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Stocks fell on Thursday, giving up some of their gains from the day before, after reports that showed millions more Americans applied for weekly unemployment benefits and consumer spending collapsed.

The S&P 500 closed down nearly 1 percent, but it was a small retreat in an otherwise strong month for Wall Street. Even with the decline on Thursday factored in, the S&P 500 had its best month since January 1987, a gain that came even as it became increasingly clear that the coronavirus crisis was pushing the into a dire economic downturn.

The nearly 13 percent gain this month means the S&P 500 is now up roughly 30 percent from its March 23 low. It’s a rally that has surprised even the most ardent bulls.

“Frankly, I’m shocked by the speed of the rally,” said Julian Emanuel, chief equity and derivatives strategist at the brokerage firm BTIG, who has been expecting a rebound since before the rally began.

The rally, even in the face of crushing economic data, highlights investors’ confidence that things will return to normal sooner than they thought when stocks were collapsing in late February and early March.

Both the Federal government and the central bank have pumped trillions of dollars into the economy and financial markets, lockdown measures appear to be having some success in reducing rates of infection, and some states are laying out the conditions for reopening.


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That does not mean the economy is suddenly going to be back on track.

Markets tend to rebound long before any actual improvement in economic fundamentals is apparent, as investors buy shares based on expectations for what will happen later in the year, rather than the current climate. During the last recession, the stock market bottomed in March 2009. But the unemployment rate didn’t begin to drop until October of that year.

Top Wall Street economists expect the second-quarter economic data to look, well, cataclysmic. J.P. Morgan economists, for example, believe the American economy will shrink at a previously unthinkable 40 percent annual rate in the second quarter. The Congressional Budget Office thinks unemployment could hit 16 percent by the third quarter.

It’s also important to recognize that the current rally has been relatively narrow, with an outsize part of the gains for the S&P 500 index attributable to a handful of giant technology companies — Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook. In April, these companies grew to account for roughly 20 percent of the total value of the S&P.

The rebound in shares of technology companies — in part because their businesses are seen as benefiting in various ways from stay-at-home orders — has been most evident in the Nasdaq composite, which has nearly erased all of its losses for 2020.

With most of the nation on lockdown, technology companies like Amazon and Apple benefited as consumers found other ways to spend their money.

Apple said on Thursday that its revenue grew by nearly 1 percent in the first three months of the year as the company was able to make up for sales declines in China, which was locked down for much of the quarter because of the coronavirus.

The company’s income was bolstered by surging sales of its internet services and the Apple Watch and AirPods.

Apple typically forecasts its sales for the next quarter but declined to do so on Thursday. Analysts expect the current quarter to be much uglier because of virus-related shutdowns around the world.

Apple showed confidence in its financial footing though by announcing another $50 billion in stock buybacks.

The spread of the coronavirus played right into the hands of Amazon’s core businesses, as consumers shopped more online and companies spent more on cloud computing. Those two pillars of Amazon’s business drove sales to their highest on record outside of the holiday shopping season, the company said on Thursday.

Amazon reported that it had $75.5 billion in sales in the latest quarter, up 26 percent from a year earlier, surpassing analyst expectations. Profit fell about 29 percent, to $2.5 billion, because it cost more to meet the increased customer demand.

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Amazon’s , Jeff Bezos, signaled that profit may continue to fall in the near future. The company would typically expect to make around $4 billion in operating profit in the next quarter, but “we expect to spend the entirety of that $4 billion, and perhaps a bit more, on Covid-related expenses getting products to customers and keeping employees safe,” he said in a statement.

City officials in Worcester, Mass., ordered the closure of a local Walmart store on Wednesday after it was discovered that a number of the workers had tested positive for the virus.

The city said Walmart was complying with the order. The store cannot reopen until all 400 of the workers have been tested and the city’s medical director reviews the results.

It is the second Walmart to be closed in less than a week. On Friday, a Walmart store in Aurora, Colo., was ordered closed by local health officials after employees and shoppers complained of a lack of social distancing, crowding and employees not wearing face masks.

One employee of the store, an employee’s family member and a third-party contractor had died of the virus, according to the Tri-County Health Department in Colorado. Eleven additional confirmed cases were linked to the outbreak at the store.

The store was reopened on Sunday after a deep cleaning. The agency said Walmart had “enhanced metering of shoppers into the store” and employee screening for illness, using tools supplied by the health department.

Mark Zuckerberg said last month that it would remove posts promoting bleach as a cure for the coronavirus, and Twitter last month announced it would delete virus tweets “that could potentially cause harm.” But Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have declined to remove statements by Trump suggesting disinfectants and ultraviolet light as possible treatments.

By Friday, the day after Mr. Trump’s comments at a White House briefing, mentions of a disinfectant cure on and television broadcasts surged to 1.2 million, up from roughly 400,000 on Thursday, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company. A analysis found 768 Facebook groups, 277 Facebook pages, nine Instagram accounts and thousands of tweets pushing UV light therapies that were posted after Mr. Trump’s comments and that remained on the sites as of Wednesday.

The social media companies have always tread delicately when it comes to Mr. Trump. Yet their inaction on posts echoing his remarks on UV lights and disinfectants stands out because the companies have said for weeks that they would not permit false information about the coronavirus to proliferate.

Most of the tech companies developed health misinformation policies “with the expectation that there would be a competent government and reputable health authority to point to,” said Renee DiResta, a technical research manager who studies misinformation at the Stanford Internet Observatory. Given that false information is coming from the White House, the companies have been thrown for a loop, she said.

YouTube said Mr. Trump’s comments did not violate its misinformation policy. Twitter said satire and discussions of Mr. Trump’s remarks that do not include a call to action, as well as Mr. Trump’s comments themselves, did not violate its policies. Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Justice Department is looking to root out fraud in the Trump administration’s signature economic rescue program, the Paycheck Protection Program, and has requested access to data from the Small Business Administration and more than a dozen of the largest lenders, the department said Thursday.

The $660 billion program, which provides forgivable loans for small businesses that meet certain requirements, has been riddled with problems from its inception, as the government tried to quickly funnel billions of dollars to small businesses through banks.

The program is supposed to help small businesses with fewer than 500 employees keep workers on the payroll, but big companies, including some publicly traded firms, have received loans. Some, including restaurant chains like Ruth’s Chris and Shake Shack, agreed to return their loans after a public outcry.

But dozens of large companies with financial or legal problems have also received large payouts under the program, according to an analysis of the more than 200 publicly traded companies that have disclosed receiving a total of more than $750 million in bailout loans.

The Treasury Department, which is overseeing terms of the program, has vowed to recoup money from companies and has threatened to hold firms that did not meet the program’s criteria criminally liable.

The Justice Department hopes to use data analytics to identify unusual behavior that could possibly indicate fraudulent applications. The effort is modeled after the type of data analytics work that the department already uses to crack down on health care fraud. Prosecutors have long monitored health data, like billing receipts, to root out potential Medicare fraud.

News of the Justice Department’s efforts was first reported by Bloomberg News.

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The American economy continues to stagger under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, with another 3.8 million workers filing for unemployment benefits last week.

The figures announced Thursday by the Labor Department bring the number of workers joining the official jobless ranks in the last six weeks to more than 30 million, and underscore just how dire economic conditions remain.

Many state agencies still find themselves overwhelmed by the flood of claims, leaving perhaps millions with dwindling resources to pay the rent or put food on the table.

If anything, according to many economists, the job losses may be far worse than government figures indicate. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that roughly 50 percent more people than counted as filing claims in a recent four-week period may have qualified for benefits but were stymied in applying or did not even try because they found the process too formidable.

“The problem is even bigger than the data suggest,” said Elise Gould, a senior economist with the institute, a left-leaning research group. “We’re undercounting the economic pain.”

American Airlines reported a loss of $2.2 billion in the first quarter of the year, a damaging but expected blow in an industry rocked by the pandemic. The company ended the quarter with $6.8 billion in cash on hand and planned to increase that to $11 billion by the end of June, a recognition that the downturn will be prolonged.

“Never before has our airline, or our industry, faced such a significant challenge,” the company’s chief executive, Doug Parker, said in a statement.

Here are the other big companies that reported earnings on Thursday:

  • Twitter said it had an unprofitable quarter for the first time in more than two years, even as more users rushed to the platform. The company lost $8.3 million in the first quarter, breaking a profitability streak that started at the end of 2017. Advertising revenue dropped by 27 percent from March 11 to March 31.

  • ConocoPhillips said it was cutting production by 35 percent after posting $1.7 billion loss in the first quarter. The company, the largest independent producer of oil and natural gas in the United States, generated $1.6 billion in cash from its operations in the quarter and was in better financial shape than other oil companies.

  • Comcast saw its biggest jump in broadband subscribers and now has nearly 27 million . But it also saw one of its biggest declines in video, with more than 388,000 people cutting their TV subscriptions. Advertising, which includes its NBCUniversal division, dropped more than 2 percent, and its theme parks business plummeted 27 percent.

  • Kraft Heinz, which has struggled in recent years as consumers steered clear of its packaged foods, reported on Thursday that first-quarter sales surged 3.3 percent to $6.2 billion as shoppers stocked up on Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Heinz ketchup and Planters nuts.

  • The maker of Lysol, Reckitt Benckiser, reported a surge in sales for the first quarter of 2020. Revenue was up 13 percent over the period a year earlier. The company also said it saw strong demand for its Mucinex and Norofen cold and pain relief medicines.

  • Dunkin’ Brands, one of the world’s largest fast-food restaurant companies, reported that sales plunged 19 percent at Dunkin’ Donuts and 23 percent at Baskin-Robbins in the last three weeks of March.

  • Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, said on Thursday that it would cut its dividend for the first time since World War II as the company reported a loss of $24 million for the quarter compared with $6 billion in profit in the period a year earlier.

  • Macy’s, one of the biggest department store chains in the United States, announced a plan on Thursday to reopen all of its 775 locations, including Bloomingdales and Bluemercury, in the next six to eight weeks, the latest sign of how eager the nation’s largest retailers are to return to business.

  • Boeing said on Thursday that it had raised $25 billion in a bond offering in an effort to inject liquidity into its business. As a result, the aerospace giant said, it would not seek additional funding through capital markets or aid from the federal government.

  • United Airlines reported a net loss of $1.7 billion in the first quarter and said it had about $9.6 billion in cash on hand to weather the crisis. The airline expects to burn through cash in the second quarter at an average daily rate of $40 to $45 million, on par with its peers.

  • Tapestry, the company that owns the brands Coach and Kate Spade, said it would open about 40 of its stores in North America on Friday for “contactless curbside or storefront pickup.”

Reporting was contributed by Sheera Frenkel, , Gregory Schmidt, Michael Corkery, Karen Weise, Jack Nicas, Clifford Krauss, Jack Ewing, Stanley Reed, Kate Conger, Ben Dooley, Nelson D. Schwartz, Alexandra Stevenson, Sapna Maheshwari, David McCabe, Edmund Lee, Mohammed Hadi, Matt Phillips, Ben Casselman, Jason Karaian, Niraj Chokshi, Neal E. Boudette, Steve Lohr and Mike Isaac.

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  • Updated April 11, 2020

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • When will this end?

      This is a difficult question, because a lot depends on how well the virus is contained. A better question might be: “How will we know when to reopen the country?” In an American Enterprise Institute report, Scott Gottlieb, Caitlin Rivers, Mark B. McClellan, Lauren Silvis and Crystal Watson staked out four goal posts for recovery: Hospitals in the state must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care; the state needs to be able to at least test everyone who has symptoms; the state is able to conduct monitoring of confirmed cases and contacts; and there must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • How does coronavirus spread?

      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

    • Is there a vaccine yet?

      No. Clinical trials are underway in the United States, China and Europe. But American officials and pharmaceutical executives have said that a vaccine remains at least 12 to 18 months away.

    • What makes this outbreak so different?

      Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

    • What if somebody in my family gets sick?

      If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

    • Should I stock up on groceries?

      Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

    • Should I pull my money from the markets?

      That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.


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