G20 leaders to inject $5 trillion into global economy to fight coronavirus

RIYADH (Reuters) – Leaders of the Group of 20 major economies pledged on Thursday to inject $5 trillion in fiscal spending into the global economy to blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus and “do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic.”

Showing more unity than at any time since the 2008-2009 financial crisis that led to the G20’s creation, the leaders said they committed during a videoconference summit to implement and fund all necessary health measures needed to stop the virus’ spread.

In a statement containing the most conciliatory language on trade in years, the G20 leaders pledged to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies and other goods across borders and to resolve supply chain disruptions.

As many countries enact export bans on medical supplies, the G20 leaders said they would coordinate responses to avoid unnecessary interference.

“Emergency measures aimed at protecting health will be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary,” they said.

The G20 leaders also expressed concern about the risks to fragile countries, notably in Africa, and populations like refugees, acknowledging the need to bolster global financial safety nets and national health systems.

“We are strongly committed to presenting a united front against this common threat,” the G20 leaders said in a joint statement following their 90-minute call.

Saudi Arabia, the current G20 chair, called the video summit amid earlier criticism of the group’s slow response to the disease. It has infected more than 470,000 people worldwide, killed more than 21,000, and is expected to trigger a global recession.

Saudi King Salman, in opening remarks, said the G20 should resume the normal flow of goods and services, including vital medical supplies, as soon as possible to help restore confidence in the global economy.

The group committed to national spending measures totaling $5 trillion — an amount equal to that pledged in 2009 — along with other large-scale liquidity, credit guarantee schemes and other economic measures.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was to address the G20 to seek support for ramping up funding and production of personal protection equipment for health workers amid a global shortage.

“We have a global responsibility as humanity and especially those countries like the G20,” Tedros told a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday. “They should be able to support countries all over the world.”

In his remarks to the group, U.S. President Donald Trump shared details of the $6 trillion in support the United States is making available through legislation and increased Federal Reserve liquidity, including $2 trillion in fiscal spending, and spoke in support of multilateral action and coordination.

“He talked about working together and sounded more supportive of multilateral coordination than ever before,” said one source who observed the meeting.

The meeting was not marred by acrimony, as was feared given the ongoing oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, and a war of words between the United States and China over the origins and handling of the pandemic, said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Tedros told G20 leaders that the pandemic is “accelerating at an exponential rate” and urged them to ramp up production of protective gear for health workers and remove export bans.

“Everyone realizes that it is essential to preserve jobs, and to maintain trade flows, not disrupt the supply chains,” said one Brazilian government official with knowledge of the videoconference discussions.

No country advocated “total confinement” mainly because most of the countries in G20 are not implementing such moves, the official added.

Several participants called upon the G20 to play the same role that it played in overcoming the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, when member countries pledged to inject massive fiscal stimulus and financial liquidity into the economy, the Brazilian official said.

IMF RESOURCES

The G20 leaders also asked the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group “to support countries in need using all instruments to the fullest extent.”

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva plans to ask the Fund’s steering committee on Friday to consider doubling the current $50 billion in emergency financing available to help developing countries deal with the virus, a source familiar with the plans told Reuters.

To boost global liquidity, Georgieva also asked G20 leaders to back a Fund plan to allow member countries to temporarily draw on part of its $1 trillion in overall resources to boost liquidity. The IMF made a similar move in 2009 with a $250 billion allocation of Special Drawing Rights, its internal unit of currency.

Georgieva gave no specific number in her statement, but observers to the G20 meeting said an SDR allocation of up to $500 billion could be needed.

HEALTH FUNDING

On the health response, the G20 leaders committed to close the financing gap in the WHO’s response plan and strengthen its mandate as well as expand manufacturing capacity of medical supplies, strengthen capacities to respond to infectious diseases, and share clinical data.

Despite calls for cooperation, the G20 risks entanglement in an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and frictions between the United States and China over the origin of the coronavirus outbreak.

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U.S. indicts Venezuela's Maduro, a political foe, for 'narco-terrorism'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government on Thursday indicted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and more than a dozen other top Venezuelan officials on charges of “narco-terrorism,” the latest escalation of the Trump administration’s pressure campaign aimed at ousting the socialist leader.

The State Department offered a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Maduro, whose country has been convulsed by years of a deep economic crisis and political upheaval.

The indictment, a rare U.S. action against a sitting foreign head of state, marks a serious new phase against Maduro by Washington at a time when some U.S. officials have privately said President Donald Trump is increasingly frustrated with the results of his Venezuela policy.

Attorney General William Barr, announcing charges that include narco-terrorism conspiracy, corruption, and drug trafficking, accused Maduro and his associates of colluding with a dissident faction of demobilized Colombian guerrilla group, the FARC, “to flood the United States with cocaine.”

“While the Venezuelan people suffer, this cabal lines their pockets with drug money and the proceeds of their corruption,” Barr said of Maduro and the others who were indicted.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the charges and rewards being offered showed the Trump administration’s “desperation” as well as its “obsession” with the South American country aimed at benefiting Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.

Trump’s pressure on Venezuela has gone over well among Cuban Americans in South Florida, a key voting bloc in a major presidential swing state.

The U.S. government has previously lodged criminal indictments against members of Maduro’s family and inner circle. He and his allies have dismissed such allegations as a smear campaign, and argue the United States is responsible for drug trafficking, given its role as a leading consumer.

Maduro is already under U.S. sanctions and has been the target of a U.S. effort aimed at pushing him from power. He took office in 2013 after the death of his mentor President Hugo Chavez, a staunch foe of the United States.

Other Venezuelan officials whose indictments were announced on Thursday include Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, senior socialist leader Diosdado Cabello, and the chief justice of the country’s supreme court, Maikel Jose Moreno Perez, who was charged with money laundering. The U.S. government is offering $10 million for information leading to Cabello’s arrest.

The United States and dozens of other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, regarding Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham. But Maduro has remained in power, backed by the country’s military and by Russia, China and Cuba.

U.S. officials have long accused Maduro and his associates or running a “narco-state,” saying they have used proceeds from drugs transshipped from neighboring Colombia to make up for lost revenue from a Venezuelan oil sector hit by heavy sanctions by the United States.

‘DEPLOYED COCAINE AS A WEAPON’

The indictments were unsealed in New York, Florida and Washington.

Barr dodged a reporter’s question on whether Trump, who has pressed his aides in recent months for a tougher approach on Venezuela, was briefed in advance, saying, “I don’t talk about internal deliberations.”

Maduro and his closest allies ran a “narco-terrorism partnership with the FARC for the past 20 years,” stated Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who said the Venezuelan president “very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon.”

“The scope and magnitude of the drug trafficking alleged was made possible only because Maduro and others corrupted the institutions of Venezuela and provided political and military protection for the rampant narco-terrorism crimes described in our charges,” he added.

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Ariana Fajardo Orshan, said she sees signs of Venezuelan officials’ laundered money throughout her area every day, from fancy yachts to million-dollar condos.

“This party is coming to an end,” she said.

Asked whether the U.S. government was also considering designating Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism, which carries further sanctions, Barr said: “It’s really one step at time, so I really have nothing to say about that right now.”

CNN, citing sources familiar with the situation, reported earlier that Venezuela was expected to be named to the blacklist as soon as Thursday. But a U.S. official told Reuters such a move was not likely imminent.

Thursday’s charges altogether carry a maximum penalty of up to life in prison. Asked whether the U.S. government wants to capture Maduro dead or alive, Barr said: “We want him captured so he can face justice in U.S. court.”

Barr said the administration does “expect eventually to gain custody of these defendants.” But he offered no indication of how U.S. authorities might get their hands on Maduro, who has endured more than a year of heavy international pressure and on-again, off-again street protests as the OPEC member’s economy has continued to unravel.

Maduro’s international travel could be restricted, given Washington would be able to request that he be handed over if he visits a country that has an extradition treaty with the United States. U.S. authorities can also freeze any assets he has in the United States, though such holdings are considered unlikely.

The Justice Department said that since at least 1999, Maduro, along with Cabello and others, “acted as leaders and managers of the ‘Cartel of the Suns’.” The name, it said, refers to the sun insignias affixed to the uniforms of high-ranking Venezuelan military officials.

An indictment accused Padrino, who holds the rank of general, of using his control of the Venezuelan military to facilitate cocaine flights to the United States.

Venezuelan Vice President Tareck el-Aissami, who already faced U.S. sanctions for alleged drug trafficking, was charged with evading U.S. sanctions.

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U.S. House sets Friday debate for coronavirus aid bill

WASHINGTON, March 26 (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives will begin a two-hour debate on a sweeping, $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid bill at 9 a.m. (1300 GMT) on Friday but it was not clear whether the measure would be able to pass on a voice vote, the House Majority Leader’s office said late on Thursday.

While most House members are in their home districts because of the coronavirus outbreak, those able and willing to travel to Washington for a vote should arrive by 10 a.m. (1400 GMT), according to the House advisory.

There have been discussions of a possible roll-call vote if a voice vote is blocked by dissenters. (Reporting by Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Ackman says Pershing Square no longer has hedges on stocks

(Reuters) – William Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management no longer has hedges on its stock portfolio, but still has some cash to invest if equities decline further as the United States battles the coronavirus outbreak, the billionaire investor said on Saturday.

Pershing Square earned roughly $2.6 billion by hedging its stock portfolio in early March through credit protection on investment grade and high yield credit indices. Much of the money has been reinvested in stocks the firm already owns.

“Today, we are unhedged, and we no longer own any insurance”, Ackman said in a Twitter thread bit.ly/2xsAEFA, adding that he continues to believe the sooner the entire United States is shut down, the more lives will be saved and the sooner the economy will recover.

“Every day we wait, we prolong our collective misery”, Ackman said.

He told CNBC in an interview on March 18 that he thought the best approach to killing off the coronavirus was to close the borders and shut down the entire country, barring essential services, for 30 days.

The S&P 500 .SPX and the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell sharply after the interview aired.

He later said the interview was not designed to enable his firm to profit from any trades, dismissing some media speculation that he had purposely pushed markets lower to make money off his hedges.

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Coronavirus prompts changes to Canada Post in the Okanagan

Canada Post is warning its Okanagan customers to double-check its retail outlets’ hours amid the coronavirus outbreak.

It said that many post offices will reduce hours of service, opening one hour later and closing one hour earlier to clean, restock and provide some relief to employees.

“As well, for the first hour of each day, we will offer priority service to those who are at a higher risk (the elderly or people with compromised immune systems),” the organization said in a news release.

Canada Post said franchise-operated post offices will follow the measures put in place by its operators.

“We are working to keep our post offices open, but some may close due to building closures beyond our control and some smaller locations may close due to personnel reasons,” a news release said. “In these cases, we will direct customers to the nearest operating post office.”

Canada Post is also reminding waiting customers to respect social distancing measures of two metres.

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The mail delivery service said it’s working on signage and floor decals for larger post offices, adding that it may limit the number of customers in smaller spaces.

“We are also working on clear barriers for the counter to increase safety,” Canada Post said.

The postal service is encouraging customers to pay by using the tap function on credit or debit cards, but said it will continue to accept cash.

Canada Post said it has suspended its normal 15-day hold period, and parcels left at the post office for pickup will not be returned to their sender until further notice.

The company is also asking customers who are feeling ill or self-isolating to not visit the post office.

The postal delivery service said that to eliminate customer interactions at the door, it has implemented a “knock, drop and go approach.”

Canada Post said the change eliminates the need for signatures at the door, and delivery employees will knock or ring, choose the safest location available to leave the item and then depart for the next address.

The company said the change greatly reduces the number of parcels sent to post offices for pick-up.

However, items that require proof of age, ID or customs payments will be sent directly from a depot to a retail post office for pick-up with no restrictions on when customers can pick up the item, according to a news release.

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Patients worry after coronavirus prompts closure of ‘life-saving’ addiction program

Liam was discharged from the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre’s substance use and concurrent disorders program on March 26.

The 22-year-old, whose last name Global News is not using for privacy reasons, was four weeks into a six-week inpatient stay when the program announced it was closing because of the new coronavirus outbreak.

The early discharge was an unwelcome shock, says Liam, but one he’s been able to adjust to because he has a supportive family willing to give him a safe place to stay. He’s more worried about the other people alongside whom he was receiving treatment.

“There are a number of people who have extremely unstable housing situations … and virtually no external support,” Liam says.

“One of the biggest parts of recovery, both in active recovery and people who have 10-15 years sober, is community support, and right now (with COVID-19), we’re seeing a total lack of support.”

The pandemic, with its uncertainty, anxiety and demands for physical distancing, time spent mostly at home and no group — including Alcoholics Anonymous — gatherings, puts a unique burden on people with substance use disorders.

The idea that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people struggling have lost “an essential, life-saving inpatient program” significantly increases people’s risk of relapse, Elliot Hudson wrote in a letter to hospital leadership expressing his concerns with the closure.

Hudson, who has relapsed several times in the last few years and whose story Global News chronicled over 18 months, was admitted to the program in mid-February. He was discharged from the hospital on March 23.

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'This is a war and we want to survive,' says Polish retailer

WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish fashion retailers may not survive the coronavirus crisis if the government, banks and shopping mall owners do not help them bear the costs, a lobby group said on Friday, as Poland closed non-essential shops to stop the spread of the virus.

A new lobby group set up by the retail industry said it has asked the state to help pay out salaries, shopping mall owners to stop taking rents and banks to suspend loan payments. The group says it represents 100 companies and that 200,000 jobs directly depend on their survival.

“This is not even a crisis, it is difficult to name it. It is unlike anything that has happened before….This is a war and we want to survive. I do not care what the financial results will be,” Marek Piechocki, Chief Executive at Poland’s biggest fashion retailer LPP told Rzeczpospolita daily.

He said LPP, a home-grown rival to the likes of H&M and Inditex, had enough resources to continue paying salaries for the next 4-6 months. Before the crisis it had hoped to reach revenue of 10.5 billion zlotys ($2.73 billion) this year.

Tomasz Ciapala, the CEO and majority owner of Lancerto, a men’s suit maker, said that many workers in the industry are paralyzed with fear about their jobs.

“Our union comprises mostly family businesses. Most of our employees, who have been with us for a long time, are scared. This has wide social effects. Mental illness, depression, suicides – these are all side effects of joblessness,” Ciapala told a videconference on Friday.

Pawel Kaplon, a partner at Paan Capital private equity fund, has compared the functioning of fashion retailers to a large-scale restaurant which has hired suppliers and staff and bought products to prepare dishes for the next 100 days. And now has to shut down.

“We have done the cooking for the next half a year, we have payments ahead and we have nowhere to get the cash flow from,” Kaplon told the same conference.

Poland’s parliament is expected to adopt on Friday a package of legislation designed to help the economy and various industries survive the coronavirus crisis.

“The shopping malls, banks and us should participate in these costs together …as in the end each of us will win when this tsunami is over,” said Igor Klaja, the founder of popular sports wear brand 4F.

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GLOBAL MARKETS-Stocks up on $2 trillion stimulus Wall St rally; dollar takes a hit

* U.S. stimulus bill clears Senate; Fed’s Powell speaks to Main St

* U.S. jobs claims spike to a record 3.3 million

* Yen firms, EM currencies catch a break

* Graphic: World FX rates in 2020 tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh (Updates prices, adds U.S. data, adds byline, dateline)

By Rodrigo Campos and Tom Wilson

NEW YORK/LONDON, March 26 (Reuters) – A Wall Street rally powered global gains in stocks on Thursday despite a record number of new unemployment filings in the United States, as traders focused on the unanimous passage of a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill in the U.S. Senate and the possibility that there is more stimulus to come.

The legislation is intended to flood the country with cash in a bid to stem the crushing impact the epidemic has already had on the world’s largest economy. Nearly 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits over the past week, eclipsing the previous record of 695,000 set in 1982. The bill is heading for the House of Representatives for a vote on Friday.

“In less than two weeks, we have moved from full employment to a number of job destruction we have never experienced in a period of peace,” wrote Christopher Dembik, head of macro analysis at Saxo Bank.

Earlier on Thursday, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the U.S. economy is likely in recession already but that reopening businesses should be dictated by the control of the virus’ spread, in contrast to the urging by some of President Donald Trump’s advisers for a faster reopening. The president himself has said he wants the economy to be “roaring” by Easter, in a little over two weeks.

Mnuchin said the central bank would lend “aggressively” to ensure the economy can withstand the sudden sharp drop in activity, with an expected $424 billion commitment from the U.S. Treasury to cover any losses, allowing the Fed to unleash perhaps $4 trillion for credit to “Main Street.”

The astronomical number of jobless filings left some wondering if the stimulus package, despite its size, would be enough.

“If these numbers continue for three or four weeks, there will be demand for more fiscal support,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

She said the stock market reaction would suggest “that market participants expect a larger stimulus package or fiscal package from the government than the $2 trillion that has been agreed upon.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1,115.19 points, or 5.26%, to 22,315.74, the S&P 500 gained 118.5 points, or 4.79%, to 2,594.06 and the Nasdaq Composite added 303.84 points, or 4.11%, to 7,688.13.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.66% and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 3.56%.

Global markets have lost about a quarter of their value in the last six weeks of virus-driven selling.

While markets have found a measure of sustenance as governments and central banks launch unprecedented support measures, investors have struggled to work out how bad the coronavirus impact would be.

“No-one is sure how long things are going to be locked down for, how wide the virus will spread in the U.S., what the death toll and hit on the economy will look like,” said Salman Baig, portfolio manager at Unigestion.

The combination of the massive jobless claims and stimulus dragged the dollar lower.

The dollar index fell 1.222%, with the euro up 1.19% to $1.101.

The Japanese yen strengthened 1.52% versus the greenback at 109.57 per dollar, while Sterling was last trading at $1.2075, up 1.60% on the day.

“Although the latest Fed measures have helped calm markets, as long as the COVID-19 crisis continues and the world economy is effectively in lockdown, we would expect markets to remain in turmoil,” foreign exchange analysts at Bank of America said in a report on Thursday.

The softer greenback buoyed emerging market currencies, with MSCI’s index touching a one-week high.

Oil fell as fears of plunging demand outweighed expectations of support from the U.S. stimulus.

U.S. crude recently fell 4.08% to $23.49 per barrel and Brent was recently at $27.16, down 0.84% on the day.

Prices on U.S. Treasury bonds rose but yields traded relatively tightly and within the week’s range, suggesting the market had already priced in expectations for abysmal data.

Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 14/32 in price to yield 0.8128%, from 0.856% late on Wednesday. The 30-year bond last rose 43/32 in price to yield 1.37%, from 1.421% late on Wednesday.

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Coronavirus sparks surge in demand for sex dolls from randy self-isolators

A top sex doll supplier has received a surge in demand due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The disease has forced millions around the world to self-isolate to stop the spread of the bug.

That has led to a surge in self-isolators stock-piling, as people turn to home entertainment in a bid to keep themselves amused.

And for many, that has seen them seek out sex dolls to share their time holed up with 'company' during the crisis, according to doll firm Silicone Lovers.

Speaking exclusively to Daily Star Online, the company's boss Louie Love said that orders have been pouring in following the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, at the end of last year.

Mr Love told us: "We've definitely seen a spike in interest in dolls since the news of COVID-19 hit.

"Everyone seems in a bit of a panic to try and get a doll before they are possibly forced into isolation.

"I mean there are a lot of introverted doll owners anyway and existing doll owners are understandably quite smug that they are safe and already do not socialise too much.

  • Humans visit 'AI-generated brothels' using futuristic VR headsets

"Their dolls are disease-free and are no threat like the outside world.

"There have been initial concerns about shipping but as yet we haven't experienced any delays.

"It's business as usual and everyone is looking for some kind of indoor entertainment, and perhaps someone to cosy up with and watch the new season of Westworld!"

  • VR headsets let people 'have sex with their exes' by reliving past experiences

The coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, China, at the end of last year and has gone on to ravage countries around the world.

More than 150,000 people have been infected with thousands of deaths.

In the UK, supermarket shelves have been left empty as people stockpile goods for the crisis.

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Manitoba should allow liquor with restaurant delivery, takeout orders during COVID-19: advocate

The Manitoba Restaurant & Foodservices Association (MRFA) is calling out Manitoba’s government for not allowing restaurants to add booze to delivery and takeout orders during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Although similar delivery is currently available from beer, wine and liquor stores, we don’t understand what is holding up restaurants from participating in this measure,” said MRFA executive director, Shaun Jeffrey, in a release Friday.

“This would allow for some restaurants to rehire laid-off staff to get them back to work.”

The MRFA is a non-profit industry advocate representing 400 restaurant members and 100 associate members across Manitoba.

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