The number of patients that have recovered from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 rose to more than a million on Friday, offering a rare piece of good news in the pandemic that has caused more than 230,000 deaths and tanked economies around the world.
Data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University shows more than 3.28 million cases of the illness have been confirmed around the world. There was bad news for Brazil, which now has more cases than the official numbers reported by China amid widespread criticism of the Brazilian government’s handling of the crisis.
In the U.S., President Donald Trump speculated on Thursday that China may have unleashed the virus on the world due to a horrible “mistake,” even as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the web of U.S. spy agencies, said it has ruled out the virus being “man-made,” but was investigating the precise source, as the Associated Press reported.
Trump announced the first measures to address the crisis in U.S. nursing homes which are suffering high numbers of fatalities due to a lack of personal protective equipment for staff and the difficulty of isolating people living in such close quarters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will send supplies of PPE to more than 15,000 nursing homes across the U.S. and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will give states $81 million of CARES Act funds to boost nursing-home inspections.
The administration is also launching a new Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes, to be composed of industry experts, doctors, scientists, state and local authorities, resident advocates, and family members.
Nursing homes have been hard hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, and Trump said the administration is “not happy” about how they have suffered during the pandemic.
About a fifth of all coronavirus deaths in the country have been linked to nursing homes, according to a New York Times analysis.
Critics say the PPE, while welcome, does not address the main challenge for nursing home workers, that of testing all frontline staff.
As MarketWatch has reported, governors are weighing their options as to when their states should reopen, but doing so too soon could have a devastating impact on nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, experts say.
Still, protests against stay-at-home orders and the closing down of businesses continued on Thursday with Michigan a hot spot after armed protesters entered the Capitol demanding change. Trump tweeted at Gov. Gretchen Wilmer that he should “give a little,” describing the protesters as “very good people” who are angry and want their lives back.
Other states moved ahead with efforts to reopen after lockdown on Friday, with Texas leading the charge. States are taking different approaches to reopening and many are sticking with restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.
The death toll from COVID-19 rose to 233,998, according to the Johns Hopkins data.
The U.S. has the highest case toll at 1.07 million and the highest death toll at 63,019. Spain has the highest number of cases in Europe at 213,435 and 24,543 deaths. Italy has 205,463 cases and 27,967 deaths, the highest number of fatalities in Europe.
The U.K. passed France in case numbers on Thursday and now has 172,481 cases and 26,842 deaths. France has 167,299 cases and 24,410 deaths. Germany has 163,009 cases and 6,623 deaths
Turkey has 120,204 cases and 3,174 deaths. Russia has 114,431 cases and 1,169 deaths, while Iran has 94,640 cases and 6,028 deaths. Brazil has passed China, where the disease was first reported late last year, in case numbers, with 87,187 cases and 6,006 deaths. China has 83,956 cases and 4,637 deaths, although some experts have said China is under-reporting its numbers.
What’s the latest medical news?
Gilead Sciences Inc. GILD, -5.59% offered a fresh update on remdesivir, its antiviral COVID-19 drug candidate, with quarterly earnings late Thursday. The drug is widely viewed as a leading therapy candidate after early data readouts this week for a pair of clinical trials evaluating the drug as a COVID-19 treatment. One trial, which is being conducted by the NIAID, reported that the drug improved recovery times compared with patients taking a placebo.
Gilead Chief Executive Daniel O’Day said the company will donate 1.5 million vials, the entirety of its supply, through the early summer, even if it gets emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Moderna Inc. MRNA, +5.92%, which is conducting a Phase 1 clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine, said Friday it has entered a 10-year manufacturing deal with Lonza Group AG LONN, -0.97%. The companies plan to set up manufacturing facilities in Switzerland, where Lonza is based, and the U.S., where they plan to make the first batch of the investigational vaccine by July.
“The current pandemic illustrates the need to combine the best science with resilient supply chains that can scale,” Lonza chairman Albert Baehny said in a statement. Moderna is expecting to launch a Phase 2 study in the second quarter.
What are companies saying?
The first-quarter earnings season brought results from two juggernauts late Thursday, Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, -7.22% and Apple Inc. AAPL, +0.88% and both showed very different approaches to their investors, as MarketWatch’s Therese Poletti wrote.
Apple, with its hefty cash pile growing to $193 billion, unsurprisingly committed to continue shipping billions of dollars to investors, even as it was not able to give any kind of guidance.
Amazon went another way. The e-commerce and cloud-computing giant reported a surge in revenue but said it plans to spend the entirety of its expected second-quarter operating profit of $4 billion–plus on costs to deal with the pandemic.
Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos basically told shareholders to sit down and shut up, while the company focuses on trying to service customers and help employees in the eye of the coronavirus storm.
“Providing for customers and protecting employees as this crisis continues for more months is going to take skill, humility, invention and money,” Bezos said in a statement. “If you’re a shareowner in Amazon, you may want to take a seat, because we’re not thinking small.”
Amazon workers at its distribution centers and Whole Foods, the supermarket chain it owns, have been striking over concerns they are not being properly protected in the pandemic. Some workers are staging a strike to mark May Day on Friday, demanding paid sick leave and other measures, as the Guardian reported.
Amazon said it has rigorous safety and cleaning protocols, including maintaining six-foot social distancing, and procured 100 million face masks, along with tens of millions of gloves and wipes and other cleaning supplies. Amazon also began requiring temperature checks across its operations network as well as in its Whole Foods stores, and it is working on getting COVID-19 testing for all its employees.
Amazon has hired 175,000 additional employees, many of whom were displaced by other industries, and temporarily raised wages and overtime premiums while creating an Amazon relief fund.
Dow Jones Industrial Average component Visa Inc. beat profit and revenue expectations, but said payment volumes are up in some areas and down in others, as consumers are not traveling but are spending way more on e-commerce.
On Friday, there was grim news for another Dow member, Exxon Mobil Inc., which posted its first loss in decades as it suffered the double whammy of a dislocated oil market and slumping energy demand during the pandemic.
Here’s what companies have said lately about COVID-19:
• Alaska Air Group Inc. ALK, -7.04% will require face masks for flyers starting on May 11. The company is also requiring that all Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air employees “who cannot maintain six feet of social distance from guests or co-workers” begin wearing masks on May 4. Passengers will be required to bring their own masks, though it will have some additional supplies for those who forget. Alaska will also be conducting “expanded enhanced cleaning” of high-touch surfaces like tray tables and seat belts, using “high-grade, EPA registered disinfectants.” The airline is expanding its use of “electrostatic sanitizing spray” for aircraft interiors. It will be blocking out middle seats on large aircraft and aisle seats on small aircraft through May 31.
• Charter Communications Inc.’s CHTR, +2.60% first-quarter results came up short of expectations, as the pandemic led to advertising cancellations and higher customer service costs. Video revenue grew 0.9% to $4.42 billion to miss expectations of $4.45 billion and internet revenue rose 9.5% to $4.41 billion but was below expectations of $4.44 billion. The company added 290,000 Spectrum Mobile lines during the quarter. Charter spent $2.6 billion on share repurchases during the quarter.
• Chevron Corp.’s CVX, -3.14% first-quarter earnings rose but revenue fell from a year ago, as commodity prices fell sharply in March primarily because of reduced demand amid the pandemic. “Financial results in future periods are expected to be depressed as long as current market conditions persist,” the energy giant said. Chevron said it was further reducing its 2020 capital expenditure outlook by $2 billion to $14 billion, and expects operating costs to decrease by $1 billion. The company previously announced that it was suspending stock repurchases and has completed additional asset sales. “Together these actions are consistent with our longstanding financial priorities: to protect the dividend; to prioritize capital that drives long-term value; and to maintain a strong balance sheet,” said Chief Executive Michael Wirth.
• Clorox Co. CLX, +4.44% blew past earnings estimates for its latest quarter, boosted by demand for disinfecting and other cleaning products during the pandemic “Beyond the extraordinary growth in our disinfecting products, we saw broad-based growth across all four segments as our portfolio is uniquely positioned to serve consumers in this unprecedented time,” Chief Executive Benno Dorer said in a statement. Sales of cleaning and laundry products rose 32%, while pretax earnings rose 71%, said Dorer. Sales at the household segment, including bags and wraps and cat litter, rose 2% while pretax earnings rose 15%. Sales at the lifestyle segment, including water filtration and food, rose 10%, while pretax earnings rose 29%. And international sales rose 11%, while pretax earnings rose 50%. The company is expecting its fiscal 2020 sales to grow 4% to 6% and for EPS to range from $6.70 to $6.90.
• Colgate-Palmolove Co. CL, -0.84% beat profit and sales estimates for the first quarter, but pulled its 2020 guidance due to uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak, including additional volume as consumers work through items purchased during pantry loading, but also reduced category growth in some markets, said Noel Wallace, Colgate-Palmolive chief executive.
• Estée Lauder Cos. EL, -0.32% swung to a loss in its fiscal third quarter as the pandemic weighed, but still beat estimates on an adjusted basis. The cosmetics company warned of pain ahead with retail stores likely to remain closed in the fourth quarter. It is not providing guidance for now.
• Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM, -4.49% swung to a first-quarter loss, as a result of a large market-related writedown, and revenue that fell 12%, as the pandemic significantly impacted demand, resulting in oversupplied market and “unprecedented” pressure on commodity prices. Exxon is reducing 2020 capital spending by 30% to $23 billion, and operating expenses by 15%. The company’s objective during the crisis is to “continue investing in industry-advantaged projects to create value, preserve cash for the dividend, and make appropriate use of its balance sheet.”
• Honeywell International Inc.’s HON, -4.57% first-quarter profit rose above expectations, but sales fell more than forecast as the industrial conglomerate said the pandemic had a significant impact on its supply chain, customer sites and on the commercial aerospace and oil and gas end markets. Honeywell is temporarily suspending its full-year guidance given the “evolving nature” of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The company expects ongoing top-line challenges due to the current market conditions, particularly in the aerospace and oil and gas sectors,” the company said in a statement.
• Johnson Controls International PLC JCI, -4.77% beat profit expectations in the first quarter, while revenue fell more than forecast as the pandemic took a bite. The company estimates that the pandemic reduced sales by 6-to-7 percentage points. The company is maintaining its quarterly dividend while suspending stock buybacks and withdrawing its full-year guidance.
• MGM Resorts International Inc. MGM, -8.55% reported revenue and earnings Thursday hurt by casino closures and travel restrictions at its flagship properties in Asia and the U.S. MGM said it temporarily has reduced its dividend to a penny a share that will be paid out on an annual basis but will pay out a last quarterly dividend of $0.0025 per share on June 15. The company said it has roughly $7 billion in cash after a recent debt issue. The sale of the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay real estate was similar to the sale of its flagship Bellagio casino in Las Vegas last year.
• ResMed Inc. RMD, +1.61% topped Wall Street earnings estimates as it ramped up its manufacturing of ventilators amid the pandemic. “We have rapidly pivoted our business to respond by ramping up production of life support ventilators, non-invasive ventilators, and ventilation mask systems for the people who need them most, wherever they live,” said Mick Farrell, ResMed chief executive, in a statement.
• Whirlpool Corp. WHR, +0.17% first-quarter sales that met Wall Street expectations and said it enjoyed “strong liquidity” to weather the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. The company said it had a cash balance of $2.8 billion as of March 31, and about $2 billion available in credit facilities already secured.
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