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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11:08 a.m. ET, March 31, 2020

It's extremely rare over the last 75 years for oil to be as cheap as it is today

From CNN Business' Matt Egan

The oil crash has left crude sitting at 18-year lows.

US oil prices have collapsed by more than two-thirds since early January, sinking to just $20 a barrel on Monday.

The magnitude of the crash is even more startling when inflation is taken into account.

On an inflation-adjusted basis, oil has been more expensive than today 98% of the time over the last 75 years, according to a report by Andres Garcia-Amaya, CEO of Zoe Financial.

The stunning selloff is being driven by the combination of shrinking demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic and intentionally-high supply from Saudi Arabia and Russia.

"This is truly the perfect storm," Garcia said.

12:21 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Papa John's pops on positive results

From CNN Business' Danielle Wiener-Bronner

Papa John's (PZZA) shared some good financial news Tuesday.

In the three months ending on March 29, sales at North American locations open at least a year jumped 5.3%, according to the company's preliminary figures.

The results sent shares of the company up nearly 7% during trading hours on Tuesday, as other companies fell because their businesses are taking a hit from the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement discussing the results, president and CEO Rob Lynch said that Papa John's is "nearly fully operational," in most markets, including North America.

"We have implemented extra health and safety measures across our business, including no contact delivery, for the protection of both our customers and team members," Lynch said.

The company may be seeing success because of recent efforts to increase efficiency in stores. During a February call discussing fourth-quarter results, Lynch said that the company is rolling out a centralized system to take phone orders across its company-owned stores. It is also working with third-party delivery providers like DoorDash and Postmates.

Still, some parts of the business are hurting. Lynch said that in March, North American sales were negatively impacted by the cancellation of sporting events and other large gatherings.

1:10 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Consumer confidence falls to near 3-year low

From CNN Business' Anneken Tappe

Consumer confidence in March was a mix of good news and bad news.

The Conference Board's consumer confidence index for March came in at 120 points and beat economists expectations of 110 points. That's the good news.

The bad news: It was the lowest level for the index since July 2017. The index had been at 132.6 in February.

The short-term outlook for income, business and labor market conditions dropped to 88.2 points from 108.1 points in February.

"The intensification of COVID-19 and extreme volatility in the financial markets have increased uncertainty about the outlook for the economy and jobs. March’s decline in confidence is more in line with a severe contraction – rather than a temporary shock – and further declines are sure to follow,” said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at The Conference Board.

1:18 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

KFC is giving away one million pieces of chicken

From CNN Business' Danielle Wiener-Bronner

KFC is sending one million pieces of chicken to its over 4,000 US restaurants to help communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The extra food is earmarked for donation, the fast-food chain said Tuesday, and each restaurant will determine how to distribute it.

Each location is encouraged to do "whatever their hometown needs most," whether that be donating the chicken to hunger organizations, feeding essential personnel or something else, KFC said in a press release.

Many fast food chains have been donating meals as the pandemic spreads. Taco Bell, for example, is giving out free tacos through its drive-thru on Tuesday.

3:14 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Equal Pay Day and coronavirus highlight inequalities

From CNN Business' Anneken Tappe

Its Equal Pay Day: For the rest of the year, women will make on average the same a man makes for the full year. This year, the coronavirus pandemic is putting women into a particularly precarious situation.

Last week's data showed millions of Americans have already filed for unemployment benefits as the outbreak is forcing companies to shut down or reduce workers' hours. The leisure and hospitality industry has been particularly hard-hit as restaurants and bars shut down. Meanwhile, health care workers are the front line in combating the current crisis.

A third of working women, compared with just 16% of working men, are employed in these two industries, according Valerie Wilson from the Economic Policy Institute.

For example, female doctors make on average 12% less then male doctors, and female nurses are paid 8% less than their male colleagues.

In the now widely dormant restaurant industry, women who wait tables are paid 12% less than men. And your salary determines how much unemployment assistance your receive.

Last year, women were paid on average 22.6% less than men, after controlling for race, ethnicity, education, age and geographic division. That number goes up to 33.7% for black women and to 33% for Hispanic women.

"Long-standing gender and racial inequities in pay, access to paid leave, and even opportunities for telework must be considered as the country continues to develop plans for the response to and recovery from this crisis," Wilson added.

10:15 a.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Stuck at home? Eat more frozen food and popcorn

From CNN Business' Paul R. La Monica

Restaurants are being hit hard as consumers hunker down and eat more home-cooked meals. But that appears to be good news for frozen food and snack giant Conagra.

Conagra (CAG) boosted its earnings outlook for the full year Tuesday morning, news that sent its stock up more than 5%. The company owns well-known supermarket brands such as Birds Eye, Marie Callender's, Chef Boyardee, Hunts and Healthy Choice.

"We have seen significantly elevated demand for our retail products as consumers have started filling their pantries for more at-home eating," said Conagra president and CEO Sean Connolly in a statement.

Conagra noted that it was experiencing particularly strong sales in its snacks business, things like Slim Jim, ACT II popcorn, Angie's BOOMCHICKAPOP and the BIGS brand of sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

In other words, it's the perfect food to stuff in your face as you sit on the couch while watching Netflix. 

12:48 p.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Stocks edge lower

From CNN Business' Anneken Tappe

US stocks opened more or less flat on Tuesday, following the prior session’s gains.

Stocks have been up for four of the past five trading days.

9:31 a.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Fed launches another emergency program to aid stressed foreign central banks

From CNN Business' Matt Egan

The Federal Reserve is opening up another avenue for stressed-out foreign central banks to get access to US dollars during the coronavirus crisis.

The new emergency program, announced Tuesday, is part of the Fed's sweeping efforts to keep credit flowing to American businesses and households despite the severe economic shock inflicted by the pandemic.

The US central bank said the new temporary repurchase agreement (repo) facility will let foreign central banks swap US Treasuries for US dollars. Those greenbacks can then be transferred to local banks in need of cash.

The Fed said the new program, set to launch April 6, would mostly be used "only in unusual circumstances such as those prevailing at present."

The goal is to lower the need for foreign central banks to dump US Treasuries in fire sales, which can disrupt markets and cause yields to rise. And that in turn lifts borrowing costs on everything from mortgages to credit cards.

Demand for the US dollar, the world's preeminent currency, has spiked during the crisis.

In response, the Fed promised to provide cheap dollars to foreign central banks through liquidity swap lines. The Fed expanded that facility to Australia, Brazil and Mexico.

9:07 a.m. ET, March 31, 2020

Carnival shares sink over a raft of problems

From CNN Business' Jordan Valinsky

Carnival Cruise's parent company announced a series of problems in a regulatory filing on Tuesday.

The company warned that the coronavirus pandemic will continue to have a "material negative impact on our financial results and liquidity" and might last "well beyond the containment of such outbreak."

Carnival also said that it has received lawsuits from passengers on its Grand Princess voyage, the ship that was stuck off the California coast last month with more than 20 people who contracted the virus.

"We may receive additional lawsuits stemming from COVID-19," the company said.

The stock plunged 15% in premarket trading. Carnival's (CCL) shares are down 75% for the year.