Los Angeles Times - 03.04.2020

(C. Jardin) #1


Stocks on Wall Street ral-
lied Thursday, notching
their first gain in three days
after a sudden surge in oil
prices revived beaten-down
energy stocks. But, as has so
often been the case in this
year’s market sell-off, it took
a few U-turns first.
The price of crude leaped
as much as 30% after Presi-
dent Trump said he expects
Russia and Saudi Arabia to
back away from their price
war, which erupted last
month and helped drag U.S.
oil to its lowest price in 18
The surge lifted energy
stocks enough to pull the
Standard & Poor’s 500 index
out of the red for the day and
to outshine another dismal
report showing that millions
of Americans are joining the
unemployment queue by the
But stocks and oil quickly
pared much of their initial
gains and then seesawed
through the day as markets
weighed how seriously to
take Trump’s statement,
particularly after the Krem-
lin reportedly disputed part
of his tweet. They then
climbed again.
By the end of trading, the
S&P 500 was up 2.3%, and
U.S. oil was up 24.7% after
settling at $25.32 a barrel.
“Investors are just grasp-
ing at a positive straw here,”
said Phil Orlando, chief eq-
uity market strategist at
Federated Hermes. “The
collapse in the energy mar-
ket is creating a significant
amount of additional pres-
sure on the U.S. economy,

not nearly as significant as
the coronavirus, but signifi-
cant nonetheless.”
The market’s focus has
been on oil not just because
its plunge to less than $20 a
barrel this week from $60 at
the start of the year has cut
energy stocks’ value by more
than half.
Another worry is that
heavily indebted oil compa-
nies will also be forced to de-
fault, which could cause
more damage in the bond
market, where the total
amount of debt has ex-
Producers have been
continuing to pull oil
from the ground to maintain
their market share, even
as demand for energy
cratered because of
widespread stay-at-home
orders and other economy-
damaging restrictions
caused by the coronavirus
Trump tweeted Thurs-
day that he hopes and ex-
pects cuts in production are
coming after talking with
Saudi Crown Prince Mo-
hammed bin Salman.
That helped energy
stocks in the S&P 500 rally
9.1%, by far the biggest gain
among the 11 sectors that
make up the index. Schlum-
berger jumped 10.2%, EOG
Resources rose 10.7% and
Occidental Petroleum
leaped 18.9%, though all
three remain down 50% to
70% for the year.
“This is a knee-jerk reac-
tion more than anything
else,” said Willie Delwiche,
investment strategist at
Baird. “I don’t think it
changes much of the bigger

Dow industrials
S&P 500
S&P 400
Russell 2000
HangSeng(Hong Kong)



Daily % YTD %

2 1,413.44 +469.93 +2.24 -24.
2 ,526.90 +56.40 +2.28 -21.
7 ,487.31 +126.73 +1.72 -16.
1 ,375.35 +14.14 +1.04 -33.
1 ,085.81 +13.82 +1.29 -34.
2 ,686.81 +22.87 +0.86 -21.
1 7,818.72 -246.69 -1.37 -24.
2 3,280.06 +194.27 +0.84 -17.

Majorstock indexes

change change

Associated Press


Stocks rise, fueled

by oil price surge

associated press

Like most of
us, Elaine
Regus and
her husband
have adapted
to being home
most of the
day, except
for the occa-
sional walk
around the neighborhood.
The San Dimas resident
told me that in the past,
they’d typically find several
messages from robocallers
awaiting them any time they
returned home.
“These days, nothing,”
said Regus, 68. “We’re won-
dering what happened.”
What happened is there’s
finally something good to
say about the otherwise
rotten coronavirus pan-
The volume of robocalls
nationwide has plunged as
overseas call centers have
closed for lockdowns and
social distancing, according
to YouMail, an Irvine tech
company that tracks robo-
call volume on a monthly
Robocalls are auto-
mated, of course, but the
most annoying ones often
try to connect you with a live
operator to close the deal,
such as signing you up for a
high-interest credit card or,
worse, committing some act
of fraud.
With call centers in India,
the Philippines and else-
where shut down for the
coronavirus, many of these
scammy companies have
simply stopped making
“The pandemic is dis-
rupting everything,” said
Alex Quilici, chief executive
of YouMail. “So you can say
this is a benefit of the co-
He told me that about 4.
billion robocalls were re-
ceived by U.S. households in
March — more than 132
million a day.
That might sound like a
lot — and it is — but it’s 700
million fewer than the 4.
billion robocalls logged in
February, and way less than
the record 5.7 billion regis-

tered in October.
I passed that along to
“I love it,” she responded.
“That’s just great.”
Indeed, a decline of 700
million calls is nothing to
sneeze (or cough) at.
But don’t get compla-
Quilici said most over-
seas robocallers may now
lack the infrastructure for
their employees to work
from home, but that will
quickly change.
“The robocallers are
smart,” he said. “Like the
rest of us, they’re figuring
out how to get around the
In other words, just as
most Americans have taken
a crash course in tele-
commuting, so are the
Quilici said we should
expect robocall volume to
pick up again in coming
weeks as overseas facilities
lay the groundwork for
transferring calls to work-
ers’ homes.
As it happens, help is on
the way.
The Federal Communi-
cations Commission said
this week that it’s abandon-
ing plans for U.S. telecom
companies to voluntarily
implement state-of-the-art
methods for reducing robo-
Now such measures are

The FCC is giving the
industry until June 30, 2021,
to roll out what’s known as
“Shaken/Stir,” a system that
allows telecom companies
to verify that a call is from
who it says it’s from.
This addresses the prob-
lem of “spoofing,” which is
technology employed by
robocallers to make it ap-
pear to recipients that a call
is from a known source,
such as a neighbor, your
kid’s school or the local
police department.
Shaken/Stir has been in
the works for years. A techie
involved in developing the
industry-created system
told me his team “tortured
the English language” to
cook up an acronym that
allowed them to indulge
their James Bond fanboy
When a call originates,
Shaken/Stir issues a digital
“token” or “signature.” That
marker is verified before the
call makes its way to the
Consumers can expect to
see a symbol on their screen
—a check mark or a thumbs
up — notifying them that a
call is legit.
If you receive no such
notice, you can still answer,
but the chances of it being a
robocall are much higher.
The FCC says Shaken/
Stir can help protect people
from fraudulent schemes
that cost Americans about

$10 billion annually.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
said a number of telecom
companies heeded his call
last year for a voluntary
rollout of Shaken/Stir.
“But it’s clear that FCC
action is needed to spur
across-the-board deploy-
ment of this important
technology,” he said.
That’s a polite way of
saying too many industry
players were either dragging
their feet or balking at the
multimillion-dollar price tag
of adding Shaken/Stir to
their networks — even as
customers complained daily
that robocalls were driving
them crazy.
“The threat posed by
these calls is particularly
apparent now, with phone
scammers preying on
Americans’ fears during the
coronavirus outbreak,” Pai
He said scammers are
spoofing phone numbers to
make it look like a call is
from a local public-health
department when it’s in fact
“an attempt to steal their
Medicaid and Medicare
Pai also said utilities in
Californiaand elsewhere
have warned of spoofed calls
that fraudulently threaten
service cutoffs if recipients
don’t pony up some cash.
Experts say Shaken/Stir
won’t solve such problems
The technology “can’t be
effective until everyone
participates,” said Joe
Weeden, vice president of
Metaswitch, a London
communications software
company. “It’s going to take
Still, getting the entire
industry to play ball is a big
step in the right direction.
And with everything else
going on, a few hundred
million fewer robocalls helps
a little.

David Lazarus’ column runs
Tuesdays and Fridays. He
also can be seen daily on
KTLA-TV Channel 5 and
followed on Twitter
@davidlaz. Send your tips
or feedback to david.lazarus


A small bright spot in outbreak:

The robocallers are sidelined too

OVERSEAScall centers have closed for lockdowns
and social distancing. Above, a Filipino call center.

Romeo GacadAFP via Getty Images

ple can update their direct
deposit information and
track the status of their pay-
out. Estimates suggest that
the IRS has direct deposit
information for about 50% of
tax filers, or about 60 million
The agency is also cre-
ating a “simple tax return”
that contains only a few
questions, including name,
Social Security number, de-
pendents and deposit infor-
mation, to speed up the
process for getting money to
people who don’t normally
have to file taxes. Printed
checks could take longer;
they are to start running off
the week of May 4.
Processing the billions of
dollars in emergency loans
and other aid approved for
businesses knee-capped by
the virus and related lock-
downs could be even more
challenging. The aid may be
important when it finally ar-
rives, but for many small
businesses especially, rent
and mortgage days will have
come and gone, experts
Mnuchin encouraged
businesses with fewer than
500 employees to call their
lenders beginning Friday to
apply for payroll assistance
offered in the relief package.
“You’ll get it the same day” in
some cases, he said.
The growing desperation
of American business own-
ers and their workers high-
lights the need for Congress
to move quickly on another
rescue package, House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-
San Francisco) told report-
ers Thursday.
“Whether some in Wash-
ington realize it or not, this
virus is taking its toll very
quickly, and we need to be in
front of it,” she said.
House Democrats are
preparing outlines of the
next tranche of economic
aid, which Pelosi said would
include a massive infusion of
funding for infrastructure
projects to generate jobs
and a jolt to the economy, in-
cluding road construction,
clean water and a next-gen-
eration 911 emergency sys-
Lawmakers don’t return
to Washington until April 20,

and some congressional Re-
publicans are skeptical of
more spending at this time.
But worrisome economic
signs related to the corona-
virus pandemic have been
piling up for days, with more
bad news expected Friday,
when new data on the na-
tion’s unemployment rate
are scheduled to be released.
On Thursday, the U.S.
Labor Department report-
ed that 6.6 million people
filed for initial unemploy-
ment claims in the week that
ended March 28 — double
the record 3.3 million from
the previous week.
Separate reports this
week indicated that car
sales in the U.S. plunged 39%
in March, manufacturing fell
back into recession, and
trade showed early signs of
But it was the weekly
unemployment benefit fil-
ings that left economists
stunned, eliciting descrip-
tions such as “tectonic,”
“cataclysmic” and “eye-wa-

On Thursday, the non-
partisan Congressional
Budget Office said it ex-
pected unemployment to
rise above 10% and economic
growth to fall by 28% annu-
alized in the second quarter.
The CBO projections also
included the possibility of fu-
ture outbreaks of the novel
“To account for that pos-
sibility, social distancing
was projected to diminish by
only three-quarters, on aver-
age, during the second half
of the year,” the CBO direc-
tor, Phillip Swagel, wrote in a
blog post. He said the CBO
expects job losses and busi-
ness closures to last for some
time, with the jobless rate at
9% at the end of 2021.
The lockdowns and busi-
ness closings necessary to
fight the spread of the virus
are unprecedented. In a nor-
mal economic recession, the
pain usually comes in waves,
with losses in one part of the
economy spilling over into
another. This time, huge
parts of the economy were

shut down almost overnight
by government order.
“It’s an artificial closing,”
President Trump said
Thursday, predicting again
that the economy would
bounce back once the virus
is under control. Trump also
disclosed he had taken a sec-
ond test for the virus and
again was negative.
As recently as February,
the U.S. jobless rate stood at
a 50-year low of 3.5%. The
economy had generated
273,000 net new jobs for the
second straight month.
That’s all history now.
Some experts said even the
latest jobless claims figure
almost certainly under-
states the number of people
hoping to file.
The 6.6 million new
claims from the last week
represents Americans who
tried to get benefits and got
through, but not those who
tried and failed, said Michele
Evermore, senior policy ana-
lyst at National Employ-
ment Law Project, a New
York think tank that advo-

cates for low-wage workers
and the unemployed.
“This is a system that is
designed for recessions, but
this is just a bigger crash
than anybody expected, and
of historical significance,”
she said.
The government’s report
Friday on the national un-
employment rate will cover
March and represent the
first full month of data since
COVID-19 cases began to
mushroom in the U.S.
But it’s expected to cap-
ture just a glimpse of the re-
ality as both the jobless rate
and employment numbers
were based on surveys con-
ducted in the second week of
the month — before the wave
of lockdowns that prompted
mass business closings and
layoffs across the nation.
Analysts expect the gov-
ernment to report a jobless
rate of about 4% for March,
even though real unemploy-
ment, based on extrapola-
tions from jobless benefit
applications, is at least 10%.
Layoffs are expected to

keep rising in coming weeks,
to a total of as many as
20 million lost jobs. Unem-
ployment could hit 15% or
higher this spring; that’s 1 in
7 workers in the nation.
Friday’s report is also
likely to show a loss of 50,
to 100,000 jobs in March, a
fraction of the actual cuts
but still ending what had
been a decade-long period of
uninterrupted employment
growth. Employers have
added jobs for 113 straight
months, with growth last
year averaging about 175,
a month.
Weekly unemployment
claims data are a more
timely indicator of changes
in the labor market. And
those numbers are expected
to keep growing by the mil-
lions in the next few weeks.
In the week that ended
March 28, California led the
way with more than 878,
people applying for benefits,
followed by Pennsylvania,
New York and Michigan.
Economists said the best
way the government can
help now is to provide more
of the same cash and credit
that was offered in the $2.2-
trillion relief bill, to help
households and businesses
weather the storm until the
economy reopens.
The aid includes about
$150 billion to states for pub-
lic health spending, unem-
ployment insurance pro-
grams and other needs. Giv-
ing more to states would go a
long way, economists said.
Michael Klein, a former
Treasury Department econ-
omist who teaches at
Tufts University’s Fletcher
School, called for more tar-
geted aid to vulnerable
groups, such as those work-
ing in lower-wage jobs at
supermarkets and ware-
houses, and as cleaning staff
at hospitals.
“They’re facing a poten-
tial tremendous danger and
doing incredibly important
work, so people can still get
groceries at a time like this,”
he said of grocery cashiers
and clerks. “So there’s a case
to be made for hazard pay
for these kinds of workers.”

Times staff writer Noah
Bierman contributed to this

10 million jobless claims filed in 2 weeks

THE LOSSof jobs at businesses deemed nonessential has fueled an unprecedented surge in layoffs. Above, the
Pottery Barn home goods store in Old Pasadena is among the stores boarded up because of the pandemic.

Al SeibLos Angeles Times

[Unemployment,from A1]
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