Dow closes out the worst first quarter in history: March 31, 2020

By CNN Business

Updated 4:33 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020
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8:57 a.m. ET, March 31, 2020

ESPN moves up its highly anticipated Michael Jordan documentary series

From CNN Business' Frank Pallotta

ESPN has been in a bind since the sports world was put on hold because of the coronavirus, so the network is using the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan to help fill the void.

"The Last Dance," the network's highly anticipated 10-part documentary series, has been moved up to April 19, the network announced on Tuesday. The documentary, which chronicles the Chicago Bulls NBA dynasty of the 1990s, was originally set for June. It will air on Sunday nights over the span of five weeks from April 19 through May 17. It will also be shown on Netflix outside of the US.

Moving up "The Last Dance" was a no-brainer for ESPN. The network has been filling its airtime with a hodgepodge of classic games, studio shows and films.

“As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience," ESPN said in a statement on Tuesday. "We’ve heard the calls from fans asking us to move up the release date for this series, and we’re happy to announce that we’ve been able to accelerate the production schedule to do just that."

8:10 a.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Unemployment claims could hit 4.5 million, Moody’s Analytics predicts

From CNN's Alison Kosik

Moody’s Analytics predicts initial unemployment claims from last week could be 4.5 million, which would be the highest in history, as US businesses shutter to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The weekly data is set to be released Thursday morning. Initial jobless claims soared to a record 3.28 million in the week ended March 21, according to the Department of Labor.

"COVID-19 has caused unemployment to surge and we look for US initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits this week to total 4.5 million, compared with the 3.283 million in the week ended March 21," said Moody's Chief Economist Mark Zandi in a statement.

However, Zandi said these high weekly numbers will not be reflected in this Friday's upcoming March jobs report, which tracks job loss through the first two weeks of March.

"Though new filings surged over the past couple of weeks, the unemployment rate for March likely won’t increase that much," he said. "The household survey, which is the basis for the unemployment rate, is conducted in the week that includes the 12th; initial claims were up around 70,000 to 281,000 during that week.”

8:39 a.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Restoration Hardware owner plunges on weak outlook

From CNN Business' Paul R. La Monica

Nobody's buying luxury furniture at a time like this. RH, the company formerly known as Restoration Hardware, reported a drop in fourth quarter sales after the closing bell Monday and said that its galleries, outlet stores and restaurants will remain closed "until further notice" due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Shares of RH (RH) plunged more than 10% Tuesday morning on the news. But CEO Gary Friedman tried to strike an upbeat tone, saying that once the United States is able to return to normal and people can go out and shop, high-end customers who have been cooped up in their homes will want to make some improvements.

"If you spend as much time at home as I have been spending, the last couple of weeks, then you start looking around and going like, 'Oh, my God, there's so many things that I wish were different about my house,'" Friedman said on a conference call Monday evening.

That may be true for some of America's more affluent. But everybody is taking a financial hit now, including billionaire Warren Buffett. The Oracle of Omaha's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) bought a stake in RH in the third quarter of last year. Shares of RH are now down more than 30% in the past six months.

8:10 a.m. ET, March 31, 2020

American offers reduced pay leave, enhanced retirement in bid to cut costs

From CNN Business' Chris Isidore

American Airlines (AAL), which like other airlines has been encouraging employees to take unpaid leave during the current coronavirus crisis, is offering partial paid leave and enhanced retirement packages to its employees.

Those employees who take the voluntary leave will receive about 25% of their normal minimum pay, along with continued benefits. Those employees who have already agreed to unpaid leave will now receive the partial pay as well. Employees have until Friday to apply for leaves of up to 12 months.

They can also take a shortened work week with a 3- or 4-day week, with a corresponding reduction in pay.

The enhanced retirement plan will provide about 50% of guaranteed minimum pay as a benefit.

American, the world’s largest airline, had about 134,000 employees at the start of the year. It spent $12.6 billion on pay and benefits last year, by far its largest operating expense. It doesn’t need nearly as many employees as it plans to slash its April schedule by 60% and its May schedule by 80% in the face of more than 90% drop in US airline passengers overall.

1:06 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Gap is furloughing tens of thousands of employees

From CNN Business' Jordan Valinsky

Gap is the latest brand to put thousands of staffers on furlough as the coronavirus pandemic continues to decimate the retail industry.

The company, which also owns Old Navy and J.Crew, announced late Monday that it's furloughing the "majority of its store teams in the United States and Canada." That amounts to tens of thousands of people, according to the company.

Affected employees will still receive benefits. Gap's leadership team will also take pay cuts.

"After taking the extraordinary measures of temporarily closing all of our company-owned stores in North America and Europe two weeks ago, we are now in a position where we must take deeper actions," Gap CEO Sonia Syngal said in a press release.

Gap (GPS) shares are down nearly 60% for the year. Macy's (M) and Kohl's (KSS) both announced similar moves Monday.

7:30 a.m. ET, March 31, 2020

US futures are bouncing higher after a strong Monday

From CNN Business' Jordan Valinsky

US stock futures bounced back from earlier losses to trade in positive territory. Wall Street enjoyed a solid start to the week Monday, with all three major indexes posting strong closing numbers even as coronavirus concerns linger.

Here's where they stand now:

  • Dow futures added 30 points, or 0.48%
  • Nasdaq is up 40 points, or 0.5%
  • S&P 500 is 3 points higher, or 0.1%
1:09 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Global stocks move higher after China's economy shows signs of life

Global stock markets moved higher Tuesday after data showed that manufacturing activity in China rebounded from record lows in March, even though the world's second largest economy remains under huge pressure from the coronavirus.

China's official manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index surged from 35.7 in February to 52 in March, surpassing the consensus estimate from analysts. Survey data also showed a rebound in other parts of the economy. A reading above 50 indicates growth compared to the previous month.

Most major indexes in Asia advanced, and European markets opened higher:

  • The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMPadded 0.1%
  • Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index (HSIincreased 1.4%
  • The FTSE 100 (UKXjumped 2% in London
  • Germany's DAX (DAX) and France's CAC 40 (CAC40) posted similar gains

This doesn't mean output has returned to levels seen before the coronavirus outbreak, according to Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist from Capital Economics, who said it "simply suggests that economic activity improved modestly relative to February's dismal showing."

6:25 a.m. ET, March 31, 2020

US oil futures are rebounding from historic lows

A sharp reduction in demand caused by the pandemic and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia have pushed oil prices down dramatically. US crude futures sunk below $20 on Monday, hitting their lowest intraday price since February 2002.

US oil futures rebounded slightly to $21.28 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, rose to $23.23 a barrel.