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Live Market Updates: Earnings Season Could Guide Stocks


Credit…Brian Snyder/Reuters

CVS Health announced on Monday that it planned to hire 15,000 workers to prepare for expected increases in coronavirus and flu cases in the United States during the fall and winter months.

More than 10,000 of the new roles will be full-time and part-time licensed pharmacy technicians at CVS Pharmacy locations to help administer Covid-19 tests, process prescriptions and dispense medications.

“Additional team members typically are needed every flu season,” Lisa Bisaccia, chief human resources officer of CVS Health, said in a statement. “However, we’re estimating a much greater need for trained pharmacy technicians this year given the continued presence of Covid-19 in our communities.”

The additional hires may also help the company distribute a Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available, if federal officials permit pharmacy technicians to administer it.

In March, CVS Health announced plans to fill 50,000 jobs across the country, the “most ambitious hiring drive in the company’s history,” it said at the time. The company has more than 4,000 drive-through coronavirus testing sites across the United States.

Credit…John Minchillo/Associated Press

Investors have gone from betting on another round of trillion-dollar stimulus spending, to hoping a Democratic sweep in November will remove any uncertainty about the election, to worrying about yet another upward trend in Covid-19 cases in the United States and Europe.

Now, something far more mundane could help drive stock prices: earnings season.

The roughly one-month period, which brings a flurry of financial results from public companies, is upon us. It’ll be a chance to see how corporate bottom lines have been affected by the still uncontrolled pandemic.

Analysts are predicting that the companies in the S&P 500 will report a decline in profits of about 20 percent for the three months through September, compared with the same period last year. That would be ugly.

But it would be an improvement compared with the 32 percent tumble profits took during the second quarter, which was one of the worst quarters for earnings since 2009, when the U.S. was suffering the worst of a deep recession.

The numbers in earnings reports are always an estimation game on Wall Street, with results graded on a curve compared with the expectations that investors and analysts hold.

So when expectations are deeply negative, a not-as-bad result can fuel stock market gains. In the last reporting season, which got underway in July, a record number of companies did better than expected. That lifted the stock market to a high, even as a fresh coronavirus wave was slamming the economy.

The S&P 500 rose 5.5 percent in July and 7 percent in August, hitting its highest point in early September.

A similar less-bad-is-good dynamic could be in store for investors over the next few weeks. Wall Street banks reported their results last week, and they were much better than expected. (On the other hand, the airlines Delta and United posted disappointing numbers, even when factoring in the already diminished expectations because of Covid-19.)

This week, the pace of reporting will pick up, with companies like IBM, Netflix, Procter & Gamble, Verizon, AT&T and Intel scheduled to release results. Analysts will scour that news for clues about economically important issues, such as whether further cost-cutting plans are coming down the pike, potentially weighing on economic growth.

Right now the predictions are that companies in industries that are sensitive to short-term economic swings, including industrial equipment companies and airlines, will produce the worst results over the next few weeks. While those in industries such as health care, consumer staples and technology — relatively insulated from the vicissitudes of the Covid economy — will fare better.

Either way, don’t expect corporate chiefs to be too chatty about the outlook for the future, given the scale of the uncertainty stretching into the future.

“Most managements will still be reluctant to provide forward earnings guidance,” wrote Goldman Sachs analysts in a preview of the next few weeks of results. “The uncertain timeline of a vaccine that is essential for the normalization of the economy, the stalled talks between the Trump administration and Congress on an interim fiscal package, and the contentious election that is only 25 days away are all valid reasons for executives to minimize forward-looking commentary.”

Credit…Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said the Fed is “carefully and thoughtfully” evaluating the costs and benefits of a United States central bank digital currency, but that it is not close to issuing one.

“We have not made a decision to issue” a central bank digital currency, Mr. Powell said, speaking Monday on a virtual International Monetary Fund panel about digital currencies and the future of cross-border payments. “We think there is a great deal of work yet to be done, as well as extensive public consultation to be had with all stakeholders, before making such a decision. The dollar is the world’s principal reserve currency.”

Mr. Powell’s colleague, Randal K. Quarles, said last week that the Fed is studying digital currencies, but that it is too early to put a timeline on that work. As recently as 2017, Mr. Quarles had called digital coins “niche” and suggested that central bank digital currencies could pose major risks, such as cyberattacks.

But the Libra cryptocurrency project that Facebook backed ramped up attention around the potential benefits and risks of digital currency. Many other central banks have been working actively on exploring their own digital currencies.

Working with the Bank for International Settlements — an organizing body for central banks — the Fed and a number of other leading central banks recently set principles for the standards any central bank’s digital currency must meet.

Such a currency “would first need to be confident that issuance would not compromise monetary or financial stability,” they said, and ought to “coexist with and complement existing forms of money.”

Mr. Powell said on Monday that it’s more important to “get it right than to be the first” to issue a global currency.

“We have a responsibility both to the U.S., and to the world,” Mr. Powell said. “In addition to assessing the benefits — and there may well be benefits” he said, there are risks including “cyberattacks, counterfeiting and fraud” and user security that must be explored.

“They’re not simple questions, and the answers are going to need to be comprehensively understood,” Mr. Powell said.

Credit…Frank Franklin Ii/Associated Press
  • Stocks climbed on Monday, as policymakers in Washington said they still wanted to reach a deal on economic stimulus, even as hopes for any measure passing before the Nov. 3 election faded further. China reported data showing that its economy — the world’s second largest — is bouncing back, and coronavirus cases in the United States and Europe continued to climb.

  • The S&P 500 rose about half a percent in early trading. European stocks also edged higher even though governments introduced further social restrictions to try to combat the pandemic. The Stoxx Europe 600 index rose 0.3 percent. France’s CAC index climbed about 0.5 percent and Germany’s DAX turned negative after paring gains. Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 1.1 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 0.6 percent.

  • China’s Shanghai Composite index closed 0.7 percent lower after data showed the economy grew by 4.9 percent in the third quarter, compared to last year, which was less than economists had forecast. But the disappointment was partially offset by separate data for retail sales and industrial production, which continued to grow strongly in September.

  • Earnings season gathers pace this week as investors watch to see how well companies are weathering the economic impact of the pandemic. Companies including IBM, Netflix, Procter & Gamble and Verizon are scheduled to publish results for the third quarter.

  • Positive surprises in company earnings could push stock markets higher, while traders contend with turbulent talks over a U.S. fiscal stimulus package. Over the weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was still in negotiations with the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, while President Trump said that he wanted a deal. But Senate Republicans aren’t expected to agree to more than $1 trillion in stimulus funding, less than half the size of the bill House Democrats have proposed.

  • The British pound jumped 0.5 percent against the euro and 0.7 percent against the dollar after reports that lawmakers in Parliament would intervene to change international lawbreaking legislation, which might overcome an impasse in negotiations between the British government and the European Union. On Friday, after markets closed, Moody’s downgraded Britain’s credit rating by one notch to Aa3, citing weaker than expected economic growth in recent years that had been exacerbated by the lack of a Brexit trade deal with the European Union as well as the likelihood of long-term economic damage from the pandemic.

Credit…Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As most of the world still struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, China is showing once again that a fast economic rebound is possible when the virus is brought firmly under control.

The Chinese economy surged 4.9 percent in the July-to-September quarter compared with the same months last year, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics announced on Monday. The robust performance brings China almost back up to the roughly 6 percent pace of growth that it was reporting before the pandemic.

Many of the world’s major economies have climbed quickly out of the depths of a contraction last spring, when shutdowns caused output to fall steeply. But China is the first to report growth that significantly surpasses where it was at this time last year. The United States and other nations are expected to report a third-quarter surge too, but they are still behind or just catching up to pre-pandemic levels.

China’s lead could widen further in the months to come. It has almost no local transmission of the virus now, while the United States and Europe face another accelerating wave of cases.

The vigorous expansion of the Chinese economy means that it is set to dominate global growth — accounting for at least 30 percent of the world’s economic growth this year and in the years to come, Justin Lin Yifu, a cabinet adviser and honorary dean of the National School of Development at Peking University, said at a recent government news conference in Beijing.

China’s economic growth in the past three months came in slightly below economists’ forecasts of 5.2 percent to 5.5 percent. But the performance was still strong enough that stock markets in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong rose in early trading on Monday.

The country’s broadening recovery could also be seen in economic statistics just for September, which were also released on Monday. Retail sales climbed 3.3 percent last month from a year ago, while industrial production was up 6.9 percent.

Credit…Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

ConocoPhillips said on Monday that it has agreed to acquire Concho Resources for $9.7 billion in stock to form one of the country’s biggest shale oil drillers.

It was the largest deal since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, forcing the oil and gas industry into its biggest tailspin in more than three decades. Coming days after the completion of Chevron’s takeover of Noble Energy, the acquisition appeared to signal an accelerating industry consolidation as companies seek to cut expenses with oil prices languishing around $40 a barrel, just above the levels many businesses need to break even.

Concho is little known outside of Texas but it has some of the most productive fields in the Permian Basin, which straddles West Texas and New Mexico. The company became a major oil producer following its 2018 purchase of RSP Permian for $9.5 billion. Concho produced more than 300,000 barrels in the second quarter.

“This is not just another industry deal,” Ryan M. Lance, ConocoPhillips’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. “It’s an affirmation of our joint commitment to lead a structural change for our vital industry sector.”

ConocoPhillips has operations across the world and has been especially active in Alaska in recent years. But it has been a relatively small shale player.

American oil companies have been laying off tens of thousands of workers in recent months and their share prices have tumbled, some by more than 50 percent. Some distressed oil companies have been forced to seek bankruptcy protection. But ConocoPhillips is in relatively good shape and has a strong balance sheet. The company recently resumed buying back its own stock.

Tim Leach, Concho’s chief executive, said the transaction would form a company “that can deliver superior returns through cycles.”

🗣 It’s a big week for corporate earnings, with a fifth of the S&P 500 reporting results. Marquee names include IBM today, Procter & Gamble and Netflix on Tuesday, Tesla on Wednesday, and AT&T and Intel on Thursday.

🏦In finance, the banks trying to keep up with the big American lenders that reported last week include UBS on Tuesday and Barclays on Friday. Also reporting are Nasdaq on Wednesday and American Express on Friday.

🥤 In food, Danone is up on Tuesday, Nestlé on Wednesday and Coca-Cola on Thursday. The trends in eating out versus staying at home will be a major point of discussion.

👜In luxury, Gucci’s parent Kering, Hermès and Moncler all report on Thursday, looking to follow the lead of LVMH, which reported a big jump in sales in its fashion and leather division, making up for weakness in jewelry, cosmetics and other units.

🏛 In politics, the big day is Thursday, when the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on whether to pass Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination for the Supreme Court to the full Senate. Later, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden meet in Nashville for their final presidential debate.

Credit…Loïc Schwaller

Online shopping has exploded during the pandemic. The holidays are approaching. What happens when these two forces collide?

Some e-commerce experts predict a “shipageddon” — delays and chaos as parcel companies already stretched thin also tackle a surge in holiday packages.

The problem is simple: Buying habits changed in the pandemic, and delivery networks cannot keep up. Companies like FedEx and UPS already struggle to handle extra orders each holiday season, and they’re expecting Christmas 2020 to stretch them to the limits. They have announced larger-than-usual additional fees for larger retailers during the holiday.

Here are some practical tips for people planning their holiday shopping:

  • Don’t wait until the last minute. Retailers have less merchandise stocked up than usual for the holidays because the pandemic disrupted their typical inventory planning, said Jason Goldberg, the chief commerce strategy officer at the advertising giant Publicis. If there is a particular gift that you have your heart set on, it might not be there if you wait.

  • Consider alternatives to home delivery. Ordering online for curbside pickup at stores, for example, skips strained delivery systems. Retailers are also trying alternative delivery options, including sending orders from local stores via couriers working for companies like Instacart and Shipt.

One silver lining in the potential holiday shopping drama is that it makes plain the complexities of our shopping lives. Those mouse clicks on Amazon or Target have always set in motion a chaotic ballet of warehouse workers, truck drivers, parcel delivery couriers and more, but we mostly didn’t think about it. The shipping delays this year might reveal the strains at the seams.

Credit…Amanda Lucier for The New York Times

The technology start-up Ultranauts has been working for years on the challenges confronting so many companies during the pandemic, and probably beyond: how to effectively work remotely, make progress toward diversity and inclusion goals, and build a strong organizational culture, writes The New York Times’ Steve Lohr.

The company, founded in 2013 by two former roommates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has had a remote work force from Day 1. It was also founded to use the untapped talent of autistic people, who often think and process information differently from the rest of the population. Seventy-five percent of Ultranauts employees are on the autism spectrum.

The small start-up may offer lessons for corporate America in how to hire, manage and motivate far-flung employees, whose work and careers can suffer without the face time and hallway conversations of office life.

  • All video meetings have closed captioning, for workers who prefer to absorb information in text.

  • Meeting agendas are distributed in advance so people who are uncomfortable speaking up can contribute in writing beforehand.

  • Employees are asked daily for feedback, like whether they believe their strengths are valued and if they feel lonely at work.

“The whole idea is to create a safe space that allows everyone to be heard,” said Jamie Davila, who leads a team of eight engineers in seven states for Ultranauts from her home in Beaverton, Ore.

When the pandemic hit, Ultranauts, which is based in New York, lost business as a couple of large customers made cuts to conserve cash. But it picked up new work from companies that are accelerating digital projects despite the downturn. The business now has 90 employees, up from 60 a year ago. Its goal is to expand to 200 in two years.

The company insists its work force is a competitive advantage. The edge, it says, is not so much that autistic brains are wired for computing tasks but that people on the autism spectrum are a diverse group.

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