Consumer Survey Shows Continued Concern

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Long before the coronavirus pandemic, a shift was underway in the stock market: A few tech giants were responsible for a large chunk of the gains on Wall Street.

The outbreak, which dovetails perfectly with the kinds of remote-working and shop-from-home products offered by companies like Microsoft, Apple and Amazon has supercharged this shift, Matt Phillips reports.

The top five companies in the S&P 500 — Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook — now account for 20 percent of the index, according to data from Goldman Sachs. And all five are up more than 20 percent since the market hit its low on March 23, which means gains in just this handful of stocks have been a big factor in the market’s rebound from that low.

The difference in investor expectations for large and small companies is stark: The Nasdaq 100, an index of the largest technology companies — which also happen to be the largest companies in the country — is up 1.2 percent this year. The Russell 2000 index, which tracks small public companies, is down 23 percent.

“Investors are telling you that the bigger, stronger, more stable balance sheet company is going to win versus its smaller peer,” said Stuart Kaiser, head of equity derivatives research at UBS.

As the coronavirus outbreak ebbs in China, the country’s companies and officials have made big strides in restarting its economy. Its factories, brought to a standstill when the coronavirus outbreak swept through the country in January, are humming again, and even the air pollution is coming back.

Simon Property Group, the biggest operator of shopping malls in the United States, plans to reopen 49 properties between Friday and Monday, according to documents that were shared with retailers on this week and obtained by The New York Times. The states with the most Simon properties were Texas, Indiana and Georgia, though it also listed shopping centers in Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The malls will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, to allow “enhanced sanitizing and disinfecting,” the company said in the documents, which were first reported by CNBC. Simon Property outlined safety protocols for employees, contractors and vendors, including required temperature screenings before work, protective face masks and social distancing.

Some of the guidelines suggest a somewhat dystopian mall experience. Security officers and employees will “actively remind and encourage shoppers” to maintain a proper distance from other shoppers and employees and to refrain from shopping in groups. Food court seating will be altered and spaced to encourage social distancing. Play areas and drinking fountains will be closed while in restrooms, every other sink and urinal will be taped off.

The company said that it would also provide masks, free temperature testing and sanitizing wipe packets to shoppers upon request. Simon Property did not return requests for comment.

The media website Axios said on Tuesday night that it would return a $4.8 million loan it had received from the Small Business Administration, adding that it was near a deal to raise capital through other means.

Several large companies, including AutoNation, Shake Shack and the owner of Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses, have also disclosed that they were returning money they had received through the program.

Universal Pictures took a victory lap over “Trolls World Tour” on Tuesday morning, saying that the film’s successful video-on-demand release had proved to be a new business model. The studio vowed to make more movies available without an exclusive theatrical run, even after theaters reopen as social-distancing rules are relaxed.

AMC Theaters, the largest theater operator in the world, took the studio’s assertion as a declaration of war.

Adam Aron, AMC’s chief executive, told Universal late on Tuesday that it would no longer book any of the studio’s films. Universal also owns Focus Features, a specialty division.

“With this proposed action to go to the home and theaters simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies,” Mr. Aron wrote in a letter to Donna Langley, Universal’s chairwoman. “It assumes that we will meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact, with zero concern on Universal’s part as to how its actions affect us.”

Mr. Aaron called Universal’s plan “categorically unacceptable” and said AMC would also boycott any other studio “contemplating a wholesale change to the status quo.”

An early rally on Wall Street gave way to selling, in a reversal that began soon after new data on consumer confidence in the United States showed that views on current business and job market conditions in April fell by the most on record.

Investors had been encouraged by the possible easing of restrictions in major economies around the world. In the United States, at least a dozen states are moving to lift business shutdowns and several European countries have loosened rules. Hope for an economic rebound has helped to fuel a nearly 30 percent rally in the S&P 500 over the past month.

But the sudden shift in sentiment on Tuesday — the S&P 500 initially rose by more than 1 percent before it gave up those gains — shows how fragile this optimism is. The index ended the about half a percent lower.

The survey that seemed to spook investors on Tuesday, conducted by the Conference Board, did show that expectations for the near-term improved, which the organization attributed to “the possibility that stay-at-home restrictions will loosen soon.”

But with millions of people suddenly out of work in the United States, the country’s most substantial economic engine — consumer spending — has taken a hit.

Oil prices were also volatile on Tuesday. The price of West Texas Intermediate, the type of oil used to determine industry prices in the United States, fell nearly 20 percent before rebounding.

At just over $12 a barrel, the price is still at a level virtually unheard-of before the double whammy of the coronavirus outbreak and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Brent crude, the international benchmark, wavered between gains and losses and was about $22 a barrel.

A slew of companies are reporting their quarterly earnings this week, offering a glimpse of how the coronavirus pandemic affected business in the first three months of the year and a prediction for what that damage will look like going forward.

  • Ford Motor said on Tuesday that it lost $2 billion in the first quarter as factory and dealership shutdowns cut into auto production and sales for much of March. The automaker also said it expected to lose more than $5 billion on an adjusted, pretax basis in the second quarter, when the impact of coronavirus is expected to be significantly greater.

  • Starbucks said its global same-store sales fell 10 percent, with sales in China down 50 percent in the first three months of the year. Over all, revenue was down 5 percent to $6 billion, the company said. The company said it expected a recovery, but warned that the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic would be “significantly greater” in the current quarter, which ends in June, because of the hit to business in the United States.

  • Alphabet, the parent company of Google, reported a 3 percent increase in profit in the quarter that ended in March, but warned that there was a significant slowdown in advertising spending during the final month as the coronavirus started to spread in the United States. Revenue rose 13 percent in the first quarter to $41.2 billion, exceeding projections from Wall Street analysts.

  • PepsiCo reported strong earnings in the first quarter as consumers stocked up snacks and beverages for the Super Bowl and, later, the coronavirus quarantines. PepsiCo said net sales in the quarter rose 7.7 percent to $13.88 billion with its snack, beverages and food divisions all seeing robust sales. Other companies have suspended share buybacks or dividends to shareholders because of the effect of the pandemic, but PepsiCo said it intended to repurchase $2 billion in shares and provide $5.5 billion in dividends.

  • Southwest Airlines lost $94 million in the first quarter of the year, a relatively light blow in an industry ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. Still, the company ended the quarter with $4.2 billion in revenue, nearly 18 percent less than the same period last year. Southwest has more than $9 billion in cash and short-term investments, slightly more than Delta and well above the approximately $6 billion that United has in reserve.

  • BP said Tuesday that profit for the first quarter fell by two-thirds compared with a year earlier. The London-based oil giant said that “underlying replacement cost profit,” the metric most closely followed by analysts, was $791 million for the quarter, down from $2.36 billion a year earlier. The company reported a $4.4 billion loss for the period, mostly because of a $3.7 billion inventory loss on holdings of oil.

  • United Parcel Service reported $18 billion in revenue in the first quarter of the year, 5 percent more than in the same period last year. Still, earnings per share missed forecasts and the company warned that disrupted supply chains had taken a toll on its customers and withdrew its forecasts for the rest of the year.

  • Sales and profits increased at 3M in the first three months of the year as demand surged for face masks and other personal protective equipment. Global sales grew 21 percent in its health care division, while consumer sales went up 4.6 percent, the company said Tuesday. 3M said it would begin reporting sales every month, even as it withdrew full-year financial forecasts it had made in late January.

  • Harley-Davidson on Tuesday reported a steep drop in retail sales of motorcycles in the first quarter. In the United States, sales were up 6.6 percent until mid-March, and then ended the quarter 15.5 percent below the same period last year, the company said.

  • A chicken processing company based in Delaware killed nearly two million chickens this month after many of its workers were sidelined by illness or quarantine orders related to the coronavirus, industry officials said. The action by Allen Harim Foods was the latest example of how food processors are being affected by the coronavirus, which is keeping workers away because of illness or quarantine. Meat processors, dairy farmers and vegetable growers have shuttered plants or dumped products at a time when many Americans are lining up at food banks or facing scarcity at supermarkets.

  • Uber is discussing layoffs of as much as 20 percent of its work force, or roughly 5,400 employees, according to two people familiar with the ride-hailing company’s deliberations. In addition, Thuan Pham, Uber’s chief technology officer, resigned last week, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details were confidential. Mr. Pham was one of longest-tenured executives at Uber, starting his career there in 2013.

  • Ford Motor confirmed it has canceled a new electric vehicle for its Lincoln brand, in part because of the strains put on its business by the coronavirus. It was developing the vehicle with Rivian, a start-up focusing on electric pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles.

  • IAG, the European airline group, said Tuesday it was notifying unions that it was preparing to lay off as many as 12,000 British Airways employees, or more than a quarter of the airline’s work force, because it will take “several years” for passenger demand to return to levels before the coronavirus pandemic. British Airways has already furloughed more than 22,000 workers through Britain’s job subsidy program.

Reporting was contributed by Brooks Barnes, Christine Hauser, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Rachel Abrams, Kate Conger, Neal E.Boudette, Daisuke Wakabayashi, Emily Flitter, Karen Weise, David Gelles, Matt Phillips, Keith Bradsher, Davey Alba, Alan Rappeport, Stanley Reed, Gregory Schmidt, Su-Hyun Lee, Brett Sokol, Michael Corkery, Sapna Maheshwari, Niraj Chokshi, Shira Ovide, Stacy Cowley, Carlos Tejada, Kevin Granville and Daniel Victor.

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