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The daily business briefing: April 24, 2020

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The Labor Department reported Thursday that 4.4 million Americans filed initial applications for jobless benefits last week. That means that 26.5 million Americans have now filed unemployment claims in the last five weeks as the coronavirus pandemic shut down businesses across the country. The United States has now lost all of the jobs it gained in the record-long hiring boom that followed the Great Recession. Other economic data, including a March plunge in new home sales, confirmed that business activity has fallen to an all-time low. “At this point it would take a miracle to keep this recession from turning into the Great Depression II,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. [Reuters]


The House on Thursday passed a bill replenishing the small-business loan program with another $310 billion, plus $60 billion for a separate emergency loan and grant program involving small banks in rural and urban areas. The Senate passed the legislation on Tuesday, and President Trump is expected to sign it. Also on Thursday, the Treasury Department ordered big public companies to return loans they received but that were meant for small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program that was part of coronavirus relief legislation. More than 100 publicly traded companies received loans under the program, which quickly burned through its $350 billion in funding. Treasury gave large companies until May 7 to return the money. Ruth’s Chris Steak House parent Ruth’s Hospitality Group Inc. said Thursday it would return the $20 million it is getting in PPP loans. [The Associated Press, MarketWatch]


U.S. stock index futures were flat early Friday after rocky trading on Thursday. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq edged higher, but by less than 0.5 percent several hours before the opening bell, after fluctuating between small losses and gains. Wall Street closed mixed on Thursday after a day of wild swings as investors digested a report casting doubt on the effectiveness of Gilead Sciences’ COVID-19 drug remdesivir. The Financial Times reported that the drug didn’t improve coronavirus patients’ condition in a Chinese clinical trial, although Gilead noted that the test was “terminated early due to low enrollment” so the results were “inconclusive.” [CNBC, Financial Times]


Nestle on Friday reported its strongest quarterly sales growth in nearly five years as consumers stocked up on the Swiss food giant’s products to get through coronavirus lockdowns. In North America, Nestle’s Purina PetCare sales rose by double digits. Nescafe and Coffee Mate drinks posted gains in the high single digits. Sales of Nestle frozen meals, including DiGiorno and Hot Pocket products, also rose. In Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, sales of products such as Maggi noodles and the Garden Gourmet brand also increased. One problem spot was water sales, which fell as restaurant visits decreased. [Reuters]


The number of U.S. borrowers opting to delay mortgage payments rose by 9 percent in the last week, according to mortgage data and analytics firm Black Knight, which tracks weekly figures. More than 3.4 million borrowers, or 6.4 percent of all people with mortgages, now are taking advantage of the forbearance plans, an increase of 477,000 compared to the previous week. The total amounts to $2.8 billion in principal and interest payments per month to mortgage bondholders. Most of those homeowners are putting off payments under a program in the CARES Act coronavirus relief package designed for people with government-backed home loans. Customers also are delaying payments on about 740,000 loans held on bank balance sheets or in private-label securities. [CNBC]

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