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

Saturday, March 7, 2020

week ending Mar 7

Trump Counts on the Fed to Shore Up Markets, Keeping Up His Pressure Tactics – WSJ - President Trump said he is counting on the Federal Reserve to shoulder the government’s response to economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus, renewing the pressure campaign he has used against the central bank during previous bouts of market uncertainty.After the stock markets’ worst week since the financial crisis, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell signaled in a statement Friday that the central bank is prepared to cut interest rates to cushion the U.S. economy against the effects of a potential public-health emergency and widening global slowdown. “Good, it’s about time,” Mr. Trump said at a White House press conference Saturday, referring to the statement. He urged the Fed to reduce interest rates. “We need a Fed that’s going to be a leader.” Mr. Trump said talk of an economic stimulus program from the White House or Congress, such as by cutting taxes for households and individuals, is premature. “The big thing we are looking for is the Fed to do its job,” he told reporters. “I don’t think the Democrats are going to approve any tax cuts.” The administration would unveil tax-cut proposals toward the end of this year, he said. The S&P 500 suffered its fastest-ever 10% decline from an all-time high last week and the Dow Jones Industrial Average posted its worst week since the 2008 global financial crisis. Yields on the 10-year Treasury note and 30-year bond hit record lows, a sign of investors fleeing risky assets for havens and of expectations for lower U.S. growth. As investors looked for reassurance, Mr. Powell reprised language he used when the central bank adopted an easing bias last June. “The coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity,” Mr. Powell said. “We will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.”

Coronavirus, Market Expectations, and the Fed - By Friday, February 28, 2020, we had seven consecutive down market days and the market had fallen into correction territory with an approximately cumulative 11.5% drop as the global economic impact of the coronavirus infection starting to sink in and the fears of a potential global pandemic.  As of Wednesday morning, the 26th, economists could see no data reason for the Fed to act.  By the morning of Thursday the 27th, economists were acknowledging the short run economic impact of the coronavirus infection but stating the obvious reality that the data was not present to indicate how long or how deep.  On Thursday the Dow fell 1190.95 points, after a Presidential televisedmessage/presentation the night before raised many doubts as the competence of governmental leadership.  The need for the Fed to make a statement was necessary and Chairman Powell appropriately did so indicating the Fed stood ready to act in response to the evolving risks when appropriate.  By Friday morning, this had caused the economist Tim Duy to change his assessment from an appropriate wait for economic data to the need for a 25 to 50 basis point cut in the Fed funds rate and Goldman Sachs seeing stagnant earnings growth for U.S. companies through 2020 and three 25 basis points rate cuts from March to June of a total 75 basis points and Wall Street expecting at least 50 basis points in March.   By the morning of Monday, March 2, Goldman Sachs aggressively stated there needed to be a 50 basis points cur in March and at least 100 basis points this year.  Marc Chandler, a forex and macro analyst, was accurately reporting the negative economic data and commenting that central banks words of assurance have a short life.  Tim Duy wasconcluding the Fed would need to cut 25 basis points in March with a tilt towards 50 basis points and sooner, although the Fed's initial response might be to expand repo operations.  In this same Monday morning, another economist was commenting that central banks are already doing enough for now and that the emphasis in combating a potential pandemic is appropriately directed fiscal spending by government to support the public health system and provide direct (not tax cuts which would come to late and often to the "special" people who do not need them) stimulus to economy as the global impact on the United States becomes more obvious.  As of this Monday the CDC has yet to deliver accurate testing kits to state, county, and local public health agencies and hospitals to provide timely testing.  By this Monday afternoon, general doubts were beginning to be raised that, while the market expects rate cuts, cuts will not work and that the Fed is more likely to cut rates due to a demand shock leading to inflation rather than a recession.  However, a demand shock can also be a supply shock and lead to recession. By market end this Monday, March 2nd, the Dow finished up 1293.96 or 5.09%, despite European markets being up then turning down (except for UK) on coronavirus concerns.  Hope springs eternal in the market however fleeting the moment may be.

Fed Repo Injections Hit Record Level: Global Contagion Negatively Impacting Financial Markets - The Fed injected a record amount of liquidity this morning via its Repo Market Operation to supply dealers in the interbank market.  While investors may be reassured by the huge 1293 point rally on the Dow yesterday, the global contagion and its impact are just beginning.  Don’t be surprised to see a 40-50% correction in the Dow Jones over the next month. I’ve been keeping an eye on the Fed Repo Operations and was quite surprised this morning to see the Fed has already injected a record $120 billion into the market.  Again, this is the largest single-day amount of Fed liquidity, going back to the first Repo Operation on September 17, 2019: As you can see, I had to enlarge the chart to accommodate the Fed’s newest liquidity injection this morning… and the day isn’t over yet… LOL.  The Fed’s largest single-day Repo injection was $89.1 billion on October 24.  Yesterday, on Monday, March 2, the Fed accepted $53.1 billion from the dealers: The $53.1 billion is shown in the FRED chart above for yesterday.  Now compare that to the record $120 billion so far today, shown in the next two graphics.  The first $20 billion was accepted at 8:15 am, and the $100 billion was taken on 8:45 am:  Clearly, there is something SERIOUSLY WRONG in the Financial markets for the Fed to being injected $120 billion, the most since it started its Rep operations last September.  I believe investors and the market have no idea just how bad this Global Contagion will be like over the next 2-4 weeks… and longer.  As I stated, don’t be surprised to see the Dow Jones Index lose 40-50% from its peak over the next month.  Traders and Wall Street are going to get destroyed, and there is little they can do about it.

Federal Reserve Cuts Interest Rates by Half Percentage Point – WSJ -The Federal Reserve cut its benchmark rate by a half percentage point on Tuesday morning, delivering a booster shot to stem potential economic disruptions from thespreading coronavirus epidemic.Tuesday’s cut, which lowered the federal-funds rate to a range between 1% and 1.25%, is the first to occur in between a scheduled policy meeting since the 2008 financial crisis.The action was approved unanimously. In a statement, the central bank also held out the prospect for further stimulus. “The committee is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook and will use its tools and act as appropriate to support the economy,” the statement said. The Fed’s response shows how policy makers are bracing for greater economic distress from a contagious, flulike virus than seemed possible just a week ago.  The epidemic roiled global financial markets last week amid signs containment efforts were jeopardized by new clusters in Italy, Iran and South Korea. Stocks posted their largest weekly losses since the 2008 financial crisis. Commodity prices tumbled, signaling a hit to global demand, and long-term U.S. government bond yields reached new records, reflecting lower growth expectations and investors seeking havens.For the Fed, the spread of infections in U.S. over the week raised the prospect of changes to social behaviors that could lead to a drop in consumer spending, especially travel, tourism and entertainment.  While this shock isn’t primarily economic in origin, Fed officials recognized it would hit U.S. growth, especially if steps to mitigate the spread of the virus—school and business closures, canceled public events and social behavior broadly speaking—curtailed consumption. Even if the shock is temporary, there are big unknowns over how long it will last and how deep output might decline.  While an interest-rate cut won’t address the cause of the downturn, it could soften collateral damage to spending and confidence, stem financial-market disruptions and speed a recovery once any epidemic is under control. Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase, said Monday he now saw a 50% chance the Fed was forced to cut rates this year to zero, up from a 33% chance last week. Economists at Goldman Sachs see the U.S. avoiding a recession for now but have downgraded the U.S. growth forecast to an annualized rate of 0.9% in the first quarter and 0% in the second quarter.Fed officials repeatedly said last year it would be important to act aggressively at the first sign of a downturn in spending or hiring because they have less room to counteract a recession by cutting rates. Fed officials have said they would be especially sensitive to signs that financial-market conditions have led to reduced credit availability, and new corporate debt issuance has ground to a halt since last week’s market volatility. The Fed’s rate cuts could be important for global growth, too, because with rates at negative levels in Europe and Japan, foreign central bankers have fewer tools to spur growth in their economies.

Fed makes emergency rate cut amid heightened coronavirus fears— The Federal Reserve has voted unanimously to cut the interest rate 50 basis points to between 1%-1.25% effective March 4, in light of recent pressure on the markets from increased fears about the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Federal Open Market Committee authorized the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to “undertake open market operations as necessary” to maintain the federal funds rate in the target range of 1% to 1.25% and to continue repo operations until at least through April. As more coronavirus cases were discovered last week in the U.S., all three stock indexes fell into correction territory and the Dow logged its worst week since 2008. Yet the Dow was up roughly 2% as of Monday afternoon. The market drop last week, the worst since 2008, came amid concerns about supply chain disruptions, reduced demand and stalled growth related to the emerging COVID-19 outbreak. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped nearly 12% last week before rebounding Monday. Markets were starting to drop again Tuesday morning before the Fed’s announcement.Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on Friday indicated that the agency might attempt to shore up flailing markets with an interest rate cut, though it is highly unusual for the Fed to make changes to the federal funds rate outside of its regularly scheduled meetings. The last emergency Fed action was in 2008 in response to the deepening financial crisis. Tuesday's action was also the first Fed rate change of more than 25 basis points since the financial crisis.Some analysts have suggested that markets should not look to the Fed to shore up markets because the coronavirus outbreak relates to public health rather than market confidence.Other industry groups, such as the Bank Policy Institute, have argued that in addition to cutting the federal funds rate, the Fed should take additional actions, including reducing banks’ required reserve levels to zero and reduce the premium for access to its discount window.

Market and Fed March 3, 2020 --The 5.09% Dow increase yesterday was on 25.46% lower volume than last Friday and the Nasdaq volume was also significantly down at 19.34% yesterday.  The G7 made no fiscal stimulus commitments offering only words of appropriate policy action. The Fed Repo Operations significantly spiked today with $108.608 billion 1 day term submitted and $100 billion accepted while $70.950 billion 14 day term was submitted with only $20 billion accepted. The market started down a little over 200 points and started easing back basically on the G7 lack of fiscal stimulus action.  The the Fed makes an emergency rate cut of 50 basis points, which is what the market wanted and the market is still down and has gone down over 100 points as I write this at 9:19 AM Central time. In my opinion the repo spike was the new driving data, but the Fed may find the 50 basis points too preemptive (and consequently less effective) and too much spent ammunition (25 basis points would not have satisfied the market but the that is not the Fed's job) to counter what could be a recessionary downturn as the global economic impact of the coronavirus infection multiplies and the infection grows in the United States. Officially a recession takes two quarters of negative growth, which should be increasing apparent by the end of May going into June.  The first quarter is pretty obvious.  The Federal government needs to provide fiscal stimulus with direct effect on health care, employment, and support of economic sectors most heavily impacted by the coronavirus economic impact.  Additionally, the Federal government needs to start working with the international community to control and treat the coronavirus infection.  The United States is not in this alone.  If the U.S. does not start effectively cooperating and coordinating international response, including fiscal support, then the economic impact globally will be worse.

Demand for Fed’s Repo Loans Surges Past $100 Billion a Day as 10-Year Treasury Hits Lowest Rate in 149 Years – Pam Martens -Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell certainly has an odd notion of what constitutes an “orderly” market. At his press conference on Tuesday, following the announcement that the Fed was cutting its Fed Funds rate by a half point without waiting for its regularly scheduled meeting when rate cuts are normally deliberated, Powell said that “financial markets are functioning in an orderly manner and all that sort of thing.”Challenging Powell’s assessment of “orderly,” the Dow dropped 603 points in the span of less than 30 minutes while he was speaking at his press conference and trying his best to bolster confidence in the market. That didn’t seem very orderly.On top of that, at 8:45 a.m. that very morning, the New York Fed had pumped $100 billion in 1-day repo loans into the trading houses on Wall Street, $8.6 billion short of what the trading houses had sought to borrow. Even at the peak of the repo loan crisis that began on September 17, 2019 and through the end of January 2020, the Fed had never pumped out $100 billion in 1-day repo loans on a single day. Yesterday, the Fed pumped out another $100 billion in 1-day repo loans against demand for $111 billion – further evidence that Wall Street firms are in need of liquidity.This is the first time since the financial crisis of 2008 that the Fed has been making repo loans to Wall Street. The Fed is also purchasing $60 billion a month in U.S. Treasury bills, which many folks on Wall Street consider the fourth round of quantitative easing (QE). The Fed deployed QE1, QE2, and QE3 following the 2008 financial collapse on Wall Street to further ease interest rates on top of cutting its Fed Funds rate to the zero-bound. As for orderly functioning in the stock market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has closed with multiple 1,000-point drops and spikes higher in the past week and a half. That’s certainly not orderly functioning.  Also, the collapsing yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note is screaming that markets see a crisis in the offing. Remember, markets represent the composite wisdom of all participating investors. That composite wisdom is likely a better barometer of what is actually going on than the Fed Chair’s optimistic spin. The 10-year U.S. Treasury note has lost 37 percent of its yield in the past 10 days. For the first time in 149 years, it is trading below a yield of one percent. This morning at 8:58 a.m. it was trading at a yield of 0.9456. The Great Depression is considered the worst financial crisis in the history of the United States. The financial collapse in 2008 is ranked second to that. And yet during the Great Depression which spanned the 1930s, the 10-year yield was in the 2 to 3 percent range. That statistic alone strongly suggests that despite the Fed secretly throwing $29 trillioncumulatively to bail out Wall Street banks and their derivatives following the crash of 2008, the United States has never actually returned to a self-sustaining economy.

This Wasn't Supposed To Happen- One Day After Fed Rate Cut, Repos Signal Record Liquidity Shortage - Yesterday morning, when we discussed the sudden spike in liquidity shortage that resulted in both a (record) oversubscribed term repo and the first oversubscribed overnight repo since the start of the repo crisis last September that spawned QE4 and helped its culprit, JPMorgan report record annual revenues, we said that "if going solely by the amount of securities submitted between the term and overnight repo, the overall liquidity shortage today was nearly $180BN, the highest since the start of the repo crisis, and a clear signal to the Fed that it needs to do something to further ease interbank lending conditions."Less than an hour later the Fed cut rates by 50bps in its first emergency intermeeting action since the financial crisis.So with its emergency action now in the rearview mirror, did the Fed manage to stem the funding panic that has gripped repo markets following last week's market bloodbath? The answer, if based on the latest overnight repo results, is a resounding no.Moments ago, the Fed announced that its latest repo operation was once again oversubscribed, with the full $100 million amount of repo accepted.In other words, for the second day in a row the overnight funding repo operation was oversubscribed (and it is virtually certain that tomorrow's downsized term-repo will be oversubscribed as well).What is perhaps more notable is that the amount of securities submitted into today's repo op was a whopping $111.478 billion, which was not only higher than yesterday's $108.6 billion, but it was an all time high amount of overnight funding needs expressed by dealers.Which, stated simply, is rather bizarre 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 hits 0% rates in 2 months and restart bond buying.Will that be enough to stabilize the market? We don't know, but in light of the imminent corona-recession, overnight Credit Suisse's Zoltan Pozsar repo guru published a lengthy piece (which we will discuss more in depth later), and 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."In short, a liquidity avalanche is coming to prevent a market crash. It's only a matter of time.

A Misplaced Faith in the Power of Central Banks – WSJ - Greg Ip -- Wall Street and President Trump have begged, admonished and tweeted for the Federal Reserve to come to the economy’s rescue. Tuesday morning, the Fed obliged. But their faith is likely to prove misplaced. The Fed cannot save the U.S. economy from the coronavirus, for two reasons.  First, it can’t restart factories that are missing parts as the virus disrupt supply chains, nor can it persuade worried vacationers to fly. Second, and potentially more important, central banks are losing their grip on the business cycle. The Fed had little interest-rate ammunition with which to boost growth even before Tuesday’s cut; the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan effectively have none. The world is facing its first big shock in an era when central banks are no longer omnipotent.  The good news is that the same factors that make monetary policy less potent make fiscal policy even more so. With investors rushing to buy government bonds and driving yields down, the U.S. and other rich governments can borrow all they need to fight the virus and recession risk without fear of driving up rates.   Superficially, the coronavirus is similar to other shocks that have rocked the U.S. or global economy in the past, from the Kobe earthquake in Japan in 1995 to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The effects are usually temporary: “supply-side” disruptions to production, travel and commerce. Epidemics historically haven’t been disruptive enough to affect gross domestic product much.   That probably won’t be true this time. Over time, the supply-side disruptions of pandemics have been compounded by demand-side effects: precautionary measures by the authorities, employers and individuals to avoid infection.These behavioral effects account for 80% to 90% of the economic hit from epidemics, according to work by Warwick McKibbin, an economist at Australian National University. As with a biological or other terrorism threat, “A large number of people would feel at risk at the onset of a pandemic, even if their actual risk of dying from the disease is low,” he and a co-author wrote in a report for the Brookings Institution this week.Goldman Sachs estimates 10% to 15% of U.S. GDP consists of services such as entertainment, restaurants, church services and public transportation that would suffer if people limit interaction and avoid large gatherings. Goldman also estimates the disease will knock roughly 3 percentage points off annualized growth in the next quarter, with these demand-side effects accounting for almost half.The Fed can’t offset these effects, said Jan Hatzius, Goldman’s chief economist. “If you’re worried about catching a virus, you’re not going to be persuaded to put yourself at risk because of small changes in your wealth or borrowing rates.”He said the Fed can help cushion the hit to demand when employees lose their jobs because of supply disruptions or consumers staying home, or spending and investment retreat due to lower stock prices and uncertainty. Lower mortgage rates, for example, could add some construction jobs, “but it’s all pretty small.” Another risk: if the Fed lowers interest rates close to zero to deal with the current crisis it will, like the ECB and Bank of Japan now, have no rate ammunition to deal with the next one.

Credit Suisse Sees Funding-Strain Risk Without Fed Liquidity - Disruptions to the global supply chain from the coronavirus have sparked the danger of funding strains that could be made worse by steep Federal Reserve interest-rate cuts, according to analysts at Credit Suisse Group AG.  “The supply chain is a payment chain in reverse,” Zoltan Pozsar, an investment strategist at the bank in New York, and economist James Sweeney wrote in a note Tuesday. “The biggest risk we see to the plumbing is the Fed cutting rates aggressively, without pledging an open-ended liquidity support through its balance sheet.”“If the outbreak worsens, funding-market pressures can easily escalate,” Pozsar and Sweeney said. “Rate cuts will help, but rate cuts, if they re-steepen the curve materially, can exacerbate funding pressures.”The duo suggested that the Fed make a pledge to use the foreign-exchange swap lines it has with major developed-nation counterparts, an uncapped repurchase facility and a return to quantitative easing if needed. It’s “not unrealistic” to think that missed payments in the global system could “quickly run up to $200-$300 billion,” they wrote. “A mass drawdown of corporate credit lines due to missed payments could push the U.S. banking system back into deficit in short order.”  “Money funds have absorbed $600 billion of inflows over the past year and rate cuts could send those funds back to the bond market, precisely when the funds are needed in the money market,” Pozsar and Sweeney wrote.  Pozsar in August argued that the Fed needed to lower interest rates further to address a looming funding squeeze exacerbated by foreign central bank demand for its reverse repurchase agreements. It did cut twice more, and later took action to ease a sudden liquidity shortage that market participants attributed to a number of reasons, from a fundamental shortage of bank reserves in the system thanks to Fed quantitative tightening and lenders’ need to meet regulatory guidelines, to a boost in U.S. Treasury cash balances. The Fed resumed overnight repo operations in September for the first time in a decade, but has rejected a standing repo facility. It also plans to phase out special purchases of Treasury bills that the central bank instituted last year to boost reserves in the financial system.

Coronavirus financial collapse: "Central banks can’t come up with vaccines" - In a global society optimized for finance, it is easy to believe that finance holds the answer to all problems. In 2008 as shipping slowed to a crawl in the wake of the financial crash, sellers of the merchandise on board those ships became increasingly reticent about accepting letters of credit from wobbly banks as payment guarantees from buyers.  And, banks were increasingly hesitant to provide other forms of trade credit to buyers. The solution—as for so many other problems that year—was government financial guarantees for banks, depositors and various other financial institutions. That's because when the essence of the problem was financial, a financial response could work.  Today, it is the coronavirus which menaces the world economy—and the people who contract the virus, of course. Much of the Chinese economy—China has been the epicenter of the epidemic—has now been shut down in an effort to halt the spread of the infection which is believed to kill around 2 percent of those who get it. But as anyone reading headlines knows, coronavirus has now landed on every continent.  For weeks the world's stock market investors ignored the increasing alarm bells about the toll the virus was taking on economic activity. Finally, those investors acted en mass last week to dump stocks. No one is calling it a crash yet. "Correction" is a much nicer word.  The belated realization among those investors seems to be that here finally is a problem that central banks and governments can't solve with more easy credit and more spending. As one central banker reminded us: "Central banks can’t come up with vaccines." Coronoviruses simply don't care about "central bank liquidity" and "government stimulus." They only care about finding the next host in order to survive and replicate. And, if that host is a human with a job, he or she may not be going to work—or worse yet, that human may be one of those who never develops symptoms, but still transmits the disease to countless others. With so many people staying home these days in China and factories closed, the countless items which those factories normally make aren't being shipped to customers across the globe. If those customers are manufacturers using just-in-time inventory systems, they may soon by shutting down for lack of crucial components. That's just the beginning of a cascade through the entire manufacturing sector as each link is stopped in its tracks for lack of essential parts.  If we humans become increasingly afraid to go out for fear of being exposed at the big box store or the restaurant or the movie theater, we will consume only necessities.

  Boston Fed's Rosengren Says Fed May Soon Have To Buy Stocks - Three weeks ago, former Fed Chair Janet Yellen incepted the idea that during the next crisis, the Fed should consider expanding the range of assets it would purchase, most notably buying stocks.  Boston President Eric Rosengren, who echoed Yellen, said the Fed should be allowed to buy a broader range of assets - either by change of mandate or through a facility that allows it to buy stocks - if it lacks sufficient ammunition to fight off a recession with interest-rate cuts and bond purchases. In such a scenario, the US Treasury should indemnify the Fed against losses, Rosengren said in the text of remarks scheduled for delivery Friday in New York. In a situation where both short-term interest rates and 10-year Treasury rates approach the zero lower bound, allowing the Federal Reserve to purchase a broader range of assets could be important. Excerpt: “In such a case, as Marvin highlighted in his 1999 article, we should allow the central bank to purchase a broader range of securities or assets. Such a policy, however, would require a change in the Federal Reserve Act. … Alternatively, the Federal Reserve could consider a facility that could buy a broader set of assets, provided the Treasury agreed to provide indemnification. Rosengren also warned the Fed would face greater challenge than in 2008 crisis when Fed’s benchmark rate was cut to nearly zero, because yields on longer-run Treasuries have fallen below 1%. "Such a situation would raise challenges policy makers did not face even during the Great Recession," he says at conference hosted by the Shadow Open Market Committee. That said, Rosengren rejected the option of pushing the federal funds rate below zero in a recession, because somehow buying stocks rather than going NIRP makes more sense. Negative rates would harm banks and may make an economic recovery more difficult, he says

Fed's Beige Book: Economic Activity Expanded "modest to moderate rate", Coronavirus Impacting Travel - Fed's Beige Book – excerpt: Economic activity expanded at a modest to moderate rate over the past several weeks, according to the majority of Federal Reserve Districts. The St. Louis and Kansas City Districts, however, reported no change during this period. Consumer spending generally picked up, but growth was uneven across the nation, including mixed reports of auto sales. Overall, growth in tourism was flat to modest. There were indications that the coronavirus was negatively impacting travel and tourism in the U.S. Manufacturing activity expanded in most parts of the country; however, some supply chain delays were reported as a result of the coronavirus and several Districts said that producers feared further disruptions in the coming weeks. Transportation activity was generally flat to up slightly aside from some Mid-Atlantic ports that saw strong volume growth. U.S. nonfinancial services firms generally experienced mild to moderate growth. Overall loan growth was flat to up modestly, according to most Districts; notable exceptions were St. Louis, New York, and Kansas City, where declines were reported. On the whole, residential home sales picked up modestly. Nonresidential real estate sales and leasing activity varied across Districts. Agricultural conditions were little changed in recent weeks while some declines in natural resource extraction were reported. Outlooks for the near-term were mostly for modest growth with the coronavirus and the upcoming presidential election cited as potential risks.  ...  Employment increased at a slight to moderate pace, overall, with hiring constrained by a tight labor market. Insufficient labor lowered growth for many firms and led to delays in construction projects. Several employers changed from temporary to permanent workers in order to attract talent, and firms made efforts to retain workers such as keeping seasonal workers on staff in the off-season. While employment grew across most sectors, manufacturers, retailers, and transportation companies reported lower demand for labor in some Districts. Wages grew at a modest to moderate rate in most Districts, similar to last period, and contacts expected wage growth to continue in this range. Firms reported that the tight labor market and minimum wage increases were putting upward pressure on wages. Companies also spent more on benefits, as the cost of benefits rose and as employers expanded benefits to attract and retain workers.

Q1 GDP Forecasts: 0.7% to 3.1% - From Merrill Lynch:  We mark to market our 1Q GDP forecast up to 1.5% from 1.0%, while taking down 2Q GDP by 0.6pp to 1.0% and 3Q GDP 0.2pp to 1.4%, reflecting wider disruption from the COVID-19 spread. [Mar 6 estimate]   From Goldman Sachs:  Based on the downward revision to January wholesale inventories and the declines in US and global trade volumes, we lowered our Q1 GDP growth forecast by two-tenths to +0.7% (qoq ar). [Mar 6 estimate]  From the NY Fed Nowcasting ReportThe New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.7% for 2020:Q1 and 1.3% for 2020:Q2 [Mar 6 estimate]  And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNowThe GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the first quarter of 2020 is 3.1 percent on March 6, up from 2.7 percent on March 2. [Mar 6 estimate]  CR Note: These early estimates suggest real GDP growth will be between 0.7% and 3.1% annualized in Q1.

 February 2020 Yield Curve Update - Kevin Erdmann  - Well, this month appears to have presented the triggering event that will tip the Fed's hawkish bias over the tipping point.  It seems likely now that the Fed will chase the natural rate down to zero from here and there will be some sort of traditional contraction or recession related to the cycle.  In other words, in the second chart, we should have hoped for the dots to move up, but instead, they will likely move sharply to the left.  That chart uses monthly averages, so the 10-year yield is already well below the February point (in red).  The Fed is expected to announce an emergency rate cut.  Obviously, they should.  But, unless sub-1% short rates somehow leads to the 10 year moving up to 2% or 3%, there will likely be some period of economic contraction before rates increase again. That means there probably still are some gains to be wrung out of a long bond position.  Regarding the other asset classes, however, housing looks increasingly bullish, and is relatively defensive in the current context, so I don't think there is much to fear in real estate.  And, equities certainly could decline, maybe even enough to become a legitimate bear market, but it is possible that they won't decline precipitously.  The yield curve has been inverted at the short end since early 2019.  The date of the expected rate low point had been September 2021 for a while.  As the last chart shows, we seem to have been moving toward that date, suggesting that there has been enough momentum in the economy to get back to a normal yield curve eventually.  But, the curve has been flattening lately, and it looked like it might tip back to December 2021 or even March 2022, which would suggest that we aren't really moving closer to a normal yield curve and that, as with the periods between QEs, more Fed loosening would be necessary to kick rates up over time.

10-year Treasury yield drops to another record low of 1.03% as historic fall in US rates continues  - The 10-year Treasury yield dropped to another record low on Monday as the historic decline in U.S. rates continued amid the coronavirus outbreak and Wall Street calls for Federal Reserve stimulus. The 10-year yield hit a record low of 1.030% at one point overnight before bouncing and was last at 1.06%.  The 2-year Treasury yield fell to 0.71%, threatening to break its low in November 2016. The 30-year yield was at 1.623%, a record low. Investors are betting the Federal Reserve will now act aggressively in response to a coming economic slowdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. The fed funds futures market has already priced in a 50 basis point cut at the Fed’s meeting this month, according to CME Fed Watch tool. President Donald Trump increased pressure on the Fed to cut interest rates, tweeting Monday that the U.S. central bank is “slow to act” and falling behind its global peers. Goldman Sachs sees the Fed cutting its benchmark rate 100 basis points in total this year. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell released a statement on Friday afternoon that said the coronavirus “poses evolving risks” and that officials will “will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.” Investors have fled stocks and rushed into bonds, pushing yields to historic lows, as fears of a coronavirus outbreak gripped the globe. The benchmark 10-year rate, which moves inversely with prices, tumbled about 37 basis points in February alone. Stocks had their worst week since the financial crisis last week and were slated to open lower again on Monday.  Senior White House officials have attempted to calm market panic over the potential of the virus to trigger a global recession, as the U.S. reported its second death in Washington state and a first case in New York City was confirmed. Still, some on Wall Street are warning about an economic downturn. Ed Hyman, a widely followed economist on Wall Street, said the outbreak could end up causing a recession in the U.S. and slashed his U.S. GDP forecast to zero growth in the second and third quarters of this year.

Yield on 10-Year U.S. Treasury Note Falls Below 1%, Setting New Record Low – WSJ - The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell below 1% for the first time on record Tuesday as investors looked to buy safer assets after the Federal Reserve moved sooner than expected to cut interest rates.In recent trading, the 10-year yield was 0.993%, according to Tradeweb, compared with 1.085% Monday. Its previous record intraday low of 1.031% was set Monday.Yields, which fall when bond prices rise, were slightly above their levels from Monday but took a sharp turn downward shortly after the Fed announced it was cutting its key policy rate by half a percentage point—its first between-meeting move since the financial crisis. The move in yields mirrored the one in stocks, which fell shortly after the Fed’s announcement and extended declines after Fed Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged the limits of the central bank’s actions in a news conference.

 Treasury Yields Fall Further As Investors Expect More Rate Cuts – WSJ U.S. government bond yields continued to fall to new lows Wednesday, reflecting bets that the Federal Reserve could slash interest rates further at its March 17-18 meeting after itsemergency rate cut on Tuesday.The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note settled at 0.994%, according to Tradeweb. That was down from Tuesday’s then-record low close of 1.005%, though up from the record intraday low of 0.914% set earlier that day.The yield on the two-year Treasury note, which is particularly sensitive to changes in monetary policy, fell by a larger amount, to 0.639% from 0.723% at Tuesday’s close.Yields fall when bond prices rise. They have declined sharply in recent sessions due to a combination of factors, including expectations for lower short-term rates set by the Fed and a flight to safer assets, as investors worry about the economic impact of the coronavirus epidemic. Yields and stocks fell in tandem Tuesday after the Fed cut the federal-funds rate by half a percentage point to between 1% and 1.25%, suggesting investors have doubts about how much the Fed can mitigate the damage from the virus.Though stocks rebounded Wednesday, expectations for monetary easing from the Fed and other major central banks continued to support bond prices, analysts said.

U.S. Yields Hurtle Toward Zero With Thin Market Stunning Traders - Treasury yields plummeted to record lows Friday as concern about the global economic and financial impact of the coronavirus spurred demand for havens, while questions swirled about liquidity in the world’s biggest debt market. U.S. securities rallied and long-bond rates notched their biggest intraday drop since 2009 as government debt around the world racked up further historic milestones Friday. At the short-end of the American yield curve traders amped up bets on further central bank easing this month. Other refuge assets also advanced, with the yen climbing and bund yields diving to unprecedented negative levels. A stronger-than-expected U.S. jobs report failed to dent the pessimistic tone. “I thought last Friday was the blow-off top and then a few times this week before today, but now it’s beyond belief.” The moves came as stocks around the world plunged. The number of coronavirus cases globally exceeded 100,000. Singapore warned of a global pandemic and Britain’s chief scientific adviser said a vaccine could take as long as 18 months to develop. Bill Finan, senior managing trader at Columbia Threadneedle said he couldn’t remember seeing the Treasury futures market this thin and that this episode ranks with some of the more extreme liquidity crunches he’s seen. “Forget trading ultra bonds, nothing showing there,” he said. “We are staring at the abyss of a credit crunch,”  The five-year Treasury yield breached its 2012 low, dropping to a record low 0.4885%. The yield on 10-year debt -- which has fallen by more than half in just over two weeks -- dropped as much as 25 basis points to an unprecedented 0.6572%, before bouncing to around 0.74%. The 30-year rate, meanwhile, plunged as much as 34 basis points Friday to 1.2036%, also a record low, flattening the yield curve. The last full-day move that was bigger than that occurred in the midst of the 2008 credit crisis. The last intraday move that was larger took place in 2009, the day the Federal Reserve announced an expansion of its large-scale asset purchase program. The long bond subsequently pared its move Friday, with the yield recovering to around 1.27%.

Porkfest! Tallying How Much the Pentagon Really Costs -- It’s true the White House is reporting that its proposed new Pentagon budget is only $740.5 billion, a relatively small increase from the previous year’s staggering number. In reality, however, when you also include war and security costs buried in the budgets of other agencies, the actual national security figure comes in at more than $1.2 trillion, as the Trump administration continues to give the Pentagon free rein over taxpayer dollars. You would think that the country’s congressional representatives might want to take control of this process and roll back that budget — especially given the way the White House has repeatedly violated its constitutional authority by essentially stealing billions of dollars from the Defense Department for the president’s “Great Wall” (that Congress refused to fund). Recently, even some of the usual congressional Pentagon budget boosters have begun to lament how difficult it is to take the Department’s requests for more money seriously, given the way the military continues to demand yet more (ever more expensive) weaponry and advanced technologies on the (largely bogus) grounds that Uncle Sam is losing an innovation war with Russia and China. And if this wasn’t bad enough, keep in mind that the Defense Department remains the only major federal agency that has proven itself incapable of even passing an audit. An investigation by my colleague Jason Paladino at the Project On Government Oversight found that increased secrecy around the operations of the Pentagon is making it ever more difficult to assess whether any of its money is well spent, which is why it’s important to track where all the money in this country’s national security budget actually goes. This year’s Pentagon request includes $636.4 billion for what’s called its “base” budget — for the routine expenses of the Defense Department. However, claiming that those funds were insufficient, Congress and the Pentagon created a separate slush fund to cover both actual war expenses and other items on their wish lists (on which more to come). Add in mandatory spending, which includes payments to veterans’ retirement and illness compensation funds and that base budget comes to $647.2 billion. Ahead of the recent budget roll out, the Pentagon issued a review of potential “reforms” to supposedly cut or control soaring costs.  Ironically, one major area of investment it wants to slash involves oversight of the billions of dollars to be spent. Perhaps least surprising was a proposal to slash programs for operational testing and evaluation — otherwise known as the process of determining whether the billions Americans spend on shiny new weaponry will result in products that actually work. The Pentagon’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation has found itself repeatedly under attack from arms manufacturers and their boosters who would prefer to be in charge of grading their own performances. Reduced oversight becomes even more troubling when you look at where Pentagon policymakers want to move that money — to missile defense based on staggeringly expensive futuristic hypersonic weaponry. As my Project On Government Oversight colleague Mark Thompson has written, the idea that such weapons will offer a successful way of defending against enemy missiles “is a recipe for military futility and fiscal insanity.”

 Gabbard Urges Trump- Don't Drag Us Into War At Bidding Of Islamist Dictator Of Turkey - Tulsi Gabbard has once again gone on the offensive, skewering Washington mainstream foreign policy and the Trump administration's refusal to stand up to "dictator" Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Trump reportedly told Erdogan in a phone call last week as the Idlib crisis escalates, now in an open state of war between the Turkish and Syrian armies, and with Russia supporting the latter, that the US "reaffirmed" its support for Turkey in Idlib. Ankara is now demanding greater support from NATO as well, after Russian jets were widely believed behind last Thursday's massive air strike which killed 33 Turkish soldiers.Congresswoman and Democratic presidential hopeful Gabbard attacked this stance in a weekend video statement, urging Trump instead to make clear that "the United States will not be dragged into a war with Russia by the aggressive Islamist expansionist dictator of Turkey via NATO."She also slammed the mainstream media's efforts to renew holding up al-Qaeda terrorists on the ground in Idlib as mere "rebels" and "freedom fighters" saying it's a disgrace to men and women in uniform who signed up to fight terrorists in the wake of 9/11."Turkey's been supporting ISIS and al-Qaeda terrorists from behind the scenes for years," she pointed out."Turkey's Erdogan wants to create an Islamist caliphate in Syria, reestablish the Islamist Ottoman Empire, and is working with al-Qaeda and other terrorists to achieve his goal." "He wants to be the caliph," she added, explaining further he's not a "friend" of America, but remains one of the most dangerous dictators in the world.

 Trump Becomes First U.S. President to Speak With Senior Taliban Leader – WSJ —President Trump said he spoke to the Taliban’s co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Tuesday to discuss the implementation of the deal signed over the weekend to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, according to statements released afterward. Mr. Trump is believed to be the first U.S. president to speak to a senior Taliban figure since the U.S. ousted the group from power in 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Trump described their relationship as “very good” and said the two had a “long conversation.” “They’re looking to get this ended and we’re looking to get it ended,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. “I think we all have a very common interest.” He added: “They want to cease the violence.” The U.S. and the Taliban signed a historic deal in Doha over the weekend after more than 18 years of war, agreeing to the withdrawal of all U.S. troops within 14 months in exchange for Taliban assurances on counterterrorism. The deal also stipulates that the Taliban must start talks with Afghan groups and a cease fire must be on the agenda.A Taliban readout of the call said the two spoke for 35 minutes and discussed the implementation of the deal, including efforts to launch talks among Afghans. Mullah Baradar is the Taliban’s political chief, based in Doha, Qatar. The Afghan peace process faces many hurdles, including the resumption of Taliban attacks against Afghan forces this week, contrary to U.S. hopes that a seven-day reduction in violence that held last week would continue after the deal was signed. The Afghan interior ministry said Tuesday it recorded 33 attacks in 16 provinces in the past 24 hours.

Trump ordered Assange’s seizure by British police and wanted him dead -  Journalist Cassandra Fairbanks has revealed an explosive series of communications on the case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange between herself and Republican operative Arthur Schwartz.They confirm that the attempted extradition of Assange is a criminal enterprise, aimed at silencing someone who has exposed US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to intimidate all opponents of imperialist war. They prove that all methods of doing so are being discussed, including the death penalty. According to Fairbanks’s leaked conversations, high-level US officials arranged a deal with the Ecuadorian government in 2018 to secure Assange’s seizure, ostensibly in return for their taking the death penalty, which the Trump administration clearly wanted, off the table.The deal was organised by President Trump’s current national director of intelligence, Richard Grenell, while he was working as US ambassador to Germany. Fairbanks’s information makes clear that Assange’s arrest and extradition were sought under direct instruction from the president’s office. Fairbanks explains that she posted a message supportive of Assange with a chat group of pro-Trump campaigners, including Grenell and Schwartz, on October 30, 2018. Schwartz, with whom she “had always been friendly,” telephoned her shortly afterward to say she needed to stop supporting WikiLeaks: He was saying … that a deal had already been made to go into the embassy, that they were going to arrest Julian. … He was saying that I was involved in the Trump social world … and that people would understand that I supported Wikileaks before I knew that Julian was a bad guy. But that they wouldn’t be very understanding when all these bad things came out about him. Fairbanks described the call as “threatening” and “intimidating.”  In subsequent text messages via the encrypted service Signal, archived by Fairbanks, Schwartz said to Fairbanks in reference to Assange, “I wouldn’t get so emotional until you see exactly what that worthless piece of garbage did. … There’s a good reason the death penalty was on the table.” Fairbanks also confirms that Assange’s every conversation in the embassy was recorded by the security firm UC Global and relayed directly to the Trump administration.

Powell and Mnuchin will lead G-7 emergency call on the coronavirus Tuesday -  Global financial ministers and central bankers will hold a conference call on Tuesday to coordinate the financial and economic response to the coronavirus. The teleconference call will be led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Tuesday at 7 a.m ET, CNBC’s Steve Liesman reported. Representatives of the Group of Seven industrialized nations will attend the call.It will be a “coordinating call” for the financial and economic response to virus, according to a source.A communique is scheduled for after the call, CNBC has learned.Stocks rallied sharply on Monday on hopes that global central banks will take action soon to offset any impact from the deadly coronavirus, which has spread into the U.S.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted its biggest gain since March 2009, jumping 5.1%. The 10-year Treasury yield hit a record of 1.03%.

Mnuchin Ready to Work With Congress on Emergency Funding Package – WSJ -Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration looked forward to an emergency funding package from Congress to deal with the spreading coronavirus and signaled it is prepared to ask for more as authorities in the U.S. and around the world race to mitigate the economic impact of the epidemic.“We stand ready to work closely with Congress on an emergency funding package and any other related issues,” Mr. Mnuchin told lawmakers on Tuesday. He also suggested the administration would consider an infrastructure package as part of a broader stimulus measure, if one is needed to shore up growth.Mr. Mnuchin said officials also had begun to consider measures to support businesses facing disruptions related to the virus, as well as workers who may not have paid sick leave. “We’re looking at all different types of options on the table to address all these issues,” he said. “As we come back later with recommendations we will work with Congress.” Lawmakers are working through final issues this week on an emergency funding package for fighting the coronavirus that is expected to cost $7 billion to $8 billion. Partisan disagreements over how to price an eventual vaccine have delayed the release of an agreement, as Democrats push for the package to include funding for the government to purchase vaccines and therapeutics at an affordable price to then make available to the public. An agreement could come as soon as late Tuesday. The Trump administration’s proposal last week to spend $2.5 billion—with $1.25 billion in new funds and $1.25 billion in repurposed funds—was seen by lawmakers as too low. President Trump has said he would accept any amount Congress approves.  Mr. Mnuchin also said U.S. officials are working to distribute close to a million coronavirus test kits in the country, which he said should be available very quickly.  Mr. Mnuchin spoke after finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of Seven countries said they stand ready to cooperate on actions, including fiscal stimulus measures, to guard against economic risks from Covid-19 “Given the potential impacts of Covid-19 on global growth, we reaffirm our commitment to use all appropriate policy tools to achieve strong, sustainable growth and safeguard against downside risks,” the group said Tuesday following a morning conference call. The statement stopped short of stating specific actions countries might take in response to the virus.

U.S. Weighs Paying Hospitals for Treating Uninsured Coronavirus Patients – WSJ -The Trump administration is considering using a national disaster program to pay hospitals and doctors for their care of uninsured people infected with the new coronavirus as concerns rise over costs of treating some of the 27 million Americans without health coverage, a person familiar with the conversations said.In natural disasters such as hurricanes, hospitals and medical facilities can be reimbursed under a federal program that pays them about 110% of Medicare rates for treating patients such as those evacuated from hard-hit areas.The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has been in discussions about using that program to pay providers who treat uninsured patients with coronavirus, the person said. Dr. Robert Kadlec, who is the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, also said Tuesday at a congressional hearing that discussions are being held about using the National Disaster Medical System reimbursement program. In 2018, 8.5% of people, or 27.5 million, didn’t have insurance at any point during the year. It was an increase from 2017, when 7.9% of the population, or 25.6 million, were uninsured, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For public health officials, strategies to contain the novel coronavirus inside the U.S. will likely shift as the number of new cases and deaths increase. WSJ’s Brianna Abbott explains several challenges the country faces. Photo: David Ryder/ReutersAbout 2% of people infected with coronavirus have died and about 5% have developed serious infections that may require oxygen therapy or ventilators, based on research on cases in China.In the U.S., there are more than 100 coronavirus cases. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at the congressional hearing Tuesday that “we are seeing community transmission in a few places.”

Coronavirus Spending Bill Could Be Used to Cement Spying Authorities - THE CONGRESSIONAL EFFORT to rein in the government’s surveillance powers before a looming deadline on March 15 could run up against a new opponent: the coronavirus. House Democrats have been working on plans to further amend a provision of the Patriot Act, which as of 2015 provides a way for the government to get American citizens’ phone records from telecom companies. This and other key provisions of the Patriot Act must be reauthorized by March 15, or the surveillance authority lapses. The Democrats’ amended bill would pull the provision’s authorization while allowing and tweaking other other ways the government collects records. But those negotiations have been thrown off track, with critics of the spying program alarmed by the possibility that congressional leaders may try to use the coronavirus outbreak — and the coinciding legislation to fund a response — as a vehicle to muscle through an unamended extension or reauthorization. Join Our Newsletter Original reporting. Fearless journalism. Delivered to you. I’m in The Trump administration’s request for $2.5 billion to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic is likely to become an unstoppable legislative vehicle — as must-pass legislation that congressional leaders of both parties could use to ram through a reauthorization of the FBI’s call detail records program. Such a move would sidestep the House’s reform effort and instead push through a clean reauthorization of the program. The Senate, said a Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, is “threatening to put that clean reauthorization into something like coronavirus funding which would make it impossible to defeat if we don’t come up with a bill here. Pelosi and Schiff will never allow it to expire.” “I would say it is still chatter at this point. But it is also chatter that could become their Plan A,” a Senate Republican aide, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, told The Intercept. 

House Passes $8.3 Billion Bill to Battle Coronavirus – WSJ The House passed a roughly $8.3 billion emergency spending package for combating the coronavirus outbreak, sending the legislation to the Senate as lawmakers raced to respond to the quickly spreading outbreak. The bill provides more than $3 billion for developing treatments for the virus and allocates $2.2 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contain the outbreak, among other measures. Under the legislation, which the Senate will also likely pass this week, more than $1 billion will go overseas, while $20 million will be made available to fund administrative expenses for loans to U.S. small businesses.The legislation, crafted by top Republicans and Democrats, caps less than two weeks of negotiations that began when the White House said it planned to spend roughly $2.5 billion on fighting the virus, an amount lawmakers said was too low. It passed the House overwhelmingly, with just two Republicans voting against it and 415 members supporting it. President Trump has said he would sign whatever package Congress approves. Negotiations had slowed in recent days as lawmakers haggled over the possible price of a coronavirus vaccine in development. Democrats had pushed to guarantee that the drug would be made available at an affordable price, while Republicans warned that price controls could slow development.  The final deal includes $300 million for the government to purchase the vaccine and other therapeutics and make them available to the public It calls on Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to use currently available authority to ensure the price is “affordable in the commercial market,” while additionally stating that he shouldn’t delay the drug’s development.

Senate passes $8.3 billion coronavirus bill, sending it to Trump -- The Senate on Thursday easily passed more than $8 billion in funding to fight the coronavirus, sending the measure to President Trump, who is expected to sign it. Senators voted 96-1 on the bill, which was finalized and cleared the House the day before. The bill provides $7.76 billion to agencies combating the coronavirus. It also authorizes another $500 million in waivers for Medicare telehealth restrictions, bringing the total figure greenlighted under the bill up to $8.3 billion. Included within that is $2.2 billion to help federal, state and local public health agencies prepare for and respond to the coronavirus, including funds for lab testing, infection control and tracing individuals who might have had contact with infected people. The Senate's passage caps off a weeks-long sprint to get emergency funding through Congress amid growing concerns about a widespread outbreak within the United States. There have been 99 U.S. cases spread among 13 states, and 10 people have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Trump administration sent its emergency request to Congress on Feb. 24, less than two weeks ago. The initial $2.5 billion amount, only half of which would have been new funding, was criticized by Democrats and some Republicans as being too low. By late last week, the bipartisan group negotiating the deal were looking at between $6 billion and $8 billion, sources told The Hill. By Monday that had climbed to $7.5 billon, and the final figure ended up being slightly higher. But talks appeared stuck as late as Wednesday morning over the issue of vaccine affordability. Democrats had pushed for language in the bill that would require any coronavirus vaccines or treatments developed by private companies with federal funding to be priced affordably. But Republicans had argued that could discourage drug companies from investing in potential cures and vaccines. A source told The Hill that there was also discussion at a leadership level about ensuring Medicare would fully cover copay for a vaccine, but the idea was rejected by Republicans. Government health care experts have said a vaccine is a year to 18 months away. The bill does state that the Health and Human Services secretary “may” take measures to assure those products are affordable. 

 U.S. Hospitals Are Unprepared for Coronavirus, Nurses Warn While Trump Cries 'Hoax' -  While stipulating that a University of California at Davis medical facility is "generally better prepared and equipped" than most when it comes to dealing with such a situation, National Nurses United — the largest nurses union in the U.S. — warned Friday night that the self-quarantine of 124 healthcare workers there shows the nation's hospitals remain seriously unprepared for the coronavirus that officials warn is rapidly spreading. According to the NNU, a single case of coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) — in which a patient was admitted on Feb. 19 — has now resulted in the quarantine of 36 registered nurses and 88 other health care workers at the UC Davis Medical Center, all them now at home in order to limit the risk of further spread. "These 124 nurses and health care workers, who are needed now more than ever, have instead been sidelined," the union said in a statement. "Lack of preparedness will create an unsustainable national health care staffing crisis. Nurses view the handling of this COVID-19 case as a system failure and not a success." The Washington Post reported Saturday, citing latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that "four new cases Friday brings the total number of covid-19 cases detected through the U.S. public health system to 19." The NNU said its nurses are speaking out now because they are "dedicated to protecting the health and safety of their patients, health care workers, and the public." It also comes as President Donald Trump, at a rally in South Carolina on Friday night, accused Democrats and others criticizing his administration's handling of the crisis — of which there are many — of perpetrating a "new hoax" against him. While it is waiting for more complete results of a survey sent out to nurses in hospitals across the country, the NNU said preliminary responses from 1,000 members in California found:

  • Only 27 percent report that there is a plan in place to isolate a patient with a possible novel coronavirus infection. 47 percent report they don't know if there is a plan.
  • Only 73 percent report that they have access to N95 respirators on their units; 47 percent report access to powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) on their units.
  • Only 27 percent report that their employer has sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) stock on hand to protect staff if there is a rapid surge in patients with possible coronavirus infections; 44 percent don't know.

CDC blocked FDA official from premises - In a sign of growing tension among the Trump administration's health agencies, officials are expressing frustration that a top scientist was initially rebuffed when attempting to visit the CDC in Atlanta last month to help coordinate the government's stalled coronavirus testing, two individuals with knowledge of the episode told POLITICO.  Timothy Stenzel, who is the director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health, was made to wait overnight on the weekend of Feb. 22 — as senior health department officials negotiated his access in a series of calls — before Centers for Disease Control granted him permission to be on campus. Stenzel's visit had been expected, the individuals said. The FDA had dispatched Stenzel to the CDC in an effort to expedite the development of lab tests for the novel coronavirus outbreak. Problems with the CDC-developed test delayed the Trump administration's plan to expand screening for weeks, POLITICO first reported on Feb. 20. A senior HHS official confirmed the episode."On Saturday, February 22, at about 7 p.m., an FDA employee arrived at CDC Roybal campus in Atlanta, a day before what CDC understood to be his scheduled arrival time. Due to CDC security requirements, he was not allowed on campus that night," the spokesperson said. "On Sunday morning, February 23, as scheduled, CDC staff met the FDA employee and escorted him on campus, in full compliance with standard security processes required for all individuals whether they are federal employees or other visitors." Stenzel later found evidence of lab contamination, which he reported to HHS officials and may have contributed to the coronavirus lab-test delays and other problems. The CDC had spent days reassuring HHS leaders that the lab tests were imminent, even as delays prevented their delivery. The delays prevented many Americans, who didn't fit the CDC's strict criteria, from being tested for coronavirus. CDC initially limited testing to people who had recently traveled to China or had close contact with a confirmed case and were also symptomatic.

Trump attempts to blame Obama for coronavirus test kit shortage - Donald Trump sought to shift blame on to the Obama administration for a nationwide coronavirus test kit shortage. Elizabeth Warren speaks after quitting 2020 race: 'I have no regrets' – live Read more The president on Wednesday blamed a federal agency decision during Barack Obama’s presidency, which Trump said made it harder to quickly roll out testing for the virus. “The Obama administration made a decision on testing that turned out to be very detrimental to what we’re doing, and we undid that decision a few days ago so that the testing can take place in a much more accurate and rapid fashion,” he told reporters during a White House meeting with airline executives, whom he had called to discuss the economic effects of the outbreak. “That was a decision we disagreed with,” he said. “I don’t think we would have made it, but for some reason, it was made.” It was unclear what decision Trump was referring to. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said private laboratories used to be able to develop clinical tests but “in the previous administration that became regulated. For someone to do that they had to file with the FDA”, Redfield said. But experts on lab testing have said they are unaware of an Obama administration rule that would have hindered the use of tests developed at university or private labs in an emergency. The responsibility for the coronavirus test kit shortage appears to lie with the CDC’s choice to develop and distribute its own kit rather than use the one recommended by the World Health Organization, according to ProPublica. But the CDC’s tests didn’t work, falsely flagging harmless samples that contained viruses other than Covid-19.  Moreover, Trump ordered the dissolution of the National Security Council’s global health security unit and reassigned its head. The former national security adviser John Bolton also pressured the team’s counterpart at the Department of Homeland Security to resign.

How Lack Of A Strategy Undermines The Coronavirus Response - Handling a natural calamity is a pivotal test of leadership. Conventional wisdom states that leaders need crisp, clear, accurate communications, combined with reliance on science and agile institutional action. As in other areas, the Trump administration is pursuing an unconventional approach to the 2020 coronavirus crisis (technically “Covid-19”), with three mutually incompatible communication strategies that risk undermining each other. In one channel, President Trump and his surrogates, including Mick Mulvaney,Donald Trump Jr and Rush Limbaugh, continue to describe the virus as a hoax, make misstatements about the disease and its risks, falsely accuse political opponents of wanting the disease to spread, exaggerate any temporary success, dismiss future problems, ignore science and epidemiology, while claiming that the president is under-appreciated through political unwillingness to recognize his continuing success.  Meanwhile in a second channel, Vice President Pence has been named as the chair of the 2020 coronavirus task force and designated as the official spokesperson to issue bland sanitized quasi-scientific statements that seem intended to spray a calming haze over everything. In the third channel, a certain amount of access is provided to real expertise from epidemiologists and scientists, who sometimes contradict misstatements in the other channels, even during a press conference with the president. While the three-track strategy is unconventional, the question remains whether President Trump, who has successfully broken almost every other norm of leadership, might succeed here too. It is possible that Trump will defy the odds and once again come up lucky. It is also possible that, as in some earlier pandemics, the 2020 coronavirus will rise up and exact its revenge. No one knows what will happen. But the three-track strategy presents some obvious risks. These risks have materialized very rapidly. In just two months, it has spread to around 100,000 cases in over 60 countries.

Coronavirus and the Terrifying Muzzling of Public Health Experts --Union Of Concerned Scientists - The Trump administration is scrambling to reconcile the president's contradictions of statements made by federal health scientists about the emerging coronavirus crisis. Their solution: muzzle scientists, require that all statements be politically vetted through Vice President Pence, and punish federal employees who draw attention to gross negligence. This is a highly dangerous power grab that undermines both emergency response and public faith in the reliability of information coming out of the government. And it speaks to the incompetence and incoherence of the response to this crisis so far.It's hard to keep track of the number of Trump appointees who should know basic facts about the coronavirus but don't. Then yesterday, we learned that the actual public health experts in government would no longer be allowed to speak publicly about the outbreak without the vice president's blessing. CDC already has a 65-page manual for communicating complex scientific information to the public in times of crisis. "Clearance" by the White House will not improve this function. As chronicled by UCS's Anita Desikan, previous Trump administration actions have already compromised government response. The State Department overruled objections by CDC scientists and allowed 14 people who tested positive for the virus to fly together with non-infected people. Global disease surveillance systems were weakened. Initiatives to better understand viruses in animals were shuttered. And National Security Council global health security experts were pushed out the door. We already know that this White House prioritizes the president's ego over giving the public the information it needs. Remember Sharpiegate? The president erroneously claimed that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama. The professional civil service staff at the National Weather Service clarified that the state was not in the path of the storm. That's their job. Rather than admit a mistake, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney ordered the acting NOAA administrator to repudiate the experts and prevent other scientists from talking about the path of the storm. During the hurricane. Under termination threats, NOAA political appointees buckled, telling professional staff that the even when public safety is concerned, the president is always right.

As CDC Says 'Do Not Go to Work,' Trump Says Thousands With Coronavirus Could Go to Work and Get Better - Running roughshod over the advice of trained medical professionals and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Donald Trump Wednesday night suggested to millions of Fox News viewers that people infected with coronavirus could still go to work and recover, comments that were immediately condemned as irresponsible and dangerous."A lot of people will have this and it's very mild. They'll get better very rapidly," Trump told Fox's Sean Hannity. "They don't even see a doctor, they don't even call a doctor. You never hear about those people.""So you can't put them down in the category of the overall population in terms of this corona flu and/or virus," Trump continued. "So you just can't do that. So, if, you know, we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work. Some of them go to work, but they get better."The CDC has advised that anyone exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus such as a fever, coughing, and/or shortness of breath stay home from work, avoid public areas as much as possible, and seek medical attention."You should restrict activities outside your home, except for getting medical care," the CDC's website states. "Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis." Trump also claimed in the interview with Hannity that the World Health Organization's (WHO) estimate of a 3.4% global death rate from coronavirus is a "false number."

The emperor has no clue: Trump’s conviction that the coronavirus threat will vanish has warped the government response A compelling and coherent narrative is finally emerging to explain the Trump administration’s flailing response to the coronavirus crisis.It’s consistent with what we know about Trump’s pathological need for admiration, and with what we know about the culture of sycophancy and fear he has created among the people who answer to him.And it should become an explicit element of every incremental story about the crisis going forward.In short: Trump bet on containment rather than mobilization. It was a bad bet. But in Trump’s mind, it was a “tremendous success”. As a result, top health officials fearful of his wrath assured him it was working, rather than preparing for its inevitable failure. Now, Trump is fully invested in making coronavirus disappear, even while it continues its spread. But the only way to do that is to slow-walk testing, put a chokehold on the release of information, repeatedly insist that everyone says he’s doing a good job, and hope for a miracle.Where we are now is the result of Trump’s bad judgement, compounded by extreme, obsessive vanity — and an executive-branch culture in which officials are too terrified to contradict him. And make no mistake: his subordinates remain under clear orders to make it all go away. As he put itlast week: “We have done an incredible job. We’re going to continue. It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

Trump calls WHO's global death rate from coronavirus 'a false number' - Donald Trump declared live on television on Wednesday night that he did not believe the World Health Organization’s assessment of the global death rate from coronavirus of 3.4%. “I think the 3.4% is really a false number,” he told Sean Hannity, one of his favorite conservative Fox News hosts, in a phone interview broadcast live.“Now, this is just my hunch,” Trump began, before continuing that “based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this, because a lot of people will have this, and it’s very mild – they’ll get better very rapidly, they don’t even see a doctor, they don’t even call a doctor.”He went on: “You never hear about those people, so you can’t put them down in the category of the overall population, in terms of this corona flu, and/or virus. So you just can’t do that.” He then plucked his own surmising of a likely death rate out of the air. “You know, all of a sudden it seems like 3 or 4%, which is a very high number, as opposed to a fraction of 1%,” he said, perhaps referring to the typical death rate for influenza, which is well below 1%.Trump said: “But again, they don’t know about the easy cases because the easy cases don’t go to the hospital. They don’t report to doctors or the hospital in many cases. So I think that that number is very high. I think the number, personally, I would say the number is way under 1%.” Sources at the WHO pointed out to the Guardian that the 3.4% figure represented no more than a snapshot of the total number of reported deaths over the number of reported cases on the given day. “It’s not a mortality rate. But it is the math. The calculation on the given day.”

Iran Blasts US Offer To Help Fight Coronavirus As Political-Psychological Game  -Washington momentarily put aside the fact that it's essentially at war with Iran and in a very rare moment actually offered to "help" Iran combat the rapidly spreading and deadly coronavirus according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday.“We have made offers to the Islamic Republic of Iran to help, and we’ve made it clear to others around the world and in the region that assistance, humanitarian assistance to push back against the coronavirus in Iran is something the United States of America fully supports,” Pompeo said.Pompeo clarified after the hearing to reporters that the offer of support was made "to the Iranian people" and "formally conveyed to Iran through the government of Switzerland," The Hill reported.Despite Iran's official death toll now standing at multiple dozens, rising to 43 as of Saturday morning, with a total number of infected at 593 (though the true numbers of infected are believed to be in the thousands or possibly tens of thousands), the Islamic Republic's leaders promptly mocked Pompeo's claim to have extended a hand of "support". Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousav on Friday slammed America's offer as “ridiculous,” according to the Mehr news agency. Meanwhile, a number of reports have analyzed the impact of US sanctions on Iran's coronavirus crisis - the hardest hit country outside of China - and concluded the US administration's punitive attempt to devastate the Iranian economy is a contributing factor to Covid-19's rapid spread there. The National Interest reported that the White House has responded to this criticism by opening up humanitarian avenues.

2 Individuals At AIPAC Conference With Pence, Pompeo, McConnell & Others Test Positive For Covid-19 - As the novel coronavirus spreads through Westchester County's Jewish community following an outbreak in New Rochelle, it's perhaps unsurprising that several individuals who attended the 2020 AIPAC conference, which was held in Washington DC earlier this week, have tested positive for the virus. The incident is rapidly becoming a lesson in just how difficult it is to keep VIPs - including even senior leaders in our government - away from the virus. In a statement released Friday evening, the organizers of the conference confirmed that two attendees had tested positive at an event where Vice President Mike Pence was a keynote speaker, and where several other senior administration officials were present. Other high-ranking Republicans in attendance included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator and former Trump rival Ted Cruz and Rep. Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Read the full statement below: The identities of the infected individuals who attended the conference were not released, as per a new policy governing the identities of those who have been infected. The organization said it notified attendees to consult the CDC's guidelines for those who may have come into contact with the virus. The guidelines advice individuals to avoid close contact with others, and try to isolate while watching for any symptoms. Should symptoms emerge, individuals are advised to call their doctors and report the situation. Though many have complained that they haven't been able to access tests despite contacting their doctor because, as the Atlantic revealed earlier, fewer than 2,000 tests have been administered in the US so far due to a dire shortage that administration officials have attempted to underplay. The situation in Iran, where a senior adviser to the Ayatollah was infected, a former ambassador to Syria died, and nearly 2 dozen lawmakers have been infected, offered a lesson in the risks that the virus - which of course can't be stopped or stunted by traditional weaponry - presents.

CPAC attendee tested positive for coronavirus - One of the attendees at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, tested positive for coronavirus, the American Conservative Union said in a press release Saturday. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials attended the conference, though the ACU says the attendee did not come into contact with Trump or Pence. The attendee also did not attend events in the main hall, the release said. The ACU said the Trump Administration “is aware of the situation.” The exposure occurred prior to the conference, the ACU added. "A New Jersey hospital tested the person, and CDC confirmed the positive result. The individual is under the care of medical professionals in the state of New Jersey, and has been quarantined.” 

Coronavirus Costs: Who’s Paying for All This? – WSJ --The new coronavirus has arrived. Face masks and hand sanitizers are flying off the shelves, and the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. continues to rise.On Wednesday, Congress agreed to pour roughly $8 billion into the coronavirus response. So far, the epidemic has disrupted supply chains and sent stocks falling, but its greater economic impact remains unknown. The Association of Public Health Laboratories estimates testing of people potentially infected with Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, will cost $25 million for the first two months of the public response.Vaccines, sick leave, travel changes all come at a cost, but who is shouldering the bill? The answer is federal agencies, insurance companies, local health departments—and patients. For now, most people with health insurance will likely have the cost of coronavirus testing covered in the way that any other type of care is covered—- including whatever they may owe in co-pays, co-insurance or under a deductible. According to the public-health lab laboratories group, “there is no cost to patients for Covid-19 testing performed by public health laboratories.” Hospitals are administering their own tests and local health departments are stepping in to handle other cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially gave test kits to public health departments for free, and 48 labs in 38 states are testing for the virus. While tests given by public health departments may be free, private labs or hospitals are likely to charge. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this week that New York health insurers would have to waive patients’ out-of-pocket costs associated with testing for the virus, including emergency-room visits. Other states have yet to take similar steps. Even in New York, the order won’t apply to most large employer plans or to Medicare.

‘Why Are We Being Charged?’ Surprise Bills From Coronavirus Testing Spark Calls for Government to Cover All Costs - Public health advocates, experts, and others are demanding that the federal government cover coronavirus testing and all related costs after several reports detailed how Americans in recent weeks have been saddled with exorbitant bills following medical evaluations.  Sarah Kliff of the New York Times reported Saturday that Pennsylvania native Frank Wucinski "found a pile of medical bills" totaling $3,918 waiting for him and his three-year-old daughter after they were released from government-mandated quarantine at Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, California."My question is why are we being charged for these stays, if they were mandatory and we had no choice in the matter?" asked Wucinski, who was evacuated by the U.S. government last month from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak."I assumed it was all being paid for," Wucinski told the Times. "We didn't have a choice. When the bills showed up, it was just a pit in my stomach, like, 'How do I pay for this?'" The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not billing patients for coronavirus testing, according to Business Insider. "But there are other charges you might have to pay, depending on your insurance plan, or lack thereof," Business Insidernoted. "A hospital stay in itself could be costly and you would likely have to pay for tests for other viruses or conditions." Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told theTimes that "the most important rule of public health is to gain the cooperation of the population." "There are legal, moral, and public health reasons not to charge the patients," Gostin said.

Airlines Balk at U.S. Push for More Traveler Data in Virus Hunt - The Trump administration and U.S. airlines are clashing over how to collect and disseminate contact information for travelers entering the country as the government steps up efforts to track the coronavirus. The dispute spilled into the open this week ahead of a White House meeting Wednesday between Vice President Mike Pence and airline executives. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructed carriers to divulge each traveler’s name, email and U.S. address, plus two telephone numbers. The airlines say they often lack all five pieces of data on their customers -- especially for those who purchased tickets abroad or through a third-party, or those who transferred from another airline because of interrupted travel plans. About 26% of passengers don’t have a phone number in their travel record and 44% don’t have an email, according to Airlines for America, a lobbying group. “It’s clear to me that the government is going to require the collection of this information,” Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of legislative and regulatory policy at Airlines for America, said Tuesday. “It is not clear to me how they are going to require it.”  Representatives of the CDC and the health and human services department didn’t immediately respond to queries seeking comment. Another proposed change for “contact tracing” would be for airlines to ask U.S. citizens returning from abroad for an address when they return to the country. Such a requirement is spurring privacy concerns among U.S. airlines, Pinkerton said. The question is already part of what Customs and Border Protection asks foreign travelers, but no enforcement mechanism exists if the response isn’t truthful. More broadly, the carriers have argued that the government already possesses whatever contact data is available on international travelers, Pinkerton said. That information is from the Department of Homeland Security, which maintains databases of visa applications, other authorization documents and enrollments in “trusted traveler” programs.

Lawmakers Push Again for Info on Google Collecting Patient Data – WSJ - A bipartisan trio of U.S. senators pushed again for answers on Google’s controversial “Project Nightingale,” saying the search giant evaded requests for details on its far-reaching data tie-up with health giant Ascension.The senators, in a letter Monday to St. Louis-based Ascension, said they were put off by the lack of substantive disclosure around the effort. Project Nightingale was revealed in November in a series of Wall Street Journal articles that described Google’s then-secret engagement to collect and crunch the personal health information of millions of patients across 21 states.Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), Bill Cassidy (R., La.), and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) subsequently wrote to the Alphabet Inc. GOOG -3.95% unit seeking basic information about the program, including the number of patients involved, the data shared and who at Google had access. The head of Google Health, Dr. David Feinberg, responded with a letter in December that largely stuck to generalities, according to correspondence reviewed by the Journal. “Though Google began its response by telling us that the company was ‘proud to provide more details on Google’s work supporting Ascension,’ the response ultimately did not provide us with all of the information we asked for,” the senators wrote in their new letter to Ascension.  A Google spokeswoman declined to comment Monday. Dr. Feinberg told the Journal in a January article that his division’s efforts aim to help patients by reducing paperwork, facilitating communication among caregivers and leading them to treatments. Ascension earlier this year fired an employee who had reached out to media, lawmakers and regulators with concerns about Project Nightingale, a person familiar with the matter said. The employee, who described himself as a whistleblower, was told by Ascension higher-ups that he had shared information about the initiative that was intended to be secret, the person said.

Pompeo Blames China For US Outbreak, Says Lack Of Transparency Left Us Behind The Curve  -- Mike Pompeo was the featured guest on "Squawk Box" Friday morning, and when asked about China's grandiose claims about the country's virus-fighting efforts, the Secretary of State accused the Communist Party leaders of deliberately delaying the sharing of data and other information that would have been of "great benefit" to the US during the early days of the outbreak. Though he didn't offer much in the way of specifics, Pompeo said China's foot-dragging left the US "behind the curve" as it sought to contain the first signs of an incipient outbreak in January. Working with the Chinese throughout the outbreak has been "incredibly frustrating," Pompeo said, even as scientists sought to get information "which will ultimately be the solution to both getting the vaccine and attacking this risk." Over in China, state media is touting the Communist Party's 'triumph' over the virus as areas and cities impose travel bans on foreigners as part of China's national exercise in gloating. China once slammed the US's travel restrictions and mandatory screenings and quarantines as "racist", citing the WHO's declaration that they weren't appropriate at the time (Europe followed that advice and look how it turned out: every state on the Continent has confirmed at least one case, except for Slovakia). Now, Chinese news anchors are telling the population that the global community owes a debt of gratitude to China for its "sacrifice" in containing the outbreak (referring to the draconian crackdown instituted by Chinese officials). Apparently, the domestic propaganda channels are overlooking the fact that the virus originated in China and the government's slow response unleashed the disease on the world.

U.S. Orders Cap on Chinese State Media Personnel - WSJ—The Trump administration is ordering China’s major state media companies to sharply reduce the ranks of Chinese nationals in the U.S. in retaliation for years of tightening restrictions on American news outlets by Beijing.State Department officials said Monday that a personnel cap is being imposed on four Chinese media companies, forcing them to reduce their Chinese employees in the U.S. to 100 in total, from 160. The companies targeted—Xinhua News Agency, China Radio International, China Global Television Network and China Daily—must comply with the new limits by March 13, the officials said. Those outlets purvey Chinese government views, and the State Department last month said their U.S. operations will be subject to the rules for representatives of a foreign government, not treated as independent news media.The Trump administration has adopted a get-tough policy toward Beijing, using tariffs, investment reviews and other tools as punishment for what it sees as a lack of reciprocity in its treatment of American businesses, products and, now, news organizations. In announcing the new cap, the State Department officials cited “a longstanding, negative trend” in Beijing’s treatment of foreign journalists. Beijing in February ordered three Wall Street Journal reporters expelled over a headline on an opinion column that the Chinese government and many Chinese say was offensive. The headline referred to China as “the real sick man of Asia.” The U.S. officials didn’t cite the Journal expulsions by name. When asked, a State Department official called them “an egregious example.”  “Irrespective of the reasons that the Chinese government may give for why it expelled this or that reporter, it’s clear that the Chinese Communist Party simply doesn’t want light being shed on a vast range of everyday activities, policies and conditions inside of China,” the senior administration official said.

 Tim Cook and Apple Bet the Farm on China, But Then Coronavirus Hit -- The WSJ published a feature today on Apple’s dependency on China, Tim Cook and Apple Bet Everything on China. Then Coronavirus Hit. As a Apple user, I have written about the steady crapification of its products, particularly the decline of its MacBook line, where functionality, features, and reliability have been sacrificed in pursuit of a misguided design ethos (see Design Genius Jony Ive Leaves Apple, Leaving Behind Crapified Products That Cannot Be Repaired).  Apple is also the villain in the right to repair story, as its policies force customers to employ its  overpriced repair services – rather than those of independent third parties, or buy new products – rather than replacing a defective or worn-out component. This policy costs all of us money, and also contributes to the mountain of eWaste worldwide. How did Apple manage to get consumers to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for replacement machines when batteries fail? (see, e.g.,  here; here; here; and here). The WSJ feature focuses on another Apple fail: its over-reliance on China. Which now looms even larger, as the coronavirus crisis escalates. From the Journal: Long before the coronavirus struck, Apple Inc.’s operations team began raising concerns about the technology giant’s dependency on China. Some operations executives suggested as early as 2015 that the company relocate assembly of at least one product to Vietnam. That would allow Apple to begin the multiyear process of training workers and creating a new cluster of component providers outside the world’s most populous nation, people familiar with the discussions said.Senior managers rebuffed the idea. For Apple, weaning itself off China, its second-largest consumer market and the place where most of its products are assembled, has been too challenging to undertake.I see a worrisome problem here, one I recognize from the butterly keyboard debacle: a tendency to double down rather than reverse or change a decision when it’s obvious change is necessary:

It's A Betrayal - ICE Runs Millions Of Facial-Recognition Searches On Maryland Drivers - The real-world use of facial-recognition technology in the justice system is fraught with problems, according to a new report from The Baltimore Sun. New evidence suggests the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has accessed the Maryland state database of licensed drivers numerous times in the last several years, using facial-recognition software to scan millions of licenses without state or court approval. The move by ICE has alarmed immigration activists in the state, alleging that the agency has used the database to scan for undocumented immigrants that have received a special driver's license in the last seven years.ICE can take a photograph of an unknown person and run it through the database, in search of a match. "It's a betrayal of immigrants' trust for the [state] to turn around and let ICE run warrantless searches on their faces," said Harrison Rudolph, a senior associate at Georgetown University Law School's Center on Privacy and Technology. It's a bait-and-switch. … ICE is using biometric information in the shadows, without government notice or public approval, to hunt down the most vulnerable people." A new bill backed by state Democrats would force ICE agents to obtain a warrant before running images through the motor vehicle records and driver's license database. The bill would also allow the state to track federal queries into the system.

Judge rules Cuccinelli appointment to top immigration post was unlawful, voiding some asylum orders— A federal judge on Sunday ruled that Ken Cuccinelli was unlawfullyappointed to a top immigration post in the Trump administration, invalidating some of his directives to restrict the access asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border have to lawyers.  In his 55-page order, Judge Randolph Moss of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., said Cuccinelli was "not lawfully" appointed last year as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that administers and vets benefits for non-citizens like refugees, asylum-seekers and green card holders applying for U.S. citizenship.  Moss said the June 2019 appointment of Cuccinelli, a vocal proponent of President Trump's hardline immigration agenda, violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998. The federal judge, an appointee of President Obama, held that Cuccinelli was not eligible to become acting USCIS director last year because the position of principal deputy he initially assumed was not a "first assistant" job, as defined by the 1998 law.  "Under that commonsense understanding of the meaning of the default provision, Cuccinelli does not qualify as a 'first assistant' because he was assigned the role of principal on day-one and, by design, he never has served and never will serve "in a subordinate capacity" to any other official at USCIS," Moss wrote in his order.  Along with finding Cuccinelli's appointment at USCIS unlawful, Moss voided a directive Cuccinelli issued last year to reduce the time asylum-seekers in so-called "credible fear" proceedings have to receive counsel from lawyers. The judge also invalidated an order that barred asylum officers from granting extensions for the time migrants have to prepare for interviews, except "in the most extraordinary circumstances."

U.S. shuts border bridge to stop migrants rushing across from Mexico - (Reuters) - U.S. authorities said they closed the busy Ciudad Juarez-El Paso border bridge on Friday after more than a hundred mostly Cuban migrants tried to cross in response to a court ruling suspending an asylum policy. Earlier, an appeals court ruled to block one of President Donald Trump’s signature immigration policies the administration says has helped to curb migration on the southern border and forced tens of thousands to wait in Mexico. Word of the news spread on social media and a Reuters witness saw migrants on the Mexican side of the border heading towards the bridge while some U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers were putting on riot gear. “I’ve been waiting in Juarez for ten months,” said one Cuban asylum seeker, who declined to give his name. “I don’t care how long I have to wait here for them to let us through.” CBP confirmed on its Twitter account that it had closed the Paso Del Norte Bridge to stop a group of migrants from illegally and forcefully entering the United States and that other ports stayed open. The policy has forced roughly 60,000 people back to Mexico under one of Trump’s asylum policies, called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), to await the outcome of their cases in often dangerous border towns.  There, they are vulnerable to kidnapping, rape, robbery and other crimes while living in sometimes unsanitary conditions. Later on Friday, the Trump administration said in an emergency motion that at least 25,000 migrants sent back through the program were still in Mexico and that halting the program “could prompt a rush on the southern border”. In response, the appeals court put its ruling on hold to allow the administration to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue.

A paranoid militia infiltrating Texas police is bent on rebellion, ‘ready to rise up’ - A revolution-minded, conspiracy-bent militia group named the Oath Keepers is recruiting law officers in Hood County to take up arms in what the founder predicts will be a “bloody civil war” against the U.S. government.A national director of the Las Vegas-based Oath Keepers, John D. Shirley, moved to rural Hood County in 2015 and has been appointed by county commissioners as a constable, giving him both access to confidential information and a political platform to recruit more militia members.A regional recruitment rally announced for Monday was canceled by Harbor Lakes Golf Club, citing misrepresentation. It was supposed to launch Shirley’s “Oath Keepers of Hood County” chapter.The Oath Keepers’ current recruiting pitch focuses on gun rights and the Second Amendment. But unlike other gun libertarians, the Oath Keepers promote paranoid fears of a “New World Order” conspiracy and spread veiled anti-Semitism in distrusting “elites,” similar to discredited Austin showbiz personality Alex Jones. Mainly, the group asks for money. Its website begs law officers and veterans to militarize and also pay $1,200 for a “lifetime membership” or $50-$120 for annual memberships. “They view themselves as ready to rise up” to oppose the government, said Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League, which watches militia hobbyists and so-called patriot-movement groups along with monitoring neo-Nazis and race or religious hate groups. Officially, the Oath Keepers are nonpartisan and nondiscriminatory. The ADL labels the group as “anti-government extremist.” But the group rose in 2009 along with the Tea Party months after the election of President Barack Obama.In a Jan. 22 speech posted on the Oath Keepers’ Facebook page, Rhodes claimed Americans have a legal right to the same weapons as the U.S. military.“A weapon of war is what you want in your hands,” he said.Accusing “pencil-neck lawyers” in government of conspiring against gun owners, Rhodes said “they know we will resist. And that’s precisely why they want your semiautomatic rifles. ... They are useful in resisting tyranny.” 

Trump Administration Freezes Transportation Security Administration Hiring - The Trump administration has temporarily frozen hiring at the Transportation Security Administration, the second such pause in recent months at the Homeland Security Department. TSA expects to lift the freeze in late April to prepare for its busy travel season in the summer. Those hires will be onboarded and trained in time for the peak travel season, the agency said. In addition to hiring, TSA has also frozen overtime. The agency said it has to prioritize its resources in anticipation of its upcoming busy season. The freeze was first reported by KUER Radio in Utah. Officials told KUER that management said the pause was necessary to fund the 3.1% governmentwide pay raise Congress approved and Trump signed into law late last year. TSA’s freeze could have significant consequences as the agency has long struggled with turnover. In fiscal 2017, one-in-five of its screeners left within their first six months, according to the DHS inspector general (TSA has countered that the rate was actually one-in-six). TSA officials have said employees at airports in competitive job markets can earn more money at a retail store or a sandwich shop than as an entry-level screener. Those screeners earn around $35,000 in starting salary, depending on where they work. Employees have also complained they were never informed about opportunities to advance their career. In recent years, TSA has failed to maintain an adequate hiring pipeline to fill vacant positions, the IG found. It has relied on overtime shifts to make up for staffing shortfalls, but the auditors said that higher use of overtime has led to lower job satisfaction, which in turn has resulted in higher turnover. The agency last year sent hundreds of officers to the Southwest border to assist other Homeland Security components. 

FCC issues wrist-slap fines to carriers that sold your phone-location data - The big four mobile carriers face fines of between $12 million and $91 million each for selling their customers' real-time location data to third-party data brokers without customer consent, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai's office announced today.  These are "proposed" fines, meaning the carriers can dispute them and try to get them reduced or eliminated. The proposed fines are $91 million for T-Mobile, $57 million for AT&T, $48 million for Verizon, and $12 million for Sprint. That's a total of $208 million. The FCC announcement said the carriers' punishments are for "apparently selling access to their customers' location information without taking reasonable measures to protect against unauthorized access to that information." The FCC said it also "admonished these carriers for apparently disclosing their customers' location information, without their authorization, to a third party." Pai said that the FCC has taken "strong enforcement action" with today's proposed fines. But the two Democrats on the Republican-majority commission said the fines are too low and criticized the Pai-led FCC for secrecy during the investigation. "The FCC's investigation is a day late and a dollar short," Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. "The FCC kept consumers in the dark for nearly two years after we learned that wireless carriers were selling our location information to shady middlemen." Relative to the carriers' collective revenue, the fines are "a slap on the wrist amounting to less than one one-thousandth of their annual take," consumer-advocacy group Free Press said. Revenue in calendar year 2019 was $181.2 billion for AT&T; $131.9 billion for Verizon; $45 billion for T-Mobile; and $32.5 billion for Sprint. "The carriers have shown an egregious contempt for the law. The Communications Act plainly lists location data as the kind of private information that carriers have a duty to protect and are forbidden to sell without their customers' permission," Free Press Senior Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia said. "Yet the companies showed complete disregard for the law and for our safety in pursuit of a few extra dollars."

Justice Department Rejects Judge’s Criticism of How Barr Handled Mueller Report - A Federal judge said in ruling Thursday that Barr put forward ‘distorted’ and ‘misleading’ account of Mueller findings. The Justice Department on Friday said a federal judge’s criticisms of Attorney General William Barr’s handling of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation “were contrary to the facts.” Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said in a ruling on Thursday that Mr. Barr put forward a “distorted” and “misleading” account of Mr. Mueller’s findings in summarizing the report weeks before a redacted version was released to the public.

 Republican mega-donor buys stake in Twitter and seeks to oust Jack Dorsey – report - A major Republican donor has purchased a stake in Twitter and is reportedly seeking to oust its chief executive, Jack Dorsey. Bloomberg News first reported that Elliott Management has taken a “sizable stake” and “and plans to push for changes at the social media company, including replacing Dorsey”. Paul Singer, the billionaire founder of Elliott Management, is a Republican mega-donor who opposed Donald Trump during the real-estate magnate’s run for the presidential nomination but has since come onside.  Twitter made headlines in October when it announced a ban on political advertising. Its use and potential manipulation by politicians of all stripes, from Trump to Democratic candidate Mike Bloomberg, remains a source of fierce contention.  Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter, is also chief executive of Square, an online payment company. In November, he announced a plan to live and work in Africa for part of each year.It was reported that those moves were motivations for Singer’s desire to push Dorsey out. Other stakeholders have voiced concern about Dorsey’s leadership and Twitter has seen its share price struggle, although it recently reportedquarterly revenue above $1bn for the first time.News of the Elliott stake saw Twitter’s share price rise on Friday, during general market slides in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.Elliott Management is an activist investor, which means it regularly pushes for change in companies in which it buys shares.Singer has even taken on whole countries: in 2016, after a relentless campaign, he secured a partial repayment of debts by Argentina, arising from its financial collapse in the early 2000s.

 Democratic Party goes to war against Sanders - The Democratic Party is engaged in a last-ditch effort to boost the struggling campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden and block the nomination of Senator Bernie Sanders. They fear that in today’s primary contests in 14 states, Sanders could open up an insurmountable lead in terms of number of delegates to the Democratic nominating convention. In the wake of Biden’s victory in the South Carolina primary Saturday, the party leadership has pushed two of the right-wing candidates for the presidential nomination, Senator Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, out of the race. Both traveled to Dallas, Texas Monday to endorse Biden, with Buttigieg appearing with former vice president at a local restaurant, and Klobuchar addressing a campaign rally in the evening.Former President Barack Obama reportedly took the lead in pressuring Buttigieg in a phone call from the former commander-in-chief to the former naval intelligence officer, telling him this was his “maximum leverage” for future influence in the Democratic Party. It is not known who spoke to Klobuchar, but she addressed a campaign rally in Salt Lake City, Utah on Monday morning as a candidate and 90 minutes later announced she was ending her campaign and endorsing Biden. Another failed presidential candidate, former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, also announced his support for Biden on Monday, as did a slew of other top Democrats: former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former chair of the Democratic National Committee; former Obama national security advisor Susan Rice; Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate in 2016; and many others.

Things Get Interesting - Will Trump Be Forced To Postpone The Election? - Kunstler - They’re kidding, right? Joe Biden? The former vice-president and US champeen influence grifter came back from the dead this Super Tuesday to save the Democratic Party from Bernie Sanders Venezuelizing what’s left of America (after you subtract our awesome debt loads). Things that come back from the dead, of course, are generally not high-functioning, for instance: zombies. Isn’t that exactly what the party has got now in the person of front-runner Zombie Joe?   They are kidding, for sure - kidding themselves - for which they’ve practiced tirelessly the past three-plus years with RussiaGate, MuellerGate, ImpeachmentGate, and sundry extra delusional hustles, including sanctuary cities, cancel culture, the Green New Deal, free everything, and the transsexual reading hour. So, now they’re pretending that Joe Biden is capable when his every utterance suggests that he is gone in the head. That will work for about a week, I reckon. You know something hilariously idiotic will come out every time he mounts a podium unless his handlers duct-tape his pie-hole. And now that the spotlight is off that distracting crowd of also-rans, the cameras and iPhone recorders will catch his every gaucherie — as, for instance, when he declared in New Hampshire recently to a rally audience of ordinary (non-millionaire) voters, “Guess what, if you elect me, your taxes are gonna be raised, not cut.” It’s on video. Smooth move, there, Joe. […]   There’s not a small chance, at this juncture in the Coronavirus story, that the convention may not even be held. And then what? Gawd knows…. But a disruption so severe implies that a lot of damage would be done to the Potemkin economy that is the centerpiece of President Trump’s reelection quest. That damage is being done in real time as I write, with the S & P futures index down another three percent at the open today, Friday. The trend is not Mr. Trump’s friend. And an awful lot of other things are breaking up in the financialized fiasco that enfronts what’s left of the US economy. The bond market is cracking up, especially at the junk-grade margins. And one can only guess at the havoc being wrought in derivatives by repeated 1000-point swings in the Dow Jones and other symptoms of extreme disequilibrium in indexed things, from securitized car loans to currency swaps. All of which leaves the Golden Golem of Greatness, Mr. Trump, in not such a bulletproof position for a second term, after all. There’s a possibility that Corona Virus might interfere with the election itself. Viral contagions are known to work in waves. If this is the first wave now, then a second wave would arrive just about in time for election day, November 3. Second wave viral diseases can be more virulent than the first wave, which was the case with the so-called Spanish flu of 1918. And what if a substantial portion of voters don’t dare venture into public places full of their possibly infectious fellow citizens? Would Mr. Trump be forced to postpone the election, fulfilling his enemies’ fantasy that he seeks to become the American Caesar?

 Ukrainian Court Throws Wrench Into Joe Biden's 2020 Election Plans - A Ukrainian court has ordered an investigation into whether Joe Biden violated any laws when he forced the March 2016 firing of the country’s chief prosecutor. The ruling could revive scrutiny of Hunter Biden’s lucrative relationship with an energy firm in that corruption-plagued country just as the former vice president’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is surging after a lackluster start. Former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who has long alleged he was fired because he would not stop investigating the Burisma Holdings firm that employed Hunter Biden, secured the ruling last month. Ukrainian officials confirmed the State Bureau of Investigation has since complied and initiated the probe. The Pecherskyi District Court of Kyiv ruled last month that Shokin’s lawyers had provided sufficient evidence to warrant a probe and “obliged the authorized officials of the State Bureau of Investigation" to accept the ex-prosecutor's complaint and "start pre-trial investigation of the reported data," according to an official English translation of the ruling provided by Shokin's attorney.

Romney to support subpoena in Senate probe of Hunter Biden -  (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Mitt Romney will vote to allow a subpoena in a Senate Republican investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s businessman son, Hunter Biden, his office said on Friday. A day after Romney told reporters that the probe appeared to be political, a spokeswoman said the Utah Republican decided to back the subpoena after being assured that the records and witness interview sought would not create a public spectacle. President Donald Trump, without evidence, has attacked as corrupt Hunter Biden’s role as a board director for a Ukrainian gas company while his father was the U.S. vice president. Trump said this week that he will use the issue against the elder Biden, a leading Democratic candidate to face Trump in the November election. Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, a Trump ally, is investigating the matter and will ask panel members to vote next Wednesday to subpoena records and an interview from Andrii Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat and consultant for the lobbying firm Blue Star Strategies. Johnson claims Blue Star sought to leverage Hunter Biden’s Burisma role to make inroads with the State Department. “Senator Romney has expressed his concerns to Chairman Johnson, who has confirmed that any interview of the witness would occur in a closed setting without a hearing or public spectacle,” Romney spokeswoman Liz Johnson said in a statement. “He will therefore vote to let the Chairman proceed to obtain the documents that have been offered.”

Coronavirus: Bracing for the Economic Shockwave - Yves Smith - I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of the coronavirus health risks. But on top of that, people who do not become sick or come down with only a mild case may wind up suffering economically due to cuts in hours or job loss or for those who have them, damage to their pensions. The markets are finally taking coronavirus very seriously, with the long bond trading at record highs and stock markets doing synchronized swan dives last week. But unlike the financial crisis, where it was possible to identify the main drivers, housing debt and highly leveraged resecuritizations (CDOs) where the risks wound up concentrated at undercapitalized, systemically important financial institutions, here, many real economy sectors are seriously exposed: energy, travel and hospitality, aircraft manufacturers, automakers, restaurants, casinos. Even though the business press is eared to covering stocks, it is high levels of downgrades and defaults that make for financial crises. Remember that the the dot-bomb era, despite a massive wipeout of equity values, didn’t result in a crisis due to limits on margin lending. But as a result of the measures to move risks out of the banking sector, it may be harder to anticipate where ruptures will occur. The current leading edge conventional wisdom is that we’ll see a massive credit crunch as many companies start looking wobbly as their revenues shrink and investors get nervous about taking lending risk until they see a bottom to the disease and the economic damage. The fact that the Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is in top form is a bearish sign. In his latest article, he starts by describing Standard & Poors and Moody’s issuing broad-based warnings. Note that S&P and Moody’s are known for not downgrading until bonds are already trading as if they’d been notched down: There are mounting risks of a credit crunch in vulnerable sectors of the corporate bond market, potentially rocking an unstable financial edifice with record levels of debt and set off a dangerous chain reaction…. Moody’s has issued a global recession alert should the coronavirus turn into a global pandemic, deemed inevitable by many of the world’s top virologists after exponential outbreaks in Korea, Iran, Italy, and now France. “The economy was already fragile before the outbreak and vulnerable to anything that did not stick to script. COVID-19 is way off script,” said the rating agency. S&P’s [head of credit research for Europe and the Middle East] Mr [Paul] Watters said sectors with a toxic mix of high leverage and poor cash flow are coming under the microscope. Health care borrowers in the high-yield league are the most stretched with a debt-to-earnings ratio of six times, followed by media on 5.5 times.

 Federal Reserve To Quarantine Dollars From Asia On Covid-19 Transmission Concerns - Following reports that Beijing had "quarantined" dirty cash, the Federal Reserve is now doing the same out of fear that dollars in circulation from Asia could contain Covid-19, reported Reuters. A Fed spokesperson told Reuters on Friday that "quarantining physical dollars that it repatriates from Asia before recirculating them in the US financial system" has begun. The new "precautionary measure" is to limit the transmission of the virus in the US. The spokesperson said the Fed regional bank system, with 12 total branches across the country, will help manage money supply coming from Asia and quarantine dollars for upwards of ten days before recirculation. There were no specifics of how the dollars would be sanitized. Bear in mind that even before the Covid-19 outbreaks, a 2014 study by researchers at New York University identified 3,000 types of bacteria on dollar bills due to how widely and frequently they change hands. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Monday that the virus could survive on banknotes, potentially spreading the virus within communities and across the world. To reduce the risk of being infected by money, the NGO advised citizens in countries struggling with outbreaks to favor digital payments when possible. Past research has found that Covid-19 could live on surfaces for as long as nine days.

Big banks want regulation eased because of coronavirus. Experts call it opportunistic. -- The country’s biggest banks are asking federal officials for long-sought regulatory relief as part of the government’s efforts to contain the economic fallout from the coronavirus, requests that experts lambasted as opportunistic and unnecessary. The Bank Policy Institute — a lobbying group for big banks including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup — is recommending, among other things, that the Federal Reserve lower capital requirements and ease the periodic “stress tests” banks take to prove they can survive another economic crisis. The Federal Reserve could “make changes to its bank regulations or enact promptly already planned regulatory changes that would not reduce safety, soundness or financial stability,” the group said in a note titled “Actions the Fed Could Take in Response to COVID-19” and signed by Greg Baer, its chief executive; Francisco Covas, its head of research; and Bill Nelson, the chief economist.  The recommendations are “transparently opportunistic,” said Jeremy Kress, an assistant law professor at the University of Michigan School of Business. For years, the banking industry resisted calls for higher capital requirements that could have been used as a buffer, or a rainy-day fund, during economic turmoil, he said. Those buffers could have been turned off now to give the industry more flexibility to make loans during the current economic uncertainty, Kress said. But without those buffers reducing existing capital requirements, which are currently set at minimum levels, the timing could be risky, he said.“The whole idea of capital requirements and stress-testing banks is to make sure they have enough cushion to absorb losses” during an economic crisis, Kress said.Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), ranking member of the Banking Committee, said in a statement that: “My priority right now is ensuring that our federal, state and local health agencies have the resources they need to keep Americans safe. It’s not the time to reduce financial system protections to bolster the bottom lines for Wall Street."  Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters after a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday that he is talking to bank regulators about potential regulatory relief measures. The staff of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a group of high-level regulators, is also scheduled to discuss the coronavirus during a meeting this week, according to a person familiar with the planning but not authorized to speak publicly.

 Two Charts Explain Why Wall Street Banks Are Under So Much Selling Pressure - Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average of 30 large cap companies closed with a loss of 969.5 points or 3.58 percent. That was bad enough but the losses among the biggest Wall Street banks outpaced the Dow losses by a significant margin. Typically, JPMorgan Chase is one of the better performers among the Wall Street banks in the midst of a big selloff. But not yesterday. It closed with a loss of 4.91 percent – a loss larger than Goldman Sachs (- 4.77 percent), which has a large criminal fine hanging over its head. The news that Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, had heart surgery on Thursday was not reported until after the stock market had closed. The losses among the other mega banks on Wall Street yesterday were equally unsettling. Morgan Stanley lost 5.86 percent; Citigroup closed down 5.79 percent, while Bank of America shed 5.07 percent.All of these banks have one thing in common: they each are exposed to tens of trillions of dollars in derivatives. And according to a 2016 report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the German mega bank, Deutsche Bank, is heavily interconnected via derivatives to each of these Wall Street banks. (See chart below.) Deutsche Bank’s stock lost 5.49 percent yesterday, bringing its losses to 30 percent in just the past 15 trading sessions. That’s common equity capital that Deutsche Bank can’t afford to lose: its shares have lost 75 percent of their common equity value in the past five years. The IMF concluded that Deutsche Bank posed a greater threat to global financial stability than any other bank as a result of these interconnections – and that was when its market capitalization was tens of billions of dollars larger than it is today.The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the official government body that examined the underpinnings of the 2008 implosion on Wall Street, said this about the role of derivatives in the crisis: “the existence of millions of derivatives contracts of all types between systemically important financial institutions—unseen and unknown in this unregulated market—added to uncertainty and escalated panic, helping to precipitate government assistance to those institutions.”But foreign banks are not the only counterparties to Wall Street mega banks’ derivatives. As we reported on February 25, U.S. insurers are also significant counterparties to Wall Street’s derivatives. As the chart above indicates, the insurer, Lincoln National, which has derivative ties to Wall Street banks, has been trading in a notably close correlation to Deutsche Bank, losing 33 percent in the past 15 trading sessions. Other insurers with derivative counterparty exposure to Wall Street, such as AIG, Ameriprise Financial, and Prudential Financial have also experienced losses that outpace the broader averages.

The Fed Cut Is the Deepest for Banks and Insurers – WSJ - Already among the worst performers in the market’s swoon over the past week, banks took a direct hit Tuesday from the Federal Reserve’s emergency rate cut. The KBW Nasdaq Bank Index of the 24 biggest U.S. banks fell 4.6% on Tuesday and has lost 8.4% over the past week, more than double the S&P 500’s 4% drop over the week. Insurance companies have also taken a hit, dragging down the S&P financials sector 6.6% in the past week. Lower interest rates tend to cut into what banks can earn on their bread-and-butter business of lending money. Three rate cuts in 2019 crimped banks’ lending margins, but bankers were sanguine heading into 2020. No increases or big cuts were expected. What’s more, healthy U.S. consumer borrowing and spending was expected to continue to bolster bank earnings. The spread of the coronavirus epidemic has upended those assumptions. The Fed cut rates by half a percentage point on Tuesday, an emergency move to ease fears that the virus will weigh on the U.S. economy. Wells Fargo bank analyst Mike Mayo lowered his earnings estimates for the industry by around 10% and warned of a potential 25% decline if the situation worsens more than expected. He has issued three reports in a week, each more pessimistic than the last. Late Monday, he warned of more rate cuts than he had previously predicted. Bank of America Corp. is among the worst performers; its shares have lost 21% of their value this year after closing at a 12-year high to start the new decade. The bank, one of the biggest consumer lenders in the U.S., tends to be more sensitive to rate cuts. In a recent regulatory filing, it said a full point cut from the Fed would have lowered its 2019 net interest income by $6.54 billion, or 13%. The stock slumped 5.5% on Tuesday to close at $27.75. Wells Fargo & Co. is trading near seven-year lows, falling 4.1% to $40.53. JPMorgan Chase & Co. has fallen 17% since it touched an all-time intraday high in January. Insurance companies are also taking a hit from Tuesday’s rate cut. Prudential Financial Inc., the largest U.S. life insurer by assets, fell 5.7%, while some smaller, less-diversified rivals were harder hit. Lincoln National Corp. declined 8.4%, and Brighthouse Financial Inc., which was created through a 2017 spinoff by MetLife Inc., shed 8.8%. The most beaten-down insurers were those with big blocks of individual life insurance on their books. Life insurers favor 10-year, high-quality debt for meeting regulatory standards for backing up long-term obligations to policyholders.

  Rate cut could prompt even tighter margins, mortgage surge - The squeeze on banks to generate revenue in a low interest rate environment got considerably tighter Tuesday when the Federal Reserve — in response to potential economic fallout from the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States — announced the first emergency rate cut since the financial crisis.As if on cue, lenders such as JPMorgan Chase and M&T Bank immediately announced cuts to their prime rates. By late afternoon, at least four others — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Truist Financial and Regions Financial — made similar cuts. The situation is a good news/bad news deal for banks, depending on which side of the balance sheet is at play. Banks with low deposit growth could struggle as margins get compressed, while those with strong mortgage banking businesses could thrive as consumers look to refinance and take out new loans.“There will be an impact, but the question is, to what degree?” said Christopher Marinac, director of research at Janney Montgomery Scott. “Will lower rates spur more demand? Some people say no because we’re possibly heading into a recession and some people say that’s what the Fed is trying to avoid" by lowering the rate. " … I think to some extent we’re in a wait-and-see mode.” The Fed’s decision to reduce its benchmark interest rate by half a percentage point is the latest response to mounting fear that the spread of COVID-19 will force an economic slowdown in the United States. Last week, as the first cases of the virus were reported in this country, all three stock indexes fell into correction territory and the Dow Jones industrial average logged its worst week since 2008. Supply-chain disruptions, decreased demand for goods and services and an overall slowdown in growth were among investors’ chief concerns.Banks were not entirely caught off guard by Tuesday’s move. The day before, JPMorgan, the largest bank in the country, revised its GDP outlook on the expectation that the Fed would ease rates by 50 basis points at or before the central bank’s March 17-18 meeting, and then take another 25-basis-point cut in April.

 Warren queries large banks on their coronavirus planning— Sen. Elizabeth Warren is asking the chief executives of five of the largest U.S. banks for details on how they are managing risks associated with the coronavirus.In a letter Friday, the Massachusetts Democrat and candidate in the Democratic presidential primary asked the CEOs of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley a series of questions about their response to the outbreak, warning that it could have an impact on their operations, customers and growth.“As a globally systemic important bank, your institution and the customers it serves could be impacted either directly through exposures to areas where the virus has spread or indirectly through a change in market conditions caused by disruptions in supply chains, a drop in tourism or travel, or numerous other factors that could cause a slowdown in economic growth,” Warren said in the letter. She is asking the CEOs to respond by March 13. Warren says in the letter that the banks’ customers could be among businesses that have curbed or shut down their operations because of the virus, making it harder for them to repay their loans. She said those effects may be more pronounced in banks with direct exposure to regions where the coronavirus is most prevalent.She added that threats from the virus are “particularly disturbing because they come after regulators either have weakened or are attempting to weaken critical safeguards put in place after the 2008 financial crisis." Warren is asking the CEOs to explain which economic sectors they are monitoring most closely in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak and what level of exposure the banks have to China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Italy and Iran.She is also asking the CEOs if they believe the virus will have an impact on revenue and profits or on demand for commercial and industrial loans; if their banks are sufficiently capitalized to cover any potential losses from nonperforming loans; and if the banks' internal risk models include scenarios involving a global pandemic.

Banks deal with coronavirus; Fed finalizes bank capital rules - “HSBC has evacuated dozens of staff from its office in London’s Canary Wharf after a staff member reported a confirmed case of coronavirus, ” the Financial Times reports. “The employee, who works in the investment bank’s research department, has self-isolated and the rest of the team are now working from home, according to a person familiar with the events.”  “If confirmed, it would be the first case of COVID-19 in one of London's major financial institutions," the Sun reports. "HSBC employs around 10,000 people at its Canary Wharf headquarters and 40,000 people across the U.K.” The Federal Reserve overhauled capital rules for the largest U.S. banks, “completing one of the biggest changes to the postcrisis rulebook for Wall Street during the Trump administration,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The Fed said “the changes would simplify rules for big banks such as JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo without posing risks to the stability of the financial system.”  “Parts of the overhaul are likely to be welcomed by big banks, including changes that streamline aspects of stress tests, which require 34 large banks to show how they would weather simulated market and economic shocks. Wednesday’s plan reduces the total number of big-bank capital requirements to eight from 13, the Fed said. For large Wall Street firms, those changes could be offset by a new ‘stress capital buffer.’”“The final rules are largely unchanged from the original proposals,” the Financial Times notes, "and do not include a countercyclical buffer, which some expected after the Fed’s supervision head Randal Quarles praised the concept in public speeches.”“Today’s rule gives a green light for large banks to reduce their capital buffers materially, at a time when payouts have already exceeded earnings for several years on average,” said Lael Brainard, “the last remaining Fed governor chosen by President Barack Obama” and the lone dissenter to the Fed’s decision. “She has regularly warned against chipping away at rules meant to prevent the kind of risk-taking that exacerbated the financial crisis,” according to the New York Times."Notably, the final rule removed a bank's leverage ratio — a non-risk-weighted measure of capital adequacy — as a component of the stress capital buffer," American Banker reports. "The so-called stress leverage buffer requirement in the proposal had drawn industry criticism." Banks in the U.S. and U.K. are “sending hundreds of staff to test their disaster recovery sites, installing big screens in traders’ homes and pushing regulators for a reprieve on trading rules so they can keep their businesses running through a coronavirus outbreak,” the FT reports. “The efforts by big global banks including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Barclays are an escalation of business continuity planning that has already prompted them to segregate staff in Asian cities at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.” While many employees “can work from home with relative ease, regulatory and technology demands make the situation more complicated for salespeople and traders,” the paper notes. “To prevent those staff from being forced into quarantine en masse over a single coronavirus incident, banks are looking at spreading them out between head office and disaster recovery sites that have the same technical capacity as their main sites.” “For many companies it will be a first-time experiment with home working on a wide scale, but as many Asian offices begin to normalize working practices after their own attempts to stop the spread of the virus, the signs are that the European industry will adapt,” Reuters says.

Supreme Court to Consider SEC’s Power to Win Funds for Cheated Investors [WSJ] —The Supreme Court on Tuesday will weigh arguments in a case that could build new barriers to regulators’ ability to win back money for fleeced investors.The appeal is one of the biggest challenges so far to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division, whose oversight tactics have been under attack for years at the high court. The case turns on the claim that courts for decades have ordered defendants in SEC cases to give back money earned illegally despite lacking authority from Congress to order such measures.A loss for the SEC would hurt enforcement efforts that often benefit mom-and-pop investors, according to securities lawyers and researchers. In a 2017 decision, the Supreme Courtcurtailed the amount of time regulators have to sue wrongdoers, significantly reducing the annual sums the SEC collects from the defendants to return to investors.The current appeal stems from a 2016 enforcement action ordering a couple to give back, or disgorge, $26 million that was to be invested in a proposed cancer-treatment center. The SEC found that Charles Liu and Xin Wang defrauded the investors, pocketing millions for themselves and never building the facility. They also were ordered to pay $8.2 million in civil fines, another way the SEC can punish violators.Disgorgement is one of the SEC’s strongest enforcement weapons. The agency often asks defendants to turn over all the money they raised in a scheme, and not just their profits. The agency obtained $9.9 billion in court-ordered disgorgement from 2010 through 2018.“The SEC now routinely seeks disgorgement and, by asking for such relief, has collected billions more dollars than the amounts Congress authorized,” attorneys for Mr. Liu and Ms. Wang wrote in their petition to ask the Supreme Court to decide the case.Business groups have sided with that view. “This case boils down to a straightforward principle: if Congress does not give an agency a power, the agency does not have it,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote.

Supreme Court To Consider Whether Financial Fraudsters Should Be Allowed To Just, You Know, Get Away With It  - There is much hyperventilating at the moment about the Supreme Court’s plan to once again consider whether or not toss the Affordable Care Act into the dustbin of history. But before John Roberts & co. do that, they first have to decide whether asubstantial chunk of the financial regulatory structure of the United States should precede it. The case turns on the claim that courts for decades have ordered defendants in SEC cases to give back money earned illegally despite lacking authority from Congress to order such measures…. Critics say the SEC has used disgorgement too expansively. In cases such as Ponzi schemes, for instance, the SEC has asked defendants to turn over all proceeds, even if some money was paid to other actors, such as brokers, who might not have known about the fraud. Some justices showed unease with how the SEC uses disgorgement in the Kokesh case. The court will hear oral arguments Tuesday on whether a Democratic-led Congress exceeded constitutional boundaries in 2010 when it created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…. “I will be surprised if there aren’t five votes to invalidate the CFPB’s current structure,” said University of Illinois law-school dean Vikram Amar. The question, he said, may boil down to how far conservatives want to go in embracing the theory that almost everyone who exercises authority in the executive branch is answerable to the president. Well, we certainly don’t have to wait to see what the consequences of that would be.

Fed finalizes new capital buffer ahead of 2020 stress tests - The Federal Reserve Board on Wednesday voted to finalize a new measure of capital adequacy meant to simplify the agency's stress testing regime.The Fed proposed the so-called stress capital buffer in April 2018 to streamline its stress test program. Under the new system, each bank subject to the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review will have to meet a unique benchmark based on its performance of how much capital to hold in the following year to combat stress.The new plan is expected to result in higher capital requirements for the largest banks, while some smaller institutions still subject to CCAR may get a break. The final SCB — which the Fed said will be in place for this year’s round of stress tests — resembles the 2018 proposal. It will calculate a bank’s stress capital buffer as the difference between a bank’s starting and projected capital ratios under the “severely adverse” stress test scenario. The buffer will also factor in a bank's common stock dividends as a percentage of risk-weighted assets. Notably, the final rule removed a bank's leverage ratio — a non-risk-weighted measure of capital adequacy — as a component of the stress capital buffer. The so-called stress leverage buffer requirement in the proposal had drawn industry criticism.The Fed noted that some commenters had thought that the stress leverage buffer requirement would be inappropriate.“[The exclusion of the stress leverage buffer] would result in a simpler capital framework and maintain leverage capital requirements as an appropriate backstop to risk-based capital requirements,” the Fed said in a summary of its final rule. However, the Fed disagreed with some of the commenters that the stress capital buffer was too stringent and redundant. Those commenters argued that given the existence already of a capital surcharge on global systemically important banks and the "countercyclical capital buffer", large banks were already holding sufficient capital. But the Fed voted to approve the calibration of the SCB as described in the proposal, noting that the GSIB surcharge reflects the risk a firm poses to financial stability, while the stress capital buffer requirement would be calculated based on a bank’s ability to face adverse economic conditions.“Notwithstanding commenters’ views, each component of a firm’s buffer requirements would serve a distinct purpose and has been calibrated and designed to effectuate that purpose,” the Fed said.

February 2020: Unofficial Problem Bank list Decreased to 63 Institutions  - The FDIC's official problem bank list is comprised of banks with a CAMELS rating of 4 or 5, and the list is not made public (just the number of banks and assets every quarter). Note: Bank CAMELS ratings are also not made public.CAMELS is the FDIC rating system, and stands for Capital adequacy, Asset quality, Management, Earnings, Liquidity and Sensitivity to market risk. The scale is from 1 to 5, with 1 being the strongest. As a substitute for the CAMELS ratings, surferdude808 is using publicly announced formal enforcement actions, and also media reports and company announcements that suggest to us an enforcement action is likely, to compile a list of possible problem banks in the public interest. Here is the unofficial problem bank list for February 2020. Here are the monthly changes and a few comments from surferdude808: Update on the Unofficial Problem Bank List for February 2020. During the month, the list declined by one to 63 banks after one removal. Aggregate assets fell to $48.5 billion from $51.3 billion a month ago with $2.6 billion of the decline coming from updated asset figures for the fourth quarter of 2019. A year ago, the list held 76 institutions with assets of $52.8 billion. Gwinnett Community Bank, Duluth, GA ($223 million) found its way off the list through a merger partner. This past week, the FDIC release industry results for the fourth quarter of 2019 and provide an update on the Official Problem Bank List, which they said had 51 institutions with assets of $48.8 billion. Earlier in the month on February 14, 2020, the Nebraska Department of Banking closed Ericson State Bank, Ericson, NE ($101 million). The FDIC estimated a 14% loss rate on the failure. The first unofficial problem bank list was published in August 2009 with 389 institutions. The number of unofficial problem banks grew quickly and peaked at 1,003 institutions in July, 2011 - and has steadily declined since then to well below 100 institutions.

Agencies cancel community reinvestment conference due to coronavirus— The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are postponing next week’s National Interagency Community Reinvestment Conference due to growing health concerns about the coronavirus, the agencies said Thursday. The biennial conference was scheduled to take place in Denver from March 9-12. It was to be co-hosted with Fed's regional banks in San Francisco, Kansas City and Chicago. In a news release, the three agencies said they "jointly made this decision out of an abundance of caution to help safeguard the health and well-being of the more than 1,300 registered conference participants." The organizers of the conference are working to secure a new date for the event “as soon as possible” later this year, the regulators said.Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting and Esther George, the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, were among the conference’s scheduled speakers. The event was slated to feature updates on the Trump administration’s efforts to reform the Community Reinvestment Act, compliance training for banks and discussions on new community development trends and issues.

 Will the U.S. ever enact a national interest rate cap? — The vast majority of states have some kind of interest rate cap on consumer loans. But when it comes to setting a national rate cap, Congress seems to want no part of it.The lack of legislative progress on a national level can be attributed to several factors. For one thing, unlike other consumer protection issues, the rate cap issue seems to divide even Democrats, with key lawmakers in the party opposed to the idea.Meanwhile, consumer advocates say financial services firms have aggressively — and successfully — lobbied to fight rate cap legislation. Despite various proposals, a national usury law just seems off the table.“It’s certainly frustrating that members of Congress don’t see that capping an interest rate is an important thing to do to make sure that loans aren’t unaffordable for people,” said Linda Jun, senior policy counsel at Americans for Financial Reform. The two primary proposals circulating on Capitol Hill include a 36% cap — introduced by Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill. — on annual percentage rates for consumer loans, which would extend the preexisting limit on loans for military service members to all consumers. The other more extreme proposal, floated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would cap loan rates at 15%.But the industry's argument that such legislation would cut off access to credit, particularly for lower-income consumers, so far has resonated not only with Republicans but also with a handful of key Democrats in the House.“The primary practical dynamic is credit access. … Any bill that is tagged as curtailing credit availability will fail headwinds in Congress,” said Isaac Boltansky, director of policy research at Compass Point Research & Trading. “What proponents have to do is make the argument that the individual receiving credit will benefit.”In contrast, some type of APR cap at the state level is the norm. A recent report by the National Consumer Law Center tracked various types of state-enacted APR limits that apply to nonbank loans. For a $500, six-month installment loan, the report found that 45 states and the District of Columbia have rate caps, with a median limit of 38.5% APR.The law center's report said a $2,000, two-year loan would be subject to a cap in 42 states and the District of Columbia, with a median of 31% and most of those states imposing a cap of 36% or less.But at a recent House Financial Services Committee hearing, Democrats including Reps. David Scott, D-Ga., Brad Sherman, D-Calif., and Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., raised concerns about capping the APRs on consumer loans at the national level. A financial services lobbyist familiar with House discussions said a bill focusing just on a rate cap is likely to be a nonstarter.

Fifth Third latest bank in CFPB crosshairs over phony accountsThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is continuing its crackdown on banks opening unauthorized accounts after Wells Fargo's phony-accounts scandal prompted the agency to investigate aggressive sales tactics at other institutions.The latest institution in the bureau's crosshairs is Fifth Third Bancorp, which disclosed in a securities filing this week that the CFPB intends to file an enforcement action related to “alleged unauthorized account openings” at the Cincinnati bank. Last year the CFPB began investigating whether Bank of America also violated federal law by opening credit card accounts without customer authorization.“My instinct is there are more actions coming” against banks, said Graham Scott Steele, director of the Corporations and Society Initiative at Stanford University's business school.  The $169 billion-asset bank says it plans to fight the action brought by the agency. “Fifth Third believes that the facts do not warrant an enforcement proceeding and intends to defend itself vigorously if such an action should be filed,” the bank said in Monday's filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.Further details about the CFPB's allegations are unclear. Fifth Third spokeswoman Laura Trujillo said the bank will “fully cooperate with any regulatory and government inquiries,” but she would not say what types of accounts are under investigation by the CFPB.

CFPB proposes legislation to pay whistleblowers who tip off agency - The Consumer Financial Protection announced Friday three initiatives to advance its strategy of preventing consumer harm, including a proposal to pay whistleblowers whose tips result in enforcement actions.The steps also include an advisory opinion program to provide interpretations of existing rules to companies that submit requests to the bureau. The CFPB also announced changes to its responsible business conduct bulletin.The bureau said the proposed whistleblower award program would be an incentive for employees of businesses to report wrongdoing that will assist the bureau in advancing enforcement cases “especially as it relates to fair lending violations.” CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger said the CFPB has submitted proposed legislation to Congress to amend Title X of the Dodd-Frank Act to establish a program in which the bureau would be able to pay an award to a whistleblower that provides voluntary information that leads to a successful enforcement action. The bureau also plans to publish in the Federal Register more information about the advisory opinion program. The agency has also updated a 2013 bulletin that identifies four categories of responsible conduct that could result in credit for a company under an enforcement investigation: self-assessing, self-reporting, remediating and cooperating.

CFPB Case Heads to Supreme Court This Week  —A decadelong battle over the quasi-independence of a U.S. consumer-finance regulator lands at the Supreme Court this week, in a case that could have broad consequences for the structure of the federal government.The court will hear oral arguments Tuesday on whether a Democratic-led Congress exceeded constitutional boundaries in 2010 when it created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB, the brainchild of Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, was designed to protect consumers from abusive financial-industry practices on products like mortgages, student loans and credit cards.Lawmakers established the bureau as part of the Dodd-Frank financial law enacted after the 2007-08 financial crisis and said the bureau would be led by a single director, serving a five-year term, who could only be removed by the president for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.” “Congress was dealing with a substantial situation, a financial-market meltdown, a mortgage-market meltdown, and they put in place a lot of changes to try to prevent that from happening again,” said Richard Cordray, the CFPB’s first director. The bureau has been politically polarizing, with Democrats citing a need to rein in financial-industry excesses and Republicans warning the CFPB could be a vehicle for runaway government regulation. The same sort of ideological split has carried into the courts. Liberal-leaning judges have found that Congress acted comfortably within its powers in giving the agency some level of independence from political pressures. Some conservative judges have concluded the agency’s structure unacceptably weakens presidential authority and lodges an alarming amount of power in one unchecked individual. Those views could serve as a preview for the Supreme Court’s approach, where conservative justices hold a 5-to-4 majority.  Each of the court’s current conservatives has voiced concerns about giving too much power to government agencies, and the court’s newest member, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, already is on record as a lower-court judge in saying the president must be able to fire the CFPB’s director at will.  The case comes with several layers of intrigue. The Trump administration, which has sought to roll back Dodd-Frank, abandoned the legal position of the Obama administration and filed a brief agreeing with CFPB challengers that the current bureau structure isn’t legal. And because the government is no longer defending the bureau, the Supreme Court asked leading high-court lawyer Paul Clement, a noted conservative, to do so. He accepted the invitation and filed a brief that takes aim at the position of conservatives who want to boost presidential power and clip the wings of the administrative state.

Supreme Court justices question wisdom of CFPB overhaul— The future of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau remained an open question after Supreme Court arguments in a case about the agency's leadership structure, although the justices signaled they could leave the bureau alone.The high court on Tuesday heard arguments in the case, Seila Law v. CFPB, in which a law firm claims restrictions on the president's ability to fire a CFPB director are unconstitutional.Critics of the bureau hope the court invalidates a provision of the Dodd-Frank Act stating that a CFPB director can be removed only for cause. But several justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, seen as a swing vote, suggested that it could be problematic to establish a new standard for presidential firings since that standard could also be challenged in court. Dodd-Frank allows the president to remove a CFPB director only for “inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.”"What's going to happen is there will be litigation over whether or not the standard has been met or not met," Roberts said. "It would be the worst of all possible worlds." Roberts was joined by the court's liberal justices in questioning the wisdom of their removing or changing the for-cause provision. If he sides with the four-justice liberal bloc in preserving the standard, it could be a significant blow to efforts by the industry and the Trump administration to weaken the CFPB. Justice Stephen Breyer said the CFPB was "meant to be ... independent" and Congress chose to keep the director insulated from politics. He said abandoning that approach could raise questions about the independence of other agencies. "Once we depart from that kind of thing, trying to figure out what works — workable government, says the Constitution, certainly by implication — it's impossible. What about the Fed? What about the FCC?" he said.The liberal justices clearly favored leaving the structure of agencies to Congress.Justice Elena Kagan suggested the ability of presidents to fire appointees isn't really a constitutional issue.“This is a Constitution that doesn’t say anything about removal," Kagan said. "It does not say anything about 'for cause' or 'at will' or anything else. Why don’t we just leave it to the political branches that actually know about these things?”

 CoreLogic: House Prices up 4.0% Year-over-year in January: The CoreLogic HPI is a three month weighted average and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA). From CoreLogic: CoreLogic Reports January Home Prices Increased by 4% Year Over Year: CoreLogic® ... today released the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI™) and HPI Forecast™ for January 2020, which shows home prices rose both year over year and month over month. Home prices increased nationally by 4% from January 2019. On a month-over-month basis, prices increased by 0.1% in January 2019. (December 2019 data was revised. Revisions with public records data are standard, and to ensure accuracy, CoreLogic incorporates the newly released public data to provide updated results each month.)Home prices continue to increase on an annual basis with the CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicating annual price growth will be 5.4% from January 2020 to January 2021. On a month-over-month basis, the forecast calls for U.S. home prices to increase by 0.2% from January 2020 to February 2020. The CoreLogic HPI Forecast is a projection of home prices calculated using the CoreLogic HPI and other economic variables. Values are derived from state-level forecasts by weighting indices according to the number of owner-occupied households for each state. “January marked the third consecutive month that annual home price growth accelerated in our national index, as low mortgage rates and rising income supported home sales,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic. “In February, mortgage rates fell to the lowest level in more than three years, which likely will spur additional home shopping activity and price appreciation.”This graph from CoreLogic shows the YoY change in the index. CR Note: The YoY change in the CoreLogic index decreased over the last year, but lately the YoY change has been increasing.

Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey --Mortgage applications increased 15.1 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending February 28, 2020. The results for the week ending February 21, 2020, included an adjustment for the Presidents’ Day holiday.... The Refinance Index increased 26 percent from the previous week and was 224 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 3 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 11 percent compared with the previous week and was 10 percent higher than the same week one year ago...“The 30-year fixed rate mortgage dropped to its lowest level in more than seven years last week, amidst increasing concerns regarding the economic impact from the spread of the coronavirus, as well as the tremendous financial market volatility. Refinance demand jumped as a result, with conventional refinance applications increasing more than 30 percent," said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Given the further drop in Treasury rates this week, we expect refinance activity will increase even more until fears subside and rates stabilize.”  Added Fratantoni, “We are now at the start of the spring homebuying season. While purchase applications were down a bit for the week, they are still up about 10 percent from a year ago.The next few weeks are key in whether these low mortgage rates bring in more buyers, or if economic uncertainty causes some home shoppers to temporarily delay their search.” .. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) decreased to 3.57 percent from 3.73 percent, with points decreasing to 0.26 from 0.27 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Weekly Mortgage Refinances Surge 26% As Rates Tank -Americans are rushing to their lenders as rates plunge over the last several weeks, causing refinance volumes to spike and total mortgage application volume to go with it. While refinances were up 26%, mortgage application volume was up 15.1%.  The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with balances of $510,400 or less decreased to 3.57% from 3.73%, with points decreasing to 0.26 from 0.27 for loans with a 20% down payment, according to CNBC. Now, rates have fallen even more, prompting the surge in refinances, which are up 224% from last year. Last year, the average rate was at 4.67%. Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s senior vice president and chief economist said: “The 30-year fixed rate mortgage dropped to its lowest level in more than seven years last week, amidst increasing concerns regarding the economic impact from the spread of the coronavirus, as well as the tremendous financial market volatility. Given the further drop in Treasury rates this week, we expect refinance activity will increase even more until fears subside and rates stabilize.”

 Fed's rate cut might push 30-year mortgages below 3% -- The Federal Open Market Committee's coronavirus-fueled 50 basis point rate cut standsto potentially send 30-year fixed-rate mortgages below the 3% level, but with rates reaching all-time lows in the Treasury market, spreads between government debt and mortgage-backeds may be poised to widen.Equity investors' initial positive response to the move was short-lived. A rally in stocks quickly gave well to selling and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 900 points before retracing some losses. As stocks tumbled, investors flocked to Treasurys and for the first time in history the 10-year yield broke below 1%, bottoming at 0.92% before rebounding back to 1% by late afternoon.At yields that low, the spread between the 10-year Treasury and long-term mortgage rates will have to expand, said Mark Fleming, chief economist for First American Financial, due to inflexible add-ins like servicer fees and risk-based pricing from the secondary market.Those expense-related items contribute 1.5 to 2 percentage points of the mortgage rate. "So it's not that the 30-year directly follows the 10-year Treasury down to zero. There's going to be some sort of a floor," Fleming said."That being said, that floor is certainly flirting with something below a 3% mortgage as a potential possibility. If the 10-year Treasury stays for more than just a few hours below 1%, there is certainly the potential for repricing of mortgage rates further down than they were this morning," he said.The question is, are the responses by investors in both the stock and bond markets to the actual rate cut or to a sign that the Fed thinks the situation is more serious than previously thought? For the housing market in general, as it relates to the coronavirus, "the dark irony of bad things like viruses, is that it creates fear and uncertainty, which drives investments to safe havens and one of the most popular ones being the 10-year Treasury," "So U.S. homebuyers get a purchasing power boost from these kinds of events and this one is no different.

30 Year Mortgage Rates at 3.0% -From Matthew Graham at MortgageNewsDaily: Rates at All-Time Lows No Thanks to Fed's Emergency Cut: The Fed announced an emergency rate cut of 50bps today (0.50%). Great! So your mortgage rate could be 0.5% lower, right? Not exactly... Rates definitely moved lower today, and the Fed was definitely involved in that, but more so because their surprise rate cut proved to disillusion financial markets, thus setting off a wave of panic that benefited bonds. Excess demand for bonds means lower mortgage rates (all-time lows, by the end of the day). [Today's Most Prevalent Rates For Top Tier Scenarios 30YR FIXED - 3.0%] This graph from Mortgage News Daily shows mortgage rates since January 2011. More than a 1/4 percentage point below the previous record low levels of late 2012. This graph is interactive, and you could view mortgage rates back to the mid-1980s - click here for interactive graph.

Mortgage Rates Hit Record Low, but Coronavirus May Deter Buyers – WSJ -Mortgage rates fell to their lowest level on record Thursday, pulled down by fears that thespread of coronavirus could weigh on the U.S. economy.The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.29% from 3.45% last week, mortgage-finance giant Freddie Mac said. Mortgage rates are closely linked to yields on the 10-year Treasury, which this week dropped below 1% for the first time following an emergency Federal Reserve rate cut.A decline in mortgage rates typically boosts home sales. But a worsening coronavirus epidemic and the efforts to contain it—quarantines, business shutdowns and travel restrictions—could keep would-be home buyers on the sidelines during what is usually a busy spring selling season. If the virus hobbles the U.S. economy as it has China’s, workers could lose their paychecks—albeit temporarily—and their ability to make big purchases.The shutdown of many Chinese factories already has disrupted the supply chains of some American companies, including home builders. That is a problem in a market that is already short on supply, said senior economist George Ratiu.There are “barely enough homes for sale to last three months at the current sales pace,” he said. ( News Corp, parent of The Wall Street Journal, operates under license from the National Association of Realtors.) Already, signs of a slowdown are appearing in the housing market. Low rates pushed home sales to a high mark for the year in December. But existing home sales fell in January from a month earlier, an indication that cheaper borrowing costs are no longer enough to overcome five straight months of rising home prices and limited housing supply.

Construction Spending Increased in January --From the Census Bureau reported that overall construction spending increased in January: Construction spending during January 2020 was estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,369.2 billion, 1.8 percent above the revised December estimate of $1,345.5 billion. The January figure is 6.8 percent above the January 2019 estimate of $1,282.5 billion. Both private and public spending decreased: Spending on private construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,022.7 billion, 1.5 percent above the revised December estimate of $1,007.6 billion. ... In January, the estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of public construction spending was $346.5 billion, 2.6 percent above the revised December estimate of $337.8 billion.This graph shows private residential and nonresidential construction spending, and public spending, since 1993. Note: nominal dollars, not inflation adjusted. Private residential spending had been increasing - but turned down in the 2nd half of 2018. Now it is increasing again, but is still 18% below the bubble peak. Non-residential spending is 13% above the previous peak in January 2008 (nominal dollars). Public construction spending is 6% above the previous peak in March 2009, and 32% above the austerity low in February 2014. Year-over-year Construction SpendingThe second graph shows the year-over-year change in construction spending. On a year-over-year basis, private residential construction spending is up 9.0%. Non-residential spending is up 0.5% year-over-year. Public spending is up 12.6% year-over-year. This was well above consensus expectations of a 0.7% increase in spending, construction spending for November and December were revised up.

Update: Framing Lumber Prices Up Year-over-year - Here is another monthly update on framing lumber prices.   Lumber prices declined sharply from the record highs in early 2018, and have increased a little lately. This graph shows two measures of lumber prices: 1) Framing Lumber from Random Lengths through Feb 28, 2020 (via NAHB), and 2) CME framing futures. Right now Random Lengths prices are up 15% from a year ago, and CME futures are up 4% year-over-year. There is a seasonal pattern for lumber prices, and usually prices will increase in the Spring, and peak around May, and then bottom around October or November - although there is quite a bit of seasonal variability. The trade war led to significant volatility in lumber prices in 2018.   Recently prices have been picking up, but the futures fell sharply last week - probably on concerns about the impact of COVID-19.

Coronavirus Slams U.S. Hotel Industry’s Global Operations – WSJ - The hotel industry’s decadelong run of growth and rising revenue looked vulnerable at the start of the year. Now the spread of the coronavirus threatens to make it the worst performing year since the recession. The biggest hotel brands have already warned about how tough last month was, and how challenged the first quarter is going to be. Marriott International Inc. said during an earnings call last week that revenue per available room for Greater China, which represents about 9% of the company’s total room count, plunged nearly 90% in February compared with the year earlier. Hilton had estimated that the coronavirus outbreak will hurt its full-year adjusted earnings by $25 million to $50 million, assuming that the outbreak lasts around three to six months. Hyatt Hotels Corp. President Mark Hoplamazian said hotels in Singapore, Japan, and the Indonesian island of Bali also reported declines in recent bookings, driven by a sharp pullback in Chinese travel. “So I would say we’ve seen it radiate across the globe,” Mr. Hoplamazian said on an earnings call on Feb. 20. On Monday, Hyatt said in a release that it was withdrawing its previously announced 2020 outlook following corporate travel restrictions in North America and Europe and cancellations outside of Greater China. . Hotel share prices reflected that gloomy outlook, trading off in recent days and failing to get much traction during Monday’s broader stock market rebound. The Dow Jones US Hotel & Lodging REIT Index fell 14.71% “Over the past 72 hours we have been hearing rapidly increasing chatter from our private hotel owner, property manager, and corporate travel contacts of travel restrictions, meeting cancellations and/or poor meeting attendance,” C. Patrick Scholes, a senior lodging analyst at the bank SunTrust Robinson Humphrey Inc., wrote in a Sunday client note. While most of the events that have been canceled or postponed were scheduled abroad, some U.S. groups recently have called off events, too. Organizers of a cargo shipping trade conference—expected to attract more than 2,000 participants to Long Beach, Ca., during the first week of March—canceled and cited the virus, according to a Saturday notice on the organizer’s website.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Decreased Year-over-year -From STR: US hotel results for week ending 29 FebruaryThe U.S. hotel industry reported mixed year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 23-29 February 2020, according to data from STR. In comparison with the week of 24 February through 2 March 2019, the industry recorded the following:
• Occupancy: -1.7% to 64.1%
• Average daily rate (ADR): +1.6% to US$129.67
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): -0.2% to US$83.16
Occupancy and ADR declines for the week were most pronounced on the weekend (28-29 February). Also of note, U.S. airport hotels reported a 3.8% decrease in occupancy for the week.“We continue to monitor performance in proximity to U.S. airports for early indicators of a coronavirus impact,” said Jan Freitag, STR’s senior VP of lodging insights. “What stands out are the demand patterns in airport markets that see a greater volume of international traffic. We saw declines in airport markets like Newark, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and New York, while markets with a lot of domestic traffic like Orlando, Dallas and Atlanta were actually up for the week. The coming weeks will be important to monitor for more defined trends, especially with increased coverage around the outbreak and potential event schedule adjustments.”
The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.

 United Airlines Cuts U.S., International Flights in Response to Coronavirus – WSJ - United Airlines Holdings Inc said it would cut domestic flights as the spreading coronavirus depresses bookings. Airlines world-wide have parked more than 1,000 planes as bookings have fizzled and concerns have risen that depressed demand could extend into the busy peak summer season. The carrier said Wednesday it plans to store some wide-body jets and is offering staff unpaid leaves of absence in April, the latest effort by airlines to mitigate the shock to the industry caused by cascading travel restrictions and passenger concerns over flying. Other U.S. carriers have sought to stimulate demand by offering passengers the option to change flights without penalties. United will cut domestic capacity by 10% in April from its previous plan and international flying by 20%, Chief Executive Oscar Munoz and President Scott Kirby said in a message to staff. These cuts could extend into May. The Chicago-based carrier has the biggest exposure to international markets among U.S. carriers. Half the cuts will be on trans-Pacific services and 10% on trans-Atlantic flights. The airline has already suspended most of its flights to China, South Korea and Italy, as have most of its U.S. peers.

 Airlines: Bleeding from Coronavirus, and Worse to Come -- Yves here. It’s not looking pretty in the travel industry, particularly for players like airlines that have international business as important. Even casual readers of the press have heard about widespread coronavirus-induced cancellations of conferences, restrictions in some countries and regions of large gatherings, corporate travel bans, and scuppered sports matches, including possibly the Tokyo Olympics.The Financial Times ran a sober “is there life after coronavirus?” piece that centered on the collapse of air travel. Some vignettes: I went to Heathrow to see it first-hand. I found the airport eerily empty. “It’s been quiet all month,” said a British Airways attendant, surveying the vast hall of Terminal 5 — a monument to globalisation. BA had cancelled flights to China, Italy and beyond. Other airlines too were reporting a sharp drop in bookings, and a rise in passengers simply not turning up…There are two ways that disease outbreaks can change us.The first is through reflection…. The second is structural. The Black Death accelerated the disintegration of English feudalism: so many peasants died that the landlords lost their grip. The first world war accelerated the rise of working women: once they had replaced men in factories, a Rubicon had been crossed. If the 1918 epidemic left an imprint, it was perhaps accelerating the arrival of public healthcare.Coronavirus has already been claimed by ideologues. Donald Trump said that it justified tighter border controls; Bernie Sanders linked it to free public healthcare. Matt Stoller, a campaigner for corporate regulation, argued that coronavirus marked the end of “affluence politics” — that is, “the politics of not paying attention to what creates wealth in the first place”.Coronavirus may make us reconsider how many journeys — holidays, work trips, conferences — are actually essential. The threat of terrorism didn’t stop us flying. Since September 11, the number of US air passengers has risen by one-third; global numbers have more than doubled. The Fed is engaged in the futile exercise of trying to pull monetary levers to reverse real world breakdowns. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard pointed out the emergency 50 basis point cut, which looks to have juiced the market for all of one day, may even be counterproductive: Justified or not, there is suspicion over why the Fed has suddenly acted in this fashion. A week ago it was imperiously dismissive of rate cuts. Yet little has changed that was not already obvious to anybody listening to the world’s infectious disease experts – at least those not being muzzled by one regime or another. What did change was the overnight switch by Donald Trump’s inner circle from attempts to spin Covid-19 as a ‘hoax’ to fear that it could blow up in his face. Nor is there any consensus that a rate cut is the proper prescription. Monetary stimulus has little traction against ruptured supply chains, factory closures, and a partial shutdown of the tourist industry. Most of it is wasted, and central banks do not have much to spare. Europe and Japan have none. Wolf Richter recapped the bloodbath in the airlines. Even the purely domestic Southwest is taking a hit. Needless to say, this isn’t good news for Boeing.

Could Coronavirus Cancel March Madness 2020? NCAA Confident March Madness Will Go Ahead Despite Rise in US Cases  - The NCAA remains confident March Madness will go ahead as planned, despite the outbreak of coronavirus.The men's tournament is set to get underway on March 17, with the women's tournament to follow three days later and the governing body of collegiate sports insisted no changes were planned as yet.  "The NCAA is committed to conducting its championships and events in a safe and responsible manner," Donald Remy, the NCAA chief operating officer, said in a statement on Tuesday night."Today we are planning to conduct our championships as planned, however, we are evaluating the COVID-19 situation daily and will make decisions accordingly."  Also known as COVID-19, coronavirus has killed more than 3,000 people since the outbreak began in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year. As this graphic provided by Statista shows, the virus has spread to over 70 countries, including the U.S., where 108 cases have been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—48 of which involving people who were repatriated to America from the Diamond Princess cruise ship or on government-chartered flights from Wuhan.

38% Of People In Survey Are Avoiding Corona Beer Due To Coronavirus - A survey of more than 700 beer drinkers has revealed some stunning results. First, there are apparently no signs of intelligent life for the human race left on Earth. And second, people are completely ignorant as to what the coronavirus is, how it is transmitted and what can be done to prevent it.We say that because 38% of those people surveyed have said they "would not, under any circumstances," buy Corona beer as a result of the deadly coronavirus spreading, according to KRON/CNN. There's obviously zero link between the two, aside from them both having similar names. 16% of the people surveyed said they "were not sure" whether the virus is related to Corona beer and 14% of respondents who regularly drink Corona beer said they would no longer order it in public. Sometimes your brand just gets unlucky. Ronn Torossian, Founder and CEO of 5WPR, the public relations firm that conducted the survey said: "There is no question that Corona beer is suffering because of the coronavirus. Could one imagine walking into a bar and saying 'Hey, can I have a Corona?' or 'Pass me A Corona'?" He continued: "While the brand has claimed that consumers understand there's no linkage between the virus and the beer company, this is a disaster for the Corona brand. After all, what brand wants to be linked to a virus which is killing people worldwide?" Constellation brands, brewer of the beer, says the timing couldn't be worse. They were on the precipice of introducing a new Corona branded hard-seltzer product for the summertime. Promotion for the drink, which uses the phrase “coming ashore soon”, has already been criticized.

What to watch on jobs day: Expected future impact of COVID-19 -As COVID-19—commonly known as the coronavirus—continues to spread throughout the world, it is likely to have a direct impact on the United States through the health and well-being of our population. It is also likely to have an impact on economic activity, as workers stop working to care for themselves or their families, and people generally reduce social spending. I’ll be watching this in tomorrow’s job report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and keeping an eye on it in the coming months. The first order of business, however, is to make sure that workers can follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendationsto stay home and seek medical care—if they are lucky enough to have paid sick days and health insurance. While there are still very few reported cases in the United States, it is expected to spread and the effects may be far-reaching.In terms of the economy, there has already been an impact on the manufacturing sector as inputs from China are delayed because of temporary factory closures. The Federal Reserve has cut interest rates in expectation of further economic disruptions. Many employers are making contingencies for workers to telecommute rather than risk illness. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option for millions of workers in direct service professions across the economy. Another likely side-effect of the pandemic is a pull-back on social consumption. Either because people become sick themselves or are avoiding public spaces, there will likely be a drop in certain types of spending across the economy. The figure below takes a top-down look at the economy and shares of private-sector employment for various sectors. Manufacturing makes up 10% of private-sector employment and may report some losses in Friday’s jobs report as inputs to production are delayed. The delay in inputs will likely impact construction as well. But, what about the reduction in social spending? Retail trade—minus nonstore retailers—represents 11.7% of private-sector employment. Leisure and hospitality—of which food services and drinking places are a major part—will likely experience a downturn. This sector represents 12.9% of overall employment. Other services—such as personal care services—represent 4.6% of the private-sector labor force. All three sectors combined represent over one-fourth (29.2%) of private-sector employment. If consumption drops as it is expected to, employment in these sectors may experience short-term, but serious losses.

US consumers . . . still consuming -- Aside from sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting for partial motor vehicle sales from February to be reported later, there’s no economic news of note today. But Tuesday mornings each week we do get chain store sales from the previous week. And if you’ve been paying attention, you know that I have been paying particular attention to these for signs that the producer downturn is spreading to consumers. That has taken on more urgency as we wait to see if coronavirus fears cause people to self-quarantine.And the answer is . . . not so far!Redbook chain store sales for last week were up +5.9% YoY.Retail Economist chain store sales for last week were up +2.1% YoY.Both of these numbers are right in line with each survey’s typical YoY growth for the past few months. On the producer side, we might see some impact in YoY rail and steel numbers later this week.  But on the consumer side, people continue to look on the bright side of life.

 BEA: February Vehicles Sales decreased to 16.8 Million SAAR --The BEA released their estimate of February vehicle sales this morning. The BEA estimated light vehicle sales of 16.83 million SAAR in February 2020 (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate), down 0.5% from the revised January sales rate, and up 1.9% from February 2019.Sales in January were revised up from 16.84 million SAAR to 16.92 million SAAR.  This graph shows light vehicle sales since 2006 from the BEA (blue) and an estimate for February 2020 (red).  A small decline in sales last year wasn't a concern. My view - before the health crisis - was that sales  would move mostly sideways at near record levels this year.  Going forward, the impact of COVID-19 on vehicle sales is unclear. This means the economic boost from increasing auto sales is over (from the bottom in 2009, auto sales boosted growth every year through 2016). The second graph shows light vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967. Note: dashed line is current estimated sales rate of 16.83 million SAAR. Sales have been generally decreasing slightly, but are still at a high level.

AAR: February Rail Carloads down 7.3% YoY, Intermodal Down 8.9% YoY - From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permissionTotal U.S. rail carloads fell 7.3% (73,058 carloads) in February 2020 from February 2019, their 13th straight decline, but the decline disappears if you take away coal and grain (whose carloads tend to rise or fall for reasons that have little to do with the state of the economy)...U.S. intermodal originations fell 8.9% (96,897 units) in February 2020 and 7.0% (167,978 units) in the first two months of 2020. Around half of U.S. intermodal comes from international trade. Supply chain disruptions related to the coronavirus outbreak may have played some unquantifiable role in February’s decline, but intermodal has been falling for more than a year, so more is going on, including economic uncertainty and trade frictions that pre-date the virus. This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows the six week average of U.S. Carloads in 2018, 2019 and 2020: Total originated carloads were 7.3% lower, or 73,058 carloads, in February 2020 from February 2019, their 13th consecutive year-over-year monthly decline. Total carloads averaged 231,771 per week in February 2020. That’s the lowest for any month since 1988, when our data begin.Coal bears most of the blame. Carloads of coal in February were down 67,770 carloads, or 21.1%, their biggest percentage decline since mid-2016. The second graph shows the six week average of U.S. intermodal in 2018, 2019 and 2020: (using intermodal or shipping containers): U.S. intermodal originations were down 8.9%, or 96,897 containers and trailers, in February 2020, their 13th straight decline. Weekly average originations in February 2020 were 249,421, the lowest for February since 2015. Year-to-date volume through February was down 7.0%, or 167,978 units. If, as the American Association of Port Authorities recently suggested, cargo volumes at many U.S. ports will fall by 20% or more in Q1 2020 from Q1 2019 because of the coronavirus, it might be a while before U.S. intermodal volumes move back into growth mode.

Trade Deficit decreased to $45.3 Billion in January -Note: This data was for January and the outbreak of COVID-19 probably had little or no on impact at that time.From the Department of Commerce reported: The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $45.3 billion in January, down $3.3 billion from $48.6 billion in December, revised. January exports were $208.6 billion, $0.9 billion less than December exports. January imports were $253.9 billion, $4.2 billion less than December imports.Both exports and imports decreased in January. Exports are 26% above the pre-recession peak and up 1% compared to January 2019; imports are 9% above the pre-recession peak, and down 2% compared to January 2019. In general, trade both imports and exports have moved more sideways or down recently. The second graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum. U.S. Trade Deficit The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products. Note that the U.S. exported a slight net positive petroleum products in recent months. Oil imports averaged $61.93 per barrel in January, up from $61.34 in December, and up from $54.35 in January 2019. The trade deficit with China decreased to $26.1 billion in January, from $34.5 billion in January 2019.

U.S. factory orders fall more than expected in January - (Reuters) - New orders for U.S.-made goods fell more than expected in January and could drop further as a worldwide coronavirus outbreak strains supply chains and undercuts the manufacturing sector, which had recently shown signs of stabilizing after a prolonged slump. Factory goods orders decreased 0.5% as an increase in demand for machinery was offset by a decline in transportation equipment, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. Data for December was revised slightly up to show orders rising 1.9% instead of rebounding 1.8% as previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast factory orders would drop 0.1% in January. Factory orders were unchanged on a year-on-year basis in January. Shipments of manufactured goods fell 0.5% in January and inventories dipped 0.1%. Manufacturing, which accounts for 11% of the U.S. economy, had been stabilizing as trade tensions between the United States and China eased, leading to a pickup in business sentiment. But that has been disrupted by the rapidly spreading coronavirus. The virus, which causes a flu-like illness, has killed more than 3,000 people and sickened at least 90,000, mostly in China.  In the United States, 11 people have died from the disease and the number of infections has exceeded 100. China is a major supplier of inputs used at most factories in the United States. In addition to supply chain disruptions, economists also expect exports will suffer. The coronavirus is also expected to hurt the transportation and tourism industries as companies scrap travel and consumers stay at home. U.S. economic growth in the first half of the year is forecast around 1.0%. The economy grew 2.3% in 2019. A survey on Monday from the Institute for Supply Management showed factory activity stalled in February. Transportation equipment orders fell 2.1% in January after rebounding 8.8% in the prior month. Orders were held down by a 19.6% drop in demand for defense aircraft and parts. There were also decreases in orders for ships and boats. That offset a 346.2% surge in orders for civilian aircraft and parts. Motor vehicle and parts orders rose 2.7% in January. Machinery orders rose 2.1% in January after dropping 1.7% in December. Orders for electrical equipment, appliances and components orders fell 1.1% in January.   The government also said orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, which are seen as a measure of business spending plans on equipment, rose 1.1% in January as reported last month. Shipments of core capital goods, which are used to calculate business equipment spending in the gross domestic product report, increased 1.0% in January, rather than jumping 1.1% as previously reported.

ISM Manufacturing index Decreased to 50.1 in February -- The ISM manufacturing index indicated slight expansion in February.  The PMI was at 50.1% in February, down from 50.9% in January. The employment index was at 46.9%, up from 46.6% last month, and the new orders index was at 49.8%, down from 52.0%.From the Institute for Supply Management: February 2020 Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®  “The February PMI® registered 50.1 percent, down 0.8 percentage point from the January reading of 50.9 percent.The New Orders Index registered 49.8 percent, a decrease of 2.2 percentage points from the January reading of 52 percent. The Production Index registered 50.3 percent, down 4 percentage points compared to the January reading of 54.3 percent. The Backlog of Orders Index registered 50.3 percent, an increase of 4.6 percentage points compared to the January reading of 45.7 percent. The Employment Index registered 46.9 percent, an increase of 0.3 percentage point from the January reading of 46.6 percent. The Supplier Deliveries Index registered 57.3 percent, up 4.4 percentage points from the January reading of 52.9 percent. The Inventories Index registered 46.5 percent, 2.3 percentage points lower than the January reading of 48.8 percent. The Prices Index registered 45.9 percent, down 7.4 percentage points as compared to the January reading of 53.3 percent. The New Export Orders Index registered 51.2 percent, a decrease of 2.1 percentage points as compared to the January reading of 53.3 percent. The Imports Index registered 42.6 percent, an 8.7-percentage point decrease from the January reading of 51.3 percent. Here is a long term graph of the ISM manufacturing index. This was below expectations of 50.4%, and suggests manufacturing expanded slightly in February.

Markit Manufacturing: "Manufacturing output growth weakens..." -  The February US Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index conducted by Markit came in at 50.7, down 1.2 from the 51.9 final January figure. Markit's Manufacturing PMI is a diffusion index: A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the sector; below 50 indicates contraction.Here is an excerpt from Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit in their latest press release:"Manufacturing production and order book trends deteriorated markedly in February as producers struggled against the double headwinds of falling export sales and supply chain delays, both in turn often linked to the coronavirus outbreak.""Any growth in sales was once again largely driven by domestic consumers, though even here the rate of growth was weakened considerably compared to late last year.""Historical comparisons against official data indicate that the survey is consistent with factory production and orders both falling at annualised rates of around 3%, with manufacturing jobs being lost at a monthly rate of roughly 20,000.""While trade war fears have eased, helping push firms’ expectations for future growth to the highest since last April, coronavirus-related supply chain issues threaten to constrain production in coming months. At the same time, companies have become increasingly concerned that the COVID-19 outbreak will also hit demand, which is reportedly already cooling amid uncertainly leading up to the presidential election. Recent stock market volatility could also further dampen consumer spending and deter business investment." [Press Release] Here is a snapshot of the series since mid-2012.

US Manufacturing Growth Slows As New Orders, Imports Slump - January's (and preliminary February) data signaled mixed messages in the US manufacturing sector with ISM bouncing aggressively and PMI sliding for the 3rd straight month (but both in expansion - above 50).Markit US Manufacturing PMI fell from 51.9 to 50.7 (below the flash print of 50.8) - 3rd straight month of declines - as new order growth slowed to nine-month lows.ISM US Manufacturing survey disappointed, dropping from 50.9 to 50.1 (barely above contraction) amid contraction in new orders, and employment. Graphs Source: BloombergPMI remains very near the weakest levels since 2009... And in the ISM data, three of five components fell, led by the biggest drop in production since 2018.The gauge of supplier deliveries also rose to the highest level since 2018 -- indicating slower delivery times that may be due to supply disruptions from the coronavirus. The imports index swung into contraction, falling the most on record to 42.6, the lowest reading since 2009. Export orders grew at a slower pace. Supply chain delays stemming from supplier factory shutdowns in China and the outbreak of coronavirus led to a further deterioration in vendor performance, which reportedly held back output and the processing of backlogs due to a shortage of components. As a result, firms registered a renewed rise in outstanding business and a drop in pre-production inventories. Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit said: "Manufacturing production and order book trends deteriorated markedly in February as producers struggled against the double headwinds of falling export sales and supply chain delays, both in turn often linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

ISM Non-Manufacturing Index increased to 57.3% in February - The February ISM Non-manufacturing index was at 57.3%, up from 55.5% in January. The employment index increased to 55.6%, from 54.8%. Note: Above 50 indicates expansion, below 50 contraction. From the Institute for Supply Management: February 2020 Non-Manufacturing ISM Report On Business®  “The NMI® registered 57.3 percent, which is 1.8 percentage points higher than the January reading of 55.5 percent. This represents continued growth in the non-manufacturing sector, at a faster rate. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index decreased to 57.8 percent, 3.1 percentage points lower than the January reading of 60.9 percent, reflecting growth for the 127th consecutive month. The New Orders Index registered 63.1 percent; 6.9 percentage points higher than the reading of 56.2 percent in January. The Employment Index increased 2.5 percentage points in February to 55.6 percent from the January reading of 53.1 percent. The Prices Index reading of 50.8 is 4.7 percentage points lower than the January’s 55.5 percent, indicating that prices increased in February for the 33rd consecutive month. According to the NMI®, 16 non-manufacturing industries reported growth. The non-manufacturing sector reflected continued growth in February. Most respondents are concerned about the coronavirus and its supply chain impact. They also continue to have difficulty with labor resources. They do remain positive about business conditions and the overall economy.” This graph shows the ISM non-manufacturing index (started in January 2008) and the ISM non-manufacturing employment diffusion index. This suggests faster expansion in February than in January.

Markit Services PMI: "Fastest contraction in business activity since October 2013" - The February US Services Purchasing Managers' Index conducted by Markit came in at 49.4 percent, down 4.0 from the final January estimate of 53.4. The consensus was for 49.4 percent.Here is the opening from the latest press release: Commenting on the latest survey results, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit, said: "The US service sector took a knock from the coronavirus outbreak and growing uncertainty about the economic and political outlooks in February. The fall in the headline index measuring business activity levels was the second largest seen since the global financial crisis over a decade ago, exceeded only by the brief slump in activity during the 2013 government shutdown.""Combined with a weak manufacturing survey in February, the data are consistent with annualised GDP growth slipping from around 2% at the start of the year to just 0.7% midway through the first quarter."Business sectors such as travel and tourism are reporting weakened activity due to the virus outbreak, most notably in terms of foreign visitors and overseas sales. However, other sectors such as financial services and business services are reporting virus-related hits to demand, suggesting a more broad-based weakening of demand across the economy, exacerbating the supply-shock that is constraining manufacturing. ""Companies have meanwhile grown increasingly concerned about client spending and investment being curbed ahead of the presidential election. Political and economic uncertainty, the coronavirus outbreak and financial market turmoil all risk building into a cocktail of risk aversion that has severely heightened downside risks to the economy in coming months. Much will depend of course on the speed with which the virus can be contained and how quickly business can return to normal." [Press Release] Here is a snapshot of the series since mid-2012.

 U.S. Service Industries Feel Weight of Coronoavirus Uncertainty – WSJ —Concerns about the novel coronavirus epidemic clouded the outlook in February for U.S. businesses in service industries, posing a new risk to economic growth. Private data firm IHS Markit said Wednesday its U.S. services index—a survey-based measure of activity in industries such as communications, finance and transportation—fell sharply last month compared with January, as firms reported declining client demand and new business from abroad. The index fell to 49.4 in February from 53.4 in January. A level above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below 50 signals contraction. It was the first contraction for the index since October 2013, Markit said. Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, said a drop in foreign visitors and overseas sales weighed on the U.S. travel and tourism industry last month, but the slowdown in service-industry activity was wide-ranging. “Sectors such as financial services and business services are reporting virus-related hits to demand, suggesting a more broad-based weakening of demand across the economy,” Mr. Wiliamson said. Also Wednesday, the Institute for Supply Management’s survey results showed service-industry businesses were seeing disruptions tied to the virus in February. Respondents reported longer lead times for materials sourced from China, where efforts to contain the virus have led to widespread quarantines and halted factory production. “It is difficult to [make] sourcing decisions, since it is not clear how long China will need to return to normal production capacity, and if it is worth it to pay more from other countries,” one ISM survey respondent said.

ADP: Private Employment increased 183,000 in February --From ADP: Private sector employment increased by 183,000 jobs from January to February according to the February ADP National Employment Report®. ... The report, which is derived from ADP’s actual payroll data, measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis....“The labor market remains firm, as private-sector payrolls continued to expand in February,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “Job creation remained heavily concentrated in large companies, which continue to be the strongest performer.”Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said, “COVID-19 will need to break through the job market firewall if it is to do significant damage to the economy. The firewall has some cracks, but judging by the February employment gain it should be strong enough to weather most scenarios.” This was above the consensus forecast for 170,000 private sector jobs added in the ADP report.

A Closer Look at Today's ADP Employment Report -  In yesterday morning's ADP employment report we got the February estimate of 183K new nonfarm private employment jobs from ADP, a decrease over January's revised 209K. The popular spin on this indicator is as a preview to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here is a snapshot of the monthly change in the ADP headline number since the company's earliest published data in April 2002. This is quite a volatile series, so we've plotted the monthly data points as dots along with a six-month moving average, which gives us a clearer sense of the trend.As we see in the chart above, the trend peaked 20 months before the last recession and went negative around the time that the NBER subsequently declared as the recession start.ADP also gives us a breakdown of Total Nonfarm Private Employment into two categories: Goods Producing and Services. Here is the same chart style illustrating the two. The US is predominantly a services economy, so it comes as no surprise that Services employment has shown stronger jobs growth. The trend in Goods Producing jobs went negative over a year before the last recession. For a sense of the relative size of Services over Goods Producing employment, the next chart shows the percentage of Services Jobs across the entire series. The latest data point is below the record high. There are a number of factors behind this trend. In addition to our increasing dependence of Services, Goods Production employment continues to be impacted by automation and offshoring. For a better sense of the components of the two Goods Producing and Service Providing cohorts, here is a snapshot of the five select industries tracked by ADP. The two things to note here are the relative sizes of the industries and the relative trends. Note that Construction and Manufacturing are Production industries whereas the other three are Service Providing.Another view of the relative trends of the five select industries is an overlay of the year-over-year comparison. For a longer-term perspective on the Goods Producing and Service Providing employment, see our monthly analysis, Secular Trends in Employment: Goods Producing Versus Services Providing, which is based on data from the Department of Labor's monthly jobs report reaching back to 1939.

February Employment Report: 273,000 Jobs Added (266,000 ex-Census), 3.5% Unemployment Rate -- From the BLS: Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 273,000 in February, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 3.5 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Notable job gains occurred in health care and social assistance, food services and drinking places, government, construction, professional and technical services, and financial activities....Federal employment increased by 8,000, reflecting the hiring of 7,000 temporary workers for the 2020 Census....The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for December was revised up by 37,000 from +147,000 to +184,000, and the change for January was revised up by 48,000 from +225,000 to +273,000. With these revisions, employment gains in December and January combined were 85,000 higher than previously reported....In February, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 9 cents to $28.52. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.0 percent. The first graph shows the monthly change in payroll jobs, ex-Census (meaning the impact of the decennial Census temporary hires and layoffs is removed - mostly in 2010 - to show the underlying payroll changes).Total payrolls increased by 266 thousand in February ex-Census (private payrolls increased 228 thousand).Payrolls for December and January were revised up 85 thousand combined. This graph shows the year-over-year change in total non-farm employment since 1968.In February, the year-over-year change was 2.409 million jobs.The third graph shows the employment population ratio and the participation rate. The Labor Force Participation Rate was unchanged at 63.4% in February. This is the percentage of the working age population in the labor force.   A large portion of the recent decline in the participation rate is due to demographics and long term trends.The Employment-Population ratio decreased to 61.1% (black line).I'll post the 25 to 54 age group employment-population ratio graph later.The fourth graph shows the unemployment rate.The unemployment rate decreased in February to 3.5%.This was well above consensus expectations of 175,000 jobs added, and December and January were revised up by 85,000 combined.

February jobs report: a blowout -- HEADLINES:

  • +273,000 jobs added
  • U3 unemployment rate declined -0.1% to 3.5%
  • U6 underemployment rate rose 0.1% to 7.0%
  • the average manufacturing workweek rose 0.2 hours to 40.6 hours. This is one of the 10 components of the LEI and will be a strong positive.
  • Manufacturing jobs rose by 15,000. Manufacturing has gained only 31,000 jobs in the past 12 months.
  • construction jobs rose by 42,000. In the past 12 months construction jobs are up 223,000, a strong acceleration even from 2018 levels. Residential construction jobs, which are even more leading, rose by 9400.
  • temporary jobs fell by -3300. 
  • the number of people unemployed for 5 weeks or less declined by -46000 from 2,059,000 to 2,013,000. This is a new expansion low.
  • Not in Labor Force, but Want a Job Now: rose by 58,000 to 4.962 million.
  • Part time for economic reasons: rose  by 136,000 to 4.318 million
  • Employment/population ratio ages 25-54: fell -0.1% to 80.5%
  • Average Hourly Earnings for Production and Nonsupervisory Personnel: rose $.08 to $23.96, and is up +3.3% YoY. This is a deceleration from last fall. (Note: you may be reading different information about wages elsewhere. They are citing average wages for all private workers. I use wages for nonsupervisory personnel, to come closer to the situation for ordinary workers.) 
  • December was revised upward by 37,000. January was revised upward by 48,000, for a net change of 85,000. Overtime rose 0.1 hour to 3.2 hours
  • Professional and business employment (generally higher-paying jobs) rose by 32,000 and is up 285,000 YoY, a deceleration from 561,000 in 2018. 
  • the index of aggregate hours worked for non-managerial workers rose by 0.5%
  • the index of aggregate payrolls for non-managerial workers rose by 0.8% 
  • the alternate jobs number contained  in the more volatile household survey rose by 45,000  jobs.  This represents an increase of 1,893,000 jobs YoY vs. 2,409,000 in the establishment survey. 
  • Government jobs rose by 45,000 (38,000 if census jobs are omitted).
  • the overall employment to population ratio for all ages 16 and up declined -0.1% to  61.1% and is up 0.4% YoY.    
  • The labor force participation rate was unchanged at 63.4% and is up 0.3% YoY.

SUMMARY: Needless to say, this was a very strong report. Only a few items were negative, including a slight increase in the underemployment rate, involuntary part time employment, and those not in the labor force who want a job now. There was also a slight decline in the employment to population ratio, and a decline in the leading sector of temporary jobs. Wage gains decelerated slightly from peak.But there were blowout gains in government jobs and construction in particular. Revisions to the past several months, a leading indicator, were extremely positive. Aggregate hours and payrolls increased strongly. My important cautionary note is that we had a mild winter in the entire lower 48 states, so the seasonal adjustments to sectors like construction may be playing an outsized role. If so, there will be payback in the next few months. Also, the comprehensive numbers from actual tax reporting for the Third Quarter of last year just got reported two days ago, and it showed the slowest YoY gain bar one quarter since early 2011 at 1.1%, vs. 1.3% for nonfarm payrolls. In short, there are important reasons to suspect that recent job gains have been overly positive.

Jobs report: Calm before storm as the virus hasn’t hit the job market…yet - Jared Bernstein - In yet another upside surprise to the U.S. labor market, payrolls grew strongly last month, up 273,000, well above expectations. Upward revisions to earlier months show that contrary to what many have expected, the monthly pace of job gains has accelerated in recent months. The unemployment rate held steady at 3.5 percent, but wage growth, which has been remarkably unresponsive to strong labor demand, remains a soft spot, stuck at 3 percent, year-over-year, just slightly ahead of consumer inflation which is running at around 2.5 percent. As our smoother shows, averaging monthly payroll gains over various time spans, over the past 3 months, payrolls are up 243,000 per month. Over the past year, they’re up less than that: 201,000. Given that most labor market analysts expected employment gains to slow as we closed in on full capacity in the job market, this acceleration is quite remarkable. However, there are two counterpoints to this positive development. First, wage growth is also remarkable, but not in a good way: at 3 percent over the past year, it’s surprisingly soft given these job gains and persistently low unemployment rate. Second, as regards the impact of the coronavirus on today’s numbers, it’s important to recognize that jobs reports are coincident, if not lagging, indicators. As of today, clear disruptions to both the global and US economy are growing increasingly clear in the data, from sharply reduced airline traffic, to supply chain disruptions, to falling consumer confidence. Forecasts are even more uncertain than usual in this climate–we still don’t know how many people and places will be hit by quarantines, closed workplaces and schools, or even by Covid-19, the illness caused by the virus. But that said, my guess is that GDP growth sharply decelerates in at least the first half of this year. In that regard, I view this jobs report as the calm before the storm. There was a slight bump up in involuntary part-timers last month, which could be a harbinger of what’s to come, as labor demand gets hit by virus-induced decreased consumer demand, but it is a distinct possibility that in a few months, we’ll longingly look back on this report. Both figures–the first for all private-sector workers, the second for middle-wage workers–show a deceleration in trend wage growth. How does that square with such a strong job market on the jobs side? One explanation is that this particularly series is weaker than others, but in fact, most series roughly agree that wage growth is, if not slowing down, not speeding up. Another is that workers just don’t have the bargaining clout needed to press for the types of gains we’d expect in such tight conditions. This is surely part of the explanation, though it’s tricky then to puzzle out why wages were growing at a good clip a relatively short while back. Another explanation, one consistent with econ 101, is that increased labor supply is meeting strong labor demand. The surfeit of available jobs is pulling new workers in off the sidelines and allowing incumbent workers to increase their hours. Some indicators, especially the fact that employment rates have increased over the past year, suggest there’s something to this explanation. The critical implication is that there’s still “room-to-run” in the U.S. job market. It is not at full employment.

Comments on February Employment Report - McBride The headline jobs number at 273 thousand for February was well above consensus expectations of 175 thousand, and the previous two months were revised up 85 thousand, combined. The unemployment rate decreased to 3.5%. Note: It appears weather boosted employment in February - I'll have more on this later. Earlier: February Employment Report: 273,000 Jobs Added (266,000 ex-Census), 3.5% Unemployment Rate.  In February, the year-over-year employment change was 2.409 million jobs including Census hires.  Wage growth was at expectations. From the BLS: "In February, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 9 cents to $28.52. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.0 percent." This graph is based on “Average Hourly Earnings” from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) (aka "Establishment") monthly employment report.  The graph shows the nominal year-over-year change in "Average Hourly Earnings" for all private employees.  Nominal wage growth was at 3.0% YoY in February.Wage growth had been generally trending up, but weakened in 2019 and early 2020. Since the overall participation rate has declined due to cyclical (recession) and demographic (aging population, younger people staying in school) reasons, here is the employment-population ratio for the key working age group: 25 to 54 years old. In the earlier period the participation rate for this group was trending up as women joined the labor force. Since the early '90s, the participation rate moved more sideways, with a downward drift starting around '00 - and with ups and downs related to the business cycle.The 25 to 54 participation rate decreased in February to 83.0%, and the 25 to 54 employment population ratio decreased to 80.5%. The number of persons working part time for economic reasons increased in February to 4.318 million from 4.182 million in January.   The number of persons working part time for economic reason has been generally trending down.Part time workers will be something to watch over the next several months.These workers are included in the alternate measure of labor underutilization (U-6) that increased to  7.0% in February. This graph shows the number of workers unemployed for 27 weeks or more.According to the BLS, there are 1.102 million workers who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks and still want a job. This was down from 1.166 million in January.This  was the lowest level for long term unemployed since December 2006.Summary: The headline jobs number was well above expectations, and the previous two months were revised up.  The headline unemployment rate decreased to 3.5%; however wage growth slowed to 3.0% year-over-year. Overall this was a solid report, although there was probably some boost from the weather.

 Blockbuster Jobs Report: Feb Payrolls Soar By 273,000, Smashing Expectations, As Unemployment Rate Drops... But Does Anyone Care? After January's payrolls revision, which saw almost a million jobs wiped out from the historical record, many analysts were expecting that the BLS would take advantage of the ongoing market shock and "kitchen sink" even more bad news, missing the consensus payrolls expectations of a 175K print for February. They were extremely wrong, because moments ago the BLS reported that in February the US economy added a whopping 273K jobs, smashing the consensus expectation of 175K by one hundred thousand, and tied for the best monthly increase since May 2018. But wait, there's more good news, because despite some initial disappointment, the change in total nonfarm payroll employment for December was revised up by 37,000 from +147,000 to +184,000, and the change for January was revised up by 48,000 from +225,000 to +273,000. With these revisions, employment gains in December and January combined were 85,000 higher than previously reported. This means that after revisions, job gains have averaged 243,000 per month over the last 3 months after averaging 178,000 per month in January. Try explaining that to anyone who claims the economy is late cycle. There were less fireworks in the average hourly earnings data, which increased by 0.3% M/M in February, as expected, and rose 3.0% compared to a year ago, also in line with expectations. That said, the trend in annual wage growth is clearly lower. The unemployment rate also improved, sliding from 3.6% to 3.5%, the lowest since July 2018... ... while the participation rate rose to the highest since mid-2013, or 63.4%  Finally, a breakdown by industry reveals the following:

  • Employment in health care and social assistance increased by 57,000 in February. Health care added 32,000 jobs, with gains in offices of physicians (+10,000), home health care services (+10,000), and hospitals (+8,000). Employment in social assistance increased by 25,000, with a majority of the gain in individual and family services (+18,000). Over the past 12 months, employment increased by 368,000 in health care and by 191,000 in social assistance.
  • Food services and drinking places added 53,000 jobs in February. Employment in the industry has increased by 252,000 over the past 7 months, following a lull in job growth earlier in 2019.
  • In February, government employment increased by 45,000, led by a gain in state government education (+16,000). Federal employment increased by 8,000, reflecting the hiring of 7,000 temporary workers for the 2020 Census.
  • Construction added 42,000 jobs in February, following a similar gain in January (+49,000). In 2019, job gains averaged 13,000 per month. In February, employment gains occurred in specialty trade contractors (+26,000) and residential building (+10,000).
  • In February, employment in professional and technical services increased by 32,000. Job growth occurred in architectural and engineering services (+10,000) and in scientific research and development services (+5,000). Employment continued to trend up in computer systems design and related services (+8,000). Over the past 12 months, professional and technical services has added 285,000 jobs.
  • Employment in financial activities increased by 26,000 in February, with gains in real estate (+8,000) and in credit intermediation and related activities (+6,000). Over the past 12 months, financial activities has added 160,000 jobs.
  • Employment in other major industries, including mining, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, and information, changed little over the month.

Companies are contracting out more jobs—that’s not great for workers  - Until the 1980s, big companies in America tended to take a paternalistic attitude toward their workforce. Many corporate CEOs took pride in taking care of everyone who worked at their corporate campuses. Business leaders loved to tell stories about someone working their way up from the mailroom to a C-suite office. But this began to change in the 1980s. Wall Street investors demanded that companies focus more on maximizing returns for shareholders. An emerging corporate orthodoxy held that a company should focus on its "core competence"—the one or two functions that truly sets it apart from other companies—while contracting out other functions to third parties. Often, companies found they could save money this way. Big companies often pay above the market rate for routine services like cleaning offices, answering phones, staffing a cafeteria, or working on an assembly line. Putting these services out for competitive bid helped the companies get these functions completed at rock-bottom rates, while avoiding the hassle of managing employees. It also saved them from having to pay the same generous benefits they offered to higher-skilled employees. Of course, the very things that made the new arrangement attractive for big companies made it lousy for the affected workers. Not only were companies trying to spend less money on these services, but now there were companies in the middle taking a cut. Once a job got contracted out, it was much less likely to become a first step up the corporate ladder. It's hard to work your way up from the mailroom if the mailroom is run by a separate contracting firm. An important question in the coming years will be whether the contracting trend continues to gain steam—or whether opponents of the practice can convince companies to knock it off. Last year, for example, California passed AB 5, legislation that makes it more difficult for companies to classify their workers as independent contractors. Other states are considering following in California's footsteps. Labor rights advocates hope that a mix of legislation, litigation, and public education campaigns can convince companies to treat more of their workers as employees.

Amazon tells all 798,000 employees to halt travel, in US and internationally, over coronavirus fears Amazon told all 798,000 of its employees on Friday to avoid "non-essential travel" domestically and internationally because of concerns about COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, a spokesperson for the company confirmed to Business Insider.Earlier on Friday, The New York Times reported that employees on Amazon's worldwide operations team, which oversees much of the company's technology and logistics globally, received a separate email from the senior vice president in charge of the team, Dave Clark, telling them not to plan any meetings requiring travel until at least April, when the company hoped to have a better sense of the outbreak's impact.The spokesperson confirmed that the guidance on avoiding nonessential travel was sent to all employees, including those on the worldwide operations team. Amazon had already announced restrictions on travel to and from China in January, telling workers who had been to the region to work from home for two weeks upon returning and seek medical attention if they showed symptoms, in-line with guidance from companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.

Coronavirus Poses Dilemma for Workers Who Risk Losing Pay – WSJ  - The 33.6 million U.S. workers with no access to sick leave would face a dilemma should they get sick during the coronavirus epidemic: stay at home and see paychecks shrink, or go to work and create health risks.Unlike many industrialized countries, U.S. workers aren’t guaranteed pay when they take off from work due to an illness. Economists and labor experts say that poses challenges for workers and employers in situations where sick pay isn’t offered, or when workers are penalized for extended work absences. “For many individuals, they can’t afford not to go to work,” said Christopher Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia. The jobs they hold—including food preparation, housekeeping, cleaning, driving and running cash registers—also have a high level of contact with the public, meaning their risk of exposure to the virus is higher. About 86% of U.S. workers were employed in service industries last year, up from about 60% in the 1950s, as jobs in health care and hospitality have surged in recent decades. Industries with workers in those categories said they are working to ensure sick workers feel comfortable staying at home.  Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Congress on Tuesday that the administration is considering measures to support businesses facing disruptions related to the virus, as well as workers who may not have paid sick leave.  The National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, is communicating with the Centers for Disease Control and passing along updates to members. Last week the federation told members that “sick leave policies need to be flexible....It may be necessary to develop an emergency sick leave policy.” Access to paid sick leave is strongly correlated to income.  While 73% of workers in the private sector in 2019 had paid sick leave, according to the Labor Department, fewer than half in the bottom 25% of wages had access to it. That compares with 90% who have paid sick leave among the highest quarter of earners. Moreover, working from home might be feasible for many white-collar workers but isn’t possible for many blue-collar, service-industry jobs. Missing a paycheck due to illness could drive many households deep into the red. The Federal Reserve estimates that roughly a quarter of adults skipped medical care in 2018 because they were unable to pay, and almost 40% of Americans said they didn’t have enough cash on handto cover an unexpected $400 expense.

Workers’ bodies remain in rubble of New Orleans Hard Rock hotel four months after collapse - Over four months since the collapse of a Hard Rock Hotel construction site in New Orleans, Louisiana killed three construction workers and injured 18 others, the bodies of two of the three workers who died remain in the wrecked building. City officials claim they are irretrievable until the site is fully demolished due to safety concerns. Quinnyon Wimberley, 36 and Jose Ponce Areola, 63 were killed when the construction site collapsed in October. For several days in January the legs of one of the workers were left exposed to public view after a tarp covering his corpse blew away in the wind. Wimberley, an air conditioning contractor and supervisor on the project, was a father of two and was soon to marry his fiancé, Bianca Boone. Boone told ABC News that she was on the phone with him at the time of the crash. “What was that?” she heard him say over the phone as the loud crash of collapsing floors came down. Boone attempted several times to reach Wimberley, but he wasn’t answering, “At that point, I knew in my heart he was gone,” she told reporters. Months after their deaths, the workers’ families and loved ones are still waiting to give a proper burial to their loved ones, and there has been no effort to provide them with any sort of compensation. Frank Wimberly, Quinnyon’s brother, told ABC News of the devastation and frustration he has felt toward the city and Mayor Latoya Cantrell. “(Cantrell) said they would have to demolish the building with him in it,” Wimberly said, “I don’t think words can describe the way my family and I feel. It’s one thing to lose him in such a freak accident … but then, you pile on top of that, we don’t get a chance to say a proper goodbye.”

For Growing Numbers of Struggling U.S. Cities, the Downturn Has Arrived – WSJ - American cities are generally doing better than rural communities, buoyed by the U.S. expansion. Yet the boom in such metropolitan areas as Denver, Salt Lake City and Nashville, Tenn., masked fiscal weakness in cities tied to manufacturing and other shrinking industries. Fallout from the coronavirus disease on the U.S. economy and city budgets is another potential setback. In the past week, New York City has held daily meetings of pension advisers, and California put out a warning to prospective municipal bond investors.All regions of the U.S. contains cities that are losing fiscal ground, the Journal found. In the West, 29% of cities expected declines of more than 3% in general-fund revenue in fiscal 2019, up from 18% in fiscal 2018. In the South, the proportion of cities reporting a revenue drop went to 20% from 16%, using the same measure; in the Northeast, it went to 31% from 14%.On the flip side, nearly 60% of U.S. cities reported general-fund revenue increases that outpaced inflation in fiscal 2018. Yet even in this group, expectations are fading: Cities expecting similar growth in fiscal 2019 fell to 53%.Stagnating or declining revenues are easier to manage for growing cities in the West and South. In New England and the Midwest, many places are struggling with losses of population as well as industry.Job losses hit hardest in cities that have been barely keeping pace with expenses during the recovery. Tighter household budgets translate into smaller sales-tax allocations. City populations shrink when residents follow jobs out of town, hurting home prices, commerce and property tax collections.The general-revenue declines struck earliest in the Midwest, where combined inflation-adjusted city revenues fell by 4.3% in the 2018 fiscal year from 2017, the Journal found.Over the 12 months ending in November, 28 metropolitan areas in the Midwest lost manufacturing jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, including Detroit, Youngstown, Ohio, and Louisville, Ky.

Child homelessness highest in more than decade, feds say - The number of homeless children in the United States is at its highest in more than a decade, according to a recent study by the National Center for Homeless Education.  More than 1.5 million public school students nationwide were homeless at some point during the 2017-2018 school year, according to the report published last month. That figure was the highest recorded in more than 12 years. The number of homeless students nationwide increased by a 15 percent margin from the 2015-16 and 2017-18 school years. The latest figure available, the 2017-2018 school year, shows that the number of public school homeless students more than doubled from 2004-05. Over the three-year period included in the report, the number of students in unsheltered situations at the time they were first identified as homeless increased by 137 percent nationwide. During the 2017-18 school year, 74 percent of students experiencing homelessness shared housing with others due to loss of housing or economic hardship. Twelve percent of homeless students resided in shelters. Seven percent stayed at hotels or motels, and 7 percent were unsheltered. In 16 states, the homeless-student population grew by 10 percent or more during the three-year period covered in the report. In contrast, five states saw equally large decreases during the same period. Texas reported the largest increase in homeless students, with more than 231,000 students experiencing homelessness in the 2017-18 school year. Fourteen states recorded a decrease in homeless students.

Trump administration quietly cuts funding to the nation’s poorest schools Thanks to an under-the-radar bookkeeping change at the Department of Education, hundreds of rural schools across the US are set to lose vital funds.As reported in the New York Times, the department has changed the eligibility criteria for the Rural and Low-Income School Programme, which provides funding for school districts in some of the poorest parts of the country.The change will make it harder for districts to demonstrate their eligibility, meaning hundreds of them will lose tens of thousands of dollars – and in some cases much more.Nearly a seventh of the US’s public school pupils live in rural school districts, which have long been poor and underfunded. Many depend on the programme to fund everything from anti-bullying initiatives to counselling to language lessons for non-English speakers.To qualify for the programme, school districts must prove that at least 20 per cent of their area’s school-age children live in poverty.Officially, they are required to do so using census data, but because the census often leaves out many people living in rural areas, they have in practice been allowed to cite the percentage of their pupils who qualify for free or subsidised meals.The department has now abruptly decided that it will only allow districts to use census data, meaning districts will struggle to account for all children in their local  areas who would qualify. Even some of those sympathetic to Donald Trump and invested in his re-election are baffled as to why the department would withdraw the money from poor, rural districts, including core parts of the president’s electoral base. Senators including Susan Collins of Maine are now scrambling to put together a fix that will ensure schools can still access the programme.

Sixth grader in Utah couldn't say no when asked to dance  - Alicia Hobson’s 11-year-old daughter, Azlyn, was counting down the days until the Valentine’s Day dance at her Utah middle school. “She was so excited she could barely sleep,” Hobson told TODAY Parents, noting that the sixth grader picked out her outfit a week ahead of time. "It was supposed to be the best day ever," Hobson, 37, said. But it wasn't. That afternoon, when Azlyn got home, she had an "emotional explosion" in the kitchen, while recounting how a boy who makes her uncomfortable had asked her to dance. “She politely said, ‘No thank you,’” Hobson revealed. The problem? At Rich Middle School in Laketown, Utah, it's against the rules to say "no," and principal Kip Motta allegedly intervened when he heard Azlyn decline the invitation at the dance. “He said something like, ‘No, no. You kids go out and dance,’” Hobson revealed. “He basically shooed Azlyn and the boy off onto the dance floor.” Azlyn told her mother she “hated every minute” and was “so relieved” when the song finally ended. Motta and Rich School District Superintendent Dale Lamborn did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. But Motta stood by the school’s policy in a letter to Hobson. “We do ask all students to dance. It is the nice thing to do and this will continue to be our policy,” Motta wrote on Feb. 15. “There have been similar situations in the past where some students have felt uncomfortable with others, and, as stated prior, the issues were discreetly handled. This allowed all students to feel welcome, comfortable, safe, and included.”

 San Ysidro, California high school students walk out to oppose attacks on public education - On Friday, March 6, hundreds of students at San Ysidro High School in San Diego, California walked out to oppose budget cuts and teacher layoffs. (video report)

Illinois Task Force Recommends Eliminating Prom Kings, Queens -- Prom kings and queens in Illinois could be dethroned if the “Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force” has its way. The report, “Strengthening Inclusion in Illinois Schools,” recommends districts “amend their school board policies to strengthen protections for transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming students.” The task force said school districts should eliminate or reframe any school tradition or gender-based activity that is not gender-neutral. “For example, replacing ‘prom king and queen’ with ‘prom royalty’ or by providing school awards to any set of two students instead of best male/female,” the report recommends. The report exposes a radical agenda to deconstruct gender from preschool through 12th grade classrooms across the Land of Lincoln. Boys who identify as girls could use the bathrooms and shower facilities of their choice.

 How Books and Bookshops Improve Our Mental Health – And Why We Must Protect Them- Booksellers in the UK and the US have reported an upturn in sales and visitors this year, but not all independent bookshops are surviving the rise of Amazon. Last year, several iconic independent bookshops in the UK closed, including Shropshire’s Wenlock Books and Camden Lock Books in north London. In December, Holt Books – once named one of Britain’s top 50 bookshops – announced it would not be renewing its licence this year, blaming escalating rental costs and competition from internet shopping.The decline of the high street is nothing new, but in the face of a growing mental health crisis, recognising the positive impact that reading can have on mental health – and therefore bookshops and libraries – is crucial.  In fact there’s a wealth of evidence to support the idea that books can help to boost good mental health. ‘Bibliotherapy,’ a term first coined by American essayist Samuel Crothers in a 1916 issue of Atlantic Monthly, means the art of using literature and reading as a healing activity. It’s widely accepted as a way to enhance wellbeing.In 2013, a study published in the journal Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy examined the impact of reading on 96 patients with mild depression. Those given a book to read saw an improvement in their symptoms. Another study by the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68% – and is far more effective than other relaxing activities including listening to music or going for a walk (though don’t let that put you off…). Another study from The New School for Social Research in New Yorkfound that reading fiction improves something called ‘Theory of Mind’ – essentially, our ability to empathise with others and understand that other people hold different beliefs and desires to our own. Given the challenges we face and the depth of polarisation in society over politics, opening our minds to other thoughts, views and cultures is important. This has a direct and positive impact on our collective mental health too.

University of California strikers defy firings and expand strike - Opposition continues to grow to the decision by University of California officials to fire roughly 80 striking grad students at UC Santa Cruz, who have refused to submit grades until their demands for a cost-of-living increase is granted. Last week the strike spread to graduate students at UC Davis (UCD) and UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), with students in at least one department at UC Berkeley announcing a sympathy strike. There are major protests and grad student assemblies being held today in Santa Cruz, Davis, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Berkeley, San Diego and other UC campuses. Last Friday, UC President Janet Napolitano, the former US Secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama, and other UC officials terminated the students, making it clear that their major crime was defying the labor agreement signed by the United Auto Workers last year, which enforces poverty wages and a no-strike clause. The graduate students’ chief demand is a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), ranging from about $1,400 to $1,800 per month depending on the campus, to cover the skyrocketing cost of rent in California. The majority of graduate students at multiple UC campuses spend over 50 percent of their salary on rent. As support grows on and off the campuses, the unions and the Democratic Party are working hard to contain the strike and prevent it from spreading off campus and triggering a broader movement of the working class. The UAW has publicly stated it will not defend the strikers for any activity not covered by the contract. After the firings, the UAW filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The complaint, however, is not over the unjust and vindictive firing of the grad students. Instead it complains that the administration had agreed to negotiate with the grad students who were acting outside of the legally sanctioned labor-management relationship. The UAW and other unions are complicit in the strikebreaking action of Napolitano, which is backed by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, billionaire Richard Blum (husband of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein), and the rest of the Democratic Party-appointed UC Board of Regents.

Striking University of California graduate students defy firings, expand strike - Strikers at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) shut down campus today in response to the firing of what is now over 100 graduate student teaching assistants (TAs). The strike, now entering its fourth week, has spread to UC Davis (UCD) and UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) with solidarity actions, and in some cases, strike votes at most if not all of the 10 UC campuses. As support grows internationally, the UC administration remains intransigent while the trade unions and Democratic Party scramble to contain and dissipate the strike.   Statements of support continue to stream in from universities across the US, such as Northwestern University, University of Chicago, Rutgers University, and internationally, from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. The strike's GoFundMe fund has raised more than $230,000 from over 5,100 people. In defiance of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, these wildcat strikers are fighting for a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) of roughly $1,400-1,800 to ensure that they are able to afford housing in some of the most expensive parts of the country. Some 559 UCSC graduate students have pledged not to fill the TA vacancies left by the firings. At UC Santa Cruz, several hundred graduate and undergraduate students blockaded the main road leading to campus with a banner reading, “UC-wide solidarity.” At UC Santa Barbara, at least several dozen graduate students rallied under the banner, "You're gonna have to fire us too, Janet!", referring to UC President and Obama-era Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Nearly 1,000 attended a demonstration at UC Davis. At UCLA 100-150 rallied, about 200 at UC Irvine, and many at UCSD as well. Medical students at UC San Francisco (UCSF) held a sit-in in solidarity at both of the university’s campuses. At UC Berkeley, graduate students held a general assembly and voted on solidarity statements. While there was no vote to strike at the meeting, the mood among Berkeley graduate students is to join the strike as soon as possible. Black Studies graduate students announced a strike this weekend.

University of California graduate student strike: A struggle against the United Auto Workers and the Democratic Party - For two months, graduate students and teaching assistants at the University of California have engaged in a wildcat strike, rebelling against the United Auto Workers (UAW) to demand cost of living adjustments (COLA) in one of the most expensive states in the US. The pay they are currently receiving does not even cover the average rent in the main cities of California, where housing costs are soaring. The strike began at UC Santa Cruz, but it has quickly spread to the entire 11-campus UC system. Last week, UC President Janet Napolitano—Barack Obama’s former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security—fired dozens of strikers and deployed police against a demonstration, triggering rallies at multiple campuses. The strike takes place in rebellion against the hated UAW and the contract it imposed on graduate students. Not only does the slave-charter contract fail to address the cost of living, it also includes a “no-strike” clause that strikers are boldly defying. The UAW has responded by filing charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the UC administration—not for mistreating strikers, but for negotiating with them! In other words, the UAW has intervened not on behalf of its “members” but on behalf of its own interests, to maintain its status as the sole “collective bargaining agent” and to keep the dues money flowing to UAW headquarters in Detroit, Michigan. The actions of the UAW against University of California graduate students is in conformity with what it is—an anti-working class organization run by criminals who are under investigation or have been indicted for stealing workers’ dues money and accepting bribes from the auto companies. This week, prosecutors filed charges against former UAW President Gary Jones for embezzling more than $1 million in workers’ dues money. For decades, the UAW has presided over the imposition of one concessions contract after the next, suppressing opposition among workers to the end of the 8-hour day, the implementation of multiple pay and benefit tiers, and the destruction of jobs. It has turned itself into a business, profiting off the exploitation of the workers it claims to represent while pocketing bribes from the auto companies. What else would defenders of the UAW like as proof that it is not a workers’ organization? An organization that steals dues money while enforcing the dictates of the company is a scab organization, not a workers’ organization. The struggle of graduate students in the University of California system is at the same time a struggle against the Democratic Party. The fact that it is Janet Napolitano, a top Democratic Party official, who is implementing the cuts and firing strikers is only the most direct expression of the fact that the Democrats, no less than the Republicans, are committed to slashing funding for education to free up resources for the rich.

States urge Betsy DeVos to forgive loans of students with disabilities - Student loan representatives from seven states and Washington, D.C., sent a letter Tuesday to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul asking them to erase the federal loans for more than 53,000 student borrowers with permanent disabilities in their jurisdictions. The letter says those students have received notices that they may qualify to have their loans forgiven under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, but just 10 percent of them have been granted relief. "It is therefore critical that as Secretary you use your regulatory authority and access to borrower information to create the least onerous path to relief for this population, both as they apply for relief and to satisfy the monitoring requirements," the letter, signed by ombudspersons in Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New York, Virginia, Washington state and D.C., says. The ombudspersons say these borrowers have life-long disabilities and are unable to work or they can't engage in substantial activities because of a physical or mental ailment that has lasted for five years or more. Student loan representatives from seven states and Washington, D.C., sent a letter Tuesday to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul asking them to erase the federal loans for more than 53,000 student borrowers with permanent disabilities in their jurisdictions. The letter says those students have received notices that they may qualify to have their loans forgiven under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, but just 10 percent of them have been granted relief. "It is therefore critical that as Secretary you use your regulatory authority and access to borrower information to create the least onerous path to relief for this population, both as they apply for relief and to satisfy the monitoring requirements," the letter, signed by ombudspersons in Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New York, Virginia, Washington state and D.C., says. The ombudspersons say these borrowers have life-long disabilities and are unable to work or they can't engage in substantial activities because of a physical or mental ailment that has lasted for five years or more.

Heat Waves May Lead to Birth Defects, Low Birth Weight Babies --Researchers from the University of California in San Diego found that longer and hotter heat waves, exactly the type that is commensurate with the climate crisis, might increase preterm births. As temperatures climbed higher and stayed that way for more and more days, the risk of preterm birth increased, according to the new study that was published in the journal Environment International, as The New York Times reported. "We looked at acute exposure to extreme heat during the week before birth, to see if it triggered an earlier delivery," said first author Sindana Ilango, a Ph.D. student in the joint doctoral program in public health at UC San Diego and San Diego State University, in a statement. "We found a consistent pattern: exposure to extreme heat does increase risk. And, importantly, we found that this was true for several definitions of 'heatwave.'" The senior author on the paper Tarik Benmarhnia, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine, added that this was the first study to look what particular factors of a heatwave increased the risk of preterm birth. "[N]o one had tried to figure out exactly what kinds of conditions could trigger preterm births," he said in the statement. "Is it the temperature? Is it the combination of the temperature and the humidity? Is it the duration of the heatwave? It's important to ask these questions to know when we need to intervene and inform pregnant people to stay inside and stay cool." Birth before 37 weeks of gestation is a leading cause of infant death and illness.   To examine how heat contributes, the researchers looked at California birth records from 2005 to 2013, comparing gestation length to heat records from 2005 to 2013, as The New York Times reported. The scientists found a striking pattern — the rate of preterm deaths tracked right alongside increases in temperature or length of a heat wave. The New York Times provided an example: at an average a temperature of 88 degrees for two days 6.63 percent of births were preterm. However, at four days of 98-degree temperature, the rate was 7.46 percent.

The number of millennials with early-onset Alzheimer's disease is surging, report finds - Dementia and Alzheimer's disease traditionally have been considered a concern for older generations. But recent spikes in early onset of these conditions in Americans as young as 30 suggest a different story.  Between 2013 and 2017, early-onset dementia and Alzheimer's diagnoses increased by 83% among commercially insured Americans aged 30 to 44, according to a report released by the health care insurer. That age group includes the oldest millennials. Overall, early-onset diagnoses increased by 200% among commercially insured Americans between ages 30 to 64. That included a 50% jump among those 45 to 54 and by 40% for those aged 55 to 64.   The average patient was diagnosed at age 49."The results of this report are concerning, especially the increase in early-onset dementia and Alzheimer's disease among younger people," Dr. Richard Snyder, chief medical officer for Independence Blue Cross, said in a statement."While the underlying cause is not clear, advances in technology are certainly allowing for earlier and more definitive diagnosis. Regardless, those who develop dementia or Alzheimer's at an early age will likely require caregiving, either from family members or healthcare providers. The time, cost and impact on families can be significant and can require additional support as these diseases progress."Diagnosis rates were higher in the East, South and parts of the Midwest. Women made up 58% of the diagnoses. Alzheimer's, the most common type of dementia, begins with mild memory loss, eventually progressing to the point where victims can no longer hold a conversation or respond to their environments. Symptoms generally occur after age 60.

Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report | CDC - Key indicators that track flu activity remain high but decreased for the third week in a row. Severity indicators (hospitalizations and deaths) remain moderate to low overall, but hospitalization rates differ by age group, with high rates among children and young adults. The percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza at clinical laboratories decreased from 28.0% last week to 24.3% this week. Nationally, influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses are now the most commonly reported influenza viruses this season.  Genetic and antigenic characterization and antiviral susceptibility of influenza viruses collected in the U.S. are summarized in this report. Visits to health care providers for influenza-like illness (ILI) decreased from 5.5% last week to 5.3% this week. All regions remain above their baselines.  The overall cumulative hospitalization rate for the season increased to 57.9 per 100,000.  The percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza is 6.9%, below the epidemic threshold of 7.3%.  11 influenza-associated pediatric deaths occurring during the 2019-2020 season were reported this week. The total for the season is 136. Key Points:

  • Outpatient ILI and clinical laboratory data remain elevated but decreased for the third week in a row.
  • Nationally, influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses are now the most commonly reported influenza viruses this season. Previously, influenza B/Victoria viruses predominated nationally.
  • Overall, hospitalization rates remain similar to this time during recent seasons, but rates among school aged children and young adults are higher at this time than in recent seasons and rates among children 0-4 years old are now the highest CDC has on record at this point in the season, surpassing rates reported during the second wave of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
  • Pneumonia and influenza mortality has been low, but 136 influenza-associated deaths in children have been reported so far this season. This number is higher for the same time period than in every season since reporting began in 2004-05, except for the 2009 pandemic.
  • CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 34 million flu illnesses, 350,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths from flu.

Coronavirus kills 2nd man in Washington state, officials say - A second coronavirus death has been confirmed in Washington state, officials said Sunday. The Seattle & King County officials said four additional cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among people living in King County, including one new death, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 10. The confirmed second death is a man in his seventies who had underlying health conditions. He was hospitalized at EvergreenHealth and died Saturday, the officials said. The man lived at LifeCare, the nursing facility in Kirkland that was previously identified to have two associated cases. The King County Executive’s Office will join local and state public health officials on Monday to discuss further details of the latest cases, and the county’s own response to this outbreak. Washington state was home of the nation’s first confirmed infection, a man who had visited China, where the virus first emerged. A man in his fifties died Saturday. Several recent cases in the U.S. have had no known connections to travelers. Also Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed the first coronavirus case in his state, involving a woman who was isolating herself in her home. The woman lived in Manhattan, a state official told The Wall Street Journal.

Coronavirus: Washington State and Florida Declare Public Health Emergencies; Faulty Test Kits from CDC Under Investigation - Pam Martens  - On Saturday, the Governor of Washington State declared a State of Emergency after a man there died from the virus after community transmission, and 50 residents and staff at a skilled nursing facility, the Life Care Center of Kirkland, are showing virus-like symptoms and being tested. The facility has approximately 108 residents and 180 staff members. Following the Washington State announcement of the State of Emergency, a second man in the state died from the virus on Sunday. As of Sunday evening, health officials had reported a total of 13 people testing positive for the virus in Washington State – 10 in King County and three others in Snohomish County. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida declared a public health emergency in response to two presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in the state. The Florida State Department of Health said that the two individuals were adults – one living in Manatee County and the other in Hillsborough County. The two counties border each other on the West Coast of Florida. Health officials said that the Hillsborough patient had a history of traveling to Italy while the Manatee County patient had not traveled to any of the restricted countries, meaning it could be yet another case of community spread of the virus. The Florida Department of Health said it is engaged in contacting, isolating and monitoring people who came into contact with the two patients. There was growing debate over the weekend about the CDC’s flawed efforts at providing an adequate number of functioning test kits to states after the first case was reported in the U.S. in January. While other countries have been testing thousands of people per day, as of last week the U.S. had tested only 459 people over the entire prior month because the CDC had sent out a limited amount of test kits, many of which were initially faulty. Governor Gavin Newsom of California rattled the stock market last Thursday when he held a press conference and announced that the CDC has provided his state with only 200 test kits. California has a population of 40 million people. As a result of pressure from state health officials and governors, the CDC over the weekend said it is now allowing state labs to conduct their own tests and lowered the restrictions on who could be tested. Previously, it was allowing only testing of people who had traveled to China in the past 14 days or had come in contact with someone who had and were showing symptoms of the virus.

New coronavirus cases jump sharply in Europe, with Italy worst hit -- New coronavirus infections spiked dramatically across Europe on Sunday, with Italy reporting hundreds of new cases and five more deaths. The number of confirmed cases also jumped in France, Germany and the UK, and the Czech Republic reported its first case. As the disease continued its rapid spread and governments introduced emergency measures to halt the progress of the escalating epidemic, outbreaks worsened in Iran and South Korea. The US also reported two new infections, one in Chicago and another in Rhode Island, marking the eastern state’s first case. Italy said confirmed infections had risen 40% in 24 hours to 1,576, with the death toll now at 34. In Germany the number of people infected had almost doubled to 129 on Sunday, while France’s total stood at 100 – up from 38 on Friday – nine of them in a serious condition. Iran meanwhile raised its death toll from 43 to 54 as its number of confirmed infections rose by more than half to 978, amid continuing concerns that official figures still do not reflect the full scale of the outbreak there. Iran’s health ministry spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour, said new cases confirmed in a number of cities, including Mashhad, home to Iran’s most important Shia shrine, which has remained open despite calls to close. The escalating figures came as the head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned individuals in higher-risk groups to avoid crowds and other places of elevated infection risk. He tweeted: “If you are 60+, or have an underlying condition like cardiovascular disease, a respiratory condition or diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing severe #COVID19. Try to avoid crowded areas, or places where you might interact with people who are sick.” And among a growing number of sites and events to fall victim to coronavirus fears was the Louvre museum in Paris, which shut on Sunday afternoon, reportedly after about 300 staff met in the morning and voted “almost unanimously” not to open. Louvre management later confirmed the museum was closed for the entire day, and said it would refund ticketholders..

COVID-19 toll passes 3,000, more countries affected: Live updates - Iran announced 11 more deaths from coronavirus bringing its death toll to 54, the most outside China.The number infected in Italy - the centre of the outbreak in Europe - jumped to 1,694, while the number in France increased to 130. With the outbreak deepening, the staff at the Louvre in Paris voted to close the hugely popular museum.The Czech Republic, Scotland and the Dominican Republic have all confirmed their first cases. The government in Kazakhstan has announced it will bar Iranian nationals from the country from March 5, as part of a range of measures to tackle the coronavirus.It is also reducing the number of flights to and from Azerbaijan, which borders Iran, according to Reuters, and will no longer issue work permits to people from countries hit by the virus.Officials in Seoul are accusing the church at the epicentre of South Korea's growing coronavirus outbreak of murder. A case has been filed with prosecutors, claiming the leaders of Shincheonji - the Christian church where the first cases were reported - are liable for the outbreak because they didn't cooperate with efforts to stop the disease.  The state of Washington on the west coast of Seattle has reported its second death from coronavirus.Ian Morse, who is reporting from the area for Al Jazeera, says the person who died was a resident in the same nursing home where two cases of the virus were previously reported. The man was in his 70s, according to Reuters, citing local health officials.The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says four people died overnight and 476 new cases of the virus were confirmed.In total, 22 people have now died from COVID-19 in South Korea with 4,212 people infected. China has announced its latest data on the coronavirus outbreak, reporting 42 new deaths. That takes the death toll in China to 2,912, and worldwide to more than 3,000.

WHO says new coronavirus cases outside China are 9 times higher than inside over last 24 hours - The number of new coronavirus cases outside China was almost 9 times higher than that inside the country over the last 24 hours, World Health Organization officials said Monday. As epidemics spread across other continents, new cases in China are falling, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva. It reported just 206 new cases of the coronavirus, COVID-19, on Sunday, the lowest number of new cases in that country since Jan. 22, he said. Outside China, the total number of cases now tops 8,739 across 61 countries, including 127 deaths, Tedros said. About 81% of cases outside China are from four countries, he added. “The epidemics in the Republic of Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan are our greatest concern,” Tedros said, adding that world health officials arrived in Iran on Monday to deliver supplies and support. “This is a unique virus, with unique features. This virus is not influenza. We are in uncharted territory.” Of the other 57 affected countries, 38 have reported 10 cases or fewer, Tedros said. Nineteen countries have reported only one case, and some countries have contained the virus and haven’t reported in the last two weeks, he said. Tedros said health officials would not “hesitate” to declare the outbreak a pandemic if “that’s what the evidence suggests.” On Friday at a press briefing, he said that most cases of COVID-19 can still be traced to known contacts or clusters of cases and there isn’t any “evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities.” That’s one reason why WHO hasn’t declared the outbreak a pandemic, Tedros said Friday.

Seattle-area officials report new coronavirus deaths, bringing US total to 6 - At least four more patients have died from COVID-19 in Washington state, bringing the total number of deaths in the U.S. to at least six as the coronavirus spreads throughout local communities around Seattle, local health officials said Monday. Public health officials near Seattle reported the nation’s first two deaths in a nearby suburb and several new cases over the weekend. On Saturday, local health officials said about 50 residents and employees of a nursing care facility outside of Seattle were ill with “respiratory symptoms or hospitalized with pneumonia or other respiratory conditions of unknown cause” and were being tested for the coronavirus that’s infected more than 89,000 and killed at least 3,040 across the globe since Dec. 31.  The outbreak there worsened on Monday after local health officials reported that at least three residents of Life Care Center, a skilled nursing facility in Kirkland, Washington, were among the deceased. The virus has also spread to a woman in her 40s who works at the facility and is currently in the hospital, officials said.  “Unfortunately, we are starting to find more COVID-19 cases here in Washington that appear to be acquired locally here in Washington,” Dr. Kathy Lofy, Washington’s state health officer, told reporters at a news conference. “We now know that the virus is actively spreading in some communities.”

Coronavirus live updates: Seattle reports new deaths, CDC released woman who tested positive - Seattle-area officials said that at least four more people have died from COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths in the U.S. to at least six. Five of the deaths are in King County with another fatality in Snohomish County, local officials said. CDC released a woman in Texas who tested positive for the coronavirus: ‘ The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mistakenly released a woman from quarantine in Texas who tested positive for COVID-19, San Antonio officials said. The woman was among the 91 Americans evacuated from Wuhan and placed in federal, 14-day quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The woman tested negative twice for the new coronavirus and was released on Saturday, San Antonio mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “Unfortunately after the person’s release, the CDC received the results of another test that showed a weakly positive confirmation of the virus that causes COVID-19,” Nirenberg said at a news briefing. The County of Santa Clara Public Health department confirmed two new cases of COVID-19, bringing the county’s total number of cases to nine. Both cases are adult men who appeared to have direct contact with previously confirmed cases and are under home isolation. Health officials said the increase in new cases is expected and that they are in the process of identifying anyone who was in contact with the individuals.  Consumers are shopping for more foods with long shelf lives and packaged items as the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. rises, according to the latest Nielsen data. At U.S. stores, sales of fruit snacks were up by nearly 13%, dried beans were up 10% and pretzels were up 9% in the week that ended Feb. 22, according to Nielsen data that compared the period to the same time a year earlier. Sales of energy drinks, pet medicine, vitamin supplements and first aid kits also saw sales spike. On the other hand, sales of fresh fruit and vegetables have dropped. Mandarins were down 4% and celery was down 16% in the week that ended Feb. 22.

Coronavirus and influenza, a question  -- Monday brought the news that coronavirus has claimed its sixth victim in Washington state. Via the FT’s live blog: Four patients in the Seattle area have died, bringing the total number of coronavirus-linked deaths in the US to six — all in the state of Washington.King County health officials on Monday confirmed four new cases of the virus, including two patients who have died. Another patient who was previously diagnosed with coronavirus also died. King County has seen 14 total cases.Media reports indicated that one person in a neighbouring county has died, with the total number of cases in Washington rising to 18.Several of the Seattle-area patients are residents of LifeCare, a long-term nursing facility in Kirkland, Washington, that has experienced an outbreak. If you’ve followed the outbreak of Covid-19, you’ll know the expected death rate of the disease is around 2 per cent, depending on factors such as age, sex and general health.  So a death rate in Washington of 33 per cent suggests that either a) the victims have been largely weighted towards the more vulnerable end of the population or b) there are far more infected than have been diagnosed. Washington state, like the rest of the US, posts weekly influenza data during flu season to keep the public informed about the disease, and to help health officials identify any potential outbreaks. Common influenza has many of the same symptoms as Covid-19, according to Lisa Maragakis of John Hopkin’s School of Medicine.  Which is why a chart from Washington State’s influenza update for the period between 16-22 February is of note So while influenza diagnoses are below the seasonal baseline (the black line is below the blue line in Figure 9), the number of people with an influenza-like-illness who have visited reporting healthcare providers has, for several successive weeks, been above the epidemic threshold (Figure 10). Now an epidemic is only considered when both measures are above the threshold, so one has yet to be declared. We should also add as well that there are likely other factors at play here which we are not party to.

CDC hasn’t revealed information to doctors that would help coronavirus patients  -As new cases of coronavirus arise daily in the United States -- including several announced over the weekend and one death -- the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has failed to release crucial information physicians say could help save the lives of Americans diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.Several US patients have recovered from coronavirus, but so far, the CDC has shared detailed clinical information about only one of those patients. That information includes what treatments the patients received and how they fared.The CDC is the federal agency that communicates with physicians about how to handle outbreaks. Whether it'sSARS, Ebola or last year's measles outbreak, the agency uses information from cases around the world -- and in particular the United States -- to advise doctors on how to diagnose, evaluate and treat diseases.The federal agency possesses such information about several US coronavirus patients, but has not released it. That means doctors who now unexpectedly find themselves treating new coronavirus patients aren't able to benefit from the findings of doctors who preceded them."It's a medical truism that it's absolutely essential that physicians with experience with a particular condition disseminate information to others," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. Not sharing such information is "is inexplicable and inappropriate," Redlener added. The CDC did not respond to CNN's requests for comment.

 U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Climbs to Six as Virus Spreads World-Wide – WSJ -  Washington state emerged as the U.S. center of a spreading coronavirus fight Monday, as state health officials reported four additional deaths there and 18 confirmed cases and multiple schools closed for disinfection.The deaths—three women in their 70s or 80s linked to an outbreak at the Life Care Center nursing facility in Kirkland, Wash., and one man in his 40s from neighboring Snohomish County—brought the U.S. death toll to six. The viral infection has now claimed more than 3,000 lives around the world.The nursing home was the site of four of the nation’s deaths and has four other confirmed cases, including one woman in her 80s who is in critical condition, according to King County’s public health department.New cases were also reported in California, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Hampshire and Illinois on Monday as state officials attempted to quell fears. At least 50 people have been diagnosed with the novel infection within the U.S., not including repatriated Americans.President Trump met Monday with executives from pharmaceutical companies who said various vaccines were being worked on. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci stressed that it would take at least a year to a year and a half to develop a vaccine. Therapeutic treatments could be available sooner. The onset of local testing and expansion of testing criteria helped lead to the identification of new cases of Covid-19 in recent days in the U.S., stoking concerns over a wider spread of the virus and prompting governors and state health officials to take extra measures to prevent further transmission.

Scoop: Lab for coronavirus test kits may have been contaminated  - A top federal scientist sounded the alarm about what he feared was contamination in an Atlanta lab where the government made test kits for the coronavirus, according to sources familiar with the situation in Atlanta. The Trump administration has ordered an independent investigation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab, and manufacturing of the virus test kits has been moved, the sources said.   At the time the administration is under scrutiny for its early preparations for the virus, the potential problems at the lab became a top internal priority for some officials. But the Trump administration did not talk publicly about the Food and Drug Administration’s specific concerns about the Atlanta lab. Senior officials are still not saying exactly what the FDA regulator found at the Atlanta lab.  The CDC lab in Atlanta developed the testing formula for the coronavirus test — which the government says works — and was manufacturing relatively small amounts of testing kits for laboratories around the country. This is where the lab ran into problems, per sources familiar with the situation. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said, in a statement to Axios, that government agencies have already worked together to resolve the problems with the coronavirus tests. “Upon learning about the test issue from CDC, FDA worked with CDC to determine that problems with certain test components were due to a manufacturing issue,” he said.  “We worked hand in hand with CDC to resolve the issues with manufacturing. FDA has confidence in the design and current manufacturing of the test that already have and are continuing to be distributed. These tests have passed extensive quality control procedures and will provide the high-level of diagnostic accuracy we need during this coronavirus outbreak.”The FDA says it now has full confidence in the coronavirus diagnostic kit, but a slew of new cases announced over the weekend suggest the virus has spread throughout the country while the U.S. government tested only a narrow subset of the population for it. The big question: It was not immediately clear if or how possible contamination in the Atlanta lab played a role in delays or problems with testing. Nor was it clear how significant or systemic the contamination concerns may be; whether it was a one-time issue that’s easily resolved, or a broader concern involving protocols, safeguards or leadership..

This Ain’t No Fooling’ Around --Kunstler -The shadow of Corona virus creeps ever-darker across the scene like a cosmic messenger from Karma Central telling mankind to stop and assess. We’re about to find out what we’ve wrought with the wonders and marvels of globalism. Is there anything you can think of over at the Wal Mart or the Walgreens that isn’t made in China? I mean, everything from a dustpan to a lint brush? I can’t say for sure, because I’m not over in China, but the place is apparently not open for business these days. One must surmise that a lot of activities in the USA may not be open for business much longer, either.The action in my local supermarket yesterday had an undercurrent of stealth desperation; no overt panic buying, no fighting in the aisles, but an edge of suspense. Personally, I cleaned out an entire product-line of cat food, loaded up on cooking oil, rice, dry beans, and evaporated milk — and I wasn’t the only one checking out with the sixteen-roll bindle of toilet paper. Obviously, many products were still there on the shelves to get (minus that cat food). Is the time perhaps at hand when a lot of stuff won’t be? Just sayin’.The message is getting out — though not from US authorities yet — that everybody may soon be spending a lot of time home alone. That’s exactly what has happened in China and a region of northern Italy. France banned events with more than 5,000 people (why that number, exactly?). Japan has canceled school for the time being — duration unknown for now.  So a USA lockdown is not merely hypothetical. These, then, are two fundamental conditions the world faces for a while: nobody moves and nothing gets produced.Are we taking this thing too seriously (some might ask)? I don’t pretend to know the answer, except, again, to point to China and think that they can’t possibly just be fooling around with all those zombified cities and shuttered factories. The next question might be: will the global economy return at some point to “normal” operating conditions, that is, the fabulously complex network of supply lines, markets, and payment arrangements as they worked up until January 2020? I am for sure not sure about that. Once a gigantic and fantastically precise mechanism breaks, I doubt it comes back together neatly and quickly. In the physical universe, the power of emergence is like the cue ball on a billiard table, and it appears that all the rest of the colored balls will be bouncing off the bumpers and sinking into pockets for while… and eventually the global table will look a lot different.

Firefighters in Isolation After Responding to Nursing Home With Virus Outbreak – WSJ --Firefighter Jessica Brassfield donned gloves as she entered the Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., not long after midnight Wednesday. But she didn’t wear a mask. The Life Care Center, health authorities later discovered, was harboring the new coronavirus. Now, Ms. Brassfield and 18 other Kirkland firefighters who responded to health-related calls at the facility in recent weeks are under isolation by public-health officials. Eight more are quarantined, according to a union official. The nursing home has emerged as an epicenter in the U.S. for coronavirus infections. Eight of its elderly residents have tested positive, the Seattle and King County public-health department said. Four have died. Officials at the nursing home have said 27 residents and 25 staff were experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms. Ms. Brassfield wasn’t told at the time.  She is frustrated, she said: “I could have taken extra precaution.” Authorities in Seattle and surrounding King County are now scrambling to catch up with the fast-moving virus, which they had been anxiously anticipating without knowing it already was in their midst. In addition to quarantining people who set foot in the nursing home, the city and county announced plans Monday to buy a motel where coronavirus patients could safely recover in isolation and redeploy 14 modular homes meant for the homeless. Meantime, schools around Seattle closed for a deep cleaning Monday. At Frank Love Elementary School in Bothell, Wash., officials said they learned Sunday evening a staffer had come down with flulike symptoms and was being tested for the virus.

CDC Accidentally Releases 'Diamond Princess' Evacuee Who Tested Positive For The Virus - This doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the federal government's virus response, and certainly doesn't bode well for American officials' ability to suppress the virus.Early Monday, the CDC admitted that it had mistakenly released an infected coronavirus patient from the San Antonio Texas Center for Infectious Disease the day prior after the patient twice tested negative for the virus. At that time the patient had no symptoms and technically met the criteria for release, and so was allowed to leave, ABC 7 reports.However, the patient was soon returned to isolation after a subsequent lab test came back positive for the novel coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19. So the CDC decided to bring them back to quarantine "out of an abundance of caution." According to CNN, the patient was one of the evacuees from Wuhan, who was evacuated to Texas's Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio , been kept in quarantine on military bases in California, Texas and Nebraska.So, why was the patient released if they still had a lab pending? The agency didn't offer any kind of explanation."The fact that the CDC allowed the public to be exposed to a patient with a positive COVID-19 reading is unacceptable," said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. The CDC said the individual, who is currently being retested, had some "limited contact" with healthy individuals on the outside. The CDC said this wasn't the first time a patient has seen back-to-back tests go from negative to positive. The agency is going to need to tighten its 'criteria' for what constitutes a 'cured' case. Hopefully they will before they really drop the ball, if it's not already too late.

Coronavirus may have spread undetected for weeks in U.S. -The coronavirus has been circulating undetected and has possibly infected scores of people over the past six weeks in Washington state, according to a genetic analysis of virus samples.  The virus may have been spreading in parts of Washington state among people who didn’t realize they were infected by it — they may have thought they had a cold or the flu. If the number of confirmed cases climbs dramatically in the next few days, it could reflect expanded detection efforts rather than a sudden increase in the rate at which the virus is spreading. “Once we start testing more broadly this week, we are almost certain to learn that there has been community transmission for a while in many places,” said Andy Pavia, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Utah health system. He called the Washington state research on the genetics of the virus “very important.”

U.S. Coronavirus Infections Rise as Cases Outside China Pass 10,000 – WSJ - New cases of the novel coronavirus in New York, Arizona and Georgia raised the number of infected people in the U.S. to over 100 Tuesday, as concern over the infection’s potential effect on the economy pushed the Federal Reserve to make its first unscheduled rate cut since the 2008 financial crisis. On Tuesday, New York confirmed its second case of the novel coronavirus. The patient, a 50-year-old attorney who lives in New Rochelle, N.Y., hadn’t traveled to affected countries, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.The man is hospitalized in New York City in serious condition, according to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. His diagnosis led to the closure of a Bronx private school attended by one of the patient’s children.In Arizona, state officials said a Maricopa County man in his 20s tested positive for the virus and is recovering at home. The man was a known contact of another coronavirus patient outside Arizona who had traveled to a community where the virus was spreading.  Two members of an Atlanta-area household also have tested positive for the virus, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said at a Monday night press briefing. One had recently been to Italy, which has reported thousands of infections. Both have shown only mild symptoms and are being isolated at home with other relatives while officials trace the patients’ contacts, according to state health officials. More than 60 people have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus within the U.S., excluding those repatriated from China and Japan. Cases have been reported in 12 states, and six people have died after contracting Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. The number of confirmed cases of the illness in the U.S. is expected to rise in coming days as local health officials ramp up testing, which then await further confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Globally, the new coronavirus has infected 90,926 people since it was first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, but 53% of those patients have recovered, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. A total of 3,117 coronavirus patients have died.

Coronavirus Live Updates (Tuesday): Fed Cuts Rate in Emergency Response; Iran on War Footing Against Virus - Shockwaves from the coronavirus epidemic continued spreading around the globe. The U.S. Federal Reserve made an emergency rate cut of half a percentage point Tuesday morning to shore up the economy as the threat widens. The move followed a volatile week in which U.S. stocks suffered their worst losses since the 2008 crash. The outbreak sickened 102 people in the U.S. and killed six as of Monday. Concerns mounted that the spread of the disease could cause broader disruptions to social and economic activities. A rising number of cases reported among people without recent overseas travel history further sparked fears of community spread in the U.S. In Iran, one of the hotspots of the outbreak outside China, leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei put the country on a war footing against the epidemic by ordering the armed forces to assist health officials in combating the outbreak. The country’s total of Covid-19 infections reached 2,336 as of noon Tuesday, up 835 from the previous day. The death toll rose to 77, the second-highest number after China. Iranian media reported that at least 23 of the country’s 290-member parliament might have been infected because of contact with constituents across the country. The head of Iran's emergency medical services, Pir-Hossein Kolivand, was also infected with virus, local media reported. South Korea is also grappling with explosive growth of infections. Total cases rose to 5,186 as of Tuesday afternoon, adding 851 in 24 hours. Deaths totaled 29 and recoveries, 34. In other coronavirus-related news:

  • • Despite signs of the epidemic ebbing in China, officials at the epicenter Hubei said strict disease control measures will remain in place. Yang Yunyan, a deputy governor,said Tuesday that the central China province still faces a tough challenge to take care for the more than 20,000 hospitalized patients while preventing new infections. There are still “uncertainties” in the province’s disease control efforts, Yang said.
  • • Singapore will bar visitors who traveled to Iran, northern Italy or the Republic of Korea in the last 14 days, including transits. The measures will take effect March 4.
  • • Mei Zhongming, an ophthalmologist who worked at the same Wuhan hospital as deceased whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, died Tuesday (link in Chinese) from the disease, according to the hospital. Mei is the third doctor working at the Central Hospital of Wuhan to die from Covid-19. Li died on Feb. 7 and another doctor Jiang Xueqing died Sunday (link in Chinese). Over 200 of the hospital’s staff are currently infected, Caixin has learned.
  • • Beijing has tightened its quarantine rules. If their destination is Beijing, visitors who enter the Chinese capital from South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan are required to carry out a 14-day quarantine, regardless of nationality, the Beijing municipal governmentsaid (link in Chinese) on Tuesday.

WHO warns of global shortage of medical equipment to fight coronavirus - (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday warned of a global shortage and price gouging for protective equipment to fight the fast-spreading coronavirus and asked companies and governments to increase production by 40% as the death toll from the respiratory illness mounted. Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates on Tuesday in an emergency move to try to prevent a global recession and the World Bank announced $12 billion to help countries fight the coronavirus, which has taken a heavy toll on air travel, tourism and other industries, threatening global economic growth prospects. The virus continued to spread in South Korea, Japan, Europe, Iran and the United States, and several countries reported their first confirmed cases, taking the total to some 80 nations hit with the flu-like illness that can lead to pneumonia. Despite the Fed’s attempt to stem the economic fallout from the coronavirus, U.S. stock indexes closed down about 3%, safe-haven gold rose 3% and analysts and investors questioned whether the rate cut will be enough if the virus continues to spread. U.S. lawmakers were considering spending as much as $9 billion to contain local spread of the virus. In Iran, doctors and nurses lack supplies and 77 people have died, one of the highest numbers outside China. The United Arab Emirates announced it was closing all schools for four weeks. The death toll in Italy, Europe’s hardest-hit country, jumped to 79 on Tuesday and Italian officials are considering expanding the area under quarantine. France reported its fourth coronavirus death, while Indonesia, Ukraine, Argentina and Chile reported their first coronavirus cases. About 3.4% of confirmed cases of COVID-19 have died, far above seasonal flu’s fatality rate of under 1%, but the virus can be contained, the WHO chief said on Tuesday. 

Coronavirus updates: COVID-19 kills 9 people in Washington state -The number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. rose to nine on Tuesday, according to health officials. All of the deaths occurred in Washington state. There were more than 100 cases in 15 states as of Tuesday night, with New Hampshire, Georgia and North Carolina being the most recent to join the battle against the virus. The number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. rose to nine on Tuesday, according to health officials. All of the deaths occurred in Washington state. There were more than 100 cases in 15 states as of Tuesday night, with New Hampshire, Georgia and North Carolina being the most recent to join the battle against the virus.As the head of the World Health Organization announced new estimates suggesting the disease was far more lethal overall than previously suspected — but also less transmissible — schools and hospitals across the U.S. stepped up preparations for a potential pandemic. Both the Trump administration and the World Health Organization continue to say the virus poses a manageable threat. Globally, outbreaks in South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan have continued growing fast, but draconian control measures in epicenter country China appeared to be paying off. On Tuesday night, the World Health Organization announced that more than 90,000 people worldwide have been diagnosed with the disease.   South Korea reported 516 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the country's total number of cases to at least 5,328, Reuters reports. At least 28 people have died of the disease in the country, which is currently facing the worst outbreak outside of China.The 516 new cases vastly outpaced China's new reported cases for the day. In China, the epicenter of the worldwide outbreak, only 119 new cases were reported.  Chinese officials on Wednesday announced 119 new cases and 38 new deaths from coronavirus. That brings the total number of cases in the country to at least 80,270, and the total number of deaths in the country to at least 2,981.

Coronavirus Has Reached 'Community Spread' Within United States- Dr. Anthony Fauci-- Dr. Anthony Fauci - the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (who Joe Biden falsely claimed was being 'muzzled'), said on Sunday that "community spread" of the new coronavirus in which cases cannot be directly traced to anyone are becoming more common throughout the United States. As Fox News notes, the term "community spread" is defined as an infection with an unknown origin, or 'index case,' as opposed to most of the early coronavirus cases which could be clearly traced from travel or contact with known patients.According to Fauci, this comes as no surprise."This was something that was entirely expected when you have diffuse infections throughout the world – as you’ve just mentioned, South Korea, Iran, Italy, in places like that – sooner or later there are going to be cases in your country that you can’t directly trace to anyone," he said in an Sunday interview with Fox & Friends Weekend. "That becomes much more challenging about identifying the source."Cases such as those in Washington state and Oregon (which may be far more widespread than we know) require officials to do "much more intensive contact tracing in addition to the isolation," he added. Fauci, who is also director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, went on to address whether it is appropriate to compare the coronavirus with the seasonal flu.“Yes and no,” Fauci said, cautioning that the comparison is suitable in some respects, but not in others.“It clearly is much more lethal, if you want to call it that, than the typical seasonal flu,” he said. -Fox News

 Coronavirus appears to have spread undetected in the US for six weeks, study - The coronavirus appears to have spread undetected in the U.S. for about six weeks, according to an analysis by researchers in Washington state. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Washington on Jan. 20. A second case was confirmed Friday. Researchers who examined the genomes of both infections said the second case likely descended from the first, The New York Times reported.. The individuals in the two cases did not have any known contact. The second case occurred weeks after the first, suggesting it spread through other individuals in the area. The first patient, a man in his 30s who returned from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, recovered after being treated at a hospital. The second patient, a teenager with no known travel exposure, was able to recover at home. "This strongly suggests that there has been cryptic transmission in Washington State for the past 6 weeks," Trevor Bedford, an associate professor at the the University of Washington, tweeted. "I believe we're facing an already substantial outbreak in Washington State that was not detected until now due to narrow case definition requiring direct travel to China." Bedford told The Times that only two of 59 sample sequences from China had the genetic variation found in both cases. Scientists have analyzed more than 125 genomes from samples around the world. If true, as many as 1,500 people may have been infected over a period of weeks, lead researcher Dr. Mike Famulare of the Institute for Disease Modeling, told The Times. Famulare said the most likely number was between 300 and 500 cases who "have either been infected and recovered or currently are infected now."

Washington State risks seeing explosion in coronavirus cases without dramatic action, new analysis says - The coronavirus outbreak in the Seattle area is at a critical juncture and could see explosive growth in cases much like Wuhan, China, if public officials don’t take immediate, forceful measures, according to a new analysis of genetic data. The author of the analysis, a computational biologist named Trevor Bedford, said there are likely already at least 500 to 600 cases of Covid-19 in the greater Seattle area. He urged health authorities and the public to immediately begin adopting non-pharmaceutical interventions — imposing “social distancing” measures, telling the sick to isolate themselves, and limiting attendance at large gatherings. “Now would be the time to act,” Bedford, who is at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, told STAT. The genetic sequences of patients in the Seattle-King County region suggest the virus has been circulating there since about mid-January, when the first U.S. patient — a man who returned from Wuhan — was diagnosed, Bedford wrote in the analysis, published online.The spread of the virus has gone undetected in part because many infected people experience only mild infections that could be confused for a cold or the flu, and in part because of stumbles in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s effort to develop test kits for state and local public health laboratories, which has meant very little testing has been done in the country until the past few days.On Capitol Hill, Washington Sen. Patty Murray (D) expressed deep frustration with the situation.“The failure to develop and distribute working test kits to public health agencies has really cost us valuable time. I am hearing from people personally across our state who are frustrated,” Murray said. “They believe they have been exposed, they are sick, they want to get tested, they have nowhere to go,”

‘Perfect Storm’: Washington virus deaths highlight risk at nursing homes (Reuters) - Less than a year after Constantine Valhouli moved his 85-year-old father into a Massachusetts elder-care facility, he is considering bringing his dad back home, his confidence rattled by a deadly coronavirus outbreak at a Washington state nursing home.   The deaths of four residents at the LifeCare long-term care facility in Kirkland has stoked Valhouli’s fears that the virus could spread quickly and quietly in facilities such as the home where his father resides after a series of strokes. “You’ve got this perfect storm of conditions - the density of residents, the age of residents and the health concerns,” said Valhouli, a Boston resident who works in real estate analytics. “The terrifying part of it is that you can worry about it from a distance, but the minute you’ve got a case, it’s almost too late.” Virus outbreaks are especially problematic in nursing homes because residents live in close quarters, so infections can spread easily. Older residents also tend to have weaker immune systems and underlying health conditions, making illnesses easier to catch and more dangerous if contracted. As COVID-19 cases begin to spread across the United States, the Washington deaths have highlighted the vulnerability of older people in general. The elderly are considered the most at risk of dying from the virus, with deaths in China disproportionately affecting people over the age of 80.

Seattle Cases Jump; WHO Chides Nations on Effort: Virus Update - M4 - The number of coronavirus cases in the Seattle area surged by 20, and 11 more New York state residents were confirmed to have the infection. New Jersey reported its first two cases, one a health-care worker. The Trump administration won’t be able to meet its goal to have a million coronavirus tests available by the end of the week, senators said. The U.K. and Switzerland reported their first fatalities. The head of the World Health Organization threatened to name countries that aren’t doing enough to fight the outbreak. Fatalities moderated in China, and cases appeared to slow in South Korea. Infections surged in Iran. Key Developments:

  • Global cases 97,426; death toll 3,345
  • Italy pledges 7.5 billion euros; cases surge to 3,858
  • Southwest Air warning shows even U.S. travel at risk
  • U.S. mortgage rates sink to record low on virus fears

A coronavirus patient in Fort Lee, New Jersey, is a health-care worker with a residence in Manhattan, according to a person familiar with the matter. The infection of health-care workers is of particular concern for two reasons: They could have contracted the disease from a patient, or they could have been around vulnerable people while sick. The patient, who hadn’t traveled internationally, fell ill March 2 after attending a conference in New York City, the person said. The patient sought care at a walk-in clinic in Bergen County, then was sent to Hackensack University Medical Center and placed in isolation, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said at a news briefing. She also confirmed a second case in the state. Neither of the two latest cases of coronavirus in New York City has traveled to a country with the disease or has a direct connection to an infected person, raising the possibility of community spread, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Disease detectives are tracing the each patient’s contacts, and the city has asked federal authorities for aid. One of the patients is a man in his 40s, and the other is a woman in her 80s, he said.  “When you have community-spread dynamic, we have to assume it could be anywhere in the city,” de Blasio said. “We have a public health-care apparatus that’s the best in the world, but we are sober right now about what the future might bring.”The head of the World Health Organization said the spread of the coronavirus could become a pandemic if countries don’t fight it aggressively, and he threatened to name names.“It’s a long list,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a daily press briefing in Geneva Thursday. “It’s a significant number of countries who are not mobilizing the whole government, and I can give you the list next time.”

Schools Shut in Seattle Area as Coronavirus Spread Grows – WSJ - Seattle-area companies and schools began implementing contingency plans Thursday to help contain the new coronavirus in the region, where the number of confirmed cases jumped to 70 from 39 a day earlier. New coronavirus cases continued to climb globally, and some health officials warned it would be impossible to fully contain the pathogen now that infections are spreading within many communities. Washington, the hardest-hit U.S. state and where all but one of the country’s 11 deaths have occurred, took more aggressive measures to combat the virus’s spread Thursday. “We are attempting to do everything humanly possible to slow the spread of this virus,” Mr. Inslee said. “We need to accept medical reality here: this disease, this virus, is going to spread across county lines,” he added. Northshore School District, which includes parts of both King and Snohomish counties, said it would close its 33 campuses for up to 14 days and that its more than 23,500 students would continue their lessons online. The decision, which officials said came after a parent at an elementary school tested positive for the virus, mirrors the actions of schools in Hong Kong, mainland China and Italy, among other affected countries.

Officials Resist Disruptive And Costly School Closures Over Coronavirus - While nearly 300 million students across 22 countries out of school due to the coronavirus, officials in Washington state are resisting calls to follow suit amid the nation's hardest-hit outbreak of the deadly disease. Microsoft employee Andrew Davidoff tells Reuters that while he's been told to work from home to slow the spread of the virus, his daughter and other children in the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) should also be sent home after 12 people have died of COVID-19 in the state. "LWSD is doing everything they can to get me sick," said the 59-year-old Davidoff - one of more than 20,000 people who have signed an online petition demanding school closures.The district, however - much like schools in New York and Los Angeles - has resisted calls to send students home."School closures can be disruptive and costly for families," said LWSD in a statement, recommending that schools remain open unless there were specific COVID-19 risks.The dilemma over whether to close schools has rolled into the United States as U.S. coronavirus cases top 200. The outbreak has had an unprecedented impact on schools worldwide, the education of over 290 million students affected in 13 countries, according to the United Nations.Closures have long been a U.S. response to influenza, a dangerous and highly contagious disease for students. But health authorities are rethinking their approach for coronavirus, shown to have limited effects on children. -Reuters"Do we really want to close schools or do we want to keep schools open so faculty can continue to come in and serve children?" said Seattle and King County health officer, Jeffrey Duchin. Still, some of Seattle's schools have closed - including the Northshore School District, which shut its doors on Thursday after a staff member was possibly exposed to COVID-19 and a student absentee rate of around 20%. It said that the students would receive online instructions.

Coronavirus: Kids About as Likely as Adults to Become Infected; What Happens When School Closures Become Widespread? - Yves Smith - Early on, I repeated an assumption about coronavirus that proved to be incorrect, that children weren’t very susceptible to becoming infected and hence weren’t prime transmitters the way they were for seasonal flus.A preprint of a paper based on a study of coronavirus incidence and transmission in Shezen found that children do contract coronavirus, albeit typically getting mild cases, and can transmit it. We’ve embedded the full article at the end of this post. The sample size is large, 391 cases, and the contact tracking looks to be good.Key sections: Attack rates were similar across infectee age categories (Table 3), though there is some indication of elevated attack rates in older age groups (Figure 1). Notably, the rate of infection inchildren under 10 (7.4%) was similar to the population average (7.9%). There was no significant association between probability of infection and age of the index case. We’ve had confirmation in the US. The Mayor of White Plains put out a press release yesterday stating that three children has tested positive for coronavirus and their school will be closed until at least March 16: According to the Westchester County Department of Health there are now up to 18 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Westchester County. As has been widely reported, there are three confirmed cases associated with a private school in White Plains, Westchester Torah Academy. The three students who tested positive are the children of the man who is a friend of and spent time with the original patient. Westchester Torah Academy has been closed until March 16 and the NY State Department of Health has required all students, faculty, and staff to isolate themselves at home through that date. Those who get sick are sick for a while: Based on 228 cases with known outcomes, we estimate that the median time to recovery is 32 days (95% CI 31,33) in 50-59 year olds, and is estimated to be significantly shorter in younger adults (e.g., 27 days in 20-29 year olds), and significantly longer in older groups (e.g., 36 days in those aged 70 or older). In multiple regression models including sex, age, baseline severity and method of detection, in addition to age, baseline severity was associated with time to recovery. Compared to those with mild symptoms, those with moderate symptoms were associated with a 19% (95% CI, 17%,22%) increase in time to recovery, and severe symptoms were associated with a 58% (95% CI, 55%, 61%) increase. Thus far, only three have died.These occurred 35-44 days from symptom onset and 27-33 days from confirmation.

Doctor who treated first US coronavirus patient says it’s been ‘circulating unchecked’ for weeks -  Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips recalled the day the first U.S. patient infected with COVID-19, a 35-year-old man from Snohomish County in Washington State, had taken a “turn for the worse.” At first, the patient only had common cold-like symptoms, Compton-Phillips said. But very quickly he began to have shortness of breath and a cough, she said. His x-ray also showed viral pneumonia. He needed supplemental oxygen and had to be put on an experimental antiviral treatment. Since he landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Jan. 15 from the outbreak’s epicenter in Wuhan, China,  the virus has spread to at least 75 other people in Washington state, killing 14 in the U.S. so far — 13 in Washington and one in California, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.  At least five of those deaths have been traced back to skilled nursing facility Life Care Center in nearby Kirkland, according to Washington state and local health officials. On Saturday, King County health officials said about 50 residents and employees of the nursing care facility outside of Seattle were ill with “respiratory symptoms or hospitalized with pneumonia or other respiratory conditions of unknown cause” and were being tested for COVID-19. Public health officials have identified at least 233 cases in the U.S. so, a fraction of the more than 100,600 infections across the world. But epidemiologists and state officials say the actual number of COVID-19 patients in the U.S. is likely in the thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, since testing here has been limited by a lack of kits and stringent criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Compton-Phillips said the doctors, nurses and other front-line workers watching the outbreak in real-time are all saying “this is coming.” “It’s not if, it’s when. And we better get ready now,” she said.

Coronavirus cases surge across U.S. as Americans face looming outbreak - (Reuters) - The coronavirus outbreak radiated across the United States on Thursday, surfacing in at least four new states and San Francisco as Congress quickly approved more than $8 billion to fight the outbreak. The death toll from the respiratory illness rose to 12 in the United States, with the latest fatality recorded in King County, Washington, where six people have died in an outbreak at a nursing facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland. “President Trump wanted me to be here today to make it crystal clear that we are with you. We are here to help,” Vice President Mike Pence said during a visit to the Seattle area, where he met with Governor Jay Inslee and other state officials. At least 57 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed nationwide on Thursday as the virus struck for the first time in Colorado, Maryland, Tennessee and Texas, as well as the city of San Francisco. At least several people suffering from the virus are said to be gravely ill. A helicopter flew testing kits to a cruise liner idled off the coast of California and barred from docking in San Francisco after at least 35 people developed flu-like symptoms aboard the ship, which has been linked to two other confirmed cases of COVID-19. Twenty new cases were confirmed in King County, which is home to Seattle and has been the site so far of the greatest concentration of coronavirus cases in the country, bringing the total in the county to 51 with 11 deaths. One death has been recorded in California. “This is a critical moment in the growing outbreak of COVID-19 in King County,” the county said in a statement. “All King County residents should follow public health recommendations. Together, we may potentially impact the spread of the disease in our community.” 

Coronavirus live updates: Cases top 100,000, Seattle Seahawks stadium staffer tests positive - Seattle-area officials announced late Thursday an employee of a 72,000-seat stadium in the city tested positive for COVID-19. CenturyLink Field is home to the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders FC and the XFL football league’s Seattle Dragons. Local officials said the employee worked a Seattle Dragons XFL game on Feb. 22, which 22,060 people attended, according to the Seattle Times. “Public Health has worked with the employee and the operator of the stadium, First and Goal, to evaluate potential exposures” at the Dragons game, King County said in a release, adding that the risk of infection to attendees was low. The University of Washington is moving all of its in-person classes and exams online, starting Monday, as the state deals with a large uptick in COVID-19 cases. It is among the first U.S. public university to do so due to the flu-like virus. The Seattle-located school plans to resume in-person classes on March 30. Campus services will remain open, including dining services, resident halls, and recreation facilities according to the memo, and athletic events will be held as scheduled.   OVID-19 cases surpassed 100,000 worldwide as the flu-like virus continues to spread outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak. The total number of cases now stands at 100,055 as of 8 a.m. ET on Friday, according to data compiled by John Hopkins. The majority of the cases are in mainland China, followed by South Korea, Iran and Italy. Deaths in the U.S. climbed to 14, the data shows. On Thursday, the World Health Organization called on all nations to “pull out all the stops” to fight the COVID-19 coronavirus as it continues to spread outside of China.

Coronavirus cases in New York state doubled overnight, as Gov. Cuomo confirms 11 new infections - The number of COVID-19 cases in New York doubled overnight to 22 as the state ramps up its testing, and at least four of those patients are hospitalized, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.At least eight of the new cases are connected to a lawyer from Westchester, who was the second confirmed case in the state. Two of the new cases are in New York City and one is in Long Island, he said.“I’m worried about nursing homes, senior care facilities,” Cuomo said. “That is something we worry about. My own mother is elderly.” The state is currently testing between 100 and 200 people for COVID-19 every day, Cuomo said.“The number will continue to go up,” Cuomo told reporters at a news briefing. “It must because we are continuing to test.” The Westchester lawyer, who worked in Manhattan, is in critical condition at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Cuomo said. The lawyer’s case, which was the second in the state, was confirmed on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, Cuomo said his family and a neighbor all contracted the virus. Cuomo announced later that day that the lawyer also passed the virus on to a friend who passed it on to the rest of his family.Cuomo tried the tamp down public anxiety, saying 80% of the people who become infected may not even know they have it, “just like the flu.”  New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the two cases in New York City earlier Thursday. He said the patients had no known connection to other people recently diagnosed with the virus or travel history to known sites of an outbreak. That indicates that the virus could be spreading undetected throughout the city.

How the Coronavirus Spread From One Patient to 1,000 Now Quarantined in New York – WSJ - Religious schools have been shut. Some festivities for the Jewish holiday of Purim are up in the air. And officials in Westchester County, N.Y., estimate 1,000 people are quarantined at home after a well-attended bat mitzvah and funeral. The case of a seriously ill father with deep roots in a modern Orthodox community shows how quickly coronavirus can spread in circles that live, go to school and attend services together. As of Thursday, officials said 18 people in Westchester had been diagnosed with Covid-19, and all those cases were tied to contact with that man. Rabbis said the connectedness of their community is a great strength, but when a contagious illness strikes, the vast network of links among families can make it especially hard to control infection. “When you’re in a tightknit kind of society, there’s lots of opportunities for interaction,”  “When people are told to step back from that interaction, that’s harder than it would be in communities where individuals keep more to themselves.” Rabbis throughout the New York City area are adjusting the customs of a traditional Jewish culture as they tried to halt the escalation of illness. They sent congregations a range of warnings: Please don’t kiss the Torah or mezuzah. Please don’t come to services or ritual baths if you feel any symptoms. And please don’t reach out to shake hands lest someone feel obliged to reciprocate. A Westchester attorney became the second person in New York to test positive for the novel coronavirus on Tuesday. His wife, son and daughter were diagnosed with it as well, state officials said. Only the attorney is hospitalized in serious condition. His family is in quarantine at home in New Rochelle. A neighbor and friends—five people in a local family—also tested positive for the virus, officials said. As of Thursday, a total of 22 people in New York had the virus, according to state officials.

NYC ER doctor: I have to ‘plead to test people’ for coronavirus – CNBC video

Coronavirus Spreads in California, New York as U.S. Death Toll Rises to 11 – WSJ - The U.S. death toll from the new coronavirus grew to 11 Wednesday, with California announcing its first fatality linked to the viral infection and Washington state reporting its 10th death. New cases were also reported across both coasts, as local and federal governments moved to calm fears, provide resources and make recommendations to vulnerable populations and employees to help combat the spread. The deceased in California was an elderly patient with underlying health conditions, said health officials in Placer County near Sacramento. The patient likely was exposed to the virus while aboard a Princess Cruises ship that sailed between San Francisco and Ensenada, Mexico, last month, the officials said. Fifteen first responders and medical personnel who treated the person at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Roseville, Calif., have been put in quarantine, but so far aren’t exhibiting symptoms, local health officials said. Health officials said other passengers on the ship, the Grand Princess, may have been exposed and they are working to contact them. Princess Cruises’ owner, Carnival Corp., said it is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and following its recommendations. It also is canceling the ship’s current voyage to Ensenada and Hawaii, returning the Grand Princess early to San Francisco, where passengers will be screened. All passengers on the previous voyage have been informed of the situation, Carnival said. Princess Cruises officials said in a letter to passengers Wednesday that the CDC had notified them it was investigating “a small cluster” of cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, in Northern California tied to the ship’s voyage last month.

Another Princess Cruise Ship Is Caught Up in Coronavirus Outbreak - Another Carnival Corp. cruise ship has become embroiled in an outbreak of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus—this time in a West Coast-based liner called the Grand Princess where health officials say at least one former passenger has died after a recent cruise. The ship, on a voyage to Hawaii with a stop in Mexico, has been ordered to return to port in San Francisco. The vessel has a capacity of 2,600 guests and 1,150 crew. Officials of Carnival’s Princess Cruises said in a letter early Wednesday to passengers that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had notified them it was investigating “a small cluster” of Covid-19 cases in Northern California tied to the ship’s voyage in February between San Francisco and Mexico. The company, the world’s biggest cruise operator, also operates the Diamond Princess, where dozens of passengers became infected with Covid-19 when it docked in Japan in January. That ship was quarantined for two weeks. An elderly passenger from the Feb. 11-to-Feb. 21 Mexico cruise became the first person in California to die from the illness, after being hospitalized in Placer County, Calif., following likely exposure on the trip, health officials said Wednesday. Placer County officials said other cruise passengers may also have been exposed, and that they were working with the CDC to find and alert them. On Princess Cruises’s website, Chief Medical Officer Grant Tarling advised guests on the February cruise to immediately seek medical attention if they have experienced any symptoms of the virus, including fever, chills or cough since returning home. Dr. Tarling said in an open letter that the Grand Princess, until today en route to Ensenada, Mexico, about 100 miles south of the U.S.-Mexican border, would turn around and return to San Francisco for further investigation.

California declares emergency over coronavirus as death toll rises in U.S. - (Reuters) - The U.S. death toll from coronavirus infections rose to 11 on Wednesday as new cases emerged around New York City and Los Angeles, while Seattle-area health officials discouraged social gatherings amid the nation’s largest outbreak. The first California death from the virus was an elderly person in Placer County, near Sacramento, health officials said. The person had underlying health problems and likely had been exposed on a cruise ship voyage between San Francisco and Mexico last month. It was the first coronavirus fatality in the United States outside of Washington state, where 10 people have died in a cluster of at least 39 infections that have emerged through community transmission of the virus in two Seattle-area counties. Although the Placer County patient who died was not believed to have contracted the virus locally, that case and a previous one from the San Francisco Bay Area linked to the same ocean liner have led health authorities to seek other cruise passengers who may have had close contact with those two individuals. Hours after the person’s death was announced, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency in response to the coronavirus, which he said has resulted in 53 cases across the nation’s most populous state. Newsom said the cruise ship, named the Grand Princess, had later sailed on to Hawaii and was returning to San Francisco, but would not be allowed into port until passengers had been tested for the virus. “We are holding that ship off the coast,” Newsom said.

21 people on Grand Princess cruise ship test positive for coronavirus, Pence says - Vice President Mike Pence said Friday that 21 people aboard a cruise ship that's being held off the coast of California have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Coast Guard had delivered 46 tests to the Grand Princess, which has been held off the California coast since Wednesday. Of the 46 passengers tested, Pence said 21 people, 19 employees and two passengers, had tested positive. All passengers will be brought into port in the U.S. over the weekend and tested, Pence said. The vice president is leading the administration's response to the outbreak.

As Coronavirus Infections Rise, CDC Is Criticized --The World Health Organization has now declared that the fatality rate of the COVID-19 coronavirus is higher than the flu. After several missteps and the deaths of nine Americans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now saying that it will lift restrictions on testing and will fast-track people who fear they may have been exposed to the virus, according to The New York Times. The CDC's first attempt to screen for COVID-19 hit a snag when they "botched its first attempt to mass produce a diagnostic test kit, a discovery made only after officials had shipped hundreds of kits to state laboratories," as The New York Times reported.The faulty tests took weeks to replace. Still, the replacements did not allow state and local laboratories to make a final diagnosis. "The incompetence has really exceeded what anyone would expect with the C.D.C.," Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, said to The New York Times. "This is not a difficult problem to solve in the world of viruses." . "But this delay has really been costly in terms of our ability to identify and control the disease." The CDC's response is slightly shocking for an advanced nation, considering that South Korea tested 10,000 people on Friday alone and has established drive-thru COVID-19 screening locations, as Business Insider reported. The CDC is also taking flak for the narrow and stringent testing criteria it set-up, ensuring that very few Americans would actually be tested for COVID-19. As the New York Times pointed out, "the persistent drumbeat of positive test results has raised critical questions about the government's initial management of the outbreak. Until last week, the CDC only called for testing people who had recently traveled to China and come in contact with someone who had a diagnosed case of COVID-19. That strict criteria meant that a patient in California, who tested positive for the coronavirus, went untested for several days at two area hospitals, according to Business Insider. Last week, the CDC changed the guideline to include people whose symptoms were so severe that they required hospitalization. However, it still did not offer tests for people who had traveled to Iran or Italy, both spots of severe outbreaks, as Business Insider reported. The case in California was alarming since the patient did not travel to China nor did the patient have direct contact with someone known to have the virus. Furthermore, doctors had to plead with officials to test the patient and to persist in asking before the CDC went ahead and tested the patient, according to CNN.

The US government has completed fewer than 6,000 coronavirus tests as more states report new cases and deaths - The United States government has conducted 5,861 tests for the novel coronavirus as of Friday at 6 p.m., US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said on Saturday at an off-camera press briefing, CNN reported.The report comes amid a rise in US cases as the virus continues to spread across the country. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in his state after announcing 21 new cases on Saturday, joining a handful of other states that have declared public emergencies as a result of people testing positive for COVID-19.There have been at least 19 deaths in the US from the virus that has killed nearly 3,500 globally so far. Most fatalities have occurred in China. As CNN reported, the number does not mean 5,861 people have been tested for the virus, as those who are tested for typically have two swabs taken and tested: one nose swab and one throat swab. The number also does not account for tests at private labs.Saturday marked the first time the US government released official numbers on coronavirus tests.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducts coronavirus testing, has faced backlash over its handling of US cases.  While other countries affected by outbreaks of the virus, which is believed to have originated in China at the end of last year, have tested millions of patients for potential coronavirus, the US has tested just thousands, according to a report from MIT Technology Review. Part of the issue, the report said, is faulty COVID-19 testing kits issued to states by the CDC in early February. The kits were found to have "faulty negative controls," meaning the results of some test kits were inaccurate, and states had to continue sending test samples to the CDC for testing.FDA policy prohibited states and private entities from developing their own test kits, meaning they only had access to the faulty FDA kits. The agency lifted that regulation on February 29, allowing states and commercial labs to create their own coronavirus testing kits. As Business Insider previously reported, Vice President Mike Pence — the Trump-appointed head of the US coronavirus task force —admitted that the country was not able to meet up with the demand for the test kits.

U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Rises To 17 As Virus Prompts Cancellations, Closures - As more cases of coronavirus are confirmed daily around the globe, the death toll in the U.S. rose to at least 17 late Friday, with two new deaths reported in Florida. There have been at least 14 reported deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in Washington state, with many of these connected to an outbreak at a nursing home in the Seattle area.  There was one death confirmed in California earlier this week. A cruise ship with over 3,000 people is now being held off the coast of San Francisco after it was confirmed that the 71-year-old man who died had been on a previous trip on the ship in mid-February.  Vice President Mike Pence said in a news briefing Friday that 21 people on the Grand Princess cruise ship tested positive for COVID-19, including 19 crew members and two passengers. Pence said they will be testing everyone onboard and quarantining people “as necessary.” A previously announced COVID-19 patient in Santa Rosa County and another in Lee County, both in Florida, have died, the Florida Health Department reported Friday. Both became ill after an international trip, according to the Herald-Tribune. Across the U.S., there have been over 160 confirmed cases of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Reported cases so far span more than 20 states. The number of cases are growing daily around the world, reaching nearly 100,000 reported cases across at least 85 countries, per the World Health Organization. More than 3,000 people have died.

Two more succumb to coronavirus in U.S., New York declares state of emergency – (Reuters) - Two more people succumbed to the novel coronavirus in Washington state, officials said on Saturday, bringing the nationwide toll to 19, while the number of confirmed cases in New York jumped by 21 overnight and a cruise ship with infected passengers remained stranded outside San Francisco. More than half of all U.S. states have reported cases of the coronavirus, which originated in China last year and causes the sometimes deadly respiratory illness COVID-19. As the outbreak takes root, daily life has become increasingly disrupted, with concerts and conferences canceled and universities telling students to stay home and take classes online. The two latest deaths were in Washington’s King County, the hardest hit area in the United States after the virus spread among residents at a nursing facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland. A team of health workers from the U.S. Public Health Service arrived at the beleaguered LifeCare nursing home on Saturday. The first deaths on the East Coast were announced on Friday, with two people succumbing in Florida. Out in the international waters off California, passengers on a cruise ship that was barred from docking in San Francisco after some aboard tested positive for the novel coronavirus did not know on Saturday when they might be able to step ashore. President Donald Trump said on Friday he would prefer the Grand Princess’s 2,400 passengers and 1,100 crew remain out at sea, but that he would let others decide where she should dock. After 19 crew and two passengers out of 46 tested on the Grand Princess were found to have the virus, Vice President Mike Pence said the ocean liner will be taken to an unspecified non-commercial port where everyone on board will be tested again, and that those “who need to be quarantined will be quarantined” and those who need medical care will receive it.

 U.S. Hospitals Say They’re Ready for Coronavirus. Their Infection Control Violations Say Otherwise. In early February, Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas docked in Bayonne, New Jersey, in need of a hospital. The cruise ship was carrying patients who had traveled from China, where an outbreak of COVID-19 had taken root. Four passengers needed to go somewhere for further medical observation.The obvious next step was University Hospital in Newark, a major academic medical center equipped with isolation rooms. “The hospital is following proper infection control protocols while evaluating these individuals,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. The patients tested negative, but the governor was clear. The state’s first coronavirus cases would go to University.That’s a hospital that has struggled in recent years with a critical skill essential to battling COVID-19: controlling the spread of infection. Less than two years ago, a deadly bacteria made its way through the facility. Three babies in the neonatal intensive care unit got infected and died. Government inspectors cited the hospital for being short of staff; failing to maintain a sanitary environment, including improper hand hygiene and sterilization; and inadequately isolating patients with respiratory conditions. They determined the hospital had put patients in “immediate jeopardy.”    Infection control has been a recurring problem at some of the very hospitals that would likely be called upon to treat COVID-19 patients, a ProPublica review of hundreds of hospital inspection reports found. This raises concerns that they could become hotbeds for disease, putting patients at risk and rendering infected workers unable to care for others. ProPublica analyzed five years of federal hospital inspection reports for these facilities and found violations for infection control failures or other factors that could hamper the response to an outbreak at more than half of them. About 1 in 5 of the facilities had four or more violations; the analysis found more than a hundred overall. It’s not clear by looking at the reports how many of the violations led to patient infections. Problems that get cited on the inspection reports are required to be corrected as part of the regulation process. But it’s also true that inspections only flag a small number of the actual problems in hospitals. American hospitals, overall, are so bad at preventing infections that hospital-acquired infections are considered a leading cause of death in the United States. The hope would be that the sites designated as specialized infection-control centers would do better.

Why State Efforts to Mandate Coronavirus Testing Will Fall Short - To cope with incipient coronavirus outbreaks, Washington and New York have announced emergency directives requiring insurers to cover COVID-19 testing without cost-sharing. The states recognize that the high deductibles and other out-of-pocket payments discourage people from getting tested, which in turn threatens public health.Both states have acted pursuant to laws governing the regulation of insurance. In Washington, for example, the state insurance commissioner is empowered to issue orders addressing “medical coverage to ensure access to care” when the governor declares an emergency. Similarly, New York’s Superintendent of Financial Services says that it will issue an “emergency regulation” to require insurers to cover testing without cost-sharing (though the precise authority to issue that regulation is a little vague).But the directives are more limited in scope than they appear, and will provide no help at all to theapproximately 100 million people nationwide who receive coverage through self-insured employers. As with so many problems that arise in health law, the reason is the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).When Congress adopted ERISA, it wasn’t thinking very hard about health insurance. It was thinking about pension plans, which many employers had chronically underfunded, leaving retired employees high and dry. So Congress adopted ERISA to offer some basic protections for employees. In exchange, Congresspreempted any state laws that “relate to” employee benefit plans.Congress carved out an exception to ERISA’s broad preemptive scope for laws regulating insurance. That’s a domain that’s traditionally been left to the states. Washington and New York can thus tell private insurers—including those that offer employer-sponsored coverage—to abide by their emergency rules.But most people don’t work at firms that actually buy insurance for their employees. Instead, larger firms usually “self-insure,” meaning that they pay for their employees’ health expenses themselves. (Odds are that, if you’re employed, you work at a self-insured firm—61% of people with employer-sponsored coverage do.) And ERISA clarifies that employers, when they self-insure, aren’t to be treated as insurers.The upshot of this convoluted scheme is that the states can’t regulate self-funded employer plans. They’re regulated, instead, by the U.S. Department of Labor under ERISA. But because Congress didn’t think of ERISA as a regulation of health insurance, it didn’t authorize the kind of emergency health regulations that Washington and New York are now drawing on. That’s one reason the federal government has looked so feckless when it’s tried to say that it will guarantee access to testing. Vice President Pence, for example, said yesterday that testing is an “‘essential health benefit,’ which means the test will be covered by health insurance plans, Medicare and Medicaid.” But the EHB rules don’t apply at all to large employers or to Medicare. Even if they did, insurers can (and do!) impose cost-sharing for EHBs, and could do so for a COVID-19 test. It’s a completely meaningless statement.

Why America is so vulnerable to coronavirus - All over the world, governments are scrambling to defend their citizenry from COVID-19, the disease caused by the outbreak of novel coronavirus. So far it seems levels of success have varied; countries like Italy and Iran have struggled so far, while Vietnam and Taiwan have seemingly put forth an efficient and effective response.The United States, where a major outbreak is clearly developing, however, is in a class by itself. America's atrociously inadequate welfare state makes it by far the most vulnerable rich country to a viral pandemic, and the vicious, right-wing ideology of the Republican Party has wrecked the government's ability to manage crises of any kind.The national health care system is of course the most important tool for any country trying to fight off an epidemic — all citizens need to be able to get tested, receive treatment, or be quarantined if necessary. If and when a vaccine is developed, the system needs to distribute it to everyone as fast as possible. That means handing it out for free in locations across the country, and perhaps making it mandatory if uptake is insufficient.The American health care system fails at every one of these tasks. Nearly30 million Americans are uninsured, and a further 44 million are underinsured — meaning they will likely hesitate to go to the doctor if they start developing COVID-19 symptoms. This problem is seriously exacerbated by the rampant predatory profiteering that infects every corner of the health care system. Indeed, responsible citizens who have gone in for tests have already started getting slammed with multi-thousand dollar bills. A father and daughter who were evacuated from China and then forcibly quarantined for several days (luckily they were not infected) went home to find $3,918 in bills. If you are working-class person with a $10,000 deductible (not at all uncommon), going to the doctor simply because you have flu-like symptoms (which is how most cases of COVID-19 are experienced) could very easily send you into bankruptcy. If infected, millions of Americans are likely going to take their chances — and keep spreading the virus. Indeed, U.S. health care is not only by far the worst system among rich countries, it is much worse than that of many middle-income or poorer countries when it comes to confronting a fast-moving epidemic. Distributing a vaccine is not that difficult of a task — World Health Organization workers managed it with smallpox even in desperately poor African countries in the 1970s. You just round up everyone, and give out the shot. But that will be a heavy lift indeed with a health care system geared above all to price-gouge sick people out of as much money as possible. While in theory the government could stand up a one-time free (or cheap) vaccination program, the administration has already ruled that out. "We can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest," said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. That very likely means an eyewateringly-expensive vaccine that tens of millions can't get — we've seen what rapacious pharma companies do with insulin.

Why is customs STILL NOT screening passengers from coronavirus hot-spots Italy, Iran and South Korea who arrive at major airports, including JFK, LAX, Atlanta and Chicago’s O’Hare? - Customs agencies are still not properly screening travelers arriving in the US from coronavirus hot-spot countries Italy, Iran and South Korea, with scores of passengers saying they're able to saunter through major airports like JFK and LAX. On March 1, President Trump vowed that anyone returning from 'high risk countries' would be screened both before they boarded planes and once they had returned to the US. On Monday, Vice President Pence said: 'Anyone traveling on a direct flight to the United States of America receives multiple screenings at all airports in Italy and South Korea.'  But the CDC is only insisting on screening passengers who arrive in the country from China and Iran. As the death toll in the US reached 14 on Friday, many travelers took to Twitter to share stories about returning to America from the high risk countries with minimal to no screening. Many said the only question they were asked was if they had traveled recently to China.  In addition to fears over how flights are being screened, there is growing criticism of the federal government's response to testing. The FDA is yet to approve a test that would be able to tell a person if they had the virus or not within 15 minutes. It is a US test that has been developed by a private company and is already being used in Japan, but is yet to pass grade here.

One slide in a leaked presentation for US hospitals reveals that they’re preparing for millions of hospitalizations as the outbreak unfolds - Hospitals are bracing for millions of Americans to be hospitalized as part of the novel coronavirus outbreak. The American Hospital Association, which represents thousands of hospitals and health systems, hosted a webinar in February with its member hospitals and health systems. Business Insider obtained acopy of the slides presented. The presentation, titled "What healthcare leaders need to know: Preparing for the COVID-19" happened February 26, with representatives from the National Ebola Training and Education Center. As part of the presentation to hospitals, Dr. James Lawler, a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center gave his "best guess" estimates of how much the virus might spread in the US.Lawler's estimates include:

  • 4.8 million hospitalizations associated with the novel coronavirus
  • 96 million cases overall in the US
  • 480,000 deaths
  • Overall, the slide points out that hospitals should prepare for an impact to the system that's 10 times a severe flu season.

Here's the slide: 

Can We Get a Vaccine Early? How the Rich Are Preparing for Coronavirus - One investor may fly to Idaho with or without family. A doctor in a Colorado ski town is soothing wealthy clients who want a cure. And one New Yorker called up the hospital with his name on it. Like everyone across the U.S., the rich are bracing for a deadly coronavirus outbreak. Ken Langone, the co-founder of Home Depot Inc., watched President Donald Trump’s press conference and wondered if the media was overplaying the risk -- but he also made two well-placed phone calls from his winter outpost in North Palm Beach. One was to a top executive of NYU Langone Health, and the other was to a top scientist there. Both were reassuring. “What I’ve been told by people who are smarter than me in disease is, ‘As of right now it’s a bad flu,’” said Langone, an 84-year-old who loves capitalism so much that he wrote a book called “I Love Capitalism!” He plans to come back to New York this month for an appointment. If he happens to feel sick, he will go to NYU Langone, and said he’d expect no special treatment. Some billionaires, bankers and other members of the U.S. elite are calm, others are getting anxious and everyone is washing their hands. But the rich can afford to prepare for a pandemic with perquisites, like private plane rides out of town, calls with world-leading experts and access to luxurious medical care. Tim Kruse, a doctor who makes house calls in Aspen, Colorado, said “the wealthy aren’t going to necessarily have access to things that the common person is not going to have access to.” But that hasn’t stopped them from asking if they can get their hands on a coronavirus vaccine. “The answer is no. They just want to know.”

Coronavirus Porn Is Going Viral on Pornhub - In a video titled "Bodycam Footage (CDC Agent) Investigates Deserted Wuhan," you're watching from the first-person point of view of "Jerry," a healthcare worker in a hazmat suit, stumbling around in the dark remnants of a medical facility. He breathes hard and his heart pounds, and a voice coming from his walkie talkie tries and fails to get him to respond. There's a sudden, brief scuffle, and a woman in a hospital gown jumps him, pulls his erect penis from a hole in his clean suit, and wordlessly fucks him. Globally, the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has killed more than 3,000 people and infected 90,000. The "Deserted Wuhan" video, by a couple who goes by Spicy x Rice, contains a grain of truth: the Chinese city where coronavirus started does actually seem deserted, with public transit halted and residents' movement being restricted for over a month now. Another of their videos, "TSA AGENT DETAINS WOMAN SUSPECTED OF CORONAVIRUS," could be a plausible news headline. If it's true that art imitates life, right now life is pretty shitty for a lot of people around the world. And if there's any form that can turn a fucked-up situation into escape and entertainment, it's porn. So yes, of course coronavirus porn exists. A search for coronavirus on Pornhub returns 112 videos with titles like "MILF In Coronavirus Quarantine Gets Hard Fucked for Medicine" and "Coronavirus patients fuck in quarantine room." On xHamster, there are only four within that search term, and at least one is an older reposted video of people doing nurse roleplay with face masks. But according to xHamster spokesperson Alex Hawkins, following an offer last month to provide free premium accounts to regions severely affected by coronavirus, the overwhelming surge in signups outpaced xHamster's ability to approve new accounts. "We personally know people actually stuck in Wuhan and made it with them in mind." "I think people are attracted to COVID-19 themed porn the same way people who are scared of their shadow are attached to horror movies: We are all searching for things that make us come alive," Spicy, the male half of the Spicy x Rice duo, told me. "COVID-19 is something that brings fear and mystery to pretty much everyone in the world right now... You need to be able to feel something, and what better way to make you feel something than the global crisis we are all in right now."

Coping with the Costs of Treating Coronavirus - The coronavirus isn’t the apocalypse, but it’s bad, with effects that are plausibly on the order of an awful year of seasonal flu and a small risk of something like the 1918 flu.Comparing COVID-19 to annual flu might not sound terrible until you remember that flu kills between 12,000 and 61,000 people every year. Plus, we’ve designed our medical infrastructure to cope with the flu. Insurance premiums reflect the risk of flu. Likewise, ICUs have been built and ventilators purchased to accommodate annual surges in patients. We’ve trained the workforce in flu-specific infection control protocols to prevent spread and to protect health-care workers.What we can’t manage is flu plus coronavirus. The combination will place an enormous demand shock on a system that can’t quickly adapt. And throwing money at the supply side of the problem—building temporary acute-care hospitals in urban areas, training new people, paying for new therapies that come on-line—will be especially hard if the world slides into a recession.A demand shock plus supply constraints mean that we will inevitably ration care. That’s what we saw in Wuhan, that’s what we’ll see here. And we will probably do so haphazardly and unjustly. An urgent priority is to come up with ways to ration rationally and fairly.Which brings me back to the rough cost model that David States, Bill Gardner, and I posted on Tuesday. An antiviral, if one is developed, could possibly cost us $40 billion or more, at an estimated price tag of $20,000 per course of treatment. But we assumed that 19% of the U.S. population becomes infected and that only the very sick are treated. Either assumption could low-ball actual need. Regardless, these aren’t manageable costs for employers and private insurers. Reinsurers will groan under the expense. Medicaid, too, will struggle. The states can’t deficit spend like the federal government can, meaning that any dollar spent on an antiviral is a dollar less spent on something else. As they did with the new Hep C antivirals, states may have little choice but to adopt unlawful barriers to care to spread the costs over multiple years.

According to the WHO, Coronavirus Is WORSE Than the Spanish Flu … Which Killed Tens of Millions of People - The World Health Organization (WHO) says that the mortality rate from the Wuhan Coronavirus (formally known as 2019 nCoV) is 3.4% globally.The Spanish Flu of 1918 – which killed between tens of millions of people – had a lower mortality rate, estimated by the WHO as between 2 and 3%. But surely, you say, the Coronavirus is not as contagious as the Spanish Flu … Unfortunately, it’s more contagious.  The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy notes: The novel coronavirus has an R0 of 2.2, meaning each case patient could infect more than 2 other people. If accurate, this makes the 2019 nCoV more infectious than the 1918 influenza pandemic virus, which had an R0 of Based on calculations, the authors of the larger study estimate the novel coronavirus has an R0 of 2.2, meaning each case patient could infect more than 2 other people. If accurate, this makes the 2019 nCoV more infectious than the 1918 influenza pandemic virus, which had an R0 of 1.80 ….WHO says that the R0 of Coronavirus in China was initially between 2 and 2.5.< But scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory said that the R0 for the Coronavirus is actually between 4.7 to 6.6 (although that number drops to between 2.3 and 3 after quarantines and social distancing are implemented).According to the Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and others, Coronavirus can be spread even when people have no symptoms. On the one hand, this is bad news, as it is very hard to screen and locate carriers when they are symptom-free or have only mild, cold or flu-like symptoms.On the other hand, this means that the real R0 might be much higher than WHO estimates … which would make the mortality rate lower.If the number of people with Coronavirus is a lot higher than is being reported, that means the mortality is a lot lower … i.e. a smaller percentage of the larger population of people infected have died.   Indeed, China only tests a portion of those who are really sick, and the United States has tested less than 500 people total for Coronavirus (American doctors have to beg to get their sick patients tested).

Coronavirus kills at more than 20 times the rate of seasonal flu - The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Tuesday that the mortality rate for reported cases of COVID-19 has risen to 3.4 percent, based on the ratio of the current number of deaths caused by the virus to the confirmed infections. At the time of the announcement, those figures stood at 3,254 and 95,184, respectively. The coronavirus fatality rate is more than 20 times the death rate of the seasonal flu, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—a stark measure of the dangers the novel coronavirus poses to the world’s population. This number is an increase over early estimates of the mortality rate by the WHO at just above 2 percent. It reflects the spread of the coronavirus to 83 countries and territories outside of China. The fatality ratio has stayed relatively constant since February 25, even as new cases and new deaths have been confirmed. It is unclear whether the current mortality rate will hold or change in the coming days. One of the many causes of the spread of COVID-19 is the fact that workers are unable to take sick days, even when exhibiting symptoms of the infection. Chipotle workers in New York City yesterday held a protest against the fast food chain demanding that the company stop forcing workers to work while sick, especially in light of the spread of the coronavirus in the state. They exposed retaliation by the company against workers who stayed home to recover and prevent the spread of the disease in spite of orders by management. Questions are also being raised as to whether a vaccine will reduce the impact of the disease, especially if it is not distributed freely. Asked at a congressional hearing last week to guarantee that once a vaccine against the virus is developed it will be available to all, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive, refused. “We would want to ensure that we worked to make it affordable,” he said, “but we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest. Price controls won’t get us there.” As the spread of the coronavirus continues, the WHO is very concerned that the medical supplies necessary to combat the disease could run out. A statement issued by the organization on March 3 warned that “supplies are rapidly depleting.” It said the medical industry had to increase manufacturing by 40 percent if the demands placed upon the world’s health care infrastructure by the pandemic were to be met. In raw numbers, the world needs 89 million medical masks, 76 million examination gloves, 30 million gowns, 1.6 million goggles and 2.9 million liters of hand sanitizer each month until the pandemic is contained. The WHO has also called for “the rational and appropriate use of personal protective equipment in healthcare settings, and the effective management of supply chains,” after prices for gowns doubled, respirators tripled and surgical masks increased six-fold.

What Doctors Treating Covid-19 in Wuhan Say About Coronavirus - As the new coronavirus epidemic spreads across the globe, experts are turning to findings from China, where it originated, to better understand the disease. Since January, doctors at the outbreak’s epicenter in Wuhan have been studying the virus whose effects are mostly mild but can occasionally turn deadly.Medical professionals who have been treating and studying Covid-19 patients in Wuhan shared their insights with reporters in Beijing on Wednesday. Here are three observations from the doctors.Anecdotal reports that the novel coronavirus may have a long incubation have stoked fears that carriers can go undetected and unknowingly infect others. Local authorities in another city in Hubei -- the same province that Wuhan belongs to -- reported on Feb. 22 that a 70-year-old man was infected by the virus but only showed symptoms 27 days later.“From most of the publications right now the median incubation period is five to seven days, with the longest incubation period as 14 days,” said Du Bin, a member of China’s team of experts overseeing coronavirus treatment. “There’s no data showing that an incubation period longer than 14 days ever existed.” In some patients, the onset of the virus happened very slowly with only a mild fever before their conditions deteriorated rapidly 10 days later, according to Li Haichao, deputy director of the respiratory department at the First Hospital of Peking University. There’s also no evidence so far that people who have recovered and later test positive again for the virus can pass it on to others, according to Du, who is also the director of intensive care unit for internal medicine at Peking Union Medical College Hospital. On Thursday, Chinese media The Paper reported that a man in Wuhan who had recovered from Covid-19 and tested negative for the virus died less than a week later from the infection. The report was later removed from the internet.

Coronavirus latest: global infections pass 90,000 - The number of people worldwide who have been infected with the coronavirus has passed 90,000. More than 3,000 have died since the outbreak began in December. The vast majority of cases — more than 80,000 — have occurred in China, but around 60 other countries are now also dealing with outbreaks. Many nations are preparing for a global pandemic, as reports of cases caused by spread within communities — rather than being imported from China — rise. South Korea, Italy and Iran are fighting the largest outbreaks outside China. At a press briefing on 29 February, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it had raised the global alert for COVID-19 to the highest possible level, short of calling it a pandemic. The virus has now spread to some 60 locations outside China, with new cases detected in Ireland, Monaco, Azerbaijan, Qatar and Ecuador.The global alert for the spread and impact of the coronavirus outbreak increased from ‘high’ to ‘very high’. The alert remains ‘very high’ in China.The global change was based on an assessment by WHO epidemiologists, which took into account the continued increase in the number of cases and affected locations, and the difficulties that some regions, including Iran and Italy, are facing in containing the spread of the coronavirus.Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said at the briefing that most cases were linked and could still be traced to known contacts or clusters, with no evidence of the virus spreading freely in communities. “As long as that is the case, we still have a chance of containing this virus, if robust action is taken to detect cases early, isolate and care for patients and trace contacts,” said Tedros.The organization therefore once again resisted declaring the outbreak a pandemic. Mike Ryan, director of the WHO’s emergencies programme, said that such a decision would mean that efforts to contain and slow down the spread of the virus have failed, which has proved to be untrue in China, Singapore and other regions.

South Korea virus total nears 6,000 - South Korea's total number of novel coronavirus cases -- the largest outside China, where the disease first emerged -- approached 6,000 on Thursday as authorities announced a ban on face mask exports. Total infections stood at 5,766, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, up 145, with 35 deaths. Australia announced Thursday it would impose an entry ban on foreigners who have recently been in South Korea, joining 36 countries and regions that have taken similar measures so far according to the foreign ministry in Seoul. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said face mask exports would be banned from Friday. Masks have become standard wear throughout South Korea and demand has surged, with long queues forming as authorities struggle to ensure a sufficient supply. "Most people are spending hours queueing," Chung told a meeting in Daegu, the centre of the epidemic in South Korea, where he is leading the government response. Nearly 90 percent of South Korea's cases are in Daegu -- with more than 4,300 cases confirmed there -- and the neighbouring North Gyeongsang province. President Moon Jae-in announced a 30-trillion-won ($25-billion) package earlier this week to address the "grave" situation brought on by the outbreak in the world's 12th-largest economy. Scores of events -- from K-pop concerts to sports seasons -- have been cancelled or postponed over the contagion, with school and kindergarten breaks extended by three weeks nationwide.

China is recording so few new coronavirus infections that South Korea looks like the new center of the epidemic - The number of daily coronavirus cases reported by China has largely been in decline for about a week — and it means South Korea now appears to be the new center of the epidemic.South Korea reported 760 new cases on Thursday, compared withChina's 139 new cases.Though China still has the most active cases of the novel coronavirus of any country, the pace of its spread has slowed sharply, while the number of recoveries has soared.At the same time, South Korea has become the second-most-infected country, experiencing a spread far more rapid than in China, where the virus first appeared late last year.South Korea's first virus case was on January 20. As of Thursday, it had 6,088 cases and 37 deaths.People in line to buy face masks in front of a store at Dongseongro shopping district in Daegu on February 27.  In absolute terms, China is still by far the most affected country,with 80,409 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a death toll of 3,012. On Thursday its number of new cases went up slightly, with 139 additional infections compared to 130 on Wednesday.Overall, the gap between China and other countries continues to narrow.Elsewhere, Italy and Iran have the highest number of deaths outside China, with 107 and 92 deaths respectively.Italy has recorded 3,090 cases, and Iran 2,922.But case numbers and death toll in Iran are subject to some doubtafter apparent efforts by authorities there to hide the scale of the outbreak. Globally, more than 95,000 people have been infected and nearly 3,300 have died.

Coronavirus live updates: South Korea cases cross 6,700, Facebook temporarily bans face mask ads - South Korea reported 483 new cases, bringing its total to 6,767 cases. There were two more deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 44. China's National Health Commission reported 99 new confirmed cases as of March 6, and 28 more deaths. Of the new cases, 74 were from the epicenter of Hubei, and all 28 of the deaths were from that province. That brings the country's total to 80,651 confirmed cases, and 3,070 deaths.

  • Global cases: At least 102,169, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
  • Global deaths: At least 3,491, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Facebook is temporarily banning ads and commerce listings selling medical face masks. The social media giant said it will begin to enforce the temporary ban on these type of ads "over the next few days." The policy change comes one day after a company spokesman told CNBC that Facebook will remove political ads posted on its service if they contain misinformation related to the new coronavirus.   The Florida Department of Health said two residents have died. One person was a new presumptive positive case in Lee County, the department said. The other person was a previously announced presumptive positive case from Santa Rosa County.   The number of coronavirus cases in New York state has quadrupled over the last 48 hours to 44, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday. "The number will continue to go up because it's mathematics," Cuomo said at a news briefing. "The more you test, the more you will find." Cuomo used Twitter to revise the state's case count from 33 released earlier Friday to 44. The state reported 11 cases Wednesday evening, 22 on Thursday, 33 Friday afternoon  and 44 Friday evening — a fourfold increase over the previous 48 hours. There are roughly 2,700 people in New York City under 'precautionary quarantine' with more than 1,000 others also in voluntary isolation across the state, Cuomo said.  Vice President Mike Pence on Friday said 21 people on the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California have tested positive for coronavirus. The ship will be brought to a non-commercial port, Pence said, and everyone aboard the ship will be tested. He did not say which port the ship will go toward or when it is expected to arrive.Of the 21 people who tested positive, he added, 19 are crew members and two are passengers. Pence said health officials tested only 46 people aboard the ship.The ship, which was on a two-week voyage to Hawaii, was ordered to return early to San Francisco, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday, adding that passengers and crew have developed symptoms. A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that three passengers who were previously on the ship have tested positive, including one who has died.

Silver Linings Playbook- 119 People Quarantined In A Brothel In Spain - Of all the places to be quarantined, a brothel in Valencia, Spain, might not be the worst. You've got booze, you've likely got a small buffet of fried foods and you've got entertainment. But in all seriousness, that was exactly the case a day ago when authorities found that a woman working at the "La Selva Negra" brothel had tested positive for coronavirus. The findings forced authorities to quarantine the premises and the 86 customers that were inside. The employee, who is now in the hospital, had "slept with several clients that same night," according to a translated blog post on the story. In addition to the customers, the club's owners, waitresses, security and cleaning crew were also quarantined. When added to the total of 86 customers, it makes 119 people under quarantine. They have been asked to "keep calm" and to just "live a normal life" inside the premises.

Italy coronavirus death toll to 107, 3,089 cases: Live updates --Governments around the world are scrambling to contain the spread of COVID-19, which is growing globally even as transmission in China, where the virus originated at the end of last year, continues to show signs of slowing within the country. There are more than 93,000 cases around the world - the overwhelming majority in China - but as deaths are reported in Italy, Iran and the United States, authorities are considering new quarantine zones and travel restrictions. As the number of deaths rose in Iran and Italy, Poland, Morocco, Andorra, Armenia and Argentina all confirmed their first cases of the virus in the past 24 hours.Professional football matches and other big sporting events will take place without fans present until April 3 said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. The preventive measure is part of a new decree issued by the government hoping to prevent a further spread of the virus which has caused 3,089 infected cases and 107 fatalities in the country. Conte posted a five-minute video on his Facebook page, reassuring viewers and saying that the decree was a way of assuring "responsible behaviour."He said banning crowds at sporting events would help "prevent further opportunities of infection."

Italy Shuts All Schools to Stem Spread of Coronavirus – WSJ - Italy’s government ordered all schools in the country to close until March 15, as part of an escalating effort to contain the worst coronavirus outbreak outside Asia. The closure, announced Wednesday, expands a school suspension already in place in northern Italy and will force some 8.4 million students across the country to stay at home. Teachers are encouraged to give lessons remotely. Universities are closing too. The government also unveiled other measures that include spectator-free soccer matches and other bans on public gatherings across the country, including in cinemas and theaters, until April 3. Officials have even appealed to Italians not to hug and kiss when they meet. Senior citizens are encouraged to stay at home. “We’re focused on adopting all measures to contain or slow down the virus, because we have a health-care system that, however good and efficient it may be, risks being overloaded,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said. Italy’s mounting shutdowns and restrictions reflect growing concern that the country is so far failing to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Italian authorities said Wednesday the number of infected people had risen to 3,089, up 23% from 2,502 on Tuesday. Of those, 107 had died by Wednesday, up from a total of 79 deaths by Tuesday, while 276 people had fully recovered. Only China, South Korea and Iran have more confirmed infections. Italian authorities had already imposed restrictions in swaths of the country’s north, closing schools, universities, museums and churches while banning public gatherings such as at soccer matches and fashion shows. Clusters of towns at the heart of the outbreak were sealed off by police and army roadblocks, especially in a rural area south of Milan. But the measures, imposed after Italy discovered the outbreak on Feb. 20, haven’t stopped infections from spreading around the country and into the rest of Europe. Health experts say the only way to contain the outbreak is to limit social interactions as much as possible.

Death toll from coronavirus in Italy rises to 148: Live updates  -- Italy reported 41 new deaths from coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the death toll to 148, the second highest outside of China, where just over 3,000 people have died since the outbreak began in December. The virus has reached all 22 regions of Italy, and prompted Rome to take unprecedented measures, including suspending all schools and universities and unveiling an $8.4-billion rescue plan. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom reported its first death from coronavirus on Thursday, an elderly person with underlying health conditions, while Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and South Africa reported their first cases.  In the United States, Congress has voted for a $8.3bn emergency funding package to fight the coronavirus as the death toll rose to 11.   Globally, more than 95,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the vast majority in China. The Palestinian government confirmed the number of coronavirus cases in the occupied West Bank had risen to seven and declared a two-week ban on tourists visiting cities and sites including Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. The health ministry said the cases had been confirmed in the Bethlehem area south of Jerusalem. Three more people have died from coronavirus infection in France on Thursday, taking the total to seven, while the number of confirmed infections rose by 138 to 423, a health official said.A total of 23 people are in a very serious condition, health a gency director Jerome Salomon said at a daily briefing about the virus. Saudi Arabia denounced Iran for granting Saudi citizens entry amid the coronavirus outbreak and urged it to reveal the identities of all Saudi nationals who had visited since the start of February, a government statement said.  The statement, which cited an unnamed official, urged Saudi citizens who are currently in Iran or have returned recently to report their travel, promising if they did so in 48 hours they would not be subjected to a law forbidding travel to Iran, according to Reuters news agency.

Italy coronavirus deaths near 200 after biggest daily jump -(Reuters) - The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has risen by 49 to 197, the Civil Protection Agency said on Friday, the largest daily increase in fatalities since the contagion was uncovered two weeks ago. Italy is currently reporting more deaths per day from the virus than any other country in the world and the government this week ordered the closure of schools, universities, cinemas and theaters around the country to try to stem the infections. The cumulative number of cases in the country, which has been the hardest hit in Europe by the epidemic, totaled 4,636 compared with 3,858 on Thursday. China, where the outbreak began, had 80,711 confirmed cases and 3,045 cumulative cases, 30 of them reported on Friday by the World Health Organisation. The Vatican, an independent state that sits in the heart of Rome, registered its first case on Friday. The national health institute said the average age of those who had died so far was 81, with the vast majority suffering underlying health problems. Just 28% were women. The fatality rate from the illness in Italy, which has one of the oldest populations in the world, is running at 4.25%, higher than in most other countries. In a worrying sign for hard-pressed hospitals, the number of patients in intensive care rose more than 30% on Friday to 462. On a more positive note, some 523 people have fully recovered, authorities said, an increase of 26% on the previous tally. Analysts say the crisis will push Italy’s fragile economy into its fourth recession in 12 years. Credit ratings agency Moody’s on Friday cut its growth forecast for the country to -0.5% in 2020, from a previous +0.5% estimate.

Italy set to lock down Lombardy after coronavirus jump - (Reuters) - Italy is set to lock down its wealthiest and most populous region, which includes the financial capital Milan, as part of tough new measures expected to be approved on Saturday to try to contain the coronavirus outbreak.  The new rules include telling people not to enter or leave Lombardy, which is home to some 10 million people, as well as 11 provinces in four of Italy’s 19 other regions, according to a draft decree seen by Reuters. All museums, gyms, cultural centers, ski resorts and swimming pools will be shut in the targeted areas, according to the decree, which is due to come into force from Sunday. The legislation is expected to be approved later on Saturday, the head of the civil protection agency said earlier, after the number of coronavirus infections jumped by more than 1,200 in the past 24 hours. Leave will be canceled for all healthcare workers, weddings, funerals and sports events suspended, and home working should be adopted as much as possible, the draft said. The 11 provinces affected are those around Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia and Rimini in the region of Emilia-Romagna - Venice, Padua and Treviso in the region of Veneto - Asti and Alessandria in Piedmont - and the province of Pesaro and Urbino in the central region of Marche. All schools and universities will be closed in Lombardy and the listed provinces until at least April 3. This week, the government announced schools all over the country would be closed until March 15.

German coronavirus cases jump, economic nervousness rises - (Reuters) - The number of coronavirus patients in Germany jumped to 684 on Saturday, with concern growing at the economic impact of the spreading epidemic on one of the world’s most trade-dependent economies. The number of patients recorded by the Robert Koch Institute had risen by 45, with large clusters in the west and south, where one initial outbreak centered on a car supplier with a unit in Wuhan, where the infection was first detected. The total is more than 10 times larger than it was a week ago. There were 66 cases in Feb. 29. Western Europe’s most populous country, Germany has the second largest number of registered cases on the continent after Italy. So far, no deaths have been reported, though the RND newspaper group reported that a transplant patient with a depressed immune system and who had contracted coronavirus was in a critical condition. With concern growing at the vulnerability of long international supply chains to such an epidemic, Ola Kallenius, chief executive of Mercedes maker Daimler, warned against a return to economic nationalism. “These events show how fragile global supply chains are,” he told Der Spiegel magazine. “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.” “We can’t yet say what the impact will be, but it is clear that both production and sales will be affected,” he added. Lufthansa, Europe’s largest airline group by fleet size, on Friday announced that it was slashing by half the number of flights it would operate in coming weeks as a result of the sudden slackening in demand.

Coronavirus: Iran temporarily frees 54,000 prisoners to combat spread Iran has temporarily released more than 54,000 prisoners in an effort to combat the spread of the new coronavirus disease in crowded jails. Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told reporters the inmates were allowed out of prison after testing negative for Covid-19 and posting bail. "Security prisoners" sentenced to more than five years will not be let out. The jailed British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe may be freed soon, according to a British MP. Tulip Siddiq cited the Iranian ambassador to the UK as saying that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe "may be released on furlough today or tomorrow". Her husband said on Saturday that he believed she had contracted Covid-19 at Tehran's Evin prison and that authorities were refusing to test her. But Mr Esmaili insisted on Monday that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had subsequently been in contact with her family and "told them about her good health". Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed for five years in 2016 after being convicted of espionage charges that she has denied. The UK has also insisted she is innocent. A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We call on the Iranian government to immediately allow health professionals into Evin prison to assess the situation of British-Iranian dual nationals there."

Iran reports 2,336 cases of the new coronavirus, at least 77 dead; MPs hit hard - Iran on Tuesday announced new measures to slow the spread of the new coronavirus and reported that the country has seen 2,336 cases and 77 deaths since the outbreak. An Iranian lawmaker reportedly has told colleagues to stop their contact with public as there are 23 cases of the new coronavirus among parliament members. That's according to lawmaker Abdolreza Mesri, who was quoted by Iranian state television's Young Journalists Club program. Iran’s supreme leader earlier on Tuesday ordered the Islamic Republic’s armed forces to assist its Health Ministry in combating the spread of the new coronavirus.The decision by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei comes as Iran has seen the highest death toll from the new virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes outside of China, the epicenter of the virus. After downplaying the coronavirus as recently as last week, Iranian authorities now say they have plans to potentially mobilize 300,000 soldiers and volunteers to confront the virus. Concern over the outbreak now stretches to Iran's top leadership — some of whom have fallen ill from the virus.

8% of Iran’s parliament has tested positive for coronavirus, official says -  Twenty-three members of Iran’s 290-member “Majlis” or parliament have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to Iran’s Deputy Parliament Speaker Abdul Reza Misri. That's about about 8% of all members of parliament. Misri made the announcement while speaking to reporters in Tehran today, citing an open letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei from Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani. In the letter, MPs were also called on to halt contact with the public to avoid further spread of the disease. Larijani also advocated for a continuance of the suspension of open sessions in parliament in his open letter to Khamenei, which was enacted last week amid Iran’s growing outbreak.

Virus ravaging Iran kills confidant of its supreme leader(AP) — A member of a council that advises Iran’s supreme leader died Monday from the new coronavirus, becoming the highest-ranking official within the Islamic Republic’s Shiite theocracy to be killed by the illness ravaging the country. The death of Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi came as Iran announced the virus had killed at least 66 people among 1,501 confirmed cases. There are now 1,700 cases of the new coronavirus across the Mideast. Of those outside Iran, most link back to the Islamic Republic, which after China has the highest death toll from the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus. After downplaying the coronavirus as recently as last week, Iranian authorities now say they have plans to potentially mobilize 300,000 soldiers and volunteers to confront the virus. Yet experts still worry Iran’s percentage of deaths to infections, now around 4.4%, is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be much higher than current figures show. Saudi Arabia and Jordan meanwhile announced their first cases of the virus Monday. Mirmohammadi, 71, died at a north Tehran hospital of the virus, state media said. His mother had reportedly died of the coronavirus in recent days as well. Mirmohammadi, though not particularly well-known to the Iranian public, served as a top official in the presidencies of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ali Khamenei, now the country’s supreme leader. The state-run IRNA news agency described Mirmohammadi, whose father also once served on the Expediency Council, as having a close relationship to Khamenei. The Expediency Council advises the supreme leader, as well as settles disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog that also oversees the country’s elections. The 45-member Expediency Council, which also includes former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and officials close to Khamenei, last met in February with Mirmohammadi on hand.

Coronavirus: Iran limits travel and urges banknote avoidance - Iran is limiting travel between its major cities as it tries to halt the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed at least 107 people there. The country has already shut schools until April, and Health Minister Saeed Namaki said people should not use the break as an opportunity to travel. He also urged Iranians to reduce the use of paper banknotes. The measures come as the World Health Organization warned some countries were not doing enough to stop the virus. But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted containment was still possible, adding: "This is not a time to give up." Iran is one of the worst-hit countries outside China, where the Covid-19 virus - which causes the coronavirus disease - originated. The country's official death toll on Thursday rose by 15 to 107, and the number of confirmed cases increased by 591 to 3,513. But state news agency Irna said the number of dead could be higher, citing data from medical universities. The data did not include statistics from the capital Tehran and Gilan province - two of the hardest-hit areas. The toll there was listed as "unknown", Irna said. Last month sources in the country's health system told BBC Persian the death toll was at least 210, with most victims in Tehran and the holy city of Qom. Mr Namaki said checkpoints would go up to limit travel between major cities. Worldwide, authorities have confirmed more than 92,000 cases of the virus, of which more than 80,000 are in China. More than 3,000 people have died globally, the vast majority of them in China.

Iran minister accuses 'some countries' of not declaring their coronavirus cases - Iran’s oil minister has hit out at other countries for not declaring confirmed cases of the coronavirus.The accuracy of the Islamic Republic’s data on the outbreak has been called into question, with 3,513 cases and 107 deaths confirmed by the country so far.But Bijan Namdar Zangeneh told reporters ahead of Friday’s OPEC meeting in Vienna: “I believe that we are announcing and declaring our situation and some countries don’t say anything about their situation.”While it is not clear which specific countries he was referring to, both Turkey and North Korea have been under scrutiny for claiming they have no diagnosed cases.Zanganeh also criticized the U.S., claiming broader sanctions on Iranian goods and services were preventing the country from accessing vital food and medicine for its citizens.He said Iran has not “received any important assistance from any country” and accused U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of “lying.” Pompeo told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week that the U.S. had made offers of humanitarian assistance to help Iran contain the outbreak.“Food, oil, oil products, petrochemicals, iron, copper — all are under the sanction. With which money can we buy food and drugs for the Iranian people?” Zanganeh said on Friday.In 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal which had lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran, in exchange for curbs to Iranian nuclear infrastructure. The U.S. has since imposed a raft of further sanctions on Iranian exports as it seeks to rein in Iranian nuclear development and alleged regional acts of aggression.

Coronavirus: Iran holy-shrine-lickers face prison  - Two men in Iran who defied coronavirus health warnings could be jailed and flogged after videos circulated of them licking holy shrines. In one of the videos, viewed more than a million times on Instagram, a man is seen at the Masumeh shrine in Qom, saying, "I'm not scared of coronavirus", before licking and kissing the gates. In another video at a shrine in Mashhad a man is filmed saying he is there to lick the shrine, "so the disease can go inside my body and others can visit it with no anxiety".MP Hasan Nowrozi said: "Those doing such unconventional acts are publishing fake and superstitious news against the officials in the country."Such people would face two months to two years [in] jail and up to 74 lashes as punishment."The arrests come after videos of the men were shared on social media by Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad."Arresting these two people is not enough as the religious centres are still open in Qom and other cities where people are suffering from coronavirus" she told the BBC.Iran has recorded one of the highest numbers of coronavirus cases outside China.While some measures have been taken to protect visitors - such as disinfecting holy shrines - there hasn't been an outright closure of the sites. Some religious clerics believe the shrines, including the Masumeh shrine in Qom, have divine powers that can cure diseases.

Coronavirus deaths rise to 145 in Iran, infections near 6,000: ministry - (Reuters) - Iran’s death toll from coronavirus reached 145 on Saturday after another 21 people were confirmed to have died during the last day, among them a conservative lawmaker from Tehran, officials and local news agencies said. Announcing the latest deaths from the virus, a health ministry official said in a televised briefing that the tally of confirmed infections had increased by more than 1,000 during the last 24 hours, totaling 5,823 by Saturday. Lawmaker Fatehmeh Rahbar was among those who died on Friday, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, in another sign that the disease is spreading within state institutions. On March 2, Tasnim reported the death of Mohammad Mirmohammadi. He was a member of the Expediency Council, an entity that resolves disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council — a hardline body responsible for vetting electoral candidates. Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi and another member of parliament, Mahmoud Sadeghi, have said they have also contracted the virus. As authorities work to contain the outbreak, Iran’s Mosque Authority postponed all gatherings and celebrations until further notice, the Mehr news agency said. Iran is the epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East as most of the cases reported in the region are either people who were in Iran or who caught the virus from people who had visited the country.

 Unparalleled Disruption - 290 Million Students Around The World Face Weeks At Home - Nearly 300 million students worldwide are enjoying an unexpected vacation as they face weeks at home, with Italy the latest country to shut schools over the deadly new coronavirus. According to Unesco, 290.5 million children in 13 countries were affected, while a further nine nations have implemented localised closures, the SCMP reported. "The global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education.” Unesco chief Audrey Azoulay said. On Wednesday, Italy ordered schools and universities closed until March 15, ramping up its response as the national death toll rose to 107, the deadliest outbreak outside China. South Korea – the country with the largest number of cases outside China with nearly 6,000 – has postponed the start of the current term until March 23. In Hong Kong schools are closed until at least April 20, while in Japan nearly all schools are closed after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for classes to be cancelled through March and spring break, slated for late March through early April. Some 120 schools closed in France this week in areas with the largest numbers of infections. In Germany, the health minister said the outbreak was now a “global pandemic” – a term the World Health Organisation has stopped short of using – meaning the virus is spreading in several regions through local transmission.

Shanghai tightens airport checks as imported virus infections in China jump - (Reuters) - Shanghai increased airport screening on Saturday as imported coronavirus infections from countries such as Italy and Iran emerge as the biggest source of new cases in China outside Hubei, the province where the outbreak originated. Mainland China had 99 new confirmed cases on Friday, according to official data. Of the 25 that were outside Hubei, 24 came from outside China. Shanghai, which had three new cases that originated from abroad on Friday, said it would step up control measures at the border, which had become “the main battlefield”. At a news conference, Shanghai Customs officials said they city would check all passengers from seriously affected countries for the virus, among other airport measures. Shanghai already requires passengers flying in from such countries, regardless of nationality, to be quarantined for 14 days. They will now be escorted home in vehicles provided by the government. Tighter screening has greatly lengthened waiting times at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport - some passengers say they have had to wait as long as seven hours. The Shanghai government vowed on Saturday to severely punish passengers who concealed infections. Beijing police said on Saturday they would work with other departments to prevent imported infections. They said some members of a Chinese family flying in from Italy on March 4 had failed to fill in health declarations accurately, and later tested positive for the virus.

Seoul furious as Tokyo quarantines Korean visitors -- Tokyo’s Covid-19 countermeasures have sparked anger and a diplomatic dispute with Seoul.Even a global health scare is not enough to keep one of Asia’s most virulent enmities quiet for long, as, on Friday, a diplomatic dispute flared up between South Korea and Japan after Japan said that it would quarantine arriving Chinese and South Korean travelers.Tokyo’s plan triggered an angry response from South Korea on Friday, with comments from both the Foreign Ministry and the National Security Council warning that Seoul might take “corresponding measures.”Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called, before a cabinet-level task force late Thursday, for visitors from the two countries to undergo a two-week quarantine. According to Japanese media, the measures – which also include restricting flights from the two countries to just two airports nationwide and suspended visas issues to Chinese and South Korean nationals – take effect from March 9 to March 31.On Friday, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha summoned Japanese Ambassador to Korea Tomita Koji.It is “extremely regrettable” that Tokyo had “enforced the measures without prior notice,” Kang said, according to a press release from her ministry. “These measures are unfriendly and unscientific,” she said. Kang also said that if Japan did not withdraw the measures, Korea would be forced to “come up with necessary countermeasures, including reciprocal measures.” China and South Korea are leading the world in numbers of identified Covid-19 cases. As of Friday, China reported 80,555 while Korea saw 6,593 cases. Japan, meanwhile, reports just 360, according to the interactive virus map collated by John Hopkins University.

Japanese Official Says Olympics Can Be Postponed As Virus Fears Surge - A week after Japan started canceling sport and cultural events amid the broadening of the Covid-19 outbreak,  Seiko Hashitomo, Japan’s Olympic minister, raised the very real prospect of postponing The Olympic Games. With deaths and cases soaring in Japan (now at almost 300 cases - ex Diamond Princess - and 12 deaths, though the numbers are widely questioned), Fox News reports that Hashimoto told the upper house of parliament: “The IOC has the right to cancel the Games only if they are not held during 2020,” she said. “This can be interpreted to mean the games can be postponed as long as they are held during the calendar year.” Asked whether she believed the Games would be held if the coronavirus outbreak worsened, she replied:“We are making the utmost effort so that we don’t have to face that situation.”

China’s coronavirus recovery is ‘all fake,’ whistleblowers and residents claim - China's claims of how it's handling coronavirus recovery should be taken with more than a few grains of salt. Even before COVID-19 became a global crisis, Chinese leaders had been criticized for their handling of the situation and lack of transparency about the disease's progression. Things now look like they're on the upswing, and businesses even appear to be headed back to work — but whistleblowers and local officials tell Caixan that's just a carefully crafted ruse. Beijing has spent much of the outbreak pushing districts to carry on business as usual, with some local governments subsidizing electricity costs and even installing mandatory productivity quotas. Zhejiang, a province east of the epicenter city of Wuhan, claimed as of Feb. 24 it had restored 98.6 percent of its pre-coronavirus work capacity. But civil servants tell Caixan that businesses are actually faking these numbers. Beijing had started checking Zhejiang businesses' electricity consumption levels, so district officials ordered the companies to start leaving their lights and machinery on all day to drive the numbers up, one civil servant said. Businesses have reportedly falsified staff attendance logs as well — they "would rather waste a small amount of money on power than irritate local officials," Caixan writes. In Wuhan, officials have tried to make it appear that recovery efforts are going smoothly. But when "central leaders" personally survey disinfecting regimens and food delivery, local officials "make a special effort" for them and them alone, one resident told Caixan. And in a video circulating on social media, residents can be seen shouting at visiting leaders from the apartments where they're being quarantined — "Fake, it's all fake." 

World Health Organization warns of need for urgent response as coronavirus cases surpass 100,000 - The number of cases caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have now surpassed 100,000, while the death toll has increased to nearly 3,500. It is now at least 12 times as infectious and has killed more than four times as many people as the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak and is continuing to spread at an alarming rate.“This is not a drill,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, in a press conference Thursday. “This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops.” Dr. Ghebreyesus’s remarks came as new cases in mainland China reached new lows while new cases outside the country continued to spike. There have been fewer than 200 new cases in Wuhan, the origin of the epidemic, for the past five days, while there have been more than 2,000 new cases each day since March 2. If the current trends continue, the total number of cases outside China will surge past the number of cases within China by the end of the month.The spread of the virus has now reached 97 countries, prompting many major social and cultural events to shut down. Germany’s second largest book fair, held in Leipzig, has been canceled because of coronavirus fears. The annual tech, music and film festival SXSW in Austin will also not be held this year, which will cost the city hundreds of millions in tourism, ticket sales and other revenue. The American Physical Society last week canceled its annual meeting with only 34 hours of notice, leaving a large section of its 10,000 members, including many graduate students, with the costs of a wasted plane ticket. It has also caused several doctors to work themselves to exhaustion and even death. The Los Angeles Times reported that, as of Monday, there have been 18 deaths among medical workers caring for Covid-19 patients. This includes some who have died directly from the virus and others, such as 28-year-old pharmacist Song Yingjie, who worked at a highway stop for 10 consecutive days and then died from cardiac arrest induced by exhaustion. In another incident, Dr. Xu Hui laid down “and never got up” after caring for patients for 18 days straight. Three thousand medical staff in China have been infected so far and dozens more in other countries.

Covid-19 Infection Rates - The graph shows the number of cases of Covid-19 as a fraction of national population, for some countries of interest.  The data are from the World Health Organization, except for the US data which is from the NYT.  The data may not all be reliable (eg both the BBC and the Washington Post have reported that Iranian hospitals have far more cases than is officially reported, and US testing and reporting still appears to be shambolic). The data suggest that China has its outbreak well under control.  However, this took extreme measures with huge economic impact: for example, there has been a 90% collapse in the rate of property sales.  Korea also seems to be gaining control, and the growth rate of the Italian outbreak is declining.  Both these countries and Iran have more cases, proportionally, than China.The US curve is accelerating as testing becomes more widespread.  The current growth rate of known cases is about 10x per week.  The dashed line is an eyeball extrapolation, which suggests the US is one to two weeks from the level at which other countries have started taking measures like closing all their schools, quarantining cities, etc.

WHO- Coronavirus Is More Deadly Than Originally Thought - The World Health Organization has announced that the death rate for those who contract the coronavirus is higher than originally thought.  Even though getting the coronavirus only comes with a 3.4% mortality rate, the virus’ rapid spread could bump that number even higher. Originally, WHO assumed the death rate from those who get infected with the COVID-19 virus, was only 2%.  That has been revised upwards to 3.4%.“Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva.   In comparison, the seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected, he said.Again, it’s not like this is a huge jump considering the number of people who have been infected, yet as this virus lingers, it has the unintended consequence of killing more than previously thought.Additionally, a Harvard scientist claimed that the coronavirus could infect 70% of the population. That means 5.3 billion people could catch it and if the mortality rate is now 3.4%, almost 180 million people globally could die.  Prepping supplies are selling out, face masks that will actually help are selling out, and people are panicking over the stock market.  Unless you’ve prepared in a dvance, you are also likely feeling some anxiety. World “authorities” admit they don’t know much about this virus, yet are hopeful it can be contained. Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said Monday that the coronavirus isn’t transmitting the same exact way as the flu and health officials have been given a “glimmer, a chink of light” that the virus could be contained.  “Here we have a disease for which we have no vaccine, no treatment, we don’t fully understand transmission, we don’t fully understand case mortality, but what we have been genuinely heartened by is that unlike influenza, where countries have fought back, where they’ve put in place strong measures, we’ve remarkably seen that the virus is suppressed,” Ryan said, according to CNBC.

 Scientists Discover More Aggressive Strain Of Coronavirus Responsible For 70% Of Current Infections -Chinese scientists studying the new coronavirus have found two new primary strains of the disease - one of which appears to be far more aggressive. The researchers, from Peking University's School of Life Sciences, discovered a milder "S-type" strain, and an "L-type" which is highly infectious and currently accounts for around 70% of cases, according to The Telegraph. The researchers cautioned that their preliminary findings looked at a limited number of cases (103), and that follow-up studies with larger data sets are needed to better understand the virus's evolution. A genetic analysis of the coronavirus found in a man who tested positive in the United States on January 21 also showed that it's possible to be infected with both strains. Coronavirus, which was first detected in December 2018 in Wuhan, China, has infected at least 94,000 people - officially, and killed more than 3,200 as of this writing. And while there are now two major strains identified, scientist Trevor Bedford of Nextstrain has been tracking 161 strains of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in patients across the globe. Bedford writes in a March 2 blog post that "The novel coronavirus which is responsible for the emerging COVID-19 pandemic mutates at an average of about two mutations per month." 

 The Worst Is Yet To Come - Nomura Now Sees As Many As 1.5 Million Covid Cases By June -- That's the self-explanatory title of Nomura's latest analysis assessing the consequences from the coronavirus pandemic, and which comes just two weeks after the Japanese bank issued its first preliminary assessment on the fallout from the global pandemic, which as readers will recall we found unduly optimistic. Well, a lot has happened since then, and as the report's title suggests, the outlook has deteriorated sharply. In the bank's new base case, it revises down further its Q1 2020 GDP growth forecast for China to 0% y-o-y, and for the world to 0.9%. While Nomura still envisages a V-shaped global recovery in Q2 in its new base case, it now has a “U” in its new "bad scenario" and a downright depressionary “L” (non) recovery in the new severe scenario. Below are the details on how in just two short weeks, the situation went from bad to downright catastrophic, in the bank's own words:

  • The positive news is the marked decline in the number of new daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in China, but it has also demonstrated the challenging trade-off other governments now face between public health security controls – ranging from adequate resources of health services to containment and mitigation measures – and economic growth.
  • China imposed draconian controls, sealing off Hubei’s nearly 60m inhabitants, blocking transport and locking down dozens of cities. China’s authoritarian state may have won the battle against the virus but at a huge short-run cost to economic growth. Our new base case assumes that China’s lockdowns end late this month, which will be too late to avoid our forecast of GDP growth slowing to 0% y-o-y this quarter, which translates to -4.4% q-o-q.
  • This contraction in China’s economy will have major negative spillover effects on the rest of the world, particularly in the rest of Asia – and this is only just starting to show up in the economic data. However, what has really spooked financial markets is the rapid contagion of COVID-19 outside China to 76 countries (and counting), with a handful of hotspots – South Korea, Italy and Iran. These hotspots are now experiencing the same severe simultaneous demand (public fear factor) and supply (business disruption) shocks as China in addition to the negative spillover effects from China’s contracting economy.
  • While COVID-19 has not been as deadly as SARS (the case fatality outside China and Iran is 1.5% vs 10% for SARs), what is now clear is that it spreads much more easily. As COVID-19 spreads, governments will need to weigh the trade-off between health security and economic growth and it remains to be seen whether they have the resources and wherewithal to increase their health security controls – and the public’s willingness to follow them – to the same force and effectiveness as China has done. If not, the rest of the world could, in the not too distant future, lose control in trying to contain COVID-19.

Dicamba litigation against Bayer, BASF poised to explode, lawyers say Thousands of farmers from multiple states are expected to join mass tort litigation pending in federal court over claims that weed-killing products developed by the former Monsanto Co. and other chemical companies are destroying and contaminating crops, including organic production, a group of lawyers and farmers said on Wednesday.The number of farmers seeking legal representation to file suit against Monsanto and BASF has surged over the last week and a half after a staggering $265 million jury award to a Missouri peach farmer who alleged the two companies were to blame for the loss of his livelihood, according to Joseph Peiffer of the Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane law firm. Peiffer said more than 2,000 farmers are likely to become plaintiffs.There are already over 100 farmers making claims against the companies that have been combined inmultidistrict litigation in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.Earlier this month the bellwether trial for that litigation ended with a unanimous jury awarding the family-owned Bader Farms $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages, to be paid by  Bayer AG, the German company that bought Monsanto in 2018, and by BASF.  The jury concluded that  Monsanto and BASF conspired in actions they knew would lead to widespread crop damage because they expected it would increase their own profits. We now have the road map to get justice for dicamba victims.  The Bader verdict in Missouri sent a clear signal that you can’t profit off of hurting innocent farmers and get away with it,” said Peiffer.  “The crop damage research and increasing farmer complaints forecast a much bigger problem than Monsanto/Bayer and BASF want to admit.”

China Warns Of Looming Locust Invasion As Coronavirus Outbreak Fades - Just days after Beijing promised to send a a 1,000-duck "army" to Pakistan to help farmers fend off one of the largest locust swarms in decades, senior government officials warned that China could soon face an "invasion" of desert locusts and urged local authorities to prepare for battle, even as the country struggles to get back on its feet after being shut down for so long. The locusts are reportedly approaching China via Pakistan and India. Swarms could enter Tibet from Pakistan and India, or the southwestern province of Yunnan through Myanmar, depending on climate conditions, the notice said. Swarms could also fly across Kazakhstan and into China’s Xinjiang region, according to Reuters.To be sure, the National Forestry and Grassland Administrations said on its website that the risk of the swarm entering China and attacking farms is "low". But if the swarms do arrive, Beijing will be limited by a paucity of knowledge about the locusts' migratory patterns and techniques to fight them (aside from the ducks, apparently).Swarms could also attack the southwestern province of Yunnan via Myanmar. It all depends on climate conditions. Swarms could also fly across Kazakhstan and into China’s Xinjiang region.Chinese customs officials at Khunjerab, a crossing between China and Pakistan in southwestern Xinjiang, have started monitoring the surrounding 2 km for locusts. They inspect vehicles crossing the border and, if they find locusts or locust eggs hidden, they destroy them.The desert locusts have already ravaged crops and pastures in several countries in Africa, as well as India and Pakistan.

2020’s Plague of Locusts: Updates on Africa and Pakistan (and China) - Lambert Strether --For much of Africa, the spectre at the feast is not #COVID-19 but a plague of locusts of Biblical scale.  From Locust Watch, by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Watch, the latest map: (The link includes detailed country reports.) The map includes “adult groups” in Congo.) From the Associated Press, “East Africa’s huge locust outbreak now spreads to Congo“: A small group of desert locusts has entered Congo, marking the first time the voracious insects have been seen in the Central African country since 1944, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency said Tuesday…. The FAO said mature locusts, carried in part by the wind, arrived on the western shore of Lake Albert in eastern Congo on Friday near the town of Bunia…. “Needless to say the potential impact of locusts on a country still grappling with complex conflict, Ebola and measles outbreaks, high levels of displacement, and chronic food insecurity would be devastating,” the U.N. officials said in the joint statement. AP’s story that made me think I should take a look at locusts again (first post here) because you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Why? Because the locust’s life-cycle is extremely fast. More from AP:Desert locusts have a reproduction cycle of three months, the U.N. officials said, and mature swarms are laying eggs in vast areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, “many of which are already hatching.” “In just a few weeks, the next generation of the pests will transition from their juvenile stage and take wing in a renewed frenzy of destructive swarm activity,” the joint statement said.This is a time when farmers’ crops begin to sprout, which could devastate East Africa’s most important crop of the year, the U.N. officials said. So, we’ve already seen enormous swarms. Those swarms have laid their eggs — in the nice moist earth created by this season’s heavy rains — which will shortly emerge as hoppers.  In this post, I’m going to take a quick look at the situation in Pakistan, followed by a longer look at Africa[1]. (I’m going to ignore the Arabian Peninsula; perhaps I’ll post on that topic later.) In each case, I’ll focus on remedies for the swarms — ducks (!), pesticides, locust-killing fungus. I’ll conclude with a look at coming “food insecurity” (what we call starvation and hunger these days, I guess), and the funding situation.

Climate Change Will Turn These Common Foods Toxic -The neurological disease known as "konzo," which translates to "tied legs," is irreversible, said Nzwalo, a neurologist and professor at the Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences of Algarve in Portugal. It can also lead to sudden paralysis. Konzo is brought on by exposure to high amounts of a toxin from a starchy root vegetable, cassava—one of the staple foods in the diet of more than 500 million people who live in Africa. With proper preparation, the toxin, hydrogen cyanide, can be flushed out with water. But in the face of agricultural crisis, drought, and poverty, people are forced to choose between going hungry and adhering to these preparations. A lack of rain can also increase the concentration of hydrogen cyanide in cassava, making the plant even more dangerous to eat. All these factors, and especially drought, are predicted to get worse with climate change and increase the risk of konzo. Konzo is just one example of how the climate crisis is going to fundamentally change the availability and safety of the foods we eat. In 2019, researchers found that climate change and higher CO2 levels could reduce certain vitamins in foods, like zinc, iron, and protein. But there might be even more dramatic impacts: Instead of just making plants less nutritious, they could also become toxic, like cassava when faced with drought.  If your diet doesn't regularly include foods like lychee or cassava, a 2004report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) found that some more familiar foods are also at risk for becoming more toxic. Plants use a compound called nitrate to grow, and convert it into other molecules like amino acids and proteins. When crops like barley, maize or millet are faced with drought, they slow down or stop this conversion, which leads to a nitrate buildup.  If a human eats large amounts of nitrate, it can “stop red blood cells from transporting oxygen in the human body,” Yale360 reported. In the opposite direction, heavy rains can lead to a toxic buildup of hydrogen cyanide or prussic acid in foods like flax, maize, sorghum, arrow grass, cherries and apples. Hydrogen cyanide is the same ingredient that can be found in some types of chemical warfare, Reuterspointed out. With flooding, there can be an increase in fungal growth and mycotoxins on crops. All these toxins cause disorders of the nervous system. “They can really make it difficult for people to breathe—it's like asphyxiation [suffocation],” McGlade said in the interview.

How DuPont may avoid paying to clean up a toxic 'forever chemical' - Robin Andrews of Pedricktown, New Jersey, has been fighting an autoimmune disease and thyroid condition for the past three years, suffering severe dental problems, hair loss and other symptoms. All, she believes, are the result of exposure to drinking water tainted by a group of chemicals called PFAS, used widely for decades in products like Teflon pans, stain-resistant carpets, even cosmetics. Known as "forever chemicals" because they don't break down easily in the body, PFAS increasingly have been linked to conditions experienced by Andrews, 65, as well as birth defects, cancer, obesity and diabetes. People have been exposed to the chemicals by direct contact and from polluted ground and surface water and soil. Potential liabilities associated with the chemicals — both environmental cleanup and ongoing healthcare costs — have been estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. Now, however, there's a risk that Andrews and other people with illnesses linked to the chemicals could end up with no compensation for their health problems. That's because a major manufacturer, DuPont, recently unloaded its PFAS obligations to smaller companies that do not have the money to pay for them.  Jeff Tittel, senior chapter director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, has watched DuPont's moves with concern. "They are setting up other companies to take the fall on liabilities that won't have enough money, so even if people win lawsuits, they will get nothing or very little," he said.PFAS are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act and their side effects are still being understood by scientists and the public. In February, the EPA put out a proposal to regulate two of the most common PFAS chemicals found in drinking water and is asking for comment on how to monitor them.On Wednesday, the EPA disclosed it "has multiple criminal investigations underway concerning PFAS-related pollution." The agency did not identify the entities being investigated and it could not be determined if DuPont is one of them.Daniel Turner, reputation and media relations manager for DuPont, said the company had not received an information request from the EPA related to a criminal investigation. Manufactured between the 1940s and the early 2000s, the chemicals have been associated with high cholesterol, increased liver enzymes, decreased vaccination response, birth defects, pregnancy-induced hypertension and testicular and kidney cancer,according to a 2016 EPA study. The National Institutes of Health concluded in a 2019 analysis that PFAS are in the blood of 97 percent of Americans.

 How Big Oil and Big Soda kept a global environmental calamity a secret for decades  - Every human on Earth is ingesting nearly 2,000 particles of plastic a week. These tiny pieces enter our unwitting bodies from tap water, food, and even the air, according to an alarming academic study sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, dosing us with five grams of plastics, many cut with chemicals linked to cancers, hormone disruption, and developmental delays. Since the paper’s publication last year, Sen. Tom Udall, a plain-spoken New Mexico Democrat with a fondness for white cowboy hats and turquoise bolo ties, has been trumpeting the risk: “We are consuming a credit card’s worth of plastic each week,” Udall says. At events with constituents, he will brandish a Visa from his wallet and declare, “You’re eating this, folks!” With new legislation, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, Udall is attempting to marshal Washington into a confrontation with the plastics industry, and to force companies that profit from plastics to take accountability for the waste they create. Unveiled in February, the bill would ban many single-use plastics and force corporations to finance “end of life” programs to keep plastic out of the environment. “We’re going back to that principle,” the senator tells Rolling Stone. “The polluter pays.” The battle pits Udall and his allies in Congress against some of the most powerful corporate interests on the planet, including the oil majors and chemical giants that produce the building blocks for our modern plastic world — think Exxon, Dow, and Shell — and consumer giants like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and Unilever that package their products in the stuff. Big Plastic isn’t a single entity. It’s more like a corporate supergroup: Big Oilmeets Big Soda — with a puff of Big Tobacco, responsible for trillions of plastic cigarette butts in the environment every year. And it combines the lobbying and public-relations might of all three.

What If Nestlé and Coke Had to Clean Up Their Own Plastic Pollution? - Plastic waste—most of it from single-use processed food and drink packaging—contaminates our drinking water, soil, air and waterways, including the deepest parts of the ocean.The Break Free From Plastic Act of 2020 aims to curb plastics pollution by shifting the responsibility from consumers to the companies that produce plastic. The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), would hold major plastic polluters, such as Nestlé, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, accountable for their pollution by requiring them to finance waste and recycling programs.The Break Free From Plastic Act would also place an all-out ban on certain single-use plastics that are non-recyclable, and prohibit plastic waste from being shipped overseas to developing countries.Plastic pollution is so rampant in our oceans that scientists predict the sea will contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050.  It also pollutes soil and freshwater.Tiny bits of plastic or microplastic are contaminating humans, too. The average person eats at least 50,000 particles of microplastic each year—and we inhale a similar amount—studies show. Consumers should shop responsibly, sure. But it’s time we held the biggest plastic polluters responsible for the damage they cause to the environment and human health.

Trump Admin Failed to Protect 241 Species From Extinction - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior have failed to protect 241 plant and animal species under the Endangered Species Act, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week by the Center for Biological Diversity, as Bloomberg Environment reported.Four years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services created a framework to address the backlog of more than 500 species that were slated to receive protections, including the 241 species listed in the lawsuit. In the filing, the Center for Biological Diversity claims that the Trump Administration prevented the Fish and Wildlife Service from working its way through the list, as Newsweek reported.One of the most pernicious things that can happen for species that need direct protection or habitat protection is for the federal government to do nothing. By systematically doing nothing, the administration has allowed 241 species to reach the brink of extinction, according to Mother Jones. Most of the species listed in the lawsuit have been awaiting protections for a decade or longer.Among the species listed in the suit are spotted turtles in the Great Lakes and on the Eastern seaboard, moose in the Midwest, a western bumblebee that has declined by 84 percent, and a tiny freshwater fish in Chesapeake Bay that flips stones with its nose to find food, according to a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity. The Center also created an interactive map of the U.S. that details which species are living in each state. "As moose and golden-winged warblers and hundreds of other species fight the rising tide of the extinction crisis, Trump officials won't lift a finger to help," Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity's endangered species director said. "This administration's ugly contempt for wildlife and the Endangered Species Act threatens our country's entire web of life. Every day of delay brings these incredible, irreplaceable plants and animals one step closer to extinction."

Koalas Face Extinction Threat After Wildfires: New Report - Australian conservation groups are asking the government to declare koalas endangered after the devastating wildfires this summer killed thousands of them and destroyed 45 million acres of bush that they call home, according to a new report from the conservation group International Fund for Animal Welfare. The report used witness accounts and satellite imagery to assess the damage to the koala population. It conservatively estimates that nearly 5,000 koalas were killed, which accounts for 12 percent of the population in New South Wales, according to CNN. Another report from the World Wide Fund for Nature found that nearly 10,000 koalas died in New South Wales, which would comprise one-third of the koala population, according to the Australian Broadcasting Company.Dr. Stephen Philips, principal research scientist and koala ecologist at the environmental consultancy Biolink, which compiled the International Fund for Animal Welfare report, said: "We've taken a conservative approach. But we still think that we have lost two out of every three koalas in NSW. It's a spectacular loss in terms of conservation criteria and meets endangered listing almost immediately."It also found that the intensity of the fires made it extremely difficult for koalas to escape to safety. The researchers estimated that in areas of intense burning, at least 70 percent of the koala population perished, according to the report's executive summary."Koalas are particularly vulnerable to bushfires as they are slow moving and live in eucalyptus trees that burn quickly and intensely," wrote Josey Sharrad from the International Fund for Animal Welfare to CNN. "When fires sweep through their homes, they often don't have time to escape, particularly in intense crown fires that rage through the treetops where they live," she added.Those are troubling numbers since the koala population, prior to this summer's wildfires, had already experienced a nearly 20 percent population decline over the last three generations, which is about 18 years, according to the report. The study looked at the effects of the wildfires from Oct. 1 to Jan. 10. The group expects to have a more complete picture of the threat koalas are under after it looks at data running through Feb. 10. The preliminary analysis shows a wide range of losses, anywhere from 29 percent to 67 percent of the koala population, according to the The Guardian. Even if the losses are on the conservative side, it still means nearly one-third of the population was lost in just a few months, plus much of their habitat was completely destroyed threatening their future viability.

Indian Ocean Dolphin Population Plummets Due to Commercial Fishing --Fishing operations in the Indian Ocean have decimated dolphin populations over the last 70 years, according to a new study published in the journal Endangered Species Research. The fishing operations that have had dolphins swept up as bycatch have meant that nearly 4 million dolphins have died since 1950 and the population of dolphins in the Indian Ocean has declined by nearly 80 percent, as The Guardian reported.Those numbers just represent the dolphins killed directly as bycatch of drifting nets that trail behind large fishing boats and do not represent the number of dolphins, porpoises or whales killed by floating ghost nets, harpoons, other types of tuna fishing or animals that are injured and succumb to their wounds later. That means the actual number of dolphins killed from commercial fishing may actually be much higher, according to the study.Looking at driftnets, which account for just over one-third of Indian Ocean commercial fisheries, the researchers were able to calculate that the number of dolphins, porpoises, and whales killed directly each year as bycatch peaked at around 100,000 from 2004 to 2006. That number has come down slightly and is now around 85,000 cetaceans annually, according to the study.Unfortunately, the authors do not believe the decline in bycatch is the result of improved practices, which are essentially unregulated. Instead, they believe it reflects the declining dolphin population, according to The Guardian.The study's lead author, Charles Anderson of the Manta Marine organization in the Maldives, estimated that the dolphin numbers had probably dropped to only 13 percent their pre-1980 levels, which is when large-scale tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean began, as The Guardian reported. "Declining cetacean bycatch rates suggest that such levels of mortality are not sustainable," the study says. "Indeed, mean small cetacean abundance may currently be 13 percent of pre-fishery levels. None of these estimates are precise, but they do demonstrate the likely order of magnitude of the issue."

Almost 90 Percent Of Dolphin Population Killed Off By Overfishing - Overfishing has been blamed for an "alarming" drop in dolphin numbers, with fears their populations may be at just 13 per cent of what they were in 1980. An international group of scientists -- including from Queensland's James Cook University -- used the numbers of dolphins caught accidentally in fishing nets as a way to estimate the wider population present in the world's oceans. Tens of thousands of dolphins are snared in nets each year. The researchers found the numbers of dolphins snared had decreased by one-fifth since 2004, a sign of a rapid decrease in the number of dolphins in the ocean. "The declining cetacean bycatch rates shown by what we can measure suggest current mortality rates are not sustainable," said James Cook University’s Dr Putu Mustika, one of the researchers involved in the project. "The estimates we have developed show that average small cetacean abundance may currently be 13 percent of the 1980 levels." She pointed to a rise in the use of gillnets, which are huge rectangular nets set up as vertical walls in the ocean and currently banned by the United Nations -- but still used widely by fishing companies in some countries.They can be up to 30 kilometres long, and run 20 metres deep into the ocean.

Stony Corals Seem to Be Preparing for a Mass Extinction, Scientists Report - Stony corals provide habitat for an eye-popping one-fourth of the ocean's species. They serve as the centerpiece of a rich and diverse ecosystem, which is why their recent behavior has scientists concerned. New research shows that stony corals around the world are hunkering down into survival mode as they prepare for a mass extinction event, according to a new study published in Scientific Reports. The international research team noticed a suite of behaviors that correspond to a survival response commensurate with how they behaved during the last mass extinction 66 million years ago, according to the new study. "When we finally put all this together and saw the result, for me it was that moment when the hair on the back of your neck stands up," said marine biologist David Gruber, from The City University of New York, toNewsweek. "It was like, Oh my goodness, [the corals] are doing exactly what they did back then."The researchers had a rich-history of corals to compare with modern species. Coral skeletons leave an indelible, time-stamped fossil record for scientists to examine the conditions that led to their dying. The scientists were able to compare those fossils with the 839 coral species on the red list of threatened speciesrecognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as Newsweek reported.The scientists looked at the traits of corals that survived the last major extinction event. They found that the colorful, wavy corals that attract scuba divers did not last. The ones that did survive are the ones that form small colonies and seek out deep water, which are the same ones showing signs of thriving today, asNewsweek reported."It was incredibly spooky to witness how corals are now exhibiting the same traits as they did at the last major extinction event," said Gruber, in a statement put out by the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center. "Corals seem to be preparing to jump across an extinction boundary, while we are putting our foot further on the pedal."

 Half of the World's Beaches Could Disappear by 2100, Study Finds - If nothing is done to lower greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise could swallow nearly half of the world's sandy beaches by 2100.That's the conclusion of a study published by the European Union's Joint Research Center in Nature Climate Change Monday, which marks the first worldwide assessment of the future of sandy shorelines, EU Science Hub reported."What we find is that by the end of the century around half of the beaches in the world will experience erosion that is more than 100 meters," lead author Michalis Vousdoukas said in an Associated Press story published by Time. "It's likely that they will be lost." That would harm the wildlife that calls the beaches home and could be a major blow to coastal communities, who enjoy beaches for recreation and rely on them for protection against coastal flooding and storm surges.  "Apart from tourism, sandy beaches often act as the first line of defence from coastal storms and flooding, and without them impacts of extreme weather events will probably be higher," Vousdoukas told AFP.The researchers looked at 35 years of coastal satellite data and combined it with 82 years of climate and sea level rise predictions. They also modeled more than 100 million storms to gauge erosion, EU Science Hub explained.They then assessed what would happen to the world's beaches under two different climate change scenarios, AFP explained. Under the worst-case scenario, known as RCP8.5, greenhouse gas emissions would continue unchecked or natural feedback loops such as methane release from melting permafrost would kick in, increasing warming. According to that scenario, the world would lose 49.5 percent of its sandy beaches by 2100.

Truck Destroys Sacred 1,000-Year-Old Easter Island Statue -- A rogue pickup truck has destroyed a 1,000-year-old statue on Easter Island. The accident took place in the Pu A Pau sector of the island earlier this month, the cultural heritage organization, Ma’u Henua, said on Facebook. The truck had been parked, The New York Times reported Friday, but an apparent brake failure caused the vehicle to roll down a hill, crashing into an ahu, a stone pedestal that supports moai — the iconic giant head-shaped figures that have made the island famous. Jo Anne Van Tilburg of the Easter Island Statue Project told the outlet that the outcome of the accident “could not be worse.” The ahu are a fundamental part of the island’s culture. “This is a mortuary. That is what ahu are,” Tilburg said. “This man basically ran right smack into a grave. It could not be worse.”"The damage is incalculable," said the president of Easter Island's indigenous community.

At Least 25 Dead as Tornadoes Devastate Tennessee - At least 25 people have died in Tennessee following the deadliest tornado day in seven years.A storm system spawned tornadoes that wreaked havoc in west and central Tennessee Tuesday morning, including one that touched down in Nashville and ripped through the city for miles, USA Today reported. The storm cut a 10 mile path through downtown Nashville, according to The Weather Channel. One-hundred and fifty-six were treated for injuries at the hospital, and almost 50 buildings collapsed, though more were damaged. The Nashville tornado touched down north of downtown just before 1 a.m. and destroyed buildings in Germantown before moving east to the Five Points part of East Nashville, USA Today reported. Because it moved so quickly and struck so late, many people did not have time to seek shelter. Residents in East Nashville only had a six minute warning, CNN reported. "I got the warning and in less than ten minutes you could just feel the pressure, my ears were popping we all ran downstairs and just huddled together," Danielle Theophile told CNN affiliate WSMV. "It went by so fast ... it's gone."  The storm system also wreaked havoc outside of Nashville. It was the deadliest in Putnam County, 70 miles east of Nashville, where at least 19 people were killed, according to The New York Times. Several of those who died were children, The Nashville Tennessean reported. It was the worst natural disaster in the county's history. Eighty-eight people were treated at the Cookeville Regional Medical Center and 77 are missing, though authorities think some of them may be unreachable due to power outages. The storm also killed three people in Wilson County and one person in Benton County, according to theTennessee Emergency Management Agency. Tennessee has a history of devastating tornadoes, according to The New York Times. It survived deadly storms in 1933, 1998 and 2008. Tuesday's storm was the deadliest tornado event since a tornado in Moore, Oklahoma killed 24 in 2013, according to CNN.

Moscow crushes record for warmest winter as milestones are set across Europe and North America -  The meteorological winter of 2019-2020 shattered temperature records in Russia and France as well as other parts of Europe and the United States. In Moscow, this was the warmest winter in nearly 200 years of record-keeping, and the first winter there to have an average temperature at or above 32 degrees (0 Celsius).The average winter temperature during the months of December, January and February in Moscow was 32.3 degrees (0.2 Celsius), which is 11.3 degrees (6.3 Celsius) above the 1981-2010 average, and shatters the previous record held by the winter of 1960-61 by an astonishing 3.5 degrees (2.8 Celsius), according to Etienne Kapikian of Meteo France, along with the Russian TASS news agency. In Moscow, officials brought in artificial snow for New Year’s celebrations because both December and January hit monthly temperature records as the city went through a rare snow drought.Other parts of Europe also missed out on winter.In Helsinki, no snow fell in January or February for the first time on record, and just 0.2 centimeters fell during the entire winter. Not surprisingly, Finland saw record warmth for the season. France as a whole had its warmest winter on record. According to Meteo France, the average temperature this winter was 4.86 degrees (2.7 Celsius) above average. In Germany, the country’s ice wine harvest failed for the first time on record as temperatures failed to drop as low as 19 degrees in any of the country’s 13 wine-growing regions, according to Ernst Büscher from the German Wine Institute (DWI), in a statement. Ice wine is a sweet dessert wine produced from frozen grapes. Numerous U.S. cities also had a top five warmest winter, particularly areas east of the Mississippi River, with well-below-average snowfall along the East Coast in particular.

Europe Has Warmest Winter 'by Far' on Record - Europe has just experienced "by far" its warmest winter since records began, the European Union climate change observer Copernicus announced on Wednesday.The average temperature in Europe between December 2019 and February 2020 was 3.4 degrees Celsius warmer than the average temperature between 1981 and 2010, according to the report from the Copernicus Climate Change Service.The average temperature was also 1.4 degrees Celsius above the warmest winter ever, which was 2015/16.The temperature in the north and east of the continent was especially high. Despite some extreme storms, Germany was among the countries that experienced an especially warm winter.There are concerns around agriculture across Europe. This was the first winter ever that Germany was unable to produce any "ice wine," a local delicacy made from grapes harvested when they are frozen."Considerably above-average temperatures were not confined to Europe, but extended over most of Russia," the climate service wrote on their website."Other regions that were quite substantially warmer than average include north-western Africa, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia, and much of China, with smaller pockets in North and South America, central and southern Africa and Western Australia," they explained.  The EU's official weather service uses information from satellites, ships, planes and weather stations to determine its findings.

Record-Breaking Warm Weather Expected Around Globe As Human-Caused Climate Crisis Now As Powerful As El Niño's Effects, Says WMO -- As countries accustomed to cold, snowy winters reported record-breaking warm weather this season, meteorological experts on Monday predicted that temperatures over the next several months will also be warmer than usual—even without the effects of El Niño.  In its El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) update, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that the naturally-occurring El Niño phenomenon has only a 20 to 35% chance of taking place between March and August 2020. Warm weather mirroring El Niño's effects, however, is 55 to 60% likely over that same time period. "Even ENSO neutral months are warmer than in the past, as air and sea surface temperatures and ocean heat have increased due to climate change," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement. "The signal from human-induced climate change is now as powerful as that from a major natural force of nature." Even without the phenomenon, above-average sea surface temperatures are expected in both tropical and non-tropical regions in the next several months, which will lead to unusually warm weather on land as well.The WMO report came as officials from around the world reported that cities and countries in a number of regions are experiencing unusually warm winters.Moscow has had its warmest winter season in 200 years of record-keeping, with an average temperature of 32.3 degrees Fahrenheit—the first winter the city has experienced with an average temperature above freezing. Data is still being recorded throughout Russia, the Washington Post reported, and the entire country may have set a warm-weather record this winter. Japan and France have also recorded their warmest winters.

Australia’s Summers Are Now Twice as Long as Its Winters - The climate crisis has now stretched Australia's summers twice as long as its winters, a new report has found.The report, published by The Australian Institute Monday, comes after the country experienced its warmest and driest year on record, as well as a devastating wildfire season that killed 33 people and more than one billion animals, BBC News pointed out."Following the hottest Summer on record, it commonplace to hear older Australians claim Summers aren't what they use to be. And they are right," Australia Institute Climate & Energy Program Director Richie Merzian said in a press release. "Our findings are not a projection of what we may see in the future. It's happening right now." The researchers looked at Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) temperature data from 70 weather stations across Australia, The Guardian reported. First, they compared temperature data from 1999 to 2018 with data from 1950 to 1969. They found that, between the two periods, summers had gotten 31 days longer while winters had gotten 23 days shorter. Then, they looked at data for the last five years and found that summers from 2014 to 2018 were around twice as long as winters.This has major implications for the health and wellbeing of Australians. Extreme heat waves are the deadliest extreme weather events in the country, responsible for more deaths than all other hazards combined, Merzian said. Shorter winters also mean there is less time to implement strategies for managing bushfires during the off season.One region that suffered during the most recent wave of wildfires has also seen its summers extend significantly: Port Macquarie in New South Wales, where the Lindfield Park Road fire burned for almost seven months starting in July 2019, is now seeing 48 more days of summer, ABC News pointed out. Fires in Port Macquarie also devastated koala habitats."  [T]he catastrophic 2019 fires near Port Macquarie occurred before summer as defined by the calendar, but well within the new summer as caused by climate change," the report said, according to ABC News. Australia has seen one degree Celsius of warming so far, but is on track for three to four degrees of warming based on its current emissions targets.

 Water Conflicts Will Intensify. Can We Predict the Worst Problems Before Conditions Boil Over? -- In 2015 an estimated 1.8 million migrants crossed into the European Union, fleeing countries gripped by violence, political upheaval and resource scarcity like Syria, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Eritrea and Nigeria. Many made their trips in flimsy, overcrowded boats. Thousands drowned along the way. E.U. governments struggled to deal with the influx of new arrivals, and the confluence of humanitarian and political crises that resulted — including a surge in right-wing anti-immigrant rhetoric. Advance warning, experts say, could have helped world governments and aid workers anticipate and adapt for these problems, and probably save lives in the process. But how do we predict future conflicts on a rapidly warming planet? The Netherlands, which has experienced sharp rises in both immigration and far-right populism, decided to try to answer that question by funding a project to model which areas of the world were likely to face upcoming conflicts. The result — the Water, Peace and Security Global Early Warning Tool — was released in December. It's an online interface that analyzes data on violent conflicts, as well as dozens of economic, environmental and social indicators, to help pinpoint hotspots where worsening conditions — like food shortages or drought — are likely to shift to violent conflict within the year. "We used a number of traditional indicators of predicting conflicts, such as economic strength, political, stability, demographic trends and past conflict, which is actually a predictor of future conflict," said Charles Iceland, director of global and national water initiatives at the World Resources Institute. The organization partnered with IHE Delft, Deltares, The Hague Center for Strategic Studies, International Alert and Wetlands International to develop the tool.

Tropical forests losing their ability to absorb carbon, study finds -Tropical forests are taking up less carbon dioxide from the air, reducing their ability to act as “carbon sinks” and bringing closer the prospect of accelerating climate breakdown.The Amazon could turn into a source of carbon in the atmosphere, instead of one of the biggest absorbers of the gas, as soon as the next decade, owing to the damage caused by loggers and farming interests and the impacts of the climate crisis, new research has found. If that happens, climate breakdown is likely to become much more severe in its impacts, and the world will have to cut down much faster on carbon-producing activities to counteract the loss of the carbon sinks.  For the last three decades, the amount of carbon absorbed by the world’s intact tropical forests has fallen, according to the study from nearly 100 scientific institutions. They are now taking up a third less carbon than they did in the 1990s, owing to the impacts of higher temperatures, droughts and deforestation. That downward trend is likely to continue, as forests come under increasing threat from climate change and exploitation. The typical tropical forest may become a carbon source by the 2060s, according to Lewis. “Humans have been lucky so far, as tropical forests are mopping up lots of our pollution, but they can’t keep doing that indefinitely,” he told the Guardian. “We need to curb fossil fuel emissions before the global carbon cycle starts working against us. The time for action is now.”  This research shows that relying on tropical forests is unlikely to be enough to offset large-scale emissions. “There is a lot of talk about offsetting, but the reality is that every country and every sector needs to reach zero emissions, with any small amount of residual emissions needing to be removed from the atmosphere,” said Lewis. “The use of forests as an offset is largely a marketing tool for companies to try to continue with business as usual.” The uptake of carbon from the atmosphere by tropical forests peaked in the 1990s when about 46bn tonnes were removed from the air, equivalent to about 17% of carbon dioxide emissions from human activities. By the last decade, that amount had sunk to about 25bn tonnes, or just 6% of global emissions.

Russian Arctic shipping up 430 percent in three years - The goods volumes delivered to and from ports on the Arctic shipping route has never been close to the current level. According to Nikolay Monko, the Acting Director of the the Northern Sea Route Administration, a total of 31,5 million tons of goods was shipped on the route in 2019. That is an increase of 56,7 percent from 2019, and 150 percent from 2018. Over the last three years, NSR volumes have hiked by more than 430 percent. The ship traffic on the route is now several times higher than in the Soviet period. The Soviet-era record was set in 1986 when 6,455 million tons was shipped in the area. It is liquefied natural gas (LNG) that constitutes the lion’s share of the goods volumes. A total of 20,5 million tons of LNG was sent out from natural gas terminal Sabetta in Yamal, Nikolay Monko told TASS. In addition comes 1,5 million tons of ores sent from Dudinka, company Nornickel’s port on the Yenisey River, and 7,7 million tons from Gazprom Neft’s Novy Port field, news agency Korabel reports. Transit shipments constitutes only a minor share of the goods. In 2019, a total of 697,200 tons was shipped from the east to the west or vice versa on the route, an increase of 42 percent from 2018. A total of 37 ships last year made transit voyages across the remote and icy Arctic route. The Northern Sea Route includes the waters between the archipelago of Novaya Zemlya and the Bering Strait, a distance of about 5,600 km. It is a significant shortcut between markets in Europe and Asia, but is covered by ice major parts of the year and ships need icebreaker escort for maneuvering through the area.

A Trump official added a dubious claim suggesting that climate change could be good to a scientific report - A Trump administration official pressured Interior Department scientists to add dubious information to at least nine government reports, according to the New York Times, including a discredited belief that an increase in carbon dioxide, which is amplifying the earth's greenhouse effect and contributing to global warming, was positive.  The Times reported on Monday that in one instance, Indur M. Goklany, who was appointed to the department's office of the deputy secretary in 2017, "instructed department scientists to add that rising carbon dioxide — the main force driving global warming — is beneficial because it 'may increase plant water use efficiency' and 'lengthen the agricultural growing season.'" Goklany, who has a doctorate in electrical engineering, had worked for the department since the Reagan Administration but gained new prominence after Donald Trump took office, the Washington Post reported. Throughout his career, he has questioned whether climate change will have negative impacts on the planet, according to the Post. The language Goklany tried to insert "takes very specific and isolated pieces of science, and tries to expand it in an extraordinarily misleading fashion," Samuel Myers of Harvard University's Center for the Environment told the Times.  Plants consume carbon dioxide to convert into energy. Research has shown that increased levels of carbon dioxide have contributed to greening around the world. But too much warming, driven by carbon dioxide emissions, is projected to have negative effects. "The more CO2 you have, the less and less benefit you get," Frances Moore, assistant professor of environmental science and policy at the University of California, Davis, told Scientific American. "Food security will be increasingly affected by projected future climate change," the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in a 2019 special report on Climate Change and Land. "While increased CO2 is projected to be beneficial for crop productivity at lower temperature increases, it is projected to lower nutritional quality," the IPCC writes. "Declines in yields and crop suitability are projected under higher temperatures, especially in tropical and semi-tropical regions."

 The European Union's proposed climate law has not gone down well with Greta Thunberg - A proposed climate law to enforce the European Union’s commitment to be climate-neutral by the year 2050 has drawn criticism from environmental organizations and activists including Greta Thunberg. Plans for the European Climate Law, as it’s known, were unveiled by the European Commission on Wednesday. In a statement issued alongside the announcement, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described the law as the “legal translation of our political commitment, and sets us irreversibly on the path to a more sustainable future. It is the heart of the European Green Deal.” Among other things, the Commission said its Climate Law included “measures to keep track of progress and adjust our actions accordingly.” Announced toward the end of last year, one of the European Green Deal’s central aims is for the EU to be climate-neutral — that is to say “an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” — by the year 2050. Poland, which is heavily dependent on coal, is currently the only EU country not to back this aim. In December 2019, the European Council noted this stance, stating: “One Member State, at this stage, cannot commit to implement this objective as far as it is concerned, and the European Council will come back to this in June 2020.” EU’s proposed climate law amounts to ‘surrender’ While von der Leyen was keen to praise the proposed legislation, it drew sharp rebukes from both environmental organizations and campaigners. “When your house is on fire, you don’t wait a few more years to start putting it out. And yet this is what the Commission are proposing today,” Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg said during an appearance at the European Parliament’s Environment Committee on Wednesday. The 17-year-old went onto describe the proposed climate law as “surrender, because nature doesn’t bargain and you cannot make deals with physics,” a remark which drew applause.This sense of urgency was echoed by Molly Walsh, a climate justice campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe. “A target 30 years in the future does not represent emergency climate action – our house is on fire and Europe is still twiddling its thumbs,” she said in a statement.

Anti-Greta Knocks 'Climate Alarmists' During CPAC Speech -A 19-year-old European activist dubbed the 'anti-Greta' slammed "climate alarmists" on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland, according to Bloomberg.  Self-proclaimed "climate realist" Naomi Seibt, who has roughly 60,000 followers on YouTube, told a panel sponsored by the Illinois-based Heartland Institute think tank: "The climate has always been changing, and so it’s ridiculous to say we deny climate change.""Man vastly overestimates his power if he thinks he can, with CO2 emissions, destroy the climate."Very impressive CPAC speaker... 19-y-o German “climate realist” Naomi Seibt: Climate alarmists should be more humble. They want to drive us into energy poverty which is a way to control us. I see a dangerous socialist totalitarianism at the root of this— Miranda Devine (@mirandadevine) February 28, 2020Seibt dismissed allegations she is being used by climate skeptics to woo young people and counter Thunberg, the Swedish activist who has won international acclaim for arguing the world needs to rapidly throttle the greenhouse gas emissions fueling a warming world. “I am not the puppet of the right wing or the climate deniers or the Heartland Institute either,” Seibt said. -BloombergSeibt has come under fire after a video began circulating on Friday of her saying "The normal German consumer is at the bottom, so to speak. Then the Muslims come somewhere in between. And the Jew is at the top. That is the suppression characteristic," remarks she said were taken out of context, and that she was expressing her view that it is "wrong to comment on different races differently and view them differently."

Greenpeace Activists Urge Barclays to 'Stop Funding the Climate Emergency,' Shut Down Branches Across UK - In a coordinated action to pressure Barclays to stop financing climate destruction, Greenpeace activists on Monday morning shut down 97 of the British investment bank's branches across the United Kingdom."Barclays must stop funding the climate emergency; that's why we've taken action today," Morten Thaysen, climate finance campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said in a statement. "From floods to bushfires and record heat in Antarctica, the impacts of this crisis are staring us in the face. Yet Barclays keeps pumping billions intofossil fuel companies at exactly the time we need to stop backing these polluting businesses.""Banks are just as responsible for the climate emergency as the fossil fuel companies they fund, yet they're escaped scrutiny for years," Thaysen added. "We've shut down branches across the country to shine a spotlight on Barclays' role in bankrolling this emergency. It's time Barclays pulled the plug and backed away from funding fossil fuels for good." Activists across the country disabled the doors at Barclays branches and plastered the buildings with photos of campaigners holding signs that declared: "Stop funding the climate emergency," "Climate criminals," and "Stop funding fossil fuels."Greenpeace UK's #BarclaysShutdown action was welcomed by fellow climate advocacy groups and activists who praised the group for fighting for a habitable planet:According to the Rainforest Action Network's latest fossil fuel finance report card, published nearly a year ago, Barclays poured over $85 billion into coal, oil and gas companies from 2016 to 2018, and was the sixth largest funder of the fossil fuel industry worldwide. Climate action campaigners and Barclays shareholders alike have urged the bank to phase out its support for dirty energy firms.

 Blocked Heathrow Airport Expansion Celebrated by Climate Activists =- The British government's plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050 conflicts with its long-standing plan to level a village to expand Heathrow Airport, one of the world's busiest airport hubs. Now an appeals court in Britain has ruled that the expansion is illegal since the government did not take into account how building a third runway would jibe with the government's commitment to fight the climate crisis, according to The Guardian. Heathrow currently handles around 80 million passengers per year. A third runway would cost nearly $18 billion to build and would increase traffic by about 700 planes per day, spurring a huge rise in carbon emissions, according to The GuardianThe court ruled that the British government made firm commitment to the Paris agreement, but did not work that into its plans, as CNN reported. Climate activists who brought the suit celebrated the decision on the court steps."We have not found that a national policy statement supporting this project is necessarily incompatible with the United Kingdom's commitment to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change under the Paris Agreement, or with any other policy the Government may adopt or international obligation it may undertake," the judges wrote in their ruling, according to CNN."The Paris Agreement ought to have been taken into account by the Secretary of State ... and an explanation given as to how it was taken into account, but it was not," the judges added. The future plans of the proposed third runway, which Heathrow has wanted to build for 20 years, are uncertain. Heathrow Airport said it would appeal the decision to the country's Supreme Court, but the British government said it would not appeal the verdict, according to a tweet from Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps who was the defendant in the case.

 FACT: We Are Too Late to Stop the Hell Climate Change Will Unleash – I recently watched an interview with David Attenborough, in which he was asked whether there is hope that things can get better for our planet. He replied that we can only slow down the rate at which things get worse. It seems to me that this is the first time in history we have known things will get worse for the foreseeable future. How do you live in the shadow of such rapid and inevitable decline? And how can you cope with the guilt?   This isn’t like a war or an economic recession, where you know things will be bad for a few years but eventually improve. Never before have we known that the deterioration of not just our countries, but our entire planet, will continue for the foreseeable future – no matter what we do. As Attenborough says, we can (and should) fight to slow the rate at which things get worse, even though we can’t realistically hope for improvement.  We can’t hide from the fact that Attenborough’s opinion reflects mainstream science. Even if we halted carbon emissions tomorrow, a significant degree of future warming is already baked in. Under the most likely scenarios, we’re set for warming of 1.5℃ or much more.  The consequences are dire. If we succeed in limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, we will still have sea level rises of around half a metre, killer heatwaves and drought in many parts of the world – leading to a decrease in agricultural productivity. We can expect mass migrations, death and destruction as a result, with many parts of the world becoming uninhabitable.

America's Gasoline Demand Has Quietly Reached Record Levels  - Supplying nearly 20 percent of total U.S. energy needs, gasoline has been a hallmark of the American experience since Ford’s first Model T in 1908. At 9.5 million b/d, U.S. gasoline demand is now as high as it has ever been (see Figure). Looking forward, it is simply just assumed that gasoline and the internal combustion engine that it fuels will “go gentle into that good night” to be replaced by electric vehicles. Yet in reality, gasoline is an incumbent technology with entrenched large-scale infrastructure. Let us examine just a few of the reasons why the reports of the death of gasoline have been greatly exaggerated.  The sheer size of the U.S. gasoline fleet overwhelms. The country today has 255 million passenger cars that run on gasoline, compared to less than two million for electricity. This dominance is made even more staggering given how substantial the subsidies, tax breaks, and other political favoritism have been to support or even mandate the widespread adoption of electric cars.Surveys from J.D. Power, PiplSay, and others signal that Americans are not as enthralled with electric cars as some suggest. A lack of charging infrastructure remains a major obstacle. There are 140,000 gasoline stations across the country, some seven times more than electric charging stations. The length of time to charge an electric car, and the miles range that charge brings, is a persistent complaint. Electric cars are far more expensive, with the average Tesla buyer, for instance, making $400,000 a year – seven times the national average.Even from a purported benefits perspective, electric cars hold serious doubts for consumers. They depend on a myriad of rare and diminishing critical minerals, most of which have to be imported from supply chains dominated by the Chinese government. As such, some studies have reported that electric cars are actually worse for the environment than gasoline-based ones. And the reality remains: today in America, with gas and coal generating a combined 60-65 percent of power, electric cars would be more aptly termed “fossil fuel cars.” Further, it seems rather unlikely that electric cars will win a race that they have already lost. To illustrate, most Americans probably do not realize that almost 40 percent of U.S. cars in 1900 were electric, only to be beaten out by the more powerful gasoline. Oil-based products have reigned supreme for so long because they pack a mighty punch. Gasoline has an energy density of ~47 megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg), while lithium batteries for electric cars at a paltry 0.5 MJ/kg. Thus, for the same amount of stored energy, electric car batteries weigh 90-100 times more than gasoline. Importantly, this extra weight runs contrary to our environmental goal to enhance vehicle efficiency.

In Midwest, ethanol and electric vehicle advocates join forces on clean fuel plan -  After years of fighting their own policy battles, ethanol and electric vehicle advocates are tentatively banding together against a shared enemy: fossil fuels. More than two dozen organizations have been meeting for nearly two years in Minnesota to work on a “technology-neutral” policy proposal aimed at decarbonizing transportation, which has surpassed electricity production as the state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. The group includes ethanol companies, agriculture associations, conservation groups, gas and electric utilities, and clean energy advocates, including some that have been skeptical about ethanol’s environmental qualities.  In January, the coalition released a white paper outlining a concept known as a low-carbon fuel standard or clean fuels policy for the Midwest, which would reward fuels or technologies based on their lifecycle carbon emission reductions. Supporters say the idea, which is likely to become legislation for the 2021 session, could accelerate decarbonization in both the transportation and agriculture sectors. It also has the potential to win support from lawmakers in greater Minnesota, who have recently raised equity concerns about electric vehicles. “The report’s clear conclusion is there are many resources that will play a role in decarbonizing transportation and we’ll get a lot farther with this approach,” said Brendan Jordan, vice president of Great Plains Institute, which convened the group and produced the white paper.   Collaboration between biofuels supporters and electric vehicle proponents has been rare, with both camps more often competing for limited attention and funding from policymakers. The proposal outlined in the report attempts to move past that tension with a fuel-agnostic approach to decarbonization.

Sweeping Senate Energy Bill Could Come to a Vote This Week -- The U.S. Senate will consider a bipartisan energy package this week that could be this year’s best legislative hope to increase federal funding for a number of energy technologies, from solar, wind and batteries, to more efficient fossil fuel-fired power and carbon capture.  The American Energy Innovation Act, introduced Thursday by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, contains nearly 50 energy bills from last year in a sprawling 555-page document. Murkowski, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, called it “our best chance to modernize our nation's energy policies in more than 12 years,” or since the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The bill contains hundreds of millions of dollars in funding over the coming years to boost research and development for solar and wind power, energy storage, smart grid, electric vehicles and other key clean energy technologies. Manchin, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said it would “make a down payment on emissions-reducing technologies, reassert the United States’ leadership role in global markets, enhance our grid security and protect consumers.” But its lack of targets or mandates for reducing carbon emissions, and some of its provisions on fossil fuels and mining, are expected to draw opposition from Democrats seeking a national policy to combat climate change. Democrats in the House have submitted a bill, dubbed the CLEAN Act, that calls for a 100 percent clean economy by 2050 and a comprehensive climate policy.  The bill also doesn’t include any extension of investment tax credits for solar power or federal tax credits for electric vehicles that were left out of the $1.37 trillion spending bill passed by Congress in December. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-New York, plans to seek amendments to the new Senate energy bill to extend these tax credits as well as push for more stringent building codes, The Washington Post reported Monday. Efficiency groups are also decrying the bill’s absence of a provision to allow homeowners to qualify for larger mortgages for more energy-efficient homes. This policy, part of a 2019 bill from Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, was stripped from the Senate bill due to pressure from homebuilder industry groups, according to the Alliance to Save Energy nonprofit group. It’s unclear how the bill will fare in a Senate controlled by a Republican party that has largely rejected efforts to combat climate change. House Republicans did introduce legislation last month to fund a massive tree-planting effort to help absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

 EPA settles more than a decade of pollution claims against Zimmer power plant for $600K -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a consent decree to settle more than a decade of pollution violations at the William H. Zimmer Power Station in Moscow, Ohio, raising new questions about the future of the coal-fired power plant. The settlement calls for Vistra Energy Corp., which acquired the plant in 2018, to pay a civil penalty of $600,000 to the U.S. Justice Department and spend $45,000 on energy-efficient lighting at a nearby school. The settlement also requires Vistra to mitigate past pollution by replacing three older school buses with cleaner-burning vehicles. One environmental attorney said the agreement is an example of increasing leniency on coal plants by the Trump Administration, which is rolling back Obama-era regulations that were designed to combat global warming in an attempt to revive the U.S. coal industry. “This is a relatively light fine for a company that appears to have been cutting corners for quite a long time to save money directly at the expense of public health,” said Thomas Cmar, a Chicago-based deputy managing attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm specializing in environmental cases. “To me what’s most significant about this settlement is it appears the EPA caught the company red handed not using the controls they already had in place.”

Coal deliveries to US power plants fall to 555 million st in 2019: EIA - Platts— Coal deliveries to US power plants fell to 555.02 million st in 2019, down 6.7% from 594.68 million st delivered a year earlier, according to US Energy Information Administration data released late Friday. Over 44.44 million st of coal was delivered to power plants in December, up 0.1% from November and down 16.1% from the year-ago month. Contract deliveries, or purchases with a term of one year or longer, were at 483.51 million st in 2019, down from 519.85 million st in 2018. Spot purchases, or contract deliveries less than one year, were at 68.34 million st in 2019, down from 72.43 million st a year earlier. However, new contract purchases made up 2.77 million st, up from 2 million st in 2018. The majority of the new contract coal, or 1.56 million st, came from Wyoming in the Powder River Basin, while 1.01 million st of bituminous coal was delivered from seven states, led by 556,999 st from West Virginia. The remaining 192,484 st was lignite coal from Texas and 12,787 st of waste coal from Pennsylvania. In 2018, 771,839 st of the 2 million st of new contract deliveries was lignite coal, while 681,937 st was bituminous and 545,139 st was subbituminous coal. Imports to US power plants totaled 3.45 million st in 2019, up from 3.01 million st delivered in 2018. The majority of the coal imports came from Colombia at 2.79 million st, which was up from 2.11 million st in 2018. Alabama took delivery of 1.79 million st of the Colombian coal, while Florida, Maine and New Hampshire took 211,357 st, 62,360 st and 45,084 st, respectively. A Hawaii coal plant took 665,423 st of Indonesian coal in 2019, down from 847,200 st in 2018. The US power sector did not take delivery of any Russian coal in 2019, after a New Hampshire plant imported 48,502 st in 2018. Over 25.01 million st of the deliveries in December were subbituminous coal, which was down from 25.38 million st in November and 30.09 million st in the year-ago month. Subbituminous coal deliveries in 2019 were at 306.15 million st, down 7.8% from 332.03 million st in 2018.Bituminous coal deliveries to US power plants fell to 15.19 million st in December, up 3.4% from November but down 15.9% from the year-ago month. In 2019, bituminous coal deliveries totaled 197.94 million st, down from 205.14 million st delivered a year earlier.

Super Polluters -  —To see one of the country’s largest coal-fired power plants, head northwest from this Ohio River city. Or east, because there’s another in the region. In fact, nearly every direction you go will take you to a coal plant — seven within 30 miles. Collectively they pump out millions of pounds of toxic air pollution. They throw off greenhouse gases on par with Hong Kong or Sweden. Industrial air pollution — bad for people’s health, bad for the planet — is strikingly concentrated in America among a small number of facilities like those in southwest Indiana, according to a nine-month Center for Public Integrity investigation.The Center, which merged two federal datasets to create an unprecedented picture of air emissions, found that a third of the toxic air releases in 2014 from power plants, factories and other facilities came from just 100 complexes out of more than 20,000 reporting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A third of the greenhouse-gas emissions reported by industrial sites came from just 100, too. Some academics have a name for them: super polluters.Twenty-two sites appeared on both lists. They include ExxonMobil’s massive refinery and petrochemical complex in Baytown, Texas, and a slew of coal-fired power plants, from FirstEnergy’s Harrison in West Virginia to Conemaugh in Pennsylvania, owned by companies including NRG Energy and PSEG. Four are in a single region — southwest Indiana. Together, owners of these 22 sites reported profits in excess of $58 billion in 2014.

Evansville community rallies for clean energy –  A crowd, young and old, stood atop the stairs in front of the Evansville Civic Center on Feb. 29, voicing their opposition to Vectren’s coal power plants. “Getting this many people to come out to ask for clean energy is pretty amazing,” said Mary Stoll, associate professor of philosophy. “I’m really excited for the young people I’ve seen so far, and I’ll be even more excited if we see enough critical mass of youth to really make a difference.” Students, alumni and professors united at the Civic Center protesting for stronger clean energy policies in the community. Stoll said Evansville needs to start planning for a smarter infrastructure going into the future. Seven coal-powered plants lie within 30 miles of the city, according to the Center for Public Integrity. These plants make up 40% of the state’s electricity, yet only 6% of Indiana’s population lives in this area. This energy produced then has to be transferred throughout the state.

Macoupin County coal mine to shut down - The bankrupt owner of St. Louis-based coal company Foresight Energy has signaled that it plans to shut down a Macoupin County mine. The likely closure was first made public earlier this week, when Murray Energy — the Ohio-based coal producer that owns a controlling stake of Foresight — disclosed a fresh round of documents amid its ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reorganization. The release featured an internal company presentation from January that stated that its Shay No. 1 Mine complex near Carlinville, Illinois, about an hour north of St. Louis, is scheduled to be shut down in the first quarter of the year "due to its inability to operate profitably and ongoing issues with coal quality." The complex began production in 2009, and is one of Foresight's four operations across Southern Illinois.

As coal pollution declines, crops begin to flourish | Anthropocene - The decline in coal in favour of natural gas across the United States has brought an unexpected bonus: an increase in crop yields. Appearing in The American Journal of Agricultural Economics, these findings reveal there were increases in both soybean and corn yields over an eight year period in the US, which was directly correlated with less coal pollution floating about in the air. These findings incidentally are joined by another recent study, which also tracks the increase in production of wheat, soybeans, and corn related to a decline in coal. Together, both pieces of research provide a body of evidence that reveals just how closely a country’s energy policy can be tied to the health of its food systems.Studying soybean and corn yields mainly across the Midwestern United States, the researchers on the first study found that between the 2003 and 2005, 2011 and 2013 – two periods of time when coal emissions were declining – corn yields improved by 2.5%, and soybeans by 1.7%. Together, this climb in yields led to an extra $1.60 billion produced each year. The majority of that increase – $1.07 billion – was attributed to corn.Across the country, the regional effect varied. The state of Kentucky nabbed the biggest wins, with an estimated 7% yield increase in corn, and 4.3% in soybeans. This may come down to the fact that there was a higher number of coal plant closures in this region – creating an outsized benefit for some states. It’s also been established in previous research that coal pollution can be transported long distances, depending on the weather, so it’s possible that plant closures in some states transport the agricultural benefits elsewhere.    Ozone has what could be likened to a choking effect on plants: once it enters the stomata, it slows photosynthesis and reduces plant growth. It also limits plant’ defences to disease, insects, and severe weather. When there’s less ozone in the air, however, it follows that a resulting boost in photosynthesis will cause a comparative increase in yields. The second study, which was published in Nature Sustainability, looked at a different time period and an extra crop – wheat – but found similarly that the transition from coal to natural gas led to crop increases across the United States. Less pollution, the researcher calculated, led to an extra 570 million bushels of corn, soybeans, and wheat in the regions where plants were shut down. This amounted to roughly half a year’s production for these crops in the US. (That study also estimated the human health benefit of coal plant closures, finding that 26,610 lives were saved by the less-polluted air.)

In Virginia, a push to save country's 'cleanest' coal plant (AP) — Officials from southwest Virginia have mounted a last-minute push to oppose the possible early closure of one of the country’s newest coal plants.A Dominion Energy facility in Wise County that opened eight years ago and is frequently touted as the cleanest of its type could close decades sooner than expected under a sweeping rewrite of Virginia’s energy generation policy Democrats are advancing through the General Assembly.Advocates of the bill say Virginia needs to move away from fossil fuel-fired generation in order to address climate change. But Republican lawmakers and local officials in southwest Virginia have called its potential early retirement a “tragedy” that would blow a hole in the budgets of two localities and devastate a region that’s been working to revitalize an economy built on coal mining but isn’t there yet. The plant pays millions in taxes each year and employs 197 full-time and contract employees, according to Dominion. Local officials estimate it supports about 400 other jobs in the surrounding community.Under the House version of the Clean Economy Act — a measure that would pave the way for an enormous expansion of solar and offshore wind generation plus battery storage — the plant would have to close in 2030 unless it can demonstrate an 83 percent reduction in carbon emissions through capture and sequestration, a lofty goal.The Senate on Thursday accepted an amendment to its version of the bill to push that deadline back until 2050. The amendment came from Republican Sen. Ben Chafin, whose district includes part of Wise County and who insisted that the plant was “barely out of diapers.” The bills will head to a conference committee that will work out a number of differences, including the closure date.

Duke Energy wanted to avoid record keeping of coal ash sales, newly uncovered 1994 documents show --Decades-old documents obtained by our WCNC defenders team reveal Duke Energy asked state leaders permission to not report their sales of toxic coal ash for construction projects.The documents were released in the midst of an investigation into whether coal ash could be the cause of a reported cancer cluster in Mooresville, where much of the ash was used in construction projects. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Duke Energy sold off coal ash to be used as fill dirt.It was allowed back then, and was regulated by the state, but the newly released correspondence from 1994 shows Duke Energy wanted to sell it without having to report where it was going.In the letters, Duke Energy petitioned state leaders to change the rule mandating redecoration, saying those requirements were quote “a barrier” to their ability to sell it in large quantities.The power company asked that the rules be rewritten, to exempt the ash from being classified as “solid waste," therefore "eliminating the requirement to record its use on property deeds."This despite the state health department’s documented retort that the ash contains toxic byproducts like arsenic, chromium, and lead, and that the recordation rule was in place to “provide notice to future property owners of potential environmental contamination," and for “worker safety…with respect to inhalation.”

Coal ash cleanup costs part of Duke Energy rate increase plan - Duke Energy is seeking state approval for a 6% rate hike for Charlotte-area customers, but consumer advocates who advise the North Carolina Utilities Commission have instead recommended a substantial cut in rates.The commission’s Public Staff, an independent agency that represents consumers, also opposes Duke’s request to bill customers hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to clean up coal ash.Duke Energy Carolinas, which serves central and western North Carolina, asked the commission’s approval to collect from customers $445 million a year in new revenue through rates. Federal and state tax savings that Duke has to refund to customers, by adjusting rates, effectively reduces the request to $291 million. If approved, Duke says, the request would raise typical residential bills by about $8 a month. The Public Staff says the commission should grant a revenue increase of only $66 million, partly because it thinks Duke’s profits margin should be smaller than the utility wants. The agency also applies different accounting treatment to the tax refunds to Duke’s customers. By its calculations, Duke should collect $334 million less revenue in the first year after commission approval, and $173 million less in the following four years.

Coal Ash concerns continue in Juliette — Look through the trees and you can catch a glimpse of the stacks at Plant Scherer, said John David Johnson, pointing to the sky across from his former home just off Ga. 87 in Juliette. Johnson remembers when Georgia Power opened the plant in 1982 when he was just a kid and residents anticipated it would bring jobs and stability.They grew accustomed to the chunks of gray ash drifting through the sky and settling on rooftops and cars whenever the sirens sounded at the plant. For a long time, they drank the water that ran gray from the faucet whenever it rained. The ash flakes disappeared when Georgia Power began controlling dust from the plant, Johnson said, but the water is still an issue. “We have been known not to drink the water here … the water is bad,” said Johnson, 51.The residents of this town about an hour southeast of Atlanta have been in and out of news headlines for almost a decade with concerns about the water, which they believe is contaminated by coal ash stored at Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer. Many residents have since sold their homes to Georgia Power. Some locals, current and former, tried to sue the utility. Now they are hoping state lawmakers will take action, not just for their town but for other communities in metro Atlanta and beyond where Georgia Power plans to keep coal waste stored freely in the ground.Georgia Power has said its plans for monitoring and closing the ash ponds are well within federal and state regulations and that the company has found no risks to public health or drinking water. With help from the Altamaha Riverkeeper, Juliette residents have launched a new campaign to support a pair of bills that would require Georgia Power to follow the same rules for coal ash as required for household trash. Just like trash is required to be in landfills with protective liners to prevent toxins from seeping into groundwater, coal ash would be stored in lined pits, preventing the heavy metals from coming in contact with groundwater.

Anderson County leaders seek law change to block TVA coal ash dump --The Anderson County Commission is taking its fight against the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plan to build a new coal ash waste dump to the state Legislature. TVA wants to build a new dump for its coal ash waste – a toxic stew of cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive material generated by the burning of coal to produce electricity – in Claxton. It already stores more than 5 million tons of the toxic waste at its current dumps at the utility’s Bull Run Fossil Plant in Claxton and plans to leave it there – despite reports suggesting a threat of contamination of groundwater and public drinking water sources – when the plant is shuttered in 2023. Anderson County citizens have been up in arms over the proposal for months now, holding community meetings and showing up in droves at various governmental meetings to try to block TVA from dumping more coal ash in Claxton.

Don't fall for utility talking points on coal ash pollution — it's dangerous and we need real solutions to clean it up - A commentary by Steven Burns published in Utility Dive in January was profoundly misleading and merits substantial disclaimers.  Burns' opinion piece "Ash ponds: Keep calm and close in place" should have disclosed that his law firm, Balch & Bingham, represents Alabama Power — a utility that could reap short-term benefits of hundreds of millions of dollars if it is allowed to cap its coal ash pits rather than remove them responsibly.  Talk about legacy: a former Alabama Power president's brother started Balch & Bingham nearly a century ago. Mark Crosswhite himself started as a Balch & Bingham partner before he became CEO of Alabama Power.But the most egregiously disingenuous statement was Burns's claim that coal ash "poses less risk than hazardous waste."Coal ash contains known carcinogens such as arsenic, mercury, selenium, chromium and lead, which are hazardous to human health, wildlife and waterways. A report by a physician-led non-profit found that coal ash pits can leach toxic constituents thousands of times greater than drinking water standards, as Alabama Power has reported its pits are doing.These toxins cause such health problems as nervous system damage, developmental defects, cardiovascular problems, neurological damage, impaired vision and paralysis, and stomach, lung, urinary tract, skin and other forms of cancer. Famed consumer advocate Erin Brockovich is currently investigating one of a number of cancer clusters linked to coal ash pits.   The failure of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to classify coal ash as hazardous should not be used as an excuse to pretend it's harmless. Instead, it should be remembered as the success of a massive utility lobbying complex that leveraged more than $269 million against public health while these regulations were being developed. Utilities were required in 2015 to produce data on ash contamination andeven the companies' own data revealed that nearly every coal ash pit in the United States, including Alabama Power's, is contaminating groundwater with dangerous levels of toxins. There's no such thing as a safe unlined ash pit. Several confirmed and suspected cancer clusters have been found around coal ash sites. Lawsuits against TVA continue to be filed more than a decade after the Kingston coal ash disaster because so many cleanup workers have fallen ill and died. Burns should know all this, since his client Alabama Power is facing $1.25 million in fines for groundwater contamination from its leaking coal ash pits — a drop in the bucket for a company whose 2018 net income was $930 million, $18.9 million of which it spent on lobbying state politicians. That's more than 3.5 times the amount Georgia Power spent in the same category.

Clean Water Wanted: Contaminated Wells And The Legacy Of Fossil Fuel Extraction - Timothy’s grandfather Chet Blankenship died in 2016, at age 69. Blankenship lived on land he and his family have long owned at the end of a road atop Bradshaw Mountain in McDowell County, West Virginia. His hand-painted tombstone sits in the grassy patch above the family homes. Chet Blankenship died from kidney failure soon after his family started noticing odd colors and smells in their well water. After he died, they got their water tested, and learned that arsenic was among the contaminants that had seeped into their well. The National Institutes of Health links high arsenic exposure to a range of kidney diseases.  The family can’t prove that the arsenic in the water caused Blankenship’s death, and they can’t get firm answers about the contamination in their well and the mining and drilling activity that surrounds their property. But Timothy’s memories of his grandfather reflect the family’s anxiety about the water they depend on.  The Easterlings live in the central Appalachian coalfields and much of the land has been mined for miles in every direction. Water runs through the collapsed network of former mines, which may house industrial waste, as well as byproducts from the gas wells that tapped into the methane associated with coal seams.   There are many possible sources of contamination but the family doesn’t know which company might be to blame, or how to hold one accountable to fix the problem, or at least pay for them to get connected to a clean water system. State environmental officials deny there is any evidence connecting the bad water to the mining or drilling nearby. Adding to the family’s frustration, they’ve been asking for a connection to the nearby public water system for years, only to hear that there’s not enough money. For decades, public water systems in the US have been consistently underfunded, affecting both water access and water quality. EPA records show that in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia alone; there have been more than 130,000 violationsreported in the last twenty years. At least 2,000 systems have tested positive for contaminants since 2012. Those statistics only cover people connected to public water systems. Nationwide, another thirteen million people draw from private wells, and two million people don’t have a reliable source of running water. In areas affected by extraction industry, such as McDowell County, many wells and springs that rural residents are used to relying on are now running dry or showing unsafe levels of contaminants like arsenic and lead.

‘Working sick’—Kentucky miners fight black lung regulations - Shirley Smith, 64, worked for coal companies for 23 years, including 16 years underground.   After a long career, Smith now worries about the onset of pneumoconiosis, or black lung, a work-induced illness that shreds the lungs of coal miners. She doesn’t have a diagnosis, but Smith has begun to notice the signs: extreme shortness of breath and a persistent cough, often associated with phlegm.  “I don’t want black lung,” Smith told me. Black lung is a death sentence: eventually, it suffocates those who suffer from the disease. “But if I got it, I deserve to be compensated for it.” Smith comes from a family of coal miners, and has seen the effects of the disease firsthand. Her father died of black lung on her ninth birthday. Her brother David mined underground for 19 years before mounting health problems, including thyroid cancer, forced him to retire. Smith said David was turned down three times over three years before he was able to file a federal black lung case; his lawyers have warned it could take an additional three years before he receives benefits.  Ever since a 2018 workers compensation bill—House Bill 2—limited the type of medical professionals qualified to diagnose black lung from chest X-rays, it’s become more difficult for former miners like Smith to be diagnosed.  Prior to 2018, radiologists with “B” reader certifications were qualified to diagnose black lung. But now only pulmonologists, or lung specialists, with “B” reader certifications are legally permitted to diagnose a disease with epidemic proportions.  Since House Bill 2 passed, only two doctors in Kentucky are diagnosing black lung patients.  Both have long histories of working for coal companies and their insurance brokers, and both are based at least three hours from the coalfields. Noother state has adopted this restriction, and the federal system qualifies both pulmonologists and radiologists with “B” reader certifications to perform diagnoses.   In support of impacted miners, two legislators from eastern Kentucky—Representative Angie Hatton of Whitesburg and Senator Phillip Wheeler of Pikeville—proposed House Bill 239 and Senate Bill 215 respectively, to reverse this section of House Bill 2.

Is Cuomo Serious About Addressing Climate Change? Indian Point Decision Says No - Governor Andrew Cuomo claims that New York is a leader in addressing the dangers of climate change. So far, the facts fail to support this. Since 2010, New York’s gas-fired and dual-use (gas & oil) electric capacity has increased over four times as fast as wind plus other sources of renewable power. Fossil fuels today produce eight times as much electricity as all our renewables, exclusive of hydropower. This movement towards greater fossil fuel use is about to get far worse if the carbon-free Indian Point nuclear plant is shut down and replaced by natural gas. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), signed by the governor in July, commits New York to eliminate the burning of fossil fuels for electricity by 2040. Tragically, long before 2040, all the hoped-for benefits of the CLCPA will be negated. In just a few weeks, Unit 2 of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester is scheduled to shut down, to be replaced by gas-fired power that will release 3.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Next year Unit 3 will shut down, adding a similar amount of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere each year thereafter. At that rate, the “world’s largest off-shore wind farm” that the governor hopes to build off of Long Island will not show any net environmental benefit for at least 20 years. We can’t wait that long to deal with climate change.

NRC promises scrutiny of Indian Point review failures -- Thursday, March 5, 2020 -- Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki outlined steps yesterday the agency plans to take to rectify a recent inspector general report that called into question the environmental review of a natural gas pipeline running through the Indian Point nuclear plant site.

SC judge pauses Santee Cooper lawsuit pending settlement -The South Carolina judge in the massive class action ratepayer lawsuit against the state’s public utility Santee Cooper has halted proceedings in the case pending a likely $520 million settlement agreement. Major defendants in the case including Santee Cooper and what was formerly known as SCE&G — now Dominion Energy — have tentatively agreed to pay $520 million to ratepayers, according to a five-page tentative agreement obtained by The State. The case had centered on whether and how much money Santee Cooper, an 85-year-old state agency, should refund to 2.2 million ratepayers who were charged extra each month for years to pay some $2 billion for the costly failure of the V.C. Summer nuclear power project that was never completed in Fairfield County. Santee Cooper was the junior partner on the project with the now former Cayce-based SCE&G and SCANA. Santee Cooper paid for 45% of the project and SCE&G paid 55%. SCANA and SCE&G were acquired by Dominion Energy last year. In July 2017, after spending billions on the project, Santee Cooper and SCE&G abruptly announced their nuclear construction project had failed and they were abandoning it. Under the preliminary agreement, Dominion will pay $320 million in cash or marketable securities and Santee Cooper will pay $200 million in three annual installments in amounts of $65 million, $65 million and $70 million.

Dark money dominated Ohio’s nuclear subsidy saga | Energy News Network - After-the-fact filings show that FirstEnergy’s generation subsidiary paid nearly $2 million to Generation Now, one of the special interest groups that orchestrated ads, political donations and other efforts behind Ohio’s nuclear and coal bailout. But legal loopholes make it harder to find out the total spent and who else was behind xenophobic advertising, dueling voter petitions, alleged intimidation and other claims of foul play. And none of those actions fully disclosed who was behind them.The scant public filings that are available show additional connections to FirstEnergy Solutions (now Energy Harbor), as well as the law firm of an outspoken legislator who has long fought the state’s clean energy standard, and others with high-level political influence.House Bill 6 gutted Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards while putting ratepayers on the hook for nearly $1 billion in subsidies for nuclear power plants, plus an additional amount for aging coal plants. Multiple groups spent heavily to promote HB 6 and prevent a referendum on the law following its passage.In some cases, nonprofit and for-profit organizations funded each other or shared the same spokesperson. Groups active in the HB 6 campaign also had links to some of the same lobbyists and consultants who acted for companies that stood to benefit from HB 6, or unions with workers at their plants. But only limited amounts of funding could be traced.As FirstEnergy Solutions’ bankruptcy case wrapped up in February and the company began doing business as Energy Harbor, a filing posted to the company’s investor relations page shows a wire payment of $1,859,457 from FirstEnergy Solutions to Generation Now, Inc. on July 5, 2019. “FirstEnergy Solutions’ funding of Generation Now proves that House Bill 6 was always primarily a bailout for the bankrupt utility and its wealthy investors,” said Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute, who first spotted the Energy Harbor filing.“Powerful corporations, and utilities in particular, often fund groups to do their dirty work in an attempt to avoid accountability,” Anderson said. “In the case of Generation Now, that dirty work included millions of dollars in misleading ads and hiring petition blockers to prevent Ohioans from having an opportunity to overturn House Bill 6 when they vote in November.” The rise of so-called “dark money” groups, which don’t have to disclose their donors, follows a 2010 Supreme Court case, Citizens United, that held corporations have a constitutional right to unlimited spending for political matters, provided they aren’t directly coordinated with candidates.

Campaign contributions pay off for Ohio utilities and coal interests  - Utility, nuclear and coal interests are big players in Ohio politics, giving about $3 million to Ohio political campaigns in 2018, according to data from the National Institute on Money in Politics. The industry interests have long been active politically. But just as competitive markets began coming into their own around 2010, the pattern of campaign contributions also shifted. Donations to Ohio campaigns from the utility, nuclear and coal industries in 2010 were more than double the amount for 2008. Election cycles after 2010 saw a gradual drop-off in recorded donations, followed by a smaller bump in 2018. That doesn’t necessarily mean the industries’ total spending went down, however. “Lots and lots of things changed simply because of Citizens United,” explained Catherine Turcer, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Ohio. In that 2010 case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporations have a constitutional right to spend for political advertising. That spending isn’t subject to the same limits as donations, which are coordinated with a specific candidate’s campaign. And it’s not possible to track where all political donations come from. “Ohio has too many dark money loopholes,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. Some of that dark money helped elect additional lawmakers who favored subsidies for nuclear and coal plants in 2019, legislation that also gutted Ohio’s clean energy standards. Dark money spending also funded opposition to a referendum effort that could have let voters reject those subsidies. Current law may exempt much of that information from the Secretary of State’s filing requirements.  Yet even with all the opportunities for dark money spending, campaign contributions linked to Ohio utilities and the state’s nuclear and coal industries have remained strong.

Critics say Ohio proposal to bar foreign ownership will deter renewable projects - A proposed constitutional amendment in Ohio to ban foreign ownership of power plants and other “critical infrastructure” threatens to further deter renewable energy development in the state, experts and advocates say.Many of the world’s largest renewable energy developers are based in Europe, including the companies behind some of Ohio’s largest projects. While the proposal does not list wind or solar facilities as critical infrastructure, critics say the message it sends is that Ohio is not interested in their business. “We send out a signal that this is a bad place for foreign domestic investment to be made,” said Ned Hill, an economics and energy policy expert at Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs. The criticism extends to other foreign companies’ investments as well. Others say the proposal perpetuates a debunked conspiracy theory used by dark money groups last year to thwart a referendum on House Bill 6. That law gutted the state’s clean energy standards and requires ratepayers to subsidize certain nuclear and coal plants. “House Joint Resolution 2 is not about Ohio’s energy policy, but another xenophobic political charade designed to intentionally misrepresent the security of our electric grid, confusing Ohioans and worrying them unnecessarily,”  Global companies have invested heavily in Ohio’s clean energy sector. For example, EDP Renewables’ North American subsidiary developed the Timber Creek II wind farm in Paulding County. Avangrid Renewables, which owns the Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert County, grew out of acquisitions and a merger by Iberdrola, another Spanish company. Wyandot Solar Farm in Upper Sandusky was built by Juwi Americas, a subsidiary of a German company.Ohio utilities and their affiliates have likewise benefited from foreign investment, Hill said. Additionally, federal law already addresses any concerns about foreign investment.“The Critical Infrastructure Amendment doesn’t make Ohioans more secure and inflicts significant costs,” said researchers Ronnie Eytchison and Sam Malloy in an analysis for Ohio State University’s Battelle Center for Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, posted on Feb. 20. “Ohio infrastructure isn’t at risk of control through foreign investment.”

Ohio's Utica Shale 4th Quarter Production Totals Released – ODNR - – During the fourth quarter of 2019, Ohio's horizontal shale wells produced 6,803,057 barrels of oil and 684,771,042 Mcf (685 billion cubic feet) of natural gas, according to the figures released today by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).Compared to a year ago, oil production increased by 17.08% and natural gas production showed a 3.2% increase over the fourth quarter of 2018. The ODNR quarterly report lists 2,523 horizontal shale wells, 2,452 of which reported oil and natural gas production during the quarter. Of the wells reporting oil and natural gas results:

  • The average amount of oil produced per well was 2,774 barrels.
  • • The average amount of natural gas produced per well was 279,270 Mcf.
  • • The average number of third quarter days in production per well was 90.

All horizontal production reports can be accessed at Ohio law does not require the separate reporting of Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs) or condensate. Oil and gas reporting totals listed on the report include NGLs and condensate.

Ohio natural gas producers meet amid low energy prices - Ohio’s natural gas producers are having their annual meeting in Columbus this week amid concerns about what low natural gas prices mean for their business. Industry experts say it is time for more attention on profit than on production. For the past few years, Ohio’s natural gas producers have been more focused on boosting production in eastern Ohio’s Utica shale deposits than on profit. That’s about to change, the top executive of Ohio’s biggest oil and gas producer said. “Investors are demanding that we put growth aside and manage the business with the idea of making profit,” Jeff Fisher, the CEO of Ascent Resources, told those attending the annual meeting of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association this week in Columbus. Producers have driven the heightened focus on the bottom line, Fisher said; they have done such a good job of producing gas that prices have tumbled this year. The warm winter has contributed as well. “Demand growth has been phenomenal,” he said. “Supply has been a little more phenomenal, and that’s a recipe for not very good returns.” Putting more focus on profit is a good thing for an industry that needs discipline, he said. Already, some of that discipline might be showing up in the state’s production numbers. Natural gas production from Utica shale rose by just 3.2% to 685 billion cubic feet in the final three months of 2019 compared with the same period of 2018, according to new Ohio Department of Natural Resources data.

Gulfport Announces Steep Capex Cuts, Forecasts Production Decline - Gulfport Energy Corp. plans to slash spending to the bone this year and cut annual production in the process as it wrestles with low natural gas prices and a restive shareholder pushing to shake up the board.  The company intends to cut year/year capital expenditures (capex) by 50% to a range of $285 million to $310 million, and is guiding for 2020 production of 1.1-1.5 Bcfe/d. That compares to the $602.5 million in capex spent in 2019, when it also cut spending and kept production volumes flat at 1.37 Bcfe/d.The bulk of Gulfport’s volumes come from the Utica Shale in Ohio. It also has operations in the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province (aka SCOOP). All of Appalachia’s leading operators have announced plans to scale back this year in response to historically low gas prices, but Gulfport’s spending plans are among the lowest. Management said the 2020 program would generate positive free cash flow at current strip prices. The company laid out its 2020 plans in its year-end earnings release. Just days later, the company’s largest stockholder, Firefly Value Partners, which holds 13.1% of Gulfport’s shares, nominated two candidates for the board. Firefly has been pushing for change at the company since last year, voicing its dissatisfaction with management’s efforts to create more value. Gulfport responded by noting that five of its eight directors have been replaced in the last three years. Gulfport dumped more than $170 million of noncore assets in 2019 and reduced debt by $50 million through discounted bond repurchases as it has worked to simplify its portfolio and control costs at a time when investors have pressured oil and gas producers for stronger returns. The company plans to run one operated rig in the Utica this year, where it intends to turn 18 wells to sales. It also plans to run 1.5 operated rigs in the SCOOP, where it plans to turn four wells to sales. The Utica accounted for 1.1 Bcfe/d of 2019 production, while the SCOOP accounted for 274 MMcfe/d. Gulfport produced 1.35 Bcfe/d in the fourth quarter, compared to 1.4 Bcfe/d in the year-ago period. Average prices also slipped during the quarter to $2.03/Mcfe, compared to $3.45 in 4Q2018. They were down for the full year too at $2.27, compared to $2.98 in 2018.

Utica Shale Academy students head south — Students attending the Utica Shale Academy’s Columbiana satellite branch will now be heading to Southern Local. The board of the Utica Shale Academy held a special meeting on Friday afternoon and following a lengthy executive session passed a resolution to close the Columbiana satellite branch, which opened in 2015. Bill Watson, director of the Utica Shale Academy said this will mean as of Monday, the 17 students who were attending the Columbiana facility will be at Southern. The students will be brought by CARTS and Watson said their coursework will remain the same. The resolution also allows for the possible elimination of an instructor, who will be obsolete due to combining the classroom. Watson said the move will allow the Utica Shale Academy not to be as spread out and allow them to consider moving in other directions by possibly adding other curriculum paths. There were 67 students total at the two locations of Utica Shale Academy for the 2019-20 school year. While allowing the students to obtain their high school diploma, the community school currently focuses on the skills students need to know to work in the oil and gas industry.

Ohio Ethane Cracker Decision Expected Within Months - The developers of a proposed world-scale ethane cracker in southeastern Ohio expect to reach a final investment decision (FID) on the multibillion-dollar project during the first half of this year.In a written statement Friday on the project website, PTT Global Chemical America (PTTGC) noted that site preparation, engineering and design work have been underway since mid-2019 to prepare for the possible petrochemical complex it would develop with Daelim Chemical USA in Belmont County, Ohio. The firm noted that contractors working for the “PTTDLM” co-venturers have completed the first phase of work at the Mead Township site, located along the Ohio River.PTTDLM added that site activity will slow down over the next two to three months as it proceeds to the next pre-FID phase: finalizing project financing and supply agreements.According to the project website, the proposed ethane cracker would enjoy access to feedstocks from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations and links to major highway, rail, pipeline and port infrastructure. PTTGC reportedly has already spent more than $100 million on detailed front-end engineering design. The PTTDLM complex would be capable of producing 1.5 metric tons per annum of ethylene and its derivative, the website notes, adding the project has already secured air and waterways discharge permits from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Senate committee passes bill with tax credits for petrochemical industry -   A Senate committee approved two bills representing tax credits aimed at West Virginia’s petrochemical industry.  HB 4421, called the Natural Gas Liquids Economic Development Act, would provide a credit to businesses that store or transfer natural gas. The goal of the bill is to attract an ethane cracker plant or storage hub.HB 4019, called the Downstream Natural Gas Manufacturing Investment Tax Credit Act of 2020, would allow eligible taxpayers to take a credit against the portion of state income taxes that come from the taxpayer’s investment in a new or expanded downstream natural gas manufacturing facility provided it creates new jobs.The Senate’s Economic Development Committee considered and passed each bill during a session on Saturday. Each bill also has a reference to the Senate Finance Committee.In committee discussion, Senator Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said incentives already exist but are so stringent they’re hardly used.Senator Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, wondered what incentives are offered by surrounding, natural gas-producing states.“It’s clear we’re trying to make West Virginia is competitive with our surrounding states when it comes to this kind of economic development,” Ihlenfeld said.Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said he would like to better compare the taxes that apply to natural gas in West Virginia to those in other states.“We do charge a higher severance tax than other states, but there’s all kinds of other taxes on oil and gas production,” he said. For example, he said, Pennsylvania has a lower severance tax but also charges an impact fee.He requested a study resolution to summarize oil and gas taxes in comparison to other states. Tarr and Senator Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, said that would be redundant to information requested in previous legislation.Romano’s motion resulted in a 6-6 tie, which defeated it.But the committee’s chairman, Senator Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, had voted with Romano and said he had been wondering about the same issue. Swope said he has already been trying to compile the information.One way or another, Swope said he would get the tax comparison information and share it.

Rally at WV State Capitol Achieves Awareness Goal — NO PTTG or Ethane Hub—Residents from Marshall and Ohio counties, WV, and Belmont County, OH, made a three-hour trek to the WV State Capitol today to meet with legislators to speak about their opposition to an ethane cracker plant that PTT Global Chemical wants to build in Dilles Bottom, OH, across from Moundsville, WV. The cracker plant would impact the air quality of Moundsville and Wheeling, WV, which already have poor air quality. The residents informed lawmakers of their concerns about the PTTG cracker, which is just one component of many that would be part of the Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub (ASH). This is an umbrella name for a proposed petrochemical mega-complex, which primarily would use fracked natural gas liquids to make plastics in the Ohio and Kanawha River valleys. One similar facility, the Shell ethane cracker, is already under construction in Monaca, PA. If built, the petrochemical hub would span more than 400 miles along the rivers. Infrastructure related to the hub could reach into a 500-square-mile area in more than 50 counties in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. The infrastructure would include cracker plants and other types of refineries, underground storage facilities, and thousands of miles of pipelines. The feedstock for the petrochemical factories would come from a massive increase in regional fracking. The residents noted that this proposed petrochemical buildout would exacerbate air and water pollution and threaten the health of the five million residents who depend on the Ohio River as a public water source. West Virginia already has a history of petrochemical-related disasters, including C8 pollution and the 2014 MCHM water crisis.  Nonetheless, during the 2020 Legislative Session, many legislators have pushed a pro-petrochemical agenda, often referring to the proposed hub as a “petrochemical renaissance.”

Senate passes investment fund, tax credits for petrochemical industry -  With no discussion, the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that could create a sovereign investment fund for West Virginia.House Bill 4001, creating the West Virginia Impact Fund, passed the Senate 30-3 with one absence.The bill was a priority of House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, who was pleased. “I thank my colleagues in the Senate for their thorough consideration and overwhelming vote to support this bill that will truly revolutionize how we advance and attract economic development in our state,” stated Hanshaw, R-Clay. The same bill passed the House of Delegates on Feb. 21 after two hours of floor discussion and questions.The bill would establish a Mountaineer Impact Fund so West Virginia could serve as an official partner in investment deals.As envisioned, the finances would come from private investors or other sovereign investment funds with minimal West Virginia public dollars — if any — being involved.Major investors might include big corporations, combinations of private investors or the sovereign wealth funds of other countries.West Virginia could be the controlling partner, essentially the sponsor of the projects. In other words, West Virginia would be endorsing the investment with the state’s name. Guiding those decisions would be a board led by an executive director who would need to be hired. An investment committee including the governor and five appointees confirmed by the Senate would also be established. And the state Commerce Secretary would also be on board.

Petrochemical town hall near Pittsburgh spotlights pollution, health worries -Subsidies for the petrochemical industry may bring a boost in construction jobs but could have a negative effect on Pennsylvania’s air quality and public health, according to speakers at a town hall held near Pittsburgh Wednesday. The panel was put together by state Rep. Sara Innamorato, a Democrat from Pittsburgh. Innamorato voted against HB 1100, which passed the House and Senate last month, and would give millions of dollars in tax breaks for companies to build new chemical plants using natural gas from Pennsylvania.“We can be against corporate giveaways like HB 1100 and also be for good union jobs, family-sustaining jobs,” Innamorato said. The House and Senate passed HB 1100 with veto-proof majorities in February. Gov. Wolf has vowed to veto the bill, but it has yet to arrive at his desk. Innamorato said she held the forum for the public to hear from people other than just business and trade unions that would benefit from the law. “Those include impacted residents that live outside of Allegheny County, those include economists that have been studying this issue. It includes medical professionals who know what the public health impacts can be,” she said. “It’s a dialogue that we’re going to have. This is the first conversation that our office facilitated with the public, and it’s not going to be the last.”  Shell is building a multi-billion dollar petrochemical plant in Beaver County to turn the region’s ethane, a natural gas byproduct, into plastic. That plant is the beneficiary of a $1.65 billion state tax break. ExxonMobil may be looking to build another plant in the region, according to recent reports.

 Bethlehem Commissioners voice displeasure with amended PennEast plan -A proposal from PennEast Pipeline amending plans for its natural gas line is now being met with opposition from the Bethlehem Township Board of Commissioners. On Monday, commissioners authorized Township Manager Doug Bruce along with solicitor Lisa Ferrera to draft a letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) opposing PennEast’s new plans which call for a two-phase project. PennEast’s revised plan calls for a natural gas line connecting through Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Phase one of that plan includes the construction of a 68-mile natural gas line from another connection in Luzerne County that would terminate on Church Road and Route 33 in Bethlehem Township. According to a January press release from PennEast, “the new interconnections, which will be located south of Route 22 and Route 33, will be constructed on property already owned by PennEast Pipeline.” Construction would be complete by November 2021. But township officials say, that plan no longer calls for an underground pipeline. Instead, it calls for a metering and regulating mouth station. “This really seems to be a new application by separating the two phases,” Commissioner John Gallagher said. Commissioners say they were not aware of the amended application to FERC that has a public input deadline of March 4. According to Commissioner Malissa Davis, the newest proposal will connect the pipeline to the Adelphia Gateway and the Columbia Gas Transmission pipelines. In May 2019, the township approved a right-of-way for PennEast to construct 1,900 feet of pipeline through the municipality. The approval required them to construct the pipeline at least four feet underground and moved about 100 feet west of Hope Ridge Drive. Also, the township required that additional trees in the area be constructed and increase the number of pipeline inspections during and after construction. Gallagher said he is concerned because the newest proposal will be placed near homes and Farmersville Elementary School and Notre Dame High School. “The thing that concerned me is that the main difference was that part of the pipeline was just passing through the township,” he said. “Now, they are going to have a facility.” “It’s a far bigger project than we thought we were getting,” Gallagher said. “It’s bad enough to have the pipe,” Commissioner John Merhottein said.

How to Gain Approval for an Out-Dated Leaking Pipeline in Penna. - State regulators on Thursday finalized a settlement with Sunoco Pipeline to atone for a 2017 leak from the aging Mariner East 1 pipeline that includes a $200,000 fine and a promise to conduct a “remaining life” study of the nearly 90-year-old pipeline. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission unanimously adopted a recommended decision by Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth H. Barnes, which requires the study be completed six months after an independent expert is selected to conduct it. A redacted summary of the study will be released to the public. The PUC cited Sunoco in 2018 for the April 2017 leak, during which 840 gallons, or 20 barrels, of highly volatile natural gas liquids escaped from a small hole that formed in the eight-inch diameter steel pipeline in New Morgan, Berks County. The PUC cited Sunoco for having inadequate cathodic protection of the pipeline, which allowed it to corrode and to leak ethane and propane. The material bubbled to the surface and evaporated without causing injury or explosion, but the episode heightened concerns about what might happen if the 300-mile pipeline experienced a larger failure. Sunoco replaced an 83-foot section of pipe. The pipeline, built by Atlantic Refining in 1931 to deliver motor fuel and heating oil from its Philadelphia refinery to Western Pennsylvania, was acquired by Sunoco in 1988. Sunoco Pipeline in 2014 patched up and converted the pipeline, now renamed Mariner East, to carry gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale fields to a terminal in Marcus Hook. Sunoco, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer LP of Dallas, is building two new Mariner East pipelines along roughly the same path as the older pipeline to carry additional gas liquids to its Delaware County terminal. The contentious project, much delayed by construction mishaps, is nearing completion this year. But it is still being litigated in several venues, including the PUC. The agreement allows Sunoco to recommend three independent experts to conduct the remaining life study, from which the PUC’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement will choose one. The remaining life study, first publicly suggested by Gov. Tom Wolf a year ago, will assess the longevity of the Mariner East 1, including risks. 

 ‘We need to make a profit first’: What’s at stake in proposed gas tax credit for Pa. --For chemical industry executive Michel Goldschneider, the decision on whether to build a new plant in the Keystone State is all about the bottom line.“I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in the capitalist system, but it’s about dollars and cents,” Goldschneider, the CEO of Connecticut-based Elis Energy told the Capital-Star recently.Goldschneider’s company is looking to build its first plant to produce methanol, an alternative fuel that can be burned to power cars and ships. Breaking ground in the Keystone States already has its perks. The state is home to an abundant supply of natural gas and it’s close to the markets for methanol. There’s also a family connection. Goldschneider’s wife and business partner is a Hazleton native. But the final decision could come down to the success or failure of a proposed $22 million annual tax credit now pending before the General Assembly.Goldschneider’s decision is the scenario lawmakers imagined when they passed the credit last month. Part of a natural gas-based energy plan from House Republicans, it has garnered bipartisan support, buoyed by the backing of Pennsylvania’s construction trade unions. The proposal sponsored by Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne, passed the House and Senatewith a veto-proof majority Feb. 4. But Gov. Tom Wolf has promised to veto the bill, saying incentives should be considered on a case-by-case basis. The veto promise has drawn stern words from state trade unions. “Let’s call a veto … what it really is — an attack on Pennsylvania’s blue-collar workers,” Tony Seiwell, Business Manager of the Eastern Pennsylvania Laborers’ District Council, said in a press release last month. Republicans in the General Assembly have meanwhile held off from sending the bill to Wolf’s desk, which could buy time to garner support for a potential override.

Driller pulls out of talks in $5M suit -- One of Pennsylvania’s largest gas drillers pulled out of settlement talks aimed at resolving its $5 million lawsuit against a resident whose drinking water was contaminated and who has spent years bashing the energy industry.Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. sued Dimock resident Ray Kemble and his former lawyers in 2017, claiming they tried to extort the company through frivolous litigation. Cabot also claims Kemble violated a 2012 settlement agreement by repeatedly “spouting lies” about the company in public.Kemble, a high-profile fracking opponent who has traveled the country talking about his experiences with the gas industry, charges that Cabot is trying to shut him up.The company, which has drilled hundreds of wells in the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation, pulled out of a settlement conference scheduled for Friday because the parties have made “no progress” toward resolution, Cabot said in a legal filing.Kemble’s former lawyers, in turn, accused the driller of failing to negotiate in good faith, calling its withdrawal from talks “an indication that this action was not intended to seek compensatory damages, but instead an attempt to harass, embarrass and annoy the defendants.”

Criminal investigations target shale gas industry - Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said he is expending significant investigative resources in pursuit of more than a dozen criminal cases involving the shale gas industry. In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Shapiro cited the protections for clean air and pure water in the state Constitution as justifications for pursuing the criminal cases. “I can confirm that my office has more than a dozen ongoing criminal investigations into fracking and pipeline companies,” Mr. Shapiro said. “You can expect some will result in criminal charges in the near future.” He said Pennsylvania is one of two states to have protections for environmental values in its Constitution, and he takes enforcement of those values seriously. As an example he noted the criminal charges filed in November against Inflection Energy, a Denver gas drilling company, and Double D Construction of Montoursville, Lycoming County, for the 2017 discharge of 63,000 gallons of treated brine water into a tributary of Loyalsock Creek. “We are putting enormous resources of the attorney general’s office into these investigations,” he said. “I am deeply concerned with protecting our constitutional rights to clean air and pure water, and anything that harms that gets our attention.” David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Robinson-based trade organization representing the shale gas industry, said he couldn't comment on the "broad, ongoing investigations," but added that "protecting and enhancing public health, safety and our shared environment comes first." . Mr. Shapiro declined to talk about or even confirm the existence of a criminal grand jury focused on environmental crimes that the attorney general’s office has operated. However the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in January 2019 that based on information from multiple independent sources a state investigative grand jury was taking testimony in Pittsburgh. Two Washington County residents, June Chappel of Hopewell, and Stephanie Hallowich, a one-time vocal critic of the shale gas drilling around her then home in Mount Pleasant, testified at the grand jury early in 2019. Also in January, the newspaper reported that in August 2018 the attorney general’s office had contacted attorneys in a Washington County civil case involving alleged problems at a shale gas operation that it had "assumed jurisdiction over several criminal investigations involving environmental crimes in Washington County," and one of those investigations "involves your respective clients." In that civil case, Stacey Haney and her neighbors in Amwell claimed toxic spills, leaks and air pollutants at Range Resources Appalachia LLC's Yeager shale gas well had damaged their health, and that the state Department of Environmental Protection faked and reported incomplete air test results that under-reported pollution levels at the well site and nearby homes.

US natural gas futures edge up on decline in output - US natural gas futures edged up for a third day in a row on Wednesday due to a slight decline in output, despite weather forecasts confirming the previous warmer-than-normal forecast for the next two weeks. After rising about 7% earlier this week, front-month gas futures for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 2.7 cents, or 1.5%, to settle at $1.827 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). That is the first time the front-month increased for three days in a row since early January. Despite this week's gains, gas prices were still down 37% since hitting an eight-month high of $2.905 per mmBtu in early November because record production and mild winter weather enabled utilities to leave more gas in storage, making fuel shortages and price spikes unlikely. In Texas, next-day gas prices at the Waha hub in the Permian basin remained in negative territory for a second day in a row for the first time since August as pipeline constraints returned to the region and mild weather cut heating demand. Gas output in the US Lower 48 states eased to 93.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) on Tuesday from 94.0 bcfd on Monday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 94.1 bcfd last week and a daily record high of 96.6 bcfd on November 30. With the coming of spring-like weather, Refinitiv, a data provider, projected average demand in the Lower 48 states, including exports, would ease from 109.2 bcfd this week to 105.0 bcfd next week. That is similar to Refinitiv's forecast on Tuesday. The amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants, meanwhile, fell to a seven-week low of 7.0 bcfd on Tuesday due mostly to a decline at Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass in Louisiana, down from 7.9 bcfd on Monday, according to Refinitiv.

US working natural gas in underground storage decreases by 109 Bcf: EIA | S&P Global Platts — US working gas stocks fell by 109 Bcf last week, likely marking the final triple-digit draw of the season, as volumes surge to nearly 50% more gas in storage than this time last year. Storage inventories fell to 2.091 Tcf for the week ended February 28, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday morning. The pull was slightly more than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 105 Bcf withdrawal. It was less than the 152 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2019 but more than the five-year average draw of 106 Bcf, according to EIA data. Storage volumes now stand 680 Bcf, or 48%, more than the year-ago level of 1.411 Tcf and 176 Bcf, or 9%, more than the five-year average of 1.915 Tcf. US working gas stocks have reported stronger than average declines for most of February, but warmer temperatures for the last week of month saw residential and commercial demand slashed 7.4 Bcf/d, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. US-level, population-weighted temperatures increased 3 degrees week over week, led by the Midwest, which gained 8 degrees week over week.The NYMEX Henry Hub April contract slipped 1 cent to $1.817/MMBtu in trading following the release of the weekly storage report. The entire 12-month contract strip edged lower by about 3 cents this morning to an average $2.13, with much of the sell-off weighted towards the front of the curve. With winter officially in the books and April taking the prompt month position, the next ten months are each priced higher than the one before, which puts the price of gas higher in October than the higher-demand months of July and August.Platts Analytics' supply and demand model currently expects a 40 Bcf draw compared to the five-year average pull of 99 Bcf for the week ending March 6. This would further expand the storage surplus with only about three more weeks of withdrawals remaining before the flip to net injections. Demand once again took a tumble, averaging 102 Bcf/d this week. Notably, the Northeast and Midwest have not been the largest contributors to the drop, and instead the Southeast and Texas regions are driving significant losses in demand, falling by 2.2 Bcf/d and 1.5 Bcf/d, respectively, on a combination of LNG feedgas losses, joined by lower power and residential and commercial as well. Upstream, supplies have also softened, falling 0.5 Bcf/d compared with the week prior, after a slight increase in LNG sendout was outdone by a more than 0.6 Bcf/d drop in Canadian imports and a 0.1 Bcf/d drop in onshore production.

US natural gas falls on lower heating demand -- US natural gas futures on Thursday fell on forecasts for warmer weather and lower heating demand over the next two weeks, despite an increase in liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and a report showing a near-normal weekly storage draw. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said utilities pulled 109 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended February 28. That was in line with the 108-bcf draw analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and compares with a decline of 152 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2015-19) average reduction of 106 bcf for the period. The decrease for the week ended February 28 cut stockpiles to 2.091 trillion cubic feet (tcf), 9.2% above the five-year average of 1.915 tcf for this time of year. After rising over 8% earlier this week, front-month gas futures for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 5.5 cents, or 3.0%, to settle at $1.772 per million British thermal units. Despite gains earlier this week, gas prices were still down 39% since hitting an eight-month high of $2.905 per mmBtu in early November because record production and mild winter weather enabled utilities to leave more gas in storage, making fuel shortages and price spikes unlikely. The amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants, meanwhile, was on track to rise from 7.3 bcfd on Wednesday to 7.7 bcfd on Thursday, according to preliminary data from Refinitiv, as gas flow to Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass facility in Louisiana increases as fog cleared and vessels started to enter the terminal for the first time since Sunday. Traders are watching gas flows to US LNG export plants for declines after customers canceled a couple of cargoes for April as low prices in Europe and Asia – because of record-high storage in Europe and lower demand in China due to the coronavirus – made it uneconomical for some European customers to lift cargoes.

Democrats could field an anti-fracking candidate in 2020. Can they win in Pennsylvania? -  On the site of what will be Shell’s multibillion-dollar petrochemical plant, 6,000 union workers are putting together an ethane cracker, which will turn a natural gas byproduct into plastic. “Right now, the biggest trades here are the operating engineers and steamfitters, because a lot of the piping work is being done now,” said Jeff Nobers, executive director of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, which includes many of the unions working on the site. “There’s a lot of overtime. So you have people making well over six figures.” Nobers says if Democrats nominate someone who wants to ban fracking, they’d have a tough time winning over some of his members.  Presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have both said they want to move away from fossil fuels, and they support a ban on fracking for natural gas or oil. Though natural gas is pushing dirtier coal off the electric grid, scientists warn we need to phase out all carbon emissions from fossil fuels in the next few decades.  And fracking can release the powerful greenhouse gas methane. Some political observers think an anti-fracking message could hurt a candidate in Pennsylvania, where 30,000 people work in oil and gas, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and thousands more work in related industries. “Do you lose some moderate Democrats or independents who have interest in the natural gas industry if you call for shutting it down?” said Chris Borick, a political scientist at Muhlenberg College who’s studied public opinion on the topic. “I think the answer is probably ‘Yes.’”Recent polls find Pennsylvania voters are roughly split on whether to ban fracking.A January Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 48 percent of Pennsylvania voters favored a ban on fracking, while 39 percent were opposed. A Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll conducted in February found 42 percent of voters in the state opposed a fracking ban, with 38 percent in favor.That same poll found Sanders leading Trump 49-46 percent and Warren tied with Trump 47-47 percent in hypothetical head-to-head matchups.The Franklin & Marshall poll found support for a ban was strongest in the state’s two big cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Chevron offering U.S. workers buyouts to trim staffing: sources - (Reuters) - Chevron Corp is offering buyouts to reduce its U.S. oil exploration and production workforce, three sources told Reuters, as the oil major moves to cut costs in the face of sharply lower oil and gas prices. The No. 2 U.S. oil producer decided to reduce staff after reviewing operations late last year as energy prices fell, the sources said. Chevron confirmed that it was offering buyouts to workers in its shale gas business in the eastern United States but did not comment on any other U.S. job cuts. Other oil and gas producers and service companies have begun cutting workers as prices have dived on soaring production and tepid demand, which has been made worse by the coronavirus outbreak. One of the sources said some employees who accept Chevron’s buyout offer could remain until October. Another source said the company hopes to open spots for people who currently work for its shale gas operation in the Appalachian region of the United States, which is on the auction block. Chevron notified Pennsylvania state officials last month that it planned to cut up to 320 jobs in the state, which includes the shale gas business.

Hearing on LNG Terminal Plan for South Jersey Will Give Critics Another Chance to Object - The Delaware River Basin Commission has set up a quasi-judicial hearing on a controversial plan to build New Jersey’s first liquefied natural gas export terminal on the Delaware River, giving opponents a high-profile opportunity to reargue their case almost a year after the project was approved by the interstate water regulator.On Monday, the DRBC said the hearing, due to start on April 15 in Mercerville, will include testimony by the project’s developer, Delaware River Partners (DRP) as well as commission staff, and the environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN), which opposes the project and called last July for a rehearing. “This announcement is a stunning admission that the DRBC failed to provide a full or fair opportunity for public comment before approving the Gibbstown Logistics LNG export facility,” said Delaware Riverkeeper Network leader Maya van Rossum, in a statement.The “adjudicatory hearing,” a trial-like proceeding that will include direct- and cross-examination of witnesses by all sides, will take place before a hearing officer — an official from the Pennsylvania Department of State — who will later recommend to the commission whether to uphold or reject its approval of the project last June. The commission will be under no obligation to accept the recommendation. Some seats will be made available for the public to attend the hearing but the public will not be allowed to speak, the DRBC said. Delaware Riverkeeper Network previously argued that the commission didn’t allow nearly enough time for the public to comment on the proposal, which would build a 43-feet deep berth on a former DuPont site at Gibbstown on the Delaware River in Gloucester County. The project would make space for two oceangoing tankers to ship LNG that would be carried by rail from the gas-rich reserves of the Marcellus Shale in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Trump vows to continue fight against New York's rejection of new pipelines - – New York’s efforts to block new natural-gas pipelines are “unfair to the rest of the country,” President Donald Trump said Tuesday. The president’s comments come just days after the gas company Williams LP scrapped plans to build the 124-mile long Constitution pipeline that would have run through the Southern Tier to just outside of Albany. “We’re unable to build a pipeline through New York state, where they’d love the jobs of doing the pipeline. And because of that, New England has very, very high energy prices,” Trump said while speaking to the National Association of Counties in Washington on Tuesday. New York has moved to block a number of natural-gas pipelines over environmental concerns in recent years, including the Constitution pipeline and the so-called Williams pipeline that would bring natural gas into the New York City-area. Trump vowed to fight back, arguing the state’s decision is driving up energy costs and impacting neighboring states. “And we’re fighting them very hard, and I think we’ll be successful,” he said. “But if they’d allow a pipeline to go through, we would cut the prices of energy down by half, and even more so than that. It’s a terrible thing. It’s a very unfair thing to the rest of the country.”

 Oil spill reported near Fairhaven Shipyard - Cleanup crews responded to an oil spill Sunday morning near the Fairhaven Shipyard, but authorities say they don't know what caused it. At 7:22 a.m. the Fairhaven Fire Department received notification of an oil spill in the area of 50 Fort Street, the address of the Fairhaven Shipyard and Marina. On arrival, "they encountered a large oil spill of unknown quantity but estimated to be over 200 gallons," according to a statement from Lt. Paul Correia, public information officer for the fire department. The spill was "predominately located from Fairhaven Shipyard north to Linberg Marine," Correia wrote. The Fairhaven Harbormaster responded along with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard. The fire department and harbormaster deployed absorbent and sweep booms to collect "the initial product that could be recovered." MassDEP contacted the Frank Corporation, a New Bedford-based environmental cleanup firm, to complete the mitigation work. The work by Frank Corp. was overseen by the Coast Guard. "The source was unknown at this time," Correia wrote. 

Falmouth company fined for oil spill prevention violations - A Falmouth company has been ordered to pay a penalty after a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency. Lawrence Lynch Corp. in Falmouth must pay $3,000 in penalties and correct violations of oil pollution prevention regulations under the federal Clean Water Act, the EPA announced Wednesday. The EPA and Lawrence Lynch Corp agreed to the settlement, along with a company in Dedham that also will pay $3,000 in penalties. The EPA investigated Lawrence Lynch on Sept. 10 and found noncompliance with the regulations, said John Senn, public affairs specialist with EPA. The facility’s “spill prevention control and countermeasure” plan was inadequate and needed updating, and there was inadequate containment in one area of the facility, he said. Lawrence Lynch, a construction company located at 396 Gifford St., has large enough oil storage capacity that it is required to put in place plans to prevent spills under federal regulations, according to the statement. Lawrence Lynch Corp. agreed to submit an amended spill prevention plan that addresses those deficiencies and plans to construct any necessary containment, such as asphalt cement tanks. 

Gas pipelines part of the fight against climate change, Williams' Armstrong says  - Governments in the U.S. Northeast have denied pipeline permits and moved to eliminate natural gas use in the New York City and Boston areas in an effort to get away from the fossil fuels that contribute to global warming. But to achieve immediate emissions reductions, Williams Cos. Inc.'s CEO said the region needs to embrace gas pipelines. "We have to find a way to continue to utilize natural gas," the pipeline company's President, CEO and Director Alan Armstrong told S&P Global Market Intelligence. Natural gas fuels the majority of power generation in the Northeast, whereas wind and solar provide only a fraction, and the region keeps seeing demand increase that the renewables have not matched, Armstrong said. With roughly a quarter of heating in New York state coming from heating oil and refinery gas, which have heavier content than natural gas, the state still has room to lower emissions by switching in natural gas, Armstrong said. "Why we wouldn't take advantage of that, and why we wouldn't build infrastructure to take advantage of that, makes no sense to me," the CEO said. "Other than the fact that it has become politically popular — and almost religious — to say 'no fossil fuels' despite the amount of emissions reductions" that could be achieved by switching to gas. On Feb. 21, Williams was forced to cancel its Constitution Pipeline Co. LLC project between the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and pipeline connections in New York after years of fighting over permits with New York and environmental groups, even though the pipe had received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The company has another pipeline project near New York City, the Northeast Supply Enhancement project, or NESE, which New York has also opposed. For Williams, the economic situation around the Constitution pipeline changed in the years that it was in limbo, as New York made things harder and states and customers to the south of the Marcellus Shale asked for gas. "We developed three other [larger] projects while Constitution was being blocked," Armstrong told attendees. "So the Southeast states will enjoy that low-cost fuel supply. The Northeast states and New England will continue to be deprived of it and pay three to four times more for their gas supply."

How a dirt path is challenging a 600-mile pipeline  - I live in Appalachia, and on Sunday mornings I hike the Appalachian Trail across the mountains I call home. It is my church. I drink from its springs and rest in the shade of its ancient forests.  For decades, the trail has been my refuge. I have run for miles through tunnels of rhododendron, crossed paths with bears and camped with my children beneath starry skies.A few years ago, however, the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline broke ground, and crews began clear-cutting a scar across the mountains to move fracked natural gas from West Virginia to customers in Virginia and North Carolina. On my trail treks in Virginia, I watched the bulldozers creep closer.Then suddenly, on a crisp fall morning in 2018, the bulldozers stopped. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated a permit allowing the pipeline to cross the trail deep beneath the ground. The Supreme Court heard arguments last Monday on what will happen to the $8 billion project. It’s a showdown between some of the country’s leading fossil fuel utilities and an environmental group, the Cowpasture River Preservation Association.The outcome could upend pipeline construction here and elsewhere in the country, should a planned pipeline cross one of the nation’s 11 national scenic trails.Stretching 2,192 miles from Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is the longest and most popular hiking-only footpath in the world. Quite unexpectedly, it also has become a formidable and possibly final dirt line of defense against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.The Supreme Court case boils down to this: Energy companies received a permit from the U.S. Forest Service allowing pipeline construction through national forests that the agency oversees. But the Appalachian Trail is a unit of the national park system, which the Forest Service does not manage. The National Park Service does. Moreover, federal law prohibits any federal agency from authorizing a pipeline in the national park system. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline won’t be the only natural gas pipeline affected by this case. The Mountain Valley Pipeline, already under construction, would cross underneath the trail and then parallel for some 90 miles, with deep cuts visible in the wooded mountainside. At least 10 other proposed pipelines also plan to cross the trail.

This Pipeline Case Could Gut 100 Years of Safeguards for Federal Parks – When is a hiking trail not the same as the land it sits on? That’s a question before the Supreme Court, which last week heard oral arguments concerning the siting of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a $5.1 billion project that, if completed, would transport over a billion cubic feet of gas each day from West Virginia to North Carolina.  As proposed, the 3-foot diameter Atlantic Coast Pipeline, co-owned by Dominion and Duke Energies, would span approximately 600 miles, 21 miles of which would cross the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests. This route would also require the pipeline to cross the 2,100-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which bisects much of the George Washington Forest. Under the proposal approved by the U.S. Forest Service, the pipeline would cross the trail by way of a half-mile-long tunnel 600 feet below the trail. Oral arguments on February 24 asked the court whether the Forest Service had the authority to grant this right-of-way access for the pipeline. At issue is the federal Mineral Leasing Act. Passed by Congress in 1920 as a response to the Teapot Dome scandal, the Mineral Leasing Act was intended to protect federal lands from private interests and to ensure fair use of the natural resources those lands contain. The act also stipulates that lands administered by the National Park Service are exempt from uses such as mineral exploration, drilling and the locating of pipelines. Environmental groups fear that a ruling in favor of the energy companies behind the project could ultimately open up millions of acres of federal land—national monuments and historic places, wild and scenic rivers and other wilderness areas—to uses ranging from energy exploration and timber harvesting to highway construction and mining. Doing so, they say, would upend over a century of what was once considered inviolable protection.

Environmental groups will hold meeting on new gas pipelines in Fauquier County  - Piedmont Environmental Council will co-host a community information session about two natural gas projects planned for Fauquier and Prince William counties Wednesday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m. at its office in Warrenton. The organization is partnering with environmental groups Food and Water Watch, the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club and Fauquier Climate Change Group for the event. Food and Water Watch organizer Jolene Mafnas will be presenting information about these projects at the meeting. Piedmont Environmental Council Communications Advisor Cindy Sabato said the goal of the meeting is to give county residents the opportunity to learn more about what’s being proposed. The construction of an 8-mile natural gas pipeline expansion, called the Southeastern Trail Expansion project, is already underway in Fauquier and Prince William counties. The project will increase the capacity of the existing Transcontinental Pipeline, which runs from Texas to New York City. The new pipeline route runs adjacent to Va. 28 in Fauquier and Prince William. The project includes upgrades to an existing natural gas compressor station in Manassas, Virginia in addition to the new section of pipeline. Work on the project began in early February and is expected to be completed and in service by November 2020. A separate natural gas pipeline project in Fauquier and Prince William is in the early stages of planning. Virginia Natural Gas pipeline is aiming to connect its existing pipeline to the expanded Transco pipeline in Prince William County to bring natural gas to a new power plant in Charles City County, outside Richmond. The new section of pipeline will add 9.5 miles of pipeline that will stretch from its existing pipeline in Fauquier County to the Transco pipeline in Prince William County, just outside Nokesville. The new line includes plans for a new compressor station in the Nokesville area. 

Jim Beam Wanted More Gas, But Didn't Want To Pay For Bullitt Pipeline - The makers of Jim Beam bourbon asked Louisville Gas and Electric to supply additional natural gas to expand operations at its flagship site in Clermont, but didn’t want to pay for a new gas pipeline, according to subpoenaed records from the bourbon maker. A year later Louisville Gas and Electric went before utility regulators to ask for ratepayers to shoulder an estimated $27.6 million for the 12-mile-long natural gas pipeline. Jim Beam was not mentioned in that request. The distillery’s role in the pipeline saga appeared in an eminent domain case Tuesday as LG&E attempts to acquire the remaining land necessary to build the underground pipeline through Bernheim Forest and local farms. Attorney John Cox, who represents a landowner in the path of the pipeline, said the new details undermine LG&E’s claim that there is a public need for the new pipeline. As a result, Cox asked Bullitt County Circuit Court to dismiss the condemnation suit that would allow LG&E to seize a portion of his client’s property. “When you have a singular customer who has the idea for the project, the question becomes is this for a public purpose or is this for a private purpose?” said Cox.

 As Michigan battle rages on Line 5, Enbridge quietly buys land for tunnel | Bridge Magazine —As court battles persist over Enbridge Energy Inc.’s plan to build an underground tunnel for its Line 5 oil pipeline, Enbridge is quietly shelling out millions for modest properties on the south shore of the Straits of Mackinac. According to local property records, an Enbridge subsidiary has scooped up 16 residential parcels since November 2018 in a township west of the Mackinac Bridge, apparently betting that the tunnel plan will survive legal challenges.    The most recent purchase by the subsidiary, Tri-State Holdings, was on Jan. 17 for a pair of residential parcels in Wawatam Township that sold for more than $1 million, according to township records. That’s many times what local records show as their market value of roughly $280,000.   Tri-State also paid $3.25 million in March 2019 for six nearby parcels — more than eight times their combined market value of $370,000.Wawatam Township Supervisor Roger Moore noted that the parcels are where preliminary Enbridge plans show the tunnel would emerge from the Straits and link with the company’s underground pipeline that continues on a southeast path through lower Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario. It’s critical land as the Canadian energy company seeks to replace 67-year-old, dual pipelines that currently rest on the bottom of the Straits. “I think that’s why they paid so much for that property,” Moore told Bridge Magazine. This now-deserted residential neighborhood is dotted here and there by yellow no-trespassing signs that mark the Enbridge purchases, just a few hundred feet from an Enbridge Line 5 pumping station.

Coalition looks to end gas bill surcharge in Illinois - A 2013 state law allowing utilities to tack natural gas surcharges onto consumer bills for the purpose of funding infrastructure improvements is under scrutiny at the Capitol. At a Statehouse news conference Tuesday, lawmakers and consumer advocates called for ending that state law on Jan. 1, 2021, three years earlier than its Dec. 31, 2023, statutory sunset date. They claim allowing the surcharges “helps major utilities sidestep the regulatory process, automatically raise heating bills, and force many customers into financial crisis to cover billions of dollars in reckless utility spending.” Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, said his Senate Bill 3497 and its companion House Bill 5247 are aimed at starting “a conversation centered on the accountability, the safety, and the affordability of utility bill increases that our families are facing in the state of Illinois.” The coalition criticized a 2013 state law that allowed for Qualified Infrastructure Plant, or QIP, surcharges to be applied to consumer bills. The measure was written to allow utility companies to replace outdated pipes, including cast iron piping that was an explosion risk. “Seven years ago, the Illinois Legislature gave gas utilities permission to charge their customers more in order to make urgent repairs, such as replacing old cast iron pipes — repairs that were needed to keep us all safe,” Mason said. “Unfortunately, instead of just making the necessary safety repairs, the utilities are now spending money on things like installing new meters and replacing perfectly safe pipes and we're all getting stuck with this bill.”

How a Pipeline Is Dividing Minnesota’s Democrats Ahead of Super Tuesday - — The planned route for this pipeline runs past small Northwoods towns populated with union laborers. It cuts across one Native American reservation, while steering around another. And it slices through the fragile coalition that has delivered Minnesota to Democrats in 11 consecutive presidential elections. Influential Democrats have been among the loudest voices on both sides of a debate over whether to replace an aging pipeline, known as Line 3, which carries Canadian crude oil through the evergreen forests and pristine waters of northern Minnesota. Politicians in the state’s big cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, environmentalists, and many Native Americans, worried about the possibility of a spill and about climate change, have protested the replacement plan and held it up. Rural lawmakers and labor unions, seeing the potential for high-paying construction jobs, mostly supported it.  Over generations, the strength of Democrats in Minnesota was based on uniting the state’s city-dwellers and its rural residents in common political cause. But as Democrats prepare to vote in the Super Tuesday presidential primary, that alliance is frayed and in flux.  “There are a lot of Democrats in Minnesota that think ‘Well, the rural area is gone, and the future for us is in the suburbs,’”  “People out here can feel how the party has kind of moved away from them.” In a state where even the longstanding, official name of the party — the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party — pays homage to rural-urban bonds, the signs of change are all around. In 2018, Democrats flipped two congressional seats in the Minneapolis and St. Paul suburbs, but they also lost two rural-based seats.Union members who work in mining and construction, long a cornerstone of the party, have grown frustrated by the influence of environmentalists. And those environmentalists, alarmed by climate change and frustrated with politicians’ response, have become increasingly impatient about demanding limits on the use of fossil fuels.“It’s like smoking cigarettes: We’re sitting here smoking every day, but eventually we’re going to have to stop because we’re going to die from it,” said Chairman Michael Fairbanks of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, who opposes Line 3, the pipeline that would run just north and east of his tribe’s reservation. He said he feared the impact a pipeline spill might have on the waters where his tribe gathers wild rice.“Frankly, the Republicans have done a very good job of framing you’re either for jobs or you’re for the environment, and you can’t have both,” said Mike Simpkins, a Democrat from Bemidji, a college town in the state’s north, who has worked on political campaigns and in pipeline construction. “I don’t believe that.”

 Enbridge gets three draft state permits for Line 3 pipeline - A Minnesota regulatory agency has issued three draft permits for Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline replacement, Kallanish Energy reports. The permits were released last week by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The permits included a water-quality certification, which must be approved before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can issue a federal water permit, along with a draft wastewater permit and an air-quality permit. The agency has kicked off a one-month public comment period and three public hearings will be held in northern Minnesota on the three draft permits that must be approved before construction can begin. Last month, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved a revised environmental review, a certificate of need and a route permit for the $8.2 billion pipeline project, although other approvals are required. The company has said it hopes to begin construction later this year. The commission had approved the Enbridge project in June 2018. But last summer, the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected an environmental study because it failed to assess the impacts of a potential oil spill in the Lake Superior basin. The Minnesota Department of Commerce revised the plan to include an analysis of the impacts of such a spill. New computer modeling shows that spills would not pose a threat to Lake Superior. Enbridge has said that the old line is corroding and its capacity has been cut in half. Its maintenance is costly, the company has said. It was built from 1962 to 1967. The new Line 3 would be 1,031 miles in length in three states and Canada. At present, Line 3 runs from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin. The Canadian portion runs from Hardisty to Gretna, Manitoba, and the U.S. portion runs from Neche, North Dakota, to Superior, Wisconsin. It is a key part of Enbridge’s Mainline System for transporting tar sands crude oil to refineries and markets in the United States and eastern Canada.

10 Years After Deepwater Horizon, Oil Spills and Accidents Are on the Rise - On April 20, 2010, an explosion and fire on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon killed 11 men and injured 17 other crew members. Over the next 87 days, an estimated 210 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, poisoning fish and wildlife, forcing the closure of beaches and fisheries, and causing billions of dollars in damage to coastal communities along the Gulf. After this catastrophic spill, the Obama administration enacted a series of reforms to improve oil rig safety—reforms that the Trump administration has since rolled back. A Center for American Progress review of government data finds that oil spills, injuries, and accidents from offshore drilling are now on the rise, threatening to erase the progress made in the 10 years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. During its first months, the Trump administration placed the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)—an agency created after Deepwater Horizon to regulate offshore drilling—under the leadership of Scott Angelle, a former Louisiana secretary of natural resources who served for years on the board of an oil and gas pipeline company. During the Obama administration, Angelle helped lead the oil and gas industry’s fight against reforms to offshore drilling safety. Following Angelle’s arrival in 2017, the number of inspections and enforcement actions undertaken by BSEE declined. According to agency data, BSEE inspectors conducted 13 percent fewer inspection visits to rigs, platforms, pipelines, and other facilities in the first three years of the Trump administration (2017–2019) than they did during the last three years of the Obama administration (2014–2016). These data conflict with Director Angelle’s public claims that inspections have been rising under the Trump administration. A spokesperson for BSEE clarified to CAP that Angelle was referring to the total number of “types of inspections”—or inspection procedures—that BSEE has been performing, as inspectors sometimes conduct multiple inspection procedures during a single inspection visit. However, agency data also show that BSEE inspectors took 38 percent fewer enforcement actions—through the issuance of so-called incidents of noncompliance—against offshore oil and gas operators from 2017 to 2019 than they did from 2014 to 2016. It is difficult to explain this precipitous decline in enforcement actions with a theory that oil and gas companies suddenly awakened to the merits of voluntary compliance with safety guidelines. Furthermore, a Politico investigation found that BSEE granted nearly 1,700 waivers that allowed companies to sidestep compliance with stronger safety standards for blowout preventers—a critical piece of safety equipment that can serve as a last line of defense against well blowouts, oil spills, and other disasters.

Offshore oil and gas accidents, deaths spike amid Trump administration's regulatory rollbacks  While President Donald Trump's administration was working to relax offshore drilling regulations, there was a spike in offshore accidents and a decrease in safety inspections, according an analysis by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement — the federal agency tasked with regulating offshore drilling — has not yet released a tally of offshore incident statistics for 2019. But the Center for American Progress dug through the agency's budget documents to find the number of injuries per hour worked on oil and gas facilities on the federal Outer Continental Shelf.American Progress found that the rate of injuries increased 21% in 2018 and 2019 compared with the previous two-year period of 2016 and 2017. The data includes injuries that require medical treatment beyond first aid. It excludes those stemming from natural causes, illness or that are self-inflicted, according to the budget documents."At worst, this is an unraveling of safety gains made after Deepwater Horizon," the catastrophic BP spill of 2010, said Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at American Progress.Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that BSEE Director Scott Angelle — a former Louisiana state official and 2015 gubernatorial candidate — asked his staff to make changes to the Well Control Rule, a new protocol imposed after the 2010 disaster aimed at reducing the likelihood of a recurrence. Angelle's changes were meant to cut down on the cost of compliance for the energy industry, and he made them despite advice from BSEE engineers that the changes were unsafe.  The rate of offshore injuries was trending downward between 2015 and 2017. But there was a sharp uptick in accidents in 2018. The injury rate is calculated based on the number of injuries per 200,000 hours worked, which includes operator and contractor hours worked for production, construction and drilling operations on the Outer Continental Shelf, an area that includes the Gulf of Mexico.While there were fewer accidents in 2019 than in 2018, the incidents in 2019 may have been more serious. In February, the BSEE reported that there was one fatality in 2018. While the agency has not released the number of fatalities in 2019, local media reports indicate there were at least nine offshore oil worker deaths, according to an analysis by The Times-Picayune. That would mean at least 8% of the injuries reported in 2019 were fatalities.

Months after major oil spill, Bahamas could permit offshore drilling - The Bahamas looks poised to greenlight drilling for oil in waters about 150 miles from South Florida just months after Hurricane Dorian ravaged the island nation and caused a major spill on Grand Bahama island.  The Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) hopes to drill its first exploratory well in an area 100 miles southwest of the nation’s Andros Island as early as next month, the company said in a recent regulatory filing. The Perseverance #1 venture would coincide with the 10-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which started in April 2010 and released more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. There is currently no offshore drilling in Bahamian waters. “Perseverance #1 has the potential to open a world-class, new-frontier basin offshore Bahamas, less than 200 miles from the world’s largest hydrocarbon market/infrastructure,” Simon Potter, the chief executive officer of BPC, said in a statement accompanying the regulatory filing. He called the planned well “one of the premier prospects that could be drilled globally this year” with the potential to “transform the revenue-generating capacity of the Bahamian economy.”The nation and its tourism-dependent economy took a major hit last September when Hurricane Dorian, a powerful Category 5 storm that scientists say was strengthened by planetary warming, slammed into the Abaco Islands and then stalled over Grand Bahama for 30 hours. The storm killed at least 67 people, left hundreds more unaccounted for and caused an estimated $3.4 billion in damage.  Last year’s hurricane disaster offered a fresh reminder of the threat that climate change poses to coastal fossil fuel infrastructure around the globe, much of which is not built to withstand storms of Dorian’s magnitude. On the island of Grand Bahama, Dorian’s winds ripped the dome roofs off storage tanks at an oil terminal owned by Norwegian energy giant Equinor, causing some 55,000 barrels ― 2.31 million gallons of oil ― to spill onto the ground.

Analysis: Haynesville glimpses new Gulf Coast market access in 2021, 2023  — Producers operating in the Haynesville Shale should see improved access to US Gulf Coast markets following the recent announcement of a final investment decision on the CJ Express project. Last week, Midcoast Energy said it would proceed with the addition of up to 150 miles of 36-inch diameter greenfield pipeline at multiple locations along the operator's existing East Texas system. The expansion will increase gathering capacity in the Shelby Trough area of the Haynesville and boost transmission capacity on Midcoast's Clarity Pipeline system by 1 Bcf/d – improving deliverability to export and industrial markets along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. In conjunction with its FID announcement, MidCoast said it had reached definitive, long-term anchor shipper agreements in support of the proposed expansion. The completed project is expected to enter service by early 2021. A separate announcement from Enable Midstream Partners Monday offered more promising news for Haynesville producers as the company applied for regulatory approval to build its own 1.65 Bcf/d interstate pipeline from the Louisiana shale basin to the Golden Pass LNG terminal. Enable's Gulf Run Pipeline is seeking authorization from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to begin construction by early 2021 with a proposed January 1, 2023 in-service date. Incremental capacity from the Haynesville to US Gulf Coast markets will help relieve area gas producers battered by discounted prices at Carthage, the basin's nearest delivery point. Year to date, cash prices at the East Texas hub have averaged an 11-cent/MMBtu discount to benchmark Henry Hub gas, or $1.82/MMBtu, S&P Global Platts data shows. The basis discount at Carthage, though, is likely to widen during the coming spring and autumn shoulder seasons as utilization rates on southbound transmission corridors to Henry Hub and Houston Ship Channel rise.

Ragley residents voice opinions on LNG project changes - Ragley residents are voicing their opinions after a change in a proposed LNG project in Beauregard parish. The Louisiana Connector project, a part of the Port Arthur Pipeline, was approved last year and will run through Ragley. But, due to changes in the project, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, wanted to meet with locals to hear their thoughts — good and bad — about the proposed compressor station. “One of those improvements amounts to moving a compressor station that was approved previously, moving it down the pipeline to a more optimal location," J.D. Morris, director of permitting and compliance for Sempra LNG, said. Back in January we reported the station was originally set to be off of Gaytine Road, but Sempra, the company over the project, got push back because homeowners say it would’ve been an eyesore and noisy for the area. Now the compressor station will sit off of Coonie Jackson Road in Ragley.

Sempra Energy, Bechtel Team Up on Port Arthur LNG Project - Port Arthur LNG LLC and Bechtel Oil, Gas, and Chemicals Inc., subsidiaries of Sempra Energy and Bechtel, respectively, have signed an engineering, procurement and construction contract for the Port Arthur LNG liquefaction project under development in Port Arthur, Texas. "Building new export infrastructure in the U.S. is critical to providing overseas markets with cleaner fuel alternatives," said Jeffrey W. Martin, chairman and CEO of Sempra Energy.  Bechtel Oil, Gas, and Chemicals will perform the engineering, procurement, construction, commissioning, startup, performance testing and operator training activities for the project. The agreement also includes continuing pre-final investment decision engineering. The project is expected to initially include two liquefaction trains, two liquefied natural gas storage tanks, a marine berth and associated loading facilities and related infrastructure to provide liquefaction services, with a nameplate capacity of about 13.5 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of LNG. The project site is on 3,000 acres of land along three miles of the Sabine-Neches waterway and has the potential to become one of the largest LNG export projects in North America, with expansion capabilities of up to eight liquefaction trains and approximately 45 Mtpa of capacity, according to the companies. The Port Arthur LNG development project received authorization from the U.S. Department of Energy to export domestically produced LNG to countries that do not have a free trade agreement with the U.S. in May of last year. Also, FERC issued the approval to site, construct and operate the liquefaction-export facility in April 2019.

Tellurian tightens belt amid dim short-term outlook for LNG - Houston liquefied natural gas company Tellurian is cutting costs and  reorganizing some debt as LNG prices remain low amid a global supply glut caused by a warm winter in Asia and the coronavirus outbreak.The company said Monday that it would cut corporate expenses by about 18 percent to $6 million per month to help ride out the storm. It also is trying to extend the maturity of a term loan due in May.“Given current global financial market conditions and increasing restrictions on travel caused by the onset of coronavirus, we are taking the steps necessary to focus on preserving the value we have created at Tellurian and Driftwood LNG," CEO Meg Gentle said in a statement. Monday's announcements came less than a week after the company posted a $151.8 million loss in 2019, up 21 percent from a $125.7 million loss a year earlier. Annual revenue, however, grew by 180 percent to $28.8 million from $10.3 million in 2018.Tellurian has no operating export facility and relies entirely on sales from its 67 natural gas wells for revenue. It has a federal permit to export 27.6 million metric tons of LNG per year from a planned Driftwood LNG facility in Lake Charles, La., but hasn't made a final investment decision on the project.

Mounting pressure on U.S. LNG industry - A global supply glut has placed intense pressure on U.S. liquefied natural gas companies. There are now six LNG export terminals in operation in the United States and another 10 projects that hold permits but lack contracts and financing to move forward. A warm winter and the coronavirus outbreak have weakened global LNG demand, forcing two companies with ties to Houston to make moves for their projects to survive. Houston liquefied natural gas company Tellurian is lowering expenses, renegotiating some of its debt and selling stock among its moves to save its Driftwood LNG project in Louisiana. LNG Limited, an Australian company with its principal offices in Houston, is selling all of its assets to a Singapore firm that will take over the company's proposed projects in Louisiana and Canada. The sale still needs stockholder approval. LNG Limited received a federal permit in 2016 but has spent the last four years unable to land supply contracts or secure financing.

U.S. Gas Export Pioneers Forced to Sell Shares to Satisfy Loan Requirements-- Two pioneers of the U.S. natural gas export industry were forced to sell shares of the company they founded amid a global market rout and concern that a key supply deal won’t be finalized. Tellurian Inc. Chairman Charif Souki and Vice Chairman Martin Houston sold 4 million and 3.4 million shares respectively, according to filings late Friday. In both cases, the transactions were forced by a lender to satisfy loan requirements, the filings show. Tellurian declined to comment. Shares of the company, which is trying to develop a $28 billion liquefied natural gas terminal in Louisiana, plunged by more than half on Friday to close at $1.80. The total weekly decline was 72%. India’s Petronet LNG Ltd., a potential major customer that Tellurian has courted, announced earlier this week it would seek competing offers. The move highlights the mounting pressure on sellers amid a worldwide glut, and adds to doubts that Tellurian will be able to secure a sizable anchor investment from Petronet for its Driftwood LNG project. The Petronet news also dashed hopes that the two companies might finalize a supply agreement during President Donald Trump’s visit to India this week. The coronavirus outbreak, meanwhile, sent global markets spiraling lower, adding to Tellurian’s woes. The epidemic has hit China, South Korea and Japan, the world’s biggest LNG importers, particularly hard. “Continued commercial slippage, mounting liquidity concerns, and the broader market de-risking have combined to price-in the new economic reality for Tellurian: It’s not going to make it,” Michael Webber, managing partner at Webber Research & Advisory LLC, wrote in a note to clients Friday. Tellurian said Thursday it had extended a memorandum of understanding with Petronet by two months to May 31. Under the memorandum, Petronet agreed to negotiate the purchase of as much as 5 million tons a year of LNG from Driftwood, along with an equity investment.Collapsing LNG prices in Asia and Europe have squeezed profits for American gas exporters, already under pressure after China halted U.S. imports of the fuel a year ago amid trade tensions. Without commitments from Chinese buyers, some American export projects may be delayed or canceled.

LNG opponents sue feds over two Port of Brownsville permits - Opponents of the liquefied natural gas industry have sued a federal agency that issued permits for a controversial LNG export terminal at the Port of Brownsville and a related pipeline. In a petition filed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the Sierra Club, the City of Port Isabel and four other opponents are asking a federal judge to review and overturn permits issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for Rio Grande LNG and the Rio Bravo Pipeline.No court hearing has been set in the lawsuit.  FERC officials issued a permit for the controversial projects in November and then denied a request by opponents to reconsider the agency's decision.Citing safety and environmental concerns, opponents of the projects say that Rio Grande LNG will become the largest polluter in the Rio Grande Valley, an impoverished region along the U.S./Mexico border."FERC has consistently ignored concerns about how Rio Grande LNG and other fracked gas facilities would harm already-marginalized Latinx communities in the Rio Grande Valley," Sierra Club organizer Rebekah Hinojosa said in a statement. "This fracked gas export facility would devastate our local economy and subject our families to dangerous pollution, and it's unacceptable that FERC has refused to take these threats into consideration."However, supporters of the projects say they will reduce flaring in the Permian Basin of West Texas by creating a market for natural gas that would otherwise be burned off. Designed to export 27 million metric tons of LNG per year, the plant and pipeline will also bring billions of dollars of private investment to the impoverished region, generate thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of high-paying permanent jobs.

Texas jury opposes felony charges for protesters who shut Houston Ship Channel - (Reuters) - A Texas grand jury on Wednesday declined to issue felony indictments against a group of Greenpeace USA activists who closed a key oil export waterway for 18 hours last year by tying themselves to a Houston bridge and dangling over the water. Felony charges had been brought against 31 activists involved in the September 2019 protest. The indictments, sought by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, were under Texas’ new critical infrastructure law, which makes it a felony to interfere with oil and gas pipelines and ports, and other “critical infrastructure.” The Harris County jurors opted instead for 25 misdemeanor indictments for obstructing a highway or other passageway. Six cases were dismissed before submission and 22 people still face separate a federal misdemeanor charge for blocking a navigable waterway. The misdemeanor charge has a penalty of up to 180 days of jail time and a fine of up to $2,000. “No one violated Texas’ critical infrastructure statue,” said Tom Wetterer, general counsel for Greenpeace USA, adding that the new law and similar laws “unconstitutionally criminalize peaceful protest and violate First Amendment rights to free speech.”

Greenpeace Activists Avoid Felony Charges Following a Protest Near Houston’s Oil Port - Texas prosecutors downgraded charges filed against a group of Greenpeace activists on Wednesday, deferring a potential courtroom debate over a controversial new law the state passed last year.More than two dozen protesters were arrested in September after several had dangled themselves off a bridge over the Houston Ship Channel, a vital conduit in one of the nation's busiest oil ports.The Harris County District Attorney's office had originally charged the protesters with felonies under the new law, which imposes harsh penalties on anyone who disrupts energy infrastructure. But prosecutors changed the charges to misdemeanors on the same day that a grand jury indicted 23 of the protesters on those misdemeanors.  The felony charges were the first issued by prosecutors under similar laws that have been enacted in at least eight other states since 2017. The bills generally allow prosecutors to seek lengthy prison terms and steep fines for people who trespass on or damage "critical infrastructure" facilities, including pipeline construction sites.The Texas protesters had faced up to two years in prison and $10,000 in fines under the felony charges, said Ryan Schleeter, a Greenpeace spokesman. He said the organization's lawyers had argued that the activists hadn't violated the new law, and that "the law is intended to chill protest and free speech." Twenty-two of the activists also face separate federal misdemeanor charges connected to the protest, Schleeter said. Prosecutors dropped all charges against another six before the indictment.

Report: Crude oil exports soar while U.S. inventory grows slightly - Crude oil production and exports soared during the last week of February while U.S. inventories grew slightly, a new report from the Department of Energy showed. During the last week of February, the United States produced a record 13.1 million barrels of crude oil per day and exported nearly 4.2 million barrels of that production, a Wednesday morning report from the Department of Energy shows.Production was up 100,000 barrels per day from the previous week while exports were up nearly 500,000 barrels per day. However, those gains in exports did not offset commercial crude oil inventories, which were at 444.1 million barrels -- up roughly 800,000 barrels from one weak prior. The inventory comes at a time when crude oil prices are weak. West Texas Intermediate crude oil is trading was trading in the $47 per barrel range amid a global supply glut attributed to weaker demand in China where the coronavirus outbreak has cut imports. Some fear that largest drop in oil demand in history is underway due to the outbreak and that it could be even worse than that experienced during the 2008 financial crisis, analysts at the research firm IHS Markit said Wednesday.

 Drilling rig operator files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy - After enduring more than five years of losses, San Antonio drilling rig operator Pioneer Energy Services has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.In its Chapter 11 filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Antonio, Pioneer listed more than $100 million in assets and more than $100 million in debt owed to more than 200 creditors.Pioneer hasn't made a profit since the third quarter of 2014. The filing comes weeks after company executives reached a financial restructuring deal with key investors that included forgiving debt in exchange for equity in the reorganized company.  Active in shale plays across the U.S., Pioneer makes most of its revenue from its drilling rig fleet, but the company also provides other related services. The bankruptcy filing comes as crude oil prices have fallen below $50 per barrel, well below the break-even point for most exploration and production companies.In a statement, Pioneer said the bankruptcy filing only covers the company's U.S. assets and not its international assets that include drilling rig operations in Colombia."Our objective is to use the restructuring process to implement a balance sheet restructuring and set the company on a path to succeed in the future with a right-sized debt structure and ample liquidity going forward," Pioneer Energy Services CEO William Stacy Locke said in a statement.

Coronavirus Delivers Another Blow to Embattled Shale Drillers - Shale drillers were already braced for a tough year. Now the new coronavirus is putting them under even greater financial pressure. Exploration and production companies are straining to slow growth—amid an oversupply of oil and gas—and cut spending to appease investors angry over poor returns. Now the virus has further weakened global demand for their products, posing a greater challenge to a sector where many companies are saddled with debt.By some measures, top shale companies have shown improvement in recent earnings reports. Roughly 46% of 37 U.S. independent producers spent less than they took in from operations last year, up from about 30% in 2018, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of FactSet data. Nonetheless, the whole sector is getting clobbered as concerns about the economic impact of coronavirus pull oil prices lower and cloud 2020 prospects. U.S. benchmark oil prices ended Friday around $45 a barrel, down from about $53 a week earlier. Shares in shale drilling pioneer Chesapeake Energy Corp. tumbled roughly 38% through the week ended Friday amid concerns about the company’s debt load. Whiting Petroleum Corp. WLL 1.18% ’s stock also plunged after it warned that output would decline this year. Continental Resources also traded lower after disclosing 2020 plans that indicated the company could struggle to generate free cash flow at current oil and gas prices. “We see the oil and gas markets as fundamentally oversupplied, with demand even further impacted by the coronavirus,” Continental Executive Chairman Harold Hamm said. Shale drillers have been under tremendous pressure from investors—and increasingly from their lenders—after years of poor financial returns, even as they turbocharged American oil production to nearly 13 million barrels a day, the most in the world. Many are now seeking to win back Wall Street by limiting spending and demonstrating that they can generate free cash flow, positioning them to pay down debt or return money to shareholders. But that was proving a tall order, even before coronavirus added to concerns about soft demand. In addition to lower oil prices, natural-gas prices have been hovering below $2 per million British thermal units for much of the year, down from an average of about $2.69 in February 2019, U.S. Energy Information Administration data show.

CERAWeek energy conference canceled over concerns about coronavirus outbreak - The annual CERAWeek energy conference, which was scheduled to take place in Houston from March 9 to March 13, has been canceled due to the increased spread of coronavirus, according to IHSMarkit, the consultancy that has held the event every year since 1981. “We do this with deep disappointment,” the group said in a statement issued Sunday on its website. “Over the last few days concern has mounted rapidly about the COVID-19 coronavirus. The World Health Organization raised the threat level on Friday, the U.S. government cancelled a summit meeting scheduled in Las Vegas, an increasing number of companies are instituting travel bans and restrictions, border health checks are becoming more restrictive and there is growing concern about large conferences with people coming from different parts of the world. Delegates from over 80 countries were expected to participate in CERAWeek 2020.”  CERAWeek is the energy industry’s biggest conference and annually draws senior executives from around the world. The group said it will plan ahead for CERAWeek 2021. This is not the first event that has been canceled over the coronavirus outbreak. Facebook this past week announced its decision to cancel its annual F8 software developer conference due to concerns surrounding the outbreak. Game Developers Conference, a major event for video game programmers and designers, has been postponed. The Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest technology trade show held in Barcelona, was called off after companies including Facebook pulled out. Concerts across Asia have been canceled. The annual Geneva International Motor Show was also canceled.

Coronavirus delivers another hit to energy --The spread of the coronavirus forced the cancellation of CERAWeek by IHS Markit, the annual gathering in Houston of the most powerful and influential people in the energy world. Organizers at the research and consulting firm IHS Markit made the call Sunday as the global pandemic has spread in recent weeks and the Trump administration imposed additional restrictions on travel from Iran and issued advisories on travel to Italy and South Korea. The conference was scheduled to begin Monday March 9. The cancellation of the conference, sometimes called the Davos of energy, is another symbol of the threat the coronavirus has posed to economic growth, energy demand and oil and gas industry. It follows the worst week for crude since the 2008 financial crisis .Crude lost 16 percent last week and settle Friday below $45 a barrel. It's down nearly 30 percent from its recent peak in the beginning of January. As James Osborne reports, the industry was already struggling with lackluster prices, falling profits, shrinking capital and waning investor confidence. Some analysts worry about a repeat of 2014, if the coronavirus continues its march and oil prices resume their slide for an extended period.   Our columnist, Chris Tomlinson, writes that Texas and its energy-sensitive economy is already feeling the impact as oil and gas companies prepare to pull more rigs and workers from oil fields.As Tomlinson notes, "Oil companies producing in the Permian Basin do not make money at $55, let alone $44.76 a barrel."How dark the forecasts become will depend on how long the markets continue their slide. OPEC and its allies are considering another production cut while the clamor for the Federal Reserve to slice already low interest rates is building. Actions by these institutions could provide a lift to oil prices. But if recent history shows anything, those hoping for a long-lasting period of healthy oil prices are likely to be disappointed.

Is The US Shale Boom Over? Four Major Threats To The Fracking Revolution - The U.S. is awash in cheap shale oil and gas. After decades of declining U.S. oil output, the fracking revolution unlocked vast oil and gas deposits and made America the world's No. 1 oil producer. The once-massive U.S. petroleum deficit — $436 billion in 2008 — turned into a surplus last September. "We do not need Middle East oil," President Donald Trump declared in January.  Yet just as Americans have begun to take cheap energy for granted, along with the jobs and extra spending money spawned by the shale economy, the U.S. shale boom's next act looks uncertain. While the government projects continued growth for shale oil and gas production, that forecast may understate the threats. Political, financial, technological and geological pressures are closing in.Well productivity has peaked, while prime drilling areas may soon be fully tapped. Meanwhile, shale oil and gas companies — from pure plays such as EQT to oil majors Exxon Mobil and Chevron — haven't generated returns. Investors, who no longer want to finance expansion given environmental and political risks. The growth phase of the shale boom is "screeching to a halt," says Raoul LeBlanc, vice president for energy at IHS Markit. "We expect zero growth next year, and if the coronavirus continues, we could have negative growth this year." LeBlanc sees big reasons for the abrupt slowdown that have nothing to do with the Covid-19 virus. "The technology has largely matured," he said. After a period of big well productivity gains, "we've largely optimized what we can do." Further, the best ground for drilling will be exhausted in about five years, LeBlanc says. Another reason is all about cash. Shale companies simply haven't made much money from the fracking revolution. "This is one of the most capital-intensive businesses in the world," LeBlanc said. "Investors that were willing to fund this massive growth are starting to focus on profitability and getting money back," LeBlanc said. That means spending less on drilling new wells. On Thursday, Exxon Mobil said its Permian shale operations will operate at a "reduced pace" in 2020 and 2021 vs. its prior plans. The Dow Jones energy giant sees its Permian production at 360,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day this year, though Exxon still plans to nearly triple output in the area by 2024.

Shale Drillers Need A Miracle To Keep Production From Falling - With West Texas Intermediate falling below $45 a barrel after the latest burst in coronavirus panic, U.S. shale oil and gas producers are feeling growing heat. Except for the Permian, where production of both oil and gas is still growing, the U.S. shale patch is retrenching. And the Permian may soon follow suit. In its latest Drilling Productivity Report, released earlier this month, the Energy Information Administration said oil production had declined across six of the seven major shale plays in the country, by some 21,000 bpd. In the Permian, however, production rose by 39,000 bpd, tipping the total into a net increase of 18,000 bpd. Now, while this confirms the star status of the Permian, it also suggests that oil production growth is becoming uneconomical in other shale plays.A recent report on oil and gas production trends in 2019 showed the slowdown is not a sudden one. Titled “Rockies and Bakken in Focus”, the report, by Enverus, says growth in production in these regions had slowed to a crawl amid the low oil prices. Pipeline constraints, the oil and gas info provider noted, were also stifling production growth.While relief for the pipeline constraints in the Bakken and the Denver-Julesburg area is coming, prices don’t look like they are going anywhere except maybe further down if OPEC+ fails to agree to deeper cuts. This means the financial pressure many oil and gas drillers in the shale patch are already feeling will only deepen and production growth will slow further.Earlier this week the chief executive of Schlumberger said as much. Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of an industry event in Saudi Arabia, Olivier Le Peuch said he expected growth in U.S. shale oil production to slow down to 600,000 to 700,000 bpd this year and further to just 200,000 bpd next year as low prices continue to take their toll.This wasn’t all, either. According to Le Peuch, unless the oilfield service sector comes up with new extraction technology that works at lower than current costs, U.S. shale oil production will not return to growth at all, but plateau.   Add to this the fact that the sweet spots are already depleted and producers have moved to not so low-cost locations, and the outlook for U.S. shale oil darkens. The situation in gas is even worse. As the Enverus report notes, the breakeven cost for gas production in the Denver-Julesburg Basin and the Bakken are now higher than the Henry Hub benchmark and quite a bit higher, at that. Henry Hub futures prices are currently below $2 per million British thermal units until July, when the futures price tops $2 per mmBtu. The breakeven for producers in the Rockies and the Bakken, on the other hand, is more than $3 per mmBtu.

 The Energy Elite Have Started Listening to Their Enemy No. 1 in Houston -Climate change is a touchy topic in Houston, even if hardly anyone doubts the climate is changing. An already damp city is getting wetter, obvious in the muddy sidewalks and the puddles that linger long after a routine rain. The bigger downpours block highways. The really huge storms—and not just 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which killed at least 94 people—keep arriving with a size and frequency that meteorologists once insisted was impossible. With initial support from Texas’s governor and U.S. senators (all conservative Republicans), the Army Corps of Engineers wants to spend $23 billion to $32 billion on a coastal bulwark against the rising waters. Say “climate change” too loudly, though, and you’ll get some looks. Many Houstonians still feel like they’re in a standoff with environmentalists who would love to put the Oil and Gas Capital of the World out of business. And anyway the city is booming, with cranes as common as traffic jams on its ever-widening highways. With a population up 11% since 2010, Houston is destined to overtake Chicago as the U.S.’s third-largest city—unless something goes horribly wrong. Something horrible like the worst environmental disaster in American history, which is just one of the looming catastrophes that Jim Blackburn won’t shut up about. The environmental lawyer and Rice University professor shows up everywhere in Houston—at society events, on the radio, in op-eds and at government hearings—and blurts out what the city’s elite, its oil and gas executives, only whisper in their board rooms: Climate change is an existential threat to Houston, putting in real danger both its physical survival and its economic future. In his Texas twang, Blackburn, a 72-year-old native of the Rio Grande Valley, warns that the Army Corps’ coastal barrier is insufficient. The region’s flood maps are wrong, making new infrastructure, designed to last decades, obsolete the day it’s finished. Renewable energy is getting cheaper, and climate activists are getting louder. Without creative thinking, the fossil fuel industry will collapse, and Houston will turn into a warmer, wetter rust belt.  He’s backed by hydrologists, weather modelers, engineers, and ecologists, at Rice University and elsewhere, who produce a steady stream of terrifyingresearch. The main takeaway is that the state’s politicians and businesses are still operating on data from the past century, an era before the weather went berserk.

Kinder Morgan uncertain about proposed Texas Permian Pass natgas pipeline - (Reuters) - U.S. energy company Kinder Morgan Inc said its proposed Permian Pass natural gas pipeline in Texas faced an uncertain future since no customers for the project have been lined up in the current low-price environment. In recent years, gas production associated with record oil output in the Permian basin in West Texas and eastern New Mexico has grown faster than energy firms could build new pipelines and other infrastructure needed to transport the fuel to market. That lack of pipeline space prompted drillers to flare record amounts of Permian gas in 2019 and caused prices at the region’s Waha hub to turn negative several times over the past year. Kinder Morgan Chief Strategy Officer Dax Sanders told analysts at the Credit Suisse Energy Summit in Vail, Colorado, on Wednesday the company would not build Permian Pass “until we get good solid long-term contracts, minimum 10-year take-or-pay contracts.” “We don’t have anybody signed up yet,” Sanders said, noting “If it comes together, it does. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” Sanders said Kinder Morgan was still seeking customers for the project and could make a final investment decision this year to build the 2.0-billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) pipe if it secures the contracts.

NYSE Gives Chesapeake Granite Wash Trust the Boot - The New York Stock Exchange has suspended trading of Chesapeake Granite Wash Trust’s units, effective Feb. 28. The NYSE also initiated proceedings to delist the Trust Units. The delisting is due to the Trust's failure to meet listing compliance standards. The average closing price of the Trust Units fell below $1.00 over a 30-consecutive trading-day period, and the Trust was unable to regain compliance within a six-month period that ended Feb. 28. On March 2, the Trust’s units began trading under the symbol "CHKR" on the OTC Pink Market, which is operated by OTC Markets Group Inc. As OTC Pink is a significantly more limited market than the NYSE, the quotation of the Trust Units on OTC Pink may result in a less liquid market available for existing and potential unitholders and could further depress the trading price of the Trust Units, Chesapeake said in a written statement. At this writing, the shares were trading at $0.45 each. Chesapeake Granite Wash Trust is a Delaware statutory trust formed by Chesapeake to own royalty interests in oil, natural gas liquids and natural gas wells in Washita County, Okla., producing from the Colony Granite Wash play within the broader Granite Wash formation of the Anadarko Basin. The common units do not represent interests in and are not obligations of Chesapeake, according to the company.

Is the U.S. Fracking Boom Based on Fraud? - Much like with the housing crisis that caused the financial crisis of 2008, the fracking boom has led to Wall Street bankers finding innovative ways to finance a money-losing endeavor. Some companies are now even selling bonds based on future well performance, a concept similar to themortgage-backed securities that led to the 2008 housing crisis.Another Wall Street invention is what is called a “special purpose acquisition company” (SPAC), or, as they are also known, blank check companies. The way these investments work is a big bank or private equity firm backs a management team to raise money for the SPAC with the agreement that the leaders of the SPAC will then at some point make a “special purpose acquisition” — which means they will find an existing company and buy it.They are called blank check companies because the management is given a blank check to buy whatever they choose. In the 1980s, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted that “blank-check companies were often associated with penny-stock frauds.” In a 2017 article on the oil industry, the WSJ reported that “SPACs were a hallmark of the frothy days before the financial crisis [of 2008].”Understandably, SPACs were often seen as a risky investment, but much like with the housing crisis, the biggest names on Wall Street are getting involved and giving the concept legitimacy, with Goldman Sachs starting to back SPACs in 2016. And new fracking companies have come about as a result.“SPACs are the most egregious example in the industry of executive misalignment with investors,” Dell told the WSJ. As I have previously reported, one of the problems with the fracking industry is that CEOs are paid very well even when the companies lose money. According to Dell, SPACs take this problem to a new “egregious” level. . Like when a Wall Street Journal reporter, in a room full of people hired to make forecasts of fracked oil and gas production, learned about the existence of much more accurate methods for predicting that oil production. And also learned that with accuracy comes much lower estimates of shale oil reserves.The WSJ article that followed quoted Texas A&M professor and expert on calculating oil and gas reserves John Lee. “There are a number of practices that are almost inevitably going to lead to overestimates,” said Lee. Those are the practices used by the industry, with Alta Mesa serving as just one example.Overestimates are why Alta Mesa received funding but now no longer exists.The Wall Street Journal reported that during a presentation given by Lee, an audience member “stood up and challenged the engineers in attendance,” asking why the forecasters weren’t using accurate models like the ones that were available — as Lee had described.Another audience member explained the reason.“Because we own stock,” replied another engineer, “sparking laughter,” according to the Wall Street Journal.Is it misleading to laugh at your company’s investors if you know the estimates you are giving them are inflated, but because you own the stock that benefits from those estimates, you do it anyway? Is that fraud? Perhaps that depends on if you get you get ethics lessons from Andrew Fastow and Jim Hackett. Will the biggest innovation of the fracking revolution be making financial fraud a laughing matter?

Gas pipeline firms take electrification in stride but long-term costs loom | S&P Global Market Intelligence - While natural gas pipelines' long-term contracts insulate them financially from an emerging movement to prohibit gas infrastructure in new buildings and renovations, some industry experts said those bans do signal the long-term potential for stranded midstream assets. Since 2019, the anti-gas movement has gained momentum through electrification measures cropping up in California, the Boston area and Washington state amid concern over global warming and the contribution of fossil fuels to it. Many of the pipeline companies that deliver gas to utility customers have called for mitigating the sector's negative climate impacts, but they also maintain that gas transportation systems provide unmatched environmental and economic benefits that will ultimately help phase in a cleaner energy economy. The gas bans may not pose an immediate threat to pipelines, but if they remain in place midstream firms could begin to incur costs down the road as contracted capacity rolls off. "Due to the sporadic distribution of the gas bans, and the generally long-term contracts involved in gas pipeline transportation, and the dependence of the majority of the nation on natural gas for heat, food preparation, and industry, it seems like the near-term revenue risk is fairly low as is the risk of stranded assets," Regulatory Research Associates analyst Brian Collins said in an email. "However, looking ahead one or two decades, the gas ban moves could begin to limit the value of pipelines and gas distribution networks." When it comes to how much pipeline companies are worth amid the transition to renewable sources, Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at shareholder advocacy group Ceres, added that the stock market is forward-thinking and expects to see that reflected in equity values before assets become stranded.  The bans alone, however, are not ultimately what will put gas pipeline operators out of business, he said."It's more of the broader context they are signaling around gas demand growing forward," Logan said. "There continues to be a lot of hope from the natural gas industry that residential demand will continue to grow in the future ... but the bans do seem to chip away at the idea that there is much growth to come for anyone in the gas pipeline business."

Southeast New Mexico plagued by oil and gas spills as production booms in Permian Basin - Uncertainty continued for the people of Malaga and throughout ranching communities in southern Eddy County in the days after the State of New Mexico began investigating a spill on the Black River of chemical-laden drilling mud by Matador Resources. Residents were advised to avoid the river that many grew up swimming and fishing in, and which local livestock relies on for water. Bert Rios, a 67-year-old local farm owner and lifelong resident of Malaga said he called the State of New Mexico when he witnessed the normally clear waters of the river turn milky and began to suspect a nearby pipeline construction project was to blame. The State and Matador quickly moved in on the incident, with multiple agencies assessing the damage as a plume could be observed 75 to 100 miles from site of the spill. But oil and gas spills continued to plague New Mexico, especially in the southeastern corner of the state where the industry boomed in the Permian Basin, throughout 2019. A report from the Center for Western Priorities showed that between New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming, the three biggest oil-producing states in the Intermountain West, 2,811 spills were reported last year, releasing 23,600 barrels of crude oil and 170,223 barrels of produced water. That’s an average of 2,716 gallons of crude oil and 19,587 gallons of produced water per day. Using data from New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division (OCD), the study pointed to about four spills per day in the New Mexico, mostly in Eddy and Lea counties where production is highest. In total, 1,352 spills were reported last year in the state, a slight 11 percent decline from the 1,523 spills in 2018. Each day, about 280 barrels of produced water was spilled by oil and gas operators, the study read, with 41 barrels of crude oil spilled and about 2.2 million cubic feet of natural gas leaked. In Colorado, 636 spills were reported across the state last year, a 60 percent increase from 2012. Wyoming reported 823 spills last year, a 15 percent increase from 2018’s total of 715.

Judge Tosses Oil and Gas Leases on Nearly One Million Acres of Public Lands - A federal judge banned oil and gas leases on nearly one million acres of public lands that are important habitat for the greater sage grouse, arguing that a Trump administration policy that curtailed public input on the leases was "arbitrary and capricious." At the start of 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had issued a memo shortening the period for public comment and protest on oil and gas leases from 30 days to 10, Huffpost reported. But U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush ruled in Idaho Thursday that around $125 million worth of leases issued under the new policy be tossed out and the full 30-day comment period restored. In his decision, Bush argued that BLM could not only consider the economic needs of fossil fuel industries at the expense of all other concerns. "If the words 'justice so requires' are to mean anything, they must satisfy the fundamental understanding of justice: that it requires an impartial look at the balance struck between the two sides of the scale, as the iconic statue of the blindfolded goddess of justice holding the scales aloft depicts," he wrote. "Merely to look at only one side of the scales, whether solely the costs or solely the benefits, flunks this basic requirement." The lawsuit was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Western Watersheds Project in a bid to protect greater sage grouse habitat, The Washington Post explained. The sage grouse, whose numbers have fallen from around 16 million to fewer than 500,000 because of disease and development, reflects the overall health of the Western sagebrush habitat that also houses hundreds of other species.   Bush's ruling tossed out five leases on more than 1,300 square miles — or more than 800,000 acres — of public lands in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, according to HuffPost and The Hill. However, it could have implications for around 67 million acres of sage grouse habitat in 11 Western states. "This is an enormous victory for greater sage grouse and hundreds of other animals and plants that depend on this dwindling habitat," CBD senior campaigner Taylor McKinnon said in a press release. "The judge confirmed that it's illegal to silence the public to expand fossil-fuel extraction. It's a win for millions of acres of our beautiful public lands and a major blow to the Trump administration's corrupt efforts to serve corporate polluters." The BLM said it was considering whether or not to appeal the ruling, according to The Washington Post.

 Suncor oil refinery to pay $9 million in 'Historic' Colorado Pollution Settlement The massive Suncor oil refinery near low-income neighborhoods in Denver will pay roughly $9 million due to air pollution violations as part of a settlement that Colorado officials lauded as the largest ever for a single facility. State health officials said the refinery exceeded emissions limits for a host of health-harming pollutants, including hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide. The violations were tracked from the summer of 2017 through the end of last year, officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Friday as they announced the details of the settlement. The terms include:

  • $2.6 million for "supplemental environmental projects" to benefit the surrounding community. The settlement provides for a community process which involves residents serving on a committee to review and select the projects to implement.
  • Improved communications from Suncor, which "must work with the community to develop this program," state officials said.
  • Suncor is expected to enlist a third party to conduct a root cause investigation of critical refinery processes to determine the causes of excessive emissions with a goal of preventing or minimizing recurrences. Suncor is obligated to spend up to $5 million implementing the recommendations from the investigation.
  • Suncor is required to increase monitoring for hydrogen cyanide both at the refinery and in the surrounding communities.
  • Suncor must pay $1 million in cash administrative penalties to the state and $426,705 in stipulated and other cash penalties to the state and federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Landmark Win in ‘Fight for Habitable Future’ as Jury Refuses to Convict Climate Activists Who Presented Necessity Defense -Environmentalists celebrated a landmark victory in the "fight for a habitable future" after a Portland, Oregon jury on Thursday refused to convict five Extinction Rebellion activists—including valve turner Ken Ward—who presented the climate necessity defense at their trial for blockading a train track used by Zenith Energy to transport crude oil.The activists emphasized that the win was only partial because the criminal trespassing case ended in a mistrial rather than a full acquittal. Just one of six jurors voted to convict the activists while the five others voted to acquit.But Ward said the jury's refusal to convict even when presented with video evidence of the trespassing "is a vindication of our call for climate activists to use a climate necessity defense," which states that it is at times justified to break the law to combat the planetary crisis."When citizens are told the truth about the climate crisis—which is the first of Extinction Rebellion’s demands—they take appropriate and responsible action, as our jury did, and we thank them," said Ward.The five activists were arrested last April for building a garden on the tracks of Houston-based Zenith Energy's railroad terminal in Portland to protest expansion of the fossil fuel infrastructure. "The activists had been protesting the expansion of the oil terminal at a time when they say we should be dismantling fossil fuel infrastructure, not creating more," the local radio station KOPB-FM reported at the time. "A few small mounds of soil extend onto the rail line—not much, but apparently enough to make it unusable. Activists also sat on the tracks."

Deserted oil wells haunt Los Angeles with toxic fumes and enormous cleanup costs - LA Times Thick oil was once so abundant beneath Southern California that it bubbled to the surface, most famously at the La Brea Tar Pits. But after more than a century of aggressive drilling by fossil fuel companies, most of Los Angeles’ profitable oil is gone. What remains is a costly legacy: nearly 1,000 wells across the city, in rich and poor neighborhoods, deserted by their owners and left to the state to clean, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis of state records by the Los Angeles Times and the Center for Public Integrity. Few U.S. cities are punctured with such a concentration of old drilling sites, with tens of thousands of residents living nearby, from Ladera Heights to Echo Park. If not plugged and cleaned up, many of these orphaned wells will continue to expose people to toxic gases, complicate redevelopment and pose rare but serious threats of explosions. If the state were to tackle the cleanup, it would cost tens of millions of dollars. Yet despite regulatory powers that in some ways are stronger than the state’s, Los Angeles has been slow and inconsistent in forcing the industry to take responsibility for its leaky legacy, according to the Times/Public Integrity investigation. Part of the problem is staffing. Until recently, the city Fire Department was operating with one full-time well inspector, resulting in sporadic enforcement. The department issued notices of violations for extended inactivity to two companies in 2009, then three in 2016, according to the results of a public records request. Then, in 2018, the department inspected wells all across the city, handing out notices to more companies covering dozens of wells. Battalion Chief James Hayden, whose responsibilities include the Los Angeles Fire Department’s oil and gas program, acknowledged that the city hadn’t provided adequate oversight of the industry. But with a second full-time inspector added this year and other employees trained to conduct additional inspections, he said, the department will work to ensure that operators “adequately manage their idle wells.” Even as it adds personnel, Los Angeles has been hesitant to use its full regulatory authority, which allows the city to mandate that an oil or gas well either be restarted or shuttered after it sits unused for a year.

 Wells Fargo Joins U.S. Banks Declining To Fund New Arctic Oil Projects - Wells Fargo has become the third major U.S. bank to stop financing new oil and gas projects in the Arctic, joining the likes of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan in a global drive of banks declining financing for the dirtiest fossil fuels and for projects in sensitive areas. In an updated policy guide on corporate responsibility, Wells Fargo says that “Wells Fargo does not directly finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic region, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – part of a larger 2018 risk-based decision to forego participation in any project-specific transaction in the region.”Wells Fargo will not extend credit or facilitate transactions for coal projects involving mountain top removal (MTR) or to coal producers engaged in MTR mining, the bank says in its Environmental and Social Risk Management (ESRM) framework and policies. Referring to Arctic oil, Wells Fargo’s spokesman David Kennedy said in an emailed statement to Anchorage Daily News:   “Our policy applies only to project finance in the region.” “We have ongoing business relationships with numerous companies involved in the oil and gas industry in the Alaska Arctic region and expect to continue those relationships long into the future,” Kennedy added. Wells Fargo is now the third U.S. bank that has vowed to stop financing new oil and gas projects in the Arctic region over the past three months. In December, Goldman Sachs said it would decline financing for new Arctic oilexploration and production and for new thermal coal mine development or strip mining, which made the investment bank the U.S. bank with the strongest restrictions on funding fossil fuels. Last week, JPMorgan Chase said it would not provide project financing or other forms of asset-specific financing for new oil and gas development in the Arctic. The bank also pledged not to provide lending, capital markets, or advisory services to companies whose revenues come mostly from coal, and to phase out its remaining credit exposure to such companies by 2024. JPMorgan also stops financing coal-fired power plants unless such plants utilize carbon capture and sequestration technology.

Exclusive: Indian refiners plan to wind down Venezuelan oil buys in April – sources (Reuters) - Indian refiners Reliance Industries and Nayara Energy are planning to wind down purchases of Venezuelan oil in April fearing future U.S. sanctions could choke off all avenues to trade with state-run oil firm PDVSA, three sources with knowledge of the matter said. Such a step by Reliance, which operates the world’s biggest refining complex, and Nayara - part owned by Russian oil major Rosneft - would severely curtail purchases by one of Venezuela’s last big export destinations. India accounted for about a third of Venezuela’s oil shipments in January. The move comes as U.S. President Donald Trump warned in New Delhi this week of an increase in sanctions in a bid to oust Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election was considered a sham by most Western countries. Washington last year imposed tough sanctions on PDVSA that cut off Venezuela from the United States, its biggest customer, and severely curbed trading with other major buyers of its oil, the nation’s main export. Venezuela’s once-strong petroleum industry has withered amid a years-long economic crisis. After several months with little action, the White House this month added Rosneft Trading SA, the Geneva-based unit Rosneft, to its list of sanctioned companies over accusations that it hid the country of origin of oil cargoes loaded at Venezuelan ports and later resold in Asia. The U.S. set a May 20 deadline for companies to wind down purchases from Rosneft. Nayara Energy, partially owned by Rosneft, is planning to stop processing Venezuelan oil at its refineries after receiving two cargoes that are scheduled for loading in March, two of the sources said. Nayara said it is in compliance with all relevant and applicable U.S. sanctions. “We reaffirm our commitment to this position following the recent announcements”, it said in an email to Reuters. Rosneft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brazil’s Petrobras starts sale process for stakes in gas unit, oil fields (Reuters) - Brazil’s state-controlled oil company Petrobras said on Thursday it has started the sale process for its 51% stake in the gas unit Gaspetro and for its stakes in the Merluza and Lagosta oil fields in Brazil’s Santos basin, according to a securities filing. Gaspetro is a holding company owning stakes in 19 firms that operate in the Brazilian gas distribution business.

Stellar Banner grounding: Vale mobilizing oil spill response assets -- .Salvage and oil spill response assets are being mobilized to deal with the partially submerged Stellar Banner stranded off the coast of Brazil. The Brazilian Navy on Thursday met with representatives from Vale, salvor Ardent Global, and local government officials to go review the best course of action for the vessel, which remains aground approximately 60 miles from São Luís. Vale so far has requested oil spill recovery vessels from Petrobras to help contain any oil leaks from the vessel. Meanwhile, it has also requested for formal authorization from the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) to mobilize additional vessels to the area to help with the response. Vale said the South Korean owner and operator of the Stellar Banner, Polaris Shipping, has hired global salvage firm Ardent Global to draw up salvage plans. The Brazilian Navy reported Thursday that the shipowner has four tugs on scene for support and response in case any oil leaks from the vessel. The Navy said Thursday that so far no fuel leaks had been confirmed, however images posted online show oil sheens on the surface of the water surrounding the vessel, sparking fears that bunker fuel could be leaking from the ship’s tanks.  The 300,663 dwt Stellar Banner started listing and was intentionally grounded Monday night after departing Vale’s Ponta da Madeira Maritime Terminal where it loaded iron ore bound for Qingdao, China.  Vale said initial reports Polaris indicate that the ship suffered damage to its bow shorty after leaving the terminal and the vessel was grounded to prevent it from sinking.   Polaris Shipping was also owner of the 266,141 dwt Stellar Daisy which sunk in the Atlantic Ocean in March 2017 with the loss of all but two of the ship’s twenty-four crew members. The wreckage of the vessel was eventually located in last February 2019 in 3,461 meters of water.

 Oil spill recovery vessels reach stricken Stellar Banner --The very large ore carrier (VLOC), which is stranded some 100 km off the coast of São Luís, Brazil, still has its fuel tanks intact, reports port operator Vale. The Stellar Banner ran aground on 24 February on the way out of the access channel of the Ponta da Madeira marine terminal. Her 20 crew members were safely evacuated after the incident.  In an update on the situation, Vale said that two oil spill recovery vessels (OSRVs) had reached the vessel, which is owned and operated by South Korean company Polaris. TheStellar Banner’s fuel tanks are located on the stern of the vessel which is the opposite side of the damaged areas.The OSRVs were mobilised with support from Petrobras, and the Stellar Banner has also been surrounded with a 200 -metre containment barrier to prevent any oil leakage. According to Vale, salvage specialists will also be appointed to support the process of moving oil from the vessel.

Holiday campers complain of oil spill along Al Aqah beach - Beachgoers have spotted trails of oil along Al Aqah Beach in Fujairah after an oil spill hit the area on Sunday. A number of campers shared videos of the coastline covered with black oil that was washed ashore. The oil covered around 1.5 kilometres of the beach and reached some of the hotels next to the public beach camping site. Livia Behiry was camping at the beach along with family and friends when she smelt a foul odour and noticed the black oil along the coast at about 12pm on Sunday. “The smell was awful and toxic and the sand was covered with black oil,” said Ms Behiry, 36, Romanian resident of Dubai. “We usually camp here with friends and we like the area a lot but what I saw on Sunday made me feel sad and worried about the marine life and the environment." Samer Khalil, a family friend of Ms Behiry, took a video of the oil spill.He said this was not the first time as he has witnessed spills in the same area. “I remember we came here last November and there were patches of oil in the water that got stuck on our skin while swimming,” said Mr Khalil, 43, an Egyptian hotelier living in Dubai. “But this time it was much worse and covered the whole beach, filling the air with a very bad smell, like gas.

China oil refining profits plunge 42% in 2019 as overcapacity grows - industry - (Reuters) - Profit margins in China’s crude oil refining sector plunged 42% in 2019 from a year earlier, the steepest fall in 5 years, an industry body said on Tuesday, warning that overcapacity is a growing problem. Some small- and medium-sized refineries were also likely face financial pressure from a fall in sales and a rise in inventory amid the coronavirus outbreak, the China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Federation (CPCIF) said, but the impact would be mainly felt in the first quarter. “For the full year and longer term, overcapacity will still be the dominant issue in the industry,” CPCIF vice chairman Fu Xiangsheng said at a press briefing. Increasing capacity in China and weak domestic demand, fuelled in part by the Sino-U.S. trade war, led to a surge in refined product exports to the rest of Asia in 2019, helping to depress prices across the region. China, the world’s top crude oil importer, boosted its annual crude oil refining capacity by 3.4% in 2019 to 860 million tonnes, equal to 17.2 million barrels per day. It is is expected to add another 27 million tonnes, or about 3.1%, of refining capacity in 2020. “We have growing concerns over the overcapacity issue,” Fu said.

Saudis join shale gas race - Last week Aramco Chief Executive Officer Amin Nasser told Reuters that the company is launching the biggest shale gas development outside the U.S. to boost domestic gas supply to be used to replace oil to firepower generation plants.The $110 billion Jafurah shale gas field project received the green light from Aramco on Saturday aimed at making Saudi Arabia world’s third-largest gas producer by 2030. Top two producers are U.S. and Russia. The plan is to use the gas to replace 800,000 bpd crude used for power plants to generate electricity by 2030. Fracking is a controversial way of extracting natural gas from beneath the earth’s surface which was previously too costly to tap. It has already proven to have triggered earthquake, and with a potential to cause numerous other forms of ecological damage, it has been banned by some countries.  Fracking extracts that gas by drilling into rocks by injecting pressurized water mixed with various chemicals to force it out, inevitably disturbing a terrestrial netherworld.  Fracking uses a substantial amount of water which is mixed with chemicals, including toxic liquids, acids, detergents and poisons, known as “fracking cocktail” that is thrust with high pressure on the shale, thereby cracking them and releasing the gas. In short extracting natural gas from rock. The long-term impact of injecting the earth with such a lethal chemical cocktail has not been studied thoroughly. What is known is that fracking causes earthquakes, rampant air and water pollution, and an ever-growing list of public health problems. And then there are risks to the climate. Once you properly account for emissions of carbon dioxide and methane (from natural gas), the supposed advantages of switching to gas-fired power plants from coal are far less impressive than advertised. With the severe shortage of water in the region, Nasser said Aramco had developed fracking using seawater, which will remove the obstacle that a lack of water supply represents to fracking in the desert. The Jufarah field is near the Persian Gulf coast, having relatively easy access to seawater, which will have to be lightly treated before using in fracking. Aramco has also identical local sand that can be used for fracking, insists Nasser. Saudi Arabia is bordered by Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen. There has been no comments from the neighbors about the ecological damage that such a project can bring with it.

Iran’s Latest Energy Project Should Worry The West  - Iran has moved exceptionally quickly on developing its Bandar-e-Jask port project. Crucially, Jask is not located in the perennially risky Strait of Hormuz but south-southeast in the Gulf of Oman. This offers a relatively risk-free shipping transit route to Iran’s key markets in the East, especially China and more latterly India, and to markets further south in Africa on a more occasional basis. According to recent comments from Touraj Dehqani, chief executive officer of Iran’s Petroleum Engineering and Development Company (PEDEC) – the company in charge of building the project out, in tandem with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) - the first full phase of crude oil exports from Jask will begin within the next 12 months, with the final build out towards this goal beginning this month. Once fully operational, this project would transfer 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil from Iran, particularly in the first stage from the cluster of resource-rich fields in the West Karoun area. In addition, Jask will also be used to move crude oil feedstock supply to petro-refineries and petrochemical plants, with a view to increasing these exports as well to Asia. “The current logistical model in the current circumstances is not sustainable, with around 90 per cent of all of Iran’s oil for export currently loaded at Kharg Island – with most of the remaining loads going through terminals on Lavan and Sirri - making it a prime and easy target to cripple Iran’s economy,” a senior source who works closely with Iran’s Petroleum Ministry told last week. “On the other side of the equation, Iran wants to be able to use the threat – or reality if it comes to that – of closing the Strait [of Hormuz] for political reasons without also completing destroying its own oil exports revenue stream,” he added. On a practical note, even before U.S. sanctions were re-imposed in May 2018, the Kharg terminal was not ideal for use by tankers as the narrowness of the Strait of Hormuz means that they have to travel extremely slowly through it.

Global oil demand set to decline in 2020 as COVID-19 spreads: analysts | S&P Global Platts - Oil demand is set to contract in 2020 as the coronavirus outbreak widened to 72 countries outside China as of Wednesday, threatening to put more pressure on the global economy and fuel demand, according to analyst projections this week. This is notable because oil demand has consistently increased every year for several decades, with the exception of a few occasions like the early 1990s recession. A contraction in oil demand in 2020 will be the first decline since the financial crisis of 2008-2009. "Over the last week, the situation has worsened with outbreaks now in a number of additional countries," Goldman Sachs analyst Damien Courvalin said in a report dated March 3. "We therefore reduce further our global oil demand growth forecasts to minus 0.15 million b/d in 2020 from 0.55 million b/d previously (and 1.1 million b/d before the coronavirus), its lowest annual growth rate since the financial crisis of 08/09," Courvalin added. He said the revisions were entirely outside China given the bank's aggressive cuts made initially to China's oil demand growth, the sharp slowdown in new coronavirus cases in China and steady but slow signs of recovery in domestic activity. Goldman Sachs expects a global oil demand loss of 2.1 million b/d in the first half of the year alone, and cut its oil price forecasts, expecting Brent to trough in April at $45/b before gradually recovering to $60/b by the end of the year. It earlier expected a $53/b trough and a recovery to $65/b. Separately, energy consulting firm Facts Global Energy said it expects global oil demand to contract by 220,000 b/d on average in 2020, "with strong risks still on the downside we believe, despite a major initiative now for a global economic stimulus." "Global oil demand is now expected to contract by 2.3 million b/d year on year in the first quarter of 2020, before only returning to year-on-year growth in the third quarter of 2020," FGE said. It had slashed its oil demand growth forecast to zero for 2020 last month. "The source of oil demand in its essence is very simple: producing things and moving things/people. If, as is happening now, production lines slow down or even stand still and global trade and travel stops, oil demand stops growing as well," FGE said.

OPEC February oil output sinks on Libyan unrest, cuts - (Reuters) - OPEC oil output dropped in February to the lowest in over a decade as Libyan supply collapsed due to a blockade of ports and oilfields and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf members overdelivered on a new production-limiting accord, a Reuters survey found. On average, the 13-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries pumped 27.84 million barrels per day (bpd) last month, according to the survey, down 510,000 bpd from January’s figure. Despite the drop in supply, crude prices LCOc1 have slipped to below $50 a barrel on concern that the coronavirus outbreak will cut oil demand. OPEC and its allies meet this week to discuss further steps to support the market. [nnL9N2AP001] OPEC, Russia and other allies, known as OPEC+, agreed to deepen an existing supply cut by 500,000 bpd from Jan. 1, 2020. OPEC’s share of the new reduction is about 1.17 million bpd, to be made by 10 members, all except Iran, Libya and Venezuela. The 10 OPEC members bound by the agreement easily exceeded the pledged cuts in February thanks to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies cutting more than called for to support the market. Still, an increase in production by Iraq and Nigeria - both laggards in delivering on previous OPEC+ agreements - meant that OPEC complied with 128% of the pledged cuts in February, the survey found, down from 133% in January.

Oil Freefall Halted by OPEC+ Hope-- Expectations the OPEC+ alliance will deepen output cuts put a floor under last week’s 16% plunge in oil prices, with futures in New York rebounding even as the coronavirus continued to spread rapidly. Russia is ready to cooperate to support the world oil market, even though it’s comfortable with current prices, President Vladimir Putin said Sunday. That acted as a brake on plunging crude prices after a Chinese manufacturing gauge released over the weekend came in at a record low, undershooting already weak expectations and highlighting the mounting economic impact of the virus. The rebound in oil came amid a broader recovery from last week’s carnage, with Asian stocks rising and commodities from copper to soybeans showing gains. Still, sharp swings in crude in Asian trading hours -- from a loss of 3.2% to a gain of 3.7% -- show the extent to which the virus is roiling markets. Oil consumption may not grow at all this year for only the fourth time in almost four decades, according to a growing minority of traders, investors and analysts. While economic stimulus in China and elsewhere may revive demand in the second half, it’s unlikely to completely make up for the current hit to consumption. Against this backdrop, OPEC+ meets on Thursday and Friday in Vienna to decide on the extent of production cuts. “Oil is on a wild ride today with bigger expectations for OPEC+ to reduce production in its meeting this week countered by the risk on consumption coming from the coronavirus outbreak,” said Stephen Innes, chief market strategist at AxiCorp Ltd. But any OPEC+ bounce will likely be short-lived until the virus starts subsiding, he said. West Texas Intermediate futures for April delivery rose 2.5% to $45.88 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:40 a.m. in London. Last week’s drop of 16.2% was the biggest since the height of the global financial crisis in December 2008. Brent futures for May delivery climbed 2.6% to $50.98 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange after losing as much as 2.6% earlier. The global crude benchmark traded at a premium of $4.97 to WTI for the same month. Putin said the OPEC+ mechanism “has already established itself as an effective tool in ensuring long-term stability in global energy markets.” The fact that Russia has large financial reserves to cushion market turbulence “doesn’t eliminate the need for action,” he said. That represents a change in tone from Moscow, which had previously been cautious on deeper output cuts.

Oil Jumps on Reassurances by Central Bankers-- Oil advanced the most in five months amid expectations central banks will move to prop up financial markets and OPEC will curb supplies in response to the virus-driven demand shock. Futures rose 4.5% in New York on Monday after six straight losing sessions. Equity markets also surged after central bankers from around the world offered reassurances they’ll take stabilization measures as the coronavirus disrupts economic activity. Meanwhile, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia are preparing to discuss output this week in Vienna. “It’s a remarkable bounce back in concert with the recovering global financial markets,” said Marshall Steeves, an analyst at IHS Markit. “Investors are pricing in a coordinated global response by central banks.” Economic growth may sink to levels not seen in more than a decade as the coronavirus that emerged in China late last year wreaks havoc on manufacturing, consumer demand and transport, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development warned. West Texas Intermediate futures for April delivery gained $1.99 to settle at $46.75 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent futures for May delivery climbed 4.5% to $51.90 on the ICE Futures Europe exchange. OPEC and allied producers are expected to declare a 750,000-barrel cut to daily production rates when they meet later this week, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts, traders and brokers.

 Oil surges more than 4% in best day since September as hopes of OPEC cut counter virus gloom - Oil prices rose on Monday, reversing an earlier fall to multi-year lows as hopes of a deeper cut in output by OPEC and stimulus from central banks countered worries about damage to demand from the coronavirus outbreak. Brent crude rose 4.3%, or $2.20, to trade at $51.87 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude gained $1.99, or 4.45%, to settle at $46.75 per barrel. It was the first gain for both benchmarks after six sessions of losses triggered by coronavirus worries. The virus, which originated in China, has killed nearly 3,000 people and roiled global markets as investors brace for a steep knock to world growth. Equities underwent their biggest rout since the 2008 financial crisis last week although European and Asian shares steadied on Monday. The scale of losses last week led financial markets to price in policy responses from the U.S. Federal Reserve to the Bank of Japan, which indicated on Monday it would take necessary steps to stabilise financial markets. “The comments of Russian President Vladimir Putin, that Russia will keep cooperating with OPEC and its allies, are also helping ahead of the important oil producer meetings at the end of this week,” UBS oil analyst Giovanni Staunovo said. Data released over the weekend by China, the world’s top energy consumer, dragged on oil prices earlier in the session. Factory activity in the country shrank at the fastest pace ever in February, underscoring the colossal damage from the coronavirus outbreak on its economy. . However, several key members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are mulling an additional production cut in the second quarter, with fears the virus outbreak will erode oil demand.

OPEC will 'go beyond' what the market has currently priced in, strategist says - OPEC could deliver a larger-than-expected production cut at its meeting later this week, according to MUFG Bank. Oil prices have been under pressure since the outbreak of the coronavirus in January dampened the demand outlook for the year. Following the “massive sell-off” in recent weeks, Ehsan Khoman, head of MENA research at MUFG, said his “baseline scenario” is 1.2 million barrels a day of additional production cuts from the second quarter of 2020 until the end of the year. “We think that OPEC will deliver, we think that they will go out of their way, and they will go beyond what’s currently priced in,” he said. “This 1.2 million barrels a day of our baseline case for the next nine months is what’s going to cause the next leg higher in oil prices in the week ahead,” he added. When asked whether there’s consensus in the alliance for a cut of that magnitude, Khoman acknowledged that the differing oil market strategies of Saudi Arabia and Russia would be a “key sticking point.” Riyadh generally prefers higher oil prices, while Moscow is comfortable with $50 oil. “But we think, in the spirit of keeping the OPEC agreement alive, they will (take) coordinated action when they meet this week in Vienna,” he said.

Oil Prices Rebound As Central Banks Intervene - Tuesday, March 3, Oil prices staged a rebound at the start of the week, in part from investors buying the dip, but mostly because of emergency action from central banks and promising noises from OPEC members. Interest rate cuts could cushion the economic blow. But the spread of the coronavirus is far from contained, and uncertainty and downside risk remain.. The U.S. Federal Reserve moved quickly to cut interest rates, slashing them by half a point on Tuesday. “The coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity,” the Fed said in a statement. “In light of these risks and in support of achieving its maximum employment and price stability goals, the Federal Open Market Committee decided today to lower the target range for the federal funds rate by 1/2 percentage point.”  The OECD said that global GDP growth will slow to 2.4 percent, down from 2.9 percent previously. That is its best-case scenario, with downside risk related to the coronavirus.  OPEC may agree to deeper supply cuts this week, although it is not clear whether or not Russia will go along. Russian President Vladimir Putin said over the weekend that Moscow is content with current prices. “Saudi Arabia wants to hold prices from falling, but Russia is still not agreeing. So the only way might be for OPEC to cut alone, which will not send a good signal to the market,” an OPEC source told Reuters. On Tuesday, a Russian oil executive said that a 1-mb/d cut would balance the market. OPEC’s oil production fell to 27.84 mb/d in February, down 510,000 bpd from a month earlier. That was also the lowest level of output in 10 years.  The Interior Department is set to finalize a plan for selling acreage in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The oil majors face poor returns, increasing hostility from investors, long-term demand concerns and low prices. The oil and gas industry “has reached a mature and declining phase, with a weak financial outlook,” according to a new report. The state of Wyoming is in talksto purchase millions of acres of land from Occidental Petroleum, a sum that could range between $1 and $3 billion. Occidental is in need of asset disposals in order to pay down debt. Wyoming sees an opportunity in mining, ranching and oil and gas drilling. Critics say the move would expose the state even more to extraction industries – already the state’s revenues are declining with the demise of coal.

Oil gains nearly 1% as traders eye OPEC meeting - Oil prices moved higher on Tuesday, but quickly came off session highs reached after the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates in an emergency move designed to shield the world's largest economy from the impact of the coronavirus.The central bank's statement said it was cutting rates by a half percentage point to a target range of 1.00% to 1.25%. Crude futures spiked after the financial stimulus but quickly changed course as traders viewed the Fed's move as a signal that the situation was more serious than many had thought, said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York."I think the rate cut was expected to happen this week and while it adds liquidity to the market, it does little to encourage anyone to book a flight anywhere," said Scott Shelton, an energy broker with ICAP in Durham, North Carolina. "I think the market effects are short lived when it comes to the price of oil."U.S. West Texas Intermediate rose 43 cents, or 0.9%, to settle at $47.18 per barrel. International benchmark Brent crude was 17 cents lower at $51.73 per barrel. Both futures contracts rose by more than 3% earlier in the session.Brent and WTI have rebounded over the past two days after sliding more than 20% from their January peak on signs the spread of the coronavirus had dented fuel demand.

OPEC Divided As Saudi Arabia Pushes For Deeper Cuts  - As top officials from OPEC countries start to arrive in Vienna for this week’s OPEC+ meeting, OPEC’s top producer Saudi Arabia is pushing for a huge cut of more than 1 million bpd, while restive cartel producer Libya, which has lost 1 million bpd due to the port blockade, thinks that there’s no need for additional cuts on top of that outage. Saudi Arabia wants the OPEC+ coalition to agree to a collective cut of more than 1 million bpd, delegates told Bloomberg on Wednesday.On Tuesday, the Joint Technical Committee of the OPEC+ group, meeting before the regular OPEC meeting, considered bigger oil production cuts—between 600,000 bpd and 1 million bpd, and ended up recommending additional cuts of at least 600,000 bpd.  But the head of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC), Mustafa Sanalla, told S&P Global Platts on Wednesday that additional deeper cuts were “not logical” and that the 1 million bpd outage in Libya was “enough”.   “I think there is no need to reduce because they’ve already now lost 1 million b/d,” Sanalla said, as carried by Platts. Some analysts have warned in the past weeks that the OPEC+ decision is being complicated not only by the uncertainty regarding the recovery of Chinese and global oil demand, but also by the Libyan outage with uncertain timelines as to when the country could return 1 million bpd to the market.  Meanwhile, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh told reporters in Vienna that there is an oversupply on the market and “it’s necessary that OPEC and non-OPEC do something for the balance in the market,” Iran’s oil ministry’s news service Shanareported. The partners need to cut at least 500,000 bpd of their production, Zangeneh said, noting that in his opinion, “the Russians would resist until the last moment not to lower their output.” Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Moscow would continue to play ball and cooperate with OPEC, although it sees current oil prices as “acceptable.”

U.S. oil climbs, but ends off the day’s high as Fed rate cut raises worries about COVID-19’s economic fallout - U.S. benchmark oil futures finished modestly higher on Tuesday and off the day’s best levels, while global benchmark crude prices settled lower as a surprise, inter-meeting interest-rate cut by the Federal Reserve caused traders to worry more about the global economic fallout of the COVID-19 epidemic. Prices had traded sharply higher earlier in the session, buoyed by expectations for a further cut to oil production by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies. The Fed’s move is “a sign that the economic fall out may be worse than expected,” “There seems to be a lot of uncertainty, but we know that ultimately the rate cut will stabilize the market,” he told MarketWatch. “Don’t be surprised if we get a snap back later.” April West Texas Intermediate crude CLJ20, +0.47% rose 43 cents or 0.9%, to settle at $47.18 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The global benchmark, May Brent crude BRNK20, -0.17%, however, moved lower to settle down 4 cents, or 0.08%, at $51.86 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. It traded as high as $53.90 during the session. Both grades of crude oil posted gains of 4.5% on Monday—the biggest daily percentage rise of the year so far. A Tuesday statement from Group of Seven financial ministers indicated a willingness to use fiscal and monetary policy to fight the coronavirus impact on the economy but the statement didn’t outline specific steps. Meanwhile, OPEC ministers were gathering in Vienna ahead of a key March 5-6 meeting with allied oil producers to help determine the magnitude of cuts to output that might be needed to combat the impact on demand of the coronavirus epidemic, according to Reuters, which also reported that media will not be allowed to enter the secretariat to cover the two-day meeting due to fears of the spread of coronavirus. The Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, which monitors compliance with the production-cut agreement, is set to meet on Wednesday. 

 Saudis Want OPEC+ to Cut More Than 1MM Barrels-- Saudi Arabia is urging OPEC+ to agree to an oil-output cut of more than 1 million barrels a day to compensate for the hit to demand from the global spread of the coronavirus, delegates said. The Saudi push reflects mounting concern that growth in fuel consumption could be wiped out this year as the raging outbreak wreaks havoc on the world economy. Following oil’s biggest weekly slump since the 2008 financial crisis, ministers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies are descending on Vienna for a crucial meeting on deepening supply curbs. The Saudi suggestion represents a larger cut than that put forward by the group’s technical committee on Tuesday. The panel recommended a 600,000 to 1 million-barrel-a-day reduction in the second quarter, more ambitious than curbs mooted in February but still short of some estimates of the demand loss. Crude jumped as much as 2.1% in New York, before paring gains to trade at $47.42 a barrel as of 11:18 a.m. London time. Prices slumped 16% last week, and remain too low for most OPEC+ members to balance their budgets. To secure a supply cut that could stop the rout, OPEC+ must overcome Russian resistance while also grappling with the risks of bringing together delegations from 23 nations as the deadly disease continues to spread. One of those members, Iran, has a serious outbreak at home affecting members of parliament. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh arrived in the Austrian capital on Wednesday without his usual cohort of government officials. He refused to be drawn on the possible extent of production curbs, and said Russia is likely to wait until the last moment to make any decision.

Oil Up After OPEC+ Experts Suggest Deeper Cuts -- Oil’s rebound extended into a third day after OPEC+ experts recommended deeper production cuts to combat the demand hit from the coronavirus before the group meets later this week. The Joint Technical Committee suggested an additional output reduction of 600,000 to 1 million barrels a day during the second quarter, according to delegates. Ministerial meetings are scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Vienna. That came after an emergency half-percentage point interest-rate cut by the Federal Reserve failed to revive U.S. stocks on Tuesday. While the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies are widely expected to go ahead with additional output cuts, whether they will be enough to prop up prices given the magnitude of the consumption loss is uncertain. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is forecasting demand will shrink by 150,000 barrels a day this year, the least since the global financial crisis. “The market has been pricing in up to 1 million barrels-a-day of OPEC+ cuts,” said Vandana Hari, founder of Vanda Insights in Singapore. “Producers will have to deliver a bigger surprise at the meeting if they hope to prop up oil prices further.” West Texas Intermediate futures for April delivery rose 49 cents, or 1%, to $47.67 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:27 a.m. in London after climbing as much as 2.1%. The contract has advanced more than 6% since Friday after plunging 16% last week. Brent futures for May increased 0.9% to $52.31 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange. The global crude benchmark traded at a premium of $4.49 to WTI for the same month. For OPEC+ to secure a significant output cut to stem a price rout, the group must overcome Russian resistance. The outbreak has worsened since the Joint Technical Committee last met in February. At that meeting, they recommended an output cut of just 600,000 barrels a day.

OPEC+ Mulling Virus Impact on Oil Before Meeting -- OPEC and its allies have started reviewing their estimate of the damage to oil demand from the coronavirus, laying the ground for ministers to discuss production cuts at a crucial meeting later this week. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies face an unprecedented challenge as the epidemic that started in China threatens to become a global pandemic. Growth in fuel consumption could be wiped out this year and prices have just had their biggest weekly drop since the global financial crisis. To secure a supply cut that could stop the rout, the group must overcome Russian resistance while also grappling with the risks of bringing together delegations from 23 nations as the deadly disease continues to spread. One of those members, Iran, has a serious outbreak at home affecting top government officials. In an effort to limit potential contagion, OPEC will take the unprecedented step of blocking journalists from entering its Vienna headquarters during the meeting, said delegates. The OPEC+ Joint Technical Committee gathered in the Austrian capital on Tuesday to reappraise the impact of the epidemic. At their previous meeting in February, they recommended a production cut of 600,000 barrels a day, but the outbreak has worsened since then. The experts are looking at five scenarios for demand, said one delegate, who asked not to be named because the talks were private. Those numbers will determine whether the previous recommendation for the size of the cut is maintained, said another delegate. With flights canceled in Europe, schools closed in Japan, towns quarantined in Italy and a rising death toll from Iran to Washington state, the coronavirus crisis has gone global, and with it, its impact on energy demand. For only the fourth time in almost 40 years, oil consumption may not grow at all in 2020, according to a growing minority of traders, investors and analysts. That possibility is reflected in crude, which slumped 16% in New York last week, the biggest drop since December 2008. The market has rebounded somewhat, but at about $48 a barrel on Tuesday prices remain too low for most of the cartel’s members to balance their budgets.

WTI Holds Around $48 After Crude Production Hit New Record Highs, Refined Product Stocks Tumble - Oil prices extended gains this morning on the back of hopes for 1.2mm b/d production cut from OPEC+ (and entirely dismissing reports that Russia is against the idea), after a smaller than expected API crude build last night.“In terms of fundamentals the numbers are being changed very quickly,” says Olivier Jakob, managing director of Petromatrix GmbH.  “It’s going to be about OPEC and the reaction to that. There’s a lot of uncertainty.”  For now we focus on the official inventory data.  DOE:

  • Crude +784k (+3mm exp)
  • Cushing -1.971mm - biggest draw since Dec 2019
  • Gasoline -4.339mm (-1.87mm exp) - biggest draw since April 2019
  • Distillates -4.008mm (-2mm exp) - biggest draw since March 2019

The sixth weekly crude build in a row (though considerably less than expected) was offset by huge product draws...

Oil prices settle lower as OPEC+ appears to struggle to reach an agreement on output cuts - Oil futures settled lower on Wednesday as oil producers struggled to reach an agreement on production cuts in Vienna in an effort to stabilize prices on the heels of a demand slowdown sparked by the COVID-19 epidemic.The Energy Information Administration, meanwhile, reported a sixth straight weekly rise in U.S. crude supplies, adding further pressure on prices.“Despite subdued imports, and oil exports coming in well above 4 million barrels per day, a big drop in refining activity has propelled oil inventories to a sixth consecutive build,” said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData. “Countering the bearish crude build has been solid draws to the products.”April West Texas Intermediate crude CLJ20, +0.70% fell 40 cents, or nearly 0.9%, to settle at $46.78 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after trading as high as $48.41. The global benchmark, May Brent crude BRNK20, +0.50% shed 73 cents, or 1.4%, at $51.13 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.Data from the Energy Information Administration on Wednesday revealed that U.S. crude supplies rose by 785,000 barrels for the week ended Feb. 28. The government agency had reports increases in each of the previous five weeks. Analysts polled by S&P Global Platts expected the data to show a rise of 3.5 million barrels. The American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday reported a climb of 1.7 million barrels.

OPEC agrees on massive oil supply cut to offset virus impact; awaits Russia’s approval - OPEC has agreed to impose a deeper round of production cuts in order to support oil prices, paving the way for crunch talks with non-OPEC leader Russia, who still has to agree to the plan. The 14-member group, led by Saudi Arabia, decided on Thursday to cut production by 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) through the second quarter of the year. OPEC added the group would review this policy at its next meeting on June 9. The proposed cuts, which were at the top end of analyst expectations, are believed to be conditional on approval from Russia. It means energy market participants will now turn their attention to a meeting of both OPEC and non-OPEC members, sometimes referred to as OPEC+, on Friday. Ahead of the OPEC+ meeting, analysts were concerned a long-standing energy alliance between Saudi Arabia and Russia would come under intense scrutiny. That’s because Russia’s appetite for deeper production cuts has been far from certain in recent weeks. Moscow is reportedly in favor of an extension to the current level of cuts rather than a further reduction. Oil prices reversed early gains to move lower on Thursday. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $50.85 for a loss of 28 cents, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate stood at $46.64, around 0.3% lower. Speaking shortly after the OPEC meeting on Thursday, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said that Tehran would remain exempt from the proposed reduction.

Oil Falls on Saudi-Russia Discord-- Oil slipped amid a split between Saudi Arabia and Russia over whether deeper production cuts are required to offset the demand hit from the coronavirus epidemic. Futures fell 0.9% in New York Wednesday. The first day of OPEC+’s Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee meeting culminated in Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak leaving the gathering amid disagreement on the scope of proposed oil production curbs. Riyadh has pushed for a supply reduction as big as 1.5 million barrels a day, while Moscow favors maintaining output at current levels through to the end of the second quarter. Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said the committee made a “wonderful” recommendation but declined to provide details. OPEC+ ministers will discuss the recommendation at talks in Vienna on Thursday and Friday. “OPEC’s meeting falling apart hurt the momentum oil had built,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC in New York. “The market is going to need production cuts if it is ever going to stabilize.” The coronavirus outbreak has worsened since the Joint Technical Committee first recommended a production cut of 600,000 barrels a day in February. OPEC and its allies are widely expected to agree on deeper output cuts, but it’s not clear whether that will be enough to bolster oil. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and two consultants said they expect demand to shrink in 2020 for only the fourth time in nearly 40 years. Italy announced a nationwide closing of its schools until March 15 in an effort to curb the worst outbreak in Europe while, in the U.S., Los Angeles County reported six new cases. Total coronavirus cases globally topped 93,000. Meanwhile, government data showed that U.S. oil stockpiles rose by 784,000 barrels last week, well below the 3 million barrel forecast by analysts in a Bloomberg survey. U.S. crude oil production hit an all-time high at 13.1 million barrels a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The market also got some support from the bigger-than-expected draws in gasoline and diesel stockpiles. West Texas Intermediate futures for April delivery fell 40 cents to settle at $46.78 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent futures for May fell 73 cents to $51.13 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange, putting its premium over WTI at $4.18.

Oil prices rise on report OPEC agrees to cut by 1.5 million barrels per day if Russia agrees - Oil prices were higher on Thursday, shortly after two sources told Reuters that OPEC provisionally agreed to cut production by 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd). OPEC will now look to secure backing from non-OPEC partners, most notably Russia, on Friday. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $51.52 Thursday morning, up around 0.8%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $47.10, around 0.7% higher. “An agreement to reduce the OPEC+ group output level by at least 1 million bpd is imperative, otherwise oil prices will re-visit the recent lows and possibly break below them,” said oil broker PVM’s Tamas Varga. Robert Ryan, chief energy strategist at BCA Research also said the absence of a new output deal would depress the market. “We would expect a sell-off in crude oil that takes Brent prices below $50 per barrel, and WTI into the mid-$40s,” he said, referring to the impact of a failure to agree new cuts. Prices were supported earlier in the session by a lower-than-expected rise in crude oil inventories in the United States, alleviating some concerns of oversupply in the world’s biggest oil consumer. U.S. crude stocks rose modestly last week, less than analysts had expected, while U.S. oil exports rose to more than 4 million barrels per day (bpd) for the first time since December, suggesting a rise in overseas demand. Concerns over demand growth remained, however. The head of the International Monetary Fund said the global spread of the virus has crushed hopes for stronger economic gains this year. China’s top gas importer PetroChina has declared force majeure on natural gas imports following the coronavirus outbreak. The company issued the notice, which allows the suspension of contractual obligations because of exceptional circumstances, to suppliers of piped gas and also to at least one liquefied natural gas supplier, although details could not immediately be confirmed.

Oil slides as demand worries overshadow OPEC deal to deepen supply cuts - (Reuters) - Oil prices fell on Thursday as the coronavirus epidemic showed no signs of slowing, feeding worries about the global economy and prompting investors to sell more risky assets like stocks and crude oil and park money in safe havens. Oil’s losses came even as OPEC agreed to cut crude output by an extra 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in the second quarter, its deepest cut since the 2008 financial crisis. The group made its action conditional on Russia and others joining. Analysts and traders said global oil markets were likely to be oversupplied in the second quarter as demand plummets. Brent crude LCOc1 fell by $1.14, or 2.2%, to settle at $49.99 a barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) CLc1 ended the session down 88 cents, or 1.9%, at $45.90. OPEC will propose the new 1.5 million bpd cut be extended until the year end, sources said. Russia has so far indicated that it would back an extension rather than deeper production cuts. “Russia has so far dragged its feet in committing to more cuts,” Capital Economics analysts said in a note. “OPEC+ negotiations tomorrow are likely to be more contentious than today’s meeting. That said, the risk of a pandemic has escalated in the last week, and this may persuade Russia to agree to additional cuts.”

Oil Falls to a 3-Year Low on Ongoing OPEC+ Cut Indecision  - -- Brent crude settled below $50 a barrel for the first time since July 2017, as uncertainty loomed over whether Russia would agree to OPEC’s proposal for a large production cut.Futures in London fell 2.2% as OPEC ministers extended their initial proposal for a 1.5 million-barrel-a-day supply reduction to year-end, according to delegates. The reduction is still contingent on Russia’s support, which is so far not evident. OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo’s reassurance of the group’s commitment to stabilizing oil markets failed to quell oil prices.“There’s a lot of skepticism about Russia’s cooperation and that is causing distress in the market” The need for the oil cartel to curb supply will be more pressing this year as global markets falter over fears of the coronavirus, or Covid-19, spreading, which is also denting oil demand. Oil producers are struggling against a weakening demand outlook, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in years.OPEC estimates oil-demand growth at just 480,000 barrels a day this year, down from a forecast of 990,000 barrels last month. Large Wall Street banks and consultancies are even anticipating global oil demand contracting in 2020 for only the fourth time in nearly four decades. The International Energy Agency will slash its estimates on Monday, the group’s executive director Fatih Birol said in Washington.  . Brent futures for May dropped $1.14 to settle at $49.99 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange. West Texas Intermediate futures for April delivery fell 1.9% or, 88 cents, to settle at $45.90 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Other oil-market news:

  • Gasoline futures fell 2.2% to settle at $1.5218 per gallon.
  • Global oil demand could drop in 2020 due to the virus outbreak, Equinor CEO Eldar Saetre said in an interview. “There’s a high level of uncertainty and a broad range of outcomes,” he said.
  • Saudi Aramco is delaying the release of its monthly crude-pricing announcement, an exceptional step by the world’s biggest oil exporter, as it waits to see if the OPEC+ alliance will deepen cuts in global output.
  • Exxon Mobil Corp. is slowing the pace of its flagship development in the Permian, one of the first signs that oil majors are throttling back on production in response to the recent price slump.

'No guarantee' that Saudi Arabia will get what it wants at the OPEC meeting, expert says - If Saudi Arabia wants OPEC and its allies to agree to lower oil output, it will likely have to do “a lot of the heavy-lifting,” one oil watcher has told CNBC. OPEC is pushing for possible production cuts at its meeting in Vienna on Thursday and Friday. Prices have struggled following the global outbreak of the new coronavirus, which caused demand for crude to fall. OPEC’s top producer Saudi Arabia is hoping for a significant cut. The 14-member group decided on Thursday to cut production by 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) through the second quarter of the year. But non-OPEC leader Russia is still yet to agree to the effort. “There’s no guarantee that they’re going to be able to get a deal,” Herman Wang, S&P Global Platts’ Middle East and OPEC managing editor, told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” Thursday. “Likely, if Saudi Arabia wants a deal, they’re going to have to do a lot of the heavy-lifting themselves.” Victor Shum of IHS Markit did not rule out the possibility of Saudi Arabia giving up on the cuts. “They need Russian participation, and if Russia doesn’t join, they may say ‘well, let prices take the burden to adjust’,” he said. “This is a make or break moment indeed,” he told “Capital Connection.” Brent crude traded at around $51.22 in Asia’s evening hours, up 0.18%, while U.S. crude futures were trading at $46.89, 0.24% higher. Both are around 20% down from the beginning of 2020. Shum, the vice president of energy consulting at IHS Markit, said this situation is similar to what happened in 2014, when Moscow rejected Riyadh’s requests to cut jointly. Prices fell sharply when Saudi Arabia decided to keep production stable. This time, he said he expects Russia to agree to the cuts “eventually, at the last moment,” though the Saudis will need to take on the burden of cutting the most.

'I cannot see us not agreeing' on an OPEC+ production cut: UAE energy minister - Ahead of meetings with non-OPEC allies in Vienna Friday, the UAE’s energy minister appeared confident that Russia would agree to proposed production cuts. OPEC members on Thursday agreed to lower output by 1.5 million barrels a day until the end of the year in response to falling oil prices, which have been under pressure since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. But that proposal will need approval from the group’s allies — most prominently, Russia — a non-OPEC leader. “We are hoping. Russia is a very important member,” UAE’s Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei told reporters, when asked about whether Moscow will accept the cuts. “I cannot see us not agreeing because that’s very important for the market and everyone is keen,” he said. The minister also added that OPEC will not act without its non-member allies. “I cannot see us, unilaterally as OPEC, doing a deal,” he said. Why oil remains under pressure That may be playing into the market’s fears, RBC Capital Markets’ Helima Croft said. “There is a concern about what happens if Russia says no,” she said, when asked why oil prices were sliding despite the alliance’s agreement on Thursday. “OPEC came out yesterday, basically put the cut on the table, but said it’s all in or nothing,” she told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Friday. “I think we’re likely to get a yes today, but it’s certainly by no means certain,” she said.

Oil dives more than 3% after Russia rejects steeper OPEC+ cut - Oil prices slid more than 3% on Friday after Reuters reported that Russia will not agree to steeper oil output cuts by OPEC and its allies to support prices in the face of a slump in oil demand because of the global coronavirus outbreak. Brent and WTI crude futures tumbled by nearly $3 a barrel after the report. By 1057 GMT Brent crude was down $1.74, or 3.4%, at $48.25 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was down $1.56, or 3.4%, at $44.34. A Russian high-level source told Reuters on Friday that Moscow would not back an OPEC call for extra reductions in oil output and would agree only to an extension of existing cuts by OPEC and its allies, a group known as OPEC+. Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, said in a research note that Russian President Vladimir Putin “likely wants to take this to the brink, to maximise his own geopolitical leverage to get OPEC Middle Eastern countries coming to him begging to agree to cuts.” “I guess then he will ask for concessions elsewhere, e.g. Gulf financing for Syria reconstruction,” Ash said. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) held talks with its allies on Friday after the group told Russia and others that it favored an additional 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of cuts until the end of 2020. Non-OPEC states were expected to contribute 500,000 bpd to the overall extra cut, OPEC ministers said. The new deal would mean OPEC+ production curbs amounting to a total of 3.6 million bpd, or about 3.6% of global supply. Some analysts had expected Moscow to endorse the agreement. Global stock markets tumbled on Friday as disruptions to business from the spreading coronavirus epidemic worsened. European shares opened sharply lower, with travel stocks bearing the brunt.

OPEC+ fails to agree on massive supply cut, sending crude prices to 2017 lows - OPEC and non-OPEC allies have failed to agree on how much oil production to cut amid the coronavirus outbreak, with Russia reportedly refusing to give the green light to the deepest supply cuts since the global financial crisis. Oil prices initially slipped Friday afternoon on reports that Moscow said it wasn’t prepared to approve a further reduction in production. Later, Reuters also reported that OPEC and its allies had even failed to agree on rolling over existing cuts, further weighing on crude prices. Then a statement by the oil group said that it would continue discussions and made no mention of any cuts. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $45.46 Friday afternoon, down over 8%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $41.93, also around 8% lower. Both benchmarks were trading at lows not seen since 2017. Brent futures have fallen more than 30% since climbing to an early January peak, with WTI down almost one-third over the same period. On Thursday, OPEC recommended additional production cuts of 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) from the beginning of next month until the end of the year. The 14-member group had scheduled a meeting on June 9 to review the policy. The proposal was conditional on support from non-OPEC producers, including Russia. OPEC cautioned that the deal could only be applied on a pro-rata basis with core members set to cut 1 million bpd and non-OPEC partners expected to cut 500,000 bpd. OPEC and non-OPEC producers, sometimes referred to as OPEC+, were expected to meet in Vienna, Austria on Friday to discuss this proposal, but talks have been delayed. “It is truly a go big or go home moment for this organization,” Helima Croft, head of global commodities strategy at RBC, told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Friday morning. “If Russia says no today, there are real questions about the viability of the OPEC+ arrangement.”

Oil takes biggest daily dive in over a decade as Russia, OPEC split - (Reuters) - Brent slid to its biggest daily loss in more than 11 years on Friday after Russia balked at OPEC’s proposed steep production cuts to stabilize prices hit by economic fallout from the coronavirus, and OPEC responded by removing limits on its own production. More than 1 million U.S. crude contracts changed hands during the session, as the three-year pact between OPEC and Russia ended in acrimony. “Prices plunged because the OPEC confab ended up being an epic fail on the part of all involved. Russia has clearly decided to employ a scorched earth approach to the oil market: every country for itself,” Brent futures had their its biggest daily percentage fall since December 2008, down $4.72, or 9.4%, to settle at $45.27 a barrel. It was Brent’s lowest closing price since June 2017. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude dropped $4.62, or 10.1%, to $41.28, its lowest close since August 2016 and the largest daily percentage loss since November 2014. More than 4.58 million U.S. front-month crude contracts changed hands this week, the busiest week ever for that contract. Both Brent and WTI are down over 30% so far this year. The split between OPEC and Russia revived fears of a 2014 oil price crash, when Saudi Arabia and Russia fought for market share with U.S. shale oil producers, which have never participated in output-limiting pacts. OPEC was pushing for an additional 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of cuts until the end of 2020. Non-OPEC states were expected to contribute 500,000 bpd to the overall extra cut, OPEC ministers said. The new deal would have meant OPEC+ production curbs amounting to a total of 3.6 million bpd, or about 3.6% of global supply. “From (April 1) all oil producers are allowed to produce as much as they like,” analysts at ABN AMRO said in a report. The Dutch bank cut its Brent oil price forecast for 2020 by 15.5% to $49 a barrel from the previous forecast of $58.

 Oil plunges 10% for worst day in more than 5 years after OPEC+ fails to agree on a massive production cut -- Oil prices plunged more than 10% to multi-year lows on Friday as OPEC's allies rejected additional production cuts that the organization proposed Thursday.  U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude slid 10.07%, or $4.62, to settle at $41.28, its lowest level since Aug. 2016. It was WTI's worst day since Nov. 28, 2014. Earlier in the session WTI traded as low as $41.11 per barrel.International benchmark Brent crude slid more than 8% to trade at $45.62 per barrel. Its session low was $45.18, which is a price not seen since June 2017.The meeting between OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+, concluded with no deal on additional production cuts. The cartel and its allies agreed to meet again to monitor the situation. The current production cuts will be in place until the end of March as planned, but it's uncertain if they will extend beyond this month.Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters leaving the meetings in Vienna on Friday that it meant that members could now pump what they liked starting April 1.  "We have made this decision because no consensus has been found of how all the 24 countries should simultaneously react to the current situation. So as from April 1, we are starting to work without minding the quotas or reductions which were in place earlier but this does not mean that each country would not monitor and analyse market developments," he said.On Thursday, OPEC recommended additional production cuts of 1.5 million barrels per day from the beginning of next month until the end of the year. The 14-member group scheduled a meeting on June 9 to review the policy.The proposal was conditional on support from non-OPEC producers, including Russia. OPEC cautioned that the deal could only be applied on a pro-rata basis with core members set to cut 1 million barrels per day and non-OPEC partners expected to cut 500,000 barrels per day. Oil has tumbled into bear market territory as the coronavirus outbreak has led to softer demand, and many on the Street expected OPEC to step in in a bid to prop up prices.  "The OPEC+ confab is devolving into the worst case scenario for the group. Last night, the best case scenario for the group was touted: a cut of 1.5 million bpd through year-end. That scheme hinged on Russian participation, however, which is not forthcoming," Kilduff said that without the additional cut of at least 1 million barrels per day WTI prices could head into the upper $30s.

Saudi Arabia detains senior royals for alleged coup plot, including king's brother: sources - (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has detained three senior Saudi princes including Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the younger brother of King Salman, and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the king’s nephew, for allegedly planning a coup, sources with knowledge of the matter said. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Salman’s son and de facto ruler of the country, the world’s top oil exporter and a key U.S. ally, has moved to consolidate power since ousting Mohammed bin Nayef as heir to the throne in a 2017 palace coup. Later that year, he arrested several royals and other prominent Saudis, holding them for months at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in an anti-corruption campaign that caused shockwaves at home and abroad. Five sources told Reuters that Prince Ahmed and Mohammed bin Nayef were detained in the latest operation. Three of the sources, including a regional source, said Mohammed bin Nayef and his half-brother, Nawaf, were picked up at a private desert camp on Friday. Two sources said Ahmed was taken from his home. Crown Prince Mohammed, also referred to as MbS, “accused them of conducting contacts with foreign powers, including the Americans and others, to carry out a coup d’etat,” the regional source said.

Dubai's ruler abducted daughters and threatened former wife, UK judge rules -(Reuters) - Dubai’s ruler ordered the abduction of two daughters and orchestrated a campaign of intimidation against his former wife, a British judge has ruled, in what is likely to be a major blow to his reputation as a Middle East reformer. Judge Andrew McFarlane said he accepted as proved a series of allegations made by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s former wife, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, during a custody battle over their two children at London’s High Court. Haya, the half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah, fled to London on April 15 last year with the children, Jalila, 12, and Zayed, 8, fearing for her safety amid suspicions that she had had an affair with one of her British bodyguards. Her lawyers argued that Mohammed’s treatment of two older daughters by another marriage showed her children were at risk of being abducted too. As part of the custody case, Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Court division in England and Wales, made a series of “findings of fact” about allegations raised by Haya, 45, during hearings over the last nine months. McFarlane said he accepted her claim that Mohammed arranged for his daughter Shamsa, then aged 18, to be kidnapped off the streets of Cambridge in central England in 2000, and had her flown back to Dubai. He also ruled it was proved that the sheikh had arranged for Shamsa’s younger sister Latifa to be snatched from a boat in international waters off India by Indian forces in 2018 and returned to the emirate in what was her second failed escape attempt. Both remained there “deprived of their liberty”, McFarlane said.

Quick update on the Turkey vs Syria, Russia and Iran - Just a quick update: as I predicted, the Syrian forces have retaken most of the strategically crucial town of Saraqib.   Russia has confirmed that Russian military police units have already entered the town.This crucial town was lost by the Syrians, largely due to the very effective use of attack drones by the Turks which the Syrians clearly did not anticipate.  However, after an initial streak of painful losses, the Syrian air defenses, probably assisted by Russian experts, have now adapted and retaken the control of the airspace over Idlib and scores of Turkish drones have now been shot down.By the way, there was a hilarious incident when the Turkish-backed Takfiris declared that they had shot down a Su-24.  After it became clear that what they really shot down was a Turkish drone, the Takfiris declared that it was a Syrian or Russian drone.  Problem: on the wreckage you can easily see Turkish markings :-)In other news, it appears that there will be no four-way meeting in Istanbul, but that Erdogan will travel directly to Moscow to meet with Putin.  Most observers believe that Erdogan is desperate and that he will beg Putin to agree to some kind of deal. I hesitate to make predictions when mentally unstable characters like Erdogan are involved, but my best guess is that Russia will agree to some kind of deal, but that this deal with reflect the failure of the current Turkish military operation.  Specifically, I believe that Saraqib shall be fully liberated and that the Turks will have to de factorelinquish control over the M4 highway (some kind of “jointly administered neutral zone” might be agreed upon to place a small face-saving figleaf over Erdogan’s pride).  Finally, Russia will have to give security guarantees to the Turks, including a promise not to arm the Kurds (with whom the Russians have a complex and ambiguous relationship anyway).

Turkey Asks NATO to Join Its War Against Syria and Russia - The spokesperson for the Islamist party of Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has called upon all of NATO to go to war against Syria for Syria’s having killed dozens of Turkey’s troops in order for Syria to defeat Turkey’s invasion and military occupation of Syria’s Idlib Province, which borders on Turkey. Going to war against Syria would mean going to war also against Russia, which is in Syria to protect Syria’s sovereignty over its own territory. If the United States accepts that Turkish proposal, then World War III will consequently result.  Darius Shahtahmasebi reported for Russia’s RT News on the morning of February 28th, Turkey is calling for NATO’s protection after 33 of its soldiers were killed in an apparent Syrian airstrike in Idlib, allegedly while fighting in terrorist ranks. In the regional chaos that ensues, only one player stands to gain. Speculation over what’s to come next has seen #article 5 trending on Twitter in the hours following the attacks, after Omer Celik, spokesman for Turkey’s ruling AKP party, indicated to reporters in Ankara that he was looking at requesting formal NATO protection against Damascus and, by proxy, the Russian air force. “We call on NATO to [start] consultations. This is not [an attack] on Turkey only, it is an attack on the international community. A common reaction is needed. The attack was also against NATO,” Celik told Turkish media. Article 5 of the NATO treaty says an attack on one member is an attack on them all. The US State Department also condemned the attack, stating that it stands by its “NATO ally Turkey.” It further stated that it continues to “call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia and Iranian-backed forces.” Never one to let us down, the US envoy to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson also told journalists that “everything is on the table.” This is the opportunity for U.S. President Donald Trump to join his opposition, Democratic Party’s, and even his own Party’s, hate-Russia campaign, by unleashing World War III, if he wants to.

U.S. Offers Aid, not Missiles, as Turkey Pushes Back Syrian Forces – WSJ —As Turkey launches a military operation against the Syrian government, the U.S. is making a show of support for a NATO ally but stopping short of delivering weapons requested by Ankara.A group of senior U.S. officials in a visit to Turkey’s border Tuesday announced more than $100 million in new funding for United Nations aid programs providing food, blankets and other support to civilians in Syria.They also offered words of support for Turkey, whose military has launched a campaign to reverse advances by the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad that have forced nearly a million people to flee in the past three months. The visit highlights the fraught dynamic between the U.S. and Turkey, as Washington tries to reassure its military ally as it weighs Ankara’s requests for Patriot missiles and other American weaponry.“On those hills over there the Turkish military and the Syrian opposition are first of all fighting to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,” said James Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy on Syria, while visiting a refugee camp near Turkey’s border with the war-battered country. “Millions and millions of refugees, that’s the intent of Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.”The Turkish operation comes as the crisis on its borders is reaching a boiling point. Millions of civilians are trapped in northwestern Syria, penned in by the Russian-backed Syrian government on one side and the Turkish border on the other. Fearing another massive influx of refugees and further killings of civilians, Turkey is now challenging Russia’s dominance of the airspace. Turkey said Tuesday it downed another Syrian warplane over the country, the third in two days. The sorties risk a broader confrontation with Moscow, which launched a campaign of airstrikes in 2015 that tipped the war in Mr. Assad’s favor.

US Carrier Strike Group Enters Mediterranean As Syria & Turkey Move To State Of War -Erdogan is urging US and NATO help to halt the Syrian-Russian offensive in Idlib, and elsewhere Libya is also turning into a full-blown major conflict involving external powers, notably also Turkey which is providing military support to Tripoli against Gen. Haftar's offensive. Turkey and Syria are currently downing each other's aircraft over Idlib province in a major escalation.And now the Marine Traffic maritime information portal has identified along with other international reports that the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (or "Ike") crossed through the Strait of Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean Sea late Friday into Saturday, accompanied by multiple support ships.So far the White House has remained cool toward pledging military support to Turkey, however, if the carrier strike group eventually moves closer to the Syrian coast this week, it could be a worrisome sign of Washington's intent to once again get involved militarily against Russia and the Syrian Army. This also as Russia's Interfax news agency reported additional Russian warships currently en route to the eastern Mediterranean, including the frigate “Admiral Makarov” and “Admiral Grigorovich” which have consistently participated in operations off the Syrian coast. The US carrier group's movements are ostensibly in support of a large US-European military exercise, being described as the first of its kind since the Cold War.

Assad Joins Forces With Libya's Haftar To Combat Turkey - While recent generations have shown them reluctant to expand far beyond their borders, in the past few months Turkey has shown interest in overseas military engagements. Forces have been active in northern Syria with an eye toward regime change, and Turkey has also committed to military involvement in Libya. That’s given Turkey two potential enemies to worry about, and given them each a potential new ally. The Syrian government and Libya’s self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) under Gen. Khalifa Haftar have agreed to cooperation, and signed a memorandum of understanding to confront Turkish aggression.  The LNA’s adjoining government, the eastern-based Tobruk Parliament, has confirmed it will be opening an embassy in Damascus. This will be the first Libyan embassy in Syria since the 2012 NATO-imposed regime change in Libya. Turkey's Anadolu Agency reports:The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad reopened the Libyan Embassy in Damascus on Tuesday after an 8-year hiatus and handed it over to the "government" of east Libya-based renegade commander Khalifa Haftar.The embassy was given to Haftar's government after the two signed a memorandum of understanding to reopen embassies, the official SANA news agency reported. The Syrian regime has become the first to recognize Haftar's government, which does not have international recognition.

Chaos As Thousands Of Refugees Charge Greek Border En Masse; 15,000 Surge Into EU Border Town - True to Erdogan's prior threat that Europe would see 18,000 to as many as 30,000 refugees pour across European Union borders on Saturday after Turkey 'opened the gates,' it's being reported that the number of migrants at Evros a key land border between Turkey and Greece has now reached 15,000. Throughout Saturday the area became a war zone as thousands of refugees, urged on by Turkish authorities, attempted to cross into Greece en masse.In places like the now completely closed Kastanies crossing (sealed by the Greek side as Turkish guards stood down and let migrants pass freely), thousands are stuck in 'no man's land' between the borders, with the situation fast descending into chaos. According to the Greek daily Ekathimerini:This is the first time such a large group of migrants and refugees has attempted a crossing en masse at Evros, a move that Greek authorities are treating as a consequence of the announcement from the Turkish government on Thursday night that it would no longer prevent migrants trying to reach the European Union. Germany's Der Spiegel published footage showing migrants hurling tear gas grenades at Greek police, reportedly canisters provided by Turkish security themselves.   Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis earlier vowed that "no illegal entries into Greece will be tolerated" - and has authorized a militarized response to seal border crossings with Turkey, which has included naval patrols in the Aegean to thwart migrant boats from passing. At the Kastanies crossing Greek guards were seen firing tear gas on tightly packed groups of hundreds of migrants:

 Turkey Sends 1,000 Special Forces To EU Border To Prevent Migrant Return -Starting last week multiple journalists published proof that Turkish authorities were actively facilitating refugee and migrant movement toward EU borders after Erdogan began making good on his prior threat to 'open the gates' angry over the unfolding Idlib crisis. This included footage of buses staged in Istanbul and other cities to take thousands to the land border with Greece. And now Ankara is now openly saying it's implemented a policy of not only pushing migrants to the border, but ensuring they won't come back even after Greece shut its border and has been seen using harsh tactics to keep people from entering in a heightened militarized response.  Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu announced Thursday the deployment of 1,000 special operations police officers to ensure migrants can't return. “Turkey will deploy 1,000 special operations police officers to prevent migrant pushback at the border,” the minister said, according to Turkey's Daily Sabah.  The newspaper reported further: “Soylu told reporters that the European Union's border protection agency Frontex and Greece have pushed 4,900 migrants back to Turkey since March 1.” He also claimed 164 migrants had been injured by Greek border security and Frontex.

US Attacks Taliban Positions In First Strike After Much-Hyped Truce Deal - It appears the official death of the so-called 'historic' peace deal between the United States and the Taliban, as the US military has bombed Taliban positions Wednesday in the first such strike after the truce deal, and the first attack in nearly two weeks.As we noted when it began unraveling Monday while the ink was barely dry after US State Department and Taliban representatives signed the truce in Doha Saturday, the first major milestone in the controversial deal that saw Washington engage with terrorists while desperately wanting to bring an end to the eighteen-year long occupation would have ultimately seen all American troops out of Afghanistan within 14 months. That now appears a pipe dream, and awkward timing to say the least, given President Trump just held a phone call with the Taliban's top representative Tuesday.  CNN reports of the details of the attack via drone strike:The United States conducted an airstrike Wednesday against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan who are accused of attacking an Afghan National Defense and Security Forces checkpoint, according to the US military.The strike comes hours after a telephone call between President Donald Trump and Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Tuesday amid reports that the Taliban had resumed violence in Afghanistan days after the US and the Taliban signed a historic agreement in Qatar on Saturday.A Pentagon spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan said in a series of statements, "The US conducted an airstrike Wednesday against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an #ANDSF checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack. This was our 1st strike against the Taliban in 11 days."

Massacre In Kabul Targeted Politicians, Leaves 27 Dead - Presidential Candidate Barely Escapes - At a crucial moment at which the historic US-Taliban peace deal appears hanging by a thread - if not already dead altogether - and as Pompeo is dubiously pledging to keep it alive and push forward, gunmen have carried out a massacre in Kabul which nearly killed top Afghan political leader, Abdullah Abdullah. At a moment top national leaders were attending a Shia commemoration ceremony in the Afghan capital, gunmen unleashed a hail of bullets in a major coordinated attack, killing at least 27 people, according to a health ministry statement. British soldiers responded to the massive Friday attack, via AP/CNN. "Twenty-seven bodies and 29 wounded transported by ... ambulance so far," a health ministry spokesman told Reuters in the aftermath. The number of wounded was later updated to at least 55 injured in the attack. Crucially, the country's Chief Executive and presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah escaped unharmed, as well as the chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council Karim Khalili — who was giving a speech at the very moment the attack started, said to include rockets fired toward the crowd. Khalili is seen in video frantically leaving the stage mid-speech as gunfire rings out, fleeing for his life:

The Coronavirus Is Hammering China’s Economic Outlook – WSJChina’s coronavirus epidemic is depressing its economic outlook, with new government readings on the manufacturing and service sectors validating informal indications that the country is struggling to get back to work. A Chinese government index that tracks sentiment among purchasing managers at manufacturers fell to its lowest level on record in February, dropping deep into territory that indicates a contraction. China’s National Bureau of Statistics said Saturday that its 15-year-old index tumbled to 35.7 from 50.0 in January—below even the lowest level recorded during the global financial crisis.A related index that tracks purchasing plans in services industries plunged to a record low of 29.6—deep below the 50 mark that separates expansion from contraction—suggesting weakness in construction, transportation, restaurants and tourism. The reports are the first official economic checkpoints to be released during the crisis. They confirm a freeze that dates to late January, when authorities signaled the disease, now called Covid-19, was spreading faster than they thought. They then clamped down on countrywide transportation and business activity. “Today’s PMI data suggest that things are really bad,” said Larry Hu of Macquarie Group in a note. It is even possible the government will report a first-quarter contraction for the first time since the end of the Cultural Revolution, he said.The disease and China’s response hammered both production and demand, said Zhang Liqun, an analyst with a government-linked business organization, the China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing. The statistics bureau, which releases the index together with the federation, predicted there would be some rebound next month as more manufacturers resume activity; authorities say the worst of the health crisis may have passed. China accounts for a little more than 16% of global economic output, so disruption in the world’s second-largest economy is expected to have an impact on a number of other economies.

China Composite PMI Crashes To Record Lows As Services Economy Implodes - Stagnating consumption amid the coronavirus epidemic has had a great impact on China's service sector in February, as one would expect. February PMI data signalled the first reduction in business activity across China's service sector on record due to restrictions implemented to contain the recent coronavirus outbreak. Firms across all sectors reported on the damaging effect that the virus was having on the economy via company closures and travel restrictions, with total new orders also falling at a record pace. Restrictions around travel also impacted firms' ability to source workers, leading a renewed fall in staff numbers. Consequently, backlogs of work rose at a substantial pace. Commenting on the China General Services and Composite PMI data, Dr. Zhengsheng Zhong, Chairman and Chief Economist at CEBM Group said: "The Caixin China General Services Business Activity Index fell to 26.5 in February, about half the reading of the previous month, marking its first drop into contractionary territory since the survey launched in November 2005. Stagnating consumption amid the coronavirus epidemic has had a great impact on the service sector.

  • 1) Demand for services shrank sharply. Both the gauges for total new business and new export business dropped to their lowest levels on record.
  • 2) It was difficult for service providers to recruit workers, and backlogs of work climbed. The drop in the employment gauge was relatively small, but its February reading marked the lowest point on record. The measure for outstanding orders surged to a record high. Supply capacity across the service sector was insufficient amid restrictions on the movement of people.
  • 3) The measure for input costs dropped at a steeper rate than that for prices companies charged customers, because of a sharp decline in supply capacity.
  • 4) Business confidence also fell to a record low. Although policies have been introduced to provide tax and financing support for industries and small businesses heavily impacted by the epidemic, service companies were still concerned about uncertainties resulting from the epidemic.

China Car Sales Crash 80% As Virus Paralyzes Auto Industry - Car sales in China fell 80% YoY in February, the sharpest monthly decline in nearly two decades amid the Covid-19 epidemic kept consumers away from dealerships, according to the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA). The outbreak of the virus has had a significant impact on China's automobile industry as it has been cycling down for the last two years. Global automakers have been pouring money into China, such as Tesla, to capture a robust consumer. Still, it could be seen as the wrong move at the moment, due in part to a collapse in consumption starting in mid-January.  A twin shock has plagued the automobile industry in China, one where a supply shock has hit manufacturers, who can't produce automobiles at full capacity because of labor shortages and lockdowns, along with a demand shock that has kept people away from dealerships. While supply woes could be resolved with near term factory restarts, demand woes are expected to linger through the first half of the year. To illustrate the plunge in business activity, Caixin China Composite Output Index plunged to 27.5 in February from 51.9 in the previous month, one of the quickest drops on record. The virus outbreak has led to company closures and travel restrictions that have ground China's economy to a halt.

Seventy trapped after Chinese coronavirus quarantine hotel collapses - (Reuters) - About 70 people were trapped on Saturday after a five-storey hotel being used for coronavirus quarantine collapsed in the port city of Quanzhou in southeast China, state media said. A live video stream posted by the government-backed Beijing News site showed rescue workers in orange overalls clambering over mounds of rubble and carrying people toward ambulances gathered around the site. Beijing News said the Quanzhou Xinjia Hotel had been five storeys high. It collapsed at about 7:30 p.m. (1130 GMT) and 34 people were rescued in the following two hours, the Quanzhou municipality said on its website. No reason was given for the collapse. The official People’s Daily said the hotel had opened in June 2018 with 80 rooms.

China January-February exports tumble, imports slow as coronavirus batters trade and business - (Reuters) - China’s exports contracted sharply in the first two months of the year, and imports slowed, as the health crisis triggered by the coronavirus outbreak caused massive disruptions to business operations, global supply chains and economic activity. The gloomy trade report is likely to reinforce fears that China’s economic growth halved in the first quarter to the weakest since 1990 as the epidemic and strict government containment measures crippled factory production and led to a sharp slump in demand. Overseas shipments fell 17.2% in January-February from the same period a year earlier, customs data showed on Saturday, marking the steepest fall since February 2019. That compared with a 14% drop tipped by a Reuters poll of analysts and a 7.9% gain in December. Imports sank 4% from a year earlier, but were better than market expectations of a 15% drop. They had jumped 16.5% in December, buoyed in part by a preliminary Sino-U.S. trade deal. China ran a trade deficit of $7.09 billion for the period, reversing an expected $24.6 billion surplus in the poll. Factory activity contracted at the fastest pace ever in February, even worse than during the global financial crisis, an official manufacturing gauge showed last weekend, with a sharp slump in new orders. A private survey highlighted similarly dire conditions. The epidemic has killed over 3,000 and infected more than 80,000 in China. Though the number of new infections in China is falling, and local governments are slowly relaxing emergency measures, analysts say many businesses are taking longer to reopen than expected, and may not return to normal production till April. Those delays threaten an even longer and costlier spillover into the economies of China’s major trading partners, many of which rely heavily on Chinese-made parts and components. China’s trade surplus with the United States for the first two months of the year stood at $25.37 billion, Reuters calculation based on Chinese customs data showed, much narrower than a surplus of $42.16 billion in the same period last year. 

Coronavirus Shutdown Leads to ‘Dramatic’ Decline in Chinese Pollution Levels --  Toxic pollution levels fell significantly in China between January and February, and scientists think the newcoronavirus is a large part of the reason why. Satellite data collected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) and shared by NASA's Earth Observatory Monday show a steep decline in nitrogen dioxide levels over China between Jan. 1 to 20 and Feb. 10 to 25. The two periods coincide with the time before and after Chinese officials implemented a quarantine in Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. "This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event," air quality researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Fei Liu said in the NASA post. Nitrogen dioxide is a noxious gas emitted by cars, power plants and factories. Short term exposure can aggravate the symptoms of asthma, and longer term exposure can cause people to develop asthma and be more vulnerable to respiratory infections, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The decline in emissions over China came after Jan. 23, by which point transit in and out of Wuhan had been halted and local businesses had been shuttered, NASA said. The decline in pollution levels began over Wuhan and then spread across the country. Further images shared by NASA show how 2020's pollution levels did not rise after the holiday the way they did during the same time last year.  For an even broader view, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA's Aura satellite has been collecting nitrogen dioxide levels for 15 years. This year's nitrogen dioxide levels in eastern and central China were 10 to 30 percent lower than the average levels for this time of year between 2005 and 2019.  Emissions have fallen in the past because of economic upheavals. COVID-19, which has so far sickened almost 89,000 people in 65 countries and killed more than 3,000, has already spooked the global economy. Stock markets fell last week by more than 10 percent, and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned Monday that the continued spread of the new disease could cut economic growth in half and drive several countries into a recession, The Guardian reported.

OECD Releases Dire Outlook for Global Growth as a Result of Coronavirus --The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released a dire outlook for global economic growth this year as a result of the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19. Its latest Interim Economic Outlook provides both a best-case scenario, where the virus is broadly contained, as well as a scenario in which contagion spreads.The best-case scenario, which factors in limited spread outside China, will bring little cheer to world leaders. It projects global economic growth falling to 2.4 percent this year compared to an anemic global growth of just 2.9 percent last year.If there is wider spread of the virus around the globe, the OECD says global growth could be cut to as low as 1.5 percent – which would be just half of what the OECD was forecasting last November. The OECD also projected that some countries, such as Japan and the Euro area, could enter recession as a result of stringent containment measures and loss of confidence.As the dire “Interim Outlook” was released in Paris, the OECD’s Chief Economist, Laurence Boone, said this: “The virus risks giving a further blow to a global economy that was already weakened by trade and political tensions. Governments need to act immediately to contain the epidemic, support the health care system, protect people, shore up demand and provide a financial lifeline to households and businesses that are most affected.”

Global Growth to Slow Sharply as Virus Takes Heavy Toll, OECD Says – WSJ -Global economic growth will slow sharply this year as governments attempt to contain the coronavirus epidemic, although the scale of the setback is highly uncertain, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Monday. In its “best case” scenario, the Paris-based research body said the global economy would grow by 2.4%, weaker than the 2.9% expansion projected before the viral outbreak. That lost growth is roughly equivalent to $400 billion. But it said much more severe slowdowns are possible. The global economy slowed in 2019, and was particularly weak in the final three months of the year. Given that starting point, the OECD said it is possible that the global output will fall during the first three months of this year, putting the economy at risk of recession. However, the research body is forecasting a rebound in growth during 2021, assuming the outbreak is contained over the coming months. But that recovery wouldn’t be immediate, and some lost output would never be recovered. “It’s not like it plunges and then it recovers quickly,” said Laurence Boone, the OECD’s chief economist. To date, the outbreak has been most severe in China, and the government has responded with travel bans and quarantine requirements that have closed factories and left service providers without customers. In its best-case scenario, the OECD forecasts that China’s economy will grow 4.9% this year, down from its previous projection of 5.7%. However, it expects growth to rebound to 6.4% in 2021, having previously forecast an expansion of 5.5%.

Global Manufacturing PMI Crashes To Weakest Since 2009 - Although not entirely surprising, the scale of the collapse in JPMorgan and IHS Markit Economics purchasing managers’ index for Global manufacturing in February is stunning. The global manufacturing sector suffered its steepest contraction since 2009 as demand, international trade and supply chains were severely disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Output fell across the consumer, intermediate and investment goods industries, with the steepest drop at investment goods producers.  Manufacturing production and new orders registered their sharpest declines since April 2009. The downturns in both were quickest in China, where output and new business fell at survey-record rates. Of the 31 nations for which February data were available, 15 registered a contraction of output, including China, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia.  Clearly, the outbreak of COVID-19 had a marked impact on supply-chains during February... Just wait for the v-shaped recovery... any minute now!

COVID-19: Coronavirus outbreak - How will it affect the commodities markets - Platts podcast - S&P Global Platts editor Eric Yep and pricing specialists Fred Wang and Srijan Kanoi examine the impact of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, on China's coal and LNG markets, and take a look at potential demand centers that could absorb existing supplies in the market.

G7 Disappoints: Futures Slide After Group Of Seven Fails To Announce New Action, Vows To Use "All Appropriate Policy Tools" Less than 40 minutes after the G7 call of finance ministers and central bankers stated, the G7 issued a statement, which as Reuters warned, was a disappointment because while it vowed to use "all appropriate policy tools including fiscal measures where appropriate", but stopped short of promising interest rate cuts or other immediate rescue measures. The joint statement of solidarity showed that the leaders of the so-called G7 nations, which also includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, are capable of cooperation. But the statement did not announce any of the more aggressive action that investors have been hoping for and that many economists say is needed to prevent the virus outbreak from undermining global growth. In a statement, the group said that the G7 finance ministers and central bankers “are closely monitoring the spread of the coronavirus disease” and added, “given the potential impacts of Covid-19 on global growth, we reaffirm our commitment to use all appropriate policy tools to achieve strong, sustainable growth and safeguard against downside risks.” The call participants added that “central banks will continue to fulfill their mandates, thus supporting price stability and economic growth while maintaining the resilience of the financial system.” In other words, they will do nothing at this moment, and if the RBA's disappointing 25bps rate cut (on expectations of at least 50bps) is any indication, central banks are desperate to preserve what little dry ammo they have for as long as possible. The full statement is below (link), with the following preamble: "U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell led a call with the G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors to discuss the coronavirus disease 2019. At the conclusion of their meeting, they issued the following joint statement:"

World pharma supplier India restricts export of some ingredients, drugs (Reuters) - India, the world’s main supplier of generic drugs, has restricted the export of 26 pharmaceutical ingredients and the medicines made from them, including Paracetamol, a common pain reliever also sold as acetaminophen, as the coronavirus outbreak plays havoc with supply chains. The Indian government urged calm and said there were enough stocks to manufacture formulations for two-to-three months. The government’s list of 26 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and medicines accounts for 10% of all Indian pharmaceutical exports and includes several antibiotics, such as tinidazole and erythromycin, the hormone progesterone and Vitamin B12. It was unclear how the restriction would impact the availability of these medicines in the countries that import from India and also depend on China. In the United States, for instance, Indian imports accounted for 24 percent of medicines and 31 percent of medicine ingredients in 2018, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told U.S. senators on Tuesday that the agency is working to determine how the restrictions will affect the U.S. medical supply and the effect on essential medicines. The FDA last week announced the first coronavirus-related drug shortage in the United States but declined to name the drug in question. Hahn said on Tuesday that drug was in shortage because of a lack of materials needed to make the API. Indian drugmakers rely on China, the source of the virus outbreak, for almost 70% of the APIs for their medicines. Industry experts say they are likely to face shortages if the epidemic drags on.

Coronavirus Snarls Trans-Pacific Shipping and Ripples Through U.S. Business – WSJ - The coronavirus epidemic is upending the carefully calibrated logistics of global shipping, asplunging exports from China disrupt the trade of American goods, especially farm products such as fruit and meat destined for Asia. Congestion at Chinese ports and interrupted sailings have squeezed space on China-bound vessels and created an imbalance of the 40-foot long refrigerated containers used to ship fruit, meats and other perishables on three-week voyages across the Pacific, with many stuck on the China side.The traffic jam is pushing up transportation prices for U.S. exporters and sowing turmoil on the heels of a painful trade war.Shipping volumes out of China plummeted in February as factory shutdowns in the wake of the epidemic crimped industrial production. Containership operators have canceled nearly 60 trans-Pacific sailings to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., in the first quarter and more than 110 to all of North America. Normally there are about 200 sailings of container ships across the Pacific a month. That means fewer ships are available to make the return journey east, and the normal turnover of containers has stalled. “Right now empty [refrigerated] containers are in short supply,”   “It’s harder to get on a vessel, and there’s not enough outbound capacity to handle all the cargo seeking bookings, particularly to China.” It’s the height of California’s orange-growing season, but truckers for Fast Way Xpress Inc., who haul oranges and other produce from the Central Valley to the port of Oakland, have waited in line there for empty refrigerated containers for up to four hours. By the time the drivers reach the shipping terminal, they sometimes then discover all the containers are gone. “The lines are so long it looks like the L.A. freeway,”  A record two million containers of seaborne shipping capacity was idled in late February, according to Alphaliner, a Paris-based marine data provider. That is more than the 1.5 million containers of capacity idled in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis.\

Jet Fuel Prices Dive Amid Stalling Aviation Industry; Global Tourism Bust Imminent - Airlines have canceled more than 200,000 flights as Covid-19 is nearing pandemic status. -- More than 92,300 people have been infected by the virus, which has killed about 3,100 people. Many of the cases are in China, but recent cases ex-China have been surging, especially in South Korea, Iran, Italy, Japan, and in many other countries across Europe.   Airlines have spent the last month canceling flights to China – American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines have suspended service to mainland China and Hong Kong. Reuters provides a full list of canceled flights across the world. Flights to and from China crashed 80% YoY in February, according to Cirium travel industry data. Global air travel has plunged for the first time since the 2008/09 financial crisis, mostly in the Asia-Pacific region, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently said.   Plunging air traffic across the world has resulted in a steep decline in jet fuel. 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, Refinitiv data shows. "The coronavirus outbreak has hampered jet fuel demand in Asia and the impact is expected to linger for a few more months," said Sri Paravaikkarasu, director for Asia oil at consultancy FGE.

Coronavirus live updates: Foxconn revenue tanks, Southwest Airlines slashes forecast - Apple supplier Foxconn’s February revenue fell 18.13% to NT 216 billion (approximately $7.26 billion), the largest year-over-year drop since March 2013 when it fell more than 19%, according to the company. Revenue fell 40.35% month over month. Foxconn cut production in China over fears of the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak. The company said Tuesday that output has returned to 50% of capacity but that it expects to be back to full seasonal capacity by the end of March. Southwest Airlines warned investors that the outbreak will cost the U.S. carrier up to $300 million during the first quarter. “In recent days, the company has experienced a significant decline in customer demand, as well as an increase in trip cancellations, which is assumed to be attributable to concerns relating to reported cases of COVID-19,” the airline said. It said its revenue per available seat mile, a key measure of performance, was slashed. The company now says it will fall to somewhere between a 1% gain and a 2% decline. It previously said its year-over-year revenue per seat mile would rise 3.5% to 5.5%. Amazon is asking employees at its Seattle and Bellevue offices to work from home until the end of the month after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus. The company informed employees of the change late Wednesday, one day after Amazon confirmed that an employee who works in one of its Seattle offices tested positive for COVID-19. Amazon is headquartered in Seattle and has offices in Bellevue, where it employs more than 2,000 people.  An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC in a statement: “We are recommending that employees in Seattle/Bellevue who are able to work from home do so through the end of the month.” Between Congress’s fiscal stimulus and the Federal Reserve’s easing, Wall Street sentiment is clear: Government spending is way more important in trying to combat the virus and, in turn, calm investors.The emergency 50 basis point Fed cut, while perhaps a reassuring signal the central bank is willing to act with speed to support the economy, isn’t able to correct big supply shocks caused by the virus, said Nathan Sheets, chief economist at PGIM Fixed Income.“The Fed’s stimulus doesn’t fix broken supply chains or persuade people who are worried about being exposed to the virus to leave their homes and spend,” Sheets wrote in an email to CNBC. “But it should provide a safety net of sorts by helping ensure that financial conditions remain supportive, lifting sentiment more generally, and helping to ensure that there is ample liquidity in the system.”

Coronavirus pushes aviation sector into ‘crisis zone’ - Airbus is reviewing its 2020 delivery targets, issued barely three weeks ago, as the global spread of coronavirus in recent days through Europe and into the US pushes the aviation industry into crisis mode. Passenger demand plunged sharply at the weekend, forcing carriers around the world to freeze hiring and slash the number of flights, including on lucrative transatlantic routes. Iata, the airline trade body, will on Thursday significantly increase its estimate of the hit to global sales as a result of the virus. Just 12 days ago it estimated a near-$30bn impact, based largely on the reduction in flights to and from China. Current data show a 2.8 per cent fall in global aircraft capacity this year, according to aviation data consultancy, Ascend, against Iata’s expectations late last year for growth of 4.7 per cent in 2020.  In that context Airbus will not be alone in reassessing its guidance for this year. Executives from the aerospace and airline industries said they were monitoring the situation daily. Airbus has not decided to cut its delivery target but one person with knowledge of the situation said “there are several airlines trying to defer deliveries. It is probable that guidance will have to be reassessed before the end of March.” Analysts suggested that the impact of deferrals on Boeing could be mitigated by the year-long grounding of the 737 Max after two fatal crashes. Some airlines were also seeking a temporary holiday from lease payments, according to two industry insiders. The review by Airbus and moves this week by carriers from British Airways to Ryanair to sharply cut flights show how quickly the crisis is escalating for the sector. “We’re in a crisis zone for airlines. The situation has rather dramatically accelerated over this last weekend,” said Brian Pearce, chief economist at Iata. “This is far worse than the Sars episode,” he added. “It’s looking more like the global financial crisis, where airline revenues fell 16 per cent in 2009. We’re not there yet but it will depend on the success of which governments manage to contain this European outbreak.” On Monday BA slashed more than 400 flights between March 16 and March 28, to countries including Italy, Germany and, crucially, the US. Its decision to cut transatlantic routes was highly unusual and a sign of the deepening impact of the disease.

Coronavirus fears spark toilet paper panic buying around the world YouTube.

Aussie toilet paper tussle sparks call for calm - A fight over toilet paper in an Australian supermarket on Saturday prompted police to call for calm after the latest violence sparked by coronavirus-induced panic buying in the country. A video widely shared online shows three women pulling each other’s hair and screaming as they struggle over a large pack of the highly sought-after commodity in the aisle of a grocery store in Sydney. “I just want one pack!” one of the women screams as two others guard a trolley stacked high with rolls. Two staff members intervened to break up the scuffle and police were called but no one was arrested. “It’s not the Thunderdome, it’s not Mad Max. We don’t need to do that,” Acting Inspector Andrew New from New South Wales police told reporters, referring to the post-apocalyptic action films. The incident comes after police tasered a man involved in a scrap over toilet rolls in the NSW town of Tamworth. Police were also called to a shop in Sydney when a knife was drawn in a tussle over the scarce product.   Supermarket chains have started rationing sales of toilet paper and assured customers there is no shortage.

German supermarkets report coronavirus panic buying - Germans are slowly coming to realize that they, just like 50 other nations in the world today, could soon be facing a coronavirus epidemic. Indeed, the pathogen has become a major topic of discussion in the country – so much so, in fact, that some residents are now stockpiling food out of fear they could be placed under quarantine. On Friday, a spokeswoman for one of the country's largest supermarket groups, REWE, told DW that while they didn't register any panic at the start of the week, the situation quickly changed. "We have noticed rising foodstuff and canned goods purchases across the entire country to which we are adapting accordingly," said Kristina Schütz from REWE Group, which is headquartered in Cologne and runs the Penny, REWE and Nahkauf grocery chains. Discount chain Lidl has recorded a similar spike in purchases, with a spokesperson confirming that "we are noticing a rise in sales in certain regions and stores." According to the chains, Germans are stockpiling long-lasting and canned food, pasta as well as toilet paper and disinfectants. Four years ago, the Bonn-based Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) published a checklist of long-lasting foods it recommends stockpiling for emergencies.  Specifically, the checklist states that one person needs 14 liters of liquid a week, and recommends stocking mineral water and fruit juice in particular. Even so, the BBK warns against panic buying, advising Germans to stockpile only foods and drinks "that you and your family would consume anyway." The BKK also suggests stocking food that keeps for a long time without needing refrigeration, to pay attention to sell-by dates, and mark when items were purchased, in case they don't have dates printed on them. This comprehensive emergency checklist hasn't gone unnoticed abroad. Bulgarian daily 24 Tschassa, for example, praised the advice provided by German authorities, saying that in most cases "consumers just hoard all kinds of products – without a proper idea how long they will come in useful or whether they might need them at all." The paper said sticking to the German checklist is a good idea "as it makes no sense to buy excessive amounts of supplies."

HSBC London Employee Hit By Virus, Sparks Partial Evacuation - An employee at HSBC Holdings Plc’s research department in Canary Wharf tested positive for coronavirus, prompting a partial evacuation and marking the first reported case at a major London bank office. “The colleague is under medical supervision and has self-isolated,” HSBC said in a statement Thursday. “Based on medical and official advice, the building remains open and operates as normal.” Staff on the affected floor are being told to work from home, and the area is being deep-cleaned, the London-based bank said. The statement didn’t specify what division of the bank was affected, but a person familiar with the matter said earlier that it was the research department, and that trading floor operations are continuing as normal. Dozens of people have been evacuated, the person said, requesting anonymity. About 10,000 people work at the 8 Canada Square office. Banks in London have been testing their contingency plans in case wider evacuations are required. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is testing backup trading operations in the south London neighborhood of Croydon, while JPMorgan Chase & Co. is preparing for potential staff moves as far away as Basingstoke, 45 miles southwest of the British capital, Bloomberg News has reported.

British airline Flybe collapses amid coronavirus, stranding passengers -- British airline Flybe abruptly shut down Thursday, causing chaos for passengers who were slated to travel on the airline and leading the U.K.'s Civil Aviation Authority as well as train and bus services to step in to try to mitigate the upheaval.  Flybe collapsed Thursday amid drops in demand caused by the new coronavirus.Northern Ireland resident Xenia Pestova Bennett, 40, was briefly stranded in Bournemouth, England, after a concert. Bennett was about to check out of her hotel room and head to the airport when she received a text telling her not to bother.The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement Thursday that "All Flybe flights are cancelled. Please do not go to the airport as your Flybe flight will not be operating.” "FlyBe are not giving us money back or rebooking us, and I have about 10 flights booked with them for the rest of the spring, which will now be lost," she told USA TODAY. "That’s thousands of pounds gone."

Canceled Games and Empty Stadiums: Will the Coronavirus Spread to Sports? - The NCAA tournament. Major League Baseball opening day. The Masters golf tournament. The NFL draft, the NBA and NHL playoffs, the Boston Marathon and Olympic qualifiers all over the U.S.The busiest time of the American sports calendar is coming—if the coronavirus doesn’t come first.As the global economy braces for the potentially devastating effects of a novel coronavirus that is spreading around the world, few businesses are at greater risk of being impacted than sports. This is a multibillion-dollar industry built on live entertainment, easy travel and mass gatherings, and that makes it especially vulnerable if major cities begin to embrace social distancing, as they have in countries where the virus has already disrupted everyday life. The problem is that there is no work-from-home in sports. The NBA season can’t be played on Slack.  Should games be canceled? Can they be delayed? Will they be played in empty arenas? These are the questions that leagues and governing bodies are scrambling to answer as they size up potentially the biggest disruption to the sports calendar since World War II, and they are constrained by uncertainty as they make contingency plans to keep up with this mysterious pathogen. Their behavior will be dictated by the virus’s. As corporations begin to prohibit nonessential travel for their employees, American sports leagues are monitoring the situation closely, but there have been no interruptions to schedules yet. In a World Health Organization briefing on coronavirus and sporting events last week, experts warned against canceling mass gatherings for now, while cautioning that risk management was a fluid process. But a lesson from Asia and Europe is that one day can be normal and the next can be turned upside down. If the U.S. follows the lead of the countries that have already seen outbreaks turn into epidemics, sports leagues could soon be canceling, postponing or playing games without fans, a measure that would’ve seemed drastic last week until it quickly became reality. In one of the most extreme approaches, Japan all but shut down its sports scene this month. Preseason baseball is being played entirely behind closed doors ahead of Opening Day on March 20. The national soccer and basketball leagues are postponed until mid-March. And the spring sumo tournament—a touchstone of the Japanese calendar—will unfold in an empty arena.

Citi Shoots Down Wall Street’s V-Shaped Recovery Theory -Expectations that the global economy will bounce back from the coronavirus are looking increasingly misplaced, according to Citigroup Global Markets.“V-shape recovery theory has been significantly challenged, as investors correctly entertain the idea of a far more protracted recovery,” strategists including Luis Costa, Dumitru Vicol and Sara Felizardo wrote in a note.The Covid-19 virus, which started in China, is now weighing on developing nations directly through supply chains and via more sluggish growth, the strategists said. While the Federal Reserve’s rate cut has helped stocks par losses, lower rates worldwide won’t “lift all boats in EM.”“The feedback loop between U.S. equities, EM credit and EMFX in this environment is biased to the downside,” the strategists wrote. “It is absolutely clear to every single investor that the general end of 2019 EM/DM growth consensus is not going to materialize.” The coronavirus and measures to contain it offer a rare twin supply-demand shock to the world’s economy with Chinese factories shuttered just as consumers become more hesitant to shop, travel or eat out. Outside the most at-risk nations in Asia, Israel, Russia and Chile are among the most vulnerable markets from a global slowdown standpoint, according to Citi. Pressure on governments to pay health care expenses could also leave the Caribbean, nations that were once a part of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Africa in trouble, they wrote.

While Muslims are being murdered in India, the rest of the world is too slow to condemn  --  On 23 February 2020 in Delhi, Hindu nationalist mobs roamed the streets burning and looting mosques together with Muslim homes, shops and businesses. They killed or burned alive Muslims who could not escape and the victims were largely unprotected by the police. At least 37 people, almost all Muslims, were killed and many others beaten half to death: a two-year-old baby was stripped by a gang to see if he was circumcised – as Muslims usually are, but Hindus are not. Some Muslim women pretended to be Hindus in order to escape. Government complicity was not as direct as in Germany 82 years earlier, but activists of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, were reported as being in the forefront of the attacks on Muslims. A video was published showing Muslim men, covered in blood from beatings, being forced to lie on the ground by police officers and compelled to sing patriotic songs. Modi said nothing for several days and then made a vague appeal for “peace and brotherhood”. The government’s real attitude towards the violence was shown when it instantly transferred a judge critical of its actions during the riots. Judge Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court was hearing petitions about the violence when he said that the court could not allow “another 1984” to happen, referring to the killing of 3,000 Sikhs by mobs in Delhi in that year after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. He said the government should provide shelter for those who had been forced to flee and questioned if the police were properly recording victims’ complaints. The rest of the world has been slow to grasp the gravity of what is happening in India because the Modi government has played down its project to shift India away from its previous status as a pluralistic secular state. The sheer number of people negatively affected by this change is gigantic: if the Muslim minority in India was a separate country then it would be eighth largest state in the world by population. The violence in Delhi this week stems from the fear and hatred generated by the government-directed pincer movement against Muslims in India. One pincer is in the shape of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), under which non-Muslim migrants can swiftly gain Indian citizenship but Muslims cannot. Even more threatening is the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is likely to deprive many Indian Muslims of their citizenship. It was the non-violent protests and demonstrations opposing these measures that provoked the Hindu nationalist mobs into staging what was close to a pogrom earlier this week.

Iran Foreign Minister Calls on India to ‘Not Let Senseless Thuggery Prevail’ Iran has condemned the Delhi riots, terming them as “organised violence against Indian Muslims”, and has called upon the Indian government to “not let senseless thuggery prevail”.The strongly worded statement was issued by Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif on Twitter on Monday night.“Iran condemns the wave of organised violence against Indian Muslims. For centuries, Iran has been a friend of India,” he tweeted.Emphasising the word ‘all’, Zarif called on the Indian government to help all Indians. “We urge Indian authorities to ensure the wellbeing of ALL Indians & not let senseless thuggery prevail. Path forward lies in peaceful dialogue and rule of law,” he said.Iran is the first country to directly use the word ‘condemn’ for the riots that are the worst Delhi has seen in decades. So far, 47 have been reported dead and hundreds have been left injured.Iranian Supreme leader Ayotallah Khamenei has often criticised India’s Kashmir policy, but the Iranian executive has remained largely silent. Last year in August, Iranian president Hasan Rouhani had called upon India to “stop the killing of innocent people in Kashmir” after the reading-down of Article 370 and imposition of strict security measures.Zarif had been in India in January to attend the Raisina Dialogue. In a media interview, he had offered to use Iran’s “good offices” to help to improve relations between India and Pakistan.Last week, Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, had summoned the Indian ambassador to express concern about the riots. The I ndonesian government had said that it had “complete confidence that the government of India will be able to manage the situation and ensure the harmonious relations among its religious communities”.

Imran likens Delhi riots to Hitler’s anti-semitic pogrom  - Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday compared the communal violence that gripped New Delhi this week to the organised massacre of Jews in Nazi Germany during the 1930s, adding that “the world must accept this brutal reality of [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s fascist, racist regime and stop it”.  Taking to Twitter, the prime minister shared an interview of a University of Cambridge lecturer, Priya Gopal, in which she compared the Delhi riots to Kristallnacht – or the Night of Broken Glass – when on the orders of Adolf Hitler and his minister Joseph Goebbels, bands of stormtroopers all over Germany and Austria burned down more than 1,000 synagogues and smashed up some 7,500 Jewish-owned shops in 1938.In a series of tweets, Prime Minister Imran said: “Images coming out of Muslim homes and businesses being burnt, Muslims being beaten and killed, mosques and graveyards being burnt and desecrated are similar to Jews fleeing the pogrom in Nazi Germany.”Protests against a contentious citizenship law had begun on a smaller scale on Sunday but had escalated on Monday — as US President Donald Trump started his two-day trip to India — and Tuesday into running battles between Hindus and Muslims in New Delhi’s north-east, where rioters armed with stones, swords and even guns were out in force. In his tweets on Saturday, the premier also said: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu Supremacist agenda is akin to the Nazi pogrom of Jews in the 1930s while the major powers appeased Hitler. Modi conducted a pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat as chief minister and now we are seeing the same in New Delhi.”

What Happened in Delhi Was a Pogrom  - The violence unleashed against Muslims in Delhi by armed Hindu mobs during President Donald Trump’s visit to India is a portent and a lesson. As Trump sat down to dine with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, on Tuesday, Hindus in the same city were beating and shooting Muslims, and Muslims were fighting back, trying to defend their homes and businesses from looters and arsonists. More than 40 people were killed—including an 85-year-old woman too frail to flee her burning home—and more than 200 people, mostly Muslims, were injured. The Delhi police, who report directly to Home Minister Amit Shah, either stood idly by or escorted the mobs. Videos of police breaking CCTV cameras and taunting prone and bleeding Muslim men while filming them with their smartphones circulated on social media. The violence echoed that of 2002, when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat and authorities there did nothing to stem carnage that killed some 1,000 people, the majority of them Muslims. It also brought back memories of the revenge killings of at least 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. In all these cases, mobs targeting a single religious group were allowed to run riot, unchecked by police. This is the definition of a pogrom.  More than an echo of the past, the recent violence in Delhi is a lesson aimed at Indian citizens who, since December, have dared to resist the transformation of the secular Republic of India into a Hindu state, a transformation accelerated by Modi’s reelection last May. According to the Times of India, the death toll from the communal violence in the Indian capital rose to 42 on Friday. The violence began over a citizenship law that the Indian prime minister’s Hindu nationalist government introduced in December, providing a path to Indian citizenship for six religious groups from neighboring countries, but not Muslims. Critics of the government however blamed this week’s violence on members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was trounced in local Delhi elections at the beginning of the month. The BJP has denied the allegations.

The Daily Fix: Is Modi government manipulating the data to show GDP growth above 5%?  When India’s Gross Domestic Product growth numbers came in last week for October-December 2019 – what the financial papers would call “Q3-FY‘20” – newspapers seemed confused. One carried the headline that India’s GDP growth had jumped up to 4.7%. Another said India’s economy had slowed down to 4.7%. Which was right?   At the start of the day, per the official record, India had grown at 4.5% in the second quarter, from July to September. If, as most economists expected, the figure was 4.7% for the third quarter, then it would have meant the downward slide in growth numbers had ended. 4.7% may be only marginally better than 4.5%, but it is a bigger number. So when the government announced that the third quarter growth was indeed 4.7%, many thought it was proof that the economy had bottomed out and growth numbers would start moving up.Except the government also changed the previous quarter’s number, from 4.5% up to 5.1%. As a result, what was before a jump from 4.5% to 4.7% had suddenly become a drop from 5.1% to 4.7%. It gets more complicated. The government in fact made huge revisions for its figures for both the first and second quarters of this financial year. Normally revisions are made at the end of the year, not mid-way, but the Central Statistical Organisation gave no explanation for these alterations. CNBC-TV18’s Latha Venkatesh pointed to some of the massive changes: “On November 30, the CSO said Q2 exports were at 7.26 lakh crore. But on February 28 it said that Q2 exports were actually at 7.03 lakh crore. Where did the Rs 22,000 crore of exports vanish in three months?The revisions are much worse when it comes to imports. In the November 30 release, the Q2 imports were put at 8.62 lakh crore. Now on Feb 28 they have been revised down to 7.8 lakh crore — almost 1 lakh crore less of imports. How come the numbers swing so wildly?”The numbers were so radically different, with such large, confounding revisions, that one news organisation went with the headline: GDP data – what’s even the point? The point may be 5. As in, 5%. One theory is that government bodies are doing whatever mathematical jugglery needed to ensure that the final GDP growth number for the whole year does not drop below 5%. Already India is seeing its worst growth in years, but a sub-5% number would be even more damning for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who first came to power six years ago promising development and growth.

Brexit Fishing Row Escalates as UK Royal Navy Announces Patrols to ‘Prevent French Blockade’ --UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Royal Navy will “protect British waters after Brexit”. Britain and the European Union are now in the process of negotiating a trade deal, following the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc. One of the key stumbling blocks is Brussels’ desire to have fishing rights for its fleet in British waters, Sputnik reported. He told a House of Lords inquiry that the Navy has three extra vessels that would be sent to patrol the country’s marine territories and that the Home Office and the private sector will provide additional help. His statement comes after reports emerged that French fishermen could block their home ports if Brussels and London cannot reach a compromise during talks on a post-Brexit trade agreement. The EU wants to retain access to British waters. However, British PM Boris Johnson has insisted that “taking back control” over the UK’s waters is a key Brexit objective and said Britain will become an “independent coastal state”.UK authorities want a Norway-style deal, under which the two sides will renegotiate the agreement on fishing every year. France’s Europe Minister Amelie de Montchalin warned Britain of a “very nasty battle” on the issue if the two sides don’t find a compromise by the end of June.UK Environment Secretary dismissed fears that the row with Brussels overfishing could torpedo the whole trade agreement with the European Union, saying EU members without fishing fleets would not allow this to happen. Britain has until the end of the year to strike a post-Brexit trade pact with Brussels or it will trade with the European Union on WTO terms.The United Kingdom officially left the European Union on January 31 this year, making the 2016 Brexit referendum a reality, and entered a transition period that gives London and Brussels until the end of the year to conclude a spate of crucial agreements, including a free trade deal.

Boris Johnson is all for unconventional families – unless they’re poor, of course  - Boris is having a baby. Well, more accurately, his girlfriend Carrie Symonds is having a baby, fathered by the prime minister. Another mismanaged withdrawal agreement, someone tweetedas the news broke. The pair are unmarried, making this incoming little bundle of joy – shock, horror! – illegitimate.Now, that’s not very conservative. But then again, nor is sloshing enough wine to chuck a laptop across the room prompting the neighbours to call the police. But we know by now that Boris is a law unto himself.After that row, most thought Symonds wouldn’t stay in Number 10 long enough to greet the removal van. However, the happy news has cemented the 31-year-old status as First Lady.The couple’s set-up seemingly marks a new period of social liberalism that will benefit any family that veers away from the nuclear. Though it hasn’t been tried at Number 10 before, cohabitation is the new normal. 5 million Britons live together out of wedlock – and our leadership finally reflects that. However, despite his own blossoming unconventional family unit, our PM has had plenty to say about illegitimate children. In a 1995 column for The Spectator, he claimed that children of single mums are “producing a generation of ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate children.” Suggesting benefits cuts would deal with the problem of rising teen pregnancy rates, he wrote: “It must be generally plausible that if having a baby out of wedlock meant sure-fire destitution on a Victorian scale, young girls might indeed think twice about having a baby.”Yet having a baby out of wedlock often does mean destitution: two-thirds of families living in temporary accommodation in England are single mothers and their children; the number of homeless single mums has gone up by 48% in eight years. Turns out, fighting poverty with poverty doesn’t work as well as Johnson hoped.

‘It’s a disgrace’: Grenfell disaster inquiry suspended within minutes after outbursts from public An inquiry into the Grenfell fire disaster which killed 72 people in 2017 was halted within minutes of resuming on Monday after angry outbursts from members of the public who called for it to be abandoned. Some of those protesting at the hearing were heard to shout, “it’s a disgrace,” and “what’s the point.” The outbursts came after the Attorney General Suella Braermann agreed to requests from the companies that had refurbished the residential tower block that any evidence they give at the inquiry would not be used against them in criminal proceedings. The hearing resumed after security removed the protesters, one of whom asked: “What's the point if [the witness statements] can't be used in a court of law?”The blaze which broke out in one Grenfell apartment in the early hours of June 14, 2017 spread rapidly through the 24-story building, trapping some of those who lived on higher floors. The inquiry, chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is currently in its second stage, which focuses on why the building was covered in flammable cladding when it was being refurbished from 2012 to 2016. Monday’s first witness was Andrezej Kuszell, director of Studio E architects – who were involved in the renovation – and he had just begun giving evidence when the outbursts began.

Prince Andrew reportedly let women sit on Buckingham Palace throne - Prince Andrew had a “signature move” when it came to pursuing women, The Daily Beast reported on Monday. According to two anonymous sources, the Duke of York let women sit on the thrones in the Throne Room in Buckingham Palace, including the one reserved for his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. He also let at least one woman wave from the balcony at the palace (something the royal family occasionally does during special events, like Trooping the Color). A source told The Daily Beast about her encounter with Andrew at the palace and a subsequent tour of the area. “It was clear immediately that I had been brought to the dinner as a sex object. Andrew sat next to me on the sofa and kept reaching over to hold my hand,” the source said. “I said as a joke, ‘I’d love to go on a tour of this place’ and next thing I knew, I was walking hand in hand with Prince Andrew through Buckingham Palace. As a joke, he took me out on the balcony and I waved to the non-existent crowd.” 11 PHOTOS   A separate source, said to be a palace insider, told the outlet that “Everyone thinks they are the only person to get to sit on the throne. He does it to everyone he is trying to pull.” An unnamed source who claims to be a friend of model and reality TV star Caprice Bourret previously told British tabloid The Sun that Andrew pulled the same moves with Bourret.

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