The US is running two races against coronavirus. It has to win both

AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson tells Brian Stelter that America's investments in communication infrastructure are paying off "during a time of national crisis like this." In an interview with Brian Stelter, he likens this crisis to World War II and says that "everybody needs to step up and do their part." AT&T owns CNN, and Stephenson says the press is a "vital" part of the response to the pandemic.

Posted: Mar 23, 2020 6:01 PM
Updated: Mar 23, 2020 6:01 PM

The United States is now locked in a race against time on two crucial coronavirus fronts - one medical, the other legislative. The speed at which each issue is addressed has huge implications for investors.

The big picture: The number of coronavirus cases in the United States is approaching 35,000. More than 400 people have died in the country.

Nearly half the cases are in New York state, making it the epicenter of the US outbreak. New Yorkers, along with millions of people in at least seven other states, are facing orders to stay at home.

Happening now: President Donald Trump is deploying National Guard units in New York, California and Washington "to carry out approved missions" and as a "backup" to state leaders. Governors will remain in command, Trump said.

Race No. 1: How quickly can the United States contain the coronavirus? Experts say the pressure on stock markets won't lift until the rate of new infections slows dramatically.

Race No. 2: How quickly can US lawmakers agree on an economic rescue package? Investors were hoping that a deal would emerge over the weekend in the Senate. It did not. Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that House Democrats will introduce their own plan.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

I'm focusing on these two races because they are the most important factors in putting a floor under the dramatic stock market plunge in the United States. And they both need to be run simultaneously.

If policymakers are able to deliver a stimulus package, but can't bring down the infection rate, the US economy is likely to remain on lockdown and markets will remain under pressure. At the same time, if progress is made on limiting the spread of the coronavirus, but no support arrives for business and workers, the country will still be headed for a lengthy and nasty recession.

Here's Neil Shearing of Capital Economics:

"Economic policy can do little to offset the near-term damage caused by shutting down large parts of the economy -- its main function is to stop that hit from turning into a longer depression. A lasting recovery in markets is unlikely until we also see clear evidence that the global spread of coronavirus is slowing, allowing lockdowns to end," he said.

A handful of countries have made progress on both fronts. South Korea and China are good examples. Can a fractured Washington do the same?

Companies adjust to a new reality

Royal Dutch Shell is the latest oil company to make major changes in response to the collapse in prices caused by a combination of plunging demand due to the coronavirus and a surge in supply from Saudi Arabia.

The company said Monday that it would cut its capital expenditure this year by $5 billion and suspend its share buyback program after crude oil prices were driven to shocking lows in recent weeks.

"The combination of steeply falling oil demand and rapidly increasing supply may be unique, but Shell has weathered market volatility many times in the past," CEO Ben van Beurden said in a statement.

Meanwhile, SoftBank has announced a mammoth plan to sell $41 billion worth of assets, buy back shares and shore up its finances, giving the company's stock its best day in more than a decade.

The group's shares have lost nearly half their value in the past year as its splashy $100 billion Vision Fund struggles to move past a string of embarrassing losses.

SoftBank hasn't been immune to the coronavirus, either: Its stock has cratered more than 30% since the start of the year. The company said in a statement Monday that it "believes its shares are substantially undervalued."

Why truck stocks are suddenly essential

My colleague Matt McFarland has found a really interesting story about an unlikely essential business in America: trucks stops.

Matt writes: The coronavirus pandemic may have brought most of the US economy to a halt, but truck stops remain open, offering truckers a place to eat, rest and refuel on their way to delivering critical supplies to a nation that's hunkering down to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The US Department of Transportation said recently that truck stops qualify as an essential business, meaning they are viewed as too vital to shut down.

Keeping truck stops open is especially important as a growing number of truckers work longer hours. The federal government has eased restrictions on the number of hours drivers transporting critical supplies, such as medical equipment, food, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants, are allowed to work.

Truck stop operators are going to extreme lengths to stay open and keep drivers safe. Pilot Flying J, which operates truck stops in 44 US states, said its team has been cleaning showers after each use with degreaser, disinfectant and floor cleaner. It's also restricting gaming rooms to three participants at a time, and has stopped providing any self-serve food.

Up next

Coming tomorrow: Nike reports earnings after the closing bell.

Also tomorrow →

▸ March PMI data

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 48201

Reported Deaths: 2693
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11624683
Lake5146242
Elkhart328546
Allen2762129
St. Joseph194366
Cass16389
Hamilton1552101
Hendricks1403100
Johnson1278118
Porter72837
Tippecanoe7158
Madison65864
Clark65144
Bartholomew58544
Howard57557
LaPorte57326
Kosciusko5464
Vanderburgh5226
Marshall4924
Noble47828
Jackson4703
LaGrange4708
Hancock44835
Boone44243
Delaware44250
Shelby42525
Floyd37944
Morgan32931
Grant29426
Monroe29428
Montgomery29420
Clinton2892
Dubois2736
Henry26315
White26310
Decatur25032
Lawrence24425
Dearborn23623
Vigo2348
Warrick21429
Harrison21322
Unassigned193193
Greene18832
Miami1822
Jennings17611
Putnam1698
DeKalb1624
Scott1607
Daviess14317
Wayne1386
Orange13623
Steuben1292
Perry1279
Franklin1248
Jasper1212
Ripley1167
Wabash1122
Carroll1102
Fayette997
Newton9810
Starke933
Whitley925
Huntington812
Gibson802
Randolph794
Jefferson722
Wells721
Fulton701
Jay680
Washington671
Knox640
Pulaski641
Clay604
Rush583
Adams501
Benton480
Owen471
Sullivan441
Brown391
Posey390
Spencer381
Blackford372
Crawford320
Tipton321
Fountain312
Switzerland270
Parke230
Martin220
Ohio170
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike110

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 57150

Reported Deaths: 2911
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10271422
Cuyahoga7724373
Hamilton5924197
Marion273238
Lucas2723302
Pickaway219141
Summit2131206
Montgomery198126
Mahoning1825232
Butler157644
Columbiana130360
Stark1107112
Lorain102167
Trumbull93965
Warren83921
Clark7659
Delaware56815
Fairfield55916
Tuscarawas55210
Belmont54622
Medina51632
Lake49718
Licking47712
Miami46331
Portage44058
Ashtabula43344
Wood42151
Geauga40542
Clermont4006
Wayne36251
Richland3375
Allen31540
Mercer2818
Greene2519
Darke24825
Erie24222
Holmes2313
Huron2152
Madison1958
Ottawa14323
Crawford1355
Sandusky13414
Washington13220
Putnam12815
Ross1243
Hardin12312
Morrow1161
Auglaize1064
Coshocton972
Monroe8917
Jefferson872
Union851
Muskingum831
Hancock781
Hocking788
Preble731
Guernsey703
Lawrence700
Williams702
Clinton680
Shelby684
Logan621
Fulton610
Ashland591
Carroll593
Wyandot586
Athens561
Brown561
Knox511
Defiance503
Fayette460
Highland451
Champaign401
Scioto380
Perry341
Van Wert340
Seneca332
Henry290
Jackson230
Paulding230
Pike230
Adams221
Vinton222
Gallia171
Harrison121
Meigs120
Morgan110
Noble110
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Scattered Clouds
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Hi: 93° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 95°
Angola
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 90°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
92° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 93°
Decatur
Scattered Clouds
93° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 93°
Van Wert
Scattered Clouds
93° wxIcon
Hi: 94° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 93°
Heat Continues Monday
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