Wall Street climbed for a second day on Wednesday as investors kept their focus on the prospect of economic recovery.
The S&P 500 rose 1.5 percent — after swinging back and forth between gains and losses earlier in the day as weakness in large technology stocks offset gains in other parts of the market. The S&P 500 had climbed 1.2 percent on Tuesday.
Wednesday’s trading reflected optimism about a return to normal as states and national governments lift stay-at-home restrictions. Companies that will benefit as shoppers are allowed back in stores and people begin to travel again were among the best performers in the S&P 500. Nordstrom, Gap and Kohl’s each rose more than 14 percent.
Though stocks have continued their rebound from late-March lows, the rally has become less steady than it was earlier, with the S&P 500 alternating between gains and losses, as expectations for an eventual recovery from the coronavirus pandemic have squared off against the reality that the damage is still severe and likely to continue for some time.
On Wednesday, investors were cheered by the news of fiscal stimulus proposals from the European Union and Japan. In Japan, the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved more than a trillion dollars in stimulus money. In Brussels, the European Commission seemed on the verge of introducing expansive financial measures to support the bloc. Shares in Europe mostly ended higher.
But uncertainty continued over U.S.-China relations. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Wednesday that the State Department no longer considered Hong Kong to have significant autonomy under Chinese rule, a move that indicated that the Trump administration was likely to end some or all of the United States government’s special trade and economic relations with the territory in southern China.
Businesses surveyed by the Federal Reserve were hopeful that economic activity would begin to pick up as states reopened, but most were “pessimistic about the potential pace of recovery.”
The Fed’s Beige Book, a regularly-published collection of qualitative business assessments, showed that companies were not expecting a rapid rebound, as they struggled to rehire workers and wait for demand to recover. Many companies were still shedding workers, and businesses who were trying to hire cited several factors complicating their attempt to restart their work force, including child care issues, enhanced unemployment benefits and health fears.
Especially hard-hit companies also appeared to be deferring or skipping rent payments.
“Commercial real estate contacts mentioned that a large number of retail tenants had deferred or missed rent payments,” the Beige Book noted.
In the New York region’s services sector, “business contacts continued to express great uncertainty about whether and when business would get back to reasonably normal levels, but there continued to be fairly widespread pessimism,” the report said.
Companies in that region also reported that “many” unemployed workers were “reluctant to return to work — some attributed this to generous unemployment benefits, as well as safety concerns.”
Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil company after Exxon Mobil, is planning to cut 10 to 15 percent of its 45,000 employees worldwide in a sweeping overhaul.
Veronica Flores-Paniagua, a company spokesman, said that employees were notified of the layoffs on Tuesday, and that most would occur by the end of the year.
“It is a difficult business decision driven by a very challenging economic time,” she said, referring to the plummeting oil prices in recent months as the coronavirus pandemic reduced demand for transportation and power fuels. “The impacts are still being worked out, but they are going to vary across location, across business segment, across function.”
The cuts come as the California-based Chevron is slashing $1 billion from its 2020 operating costs, a move announced in March.
Tens of thousands of oil workers have lost their jobs this year, most of them employed by service companies doing oil field work for the producers. Exxon Mobil, Chevron’s main rival, has said it has no immediate layoff plans but is cutting spending. BP told employees in late March that there would be no layoffs for three months.
With varied international operations and a large presence in the Permian Basin shale field in West Texas, Chevron has been a favorite of investors because of its relatively strong balance sheet and a 5.5 percent dividend that is considered secure.
Boeing said Wednesday that it was taking a significant step toward its goal of slashing 10 percent of its global work force by laying off more than 6,700 employees in the United States, all of whom will be notified this week. Another 5,500 workers have been approved for voluntary buyouts and will leave within weeks.
Boeing’s commercial business, which was most exposed to the devastating decline in air travel, will suffer the deepest cuts, the company said. Its defense and space operations have been more insulated.
“The Covid-19 pandemic’s devastating impact on the airline industry means a deep cut in the number of commercial jets and services our customers will need over the next few years, which in turn means fewer jobs on our lines and in our offices,” the chief executive, David L. Calhoun, said in a note to employees. “I wish there were some other way.”
Boeing will have to cut nearly 4,000 more workers to meet its overall goal of shedding 16,000 jobs. The remaining layoffs will be announced in batches over the next few months, the company said.
NASA on Wednesday postponed a SpaceX mission scheduled to send two American astronauts into orbit. It would have been the first crewed space launch from U.S. soil in nearly a decade, and the first ever in a privately made spacecraft.
The launch was delayed because of poor weather conditions. The next opportunities are Saturday at 3:22 p.m. Eastern time and Sunday at 3 p.m.
A lot is riding on the launch. NASA thinks the future of space — at least for low Earth orbit, for now — is chartered flights on private spacecraft. If successful, the launch could open up a range of economic activity and experimentation, with commercial operators stepping in while governments step back.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is the cheapest human-carrying spacecraft yet made for NASA, by some distance. The agency’s contracts with private companies have fixed prices, an incentive to keep costs down. But Elon Musk, who runs SpaceX in addition to Tesla, will get some extra promotional value out of the launch: The astronauts, Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, will be ferried to the spacecraft in a NASA-branded Tesla Model X.
AT&T, the parent company of HBO since 2018, plans to spend more than $4.5 billion on the project over the next few years. The company hopes to have 50 million HBO Max subscribers by 2025 and envisions that the service will eventually generate billions in annual profits as it takes on Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Apple TV Plus and Peacock, among others.
A potential stumbling block for it is the cost. Netflix’s no-frills plan costs $9 a month. Disney Plus charges $7 a month. But HBO Max is asking people to spend $15 a month, at a time when household budgets are constrained by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Even before the outbreak, industry analysts called the pricing “unreasonable.” Now many customers are looking to cancel their HBO accounts, largely because of the cost, according to a study prepared for The New York Times by the global research consultancy Kantar.
Walt Disney World, one of the largest tourist sites on the planet, has a plan to reopen in mid-July. But the necessary safety protocols — limiting the number of visitors, making face masks mandatory, deploying roaming squads to enforce social distancing, no longer allowing people to get up close and personal with Mickey Mouse — shows how difficult it will be to operate once-booming attractions as the country prepares for a broader reopening.
“We’re going slow because we want to make constant progress and not have to backtrack,” Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive, said by phone from Florida on Wednesday. “The risk is going too far, too fast.”
Disney’s theme parks, some with Main Street U.S.A. entrances, loom large in the popular imagination as symbols of Americana. Disney World has been closed since March 15 because of the pandemic, and its reopening carries a certain symbolism in itself, an attempt by fans to reclaim a semblance of normal life and an effort by a coronavirus-battered Disney to demonstrate that a visit will remain a cultural rite of passage for many children.
Walt Disney World consists of six separately ticketed parks with combined annual attendance of 93 million. The two most popular ones, the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom, will reopen on July 11. Disney World’s other major parks, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, will reopen on July 15.
The European Union’s executive arm laid out on Wednesday the details of a recovery package worth 750 billion euros, or about $826 billion, for its 27 member economies, especially those hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns put in place to stop its spread.
Europe’s recovery effort will be difficult and expensive, as some of its economies are set to shrink as much as 10 percent this year. Germany and other wealthy countries have their own funds available to spend immediately to prop up their economies, but poorer European Union members need help.
The program, which was presented by the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, in an address to the European Parliament on Wednesday, hinges on using its own budget to issue bonds in international capital markets, and then distributing the proceeds according to members’ needs. It is seen as a breakthrough for the bloc’s integration, even if it is a one-off.
The fund will distribute €500 billion worth of grants — free money that will not be piled on to national debt — to all 27 member states, with Italy getting the largest slice, followed by Spain.
As with most things in the bloc’s administrative capital, Brussels, the plan is the product of compromise between conflicting visions of what the European Union can do to help its members in times of crisis. It requires unanimous support by all nations, as well as the European Parliament’s blessing, and so a long road of negotiations lies ahead before it is finalized.
Japan made similar moves on Wednesday as its cabinet approved more than a trillion dollars in stimulus funds, including a combination of subsidies to companies and people. The Parliament is expected to approve the measure next month.
Japan’s proposal follows a raft of measures that the country passed in April. Taken together, the two packages would be equivalent to 40 percent of Japan’s economic output, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters on Wednesday.
The nation’s biggest nursing home operator, Genesis HealthCare, reported a profit in the first quarter of the year and said it also received money from the federal government while trying to contain the spread of coronavirus within half of its 361 facilities.
Genesis reported Wednesday that it had received $180 million under the federal CARES Act and additional money from other federal and state programs as part of the nation’s response to the pandemic. The company, based in Pennsylvania, disclosed the federal grant money as it announced first-quarter earnings of $33.5 million after reporting a loss in the same period a year earlier.
Genesis said that it took in $1.09 billion in revenue compared to $1.16 billion during the same quarter a year ago. The company’s earnings outlook brightened over the past year as it sold some of its facilities and reduced the number of nursing homes that it rented from corporate landlords.
The earnings report covered the quarter that ended in March, when the coronavirus crisis first hit hard in the United States. Genesis, which has 42,000 beds, said the first resident tested positive for coronavirus on March 16.
But the company’s outlook for the rest of year could be muddled as it disclosed that occupancy levels at its nursing homes have plunged in the second quarter. The company said that occupancy declined from 88 percent at the end of March to about 76 percent this month, which will mean fewer federal Medicaid and Medicare dollars.
Catch up: Here’s what else is happening.
The American division of the bakery chain Le Pain Quotidien filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, a sign of the damage the pandemic has inflicted on the fast-casual industry. To keep some of its stores open, the company has proposed a sale to the restaurant company Aurify Brands.
Social distancing measures, put in place to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, have hurt sales of gum and mints, the Hershey Company said Wednesday in a regulatory filing to announce a bond offering. Demand for some products increased when the pandemic began, but have since leveled off. The company said it expected the pandemic would have a significant impact on earnings in the second quarter, when lockdown orders were put in place.
The eurozone economy is likely to shrink by as much as 12 percent this year, in line with the European Central Bank’s most pessimistic projections a month ago, the bank’s president, Christine Lagarde, said.
New data released on Wednesday showed that the Chinese economy — or at least the part involving its vast industrial sector — continues to bounce back from the outbreak. Industrial sales in April rose 5.1 percent compared with a year earlier, statistics officials said.
Reporting was contributed by David Yaffe-Bellany, Gregory Schmidt, Clifford Krauss, Jeanna Smialek, Brooks Barnes, Jason Karaian, Niraj Chokshi, Matthew Goldstein, Jack Ewing, Carlos Tejada, Matt Phillips, Ben Dooley, Makiko Inoue, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Mohammed Hadi, Joe Gose, Mary Williams Walsh, Katie Robertson and Kevin Granville.