Strategist: Biggest risk to market is a second outbreak

New York (CNN Business)American consumers are starting to try to get back to something resembling normal life on Main Street — and that sense of optimism is present on Wall Street too.

Stocks have soared since briefly entering bear market territory in mid-March. And the CNN Business Fear & Greed Index, which looks at the VIX (VIX) volatility index and six other gauges of market sentiment, is showing signs of greed for the first time since mid-February.
The index also looks at demand for safer Treasury bonds and riskier junk bonds, the level of stocks hitting new 52-week highs versus lows, momentum in the broader market and options trading.

    The seven indicators are each assigned a level from Extreme Fear to Extreme Greed to determine an overall reading for the market between 0 and 100. Anything over a 55 indicates Greed, while a reading below 45 suggests a level of Fear. The index hit a reading of 58 on Monday.
    The economic recovery may be shaped like the Nike swoosh
    The index plunged into Extreme Fear territory in March, as the Covid-19 pandemic led to massive shutdowns of the American economy: closures of schools, the suspension of live sports and entertainment and many people being forced to work from home. The index hit a low of 2 on March 12.

      The US economy suffered its worst drop since 2008 in the first quarter, and is likely to post its biggest contraction since the Great Depression in the second quarter, with earnings expected to slide for the remainder of this year.
      However, investors are increasingly hopeful that the economy and corporate profits will bounce back sharply in 2021.
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      Drivers take advantage of low gas prices as states reopen

      Gas prices could hit around $2 a gallon on July 4: GasBuddy analyst

      GasBuddy Head of Petroleum Analysis Patrick De Haan on gas prices and demand decreasing over the holiday weekend.

      Americans are starting to capitalize on low prices at the gas pump as states loosen travel restrictions, a boon for the battered energy industry and a hopeful signal for the U.S. economic recovery.

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      With more states easing lockdown measures enacted to fight the spread of the coronavirus, people are gradually hitting the road and causing modest car traffic in cities from Miami to San Francisco. The slight increase in congestion comes with beaches and summer destinations opening and many people avoiding public transportation and airplanes.

      AMID CORONAVIRUS, US COULD SEE LOWEST GAS PRICES IN HISTORY: ANALYSTS 

      That uptick in driving coincides with a nascent recovery in consumer spending, fueling hopes that the economy is rebounding from the worst of the virus-induced slowdown.

      The optimism is driving a rally in investments from stocks to commodities. It powered the S&P 500 and oil prices last week to their highest level since early March. Meanwhile, with more people driving, the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline climbed in four consecutive weeks through May 25 to $1.96 from a four-year low of $1.74 hit in late April, data from tracking firm GasBuddy show.

      Americans are taking advantage of low gas prices. (iStock)

      Prices are still well below where they started the year. But their rebound, and the bounceback in oil prices, represent an initial step for the energy sector's survival. Producers like Chevron Corp. and Occidental Petroleum Corp. are slashing supply with crude still below levels that make most projects profitable. Some investors expect those production cuts and a continued rise in travel to buoy energy prices moving forward.

      Matt Jackson has been driving more in Philadelphia since returning to work a few weeks ago. The 39-year-old judicial aide and paralegal student has been working alternate days and lives about 10 miles from the court building where he works. He has noticed more traffic on highways lately and hopes to travel to New Jersey beaches this summer.

      "Philadelphia is always a jumping place, and it's coming back," he said. "As things begin to reopen, I do see more people." Gas prices in the area have risen to about $2.20 a gallon from a recent low of $2.10. Mr. Jackson said the low prices add incentive to take longer drives.

      The energy crash has battered refiners that turn crude into fuel products, with companies including Marathon Petroleum Corp., Valero Energy Corp. and Phillips 66 posting some of their worst earnings in years for the first quarter. Those companies typically do well when oil prices are low and people are taking advantage by driving more, but millions of people didn't drive for much of March and April due to lockdowns.

      CORONAVIRUS CHOKEHOLD ON US WORSENS OIL INDUSTRY'S PAIN

      Demand for gas is slowly starting to creep back. Requests for driving directions on Apple Inc.'s Maps app are back around mid-January levels, while data from Dutch location technology firm TomTom International BV show traffic congestion gradually climbing in some large U.S. cities, though it is still down substantially from March levels in many.

      "We're already seeing some improvement in demand, and this is going to continue as people return to more normal activities," Valero CEO Joe Gorder said on a call with investors and analysts in late April. Shares of Valero, Phillips 66 and Marathon Petroleum have each rebounded 46% or more so far this quarter.

      Still, refining activity in the U.S. remains well below normal levels, and many analysts expect a bumpy recovery until more of the population feels comfortable traveling long distances. The speed of recent price moves has made the current environment even more challenging for energy companies. One price of U.S. crude dropped below $0 a barrel for the first time ever on April 20, meaning holders of the futures were paying to get rid of them due to a lack of available storage.

      Oil prices have since rebounded to the mid-$30s a barrel but are still at levels that would leave much of the energy industry languishing. If prices keep rising, some investors expect producers to lift supply in response, another factor that could slow the recovery.

      OIL PRICES TANK AS STORAGE CAPACITY CONCERNS MOUNT  

      "The first leg of a recovery from a really low point is the easiest part, " said Rebecca Babin, senior energy trader at CIBC Private Wealth Management. "There's still a lot of crude around." She has been driving more recently and has noticed more cars on the road in Hoboken, N.J., but expects it to take time for demand to fully rebound.

      The recent rise in fuel prices is also a reminder of the big disparities across states due to a combination of state and local taxes, refining costs and pricing by energy companies. Prices in California are at about $2.90 a gallon, while gas costs roughly $1.65 in Texas.

      Bob Haines, a 59-year-old who runs a small auto repair shop in Waukegan, Ill., often travels a few miles north to Wisconsin to fill up because gas is much cheaper there. Prices are currently at about $1.85 a gallon nearby in Wisconsin, 40 cents cheaper than where he lives.

      While Mr. Haines and his family are still limiting their driving, he is noticing more activity in the area, particularly in Wisconsin, where the state's top court overturned the state's coronavirus shutdown order last month.

      HAROLD HAMM'S CONTINENTAL RESOURCES SHUTTING PRODUCTION IN KEY OIL FIELD

      "People are flocking to the bars, they're flocking to the restaurants," he said. "It appears we're getting into pre-Covid-19 traffic patterns again," he added, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

      Demand for ride-shares has risen recently in Fort Worth, Texas, as businesses in the area reopen, said Katrina Titze, a 34-year-old driver for Lyft Inc. and consultant.

      Ms. Titze, who drives about 150 to 200 miles a day in her Toyota Highlander, said the price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the area has risen to about $1.60 from a recent low of $1.25.

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      She has driven throughout the pandemic — transporting everyone from health-care workers to Amazon.com Inc. employees — but recently noticed an increase in requests to travel to bars and restaurants.

      "People are starting to be more social and go out," said Ms. Titze.

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      China slams Trump, US over response to George Floyd protests

      Trump must lead the world in changing China: Milken Institute analyst

      Milken Institute Asia Fellow Curtis Chin discusses US-China relations amid rising tensions in Hong Kong and investing in China’s military.

      Chinese officials and state media clobbered the Trump administration's response to violent protests sweeping the U.S., comparing the widespread unrest that began last week to the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

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      In a Sunday tweet directed at her American counterpart — Morgan Ortagus, who had previously criticized Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong protests, China's foreign ministry spokespersons, Hua Chunying posted "I can't breathe."

      Her message is a reference to some of the final words uttered by George Floyd, the African American man who died while being detained by Minneapolis police after a white officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. His death, captured in a viral video as he pleaded that he could not breathe, ignited angry protests across the country that escalated over the weekend amid increasingly aggressive clashes between police and protesters.

      CHINA'S TEPID TRADE-DEAL SPENDING LEAVES US FARMERS IN LIMBO

      In some instances, police responded with teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and ramming protesters with vehicles; protesters have been accused of looting stores and burning buildings, and several major U.S. cities have implemented curfews.

      "I have a question for violent protesters in Hong Kong and their supporters there: Would you stand with angry Minneapolis demonstrators who attacked police station, or would you stand with President Trump who threatens to shoot 'These THUGS'?" Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times, wrote in a tweet.

      CHINA WIELDS CURRENCY AS WEAPON WITH TRUMP TENSIONS RISING

      Hu also took a swipe at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who once described the Hong Kong protests as a "beautiful sight to behold."

      "Now they can witness it by their home windows," he wrote. "I want to ask Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Pompeo: Should Beijing support protests in the US, like you glorified rioters in Hong Kong?"

      "Why did the U.S. glorify the so-called pro-independence forces in Hong Kong as heroes, but call the protesters disappointed with racism in the U.S. rioters?" Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for Chinese foreign ministry, said during a Monday press briefing, according to the South China Morning Post. "Why did the U.S. criticize the very restrained Hong Kong police but shoot its domestic protesters and even mobilise its National Guard troops?"

      Twitter is officially blocked in China, although state officials and state-sponsored entities have accounts on the social media platform.

      CHINA TO HALT SOME US AGRICULTURAL BUSY, PUTTING TRADE DEAL AT RISK: REPORT

      The comments come amid growing tensions between China and Hong Kong, as well as between Washington and Beijing.

      One year after last summer's chaotic and frequently violent anti-government protests, the Chinese government announced plans to pass a controversial national security law to outlaw secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong. The decision not only resuscitated the protests, but prompted President Trump to strip Hong Kong of its special status in a bid to punish China.

      Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China in 1997 under an agreement known as "one country, two systems," which allowed the city to retain a "high-degree of autonomy" for 50 years. The agreement expires in 2047.

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      Haunted By Austerity, Least-Indebted EU State Goes Big on Virus

      Memories of harsh austerity in the wake of the global financial crisis are motivating Estonia to end what’s been the continent’s greatest aversion to borrowing.

      The Baltic region became the poster child for the kind of public spending and wage cuts that later ravaged nations like Greece. Estonia remains the European Union’s least-indebted member-state — without a single government bond.

      The Covid-19 pandemic is changing that, with a 10-year debt sale of at least 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) due in the coming weeks. Another of a similar size is planned for the fall and a third is possible next year, with maturities of up to 15 years under discussion, according to Finance Minister Martin Helme. Money will be channeled into investment to boost economic growth.

      “In the previous crisis, there were policy mistakes that deepened our recession,” he said in an interview in Tallinn. “This total austerity that was imposed very strictly then made the situation worse and we have to take a different approach.”

      As well as contributing to the steepest recession in Estonia’s history, the post-2008 policies prompted an exodus of workers from the Baltic region to Europe’s west, where salaries are higher. Austerity — which reached 9% of gross domestic product in 2009 — also stoked resentment at home that facilitated the rise of right-wing parties like Helme’s EKRE, a junior partner in Estonia’s one-year-old government.

      After adopting the euro in 2011, Estonia has increasingly debated whether it should borrow more for investment, with such calls intensifying after the European Central Bank first embarked on quantitative easing. Defenders of the country’s austere stance say the policies were justified to successfully join the euro region and boost exports, while it would have been tricky to borrow in Estonia’s old currency.

      Helme said the pandemic made a bond sale “unavoidable” in the face of economic-rescue costs and lost tax revenue. But the change also reflects a view that this is the only way to close the wealth gap with richer neighbors more quickly.

      “If other countries have over decades accelerated their economic growth this way, among other things by bringing investments forward through borrowing, I think we shouldn’t be ruling out this option due to some inflexible ideological denial,” Helme said.

      — With assistance by Milda Seputyte

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      China’s Factory Outlook Slips in May Amid Slow Recovery

      A gauge of China’s manufacturing activity slipped in May, underlining the slow pace of recovery from the first quarter slump.

      The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index declined to a worse-than-expected 50.6 from 50.8 a month earlier, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Sunday. The non-manufacturing gauge rose to 53.6. Readings above 50 indicate improving conditions.

      The data indicate that China’s recovery from the pandemic shutdowns risks faltering after an initial rebound supported by pent-up demand. While industrial firms are mostly back at work and output is rising again, a collapse in orders has sent a shock-wave through the sector.

      “Global demand is still weak even when lockdowns are relaxed in some major cities around the world,” said Iris Pang, greater China chief economist with ING Bank NV in Hong Kong. “The employment level was in contraction again in May, and that highlights the layoff of factory workers after factories have faced continual withdrawal of export orders.”

      The sub-index of new export orders climbed to 35.3, manufacturing employment softened to 49.4, while non-manufacturing employment was at 48.5.

      The government unveiled its stimulus package for the year at the National People’s Congress meeting which concluded last week, and scrapped a hard growth target in light of the uncertain global economy, while pledging targeted monetary easing and trillions of yuan in extra infrastructure spending.

      Domestic factories have brought some workers back to staff production lines after the shutdowns in the first quarter and are increasing production, but many are facing a build up in inventories and uncertain orders. Others have not recovered, meaning bankruptcies and unemployment are expected to rise.

      “The current global epidemic situation and the world economic situation are still grim and complex, and foreign market demand continues to shrink,” Zhao Qinghe, an economist with the statistics bureau, said in a statement accompanying the data release. Despite small increases in the manufacturing new export order index and import index this month, they “remain at historically low levels,” he said.

      — With assistance by Sharon Chen, Yinan Zhao, and Lin Zhu

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      Surge in U.S. Incomes Masks Fragile Situation for Many Americans

      In this article

      April’s record plunge in U.S. consumer spending came with an unexpected twist: a record surge in Americans’ incomes, which had been forecast to decline amid massive job losses.

      It doesn’t mean, though, that Americans will continue to have that level of cash on hand in the coming months, or that consumer spending is going to spring back to pre-Covid-19 levels any time soon.

      The 10.5% increase in personal income from the prior month resulted from government benefit payments authorized by the CARES Act that padded Americans’ wallets during the coronavirus pandemic. That figure was driven in large part by household relief checks, or the $1,200 refundable tax credits distributed largely in April to citizens.

      While the report suggests money did get into the hands of many Americans who desperately needed the funds to pay their bills and buy food, the boost will be temporary unless Congress authorizes another round of payments. And the income gain, while eye-popping, looks even larger because of the way the Commerce Department reports the monthly data.

      Unemployment insurance payments, which surged an annualized $360.5 billion from the prior month, actually offset less than half of the loss in compensation, said Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America Corp. Wages and salaries declined 8% in April from the prior month.

      “The reason the numbers look so extreme this month was because of the one-time checks that were sent out — which won’t be continuing,” Meyer said. “It temporarily masks the fact that people are in a fragile economic position.”

      Financial markets focused on the negative parts Friday, with the S&P 500 index and Treasury yields lower.

      Spending during the month was limited in large part due to the shutdowns that kept Americans at home, with outlays set to rebound somewhat in the coming months as businesses begin to reopen across the nation. At the same time, incomes may struggle, even with the boost from jobless benefits.

      What Bloomberg’s Economists Say

      “While easing lockdowns will help increase consumer spending, the elevated savings rate — amid low consumer confidence — will limit the extent of a rebound in consumer spending and GDP growth overall.”

      — Yelena Shulyatyeva, Andrew Husby and Eliza Winger

      Read more for the full note.

      While unemployment insurance payments will likely continue to boost income, several of the programs are set to expire at varying points this year, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Daniel Silver said in a note.

      That includes the additional $600 weekly payment, or Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which is set to expire at the end of July. Democrats and Republicans haven’t yet agreed on whether to extend the program.

      The latest numbers also seem particularly enormous due to the way they’re reported — at an annualized rate, wrote Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities. This “means that when there is a one-off payment, as we saw with household relief checks, the BEA methodology means that the magnitude gets multiplied by 12.”

      Incomes saw an annualized increase of $3 trillion in government social benefits in the month, almost all driven by a category labeled “Other” — as distinct from standard programs such as Social Security and Medicare, as well as unemployment insurance.

      The data indicate that about $200 billion in relief checks resulted in a $2.6 trillion annualized rise in “other” government transfer payments, according to Stanley.

      Another caveat: The income from the stimulus checks, tax saving and unemployment insurance support were counted for accounting purposes in April, even though much of that wasn’t received until later, Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton LLP, wrote on Twitter following the report.

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      Oil prices on track for best month on record

      Trump announcement on China will be ‘big’: Bartiromo

      Sources tell FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo that President Trump’s announcement on China during an expected press conference will be significant.

      Oil prices pulled back Friday amid rising tensions between the U.S. and China but remained on track for the biggest monthly advance on record.

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      West Texas Intermediate crude oil, the U.S. benchmark, was down 2.08 percent at $33.01 per barrel on Friday, and still on pace to gain 75 percent for the month. WTI’s biggest monthly advance was in September 1990, when it gained 46 percent.

      “Demand is rising and production is falling, but China might be the fly in the oil market’s ointment,” wrote Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at the Price Futures Group. Rising tensions between the U.S. and China are causing the oil market to give up their “demand-inspired gains,” he added.

      TEXAS FEARS LOSING OIL-RICH LANDS IN CHINESE TAKEOVER OF WEAKENED ENERGY COMPANIES

      All 50 states and Washington, D.C., have at least partially reopened after stay-at-home orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 removed about 30 million barrels of global oil demand a day.

      Prices spiraled as a result of the lost sales, with the slide worsened by a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, two of the world’s largest producers, that led to both countries producing record supply.

      WTI plunged below zero for the first time on record last month, causing investors not looking to take delivery to unload their positions at fire-sale prices.

      An oil market that was “shocked by negative prices took historic steps” to regain its balance in May, Flynn told FOX Business. “We saw a major drop in global production, US rig count plunged by a record amount and OPEC+, inspired by President Trump, engineered the biggest oil production cut in history.”

      The world’s largest producers agreed to remove 20 million barrels of daily production from the market, beginning on May 1, and Saudi Arabia deepened its agreed-upon output cuts by an additional 1 million barrels per day.

      As a result, OPEC production plunged by 6.3 million barrels per day to 23.75 million, according to a report released overnight by JBC Energy. In addition, the U.S. oil rig count fell to a record low as drillers reduced output.

      Now, demand is showing signs of coming back at a much faster pace than expected, according to Flynn.

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      “All of this would suggest that the world is going to see the global oil oversupply start to disappear as long as we don’t take a big step back with another trade war,” Flynn wrote.

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      Pfizer, Astellas Say Final PROSPER Results Show XTANDI Extends Overall Survival

      Pfizer Inc. (PFE) and Japan-based Astellas Pharma Inc. (ALPMY) on Friday announced final results from the overall survival or OS analysis of the Phase 3 PROSPER trial.

      According to the two companies, the final PROSPER results showed XTANDI, or enzalutamide, significantly extends overall survival in men with non-metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.

      The trial evaluated XTANDI plus androgen deprivation therapy or ADT versus placebo plus ADT in men with non-metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (nmCRPC).

      The companies noted that in the trial, XTANDI plus ADT reduced the risk of death by 27 percent compared to placebo plus ADT. The median OS was 67.0 months for men who received XTANDI plus ADT, compared to 56.3 months with placebo plus ADT. OS was a key secondary endpoint of the trial.

      The two companies also said that the data was simultaneously published online in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented during the virtual scientific program of the 2020 American Society of Clinical Oncology or ASCO Annual Meeting.

      The safety profile observed in the final OS analysis was consistent with the 2018 primary analysis and the established safety profile of enzalutamide.

      “Overall survival is a critical endpoint in evaluating a prostate cancer medicine. These results add to the body of evidence supporting XTANDI’s potential to reduce the risk of death in men with castration-resistant prostate cancer,” said Cora Sternberg, Clinical Director, Englander Institute for Precision Medicine and Professor of Medicine in Hematology & Oncology, Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian.

      The Phase 3 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-national trial enrolled 1,401 patients with nmCRPC at sites in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South America and the Asia-Pacific region.

      PROSPER enrolled patients with prostate cancer that had progressed, based on a rising PSA level despite ADT, but who had no symptoms and no prior or present evidence of metastatic disease.

      Of the total patients enrolled, 933 patients were treated with XTANDI at a dose of 160 mg taken orally once daily plus ADT, and 468 patients were treated with placebo plus ADT.

      The primary endpoint of the PROSPER trial, metastasis-free survival or MFS, was measured as the time from patients entering the trial until their cancer was radiographically detected as having metastasized, or until death, within 112 days of treatment discontinuation.

      Key secondary endpoints included OS, time to PSA progression and time to first use of antineoplastic therapy.

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      Asian Stock Futures Mixed; U.S. Rally Fizzles: Markets Wrap

      Asian stocks looked set for a mixed open Friday after a rally in U.S. equities fizzled on fresh U.S.-China tensions. The dollar retreated.

      Futures were little changed in Japan, slipped in Australia and edged higher in Hong Kong. U.S. contracts dipped in early Asia trading. President Donald Trump said he’ll announce new U.S. policies on China on Friday, after it passed a national security law curbing freedoms in Hong Kong. The S&P 500 gave up a gain of more than 1% on the announcement, with investors speculating the action could destabilize the global economy, although the precise agenda was unclear. Treasuries were steady.

      “The market’s going to trade on headlines. Could he come out and say something that might spook markets temporarily? Sure, but you know what’s more important than that? The fact that the Fed’s going to stand there with their safety-net,” David Spika, president of GuideStone Capital Management, said by phone.

      The escalation in hostilities between Washington and Beijing is capping positive sentiment as traders weigh indications of economies healing after lockdowns. U.S. states’ jobless rolls shrank for the first time during the outbreak even as millions more Americans filed for unemployment benefits, while readings on durable goods orders and personal consumption beat forecasts.

      Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said the economy may already have bottomed. Clues on the next stages for Fed policy may come later when Chairman Jerome Powell participates in a virtual discussion Friday.

      “We are pretty positive from a risk perspective right now,” Jim Keenan, global credit co-head and chief investment officer at BlackRock Inc., said on Bloomberg TV.

      The daily fixing of China’s exchange rate will be in focus again Friday. The offshore yuan steadied near a record low after China signaled with a stronger-than-expected fixing on Thursday that it wants to avoid rapid depreciation.

      Elsewhere, crude oil dipped after gaining Thursday. European stocks ended higher amid optimism over economies reopening and a European Union fiscal stimulus plan.

      Here are some key events coming up:

      • Euro-area data due Friday is forecast to show consumer inflation fell to 0.1% in May from 0.4% the previous month.

      These are some of the main moves in markets:

      Stocks

      • S&P 500 futures fell 0.2% as of 7:19 a.m. in Tokyo. The S&P 500 fell 0.2% Thursday.
      • Futures on Japan’s Nikkei 225 were little changed.
      • Hang Seng futures earlier rose 0.6%.
      • Futures on Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index slid 0.3%.

      Currencies

      • The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index dipped 0.4%.
      • The yen was little changed at 107.69 per dollar.
      • The offshore yuan was flat at 7.1725 per dollar.
      • The euro bought $1.1079, little changed.

      Bonds

      • The yield on 10-year Treasuries climbed one basis point to 0.69% Thursday.

      Commodities

      • West Texas Intermediate crude fell 0.3% to $33.60 a barrel.
      • Gold was flat at $1,720 an ounce.

      — With assistance by Claire Ballentine, Srinivasan Sivabalan, and Jonathan Ferro

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      Big Bankruptcies Sweep the U.S. in Fastest Pace Since May 2009

      In the first few weeks of the pandemic, it was just a trickle: companies like Alaskan airline Ravn Air pushed into bankruptcy as travel came to a halt and markets collapsed. But the financial distress wrought by the shutdowns only deepened, producing what is now a wave of insolvencies washing through America’s corporations.

      In May alone, some 27 companies reporting at least $50 million in liabilities sought court protection from creditors — the highest number since the Great Recession. They range from well-known U.S. mainstays such as J.C. Penney Co. and J. Crew Group Inc. to air carriers Latam Airlines Group SA and Avianca Holdings, their business decimated as travelers stayed put.

      In May 2009, 29 major companies filed for bankruptcy, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. And year-to-date, there have been 98 bankruptcies filed by companies with at least $50 million in liabilities — also the highest since 2009, when 142 companies filed in the first four months.

      Few people believe bankruptcies have by any means hit a peak.

      “I think we’re going to continue to see filings of at least the level we’re seeing for a while,”said Melanie Cyganowski, a former bankruptcy judge now with the Otterbourg law firm.

      The wave of insolvencies is seemingly at odds with U.S. credit markets, which are busier than ever: investment-grade corporations were able to cushion their balance sheets by borrowing nearly $1 trillion in the first five months of the year, the fastest pace on record. No such luck for weaker companies. Their revenues have evaporated, straining their ability to keep up with debt payments and all but forcing them to seek refuge in bankruptcy court.

      “If you know someone at the bankruptcy courts, be sure to thank them,” Duston McFaul, a partner at law firm Sidley Austin, said in an email. “They’re already over-stretched and we’re only in the first inning.”

      — With assistance by Jenny Sanchez

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