 on Friday after a 20-month review process. Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, in Peach Bottom Township, is only the second plant in the country to be approved for operation past 60 years. Florida Power and Light's Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station in Florida, was the first. Exelon executives lauded the extension. "The ability to operate Peach Bottom for another 20 years is good news for the environment, our employees and the community,” said Bryan Hanson, Exelon's chief nuclear officer, in a news release. Dominion Energy has an application under review for a second renewal for two units at Surry Power Station and has submitted a letter of intent to do the same for North Anna Nuclear Generating Station. Both plants are in Virginia. Duke Energy also submitted a letter of intent for three units at Oconee Nuclear Station in South Carolina. Second renewals have been a point of controversy among anti-nuclear activists, who say not enough is known about the effects of aging on nuclear equipment.

 Bernie's nuclear plan, explained – Politico - Sen. Bernie Sandershas pledged to secure 100 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and he'd do so in part by ending new licenses to nuclear power plants. But his opposition to nuclear energy may not be as radical as his critics fear,Pro's Gavin Bade reports this morning. Sanders' campaign says he would not order the vast majority of existing reactors in the U.S. to shut down, and campaign aides privately acknowledge that Sanders will lack the tools to bring an end to nuclear power within the next decade.Sanders' opposition to nuclear power stands in contrast to former Vice President Joe Biden, who promises to "identify the future of nuclear power," including new waste disposal systems and small, modular reactors that the industry hopes will be safer and easier to deploy. The nuclear issue could affect upcoming Democratic primaries in states like Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio and Connecticut, where state nuclear subsidies keep plants running and employ thousands of union jobs. Sanders' allies say the candidate would prioritize phasing out natural gas and coal-fired power before shutting any nuclear generators. The campaign declined to give further detail on how it would ensure nuclear plants are not replaced by gas, but emphasized Sanders' call for a complete phase-out of fossil fuels and a ban on hydraulic fracking for gas.

Cancer in US Navy Nuclear Powered Ships -In 2014 I was engaged by some California attorneys to advise on a court case being taken against the Japanese company TEPCO and the US reactor makers GEC on behalf of the sailors who served on the aircraft-carrier. A significant number of the Ronald Reagan crew were reporting a wide range of weird illnesses including cancers, all of which they were attributing to their radiation exposures. In 2014, following all the publicity about the cancers, a number of US Senators and important people were asking pertinent questions—the Navy had to do something to answer the accusations that the Fukushima radiation was killing those who sailed on Operation Tomodachi. They panicked. A big report was prepared by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency. This report rambled on about how low the Fukushima doses were, how everyone acted wonderfully and how all the radioactivity was rapidly cleaned up. The dose reconstruction showed no one got more than a fraction of the Natural Background dose and so forth. We have been here regularly.   Since no-one believes any of this dose bullshit any more, to prove that there was no cancer excess, the Navy took one step too far. They reported the results of their own epidemiology study which they carried out on the Ronald Reagan sailors. This compared the illness yield (including cancers) of the 4,843 RR sailors with a matched control group of 65,269 sailors on nuclear powered ships that were not anywhere near Fukushima. The period of analysis was from 2011 to 2013, about 3 years. This showed that there were more cancers in the control group over that period. The idea clearly was to knock on the head any suggestion that the radiation from Fukushima was the cause of the cancers and other stuff that was the basis of the court case. And this it apparently did. Their move was to compare the matched “unexposed” control group with the Ronald Reagan group. There were 30% more cancers in the control group after adjusting for age. But what I did was to compare the control group with the National population, using data on cancer rates by age group from the SEER database [3]. The result showed an astonishing 9.2-fold excess of cancer in the sailors on nuclear-powered vessels. There were 121 cancers predicted on the basis of the national rates, and 1119 reported by the DTRA study. For the Reagans it was about 6-fold with 46 reported and 7.76 expected. Now this result is astonishing. I wrote my study up for a good scientific peer reviewed journal, and it was published last week [4]. You can find it on if you can’t afford the journal cost.

Utica Shale well activity as of March 7

  • DRILLED: 165 (162 as of last week)
  • DRILLING: 110 (111)
  • PERMITTED: 478 (476)
  • PRODUCING: 2,451 (2,451)
  • TOTAL: 3,204 (3,200)

Four horizontal permits were issued during the week that ended March 7, and 12 rigs were operating in the Utica Shale

Court Stalls Fracking Leases in Ohio's Only National Forest - ― A federal judge today stalled oil and gas leasing in Ohio’s Wayne National Forest, ruling that the Trump administration failed to consider threats to public health, endangered species and watersheds before opening more than 40,000 acres of the forest for fracking.U.S. District Judge Michael Watson said the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management “demonstrated a disregard for the different types of impacts caused by fracking in the Forest. The agencies made decisions premised on a faulty foundation.” Watson’s ruling requires the agencies to redo their environmental analysis of the potential harms from fracking in the Wayne.“We’re thrilled the court is requiring the Trump administration to examine fracking’s serious threats to our air, water and forest wildlife,” said Wendy Park, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Fracking is a dirty, dangerous business. This ruling helps ensure the health of this spectacular forest and its endangered animals and protects the water source for millions of people.”In May 2017 conservation groups sued the Forest Service and the BLM over plans to permit fracking in the Wayne, saying federal officials had relied on an outdated plan and ignored significant environmental threats before approving fracking in the forest. The lawsuit also aimed to void two BLM lease sales. The court will decide later whether to void those existing leases, but a planned March sale will likely be postponed. In today’s ruling the judge said the agencies ignored potential harm from fracking to endangered Indiana bats, the waters of the Little Muskingum River and the region’s air quality.

Mountaineer NGL storage project loses its environmental permit - Powhatan Salt company and the sponsors of the Mountaineer Storage Project, a natural gas liquids (NGL) storage facility in Dilles Bottom, Ohio, allowed a state environmental permit to expire last week. Why give up a permit they worked hard to secure from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR)? The answer is that construction of the project’s most promising potential customer, the PTT Global Chemical (PTTGC) Petrochemical Complex, has been delayed due to the weakened state of cracker plant and plastic markets. It is a chicken and egg problem. The storage facility can secure the required permits and even line up financing, as it has with Goldman Sachs’ merchant banking arm. But in order to start construction, the storage facility needs an anchor that will actually commit to using its capacity. PTTGC, a company based in Thailand, first announced its interest in building a multi-billion-dollar cracker plant on the Ohio River in 2015.    PTTGC has continually delayed making a final decision on moving forward with the cracker, and now is saying it will decide by the summer of 2020. PTTGC has solid reasons for not proceeding with its planned complex. The company’s profits were down by 58% in 2019. It is also fielding a number of substantial projects in other parts of the world.  PTTGC’s appetite for expansion led Moody’s recently to conclude last month:  “[Our] estimates incorporate [our] expectation that PTTGC will significantly reduce its shareholder returns and not embark on any new capacity expansion plan until margins improve on a sustained basis.” (Emphasis added.) It is unlikely that 2020 will be a year when the company’s margins improve, as plastic prices have started the year low and the Chinese market, a major buyer of PTTGC’s products, is showing signs of a slow year. Starting a new expansion now would be a risk to the company’s credit rating. Clearly, the State of Ohio wants to provide support to both PTTGC and the storage facility. JobsOhio, the state’s privatized economic development arm, has provided  $50 million in pre-development grants  to PTTGC in the past two years as an incentive for the company to move forward with the full investment (and the agency previously granted $17 million to the former owners of the site for clean-up and preparation).  ODNR granted a permit for the storage facility even though the company was not prepared to move forward with construction in a timely manner.

Mammoth Cracker Plant Presents Huge Opportunity --The enormous Royal Dutch Shell petrochemical complex taking shape along the Ohio River in Monaca, Pa., is quite a sight. Sprawled across the 386-acre site in Beaver County are multiple buildings from one-level units to structures several stories high – and construction cranes that reach into the sky.On the ground are 7,500 workers daily – 1,000 on the night shift.    “We are at the peak construction phase,” says Shell spokesman Ray Fisher. “Site workers have erected all of the larger vertical structures, and we are at the stage where we are connecting everything via many miles of pipe and building out the electrical scope across 386 acres.  “To give you a sense of how extensive that work is, one of the site’s units – the ethane cracker – contains a network of 95 miles of pipes,” he continues.  Given the concentration of wet gases found in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays in the Greater Pittsburgh region and eastern Ohio, and the extraction of these gases through the hydraulic fracturing process that took hold here a decade ago, the region could accommodate four more ethane cracker plants, experts say. And at least two are being actively explored.  ExxonMobil Corp. scouted locations last fall in Beaver County for construction of its own ethane cracker plant, according to published reports. And in Ohio, PTT Global Chemical America continues to evaluate the possibility of developing a cracker plant on a site in Belmont County. “We anticipate a final investment decision in the first half of this year,” says Dan Williamson, spokesman for PTT Global and its partner, Daelim Chemical USA. JobsOhio, the state’s private nonprofit economic development corporation, has provided PTT more than $70 million in grants to underwrite the project.  “JobsOhio’s assistance facilitates the efforts of PTTGCA and Daelim Chemical USA to move forward on critical site-related engineering and site preparation work in a comprehensive and timely manner,” says JobsOhio spokesman Matt Englehart.

Court sides with Grant Township on injection well -- A state appeals court has turned aside an appeal by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and left standing a home rule charter adopted by a northern Indiana County municipality in a bid to control its own local environment. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled Wednesday against the DEP’s petition to invalidate the Grant Township home rule form of government. The judges called the effort a “collateral attack” and said it was “without merit.” The township has been backed for several years by The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) in its mission to halt the planned construction of an injection well, using a spent natural gas well near East Run for the disposal of fluids and other waste drawn from gas well drilling and exploration by Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE). The ruling, according to CELDF community organizer Chad Nicholson, “allows Grant Township to argue that local governing authority is necessary to protect the community’s constitutional rights in the face of harmful state oil and gas policies.” Grant Township, a community of about 700 with no commercial properties within its borders, has fought the PGE plan for the fracking water disposal site since 2014. CELDF attorneys defended the township against lawyers for DEP in a hearing Oct. 4 before a panel of Commonwealth Court judges in Pittsburgh. Township residents voted in 2015 to adopt a home rule charter form of local government which carried a “community bill of rights,” drafted with assistance of CELDF. The bill of rights asserted that the township has final control over use of local land, but the DEP charged that the local ordinance usurped the state’s authority to grant permits for allowed uses of land. DEP brought the township to court, charging that the local charter interfered with its ability to enforce state oil and gas policy.

Enverus releases report on US natural gas - Enverus, an oil and gas SaaS and data analytics company, has released its latest FundamentalEdge report, Marcellus Natural Gas Flows, which is focused on natural gas production and pipeline flow patterns in the Marcellus and Utica formations in the Northeast, MidAtlantic, and Midwestern regions of the US.   Enverus analysts examine the history of these two prolific natural gas plays, their tremendous growth over the last decade, pipeline bottlenecks and flow patterns, regional export opportunities, and life in what seems to be a never-ending low price environment.“As the number one producer of natural gas in the world, the US continues to suffer from growing pains and that’s most obvious in the Northeastern US,” said Rob McBride, Senior Director, Strategy and Analytics at Enverus.“However, on a macro scale, we can look to this region as a case study for the country as a whole. Just as production here surpassed local demand, the US nationally has overproduced and surpassed demand domestically and needs more outlets to share its pent-up natural gas with the world. We are seeing the benefits from the call years ago for more pipelines and tactical ways to move Marcellus and Utica gas to the markets who demand it. It’s a microcosm of our new, global outlook in exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) worldwide,” McBride said. “To add insult to injury for today’s current natural gas pains, the elephant in the room now is the coronavirus,” added McBride. “While many are focused on suppressed demand for crude oil – natural gas’ higher valued hydrocarbon partner – there will be an impact on the gas market as well. Unlike oil, which is much more a global commodity, natural gas prices in the US are mostly impacted by US gas fundamentals. Still, all hydrocarbons are tied together at the drill bit, and one will affect the other,” he added.

Analysts expect gas producers to gain amid oil losses - The loss to U.S. shale oil producers could allow the region’s gas-focused producers to benefit, as production cuts due to low oil prices are likely to ease the supply glut in the gas market, Kallanish Energy reports. According to analysts, while Permian oil drillers will be forced to cut down drilling and development activities to survive, associated gas output is expected to fall. This would give gas drillers in the Appalachia’s Marcellus and Utica shales a potential advantage. If they also curb their production, U.S. gas prices could rise. Gas prices could surpass $3 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) if oil prices stay low and shale gas producers stick to their own cuts, Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. analysts said in a note on Monday. “Add it all up, and it’s possible we exit the year with a 3 Bcf/d (billion cubic feet per day) undersupplied gas market,” they forecast. Goldman Sachs estimated that there could be a drop of 1 Bcf/d of U.S. gas production if oil companies continue to invest in a scenario of WTI prices around $30-45 a barrel. On Tuesday, the U.S. benchmark future was trading up by 6.07%, or $1.89, at $33.02. The gain follow a massive price crash on Monday. On a less optimistic note, Jane Trotsenko, shale analyst at investment bank Stifel Nicolaus & Co., said that natural gas traders need “clear evidence of improving supply-demand fundamentals … in order to update their Henry Hub forward curve expectations, which in turn will drive natural gas stocks higher.” She noted earlier this month that it usually takes three to six months for the rig count to respond and six to nine months for production to moderate. “We need to see lower rig count and production cuts in oil plays to become more positive on the (gas) space,” said Trotsenko.

Analyst: Oil price war might actually be good for Pennsylvania shale industry -Saudi Arabia and Russia are in the midst of a price war against one another that is also meant to hurt American oil companies, and analysts say it could hurt American shale companies that produce oil. But it might not actually hurt the shale gas industry in Pennsylvania, according to one analyst. That’s because the companies that drill for oil in places like Texas and North Dakota also extract natural gas — mostly as a byproduct — and if they stop drilling for oil, their natural gas output will fall, too. “The ramifications of that is … oil production will start to decline. The associated gas that comes with it will start to decline” too, said Sam Andrus, executive director of North American natural gas, for the IHS Markit. That could increase demand from the gas-rich Utica and Marcellus shale region in Pennsylvania, said Anne Robba, head of Americas gas & power for S&P Global Platts. “If we do lose that kind of (natural gas) volume from crude producers, (the market) is going to turn to Marcellus producers in Pennsylvania to make up” for the loss in production, Robba said. “Because they’re able to ramp up volumes fairly quickly to meet demand.” Prices for natural gas, at some of their lowest levels since the 1970s, have actually increased this week, by about 10 percent since Monday, Robba said. “What we’re actually seeing is a strengthening of natural gas prices,” she said. At the same time, oil prices have crashed around 20 percent to $33 a barrel. And the trend may not end soon.

Why falling oil prices could boost the Marcellus Shale  - The Saudi-Russia spat that sent oil prices plunging over the weekend could be bad news for Permian Basin oil producers — which could, maybe, be slightly good news for Marcellus and Utica natural gas producers. At least that's one of the thoughts driving Wall Street, where several publicly traded natural gas producers saw their shares go up Friday despite the 256-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average and the general coronavirus-fueled volatility of global markets. Observers believe the spread of the coronavirus will continue to cut global oil demand. Evercore ISI reported Monday that there will probably be near zero growth in demand for oil in the near term. And it looks like at least some companies in the Permian Basin agree. Exxon Mobil Corp. confirmed Thursday it was cutting its rig count in the Permian Basin to what its CEO Darren Woodstold the Associated Press were "a very challenging short-term margin environment which is now being compounded by the growing economic impact of the coronavirus." How would that impact producers in the Marcellus and Utica Shales, which are already getting knocked around by falling natural gas prices and oversupply that has forced them to cut spending and lay off employees? Because the strong growth of the Permian Basin is one of the reasons why the Marcellus and Utica, one of the global centers of natural gas production, has seen hard times. Natural gas is a byproduct of oil production in the Permian, and sold for low prices there, swamping supply. A cut to oil and natural gas production there could be good for prices here in the long run, observers say.

Groups rally against tax breaks for petrochemical manufacturers - Environmental groups from throughout the state gathered in Harrisburg on Monday to rally against tax breaks for some natural gas manufacturers. Environmental groups and legislators from throughout the state gathered in Harrisburg on Monday to rally against hefty tax breaks for some natural gas manufacturers. Representatives from PennFuture, the Breathe Project and nearly three dozen other organizations spoke out against House Bill 1100 in the Capitol rotunda, urging Gov. Tom Wolf to veto the bill passed with bipartisan support last month. HB 1100 would establish multi-million-dollar tax breaks for companies investing at least $450 million to build a manufacturing plant that creates a minimum of 800 combined temporary and permanent jobs. The incentive is similar to what Shell Chemicals received years ago to build its petrochemical complex in Potter Township. The new program would cost $22 million annually per plant in missed taxes until the strategy ends in 2050. It encourages the use of natural gas across the board, roping in fertilizer manufacturers. Speakers argued the subsidy’s return on investment would include health complications and environmental degradation related to natural gas extraction. Others said clean energy companies should be included in the tax breaks. “No industry is entitled to an open-ended tax credit,” said PennFuture president Jacquelyn Bonomo. “The entitlement mindset of this industry is unacceptable to communities who refuse to be soaked in toxins in exchange for jobs. The days where Pennsylvanians must accept pollution in exchange for progress must come to an end.”

Fire Put Out at PBF's Delaware City Refinery, Two Injured   - PBF ENERGY said a fire that occurred at one operating unit at its Delaware City, Delaware, refinery on Wednesday has been extinguished and two employees are being treated for injuries. According to energy intelligence service Genscape, the fire is believed to have occurred at the 182,200 barrel-per-day refinery's alkylation unit. The refinery was expected to shut its alkylation unit in February-March 2020 for maintenance, according to a source familiar with the plant's operations. The company said the fire was reported around 1:40 p.m. EDT and all employees and contractors have been accounted for. The cause of the fire was unknown and an investigation will be conducted, PBF said in an emailed response. "Ambulances, medics and two medevac helicopters responded to the scene for reported injuries," said a local media report. A Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) camera showed "thick, black smoke with embedded flames shooting from the ground and also from a nearby smokestack," according to the report.

Oil and gas officials, West Virginia Chamber of Commerce optimistic of pipeline continuation  — Since December of 2018, work to complete the 600 mile Atlantic Coastal Pipeline has been halted, resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs and tens of thousands of dollars in revenue across the state. On Feb. 23, the U.S. Supreme Court appeared ready to remove an obstacle to construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, with a majority of justices expressing skepticism about a lower court ruling that tossed out a key permit needed for the natural gas pipeline to cross under the Appalachian Trail. Thanks to that skepticism, Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said he was optimistic the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the Fourth Circuit’s decision that the U.S. Forest Service did not have the authority to grant a right of way allowing the pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest. “These pipelines are vitally important, not only to West Virginia oil and gas, but to end users where gas is being transported, and it’s [needed] to make sure we have adequate national security and are able to produce energy within our country,” he said. Burd said Dominion stopped the progress on the pipeline in December of 2018, and “pipeliners in the hundreds went to work on other pipelines in other parts of the country” while Dominion did its best to retain as many as possible in the area. Due to the stoppage, Burd said hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost by local vendors in taxes, groceries, leasing spaces, camping areas and more. Burd said he hopes to see the pipeline continue, which would provide benefits to well beyond just the oil and gas industry. Steven Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, confirmed the adverse effects the pipeline stoppage has had on the workers and economy of the Mountain State. “The economic impact on West Virginia is substantial. It has caused many, many construction workers to go without work this winter and a great deal of lost tax revenue. We have a lot of natural gas in West Virginia, way more than previously thought, (but) the markets for the gas are larger outside of West Virginia. Our ability to produce and collect severance tax is impeded if we can’t sell the gas out of state.,”

Pipeline protesters try to stop work at TransCanada building in Charleston -   — A large group of pipeline protesters inside and outside of the TC Energy/old Columbia Gas building in Charleston drew a heavy police presence on Monday morning.The group, Appalachians Against Pipelines (AAP), stood in solidarity with the Indigenous Wet’suwet’en people for more than three hours at the facility starting before 7 a.m. Dozens blocked elevators, stood outside of the main entrance and stopped work from happening inside. More than 100 people participated in the protest.According to a AAP release, the Indigenous Wet’suwet’en people are defending their un-ceded land in Canada, from the Coastal GasLink Pipeline and other unwanted, dangerous pipeline projects including the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The Coastal GasLink Pipeline is a project of TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada.“I’m here in solidarity with the Indigenous Wet’suwet’en people and all occupied Indigenous lands, in solidarity with missing and murdered Indigenous women and against extractive oil and petrochemical industries,” Sasha Irby, a protester from the New Orleans area told MetroNews.Irby, one of the vocal leaders, said the end goal is the end of extraction industries on Indigenous lands and to get their land back, as well as protection for their women.She held a sign in the shape of a red dress that symbolized the missing and murdered Indigenous women in both Canada and the United States. Other signs at the protest stood in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en, some saying “You Are On Stolen Land,” and others “Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.”  Four people locked their bodies together, by interlinking arms and locking their necks together, inside the lobby as part of the blockade. Outside of the building, the group raised a warrior flag symbolizing Indigenous power after taking down the American flag from the pole. “We have the Mountain Valley Pipeline going through where we are at,” Crystal Mello  told MetroNews. “The State of Virginia had a lawsuit against them and they pay a $2 million and suddenly everything is good, let’s go back to destroying the water, the mountains and the endangered species.”

National Grid holds first public meeting on gas supply options - Green-energy advocates on Monday crowded a public forum outlining options for the region’s future natural gas needs, urging National Grid and the state to opt for conservation and renewable sources instead of costly new measures to bolster supply. The meeting at the Hicksville Community Center was the first of six the company agreed to hold as part of a settlement with the state last year after its controversial moratorium on new gas hookups led Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to threaten to revoke the British-based company’s franchise to operate in the state. National Grid implemented the moratorium after the state twice rejected partner Williams Co.’s environmental permits for a 23.5-mile undersea gas pipeline called the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project to increase local supply by 14 percent. Protesters chanting, “The people have spoken — renewables now,” dominated the public speaking portion of the event, questioning assertions in National Grid’s report about the need for more natural gas, and demanding that the company follow mandates in new state climate law. “Bringing in more fracked, radioactive gas is not the answer,”National Grid employees manned stations at the community center, each outlining an option the company said will partly or fully alleviate a long-term supply shortage it predicts will impact the region over the next several years.  Among the options proposed were a new liquefied natural gas offshore port in either the Atlantic Ocean or the Long Island Sound at a cost of $1.9 billion to $2.22 billion; a new liquefied natural gas import terminal to be fed by tankers, at a cost of up to $2.78 billion; a peak-season liquid natural gas terminal at up to $2.54 billion; a series of barges to feed liquefied natural gas at up to $2.42 billion, and an expansion of natural gas capacity at a transmission line in Staten Island, at a cost of up to $2.63 billion.The company did not outline the impact any of the projects would have on rates.

Report Questions Claims of a Gas Shortage in Debate Over New NY Pipeline -A report released Monday by climate activists raises questions about the rationale for building new natural gas infrastructure in a state that has mandated a dramatic reduction in fossil-fuel use over the next three decades.The activists’ report comes ahead of a hearing Monday evening in which National Grid will present the findings of a study it released last month. That study projected demand for natural gas over the next 15 years and outlined ways to cover what the utility says will be a supply shortage—with the construction of a new pipeline as a top option.Monday’s meeting is one in a series that, along with National Grid’s study, were required under a settlement the utility reached last fall with the Cuomo administration, which hadthreatened to suspend National Grid’s license over the utility’s self-imposed moratorium on new gas connections.That dispute followed the state’s rejection last May of a permit for National Grid’s Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) project—a 24-mile underwater pipeline running from New Jersey to the Rockaways also known as the Williams Pipeline (Williams is the company that would build and operate it).The utility has appealed that denial and the Cuomo administration will have to decide by this May whether to again reject the project, which the Trump administration has discussed subverting state environmental authority in order to facilitate, or accept the construction of multimillion-dollar fossil-fuel infrastructure that will last for decades beyond the legal deadline for New York to move to other fuel sources.

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer slams National Grid - The government should consider launching a publicly-run energy utility if National Grid can’t help the city and state meet their clean-energy goals, says City Comptroller Scott Stringer. He slammed the energy giant’s long-term infrastructure and rate-hike plans in a Wednesday letter to National Grid’s President John Bruckner. Advertisement Stringer voiced his “opposition to any plan that relies on the installation of onerously expensive and environmentally detrimental infrastructure that will only carry us farther away from our climate goals. “Rather than raising rates to expand gas capacity and build out pipeline infrastructure … National Grid must instead do more to prioritize gas demand reduction and support beneficial electrification,” he added. Environmental activists have slammed National Grid’s plans to build about 14,000 feet of underground gas pipeline in North Brooklyn. [More Politics] Coronavirus prompts NYC Council leaders to cancel hearings, close offices » The company — which serves Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island along with upstate New York and parts of New England — has earmarked “millions of dollars” for “new fossil fuel infrastructure,” according to Stringer, who’s readying to run for mayor.

NH Primary Source: Exeter voters oppose Granite Bridge pipeline - Exeter voters on Tuesday turned thumbs down on the proposed Granite Bridge natural gas pipeline project, which is currently under review by the state’s Public Utilities Commission. The project calls for a $414 million, 27-mile, 16-inch pipeline and a liquified national gas storage tank in Epping. If approved by the PUC, the project would then be subject to review by the state Site Evaluation Committee. Consultants hired by the PUC opposed approval of the project last fall. The plan calls for the pipeline to be located on state property along Route 101 from Exeter to Manchester, passing through Brentwood, Epping, Raymond, Candia and Auburn. Although the communities affected have no veto power, Exeter residents voted by a 1,605-897 margin, approving a warrant article that asks town officials to express opposition to the project. “The safety risks of gas pipelines is evident in the recent leaks and explosions in Keene and Lawrence, Massachusetts,” Article 25 stated. “Furthermore, this fossil fuel project with its methane emissions and carbon dioxide is in opposition to the principles of Exeter’s ‘Right to a Healthy Climate Ordinance’ passed in 2010 and the Select board’s vote to support the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.”

DEQ notes problems with erosion control during lull in work on Mountain Valley Pipeline - At a time when building the Mountain Valley Pipeline was focused almost entirely on controlling erosion, muddy runoff continued to flow from dormant construction sites. In a letter last month to a conservation group that first raised the issue, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor said the infractions would be forwarded to the state attorney general’s office, which has the authority to seek tough financial penalties. DEQ is “committed to aggressively and effectively enforcing and maintaining compliance of the Mountain Valley Pipeline construction,” Paylor wrote in a Feb. 13 letter to David Sligh, conservation director of Wild Virginia. Sligh made the letters public this week. Sligh had asked the week before about DEQ inspections that showed violations of erosion and sediment control regulations from Sept. 19 through Dec. 20, 2019 — when construction of the controversial natural gas pipeline was stalled by legal action, leaving workers to concentrate largely on efforts to curb erosion. The violations were especially troubling, Sligh wrote, because they began so shortly after Sept. 18 — the last day covered by a consent decree in which Mountain Valley agreed to pay Virginia $2.15 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged similar problems in the past. Approved in December, the consent decree carried a provision for enhanced fines should the same issues recur. Paylor wrote a month ago in his letter to Sligh that “DEQ acknowledges noncompliance noted in inspection reports during the last quarter of 2019. These will be communicated to the Office of the Attorney General for inclusion in a future demand for penalties.” But no demand had apparently been made by Tuesday. DEQ spokeswoman Ann Regn said the agency is “compiling noncompliance information monthly” and will notify Mountain Valley, in conjunction with the attorney general, of any violations or penalties. A spokeswoman for Mountain Valley said the company had not been told of any recent violations. “MVP continues to work cooperatively with the DEQ,” Natalie Cox wrote in an email. In a follow-up letter to Paylor on Monday, Sligh urged the state to act promptly. “Violations by MVP, which have been frequent and damaging to waterbodies and landowners, must not be handled as routine occurrences,” he wrote. “If construction resumes, the history of this project tells us that the frequency and magnitude of violations is likely to increase, unless DEQ shows that it will act quickly and decisively.”

Judge Rules Against Virginia County in Challenge to Pipeline Project -- A federal judge has sided with a pipeline company in a dispute over the permitting powers of local governments, a win for the beleaguered natural gas producer after several setbacks in court. The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would stretch 600 miles between West Virginia and North Carolina to transfer natural gas throughout the region and on to ports for further sale. Backed by the region’s largest energy producer, Dominion Energy, the project has long faced legal fights and pushback from environmentalists and locals who fear the project’s impact on rural regions. Among those fights was one between Nelson County, Virginia’s board of supervisors and the pipeline company over floodplain development permits. The county changed its own permitting rules in 2017 and has since disputed the validity of federal permits issued for the project. But Senior U.S. District Judge Norman Moon, a Bill Clinton appointee, sided with Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC in a ruling issued Monday, finding federal law superseded the county’s effort to block the project. “Nothing gives these floodplain regulations, as modified, the force of federal law now,” the judge wrote, referring to the county’s zoning ordinances. “Rather… because the floodplain regulations and their application through the [county] to deny Atlantic’s variance request stands as a clear obstacle to the meaning and purposes of the [Natural Gas Act], it is therefore preempted as applied to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.” Alongside the 24-page opinion, Moon issued an order stating the pipeline company not need comply with the county’s permitting process.

Piedmont details LNG plans - — With the opening of Piedmont’s liquefied natural gas facility in the summer of 2021, the flow of natural gas into and through Robeson County will increase exponentially. Piedmont Natural Gas Company, a Charlotte-based subsidiary of Duke Energy that serves 1 million customers here and in three states, has a $250 million LNG facility under construction on N.C. 71 between Maxton and Red Springs. The investment will generate nearly $1 million in county taxes a year. Patterson said the plant’s purpose is twofold: Ensure gas supplies during winter peak periods in a growing Southeastern North Carolina, and to purchase natural gas at lower summer rates, liquefy and store it for use during winter. “Piedmont has 45 years of experience with liquefied natural gas storage facilities,” Patterson said. “This is a very safe operation with no incidents.” Piedmont operates three similar facilities in Charlotte and Goldsboro and Nashville. The one-billion-gallon storage tank to be built in western Robeson County will sere 80,000 to 100,000 customers, both industrial and residential. The facility will occupy 65 acres of a 685-acre tract that Piedmont owns. The company has replanted forests on the surrounding acreage. “We will use two existing major transmission pipelines to supply the plant,” Patterson said. “This is an optimal location to serve our customers.”

U.S. natgas jumps 4% with oil price drop expected to cut gas output - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures jumped over 4% on Monday on forecasts for colder weather and higher heating demand next week than previously expected and expectations the collapse in oil prices would prompt drillers to cut back on oil and gas production. Earlier in the day, gas prices dropped to their lowest in over 21 years as they followed the collapse in oil prices. But by midday, some analysts noted plunging oil prices could help gas prices by reducing associated gas production. U.S. oil futures fell as much as 34% in their biggest daily rout since the 1991 Gulf War after Saudi Arabia signaled it would hike output to win market share even though the coronavirus has already left the market oversupplied. Even before crude futures collapsed, gas prices over the past week had been trading within a nickel of their lowest since August 1998 as record production and mild weather enabled utilities to leave more gas in storage this winter, making fuel shortages and prices spikes unlikely. Much of the growth in gas output was coming from gas associated with the production of oil in shale basins like the Permian in West Texas. Since drillers were seeking oil, that production was insensitive to low gas prices. "A large enough decrease in (oil production in) the Permian could support natural gas prices as a whole," Daniel Myers, market analyst at Gelber & Associates in Houston, said in a report. Front-month gas futures for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 7.0 cents, or 4.1%, to settle at $1.778 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). Earlier in the session, gas slid to $1.61 per mmBtu, its lowest since August 1998. If prices drop below that level, they would fall to their lowest since September 1995. Refinitiv, a data provider, projected average demand in the U.S. Lower 48 states, including exports, would rise from 100.7 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 107.5 bcfd next week. That compares with Refinitiv's forecast on Friday of 104.4 bcfd this week and 99.6 bcfd next week.

U.S. natgas jumps almost 9% with oil price gain, hopes of output cuts - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures soared almost 9% on Tuesday, following a 10% increase in oil prices, on hopes of economic stimulus and expectations the oil price collapse will prompt U.S. drillers to cut back on oil and gas production in shale basins. Analysts said a cutback in U.S. production and a possible increase in gas use spurred by low prices should give demand a chance to grow, absorbing some of the supply glut that built up over the past few years. "Gas futures gained momentum throughout the day yesterday and are building on those increases today as the market continues to garner support from oil's abrupt tumble" on Monday, Daniel Myers, market analyst at Gelber & Associates in Houston, said in a report, noting "lower oil prices are further solidifying anticipated supply reductions this year." Much of the growth in U.S. gas output in recent years has come from gas associated with the production of oil in shale basins like the Permian in West Texas and eastern New Mexico. Since drillers in oil basins were seeking crude, that production was insensitive to low gas prices. Energy firms kept producing oil and associated gas even though gas prices in the Permian fell to negative levels. In 2019, they also burned or flared record amounts of gas in the Permian because output there increased more quickly than companies could build pipelines to transport the fuel to markets. The oil price rout has already prompted several U.S. shale producers to rush to deepen spending cuts, which could reduce production. In their biggest daily percentage gain since January, front-month gas futures for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 15.8 cents, or 8.9%, to settle at $1.936 per million British thermal units, their highest close in almost three weeks. Gains in some forward months were even bigger than the front-month, with futures for the balance of 2020 up about 7% and calendar 2021 trading over 2022 for the first time since January.

Coronavirus Shocks Ripple Through Markets Everywhere as Natural Gas Futures Tumble - With the coronavirus pandemic hammering markets everywhere amid escalating efforts to protect public health, natural gas futures were trading sharply lower in early trading Thursday. The April Nymex contract was down 9.1 cents to $1.787/MMBtu shortly after 8:30 a.m. ET. In the wake of the Trump Administration’s announcement of a ban on travel from Europe to limit the spread of the virus, April crude oil futures also were down, off $2.01 to $30.97/bbl. Natural gas futures began to move lower in Wednesday’s session after the front month failed to break through resistance at $1.998, analysts at EBW Analytics Group said. “The move lower is likely to accelerate during the remainder of this week due to panic selling across all asset classes triggered by the coronavirus, and a significant bearish shift in the 11-15 day forecast,” the EBW analysts said. Traders also will have to factor in the latest government storage data. Estimates show the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reporting a lighter-than-average weekly withdrawal from U.S. natural gas stocks when it releases its 10:30 a.m. ET report. A Bloomberg survey Wednesday showed a median 56 Bcf pull, while a Reuters poll landed on a withdrawal of 59 Bcf. NGI’s model predicted a 51 Bcf withdrawal for the EIA report, which covers the week ended March 6. Estimates as of Wednesday ranged from minus 49 Bcf to minus 66 Bcf. Last year, EIA recorded a 164 Bcf pull for the similar week, and the five-year average is a withdrawal of 99 Bcf. “It was warmer than normal over almost the entire country, especially so across the Midwest,” NatGasWeather said of this week’s EIA report period. “Our algorithm expects a draw of 48-50 Bcf, to the bearish side.” As for the overnight weather data, the forecaster noted a milder outlook from the European model for this weekend and also for the March 20-25 period, with the model reversing colder trends from runs earlier in the week.

U.S. natgas falls 3% with oil decline, despite higher demand forecasts  (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures fell 3% on Wednesday with a decline in oil prices despite forecasts for a little more gas demand over the next two weeks than previously expected. That drop follows a more than 13% jump for gas futures over the past two days on expectations the oil price collapse earlier in the week would cause drillers to cut back on oil and associated gas production in shale basins like the Permian in West Texas and eastern New Mexico, allowing demand to absorb some of the gas supply glut that has built up in recent years. Front-month gas futures for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 5.8 cents, or 3.0%, to settle at $1.878 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). Oil prices fell about 4% on Wednesday as Saudi Arabia prepares to boost oil production capacity for the first time in more than a decade and demand weakened due to the spread of the coronavirus. Despite big gains earlier this week, gas prices were still down 35% since hitting an eight-month high of $2.905 per mmBtu in early November because near-record production and mild winter weather enabled utilities to leave more gas in storage, making fuel shortages and price spikes unlikely. Data provider Refinitiv projected average demand in the U.S. Lower 48 states, including exports, would edge up from 100.8 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 102.3 bcfd next week. That is a little higher than Refinitiv's forecast on Tuesday of 99.8 bcfd this week and 101.8 bcfd next week. The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants was on track to hold at 8.3 bcfd on Wednesday, the same as Tuesday, according to preliminary data from Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 7.8 bcfd last week and an all-time daily high of 9.5 bcfd on Jan. 31.

US working natural gas in underground storage decreases by 48 Bcf: EIA | S&P Global Platts — Oversupply issues continue in the US gas storage as volumes fell by 48 Bcf, less than the market expected, and the NYMEX Henry Hub April contract retreated on Thursday morning from gains made earlier in the week. Storage inventories fell by 48 Bcf to 2.043 Tcf for the week ended March 6, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday morning. The pull was less than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 55 Bcf withdrawal. It was much less than the 164 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2019 as well as the five-year average draw of 99 Bcf, according to EIA data. Storage volumes now stand 796 Bcf, or 64%, more than the year-ago level of 1.247 Tcf and 227 Bcf, or 13%, more than the five-year average of 1.816 Tcf. The NYMEX Henry Hub April contract slipped 7 cents to $1.80/MMBtu in trading following the release of the weekly storage report. The balance of the 2020 contract strip for NYMEX Henry Hub fell 5 cents to average $2.08/MMBtu. Despite a bounce in prices earlier in the week supported by a collapse in oil prices, bearish domestic fundamentals continue to weigh on gas prices, especially in light of sticky production levels and falling seasonal demand, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. US supply-demand balances continue to slacken as the market lurches towards the shoulder season. On the supply side, production has managed to remain remarkably flat over the past several weeks. The week ended March 6 posted zero change to maintain an average of around 92 Bcf/d of combined onshore and offshore receipts. Rather than from production, lower Canadian imports drove most of the drop in supply, which fell by 0.6 Bcf/d for the reference week. Platts Analytics' supply and demand model currently expects a 2 Bcf injection for the week ending March 13, which would mark the first net injection of year. The first net injection of the year typically occurs during the last week in March or first week in April, according to EIA data. The week in progress has closely followed last week, with balances widening by 6.6 Bcf/d on small drops in supply matched with larger drops in demand. Total supplies are down 1.3 Bcf/d to average 94.5 Bcf/d, with almost all of the declines stemming from lower Canadian imports and LNG sendout. Downstream, total demand fell by about 7.9 Bcf/d, the vast majority of which was from residential and commercial usage as average US population-weighted temperatures increase.

U.S. natgas futures slip with oil decline and small storage draw - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures fell 2% on Thursday with a 5% drop in oil prices and a smaller-than-expected storage draw last week. Traders noted the gas decline was limited by forecasts for cooler U.S. weather and higher heating demand over the next two weeks than earlier expected and expectations the oil price drop this week would cut crude and associated gas production in shale basins, allowing gas demand to absorb some of the supply glut that has built up in recent years. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said utilities pulled 48 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended March 6. That was lower than the 59-bcf decline analysts expected in a Reuters poll and compares with a drop of 164 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2015-19) average reduction of 99 bcf for the period. The decrease for the week ended March 6 cut stockpiles to 2.043 trillion cubic feet (tcf), 12.5% above the five-year average of 1.816 tcf for this time of year. Front-month gas futures for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 3.7 cents, or 2.0%, to settle at $1.841 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). U.S. oil prices fell about 5% on Thursday after U.S. President Donald Trump restricted travel from continental Europe, among measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus after the World Health Organization described the outbreak as a pandemic. Over the past few months, gas prices have fallen 37% since hitting an eight-month high of $2.905 per mmBtu in early November because near-record production and mild winter weather enabled utilities to leave more gas in storage, making fuel shortages and price spikes unlikely. Data provider Refinitiv projected average gas demand in the U.S. Lower 48 states, including exports, would edge up from 101.4 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 104.5 bcfd next week. That is higher than Refinitiv's forecast on Wednesday of 100.8 bcfd this week and 102.3 bcfd next week. The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants was on track to rise to 8.4 bcfd on Thursday from 8.3 bcfd on Wednesday, according to preliminary data from Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 7.8 bcfd last week and an all-time daily high of 9.5 bcfd on Jan. 31. U.S. production, meanwhile, edged up to 93.7 bcfd on Wednesday from 93.6 bcfd on Tuesday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 93.7 bcfd last week and an all-time daily high of 96.6 bcfd on Nov. 30.

U.S. natgas futures edge up with oil on expectations output will decline - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures edged up on Friday on expectations the plunge in oil prices earlier in the week would cause oil and its associated gas production to drop, allowing demand to absorb much of the gas oversupply that has built up in recent years. U.S. energy firms responded quickly to falling oil prices, which lost a third of their value this week, by announcing plans to slash spending on new drilling that were even bigger than what they had already said they would cut. U.S. financial services firm Cowen & Co said the independent exploration and production firms it tracks have released plans to cut spending on new drilling by 17% in 2020. That is up from planned spending cuts of 11% before the oil price drop and compares with cuts of 11% in 2019 from 2018's levels. Analysts said a drop in U.S. crude output would cut the amount of gas produced in association with oil drilling in shale basins like the Permian in West Texas. Much of the growth in gas output over the past several years has come from associated gas. Front-month gas futures for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 2.8 cents, or 1.5%, to settle at $1.869 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). For the week, the front-month was on track to rise over 10%, its biggest weekly increase since November. Looking ahead, futures for calendar 2021 were on track to rise over calendar 2022 for the first time since January. Despite this week's gains, gas prices were still down about 36% since hitting an eight-month high of $2.905 per mmBtu in early November because near-record production and mild winter weather enabled utilities to leave more gas in storage, making fuel shortages and price spikes unlikely. With all the price swings this week, implied volatility for gas futures soared 65% to its highest since late February.

As climate fight intensifies, U.S. states seek to block local natural-gas bans - (Reuters) - Lawmakers in at least five U.S. states have proposed bills since mid-February to prevent cities from banning natural gas as an energy source in new buildings, marking an escalation in the national battle over the fuel’s role in fighting climate change. The new bills, backed by business and utility interests, come as a growing number of cities in California and the Northeast vote to electrify their building sectors to avoid gas, a fossil fuel that contributes to global warming but which the drilling industry says is cleaner than alternatives like coal. The stakes for the gas industry are huge: Direct gas consumption by residential and commercial buildings amounted to about 8.45 trillion cubic feet in 2018, rivaling the 10.63 tcf used by utilities to power the grid, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The recent bills prohibiting such bans on gas use by buildings were introduced by lawmakers in Missouri, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Mississippi, many of them using near-identical language. Arizona last month became the first state in the country to pass such legislation. The bills were supported by local and state chambers of commerce and businesses related to the gas industry. The American Gas Association and the American Public Gas Association, U.S. trade groups representing gas utilities, have also publicly opposed local efforts to ban direct use of natural gas, but said they did not play a role in the state bills. “Banning natural gas from communities, taking a clean energy solution away from people, is not going to accomplish our shared goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said AGA President and CEO Karen Harbert. The legislative push mirrors a similar clash between state lawmakers and local politicians that occurred years ago over hydraulic fracturing, with several municipalities seeking to ban the practice and states like Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado passing laws to block them from doing so.

Columbia Gas pleads guilty to violating safety rules — The head of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to causing a series of natural gas fires and explosions that ripped through the Merrimack Valley more than a year ago.The guilty plea, entered in U.S. District Court by Columbia Gas President Marc Kempic on behalf of the utility, follows a settlement between Columbia Gas and it's parent company, NiSource, with U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling.The deal allows the company and its executives to avoid criminal prosecution for violating the federal Pipeline Safety Act in exchange for paying a $53 million fine and selling Columbia Gas of Massachusetts to a third-party.Federal officials blame the companies for causing the Sept. 13, 2018 disaster that killed a teenager, injured dozens and damaged more than 130 homes in Andover, North Andover and south Lawrence. Thousands of residents and businesses in the three communities were left without natural gas for heat and hot water for several months, in some cases.Under the plea deal, Columbia Gas accepted responsibility for the disaster and agreed to pay a record fine while NiSource puts the company up for sale. Eversource has offered to buy Columbia Gas of Massachusetts in a deal worth $1.1 billion, which appears to have taken shape under the cloud of the federal investigation.Columbia Gas has also agreed to allow a federal monitor to supervise its residential and commercial gas operations in the state for the next three years, or until it is sold.

Judge Approves $143M Natural Gas Explosions Settlement - A Massachusetts judge approved a $143 million class action settlement Thursday for residents and business owners affected by natural gas explosions in Massachusetts in 2018. The settlement's approval comes days after Columbia Gas of Massachusetts pleaded guilty to causing the explosions that killed one person, injured dozens of others, and damaged or destroyed more than 100 buildings. “This community suffered greatly in the wake of the explosions, and the compensation that residents and businesses will receive from this settlement will go a long way in healing the Merrimack Valley,” the lawyers leading the class action suit said in a statement. Columbia Gas is also on the hook for a $53 million criminal fine — the largest ever imposed for breaking a federal pipeline safety law. Its parent company will sell off the Massachusetts operation. Rival utility Eversource has said it plans to acquire the assets. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded last year that Columbia Gas poorly planned a routine pipeline replacement project in Lawrence, causing natural gas overpressurization that led to the explosions and fires in homes and businesses on Sept. 13, 2018. The board also determined that the utility inadequately responded to the disaster, which resulted in a prolonged recovery effort in which residents and businesses were without natural gas service for heat or hot water, sometimes for months through the winter. The class action settlement is meant to compensate residents, property owners, and businesses in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

Canadian Oil Company Hires Engineer for Controversial Pipeline in Michigan - The Canadian company Enbridge is moving forward with plans to build a $500 million oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, which runs between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas. The oil transportation company said it would go ahead with plans despite an ongoing lawsuit with Michigan, according to Kallanish Energy.  Enbridge Inc. has hired two companies to build the pipeline, which will run beneath the channel that links Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The construction will replace twin pipes that have been under the Straits of Mackinac in Northern Michigan since 1953, as The Associated Press reported. Michigan's Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, has appealed to the state's Court of Appeals to stop the construction. A lower court decided in October that an agreement between Enbridge and former Republican Governor Rick Snyder was legal and could proceed. The Michigan Court of Appeals decided not to halt the project while it considers the case, according to The Associated Press. Despite the existing lawsuit, Enbridge says it expects construction to start next year and for a new tunnel to be in service by 2024, according to WLUC in Michigan. The pipeline drew criticism from some of the Democratic presidential candidates. Last summer, Bernie Sanders tweeted that the Line 5 tunnel should be shut down, noting that Enbridge's 6B pipeline spilled 1.2 million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River a decade ago. "Today, with the climate crisis worsening, we must #ShutDownLine5 pipeline in Michigan and ban all new fossil fuel infrastructure. What we need is a Green New Deal," Sanders added to his tweet.   Elizabeth Warren also recognized the threat the Enbridge construction posed, tweeting "Michigan's Line 5 pipeline is a threat to millions who rely on the Great Lakes for clean water and a healthy economy." She added, "Let's #ShutDownLine5 and build a 100% clean energy future."  The Line 5 tunnel carries 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids every day between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario. A near 4-mile segment divides into two pipes that run beneath the Straits of Mackinac, according to The Associated Press.

New: Line 5 tunnel contractors hired by Enbridge have troubling track records ⋆ Michigan Advance New information uncovered by the Michigan Advance about the companies hired by Enbridge to build the Line 5 tunnel project, which will encase the dual pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac, has raised alarm bells for Michigan’s attorney general and environmental groups around the state. There already are concerns about the integrity of Line 5, which is approaching 70 years old and was reportedly only built to last 50 years. Enbridge has maintained that building an underwater tunnel around the twin pipes is the safest option forward. The Canadian oil company brokered a deal with Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder before he left office to set the tunnel plan in motion and effectively tie the hands of the incoming Gov. Gretchen Whitmer administration in its efforts to reverse the deal. Now Enbridge has come under further scrutiny for the companies it has hired for the project, casting doubt on whether a tunnel is indeed the safest bet for protecting the Great Lakes from a potentially catastrophic oil spill. On Friday, Enbridge announced that it had hired three companies to build and design the tunnel. The news release noted that the new tunnel-encased Line 5 segment is expected to be placed into service in 2024. After the London-based engineering firm Arup finalizes the designs, a partnership between Livonia-based Jay Dee Contractors Inc. and the U.S. affiliate of Japan-based Obayashi Corp., known jointly as Great Lakes Tunnel Constructors, will start building the tunnel. This will involve drilling into the bedrock under the Straits, and is expected to begin in 2021. But just last year, Jay Dee was one of three plaintiffs sued in Macomb circuit court for negligence in connection with the infamous Fraser sinkhole collapse in 2016. The complaint was filed last April and remains open. The Macomb County drainage district is seeking $70 million dollars plus costs and attorney fees to recover some of the costs of the Dec. 24, 2016. incident. The sinkhole opened when a sewer line collapsed between Hayes and Utica near 15 Mile Road. The incident closed a portion of 15 Mile for nearly a year, temporarily displaced more than 20 families, and led to two homes being demolished.

Oil price war boosts uncertainty for developers of U.S. LNG projects - Saudi Arabia’s oil price war with Russia spelled more pain for the U.S. LNG sector in the near term and trouble for new U.S. LNG projects, even though it could ultimately help balance an oversupplied global natural gas market. The U.S. LNG sector was already grappling with a supply glut bumping up against the demand shock of the coronavirus before plummeting oil prices heightened worry over the global economy and sent LNG stocks tumbling as part of an overall rout of U.S. stocks. American crude oil futures fell on March 9 to near $30 per barrel. The oil price crash raised the possibility that a collapse in shale oil drilling will result in a reduction of associated natural gas production, reigning in some of the global oversupply of gas. Domestic gas prices could rise, benefitting long-struggling gas producers in Appalachia. But weak global demand for LNG could also mean less of an outlet for domestic gas. “The main issue we don’t know today is whether demand or supply will fall faster,” said Nikos Tsafos, a senior fellow with the energy security and climate change program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “You can take some associated gas off the market, but if you have nowhere to sell the LNG to, you might be taking off quite a bit of demand at the same time. We just don’t know which of these two factors are going to be moving faster.” The meltdown in crude oil markets also cast doubt on the appetite for investments in multi-billion dollar energy infrastructure such as LNG terminals. “Major new capital investment seems largely off the table,” energy analyst Katie Bays, co-founder of research and consulting firm Sandhill Strategy, said in a March 9 note to clients. There are a dozen or so export facilities being developed in the U.S., but many LNG developers have struggled to secure the long-term contracts they need to secure financing and advance to construction. Several developers had already delayed targets for commercially sanctioning their projects.

 Houston Is Not Prepared for the Oil Bust – Houston has weathered its fair share of floods and hurricanes in recent years, but are we ready for the economic Big One? It has been more than 35 years since the self-proclaimed Energy Capital of the World saw a real economic disaster like the one barreling toward us. The Saudis are flooding the market with crude and the global coronavirus response is suppressing demand. Our homes may be filled with toilet paper and nonperishable meals, but it’s harder to get ready for an oil bust. For all the boosterish rhetoric about our diversified economy, the region’s continued economic success relies on international consumption of oil. The petroleum industry drives a third of greater Houston’s GDP and directly employs a quarter-million workers—a number that was already beginning to shrink before things went south this month. Crude has always been a global commodity, and Texas became even more exposed to market swings when the Obama administration removed the ban on crude oil exports. So when millions of quarantined people in China stop driving their cars, or businesses across the world cancel their international travel, suddenly there are a lot fewer people out there trying to buy Texas crude. The International Energy Agency reports that global oil demand is actually falling. That hasn’t happened since the 2009 fiscal crisis. If that weren’t bad enough, Saudi Arabia (the world’s second-largest oil producer) has declared an energy war because Russia (the third-largest producer) wouldn’t agree to limit its production to keep global prices at a stable level. So the Saudis are threatening to sell oil below the market price to undercut Russia and make them fall back in line. Caught in the crossfire is the world’s top producer—the United States. With few exceptions, the producers whose fracking techniques turned the U.S. into an oil behemoth can’t make moneywhen crude sells at only $31 per barrel. Already, Houston companies are plummeting. Apache Corporation and Occidental Petroleum saw share prices fall by more than half on Monday. Layoffs seem imminent. And all this bad news follows an already tenuous outlook for Houston’s economy

In Big Spring, a Rural Community Braces for Another Oil Bust - Sometimes Big Spring is a boomtown. Sometimes it’s a bust. And usually, the defining factor is one simple number: the price of a barrel of crude. The community of 28,000, two hours west of Abilene, sits at the edge of the world’s most productive oilfield. It’s home to hundreds of hydraulic fracturing rigs. Billboards advertising jobs for oilfield truck drivers and mechanics dot Interstate 20. The Alon refinery at the eastern edge of town lights up the sky with flares from its towering spires. The oil industry can be a nasty business—one that pollutes the environment, contributes to traffic fatalities, and drives up housing costs—but it’s the biggest business in town. In Howard County, the industry provides 2,800 jobs and has a total annual economic output of $4.5 billion. Big Spring’s fortune hinges on a stable market, however; with crude prices nosediving, a sign that oilfield workers may soon flee the area, Howard County Judge Kathryn Wiseman is worried. “We’re an oil town. The workers spend a lot of money in Howard County.” Wiseman has a rough metric for judging the oil industry’s health: She counts the number of paying customers each morning at Dell’s Cafe on East Fourth Street. Lately it’s been about three-quarters full when she goes for breakfast. But Dell’s, along with local RV parks, motels, and other businesses frequented by itinerant oilmen, may clear out soon. Over the weekend, Russia, the world’s third-biggest oil producer, backed out of a nascent agreement with Saudi Arabia to cut global oil production in order to raise prices. Saudi Arabia, which leads the world in oil exports, retaliated, slashing its export prices in the second chapter of what the New York Times has described as a “price war.” Overnight, oil prices plummeted from nearly $60 a barrel to $35—“one of the greatest shocks in history” for the petroleum industry, oil and gas consulting firm Rystad Energy wrote in a statement. It was the biggest price drop since the United States launched an invasion of Kuwait in 1991.

Crossing state lines? Oil firms flare Texas gas as investors vent on climate - (Reuters) - Across the Permian Basin’s high desert landscape, natural gas is going up in smoke even as oil majors including Exxon Mobil and BP pledge cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Flaring, the deliberate burning of unwanted polluting gas, is rife during oil production in the biggest U.S. shale field, and an acute problem in Texas, home to most of the Permian reservoir, which sprawls 86,000 square miles (220,000 km2) across two states. Loose regulation in Texas means that companies including Exxon, Matador Resources and privately-held BTA Oil Producers last year burned off gas at more than twice the rate as in neighboring New Mexico, a Reuters analysis of data compiled by Rystad Energy from more than 50 of the largest producers shows. Some drillers burned natural gas at up to six times the rate in Texas as they did over the state line, the data shows. Exxon flared more gas in Texas last year than any other producer, data released in February by a state regulator shows. This is despite Exxon and other large oil producers, which have spent billions drilling and building pipelines in the region, promising emissions cuts to curb global warming. Although companies have to apply for permits to burn unwanted gas, Texas allows producers to burn unwanted gas for six months and routinely issues waivers after the six months expires. New Mexico allows new wells to flare for 60 days and is moving toward 30-day extensions thereafter. Producers must present a plan to pipe or store gas with their permit request. Even though flaring is legal, it is a growing problem for companies. While it is cheaper for them to burn gas, investors are badgering them to improve their green credentials. Exxon is “making significant investments in gathering, processing and natural gas pipelines” and was able to lower its Permian flaring rate to just above 2% by the end of the year, spokeswoman Julie King said. The Rystad data shows it averaged 6.6% across the Permian during the first 11 months of last year.

Oil leak near McKittrick resumes, Chevron aware - — After being inactive for months, an oil spill that started near McKittrick in November 2019 has reportedly resumed. Chevron said they are aware the leak, called a surface expression, resurfaced Friday.In a statement the company said:We take our responsibility to operate safely and in a manner that protects public health, the communities where we operate, and the environment very seriously. We remain committed to stopping and preventing seeps, consistent with CalGEM’s new regulations. In the course of our efforts to permanently stop the GS-5 seep in the Cymric field, some seep reactivations may occur. Our commitment to stop GS-5, per CalGEM’s request, outweighs the possible risk of a short-term seep reactivation.Jonathan Harshman Communications Advisor Corporate Affairs, San Joaquin Valley Business UnitChevron said they were notified on Feb. 28 by regulatory agencies of flow of reservoir fluids to surface in the Cymric field in Kern County. They said this was a reactivation of the previous leak.As of Monday, a total of 985 gallons were recovered, including approximately 867 barrels of produced water (water from the oil formation that is produced along with the oil) and 118 barrels of crude oil from the flow location. The flow is contained in an earthen berm that has been netted to protect wildlife.Chevron said there has been no impact to any personnel, wildlife, or waterway as a result of the flow location and they have a vacuum truck available to pull material.

Oil price shock could drive more midstream distribution cuts, experts warn  Saudi Arabia's oil price war with Russia could force some U.S. pipeline companies to slash distributions as debt reduction becomes even more urgent, industry experts said. While guaranteed revenues from long-term contracts help to insulate the midstream sector from direct commodity price exposure, anticipated production spending cuts could jeopardize gathering and processing operations closer to the wellhead that already faced a "no-to-low growth environment," according to analysts at energy investment bank Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. "While our existing concern was that select [gathering and processing companies, or] G&Ps would be unable to manage leverage profiles ... that risk is now increasingly widespread as production trajectory shifts to one of absolute declines," the company wrote in a March 9 note to clients. "With upstream budget cuts imminent and every basin out of the money, midstream operators have effectively 1-2 quarters before activity rolldown filters through the system." In order to account for reduced earnings later in 2020 while still prioritizing debt reduction, both Tudor Pickering Holt and UBS Investment Bank said they expect that the pressure on higher-yield midstream companies to cut investor payouts will intensify. Tudor Pickering Holt flagged Enable Midstream Partners, EnLink Midstream LLC, Targa Resources Corp. and Western Midstream Partners LP as candidates for "expeditious revisions" amid "deafening" calls for balance sheet conservation. Western Midstream CFO Michael Pearl said in February that the master limited partnership does not intend to trim investor payouts despite poor stock price performance, while EnLink's January distribution cut failed to translate into stock price momentum. CBRE Clarion Securities portfolio manager Hinds Howard noted that, in general, midstream companies have not curtailed leverage, distributions or spending enough to be prepared for plunging crude prices and equity values even after the enormous wave of distribution cuts set in motion by collapsing commodity prices in 2014. "Midstream companies and long-only midstream investors will put on a brave face and argue that oil and gas will still flow through pipelines. ... But the truth is nobody knows how this 35% drop in oil prices in less than a week will impact the oil and gas business in the U.S.," he said in an email. "It is not good for midstream, and ... midstream as a group of companies has not done enough to position for another downturn." Howard also said that plunging oil prices could set the stage for further midstream M&A "as owners of some of the quality assets get fed up with the negative impact their peers are having on their valuation." Analysts at UBS, too, said in a March 9 note to clients that recent events may serve as a "catalyst for consolidation discussions."

Oklahoma Corporation Commission adopts more restrictive proration order for unallocated natural gas wells - A majority of elected members of Oklahoma’s Corporation Commission voted Thursday to limit how much natural gas is produced by the state’s most prolific wells. Commission Chairman Todd Hiett and Commissioner Dana Murphy signed an order setting a proration formula for the period between April 1 and Sept. 30 that requires operators to limit an unallocated gas well’s absolute open flow to 50%, or to cap its maximum allowable production at 2 million cubic feet per day (mmcf/d), whichever is greater. Since 1999, commissioners routinely had been approving a proration formula that had required operators to limit a well’s absolutely open flow at 65% or a maximum allowable production of 2 mmcf/d. But that, officials previously have said, really had been no limit at all, given that its parameters exceeded production capabilities on nearly all gas wells in the state. Based on data provided to commissioners by Murphy, drawn with the help of agency staff from reports filed by operators of the state’s 174 most capable gas wells in 2019, the requirement to restrict wells back to 50% of absolute open flow potential could provide some limited impact on the amount of natural gas Oklahoma produces. Murphy’s data estimated the impact of the state’s previously allowed formula on those sample wells’ reported production in 2019. If properly enforced, it would have limited those wells’ production by 1.97%. It also estimated what the impact would have been if the formula adopted Thursday had been in place and enforced in 2019. It shows production from those sample wells would have been reduced by 4.64%. Finally, it estimated what the impact would have been if a tighter restriction that had been called for by some producers in recent weeks had been adopted and enforced that same year.

All Eyes on Illinois Commerce Commission as Pipeline Expansion Finally Gets a Hearing - A long-awaited, oft-delayed hearing got underway Thursday to determine whether owners of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, which originates in North Dakota and terminates nearly 1,200 miles later in Patoka, Illinois, will be granted permission by the Illinois Commerce Commission to double the pipeline’s capacity.Both those in favor of and opposed to the expansion turned out in equally large numbers for the evidentiary hearing, the tediousness of which belied the proceeding’s high-stakes consequences, with many environmental activists viewing the issue as a referendum on the state’s commitment to combating climate change. “Every decision made on behalf of the people must consider the impact of climate change above all else,” said Deni Mathews, president of Save Our Illinois Land (SOIL), one of the organizations challenging the pipeline’s expansion. “We can not continue with business as usual.”Pledges like Chicago’s commitment to transitioning to renewable energy by 2035 would be rendered meaningless if the expansion is approved, said David O’Donnell of Extinction Rebellion. “No way do we do that if we increase the amount of fossil fuel going through the pipeline.” While the hearing afforded no opportunity for public comment — it was limited to pre-submitted witness testimony and cross-examination by lawyers — spectators’ mere presence, regardless of which side of the debate they were on, was designed to send a message: “We’re watching.”   “I wonder how many decisions are made in rooms like this?” asked protester Catherine Garcia-Goettling. “It’s crazy that we don’t get a vote.”

Minnesota Supreme Court sides with Winona County on frac-sand ban --The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Winona County did not violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution with its ban on frac-sand mining. Winona County changed its comprehensive zoning ordinance in 2016 to prohibit “industrial mineral operations.” “Construction materials” were still able to be extracted, but a conditional-use permit was required. Minnesota Sands, LLC, filed a lawsuit against the county about these limitations. When the lower courts did not rule in its favor, the company requested the Minnesota Supreme Court look at the case, leading to the court affirming with the decision of the court of appeals. Minnesota Sands has argued the county’s ban is unconstitutional because it singles out sand used for industrial purposes while allowing mining for local construction uses. The sand is used to fracture shale rock in order to extract oil and natural gas. According to a statement from the company, “Minnesota Sands is disappointed in the decision made by the court and the impact it will have on other regulated industries across our state. The company agrees with the Court’s dissenting justices who found that ‘Winona County’s ordinance erects a facially discriminatory ban on silica sand mining when intended for hydraulic fracturing that is per se invalid.’ We will review the decision before making any additional decisions related to this matter.”

Environmental Defense Center settles Clean Water Act case - The Environmental Defense Center (EDC) has reached a final settlement with Pacific Coast Energy Company LP (PCEC), for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA). PCEC conducts oil exploration and development activities using enhanced oil extraction techniques such as cyclic steam injection at its 5,400 acre Orcutt Hill oil field operation. Polluted runoff from this facility in northern Santa Barbara County, flows into Orcutt Creek and San Antonio Creek, which drain into the Santa Maria River and the Pacific Ocean, respectively. These waters provide important habitat for threatened and endangered species, such as the unarmored threespined stickleback, the tidewater goby, the red-legged frog, and steelhead, and are used for public recreation and enjoyment. The settlement will reduce polluted runoff from the Orcutt Hill facility and establish a $115,000 fund for projects that enhance the quality of local watersheds. Under the settlement, PCEC has agreed to improve storm water-management practices at its facility, largely by improving its road network to reduce runoff, addressing a specific problematic well pad, adding a location for the collection of stormwater samples, and improving its program for monitoring runoff. In addition, instead of a penalty, PCEC will donate $115,000 to the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment for the sole purpose of providing grants for restoration projects in the San Antonio Creek, Orcutt Creek, and/or Santa Maria River watersheds.

Pipeline company to pay more than $60 million for 2015 oil spill near Santa Barbara - A pipeline company has agreed to pay more than $60 million, and change its operations, to settle litigation arising from an oil spill that gushed from one of its lines in 2015, north of Refugio State Beach near Santa Barbara, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday. The spill dumped roughly 2,934 barrels of crude oil along the Gaviota coast, forced the closure of Refugio and El Capitan state beaches and covered waves, rocky shores, sandy beaches and kelp forests with oil. Hundreds of sea birds and mammals, many coated in crude, washed up in the area in the weeks following the spill. According to a Justice Department news release, the spill was caused by the company’s failure to address external corrosion and have proper procedures place in its control room. In addition, the environmental damage was “further exacerbated by [the company’s] failure to respond properly to the release,” the department said. The operator of an underground pipeline that ruptured and released up to 105,000 gallons of crude oil in Santa Barbara County -- and tens of thousands of gallons into the ocean -- said Wednesday that the spill happened after a series of mechanical problems caused the line to be shut down.  Under the settlement, Plains All American Pipeline L.P. and Plains Pipeline L.P. agreed to modify operations to prevent further spills, and to pay $24 million in penalties, plus $22.325 million in natural resource damages, $10 million for natural resource damage assessment costs and $4.26 million for Coast Guard cleanup costs. The total costs exceed $60 million, the Justice Department said, “excluding the value of the required injunctive relief changes to Plains’ national operations.” “Today’s settlement shows federal and local governments working in partnership to hold industry fairly accountable,” said Deputy Assistant Atty. Gen. Bruce Gelber of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The agreement will also promote public health and safety, and protect the environment for local communities.” The Justice Department said it worked closely with its co-plaintiff, the state of California, on behalf of federal agencies including the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration; the Department of the Interior; the Department of Commerce; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Remediation of Keystone Pipeline spill site in northeast North Dakota nears completion - TC Energy cleanup crews are expected to return to the spill site in late spring to finish remediation. A fine has yet to be determined for the Canada-based pipeline company, but DEQ Director Dave Glatt said the company has been cooperative. TC Energy reported an oil spill in the rural Edinburg area, about 30 miles northwest of Grafton, N.D., on Wednesday, Oct. 30. Submitted photo The site of the Keystone Pipeline oil spill outside Edinburg, N.D., which weeks ago was abuzz with activity and TC Energy cleanup crews, has quieted substantially as remediation nears completion. According to a Department of Environmental Quality report, a Feb. 27 inspection of the site found that excavation was completed and the site had been partially backfilled, with stacks of topsoil waiting to be spread. The report noted that there was no sign of contamination or current work being done at the site. TC Energy spokesperson Sara Rabern said crews are now waiting for warmer weather to finish the final stages of remediation. She estimates cleanup will be completed by late spring. The cause of the Oct. 29 spill, which released about 383,000 gallons of crude oil onto about five acres of land, has yet to be determined, according to the incident report. The release was one of the largest onshore oil spills in the U.S. in the last decade. Because the spill impacted wetlands, it automatically resulted in a fine from the Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ officials had their first meeting with representatives from TC Energy, formerly TransCanada Energy, to discuss enforcement action on Feb. 4. The results of that meeting and information about enforcement will remain confidential until an agreement between the parties has been reached, but DEQ Director Dave Glatt told the Herald the meeting was "very cordial."

Questions about Garden Creek spill linger for Oneok as it pursues pipeline - -North Dakota Public Service Commission Chairman Brian Kroshus had one big question for Oneok during a public hearing in Williston on a pipeline that would serve Hess Corp.’s Tioga gas plant.That question related to the 2015 spill of natural gas liquids at the Garden Creek processing plant in McKenzie County.Kroshus said he understood that the company is proposing a pipeline, and that the Garden Creek leak occurred at a gas processing facility.“But nonetheless, we are still tying back to, was that a construction technique issue, was it a faulty pipe, or a hairline crack in a 2-inch pipe that leaked an extended period of time?” he said. “Can you tell me about that? What has Oneok done to apply lessons learned in that instance to construction and, hopefully pending approval, of this facility?”Oneok Operations Engineer Blake Holland read a prepared statement that sounded similar to one the company released after news media reported last year that the Garden Creek leak had been much larger than the 10 gallons the company initially reported. It went on to attribute the leak to hairline cracks in the pipeline at the facility but did not detail how or why the leak occurred, nor what particular steps have been taken to assure such an incident doesn't happen again.“Was it just a bad patch of pipe?” Kroshus pressed Holland after the statement was read.  “I don’t have the answer to the root cause of the hairline cracks,” Holland said. Kroshus said after the meeting that “I was hopeful that they would have something we could convey to the public and incorporate into the testimony that would have at least given me a higher level of confidence.”

Disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing poses dangers to drivers - Environmental concerns about hydraulic fracturing—aka "fracking," the process by which oil and gas are extracted from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water and chemicals—are well documented, but according to a paper co-written by a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign environmental economics expert, the technique also poses a serious safety risk to local traffic. New research from Yilan Xu, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois, shows that the growing traffic burden in fracking boomtowns from trucks hauling wastewater to disposal sites resulted in a surge of road fatalities and severe accidents. "Fracking requires large amounts of water, and it subsequently generates a lot of wastewater," she said. "When trucks need to transport all that water within a narrow window of time to a disposal site, that poses a safety threat to other drivers on the road—especially since fracking occurs mostly in these boomtowns where the roadway infrastructure isn't built up enough to handle heavy truck traffic."   The researchers identified a causal link between fracking-related trucking and fatal traffic crashes, finding that an additional post-fracking well within six miles of the road segments led to 8% more fatal crashes and 7.1% higher per-capita costs in accidents. "Our back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that an additional 17 fatal crashes took place per year across the sampled road segments, representing a 49% increase relative to the annual crash counts of the drilling counties in North Dakota in 2006," Xu said. "That's a significant number when you're talking about a sparsely populated area like North Dakota. "And besides the fatality and injury costs in fatal crashes quantified in our study, other costs may occur as well, including injury costs in nonfatal crashes and indirect expenditures on emergency services, insurance administrative costs, and infrastructure maintenance and replacement."

North Dakota's oil industry hopes for only 'a blip' as prices collapse - A steep collapse in oil prices led to a dramatic Monday on Wall Street and sent shock waves all the way to the Bakken oil fields. The volatility follows a year of relative stability for the oil patch. Oil prices hovered in the range of $50 to $60 per barrel during 2019, high enough to send North Dakota crude production climbing to 1.5 million barrels per day. Then, as the new coronavirus began to spread throughout the world early this year, came a global drop in oil demand.  By mid-February, there were rumblings within North Dakota about the potential impact to the oil industry here. State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said to keep an eye on what OPEC does when it meets in March. The group of oil-rich countries, in coordination with Russia, has issued production cuts over the past few years in an effort to bolster prices.  When prices are higher, oil companies tend to drill more because crude is more profitable. But Russia threw a curveball late last week when it refused to cut production again amid the virus outbreak, and oil prices plummeted Friday. In wake of that development, OPEC leader Saudi Arabia decided it will ramp up its own oil output. Those moves shocked the industry -- and the stock market -- and prices spiraled downward even further on Monday.  “Every producer and everybody in the industry is contemplating ‘what ifs.’” West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark in oil pricing, bottomed out Monday around the $30-per-barrel mark, a level not seen since early 2016 following a yearlong collapse in prices during 2015. At their peak the year before, oil prices topped $100 per barrel. “This is not like 2015,” said Ness, whose group represents North Dakota’s oil industry. “In 2015, we were coming off a very long-term, healthy price range, and there were a lot of efficiencies companies were able to implement.” North Dakota’s oil industry learned to drill faster and make other changes to bolster production from wells to stay profitable amid lower prices. Since the start of 2020, the oil industry had already experienced a 25% drop in prices by the middle of last week amid the coronavirus outbreak, Ness said. The new developments with Russia and Saudi Arabia have caused prices to fall almost the same amount all over again in just the past couple of days.

North Dakota, Canadian oil producers at disadvantage when crude prices are low -  If a new era of bargain crude prices arrived with Monday's oil-market rout, producers in North Dakota and Canada will likely be at a disadvantage. Both are simply farther from the hub of the North American oil market, the Gulf Coast, raising transportation costs, analysts said. Canadian oil-sands producers face higher production costs, too. Minnesota is the primary conduit of Canadian oil imports into the United States via Enbridge's corridor of cross-border pipelines. "It's generally agreed that the farther you are from the Gulf Coast, the less cost-efficient you are," said Sandy Fielden, an oil-industry analyst in Texas with Morningstar. Of course, there's an upside for consumers in Monday's oil massacre: Gasoline prices, already relatively low by historic standards, should fall further if oil prices remain depressed. Oil prices have been dropping in recent weeks as global demand has rapidly declined — an economic blow courtesy of the novel coronavirus. But over the weekend, oil markets suddenly faced the specter of a supply glut, too, after talks between Russia and Saudi Arabia broke down over production targets. The Saudis pledged to open their taps — and oil prices staged a historic collapse. "Unprecedented is an understatement,"

Canadian firm starts US prep work for Keystone XL pipeline (AP) — A Canadian company said Wednesday it has started preliminary work along the route of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline through the U.S. in anticipation of starting construction next month, as opponents await a judge’s ruling on their request to block any work. TC Energy spokeswoman Sara Rabern said the Calgary-based company was moving equipment this week and will begin mowing and felling trees in areas along the pipeline’s 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) route within the next week or so. The work is planned in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, Rabern said. She did not provide further location details. In April the company plans to begin construction at the line’s border crossing in northern Montana. That would be a huge milestone for a project first proposed in 2008 that has since attracted bitter opposition from climate activists who say fossil fuel usage must be curbed to combat global warming. The company also plans work next month on employee camps in Fallon County, Montana and Haakon County, South Dakota. Environmental groups in January asked U.S. District Judge Brian Morris to block any work. They said clearing and tree felling along the route would destroy bird and wildlife habitat. The judge in December had denied a request from environmentalists to block construction because no work was immediately planned. The request by environmentalists came days after the Trump administration approved a right-of-way allowing the $8 billion line to be built across federal land. “It is irresponsible for TC Energy to jump the gun before Judge Morris rules on our motion,” Stephan Volker, an attorney for the Indigenous Environmental Network and North Coast Rivers Alliance, said Wednesday.

Putin Launches War On US Shale After Dumping MbS & Breaking Up OPEC+ -- OPEC+ is no more, after a torrid 24 hours in which Russia overturned the balance of power in the oil world, leaving the members of OPEC+ dazed and confused, shocking Saudi which now faces social unrest with the price of oil far below Riyadh's budget, and - in a repeat of the Thanksgiving 2014 OPEC massacre - sending oil prices plunging by the most since the financial crisis. And now, Bloomberg has the stunning backstory behind Friday's announcement that Russia is quitting its output deal with OPEC and its allies, after last week's Vienna summit meant to back a proposal by oil producers to cut output collapsed, causing a 10% plunge in oil prices, with some markets seeing their biggest one-day falls since the financial crisis. Driving a stake right through the heart of his former OPEC colleagues, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that "considering the decision taken today, from April 1 of this year onwards, neither we nor any OPEC or non-OPEC country is required to make (oil) output cuts." With global fears over coronavirus already severely impacting the oil market (down 30% since the start of the year), and with the Russians surprising oil ministers gathered at OPEC headquarters by suddenly abandoning a plan meant to keep oil prices steady, the biggest shock was felt by the Saudis, because as Bloomberg puts it, Putin has just effectively dumped crown prince MbS to start a war on America's shale oil industry: Alexander Novak told his Saudi Arabian counterpart Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman that Russia was unwilling to cut oil production further. The Kremlin had decided that propping up prices as the coronavirus ravaged energy demand would be a gift to the U.S. shale industry. The frackers had added millions of barrels of oil to the global market while Russian companies kept wells idle. Now it was time to squeeze the Americans.After five hours of polite but fruitless negotiation, in which Russia clearly laid out its strategy, the talks broke down. Oil prices fell more than 10%. It wasn’t just traders who were caught out: Ministers were so shocked, they didn’t know what to say, according to a person in the room. The gathering suddenly had the atmosphere of a wake, said another.

U.S. shale companies facing a money-losing reality after oil price collapse -America’s shale producers already had a profitability problem. It just got a lot worse. At a stroke, Saudi Arabia and Russia and their battle for market share have made almost all U.S. shale drilling unprofitable. Only five companies in two areas of the country have breakeven costs lower than the current oil price, according to data compiled by Rystad Energy, an Oslo-based consultancy. Wells drilled by Exxon Mobil Corp., Occidental Petroleum Corp. Chevron Corp. and Crownquest Operating LLC in the Permian Basin, which stretches across West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, can turn profits at $31 a barrel, Rystad’s data show. Occidental’s wells in the DJ Basin of Colorado are also in the money at that price, which is where oil settled Monday. But that’s not the case for the rest of the shale industry — more than 100 operators in a dozen fields. For them, drilling new wells will almost certainly mean going into the red. Shale projects are heralded for their ability to be quickly ramped up and down. But because output from these wells declines much faster than from their old-school, conventional cousins, companies have to drill more of them just to keep output flat. That has meant sluggish investor returns, one of the main reasons oil and gas represents less than 4% of the S&P 500 Index. At this point, “companies should not be burning capital to be keeping the production base at an unsustainable level,” said Tom Loughrey, a former hedge fund manager who started his own shale-data firm, Friezo Loughrey Oil Well Partners LLC. “This is swing production — and that means you’re going to have to swing down.” “Even the best operators will have to reduce activity,” said Artem Abramov, head of shale research at Rystad. “It’s not only about commerciality of the wells. It’s a lot about corporate cash flow balances. It’s almost impossible to be fully cash flow neutral this year with this price decline.”

These energy companies have the highest debt and the most at risk as the oil market collapses - Investors shocked at Saudi Arabia’s decision to lower oil prices and increase production sent financial markets reeling. A concern now for the oil and gas industry is which players can survive a prolonged market imbalance.West Texas crude oil for April delivery CL.1, 3.434% fell as much as 25% to $31.13 a barrel Monday. That action followed Saudi Arabia’s announcement Saturday that after failed negotiations between OPEC and Russia to cut production in an attempt balance supply with reduced demand as the coronavirus spread, it would actually lower its own prices while increasing production.“Now the question is, what is the Russian response?” said Philip Orlando, chief equity market strategist for Federated Hermes, in an interview. “Do they hold their breath until they turn blue? Or do they say, ‘You have the market weight here, why don’t we sit down to cut and stabilize the market?’ That may be too obvious and rational, so I have no idea how this is going to end up.”Banks with heavy exposure to the energy industry may be facing defaults, loan losses and other fallout. Here’s a list of banks with the most exposure as a share of tangible common equity. But how about the energy borrowers? Starting with the S&P Composite 1500 (made up of the S&P 500, the S&P 400 Mid Cap Index, and the S&P Small Cap 600 Index, here are the 20 U.S.-listed oil companies with the highest percentages of long-term debt to equity, according to FactSet, based on their most recent regulatory filings as of March 6:

U.S. Shale Drillers Could Be Casualties of Oil-Price War – WSJ - Standoff between Russia, Saudi Arabia over oil production cuts threatens to devastate U.S. frackers, who have little ability to withstand lower prices. U.S. shale drillers are poised to be among the biggest losers in the oil-price war stoked by Russia and Saudi Arabia that has sent global prices crashing. Dozens of debt-addled companies, including Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Whiting Petroleum Corp., were already facing financial difficulties even before U.S. benchmark prices plummeted 25% to $31.13 a barrel Monday, the largest drop since 1991.

Russia's oil price war with Saudi Arabia could cause defaults in US — Russian officials have wounded the US shale industry by starting a full blown oil price war. While the standoff could cause enduring damage to the American energy sector, some analysts think the price war is temporary. Shares for Houston-based oil and gas companies like Apache and Occidental Petroleum plunged more than 50% yesterday after an oil-pumping frenzy erupted: Russian authorities, with an eye on the US energy industry, reportedly refused to agree with their Opec partners on a production cut to stabilize oil prices. Saudi Arabia retaliated by slashing its official prices and signaling that it will crank up output. The stakes are getting higher as Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company pledged today a massive ramp up in production.Benchmark oil prices plunged more than 20% yesterday, the largest one-day drop since the Gulf War in 1991, sparking pandemonium in equity and bond markets around the world. Brent crude rose about 6% to $37 a barrel in London trading this morning.Many American companies that specialize in extraction from shale and fracking are vulnerable because they are highly indebted. Energy exploration and production firms have $86 billion of debtcoming due between now and 2024, and much of it is junk rated, according to Moody’s Investors Service. Those companies have to repay their borrowings or find a way to refinance. That could be difficult for a host of oil executives as energy prices drop, hurting revenue and profit, and as credit markets get tighter, making it harder to raise funds.Bonds of Antero Resources were heavily traded yesterday, according to MarketAxess data. The yield on the Denver-based company’s notes that are due November 2021 jumped as much as 3.7 percentage points relative to similar-maturity Treasuries, signaling growing investor concern about the company’s creditworthiness. Bond yields increase as their price falls. The US energy industry has been a powerful tailwind for creating jobs, sucking in workers from around the country and even the rest of the world. And while lower energy prices can put some extra money in consumers’ pockets, a series of energy company defaults would put a substantial number of laborers out of work. The chief executive at Pioneer Natural Resources told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that half of the publicly listed exploration and producing companies could go bankrupt (paywall) in the next two years.

Jim Cramer says he could see '9 or 10' oil companies going bankrupt if crude declines persist -- CNBC’s Jim Cramer said Monday he could see the oil industry experiencing a significant wave of bankruptcies if low crude prices persist. Of the more than 35 companies in the oil industry he follows, Cramer said, “I think fully maybe 9 or 10 can go.” Cramer’s remarks on “Closing Bell” came as oil prices sank to multiyear lows after a heightening of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia. His comments also came shortly after the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 2,000 points, or 7.79%, in its worst day since 2008. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude declined 24.59%, or $10.15, on Monday to close the session at $31.13 per barrel. In early January, WTI was at more than $60 per barrel. International benchmark Brent crude sank 21.3% to $35.58 per barrel on Monday. The steep declines in crude prices follow reports that Saudi Arabia is planning to cut its oil prices while also increasing production. Saudi Arabia is planning the move after OPEC was unable to reach an agreement with its allies, led by Russia, over production cuts. The production cuts were being considered in response to a decline in global demand for oil, brought about by the fast-spreading coronavirus. The XOP ETF, which tracks oil and gas companies, fell 27% on Monday. Cramer is among many analysts and experts who are warning about the future of oil companies if crude remains at such a low price. One big reason: Over the next four years, the U.S. oil and gas industry has about $86 billion of rated debt due, according to Moody’s. And low oil prices make it difficult for those companies to make debt payments. “We’ll see bankruptcies. We’re going to see some [companies] really trying to survive,” oil expert Daniel Yergin told CNBC earlier Monday. “This is a very difficult, bracing period for those companies.”

Oil Price Crash: 50% Of U.S. Shale Could Go Bankrupt - Oil opened on Monday down roughly 25 percent, the sharpest decline in decades, and broader financial markets fell so precipitously that the circuit breakers put in place during times of volatility tripped, temporarily halting trading.The list of adjectives available to describe what is happening to the oil market is not adequate. There are now multiple crises unfolding at the same time.First, there is obviously a health crisis – the coronavirus continues to spread. Large swathes of northern Italy are now on lockdown. The number of cases in the U.S. has surged, and could explode in the coming days. Mandatory lockdowns may not be far off. The Trump administration is asleep at the wheel, actively trying to play down the extent of the crisis.Second, there is a brewing economic crisis. China shut down parts of its economy in January and February. Parts of Europe followed. The U.S. is next. The Dow Jones has fallen by more than 16 percent in the past week, and markets have quickly shifted from concern to full blown panic.Third, if all of that is not enough, OPEC and Russia just added on an oil supply crisis. The collapse of talks last week and the ensuing price war has WTI down to $33 per barrel as of midday on Monday, down from $45 last Thursday on the eve of the OPEC+ talks. OPEC and Russia have said that all restraints on production expire at the end of the month, and everyone can produce at will. Oil could easily be in the $20s at any moment (and might be by the time this piece is published).For the U.S. oil industry, this is a historic crisis. It has the ingredients to be far worse than the 2008 financial meltdown. At that time, a sharp contraction in the global economy blew a hole in the market. But OPEC responded by cutting production. This time, that same potential for an economic calamity is present, but there is an oil price war occurring simultaneously.

 Only 4 Shale Drillers Are Still Profitable At $31 Oil --Most shale oil wells drilled in the United States are unprofitable at current oil prices, Rystad Energy has warned. The Norwegian consultancy said, as quoted by Bloomberg, that drilling new wells would be loss-making for more than 100 companies.  Just four shale drillers - Exxon, Chevron, Occidental, and Crownquest - can drill new wells at a profit at $31 per barrel of West Texas Intermediate.  The problem is the nature of shale oil wells: while quick to start production and expand it, they are also quick to run out of oil, so drillers need to keep drilling new ones to maintain production, which is what U.S. shale patch players have been doing for years.However, this has affected investor returns, Bloomberg notes, and now it is affecting spending plans.“Companies should not be burning capital to be keeping the production base at an unsustainable level,” Tom Loughrey from shale oil data company Friezo Loughrey Oil Well Partners LLC told Bloomberg.“This is swing production -- and that means you’re going to have to swing down.” The situation is more positive for drilled but uncompleted wells, according to Rystad. The consultancy said yesterday that as much as 80 percent of DUCs in the U.S. shale patch have a breakeven price of less than $25 per barrel of WTI. Yet this is dangerously close to current prices.

U.S. oil company workers make big, bad retirement bet: their own stock  (Reuters) - Employees at the largest U.S. oil companies have lost around $5 billion in retirement savings since the end of 2018 because of outsized bets on their own slumping stock, according to a Reuters analysis of company disclosures, a trend exacerbated by the recent crash in oil prices. The losses spread across the 401(k) plans of some 66,000 workers underscore the dangers facing employees that do not diversify their retirement investments. The issue is most pronounced at big blue-chip corporations that have historically matched worker retirement contributions in shares and whose stocks have track records of stable growth. “A lot of people think their company’s stock is safer than an index fund,” said David Blanchett, head of retirement research at Morningstar Inc. The biggest U.S. oil producers by market cap - Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), Chevron (CVX.N), ConocoPhillips (COP.N), EOG Resources (EOG.N) and Occidental Petroleum Corp (OXY.N) - held $44 billion of 401(k) assets for some 66,000 workers at the end of 2018, 36% of which was made up of company stock, according to the filings that contain the latest available data. By contrast, only about 6% of 401(k) assets held at U.S. corporations across all industries were invested in company stock at the end of 2016, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonpartisan group based in Washington. The median total return for the five oil companies’ shares, meanwhile, amounted to negative 44% since the end of 2018, with a range of negative 22% to negative 77%. That includes losses after major oil benchmarks on Monday recorded their biggest one-day percentage drop since 1991 due to a looming price war between major oil producers Saudi Arabia and Russia.

White House likely to pursue federal aid for shale companies hit by oil shock, coronavirus - The White House is strongly considering pushing federal assistance for oil and natural gas producers hit by plummeting oil prices amid the coronavirusoutbreak, as industry officials close to the administration clamor for help, according to four people familiar with internal deliberations. President Trump has touted the growth of oil and natural gas production under his administration, celebrating their rise in politically crucial swing states such as Pennsylvania. But many oil and gas firms were hammered Monday by the price war that broke out between Saudi Arabia and Russia, driving oil prices down in their steepest one-day drop in almost 30 years. White House officials are alarmed at the prospect that numerous shale companies, many of them deep in debt, could be driven out of business if the downturn in oil prices turns into a prolonged crisis for the industry. The federal assistance is likely to take the form of low-interest government loans to the shale companies, whose lines of credit to major financial institutions have been choked off, three people said. Trump and advisers have been taking calls since Monday from concerned energy sector allies, who have voiced concern and at times exasperation not only about oil prices, but also privately warning against the administration supporting any sweeping paid sick leave policy, according to a major GOP donor and a White House official familiar with the discussions. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss private conversations. Even major oil companies are threatened by the oil price slump. Occidental Petroleum on Tuesday slashed its dividend to 11 cents a share from 79 cents and cut capital spending by a third. Oil prices staged a partial rebound Tuesday after plummeting the day before. One of the companies hardest hit was Continental Resources, founded by Harold Hamm, a Trump supporter and an adviser to the president on energy issues. It lost more than half of its market value Monday, though it recovered about 8 percent by midday Tuesday. Hamm’s 77 percent personal stake in the company lost $2 billion of its value Monday. Hamm said in an interview Tuesday he had reached out to the administration but had not made “direct" contact. He said that the administration should consider using laws on illegal dumping to prevent Russia and Saudi Arabia from slashing prices of oil sold in the United States.  Hamm said the administration should consider “any action that the administration might take to protect and preserve American interests at this time from being unfairly disadvantaged by whatever government — and we’re talking governments here, whether it be Russia or Saudi Arabia.”

Trump's coronavirus handout to oil industry would be dumb, destructive - Thousands have died. Millions are in quarantine. Almost all of us are in the path of what has now been declared a global pandemic that is shutting down whole cities. For most Americans, the coronavirus is a frightening reminder of our personal and social vulnerabilities.To oil industry executives, though, COVID-19 smells like opportunity. Citing a plunging demand for oil linked to the virus and the industry’s global failure to curb its own production, U.S. oil companies just asked the Trump administration for a long list of special handouts.They didn’t have to wait long for an answer.  Trump and Senate Republicans are reportedly considering various plans to offer low-interest loans to oil companies, making it even easier to drill and frack our beautiful public lands, defer tax payments and cut royalties for oil production on federal property, and perhaps even use public money to buy up the companies’ crude for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.These demands aren’t really new. The industry, which already gets billions in subsidies every year, has long fought to evade royalties for oil taken from our public lands, and the Trump administration has happily helped companies pay taxpayers as little as possible.But the coronavirus is being used as fresh wrapping for these old, bad ideas. And if oil companies’ wish list is granted by Trump officials eager to appease shale oil billionaires like Harold Hamm, it’ll be one of the dumbest, most damaging things the administration has done for this polluting industry. We’ll see even more destructive drilling and fracking on public lands at a time when the administration is already opening natural treasures like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and California’s central coast to the oil industry.We’ll see oil companies do even more harm to our climate even though fossil fuel production on federal lands already causes about a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. One need not be a genius — stable or not — to spot the major logical flaw here. If the Trump administration makes it even cheaper and easier to drill on our public lands, what will oil companies do?  They’ll pump more oil, contributing to the glut and drive prices lower.

The Absurdity Of Trump’s Bid To Bail Out The Oil And Gas Industry -- The White House’s nascent effort to bail out oil and gas producers struggling with plunging oil prices could become a political boondoggle, legal and industry experts say, given the difficulty of finding congressional support for offering federal dollars to an industry plagued by reckless financing and devastating effects on the climate.The price war that broke out between Saudi Arabia and Russia on Sunday pushed the price of crude into its steepest single-day nosedive since 1991. Both producers vowed to continue oversupplying the market even as the panic over the coronavirus pandemic grounded planes and shuttered factories, significantly reducing demand. The combined effect sent the price of oil below $33 a barrel Wednesday and threatened what one analyst called a “financial bloodbath” for the U.S. fracking industry, whose rapid expansion over the past decade was fueled by precarious debt. In response, the Trump administration, which has aggressively bolstered the oil and gas sector, this week began “strongly considering” offering low-interest government loans to drillers, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. It’s unclear what form such an aid package would ultimately take and whether it would require congressional approval if it reached fruition. The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s largest and most powerful lobby, told reporters it was “not asking” for a bailout and denied having any talks with the administration. At a Wednesday hearing on Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration was considering a loan package to certain industries similar to the federal program to prop up airlines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks caused an abrupt drop in air travel.  That measure, which provided direct aid worth $7.3 billion in today’s dollars and $14.6 billion in loan guarantees for the airline industry, came through Congress and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on Sept. 23, 2001.

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Backs Away From Canadian Gas Project – WSJ - Move spurred by protests against another big energy project that involved blocking rail lines. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has backed out of financing a major gas project in the Canadian province of Quebec, prompting worries that international investors are increasingly shunning the country after protests over another energy project. Warren Buffett’s conglomerate pulled out of providing roughly 4 billion Canadian dollars ($2.99 billion) in equity financing for the Énergie Saguenay Project, a proposed Canadian natural gas export facility to be built 130 miles north of Quebec City, according to three people familiar with...

 US shale and Canadian oil sands production in a "cheap crude" world. - It’s a new world, folks. The Saudis and Russians, who until a few days ago had been trying to prop up crude oil prices through supply management, are now engaged in an all-out war for market share. Crude oil prices are sharply lower. Three weeks ago, West Texas Intermediate was selling for $53/bbl and Western Canadian Select for $37/bbl; yesterday, they were selling for $34/bbl and $22/bbl, respectively. And things may get worse. All this has profound implications for North American production, but the effects on production in U.S. shale plays versus the Canadian oil sands will be very different. Today, we explain how the oil sands provide steady-as-she-goes baseload supply through pricing peaks and valleys while U.S. shale plays serve as a global swing supplier.The crude-oil market gyrations of the past few days have left the energy industry shell-shocked, and for good reason. It’s been years since we’ve seen anything close to the once-unthinkable confluence of events that has dragged down oil prices. A coronavirus pandemic that is now affecting more than 100 countries, including the U.S. and Canada, and crippling global oil demand. The utter collapse of a fragile-but-effective coalition of OPEC and non-OPEC producers — including Russia — that for more than three years had held crude supply in check to keep prices from tumbling. And then there’s the stock market, whose free fall in recent days has left a long list of North American exploration and production companies (E&Ps) in a financially precarious state.This got us thinking about the challenges that U.S. shale and Canadian oil sands producers will be facing, particularly if crude oil prices stay low for a long time. The ups and downs of shale plays and the oil sands have been frequent topics in the RBN blogosphere. In our new Dakota series, for example, we’ve been discussing how gathering-system development has been sustaining an oil-production resurgence in the Bakken Shale. On the downside, we discussed slumping activity and production in the SCOOP and STACK plays of Oklahoma in Broke Down Engine. For the oil sands, there’s been more down than up since the crude oil price slump of 2014-16, as we noted in several series such as The Thrill is Gone, although bitumen production keeps rising. And in our seriesEverybody Wants to Rule the World, we covered the competitive strain that rising non-OPEC production had been putting on OPEC and its supply-management collaborators.

 ‘Ghost Flights’ Still Polluting the Skies as Coronavirus Keeps Passengers Grounded - The demand for flights has plummeted as the new coronavirus spreads around the globe, but some British airlines are still sending empty planes into the skies, burning thousands of gallons of fossil fuelsthat contribute needlessly to the climate crisis.These so-called "ghost flights" are taking off because of European rules saying airlines must use their airport space or give it up, The Times of London reported Friday. The situation has prompted UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to write to the independent airport slot coordinator Thursday, asking them to relax the rule in order to prevent airlines from flying nearly or entirely empty planes."Such a scenario is not acceptable," Shapps wrote. "It is not in the industry's, the passengers' or the environment's interests and must be avoided."European rules stipulate that airlines taking off from the continent must use 80 percent of their slots or lose them to someone else, Business Insider explained. Airport Coordination Limited has already relaxed the rules for flights to and from Hong Kong and mainland China, but they remain in effect for all other destinations, including outbreak hotspots like Italy and South Korea, according to The Independent.Shapps isn't the only one who has spoken out. Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss also called for the rules to be suspended, as they were following 9/11 and the SARS epidemic. "Passenger demand for air travel has dramatically fallen due to Covid-19 and in some instances we are being forced to fly almost empty planes or lose our valuable slots," he told The Independent.

America's shale gas 'revolution' has led to exports that span the globe — and helped solve Japan’s energy needs after a nuclear disaster -At the busy Port of Yokohama, near Tokyo, large oceangoing vessels carry new cars from Japanese factories to a global market. But one product the Japanese have always had to import is energy, and it’s clear from the port traffic how much energy the country needs. Tankers full of coal, liquefied petroleum gas and liquefied natural gas, or LNG, sail into the harbor from all over the world. More and more of that energy originates in the US. A boom in shale gas drilling in places like Texas and Pennsylvania has created a glut of domestic natural gas. That means even before the COVID-19 virus disrupted the energy markets in the past months, prices were at an all-time low. Producers eager to find new markets now ship gas overseas. And that has helped make the US the third-largest natural gas exporter in the world. And Japan is one country that has increased its imports of US shale gas. Nine years ago, on March 11, 2011, Japan’s energy landscape suddenly transformed when the massive Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami killed an estimated 22,000 people and led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. About half a million residents fled the radiation; some never returned to their homes. Japan shut down its nuclear power plants in the wake of that disaster, which meant the source of one-third of the country’s energy production quickly vanished. New imports helped make up for the loss. US exports of coal to Japan increased and the amount of electricity generated from natural gas jumped 50% in the wake of the disaster. Japan has long been the world’s largest importer of natural gas, and the newly abundant US shale gas wells provided a solution to the sudden loss of nuclear energy. “After 2010, everybody, including the Japanese government and industry, realized the significance of the shale revolution in the United States,” said Ken Koyama, chief economist and managing director at the Institute of Energy Economics in Japan. Japan has little natural resources of its own and must import its fossil fuels. Energy security is key for Japan, says Koyama. The country is still dependent on Middle East oil. “That’s a critical challenge,” Koyama said. “LNG is an important source of diversification for us.”

Pertamina cleans beaches in Balikpapan of possible oil pollution - State-owned oil and gas company Pertamina has cleaned several beaches in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, of what appears to be traces of an oil spill.Pertamina deployed its Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) team on Sunday to clean up oil floating on the water and inspect the company’s facilities, according to its spokesman Roberth Marchelino Verieza.“We’ve received information regarding oil spills and have found that there are some traces of oil in the area. We also checked our facilities to ensure that we’re not the one causing the oil trail,” he said as quoted by Pertamina’s inspection, according to Roberth, found no traces of oil at the company’s jetty and oil catchers.  The Balikpapan Environment Agency has recorded five oil spills over the course of two years, two of which occurred in 2018. Sunday’s incident occurred at around 5 p.m., with pollution detected on the four beaches of Monpera, Kemala, Adi Pratama and Kilang Mandiri, agency head Suryanto said.He added that the agency was still investigating the incident by burning the floating substance, but said it did not react to the fire.“[We’ve conducted testing] from the beach of Monpera to Benua Patra. We held fire to the water surface but it didn’t burn,” he said, adding that the floating black substance could be wastewater rather than oil.   However, the agency has asked Pertamina to clean up the pollution as the company owns spill kits and water treatment plants to process hazardous waste. (mpr)

 Crude oil spill in Narali dam poses serious threat to human health - A recent waste crude oil spillage, after recent heavy rain spell, in the Nirali Dam of Gujar Khan has posed serious threat to human health and environment in the vicinity. Assistant Director Punjab Environment Protection Department (EPD) Amin Baig told APP that the crude oil leakage occurred in the Adhi Oil field of Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL). “After reports of the oil flow over into the reservoir, EPD team visited the site and took the PPL administration on board whereas DO Fisheries Muratab Ali also accompanied the team. Water samples have been collected from the banks of the dam and also from the middle of the water reservoir to ascertain the level of oil contamination in the reservoir," he added. He noted that the water color and shining surface in the centre of the dam indicated the presence of crude oil. He informed that the water samples were sent to the laboratory in Lahore to gauge the level pollution in the dam. Amin added that the dam water was used for irrigation and fish farming purposes and was not used for drinking. “The oil overflow into the dam was first identified by the Irrigation Department where after meticulous observation of the water reserve proved the presence of oil," he noted. To a question, he said Well No.5 at the Oil field was suspected to be the oil leaking sources where we had collected random samples from final outlet of the oil field and then the dam. According to Safe Drinking Water Foundation (SDWF), a Canadian charity working on the subject since January 1998 claimed that oil pollution could damage ecosystems, including plants and animals, and contaminate water for drinking and other purposes.

 Coal cargo ship grounded near Karachi coast - A vessel carrying coal cargo has grounded near Mubarak Village at Karachi’s coast, quoting local fishermen ARY News reported on Wednesday. Big waves in the sea steered the coal cargo ship from its route towards the beach this morning, which grounded at the rocky surface of the beach near Mubarak Village, local fishermen said. It is unlikely to guide the ship out due to high waves and rough weather according to sources. The coal cargo of the ship belongs to a power company based in Balochistan, sources said. Local residents have expressed apprehensions about spread of pollution after grounding of the coal ship near Mubarak Village. “The coastline will pollute again as happened after October 2018 oil spill”, local councilor Sarfaraz Haroon said. “Those responsible for the oil spill yet to be traced,” Haroon said. The oil spill had affected livelihood of local fishermen while the government yet to compensate the losses, a local fisherman said. The pollution from the coal ship will also affect the marine life, residents said. The oil spill had damaged about one mile of the coastline near the port city of Karachi. Traces of oil were found across an 8-kilometer (5-mile) stretch.

 Reps order investigation of NOSDRA over five years oil spill - The House of Representatives, on Wednesday in Abuja, ordered an immediate probe of the cleanup of spills and remediation in oil-producing areas of the country in the last five years. Considering a motion sponsored by Abubakar Hassan Fulata at plenary presided by Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, it resolved to set up an ad-hoc committee to probe activities of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) in the Joint Investigative Visits. It also resolved to investigate the extent of compliance with the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for Petroleum Industry in Nigeria (EGASPIN) and report within eight weeks for further legislative action. While moving the motion, Fulata (Jigawa APC) expressed concern over the sufferings in the Niger Delta region as a result of over 50 years of oil spills and subsequent pollution of the freshwater system, degradation of water quality and lowering of food web productivity. He said he was privy to information that life expectancy in the country stood at 55 years whereas in the Niger Delta it was lower by 10 years due to pollution. He claimed that the annual report of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) indicated that 569 incidents of oil spills were conveyed with 9718.22 barrels spilled and only 800.55 barrels were recovered, while thousands of barrels of oil were lost to the environment. Fulata said he was aware that the oil-producing communities continued to complain of belated joint investigative visits (JlVs), inadequate oil spill cleanup and remediation, thus aggravating the woes of polluted communities. The lawmaker noted that increase in oil revenue to the nation was contingent on the peace and harmony that reigns in the oil-producing areas, adding that with the current drift in global oil prices, failure to clean up impacted sites would create tension in the communities, which may impact national oil production.

World Bank accused over ExxonMobil plans to tap Guyana oil rush -The World Bank is to pay for Guyana’s oil laws to be rewritten by a legal firm that has regularly worked for ExxonMobil, just as the US producer prepares to extract as much as 8bn barrels of oil off the country’s coast.The World Bank has pledged not to fund fossil fuel extraction directly, but it isgiving Guyana millions of dollars to develop governance in its burgeoning oil sector, as the south American country prepares for an oil rush led by ExxonMobil and its partners.Guyana’s government was in charge of hiring US law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth to revise its Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act, the environment and rights campaign group Urgewald found.The World Bank reviewed the procurement and found no problems with the process. The Washington-based bank will fund the work with a grant worth $1.96m (£1.5m).Hunton Andrews Kurth has acted for ExxonMobil for 40 years, including multiple cases involved in climate impacts, such as an action by native Americans in the Alaskan village of Kivalina who argued that the climate crisis was threatening their way of life.“The World Bank claims to be striving for ‘good governance’ in revising Guyana’s legal framework for oil development,” said Heike Mainhardt, senior advisor on multilateral financial institutions at Urgewald. “However, they are hiring the law firm who counts among their major clients ExxonMobil– the company leading the oilfield development in Guyana.“This is ‘good governance’ for the oil companies, not for the people of Guyanaor the global climate. The World Bank is causing a conflict of interest, in effect undermining good governance.”

Saudi Aramco shares fall below IPO price for first time, Gulf stocks plummet after OPEC deal failure - Shares of Saudi state oil giant Aramco traded below their original IPO price for the first time Sunday, at 30.90 riyals ($8.24) at 12:30 p.m. in Riyadh compared with the listing price of 32 riyals in December. That’s down 6.36% on the day. Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange, the Tadawul, was down 7.7% in afternoon trading after plans to orchestrate a supply cut among OPEC and non-OPEC states collapsed amid investor fears surrounding the fast-spreading coronavirus. Aramco became the world’s most valuable publicly traded company when its share price gave it a record valuation of $1.7 trillion after 1.5% of the enormous firm was listed on the local stock exchange late last year.Stock markets across the rest of the Gulf also fell dramatically during Sunday trading.  Indexes in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Kuwait were all down several percentage points after the market open. The Abu Dhabi index fell 5.8%, Dubai’s Financial Market General Index was down 7.47% and Kuwait’s premier market index had plunged by 10% at 1:30 p.m. Dubai time, causing trading on the Kuwait index to be suspended.

Oil demand set for first contraction since 2009 due to coronavirus (Reuters) - Global oil demand is set to contract in 2020 for the first time in more than a decade as global economic activity stalls due to the coronavirus, the International Energy Agency said on Monday. The downward revision came as oil prices dropped as much as third in their biggest one-day fall since the 1991 Gulf War after Saudi Arabia launched a bid for market share following the collapse of an output pact with Russia. The energy watchdog said it expected oil demand to be 99.9 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2020, lowering its annual forecast by almost 1 million bpd and signalling a contraction of 90,000 bpd, the first time demand will have fallen since 2009. Global oil demand fell 2.5 million bpd on the year in the first quarter, or around 2.5%, the IEA estimated in its report, as coronavirus cut travel and economic activity. Around 1.8 million bpd of that was in China. The Paris-based IEA said in its medium-term outlook report that in an extreme scenario where governments fail to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which has affected over 100,000 people, consumption could drop by up to 730,000 bpd. The virus has led to a sharp drop in industrial activity particularly in China and other Asian economies, as well as Italy, one of the worst-affected places outside China. The virus has led to a slowdown in demand for ground and air transport. IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol urged producers to "behave responsibly" in the face of the coronavirus crisis, after a deal on output restraint between OPEC, Russia and other producers collapsed last week, sending oil prices plunging. "At such a time of uncertainty and potential vulnerability to the world economy ... playing Russian roulette with the oil markets may well have grave consequences," Birol told reporters. Saudi Arabia, OPEC's biggest producer, signalled it would pump more, sending oil prices down to levels that will place a strain on its budget and those of other oil producers, and put a severe squeeze on producers of more costly U.S. shale oil. Birol said the low oil prices could put many major crude producing nations such as Iraq, Angola and Nigeria under "huge" financial strain and fuel social pressures.

 Is coronavirus causing the largest oil decline in history? — The coronavirus outbreak is threatening to cause a historic drop in global oil sales, potentially resulting in the first annual decline in demand since the financial crisis and recession of more than a decade ago. Both the Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs and the research firm IHS Markit predicted as much this week with IHS forecasting crude demand will decline by 3.8 million barrels per day over the first three months of 2020, which would be the largest drop in history and another blow to Texas’ oil industry. The Norwegian consultancy Rystad issued its own dire forecast on Thursday, estimating that oil demand plunged by 4.6 million barrels a day in February.   “This is a sudden, instant demand shock — and the scale of the decline is unprecedented,” said Jim Burkhard, vice president and head of oil markets at IHS Markit.The virus’s potential to upend global energy demand has roiled commodity markets. Oil settled at $46.78 a barrel Wednesday in New York, down 40 cents on the day. Oil is down more than 20 percent from the beginning of the year, when it was trading about $60 a barrel. And with coronavirus now spreading to countries around the globe, fear is building that energy demand could fall much further. Flights are being canceled in Europe, while schools are closed in Japan and towns quarantined in Italy. So far, the hit to demand mostly has come in China, where government officials have ordered residents in some regions off the road, crashing fuel demand to near zero, said Ann Louise Hittle, head oil market analyst at research firm Wood Mackenzie. But it’s unclear whether such a demand hit would come in other countries, where governments don’t maintain the same degree of authority. “People literally couldn’t drive in Hubei (province in central China) unless they had permission,” Hittle said. “I don’t think we’re going to see that in northern Italy. It’s not like the government there can do that.”

Oil is now a 'bigger problem for markets than the coronavirus,' analyst says - Oil prices plunged last week as OPEC and its allies failed to reach an agreement on production cuts, and as prices look set to continue cratering, some are warning about the impact on the broader economy. “Crude has become a bigger problem for markets than the coronavirus,” Adam Crisafulli, founder of Vital Knowledge, said Sunday. “It will be virtually impossible for the [S&P 500] to sustainably bounce if Brent continues to crater,” he added. Crisafulli noted that oil is “critical” to the U.S. economy. Many people are employed by the industry, and highly leveraged oil and gas companies are key to the fixed income market. “The sector is like the ‘FANG’ of credit, esp. high yield, given the enormous amount of debt it has outstanding,” he said. Oil prices have been suppressed since the coronavirus outbreak stoked fears about a slowdown in demand for crude. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude has dropped 32% this year, while international benchmark Brent crude is down 31%. Many on the Street expected OPEC to step in with deeper production cuts in an effort to prop up prices. But after talks collapsed Friday — OPEC ally Russia refused to agree to the proposed additional output reductions of 1.5 million barrels per day — there could now also be issues on the supply side. The 14-member cartel and its allies, known as OPEC+, also failed to reach an agreement on extending the current production cuts. This means that on April 1, when the current agreement expires, each nation effectively has free rein over how much crude it pumps. On Saturday Saudi Arabia announced massive discounts to its official selling prices for April, and the nation could theoretically pump up to its capacity of 12.5 million barrels per day. Morgan Stanley forecasts Brent falling to $35 per barrel in the second quarter, with WTI trading as low as $30 per barrel. The firm’s prior forecast had Brent at $57.50 and WTI at $52.50. Some are even more bearish. ″$20 oil in 2020 is coming,” Ali Khedery, formerly Exxon’s senior Middle East advisor and now CEO of U.S.-based strategy firm Dragoman Ventures, wrote Sunday on Twitter. “Huge geopolitical implications. Timely stimulus for net consumers. Catastrophic for failed/failing petro-kleptocracies Iraq, Iran, etc - may prove existential 1-2 punch when paired with COVID19.”

 Putin just sparked an oil price war with Saudi Arabia — and US energy companies may be the victims - Vladimir Putin just sparked what could end up being one of the ugliest oil price wars in modern history, and American oil and gas companies may be the victims. This weekend Saudi Arabia dropped the oil bomb. It not only cut its forward crude price to Chinese customers by as much as $6 or $7 per barrel, but is also reportedly looking to raise its daily crude output by as many as 2 million barrels per day into an already oversupplied global market. Look out below. The move by the Saudis is both a market share grab and a loud signal to Moscow that it’s done playing games. The dramatic action is in response to a contentious, and ultimately failed, OPEC meeting in Austria on Friday. OPEC members laid out a proposal to further cut oil output quotas by as much as 1.5 million barrels per day. OPEC itself was aligned on the deal, but non-OPEC member Russia said “nyet,” effectively killing it. A source inside the negotiations tells me that as the two sides worked out production cut plans, in the end the “red lines weren’t even close.” The source added that the Russians “definitely don’t want to continue to support shale” at least in part because the Rosneft sanctions were still “too raw.” It was only three weeks ago that the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Russian oil giant Rosneft for transporting Venezuelan oil. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believes that in helping Venezuela sell oil, Russia is effectively propping up the Maduro regime. Rosneft is run by Igor Sechin, a former employee and close friend of Putin. Connect the dots. Putin reacting to Trump. The Saudis, led by Energy Minister and son of the king Abdulaziz bin Salman, reacting to Putin. And American oil and gas workers and investors are caught in the middle of this epic ego battle. It couldn’t occur at a worse time. Coronavirus is already slamming global oil demand and crude prices have fallen 30% this year. Italy is trying to severely limit population movement in its most important economic region for a month, one which is responsible for about 20% of the nation’s economy. Put another way: economically, Italy is trying to lock down the output of California, Oregon and Washington states combined. For a month. Could that happen here in the states? Unlikely, but there is a real risk of a sharp economic hit, as travel slows and people are asked to work from home. As the world’s biggest consumer, we use about 20 million barrels of oil per day. So even a small slowdown would have a huge impact on global supply and demand.

Saudi Arabia Starts All-Out Oil War- MbS Destroys OPEC By Flooding Market, Slashing Oil Prices - Following Friday's shocking collapse of OPEC+, when Russia and Riyadh were unable to reach an agreement during the OPEC+ summit in Vienna which was seeking up to 1.5 million b/d in further oil production cuts, on Saturday Saudi Arabia kick started what Bloomberg called an all-out oil war, slashing official pricing for its crude and making the deepest cuts in at least 20 years on its main grades, in an effort to push as many barrels into the market as possible. In the first major marketing decision since the meeting, the Saudi state producer Aramco, which successfully IPOed just before the price of oil cratered ... launched unprecedented discounts and cut its April pricing for crude sales to Asia by $4-$6 a barrel and to the U.S. by a whopping $7 a barrel in attempts to steal market share from 3rd party sources, according to a copy of the announcement seen by Bloomberg. In the most significant move, Aramco widened the discount for its flagship Arab Light crude to refiners in north-west Europe by a hefty $8 a barrel, offering it at $10.25 a barrel under the Brent benchmark. In contrast, Urals, the Russian flagship crude blend, trades at a discount of about $2 a barrel under Brent. Traders said the Saudi move was a direct attack at the ability of Russian companies to sell crude in Europe. The draconian cuts in monthly pricing by state prouder Saudi Aramco are the first and clearest indication of how the Saudis will respond to the break up of the alliance between OPEC and Russia, which as we noted earlier, dumped MbS on Friday in a stunning reversal within OPEC+. Talks in Vienna ended in dramatic failure on Friday as Saudi Arabia’s gamble to get Russia to agree to a prolonged and deeper cut failed to pay off. And the second indication that the OPEC oil cartel is now effectively dead, came a few hours later when Bloomberg again reported that in addition to huge price cuts, Saudi Arabia was set to flood the market with a glut of oil to steal market share and capitalize on its just announced massive price cuts as the kingdom plans to increase oil output next month, going well above 10 million barrels a day.  In addition to slashing prices,  Saudi Arabia has privately told some market participants it could raise production much higher if needed, even going to a record of 12 million barrels a day, according to Bloomberg sources.

Oil plummets 30% as OPEC deal failure sparks price war -- Oil prices plunged 30% in early trading Sunday night after OPEC's failure to strike a deal with its allies regarding production cuts caused Saudi Arabia to slash its prices as it reportedly gets set to ramp up production, leading to fears of an all-out price war. International benchmark Brent crude futures plummeted 30% to $32.05 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude dropped 27% to $30 per barrel, its lowest level since Feb. 22, 2016. "This has turned into a scorched Earth approach by Saudi Arabia, in particular, to deal with the problem of chronic overproduction," . "The Saudis are the lowest cost producer by far. There is a reckoning ahead for all other producers, especially those companies operating in the U.S shale patch." After the initial drop the losses were pared somewhat, with each contract trading down slightly more than 21%.  On Saturday, Saudi Arabia announced massive discounts to its official selling prices for April, and the nation is reportedly preparing to increase its production above the 10 million barrel per day mark, according to a Reuters report. The kingdom currently pumps 9.7 million barrels per day, but has the capacity to ramp up to 12.5 million barrels per day. "We believe the OPEC and Russia oil price war unequivocally started this weekend when Saudi Arabia aggressively cut the relative price at which it sells its crude by the most in at least 20 years," . "The prognosis for the oil market is even more dire than in November 2014, when such a price war last started, as it comes to a head with the significant collapse in oil demand due to the coronavirus," the firm added. Saudi Arabia's price cut followed a breakdown of talks in Vienna last week. On Thursday, OPEC recommended additional production cuts of 1.5 million barrels per day starting in April and extending until the end of the year. But OPEC ally Russia rejected the additional cuts when the 14-member cartel and its allies, known as OPEC+, met on Friday. The meeting also concluded with no directive about the production cuts that are currently in place but set to expire at the end of the month. This effectively means that nations will soon have free rein over how much they pump.

OPEC deal collapse sparks price war: '$20 oil in 2020 is coming' - Oil prices fell through the floor in early trading Monday, tanking as much as 30% after Saudi Arabia slashed its crude prices for buyers. The kingdom is reportedly preparing to open the taps in an apparent retaliation for Russia’s unwillingness to cut its own output. “This has turned into a scorched Earth approach by Saudi Arabia, in particular, to deal with the problem of chronic overproduction,” John Kilduff, founding partner of Again Capital, told CNBC. International benchmark Brent crude was trading at $33.79 a barrel — down almost 50% year to date — at 10:45 a.m. Singapore time, with West Texas Intermediate at $30.72. The U.S. benchmark commodity is on pace for its worst day since January 17, 1991, when it lost 33%, and its second-worst day ever. That was during the Persian Gulf War. Experts are now calling dramatically lower crude prices as major OPEC and non-OPEC producers ready for an all-out price war after failing to reach an output cut agreement Friday, in a sudden U-turn from previous attempts to support the oil market as the new coronavirus hammers global demand. ″$20 oil in 2020 is coming,” Ali Khedery, formerly Exxon’s senior Middle East advisor and now CEO of U.S.-based strategy firm Dragoman Ventures, wrote Sunday on Twitter. “Huge geopolitical implications. Timely stimulus for net consumers. Catastrophic for failed/failing petro-kleptocracies Iraq, Iran, etc - may prove existential 1-2 punch when paired with COVID19.” The comment came as oil prices are down 48% for the year and two days after Saudi Arabia announced massive discounts to its official selling prices for April, between $6 to $8 lower per barrel across all regions. Plunging price forecasts are also coming amid reports of a possible increase in production by the OPEC kingpin from its current 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) to as many as two million bpd more. With previously agreed OPEC+ production cuts expiring at the end of March, Saudi Arabia can theoretically pump as much as it wants — up to its capacity of 12.5 million bpd. And Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Friday that essentially the wheels come off next month: “As from 1 April we are starting to work without minding the quotas or reductions which were in place earlier,” he told reporters at the OPEC+ meeting in Vienna, adding, “but this does not mean that each country would not monitor and analyze market developments.” watch now

Oil bust, the sequel - The days of $30 a barrel are back. Oil followed Friday's rout by plunging more than 20 percent Sunday after Saudi Arabia said it planned to boost output and cut prices. The move followed the failure of OPEC and its allies, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, to reach an agreement to further cut production. Now, unleashed from the restrictions, the Saudis have signaled a campaign to regain market share, even if it means a price war with Russia and other producers.The timing, of course, couldn't be worse since prices were already sliding as the coronavirus pandemic slows the global economy and undermines energy demand.The situation is all too reminiscent of 2014, when OPEC also failed to agree on production cuts in the face of worldwide glut and tried to pump the American shale industry out of business. Oil prices went into free fall, taking hundreds of companies and tens of thousands of jobs with them. The oil and gas sector was already weakened by a long period of lackluster prices, faltering investor confidence and tight capital conditions. The question now is whether the shale industry can take a second oil bust in five years.

Oil Prices - McBride - From CNBC: Oil prices plunge as much as 30% after OPEC deal failure sparks price war - Oil prices plunged after OPEC’s failure to strike a deal with its allies regarding production cuts caused Saudi Arabia to slash its prices as it reportedly gets set to ramp up production, leading to fears of an all-out price war. The first graph shows WTI spot oil prices from the EIA. According to Bloomberg, WTI is at $32.55 per barrel today, and Brent is at $35.68.Prices collapsed in 2008 due to the financial crisis, and then increased as the economy recovered.   Oil prices collapsed again in 2014 and 2015, mostly due to oversupply.Currently demand has weakened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Saudi Arabia is apparently going to increase production. The second graph shows the year-over-year change in WTI based on data from the EIA.Six times since 1987, oil prices have increased 100% or more YoY.  And several times prices have almost fallen in half YoY.Currently WTI is down 42% year-over-year.

Column: As Saudi Arabia blows up crude oil market, stand by for fallout - Russell - (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has detonated a metaphorical nuclear weapon in the global oil market, blowing up prices and trade relationships with its decision to slash the cost of its own crude while ramping up output. The Saudi move was no shot across the bows aimed at Russia’s reluctance to extend and boost a deal to curb production. Instead, it was a full-on declaration of war. Saudi Aramco aims to lift its output above 10 million barrels per day (bpd) in April, possibly as high as 11 million bpd, two people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on March 8. Given its current output is around 9.7 million bpd, this means as much as an extra 1.3 million bpd could flood the market next month - just as demand is taking a major hit from the economic fallout of the global coronavirus epidemic. But pumping more oil was only one of the two barrels fired by the Saudis. The other was a massive cut to their official selling prices (OSPs) for April. Saudi Aramco prices its crude against various benchmarks for the different regions it supplies. The OSP for Saudi Aramco’s benchmark Arab Light grade was cut by $6 a barrel for Asian customers, the destination of about two-thirds of the kingdom’s exports. This was the largest monthly cut in Refinitiv records stretching back to 2003. The OSP was cut to a discount of $3.10 a barrel to the Oman/Dubai average for April, down from a premium of $2.90 for March cargoes. It wasn’t just Asian refiners getting a massive price cut. The Saudis slashed the Arab Light OSP for Northwest Europe by $8 a barrel to a discount of $10.25 a barrel to Brent, and the United States got a reduction of $7 a barrel to a discount of $3.75 against the Argus Sour Crude Index. When OPEC and its allies, including Russia, failed to agree to extend their output cut of 2.1 million bpd, which expires at the end of this month, or agree a further 1.5 million bpd reduction, it was always likely the Saudis would take action. The prevailing logic was that the Saudis wanted to send a message to Russia: Extending and increasing output restrictions would have been a good idea, and that it would have been in all the producers’ interests to make this happen. But there was nothing subtle in the eventual Saudi actions - the largest cut to the OSP in at least three decades and a threat to deluge an already swamped oil market.

Coronavirus and Russia Will Test Saudi Game Plan by Mohamed A. El-Erian -  Frustrated by the unwillingness of Russia and some other producers to join in a collective and coordinated output cut, Saudi Arabia announced over the weekend that it would slash its contractual export terms. The result will be a significant fall in prices as other producers follow suit and, concurrently, some traders and short-sellers feel encouraged to push markets even harder in an attempt to force distress selling by those with over-exposed long positions. This isn’t the first time that Saudi Arabia has taken this approach to resolve what is the main challenge to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ ability to manage oil prices using its long-standing swing producer model.  To work well, the model needs to operate in a bounded range for global oil demand, be supported by the general compliance of OPEC members, and face only limited erosion from production outside the cartel. With the growth of shale oil and non-OPEC production, this third condition has been particularly challenging, adding to the recurrent problem of some members cheating on their output ceilings. Indeed, it convinced Saudi Arabia some five years ago to abandon the swing producer role for a while as a way of getting compliance within the group as well as collective action with other major producers, such as Russia, or what has become known as OPEC+. The Saudis also wanted to curtail what had been a massive investment phase in shale. For this to work again, Saudi Arabia will need to navigate what is likely to be a sharp drop in oil earnings in the interim – and do so better than most other producers using some of its inherent structural advantages, including very low cost-per-barrel production, long-standing marketing relationships, high productivity and adaptability, and a massive national and international infrastructure.  The implied challenges, including tighter domestic budget conditions, will be amplified by what is likely to be fragile global demand as coronavirus fears continue to undermine activity through economic cascading stopsthat leave a path of simultaneous supply and demand destruction. Shale production is less of an issue as lower oil prices will quickly result in another market-driven reduction in output and investment in that area.

The Oil Price War Is Turning Into a Debt War -- Saudi Arabia's bloated budget means it's not really a low-cost producer. That's why any race to the bottom will be difficult to win.  In a war of attrition, the winner isn’t the force with overwhelming power, but the one with the greatest capacity to sustain damage. The current price war in the oil market is little different. Brent crude fell the most since the 1991 Gulf War Monday, dropping 31% in a matter of seconds, after Friday’s OPEC+ meeting broke up in disarray and Saudi Arabia slashed its crude prices and promised a surge in output.That decision to open the spigots may seem contradictory from a country that just days ago was trying to coax Russia to join a 1.5 million barrels-a-day production cut. What’s happening, though, is really just a change of tactics. While previously Saudi Arabia hoped to maintain its position and revenues in the oil market by encouraging cooperation between major players, it’s now betting that its best prospect is to do the opposite: Engage in a game of chicken with Moscow and the U.S. independent oil industry, and count on being the last player standing.If done right, this approach can be devastatingly effective. The current crisis looks like nothing so much as Saudi Arabia’s decision to flood the oil market in 1985 after years of restraint. That event, as we’ve written, ultimately helped precipitate the fall of the Soviet Union.Each of the major players has advantages and disadvantages right now. No one can produce oil as cheaply as Saudi Arabia: It takes just $2.80 to get a barrel out of an existing Saudi Arabian Oil Co. field, compared with about$16 for Exxon Mobil Corp. and more than $20 for Rosneft PJSC.  Overheads in this industry can be significant, though. That’s particularly the case with Aramco, which isn’t just an oil company, but an institution almost indistinguishable from the Saudi state itself. Once you consider the dependence of the Saudi economy on oil production, the best complete measure of Aramco’s overheads is probably the price at which the country’s budget breaks even — and that’s a whopping $83.60 a barrel, which we haven't seen in more than five years. Russia’s fiscal breakeven is around half that at $42 a barrel, and after sharp improvements in recent years, commercial producers in America’s Permian basin are around the same level.

Russia Says It Can Weather $25 Oil For Up To 10 Years - Now that both OPEC+ and OPEC no longer exist, and it's a free-for-all of "every oil producer for themselves" and which Goldman described as return to "the playbook of the New Oil Order, with low cost producers increasing supply from their spare capacity to force higher cost producers to reduce output", the key question is just how long can the world's three biggest producers - shale, Russia and Saudi Arabia ... sustain a scorched-earth price war that keep oil prices around $30 (or even lower). While we hope to get an answer on both Saudi and US shale longevity shortly, and once the market reprices shale junk bonds sharply lower, we expect the US shale patch to soon become a ghost town as money-losing US producers will not be solvent with oil below $30, assuring that millions in supply will soon be pulled from the market, moments ago we got the answer as far as Russia is concerned, when its Finance Ministry said on Monday that the country could weather oil prices of $25 to 30$ per barrel for between six and 10 years. The ministry said it could tap into the country’s National Wealth Fund to ensure macroeconomic stability if low oil prices linger. As of March 1, the fund held more than $150 billion or 9.2% of Russia’s growth domestic product.  Incidentally, this may explain why over the past two years, Putin has been busy dumping US Treasury and hoarding gold: he was saving liquidity for a rainy day, and as millions of shale workers are about to find out today, it's pouring.

Investors should sell oil stocks on any rumored OPEC deal, Jim Cramer says - Investors with holdings in oil and gas companies should offload their positions on any sign of a breakthrough in discussions between OPEC and its allies, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said Monday. “If there’s any kind of rumor that the Saudis and the Russians have a new deal to save OPEC and reinstate the old order, I think you use that as a chance to sell,” the “Mad Money” host said. “If you need the money, by all means sell [Tuesday] if it’s an oil company with a terrible balance sheet like Occidental.” Cramer, who has emerged as a critic of oil and gas stock ownership, made the recommendation after crude prices experienced their steepest one-day decline in nearly three decades. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude dropped 25% to less than $31 and international benchmark Brent crude plunged 26% to fall under $34, suffering their worst day since 1991. The sell-off in crude, which began last week after OPEC members failed to agree on oil production cuts with its allies, brought oil prices to their lowest levels since Feb. 2016. Wall Street participants worry that the failed talks could lead to an oil price war. Those anxieties, coupled with ongoing concerns about the fast-spreading coronavirus, led to a severe dip in the major stock averages. Cramer thinks oil and gas stocks are no longer investible largely in part due to eco-friendly investing trends among younger generations. “The issue is that when lots of money managers refuse to own your stocks, those stocks go lower,” Cramer said. “Now, though, we’ve got a much more serious, draconian reason to sell them: the sudden collapse in crude as Saudi Arabia and Russia engage in this vicious price war.”

Who will blink first? What an all-out oil price war means for the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia - An all-out oil price war has created an “unprecedented” situation in energy markets, analysts told CNBC Monday, with traders impatiently waiting to see which of the world’s largest oil producers will blink first. It comes after OPEC and non-OPEC allies, sometimes referred to as OPEC+, failed to agree on the terms of deeper supply cuts late last week. The fallout between OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC leader Russia has kickstarted an oil price war, with crude futures on track to register their biggest daily rout since the first Gulf War in 1991. Oil prices were already reeling from the coronavirus outbreak, with many increasingly concerned about the outlook for oil demand growth. International benchmark Brent crude traded off lows at $37.24 Monday afternoon, still down more than 17%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $34.55, around 16% lower. Brent futures were down more than 30% at one stage in the session, before paring some of their losses. “We are experiencing, within a short period of time, a demand shock with corona and a supply shock now with OPEC,” “I mean, figuring that out is absolutely amazing, we are making history here. You can call it now a world war of oil. It is not that actually Saudi Arabia is taking on Russia which everyone is talking about. They may do that, but Russia always said they want to take on a little bit more of the shale industry.” “By Saudi Arabia actually now declaring war, they are front-running the Russians in declaring war on U.S. shale,” Benigni said. US oil industry ‘will certainly take the brunt of the pain’. On Saturday, Saudi Arabia announced massive discounts to its official selling prices for April, Reuters reported, with the oil-rich kingdom preparing to ramp up production above the 10 million barrels per day (bpd) mark. Riyadh currently pumps 9.7 million bpd but it has the capacity to increase production up to 12.5 million bpd. Chris Midgley, head of global analytics at S&P Global Platts, said Sunday that “unprecedented conditions” had created a situation where oil traders will be looking to see which producer blinks first. “While low prices will test Saudi fiscal balances, they have the lowest cost barrels and with low debt can pull on sovereign reserves and take the pain.” “Russia may simply allow the Rouble to slide in order to sustain flow or Roubles into their economy while U.S. Shale will certainly take the brunt of the pain — their production is unlikely to change quickly with much activity already committed and significant volumes hedged and protected,” Midgely said.

Oil market is facing a 'triple whammy' of pressures, says expert Dan Yergin -Oil expert Daniel Yergin told CNBC on Monday that the industry is facing “a triple whammy” of pressures, contributing to the tumult facing global markets. “You have oil, you have geopolitics, and you have the virus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning author said on “The Exchange.” The situation at hand for oil producers has become “a battle for market share in a constricting market,” he said. Yergin’s comments came as oil prices sank to multiyear lows following an escalation of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia. OPEC was unable to reach an agreement with its allies last week on production cuts, with Russia reportedly spearheading the opposition. Saudi Arabia responded by reducing its oil prices while it reportedly plans to increase its own production. But Yergin called attention to one of the reasons the potential production cut was being discussed: the fast-spreading coronavirus. The disease, which originated in China but has since spread across the globe, has dramatically reduced the demand for oil as business activity and other consumer behavior such as travel have been curtailed. “It starts with the virus,” said Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit. “In the first quarter, we estimate that oil demand compared to last year was down almost 4 million barrels a day.” And in the U.S. and Europe, where cases of the coronavirus have been escalating lately, the demand for oil is going to drop further before it gets better, he said. While demand for oil may not fall significantly in Europe and North America as it did in China, Yergin said, “This means that this market is going to be very difficult and countries are not going to be able to make up on volume what they lose on price.” U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude declined 24.59%, or $10.15, to end Monday at $31.13 per barrel. WTI was at more than $60 per barrel in early January. Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell by 21.3% on Monday to end the session at $35.58 per barrel. The low cost per barrel is causing concern over the fate of oil companies, many of which have sizable debt burdens that become more difficult to repay at current price levels.

Rebound from collapsed oil prices will be low and slow - If there were questions about what volatility in a low-priced oil market looks like, on Sunday, an iconic example was on full display. When the markets opened, oil traded in the $30/barrel range—a whopping 20 percent decline from the previous Friday. The fall was triggered by Russia and Saudi Arabia, which both promised to boost global oil supplies. Those announcements had multiple intents, including disciplining the U.S. shale industry, boosting Chinese imports, shaping global oil markets—and, possibly, punishing each other. The disorder and conflict that preceded these announcements, and the market chaos that ensued, clearly demonstrated that no one institution is in control of the oil markets. The new price volatility brings some key market trends to the foreground, all of which bear watching:

  • The integrated Chinese oil majors will pay the price for national service. Low prices hit state-owned oil companies hard, including their diversified oil, gas, and petrochemical interests. But in this downturn, the typical boost from low prices may be muted, as broader economic decline tamps down robust demand for energy or petrochemical products. China’s rush to build out its gas infrastructure to move high cost imported gas will lose momentum. Even PetroChina is looking to offload its loss-making pipeline assets.
  • The energy sector’s strategies are in disarray. Subsidies are now at war with economic fundamentals. Watch the fallout as markets unravel affecting the various subsidies and oil and gas cross-pollination schemes in Canada, Argentina, and between and within companies; industry-sponsored carbon innovation schemes around the world; and new technologies to boost production, from drill bit designs, to geological wizardry, to applications of IT. All must be rethought as claims about marginal productivity growth give way to more fundamental and dramatic deterioration in the investment rationale for fossil fuel investments.
  • The economic risks of fossil fuel lock-in have just exploded. Asia’s energy growth markets have long been told to bulk up on high cost fossil fuels rather than build lean and nimble grids that can scale in alignment with advances in deflationary new power technologies. The volatility of the past three days has destroyed what used to pass for conventional wisdom. The high-cost infrastructure needed to service fossil fuel imports —grids, ports, gasification terminals, rails, and pipelines—takes decades to pay off. These investments make no sense when fuel price volatility can whipsaw markets and wreck even the biggest energy companies.
  • The oil majors’ capital budgets are now up in the air. ExxonMobil, for example, just announced a new round of capital spending of up to US$35 bn annually that has been rendered obsolete almost overnight. Did the company learn anything from the last downturn?
  • Market instability will undermine the economic chain that supports petrochemical and plastics production. Even with lower cost feedstocks, a slowdown in demand coupled with lower prices for plastics creates economic uncertainty. Will the price disruption slow down capital spending on new cracker plants and plastics manufacturing? Will some companies put their development plans on hold, or cancel them outright?
  • Political risks in the oil markets have multiplied. Just when it seemed impossible for the political fragmentation within energy-producing nations to get any worse, it did.

Yes, fossil fuel interests will continue their talk of an “if only” rebound: if only the flu would go away, if only interest rates would stabilize, if only oil and gas prices would rise, if only climate and environmental regulations would disappear, if only U.S. shale producers would become disciplined. Yet in truth, fossil fuel development is too expensive for this economic epoch.

Saudi Arabia and Russia are playing hardball, waiting for each other to blink in the oil standoff - The standoff between oil majors Saudi Arabia and Russia could “last a while” as they wait for each other “blink first,” an analyst said Tuesday. The oil markets tanked Monday, plunging over 20% amid already poor sentiment due to the coronavirus outbreak. The oil slump followed a disagreement on production cuts between OPEC and its allies. Russia declined to lower output last week, and Saudi Arabia announced Saturday that it will offer discounts to its official selling prices next month. The kingdom is also reportedly planning to raise production. “It’s always tough to pick a fight with Russia, with Putin,” said Robert Johnston, director of global energy and natural resources at the Eurasia Group, a consultancy. “Now you have a standoff between Saudis and Russians over who will blink first. I do think this is going to last a while; I think this could be two to three months at least,” Johnston told CNBC. As much as the squabble is about oil production and prices, it is also about challenging the narrative of U.S. energy dominance, he added. The U.S. shale industry has changed the landscape for the global energy sector as the country heads toward becoming a net energy exporter. “Russia has been pushing back against U.S. influence all over the world, so think this is tied to that. I don’t think that would be resolved in the next two or three weeks,” said Johnston. It is an expensive and risky move by Moscow, which is a relatively expensive producer and it remains to be seen if they will be able to “kill shale or put it into hibernation,” he said. But, “they do have a lot of dry powder to work with here.” There are already about 3 million barrels a day in crude oil oversupply this year, so any loss in U.S. supply due to producers being squeezed out in the low-price environment would not be bullish for prices, said Richard Gorry, managing director at JBC Energy Asia.

Russia hints at further talks with Saudi Arabia after oil prices crash - Russia has refused to rule out talks with OPEC to stabilize energy markets, according to reports, after oil prices registered their worst declines in almost 30 years on Monday. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $37.32 Tuesday afternoon, up over 8.5%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $33.69, around 8.2% higher. It comes after Brent and WTI both dropped 24% on Monday, sinking to more than four-year lows. The moves follow a breakdown in talks between the kingpin of oil-producing group OPEC, Saudi Arabia, and non-OPEC member Russia late last week. Markets had been hoping for an agreement by both countries, and other oil producers, to curb oil output in an effort to bolster prices; their failure to agree led oil prices to crash on Monday. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that Moscow had not ruled out measures with OPEC to stabilize oil markets, according to Interfax news agency. Russia’s energy ministry has proposed to hold a meeting with Russian oil companies on Wednesday, Reuters reported, citing two unnamed sources. They are expected to discuss whether to prolong Russia’s alliance with OPEC. The collapse of the OPEC and non-OPEC agreement “does not appear to have been part of any pre-meditated strategy or plan on Russia’s part or done with the intention of undermining U.S. shale production,” Daragh McDowell, head of Europe and principal Russia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC via email. “The arrangement was unpopular with key members of the Russian elite — notably Rosneft’s Igor Sechin — and the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 outbreak provided a handy pretext for abandoning the deal.”

 Oil jumps 6% following worst day since 1991, as Street hopes for continued OPEC talks - Oil prices surged on Tuesday following reports that ongoing talks between OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+, remain possible. But some of the gains were pared as the Street digested what a possible increase in production from both Russia and Saudi Arabia would mean for the market.Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that Moscow had not ruled out measures with OPEC to stabilize oil markets, according to Interfax news agency. Russia’s energy ministry has proposed to hold a meeting with Russian oil companies on Wednesday, Reuters reported, citing two unnamed sources.International benchmark Brent crude gained $2.25, or 6.5%, to trade at $36.62 per barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures were up 7.1% to trade at $33.35 per barrel. Earlier in the session WTI surged more than 10%. Tuesday’s jump follows steep declines on Monday, which which saw WTI and Brent drop 24% for their worst decline since 1991. Both contracts closed at a more than 4-year low.Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said on Tuesday that the kingdom plans to supply a record 12.3 million barrels per day (bpd) in April, well above current production levelty of 9.7 million bpd. In response, Novak said that Russian oil companies may boost output by up to 300,000 barrels per day, according to a report from Reuters, while noting that the country has the ability to increase production by as much as 500,000 barrels per day.This potential oversupply comes at a time when oil prices were already moving lower after the coronavirus outbreak and subsquent travel slowdown has led to soft demand for crude. “We could be in a situation where Saudi ramps up production, and the Russians raise production, so in that type of situation when there’s so much concern about demand this would be a really negative impact for oil prices,”

Oil Jumps 10% Despite Saudi Plans To Boost Output By More Than 20% --Crude oil futures soared 10% on Tuesday morning after the most significant decline since the 1991 Gulf War on Monday, after Saudi Arabia slashed export prices of oil over the weekend in retaliation to Russia walking away from a production cut agreement at OPEC's meeting in Vienna, Austria, on Friday.   Oil futures started the rebound on Monday evening when President Trump said his administration would discuss a possible payroll tax cut with the US Senate, saying they would seek "very very substantial relief" for the economy that has been roiled by the outbreak of Covid-19. Oil pared some gains around 0635ET on Tuesday when Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said Saudi Arabia was prepared to boost its output by more than 20%, and supply 12.3 million barrels per day (bpd) in April, above the current production levels of 9.7 million bpd. Nasser told Reuters in an e mailed statement that April's crude supply will be "300,000 barrels per day over the company's maximum sustained capacity of 12 million bpd." Speaking on Tuesday, Russian oil minister Alexander Novak said that Moscow has yet to rule out measures with OPEC to stabilize the oil market, adding that the next OPEC+ meeting was scheduled for May-June. However, Saudi Arabia's energy minister told Reuters that there was no need for OPEC+ to hold a meeting in May-June timeframe if there was no understanding with Russia on production cuts to stabilize oil markets amid plunging demand in China.Separately, Russia's Energy Minister Novak said Russian companies may boost oil output by up to 300k BPD and has potential to increase by 500k BPD; adding that after the initial reaction, markets are now more balanced. And while there were some reports that the next OPEC+ meeting would be planned for May/June, subsequently, Saudi Energy Ministry state they do not see the point in holding such a meeting only to demonstrate failures in dealing with ongoing crisis.

WTI Maintains Gains Despite Much Bigger Than Expected Crude Build - Oil prices screamed higher (partly in response to investors' rising skepticism about the escalating war of words between key oil exporters Saudi Arabia and Russia) bouncing after yesterday's carnage. Today's most notable headline was OXY cutting its dividend (by 86%), but that failed to worry bullish oil machines who bought with both hands and feet today. Bloomberg's Liam Denning noted: Oxy’s decision to stretch itself to beat Chevron Corp. in a bid battle for Anadarko Petroleum Corp. left it vulnerable in an industry not exactly famed for its stability. This is just damage control on a grand scale. API

  • Crude +6.407mm (+1.9mm exp)
  • Cushing +364k
  • Gasoline -3.091mm (-2.1mm exp)
  • Distillates -4.679mm (-1.8mm exp)

API was expected to report a continued trend from last week - more builds for crude and draws for products - but the data was more extreme with a much bigger than expected crude build and much bigger than expoected product draws...

Don't Be Fooled By The Oil Price Rebound - A mild winter in the northern hemisphere, the COVID-19 outbreak, and now the price war that Saudi Arabia declared last weekend have combined to produce an all-new oil price crisis just four years after the last one. And things might get worse before they get better. After last week data from hedge funds showed a slowdown in the selloff of oil and fuel contracts, as reported by Reuters’ John Kemp, this week’s data, for the first week of March, indicated a serious acceleration of sales.  During that week, Kemp reported in his weekly column, fund sold the equivalent of 133 million barrels of oil across the six most traded oil and fuel contracts. This compares with sales of just 11 million barrels of oil equivalent across the six contracts just a week earlier. The overall long position of hedge funds on oil and fuels was down to 392 million barrels by March 3, Kemp also noted, which compares with 970 million barrels at the start of 2020. That’s a decline of as much as 60 percent, and that’s not all. The ratio of bullish to bearish positions, Kemp says, has fallen to 2:1 from 7:1 in January and is one of the lowest ratios in the past few years. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 epidemic is marching across the world, fueling panic and dampening oil demand as people self-quarantine, flights get grounded, Italy extends its lockdown to the whole country, and a growing number of states in America declare a state of emergency. While this was happening, Saudi Arabia fired the first shot in what many are seeing as an all-out price war. After Russia refused to take part in deeper production cuts to prop up prices, with energy minister Alexander Novak saying that from April the country’s oil producers will be pumping oil as usual, without compliance to any OPEC+ quotas, Riyadh said it was cutting the prices for its oil and planning a production increase, utilizing its full production capacity, which is about 12 million bpd. The bad news: hedge funds were extremely bearish on oil and fuels even before OPEC+ broke down. This suggests they might get even more bearish on oil after the latest developments there. And this, in turn, means prices could fall further despite a temporary improvement yesterday, in which Brent recouped some of its losses to trade, at the time of writing, at close to $37 a barrel. “This has turned into a scorched Earth approach by Saudi Arabia, in particular, to deal with the problem of chronic overproduction,” John Kilduff from Again Capital told CNBC. “The Saudis are the lowest cost producer by far. There is a reckoning ahead for all other producers, especially those companies operating in the U.S shale patch.” 

Escalating an oil price war with Russia, Saudi Arabia moves to ramp up production -OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia unveiled plans Wednesday to dramatically ramp up oil production, raising the stakes of an all-out price war with non-OPEC leader Russia. State-owned oil behemoth Saudi Aramco said Wednesday that it had been asked by the Saudi energy ministry to raise its production capacity to 13 million barrels per day (bpd), up from 12 million bpd at present. The oil-rich kingdom has been pumping around 9.7 million bpd in recent months, but it has plenty of spare capacity to pump more crude, with hundreds of millions of barrels also in storage. “This bold move to attempt to order production to 13 (million) barrels confirms that Saudi is trying to apply maximum pressure on both Russia and the U.S.,” Cailin Birch, a global economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), told CNBC via email on Wednesday. “By sending signals that they will flood the market as soon as possible, they may be hoping to either force Russia back to the negotiating table or to prompt a wave of bankruptcies and investment cuts in the U.S. that would have a noticeable impact on shale production,” Birch said. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $36.05 Wednesday morning, down over 3.2%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $33.30 around 3% lower. Oil prices have almost halved since the start of 2020.

WTI Extends Losses After Huge Crude Build Indicate Significant Virus Impact Oil's modest rebound from its biggest crash in decades on Saudi-Russia price war escalations has faded notably overnight as OPEC now sees a whopping 94% drop in 2020 global oil demand growth in response to the economic impact of the coronavirus even as global oil supply is set to explode. Prices are not plunging yet, but in order for prices to move even lower and stay there, "we need to see storage tanks being filled at a greater level than we originally thought following the coronavirus outbreak," said Edward Marshall, commodities trader at Global Risk Management. So all eyes are on this morning's official inventory data as today's report is likely to give the first view into the effects of the virus and how crude export weakness ripples through the markets (though keep in mind this does not include the effect of the very recent price war plunge in prices). DOE:

  • Crude +7.664mm (+1.9mm exp, whisper +3.25m) - biggest build since Oct 2019
  • Cushing +704k
  • Gasoline -5.049mm (-2.1mm exp) - biggest draw since Apr 2019
  • Distillates -6.404mm (-1.8mm exp) - biggest draw since 2004

API reported bigger than expected builds for crude and draws for products and the official DOE data shoiwed it was even more extreme with crude inventories jumping most since Oct 2019, and massive product draws...

Oil drops 4% after Saudi Aramco asked to raise output capacity - Oil prices fell on Wednesday, giving up earlier gains, after Saudi Aramco said it had been directed by the energy ministry to raise its production capacity by a million barrels per day. Brent crude slid $1.27, or 3.4%, to trade at $35.95 per barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude dropped $1.38, or 4.02%, to settle at $32.98 per barrel. Saudi Aramco Chief Executive Amin Nasser said the state-run oil giant had been asked by the Ministry of Energy to boost its production capacity to 13 million barrels per day (bpd) from 12 million bpd now. Saudi has been pumping around 9.7 million bpd in the past few months, but has extra capacity it can turn on and has hundreds of millions of barrels of crude in storage. Oil prices had climbed earlier in the day, recouping nearly half of Monday’s 25% losses, on hopes spending cuts by North American producers to cope with multi-year low crude prices would lead to a drop in output. U.S. crude oil inventories rose in the most recent week, while gasoline and distillate stocks dropped, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed. Meanwhile, worries about the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on energy demand continued to pressure oil prices. Policymakers and central banks have been taking measures to bolster their economies against disruption caused by the virus outbreak, the latest being the Bank of England that unexpectedly cut interest rates by half a percent on Wednesday. “Coronavirus is still spreading globally and no doubts that the virus spread in major economies like the United States will continue to hurt oil demand,” said Victor Shum, vice president of Energy Consulting at IHS Markit. “I think we are looking at $30 levels (in Brent) and I would not be surprised in some day to see prices lower than $30.”

Saudi Arabia Strikes Back At Russia In Key Oil Market The world’s top oil exporter Saudi Arabia is going after Russia’s oil market share in Europe with deeply discounted Arab Light crude at up to three times the usual volumes, people with knowledge of European refiners’ operations told Bloomberg on Thursday. The Saudis, OPEC’s de facto leader and top producer, are aiming to grab market share from Russia in the oil price war it launched on Moscow to punish it for refusing to back deeper OPEC+ production cuts last week. And Europe is a key battleground in the new oil wars as Russia’s Urals crude has traditionally been a popular choice among European refiners. Saudi Arabia hasn’t seen Europe as a core market in recent years because it has prioritized continuously growing demand in Asian markets. But in the war of market share, the Kingdom is now looking to squeeze Russian oil out of Europe by offering deep discounts which make its Arab Light crude priced at as low as $25 a barrel at Rotterdam, much lower than the price of Urals. If prices of Urals and other crude grades going into Europe don’t drop to match the Saudi discounts, Saudi Arabia is set to “push out” the Urals grade from the refiners’ diet, Energy Aspects’ chief oil analyst Amrita Sen said in a note, as carried by Bloomberg. The price of Urals has also slumped in recent days, but it needs to drop further to become appealing to European refiners, given the hefty Saudi discounts, traders told Reuters on Wednesday. Saudi Arabia has promised to flood the oil market with an extra 2.6 million bpd of oil from April, while its fellow OPEC producer and ally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), pledged an additional 1 million bpd in supply. This will result in a total increase of 3.6 million bpd in global oil supply from OPEC’s heavyweights at a time of depressed oil demand due to the coronavirus outbreak and at a time of crashing oil prices, following the abrupt end to the OPEC+ deal last week. Russia, for its part, claims it can live with $25 oil for years and says it can raise its oil production by 200,000 bpd to 300,000 bpd in the short term, with a potential for up to a total increase of 500,000 bpd.

Oil falls 6% as coronavirus pandemic prompts Trump travel ban - Oil prices fell for the second straight day on Thursday amid a broad decline in global markets after the United States banned travel from Europe following the World Health Organization's decision to declare the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.The slump in oil is being compounded by the threat of a flood of cheap supply as Saudi Arabia promised to raise output to a record high in its standoff with Russia.Brent crude was trading down $2.22, or 6.2%, at $33.56. The contract fell nearly 4% on Wednesday. U.S. crude was down $2.18, or 6.6%, at $30.71 after also dropping 4% in the previous session.The two benchmarks are down about 50% from highs reached in January and had their biggest one-day declines on Monday since the 1991 Gulf War after Saudi Arabia launched a price war.The price difference between near-term and longer-term Brent prices also widened to the most in five years, prompting traders to fill tankers with oil to store for later delivery when they are betting prices will be higher.Global shares were also down on Thursday after U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States will suspend all travel from Europe as he unveiled measures to contain the coronavirus epidemic.The travel ban, which excludes Britain, will hit U.S. airlines "extremely hard", their industry association said.The surprise move is likely to mean a further drop in demand for jet and other fuels in an already battered oil market, although just how much is hard to quantify."This is what a large positive supply shock and a large negative demand shock looks like," said Lachlan Shaw, head of commodities research at National Australia Bank in Melbourne. "It's hard to come up with a more bearish scenario."The United Arab Emirates followed Saudi Arabia in announcing plans to boost oil output after the collapse last week of an agreement between OPEC, Russia and other producers, a grouping known as OPEC+, to withhold supply and buttress prices.UAE's national oil company, ADNOC, said it plans to raise crude sales to more than 4 million barrels per day (bpd) and accelerate a push to boost capacity by a quarter to 5 million bpd."Without OPEC+, the global oil market has lost its regulator and now only market mechanisms can dictate the balance between supply and demand," said Espen Erlingsen, head of upstream research at Rystad Energy, which estimates that oil will need to fall to the low $20s to achieve equilibrium.

Oil drops as much as 8%, on pace for worst week in more than a decade - Oil prices dropped as much as 8% on Thursday as crude continues to take a hit on both the supply and demand side. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude is now down more than 25% this week, putting it on track for its worst week since December 2008, and its third largest weekly decline on record. On Thursday WTI fell $1.48, or 4.49%, to settle at $31.50 per barrel. Earlier in the session it traded as low as $30.02. International benchmark Brent crude fell $2.51, or 7%, to trade at $33.31 per barrel. The coronavirus outbreak has led to softer demand for crude as people cut back on travel, among other things. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump imposed a 30-day ban on foreigners arriving from most of Europe, a move likely to reduce demand further. “Our initial assessment of the impact of cancelling transatlantic flights between the US and Europe is a direct loss of about 600,000 barrels per day per month in jet fuel demand,” Rystad Energy’s head of oil markets Bjoernar Tonhaugen said. As prices fell, OPEC met in Vienna last week where Wall Street largely expected an announcement of additional production cuts in an effort to prop up prices. The 14-member cartel proposed an additional cut of 1.5 million barrels per day, but ally Russia rejected the proposal. OPEC then decided that the production cuts currently in place, but that expire at the end of the month, would not be extended. This means that starting April 1, nations can pump as much as they want. WTI dropped 10% on Friday after the meeting ended with no agreement. Following Russia’s rejection of the proposal, OPEC de facto leader Saudi Arabia retaliated by slashing its official oil prices while announcing plans to ramp up production. As tensions between the two powerhouse producers escalated, WTI and Brent each plummeted 24% on Monday, posting their worst day in nearly three decades while sending prices to a more than four-year low. Then on Wednesday, Saudi Aramco said that it received a directive to increase its production capacity from 12 million barrels per day to a record 13 million barrels per day.

India could be a 'major winner' as oil prices plummet - Oil prices crashed this week, sparking a sharp global sell-off in capital markets — but experts say low energy prices could be a silver lining for India, one of the world’s closely-watched economies. U.S. crude and international benchmark Brent prices plunged to multi-year lows after OPEC failed last week to strike a deal on production cuts with its allies, including include Russia. That led Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and the de facto leader of the energy cartel, to slash oil prices and threaten to ramp up production. A supply glut has kept oil prices relatively low in recent years, as OPEC+ — made up of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its non-OPEC allies such as Russia — coordinated production cuts to support energy prices. The current agreement expires at the end of March, which means that starting Apr. 1, countries can pump as much oil as they want unless the producers can reach an agreement before that. “The Indian economy is a major winner from lower world oil prices,” Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit, told CNBC, pointing out that more than 80% of India’s total energy consumption in the 2018-2019 financial year was imported. He explained that falling energy prices could reduce India’s inflation and lower the cost of its import bill — that could, in turn, help narrow the country’s trade and current account deficits. India lost its crown as one of the fastest-growing major economies in recent quarters, owing to a number of internal and external factors that dragged GDP expansion to below 5%. In the three months that ended in December, India expanded at 4.7%, in line with market expectations. “A prolonged spell of low oil prices will support discretionary purchasing power,” Radhika Rao, an economist at Singapore’s DBS Group, told CNBC. Discretionary purchasing power refers to the amount of cash a person has available to spend after discounting their tax, debt obligation, and other expenses. She explained that domestic oil prices could potentially become cheaper and declining margin pressures on non-oil businesses may translate into some relief for the low demand weighing on the economy. “If accompanied by an improvement in sentiments and better confidence over income prospects, this would spell good news for growth,”

Oil falls a third day, Brent crude set for worst week since 1991 - Oil prices fell on Friday for a third day, with Brent crude set for its biggest weekly drop since 1991 and U.S. crude heading for the worst week since 2008 as panic about plunging demand from the coronavirus outbreak grips the market. Brent crude was down 67 cents, or 2%, at $32.55 a barrel by 0126 GMT after falling more than 7% on Thursday. For the week, Brent is set to fall 28%, the biggest weekly decline since the week of Jan. 18, 1991, when it fell 29% at the outbreak of the first Gulf War. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was down 66 cents, or 2.1%, at $30.84 after falling more than $1 earlier. The contract fell 4.5% in the previous session. WTI is set to drop 25% this week, the most since the week of Dec. 19, 2008, when it fell 27% at the height of the Global Financial Crisis. A flood of low-priced oil into the market from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is intensifying the pressure on prices after the collapse of a price supporting agreement with Russia last week. “With the coronavirus triggering the first global oil demand drop in years, the surge of Saudi Arabian and Russian oil production could lead to a supply overhang of 4 million barrels per day,” Eurasia Group said. Four million barrels is about 4% of daily global consumption before the coronavirus outbreak that started in China. Oil prices were also impacted by record declines in equity markets with Japan’s Nikkei 225 falling by 10% on Friday after U.S. markets fell by the most since Black Monday in 1987 on Thursday. U.S. President Donald Trump announced a ban on travel to the United States from Europe that sent the markets swooning as everything from sporting events to weddings were cancelled across many parts of the world with the coronavirus spreading to more countries. 

 Oil Surges After Trump Orders DOE To Fill Up Strategic Petroleum Reserve - Amid the panic buying surge in the last 30 minutes of trading, sparked by Trump's national emergency declaration, oil has soared higher after Trump said that he has asked the energy department to buy "large quantities of oil" for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and to "fill it right to the top." With the reserve currently 635MM barrels full, that means there is over 90 million barrels that will soon be purchased by the US to fill up the SPR. And since Trump's demand means that there will be a forced buyer even as OPEC is an aggressive seller, oil quick spiked with WTI & Brent surging to session highs, boosting the energy sector and leading to an extension of gains in equities, while also helping the petro-currencies such as CAD, RUB, MXN catch a bid.

Oil prices post biggest weekly percentage drop since 2008 - Oil prices edged higher on Friday, but a Saudi-Russian price war and the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic still meant prices posted the sharpest weekly drop since 2008. The market has likely “reacted correctly” to expectations that COVID-19 would drop oil demand by two to three million barrels a day for a few weeks, at least, and to Russia and Saudi Arabia ramping up production by two million barrels a day “or more,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research. “That will create an enormous inventory build, 100-150 million barrels a month,” he told MarketWatch. But the very sharp price fall “seems likely to encourage the Russians to offer some kind of deal to the Saudis that would see a brief, but sharp production drop.” West Texas Intermediate crude for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 23 cents, or 0.7%, to settle at $31.73 a barrel, while May Brent crude Badded 63 cents, or 1.9%, at $33.85 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. For the week, WTI fell 23%, while Brent lost 25%—with both marking their biggest weekly percentage declines, based on the front-month contracts, since December 2008, according to Dow Jones Market Data. A combination of growing fears over the demand hit from the coronavirus pandemic and Saudi Arabia’s launch of a price war against Russia, that threatens to flood an already-oversupplied market with more crude, hammered prices for oil this week. President Donald Trump’s decision to impose restrictions on travel to the U.S. from Europe added to pressure Thursday given the hit to jet fuel demand.

Crude posts biggest weekly losses since 2008, hit by coronavirus and Saudi price war - (Reuters) - Oil prices on Friday posted their biggest week of losses since the 2008 global financial crisis, rocked by the coronavirus outbreak and efforts by top exporter Saudi Arabia and its allies to flood the market with record levels of supply. The rare combination of severe shocks to both supply and demand has caused the crude market to collapse as producers around the world steel themselves for an unexpected glut of oil in coming weeks. “It’s a problem of an oil price war in the middle of a constricting market when the walls are closing in,” U.S. energy historian Daniel Yergin said. The coronavirus sparked panic selling across markets for the bulk of the week. The virus has infected at least 138,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,000, disrupting business, markets and daily life. Major oil producers were pumping more crude into the market as demand collapses. Saudi Arabia has chartered more than 30 crude supertankers to export oil in coming weeks, specifically targeting big refiners of Russian oil in Europe and Asia, in an escalation of its fight with Moscow for market share. Goldman Sachs said it now expected a record oil surplus of six million barrels per day (bpd) by April, in a global market that usually consumes about 100 million bpd. On Friday, prices were higher, rebounding after the United States and other nations signalled plans to support weakening economies. But Brent crude LCOc1 dropped 25% on the week, the biggest weekly fall since the 2008 global financial crisis. On Friday, Brent rose 63 cents to settle at $33.85 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures fell about 23% on the week, their biggest percentage decline since 2008. WTI rose 23 cents to settle at $31.73 a barrel, after earlier gaining to $33.87 a gallon. Hopes for a U.S. stimulus package that could ease an economic shock from the coronavirus provided some support to the oil and stock markets on Friday. “There’s hope that all the stimulus will stabilize the economy and offset some of the concerns about weaker demand and keep parts of the economy strong enough to support oil prices,”

Oil prices will keep falling until Russia or Saudi Arabia hit 'pain point': Ex-White House aide - The price of oil is likely to fall “much lower from here,” according to Bob McNally, who was energy advisor to former U.S. president George W. Bush. The oil rout started on Monday, plunging over 20% following a disagreement on production cuts between OPEC and its allies. Russia declined to lower output last week, and Saudi Arabia announced Saturday that it will offer discounts to its official selling prices next month. The kingdom, the de facto leader of OPEC, is also planning to raise production, together with the United Arab Emirates. Despite the market turmoil and resultant losses, Saudi Arabia will not cut production unilaterally, said McNally, founder of oil consultancy Rapidan Energy Group. “Prices of oil are going much lower from here,” said McNally told CNBC on Thursday. “Everybody’s got a pain point and we’re going to go down and test it.” Oil prices are going to fall until they hit a “political-financial pain point” for Saudi Arabia or Russia — or if North American production is significantly curtailed, said McNally. He did not give a price forecast. Prices will test a point well below Russia’s break-even price — at $42.4 a barrel for Urals crude, said McNally. But there’s more at stake than just oil. “National prestige is involved here, honor is involved and political power is involved. And political leaders will suffer costs in a war if they believe they are pursuing a greater and more important aim,” said McNally.

The losers — and even bigger losers — of an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia - An intensifying oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia has created “very painful” market conditions for the world’s largest crude producers, analysts have told CNBC, with many braced for sliding revenues over the coming months. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $32.97 Thursday, down almost 8%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $30.40, around 7.8% lower. Oil prices have almost halved since the start of the year. Most energy analysts have dismissed the idea that Saudi Arabia and Russia’s price war has been specifically designed to target U.S. shale, but the industry is expected to bear the brunt of the pain. Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), a think tank that advocates for reducing U.S. dependence on oil, believes the American oil industry is the loser from the current price war. “Saudi Arabia claims to be the swing producer to stabilize the market, but mostly they just cause swings that hurt the free market and the ability to compete,” Robbie Diamond, president and CEO of SAFE, said via email shortly after OPEC and non-OPEC allies failed to reach an agreement. “Our industry and the U.S. economy has no choice but to watch once again as Saudi Arabia tanks the price of oil to suit its domestic priorities,” he added. Trump initially welcomed the declaration of a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, hailing lower oil prices as good news for U.S. consumers. Saudi Arabia has since signaled its intent to flood the market with crude, unveiling plans Wednesday for state-owned Saudi Aramco to ramp up production to 13 million barrels per day (bpd). It is thought such a move could prompt a wave of bankruptcies and investment cuts in the U.S. which, in turn, would have a noticeable impact on shale production.Some believe the worst hit from a sharp drop in oil prices will be long-time allies of de facto OPEC leader, Saudi Arabia. “My main worry today is mainly on some of the major oil-producing countries who have not — despite the calls from the IEA many, many times — diversified their economies.”

 Saudi Arabia, Russia oil dispute is about the 'restructuring of supply,' strategist says - The oil price rout this week may be a chance for the industry to restructure and could ultimately be a positive for the market, a strategist said on Wednesday. The oil markets tanked Monday, plunging over 20% following a disagreement on production cuts between OPEC and its allies. Russia declined to lower output last week, and Saudi Arabia announced Saturday that it will offer discounts to its official selling prices next month. The kingdom is also reportedly planning to raise production. Benchmark international Brent crude oil futures were trading around $37 a barrel on Wednesday afternoon in Asia. Benchmark U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures were around $34 a barrel. Both grades were trading above $40 a barrel last week. Despite the depressed prices, the response from Saudi Arabia and Russia is “long-term rational” for them, said Damien Courvalin, head of energy research at Goldman Sachs. Low-cost producers like Saudi Arabia have been supporting prices for years through supply cuts — which in turn boosted higher-cost producers like shale companies in the U.S. and enabled even greater output from the shale producers. The latest market developments will allow for the restructuring and rebalancing of supply to take place, Courvalin told CNBC, who expects oil prices to stay low — around $30 a barrel for Brent crude — for two quarters. “This is more about a restructuring of supply — less activity by high-cost producers for low-cost producers to roll,” said Courvalin. And there will be a point at which there will be a “material change” in the landscape where overall production would fall due to low prices. A higher price for crude will then emerge as supply falls. “A couple of quarters of $30 is of course, painful for those (major) producers,” said Courvalin, as Saudi Arabia and Russia both sell below cost. But they will gain market share.

Coronavirus destabilises Saudi Arabia - The coronavirus is accelerating economic warfare between Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, while exacerbating the social, economic and political tensions within Saudi Arabia. In turn, Riyadh is “weaponizing” the Covid-19 pandemic in its ongoing war of words, blaming Iran and Qatar—and by implication the Shia—for deliberately spreading the virus to the Sunni Arab world. The coronavirus has swept across the Middle East and North Africa, as nearly every country in the region has confirmed cases of the new virus. Iran is by far the worst affected, with 7,161 confirmed cases and 237 deaths reported by Sunday as its beleaguered health care system struggles to cope with the criminal US-imposed sanctions that have starved it of pharmaceutical and medical supplies.Last week, Riyadh called on OPEC countries to cut production by 1.5 million barrels a day (bpd) to curb the fall in oil prices and counter plunging demand as the coronavirus curtails international trade and travel. Russia, the world’s second largest producer, refused, saying that any reduction in oil supplies would be replaced on the world market with American shale oil.Saudi Arabia retaliated by slashing its prices and vowing to step up production by as much as 2 million bpd in an over-supplied oil market where prices have already fallen by one third since the beginning of the year. Its aim is to hold onto its market share and push out its competitors in Russia and the US. The Saudi announcement led to a sharp fall in the share prices of its national oil company Saudi Aramco and Russia’s Rosneft.The fall in oil prices follows Riyadh’s temporary suspension of the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, and a ban on entry to the kingdom for pilgrims, to sterilize the religious sites to halt the spread of the new coronavirus. Saudi’s corporate elite, the pilgrimage guarantees a steady flow of income, lucrative construction contracts and the growth of luxury hotel chains around the holy mosque. A 10-day Hajj package trip, from specially licensed agencies with close connections to the ruling family, can cost around $7,000 not including the presents that the pilgrims are expected to buy for their families.

MbS Widens Purge- Dozens Of Royals And Army Officers Swept Up After Powerful Princes Arrested - Yesterday we predicted a return to MbS' infamous Ritz-Carlton Riyadh shakedown of 2017 after a dramatic Friday morning raid on the homes of King Salman's brother, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al Saud, and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al Saud.All eyes are on the spread of the deadly coronavirus, so what better time to initiate a broader crackdown (or at least dramatically restart the 2017-2018 purge), than when world leaders are distracted by making sure their societies survive a potential apocalyptic pandemic? The pair, which happen to be the kingdom's top most powerful royals aside from MbS, having both in the past been in charge of Saudi armed forces and intelligence in the post of Interior Minister, were arrested for allegedly plotting a coup to unseat the king and crown prince. Of course any level of evidence was not forthcoming. Treason could bring the death penalty. It appears the resumption of MbS' purge of any power rivals or centers of influence is back on after a year-long lull following the Oct. 2018 murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is officially back on.The WSJ reports: "Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has embarked on a broad security crackdown by rounding up royal rivals, government officials and military officers in an effort to quash potential challenges to his power, Saudi royals and advisers familiar with the matter said Saturday."This includes "dozens of Interior Ministry officials, senior army officers and others suspected of supporting a coup attempt...". The crackdown in the Saudi kingdom has barely made a dent in terms of competing with the dozens of coronavirus headlines this weekend. And yet hundreds of princes and high Saudi officials are now experiencing chills of a very different sortThe security sweep has sent a chill across the leadership of Saudi Arabia, where Prince Mohammed has spent three years consolidating power in anticipation of his expected ascension to the throne when 84-year-old King Salman dies, or if he decides to abdicate. MbS suddenly has an overwhelming outpouring of public "support" by nervous allies within the royal family, the WSJ reports further.

US rejects Russian plan for Syria ceasefire at UN Security Council - Russia requested the UN Security Council endorse a ceasefire for Syria, but the United States, a veto-wielding power, refused and called the truce "premature." Questions remain on how the ceasefire will be enforced.   Russia and Turkey agreed on a ceasefire for Syria, but the agreement failed to get the backing of the UN Security Council on Friday. A ceasefire endorsement proposed by Russia was rejected when the United States, which is one of the five countries with veto power on the Council.Russian ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, had asked the other 14 Security Council members to adopt the agreement, but the United States rejected it saying it and called the deal "premature." Some European nations welcomed the proposal but wanted to amend the statement. Nebenzia said Russia wanted to issue a press statement afterward, "but due to the position of one delegation, it was not possible.''    Several diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed, said that was a reference to the United States. But they added that Russia was unwilling to negotiate on proposals made by France and the United Kingdom. German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said, "We have to see if this will work. We are concerned about the millions of people who are suffering there and we would [like to] see that this ceasefire leads to a kind of safe zones where people can go back to and they can survive."

 Trump’s Harsh Iran Policy Helped Hardliners Win Iran’s Elections - The landslide victory for hardliners in Iran’s recent parliamentary elections confirms that whoever occupies the White House next year won’t have an easy time dealing with Iran.Many Iranians were already angry at President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear accord, imposition of harsh sanctions and the Jan. 3 assassination of the popular military leader Qassem Soleimani. And they showed that anger at the polls. Hardliners, known here as principalists, won 220 of 290 seats in the parliament and got all 30 seats representing Tehran, usually a bastion of more reform-minded voters. The reformists, who advocate closer ties with the United States, were eliminated as a significant parliamentary force. While voter turnout was unusually low, both principalists and reformers came out swinging against Trump.  Retiree Hasan Muhamdi, who identifies as a principalist, told Truthout, “We all vote for the love of Soleimani. It’s a punch in the face of Trump!” While Iranian leaders want to avoid direct military confrontation with the U.S., they are likely to encourage local armed groups to attack U.S. and allied targets in the region. Iranian allied rebels in Yemen, for example, claimed credit for the sophisticated drone and missile attack on the ARAMCO oil facility in Saudi Arabia last September. “The people who destroyed ARAMCO could do it again,” said Mohammad Khodadi, deputy minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, in an interview.The U.S.’s harsh sanctions on Iran and the Soleimani assassination strengthen the hand of the principalists, who proudly uphold the original, hardline principles of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, including its emphasis on theocratic government and staunch opposition to U.S. imperialism. “What the American president did was unify the Iranian people and took things to a different level,” said Nader Talebzadeh — a principalist leader and host of an influential TV show — in an interview withTruthout. “What the American president did was unify the Iranian people.”

Trump Authorizes Military Response After Deadly 'Iran-Backed' Attack - Wednesday's rocket attacks on Camp Taji, which lies just north of Baghdad, claimed the lives of one British and two American soldiers and to be expected top US defense officials are now pointing the finger at Iran.As if the Mideast region and the world for that matter needs another crisis to worry about, the Pentagon is talking military retaliation. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday that President Trump has issued the authority to potentially "do what we need to do."“We're going to take this one step at a time, but we've got to hold the perpetrators accountable,” Esper said. “You don't get to shoot at our bases and kill and wound Americans and get away with it.”  And separately Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told a Senate hearing Thursday morning: "The Iranian proxy group Kata'eb Hezbollah is the only group known to have previously conducted an indirect fire attack of this scale against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq." The major attack had utilized at least 15 Soviet-era rocket artillery and further left a dozen wounded. The top general said the Iran-backed militias were to blame and that the US can identify the culprit with a "high degree of certainty".  Later in the day Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon: "I have spoken with the president. He's given me the authority to do what we need to do, consistent with his guidance. And, you know if that becomes the case," according to Reuters.

US retaliates with missile strikes in Iraq - The U.S. launched airstrikes Thursday against an Iran-backed militia group that hit a military base in Iraq, the Pentagon said. On Wednesday, Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq killed two U.S. troops and one British soldier. Earlier Thursday top Pentagon officials said “all options are on the table” for a response. “The United States will not tolerate attacks against our people, our interests, or our allies,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a statement. “As we have demonstrated in recent months, we will take any action necessary to protect our forces in Iraq and the region.” The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq on Wednesday evening announced that 18 Katyusha rockets hit Camp Taji north of Baghdad, killing three and wounding 12. "The death of two US service members at the hands of an Iranian-backed militia demands action," former national security adviser John Bolton tweeted. "Iran's continued capability to strike at our forces through regional proxies demonstrates the need for prompt retaliation, not simply relying on 'maximum pressure.'"

US Moves Patriot Missiles To Iraq - Outraged Baghdad Says Consequences Coming After Airstrikes -  - With coronavirus pandemic dominating the world's attention, it's easy to forget that the US is essentially in a state of war with Iran, just Thursday night conducting a major aerial bombing campaign against multiple Iran-backed militia targets across southern Iraq.In response to prior rocket attacks on Camp Taji which killed two Americans on Wednesday the Pentagon declared that “all options are on the tablesuggesting there could be more strikes to come. The Pentagon said it initiated a "proportional" response against five Kata'ib Hezbollah weapons facilities. Iraq's government immediately condemned the attacks as not only unauthorized violations of its airspace, but as having killed and wounded several Iraqi security force personnel. Top US forces general in the region, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, brushed Baghdad's condemnation aside, essentially saying it was Iraqi forces' fault for being there. Many officers in the Iraqi Army essentially see Khatib Hezbollah as a de facto extension of national forces. Reuters reportsIraq condemned overnight U.S. air strikes on Friday, saying they killed six people and warning of dangerous consequences for what it called a violation of sovereignty and targeted aggression against the nation’s regular armed forces. The foreign ministry further summoned the US and UK ambassadors following the attacks. But the Pentagon is not backing down.

China: A negative trade balance from Covid-19 - ING - China's exports were just as expected - at negative growth. But imports were less negative as imports of medical-related supplies surged during February. That yields a negative trade balance for China, it's first since March 2018 Exports were smaller than imports for China in January and February, which resulted in a trade deficit of US$7.1 bn. The last time that China had a trade deficit was in March 2018, at the start of the trade war with the US, when the trade deficit was nearly US$5.8bn. Imports fell only 4% year-on-year YTD in February. This is a surprisingly low negative growth figure.In January and February, China imported an increased value of medical-related supplies, eg, raw materials to produce masks, which falls into the category of textiles and rubber, and latex for hospital beds. Part of this was donations from the rest of the world. Imports from donations increased by more than 4000% YoY YTD, to fight Covid-19.Exports fell 17.2% YoY YTD in February, as expected. Factories were closed for most of January and February due to the Chinese New Year Holidays and the coronavirus, and thus we could hardly expect positive growth in exports. Though we do not expect a V-shape rebound in production and exports in March, we believe that China will not receive more donations from the rest of the world. Almost the opposite, we expect China to export some medical supplies to other countries that need help to fight the coronavirus. As such, we believe that even though China’s trade could be in negative growth on a yearly basis in March, the trade balance should turn positive. We have revised our GDP forecasts for China in 1Q20 to 4.4% YoY. Our forecast is now at risk as we did not expect a trade deficit in the first two months of the first quarter. But we have seen increasingly more fiscal stimulus from the central government, which is also ahead of our expectations. For the time being, we keep our forecasts at 4.4% YoY for 1Q20.We do not think that the People's Bank of China is going to weaken the yuan to boost exports as what we have seen so far is that the USDCNY has moved in tandem with the dollar index. So the yuan, in fact, has been stronger from the weakest level this year at 7.03 per dollar on 24 February to 6.93 on 6 March. If the dollar gets stronger due to the flight to safety from the fear factor of the spreading of Covid-19, then the yuan could weaken to 7.05 by the end of March.

 Chinese exports get crushed - The news from China’s February macro data came through at the weekend, and it’s not promising for any company exposed to the global supply chain. Which means most of them. From the team at UBS: China started to release combined January-February trade data since March 2020. Nominal export growth dipped down sharply from 7.9%y/y in December 2019 to -17.2%, in line with our expectation. Both ordinary exports and processing exports declined notably. The weakness is also witnessed across all major export destinations, with US and Japan contracting by over -20%y/y, EU by -18%, and HKT (Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan) -17%. The softness in Jan-Feb export activities was mainly led by fewer working days, production suspension and strict traffic restrictions imposed after COVID-19 outbreak. In addition, higher tariffs from September tariff hike may still weigh on the exports of the $110bn Chinese products. Indeed, the latest US Census data suggest the $110bn list saw another decline of -28%y/y in January. Meanwhile, exports for products on the Dec tariff list ($160bn) dipped further from -3.7%y/y in December to -15.6% in January, possibly pointing to some paybacks from previous front-loading. Yet there’s better news for China’s FX reserves, and therefore the renminbi: With exports dipping down notably, Jan-Feb recorded goods trade deficit of $7.1bn. Meanwhile, the collapse of outbound travel may have led to a much narrower service trade deficit. Together with largely stable capital outflow pressure, mild valuation loss (~$8bn) due to stronger USD, but some valuation gain from notable decline of DM government bond yields, headline FX reserve only edged down by $8.8bn to $3.107 trillion. On the other hand, RMB exchange rate appreciated modestly in the past several weeks thanks to notable decline of new confirmed cases in China, increasing worries of wider global COVID-19 spread, and weaker dollar partly on Fed’s unexpected rate cuts. We expect CNY to stay largely stable in 2020, trading around 7 by end-2020.

Apple Suffers Doomsday Plunge In iPhone Shipments Across China --Alternative data first showed us the incoming economic crash developing in early February, only to be confirmed weeks later. Twin shocks plague the Chinese economy, which is a supply shock with manufacturers operating at less than full capacity, along with a demand shock, where consumers have been confined to their homes in forced quarantine, unable to spend. So, on Monday morning, when new data from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) reveals Apple smartphone sales in China were halved in February, this really shouldn't surprise ZeroHedge readers, considering they've been well informed about what would happen next. And it wasn't just Apple with plunging activity, all mobile phone brands operating in China saw shipments halved over the month. CAICT said 6.34 million devices were shipped last month, down 54.7% from 14 million in the same month the previous year. This was the lowest level of February shipments since 2012, when the CAICT data first became available. Android brands, including Huawei and Xiaomi, accounted for most of the drop, collectively saw shipments at 5.85 million units for the month, compared to 12.72 million units last year. Apple shipped 494,000 last month, down from 1.27 million in February 2019.The collapse of the smartphone industry in China was described well in advance, where we explained China's smartphone shipments were expected to halve in the first quarter:  China Mobile Phone Sales Crash Most On Record. And while alternative data of China's economy continues to print without a heartbeat, recently confirmed by crashing state data, consumption woes will likely plague the smartphone industry for the full year.

After 79% Sales Crash In February, China Automakers Beg Government For Bailout - We had been reporting China's February auto sales numbers on a week by week basis, so Zero Hedge readers knew they were going to be ugly for the month. They just didn't know how ugly. Industry wide, sales fell 79% in February, marking the biggest ever monthly plunge on record, according to Reuters. And the industry is starting to panic. Automakers are now asking the government for relief after the industry's collapse, which occurred in the midst of an already-in-progress global recession for automakers. Specifically, they are asking for cuts on the purchase tax for smaller vehicles and support for sales in rural markets, in addition to the easing of emission requirements. Sales for February fell to just 310,000 vehicles from a year earlier, marking the 20th straight month of declines. Chen Shihua, a senior CAAM official said: "China's auto sales for February returned to levels not seen since 2005." And the once silver lining of EV sales is no longer. New energy vehicles contracted for an 8th month in a row as the CAAM pleaded the government for more subsidies on NEVs. Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai-based consultancy AutoForesight, said: “The government will consider these proposals but it is unlikely they will launch so many policies. Measures like cuts to the purchase tax, support for rural markets and easing purchase restrictions on new energy vehicles are reasonable and would have an immediate impact.”

Chinese Piglet Prices Hit Record High On Virus Disruptions - Piglet prices in China soared to record highs on Thursday (March 5) amid supply chain woes that persist from the Covid-19 breakout. Farmers have been attempting to rebuild their herds as supplies remain tight after African swine fever decimated 40% of the country's pig supply in 2019.  Chinese spot prices for piglets jumped to a record high of 126 yuan ($18.11) per kilogram last week, nearly a 600% increase since the start of 2019. The latest surge in prices was attributed to supply chain disruptions as transportation networks across China remained closed due to virus containment measures, which prevented farmers from shipping piglets to meat markets, said Financial Times.  The virus crisis complicates things for Beijing, who has attempted to arrest soaring food inflation via the release of thousands of tons of pork from state reserves. However, with quarantines still in effect across the country, this has prevented farmers from expanding herds and supplying local markets. "The record price is because of scarce supplies of piglets," Lin Guofa, senior analyst at Bric Agriculture Group, a Beijing-based agriculture consulting firm, told BloombergYang Zhenhai, the head of the ministry's animal husbandry bureau, told reporters last week that a shortage in pigs across the country has been due to lack of creating new pig farms, restocking herds, and the ability to transport animals to markets following the virus outbreak.

‘The new normal’: China’s excessive coronavirus public monitoring could be here to stay - Over the last two months, Chinese citizens have had to adjust to a new level of government intrusion. Getting into one’s apartment compound or workplace requires scanning a QR code, writing down one’s name and ID number, temperature and recent travel history. Telecom operators track people’s movements while social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo have hotlines for people to report others who may be sick. Some cities are offering people rewards for informing on sick neighbours. Chinese companies are meanwhile rolling out facial recognition technology that can detect elevated temperatures in a crowd or flag citizens not wearing a face mask. A range of apps use the personal health information of citizens to alert others of their proximity to infected patients or whether they have been in close contact. State authorities, in addition to locking down entire cities, have implemented a myriad of security measures in the name of containing the coronavirus outbreak. From top officials to local community workers, those enforcing the rules repeat the same refrain: this is an “extraordinary time” feichang shiqi, requiring extraordinary measures. As the number of new infections in China falls, having infected more than 80,000 and killed more than 3,000, residents and observers question how much of these new measures are here to stay. “I don’t know what will happen when the epidemic is over. I don’t dare imagine it,” said Chen Weiyu, 23, who works in Shanghai. Every day when Chen goes to work, she has to submit a daily health check to her company, as well as scan a QR code and register in order to enter the office park. “Monitoring is already everywhere. The epidemic has just made that monitoring, which we don’t normally see during ordinary times, more obvious,” she said. Others are more emphatic about the future. Wang Aizhong, an activist based in Guangzhou, said: “This epidemic undoubtedly provides more reason for the government to surveil the public. I don’t think authorities will rule out keeping this up after the outbreak.” “When we go out or stay in a hotel, we can feel a pair of eyes looking at us at any time. We are completely exposed to the monitoring of the government,” he said. .

Even mask-wearers can be ID’d, China facial recognition firm says (Reuters) - A Chinese company says it has developed the country’s first facial recognition technology that can identify people when they are wearing a mask, as most are these days because of the coronavirus, and help in the fight against the disease. China employs some of the world’s most sophisticated systems of electronic surveillance, including facial recognition. But the coronavirus, which emerged in Hubei province late last year, has resulted in almost everyone wearing a surgical mask outdoors in the hope of warding off the virus - posing a particular problem for surveillance. Now Hanwang Technology Ltd, which also goes by the English name Hanvon, said it has come up technology that can successfully recognize people even when they are wearing masks. “If connected to a temperature sensor, it can measure body temperature while identifying the person’s name, and then the system would process the result, say, if it detects a temperature over 38 degrees,” Hanwang Vice President Huang Lei told Reuters in an interview. The Beijing-based firm said a team of 20 staff used core technology developed over the past 10 years, a sample database of about 6 million unmasked faces and a much smaller database of masked faces, to develop the technology,

Wuhan Students Get Homework Software Banned From App Store By Spamming It With One Star Ratings - In what is likely the most epic story to come out of China as a result of the coronavirus so far, locked down students in Wuhan have found a creative way to avoid doing their homework while schools are closed. While schools have been suspended, teachers have been using an app called DingTalk to assign their students online lessons and homework, despite the lockdown. After the app was introduced, however, students who were happy to be on lockdown beforehand grew annoyed with having to do work, according to the London Review of Books. So they engineered their own solution and decided to take action. Students figured out eventually that if they had enough users spam the app with one star ratings, they could get it kicked off of the app store, which would then in turn prevent them from having to do homework. As a result, "thousands of reviews" flooded into and DingTalk saw its app rating fall from 4.9 to 1.4 overnight. Via technode According to the report, "the app has had to beg for mercy" on social media, stating: ‘I’m only five years old myself, please don’t kill me.’ Not much out of the country has given us hope since the coronavirus outbreak began, but this story should possibly give future generations optimism about young Chinese citizens' eagerness to band together and overthrow authority. And to the teachers, it's already bad enough the kids are suffering through what is likely going to be one of the most impactful pandemics of modern times. Maybe you can cut them a break on the book reports for the time being.

South Korea is quarantining and burning cash to prevent spreading the coronavirus - The Bank of Korea (BOK), South Korea's central bank, is now keeping all cash it receives from local banks in a safe for two weeks because the coronavirus generally dies out during that time, according to Reuters. The country is also reportedly tightening its processes for incinerating bank notes that might be infected or otherwise dirty as the outbreak spreads. The BOK will also continue using its standard process for disinfecting cash before putting it in circulation, in which it heats notes to 150 C (302 F) and then leaves them at 42 C (108 F) after they're packaged. These efforts reflect growing concerns about cash's ability to spread the coronavirus. Cash can carry hundreds of species of microorganisms, so some entities are trying to limit its use to combat the outbreak. Chinese banks were previously required to only release bank notes that had been sterilized and to store potentially infected cash for one to two weeks, per CNBC. Additionally, the country put a stop to cash transfers between provinces. And the concerns have reached a global scale, with the World Health Organization (WHO) advising consumers to use contactless payments over cash when possible. Precautions and restrictions surrounding the usage and availability of cash could bolster digital payments adoption, but payments firms may still face losses because of the outbreak. The quarantining and incineration of cash, combined with recommendations to not use cash, could convince consumers to make payments through other methods. If governments continue to store or destroy potentially infected cash, there could be less cash in circulation, making it harder for consumers to make cash payments. And if consumers are concerned about the spread of the virus and heed the WHO's advice, they'll make a point to avoid using cash until the outbreak subsides. This could mean that consumers around the world turn to cards, devices, and other payment methods to limit their exposure to cash, boosting digital payments adoption globally. Even if the outbreak popularizes noncash payments, it could still hurt digital payments firms' performances because it may lessen overall spending. Many US consumers are already avoiding public venues like malls and stores, likely lowering their in-store spending. So, concerns about cash may mean payments firms will see some spending shift to digital payment methods, but ultimately may cause their overall volume to drop. And payments firms certainly appear to be gearing up for coronavirus to hurt their performances, as Mastercard, PayPal, and Visa have all signaled that the outbreak may negatively impact their future revenues.

Korean right wing politicizing epidemic - After the impeachment of Park Geun-hye, the former president of South Korea who had been involved in a series of corruption scandals, Moon Jae-in, a left-leaning political stalwart, became the country’s new leader. Then lawmakers in the opposition conservative parties started to denounce the president for absurd reasons.The conservatives expressed a negative view on Moon’s efforts to invite the North Korean national team to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. They claimed that the Moon administration was imposing oppressive rule under the name of reforming the tarnished prosecution system. And now, right-leaning politicians are attacking Moon’s government for the surge in Covid-19 infections, stirring up criticism against his regime.By the end of February, Covid-19 cases started to surge across South Korea. Currently, this country has the most confirmed cases of the disease outside of China, where the coronavirus that causes it was first identified. Conservatives have accused the Moon administration of failing to deal with the disease properly.Hwang Kyo-ahn, the leader of the conservative United Future party, condemned what he called the government’s failure to deal with Covid-19.“The president, the prime minister and the entire government were too idle in their responses to the virus,” The Korea Times quoted Hwang as saying. “The current crisis has been caused by the government’s failure. The entry ban on China should have been implemented from the very beginning, as requested consistently by the people and experts. But the president did not listen.”Also making bitter criticisms against the government, Han Sun-kyo, a lawmaker with the right-leaning Future Korea party, urged Moon Jae-in to offer an apology to all citizens for failing to prevent the spread of Covid-19. “The government should have to impose a strict entry ban on Chinese,” Han said. “But the president was passive to do so, just kowtowing to China, as it is one of the biggest trade partners of Korea. With the incompetence of the minister of health and welfare, the government’s poor response to Covid-19 led thousands of citizens to be infected. Until now, Covid-19 is growing exponentially, and citizens are fretting that they could be infected.”

 Coronavirus could delay Tokyo Olympics by up to two years, Japanese official suggests, but IOC says Games preparations continue - -A delay of one or two years would be the "most feasible" option if the Tokyo Olympics cannot be held as planned this year due to the global coronavirus outbreak, a member of the organising committee's executive board has said. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Wednesday "the preparations for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 are continuing as planned". Haruyuki Takahashi, one of more than two dozen members of the Tokyo 2020 executive board, who suggested the delay, said the Tokyo 2020 organisers had just started looking at scenarios for how the virus could affect the Games. Mr Takahashi has earlier told the Wall Street Journal that the board had not discussed the impact of the virus, having last met in December before the epidemic spread. Organisers have been pushing a consistent message that the Games would not be cancelled or postponed but sponsors who have pumped in billions of dollars have grown increasingly nervous about how the coronavirus outbreak will impact the event. Meanwhile, the final decision over the Tokyo Olympics belongs to the powerful International Olympic Committee chief (IOC), Thomas Bach. Mr Bach gave his unequivocal backing to the Games ahead at last week's committee executive board meeting in Switzerland.

Tokyo 2020 chief insists Games are on track despite coronavirus outbreak --Olympic organisers have insisted the Tokyo Games will go ahead as planned in July despite the sharp spike in Covid‑19 cases across the globe. Yoshiro Mori, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief, said his team were not considering changing plans for the Games – and that a board member who had suggested a delay because of the coronavirus had apologised. Sources at the International Olympic Committee are also stressing that nothing has changed, with those in the organisation pointing out there is still more than four months before the Games begin. Senior IOC figures will be in Olympia on Thursday to watch the Olympic torch being lit at the ancient temple of Hera. It will then continue an eight-day journey through 37 cities in Greece before being handed over to Japan, where the torch will visit 47 prefectures over 121 days before arriving at the opening ceremony on 24 July. Earlier this week a member of the organising committee’s executive board told Reuters that a delay of one or two years would be the “most feasible” option if the Olympics could not be held this summer. But that was emphatically dismissed by Mori. “It is our basic stance that we press ahead with preparation for a safe and secure Olympics ... we are not at all thinking about changing courses or plans.” Meanwhile the revamped Fed Cup finals, which were due to take place in Budapest, have been postponed. It is the second major tennis event to be cancelled this week after Indian Wells on Monday but came as little surprise after the Hungarian government declared a state of emergency, banning all indoor events with more than 100 people attending.

India restricts drug exports due to coronavirus impacts, threatening global drug supply -- Citing shortages due to the coronavirus of raw materials sourced from China, India has placed restrictions on the export of thirteen Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) and another 13 generic drugs produced from these ingredients until “further notice.” As India is a major global supplier of generic drugs, there are widespread fears that these export restrictions will lead to pharmaceutical price-hikes and shortages in countries around the world. . Due to hoarding by merchants, as well as actual shortages, India has already experienced steep increases in the prices of several drugs, especially antibiotics made with Penicillin G. “There are already signs that the reduction in supply to India has pushed up prices there considerably," an Oxford Economics' economist told BBC last week. India accounts for the manufacture of at least 20 percent of the world's generic drug supply. The 26 APIs and drugs now under export restrictions account for about 10 percent of India's pharmaceutical exports. While India is a major source of generic drugs, the country’s drug manufacturers are themselves dependent upon Chinese manufacturers for basic raw materials used in drug production, with some 70 to 80 percent of these coming from China. The current supply disruptions in India are due to weeks-long shutdowns of Chinese drug manufacturing plants because of the coronavirus epidemic. At present it is unclear when normal production will resume in China. A further factor in the Indian shortages is the disruption of shipping within, and from, China. According to Indian spokespersons, if the supply disruptions continue into April, it could seriously threaten the availability of many commonly used generic drugs worldwide. Those that would likely be impacted include: acetaminophen, calpol, crocin and sumo, which are used to alleviate aches and pains; common antibiotics such as tinidazole, metronidazole, chloramphenicol, and neomycin; clindamycin salts, and vitamins B1, B6 and B12; and hormone supplements such as progesterone used in birth control pills. Europe and the USA have become heavily dependent upon the Indian supply of these drugs. African countries also rely upon Indian generic drugs because of their cheaper cost. Due to widespread poverty and inadequate health care infrastructure, Africa would be especially vulnerable to drug shortages and price hikes.

Global Air Traffic Set For Worst Year On Record - Covid-19 has become a significant headache for the global air travel industry, according to a new report from Jefferies. In fact, it is about to become the biggest shock for airlines on record as global air traffic is expected to dive 8.9% this year as the global viral pandemic paralyzes transportation routes across the globe.In its reported cited by Bloomberg, Jefferies said that the latest demand shock to hit the airline industry is the largest drop in data that goes back to 1978, and it even dwarfs the impact seen during the 2001 terrorist attacks and the 2008 financial crisis. "It's unprecedented," said Jefferies analyst Sheila Kahyaoglu.We noted last week that more than 200,000 flights across the world had been canceled as the virus crossed into pandemic status. At the same time, retail outlets at airports around the globe reported a significant drop in foot traffic, resulting in a collapse in sales at duty-free shops.In a separate report by Moodie Davitt Report, a travel retail-intelligence service provider, they said this is the "the greatest crisis the travel retail sector has faced, worse than [severe acute respiratory syndrome], the two Gulf wars or various financial crises." Plunging air traffic has also meant a plunge in jet fuel demand. Singapore jet fuel prices have fallen 30% since the start of 2020 and contributed to a 50% collapse in jet fuel crack spreads, now at 2009 lows.  And to show you how the airline industry has gone bust. Airports across the world are deserted:

Airlines are burning thousands of gallons of fuel flying empty 'ghost' planes so they can keep their flight slots during the coronavirus outbreak - Airlines have wasted thousands of gallons of fuel running empty "ghost" flights during the coronavirus outbreak because of European rules saying operators can lose their flight slots if they keep their planes on the ground. Demand for flights has collapsed across the globe amid growing fears about the outbreak.Under Europe's rules, airlines operating out of the continent must continue to run 80% of their allocated slots or risk losing them to a competitor.This has led to some operators flying empty planes into and out of European countries at huge costs, The Times of London reported. On Thursday, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to Airport Coordination Limited asking for the rules to be suspended during the outbreak to prevent further environmental and economic damage."I am particularly concerned that, in order to satisfy the 80/20 rule, airlines may be forced to fly aircraft at very low load factors, or even empty, in order to retain their slots," Shapps wrote."Such a scenario is not acceptable.." ACL has already suspended the rules for flights to and from Hong Kong and mainland China. However, they remain for all other flights.On Thursday, the UK airline Flybe went into administration, a practice similar to filing for bankruptcy protection, though it said its financial problems existed long before the outbreak. The International Air Transport Association has estimated that the outbreak could wipe out up to $113 billion in airline sales worldwide.

Riksbank Deputy Governor Tests Positive For Coronavirus - Sveriges Riksbank Deputy Governor and Stockholm University economics professor Martin Floden has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the virus that causes the illness known as Covid-19, according to Omni Ekonomi.  Sweden has confirmed 203 cases of the virus since January, though no deaths have been recorded. The country's public health officials have been widely praised for tracking down vacationers who visited Italy over the recent holiday only to be infected with the virus. Bloomberg reported that Floden tested positive for the virus on Friday. He is feeling well and is working from home, according to the Riksbank’s spokesman Tomas Lundberg. Here's more from BBG: In addition to the recommendations of the country’s health agency, “the Riksbank has taken further precautionary measures regarding its employees,” the central bank said in its statement. For example, employees who have traveled to the worst-affected areas “must work from home during the two weeks immediately following their return home.” The news comes amid increasing speculation about what measures the central bank may need to take to tackle the impact of the virus. Danske Bank analysts said last week they expect the Riksbank to cut its repo rate by 25 basis points in April, as Swedish workers risk a poor outcome in central wage negotiations amid the fallout from the virus. That easing call was echoed by Capital Economics on Monday. The Riksbank ended half a decade of negative rates in December, despite a slowdown in the Swedish economy. Since then, some policy makers have signaled they’d rather expand an existing bond-purchase program than once again resort to subzero rates, should there be a need for further stimulus. Floden is one of 248 people in Sweden to have been diagnosed with the virus, as of Monday. The central bank’s next monetary policy meeting is set for April 27.

European Stocks Crash Most 'Since Lehman', Enter Bear Market (6 graphs) European stock markets just suffered their worst decline since Lehman... Oct 2008 as the crude and Covid chaos rolls around the world... Europe is now down over 22.5% - a bear market - from highs just 3 weeks ago... The selling was absolutely across the board... European banks crashed to their lowest since March 2009... but judging by EU bank credit, there's more to come... And European credit is crashing... German bonds were aggressively bid all day with two- and five-year yields dropping to -1%, Gilt yields fall below 0% in two- and five-year segments, with BOE’s buyback seeing the institution buy at a sub-zero rate But, Italian yields surged, rising 30bps in 2-year to 10-year segments. Graphs Source: Bloomberg Paging Christine Lagarde!! 

Coronavirus Spreads Global Recession Fear --Fears of a financial meltdown at least on the scale of the 2008 crisis intensified Monday as global markets were gripped by panic resulting from the spread of the coronavirus across the globe and the ensuing oil price war launched by Saudi Arabia over the weekend."The fear today is about a global recession," said Thomas Hayes, chairman of management firm Great Hill Capital, as markets headed for their worst day since the 2008 crash.As The Washington Post reported Monday morning: "U.S. futures pointed to heavy losses on Wall Street on Monday. Overseas, London's FTSE 100 fell more than 8 percent to its lowest in three years; Japan's Nikkei index slumped more than 5 percent and Australia's benchmark shed more than 7 percent. Oil prices suffered the sharpest plunge since the 1991 Gulf War, while 10-year U.S. bond yields dropped to a record low as investors sought safety."While some urged caution in interpreting the meaning of daily market fluctuations, analysts said there is reason to fear that a destructive economic crisis is on the horizon. Chris Weston, head of research at the Melbourne-based web trading platform Pepperstone, told The Guardian that "there is genuine panic" in the market, noting that he hasn't "seen anything like this for years." Escalating market turbulence and warnings of a worldwide economic fallout came as the human toll of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, continued to grow. In the U.S., the number of recorded cases surpassed 500 across 34 states and deaths rose to 22 as the Trump administration's lack of preparedness was on full display Sunday morning.

Central banks in emerging markets face a 'dilemma' after oil prices plunge, says analyst - The plunge in oil prices has hit many emerging market currencies — and their central banks now face a “policy dilemma” of how to support their respective economies amid an expected slowdown in growth, an analyst said on Monday. “Central banks across emerging markets are, on the one hand, facing huge sell-offs in their currencies; and on the other hand, a slowdown in growth,” Cedric Chehab, head of country risk and global strategy at Fitch Solutions, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.” “So what do they do? Do they cut interest rates to stimulate growth or do they raise interest rates to support their currencies? I think a lot of central banks are going to be squeezed by this policy dilemma now,” he added. Oil prices dived to around $30 per barrel on Monday after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, failed last week to strike a deal with its allies — including Russia — to cut production further. Following that, Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest oil exporter — slashed its prices for April and plans to increase production above 10 million barrel per day next month, reported Reuters. The kingdom currently pumps 9.7 million barrels per day, but has the capacity to ramp up to 12.5 million barrels per day. Those developments in the oil markets hurt currencies of emerging economies with huge exposure to oil, such as Mexico and Russia, as well as those with “twin” current account and fiscal deficits, such as Indonesia, according to Chehab. On Monday, the U.S. dollar advanced more than 6% against the Russian ruble, over 4% against the Mexican peso, and close to 1% against the Indonesian rupiah.

Teachers in Mexico block major railway as government deploys National Guard For two weeks, public school teachers in Puebla, Mexico, have blocked the major railway between Mexico Valley, where Mexico City is located, and the Port of Veracruz. The demonstrators are demanding greater staffing in general, especially the re-hiring of recently fired teachers as well as democratic elections in the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE). Initially, the teachers set up five different blockades, but they have since reduced these to blocking one station in the Lara Grajales municipality. As the rail corporations and industrial chiefs escalate their pressure on the government to use force against the teachers, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) ordered the deployment of the National Guard to the 144 trains stranded in Veracruz, ostensibly to prevent burglaries. Both, AMLO and Puebla Governor Miguel Barbosa Huerta, who belongs to the president’s Morena party, have dismissed the teachers’ demands as “internal affairs” of the SNTE. No consideration whatsoever has been made about halting the firings and other austerity measures, which seek to make more resources available for AMLO’s historic tax cuts for transnational corporations and interest payments to the financial vultures on Wall Street and in the Mexican ruling elite. The argument about not interfering with union affairs has been repeated constantly by Morena officials to wash their hands of the continued abuses against workers by the trade unions, which the Mexican ruling class has relied upon for decades to crush opposition to widespread poverty and bare-bone social services. The clearest demonstration of these efforts was AMLO’s participation last month in the 84th anniversary ceremony for the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), in which the president summoned this organization of paid corporate thugs to back his government’s agenda. The response by the Morena administration to the blockades has been guided by the imperative of suppressing this and any other struggles by teachers and other workers against social austerity and capitalist exploitation.

Greek police shoot at refugees using live ammunition - The situation for refugees on the Greek-Turkish border has further worsened in the last days. More than 10,000 people are trapped in the border area, unable to move backward or forward. Greek border police and soldiers are using live ammunition to prevent refugees from entering the country. At least six refugees have been seriously injured, one Syrian refugee has even been shot dead.The use of live ammunition is being carried out with the explicit support of the European Union (EU). Meetings of EU interior ministers in Brussels on Wednesday, and EU foreign ministers on Thursday, reaffirmed Europe’s inhuman attitude towards the plight of the refugees.The statement of the EU interior ministers states, “Illegal border crossings will not be tolerated. The EU member states would take ‘all necessary measures in accordance with EU and international law’ to ‘protect’ the borders against refugees.” EU Internal Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson added, “I am counting on the Greek government to follow suit.”The EU is calling on the Greek government to drive back the refugees with all its might, and is putting this call into practice by having border police and border guards shoot at refugees. Although the government in Athens rejects reports about the use of live ammunition at the border as “false reports,” videos circulating on the internet have been determined to be genuine and authentic by journalists. Reporter Mark Stone of Sky News confirmed a video showing injured refugees being carried away from the border wrapped in blankets. In this case alone, six refugees had been seriously injured by shots in the chest, head, legs and groin area.

Erdogan Blasts Nazi Greeks For Denying' Refugees' Access To Europe - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that he would continue to flood migrants and refugees into Europe until European officials satisfied his demands, reported France 24.  Erdogan said Greece's treatment of migrants and refugees at the Greece–Turkey border is comparable to Nazi atrocities.  "There is no difference between what the Nazis did and those images from the Greek border," Erdogan said."Until all Turkey's expectations, including free movement ... updating of the customs union and financial assistance, are tangibly met, we will continue the practice on our borders," he told his AKP parliamentary group. Turkish authorities over the last month have been facilitating refugee and migrant flows towards the border with Greece as Erdogan has made good on his promise to 'open the gates.' Erdogan views this move as a means to destabilize European governments and their economies in hopes Brussels would submit to his demands, including, more recently, greater assistance with the Syrian conflict.Ankara has openly said its strategy is to push migrants from Syria to the European border and make sure they do not return. Turkey deployed 1,000 special operations police officers along the 124 mile stretch of the border to make sure migrants stay in Greece.  A video earlier this week showed Turkish special operations police using an armored vehicle with a rope to pull down a border fence, in an attempt to flood Greece with migrants. The outcome, however, was unsuccessful but outlined Ankara's dangerous attempt to unleash migrant hell on Europe.

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