Investors were rattled Friday by the news that President Trump and the first lady had tested positive for the coronavirus. The development, throwing the nation’s leadership into uncertainty, comes 32 days before an election that already has investors on edge.
On Wall Street, trading was volatile, as lingering optimism about the prospects for an economic aid package from Washington helped offset nervousness. The S&P 500 ended about 1 percent lower, after earlier falling as much as 1.7 percent.
The news of Mr. Trump’s diagnosis rocked other markets, too. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 ended slightly higher after a day spent mostly in negative territory. In Japan, where the news broke late in the trading day, stocks finished nearly 1 percent lower after erasing early gains.
Oil futures also slid, with Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate, the two main benchmarks, down more than 4 percent.
Investors are divided on the impact of the election, Trevor Greetham of Royal London Asset Management wrote in a note to clients Friday. “Where everyone agrees is that a close and contested outcome with a drawn-out period of rancor and instability would be bad news for markets,” he said. “If anything, the president’s illness makes that more likely.”
Adding to the downbeat mood in markets, the U.S. Labor Department’s jobs report for September showed the improvement in the labor market was losing momentum. Employers added 661,000 jobs during the month, far fewer than in the previous months of the recovery.
Investors had already been on edge about the economy, as lawmakers in Washington failed to reach an agreement on a new economic relief plan. House Democrats on Thursday pushed through a $2.2 trillion stimulus plan that would provide aid to families, schools, restaurants, businesses and airline workers, and on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed fresh optimism that a bipartisan deal for a broad coronavirus package could emerge out of her talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Technology stocks outpaced the broader decline. Shares of Apple, Amazon and Microsoft were lower by 3 percent or more, and the Nasdaq composite was also sharply lower.
Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor who sat within 12 feet of President Trump while moderating Tuesday’s presidential debate in Cleveland, has some stark advice for his network’s viewers: “Wear the damn mask.”
Appearing Friday on “Fox & Friends” and other Fox News programs, Mr. Wallace repeatedly emphasized the threat of the coronavirus, pointed out the lack of qualifications of one of Mr. Trump’s top medical advisers, and said he was acutely aware of his potential exposure after the president had tested positive for the virus.
“Follow the science,” Mr. Wallace said. “If I could say one thing to all of the people out there watching: Forget the politics. This is a public safety health issue.”
The anchor, who has expressed regret about the chaotic nature of Tuesday’s debate, said he planned to take a coronavirus test on Monday on the advice of his doctors, who said that any infection could take several days to generate a positive result.
Several Fox News opinion hosts have accused much of the national news media of overstating the dangers of the virus, while defending Mr. Trump’s prerogative to hold large rallies on the campaign trail against the advice of health experts. One frequent Fox News guest who downplayed the risks, Dr. Scott Atlas, has since become a top pandemic adviser to the president.
On Friday, Mr. Wallace was unequivocal in warning against Dr. Atlas’s advice.
“I’m going to say something and, folks, I’m just trying to give you the truth,” Mr. Wallace said. “Dr. Scott Atlas is not an epidemiologist, is not an infectious disease expert — he has no training in this area at all.
Recounting his experience at Tuesday’s debate, Mr. Wallace told viewers that members of Mr. Trump’s family removed their masks after entering the debate hall in violation of the rules of the Cleveland Clinic, which had been contracted to oversee the health and safety protocols for the event.
Mr. Wallace estimated that he was sitting “10 or 12 feet” from Mr. Trump. “I never got any closer to him than what you saw on TV,” he said, noting that Mr. Trump “had decided there would be no opening handshake — and thank God for that!”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California on Friday called for airlines to delay laying off or furloughing tens of thousands of airline workers, promising that the House would act in some accord to address the expiration of a program that has kept airline workers employed.
In a statement, she vowed that the House would either pass bipartisan stand-alone legislation that provides relief to American workers, or include that legislation as part of a negotiated agreement struck with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. (It is unclear whether either measure would be granted a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.)
“As relief for airline workers is being advanced, the airline industry must delay these devastating job cuts,” Ms. Pelosi said.
American Airlines and United Airlines began furloughing more than 32,000 workers this week but have said they will recall employees if lawmakers reached a deal to extend aid to the industry.
Earlier on Friday, Ms. Pelosi expressed fresh optimism that a bipartisan deal for a broad coronavirus package could emerge out of her talks with Mr. Mnuchin, floating the possibility that President Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis could change the tenor of the negotiations.
“This kind of changes the dynamic, because here they see the reality of what we have been saying all along: This is a vicious virus,” Ms. Pelosi said on MSNBC.
Her comments came the morning after Democrats muscled their latest, $2.2 trillion offer for a relief package through the House over unanimous Republican opposition, endorsing a wish list with little chance of enactment in a signal of the grim outlook for an agreement that could become law. But Ms. Pelosi told reporters Thursday night that she was not giving up on the bipartisan talks, saying she was still reviewing proposals from the Treasury Department and conversations would continue.
“We’ll find our common ground,” Ms. Pelosi said on Friday. “We’re legislators — we’ll get the job done.”
Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Mnuchin spoke by phone Friday afternoon for about 65 minutes, where “they discussed areas of disagreement,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi, said. “Their discussions will continue.”
Republicans have balked at Democrats’ relief plans, deeming them far too costly, but Mr. Trump’s diagnosis, coming on the heels of a grim jobs report, had the potential to change their political calculations, possibly jolting the White House and leading Republicans into a more compromising posture as they face strong political headwinds.
But Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, praised Ms. Pelosi for being willing to advance a stand-alone relief bill for airlines. (Two of the country’s four large airlines — American Airlines and Southwest Airlines — are based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.)
“I’m glad Speaker Pelosi finally recognizes how critical our airline workers are both to Texas and to the nation,” Mr. Cornyn said in a statement. “Ensuring Texas airline workers can keep their jobs will help keep air travel safe and protect this vital sector of our economy.”
The House is not expected to be in session next week, despite concerns from moderate lawmakers about returning home to their districts ahead of Election Day without a stimulus deal in place.
Mr. Mnuchin presented Ms. Pelosi earlier this week with a $1.6 trillion counteroffer, the largest put forward by Republicans in months, but one that Ms. Pelosi rejected as inadequate.
Job growth slowed further in September, as fading government support and the failure to contain the coronavirus threatened to short-circuit the once-promising economic recovery.
Employers brought back 661,000 jobs in September, the Labor Department said Friday. That is down from 1.5 million in August, and far below the 4.8 million jobs added in June. The unemployment rate fell to 7.9 percent, in part because nearly 700,000 people left the labor force.
By Ella Koeze·Unemployment rates are seasonally adjusted.·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
The monthly report, the last before the presidential election, is the latest sign that the recovery is losing steam. Government data released on Thursday showed that personal income fell in August and that consumer spending grew more slowly as supplemental unemployment benefits expired. Companies including Disney, Allstate and two major airlines have recently announced large job cuts.
“It’s disturbing that we’re seeing such a dramatic slowdown in employment gains as we head into the fall,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist for the accounting firm Grant Thornton. “This is a red flag. We need aid now.”
Even with the recent slowdown, the economy has done better than many forecasters expected in the spring. It has regained just over half of the more than 22 million jobs lost in March and April, and the unemployment rate has fallen sharply since it reached a record high of nearly 15 percent in April.
But those early gains were largely a result of businesses’ reopening and bringing back workers. By now, most businesses that can reopen before a vaccine is widely available have done so. A growing number of businesses are deciding to make permanent job cuts, or to shut down. The number of people reporting they had lost their jobs permanently, as opposed to being on temporary furlough, rose in September.
“We got the easy ones first, and there are not a lot more of those to get,” said Dan North, chief economist for the credit insurance company Euler Hermes North America. “And in the meantime, we’re getting a lot of permanent job losses.”
Economists warn that permanent losses could worsen if Congress doesn’t provide more aid to households and businesses to replace the programs that expired over the summer. Prospects for a “Phase 4” spending package improved this week after appearing all but dead in September, but Democrats and Republicans in Washington have yet to reach a deal. If they don’t, the recovery could slow further in October, said Aneta Markowska, chief economist for the investment bank Jefferies.
“Everything depends on Phase 4 and whether we get that or not,” she said. “There’s no middle ground.”
President Trump’s positive coronavirus test has added to the uncertainty around the U.S. elections, which investors and traders were already concerned about. Stock markets around the world fell on Friday and traders instead looked to government bonds, the Japanese yen and gold, all traditional haven assets, as they reduced risk.
Here’s what analysts said:
For investors, an unusual election just got thrown added risk.
“We don’t know the full extent of the outbreak,” said Joyce Chang, chair of global research at JPMorgan Chase. “It could be disruptive to both the Republicans and Democrats.” The market is focused on Mr. Trump, but full contact tracing still needs to be done in this case, given the cross-party discussions about fiscal stimulus, she added.
Ms. Chang has been recommending that investors be “long risk,” a position that would include buying stocks, but they should have substantial hedges because this was already expected to be an unusual election because of the amount of early or mail-in voting.
“You already had questions on how you can get a timely result announced when markets are used to hearing the result later that night,” she said.
A lasting impact only if it affects the election or public health.
“As with any other person, news that U.S. President Trump has contracted the coronavirus must be very worrying, on a personal level,” Paul Donovan, the chief economist at UBS Global Wealth Management, wrote in a note to clients. “Markets are, however, impersonal. After an initial reaction the news is only likely to have a lasting market impact if its seen as influencing the election outcome or public health.”
‘Uncertainty has obviously increased.’
This news “has brought the pandemic back to the forefront of market attention and raised a lot of questions, with few immediate answers, ahead of next month’s election,” Kit Juckes, a strategist at Société Générale, wrote in a note. “The path of the election campaign will inevitably change and uncertainty has obviously increased.”
Traders have been selling the U.S. dollar “partly because they think a Biden win is more likely. On that basis, increased pre-vote uncertainty is likely to help the dollar,” he added.
An extended recovery period could weigh on the U.S. dollar.
“It remains to be seen whether the illness of President Donald Trump could fuel foreign-exchange currency volatility and boost the U.S. dollar and the Japanese yen on a sustained basis,” said Valentin Marinov, a currency strategist at Crédit Agricole. “The latest developments may significantly reduce visibility ahead of the U.S. election and force investors to remain in a holding pattern.”
Mr. Marinov added that an improvement in the chances of Joseph R. Biden Jr. winning would lead to more traders selling the dollar. But a Trump victory would strengthen the dollar against the nation’s main trading partners because of expected protectionist policies. If Mr. Trump needs an extended time to recover, that “could be seen as reducing his chances of winning and thus could actually boost risk and weigh on the U.S. dollar,” he added.
Efforts to reach a deal on pandemic relief could improve.
The news could wind up having a positive effect on the markets if it helps lawmakers and the Trump administration to reach a deal on pandemic relief, said Jamie Cox, managing partner for the Harris Financial Group.
“Initial market reactions to the news that President Trump tested positive for Covid-19 are as expected — negative,” he said. “However, markets could have some unexpected reactions as this could break the log jam in current stimulus negotiations.”
This increases the chance of a contested and drawn out election.
“Market participants are divided on the impact of the election,” said Trevor Greetham, a fund manager at Royal London Asset Management. “Where everyone agrees is that a close and contested outcome with a drawn out period of rancor and instability would be bad news for markets. If anything the President’s illness makes that more likely.”
Tesla reported record deliveries of electric cars in the third quarter as steady growth in China and Europe more than offset weakness in the United States.
The automaker said Friday that it delivered 139,300 electric cars in the third quarter, an increase of more than 50 percent from the second quarter, when the pandemic forced factory closings and kept many consumers away from car dealerships.
The company said it produced 145,036 vehicles in the third quarter, an increase of about 76 percent from the second quarter. The automaker was forced to close its factory in Fremont, Calif., for about two months from mid-March to mid-May because of the pandemic. It was able to rely on a new factory in China that reopened after the country brought the outbreak there under control.
Compared with a year earlier, Tesla’s deliveries increased by more than 40 percent in the third quarter.
Tesla’s increase in deliveries comes amid signs of a recovery in U.S. auto sales. Total sales of new cars and trucks fell about 11 percent in the third quarter, but several manufacturers reported year-on-year sales increases in September. Toyota Motor, for example, said its sales of light vehicles rose 16 percent last month.
Analysts and automakers estimated the annualized pace of sales in September was at or above 16 million vehicles, a significant increase from June’s annualized pace of 13 million cars and light trucks.
Despite the jump in sales, Tesla’s stock fell about 3 percent in early trading Friday on concerns about whether it will hit its target of selling 500,000 cars this year. Through the first three quarters, it has delivered 318,000 vehicles. To reach its goal, it will need to sell more than 180,000 cars, which would be another record.
Joseph Spak, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said in a report to investors that it was “not an unattainable goal” but achieving it now “seems increasingly difficult.”
Tesla has ramped up production at the factory it opened at the end of last year near Shanghai. The company also introduced a new car, the Model Y, a sport-utility vehicle that is roomier than the Model 3, the compact sedan with which it shares many parts.
The company is also building a third factory in Germany, near Berlin, that is scheduled to open next year.
Unemployment for women is worse than men’s across most demographics
Unemployment rates by race for men, women and over all
By Ella Koeze·Rates are seasonally adjusted except those for Asian men and women.·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Women were hard hit early in the pandemic as service sector jobs evaporated and child-care responsibilities kept them at home.
And new data released Friday showed that in September, many dropped out of the work force entirely.
Women over the age of 16 lost 143,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department’s survey of households showed on Friday. The unemployment rate for this group still dropped — falling to 8 percent from 8.6 percent in August — but that was because many stopped looking for work altogether. To count as unemployed, workers must still be actively looking for new positions.
Labor force participation, the share of women working or looking for jobs, dropped to 55.6 percent from 56.1 percent. Apart from April and May 2020, that is lowest reading for women’s labor force participation since 1987.
The shift shows how the pandemic has become a serious threat to the meaningful progress made by women in the last economic expansion, when they accounted for a heavy share of job growth. The losses for women this time around stand in contrast to the last recession, more than a decade ago, when cuts in construction and other male-dominated roles caused men to disproportionately lose work.
The situation could become more complicated going forward: Women may have particular trouble getting back into jobs because they are more likely to be primary caregivers, and many schools have yet to fully reopen.
“As we head into the fall, the challenges of virtual schooling and prolonged child care closures may already be putting downward pressure on women’s participation,” Thomas Barkin, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said in a recent speech.
Census Bureau and Minneapolis Fed research suggests mothers have been far more likely than fathers to pull back on work amid the pandemic. About one in five working-age adults said this summer that they were not working was because the pandemic disrupted their child care — and of those not working, women ages 25 to 44 were almost three times as likely as men to be out of a job thanks child care.
A relatively comprehensive gauge of labor market weakness continues to fall rapidly as furloughed employees return to work and fewer Americans are forced to work part-time hours.
The underemployment rate — which counts unemployed people, those working fewer hours than they would like, and those who have given up on applying to jobs — fell to 12.8 percent in September from 14.2 percent in August, the Labor Department said Friday. It is down from an all-time high of 22.8 percent in April.
That decline came both as the overall unemployment rate dropped and as fewer people reported working part-time because weak economic conditions prevented them from getting more hours. It is worth noting that at the same time, more people reported working part-time for noneconomic reasons — which often include things like child and elder care.
The number of people who are not actively applying to work but who want a job, the group economists refer to as “marginally attached,” has also declined.
The continued healing is a good sign. The underemployment rate remained stubbornly elevated for years after the recession that spanned 2007 to 2009, returning to pre-crisis levels only in late 2018, nearly a decade after the downturn ended. It is falling more rapidly relative to the headline jobless rate this time around: The plain vanilla unemployment rate is at a level it hit in 2012, but underemployment is back to more recent 2014 levels.
Any slowdown in that trend would be a signal that the rapid rebound in the labor market may be ceding to a more grinding recovery, as workers struggle to find fitting opportunities and full-time work.
Six months into the pandemic-induced recession, evidence of permanent economic damage is growing.
When unemployment spiked in March and April, most of the job losses were temporary layoffs or furloughs. But in recent weeks, major companies have announced a wave of mass layoffs, many of them permanent.
Job losses are more likely to be permanent than earlier in the pandemic
Share of jobs lost each month that are temporary layoffs
By Ella Koeze·Data is seasonally adjusted.·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
The September jobs report from the Labor Department showed that the number of people on temporary layoff fell by more than a million, to 4.6 million. But the number permanently let go rose to 3.8 million. (Another 4.2 million people quit their jobs, began looking for work or were unemployed for other reasons.)
“The temporary layoffs in the beginning are turning more and more into permanent layoffs now as companies begin to see what their near future looks like,” said Erica Groshen, a Cornell University economist and the former head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The rising number of permanent job losses is a troubling sign for the economy because it suggests that the low-hanging fruit of the recovery — furloughed workers who can be quickly recalled — is largely picked over and it will take much longer for the remaining unemployed workers to find jobs.
“Firing is faster than hiring,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the career site ZipRecruiter. Even businesses in a position to hire, she said, will do so only slowly: “They are taking a wait-and-see approach because there is so much uncertainty about the long-term outlook.”
James Bond retreated from the coronavirus for a second time on Friday. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer pushed back the release of “No Time to Die,” the 25th installment in the Bond series, until April 2, 2021, leaving cinemas without a megawatt film to play until “Dune” from Warner Bros. on Dec. 18. “No Time to Die,” originally set for release in April, had been rescheduled for Nov. 20.
Walmart has agreed to sell its majority ownership stake in the British supermarket Asda for 6.8 billion pounds, or $8.8 billion. The new owners will be Zuber and Mohsin Issa, two brothers who are also the founders of EG Group, a large chain of gas stations and fast food outlets across Europe and the United States, backed by the British private equity firm TDR Capital. Walmart will keep a stake in the business and a seat on the board, the company said on Friday. The U.S. retailer bought Asda in 1999, its first move into Britain, for just over $10 billion.
Inflation in the eurozone was negative for the second month in a row, the European statistics agency reported Friday. The news will put pressure on the European Central Bank to do more to stimulate the economy and avoid deflation, a sustained decline in prices that can be devastating for growth. The annual rate of inflation was minus 0.3 percent in September after minus 0.2 percent in August, according to official figures.
Almost 20,000 Amazon employees in the United States — nearly 1.5 percent of the company’s frontline work force — have had confirmed or presumed cases of the coronavirus, the company said Thursday. The e-commerce giant said it has employed 1,372,000 frontline workers at Amazon and its Whole Foods grocery stores since the start of March, and by its calculations, the infection rate among employees was on average 42 percent lower than in the surrounding communities, when it adjusted for the age of its work force.
Boeing said on Thursday that it planned to consolidate production of its 787 Dreamliner jet at its factory in South Carolina, dealing a blow to workers in the Seattle area where the plane is also manufactured. The move will not take place until mid-2021 at the earliest and comes as Boeing contends with a steep decline in air travel that has devastated the aviation business. Over the past year, the company has repeatedly slashed production of the Dreamliner, a twin-aisle jet designed for long flights, and it warned this summer that it was exploring producing the plane in just one place.
Transport for London, the local government agency that oversees the city’s transportation system will need another 5.7 billion pounds, or $7.3 billion, to get through the next 18 months, the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said on Thursday. The agency already received a £1.6 billion bailout in May but the additional money is needed because of a drop in passenger numbers and the increased cost of completing a delayed rail line.
The European Central Bank moved a step closer on Friday to issuing an alternative to digital currencies like Bitcoin, saying that central bankers needed to be ready to meet competition from private payment systems that threatened to usurp their control over money.
The central bank’s Governing Council endorsed a report by a task force that recommended laying the groundwork for a digital currency. Without mentioning Bitcoin or Facebook, which has floated the idea of issuing a digital currency called Libra, the report said that private payment systems could be prone to hacking and abuse by money launderers or terrorists.
By bypassing central banks, digital currencies threaten to eliminate authorities’ ability to control the money supply, keep inflation under control and respond to financial crises. An official digital currency would presumably offer the advantages of cash, such as anonymity and zero bank fees, without the risks of unregulated electronic money.
“Europeans are increasingly turning to digital in the ways they spend, save and invest,” Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank, said in a statement. “We should be prepared to issue a digital euro, should the need arise.”
The Federal Reserve, the People’s Bank of China and other national central banks are also looking at issuing digital currencies. The efforts have gotten a push from the pandemic, which has increased demand for payments that don’t involve human touch.
The European Central Bank said it would continue to issue cash, which remains popular for retail transactions in many countries, like Germany. The bank plans to consult with citizens, experts, the finance sector and governments before deciding whether to issue a digital euro.
Walmart has agreed to sell its majority ownership stake in the British supermarket Asda for 6.8 billion pounds, or $8.8 billion.
The new owners will be Zuber and Mohsin Issa, two brothers who are also the founders of EG Group, a large chain of gas stations and fast food outlets across Europe and the United States, backed by the British private equity firm TDR Capital.
Walmart will keep a stake in the business and a seat on the board, the company said on Friday. The U.S. retailer bought Asda in 1999, its first move into Britain, for just over $10 billion.
The deal is Walmart’s second attempt to sell Asda in recent years: It struck an agreement to sell the business to J Sainsbury, a major British rival, for £7.3 billion in 2018, only for Britain’s competition regulator to block the transaction last year because of potential price increases for consumers. The two supermarkets have jostled between being Britain’s second and third largest stores, behind Tesco.
The companies said they expected the sale to be completed in the first half of 2021, subject to regulatory approval.
Oil prices fell Friday as news that President Trump had tested positive for coronavirus weighed on both stock and commodity markets. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was down nearly 4 percent to $39.37 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the American standard, was also down about 4 percent to $37.18 a barrel.
The pressure on oil prices was only partly attributable to increased uncertainty about the upcoming election in the United States and Mr. Trump’s health, analysts said. Broader concerns about the global economy and oil demand are also reflected on the downward slide.
After prices recovered briskly from their lows in late April, when some futures plunged into negative territory, concerns about the future demand for oil have resurfaced. The high numbers of coronavirus cases in countries like the United States, Britain and Spain demonstrate, where some areas are facing a second wave of infections, show that the pandemic is far from under control and likely to continue to weigh on economic activity and oil consumption in the coming months.
For these reasons, the recovery of the demand for oil will face “a lot heavier going” over the rest of the year. said David Fyfe, chief economist at Argus Media, a commodities research firm,
Mr. Fyfe said that his firm did not expect oil demand to reach pre-pandemic levels until early 2023. Jet fuel use is being hit particularly hard, a result of restrictions to air travel and greater caution by passengers.
It’s been a bad year for travel and entertainment spending as the coronavirus has kept concertgoers home and has canceled vacation plans. That falloff is particularly pronounced among baby boomers.
Travel and entertainment spending was down by 56 percent for Chase credit card holders born in 1964 or earlier, based on data through Sept. 26. That compared with a 40 percent drop from a year ago for cardholders born since 1981 — millennials and Generation Z.
That divergence says something about the consumer economy. The generational gap is evidence that “declines are likely driven by a combination of supply and demand,” Jesse Edgerton and Gopal Kumar, economists at J.P. Morgan, wrote in an Oct. 1 note.
While spending in the category is down partly because of ongoing restrictions on large gatherings, the difference across age groups suggests that older spenders’ “greater susceptibility to Covid-19 has left them more cautious about returning to normal levels of travel and entertainment,” the two analysts wrote.
Federal Reserve officials and economists regularly warn that it is unlikely that the economy can stage a full recovery until the virus is under control for precisely that reason: Consumers will not feel comfortable returning to some higher-risk settings until they know that they will not get sick.
“The outlook for the economy is extraordinarily uncertain and will depend in large part on our success in keeping the virus in check,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said at a news conference earlier this month.