Stocks on Wall Street held on to small gains Thursday after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Senate Banking Committee that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had agreed to restart talks about another economic aid package.
The lack of progress between Republicans and Democrats on new fiscal spending over the pandemic — despite many economists’ expectations that the United States’ economy won’t hold up with out it — has become a key concern for investors this month.
Speaking at the same Senate hearing on Thursday, the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, said that government spending so far should be credited for the pace of rebound, but risks loom if key programs are allowed to lapse. As unemployed workers run through their savings, they might pull back on spending and lose their houses or apartments, he said.
Without more help, “we’ll see sooner or later, probably sooner, that the economy has a hard time sustaining the growth that we’ve seen — that’s the risk,” he said.
Concerns about the lawmakers inability to reach an agreement on that aid intensified this week after their attention shifted to the fight over filling Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court before November’s election.
As a result, the S&P 500 had fallen 9.6 percent through Wednesday, from its Sept. 2 record. A drop of more than 10 percent is called a correction on Wall Street, and is taken as a signal that a long-term sell-off could be underway.
Stocks in Europe and Asia were lower Thursday. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 index and the FTSE 100 in Britain were both more than 1 percent lower. The major indexes for Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea closed between 1 percent and 2.6 percent lower.
On Thursday, investors were also considering new data on unemployment claims in the United States, which showed that applications for jobless benefits rose to 825,000 last week.
Applications for jobless benefits rose last week as employers continued to lay off workers six months after the coronavirus pandemic first rocked the U.S. economy.
About 825,000 Americans filed for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That is up from 796,000 a week earlier, though it is far below the more than six million people a week who were filing for benefits during the peak period of layoffs in the spring. Those numbers do not reflect adjustments for seasonal fluctuations.
On an adjusted basis, last week’s total was 870,000, up from 866,000 the previous week.
In addition, 630,000 initial filings were recorded for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency federal program that covers freelancers, self-employed workers and others left out of the regular unemployment system. That program has been plagued by fraud and double-counting, and many economists say the data is unreliable.
By any measure, however, hundreds of thousands of Americans are losing their jobs each week, and millions more laid off earlier in the crisis are still relying on unemployed benefits to meet their basic expenses. Applications for benefits remain higher than at the peak of many past recessions, and after falling quickly in the spring, the number has declined only slowly in recent weeks.
“Compared to April, they’re trending down, but if you’re comparing to the pre-Covid era they are still so high,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist for the career site Indeed.
The recent letup in progress is particularly worrisome, Ms. Konkel said, because warm weather has allowed many businesses to shift operations outdoors. As colder weather hits Northern states in the weeks ahead, restaurants and other businesses are likely to begin laying off workers again.
“We’re losing steam, which is definitely not good heading into the winter,” she said.
The report on Thursday marked 27 weeks since the flood of layoffs began in mid-March. In most states, workers qualify for a maximum of 26 weeks of unemployment payments, meaning that workers who lost their jobs early in the crisis have begun to see their benefits expire.
An emergency program established by Congress in March offers an additional 13 weeks of benefits for most workers. And a separate federal program will provide extended benefits after that if the unemployment rate remains elevated. But experts on the unemployment system said there was a risk that benefits for some workers would lapse at least temporarily.
Applications for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program fell last week. But that may reflect efforts to control fraud in the program, rather than a true decline in the number of people who need help.
The program, created by Congress in March, is meant to cover freelancers, self-employed workers, part-timers and others who don’t ordinarily qualify for regular state jobless benefits. After a slow start, the program has grown rapidly and now provides aid to millions of workers.
But it has been plagued by fraud, delays and double-counting, making it hard for states to process applications and for economists to understand how many people are receiving benefits. In recent weeks, California and Arizona in particular have reported a flood of fraudulent claims. On Saturday, California announced it would stop accepting applications for unemployment benefits for two weeks while it took steps to cut down on fraud and address other issues.
Data released by the Labor Department on Thursday suggests that even before that shutdown, California had begun to get its fraud problem under control. The state reported just under 100,000 applications under the program last week, down from more than 200,000 the week before, and more than 400,000 per week in late August and early September.
Arizona, however, reported more than 200,000 applications for pandemic benefits last week, up from 165,000 the week before, suggesting that fraud remains a problem there.
Nationally, applications fell to 630,000 from 675,000. Without the big drop in California, however, they would have risen by nearly 60,000.
After months of delays in unemployment payments — and weeks of rapidly rising jobless claims that officials attribute at least partly to fraud — California pulled the plug last week. On Saturday, the state’s employment office announced that it would stop processing new filings for two weeks.
State officials say the “reset” will allow California to address a backlog of nearly 600,000 claims, and to create systems to process filings and weed out fraud more quickly. They say the roughly five million workers already receiving benefits will not be affected.
But for Californians like Stephanie Santiful, the shutdown is a source of frustration and uncertainty.
Ms. Santiful, 37, lost her job as a university librarian in March. After a few weeks, she began receiving $450 a week in state unemployment benefits, plus a $600 supplement from the federal government while that program lasted. It was a bit less than what she had earned while working, but enough to pay her bills.
The supplement expired at the end of July, and last week she reached the end of her regular state benefits. Ms. Santiful should qualify for an additional 13 weeks of benefits under an emergency program created by Congress in March, but she has to apply for them first — and with California’s application system on hold, it isn’t clear whether she will be able to do so.
She also has yet to receive the $300 a week in extra benefits that President Trump authorized last month, and doesn’t know when she will get it.
“It’s scary,” Ms. Santiful, who lives in Lancaster, said. “It’s scary to not know what to expect. It’s scary not knowing if the country decides, ‘OK, that’s been enough, you’re on your own.’”
Ms. Santiful, who has two teenage sons, said she had saved enough to cover rent for October. But after that, she isn’t sure what she’ll do. She said she was considering returning to Virginia, her home state, but doesn’t know how she would afford that.
“I can’t even move back home because I don’t have the money,” she said.
Target said on Thursday that it planned to double the number of store employees dedicated to in-store and curbside pickup services this holiday season and train additional staff to help in those areas, as the pandemic alters consumer shopping habits.
The retailer, which has more than 1,800 stores and 43 distribution centers, said that employees would also pack online orders that ship to homes from stores, and that it planned to hire more full-time and seasonal staff in warehouses. Target also said that it would dedicate employees to the front of its stores, where they will be responsible for safety precautions like cleaning and disinfecting carts and providing masks to shoppers.
“During the first half of 2020, demand for contactless fulfillment options quadrupled and we anticipate continued guest interest in these same-day services,” Melissa Kremer, Target’s chief human resources officer, said Thursday in a call with reporters.
Retailers are gearing up for a radically different holiday shopping season this year as the coronavirus crisis persists across the United States. They are planning to offer Black Friday deals as early as October and are realigning store staffing to cater to customers who are not comfortable browsing in stores or standing in crowded lines.
Target is among the big-box retailers and grocers that have emerged as initial winners during the pandemic, which has sent many clothing chains and mall stalwarts spiraling. Target reported a 25 percent increase in revenue to about $23 billion for its latest quarter, which ended Aug. 1, including its biggest-ever percentage increase in quarterly comparable sales.
The retailer said it planned to offer more hours to existing staff, especially with the new training in areas like fulfillment and same-day pickup, but it still expects its seasonal hiring to be on par with last year, when it hired roughly 130,000 people.
“We do expect this to be a very different holiday season,” Brian Cornell, Target’s chief executive, said on the call. “We’re not expecting long lines on Black Friday morning but we certainly expect a very engaged consumer and Target guest who’s looking forward to celebrating the holiday season.”
Rishi Sunak, Britain’s top financial official, on Thursday announced a range of new and extended measures to protect jobs and help businesses, including another government wage-paying program, just days after the prime minister, Boris Johnson, set new social restrictions to curtail the spread of the coronavirus that he warned could last for months.
The Treasury had been under increasing pressure to announce a successor to a furlough program that has supported the wages of as many as 9.6 million workers at a cost of 39.3 billion pounds, or $50.1 billion. The program is set to end Oct. 31, and Britain’s statistics agency said about 11 percent of the work force was still using it.
It will be replaced by a program in which the government and employers will share the cost of the wages for workers on shorter hours, similar to Germany’s Kurzarbeit, or short-work program.
“It is now clear, as the prime minister and our scientific advisers have said, for at least the next six months, the virus and restrictions are going to be a fact of our lives,” Mr. Sunak, the chancellor of the Exchequer, told the House of Commons.
On the decision to end the furlough program, he said that “it is fundamentally wrong to hold people in jobs that only exist inside the furlough” and that the new program would keep people in jobs that provided “genuine security.”
Late on Wednesday, the Treasury said it would scrap the introduction of a budget in November, which would have offered a long-term plan for the economic recovery. Instead it announced the short-term measures introduced by Mr. Sunak on Thursday. Among the details:
Patagonia said on Thursday that it named Ryan Gellert as its new chief executive. Mr. Gellert, who has overseen Patagonia’s business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa since 2014, replaces Rose Marcario, who abruptly stepped down in June after 12 years at the company.
The Turkish Central Bank on Thursday unexpectedly raised its benchmark rate to 10.25 percent from 8.25 percent in an attempt to stem the decline in the value of the lira. The Turkish currency gained ground after the move, trading at around 7.6 to the U.S. dollar. But that is still a steep decline from the beginning of August when the lira was worth 7 to the dollar. The deteriorating currency fuels domestic inflation and threatens Turkish businesses which have debts that must be repaid in dollars.
Sephora is working with Instacart to offer same-day delivery of beauty products to customers, according to an announcement on Thursday, in another example of retail changes wrought by the pandemic. The offering, which will get Sephora products to Instacart users in as little as an hour, will start at certain California stores and expand to more than 400 locations in coming weeks, according to Sephora.
The E.W. Scripps Company said on Thursday that it would buy ION Media for $2.65 billion, combining the business with Scripps’ Katz networks and Newsy to create a national news network. ION, which operates a national television network featuring crime and justice shows, has the fifth-largest average prime-time audience among all cable networks and owns television stations in 62 markets, reaching 96 percent of U.S. homes, according to a news release.
Harley-Davidson announced additional restructuring moves on Thursday in a regulatory filing, which include discontinuing its sales and manufacturing operations in India and laying off 70 employees there. The motorcycle maker had previously disclosed its restructuring plan — a process it is calling “The Rewire” — that were approved through Aug. 5. The company says it expects the new restructuring activities to be completed within the next 12 months, and that more restructuring changes are likely to come.
Square, the financial company known for its credit card readers, Cash payments app and Square Capital lending program, announced that it would invest in an array of funds and lenders focused on underserved communities of color, as first reported in today’s DealBook newsletter. It joins a growing number of big businesses taking on racial economic inequality as a core part of its business.
Square promised to invest $100 million, or about 3 percent of the cash it held as of June, in four chunks.
About $25 million will be deposited at Community Development Financial Institutions, or C.D.F.I.s, and Minority Depository Institutions, or M.D.I.s. By parking some of its cash with these firms — much as Netflix has said it would — Square hopes to bolster their ability to lend in underserved communities.
About $50 million will be split evenly between The Keepers Fund, a vehicle meant to invest in M.D.I.s., and the Black Economic Development Fund, which was created to support Black-led banks and businesses. The remaining $25 million will be reserved for future programs.
The initiative grew out of a move last year in which Square deposited $5 million with C.D.F.I.s, said Amrita Ahuja, Square’s chief financial officer. That plan was devised by Square’s treasury and government relations teams, with senior executives only learning about it later. (“Our leadership team were surprised — and loved it,” she said. That group includes Jack Dorsey, a co-founder and the chief executive of the company.)
Company executives planned an expansion of that effort this summer, when the plan took on new urgency as executives saw data on how badly Black communities were hurt by the pandemic.
Ms. Ahuja said that the move fit Square’s corporate mission of helping businesses grow through finance. “Part of the reason that Square exists is for this very purpose,” she said. “It’s not just doing good in the world, it’s good business, too.”
WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to resume talks on another economic relief package amid concerns that the recovery will soon sputter without additional fiscal support.
“I’ve probably spoken to Speaker Pelosi 15 or 20 times in the last few days on the CR,” Mnuchin told the Senate Banking Committee, referring to a continuing resolution to extend government funding, “and we’ve agreed to continue to have discussions about the CARES Act.”
Yet the ability to reach a deal remains unclear. At the hearing, Mr. Mnuchin was critical of Democrats for making negotiations conditional on an agreement for a broad package that would cost more than $2 trillion and said he hoped that Republicans and Democrats could pass targeted legislation on the items where they agree.
“I think that would be very meaningful for the economy broadly,” Mr. Mnuchin said, referring to a relief bill that was focused on helping children return to school safely and supporting small businesses.
Ms. Pelosi said on Thursday that she expected to return to the negotiating table with Mr. Mnuchin “hopefully soon.”
“I’m talking with my caucus, my leadership, and we’ll see what we’re going to do,” she told reporters ahead of a meeting with her top deputies. “But we’re ready for a negotiation. That’s what we’re ready for.”
Top Democrats on Thursday were crafting a $2.4 trillion package — about $1 trillion less than the measure the House approved in May — that could either serve as a new basis for the Democratic position in negotiations or be voted on as a stand-alone package in the coming days, according to a senior Democratic aide.
Moderate Democrats have grown increasingly vocal in recent days about their concerns, with some contemplating signing on to a Republican discharge petition that would force a vote on legislation reviving the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans to small businesses.
About $130 billion in the paycheck program remains unused and the deadline to apply for loans expired on Aug. 8. Businesses that received a loan were not eligible to go back for a second round of funding.
Mr. Mnuchin called on Congress to give him the authority to use that money to issue second loans to businesses that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. He also suggested that Congress could offer quick assistance at no extra cost by giving him the authority to use money that was allocated for backstopping Federal Reserve lending facilities for other purposes.