Tech giants drag down stocks.
U.S. stocks fell on Friday as investors reacted to signs of growing tensions between China and the United States and earnings reports by Apple and Amazon that showed the depth of the coronavirus impact on big business.
Both the S&P 500 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite fell about 3 percent.
Amazon shares dropped by more than 7 percent. Despite the delivery and web services giant reporting surging sales in the first quarter, investors focused on the rising costs of delivering products amid the pandemic. Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder, said the expense of protecting workers, including protective equipment and Covid-19 tests, could swing it to a loss of as much as $1.5 billion in the current quarter.
Apple stock dipped, after the company refused on Thursday to give any estimates for the current quarter. But the tech giant signaled confidence by announcing another big stock buyback, and said that its first-quarter revenue rose nearly 1 percent to $58.3 billion, despite lockdowns in China, where it assembles nearly all of its products.
Investors also grew leery of signs of returning tensions between the Trump administration and China. In recent days, the Trump administration has ratcheted up rhetoric blaming China for the spread of the pandemic. On Thursday, President Trump speculated that a Chinese laboratory could have released the coronavirus, either by mistake or intentionally, according to The Associated Press.
“The China issue is definitely playing a large role today,” Matt Maley, chief market strategist at Miller Tabak, a trading and asset management firm, wrote in an email. He added that declines in previously high-flying stocks such as Tesla and Amazon were also weighing on the market.
Regardless of the reason, the market was due for a cooling-off period.
For more than a month, stocks have rallied despite a steady drumbeat of negative news about the state of the American economy. Even with a retreat on Thursday, Wall Street closed out the month of April with a gain of nearly 13 percent, its best performance since 1987. And despite the slide on Friday, the S&P 500 remains up more than 25 percent since it hit bottom on March 23.
Most financial capitals in Asia and Europe were closed on Friday for the celebration of Labor Day, but the few that were open fell significantly. On holidays, markets can be susceptible to big swings because of the relatively few transactions being made.
Warren Buffett takes his ‘Woodstock for capitalism’ online.
Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting typically draws tens of thousands to an arena in Omaha to hear Warren Buffett’s musings on business, markets and life in general. Not this year, as Friday’s DealBook newsletter notes.
Instead, the billionaire chief executive will answer investor questions via livestream on Yahoo Finance at 4:45 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday as part of an abbreviated, online-only shareholder meeting. Mr. Buffett and Greg Abel, one of his top deputies, will be on hand, though Charlie Munger, the company’s 96-year-old vice chairman and a mainstay of the annual meeting, will be absent.
This year’s online event is likely to be more subdued than in years past: Berkshire said that neither Mr. Buffett nor Mr. Abel would discuss “politics or specific investment holdings,” ruling out two popular topics at previous meetings. Mr. Buffett has been uncharacteristically quiet about what the pandemic means for investment opportunities; at the end of last year, Berkshire had more than $120 billion in idle cash.
Investors are also likely to scrutinize Berkshire’s latest quarterly results, which will be released in the morning. Analysts predict a potentially huge loss, because investments in energy companies and airlines lost value and the retailers and manufacturers that Berkshire owns outright are operating at limited capacity.
At least 4,193 workers at 115 meatpacking plants in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus, according to a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Twenty of those workers have died, the report said. And the data almost certainly understates the scale of the problem, because not all states with infections at meat plants have reported figures to the C.D.C.
In total, the meat and poultry processing industry employs about half a million people, many of whom work in cramped conditions in slaughterhouses where social distancing is practically impossible. Over the last month, dozens of meatpacking plants have been forced to close because of outbreaks, straining the country’s meat supply.
This week, President Trump issued an executive order that gave officials at the Department of Agriculture the authority to take some limited actions to keep plants running, even when local authorities call for them to close.
The C.D.C. report also lays out recommendations for meatpacking plants to keep workers safe, like installing barriers between workers and requiring face covering.
Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, said on Twitter on Friday that the company’s stock price, which has been surging in recent weeks, was “too high” in his opinion. The stock fell sharply after the post, and ended the day 10 percent lower.
Always volatile, the price of the company’s shares have been rising steadily since mid-March in part because investors believe Tesla is poised to lead a transition to electric cars. The company’s shares are worth more than the combined value of General Motors, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler, which make millions of cars a year compared to the hundreds of thousands that Tesla produces.
This week, Tesla announced that it earned a small profit in the first quarter — the third straight profitable quarter for the company, which has never been profitable over a full year.
During the company’s conference call with analysts to discuss its quarterly results, Mr. Musk, who has attracted devoted fans and critics, lashed out at stay-at-home orders that have closed Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., car factory, calling them “fascist.”
Mr. Musk also said on Friday that he was “selling almost all physical possessions” and would no longer own a home. He also posted lines from the national anthem and wrote, “Now give people back their FREEDOM.”
About 38 million people receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but how they can use them is often limited by technology or government policy. That means they must walk the aisles, increasing the possibility of coronavirus exposure for a group of Americans that includes the poor, older people and those with disabilities.
Most states offer no way to use SNAP benefits online, although Texas and several other states have recently signed up for a pilot program that would expand that access.
Congress authorized the pilot program six years ago, but it got off the ground only last year — and advocates for low-income Americans say it could have made a bigger difference during the pandemic if the government and other stakeholders had moved faster.
“It should have happened yesterday, and it should be accessible to everyone,” said Patricia Baker, a senior policy analyst at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, an advocacy group for low-income people.
Exxon Mobil said on Friday that it lost $610 million in the first three months of the year, compared to a gain of $2.4 billion the year before, even though combined oil and natural gas production was up 2 percent. It was the first time since the merger of Exxon and Mobil in 1999 that the company lost money in a quarter.
The company announced it was further cutting its capital spending by 30 percent, to $23 billion from previously announced guidance of $33 billion.
“Covid-19 has significantly impacted near-term demand, resulting in oversupplied markets and unprecedented pressure on commodity prices and margins,” Darren Woods, Exxon’s chief executive, said in a statement.
Another oil giant, Chevron, reported first quarter earnings of $3.6 billion, up $1 billion from the year before, but its sales fell more than 10 percent and the company warned that its profits would be curtailed by low oil prices this year.
In a conference call with analysts, Mr. Woods expressed optimism that energy demand would rebound once the pandemic subsides. “The fundamentals that underpin our business remain strong,” he said. But he added, “its going to be a very challenging summer.”
As the coronavirus spreads around the world, people are no longer commuting to work, flying on planes and going on cruises, smothering the demand for oil.
It has been devastating for the industry. Oil field workers who dined on strip steak and lobster before energy prices went into a tailspin in March are now standing in line at food banks.
For over a decade, the Permian Basin has been the center of the American oil boom. Now, it’s the center of its demise. In just over a month, scores of drilling rigs have been dismantled and tucked away in storage yards. Pump jacks, the piston pumps that lift crude out of the ground, have seesawed to a standstill as operators shut down wells.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, even over the last 20 years, but this feels very different,” said Matthew Hale, the president of S.O.C. Industries, a pump truck and chemical services company that has operated in the Permian for 19 years. “We’re concerned about our industry, survival and what survival is going to look like.”
Monty Bennett’s sprawling hospitality company is the biggest known beneficiary of the government’s small-business relief program. The Texas conservative has remained unwilling to return his loans even as public anger builds over large companies getting the funds — a fact now drawing the scrutiny of a key lawmaker.
Hotels and subsidiaries overseen by Mr. Bennet’s firm, Ashford Inc., have applied for $126 million in forgivable loans from the Paycheck Protection Program. According to company filings, about $70 million of that has been funded, the largest known amount to benefit a group of closely related companies since the program began in early April. The next biggest known recipient, Ruth’s Hospitality Group, asked for about one-sixth as much and has since decided to return the money. The average loan size in the program’s first round was $206,000.
On Friday, Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, sent a letter to the Small Business Administration demanding a thorough review of use of the program by Mr. Bennett’s companies, saying that he is “deeply concerned that large, publicly traded companies, like Ashford, may be exploiting” it.
“It is imperative that limited taxpayer dollars go to help legitimate small businesses,” he said in the letter to Jovita Carranza, the small business administrator.
All of the forecasts point in the same direction: A wave of small-business bankruptcies is coming.
More than 40 percent of America’s 30 million small businesses could close permanently in the next six months because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a poll by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a crisis that will impact our economy for generations,” said Amanda Ballantyne, the executive director of Main Street Alliance, an advocacy group for small business.
Commercial bankruptcies in the first quarter of 2020 ticked up 4 percent from a year earlier, according to data from the American Bankruptcy Institute. And many of those filings were made before the pandemic, when the economy was healthy. Now, some owners are waiting to find out whether they will receive federal stimulus aid before deciding on bankruptcy.
Many may just disappear. For some, though, a bankruptcy law that took effect in February, the Small Business Restructuring Act, could help them survive the pandemic.
Catch up: Here’s what else is happening.
Chevron reported first-quarter earnings on Friday of $3.6 billion, up $1 billion from the year before. Sales were down by more than 10 percent as the company warned that its profits would be curtailed by low oil prices this year.
McDonald’s, which shut down its 1,300 restaurants in Britain when lockdown rules were announced in March, said Friday it would begin reopening locations in mid-May. The 15 restaurants set to reopen May 13 will have a limited menu and will be for delivery only.
Ryanair, the Irish discount carrier that has been grounded since mid-March, said on Friday that it planned to cut up to 3,000 jobs, nearly 20 percent of its work force. The airline said that it expected to return to service in July and that it would take two years for passenger demand to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Boeing said on Thursday that it had raised $25 billion in a bond offering in an effort to inject liquidity into its business. As a result, the aerospace giant said that it would not seek additional funding through capital markets or aid from the federal government.
Reporting was contributed by Jeanna Smialek, Vikas Bajaj, David Yaffe-Bellany, Clifford Krauss, Tamir Kalifa, Tara Siegel Bernard, Amy Haimerl, Kevin Granville, Alexandra Stevenson, Su-Hyun Lee, Austin Ramzy, Keith Bradsher, Geneva Abdul, Jack Nicas, Karen Weise, Gregory Schmidt and Niraj Chokshi.