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U.S. markets remained testy Thursday, as the Dow Jones industrial average extended its streak of 1,000-point swings to nine sessions. The blue chips clawed into the plus column as investors digested various government formulas aimed at limiting the economic damage from the coronavirus.

Markets twitched all day following overnight announcements of a 750 billion-euro bond-buying program by the European Central Bank to offset economic pain in the euro zone and a special Federal Reserve backstop for money market mutual funds, typically a risk-free place for investors to store cash. This marked the Fed’s seventh major emergency action this week.

The interventions failed to quell the uncertainty as stocks rocked back and forth. Investors are struggling to puzzle their way through the daily medical, financial and government briefs around the coronavirus.

The Dow Jones industrial average held on to a nearly 190-point gain, just shy of 1 percent, to close at 20,087. A rollicking session on Wednesday had shaved more than 1,300 points off the blue-chip index, erasing nearly all Trump-era gains and pushing the benchmark below 20,000 points for the first time in three years. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index inched up 0.5 percent, to close around 2,409. Technology stocks — which had powered the market until the recent retreat — breathed some gains into the Nasdaq composite. The Nasdaq surged more than 2.3 percent. All three major U.S. indexes are in a bear market.

Most of the S&P sectors were positive, with consumer discretionary, energy and technology among the winners. Energy got a boost from a record jump in oil prices, which spiked more than 25 percent. The surge arrived one day after oil prices slid to an 18-year low amid continued uncertainty over the duration of the coronavirus shutdown.

8:39 p.m.
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Trump calls anti-malarial drug a ‘game-changer’ for coronavirus, but the FDA says it needs study

By Christopher Rowland, Laurie McGinley and Carolyn Y. Johnson

The commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that the agency is considering testing an old anti-malarial pill called chloroquine on a broader pool of coronavirus patients, as President Trump pushes the federal bureaucracy to cut red tape and move faster to find ways of combating the virus.

At a briefing Thursday, Trump sang the praises of chloroquine, calling it a potential “game-changer,” while seeming to stumble over the regulatory path required to give it to a broader pool of patients.

“It has shown very, very encouraging early results, and we’re going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately,” Trump said. But, in fact, the drug has not been approved by the FDA for the novel coronavirus.

It has long been approved to prevent and treat malaria as well as to treat arthritis, and doctors have authority to prescribe it now, but there is not enough evidence of definite efficacy against the coronavirus.

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the FDA is considering giving chloroquine to larger populations of coronavirus patients as part of an “expanded use” testing program. “In the short term, we are looking at drugs that are already approved for other indications,'' Hahn said, citing chloroquine as the leading example.

“We want to do that in the setting of a clinical trial, a large, pragmatic clinical trial to actually gather that information and answer that question that needs to be answered,'' he said.

Chloroquine is an inexpensive generic drug that has been used for 70 years against malaria.

It is attracting great interest as a potential treatment and is being studied in China, the United States and Europe.

8:15 p.m.
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Regional airline Compass shuts down as demand craters

By Jacob Bogage

Regional air carrier Compass Airlines told employees Thursday that it will cease operations at the end of the month, undercut by the plummeting demand for air travel and service pullbacks by mainline carriers.

It’s closure represents some of the first large-scale job casualties for the air travel industry, which has asked Congress for a $50 billion bailout plus an additional $25 billion in loans and tax relief. Delta announced Wednesday that it would cut its domestic capacity back 70 percent, while United said Monday that it would slash half of its flights, according to CBS News. American Airlines planned to cut 75 percent of its international flights, Reuters reported Sunday, and total capacity would be down 20 to 30 percent in the next two months.

All three major carriers asked employees to consider taking voluntary leave in an effort to cut costs. Canceling deals with minor airlines, such as Compass, is another way.

“All our remaining capacity will be completely cut for an undetermined period, and our other, once viable prospective opportunities have been tabled for the foreseeable future due to the sweeping impact of the crisis,” Compass Chief Executive Rick Leach wrote to employees. “ … We simply cannot keep an infrastructure in place without guarantees, nor clarity of additional flying to support it.”

“It’s difficult to articulate or even comprehend the speed at which the coronavirus has changed our industry and our world, and the impact it has had on our company,” he added. “The impact of this global crisis is real and unfortunately no carrier, mainline or regional, is immune from its reach.”

8:07 p.m.
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Pizza delivery in a pandemic: Domino’s is hiring 10,000 workers

By Laura Reiley

Domino’s Pizza has announced it will hire 10,000 workers to meet delivery demand during the coronavirus outbreak.

As restaurants around the country pivot to ad hoc takeout and delivery services, Domino’s says it is scaling up, adding contactless delivery in the U.S.

The company ranks among the world’s top public restaurant brands with more than 17,000 stores in over 90 markets and total sales of over $14.3 billion in 2019. Delivery accounts for about 55 percent of sales.

“While many local, state, and federal rules are closing dine-in restaurants, the opportunity to keep feeding our neighbors through delivery and carryout means that a small sense of normalcy is still available to everyone,” said Domino’s chief executive officer Richard Allison in a statement. “Our corporate and franchise stores want to make sure they’re not only feeding people, but also providing opportunity to those looking for work at this time, especially those in the heavily-impacted restaurant industry.”

Outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas estimates 4 million U.S. restaurant workers face the risk of layoffs as restaurants close their doors. Some restaurant groups have instituted emergency paid sick leave but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over half of service workers have access to paid leave.

7:09 p.m.
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Trump says he’s open to tying federal bailout to equity stakes

By Jeff Stein, Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner

President Trump said Thursday he supports having the federal government take equity stakes in private companies that receive coronavirus bailout funds, a dramatic intervention that would come as the White House and Capitol Hill rush to finalize a massive stimulus package.

Trump made the comment Thursday in response to a question at a briefing of his coronavirus response team, and suggested that different companies could be treated differently based on past behavior. For example, Trump said that those that have been using excess cash to buyback their stock in recent years — effectively boosting their stock prices instead of investing in new equipment — might be treated with harsher terms than others.

“I do, I really do,” Trump said, asked whether he would like to see the federal government take a stake in private companies. The federal government took equity stakes, effectively a type of ownership stake, in certain companies that were bailed out during the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. It’s a way of protecting taxpayer investments in firms and ensuring that taxpayers potentially benefit when a company recovers.

Such an approach could be one element of an enormous and multifaceted $1 trillion stimulus plan that administration officials and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle see as an absolute necessity with American society turned upside down by the coronavirus and the economy crumbling.

6:06 p.m.
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Oil prices spike on cost-cutting measures, Saudi ‘transportation fee’

By Thomas Heath

Some good news finally arrived in the wheezing oil patch Thursday.

Oil spiked more than 22 percent Thursday, with West Texas intermediate crude selling for $25 a barrel, one day after sliding to an 18-year low amid continued uncertainty over the duration of the coronavirus shutdown that depressed demand.

Prices remain on track for one of their biggest monthly declines, and the pain is being reflected in the stock market, where shares of “supermajors” — ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP — are a fraction of their share price two months ago.

“Part of today’s bounce is from the aggressive spending cuts by U.S. oil companies,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. “Continental Resources, Chesapeake, ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP are all cutting back on spending. Investors like it.”

Kilduff said the spending will also curtail the number of oil production rigs in the United States. “You are going to see an immediate decline in output,” Kilduff said. He added that the Saudis have announced a “transportation fee” that may help elevate world oil prices.

6:00 p.m.
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Universal delays release of ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ because of the coronavirus

By Steven Zeitchik

The postponement marks Hollywood’s first release delay as a result of the production shutdown studios have imposed to slow the spread of the virus. Many expect a cascade of such delays to come.

Universal Pictures and its Illumination Entertainment subsidiary announced the postponement of the animated sequel, previously set for a July 3 release in the U.S., saying it had no new date set.

Studios had previously postponed a slew of spring movies including superhero adventure “Black Widow” and “Fast and Furious” sequel “F9.” But this is the first July film to be delayed.

In a statement, Illumination founder Chris Meledandri said the film simply couldn’t be completed in an era of studio closures and remote work. “In response to the severity of the situation in France, we are temporarily closing our Illumination Mac Guff studio in Paris,” Meledandri said. “This means we will be unable to finish ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru,’ in time for our planned global releases.”

5:35 p.m.
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Harley-Davidson idles American factories a day after automakers do the same

By Jacob Bogage

Harley-Davidson shut down most production at its American manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on Thursday night over concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Those plants will be closed until at least March 29, the motorcycle maker said in a news release. Employees at Harley-Davidson’s Milwaukee-area headquarters and product development center were told Monday to work from home until at least the end of the month.

Harley-Davidson’s stock was down close to 8.5 percent in midday trading at around $18.50 per share.

“We recognize the unprecedented nature of this global crisis. In order to best support our employees and following the social distancing guidance issued by public health authorities, we are temporarily suspending the majority of production at our U.S. manufacturing facilities,” Jochen Zeitz, Harley-Davidson acting chief executive and president, said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the situation and take necessary steps to prioritize employee health and safety.”

Harley-Davidson’s announcement came hours after major automakers declared plans to idle production facilities after mounting pressure from organized labor groups. General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler all shuttered American plants Wednesday as demand softened for cars and a Ford factory worker tested positive for the coronavirus.

Honda and Toyota also announced plans to close North American manufacturing facilities.

5:10 p.m.
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Uber rides slide 70 percent in some markets amid pandemic

By Jacob Bogage

Uber executives rushed to assure investors Thursday that it could weather the coronavirus storm, even as they discussed a worst-case projection of ridership dropping as much as 80 percent for the rest of the year.

Already, passenger trips have declined by 60 percent to 70 percent in cities worst hit by the spread of the novel coronavirus, including Seattle, Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi said in a call with analysts. Trips declined in Hong Kong by 45 percent but are on the rebound.

The ride hailing giant, which went public last year, has lost billions of dollars and laid off hundreds of workers in recent months, even before the coronavirus outbreak. This week, the company canceled its pool option, and some investors have questioned how the company will make it through the pandemic.

In the meantime, he said, the company has experienced a rapid demand increase in its Uber Eats food delivery service, as customers remain cloistered in their homes in the name of social isolation. Bars and restaurants around the country have shuttered by public order, though officials in many cases have allowed restaurants to continue a carryout-only business.

Khosrowshahi said Thursday that it was too early to update its guidance for the coming quarter, which ends in June. But the company has $10 billion of cash on hand, something he said will give the company flexibility to withstand significant drops in demand. That apparently sat well with investors; Uber shares soared more than 30 percent after the morning call.

4:21 p.m.
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Perspective: The doctor will see you, but would rather not do so in person

By Geoffrey A. Fowler and Laurie McGinley

If you’re sick, you should see a doctor. But not in person, if you can avoid it.

Instead, visit the doctor through an app. During the coronavirus outbreak, using your smartphone could be a matter of life and death. We could all take a lesson from Naomi Azhar, 49, who recently underwent breast cancer surgery and had an appointment for a follow-up in Manhattan. Shortly after leaving her home, she got a call from her oncologist’s office: Would she be willing to have a video chat, using her phone, instead of an in-person visit?
“ I said, of course, this is much better,” says Azhar, who immediately turned around and went home. “Who wants to go to a doctor’s office right now, at this time of coronavirus?”

The reality is health-care workers are among the most at-risk for getting covid-19 — and doctors’ waiting rooms are magnets for people who might be contagious. So across America, doctors and hospitals are asking patients to shift outpatient activity into video chats, voice calls, texts and emails. Doctors really, really don’t want to see you in person right now. Officials have urged hospitals to cancel all elective surgeries, and President Trump touted the benefits of telemedicine during a briefing Tuesday.

As more Americans get sick with the coronavirus, starting online will likely be your best option to get tested quickly, and without putting yourself at additional risk. Sure, a webcam checkup sounds weird. Doesn’t a doctor need to look you in the eye? (And vice versa?) Apps definitely can’t replace all kinds of care — but you might be surprised how much is possible.

3:29 p.m.
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Some shuttered retailers are extending their return policies

By Jena McGregor

As retailers close stores, many consumers may be left wondering: What happens if I need to make a return?

Several stores that have closed brick-and mortar-locations have extended their return policy window. Apple said on its website that it will accept returns on most products up to 14 days after they reopen stores. Sephora said Monday it will accept returns within 30 days of reopening for items bought in stores during the month preceding its closures; it also increased its online order returns to 60 days.

Macy’s, which said Tuesday it was closing stores nationwide through March 31, said in an email that it is extending its return policy by 30 days. Gap Inc. said shoppers now have until July 1 to bring back any purchase made during the first three months of the year, while J. Crew, which is closing stores until March 28, said it is extending its return window from 30 to 60 days for orders placed starting March 1.

While many retailers allow returns to stores for purchases made online, the reverse is not always true when it comes to mailing in returns for items bought in stores. “Store systems are not always reconciled with online systems,” said Sucharita Kodali, a retail analyst at Forrester.

3:08 p.m.
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As layoffs skyrocket, America’s unemployment safety net is underprepared to help many in need

By Heather Long and Abha Bhattarai
Restaurants in the Corona neighborhood of Queens hit by coronavirus shutdowns adopted take-away menus and laid off staff in March 2020. (The Washington Post)

American workers are getting laid off at an unprecedented pace as the coronavirus outbreak shuts down much of the economy, and the government safety net to help the newly jobless appears ill-equipped to handle the surge in the unemployed.

More than a million workers are expected to lose their jobs by the end of March, economists say, a dramatic turnaround from February when the unemployment rate was near a record low. Ball State University economist Michael Hicks predicts this month could be the worst for layoffs in U.S. history.

Job losses are mounting. The Labor Department reported Thursday that 281,000 people applied for jobless benefits last week, up 33 percent from the prior week. Economists say it’s only going to get worse. New York restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group let 2,000 workers go this Wednesday. Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, which oversees 54 hotels, laid off 4,000 employees Tuesday. MGM Resorts and Caesars have begun letting staff go, along with countless smaller restaurants, bars, gyms and coffee shops.

2:46 p.m.
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White House, Democrats scramble to assemble massive spending packages as coronavirus crisis deepens

By Jeff Stein, Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner
The Post's Jeff Stein explained March 18 why the White House and Congress are moving swiftly on economic stimulus amid the coronavirus outbreak. (The Washington Post)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday said the Trump administration is working on a plan that would send most Americans $1,000 within three weeks and an additional $500 for every child as a way to flood the country with money and try to blunt the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the U.S. economy.

Mnuchin, speaking on Fox Business, said a second round of payments for the same amount could be sent within the next six weeks if the crisis continued. The White House’s urgency has intensified as economic forecasts have become increasingly gloomy. A JPMorgan Chase analyst forecast that the U.S. economy could shrink by 14 percent between April and June, which would mark the worst quarterly contraction since World War II.

Mnuchin’s comments are part of the rapidly evolving fiscal stimulus plan that the White House and congressional leaders are scrambling to assemble amid growing signs that large parts of the economy are grinding to a halt. House Democrats, meanwhile, are working on their own set of proposals, and negotiations with the White House are expected to begin very soon.

The Treasury Department has estimated that sending cash payments to many Americans could cost $500 billion and serve as a large part of their $1 trillion economic rescue package it wants Congress to authorize immediately. They also are proposing helping small businesses obtain funding in a way that avoids mass layoffs, creating an emergency lending facility for airlines, and providing liquidity to another range of firms that have been hammered by cancellations and closures.

But many parts of the White House’s approach remain in flux, and lawmakers from both parties are debating a number of different ideas.

2:21 p.m.
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New York Stock Exchange will close floor, pivot to electronic trading after two covid-19 diagnoses

By Thomas Heath

The New York Stock Exchange is temporarily closing its 120-year-old trading floor and moving to electronic trading after two people tested positive for the coronavirus.

A floor trader and a NYSE employee tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the exchange said in a statement. “Both individuals were screened at the NYSE security checkpoint, administered a test by medical personnel at the Exchange and, as a precautionary measure, not permitted to enter the building this week. They will be treated and recuperate away from the Exchange facility.

The closure begins Monday and will have no effect on trading, according to a NYSE statement.

“Our markets are fully capable of operating in an all-electronic fashion to serve all participants, and we will proceed in that manner until we can reopen our trading floors to our members,” said NYSE president Stacey Cunningham.

The iconic floor and its traders, which still number in the hundreds but are greatly reduced from its heyday decades ago, are daily fixtures in news stories and backdrops for television interviews.

“I’ve been a broker on the New York Stock Exchange for 31 years, and I’ve seen the crash of ‘87, I’ve lived through 9/11, and traded during the financial crisis,” Peter Tuchman said in an email to The Post. “I’ve bobbed and weaved through the Trump administration‘s headline tweets over the last three years. We closed for five days during 9/11 and for two days during hurricane Sandy."

Tuchman said he will miss the floor, but that “it’s important to know people will have access to their money and trading and as soon as we contain this fire us we will be back to work on the floor.”

1:56 p.m.
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Scam robocalls are pitching fake coronavirus tests to vulnerable Americans

By Tony Romm

The deadly coronavirus outbreak has shuttered schools and businesses, wreaked havoc on the stock market and left some grocery store shelves bare. And if that isn’t enough, it’s also spawned a swarm of scam robocalls seeking to prey on Americans’ fears.

Every day for the past week, fraudsters have placed an estimated 1 million or more suspected suspicious calls about coronavirus to Americans’ smartphones, according to YouMail, which offers an app that blocks such unwanted telecom intrusions. The robocalls at times even have pitched fraudulent testing services, a dangerous sort of deception at a moment when patients are struggling to obtain diagnoses nationwide.

One such message cached by YouMail this week began by asking if the person on the other end of the line is a diabetic using insulin.

“We can qualify you to get a free diabetic monitor and a complimentary testing kit for coronavirus,” a female voice begins, urging people to press two on their phones to learn more.