Goldman Sachs sees S&P 500 dividends declining 25% in 2020

LONDON (Reuters) – Goldman Sachs said on Monday it expects S&P 500 dividends to fall by 25% in 2020 as certain large dividend-paying industries are particularly vulnerable to the economic shock of the coronavirus outbreak.

“The record high level of net leverage for the median S&P 500 stock coupled with the ongoing credit market stress means many firms are unlikely to borrow to fund their dividend,” Goldman said in a note.

The U.S. investment bank said it expects a wave of dividends to be suspended, cut, and scrapped over the rest of the year.

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Saudi Arabia expands partial lockdown, German tourists leave UAE

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia halted entry and exit into Jeddah governorate on Sunday while hundreds of German tourists were repatriated from the United Arab Emirates as the coronavirus continued to spread in the region.

The Gulf Arab region has taken drastic measures to try to combat the disease.

Oman, where a suspension of international passenger flights went into force on Sunday, documented 15 more infections and Kuwait reported 20 new cases, taking the total in the six Gulf Arab states to over 3,100, with 11 deaths.

Saudi Arabia, which has the highest tally at over 1,200, imposed entry and exit bans on Jeddah, after doing so for Riyadh, Mecca and Medina last week, state news SPA reported.[S8N25U02O]

The kingdom late on Saturday extended indefinitely its suspension of international passenger flights and a bar on workplace attendance in both public and private sectors.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have imposed partial curfews and the UAE has put in place an overnight curfew until April 5 under a nationwide campaign to sterilize streets and public venues.

UAE Attorney-General Hamad Saif Al Shamsi issued a statement detailing coronavirus-related fines, including 50,000 dirhams ($13,613) for non-compliance with home quarantine orders and 3,000 dirhams for individuals violating curfew.

The UAE, the region’s tourism and business hub, has also halted passenger flights at its main airports, except for evacuation trips. Kuwait has done the same.

The UAE emirate of Ras Al Khaimah said late on Saturday that hundreds of German tourists had been repatriated from its airport.

Qatar Airways, one of the few airlines maintaining scheduled commercial passenger services, will continue to fly, Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker told Reuters, but warned the carrier could soon run out of cash and seek state support.

Bahrain said it would send a charter flight on Sunday to evacuate 31 citizens who had been received by Qatar after traveling to Doha from Iran, one of the epicenters of the disease.

They are unable to fly directly from Qatar to Bahrain, which is among four countries that have boycotted Doha since mid-2017. Qatar said on Saturday it had offered to send the group home on a chartered flight for free but that Bahrain refused.

Bahrain, which has struggled to source charter flights willing to go to Iran, said in a statement it was working to repatriate all its citizens and asked Doha “not to interfere”.

($1 = 3.6728 UAE dirham)

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China says imported virus cases raise risk of new infection wave

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The rising number of imported coronavirus cases in China have raised the possibility that the country will undergo a second wave of infections, a spokesman of the country’s health authority said on Sunday.

“China already has an accumulated total of 693 cases entering from overseas, which means the possibility of a new round of infections remains relatively big,” said Mi Feng of the National Health Commission.

China reported 45 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday, all but one of which were patients diagnosed after entering the country from overseas.

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Italy has not reached coronavirus contagion peak: national health chief

ROME (Reuters) – Coronavirus infections in Italy have not reached their peak, the head of the country’s national health institute said on Friday, the day after more than 6,150 people tested positive and 712 died in single 24-hour period.

“We haven’t reached the peak and we haven’t passed it,” the chief of the Superior Health Institute Silvio Brusaferro told a news conference.

However, Brusaferro said there were “signs of a slowdown” in the numbers of people becoming infected, suggesting the peak may not be far away, after which new cases will show a visible downward trend.

“When the descent begins, how steep it is will depend on our behavior,” Brusaferro said, referring to how strictly Italians will continue to respect restrictions on movement imposed by a government lockdown.

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Getting better: China's new coronavirus cases trend lower

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – China reported 45 new coronavirus cases in the mainland for Saturday, down from 54 on the previous day, with all but one involving travelers from overseas, the country’s health authority said on Sunday.

In the last seven days, China has reported 313 imported cases of coronavirus but only 6 confirmed cases of domestic transmission, data from the National Health Commission showed.

Most of those imported cases have involved Chinese returning home from abroad. Airlines have been ordered to sharply cut international flights from Sunday. And restrictions on foreigners entering the country went into effect on Saturday.

Five more people died on Saturday, all of them in Wuhan, the industrial central city where the epidemic began in December. But Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, has reported only one new case on the last 10 days.

A total of 3,300 people have now died in mainland China, with a reported 81,439 infections.

Saturday marked the fourth consecutive day that Hubei province recorded no new confirmed cases.

With traffic restrictions in the province lifted, Wuhan is also gradually reopening borders and restarting some local transportation services.

All airports in Hubei resumed some domestic flights on Sunday, with the exception of Wuhan’s Tianhe airport, which will open to domestic flights on April 8. Flights from Hubei to Beijing remain suspended.

A train arrived in Wuhan on Saturday for the first time since the city was placed in lockdown two months ago. Greeting the train, Hubei Communist Party Secretary Ying Yong described Wuhan as “a city full of hope” and said its people heroism and hard work had “basically cut off transmission” of the virus.

Saturday’s sole case of domestically transmitted coronavirus was recorded in Henan province, bordering Hubei.

With the world’s second-biggest economy expected to shrink for the first time in four decades this quarter, China is set to unleash hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus.

The ruling Communist Party’s Politburo called on Friday for a bigger budget deficit, the issuance of more local and national bonds, and steps to guide interest rates lower, delay loan repayments, reduce supply-chain bottlenecks and boost consumption.

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Travel slump, sick staff force cash-worried U.S. airports to downsize

(Reuters) – With fewer planes flying and more security and traffic control officers testing positive for the coronavirus, airports are closing terminals, concessions and checkpoints, even while trying to retain jobs with the hope of a post-crisis pickup.

Orlando International Airport managers in Florida were this week considering turning a construction site for a runway rehabilitation into a parking lot for jets, while figuring out necessary staffing for increasingly deserted concourses.

People movers, for example, need maintenance even if they are not being used.

“You can’t just let it sit there,” said Phillip Brown, chief executive of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which normally oversees millions of visitors a year to theme parks like Disney World and Universal Studios.

Those parks are closed into April and Orlando airport was instead setting up zones for screening passengers arriving from New York-area airports for the coronavirus following self-quarantine orders from Florida’s governor.

Florida, nicknamed the Sunshine State, has seen an increase in people fleeing New York with “shelter-in-place” orders.

Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) has closed terminals in New York and Los Angeles, and is using a runway in its hometown of Atlanta to park jets that are not flying.

More than 30 jets were parked at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport this week, a spokesman said.

Twenty-nine U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening officers have tested positive at airports across the country in the past two weeks, the agency says, prompting checkpoint closures.

Even with the closures, U.S. airport screening wait times – often a source of public anger – are now routinely less than 10 minutes, reflecting dramatic falls in passenger numbers.

This week, TSA screened 454,000 passengers on Sunday, down 82% from a year ago, 331,000 on Monday, 279,000 on Tuesday, and 239,000 on Wednesday.

Still, airports are hoping that $10 billion in government aid under a massive relief package expected to pass on Friday can help keep employees on payroll and ready to work once operations ramp back up, Brown said.

The stimulus deal includes $3 billion for 125,000 contracted airport workers.

But until the health crisis has passed and people start flying again, airports that only a month ago were in the midst of expansion projects will continue to downsize as the industry weathers its biggest ever downturn.

San Francisco International Airport said it was closing some security checkpoints, creating a single Customs & Border Protection entry for international arrivals and delaying opening new gates at the revamped Harvey Milk Terminal 1, while evaluating other measures.

Fitch Ratings on Thursday revised its outlook for U.S. airport bonds to “negative.”

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Macron told EU leaders "survival of European project" at stake in virus crisis

PARIS, March 26 (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron warned his fellow European Union leaders on Thursday that the coronavirus outbreak risked undoing the bloc’s central pillars such as its no-border zone if they failed to show solidarity in this crisis, a diplomat said.

“What’s at stake is the survival of the European project,” he told the 26 other leaders in a conference call, according to a French diplomat. “The risk we are facing is the death of Schengen,” Macron added, according to the same source. (Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Senegal's graffiti artists join fight against coronavirus

DAKAR (Reuters) – The mural stretched over 10 metres of wall in Senegal’s seaside capital Dakar shows a giant pair of hands reaching out for sanitiser, and a woman in hoop earrings and a facemask colored blue, red, gold and green.

It is the work of RBS CREW, a collective of graffiti artists who have offered up their spray cans in the cause of public health.

Black and yellow block letters spell out the message “Together against COVID-19,” referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“A big thank you to the caregivers,” reads another message scrawled out like a graffiti tag, next to the government’s health hotline on the high school wall.

“As Senegalese we have a duty, a responsibility to raise awareness,” said Serigne Mansour Fall, the 33-year-old head of the collective who goes by the name “Mad Zoo”.

“Especially as the majority of the population is illiterate, as artists, we can communicate through visuals,” said Fall, whose past work has focused more on Dakar street life and Malcolm X.

Senegal had reported 119 cases and no deaths as of Friday. Figures reported across Africa are still relatively small compared with parts of Asia and Europe, but the World Health Organization has warned the continent’s window to act is narrowing.

That, said Fall, makes it even more important to encourage prevention measures and head off false information, including one online rumor that only white people can catch the disease.

Other murals painted around Dakar by the collective show people washing their hands with soap and water and sneezing into their elbows.

Each year for the past decade, Dakar has also hosted the Festigraff festival, which bills itself as the leading graffiti festival in Africa and attracts artists from around the world.

RBS CREW was set up in 2012 with the goal, according to its website, of making messages ring out “like blasts of gunfire”.

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Trump to receive new coronavirus recommendations this weekend, plans Xi call

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will receive recommendations this weekend from his advisers about the next steps in the battle to stop the coronavirus and reignite the U.S. economy, Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday.

Trump has been pressing for days to get the economy moving again despite an increasing number of U.S. coronavirus cases that the strict measures recommended by his advisers are meant to curb.

Trump and his coronavirus team on March 16 put in place recommendations for people nationwide to reduce social and professional interactions for 15 days, including by schooling children at home and not gathering in groups of more than 10 people.

Pence said that as day 15 approached, the president’s advisers planned to deliver recommendations to him based on the latest data.

“We’ll be presenting this weekend (to) the president a range of recommendations and … additional guidance for going forward,” Pence said, adding that the president had made it clear that he wants to “‘open the country up.’ But we’re going to do that responsibly.”

Trump said he had told state governors earlier in the day in a letter that his administration would be updating its guidance on social distancing related to the pandemic.

“We will vanquish this virus,” he said. “We have to get back to work. Our people want to work.” The president has said he would like the economy to open up again by Easter on April 12.

Trump said he was likely to speak with President Xi Jinping of China later on Thursday and cast doubt on the figures provided by Beijing for coronavirus cases. Meanwhile, the number of reported infections in the United States rose to at least 81,378, according to a Reuters tally, surpassing China and Italy to become the most in the world.

Trump has praised Xi’s handling of the coronavirus while also emphasizing that the disease originated in China and accusing the country of not being transparent enough about it.

Trump, who has been holed up in the White House for nearly two and a half weeks as political rallies and other trips were canceled, said he planned to visit Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday to send off the Navy’s USNS Comfort hospital ship as it sails for New York City. It is expected to arrive on Monday.

“I’m going to go out and I’ll kiss it goodbye,” Trump said.

A second Navy hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, was dispatched to Los Angeles from San Diego earlier this week.

The president called on the House of Representatives to pass a $2 trillion stimulus package to fight the coronavirus right away after the Senate passed the bill on Wednesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she expects the chamber to pass the bill on Friday.

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Pelosi expects bipartisan House vote for $2 trillion coronavirus bill Friday

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expected the chamber to pass an estimated $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill when it meets on Friday, after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the unprecedented economic rescue legislation Wednesday evening.

“Tomorrow we’ll bring the bill to the floor. It will pass with strong bipartisan support,” Pelosi, a Democrat, told reporters.

The legislation will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks once the Democratic-controlled House passes it and Republican President Donald Trump signs it into law, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The Republican-led Senate approved the bill – which would be the largest fiscal stimulus measure ever passed by Congress – by 96 votes to zero late on Wednesday, overcoming bitter partisan negotiations and boosting its chances of passing the House.

The unanimous Senate vote, a rare departure from bitter partisanship in Washington that followed several days of wrangling, underscored how seriously members of Congress are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system reels.

“When there’s a crisis of this magnitude, the private sector cannot solve it,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

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“Individuals, even with bravery and valor, are not powerful enough to beat it back. Government is the only force large enough to staunch the bleeding and begin the healing.”

The package is intended to flood the country with cash in an effort to stem the crushing impact on the economy of an intensifying pandemic that has killed about 1,000 people in the United States and infected nearly 70,000.

Pelosi said there was no question more money would be needed to fight the coronavirus. She said House committees would be working on the next phase in the near term, even if the full chamber is not in session. She said lawmakers would need to be on call for possible votes.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy also backs the relief plan, but said he wanted it to be allowed to work before deciding whether more legislation was needed.

“This will be probably the largest bill anybody in Congress has ever voted for,” he told reporters.

Only two other countries, China and Italy, have more coronavirus cases than the United States. The World Health Organization has warned the United States looks set to become the epicenter of the pandemic.

The American government’s intervention follows two other packages that became law this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the total $4.7 trillion the federal government spends annually.

Trump, who has promised to sign the bill as soon as it passes the House, expressed his delight on Twitter. “96-0 in the United States Senate. Congratulations AMERICA!” he wrote.

Pelosi said House leaders were planning a voice vote on the rescue plan on Friday, but said leaders would be prepared for other contingencies. She had said a day earlier that if there were calls for a vote recorded by name, lawmakers might be able to vote by proxy, as not all would attend.

“If somebody has a different point of view (about the bill), they can put it in the record,” she said, referring to the Congressional Record.

McCarthy predicted the measure would pass Friday morning following a debate.

The massive bill, worth more than $2 trillion, includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of families.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The House has 430 members, most of whom have been out of Washington since March 14. Many want to return for the vote, but for all to attend would be difficult, given that at least two have tested positive for the coronavirus, a handful of others are in self-quarantine, and several states have issued stay-at-home orders. There are five vacant House seats.

The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Thune, missed Wednesday’s vote because he was not feeling well. His spokesman said Thune, 59, flew back to his state, South Dakota, on a charter flight Wednesday, accompanied by a Capitol Police officer and wearing a mask.

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