Jobless claims soared. So did stocks. What’s behind this week’s markets moves?

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Good morning, everyone. Most major indices are closed today for the Easter holiday.

But there’s still plenty to talk about.

Markets update

We begin in Asia where the markets in Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai are among the few indices open for business today, though volume is understandably light. Japan’s Nikkei and South Korea’s Kospi are in the green; the Shanghai Composite is heading in the opposite direction. The one bit of market-moving news today is, of course, the coronavirus pandemic. The confirmed global death toll is likely to top 100,000 today, according to Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker.

Yesterday, Europe and the United States ended the week in positive territory, thanks mainly to the Fed‘s historic move to shore up even the riskier parts of corporate credit markets. That was more than enough for investors to shrug off yesterday’s grim unemployment numbers.

In a story we’ve been watching very closely here in Europe, the European finance ministers last night reached a deal on a 540 billion-euro ($590 billion) coronavirus rescue package. The goodies include credit lines to virus-hit companies and economies, plus employment insurance benefits. But they didn’t agree on the biggest of all sticking points, a plan to spread the debt obligations across all members states—the so-called coronavirus option.

The other big news came on the oil beat. Yesterday’s OPEC+ meeting went late into the evening and resulted in an agreement in principle by the oil majors to cut production to meet cratering demand. In classic OPEC style, the potential accord is already in jeopardy as members quibble over the terms. The cuts, pushed by President Trump, is on life support after Mexico walked away, sinking WTI crude, the U.S. benchmark by 9.3%.


We have more data for you, as we do every Friday.


By the numbers

1940. “We’re likely sitting at the highest level of joblessness since Franklin Roosevelt was president,” my colleague Lance Lambert calculates. That’s right, you have to go back to the World War 2 era. The number of Americans who have filed for unemployment benefits over the past three weeks now stands at an historic—that word again—16.8 million. That would put the real unemployment rate at 14.7%. This is a staggering number. The jobless rate tells us something about how far GDP could fall, which will push Congress and the Federal Reserve into action to keep businesses from failing and the economy from collapsing. It’s a tall order. In an election year.

1974. U.S. equities had their best week since the Nixon years—46 years ago. In a four-day trading week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 13%, S&P 500, 12.1%, and the Nasdaq, 11%. But nobody was popping champagne yesterday. As Andrew Hunter, a senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, told the Wall Street Journal, “everyone’s been surprised at the speed and scale of the layoffs.”

10,000+. The final item is a big thank you to the Bull Sheet community. We hit a milestone at one point last week when we topped 10,000 subscribers—not bad for a newsletter that’s not quite three months old. As you may recall, Bull Sheet launched just as the coronavirus contagion was impacting Chinese markets. It’s now a globe-spanning story that’s roiling economies and markets and livelihoods from Tokyo to San Francisco. It’s not the most pleasant story to wake up to every morning. And, so, I’m grateful that you choose to start your day here with us to get the latest on that, and other market-moving items. And thank you for the emails and notes. I appreciate hearing from you throughout the day.


Easter in Rome is the biggest week of the year. Christmas is big too, but nothing tops Easter. For centuries, pilgrims from far and wide have converged on this city to worship, and to celebrate the day central to their faith. Recent years—since the start of Francis’ papacy—have seen some of the biggest crowds in anyone’s memory. Pope Francis is that popular.

Rome was built to welcome the masses. This is a city that swells in numbers on a Sunday—it regularly doubles in size to accommodate the faithful for some special occasion, a beatification mass, for example—and then shrinks back to normal by Monday. Even tiny Vatican City, the smallest sovereign state on the planet, was designed to handle throngs of humanity. The Braccio di Carlo Magno, Bernini’s magnificent colonnade that draws the faithful into Saint Peter’s Square in a massive embrace, is a timeless architectural masterpiece. It’s as functional as it is stunning.

Bernini's massive colonnade that serves as the northwest boundary of St. Peter's Square.
Bernini’s massive colonnade that serves as the northwest boundary of St. Peter’s Square.
Bernhard Warner

And so Rome without pilgrims feels like a very strange place to all of us. It’s a city that’s seen its fair share of plagues and crises, and always bounces back. There’s no reason to think this time will be any different.

Once I can, I’m going to make a point of heading back to Bernini’s 16th century gem, that soaring marble forest in the middle of town.

Have a good weekend, everyone! Stay safe and sane.

Programming note: I’m off on Monday as it’s a holiday across much of Europe. My colleague Rey Mashayekhi will be filling in. You’ll be in fine hands.

Bernhard Warner

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Today's reads

Fed firepower. Fears that the Federal Reserve had run out of ammunition in its battle to contain the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic are proving premature. The central bank stunned markets Thursday by announcing an historic move to buy risky corporate debt as part of a $2.3 trillion rescue package for businesses and municipalities hit hardest by the outbreak. Fortune breaks down the significance of the move here.

“Backdoor conversion”. If you’re a high earner, the current bear market might be a good time to think about a "backdoor conversion." What's that? It's a perfectly legal strategy that allows people whose income is too high to allow them to contribute directly to a Roth IRA to donate to a regular IRA, then "convert" that donation and move it into a Roth IRA. The great advantage of a Roth IRA is that distributions upon retirement are tax-free, reports Fortune’s Lee Clifford. 

Stocks to watch. State Street Global Advisors’ Lori Heinel is optimistic that the economy could bounce back reasonably quickly from the coronavirus pandemic, holding out hope for “a second half that’s pretty reasonable, and a 2021 that could be stronger.” The deputy global chief investment officer for one of the world’s largest asset management firms tells Fortune’s Rey Mashayekhi that she sees stock market opportunities in the health care, financials and utilities sectors.

Market candy

The biggest scams are against those with above-average intelligence, usually college degrees. The problem is, if they know a little bit about something, they think they know more than they do.

That's Joseph Borg, Enforcement Chair of the North American Securities Administrators Association, giving his tips to Fortune on how to avoid becoming a victim of a feared wave of scams linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

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