The Dow soars on hopes for government aid bill: March 24, 2020

By CNN Business

Updated 7:20 a.m. ET, March 25, 2020
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1:32 p.m. ET, March 24, 2020

SoftBank is donating 1.4 million respirator masks to New York

From CNN Business' Rishi Iyengar

SoftBank will donate 1.4 million N95 respirator masks to support health workers in New York battling the coronavirus outbreak, the Japanese conglomerate announced Tuesday. 

“The heroes of this pandemic are the health workers who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe,” SoftBank executive Marcelo Claure said on Twitter while announcing the donation. 

New York City has rapidly become the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak, with more than 13,000 confirmed cases. The city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, told CNN on Monday that local hospitals only have enough equipment to get through this week before they get to a point where "people can't be saved." 

12:56 p.m. ET, March 24, 2020

Stay at home stocks and biotechs among few losers today

From CNN Business' Paul R. La Monica

The stock market is soaring Tuesday on coronavirus stimulus hopes. It's hard to find many blue chips that are down.

But the few that are in red are companies which have been benefiting from the fact that many people are stuck at home and that drug companies are racing to come up with a treatment for COVID-19.

Shares of grocery king Kroger (KR) and retail giant Walmart (WMT) are both down. Walmart recently hit an all-time high on analysts' optimism about it benefiting from its massive e-commerce business.

Netflix (NFLX) and video game companies Activision Blizzard (ATVI) and Electronic Arts (EA) were also down. These companies' products could solve stay at home boredom. Consumers could distract themselves with even more screen time.

And a prominent biotech that is working on coronavirus vaccines was also lower: Regeneron (REGN). Another biotech, Gilead Sciences (GILD), was lagging the broader market's gains by a wide margin.

1:00 p.m. ET, March 24, 2020

San Francisco pension fund asks S&P 500 companies to join coronavirus fight

From CNN Business' Clare Duffy

A San Francisco pension fund is calling on America's most powerful companies to help combat coronavirus.

"As institutional investors, we are asking all companies in the S&P 500 to report what actions they are taking to win the fight against COVID-19," the San Francisco Employees' Retirement System said in a statement Monday.

The group is asking companies to explain what actions they are taking on social media using the hashtag #sp500covidfight.

They have suggested that hotels and sporting venues consider offering up their facilities as overflow hospital space or housing for health care workers. They're also asking businesses to divert raw materials and manufacturing capacity to produce needed medical supplies and equipment.

Some S&P 500-listed companies have already taken steps aimed at combatting the virus. Ford Motor Company (F) 3M (MMM) said Tuesday they will work with GE Healthcare to make medical equipment and protective gear for healthcare workers.

The San Francisco Employees' Retirement System is a $25 billion fund representing 34,000 employees and 39,000 retirees. The group is also calling on other institutional investors to join it in urging companies listed in the index to take action.

12:53 p.m. ET, March 24, 2020

Southwest Airlines temporarily suspends in-flight services

From CNN Business' Jordan Valinsky

Southwest Airlines (LUV) is becoming BYOB. Beverages, that is.

The airline said Tuesday that it's suspending "all on-board beverage and snack services" for the time being because of the coronavirus pandemic. Canned water will be offered upon request.

The changes, which go in effect Wednesday, are also partly a cost-saving measure. Airlines are bleeding cash as demand for travel dries up.

Southwest, which in its 53 years of operation has never provided full meals to its passengers, only offers snacks and drinks. It's the first US airline to take this step.

Other airlines have reduced their in-flight services, but less drastically. For example, Delta (DAL) has stopped using reusable glassware and has taken out its magazines from seat pockets.

12:08 p.m. ET, March 24, 2020

Stock rally continues at midday

From CNN Business' Anneken Tappe

Today's rally in US stocks isn't letting up at midday. All three major indexes are sharply higher.

The S&P 500, which yesterday erased all its gains accumulated under the Trump administration, is up 7.8%. Mind you, if the S&P falls 7%, trading is halted. This kind of circuit breaker doesn't exist for upward moves -- but it puts this rally into perspective.

The Dow is up 8.8%, more than 1,600 points, at midday, while the Nasdaq Composite is up 6.7%.

And yet it's shaping up to be the best day only since March 13, just over a week ago. That's how wild these stock market swings have been.

1:39 p.m. ET, March 24, 2020

Are stocks up because they hit rock-bottom already?

From CNN Business' Anneken Tappe

Stocks are in the green across the world today. Does that mean the market has bottomed out?

"Although calling a bottom is a tricky endeavor, we believe we’ve experienced a majority of the losses for this drawdown," said Jeff Schulze, investment strategist at ClearBridge Investments.

Schulze says he wouldn't be surprised to see a rally over the next couple of weeks "because the market is very oversold and we expect to see some quarter-end portfolio rebalancing" that makes investors buy stocks again.

With that being said, the ultimate test for the market's assessment of the coronavirus crisis will come when economic data paints a clearer picture of its impact.

Another important data point to call the market bottom is the peak of infections.

"The Chinese decided to employ a lockdown on day 8 of the outbreak. The growth rate of infections peaked after 21 days of heavy quarantining. The US started their informal lockdown on March 16 which means we are only 8 days into the lockdown period," Schulze said.

However, the slow response from US authorities could mean it might take longer to reach the peak in America.

"As such, the markets will likely be in limbo for the next 30 days until visibility is restored," Schulze said.

10:56 a.m. ET, March 24, 2020

Hotel and airline stocks zip higher in light of stimulus package

From CNN Business' Jordan Valinsky

Major US hotel and airline stocks are moving higher with the broader market rally. Both industries are hoping to secure money from the government's stimulus package that appears to be closer to being approved.

Hotels are all soaring higher helping to recoup some of their drastic year-to-date losses:

  • MGM Resorts (MGM) is up 30%
  • Hyatt (H) is up 6%
  • Marriott (MAR) is up 15%
  • Hilton (HLT) is up 19%
  • Wynn (WYNN) is up 22%

Airlines are also moving higher:

  • Delta (DAL) is up 20%
  • JetBlue (JBLU) is up 25%
  • Southwest (LUV) is up 11%
  • United (UAL) is up 22%
  • American Airlines (AAL) is up 23%
10:29 a.m. ET, March 24, 2020

Buffett-backed oil giant brings back former CEO to fight crisis

From CNN Business' Matt Egan

Occidental Petroleum is under siege. And it's bringing back a friendly face to help guide it through.

Veteran oil exec Stephen Chazen, who retired as Occidental's CEO in 2016, is returning as the company's non-executive chairman.

The appointment comes as cheap oil has crashed Occidental's (OXY) stock price, which has lost three-quarters of its value this year. Occidental CEO Vicki Hollub has responded by slashing the dividend by 86% and cutting spending.

Chazen expressed confidence in Hollub despite last year's risky $55 billion takeover of Anadarko Petroleum, and he noted today's unprecedented challenges.

"The current macroenvironment is among the most difficult I have seen in my career," Chazen said in a statement.

Fitch Ratings dealt a rare triple-downgrade of Occidental's credit rating to junk, citing the company's "compromised financial flexibility" to sell assets now that crude has crashed.

Occidental is still in the middle of a battle with billionaire Carl Icahn, who warned last year the Anadarko deal could ruin the company. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway backed that takeover and is one of Occidental's largest shareholders.

10:25 a.m. ET, March 24, 2020

New home sales drop 4.4% in February

From CNN Business' Anneken Tappe

Nobody wants to go out and buy a new home right now. With much of America confined to their homes as social distancing to curb the coronavirus outbreak is in full force, the real estate sector is struggling.

Even in February, home sales dropped, collapsing by 4.4%, according to data from the US Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is likely only going to get worse.

In total, 765,000 new homes were sold in February, for a median sales price of $345,900.