EU exec considering 100 bln euros for short-time work scheme

BRUSSELS, April 1 (Reuters) – The European Commission is considering 100 billion euros to fund a short-term work scheme, modelled on the German Kurzarbeit plan, that could be borrowed by the EU executive on the market against guarantees from EU governments, an EU official said.

The official cautioned, however, that the final size of the programme, the details of which the Commission is to present on Thursday, could still change. Also, EU countries would still need to agree to grant such guarantees.

“The EU would borrow against guarantees given by member states. It is about ensuring that all EU countries can have it and ease pressure on workers,” the official said. (Reporting by Jan Strupczewski)

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UK minister: not all chemicals needed for coronavirus test have been available

LONDON, April 1 (Reuters) – Not all of the chemicals needed to produce coronavirus tests have always been available in great enough quantities in Britain, housing minister Robert Jenrick said on Wednesday.

Jenrick was asked on BBC television about an apparent discrepancy between comments from senior minister Michael Gove that there was a problem sourcing chemicals for testing kits and a statement from the chemicals industry saying there was supply of what is needed being delivered to the health service.

“The chemicals industry have rightly said that in the UK we produce a number of the ingredients to produce the tests that we need,” Jenrick responded.

“But to produce a reliable test you need to have a range of ingredients and not all of them, as I understand it, have always been available in the UK in the quantities that we need.” (Reporting by Alistair Smout and Paul Sandle, Writing by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Sarah Young)

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Calgary’s Heritage Park lays off staff to reduce costs during COVID-19 outbreak

One of Calgary’s most popular tourist attractions has announced staff layoffs related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Heritage Park said on Monday that management had come up with a plan to reduce costs, which includes temporarily laying off employees and mandated vacation time.

A spokesperson said minimal staff are working every day to ensure the animals, exhibits and artifacts are looked after and protected.

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“Our goal is to be open and welcoming guests back as soon as circumstances allow,” said Scott Matheson, director of marketing and communications at Heritage Park.

Heritage Park remains closed to the public, and the cancellation of private and ticketed events will continue until further notice.

Matheson said Heritage Park has a core staff of about 200 year-round employees working in a variety of part-time and full-time roles. Additional staff are hired during the Christmas season, and there are more than 500 seasonal employees during the summer to support the historical living village.

The attraction announced its decision to temporarily close on March 16.

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Short-term relief funding created for Calgary art sector amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Calgary Arts Development has announced $1.15 million in short-term relief funding for those impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The funding will help provide immediate relief to arts organizations and workers in the city.

During a virtual town hall meeting last week, Calgary Arts Development’s president and CEO, Patti Pon, announced the funding.

“We know COVID-19 has impacted everybody — individuals and organizations alike,” Pon said during the town hall.

“We see that there’s a spectrum of urgency and need, and we’ll be using this $1.1 million to address those most urgent needs that are being shared with us.”

The organization re-directed money from existing grant envelopes to make this short-term funding possible.

Pon said the idea was quickly developed following a survey that assessed needs, and severity of the impact COVID-19 has had on the industry so far.

The survey was completed by industry workers and organizations during the week of March 16.

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“We’re using that data to help us understand where that need is right across the spectrum,” she said.

“The funds have been approved and we are going to move ahead as quickly as we can.”

The funding will be divided two ways: between organizations and individuals, including artists and cultural workers.

Of the $1.15 million, $950,000 will be allocated to supporting organizations.

The remaining $200,000 will go towards helping individuals cover lost revenue and expenses, Pon said.

“For those who are individual arts workers, document your losses. I cannot stress that enough.”

“That includes the cancelled plane tickets for events that got cancelled and the contracts that you didn’t get fulfilled.”

Pon said this funding will be used to fulfill urgent needs and help create more stable footing for the arts industry to continue on in the future.

“The short term funding will be used to bridge until we’re able to solidify a clear picture of that medium and long-term recovery,” she said.

More information on the funding, and how to apply, will be updated through the Calgary Arts Development website this week.

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Colorado Bankers Association to consumers: Don’t hoard your cash

Coloradans have stocked up on food and toilet paper as they hunker down to avoid the novel coronavirus, but they shouldn’t do the same with cash, the Colorado Bankers Association is urging.

“When a crisis occurs, every consumer should know their bank is prepared, their deposits are safe and they will have continued access to their funds,” said CBA president Jennifer Waller, in a media advisory on Wednesday. “Banks have more than enough resources to go around.”

Colorado consumers aren’t draining banks and ATMs of cash, said CBA spokeswoman Amanda Averch.But last week, some New York City banks were nearly drained of $100 bills, although not smaller denominations. The CBA is trying to get ahead of what may become a stronger urge to build up cash in hand as the stock market craters and movements become more restricted by asking people now to avoid making any large and unnecessary withdrawals.

“As the nation’s central bank, a part of the Federal Reserve’s normal operating procedures is to have adequate reserves of currency on hand to meet the needs of financial institutions. This is an important way that we continue support both local communities and the national economy,” said Nick Sly, Denver Branch Executive for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

The FDIC also weighed in on Wednesday, reminding bank customers that no insured account has lost money since it was created in response to the devastating bank runs that took place during the Great Depression.

“Since 1933, no depositor has ever lost a penny of FDIC-insured funds. Today, the FDIC insures up to $250,000 per depositor per FDIC-insured bank. An FDIC-insured account is the safest place for consumers to keep their money,” the FDIC said in a news release Wednesday afternoon.

Ahead of what many feared would be a Y2K meltdown that crashed the banking system, consumers stockpiled cash in late 1999 and the Federal Reserve Bank established large currency depots to replenish the system just in case. Some people also pulled out cash following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and during the financial crisis in the fall of 2008, when the whole financial system was teetering.

But there’s a problem with holding extra cash this time around that didn’t exist in those other crises. Currency and coins could bring the cornavirus right into wallets, purses and hands of people stockpiling. A single dollar bill can be home to as many as 3,000 different pathogens and may have changed hands upward of thousands of times, the CBA warned.

Nick Maynard, analyst at Juniper Research, told ATM Marketplace that in China and South Korea consumers were trying to disinfect their money, and some even ended up burning bills in an attempt to avoid the virus.

Banks and credit unions struggle with the notion that they may be contributing to the spread of the virus and are urging consumers to use credit and debit cards, which the CBA said can be “easily sanitized using alcohol-based antibacterial wipes or a wet, soapy cloth.”

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PM Johnson fully able to run coronavirus response despite positive test – spokesman

LONDON, March 30 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been able to do everything required to coordinate the government’s response to coronavirus after he tested positive for the virus last week, his spokesman said on Monday.

“He’s been able to do everything that he needs to do to lead the coronavirus response,” the spokesman said.

“Number 10 and across government, (we have) put in place contingency plans to ensure that we can carry on working throughout this outbreak, and that we have all the capacity we need to lead the nationwide response.” (Reporting by Elizabeth Piper, writing by William James, editing by Alistair Smout)

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RPT-EXPLAINER-Euro zone options for economic support amid coronavirus pandemic

(Repeats Friday’s story without changes)

By Jan Strupczewski

BRUSSELS, March 27 (Reuters) – Euro zone officials have two weeks to come up with a way to support the economy during the coronavirus epidemic that satisfies members with completely opposing views: those calling for joint debt issuance and those fiercely against it.

Borrowing on the market by an EU institution to later lend on cheaply to a government is as far as some – like Germany, the Netherlands, Finland or Austria – will go towards a “mutualisation” of debt.

For others, like France, Italy or Spain, which see the pandemic as an opportunity to push forward a long-standing goal of jointly issued debt, it may not go far enough.

EU leaders failed to agree a plan on Thursday but gave themselves two more weeks to work out details.

European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde urged them to act more decisively to cushion the economic hit of the pandemic, sources said on Friday.

Finance ministers will start debating options next week.

1. BORROWING BY THE EURO ZONE BAILOUT FUND ESM

The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is owned by euro zone governments, which are jointly responsible for the debt it issues to finance a government. The ESM could extend standby credit lines, worth up to 2% of GDP, to any euro zone country that asks for it.

The snag is that it would entail a debt sustainability assessment of the applicant — something highly-indebted Italy is loathe to submit to — and carry some conditions, even if focused only on the pandemic. Italy and Spain want no conditions.

2. BORROWING BY THE EUROPEAN INVESTMENT BANK

The EIB, the investment bank of the EU, is owned by EU governments. It finances all kinds of projects supported by the 27-nation bloc and could support companies hit by the epidemic. The EIB raises its money by issuing bonds on the market. Thanks to its triple-A rating it gets funding very cheaply.

The bank has already offered to immediately deploy close to 40 billion euros of additional funding to help fight the effects of the coronavirus. It could do much more if EU finance ministers — its owners — agree to increase its capital. This is an option that the EU is considering.

3. BORROWING BY THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION

The European Commission, which also has a triple-A rating, can also borrow on the market. It has done so to raise money for the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM) — an emergency fund created in 2010 when the sovereign debt crisis started to unfold. The 60 billion euros in the EFSM fund at that time was raised against the collateral of the EU’s long-term budget. It was lent on as part of bailouts for Ireland and Portugal.

The Commission could use that mechanism again, if EU governments agree to set aside EU budget guarantees this year and in the EU’s next long-term budget of 2021-2027.

To cover possible needs of non-euro zone countries, the Commission could also use the EU’s Balance of Payments Facility, which was used to help Hungary, Romania and Latvia a decade ago. At that time, the facility had 50 billion euros — again, money borrowed on the market by the Commission and lent on to governments.

4. WHAT WILL BE CHOSEN?

“I would say that nothing is excluded at this stage, which is a useful basis to work on over the next 2 weeks,” one senior euro zone official said, noting EU leaders asked euro zone finance ministers for proposals, in plural.

But several officials dismissed joint debt issuance — understood as euro zone governments coming together to issue bonds — as impractical for the purposes of the pandemic, even if the fierce political divisions were somehow overcome.

They pointed out that not only would euro zone countries have to create a legal basis for such bonds, which would take a long time, the bonds would then have to get credit ratings, and the euro zone would have to go on a roadshow to present them to investors, before anyone decided to invest in them.

“Working on the basis of the existing ESM tools at least has the advantage that it can be done quickly and there is money in the ESM that can be used. Creating something completely new from scratch would take a long time and miss the pandemic goal,” another official said. (Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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Russia's RDIF: New OPEC+ deal possible to address demand if others join

MOSCOW, March 27 (Reuters) – Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), believes a new OPEC+ deal to balance oil markets might be possible if other nations joined it and that countries should cooperate to mitigate the economic fallout from coronavirus.

“Joint actions by countries are needed to restore the(global) economy… They (joint actions) are also possible in OPEC+ (group of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC members) deal’s framework,” Dmitriev told Reuters in a phone interview.

Russia is a leading non-OPEC member and Saudi Arabia is a key OPEC player. A deal between OPEC and other oil producing nations to curb production to support prices fell apart earlier this month after a failure to agree how to address falling oil demand hit by coronavirus, sending global oil prices into a tailspin.

Dmitriev was one of the Russian masterminds of the original production cuts deal with OPEC.

“We are in contact with Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries. Based on these contacts we see that if the number of OPEC+ members will increase and other countries will join there is a possibility of a joint agreement to balance oil markets,” he said.

Dmitriev declined to say who the new deal’s members should or could be.

U.S. President Donald Trump said last week he would get involved in the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia at the appropriate time. (Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Gleb Stolyarov and Katya Golubkova Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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British PM Johnson still working with mild symptoms of coronavirus

LONDON, March 27 (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still able to work in an office and study at No. 11 Downing Street, his spokesman said on Friday after the British leader announced he had contracted coronavirus and had mild symptoms.

He is self-isolating for seven days, the spokesman said.

“There was an 0930 meeting, which we call the COVID-19 meeting … that went ahead. The PM played his role entirely via video conferencing,” the spokesman said

“That’s how it will continue while the PM is self-isolating. He will do the same things, but that will be done exclusively by teleconferencing on his part.”

On a conference call with journalists, Johnson’s spokesman said the prime minister was receiving meals left outside his door for him but would no longer appear in person at a daily news conference.

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GLOBAL MARKETS-Stocks down on virus' economic toll; dollar falls further

* USD on track for largest weekly loss since 2009

* Graphic: World FX rates in 2020 tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh (Updates to market close, adds stimulus signed into law)

By Rodrigo Campos and Koh Gui Qing

NEW YORK, March 27 (Reuters) – Stocks across the globe fell on Friday after a historic three-day run-up, as skittish investors kept indices on track for their worst monthly and quarterly performances since 2008, while the dollar fell by the most in any week since 2009.

Shares on Wall Street ended near Friday’s lows and the dollar fell further after the U.S. House of Representatives, as expected, approved a $2.2 trillion stimulus package, the largest in U.S. history. After the markets closed, President Donald Trump signed the bill into law.

The dollar’s slump was seen partly as a sign that central bankers have been successful in easing stress in the money markets.

Market volatility is expected to persist as the coronavirus pandemic that triggered closures in economies worldwide remains very much a threat.

The United States surpassed two grim milestones as virus-related deaths soared past 1,200 and it became the world leader in confirmed cases. Worldwide, confirmed cases rose above 551,000 with nearly 25,000 deaths.

The stimulus “is not necessarily enough to make people say, ‘I’ve got to run out and buy stocks,’” said Rick Meckler, a partner at Cherry Lane Investments in New Jersey. “That’s going to take more time.”

Uncertainty over the overall human and economic toll was reflected in financial markets. MSCI’s gauge of global stocks rallied by the most in any week since December 2008, but is also poised for its largest month- and quarter- drops since 2008, during the height of the financial crisis.

Nervous investors supported demand for gold, whose prices jumped by the most in any week since 2008 despite a Friday decline.

The coronavirus infection rate is driving much of the market at a time of great uncertainty, said Yousef Abbasi, global market strategist at INTL FCStone Financial Inc in New York.

“My big hang-up here is when the curve does start to flatten, that doesn’t mean we can return to normal human and economic behavior,” he said.

“If we do return to normal human and economic behavior, we risk the chance the curve goes parabolic again. Just from the perspective of how long this potentially can last, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 915.39 points, or 4.06%, to 21,636.78, the S&P 500 lost 88.6 points, or 3.37%, to 2,541.47 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 295.16 points, or 3.79%, to 7,502.38.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 3.26%, and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 2.39%. Emerging market stocks lost 1.03%.

Stock markets have rallied over the past week on trillions of dollars of economic stimulus enacted or pledged by policymakers worldwide, from central banks to governments. More may be needed as the virus slams the brakes on economic activity and increases healthcare spending.

“Next week, markets will likely continue to focus on the spread of COVID-19 – whether European cases are reaching a peak, how much of the U.S. will be put in lockdown, and whether China can avoid a second wave,” said Gaétan Peroux, strategist at UBS Global Wealth Management.

The $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed by Trump will flood the world’s largest economy with money to stem the economic damage from the pandemic.

Amid the avalanche of stimulus, the U.S. dollar extended its daily decline and posted its biggest weekly decline since early 2009. The dollar index fell 0.937% on Friday.

The euro was up 0.97% to $1.1135, the Japanese yen strengthened 1.49% versus the greenback at 108.00 per dollar, while sterling was last trading at $1.2447, up 2.02% on the day.

The U.S. currency’s fall after two weeks of steep gains suggests the Federal Reserve’s efforts to relieve a crunch in the dollar-funding market are working, some analysts said.

“What we are seeing is abating stress in the money markets. Action by central banks has been successful so far and a shortage of dollars has been taken off the table,” said Ulrich Leuchtmann, head of FX and EM research at Commerzbank.

U.S. Treasury yields posted a weekly decline, ending Friday near the day’s lows.

Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 1-9/32 in price to yield 0.6778%, from 0.808% late on Thursday. The 30-year bond last rose 3-24/32 in price to yield 1.2555%, from 1.395%.

Oil prices extended their fall on demand concerns as the virus slowed economies to a crawl, which outweighed the stimulus efforts. U.S. crude recently fell 3.98% to $21.70 per barrel and Brent was recently at $24.83, down 5.73% on the day.

Gold market participants remained concerned about a supply squeeze after a sharp divergence between prices in London and New York. The virus has grounded planes used to transport gold and closed precious metal refineries.

Spot gold dropped 1.0% to $1,613.02 an ounce. The metal posted its largest weekly advance since 2008.

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